Oral Argument

The duel of the tongue vibrators

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore is having a heavy, heavy time these days, with the tedious procedural sparring of the Enron broadband suit and the looming death penalty case against a heartless human smuggler.

So she might be forgiven for laughingly telling attorneys, "I want this one!" when pretrial discussions began on a patent-infringement case involving…tongue vibrators. (We assume Gilmore was referring to the case and not the product.)

Her courtroom will see a titanic battle this fall to determine just who owns the patent for designing a small vibrator that attaches to the tongue, presumably to facilitate the kind of activities that might still get you arrested in certain Southern states.

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It's The Tiggler vs. Tongue Joy, and passions are high. So high, in fact, that the cops were called out after two of the attorneys scuffled during a March 26 deposition in San Francisco. (Since the depo took place at the infamous building where eight law firm employees were massacred in 1993, SFPD answered the 911 call with an army of officers. Two attorneys were cited for misdemeanor battery.)

"It's a pretty odd case…I'm usually dealing with things like software infringement," says Eric Osterrieder, a Houston attorney involved in the case (who wasn't one of the brawlers). His opponent, Charles Rogers (who was involved in the incident) says he usually deals with patents for "downhole drilling technology," which, surprisingly enough, doesn't involve sexual aids. (It's an oil industry term.)

The Tiggler ($31 via www.lesbiansextoys.com and other Web sites) is the brainchild of Eric Klein, a Silicon Valley software engineer and part-time inventor. It requires a pierced tongue, as does so much of life.

Klein even pierced his own tongue to test the product. He learned, alas, that it wasn't easy to find female subjects willing to assist the scientific odyssey of a fortysomething, single software engineer (and part-time inventor!).

"Maybe if I was 19," he says. "You get to be my age and women just go, 'I don't want to hear about it.' "

Meanwhile (and of course, the definition of "meanwhile" is in dispute), JJK Industries of Austin was developing the Tongue Joy ($49 at www.tonguejoy.com), which attaches to the tongue via elastic loops. (One Web site testimonial: "It's the ultimate romantic gesture!!")

A jury will hear the case in September. Which will be declared "National Double Entendre Month" by the Union of Reporters and Headline Writers, coincidentally enough.

Non-Homeland Security

Keeping our fair land safe from the terrorist scourge involves cloak-and-dagger skullduggery, high-tech eavesdropping, Coast Guard powerboats and -- on the less glamorous end of the scale -- working as a security guard for the Houston-area immigration office.

So maybe it wasn't thrilling, but for Salomon Juarez it was a job. Until last month, that is, when federal agents took him away. It turns out Juarez is an illegal immigrant who'd been ordered back to Peru in 2000. The private security firm that hired him and the federal agency that conducts background checks on such workers are in hot water.

As is Juarez. He faces criminal charges because he was an illegal immigrant carrying a gun. In his security-guard job. What's he supposed to do -- offer to fight the jihadists unarmed?

It's a ballsy man who is in a country illegally and yet applies for a job guarding the immigration office. Juarez wasn't available for comment, but his attorney, federal public defender Tom Berg, pleads for mercy: "He wasn't committing crimes," Berg says. "He was guarding against crime."

Where Is the Love?

The folks at the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau were elated when a survey by Travel + Leisure magazine finally ranked Houston as one of the top 25 American cities to visit. But the fine print was a bit gloomier: Houston ranked 25th in such categories as Best Place to Take In Views and Best Romantic Getaway.

What? You mean people aren't flocking to Houston for their honeymoons? Don't they know we have a light rail system now?

What could be more romantic than June in Houston? (June in Phoenix, apparently -- they came in 19th. We guess dry heat's more romantic than wet.)

Jordy Tollett, the smooth-talking convention bureau president, isn't buying it. "I've been married a couple of times, and I've honeymooned here," he proclaims. Which says more about Tollett than it does Houston, really.

Tollett notes that the survey was taken before the Super Bowl, where America apparently discovered a new romantic paradise. "And we got the [Major League Baseball] All-Star game coming. We're gonna be known as a sports town," he says.

Is that really compatible with a honeymoon spot? "Maybe not," he admits. "I don't see someone saying, 'Darlin', you can marry me, but we're gonna go to a baseball game after.' "

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The GOP runoff for the newly created Tenth Congressional District is as heated as they come. Especially because -- the Tenth being a Tom DeLay redistricting special -- there is no Democratic opponent in the fall.

It's easy to tell the players -- Ben Streusand is the self-funding millionaire who has the backing of social conservatives and who rails against liberals bringing down society through such diabolical plots as the NEA. Michael McCaul is the former federal prosecutor who has gathered most of the establishment support; he's also the son-in-law of the guy who owns the Bush-loving Clear Channel Communications media giant.

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