Expect the Unexpected

One objective of Elyse Lanier's Houston Image Group, as you may recall, was to correct the supposed misimpressions of our city being conveyed by the national media. To that and other ends, the mayoral wife and her Image Group cronies are in line to spend upward of $5 million in taxpayers' money over the next five years.

Early on, the prospects for Image Group's success seemed dubious, at least judging by the marketing campaign Ms. Lanier introduced in mid-April during that Tony's-catered luncheon at the Wortham Center (where, police officers will be happy to know, $3,700 of that public money went up in smoke for "pyrotechnics," and another $9,000 was spent on videotaped "invitations" to the affair). To cite just one example: The initial Image Group advertisement -- in trying to call attention to all those craaazy juxtapositions that make our town so damned diverse and cosmopolitan -- huzzahed that Houston can lay claim to George Foreman and George Bush. (One's a middle-aged, bald-headed black guy who whipped Joe Frazier in two rounds; the other's an elderly, excitable white man who recently was lionized across the globe for jumping out of an airplane. Both are named George! Get it?)

But Mr. Unexpected has seen the fruits of Elyse's more recent labors in two national periodicals, and it's clear that if her strategy is to ensure that Houstonians are viewed in the larger world as vain, overbearing, uncultured nitwits, it's working.

The first evidence turned up in a "Talk of the Town" piece in a recent New Yorker, in which writer Vance Muse, assaying Houston's response to the Jewels of the Romanovs exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, suggests that the yokels in the City of the Unexpected are more interested in the size and monetary value of the czarist baubles than their historical significance. "Jewels of the Romanovs reminds the locals of the days when oil was selling for forty dollars a barrel," Mr. Muse reports, "and, as Elyse Lanier, wife of Houston's mayor puts it, 'you didn't have to ask your husband's permission to charge hundred-thousand-dollar bracelets.' "

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Those were the days, my friend.
Now comes the July edition of House & Garden, a glossy monthly devoted to the commodity fetishism of the leisure class. In a "Letter from Houston" under Mr. Unexpected's favorite Houston byline, that of Frenchy Falik, we learn of another fin-de-siecle enthusiasm of our local gentry.

Ms. Falik (and just typing that name causes Mr. Unexpected to break out in a James Brown-ish cold sweat) reveals that "many of Houston's best-dressed women," beset by the city's relentless, hairdo-mauling humidity, are now being serviced by "hairdressers who make house calls." Among those women are none other than the chairman of our own Houston Image Group, the aforementioned Elyse, who, Ms. Falik reports, "doesn't fret anymore, either." Like Mr. Unexpected, you are probably asking, "Why?" We'll let Ms. Falik take it from here:

"Now that I have a shampoo bowl, I don't have to worry about getting all soaked when the hairdresser comes by every morning to do Bob's and my hair," says Elyse, who built a mirrored salon in their penthouse. "Bob gets his hair fluffed and done every day, too. He just can't style it well himself. We love the idea that we'll never have to go into a barbershop or beauty shop again."

Houston's first lady doesn't miss the socializing that many women feel is the fringe benefit of a manicure and blow-dry. "I want to go to a salon to relax," she says, "but people bombard me with all their complaints and suggestions about the city. With one beautician working on my feet, and another on my hands, there's no way I can politely get up and walk away."

No way indeed. Inspired by Ms. Falik's correspondence, Mr. Unexpected would humbly suggest that the Image Group adopt a new slogan for the city: "Houston, the city whose mayor gets his hair fluffed every day!"

Perhaps a mirrored salon, or just a factory-issue shampoo bowl, can be installed at the Image Group's pricey new digs at the Rice Hotel. But hey, look on the bright side -- at least they're not spending water and sewer funds on this thing. At least not yet.

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