Gliders on the storm

In Clacton, England, in March, a freak gust of wind propelled Chris Grimes, 17 -- who was clutching an oversized kite at the time -- for a half-mile at a height of 25 feet, until he touched down in a mud bog. And in Fairhaven, Mass., in May, a 65-year-old woman was hit by lightning and lifted from the ground into the back of a pickup truck. According to witnesses, the woman reached a maximum height of 12 feet. She was taken to St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, but was not seriously injured.

Oklahoma receives a retread

Eight farmers in the town of Nemaha, Iowa (population: 112), have taught themselves to perform various square-dancing routines while seated on their tractors. According to a June San Francisco Chronicle dispatch, the farmers are able to re-create such moves as the do-si-do and the promenade by precisely maneuvering their vehicles. More problematic is the fact that all of the participants are males, while square dancing is a couples activity. Thus, four of the dancers operate their tractors while clad in calico skirts, under the apparent belief that cross-dressing is more acceptable than dancing with an overtly same-sex partner.

These PCs all go down

In June, the New Meat Theater in San Francisco's Tenderloin district opened a cybercafe in an upstairs room, the first such facility specifically designed for the surfing of Internet pornography. Its first-come, first-served computer stations and high-speed web connections -- plus an array of scanners, printers and digital cameras -- make the cafe sort of "a kinky version of Kinko's," according to owner Terrance Alan. In fact, Alan said, the theater's nude male dancers may roam the computer room, "enhancing the Internet" with a "fourth dimension: the ability to touch."

Motivation is everything

In April, high-school junior Charles Carithers was suspended from the prestigious Latin Academy in Boston after complying with a class assignment to write a horror story. In Carithers' tale, a menacing student cuts off his teacher's hand with a chainsaw, a plot development Carithers' real-life teacher interpreted as a threat. Said Carithers in his defense, "If I wrote `that` a student killed his taxi driver, that doesn't have the same effect." And in January, senior Sarah Boman was suspended from Bluestem High School in Leon, Kan., for the rest of the year after she complied with an assignment to create a piece of art that would emphasize an idea, rather than an object. She drew a large mural of jumbled words, which she said represented the rantings of an "obsessive, compulsive, paranoid" madman. Boman's work, too, was interpreted by her teacher as a personal threat. (After appeals, both suspensions were lifted.)

Serious charge

In Tampa, Fla., in March, Ed O'Rourke filed a lawsuit against Tampa Electric Co. and several taverns, holding them culpable for the 13,000 volts he absorbed after climbing up one of the utility's transformers in what he called a "drunken stupor." The voltage knocked O'Rourke from the transformer, burned 60 percent of his body and left his right arm permanently paralyzed. O'Rourke told a Tampa Tribune reporter that he is "unable to control `his` urge to drink alcoholic beverages."

Sailor suit

In February in East Providence, R.I., the family of the late boater William J. Hussey, 55, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city, arguing that Hussey's fatal 1998 heart attack was caused by assistant harbor master Paul J. Williams. According to police reports, however, all Williams had done was yell at Hussey, who was maneuvering his boat without the benefit of the required navigation lights. Among Hussey's last words were this comment to Williams: "Mind your own `expletive deleted` business."

She's innocent, period

In February, former Chicago municipal treasurer Miriam Santos was released from a prison work camp near Pekin, Ill., after her federal conviction on extortion charges was overturned on appeal. She immediately met with reporters and announced that she would try to regain her old job at the next opportunity. Of her crime, she noted, "I am probably the first woman to go to jail `merely` for PMS-ing."

Unscheduled flight

In March, a representative of a private prisoner-transportation service in North Dakota told the state's legislature that convicted murderer/child molester Kyle Bell escaped from the company's bus last October because prison officials had failed to inform the company that Bell was an escape risk. The paperwork pertaining to his transfer, the company said, showed only that he was serving a life sentence.

Betting against the house

Mark Merrill, 38, filed a lawsuit in February in Gary, Ind., against Donald Trump, alleging that the floating Trump Casino in Gary was responsible for Merrill's turning to bank robbery (in Peotone, Ill., in 1998 and Mokena, Ill., in 1999). His excessive debt, Merrill said, was the product of a gambling addiction the casino had fed by enticing him to wager and offering him free trips to Las Vegas.

Ape shall not kill ape!

In Roanoke Rapids, N.C., in June, a 37-year-old man was charged with beating another man to death in a dispute over the ownership of a "Planet of the Apes' video. And in February, a 45-year-old motorist driving near Frankfurt, Germany, was charged with shooting a police officer to death during a traffic stop because he feared additional points on his license.

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