The inspirational Charles Gonsoulin of Los Angeles, pursuing a Canadian woman he had met on the Internet, sneaked across the border on foot in February from the North Dakota side (because a 1984 crime would have prevented his legal entry), heading for the bus station in Winnipeg, 75 miles away, even though he had no experience with sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures. When police picked him up just inside Canada, he was disoriented and had such frostbite that he lost 10 fingers and most toes, but, he said later, "It was all worth it for me. It's the difference between sitting around dreaming about things and going out and getting them. I know my life is complete." He was scheduled for deportation as soon as he recovers, and the pair still haven't met. The woman lives in a Montreal suburb, 1,400 miles from Winnipeg.
During an emergency in December, Westminster (Md.) High School's policy on evacuating wheelchair-using students came to light, to the horror of two disabled students' parents. While smoke filled the building and the panicked students exited, teachers brought the two students to the second-floor stairwell and, rather than risk liability for mishandling them, teachers were instructed to get out themselves, and leave the students there to await trained firefighters. (A month later, a special committee clarified the policy, urging that the students be left only in smoke-free stairwells.)
GETTING INTO CYCLING
Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University Medical School, told a conference in Brisbane, Australia, in March that he donates blood regularly because one of the key reasons why females outlive males is menstruation. Perls said iron loss inhibits the growth of free radicals that age cells. "I menstruate," he said, "but only every eight weeks."
THE DISTRICT OF CALAMITY
In a February report to the U.S. Department of Education, the District of Columbia public school system revealed a chronic-truancy rate of 23 percent (15,000 of its 65,000 students absent without excuse at least 15 days a year), many times higher than the rate for adjacent or comparable jurisdictions. (However, a March report of the D.C. Inspector General partially undermined that number, pointing out that the schools' $4.5 million computer system was incapable of identifying which students are at which schools.)
Also in February, the Washington, D.C., Department of Health chose an elementary school cafeteria as the site for a weekend sterilization/vaccination program for stray and feral cats. Although workers put down plastic sheets and towels, when students and teachers arrived the next school day, they were overwhelmed with odors of ether and cat urine. Only then did officials decide to cancel lunch, and classes, for a complete cleaning and disinfecting.
HOME SWEET 'HO
Women's groups in Mexico City, working from a building donated by the municipal government, are preparing a retirement home for at least 65 elderly prostitutes, according to a March Reuters dispatch. Among the candidates that Reuters interviewed was Gloria Maria, who says she is 74 years old and "can't charge what the young ones do" but still has "two or three clients a day." `Reuters, 3-17-05`
HELL BENT FOR FEATHERS
Lawrence M. Small, the chief executive of the Smithsonian Institution, was convicted in 2004 for his collection of South American artifacts that include the feathers of 219 birds protected by the Endangered Species Act, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Hearst Newspapers reported in February that Small had not yet begun his sentence, in that he is still negotiating for the right to serve it by spending 100 hours lobbying Congress to change the Endangered Species Act.
DUDE, WHERE'S MY THROTTLE?
In October, two pilots of the regional Pinnacle Airlines, with no one else on board, told air controllers they were taking the craft to its highest listed altitude (41,000) feet "to have a little fun," but then engines failed. In their last communication before crashing (according to transcripts published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March), the crew asked "Is that cool" if they took the plane to a lower altitude to try to restart the engines. And in separate fatal incidents, two 20-year-old men assumed that military flak vests are bulletproof. (They are designed only to protect against shrapnel.) A vest-wearing man in Orofino, Idaho, "dared" his friend to shoot him (December), and another, in Hobart, Ind., asked to be shot to prepare him for his upcoming military service (February).
THROWN BY HER JAVELIN
A female Zimbabwean athlete who had won several track and field events at meets in Botswana and Mauritius was arrested in Harare in February after authorities discovered she actually had a small penis. Samulkeliso Sithole, 17, said she was born a hermaphrodite but that her parents had paid a traditional healer to make her totally female, and, "because" her parents failed to pay the healer's full fee, the penis had begun to grow.
TRESPASSING THE BUCK
In separate incidents, trespassers Philip Dederer, 20, in Australia and Carl Murphy, 18, in England were awarded the equivalent of around $1 million each in March after they were injured, even though blatantly trespassing on private property. Dederer, now a paraplegic, had disregarded "no diving" signs and continued to jump into the Wallamba River until an accident occurred. A sympathetic judge regarded the signs inadequate, in that none said that diving was "dangerous." Murphy, now partially blinded and with 17 metal plates in his head from a 40-foot fall in a warehouse, claimed that if a perimeter fence had not been broken, he never would have gotten in to have his accident.
JUST PUT 'HAZEL'
In March, Billy Reed, 49, of Fleetwood, Pa., lost a 19-month battle with the state Department of Transportation over his insistence that he has a right to have his eyes closed in his driver's license photo, because of freedom of expression and his "right to happiness." After a Commonwealth Court ruled against him, Reed (who said he studies law in his spare time) said he would probably appeal. "I didn't set out on this as a mission. It's one of those things that happen in life. Here you are. Life takes you down a path, and you end up where you are."