My “Citizen Journalists” Article Won a Gold Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Award

I’m honored to say I was announced this week as winner of a gold Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Award in the “Best Short Hard News Feature” category. MPC is the oldest operating press club in North America (e. 1885). The entrants were judged by my peers at other press clubs around the country.

I think some people just have a vague idea that I write about “weird stuff,” but I take what I do seriously. I’ve freelanced on a wide range of topics– food/drink, art, music, independent businesses, interesting personalities, reviews, everything from short blurbs to longform pieces. I think that the more experience you have writing, the more you recognize what you’re good at.

The award was for an article I wrote last year for Milwaukee Magazine titled “Reporting Live from the Street” (the online version has the different title “How Citizen Journalists Captured the Chaos in Kenosha” and is a bit longer than the print version.)

Citizen journalist Brandan Gutenschwager aka BG on the Scene in Kenosha.

I started piecing together the story the day after the shootings by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha last August, where Rittenhouse killed two people and injured a third. I was watching the news the next day (I watched more cable news this year and last than I have my entire prior life x 3, easily) glued to the reports. I noticed that all of the footage from that night had watermarks on it from “The Rundown Live” and “BG on the Scene.” I happened to know Kristan T. Harris of The Rundown Live, as he participated in some past events I had done, and I wrote an article about him for Milwaukee Record about his bid to be presidential nominee for the Transhumanist Party– he’s an interesting guy.

I learned that Harris, Brandon Guteschwager (BG on the Scene), and others like them were people that are sometimes called “citizen journalists,” independent reporters who livestream from protests and other events to share footage of what’s going on at street level. It is because of the footage of Harris, Gutenschwager, CJ Halliburton (CJTV), and Andrew Mercado (Mercado Media) that we know what happened that night in Kenosha. If they had not captured it, I think it’s entirely possible that Rittenhouse would have walked away from the scene and disappeared into the night unidentified.

That night was far from the end of the story. Rittenhouse was released on a $2 million bail, paid by his admirers (including Silver Spoons actor Ricky Schroder and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell). After making bail, he was spotted at a bar in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin hanging out and singing karaoke with the Proud Boys. And I’m sure people will take to the streets again when Rittenhouse goes on trial (which was pushed back to November).

As for the citizen journalists, they have continued to travel across the country covering events and they’ve shot footage that you’ve probably seen of protests in Minneapolis, the January 6 Insurrection, and other locations. I’d like to thank Kristan T. Harris, Brandon Gutenschwager, and CJ Halliburton for the interviews for the article– their candid accounts of what happened that terrifying night really made the story. I’d also like to thank Kate for her feedback on the article, my editor Chris Drosner at Milwaukee Magazine for his help and supportive words, and everyone else on staff there that I’ve had the opportunity to work with.

You can read the article here: “How Citizen Journalists Captured the Chaos in Kenosha,” Milwaukee Magazine.

I also uploaded an audio file of myself reading the article via the Tea’s Weird Week podcast channels. You can listen here: TWW Singles: Tea Reads his Award-winning Article About Citizen Journalists (podbean.com)

Thanks you all for your support. Being a freelance journalist and an author working with indie book publishers is awesome and thrilling, but not particularly lucrative. If you want to support me as a writer, one of the best ways is to buy one of my books, buy one for a friend, leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or share on social media. Here are links to all my books via the best places to buy them:

American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (2020, Feral House)

Apocalypse Any Day Now: Deep Underground with America’s Doomsday Preppers (2019, Chicago Review Press)

Wisconsin Legends & Lore (2020, History Press)

Monster Hunters (2015, Chicago Review Press)

Heroes in the Night (2013, Chicago Review Press)

Tea’s Weird Week: 2020 Review (e-book collection of my columns from last year)


Tea’s Weird Week: Hodag vs Snallygaster

It’s so thrilling to have the podcast back on the air for a “season 2.” We kicked things off this season with an epic showdown between two local legend contenders. As I say in the intro to this podcast episode, we love folklore and legends at Tea’s Weird Week. There’s so many small towns across the country that have some story about a monster lurking in the forest, creeping a country lane, or swimming in the local pond. For many of these towns, their monster story is their main claim to fame– consider, for example, Mothman– who has made Point Pleasant, West Virginia a tourist destination.

This episode talks about the Hodag, monster celebrity of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and the Snallygaster of Fredrick County, Maryland.

I’m very well familiar with the Hodag. My parents took me to Rhinelander during a trip “Up North,” just so I could see photos and a sculpture of the monster in the Lumberjack Museum and they got me a t-shirt and a plush Hodag. People are still make a pilgrimage to Rhinelander to get souvenirs, as I found when I talked to Ben Brunell, proprietor of the Hodag Store (thehodagstore.com) for this episode. But what the heck is a Hodag? Well, I wrote an entry on it for my book Wisconsin Legends & Lore (2020, History Press) and here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps the most uniquely Wisconsin monster in this list is the Hodag, a fearsome animal with giant horns, fangs, and a row of spines down its back. It’s frightening and yet also a sign of civic pride in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where the Hodag story originates. 

The Hodag, I hate to spoil so quickly, was a hoax. It was created by one of Wisconsin history’s most colorful characters, Eugene Shepard, who worked in the timber industry as a land surveyor and later in life ran a resort near Rhinelander. He hung around lumberjack camps, and as you might recall from the last chapter, claims to be the originator of Paul Bunyan folklore. He was an early circulator of the tall tales, but taking his word on anything would be hard to do as he was also a well known practical joker. 

Among his many pranks were fooling people at a resort he ran into believing he had a unique, rare breed of scented moss on the property (which was regular moss doused in perfume) and a fake muskie he had rigged up to leap out of the water to entice guests into taking  fishing trips. He liked to enlist a friend to pinch people’s legs on public transportation while he imitated a growling dog to fool them into thinking they had been bitten. To be in Shepard’s vicinity was to be a practical joke victim in waiting.

Shepard’s hoax with the longest-lasting impact began in 1893 when he claimed he had encountered a Hodag, a beast based on lumberjack folklore. A Hodag, lumberjacks believed, was the ghost of a disgruntled ox. In 1896, Shepard claimed he had captured the beast (by putting chloroform at the end of a long pole and knocking the monster unconscious). Several other details about the life of the Hodag were embellished and reported by Shepard and others—the Hodag preferred to dine on white bulldogs, for example, or that its young were delivered from a set of 13 eggs.

