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Venom and leather



An August London Observer story alerted Britons to the impending arrival on English shores of this summer's fashion fad from New York City: the carrying of live snakes as women's accessories. Londoners just back from Manhattan reported that they had seen "several" or "quite a few" snakes, brandished by everyone from dance-club exhibitionists to the upscale patrons of trendy bars like Max Fish. The serpents were usually carried in handbags, they said, and chosen for their color. Popular varieties: albinos, green garters and bright-banded corn snakes.

Sleeping with the enemy

In response to reports of Chinese espionage, the Department of Energy in August released security guidelines that require workers to report any "close and continuing contact" (defined as two or more visits) with nationals from 25 specified countries. DOE official Edward Curran explained to reporters that continuing sexual relationships are covered, but that one-night stands are not. He said he did not believe the guidelines would undermine romance or encourage promiscuity.

Leaving work at the office

William Pittman, an official at the Hazelden Foundation near Minneapolis and an authority on alcoholism and anger management, pled guilty in May to harassing his ex-wife, including sending anonymous notes suggesting she kill herself.

The show-off is over

In May, Miami-Dade police arrested John Troy Davey, 37, and accused him of belonging to a gang of serial flashers who were working Miami neighborhoods. Gang members' outfits were said to include bandanas, G-strings and women's panties with their crotches cut out. According to police, the men discussed techniques and target neighborhoods on the Internet.

The greatest love of all

At a May academic conference on sexuality in Madison, Wis., Robert Bahr -- the founder of a newsletter on masturbation -- told attendees that some of his readers have adopted the "solo" sexual orientation, being neither hetero, homo nor bisexual. In remarks reported by Canada's National Post, Bahr noted that these men "have fallen in love with their own reflections." Some engage in "marathons of masturbation," he said, "honeymoons in which they lock themselves away in their own homes, parading naked from mirror to mirror."

It beats a parking ticket

In June, a Sandpoint, Idaho, publisher released a book on numerical patterns that reveal the "musical and electromagnetic frequencies for spiritual evolution and world healing" -- patterns he said had spontaneously appeared on his author's car windshield. The publisher is dentist and Harvard-degreed health educator Leonard Horowitz, who told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review in July that he used to calm his root-canal patients with holistic techniques rather than anesthesia.

Charlie's angel

In an August Providence Journal profile, 47-year-old substitute teacher Herb Gardner of Smithfield, R.I., described his 30-year obsession with the late actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered by the Manson family in 1969. With his wife's support (and inspired by his collection of Tate posters, videos and other memorabilia), Gardner spends his time telling all who will listen that Tate was not a Hollywood swinger but a gentle and charitable person, and that one reason he was put on Earth was to defend her honor.

Membership drive

According to a May Reuters dispatch, the city-supported Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik is closing in on its goal of housing at least one sample penis from every mammal native to Iceland. Only "man" and one species of whale are missing. Curator Sigurdur Hjartarson has solved the first problem, producing a letter from an 83-year-old former Lothario who promises to donate his organ upon his death (in an erect state if doctors can act quickly enough). Some whale species, though, have only the tips of their penises displayed in the museum because the full organs are too long (10 feet) or too heavy (more than 100 pounds) to work with.

Who green-lighted that?

In June, the Tokyo firm Epoch introduced the Plantone, an egg-shaped, battery-operated $55 appliance that, when wired to a plant's leaves, checks its emotional state and reports the information to its caretaker via a series of lights and sounds.

It's the thought that counts

In an April feature run just after the start of the air war over Yugoslavia, the Boston Globe profiled a group of Watertown, Mass., residents who met daily to engage in an "advanced" form of Transcendental Meditation and send brain waves of calmness halfway around the world that would dissipate the stresses that had caused the war. Said one participant (identified as a financial writer): "We're undermining warlike tendencies." The meditation failed for 80 days, but NATO ended its bombing campaign on June 21.

Hang in there

Hong Kong waiter Ms. Au Wing-sze, 18, vowed in August to marry Tang Kwok-wai, even though he had just been convicted of tossing her over an 18th-floor balcony and stomping on her hands as she clung to the railing. (She hung on long enough for a downstairs neighbor to pull her to safety.) Said Au's lawyer, "If anything, `the incident` has only strengthened `their` relationship."

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