So far, the elder George Bush Statue Project has been shrouded in secrecy befitting a guy who used to run the CIA. The formal city proposal even includes instructions in all capital letters to keep it hushed up until there is final approval: " AND IT CAN BE ANNOUNCED IN AN APPROPRIATE MANNER."
When Hair Balls got its paws on the plan, however, the plausible deniability didn't get far. The spokesman for the Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department admitted he'd never heard of the project, even though his boss, director Dawn Ullrich, had written a letter giving her approval. The Municipal Art Commission went so far as to move last week's meeting from City Hall to the River Oaks Country Club, to better shut out the masses.
"It's just the commissioners," explained Erik Stolz, the group's administrator. Was an agenda available? "There's nothing on the agenda," Stolz said. (He would later admit there was, indeed, an agenda; the statue was the only item. Public arts coordinator Pam Ingersoll later called to decree that the meeting was open to the public.)
The stealth project's goal for late 2004: artist Chas Fagan's eight-foot bronze statue of our 41st president for downtown's Sesquicentennial Park. A semi-circling wall will depict "key aspects" of Bush's life, from his World War II pilot days to George W.'s inauguration.
A committee headed by immigration attorney Charles C. Foster and consultant David B. Jones is raising the private cash. "History has a great leveling effect, and in the end, there will be Sam Houston and George Bush," says Foster, a lifelong Democrat.
While Foster was the one person openly willing to discuss the project, he says publicity is still premature: "George Bush himself is barely aware of this, at best."
(After Hair Balls began inquiring, the Chron ran a small item on its society pages. -- Sarah Fenske
Choir Girl Goes Bad
When news breaks, KPRC is there -- even if it's by accident.
Such was the case when Krista Marino, health reporter for the NBC affiliate, made Houston history last week by causing Metro's first light rail collision. The train clipped the rear driver's side of Marino's Jeep Cherokee as she turned left from Main Street onto West Gray, while heading home from choir practice. Police ticketed Marino for an illegal turn.
"I'm doing okay, my car's fine, and so is the train!" Marino related to Hair Balls. "It was an accident. I'm just glad it wasn't worse." In a brief e-mail Q-and-A, Marino insists she won't capitalize on her star turn as Metro's first crash-test human.
Q: Do you plan to write a book about your experience or contract with an agent to sell your story for a made-for-TV movie (which would, of course, air on KPRC)?
A: No book -- no agent.
Q: Will you fight your ticket?
A: Nope...I've been told it will cost more to get an attorney than to pay it.
Q: Does this sour your opinion about light rail?
A: I just won't drive on Main Street.
Q: If a light rail train is traveling northbound at X miles an hour and a television reporter is making an illegal left-hand turn at Y miles an hour, how long will it take before the competing media is on the scene?
A: About 30 minutes...ha. -- Craig Malisow
In Fair Condition
The reaction from Fort Bend County fairgoers wasn't initially all that unusual, considering that standard midway foods -- funnel cake and cotton candy -- aren't part of most daily diets. But this time, the Imodium AD didn't help.
Several people went to doctors to complain of severe stomach cramps and rectal bleeding -- the one thing in common was that they all had gone to the fair. A sewage spill at the fairgrounds got some of the blame, as well as the food. But among the patients were those who hadn't eaten anything there.
Now the Fort Bend County Health Department has come up with a new culprit: cows. Almost everyone infected had some bovine contact, says county health director Jean Galloway. Most were either showing cattle or walking through the farm area and petting cows. The speculation was that they could have stepped in some cow manure and touched it at some point, then later touched their mouths.
"We all touch things and touch our mouth," Galloway says. "It's what we call the fecal-oral route. So that's the way it happened."
So far, 61 people have called the health department reporting post-fair sickness. About a third of those callers actually met the "case definition" of E. coli infection. And seven people got lab confirmation that they indeed had it.
In mid-August, the Houston Chronicle reported that about 60 possible cases of E. coli were being linked to the county fair -- the county fair in Milwaukee, that is. -- Wendy Grossman
Missed Booty Call
The rapper Nelly has a mission -- to showcase the finest, freshest female ass America has to offer -- but his Houston soldier has gone AWOL.
Nelly's female clothing line Apple Bottoms pays homage to the glories of booty, with both its name and its butt-shaped logo. Marketing materials say Apple Bottoms uses "the right mix of fabrics and the cut" to show off what the release calls a woman's "ass-ets." (It's a pun, not a typo, we're guessing.)
To help start the line, Nelly commissioned the Apple Bottoms Girl contest. One finalist each was selected from Houston and five other cities, with the six set to strut across the red carpet in Los Angeles on November 16. The already chosen grand prize winner was to be announced at the American Music Awards.
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According to the unflinching, exacting standards of Nelly, 23-year-old Tamara Ledet has the finest pair o' cheeks in Houston. Ledet didn't win the overall contest, though. And maybe that didn't sit well with her efforts to make an ass of herself, because she dropped out of sight.
"The number she gave for us is changed, and she didn't tell anyone about it," says publicist Samantha Slaven. "She missed the American Music Awards because we couldn't reach her."
Tamara, Tamara: You've got to get this diva thing down if you're going to model your rear. You don't cancel a trip to L.A. if you're upset; take it and run up the highest room-service bills possible. You could have had Nelly leer at you and even pass you on to one of his boys!
No Apple Bottoms for you, girl. -- R.C.