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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Chaz's bits no biggie in brave new world


Genital surgery barely registers on scale of today's headline-grabbers.

It was one of those headlines that not even the chronically blase could skip over: "Chaz Bono wants a penis."

The story turned out to be comparatively unsensational. Chaz, formerly Chastity, was the daughter of Sonny and Cher, and has been undergoing medical treatment to become, among other things, their son. Acquiring a male member would be the final step in the process.

I guess if someone in that situation is ever going to hanker for an old fella, it would be in the run-up to Father's Day.

A few decades ago this would have been regarded as an absolute freak show, but we've come a long way.

Chaz, who's now 42, grew up in California, where you haven't lived unless you've reinvented yourself at least once before reaching middle age. And in America - and, increasingly, here - young people are told they can be anything they want to be.

We should also bear in mind that Chaz is the product of a showbiz marriage, a circumstance renowned for generating offspring who embrace the unconventional.

Chastity would have been on the brink of womanhood when her mother made the infamous If I Could Turn Back Time video. Wearing a black mankini and fishnet stockings, she put on a performance for a baying crowd of sailors on USS Missouri which culminated in her straddling one of Big Mo's 16-inch guns.

If Chastity was confused gender-wise before that, she surely would've been a basket case afterwards.

The Independent's website currently features a compilation of 62 bizarre or extraordinary stories which have recently appeared in the newspaper. On close examination, though, many of them are variations on themes we've seen or heard many times - urban legends, in other words.

For instance, there's the Chinese infant who poked a chopstick up his nose and into his brain, and the Englishman who had to summon the emergency services because he got his penis stuck in a steel pipe. (I hope Chaz takes better care of his.)

It scarcely matters whether these stories are true, embellished or fabricated. We read them with a so-what shrug because at any given time, somewhere in the world, an infant is finding a way of inflicting harm on him or herself that hasn't occurred to the manufacturer or the most solicitous caregiver.

Likewise, some wretched, maladjusted male is finding out the hard way that sex with inanimate objects isn't as straightforward as it might seem.

And we all read about French film star Gerard Depardieu urinating on an aeroplane. This didn't surprise me, because I once read a profile of Depardieu which revealed that he's been known to knock off five bottles of red wine in a day and four roast chickens at a sitting.

That being the case, you'd have to say the other passengers got off lightly.

On the subject of food and drink, a gelateria in Covent Garden sold icecream made from human breast milk for $27 a scoop; it sold out within hours. And scientists have discovered a previously unknown species of lizard on the menu of a restaurant in Vietnam.

Topping both of those, however, was the revelation this week that Bear Grylls, the former SAS trooper-turned-reality show survivalist who will eagerly tuck into deer droppings and yak's eyeballs should the need arise, simply can't stomach Brussels sprouts.

What could be more ridiculous than a man who's been trained to eat virtually anything recoiling from this bland, inoffensive little vegetable?

There were a couple of stories that lived up to the billing, like veteran comedian Dick van Dyke drifting out to sea on his surfboard and finding himself out of sight of land and surrounded by fins.

Fortunately, the fins turned out to be a school of porpoises which nudged Dick and his surfboard all the way back to shore.

But wait - there's more: Dick got himself into this predicament because he fell asleep while surfing. That seems far-fetched, almost on a par with nodding off at the wheel during the Indianapolis 500. Perhaps the moral of the story is that you should think twice before going surfing when you're 84.

A baby boy in Paris had an even more miraculous escape. He fell from a seventh-floor apartment and bounced off a cafe awning into the arms of a doctor who happened to be strolling past.

As the cafe was closed for a bank holiday, the awning would normally have been taken down, but the mechanism had jammed. The baby escaped without a scratch.

Perhaps the only thing that could improve this story would be if the doctor had been an ex-rugby player; a fullback renowned for his reliability under the high ball.

- NZ Herald

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