By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
If you're the owner of a gun shop and your longtime store has burned to the ground, where do you relocate? If you're Triangle Guns in the rural far-western reaches of Harris County, the choice is clear: You move right across the street from a junior high.
Apparently all the spots next to bars or facilities offering anger-management courses were taken.
Drive down two-lane Wallisville Road in the unincorporated hamlet of Highlands, and on one side is the sign honoring the Student of the Week at Highlands Junior High. On the other side of the street, it's specials on AK-47s.
Texas -- you never stop surprising us.
Of course, parents and school officials are up in arms at the thought that a down-at-the-heels gun shop, housed in a tin shack with a swinging screen door, is doing business so close to the kiddies. Well, one parent is.
"I am so appalled," says Diana Donath. "I'm actually more disturbed at the community's apathy than I even am about the proximity of the store to the school I hate to sound this way, but there's such a Bubba mentality out here, it just drives me crazy."
Bubba mentality or not, aren't there, like, laws or something that prevent this? Not exactly.
Since Highlands is unincorporated, it falls under the county's jurisdiction, and the county doesn't have any laws banning gun shops next to schools.
Francesca Perot, of the Houston office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says there's not much that can be done. "It is actually illegal to possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, so even though there's no regulation keeping the store from operating there, technically everyone who walks out having purchased a gun is breaking the law," she says.
The store gets around that by signing an agreement saying all guns sold must be taken out of the store in a locked case.
Hey, at least the kids didn't have to go far to research their Christmas lists.
War Is Hell
KHOU-TV's Dan Lauck did a heavily promoted tearjerker of a news segment during sweeps, a story detailing how a local Vietnam vet had been turned away from a VA hospital. The vet's service records had been "sanitized" to remove any mention of his secret missions with the Special Forces in Nam -- doing business in Laos and China and places the American military was not supposed to be -- and so the VA ruled he wasn't eligible for treatment, Lauck reported.
The story moved many people. Although probably not in the way it moved Steve Sherman, a local expert on people who falsely claim to have been in the Special Forces.
"I called Channel 11 when I saw the promos and said, 'This doesn't sound kosher,' " Sherman says. "I gave them my fax number so I could look at the documents they had, and they said the reporter would call, but none of that happened."
Sherman, who's written books on Nam and has a database of everyone who served in the Special Forces in the secret "cross-border" operations, eventually got a copy of the vet's records that KHOU used. And the records make it clear as a bell, he says, that the vet never served with the Special Forces. He'd been in the National Guard stateside and didn't qualify for VA benefits.
" 'My records aren't available because of security purposes' -- that's the excuse all these phonies use," Sherman says.
Lauck also reported KHOU had found three other vets in similar circumstances, but Sherman isn't holding his breath. "I'm sure they all say they were in the Special Forces, too," he says.
Lauck did not return a call seeking comment.
Hell Adds New Circle
For many sane folks, the idea of going to the Galleria during the holiday season is enjoyable, if you like torture.
You'd think things couldn't get much worse than they are, but on December 18 a new circle of hell was added. The street separating Dillard's from Neiman Marcus was the site of two protesting groups -- on one side of the street were the LaRouchies, and on the other a PETA-knockoff flailing dead minks around.
The animal people were busily letting shoppers know the fashion industry often kills minks via anal electrocution, which allowed us to add to our list of Jobs We Never Want. (Although "The Anal Executioner" would be a great name if there's ever a gay WWE.)
Galleria spokeswoman Connie Hascher tried to deny the clear fact that the shopping complex had arranged for the groups to show up to entertain visitors. "Anal electrocution -- you can't get that at The Woodlands," she didn't say. "And we thought the LaRouche people were the good kind of right-wing nuts."
Instead she just said, "They're the only groups we've had this holiday season."
The two groups did not report making any converts, but there's always the Presidents' Day sale.
Our Leader, I.P. Freely
Houston forever claims to be bravely focused on the future, whether it's building a metropolis on a swamp, dredging the Ship Channel or calling itself Space City.
But now it has turned its back on progress. The kind of progress that comes via waterless urinals.
No-flush urinals are environmentally terrific, says Danny Gleiberman, VP of governmental affairs for Falcon Waterfree Technologies. Flushing isn't necessary -- the urine goes down a drain and a special cartridge filters the air so the sewer smell doesn't escape. It's all explained in one of the company's brochures, which inexplicably features a photograph of a toddler peeing on a beach.
The folks at the City of Houston used to okay the use of such urinals, but at some point -- Gleiberman isn't sure, and the city didn't respond to Hair Balls -- they reinterpreted language in the Uniform Plumbing Code and started rejecting construction plans that included waterless urinals.
"It's a minor shift to everybody else, but to us it was almost cataclysmic," Gleiberman says mournfully.
The company is lobbying City Hall, but officials have somehow been slow to jump on the urinal bandwagon.
At least three local sites were grandfathered in before the change, says Rebecca Bryant of the U.S. Green Building Council, so there remain opportunities to add excitement to your pee life. She didn't know the exact addresses, but described them thusly: "An HISD administration building, a psychiatric institution and a Burger King."