A pair of fundraisers One's rooted in remembrance, the other in hope, and both offer chances -- organized chances -- for some righteous partying. In the first, Houston's monied set extends an appreciative hand to the young family of Ruben Lopez, the volunteer firefighter who died trying to rescue a victim from a burning house; the Red Hots, firefighting musicians all, and free-flowing champagne are just two more reasons to support this no-necktie event. The brand-spanking-new Mission Burritos hosts the second, a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. Get your fill of big ol' burritos, libations and the twangy-rockin' sounds of East Tennessee's Insta-Gators, fresh from a show at the Satellite Lounge. 6-10 p.m. Ruben Lopez benefit, Parvizian Oriental Rugs, 3303 Kirby Drive, 621-7000; American Lung Association, 7:30 p.m. Mission Burritos, 2245 West Alabama, 880-5293. Both are $20 per person.
The Aging of America We're living safer, healthier and thus longer lives -- roughly 25 years longer than our turn-of-the-century forefathers could expect. Does it mean that we'll each have, on average, an extra 25 years of going to work, walking the dog and deciding what to watch on TV each night? This daylong conference for health-care professionals and plain folks examines the financial and medical challenges facing an aging society. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sheraton Astrodome Hotel, 8686 Kirby Drive, 522-8552. $50 in advance; $75 at the door; $35 for seniors and students.
Ballroom Dancing Photographer Phyllis Hand has established her reputation documenting high society, and in her latest project, she captures the upper echelon at its athletic best. Her black-and-white photos of ballroom dancing, Houston-style, are on display at benjy's now through the end of March. Artist's reception, 6-9 p.m. benjy's, 2424 Dunstan, 522-7602. Free.
Carlos Mencia In the next six months, Carlos Mencia plans to become a multimedia star. He's already funny on-stage in two languages; his American Recordings debut, Judge Carlos, is due for release this spring; he's working on a sitcom with Disney; and he's in the pre-production stages of his own cartoon series -- something along the lines of Life with Louie with an accent. Mainly this award-winning comedian is an outspoken cuss who believes that "the truth makes people laugh." Get your tickets early. 8 p.m. tonight and Sunday; 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 1952 West Gray, 524-2333. $8.50-$13.50.
Second Annual Midcentury Modern Market The midcentury covers the time from the Depression to disco, but it's been unified for this market's sake under the heading of "modern." Here, the word means cleanliness of line, simplicity of form and economy of material. Look for these qualities in goods from furniture to fashion, and from dealers located in Arkansas, Austin and right here at home. The preview party is tonight, and party guests get first dibs on the goods. Benefit preview party, 6-8 p.m.; regular hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Benefit, $15; market admission, $4. Lawndale Art & Performance Center, 4912 Main Street, 528-5858.
Les Brown Brown has been down -- abandoned at birth, raised by a woman alone in a Miami ghetto, relegated to special education classes -- and now he's up so high that a quick rundown of his achievements could trigger bouts of depression in folks who've done less with their relatively privileged lives. But as a highly successful motivational speaker and author, Les would never let your self-esteem suffer on his account. Not if you pay him, he won't. Tonight, he tells his audience "how to shake off mediocrity and live up to their greatness." 7:30 p.m. 2929 Unity Drive, 787-3490. $20.
Ms. Gulf Coast Leather Proof that Houston is world class: Whip-wielding dominatrixes have flocked here from all the adjoining Gulf Coast states, all hoping to be crowned Ms. Gulf Coast Leather. In conjunction, a full day of seminars is scheduled for Saturday at Mary's. Topics include novice issues, S&M and spirituality, long-term leather relationships and women's issues. Demonstrations include the proper technique for using a single-tail whip and another on duct tape in play. The weekend's activities culminate with a pageant at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Venture-N, then winds down with a brunch at noon Sunday at the same location. Registration is from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. today, and includes an introduction of the contestants and judges and an auction to raise funds to get the contest winner to the finals in Washington D.C. Venture-N, 2923 Main Street, 661-9829, e-mail email@example.com. $35.
Waiting for Godot In 1995, Infernal Bridegroom Productions made good with Endgame. Now, they're taking another shot at Beckett with Waiting for Godot. Director Jason Nodler says he'll make no attempt to soft-sell the Irish absurdist; the production is built around the playwright's tragicomic view of life as a cosmic vaudeville act. Greg Dean and Charlie Scott star. 8 p.m. Through March 29. Zocalo Theater, 5223 Feagan, 935-2008. $9.99.
City Dreams The MFA's Arabian Sights series is winding down, but not without another look at Syrian cinema. In City Dreams, Muhammad Malas presents a semiautobiographical account of 1950s Syria: a military dictatorship falls, new elections are held, the Suez War breaks out and Arab unity seems within reach. All this weighty material is filtered through the eyes of a young boy whose attentions are divided between his widowed mother and the hubbub on the streets of Damascus. 9:40 p.m. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $5; $6 if you come early for the first feature.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side Explore Hermann Park, an underworld teeming with all manner of creatures. On this organized 10K stroll, you'll learn about the native inhabitants of our lovely inner-Houston park -- plants, bats, bugs and birds. Afterward, once the kids are tuckered out, hie over to the Bayou Parkland part of Hermann Park for Saturday Afternoon Adventures, a mini-festival combining science and safari. Sponsored by Friends of Hermann Park, the city's parks and rec departments and Houston Happy Hikers. 8 a.m.noon. Hermann Park, Rose Garden, 524-5876. Free.
