Love It, Fear It

A Brit flourishes by studying Houston

Award-winning British playwright Kay Adshead has a new production on London's equivalent of Broadway that features, among other locales, a postapocalyptic Houston.

Before the premiere, she wrote a piece for The Guardian about her three years in a Midtown condo here, saying, "More than once we have traveled on the bus as virtually the only non-amputees on board." Also, oddly enough, "Sexual tension buzzes around Houston with the mosquitoes."

The Times of London found the new play, Bites, to have some "pretension and obscurity" but also "crisp, tough, pointed writing."

The Guardian said Adshead had bought into assumptions "that all religious fundamentalism is inherently evil and that all Texans are half-crazed."

Kay, Kay. Don't you love us?

Houston "was not at all what I was expecting...I was expecting a kind of city or state on the cutting edge of technology. I was imagining great prosperity," she says. "And I found Texas a kind of Third World country, really."

To her, Houston meant "literally rocket science." Until she got here. "The first thing I noticed was the kind of loopy street wires and the potholed streets and the fact that when it rains, where we lived, as a pedestrian walking the pavement, you are literally vaulting over puddles."

(Hair Balls note: "Pedestrian" and "walking" are apparently British terms of some sort.)

And yes, she's been told to check out the downtown tunnels. "I can't think why anybody in their right mind would want to see the shopping tunnels," she says.

Adshead says she was also distressed by the spooky lack of kids. "You never see any children walking around. In the UK you see children on the streets all the time, playing. I never see any children. I don't know where they are. They're all locked up."

Despite the Third World-ness and all, Adshead enjoys our fair city. "Texas people are kind," she says. "They remind me of northern English people...I love Houston, but I just found it a very, very strange place."

Get this woman a "Houston -- It's Worth It" mug, stat.

Charity Begins at Home

The Thousand Points of Light Foundation is former president George H.W. Bush's baby, taking its inspiration from the treacly phrase he uttered in his 1988 convention acceptance speech. The organization supports charity groups and others who help the downtrodden.

It also, as it turns out, gives a $20,000 "Bucking Bronco" porcelain sculpture to the former president for his 80th birthday.

If there's a better use for a charity's money than addressing the terrible lack of kitschy commemorative knickknacks in the Bush household, we'd like to know it.

The foundation "partnered" with E.M. Boehm, Inc., the makers of the sculpture, in presenting the gift. Foundation spokeswoman Katherine Axt says replicas of the piece can be purchased for $20,000. "You had inquired about how much Boehm and Points of Light paid to make the sculpture," she wrote in response to a Hair Balls request. "But unfortunately I have to tell you that this is confidential."

Read our lips: We're sure it was worth every penny.

Highway to Hell

As the city's tow-truck debacle lumbers on, tempers are beginning to flare. So why not toss in a Hitler reference?

That's what Kimberly Devine, owner of tickytacky.net, thought. She printed up T-shirts calling "Mayor Wilhelm White" a "Street Nazi." An advertisement for the shirts in the, well, in the Houston Press featured a photo of White in Nazi regalia complete with swastika.

Which didn't sit too well with Martin Cominsky, director of the Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League.

"Whether a person agrees or disagrees with the Mayor's efforts, surely there is no comparison between Hitler's atrocities that resulted in the murder of millions of men, women and children, and the towing program," he wrote.

Well, when you put it that way. Although, to be fair, it is $75 a tow.

"Unfortunately, the company placed the ad at the last minute, which bypassed our normal review process," Press publisher Stuart Folb says. "We are putting controls in place to ensure this doesn't happen again. This ad will never run again in the Houston Press, and we apologize for offending anyone."

Devine says the ad was meant "in good humor...but that's satire. You've got to expect people to be offended, but it's been going on since the beginning of time. I'm sure the ADL calls South Park every week."

Devine hasn't heard from any neo-Nazi groups offended at being allied with the forced-towing program. Yet.

Alligator Stomp

In today's episode of Wild Planet, we travel to the darkest reaches of Lake Conroe to come face-to-face with...a sleeping alligator. Crikey!

There are few things in nature more harmless than a hibernating alligator, but don't tell that to the folks at the April Sound Country Club condominiums. Those hardy explorers seemingly moved out to Montgomery County to get close to nature and away from the big nasty city, but their version of "nature" doesn't include unleashed animals.

Residents saw a slumbering alligator in a storm drain -- a storm drain with a bolted-on grate between the alligator and the residents -- and called the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Alarms blared at TPWD as the SWAT team jumped out from behind their lab tables, slid down the poles and leaped into the Parkmobile. "There's a hibernating alligator right by a lake!" they screamed. "Contact National Geographic!"

Actually, the response was a bit more subdued. The gator, says TPWD Captain Fred Churchill, "was down there sunning and trying to enjoy a nice cozy spot that he's found, until people started throwing food and other stuff down at him and messing with him. And since then he's left the area."

I guess he found out who rules the roost in Lake Conroe, huh? It's man, baby -- and don't invade his turf. You'll find yourself dealing with some tough hombres: "On Sunday," Churchill says, "there were guys walking around drinking beer, hollering, 'Kill him. I'll kill him for you.' Why kill the alligator? He's not bothering anybody."

Sure, but a fierce hibernating alligator might suddenly defy eons of evolution, rouse from his months-long torpor and rampage through an innocent condo village, right? "When he's six feet down under a storm gate and can't climb out, there's not much to worry about," Churchill says.

Tell that to the April Sound Country Club. Sheila Farquer, general manager of the condo association, says residents continue to live in fear. Kind of. "I still have some people who drive around and look in all the storm-sewer inlets to make sure there's not another one," she says. "Because I think in a way they kind of liked having the alligator."

Next week on Wild Planet: Gerbils escape from Timmy's bedroom!

Pro-Life Baby Killers

If it's Wednesday, anti-abortion protesters in Waco must be out there working hard to raise money for...Planned Parenthood.

Waco's Planned Parenthood chapter is probably the state's most active in using the "Pledge-a-Protester" campaign that occasionally pops up around the country. Just like you can sponsor someone in a walk-a-thon or fun run, the Waco Planned Parenthood chapter lets you pledge a certain amount of money per protester who shows up on a Wednesday, which is when the abortions get done. Or the innocent infants are murdered, depending on your point of view.

"We get something between $600 and $800 a month," says spokeswoman Trudy Woodson. "It's been very successful." (Houston's chapter uses the gimmick only occasionally, spokeswoman Terri Larson says.)

The Waco group posts a sign each Wednesday letting protesters know just how much they've helped. Then they take it down. "It would be destroyed if we left it out all the time," Woodson says.

Ann Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, says the pledge campaigns won't stop any protester. "We have no idea whether it brings them any donations or not, but it does not affect whether pro-lifers pray, counsel or protest" outside the clinics, she says. "It's simply a gimmick to make pro-lifers afraid to protest. We are not afraid."

And the coffers of the Waco Planned Parenthood are thankful for that.

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