The original Hodag carving from the 1890s.
Hodag statue in front of the Visitor Center in Rhinelander

While scrolling through Instagram, I discovered the American Snallygaster Museum and was delighted by the story. The Snallygaster is a weird bird/octopus/dragon hybrid– depictions have varied slightly, some show it with one eye or three eyes, tentacles on it’s mouth or body, etc. The legend came with German immigrants who settled in Frederick County, Maryland. It’s not a story as well known as the Hodag or Mothman, but Sarah Cooper, creator of the American Snallygaster Museum (snallygastermuseum.com) is hoping to change that. She’s assembled art and other artifacts that’s she’s been displaying as a pop-up, but is working on a permanent location.

Cover art of a 2011 book about the Snallygaster legend.

The Hodag Store and the American Snallygaster Museum– two spots to add to your monster road trip!

Tea’s Weird Week, S2, Ep02: Hodag vs Snallygaster: In addition to talking to Ben Brunell (Hodag Store) and Sarah Cooper (American Snallygaster Museum), me and Heidi had a lot of catching up to do on weird news– Miss Information is back with a trivia question (answer to win fabulous prizes), and we close the episode out with a beautiful track from Mere of Light, “Moon from a Well.” Additional music: “Mecha vs Titan” by Kaijusonic/T.Reed/ Tao X Productions and “Demon Business” by Android138.

Listen here: Tea’s Weird Week S2 ep01: Hodag vs Snallygaster (podbean.com)

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Apocalypse Any Day Now

Tea’s Weird Week: Hold on to Your Buttocks, TWW Podcast Season 2 is About to Shake Down

There’s many things I like about the Tea’s Weird Week podcast, but one reason it is dear to me is that it’s been a part of my social time, a chance to talk to cool, interesting people, some I’ve known a long time, others I’ve just met. After wanting to do a podcast for years, the pandemic downtime finally caught up to me and like a million billion other people, I got that podcast rolling. TWW has a great crew– my co-host Heidi Erickson, sound engineer Android138, and trivia host Miss Information. We did a 13 episode inaugural season that ran January through April. Like a lot of things I do, it was a case of building an airplane while flying it, but I think it turned out well.

Episode 6 art (by David Beyer)– the TWW crew as furries.

In season one, we had some really fun original music by Android138 and other music guests, an interesting array of interviews with people like writer and UFO podcaster Ryan Sprague, the yodeling dominatrix Manuela Horn, Lake Monster expert Scott Mardis, and Patch O’Furr, a furry investigative journalist, just to name a few. We also did things like an episode based on audio from my 2017 tour of the Luxury Survival Condos.

I love having a weekly discussion with Heidi for the Tea’s Weird Week News segment about topical stories and classic strange cases; a couple people won big answering Miss Information’s trivia, and we closed out each episode with a track by an awesome indie band. I guess the podcast follows a sort of weirdo late night show format– opening monologue/interview, weird news talk, bonus skit stuff (like some of the music bits and the “Comedy Roast of Zorth“), trivia question, song. We try to have fun and inform you about the very weird world around us.

You can listen to the entire season on your preferred platform choice– find the episode list and links to all platforms here: Tea’s Weird Week Podcast | (teakrulos.com)

We’re working on a new 13 episode season 2 (summer season) right now and we’ve got a lot of great stuff going. I’m going to tell you about the first 3 episodes we got in production and some of the ideas we have beyond that.

(S2, EP01.) Hodag vs. Snallygaster. We love local lore at Tea’s Weird Week. Many small towns across the country have some story about a monster that lurks in the woods, stalks a creepy country lane, or swims in the local pond. We talk with the proprietors of the Hodag Store in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and the American Snallygaster Museum in Frederick County, Maryland about their homespun monsters. (airs 5/21)

(S2, EP02.) The Marvelous Miss Fit. I met Miss Fit– bodybuilder, charity fundraiser, and Real-life Superhero star of The Adventures of Miss Fit while working on my book Heroes in the Night. A stereotype of Real-life Superheroes is that they are dorky, delusional Batman-wannabe white dudes. Miss Fit bench-presses that idea, then body-slams it, then puts it in a headlock. She’s just rad, is what I’m saying. (airs 5/28)

(S2, EP03.) Lost in the Schroeder’s Books Vortex. Imagine a bookstore that looks like something out of an episode of Hoarders, run by a mysterious and eccentric woman, a hodgepodge tsunami of books ranging from the worthless to the priceless. Well, you’ll have to imagine because the West Allis, Wisconsin Fire Department shut Schroeder’s Books and Music down years ago, but we get one last look as the store is being cleared out and remember the sights and smells of the store, plus a dramatic reading of some of the store’s Yelp reviews. (airs 6/4)

After that I’m not sure what order these might appear, but we have episode ideas in the works that include interviewing Nick Redfern about his new book, a visit to our friends at Dead by Dawn Dead & Breakfast in Manitowoc, a Bohemian Grove episode, and much more, plus some great music and intriguing trivia.

After that, we’ll take a short summer vacation and then season 3 will really be all out because it will be our fall season– lots going on. As I wrote in a 2019 Tea’s Weird Week column, “October is Mad Boo-Business.” We’ll be recording live from some events, doing our own live events, some ghost investigating.

You can see me and Heidi do the news segment live in the Tea’s Weird Week Facebook group (and hopefully I’ve figured out how to hook Streamyard to YouTube), we’re going live this Friday, May 14, 5pm CST for S2, ep01.

Tune in!


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Tea’s Weird Week: Mother God on Mountain Standard Time

I like to think I got my finger on the pulse of all things weird, but none of us are omnipresent weird, so I was boggled and amazed by the story of the Love Has Won cult, which I had not heard of. I missed their appearance on Dr. Phil last year (along with every episode of the show). This is why I value the Tea’s Weird Week Facebook group so much– it’s become a great clearinghouse for sharing weird news and I, of course, love every second of it.

