10 Modern-Day Americans Famous For Really Weird Things
America: It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave, and with a population of over 300 million, it’s also home to quite a few crazy characters. In fact, some Americans are so unusual that we can’t help but thrust them into the spotlight . . . even if it is only for the proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
Take the 10 people on this list. They come from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, all over the US. Some are gun nuts, some are sports fans. Some are inventors, and some have incredibly unusual jobs. But despite their differences, they all have one thing in common: They all salute the Stars and Stripes, and they’re all famous for really weird reasons.
The Last Of The Seltzer Men
Sure, everybody loves the 21st century and the wonders of our modern era, but admit it, sometimes we’re all a little nostalgic for the old days, especially when we remember the antiquated occupations lost to time. Long gone are the days of the switchboard operator, the ice cutter, and the bowling alley pinsetter. Another critically endangered job is that of your friendly neighborhood seltzer man, the delivery guy who’d bring glass bottles of seltzer water straight to your door.
Of course, we said “endangered,” not “extinct.” There are still a few stalwart seltzer men making a living in the streets of New York, and perhaps the best known of this dying breed is Walter Backerman. Walter comes from a long line of seltzer men. His grandfather, Jacob Rosenbloom, was a Polish immigrant who started peddling his wares in 1919, complete with a horse-drawn carriage. Walter’s dad, Al Backerman, got into the business in the ‘40s, and soon Walter was following in the family footsteps.
Oddly, both Jacob and Al kind of hated their job and tried to dissuade Walter from donning the delivery man mantle. After all, Walter was a college graduate with plans to attend law school. But for some reason, he decided to dive into the seltzer water business anyway, and the man has spent most of his life going door to door, carrying crates of green and blue bottles. Amazingly, Walter services quite a few of his dad’s old customers, and the glass bottles are constantly reused over the years. In fact, some of them date back as far as the 1950s.
Walter makes deliveries in every borough in the Big Apple—except Staten Island—and even goes as far as New Jersey and Connecticut. A case of seltzer water (at 10 bottles a crate) will run you $35, but according to Walter’s clients, it tastes a lot better than the stuff you can buy in stores. Of course, people aren’t just buying the water for the water’s sake. As Walter puts it, they’re buying memories of a time gone by . . . and they’re also buying a bit of Walter, too. As one of his devoted customers explains on the Radio Diaries podcast, “The seltzer is great, but it’s Walter. That’s the thing about his product. He’s the product.”
Over the years, Walter has been profiled by NPR, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and even a TV crew from Japan, but no amount of interviews can save his career. Walter’s son doesn’t want to carry on the family tradition, and while that’s kind of upsetting, Walter doesn’t let it get him down. Sure, he’s one of the last seltzer men on the planet, but he just keeps on smiling because, after all, he genuinely enjoys his job.
Professional Dumpster Diver
Way to go, America. In 2012, you produced a whopping a 251 million tons of trash. That’s a whole lot of junk. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff was probably still usable. But who wants to keep their old TV or computer when they can buy something brand new?
While that raises a lot of interesting questions about America’s consumer culture, it’s actually pretty good business for Matt Malone. A citizen of the Lone Star State, Matt spends his free time digging around in dumpsters. However, Matt isn’t homeless. In fact, Mr. Malone works as a security specialist in Austin, and he brings home a nice, fat, six-figure paycheck. So why is a guy like Matt poking through other people’s garbage? Well, because he makes more money dumpster diving than he does at his day job.
Driving back and forth from his office, Matt will often park at nearby stores and search through all the junk behind the buildings. He backs his truck right up to the dumpster, stands on the tailgate, and comes up with all sorts of buried treasures. The man has found everything from surveillance systems to GPS devices to boom boxes, often in perfect working order. So what are all these goodies doing in the trash? Well, sometimes they’re returns, and other times the products were discontinued. Whatever the reason, he loads them in his truck, fixes them up if they need any repairs, and then sells them for a pretty penny.
According to Wired, Matt thinks he could make a quarter of a million dollars if he went dumpster diving full-time. Of course, Mr. Malone is a pretty experienced “for-profit archaeologist,” and he’s learned some pretty nifty tricks and tips over the years. He’s always on the lookout for stores that are moving locations or closing down. He’s learned to avoid places like Walmart and Best Buy, which use trash compactors to destroy all their junk, no matter what condition it’s in. Matt always has his eye out for little things people are guaranteed to buy, like paper and toner. Most importantly, he never steps inside the dumpsters (that’s illegal), and he always clears his back-alley raids with store managers ahead of time.
