The devil, as Hollywood and the Bible tell us, is one clever dude. In his endless fight with the Almighty, the Prince of Darkness thinks rules are for suckers.
And you never know where he'll pop up to do his satanic work. Recently, it was at an ultraconservative church in the not-so-ultraconservative Heights.
The Vineyard Church on 11th Street decided to hold a large Easter fair, with moonwalks, a rock-climbing wall, egg hunts and free food. All good fun, until a brief skit that caused the little tykes in attendance to run screaming in abject terror.
"A guy portraying the devil was going to say untruthful things about Easter," pastor Michael Palandro says, "and then a group of dancers were coming in, singing and declaring 'God Is Risen' and the devil would run away."
Dancers? Sounds fabulous! Especially for a church that has chased away members who wouldn't "convert" from their homosexuality (see "God Only Knows," May 2, 2002).
The Father of Lies saw fit to sabotage the whole thing, though.
For one thing, it turns out the devil -- in his temporal form of a UH drama student -- doesn't rehearse.
"They had a rehearsal, but he wasn't able to come because he had to work," says Palandro, who didn't want to name the church member who portrayed Beelzebub.
Sadly, no rehearsal meant no opportunity for the director to say, "Ummm, Satan? Take it down a notch, maybe."
So instead, Palandro says, the actor "made it too realistic and scared some of the kids who were there and he kind of personalized it to the audience rather than talking about Easter in the abstract."
"Kind of personalized it"? The devil going all Don Rickles at an Easter fest -- that's some churchin', right there. "Hey, kid, I don't want to say your mom's going to hell, but if she keeps wearing outfits like that, I'm saving a space. Come on, I joke because I love."
Also not helping matters was the fact that Satan was a master of stage technology. He was miked, the dancing angels weren't. "He ended up being big, they ended up being small," Palandro says. (Apparently there are plenty of former roadies to consult in hell.)
Some families left immediately; others complained after the event. Palandro e-mailed everyone he could, apologizing profusely and offering free tickets to a production of Peter Pan. A production of Peter Pan where Peter gets disemboweled and sodomized by Lucifer's minions. (Not really.)
Everyone is truly sorry, he says. "It was a symbolic acting out of Jesus defeating the evil powers," he says. "The Evil One wasn't supposed to come across that evil, in the context of the children there."
That'll teach him to trust Satan.
A couple of years ago the Houston Chronicle was refusing to use in quotes such terms as "suck" as a synonym for "stink." Now it's printing cunnilingus jokes.
The April 4 edition of the comic strip Get Fuzzy was based on a discussion of traditional holiday meals. "Rabbit? For Easter? What are you, crazy?" one character asked. To which another replied, "Christmas turkey. Thanksgiving turkey. Valentine's Day beaver. Easter bunny. It's tradition."
Talk turns to eating leprechauns for St. Patrick's Day, and the first character goes, "No, no n Hold on -- Valentine's Day what?"
The syndicator of the strip, United Media, sent out two versions, one using beaver and one using (for some reason) marmot. Papers like The Washington Post -- and the United Media Web site -- used the marmot version; a spokeswoman for the syndicate said, however, that there's no tally for how many papers went beaver.
Chron features editor Kyrie O'Connor made the decision to be bold, although she says she didn't find the strip in question too funny. "Darby Conley [the strip's author] has, alas, made beaver jokes before," she says. "Frankly, I hate it. He's too good to get away with this."
So far, no reader has complained. The "people who get it won't be offended, and the people who don't get it won't be offended," she says.
Take note, writers of Blondie. Writers of Hagar the Horrible, please ignore.
Art in a Can
The Beer Can House, that semi-legendary folk-art home sheathed by empty beer cans, is now the property of the folks at the Orange Show. And that means they have to deal with the pressing problem of how to replace cans that have become rusty eyesores or have fallen off.
Since this is Art, the process involves a lot of complicated discussion. You don't just go down to the 7-11 and pick up a couple of cases of Natty Lights.
The original owner, retired railroader John Milkovisch, lined his house with beer cans and pop-tops, smashing some cans, hanging others, doing whatever came to mind as he downed a six-pack a day. About 39,000 cans surround the house.
So to replace them, do you try to find old ones or do you desecrate the name of beer-inspired art by using modern cans?
"You could have specially fabricated new beer cans made out of some extremely durable material, but that is not what Mr. Milkovisch did, so it is a challenge," says Rice University's Stephen Fox, an expert in architectural preservation.
Susanne Theis, executive director of the Orange Show, is working on the problem.
"What we are trying to figure out is how much we need that comes from vintage cans so we can go to a beer company and see if they can make the cans," she says.
Modern aluminum beer cans hanging in the wind don't make the same noise as the sturdier old ones, she notes. And forget about making pull-tab curtains with the ultrasafe tabs they use nowadays.
Since the late Milkovisch went about his art rather haphazardly, there is some talk that he wouldn't care much how many changes are made. "There is a pretty lively debate that is not finished yet within our group," she says.
One thing is certain: Theis won't be short of volunteers if beer cans need to be emptied.
"I think in the spirit of John Milkovisch, I think that's why it's going to be fun to work with all the volunteer groups," she says. "You know, people really love the Beer Can House, and I think they will be really glad to help in some way."
Well, maybe not if you make a deal with Milwaukee's Best.
In Lieu of Flowers
Journalistic mailboxes around town have been filling with breathless advisories about the upcoming announcement of the "Top Twenty Buggiest Cities." The Farmer's Almanac and the American Biophysics Corporation (makers of the Mosquito Magnet!) are putting together the highly scientific survey.
"Houston is in the top 20 predicted to be the most buggy -- stay tuned to find out where your city ranks," one release said, apparently in a translation from Farsi.
Our hearts were beating fast for the April 7 announcement. Could we be in for yet another round of inane civic-pride breast-beating over some silly PR stunt?
Alas, it was not to be. A follow-up release came, perhaps one of the most trenchant in the long annals of PR campaigns.
"In deference to the Pope," it read, "we have rescheduled our announcement until Wednesday, April 13."
It's the little gestures that count, man.
Old and In The Way
The hardworking people at the Magnificat Houses can finally relax. Maybe.
Among the organization's many programs is a group of residential houses where the homeless, the mentally ill and ex-prisoners can live if they help keep up the place.
The homes have long been part of a respected program. Unfortunately, they've also long been in the way of expansion of the neighboring main campus of Houston Community College.
Flush with a $30 million bond vote, the college is looking to build. They asked Magnificat officials if they were willing to sell their property and were rebuffed.
Before long, rumors began circulating that the college was determined to condemn the buildings by use of eminent domain.
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"The college wants to take these buildings and destroy this community," says Magnificat's Dale Johnson.
Not so fast, says HCC spokeswoman Rosie Barrera. "I just don't see the issue of eminent domain being raised," she says.
Not without adding that there's been no "public" discussion of it and that "no one can speak to the future, especially in a volatile real estate market."
Sounds like nothing to worry about, guys.