Slither and yon

According to reports filed by police and health-department authorities in Huntsville, Ala., in July, a father apparently purchased several poisonous snakes for his 13-year-old son to keep around the house as pets; after the boy was bitten by one, however, the father may have hidden the snakes for fear that they would be confiscated. Among the missing are a black mamba (generally regarded as the world's deadliest snake) and a gaboon viper (considered only slightly less deadly). At press time, authorities could not rule out the possibility that the snakes had simply been released into the countryside, which would significantly lower the quality of life around Huntsville. Said a city health-control officer, "It's a macho thing to have venomous snakes. I guess stupid supersedes macho."

Keeping smut in its proper place

William Draheim was fired from his job in St. Louis Park, Minn., in May, accused of sexual harassment for talking excessively about his pierced penis. (His comments, he said, were almost exclusively responses to questions from co-workers.) His workplace was Video Age Inc., whose only line of business is distributing hardcore pornographic videos and sex accessories, large inventories of which fill the offices. The company is staffed with telephone operators who take catalog orders from customers, some of whom inevitably talk dirty to the operators. (In fact, each applicant for employment is required to certify that he or she understands the nature of the workplace.)

Smells like senior spirit

According to a March New York Times report, Japanese cosmetics firms are experiencing booming sales of products that reduce or mask the odor of "noneal"; noneal is a chemical that is released in greater quantity as people age, and which the super-hygienic Japanese consider the source of the unpopular "old man's smell."

Get thee to a nunnery

In May, Italian women's-basketball star Fabiana Benedettini, 30, surprised her family and the sports world by abruptly taking vows as a nun and joining the Santa Margherita of Cortona sanctuary. Also recently donning habits in Italy: marchesa Ginevra Rossi di Montelera; hotel heiress Maria Luisa De Angelis (who abandoned her husband and children in the process); industrial heiress Idina Ferruzzi; volleyball all-star Maria Teresa Ciancio; and porn star Luana Borgia (who joined a convent at least temporarily).

You must be present to win

In June, the Civil Status Court in Alexandria, Egypt, ruled that the spoken portion of an Islamic divorce -- in which a husband who has met the proper preconditions tells his wife, "I divorce you," three times -- must be delivered in person and not by e-mail. At press time, a similar question was at issue in a divorce case in the United Arab Emirates.

God, was I drunk last night

An April New York Times dispatch from Zhdanovo, Russia (just north of Mongolia), reported the use of vodka as holy water in the Buryat region, whose predominant religion is shamanism. Mongol devotees sometimes sip vodka throughout an entire 90-minute service; according to one shaman, the practice brings "moral calmness" and an improved ability to "talk to god" (although shamanism actually recognizes more than 100 deities).

Speak no evil

In May, Catholic priest Charles Mentrup, 41, was stabbed by a parishioner during a confession; Mentrup survived, but refused to identify the assailant, citing his vow of confidentiality. And at Christmastime 1999, a drunken guest disturbed the Cistercian monks of Caldey Island (Wales) by singing Welsh hymns and carols while they were celebrating their 12 hours of "Great Silence." No one moved to quiet the guest, as the monks were forbidden to speak.

Coughing up the dough

In March, according to a Dallas police report, pro hockey goaltender Ed Belfour, who was desperately trying to avoid a public-intoxication arrest, offered two patrolmen $100,000 to forget the whole thing. By the time they were set to haul him to the station, Belfour had vomited all over himself and upped the offer to $1 billion.

The heist of fashion

Three gangs of cross-dressing male thieves were at large in three North American cities in May. Two of the three gangs employed ladies' togs as a distraction: According to a police spokesperson, the four black men working Annapolis, Md., stores were "very unattractive and obviously males," while the four-man crew that hit stores in Calgary, Alberta, had been spotted parked in their car at a mall, donning dresses to make them resemble elderly women. However, the cast of about a dozen drag queens operating in Fort Lauderdale and Miami stores used their stolen credit cards mostly to purchase women's fashions and cosmetics.

Nice peaks

According to an official in the regional government of Madrid, Spain, a public-financed guidebook for hikers was mistakenly distributed despite the agency's dissatisfaction with some of the contract writer's geographical descriptions. According to the book, the mountains of the Cuerda de las Cabrillas range near Madrid "are just like women -- the desire that they inspire is inversely proportional to the number of times one gets on top of them." And La Maliciosa mountain features "a pair of highly suggestive protuberances" that are "black, svelte, `hard` and slippy, like Naomi Campbell's loins."


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