Now, while Matt is definitely making big bucks, he isn’t in this completely for the money. The man is something of a Robin Hood character, fixing up computers and giving them to kids in his neighborhood. But he’s also into dumpster diving for the kicks. As Matt puts it, he gets a “treasure-hunt thrill” every time he discovers something new. He’s basically a modern-day Indiana Jones, only instead of trekking through deserts and rain forests, he’s just making a few stops on his way home from work.
Americans have long considered themselves a pretty adventurous bunch. After all, the first people to step foot on the North American continent were immigrants crossing the Bering Strait, leaving their homes behind for the great unknown. Over the years, the US has idolized explorers and pioneers like Lewis and Clark, Amelia Earhart, and Neil Armstrong. And perhaps someday, when schoolchildren crack open their history books, they’ll read about Cameron Smith, a Portland archaeologist with a truly crazy dream.
When Cameron Smith isn’t working at Portland State University, he’s busy building his very own spacesuit. Why? Well, Cameron plans on going to space . . . or at least 15,000 meters (50,000 ft) into the atmosphere. You see, Cameron isn’t a billionaire and can’t afford a ticket to the stars. He also can’t become an astronaut, as his eyesight isn’t good enough. So in 2008, Cameron decided to start his own space program and make the final frontier accessible to the common man. And that involves a whole lot of sewing thread.
Cameron has spent several years assembling his DIY spacesuit, an outfit that involves three distinct layers. After pulling on a pair of long johns, Cameron steps into Layer #1. This first layer plays a vital role in keeping Cameron from overheating. You see, he’s actually sewn 7.5 meters (25 feet) of hose into the suit, and the hose keeps ice water flowing around his body. This prevents the suit from reaching insane temperatures that would turn Cameron into toast.
Next comes the pressure bladder, the second layer that traps in air and keeps Cameron under a constant state of pressure. That way, when he flies high up into the atmosphere, Cameron won’t suffer from decompression sickness. Finally, Layer #3 is made out of mesh and is sewn right into the pressure bladder. This keeps Layer #2—which is full of air—from swelling up like a balloon. Remember that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when the gum-chewing brat turns into a blueberry? Well, that’s what Cameron would look like without Layer #3 wrapped around the pressure bladder.
Amazingly, Cameron has gone through four versions of the suit, but all in all, he’s spent less than $10,000 on his little project. With the help of a small team of students, Cameron has put his suit together using materials you could find in a hardware store or on Amazon, all except for his super cool cosmonaut helmet, which he bought on eBay. Next, Cameron needs to finish his gondola and a homemade air balloon to carry him up into the sky where, hopefully, he’ll experience space-like conditions. But before that happens, he’ll test his suit this Christmas when he pilots a hot air balloon 9,000 meters (30,000 ft) into the atmosphere. If that works out, then hopefully Cameron Smith will float on up into immortality, right alongside Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin.
Cranky Old Artist
Cantankerous, grouchy, testy . . . none of these words quite does justice to Lewis Greenberg. This elderly artist lives in the town of Ballwin, Missouri, where he’s spent his golden years stirring up as much controversy as possible. Granted, Lewis probably didn’t set out to annoy his neighbors, but once his community started complaining, Mr. Greenberg officially declared war on the city of Ballwin.
Lewis Greenberg is an artist, but he’s not into watercolors. Lewis is completely obsessed with the Holocaust, and he’s transformed his home into an abstract memorial to the lives lost during Hitler’s reign. Step inside Lewis’s home and you’ll find the walls covered with his art, and now, it’s spilling out the doors. The yard is full of weird wooden structures, multi-colored statues, and “No Trespassing” signs. Rainbow Stars of David hang from his trees, ribbons are draped everywhere, and he’s turned his grill into a crematorium. There’s a sign out front that reads “Holocaust Revisited,” his garage door is covered with a giant photo of the infamous Auschwitz gates, and the ground is covered with shattered stone tiles.
What’s up with the tiles, you ask? Well, every day, Lewis takes an axe and shatters the stone into little pieces. His goal is to create six million little “tombstones,” one for every Jew who was murdered by the Nazis. Sure, Lewis knows it’s an impossible task, but he doesn’t care. He also doesn’t care that every single piece of his yard is covered with bizarre sculptures, all coated with red, yellow, and green paint. He also doesn’t care if people dislike his art or get irritated that he’s smashing up tiles at all hours of the day. He’s an artist after all, protected by the First Amendment—as he enjoys pointing out. If they think his art is an eyesore, well, that’s their problem.
