Toy Story

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Jose Escalante is a free man. And for that, dildo lovers all across Houston should celebrate.

Escalante is a clerk at Adult Video Megaplex in north Houston, and he faced a year in jail and a $4,000 fine for selling obscene devices. Specifically, according to the arrest report, such novelties as the "Hustler Cyber Jel-Lee Magnum Cock With Balls Dildo."

As a practical matter, according to Richard Kuniansky, Escalante's lawyer, police take into account just how much an item resembles an actual penis when making an arrest. A vibrator is fine; a "magnum cock with balls dildo" is not. Having more than six dildos means you intend to distribute them, and that's against the law.


Sex-toy crackdown

Escalante's trial began October 11. "Jury selection was highly unusual in a case like this," Kuniansky says, "because I didn't want someone who would freak out over seeing a great big penis. So during jury selection I literally pulled out the biggest, baddest penis I could find and held it up."

Not his own, apparently, because no indecent exposure charges have been filed.

Five of the six jury members were women, and they watched as Kuniansky grilled the arresting HPD officer over just what made a dildo illegal.

After two hours of deliberation, they came back with a not-guilty verdict. Kuniansky believes they based their verdict on whether a $10.50-an-hour clerk like Escalante could really be deemed to be "in possession of" the satanic contraband.

"I hope this verdict sends a message loud and clear to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and the HPD Vice Division that we have more important crimes to be dealing with than the possession of dildos and artificial vaginas and whether or not people in the city of Houston choose to masturbate with such devices," Kuniansky says.

Well said, sir. Of course, he wasn't so confident before the trial began.

"If I lose this," he says he told himself, "I'll be a real dick."

Paid Publicity

Two Houston eateries have been chosen to be part of Esquire magazine's "Best New Restaurants" list due out soon, and you can partly thank your tax dollars for that.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau paid the airfare of noted Esquire food writer John Mariani. The Hotel Icon comped his room, and the four restaurants he visited paid for his meals, says Lindsey Brown of the GHCVB.

Nice gig if you can get it, man.

But don't think for one minute that getting treated like a pasha had any effect whatsoever on Mariani's cast-iron integrity. His opinions aren't influenced by the freebies; he points to the fact that two of the restaurants he visited didn't make the list.

"I do not function as a weekly restaurant critic…whereby the rules of engagement are different," he says.

But when you make it known you're the Esquire critic, aren't you pretty much ensuring you'll get better food and service than the regular Joe?

"I always stipulate that I order off the menu so that I don't get 'special food,' " he says. "As for service, I never make an overall, all-inclusive comment about it unless I see that from start to finish throughout the room people are being treated with civility."

Got it. And in case you haven't heard, the big beneficiaries of the taxpayers' largesse are Bistro Moderne and the revamped Tony's.

Operators Are Standing By

Hard times have befallen the Minutemen, those brave souls who have taken up the noble calling of keeping illegal aliens from bringing our country to its knees.

You'd think a group of Hank Hill types offering to patrol the border would have to rent a semi just to haul in all the cash that would be donated to support them, but sadly that's not the case.

Undaunted, the Minutemen have started offering items for sale: holsters, T-shirts with Apache helicopters on them and the words "Want Some?", a few "seamless compression" shirts that hide the smell of sweat (perfect for stalking those sharp-nosed Mexicans!). And everything else, really, that the modern-day vigilante would want, exceptin' guns.

Well, not everything, if our conversation with the rep selling the gear is any indication:

Hair Balls: The holidays are coming up. I have a little nephew, and I was wondering: Does the seamless compression shirt come in baby sizes?

Sales rep: No, no, no -- they're not for babies. Probably a small would fit a--

HB: He's kind of a big baby. A little hefty. Do they shrink?

SR: It's a boy? How old is he?

HB: He's not quite a year yet.

SR: Oh, no, no, no, we don't have anything like that for them.

HB: Can I get the "Want Some?" on different items? Like on a barbecue bib?

SR: We don't do that…We sell the gear. We don't do printing or anything like that.

HB: What about if I came up with my own slogan for a shirt? I'm thinking "What part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" or "What happens in Mexico stays in Mexico" -- wouldn't that be cool?

SR: Again, that's not our core business.

HB: That shirt with the guy pointing a gun on it -- could you add "Get Back, Wetbacks" to it?

SR: Can I ask you a question? Why are you getting so, like, offensive?

HB: Oh, is that offensive? I'm just saying these are ideas I've had.

SR: I don't want to sound rude or anything, but about two or three times I already told you that [printing] is not our core business…I'm sure your local T-shirt shop…could do those things.

Turning down sure moneymakers is no way to raise funds, but the Minutemen, we guess, march to their own drummer.

Doesn't Play Well with Others

For at least 15 years, Children at Risk has been a respected child advocacy group. Its guiding light, Jim Mickelson, left in 1999, and now the group is facing a crossroads. And facing it in a nasty way.

Board members have been bickering over the selection of a new director. They've voted to remove local lawyer David Jones from the board after he accused his colleagues of racism during the search.

The search hasn't gone particularly well. Jones was pushing for Helen Stagg of the advocacy group Families Under Urban and Social Attack; other board members wanted Randy Ray, the director of Houston's Museum of Health and Medical Science.

Ray's supporters wanted to increase the group's fund-raising prowess; Stagg's supporters believed the group's head should focus instead on advocacy.

Ray was approved by a 10-9 vote. Only then, according to both sides of the dispute, did the board learn he had been asked to leave his museum post. (Ray could not be reached for comment.)

By that point, though, Ray had already turned down the job because it didn't pay enough. That left the board back at square one, with a lot of bruised feelings. By a 10-5 vote they decided to oust Jones.

"I was…stunned," Jones says. "These were people I was friends with."

Mike Maher, who led the search committee and supported Ray, says being accused of racism was just too much.

"We're very surprised David feels the way he does," Maher says.

A bitterly split board, a group that's unclear on its priorities -- we bet the résumés are just pouring in.

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