There are few things more heartwarming than a giant corporation going after the little guy, especially when that giant corporation normally puts on a warm and fuzzy public face.
And so the eyes of the world, or at least that portion of the world that loves overpriced coffee with twee names, turned recently to Galveston and the courtroom of federal judge Sam Kent. There Starbucks was taking on local businessman Rex Bell, who sells a microbrew called Star Bock Beer (sometimes spelled Starbock Beer) at his Old Quarter Acoustic Café near the Strand.
On the Starbucks side of the courtroom: five megapriced lawyers from Fulbright & Jaworski, a firm whose cafeteria coffee has probably improved; boxes and boxes of exhibits and papers that had to be carted in on dollies; and a whole slew of Starbucks products like Frappuccinos and ice-cream cartons. Oh, and a University of Houston professor who was paid $22,000 to conduct a survey showing people might be confused by the similarity of the two names.
On the other side, a couple of lawyers working pro bono with some legal pads, not to mention the ever-colorful "Wrecks" Bell himself.
There was also, of course, the inimitable Judge Kent. When he wasn't screaming at the top of his lungs at Starbucks' lawyers for badgering a witness ("the loudest scream I have ever heard in a courtroom," Star Bock lawyer John Egbert says), he was offering witty asides.
"How do you come up with all those names for your coffee drinks -- do you hire a Swahili linguist?" he asked Starbucks executive Colleen Chapman on the witness stand. When a Starbucks lawyer asked Chapman what a typical cup of coffee cost at the chain, Kent interjected his own estimate: "About $300."
At another point, when Chapman said she wanted to answer one of the judge's questions instead of the lawyer's, Kent adopted a whiny, sarcastic tone to announce, "She likes me more than you-hoooo."
The crowd, our correspondent says, was in stitches. Even without a two-drink minimum.
Kent is expected to rule in August, in a written order critics are already calling "the laff riot of the summer!"
The Bush White House is looking for a new chef, and he just may be some guy who used to run a sports bar in Pearland.
Of course, Ronnie Killen has added a few other items to his résumé: schooling at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, cooking for Prince Charles and Camilla and currently working as a chef at the fabled Brenner's Steakhouse here.
Still, you can't take the Pearland out of the boy. When he worked at the Austin Hyatt Regency in 1999, he says, "Laura Bush used to come in there like every Monday, and we used to have a Tex-Mex buffet set out. And she used to love my enchiladas."
Media reports indicate Killen is one of quite a few "finalists" for the job, but he heard from the White House as recently as June 6. "When they're telling me to be patient, that's good," he says.
President Chirac of France, your Frito pie is coming!
Ask Me Anything
When Enron's Lea Fastow was released from prison to a halfway house June 6, it caught most of the media flat-footed. But not Karen S. Bond, who within just a few hours had e-mailed journalists offering "concise answers to complex questions" about what it's like to do white-collar time. She promised to "have your audience wanting to hear more."
Bond had served 32 months in a federal prison and six in a halfway house, the press release said. What it didn't say was why she was imprisoned: She bilked two elderly sisters out of their life savings of $880,000 ("This is a reprehensible crime," Bond's own attorney admitted in one news story).
The Houston Chronicle dutifully quoted the embezzlin' Bond, just as other papers did when she offered her services upon Martha Stewart's release.
We decided to do our part, too. Calling upon years of cinematic research into women's prisons, we asked about the story she wrote in the noted legal journal Maxim, in which she said her cellmate was "a big tattooed biker type."
Q. Are there punks and -- I don't know what you'd call them -- dominant types?
A. Yeah, there are. You see a lot of lesbian relationships.
Q. Do you think they go in there being lesbians?
A. No these people are serving 20-, 30-year prison sentences I think a lot of them just view it as the only way that they're going to have any sexual gratification, and it's very, very sad [They] are desperate, and they grab at anything.
Q. So you have desperate lesbian prisoners Do the inmates have to sort of improvise and make their own, umm, toys?
A. Oh, well, of course. I mean, the summer season was perfect because they could raid the gardens for cucumbers.
Q. Do the guards and administrators know about this?
A. Yes, but then you have to remember the administrator was gay.
Q. Oh. This is just rampant lesbianism going on here. And you weren't affected at all?
A. I just drew my line in the sand--
Q. There wasn't an inmate that you kinda maybe saw yourself making furtive glances at?
A. Absolutely not. I'm a professional. [Hair Balls note: A professional embezzler, she didn't say.]
Rashomon on Westheimer
Unless you're on the right e-mail list, you missed an entertaining spat here in Houston.
There are two completely different versions of what happened, so we'll let each side speak.
Vernon Caldera says he was driving along with his boyfriend when he pulled up to a stoplight at Kirby and Westheimer. Perhaps put in the mood by the Shell station on the corner, he kissed his pal. He heard honking, turned around, "and there were these two guys in a big yellow Hummer and they look at us and they're like, 'Stop it, you faggots. Stop fucking kissing.' They keep honking their horn."
The Hummer followed Caldera, he says, harassing them, before eventually turning away. "The idiots didn't realize that their freakin' company phone [number] was plastered on their car, in a big yellow freakin' Hummer."
Caldera e-mailed about 15 friends about the incident, who e-mailed a few friends, and eventually Kent Maree of Front Row Tickets ("713-TICKETS" was on the side of the Hummer) was being deluged by calls from across the nation. Which sucks, Maree says, because nothing happened. "When we got here [to the office] one of my employees said, 'Kent, did you shout and scream at some people?' I said, 'We honked at somebody to go at the light, but we didn't roll down our windows and shout obscenities.' 'They called here saying that you screamed "Fag" at them,' which is totally not the truth."
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A friend of Caldera's who got through to Front Row Tickets claims Maree told her, "Fags chose to be fags and they should burn in hell."
Maree has a slightly different version of that conversation, saying he told her, "We're all here. We have to live together. And we have to, you know, live together and get along." He says, "Nobody said anything about fags burning in hell and all that kind of stuff."
Maree told Hair Balls that Caldera would be issuing a retraction under threat of a lawsuit; instead Caldera filed a report with the police.
We're not saying who's telling the truth. We just think Maree better not invest too heavily in tickets for the next Cher concert.