Sage Advice

Half-court homicides can bring bad vibes.
Scott Gilbert

Is the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority past due for a resident shaman? Consider:

During the 1998 construction of what is now Minute Maid Park, a 28-year-old concrete worker fell 30 feet to his death. And the Astros have fallen about as far ever since -- post-season as well as that horrid plummet chasing a playoff spot.

During the final construction phase this spring for what is now the Toyota Center, workers found the remains of a 31-year-old woman on the arena floor. HPD homicide investigators say she either jumped, fell or was pushed from seating in the upper tier 35 feet above her.

Even if he hosted a slumber party in a girls' dorm, Kobe Bryant couldn't create karma that bad.

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Hair Balls enlisted the help of Valerie Williams, a Houston feng shui teacher and consultant, to try to head off any netherworld nemesis for the Rockets. She says the arena may indeed be in need of what is known as sacred space clearing. Fans should get in a positive mind-set and balance the vibes by lighting up a little sage from their nearest New Age shop, she suggests.

Meanwhile, Dena Fisk, a ten-year "energy worker," doubts that basic sage "smudging" would be adequate. She offered a sort of full-court press, saying her ceremony would require four complete trips through every "nook and cranny" in the arena to locate any trapped souls and help set them free.

Fisk's hourly rate of $90, however, might be pricey even for a place serving up $6 beer and $15 parking spots. So it may be up to the sports authority to float a few bonds for Fisk if the Rockets are to have a ghost of a chance this season.

Temporary aid should do for this team spirit. In the next draft, Les Alexander can always land a second-round psychic. -- George Flynn

Stepping Up to the Plate

As for the Astros, owner Drayton McLane has always said that his team can't hang with the big dogs. That the Big Four (Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Dodgers) dominate in payrolls, while others are taking substantial losses.

But McLane didn't become a billionaire by fearing change. That's why he should take a page from the Super Bowl organizing committee's book to put the cash-strapped Astros in the black. Imagine picking up the Chronicle one morning and reading something like this:

"We need 10,000 volunteers to be the backbone of this club," McLane said at a press conference yesterday. "Tons of our costs go to people like cooks, ushers and Orlando Merced -- you know, people who don't really contribute on the field. If they would work for free I might make a serious five-figure offer to an Andy Pettitte or a Roger Clemens."

While many of the volunteer positions will be menial, some will be decidedly more glamorous. "There will be a couple of opportunities for volunteers in middle relief," McLane said. "That's part of the beauty of my plan. Our fans would have a chance to fulfill their wildest dreams."

McLane hasn't ruled out an even more radical plan: selling roster slots to affluent would-be baseballers. "If a guy like a ZZ Top or a Master P. Diddy has the money and the desire, then he should be given the same chance as a Jeff Bagwell. That's why America is the greatest nation on earth. And if NASA can sell seats on rocket ships, why not have the Astros sell seats on the bench?"

McLane said that a cash influx from the wealthy new players would give his team a chance to compete with the Yankees and Dodgers. "Just think about it: My backup first baseman could pay Craig Biggio's salary. Of course, I would have to call Jimy every now and then and order him to play ZZ or whoever it was, because I believe in giving people returns on their investments. I wouldn't make him bat the guy cleanup. Unless he paid extra." -- John Nova Lomax

Dirty or Clueless

A copy editor at the Houston Chronicle is either: a) very familiar with the terminology of pornography; or b) very, very unfamiliar with the terminology of pornography.

That's our guess, at any rate, after reading this over the October 9 Hints From Heloise column: "Now Hubby Will Say 'Nice Facial, Honey.' "

With a smile on his face, no doubt. -- Richard Connelly

Of Mice and Men

All Norman Lynch wanted was a good night's sleep. But the 76-year-old retired illustrator awoke in 2000 to the sounds of rodents scurrying and scratching inside the bedroom walls and attic of his Spring Woods-area home.

No problem. Lynch dialed up "America's Rat King," Trapper John Animal Control, which promised to do a real Pied Piper number on the pests for only $495. But the mice were back almost as soon as the work was completed. Even though he had a warranty, Lynch says, Trapper John hit him up for another $400, only to have the attic rat raves continue on.

After he complained to the company's headquarters in Florida, the rodent rep convinced him that he shouldn't pay another 400 bucks -- it would take a deluxe $7,000 attic insulation job to silence the rats. Lynch says the salesman told him he'd disguise it as a "coon damage" job so Lynch's insurance would cover the costs. But the retiree paid cash, saying he wasn't going to participate in fraud.

The rodents still partied on. And with the help of attorney G. Scott Williams, Lynch filed a deceptive trade practices lawsuit. (Trapper John did not comment.)

Lynch says Lone Star Pest Control has quieted the critters' clatter and he's almost gotten over the sleep deprivation ("I'd like to sleep for a year if I could"). But the worst varmits for him were the Trapper John crews. "I'd like to see them driven clear out of Texas." -- G.F.

Scary Thoughts

With Halloween approaching, Hair Balls went digging through local costume shops to see what Houston was wild about this year. Of course, the pimp motif remains ever popular at stores like Party Boy and Herbert's Fun Shop.

Sharon Weiss, owner of Joe Sam's Fun Shop in Pasadena, adds: "The girls like sexy. Major sexy this year. Lots of flesh showing. The little short sexy things have been flying out the window."

Others seem to be gunning for catharsis this Halloween season. Joe Sam's has nearly sold out its supply of tombstone displays featuring Saddam Hussein's face and torso. "They like something that shows he's out of the picture. Gone. Dead," says Weiss. "One of them, they fixed a bullet hole in the center of his head."

And while several local stores have drawn requests for Arnold Schwarzenegger masks, none has been in stock to sell as of yet. Nose around for alternatives, though, and you'll be sure to find something that showed up on the California ballot. -- Michael Serazio

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