Let’s start with this scene– May 23, 2020. A man named Alex Whitten was found “naked and dehydrated with cactus needles in his feet wandering through the desert north of Crestone (Colorado, a small mecca of Buddhist and Hindu temples, New Age and other spiritual centers). He appeared to be hallucinating,” according to an in-depth article on gurumag.com titled “Crestone Cult Love Has Won Leaves Man to Die in Desert.”

Whitten’s wife said that he “brainwashed” himself watching livestreams from Love Has Won. Whitten was so compelled by the group’s message– that the “Mother God” was living in human form in Colorado, that he abandoned his wife and two kids in Ohio and flew West. But he did something to piss off the Mother God and her group, because days later he was drugged and left exposed in the San Luis Valley. Fortunately, a family-led search party found him. A core member of Love Has Won’s response to the incident: “We are not Alex’s babysitter…we are here for God, not whores that desert God.”

Last week, on April 28, seven members of Love Has Won were arrested and charged with “abuse of a corpse,” after the mummified remains of the group’s leader, Amy Carlson, aka “Mother God,” aka “Mom,” aka “Mama G,” were found in a trailer in Crestone. The corpse was reportedly “mummified,” slowly decomposing, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and adorned with Christmas tree lights, glitter around her eyes. Well, where her eyes used to be– they were missing. Her followers say she has now “ascended” and that “First Contact” is imminent. The group is ranked into the “Galactic Federation of Light Team” and the “First Contact Ground Crew,” both here to initiate and age of love. One of the members described the cult’s critics as “void engineers,” which is my new favorite term.

The mugshots of the 7 disciples arrested have a kind of Manson family vibe to them, or as Tea’s Weird Week group member Billy suggested, “some Midsommar-meets-Leatherface type of White Nonsense.” Well…

Mugshots of the seven Love Has Won members charged with “abuse of a corpse.”

So many questions. How did she die? Where are the eyeballs? Where did these cult members come from? I don’t know the answers to all these and there’s a lot to take in with the story. I did fall down a little bit of a rabbit hole on this one, so I’ll share a few notes on some things that I found and how some of this relates to the Great Age of American Madness.

Who is Love Has Won?

“Among the teachings of Love Has Won is that Carlson is the 534th avatar of God on earth, and that she has revoked the free will of humanity as a failed experiment,” Raw Story reports. In past lives Amy Carlson says she has been Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, and Marilyn Monroe. Not bad! She says her father is disgraced ex-president-turned-angry-blogger Donald Trump (or in his past life he was her father in her past life I think is more accurate–maybe.) This incarnation of Mother God was born in 1975 in Kansas.

What if God was one of of us? as Joan Osbourne once sang. Well, looks she spent some time managing a McDonald’s and bouncing around between Colorado, Texas, and Florida. There is a “Father God”– actually, there’s been a few over the years. Father Gods come and go. The latest Father God (aka Jason Gilbert Castillo), has a criminal record including child neglect, criminal mischief, two DWIs, trespassing, and breaking and entering.

Mr. and Mrs. God

Love Has Won, which describes itself as a “non-profit charity spiritual institution” includes conspiracy in their teachings. They talk about Reptilians and other extra-terrestrials, and they promote many beliefs that mirror QAnon, but in a more “crunchy” variation. You have your far-right, MAGA hat sporting Q followers, and then there’s this more New Agey version that leads to things like parts of the yoga and wellness community (sometimes inadvertently) peddling the same “Deep State cabal of satanic cannibal pedophiles” and other conspiracy ideas. It’s QAnon in downward dog position.

Another way to see the two sides of the same coin is the way far right conspiracy sites like InfoWars and dippy “wellness” sites like Goop and Moon Juice market the same health supplements, albeit very differently. Both InfoWars and Goop sell products based on cordyceps mushrooms, for example, but Goop markets it as “Sun Potion,” while InfoWars uses it in a coffee blend called “Wake Up America Immune Support.” Maca, which boosts libido, is used by Moon Juice as “Sex Powder,” InfoWars calls it a “Super Male Vitality” supplement. It’s classic marketing– the generic grocery store sells a can just stamped BEANS, Trader Joe’s has a colorful label for “100% organic artisan red beans.” Same shit, different pile.

Love Has Won developed their following– possibly thousands of people– in the same way most cult groups do nowadays– YouTube, Facebook live, and other streaming videos. This is the same way the modern Flat Earther and the QAnon movement gained traction. Random observation– I noticed that there’s a strong contingency of young Australian stoners in Love Has Won. They host a live YouTube show called “United Nations,” there’s also a “DAILY ENERGY UPDATE” show on Love Has Won’s YouTube page. People are hungry for something meaningful in their lives and YouTube becomes the vacuum cleaner of lost souls.

To make money, Love Has Won has offered services like “5-D astrology” (between this and QAnon always saying that Trump was playing “5-D chess,” I got to say I’m kinda over the 5th dimension these days) which will “help those on an Ascension path obtain a deeper understanding of themselves…done through the higher 5-D consciousness perspective.” Ok. They also perform “etheric surgeries” to remove “inorganic material,” over Skype, which sounds to me like just a rebranding of reiki. Love Has Won’s website also sold various candles and supplements, “Plasma Healing Spray,” “Gaia’s Salt Soak,” and a “Mother of of All Creation Divine Trait Oracle Deck” ($44.44) which includes cards with Carlson’s face photoshopped onto a classic depiction of Jesus Christ, and an Egyptian pyramid, and other mystical locations.

Another way the group makes money is classic cult 101– shake every dime out of your followers. Hand it over– trust funds, car titles, social security and disability checks, checking and savings accounts. Love Has Won checks every box to being a cult– according to ex-members, they were sleep deprived, had their food rationed, were verbally abused, and if they pissed off Mama G, they were sent to “Desolation Row,” a barren part of the woods on their property, where they had to fend for themselves. One member, Vice discovered, was berated and punished when he brought Mama G meatballs instead of chicken parmesan. Big mistake, God did not order the meatballs! Remember, Mother God said there is no free will– only her will.

