Thanksgiving Houston Superfeast In early medieval England, whole families and even whole villages would join hands and leap from cliffs to escape the terrible suffering of hunger. The problem of hunger in our land and century is even more poignant, because so many of us are fat and sassy, and food is not hard to come by -- unless you're poor. At this time of year, when we celebrate the bounty of our rich and prosperous country, the Superfeast will serve up to 20,000 plates of Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate. If you're hungry, head downtown for a warm plate of food. If you're not, Superfeast can use all the volunteers it can get. 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sam Houston Park, 1100 Bagby. Call (281) 651-0911 for volunteer information. Free for the needy.
Bank United Thanksgiving Day Parade All the energy and effervescence of youth will march downtown today, dressed in shiny sateen pants and spangly boots -- batons flying high and cymbals crashing loud; hips wagging and legs kicking to a tuba beat. High above your head, a gargantuan, helium-filled balloon of Dennis the Menace will float by, those peculiar boy-balloon eyes staring down in perpetual, stupefied wonder at the floats of cottony, colored-paper worlds filled with waving princesses and yawning boys. Marilyn Monroe's head all done up in larger-than-life papier-mache will roll by, and the Universal Cheerleading Association will make you want to shout -- with them, at them, it doesn't matter. Everyone loves a parade. 9 a.m. Parade begins at Smith and Walker and ends at Louisiana and Walker; and if you don't want to see it live, watch it on KHOU-TV, Channel 11. Free, except for $18 bleacher seats in the "TV zone" on Smith between Texas and Capitol. Tickets available at Bank United locations. For information, call 468-6824, access code BANK.
The Nutcracker The story's been so loved on, it's dog-eared at the edges. But in case you've been under some rock all your life, here's the summary: A little girl named Clara receives a magic nutcracker for Christmas and makes a wondrous journey to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, where she meets the Snow Queen and the beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy. The whole thing is set to Tchaikovsky's beautiful score, dozens of children populate the stage and the costumes and dancing are candy-sweet. If you're not been-there-done-that jaded about the whole holiday thing, if you have small children or if you really are just coming up from underground, you might want to snare a seat at the opening, tonight at 7:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Dance for other dates and times.) Wortham Theater Center, Brown Theater, 500 Texas, 227-ARTS. $10-$60.
U2 Take a looming golden arch, a stratospheric olive-on-a-stick and a video screen the size of a barn and stuff them under the Dome, and you've got either the most useless rummage sale in the universe or the greatest show on earth. Never mind the gaudy costumes, the silly grins and the gigantic disco-ball lemon (on wheels, even), this is rock and roll. And never mind that the band's latest album, Pop, tanked. U2 is still the band that brought meaning to the '80s by singing about war-stricken Ireland ("Sunday Bloody Sunday"), then widened its scope to America, did it with B.B. King in the movies, and then kicked us all in the collective head again (Achtung Baby) and again (Zooropa). Smashmouth opens. 8 p.m. at the Astrodome, 8400 Kirby, 629-3700. $37.50-$52.50.
Museum of Fine Arts Holiday Happenings It's Friday. The big hoo-ha is over. The dishes are washed, the kids are whining, and you, being part of one of the last sane families in America, have decided not to go shopping today. What is there to do besides watching TV and twiddling your thumbs? Explore Art (that's with a capital "A"). Today and Saturday, the Museum of Fine Arts offers more than pictures on a wall. Find lots to busy those young brains, including artist-led workshops and musicians in the galleries. Today, the Texas Mime Theater performs Carnival of the Animals, in which a lion king (of course) runs away to join the circus. How can you lose? The kids will stop thinking the museum is some enormous tomb on Montrose, and you can do something that doesn't involve a fistful of quarters, Coke in a paper cup or waving at your child as she makes her way through a plastic maze of colored tubes. 14 p.m., today and tomorrow, 2:30 p.m., performances. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. $3; $1.50, seniors and students; free, children under 5.
A Fertle Holiday After 13 seasons, you'd think folks would get sick of the redneck Fertle Family (get it? the Fertles, as in, there's lots of 'em?). But not only do folks keep coming back for new installments (nine so far) of the cartoony comedy sketches, this first Fertle story returns every year, as predictable as the Rudolph special on TV. The show's corny as Kansas, but audiences seem to love it, and you can bring the whole kit-and-caboodle family, because there's nothing here that would shock children or Baptists. 8:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other dates and times.) Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt, 522-7722. $14.
Buy Nothing Day Why any man, woman or child would choose this day, of all days, to enter the stampeding crowds of holiday-shopping sheep, we cannot say. But here's the terrible fact: The day after Thanksgiving confounds all common sense and continues to be the biggest shopping day of the year. "Please stop!" cry the folks from Houston Greens and the Greater Houston Alliance for Democracy. Contain yourself, and instead spend the day reflecting on where all this out-of-control American consumerism leads us. Celebrate your self-control with other "irreverent unshoppers" in the Shopping Free Zone. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Shopping Free Zone near the corner of Rice and Kelvin in the University Village. For information, call 669-0838. Totally free, of course.
