Unbelievable! Fabulous! World Class! Outstanding!

Houston just can't shake its inferiority complex. Every few years, the phrase "world class" starts making regular appearances on the editorial pages, and the opera and the museums are thrust forth as proof that, really and truly, we're just as good as any other metropolis. Boosters relentlessly tout our showings on those dreadful places-rated lists, or note that "Houston" was the first word uttered on the moon, or recall that Bob Hope -- Bob Hope! -- once said the most beautiful view he'd ever seen was South Main from his window at the Warwick Hotel.

The latest round of handwringing over the city's "image" began last year, after Mayor Bob Lanier suddenly realized that Houston has no image to speak of. His solution was to have his wife appointed to head the new Houston Image Group, then see to it that the organization was gifted with a million bucks from taxpayers -- even though its function seemed oddly similar to the one already being filled by the Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The move drew criticism, but Elyse Lanier was undeterred, approaching her new assignment with the same single-mindedness she once displayed in peddling David Webb jewelry to her fellow ladies who lunch. She's had such cronies as restaurateur Tony Vallone and Foley's Linda Knight appointed to the Image Group's ten-member board, and the outfit is moving to hire an executive director and an advertising firm.

We had wondered idly how Elyse and company would go about packaging and selling the city. Maybe they'd inundate the rest of the country with a slogan -- say, something in the brilliant tradition of "Houston's Hot." Or maybe they'd import New Yorkers and San Franciscans and Parisians -- people from first-rate, self-confident cities -- and wine and dine them and drive them around, so that they'd have the chance to approve of us. Or maybe Elyse would just invite Bob Hope back for one last visit, in case he felt like saying something nice again.

But now all has been revealed, thanks to Elyse's recent appearance on On Point, the aptly named vanity production that canine-like Controller Lloyd Kelley is permitted to air at all hours of the day on the city's Municipal Channel. In between suing the city and failing to show up to give his monthly financial reports to City Council, Kelley managed to sit still for a whole 30 minutes as he and Elyse cooed and gee-whizzed over Houston's many fine points: the opera and the museums, the restaurants and the quality of life and even -- we're not making this up -- the weather.

It was a half-hour of perfectly distilled Houston -- desperately eager to please, desperately eager to be pleasing. Elyse, dressed as the ambassador from Saks, flashed that big lipsticked smile at Lloyd, and Lloyd, looking alternately like Gomer Pyle's moronic younger brother and a habitual shoplifter, beamed back that toothsome, slightly addled grin of his. Listening as they stretched wildly to overcompensate for our lack of scenery, history and nightlife, you wanted to pat their hands, to say, "There, there, it's really not all that bad."

You can't imagine two San Franciscans or New Yorkers or Parisians conducting such an exercise, even in the wilds of public access. People from those cities would spend their air time complaining, whining about the impossible cost of living, or the dirty streets, or how it's impossible to buy a decent baguette anymore.

Provincial as the Elyse 'n' Lloyd show was, though, it was somehow weirdly endearing. It even left us feeling a little more kindly toward our town, a warm glow that lingered until we found ourselves stuck out in the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the West Loop later in the day. It's a feeling that, however fleeting it was, we'd like to share. So, for the cable-deprived among our readers, or for those who found the latest Moesha more compelling viewing, we offer these highlights from On Point (all dialogue guaranteed verbatim):

Museums? We got 'em!
Elyse: "I mean, you can go to museums for days ... the Egyptian exhibit, we have the natural science, the Smithsonian is here, we have the Holocaust Museum, we have the health museum, the Menil ... I mean it just goes on, it's ... it's unbelievable."

Lots of restaurants, too
Elyse: "We have over 8,500 restaurants in Houston. We have fabulous restaurants in Houston ...."

And lots of food
Elyse: "... and they're good restaurants. I mean, look at me -- they're great restaurants."

Elyse on Houston's hotels
"We have great hotels."

Opportunities to shop!
Elyse: "As far as shopping, we have great antique shops ...."
Lloyd: "Oh, now that I know ...."

Elyse on the best place to buy art in Houston from a gallery owner who contributed $5,000 to help stage her husband's last inaugural

"I mean, go to Meredith Long, he has, you know, the greatest artists in the world."

Houston versus New York
Lloyd: "What it sounds like is you're describing New York without the crime."

Elyse: "Exactly ... we have the exact same thing. Not only without the crime -- it's clean. Every time we go to New York, and we're riding along in the streets, and we're bumping along, I feel so sorry for the mayor. I think about all the potholes he should be filling."

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