As you might’ve guessed, Lewis isn’t all that popular. After all, his yard has turned the neighborhood into something of a horror show. People can’t sell their homes because no one wants to live near Lewis. The cranky old artist torments his neighbors by screaming at them and calling them Nazis whenever he has the chance. Eventually, the neighborhood grew so tired of the never-ending art show that somebody called the authorities. Lewis was charged with littering and storing hazardous materials, but he refused to take down his art.
Obviously, the cops weren’t pleased, and Lewis was thrown behind bars and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. The man is definitely suffering for his art (though he goes a bit far in the martyr department, comparing himself to Nelson Mandela), and you’ve got to admire the guy for sticking by his guns. Evidently, the folks at Riverfront Times, a St. Louis newspaper, admire him as well, because they named him “Geezer of the Year” in 2009. Of course, it probably wouldn’t hurt if he stopped calling his neighbors “Nazis.” Try to work on your people skills there, Lewis.
The Portland Whistler
Robert Smith is a local legend in Portland, Maine. Even if people don’t know his name, they definitely know him by sight . . . and by sound. You see, Robert is something of a musician, and over the past few years, he’s spent his days roaming up and down the streets of Portland, sharing his gift with the world. There are some Portlanders who appreciate Robert, but there are others who grit their teeth and glare daggers at the entertainer whenever he walks their way.
So why is Robert such a divisive figure? Well, Robert whistles, and he whistles loudly.
The story started after Robert broke up with his girlfriend. Utterly depressed, he stopped showing up at his job, and soon he was broke and homeless. Robert was in a really dark place, and he was a really angry guy. Desperate for help, Robert prayed for guidance, and that’s when he received some divine inspiration. Robert was going to whistle. He was going to whistle all his negative energy away. That’s when he grabbed his iPod, threw on a backpack, put on his ball cap, and took the bus from his hometown of Westbrook to nearby Portland.
As he listened to oldies by bands like The Rolling Stones, Robert would whistle along, sometimes for up to five hours a day. Admittedly, Robert wasn’t exactly a great whistler, but what he lacked in talent, he made up for in volume. Strangely enough, as he whistled his way around town, Robert found that he was becoming a happier person, and soon, he shifted his focus from himself to his fellow human beings. Now, Robert was going to whistle for the world. As he told the Portland Press Herald, “I’m just trying to make people smile.”
Of course, not everyone appreciated the one-man band. Sometimes Robert would stand in front of a single building for hours, just whistling away. Other times, he allegedly followed people who told him to shut up, intentionally trying to annoy them.
Eventually, the authorities arrested Robert for disturbing the peace, and while the “Whistler” claimed that his activities were protected by the First Amendment, the city of Portland didn’t necessarily agree. After all, there was an actual law in the books against excessive, irritating whistling. Fortunately for Robert, he made a deal with the city government. He’d tone it down a bit, and he’d keep on the move, just so long as they let him continue doing what he did best. The judge agreed, and soon Robert was back on the streets, a little quieter and constantly on the go.
Sadly (well, depending on whose side you’re on), the city of Portland is a whole lot quieter. In July 2014, the Bangor Daily News reported that the Whistler seems to have disappeared. Has Robert Smith given up on his musical mission? Or is he just letting his lips rest a bit before hitting the streets again? Only time will tell. (Hey, if you’re from Portland, let us know if the Whistler has made a return, will you?)
Collecting Speed Videotapes
If you look up a list of the greatest all-time action movies, chances are good that you’ll find Speed somewhere on the list. This 1994 thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock currently holds a 93-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earned four stars from Roger Ebert. But most importantly, this action flick inspired an Idahoan named Ryan Beitz to embark on the world’s weirdest quest. He wants to own every single VHS copy of Speed in existence.
Ryan first set out on his mad mission when he was 19. At the time, Beitz was broke but needed to buy some Christmas gifts for his family. That’s how he wound up in a pawn shop, where he discovered six VHS copies of Speed. Originally, he planned on giving all six tapes to his relatives as a joke, but when he found 30 additional copies in a second shop, he was inspired to start a collection.
Since that fateful day, Ryan has founded the “World Speed Project,” an organization that’s dedicated to hunting down every Speed video tape on the planet. And if he has to steal them, well, he doesn’t care. (The “World Speed Project” also plans on converting Ryan’s personal van into the Speed bus so he can drive around the country, searching for videos.) According to Ryan’s blog, he’s currently amassed over 1,000 videos, which is pretty impressive. Perhaps even more impressive, Ryan’s house once caught on fire, but he managed to carry his collection to safety.
