The guy in the blue Volvo had one of those rubbery, expressive faces.
"You gonna take my picture?" he hollered, sounding a De Niro-ish mixture of invitation and threat as he leaned through the open window on the passenger side.
It was a moot question. Karen Kay Kristopher, who was standing on the sidewalk near the parking lot entrance of The Men's Club, had already hoisted her Nikon One Touch to eye level and fired.
The guy in the blue Volvo leaned farther out the window and belatedly mugged for the camera before cussing Kristopher and giving her the finger. As the Volvo wheeled away, he extended the same farewell to Kristopher's video camera-toting companion, who was stationed out on the median of the 3300 block of Sage.
Karen Kay Kristopher was unmoved. She'd already been planted in front of The Men's Club for more than an hour, and in that time, she figured, she had elicited 20 or so other upraised middle fingers.
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Most of the customers, however, just stared or turned away. A few covered their faces. They seemed remarkably restrained, considering that some woman in a color-coordinated outfit -- khaki-green ball cap, khaki-green shirt, khaki-green leggings and khaki-green tennis shoes -- was out on the sidewalk in the noonday sun taking pictures of them as they were entering and leaving a legal business establishment.
Wasn't what she was doing, I asked Kristopher, an egregious invasion of these people's privacy?
"Taking pictures is a very legal thing," she replied, obviously disinclined to engage in a lengthy dialogue on the ethics of her newfound passion for photography.
She's right. It is a very legal thing. And if Karen Kay Kristopher were to follow through on her threat to "publish" her photos of customers coming and going from southwest-side gentlemen's clubs -- assuming she could find a venue for their publication -- that, too, would be legal, as long as it would be a truthful rendering of events and the images weren't being used for commercial purposes.
"We're recording who is financing the destruction of our families," explained Kristopher. "The owners of these clubs are using these men and women."
Karen Kay Kristopher is 49 ("But I look 39") and says that after she was divorced at 24, she had to raise her kids by herself. Beyond that and the fact that she runs a business that does legal research, she's not too keen on providing me with biographical details.
It was Kristopher's third appearance on the sidewalk outside of The Men's Club since she began "Operation Shutdown." She's also been snapping photos of customers at Centerfold's and Rick's Cabaret. At Rick's, she got a look at more than the ingressing and egressing clientele.
"She asked me if she could come inside," relates Rick's day manager Woody Salazar, "and I said usually we don't let ladies inside unless they have an escort, but I was being real nice, and said, 'Sure E.' She came in and looked around and asked, 'Where do they dance topless?' And I said, 'Anywhere they want to.' "
Kristopher -- who tells me several times that the owners of the establishments are "demon-possessed" -- claims Operation Shutdown is hurting the clubs' business. That assertion is difficult to independently verify, but Kristopher's presence "doesn't help [business] any," acknowledged Ron Greenroad, the general manager of Centerfold's.
During her previous engagement at The Men's Club, Kristopher had been arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge after an altercation that she claims began when a Men's Club executive grabbed her notebook and she tried to grab it back. (The executive didn't respond to a call for his side of the story.) Earlier, Kristopher says, somebody behind the wall that surrounds the club's parking lot tried to pour water on her and also rained down "a plant and some dirt." She had to spend a few hours in a holding tank at the city jail before she was sprung.
A short, stocky woman with a ready laugh, Kristopher told me she was back at The Men's Club working on behalf oR>fR> R>"conservative people."
You don't think there are any conservative people inside The Men's Club? I asked.
She wasn't buying that one. Then I pointed out there were a lot of expensive cars in The Men's Club lot, and suggested at least a few were probably registered to owners who regularly vote Republican. She wasn't buying that one, either.
On the other hand, she said, "I've seen husbands of my friends at The Men's Club." She's contemplating whether to inform their wives.
She believes that it was God who gave her the idea to take up photojournalism, after her "constituents" requested she do something about the city's topless bars and she "prayed and prayed" for guidance.
As I was asking Kristopher just who she claims as her constituency, a very tall, very blond and very attractive woman in a white halter top pulled her car up to exit the parking lot. She looked as if she were on her way to the gym.
"Can you come here?" she yelled after noticing that her image was being added to Kristopher's collection.