God Loves Vodka

Part of this cruel punishment from Mother God might have stemmed from the fact that she has a vodka problem that transformed her from zen-platitude-spewing-guru to rage drunk pretty quickly. In fact, members believe that the amount of alcohol that she consumed was proof that she was otherworldly as a normal human couldn’t consume as much alcohol as she did and survive. One ex-member says that he saw Mother God drink 24 shots of tequila in a row. Another former member (an ex-Father God) said that starting around dinner time she drank a steady stream of highball glasses filled with vodka with a splash of water on top and would transform into a completely different and awful person.

Here’s a video from the Love Has Won YouTube page, listed as being recorded December 16, 2019. It’s an excruciating 10:25 long video where Mother God attempts to tell a story of how she discovered angels were communicating with her. It’s immediately obvious that everyone in the video is completely stoned out of their fucking gourd. You can even tell the people off camera are stoned. Mother God, drinking out of a copper cup (probably vodka), attempts to tell a story (at the pace of someone extremely fucked up) of how she was watching The Wizard of Oz on TBS, when she was captivated by a bumper segment of the screening that asked trivia about the film. Via this trivia, angels revealed that she was “the Holy Grail.” At least I think that’s what she’s trying to say–?:

Other videos show her inebriated, shaking a cat and yelling at it, calling it a “bitch” (her favorite insults are “bitch,” “banshee,” and “whore”) and some other not quite profound videos featuring her saying (or screaming) things about her critics like “yeah bitch, carry on with your banshee fucking self. Fff, what a whore.” and “My own life workers BATTLE ME! Serving love and bringing in a new paradigm you fucking dick whores. You’re about to get it!” and “you just fucking got me on the–fucking motherfucker. Fucking wow.”

Robin Williams is Standing By

Love Has Won’s website (which is down, but a YouTuber called Sepulcher Geist, who lost a co-worker to the cult, has a pretty hilarious video tour of the site HERE) says that one of their etheric surgery staff is none other than Robin Williams. Yes, Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams. Dead Poets Society, Jumanji, Hook, Patch Adams, etc., etc.,etc. beloved comedian and actor Robin Williams. The website says that on the day he died (Aug.11, 2014), Williams appeared in Mother God’s bedroom, told her he had been murdered, and that he is also Archangel Zadkiel, and that he wanted to be part of Mom’s team. Side note: notice how these mystic figures like to have Z names. But this story is making our QAnon Bigfoot friend Zorth look tame by comparison. In 2017, according to the Love Has Won website, Robin Williams finally got the props he deserves and was awarded as “Etheric Ambassador of the Ascension of Planet Earth=Heart” by Mother God. Nanoo nanoo!

This guy did more for humanity with his pinkie finger than Love Has Won x 1,000,000

To quote the Mother God, “fucking wow.”

I’m interested to follow this story and hear more details as cults have long fascinated me. But I want to say that beyond the jokes and morbid curiosity I’ve dropped in this column, I sincerely do hope some of these people are able to reconnect with their families and friends, many who I’m sure are destroyed with worry. It’s easy to understand why– cults like Heaven’s Gate and the followers of Jim Jones ended up killing themselves.

I understand the appeal a cult like this must have– the world is a sucking black hole of awfulness, a world of “void engineers,” I get it. Imagine finding a group that will act as your family of “love,” that will give you direction and a home, that will cure that loneliness. It all sounds beautiful til “Mama G” gets mad at you and strands you naked in the desert for forgetting her chicken parmesan… or you’re being asked to help hide a corpse.

Good luck out there.


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Tea’s Weird Week: Bouncing Off the Wall

There was no Tea’s Weird Week column last week and it’s because I hit a wall and just could not write at all. Not in the least bit. It was the first time there was an unplanned skip in this weekly column.

It’s strange cause the week started off great– my friend’s at Lion’s Tooth, a wonderful new bookstore in Milwaukee, had me in to sign more copies of my book American Madness. They told me it’s selling pretty well there, so I was happy to visit, sign their stock, and pick up a few books and a t-shirt for myself. (Keep it rolling, order from them here: https://www.lionstoothmke.com/american_madness.html#/ ) Good stuff.

But the next day, Monday, I had a deadline for two short articles. If you don’t know me outside of my “weird” work, I freelance for some local publications here in Milwaukee on a wide range of topics, including (but not limited to) art, music, food/drink, local businesses, performance art, comedy, interviews with local people doing interesting things. Freelancing, like anything, has advantages and disadvantages. I really enjoy getting out to meet new creative people, learn about new things, and see some behind the scenes stuff. I’ve never had to write a story that I didn’t want to work on. That said, freelancing is often a roll of the dice and sometimes stressful and frustrating.

Anyway, two short articles– super easy! I could open up two laptops and type both these suckers out at the same time! But for some unknown reason, it really burned me out. A couple other small things happened– nothing terrible, nothing earth shattering, but the combination of a few irritations and failures made me incredibly bitter, mentally exhausted, and in serious doubt that I have any legit skill or talent by Tuesday evening. I looked at my writing projects in development– there’s about 5– and I just saw wheels spinning, kicking up dirt. What a long week…wait, it’s Tuesday?ah shit. Non-fiction writer’s block is different than the fiction version, but it is a thing.

I didn’t have any other deadlines on the horizon, so I decided to choose the best possible option for that particular time and place I was in, which was to fuck off for the rest of the week. This is not something I do often, but I got to tell you, sometimes you need to use a well placed FUCK IT.

Writing is a tough business. There’s quite a few people I’ve met who have given up on the writing thing because of the painful, intimidating gauntlet of rejection– the cold, uncaring void that will drain the pages right out of you, the struggle to find the right words. My experience has been that writing is a practice of love, pain, humility, patience, fun, grief, the highs of accomplishment, the lows of self-doubt, and much more.

I make a lot lists to keep my writing on track, but I threw them all out last week. I sure as hell didn’t do any writing. I cleaned my office, I planted some seedlings, I went for walks and thought about life, I did the dishes, I had some drinks and watched some TV. On Monday, I got moving again– slowly. It was time to get back into the game. I guess, for better or worse, I’m a writer.

Here is my 2 cent writing advice– you will want to quit, you will think you suck, you will want to burn it. Don’t. When you hit a wall, take a break if you need to, but don’t give up– dig under it, climb over it, bounce off of it, crash through it like the Kool-Aid Man. Oh yeaaaah!