Ben Vereen and Leslie Uggams The endlessly energetic Ben Vereen and the equally upbeat Leslie Uggams take the stage for a night of old-fashioned song and dance. 8 p.m. tonight; 3 p.m. Sunday. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, (800) 821-2894. $14.50-$47.50.
Texas Brewers Festival It's time again for the event that cuts the ancillary crap and gets to the heart of any good festival: beer and music, mostly beer. Craftsmen from across the eastern half of the great state of Texas will sell their wares through booths set up all around Market Square. Unless you hit the local pub circuit hard, there'll probably be something new for you to try, maybe the Texas Brewing Co.'s Cowboy Lager, plus beloved standbys such as Spoetzl Brewing's Shiner Bock. The Zydeco Dots, Gingbreadmen, Hush and others will play throughout the festival. Noon10 p.m. today; 1-8 p.m. Sunday. On Market Square, (800) BREW-FEST. Admission, free; festival mug, $3; drink tickets, $2.50.
Channel 8 membership drive Here's a reason to stay inside and watch television: The fabulous restaurateur Jim Goode -- head of the Goode Co. empire -- will be live, in the studio, kicking off the PBS fund drive and sharing a bit of his grilling wisdom. That's at 10 a.m., and his demonstrations and pleas for pledges will be interspersed with four episodes of Grilling with Chef George. Another highlight of this two-week fund drive is a replay of the Three Tenors' 1996 performance at Giants Stadium. Will this inspire folks to buy the remaining tickets for the upcoming Astrodome extravaganza, or will the sweet sounds of Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti coming through TV speakers draw dollars to Channel 8 instead? For more information, call 748-8888.
Leftovers Houstonian Carol Younkin and her college pal Christine Cosentino crafted a musical about the lives of street people in downtown Houston. Leftovers, the second in Country Playhouse's New Play Reading Series, will be presented on the stage as a radio play would be -- read aloud by actors, with music. 7 p.m. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury (Town and Country Village), 467-4497. Free.
Felix Pitre This folk-art performance includes stories such as "Juan Bobo and the Pig" and "Paco and the Witch," mixed with song and dance native Puerto Rico. In "Cuentos de la Abuela," or "Stories from the Grandmother," Pitre performs in English spiked with Spanish. 2 p.m. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. Free.
K-9 Fun Run Take your dog where he's not normally welcome -- out in public. This 16th annual Houston Humane Society IAMS K-9 Fun Run encourages humans and their pets to get out and run in the company of other pairs just like them. Festivities include a costume contest and the naming of the new HHS spokesdog and spokescat. (Pity the cat, the lone feline at this event.) The one-mile run starts at 8 a.m., followed by the dog jog at 8:30 a.m. and the walk at 9 a.m. Sam Houston Park, 1100 Bagby, 433-6421. $15 per pet.
Celebrate Wallace Stevens U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass is doing so, as are his highly regarded colleagues Brenda Hillman, Edward Hirsch and Cynthia McDonald. All four will read and interpret Stevens's work, which often addressed the notion of order in a chaotic world. 5:30 p.m. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 521-2026. $7; $5, seniors and students.
Bernstein to Broadway A giddy night of musical fun, with 140 proud voices belting out American classics. Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and songs from Candide are mixed with sing-along favorites from West Side Story and Oklahoma. But don't sing along, please. Conductor Robert Brewer will have his hands full just trying to keep all the Houston Masterwork Chorus's exuberant voices in line. 8 p.m. Rice University, Stude Concert Hall, 529-8900. $15-$25.
Need a Room? Wayne Duddlesten is banking that the answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Why? Because he's the guy who's heading the development of the Hilton Convention Center Hotel. Hear what he has to say about it, then ask questions of your own, at today's Downtown Forum luncheon. Noon. Two Houston Center auditorium, Level P-2, 909 Fannin (at McKinney), 658-8938. $6, including brown bag lunch. Call for reservations.
First Lady Suite Four suites, really: a quartet of chamber-music suites concerning presidents' wives. A ghostly Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson consider that ill-fated parade through Dallas; Mamie Eisenhower takes an imaginary journey to Algiers; Bess Truman upstages her daughter, Margaret; and Eleanor Roosevelt works out her relationship with her husband's secretary/mistress, while Amelia Earhart flies the pair over Washington. This is the Southwest premiere of Michael John LaChuisa's sometimes funny, sometimes haunting work. Through April 20. (See Thrills, Theater for additional showtimes.) 8 p.m. Theater LaB, 1706 Alamo, 868-7516. $18.
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