YMCA league sports Okay, this is it: the first day of the new year, and the first day (so the old adage has it) of the rest of your life. It's time to shape up -- literally. So what if you went and ate and caroused and made general mayhem over the holidays, and now you feel hugely fat and utterly dull? You just need to get up and moving. How to get motivated? The YMCA, ever interested in your good health, has a fabulous answer: Sign up today for league volleyball or basketball. With eight different co-ed leagues to choose from, and an all-women's team in both sports, you're bound to find a group of athletes whose abilities match your own. 5 a.m.-10 p.m., Downtown YMCA, 1600 Louisiana, 659-8501. $20-$40 per person, depending on which league you join.
Civil War on the Island A quick question for all you Civil War buffs: What major Southern port was the only one still in Confederate hands at the end of the War Between the States? Why, it was Galveston, of course. We owe this piece of history to General John B. Magruder and his troops, who on January 1, 1863, defeated Union forces occupying Galveston in the Battle of -- now here's a hard one -- Galveston. Today, tomorrow and Sunday, the Galveston Historical Foundation will commemorate this battle, which was fought on the city's waterfront, with a series of community-wide events. See the dedication and unveiling of a Texas Historical Commission monument; or if that sounds just too banal, wait until later and show up for the opening reception for a new show titled "Galveston, the Civil War Years" at the Historical Museum. Later in the weekend, hear roundtable discussions on the Civil War; take a harbor tour or walking tour of battle sites; or visit a Civil War Book Market, among other activities. 5 p.m., unveiling and dedication of monument at the 1858 Customs House, 20th Street at Postoffice Road; 5:30 p.m., opening reception at the Galveston County Historical Museum, 2219 Market. Call (409) 765-7834 for more information. Today's events are free, though several other events this weekend charge admission fees.
Crystal Gayle I can't help it. I always call her the Don't-It-Make-My-Brown-Eyes-Blue girl. Though she's hardly a girl anymore (her signature song came out in the '70s), with all that hair she still sort of looks like one. Tonight's audience will surely hear "Don't It Make...," as well as other favorites such as "Talking in Your Sleep" and "I've Cried (the Blue Right Out of My Eyes)." But tonight's performance isn't purely a re-creation of the past: For starters, in the past she wasn't fronting a whole classically trained orchestra. This weekend, Gayle joins the Houston SymphonyExxon Pops for three appearances. 8 p.m., tonight and Saturday; 7:30 p.m., Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $19-$59.
Vallejo The Vallejo brothers were born in the small town of Wharton, Texas, and then they moved to slightly larger Birmingham, Alabama, where they grew up listening to the Tijuana Brass and Santana. After pushing the musical envelope as far as they could in Birmingham, they decided to move to Austin, where over the last couple of years they've been developing their own sound, which has been described as a fusion of Latin rhythms and culture with music that owes much to Jane's Addiction and Aerosmith. Sonnier Brothers open at 9:30, Vallejo plays at 10:30 p.m., the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL. $5.
Charity Cat Show Whether you call them kitties, tomcats, stray cats, damn cats, tabbies, mousers, pussies or just plain old cats, more than 600 will be at the convention center this weekend, strutting their stuff as only the most feline among us can do. Organized by the Houston Cat Club, this event, now in its 48th year, is said to be "unmatched locally" in its efforts to provide funds for many local humane groups, among them the SPCA, the Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League. And for the price of a ticket, the spectator gets a lot of cat in return. At noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m. today and tomorrow, you can see what's billed as "trick-performing Hollywood feline stars." Shop the "Kitty Super Mall" for feline froufrou. Or just ogle all the pretty cats. 9 a.m.5 p.m., today and Sunday, George R. Brown Convention Center, Hall C, 1001 Avenida de las Americas, 853-8000. $6; $3 seniors and children under 12.
Forty Carats It's an old set-up, but sometimes the tried and true works best. In Forty Carats, a play by Jay Allen, a 40-year-old divorcee vacations in Greece, has a wild fling, then returns to her successful New York life only to encounter the "object" of her fling dating her daughter. The production is the latest offering from Theatre Southwest. They're calling it "intriguing and hilarious," and it's being presented in their brand-new performance space out in lovely southwest Houston. If this little teaser interests you, or if you just want to see what they've come up with in the way of a new theater, visit them this evening, which is opening night. At 8 p.m. tonight; runs through January 24 (see Thrills for other dates and times). Theatre Southwest, 8944A Clarkcrest, 661-9505.