Looking forward to future projects/ events really helps me not give up. Here’s some positive things coming up for me:


Tea’s Weird Week podcast, season 2– soon, working on it. Should be back in a couple weeks. Check out the podcast page for links to season 1 on your favorite podcast platforms: https://teakrulos.com/teas-weird-week-podcast-4/

-Milwaukee Press Club Awards– I’m one of the finalists in the “short hard news” category, they’ll be announcing in a virtual event May 19 whether I got the gold, silver, or bronze. I’m honored to be nominated.

Brady Street Pharmacy: Stories & Sketches is a collection of short stories I wrote about a greasy spoon/drugstore I worked at in my youth. It’ll be out next year from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press.

-Like I said, I got several writing projects in development, though nothing sold or on deadline yet. We’ll see what happens with all that.

With that, I’m going to move on to some hopefully wall-free writing while I’m still “on.”


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Tea’s Weird Week: Peter Tripp’s Wake-A-Thon Freak Out of 1959

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The Tea’s Weird Week podcast is on “vacation” as we’re trying to catch up on ideas for future podcast episodes as well as getting our Patreon rolling– check it out, lots of very cool perks at a number of affordable levels: www.patreon.com/teasweirdweek

This week I just thought I’d share a pretty crazy story I ran into while doing some light research. Like other authors, I always have a few irons in the fire– I’m working on developing a couple of non-fiction book ideas, as well as a couple of fiction ones. I’m not sure what is going to be completed first (if completed at all) or what might roll out when, but one of these fiction manuscripts is a horror novel that includes a plot involving sleep paralysis and sleep deprivation.

I was looking into the latter when I found the story of Peter Tripp, a top 40 DJ who decided to be involved with a publicity stunt. He agreed to DJ live on WMGM (where he had a show called “Your Hits of the Week”) for 200 hours (a little over 8 days) straight without sleep from a glass DJ booth in Times Square (so people could go and see him, like a sleep deprived fish in an aquarium) as a fundraiser for March of Dimes. This “Wake-A-Thon” was in late January, 1959.

It was somewhere around 120 hours into the “Wake-A-Thon” that Tripp went from extremely drowsy to beginning to lose his damn mind. He suffered from hallucinations– at one point he began to see spiders crawling out of his shoes and mice and kittens scurrying around his feet inside the studio. He had a hotel room next door where he could freshen up and there he hallucinated flames shooting out of a dresser drawer. In another instance he believed a scientist sent to observe him was an undertaker after his body, so he ran out of the studio into Times Square and had to wrangled back in. He grew paranoid of the scientists who were observing him and thought they were in league against him, trying to poison him. He had difficulty reciting the alphabet.

Peter Tripp, looking a bit tired.

The scientists monitored Tripp’s brain waves and found that his hallucination freak outs mirrored the 90 minute REM cycles he brain would experience if he was asleep, so his brain was dreaming while he was awake. The last 60 hours or so were only maintained by an administered stimulant. After he hit 200 hours, he crashed out– he reportedly slept 13 hours, 13 minutes.

Like any bad idea, the “Wake-a-Thon” craze spread to other DJs looking to duplicate Tripp’s publicity. Dozens of DJs attempted to beat Tripp’s record in 1959 and into the 60s.

Poor Peter Tripp! As one report notes, “it is often reported that the sleep-deprivation marathon had a long-term effect on his personality.” Tripp view himself as an “imposter,” what I’m interpreting to mean something like a Twin Peaks doppelganger. His marriage (one of four) fell apart shortly after the Wake-a-Thon. The next year, he was also hit for being part of the “payola” scandal, where DJs received money for playing certain songs to make them a hit. His radio DJ career drifted around California and ended up in Ohio before he quit the biz in 1967. He died in 2000 at age 73.

Now I think I’ll go take a nap.

Peter Tripp with I assume his wife during the Wake-a-Thon.

Sources
Inglis-Arkell, Esther. “The Sleep Deprivation Publicity Stunt That Drove One Man Crazy,” Gizmodo.com.

tenwatts.blogspot.com, “DJ Marathon Stay-Awake Records.”

Rolls, Geoff. “The Men Who Didn’t Sleep: Peter Tripp and Eric Gardner,” chapter from Classic Case Studies in Psychology.

And this short doc:

You can find the Tea’s Weird Week podcast here: https://teakrulos.com/teas-weird-week-podcast-4/

Check out my books:

American Madness
Apocalypse Any Day Now

Tea’s Weird Week: Milwaukee Rolls the 100-sided Die

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Rather than a typical Tea’s Weird Week column, today I’m just giving some show notes on our latest Tea’s Weird Week podcast episode, the “season one finale,” that is filled with stories about Dungeons & Dragons & Milwaukee. Much was discussed and here’s a rundown of relevant links. Just click on the highlighted text and you’ll find the website/article cited.

Dungeons & Dragon’s Wisconsin origins: Gary Gygax of Lake Geneva, WI, founded the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention, later known as GenCon. The convention eventually settled in Milwaukee– til 2003, when citing lack of hotel space and an unsatisfactory convention center, they moved to the more exotic locale of…Indianapolis. It remains one of the biggest gaming conventions in the world. Gygax co-created Dugeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson. The game was first published in 1974.

The Rare first ten D&D games: My friend Jan Christensen was given one of the first ten copies of Dungeons & Dragons. After playing it a few times, it sat in storage until 2016, when looking for something to sell so she could enjoy a road trip, she found this treasure. She shared with us the exciting story of it’s sale via Ebay to the Strong National Museum of Play in Buffalo, NY. Jan is the former editor of the great community newspaper, the Riverwest Currents.
The pandemic has been tough on independent journalism, please donate to their GoFundMe here: www.gofundme.com/f/help-riverwest-currents-stay-alive-and-printing

Factions: Battlegrounds: Last year I met Peter Ferry and Jason Clayton, two childhood friends who have followed their dream of creating “a multi-player fantasy combat boardgame representing diverse cultures and mythologies.” So cool! And they had a successful Kickstarter, met their stretch goals, and games should be delivered early this summer.
You can read an interview I did with them for the Shepherd Express here: shepherdexpress.com/arts-and-entertainment/off-the-cuff/friends-create-diverse-fantasy-battleground
Check out their website and pre-order a game here: www.factionsbattlegrounds.com

