The dog days of summer are headed to Houston, literally, with the 26th annual Reliant Park Series of Dog Shows. Top-ranked pooches from all over the country will be on hand (er paw) to compete in flyball, Frisbee, agility and obedience contests, plus something called "Canine Musical Freestyle." (Will Snoop be in the house? F'shizzle!) "These are wonderful events for people who love dogs, and the interaction between the dog and the owner provides great sport," says show chairperson Tom Pincus of the Houston Kennel Club. He expects almost 12,000 dogs -- representing most of the 158 recognized breeds -- to take part in the competition, which will be filmed by Animal Planet.
The event also features canine seminars, educational programs, an art show, health clinics, "Meet the Breed," Q&A sessions and more than 200 vendors selling all things doggy. Come see whether the Christopher Guest flick Best in Show is an honest depiction of dog show culture. Maybe the real thing is even more bizarre. 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, July 17; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19; and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, July 20. Reliant Center, 8400 Kirby. For information, call 713-791-9069 or visit www.reliantdogshows.com. $5 to $10. -- Bob Ruggiero
Spies Like Us
Milt Bearden spent 30 years working for the CIA, which took him to Afghanistan during the Russian invasion. He was also a writer-adviser for Meet the Parents, ensuring the authenticity of Robert De Niro's ex-spook character and designing his polygraph interrogation room. No word on which assignment was more dangerous, but Bearden (with co-author James Risen) addresses the former in The Main Enemy.
Weaving hundreds of interviews with personal observations, The Main Enemy chronicles the real-life showdown between the CIA and the KGB. "It was a mind game where we reached more or less destroying each other as far as our spies went," says Bearden, a Houston native and graduate of the University of St. Thomas. Though spy work isn't as glamorous or dangerous as pop culture presents, Bearden says the CIA is busy today, battling terrorists instead of commies. "It's the difference between facing one giant dragon in front of a cave," says the author, "versus a lot of vipers in the forest."
De Niro has already optioned The Main Enemy, and Bearden will collaborate with him on another CIA film. They recently traveled to Afghanistan and Russia on a research trip -- undoubtedly running into rural tribesmen who asked, "You talkin' to me?" 2 p.m. Saturday, July 19. Barnes & Noble, 12850 Memorial. For information, call 713-465-5616. Free. -- Bob Ruggiero
Pick Your Poison
Want to know more about Botox? Wonder why everyone's running around willy-nilly, having a muscle-paralyzing toxin injected into their faces? The ironically named "Be the True You National Mall Tour" slithers into the Galleria this weekend for a free Q&A session about cosmetic skin treatments. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 19 and 20. Galleria, Lord & Taylor Atrium, 5061 Westheimer. For information, call 713-622-0663. Free. -- Troy Schulze
It's a Free World
Vietnamese women from around the world -- including several from our fair city -- will go head to head this weekend at the second Miss Vietnamese Free World Beauty Pageant. Vietnamese singers will perform at the show, and the women will be competing in several categories, including Best in Traditional Costume, Best in Swimsuit, Best in Evening Gown, Miss Congeniality and Miss Photogenic. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-524-5596 or visit www.missvietnamesefreeworld.com. $45 to $100. -- Cathy Matusow
Sea for Yourself
The Houston Maritime Museum is a treasure chest
The Houston Maritime Museum is jam-packed with artifacts from lives spent offshore. Among them is a navy of world-class, kid-friendly model ships -- some as big as couches, and one smaller than the flashlight bulb containing it. Visitors can see pirate swords, muskets, ancient nautical instruments and bones from prehistoric predators. But the museum's greatest treasure is its captain and curator, 79-year-old James Manzolillo. He's one of the world's foremost experts on ships; ask him about anything in the museum, and you're sure to get a good story.
When the hull of the Titanic was raised, Manzolillo was there, standing next to a survivor of the famous disaster. Manzolillo has been torpedoed by Nazis, twice. One attack left him adrift in the Atlantic for days. The museum features a flag that went to the moon with one of Manzolillo's friends, Neil Armstrong. "I don't think you can separate astronauts from sailors," says Manzolillo, "except we know more about space than the ocean."
Did you know that when Admiral Lord Nelson was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar his body was shipped back to England in a barrel of rum? Or that rowers in Roman ships weren't slaves, but elite warriors? Or that both a ship and a Scotch were named after Robert Burns's poem about a Scottish lass who wore a cutty sark (short shirt)? Or that getting those little ships into bottles requires a tiny hinge on the masts, which are folded down during insertion?