Evangel Youth Dancers The kids at the Evangel United Church of Christ have been real busy lately. They've learned a series of rural Filipino folk dances and are ready to bravely go where most kids don't dare -- on-stage -- so that other kids can watch and learn something about the enormous cultural diversity of the Philippines. The tiny Pacific islands have been inhabited by Chinese, Spanish and Muslim immigrants, and the dances from this country are among the most interesting and beautiful around. And besides, kids most always get a kick out of seeing other kids on-stage. 1 p.m., the Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. The performance is included in the museum's admission charge, which is $5; $4, seniors; free, children under two.
Killer Bees This award-winning, Austin-based reggae band has been around long enough (since the early '80s) to prove that they're as good as their press says they are (one magazine called them "America's premier reggae band"). Their original songs, such as "Mad Minute" and "Rude Boy," allow frontman/percussionist -- and Vietnam vet -- Michael E. Johnson to vent his social-commentary spleen. Co-founder Malcolm Welbourne adds a stinging lead guitar -- and has added zouk and soca to the ska, rocker dance-hall grooves. 10 p.m., the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL. $6.
Dangerous plants and animals Here's a really cool way to impress any date worth spending even a minute of your time with: Be able to reel off a top ten list of live items indigenous to the Inner Loop that are both nonhuman -- and dangerous. If said date is not amused or curious, said date is either too insipidly hip, too oafishly dull or too plain stupid for you, and you should drop the loser immediately. Today, get all the information you'll need to winnow the good from the bad (in more ways than one) from Chuck Kowaleski of Texas Parks and Wildlife. His presentation will teach you all about dangerous plants and animals, both the Inner and Outer Loop varieties. He'll show you how to identify them, where they are and any first aid treatment the ignorant (not you, in other words) might need. 1-3 p.m. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, 4501 Woodway, 681-8433. Free.
Let us spay (and neuter) After spending the weekend admiring all the magnificent cats on display at the convention center, you can show how caring you are about your own felines (and canines, if you have them) by trucking any who haven't been altered down to the Fund for Animals Spay and Neuter Clinic. The clinic will do the snipping and sewing necessary to prevent any unwanted animals from being born -- and, charming as pets can be, there are too many out there that don't have loving homes. So for the moment, extras aren't needed. The Spay and Neuter Clinic will provide two free surgeries per family, and appointments are required. Fund for Animals Spay and Neuter Clinic, 1603 Shepherd, 863-0010.
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Great Books, good talk So you went and spent your holiday reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau's On the Social Contract, and you're just now realizing whoa! what a mistake! It's a hard book, and you seem to be the only human being in the entire universe who's actually read it. Who's going to explain all those paradoxes? Who's going to listen to your fabulous insight into Rousseau's influential ideas about civil liberty versus natural liberty? Well, if you're going to spend your time reading books written by dead white guys, the Great Books reading/discussion group might be just your sort of thing. The members all read the same book, then meet to discuss it. It's all very civilized -- until, that is, somebody gets mad enough to start shouting about an idea or two, and then the real fun starts. Today's topic just happens to be On the Social Contract. Take your copy, and your ideas, and have some fun with them. Noon-1:30 p.m. West University Senior Center, 6104 Auden. Call 728-9494 for information.
Houston Choral Society auditions You know she's in there, deep inside your soul, that audacious, talented singer who sounds so splendid in the shower, in the car while the stereo's blasting or in front of your kids, whose eyes get very big and serious when they say, "Mom, you should've been a singer." Today is the day to let your alter ego shine, because today is the first day of auditions for the Houston Choral Society. (Men can come and shine, too.) Contact Mary West at (281) 373-0954 or 627-3609 to secure a place on the audition list.
Four Dogs and a Bone Here's Hollywood on-stage, in all its deliciously sordid glory. In this comedy by John Patrick Shanley (of Moonstruck fame), you'll meet an assemblage of familiar movieland cads who lie, backbite and engage in all sorts of tabloid-worthy nastiness. There's the middle-aged movie producer, the "seemingly guileless" actress who needs that one fantastic part to get her career on track and a naughty ingenue, and they're all fighting for their share of dreamland. The play comes to you via Theater LaB, a little theater with big aspirations. The theater has been called "cutting-edge," "adventurous" and "resourceful"; see for yourself this evening. Tonight's play opens at 8 p.m. (See Thrills for other dates and times.) Theater LaB Houston, 1706 Alamo, 868-7516. $18.
Spider Monkey Since the band's inception in 1992, Spider Monkey has been spending most of its time touring. And apparently with good results: Its hard-edged pop songs have been labeled "brash, obnoxious and charged with politically incorrect energy" (by Bright Lights Magazine), and have garnered them lots of fans across the Southeast. Podunk opens at 9, Spider Monkey plays at 10 p.m., the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-