Kristopher didn't budge. So the woman hopped out of her car and came to Karen.
"Do you have a license to take my picture?" she asked.
Kristopher remained poker-faced and silent, the way the early Christian martyrs must have when confronted with the hostility of non-believers.
Then the tall blond woman put her hand over the lens of Kristopher's Nikon and gave it the faintest of pushes.
"Assault!" screamed Karen Kay Kristopher. "You saw it ...."
"I wouldn't exactly call that an assault ..." I start to say.
That observation didn't sit well with Kristopher, I later learned. She probably has me pegged for a weasel, and the idea that she might think poorly of me caused a small pang of regret, since Karen Kay Kristopher, for a self-appointed public scold, seems to be a very likable person. I wanted to tell her that I was left confused about what constitutes an assault after spending a few afternoons watching the Warren Moon trial, but I leR>t itR> ridR>e.
After being assured that I was only a non-aligned observer, the tall blond woman started back to her car. But suddenly she stopped and wheeled around.
"I have a little girl in that car -- you want to take her picture, too?" she said angrily. "I'm calling the police."
"A mother taking a little girl in there ...," Kristopher said in an admonishing aside, sounding a bit like the old movie actress Ruth Gordon.
As the tall blond woman put her car in reverse, a fresh-faced young couple in business attire came walking up the sidewalk, clutching drink cups from Taco Bell.
"Are y'all going in there?" asked Kristopher, already moving her camera into position.
"No-o-o," laughed the guy.
"Then God bless you."
"God bless you," the couple replied.
I forgot to mention another reason for Karen Kay Kristopher's appearances on the sidewalk outside The Men's Club: it's almost Election Day. Yes, KKK ("I think my initials intimidate the police") is running for office. She's a "Christian candidate," she says, one of ten people running in the Republican primary to replace Paul Till as Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1.
It's hard to stand out in such a big crowd, and although I'm unfamiliar with most of the contestants, I'd wager that KKK does stand out.
By way of establishing her credentials, Kristopher had informed me that she's "the female that got pornography out of the Harris County Courthouse."
It takes two full tellings by Kristopher and a trip to the courthouse, but I finally understand that KKK was righteously offended by a print of a painting that was displayed somewhere in the county's ancillary court last year. The painting, as she describes it, depicted "Lady Justice sitting naked on the witness stand."
"Lady Justice was about 80 years old," she adds. "And we all know how an 80-year-old woman looks naked."
Certainly not the sort of attraction that would cause me to brave KKK's camera to get insiR>de The R>Men's CR>lub.
Kristopher apparently spends a lot of time at the courthouse. She also told me, by way of further establishing her credentials, that she's "one of the leading pro se litigators in the city."
I can't vouch for that distinction, but Kristopher, as she says, is indeed "very litigious."
The last lawsuit she filed, which is still pending in the court of state District Judge David West, names 14 defendants, including the aforementioned Till, former Sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen, Police Chief Sam Nuchia and West himself. I would no more attempt to explain what Kristopher v. Till, et. al. is about than I would attempt to explain what, say, Finnegan's Wake is about. It's way, way beyond me. But I think I can say, hopefully without provoking future pro se litigation, that Kristopher's pleading, like James Joyce's novel, has an epic sweep, as well as a certain feverish quality.
One of the grievances cataloged therein concerns the above-mentioned picture, which, we learn from Kristopher v. Till, is entitled One Day in Court, and which, we see from a photocopy of a photograph of the print that KKK entered into the record of Kristopher v. Till, is a phantasmagoric depiction of a courtroom, with various knaves, jesters and a ventriloquist (lawyers, I guess) towering over throngs of Lilliputians (the justice-seeking public, I guess). The judge resembles Warren Burger, the former Supreme Court chief justice. Lady Justice is slumped on the witness stand, blindfolded and breasts sagging. She looks out of it.
One Day in Court is a fine painting, and if I were a member of the legal profession, I'd want a print hanging in my office, right next to the one of the poker-playing dogs.
According to Kristopher's suit, however, One Day in Court is "lewd, lascivious and obscene" and "denotes a society without God." Its public display was "corrupting the public," she maintained, particularly the minors who might find themselves with business in ancillary court. She seemed to blame West,R> the adminR>istrative R>judge for the county's civil district courts, for all this, and claimed that because of her protests, One Day in Court was moved to the judges' lounge last spring.