The Manticore Consort: If you’ve visited the Bristol Renaissance Faire, you’ve probably spotted the Manticore Consort, who add greatly to their atmosphere with their hurdy-gurdy and other renaissance instruments. Check out/ buy their music here: manticoreconsort.bandcamp.com

Faklandia Brewing: They brew their own beer, serve food, are an event space, AND are built around a fantasy theme, incorporated into their business on a multi-media gaming front. Faklandia is a realm of it’s own, but you can find it in Saint Francis (just outside of Milwaukee). It’s a wonderful place to visit. Find more at their website: faklandia.com

Tea’s Weird Week Facebook group: We mentioned a D&D poll conducted in this group, it’s a clearinghouse for weird news of all sorts and hella fun. Join us here: www.facebook.com/groups/359809171918389

Satanic Panic: Heidi’s source for details of the Satanic Panic comes from this article, “Why Satanic Panic never really ended,” Vox.com.

Implanted memories: Heidi also mentioned this Wall Street Journal article, “False Memories Can Be Planted and Then Reversed, Researchers Find.”

Lil Nas X: Congrats on starting your own mini-Satanic Panic! Here’s the video we talked about, in case you have yet to see it:

Rev. Bob Larson: I recalled the time I saw Rev. Bob Larson’s “exorcism” session in action. It was one of the strangest things I’ve experienced, and believe me you, that is saying something. I wrote about it in a chapter of my book Monster Hunters. You can see for yourself at the Bob Larson: Real Exorcist YouTube Channel. Content warning: everything.

Robert Wardhaugh’s longest running D&D campaign: We ended by talking about Robert Wardhaugh of London, Ontario, whose Dungeons & Dragons campaign has now been running continuously for 39 years! CNN’s Great Big Story did an article/podcast on him here: https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/20/us/dungeons-and-dragons-longest-game-great-big-story-trnd/index.html

Fight Dice: We ended the show with this great new multi-media music project that has a D&D theme. Really fun stuff, the have an EP coming out very shortly. Can’t wait to see more of Tim’s art!

Check out their music here: fightdice.bandcamp.com/releases and see art on their Facebook.

Tea’s Weird Week Patreon: We need your support to keep the podcast going. We have several tiers available with a TON of cool extras– behind the scenes access, bonus episodes, free online and in-person events, signed copies of my books, Tea’s Weird Week shirts and more. Please check it out: https://www.patreon.com/teasweirdweek

Listen: Here’s links to: Tea’s Weird Week episode 13: Dungeons & Dragons & Milwaukee (podbean.com)
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Check out my books:

American Madness
Apocalypse Any Day Now
Tea’s Weird Week: 2020 Review (ebook)

Tea’s Weird Week: Conspiracy on the Suez Canal (and Canadian Mason Arson)

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In this age of QAnon, we’ve seen the most outlandish conspiracies spread on the Internet. Just to mention a few– “mole children” being held captive underneath Central Park, prisoners of the “Deep State” to be used in sex trafficking and to harvest their “adrenochrome” by the same sinister cabal that brought you Pizzagate. There was also the theory that Wayfair was delivering child sex slaves in their furniture. On March 4, the “real inauguration” of Trump was supposed to take place. Recently, there’s been a conspiracy that Joe Biden is either a deepfake or is just pretending to be president in front of a greenscreen.

And now the news of the day– a cargo ship getting stuck sideways in the Suez Canal is the latest to have a thumbtack and long piece of yard attached to it. This theory stars QAnon’s ultimate boss bad guy Hillary Clinton.

The first and longest running conspiracy involving Hill and Bill is the “Clinton Body Count.” I love the title of that conspiracy because I imaging the Clintons sneaking around as a couple, killing people in person. Bill sneaks up behind someone and chokes them with his tie while Hillary whips out a shank and starts stabbing, all while some grindcore shreds in the background. Brutal!

But seriously, the theory suggests that a great number of people somehow associated with the Clintons have been killed by Clinton bankrolled hitmen. It’s like a death version of “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon”– anyone you can tie to the Clintons who has died is said to be part of the hit list.

Pizzagate was the next step of adding to the Clinton conspiracy mythology. Hillary and her people (most notably John Podesta, who was a member of Bill’s cabinet and campaign advisor to Hillary–leaked emails showing his love of pizza parties was the centerpiece of Pizzagate) were said to be the masterminds of a child sex trafficking ring operating in DC, a satanic cabal of Democrats, Hollywood elites, the fake news media, etc. that rape and eat children and get high off of their “adrenochrome.”

The darkest place these conspiracies go is a hoax called “frazzledrip.” This is supposedly the name of a snuff video that shows Hillary and her advisor Huma Abedin torturing, raping, and drinking the blood of a young girl to get high on her adrenochrome. It was supposedly leaked from the laptop of Abedin’s ex-husband Anthony Wiener, but the video does not exist on the dark web or anywhere else.

The latest QAnon nonsense suggests that this ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal is Hillary Clinton’s personal sex trafficking vehicle. That’s right, those shipping containers are filled with children heading to a Pizzagate-style ring. That’s a big claim. What’s the evidence? Well…

The Ever Given container ship is pictured in Suez Canal in this Maxar Technologies satellite image taken on March 26, 2021. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS


– The ship, the Ever Given, is owned by a Taiwanese company called Evergreen. Clinton was given the Secret Service code name “Evergreen” (Bill’s was “Eagle”).

-The Ever Given’s radio call sign is H3RC, uh oh that means Hillary Rodham Clinton.

-What’s on the boat? Shipping containers that QAnon says are full of sex trafficking victims. And maybe a lot– the ship holds up to 20,000 20 foot long containers.

-The ship’s charted course allegedly shows that it drew a dick in the Red Sea. To what end? The Qanon theory was to draw attention to the ship. As Vice reports, one Q follower posted:

“Those ships are on auto-pilot most of the time. The computers do the work. I am suggesting that the ship’s computers were hacked. My suspicions lean toward the White Hats. This was part of the plan.”