Nutcracker Tea Can't you just see her? Your little sweetpea is dressed in her frilliest flowered dress -- her shiny hair in ribbons and curls, cookie crumbs on her cheeks and eyes dazzled by the beauty of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who's standing within reach, in the very same room. Today, Houston children can take tea, oh, so seriously, with principal characters from The Nutcracker. And afterward, they'll be whisked off to the Wortham Theater for the ballet. Tea, noon-1 p.m., today (see Thrills for other dates). Four Seasons Hotel, 1300 Lamar. $54; $46.50, kids under 12; $15, adult ballet season-ticket holders; $7.50, kids under 12 of season-ticket holders. Reservations required. To make them, call 652-6210.
Red Ribbon Toy Drive Okay, so you did it. You just couldn't help yourself, and there you were, going hog-wild, up one side the Galleria and down the other, packages going every which way, ribbons and bows, boxes and cards, and all with the Christmas spirit deep in your heart. And with that giving spirit, you made it over to F.A.O. Schwarz or some other toy store and bought a shiny new toy for some little HIV-infected child who's facing this holiday with a brave face and a troubled future. Today is a great day to take that gift (don't wrap it) over to the Alley box office and exchange it for a 20-percent discount on a ticket to A Christmas Carol, for any performance Dec. 112. If you forgot the gift: Shame, shame. But don't worry. You've still got time to make it to the store one last time before the weekend's over, and gifts will be accepted thru Dec. 12. Today, bring a toy between noon and 7:30 p.m. to the Alley Theatre box office, 625 Texas. Other locations accepting gifts: AIDS Foundation Houston (3202 Weslayan Annex); Evin Thayer Studios (2643 Colquitt); Giovanni (4444 Montrose), 228-8421, 629-9255.
Gulf Coast Poetry Prize Ranked number two in the country in a poll conducted by U.S. News and World Report, the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program has become almost as famous as the Cougars were during the heady days of Phi Slamma Jamma. Now, the UH literary journal Gulf Coast is sponsoring its first-ever poetry prize, and while the editors can't guarantee the winner will attain the same heights of fame as Dream and Drexler, they do offer 500 bucks and publication. Think of it as your chance to turn pro. Send up to five poems; no more than ten pages, total. All submissions must be postmarked by Dec. 1. Send to Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, English Department, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-3012, 743-3223 for information. $15 reading fee; includes a one-year subscription to Gulf Coast.
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Day Without Art Elegiac and quietly moving are the images of canvases draped in black, in homage to those who have lost their lives to AIDS. And today, across the city, you will find that art has been covered. Henry Moore's sculpture "Large Spindle Piece," located on Allen Parkway, will be draped. The Transco Tower will be turned off. And 15 arts organizations will display panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. This morning, Stephen Stein, Houston Symphony Conductor-in-residence, and gossip columnist Maxine Mesinger will headline a "Ceremony of Remembrance" that will include music and, yes, art, at the Alley Theatre. Tonight, at the "Tree of Remembrance" ceremony, Houstonians can hang an ornament on a Christmas tree in memory of someone lost to AIDS. Ceremony of Remembrance, 10:30 a.m., Alley Theatre, Neuhaus Arena Stage, 615 Texas; Tree of Remembrance ceremony, 6:30 p.m., Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 West Gray. Call 524-AIDS for information.
Fly Over Just look at the picture. This ain't no ordinary lacy-fingered, twinkly-toed dance troupe. These Fly guys are tough, with a streetwise, sideways charm; and they know how to move, too, from their knuckles all the way down to their toenails. Tonight they'll be dancing a brand-new piece from choreographer Kathy Wood: "Cookin'," a semifinalist for the Recontres Choreography Competition, held in Paris. A little bit of Paris flair plus a little bit of Houston muscle, and all to the music of jazz pianist Claude Bolling and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 7:30 p.m. Spring Oaks Middle School, 2150 Shadowdale, 521-4560, 523-3709. $3, advance; $6, at the door.
UST Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Singers The lights go down; a smoky glow of yellow light finds the lone woman with the microphone at center stage. She murmurs something in her low, growly voice. An introduction, a greeting. She says something private to the band behind her. Notes are plucked on an electric guitar. The woman at center stage closes her eyes, tilts back her head and from her open mouth comes a series of notes that are utterly clear and yet creamy in phrasing ... Oh, cripes, don't make me describe it. Just go see these University of St. Thomas jazz musicians. They play and sing those vapory, soulful tunes from masters like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Grover Washington -- tunes that no words can do justice to. 8 p.m. University of St. Thomas, Cullen Hall at 4001 Mt. Vernon, 522-7911. Free.
John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in the flesh After 175 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, John Berendt's book ain't seen nothing yet. But Random House, having just printed 400,000 more copies of the "elegant and wickedly funny" book, is ready for all the publicity the movie version is about to generate. And you can purchase your own, tonight, after hearing Berendt read. 7 p.m., Earful of Books/Booktronics, 5370 Westheimer, 626-4000. Free.