So what could he possibly do with all those tapes? Well, he once filled a tub with all his videos and took a Speed bath. Another time, he set them up like dominoes and knocked them over. In the future, he might launch them into space or use them as weapons to assassinate business leaders. (Hey, that’s what the man said.) In other words, the “World Speed Project” doesn’t have a point . . . and that’s the entire point. Ryan doesn’t like conforming to society’s standards, which is probably why he walks around in gym shorts, giant sunglasses, and huge coats. He’s opposed to the very idea of “what one does,” of following the rules, and if the world wants him to conform, well, you can just forget it.
Of course, if you have a VHS copy of Speed lying around, send it Ryan’s way. He’d really appreciate it.
World’s Most Controversial Instagrammer
Once upon a time, Nicole Angemi wanted to become a nurse. That is, until she realized she wasn’t really all that interested in caring for people. She was, however, fascinated with the human body. Nicole was obsessed with blood and guts, and that’s how she wound up in a Philadelphia-area hospital working as a pathologist’s assistant. Instead of helping people get better, she was trying to figure out what was making them sick . . . or what’d killed them.
Nicole spent hours working “elbows up in blood,” slicing and dicing at tumors, placentas, and anything else imaginable. And one fateful day, she whipped out her iPhone, took an incredibly gross photo, and decided to share the pic on Instagram. Since then, she’s uploaded hundreds upon hundreds of nausea-inducing pictures, including gangrenous feet, blackened foreskins, and lots of miscarried fetuses.
So what drives Nicole to share this sick stuff with the world? According to Mrs. Angemi, it’s all about education. She wants “to bring awareness” to what’s going on behind the scenes of the medical community and teach people about their bodies. Nicole also claims that she tries to avoid posting photos “that won’t have an impact or educational value to anybody,” though you’ve got to wonder if her 350,000-plus followers are all interested in science.
As you’ve probably guessed, Nicole’s macabre hobby has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Not everyone appreciates her grisly snapshots—some worry about privacy issues, and some are just upset by all the nastiness—and her pics are often reported. In fact, Nicole is currently on her third Instagram account (warning: That’s the real account), as her previous two were shut down. But Nicole isn’t going to give up sharing her disgusting discoveries, and if you choose to visit her Instagram, you might want to keep a barf bag nearby.
Special Ops Strip Club Owner
His real name is Joel Suminski, but he goes by Jay Thunderbolt. Jay stands 195 centimeters (6’5”), and his face is kind of lopsided. That’s because when he was 11, someone shot him in the mouth. But what’s really amazing is that this is the least interesting thing about Jay Thunderbolt. Over the years, Jay has served as a bodyguard (once for a corrupt cop), and he’s been shot and stabbed on multiple occasions. According to Jay, he even served six years in the Special Forces and killed 26 people, two with his bare hands.
Jay lives by a simple motto: Don’t hurt kids, don’t mess with the elderly, and don’t hit women. He’s also something of a gun aficionado who carries a pistol and wears a bulletproof vest. After all, Jay lives in Detroit—not exactly the safest city in the US. But really, the most interesting thing about Jay Thunderbolt is that this military vet used to run a strip club out of his own home.
Jay’s business card reads “Thunderbolt—Party Naked,” and he calls his business Thunderbolt Entertainment. Since he doesn’t serve food or alcohol, he doesn’t need a cabaret license, and Jay is ready to go 24/7. He serves as the DJ, bouncer, and accountant, and he even runs a mobile service. If you’re having a party, Jay will bring the girls to you. You can even pick your favorites out of a photo album.
As you might expect, Jay has done pretty well for himself, but to keep up the good karma, he donates money to a breast cancer charity. He thinks that’s why he’s received two certificates from the Republican Congressional Committee’s Business Advisory Council, certificates which he hangs on the wall. According to Jay, one is signed by Newt Gingrich and the other by Tom DeLay.
Now, as you can probably guess, Jay isn’t the most level-headed guy in the world. In 2013, Thunderbolt was in court on weapons charges when he told the judge his house was booby trapped with explosives. The bomb squad was sent to check it out, and luckily for everyone, Jay was only joking. Since then, Thunderbolt has kind of disappeared. If you were to visit his home today, you’d find the doors nailed shut and the house completely empty. Of course, Jay is probably still out there somewhere, complete with gun and bulletproof vest, and so long as he’s got a boom box and a few female friends, he’s probably doing just fine.