QAnon believed that the ship had purposely been grounded so the world could see the shipping containers being opened, the sex trafficking victims released and Hillary Clinton exposed for the satanic pedophile cannibal/ shipping magnate that she was. That, of course, didn’t happen.

Exhibit A: ship route drew a cartoon dick.

Why would someone who is running a human trafficking ring leave clues as to their identity behind? Do people actually believe this shit? They sure do, and it’s led to a social epidemic of unhinged violence.

The biggest incident was the Jan. 6 insurrection, which had a large contingency of QAnon believers. But there’s been a few examples over the last month. On March 15, a man drove a car covered with spray-painted Q slogans (like “wwg1wga” which means “where we go one, we go all.”) to a National Guard.

And here’s the latest person to snap from conspiracy– a person named Benjamin Orion Carlson Kohlman went on an early morning rampage earlier on March 30, setting three Vancouver area masonic lodges on fire. The Freemasons have long been a part of conspiracy lore as a secret organization that controls the world. He escaped an altercation with a police officer and posted on his social media that he had “just cleaned three satanic clubhouses and nobody could do anything,” there was no QAnon connection reported, but other posts promoted 9/11 and Flat Earth conspiracies, and a post from 2018 showed an image of a masonic hall with text that read “Masons meet secretly to plan the truth they want you to see.” Source: CTV News

Conspiracy continues to beget violence.

One of the Masonic lodges set on fire in Vancouver.

SEE ALSO: The new HBO documentary Q: Into the Storm documents the origins of QAnon and how it evolved from a dark corner of the Internet to the mainstream.

In the opening sequence of Q: Into the Storm, the documentary maker talks about not being able to see an owl without thinking about Moloch; if you want to know the origins of all that, as well an intro to QAnon and many examples of how conspiracy thinking is dangerous, please do check out my book American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness. You’ll find similarities– arson, Freemasons– to this latest story out of Vancouver.

Tea’s Weird Week, episode 12: I talk more about this column and the future of this podcast in the “Please Clap Dept.” Me and Heidi talk about a zombie rabies strain (plus the zombie-vampire political study), a plague doctor stalking Scotland, the saga of Salmon Dream, the worst T-shirt ever, and a sewer mystery. Plus trivia with Miss Information, and we close out with a track from our sound engineer, Android138, “The Dreams that we Dare to Dream.”

You can listen here: Tea’s Weird Week episode 12: Conspiracy on the Suez Canal (podbean.com)

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Check out my latest books:
American Madness
Tea’s Weird Week: 2020 Review
(ebook)

Tea’s Weird Week: Lake Monster Edition

Well now, the nice weather is starting to breeze in. What’s an idyllic summer day? Sitting on a dock with a bucket full of ice and beer, listening to The Ramones and scanning a lake with a pair of binoculars, hoping to spot a Lake Monster? Sounds good to me.

In 2015 I had a book published titled Monster Hunters, which documented my adventures hanging out with people looking for evidence of ghost, UFOs, and cryptids (unknown entities of cryptozoology like Bigfoot, Chupacabras, etc.) In the early planning of the book, I knew there were several experiences I wanted to have and one was most definitely getting out on a Lake Monster expedition.

The most famous Lake Monster of all, of course is the Loch Ness Monster aka Nessie, a childhood favorite of mine. In fact, while backpacking through the UK and Ireland in the year 2000, I convinced my travel partner that we should head into the Highlands so we could check out Loch Ness. We stayed at a hostel in the town of Drumnadrochit, a hotspot of Nessie tourism, so we could go to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition and visited Urquhart Castle, which rested on the shore of the loch and was an area of several Nessie sightings. It was all very exciting to me and I bought as many Nessie souvenirs as I could cram in my backpack.

But I’m getting a bit off track. I was working on Monster Hunters and cryptozoology grandmaster Loren Coleman (prolific author and director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine) sent me in the direction of Champ Camp, an expedition that took place in Vermont in July of 2013. Champ is often called the American Loch Ness Monster, residing Lake Champlain, which is located between Vermont, New York, and Quebec. I signed up and set up camp with the cryptozoologists in Button Bay State Park in Vermont.

That’s me out on Lake Champlain, looking for Champ, July 2013.

It was really a fun experience, a weekend filled with canoe trips, campfires, talking to Champ eyewitnesses, and visiting Champ landmarks. I wrote all about it in a chapter of Monster Hunters titled “Lake Monster Fever.” On the latest Tea’s Weird Week podcast, I caught up with one of the investigators I met on the trip, Scott Mardis, an extremely dedicated researcher who probably has more knowledge of Lake Monster and Sea Serpent cases in all of the 7 Seas.

Scott actually moved from Alabama to Vermont in the 90s so he could be closer to Lake Champlain and have time for hands on investigation into Champ. Scott says he believes he might have spotted the creature while Champ-watching in 1994. He eventually moved to Florida, where he investigates Florida cases– most recently he’s been paddling down the Saint John’s River looking for a creature nicknamed “Pinky.” But he does get back to Lake Champlain on a regular basis, trying to investigate every summer. This year he’s working on setting up a summer expedition with a new organization he’s a part of called the Lake Champlain Zoological Inquiry. Will they find definitive evidence of Champ? We’ll see.

Here are just a few pieces that Scott says are classic examples of Champ evidence:

The Mansi Photo: this photo was taken by Sandra Mansi while her family was visiting the lake in 1977. They said it was a creature– critics say it shows a log or stump.
An eyewitness sketch by Christine Hebert. Christine says she saw Champ creatures resting near a boat dock at her family owned boathouse on more than one occasion. I visited the boathouse and met Christine during the 2013 Champ Camp along with Scott and the other participants. Christine seemed quite confident in what she had seen and other family members had witnessed the creatures as well.
Stills from the “Bodette Video,” in which possible neck and flipper of Champ are seen.

What do you think? (Comment on this post). Nessie and Champ are far from the only Lake Monster tales, it seems like every body of water bigger than a swimming pool has some sort of lore about it. Lake Monsters and Sea Serpents have been spotted around the world and these are an ancient fear. A famous historical story is the much feared Kraken, which sailors feared would rip apart their ships. A few more well known North American examples include Ogopogo (spotted in Lake Okanagan in British Columbia), Flathead Lake Monster (of Montana), and the Lake Erie Monster aka South Bay Bessie, spotted in Ohio and Michigan. Here in Wisconsin there’s quite a legacy of historical monster sightings, from Lake Michigan to Rock Lake to Lake Geneva. Last week I talked in my column/ podcast about researcher Chad Lewis, check out his book Lake Monsters of Wisconsin.