I called West to see whether he could verify that KKK truly was the female who rid the county courthouse of pornography. But he must have thought I was calling about something serious, like the Kennedy Heights case, and I never heard back from him.
By the way, Karen Kay Kristopher suggests that you don't want to get in a "rassling" match with her.
She plays a "B" game of tennis, but her serve is an "A."
"I'm very strong on top," she explains. "I can slam a serve and you can't hit it back."
Shortly after the tall, blond woman summoned the police, two HPD patrol cars pulled into the lot of The Men's Club. The cops were grinning as they sauntered over.
"Hello, how are you doing?" said officer N.H. Lieke, the very same cop who had arrested KKK the previous week. After that greeting, everyone seemed at a loss for conversation.
"So you're out here again?" Lieke finally said to KKK. "Don't you have anything better to do with your time?"
The officers' arrival brought Kristopher's associate in off the median. She was filming the encounter with an undisguised enthusiasm.
Finally, after officer Lieke had gotten a few more grins, he reminded Kristopher to stay off of The Men's Club's property. Then he and the other cop departed.
Kristopher's video camera-toting associate turned out to be a friendly, dark-haired woman who appeared to be in her late thirties. I asked her name. "Miss Anonymous," she said without hesitation.
"Do you know there are Christian men who come here?" Miss Anonymous asked, "and those men in there feed on their weaknesses?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"They entice them with the food -- what better way to get a man in there than with good food?"
That reminded me that it was past one o'clock and I was getting hungry.
"So the fR>ood's good inR> there, huh?"R>
Miss Anonymous nodded.
Before I could make my first-ever trip inside The Men's Club, I thought to ask Miss Anonymous how it was that she could vouch for the quality of the establishment's eats. But just at that moment -- and I'd like to think that Karen Kay Kristopher had said a little prayer for me -- a guy I used to work with named Gary Jack Willis materialized in The Men's Club parking lot, grinning dementedly from behind the wheel of a shiny black Lincoln Town Car and motioning me over.
God was telling me it was time to go.
"Shoot his picture," I suggested to the JP candidate as I headed for the Lincoln. "He's a real heathen."
Kristopher shook her head. "I'm out of film," she said.
I'm not sure Karen Kay Kristopher would agree, but one of the great things about Texas is that there's no party registration. That means you can vote in the primary election of your choice, no matter how you may have voted in the past. So whether you're an advocate of same-sex marriage, or believe in something really far out, such as clean air or public education, you can participate in the Republican primary. And this year, if you do, you'll have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: you can vote against Phil Gramm twice.
That's right -- you can kick him while he's down, stomp on his fingers and rub his nose in it. Gramm's name is still on the ballot in the GOP presidential primary, and, of course, he's also running for re-election to his Senate seat. (It's great to have a fallback option, after you've spent $20 million to discover money can't buy you love.)
But I know you Republicans -- the two of you who've read this far -- are thinking, "We don't go to the polls to vote against candidates; we want somebody to vote for." Well, there are 11 other options in the presidential primary -- "No Comprometido" looks to be the best qualified -- and in the Senate race, there's Hank Grover.
The Press doesn't endorse candidates, since we figure our readR>ers are much morR>e intelligent thR>an we are and don't need us telling them how to vote. But I'd like to point out that back when Phil Gramm was still living with his mama in Georgia, Hank Grover had already earned the distinction of being Texas' first Republican state senator since the Reconstruction, and in 1972, he came very close to becoming the state's first GOP governor. He was a Republican back when it took cojónes to be a Republican in Texas, before the arrivistes like Phil Gramm ruined the party.
There are many issues on which I disagree with Hank Grover (he's a Pat Buchanan man: anti-NAFTA, pro-oil import fee, against abortion under any circumstance), and some on which I agree, but at least he's got the courage of his convictions. And above all, he's got one sterling credential to recommend him: Grover, to paraphrase Phil Gramm paraphrasing that country song, disliked Phil Gramm way before it was cool to dislike Phil Gramm. "He's the biggest phony in the world," says Grover of the AWOLsenator from Texas.
And Hank Grover would never, ever run for president.
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