The Blind Marksman
Giving a gun to a blind man seems like a really bad idea. However, if you met Carey McWilliams, you might just change your mind. A native of Fargo, North Dakota, Carey lost his vision at age 10 due to hydrocephalus, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the world’s greatest blind gunman. When Carey was a teenager, he attended a military camp where he became fascinated with firearms. Since then, he’s passed an ROTC marksmanship course, an NRA exam, and eventually became the first blind American to receive a concealed carry permit after passing yet another shooting test.
So how exactly does a blind man shoot a gun? Well, according to Carey, he uses his highly developed sense of hearing to sense where his target is located. He also relies on “body positioning and gravity.” In an interview with NBC, McWilliams further explained, “I visualize the target in my mind, and I can actually see it then in front of my eyes, and I visualize where the gun is in relation to the target.”
In addition to the pistol he keeps on his person, Carey also has an extensive firearm collection, including an AK-47 and an AR-15. The man also owns a few hunting rifles because, believe it or not, Carey is an incredibly proficient hunter. The man has taken out everything from deer to bear to an alligator. Of course, he needs a little bit of help—a friend tells him where to aim—but Carey is the only one touching the gun and the only one pulling the trigger. If you were to ask Carey why he hunts, he’d say it was to help him overcome his PTSD. Several years ago, McWilliams was savaged by a pack of dogs, and he claims that hunting big predators helps him cope with his fear.
Obviously, Carey has stirred up a bit of controversy, and he was even interviewed in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. But while Carey believes in the right to bear arms, he doesn’t think just anyone should pack a pistol. When North Dakota decided to do away with the written part of their concealed weapons test, Carey campaigned against the decision, claiming that lax gun laws would make it too easy for the wrong people to carry firearms. Carey is also pretty vocal when it comes to discrimination against blind people, particularly where firearms are involved. As the blind marksman puts it, “I’m trying to prove a point that people without sight still can carry (a gun) because brains are more important than eyesight in securing public safety.”
The Piggyback Bandit
The wide world of sports certainly attracts some pretty weird fans, and we’re not just talking about the shirtless dudes who slather themselves with body paint. We’re talking about guys like Barry Bremen, an impostor who snuck into a professional football game dressed as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, or someone like Zack Hample, the hoarder who’s snagged over 7,000 baseballs at stadiums across the country. Of course, none of them compare to Sherwin Shayegan, the creepiest sports fan of all time.
Growing up in Seattle, Sherwin was heavily involved in the high school sports scene, but he wasn’t an athlete. Far from it—the big guy was the manager for the school’s soccer and football teams. He was the kid in charge of passing out water and distributing high fives to all the players. Occasionally, the jocks would even give Sherwin celebratory piggyback rides. When he was managing the school teams, Sherwin really felt like he belonged . . . but everything changed after graduating in 2001.
Suddenly, Sherwin’s life began falling apart. His brother moved away, his parents divorced, and he didn’t know where to go or what to do. So he hit the road . . . and unleashed a reign of awkward terror across the United States. Longing to relive his glory days, Sherwin would show up at high school hockey matches, swim meets, and football games all over the country. Only instead of watching the game, he’d pick a player, and when the kid wasn’t looking, he’d jump on the poor boy’s back.
What makes this really creepy—other than the fact he was jumping on kids’ backs—was how much plotting and planning went into these piggyback raids. He would create files on his potential victims by researching them online, trying to find out as much info on his targets as possible. That way, he could chat with them about their past games or favorite foods. Sometimes, he would wear disguises, like sports jerseys, so he could blend into the group, perhaps acting as team manager while biding his time. Occasionally, he’d even try to endear himself to the coaches by offering to donate money to the team.
And then, when the time was right, he’d jump on the unsuspecting player’s back.
Surprisingly, few people ever reported “The Piggyback Bandit.” Perhaps the kids were just too embarrassed to admit what’d happened. But on several occasions, Sherwin was punished for his uber-creepy crimes. Once, he was charged with fourth-degree assault after luring an athlete into a library and pouncing on the poor kid. The Bandit has also been banned from attending sporting events in five separate states (Oregon, Montana, Washington, Minnesota, and South Dakota). In fact, Sherwin was arrested in late 2014 for trying to drag a Virginia teen into a locker room.
Obviously, some people think Sherwin is something of a pervert, but others think he’s just a sad, mentally disturbed guy who’s trying to recapture the past. Whatever the truth, if you’re a high school athlete, next time you step onto the field, you might want to watch your back.