So there you go– pack up your binoculars, hydrophones, underwater cameras, biopsy darts, giant nets, your copy of The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep, and a six pack– it’s Lake Monster season! I’ll send you a postcard:

Please Clap Dept.: I am a winner of a Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Award in the “Short Hard News Feature” category for an article I wrote for Milwaukee Magazine in 2020, “Reporting Live from the Street.” I’ll find out in May if it won gold, silver, or bronze, but I’m honored just to be in the top 3. The articles are judged by other press clubs around the country.

Tea’s Weird Week episode 11: I talk more with Scott Mardis about his studies of Champ and other Lake Monsters, then me and Heidi talk about AI pickup lines, a ghost grabbin’ VR game, a major shrinkage problem, and Joe Biden–fact or faked? Miss Information has a new trivia question and we close out with a track by Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra, “You Married a Sea Serpent.”

Listen here: Tea’s Weird Week episode 11: Lake Monster Edition (podbean.com)
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Check out my books:
American Madness
Monster Hunters
Wisconsin Legends & Lore

Tea’s Weird Week: I Dare Ya! New Book by Chad Lewis Explores “Supernatural Dares of the Midwest”

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Last year I had a title released called Wisconsin Legends & Lore (History Press). I tried to collect a good mix from Wisconsin’s rich history of storytelling. One of my favorite parts was talking about urban legends from around the state. Urban legends are stories spun, usually about a creepy location, and people (usually young folks) get a frightened thrill daring, or even worse– double dog daring— someone to do something frightening. In Muskego, Wisconsin, there was a dare to drive down Mystic Lane late at night to look for Haunchyville, supposedly a community of angry little people that will attack you if you dare cross over into their turf. If you park your car on Bloody Bride Bridge in Stevens Point, local lore says you can look in your rearview mirror and see the Bloody Bride sitting in your back seat. These stories of looking in mirrors and chanting names, picking up phantom hitchhikers, and encountering monsters, witches, and psycho killers on back roads can be found all over the country. The stories vary slightly, but the premise is often the same.

One person well equipped to track these stories down is prolific researcher, lecturer, and author Chad Lewis. Chad has authored and co-authored books like The Road Guide to Haunted Locations series, Lake Monsters of Wisconsin, the Hidden Headlines series, and many more. Although he’s been all over the world, much of his work focuses on the Midwest. He grew up in Eau Claire (which is in Wisconsin, but close to Minnesota) and currently lives near the Madison area.

Author, researcher, and lecturer Chad Lewis.

Chad admits his favorite part of writing isn’t the long hours spent staring at a screen, scrutinizing grammar, but rather the thrill of the open road, discovering new places, hearing new stories. That’s what makes Supernatural Dares of the Midwest: Curses, Monsters, and Ghosts such a perfect project for him. He’s no armchair expert– he bravely got out there and tried every dare in the book for himself.

“I pride myself that every place that I write about or lecture about, I’ve actually visited for myself. That’s just the way it works for me, I have to be there. With the dares it was important that I tried them all. I joke in the book that there’s only one that I failed at doing and that’s because many claim it doesn’t exist,” Chad told me in an interview for the Tea’s Weird Week podcast. “That dare is if you check out a certain book from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater library, you will go crazy and either die or kill yourself. The reason I failed is because the book apparently does not exist. The library has told me year after year they don’t have it, which is exactly what you’d expect sneaky librarians to say to you,” Chad laughed. He’s referring to an urban legend that the UW-Whitewater library has an ancient magic Book of Shadows locked up somewhere, part of the greater witch lore of Whitewater, which was called Second Salem because they had a Spiritualist school there in the late 1800s.

Chad traveled around Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois seeking stories of cursed gravestones, portals to Hell, and country lanes said to be stomping grounds of monsters, eventually compiling about 40 supernatural dares for his book.

But why do we do it? Why do we scare each other into these frightening experiences of potentially coming face-to-face with the ghost of Old Man Weary or a pack of Hellhounds?

“I think there’s many aspects to it,” Chad tells me. “One, it feels good. Believe it or not, fear can make you feel good. Once your mind realizes you’re probably not in any physical sort of danger, your body is still rushing your organs with chemicals, the same stuff you get from happiness, sex, excitement– it feels good, the endorphins rush through.”

The dares also give people a chance to have their own mini hero’s journey.

“I think a lot of people are looking for that test of bravery amongst there peers, especially high school and college age kids. If they can walk down a cursed marsh road with a Goatman there and not bat an eye, they get a boost of self esteem and are seen in a higher light in their peers’ eyes, so I think the social aspect plays into it, too,” Chad says.

Last but not least– a thrill in a cookie cutter, boring landscape.

“On a deeper level I think people like doing it cause when you start traveling the country, you see that a lot of the cities look the same– the same restaurants, hotels, gas stations,” Chad explains. “So people are looking for that uniqueness, that strangeness that can only be found in your area.”

As Chad says, I love these stories and I think they’re an important part of our cultural landscape, our own modern folklore.

You can pre-order Chad’s book and check out his other work at: chadlewisresearch.com

Tea’s Weird Week podcast, episode 11: I talk more with Chad Lewis about his career as a researcher into the unknown and some of the supernatural dares he encountered working on his new book. Plus me and Heidi read some of the dumb things our listeners did on a dare and discuss mask enforcing luchadores, a Joker-themed candidate in Japan, Amityville, crystal ball safety, sperm samples on the moon, and more. Miss Information reveals trivia answers, an Irish jig inspired track from Sunspot, and we close with Ratbatspider‘s track about the Haunchyville urban legend, “Keep This Short.”

Listen here: Tea’s Weird Week episode 10: I Dare Ya! (podbean.com)
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Check out my latest books:

Wisconsin Legends & Lore
American Madness
Apocalypse Any Day Now
Tea’s Weird Week: 2020 Review (ebook)