Two years ago, it took Jerry Bruckheimer $135 some-odd million to re-create the mayhem of December 7, 1941. On a recent Sunday night, all it took was two dozen smoking, swearing, stumbling Santas, a round of drinks at a downtown bar and 15 minutes of rehearsal to stage Houston's second annual historical re-enactment of the Pearl Harbor attack, kicking off the first weekend of this year's Santa Rampage season. Nine Japanese warplane Santas, arms aflutter, swooped across Market Square, crashing into 12 battleship Santas and four U.S. warplane Santas.
The event marked a departure for the merry pranksters of the Santa Rampage crew. For nearly a decade -- and long before Billy Bob Thornton ever muttered a "fuck you" while dressed as the fat man -- this band of 40 or so Art Car Klub members and friends have trolled the streets of Houston around Christmas time, looking to wreak holiday havoc.
Traditionally, the group crashes everything from high-society balls to neighborhood get-togethers, storming homes and office buildings while gorging themselves on party platters, booze and more booze. Their caroling features holiday melodies set to R-rated lyrics, as indicated by "Winter Wonderland":
"Drunken Santas, will be reelin' / No pain will they be feelin' / Red suits will be stained / From the booze that they've drained / Just another Santa Rampage." As this song rumbled across the bar, Mrs. Claus was spotted faking fellatio on a blushing Santa in the corner.
While at least one mall has now adopted a policy banning Santas not employed there, none of the Santa Rampage has ever gotten busted for trespassing in their raids. "I've got a knack for knowing when to leave," says Bryan Taylor, a.k.a. Papa Claus, the de facto ringleader.
Taylor, who says Monty Python skits were his inspiration, has plans for more social subversion this holiday season. "When you confront people with an image they're not comfortable with, they're very nervous. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they get scared. I've had people cross the street to avoid us."
It's unknown at this time if the mayor's antigang task force has taken out a file on Mr. Claus. -- Michael Serazio
String 'Em Up
The powers that be in Galveston have put their collective foot down when it comes to this February's Mardi Gras. Banned forever from the festivities will be a scourge of modern society, a devastating blight on family safety and enjoyment.
Crack cocaine? Actually, that's been banned for years. Women flashing their breasts for cheap beads? No, at least unofficially. Uzi submachine guns? Also already barred.
The scourge this time? Silly String.
Silly String, that mysterious aerosol-sprayed annoyance, will be verboten along the Mardi Gras parade route and the Strand area, says Chris Woolwine of the city's park board.
"The Mardi Gras krewes have begged us to get rid of it for years," she says. "It gets in the floats, on the uniforms of the marching bands, even in their instruments."
It also leaves, she says, a permanent "sticky residue" on the new pavers and bricks the city spent $1.2 million installing downtown. (New Orleans has banned the substance for years, says a spokeswoman; "Not so's you'd notice," says Hair Balls.)
Galveston store owners and temporary vendors will be notified that selling Silly String during Mardi Gras now violates a city ordinance and will result in a ticket, although Woolwine isn't sure just what the specific penalty will be.
And those revelers who sneak in contraband Silly String from the mainland? "I think basically the police will just confiscate it," she says. "You don't want to make people livid."
Also banned are glass bottles or cans for beer, she says. Plastic "stadium bottles" or cups are okay. "It's just the time of year," Woolwine explains, "when people like to throw things at each other." -- Richard Connelly
The billboard isn't exactly subtle. It stars Colonel Sanders, wielding a bloody butcher knife over a terrified chicken, Norman Bates-style. The slogan: "Kentucky Fried Cruelty We do chickens wrong."
The advertisement, blood and all, sits along highways in Las Vegas, Little Rock and even Springfield, Illinois. But not in some cities, including Houston. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which designed the ad, our primary outdoor sign companies rejected it.
Lee Vela, director of public affairs for Clear Channel Outdoor Houston, says, "We've done some things for PETA in the past, but sometimes we have to be a little cognizant of what the community wants to see."
Dan Shannon, a campaign coordinator for PETA, admits the ad is "a bit gory and over the top." But he says, "The issues we're talking about are gory and over the top. People are appalled to find out what's going on with KFC chickens." PETA has been hounding KFC since January, contending that its chickens are drowned, scalded and otherwise tortured.
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Breasts -- female rather than fowl -- helped get a PETA billboard ad bounced just before the 2001 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Local signage firms said the picture of a buxom blond and her message, "Nobody likes an eight-second ride; buck the rodeo," was too risqué.
As for the chicken ad, Shannon wonders if the reason behind the local rejection is more nefarious than a matter of "good taste." "KFC itself may do a lot of advertising in Houston," he says. "Maybe they don't want to offend them in any way."
Wes Gilbreath, president of SignAd Outdoor Advertising, freely confirms the conspiracy. "We can't accept anything we find offensive to anybody. That ad is offensive to KFC and also to anybody who eats chicken. I can't touch anything like that. It's just bad for business."
For his part, though, Vela insists it's nothing personal and that Clear Channel rejects ad copy all the time: "Sometimes we've had to reject it from our own radio stations." -- Sarah Fenske