Sign Language
Sarah Fenske

Sign Language

There's a Heights resident who desperately wanted a stop sign on her street corner, utterly convinced that the intersection was dangerous for kids, pedestrians and cars.

The city didn't agree. Every time she brought the matter up, in petitions and at City Council hearings, she was told the intersection didn't qualify under city guidelines, one way or another, for a stop sign.

Then the woman stumbled across a pair of abandoned stop signs somewhere. And put them up herself at the intersection.

The signs were quickly noticed by the public works department. Not because they didn't belong there, but because the woman -- not being much of a public-works expert -- hadn't done that great a job putting them in. The signs were dirty, battered and improperly installed.

So ever-vigilant city crews replaced them. The intersection now sports a pair of official, city-certified, properly mounted stop signs.

The woman, understandably enough, doesn't want her name used, or the location of the signs specified, paranoia being what it is. So she won't do any of the crowing you'd see if some TV consumer watchdog got those signs installed.

But let her story inspire DIYers everywhere. We suggest making your own stop lights out of shoeboxes, papier-mâché and light bulbs, and then sitting back and waiting for the real things to come along soon.

Any Publicity's Good Publicity

The Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects has an annual sand-castle competition on the beaches of Galveston, and each year at least a few of the entries try to play off current events.

This year took it to a whole nother level, though. Let's just say that if you're an architect who thought it'd be really, really unique to do something about Metro trains crashing into cars, you weren't alone.

Entries like "Metro's Greatest Hits Tour" or "Metrozilla" or "Weapons of Mass Destruction" outnumbered by two to one the next most common theme, Finding Nemo-related stuff.

So, Metro spokesman Ken Connaughton, how does it feel to have the agency once again be the subject of ridicule because of hapless Houston drivers?

It feels good, you might be surprised to learn.

"At least this tends to show that people are aware of the danger," he says. "And that's a good start."

Sand castles -- another important arm in Metro's grand strategic plan to warn Houstonians not to drive into moving trains.

I'm Going to Disney World!

The federal courtroom was packed with attorneys June 7. Associates had labored long to lug in countless boxes of documents. Potential jurors had juggled schedules to attend. Lawyers on both sides had pulled all-nighters getting ready for the big moment: the opening of the first Enron criminal trial.

And U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein called the whole thing off. The trial, he announced, would interfere with his vacation.

The decision stunned attorneys, reporters and defendants. Some wondered why Werlein couldn't have come to his realization sooner than the day of trial; what they failed to realize, however, was that just that morning the judge -- an inveterate Web-surfer -- had landed a great Priceline bid on a round-trip to Vegas. The guy had no choice. He was locked in.

Actually, while the real reason remains shrouded in mystery -- Werlein didn't return our calls -- it isn't as frivolous as it seems, one attorney says.

"I don't think the judge's personal life needs to be in the paper, but I will say it was a substantial commitment involved," says defense attorney Dan Cogdell. "It wasn't superficial. It wasn't about him going to Wally World or anything."

Werlein did offer to start the trial, interrupt it for his vacation and then resume, but Cogdell wanted no part of that.

"The last thing I want, especially with an Enron trial, is for the jury to go back to work in the middle of it and tell their friends where they've been and have those friends start telling them, 'Enron? You're not going to let those people off, are you?' "

Better to let the brainwashing be uninterrupted, we're sure.

Reagan's Revenge

Damn that Ronald Reagan.

Not because his death led to an orgy of hagiography from the nation's media; that was expected. But because of his passing, the Texas Republican Party has gone on mourning hiatus and not updated its Web site.

And that hurts the tens of thousands of Texans (actual figures may vary) who are waiting breathlessly to see how the recently adopted 2004 state GOP platform deals with sodomy.

Not gay oral sex, of course -- that, as always, "tears at the fabric of society," as it has in the 2000 and 2002 platforms. (For what it's worth, any sentence that includes sodomy and "tears at the fabric" ought to be in a bodice-ripping romance novel, we feel.)

But is 2004 the year when -- finally -- the GOP clarifies matters and differentiates between straights going down on each other as opposed to those heathen gays? We don't know -- the platform hasn't been posted online.

Amazingly, calls to state GOP headquarters asking for clarification on the sodomy issue went unanswered. We talked to a reporter who covered the convention, and he reports that he recalls no organized lobbying effort on the part of straights seeking permission to head downtown, as it were. "And that's the kind of thing I believe I would have noticed," he adds.

What with the official Day of Reagan Mourning being Friday, June 11, and no updates probable until at least the following Monday, that means another weekend blown. So to speak.

Stunning Figures

The Houston school district's new Code of Conduct for students gets even tougher on misbehaving students who are sent to disciplinary-alternative schools. It also makes clear, for the first time, that stun guns are banned on HISD campuses.

Has this become a burgeoning problem in HISD? Have there been stun-gun shootouts in cafeterias across the city, with rival gangs Tasering each other over the chicken nuggets, hapless sixth-graders writhing and twitching on the ground as a bunch of eighth-grade bullies laugh at the little baby crying because he has 100,000 volts cruising through him?

Well, no. Not exactly. There's never been a reported incident of a student using a stun gun on an HISD campus, spokesman Terry Abbott says. In fact, he adds, "I know of only a couple of occasions where children brought stun guns to campus."

He says the code change is still needed, however, because stun guns are not illegal, so there was no specific language in the HISD code banning them from campus.

Of course, HISD is already one of those districts slavishly worshiping the zero-tolerance god, where kids have even been expelled for displaying a gun-shaped cigarette lighter. Academic careers are not yet threatened if you point your finger and leave your thumb up -- so your hand looks like a gun! -- but it's getting there.

Given that, we actually sort of assumed stun guns were already frowned upon.

At any rate: Remember, kids, before you Taser that smug jerk whose mom helped her win the science fair -- wait until she's off campus. Then fire away.

No Help Needed

Fed up with George W. Bush? Want to volunteer for the John Kerry campaign here in Houston?

Good luck. Don't let the doorknob hit you on the way out.

One Houston mother tells Hair Balls she wanted to introduce her preteen and a couple of his friends to the political process by the time-honored tradition of envelope-stuffing and block-walking. So she found a number for the Kerry campaign's Houston headquarters and dialed, no doubt expecting open arms for an actual volunteer here in alleged Bush Country.

"Umm," she was told by a clearly taken-aback staffer. "We don't really have a lot of room here." Not to mention "I don't really know what volunteers could do" (Whaaat?) and abject horror at the thought of preteens running around.

Democrats, be of stout heart -- the John Kerry machine is clearly firing on all cylinders.

The mom, who didn't want her name used, was directed to the Harris County Democratic Party, where indeed they were very glad to have her and her crew.

It turns out Kerry's office here deals only with fund-raising calls to bigfoot financial types. "It's just dialing for dollars over there," says Harris County Democratic chair Gerry Birnberg.

And all you grassroots types can just stay the hell away, apparently.


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