Humping to Please

The Christmas season isn't a holiday for Houston's camels

The Bayou City may be a bit short on medieval pageant wagons and Whom Seek Yees, but that doesn't mean modern Houstonians ignore the opportunity to celebrate the season with excess and pageantry. At least a dozen area churches will have live nativity scenes, and the number of commercial and private living displays may well be too numerous to mention. But while the human components of these Christmas exhibitions are fairly easy to come by, and the sheep and the cattle are common currency in this town, the high-humped highlights of these tableaus -- the desert ships carrying the triad of wise men -- are harder to come by. And that means that this time of year Houston's contingent of camels frequently find themselves galloping from one event to the next to fulfill audiences' cravings for a bit of dromedary drama.

One of the outstanding stars of the season is Crete, who stands seven feet at the hump (not too tall for a camel) and spends his off hours at home in Cut-n-Shoot. Crete, owned by former circus roustabout Bill Swain, is best known as the star of the First Baptist Church of Houston Pageant. But he's already booked (along with his coworker Sahara) at five other live nativity celebrations. The reason for Clete's popularity, says Swain, has nothing to do with his appearance -- he's only an ordinary brown, not a lovely champagne blond like Sahara -- but everything to do with his personality. Crete, says Swain, is the ultimate performer. He has presence. He has personality. He is, Swain modestly allows, "the Michael Jackson of the camel world."

Crete's human costars agree. Joni Farmer has led the camel in First Baptist's "King's Caravan" for more than a decade. On the afternoon of this year's first full dress rehearsal, Joni and Crete reunite, and since this is a theatrical crowd, there are busses all around. "Hi honey," Farmer coos. "Hi sweetheart!" And the 2,000-pound beast lurches forward for a kiss.

The muzzle of a camel is velvety, like the muzzle of a horse, and the gelding Swain calls "Crete-ie Pie" is a friendly animal with a slobbery snout. "Did you train him to kiss?" he's asked. "No," Swain replies, "he's just a mooch." Indeed he is. Crete presses his furry lips to every face in the crowd. The flirtatious ruminant nuzzles all the First Baptists on hand, and even has cud-reeking kisses for two middle-school teachers who happen by.

These very public displays of affection don't bother the camel's costar. Crete, Farmer gushes, "is just wonderful." Then, frowning, she admits to not liking the one other camel she's worked with, King Tut. Tut, she confides with downcast eyes, spat and bit.

Tut, though, is no longer among the city's Christmas camels, which along with Crete and Sahara include Humphrey and Humphrey Jr., a couple of Hal Newsom's Petting Zoo dromedaries. Exactly how many Christmas camels the city boasts is hard to tell; there's no central camel clearing office, and calls to city and county officials turned up no evidence that anyone needs a permit to park a camel at a suburban church, or a midtown estate, for that matter.

What does it cost to get a camel? It's not cheap, especially this time of year, when demand can exceed supply. Hal Newsom's Petting Zoo charges $150 an hour. Renting an important camel like Crete for several days during the season is a high-end deal. However, Swain says, "This camel thing drops right off after the 25th. After Christmas, I'll make deals.

 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Houston Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...