Thursday, July 14, 2005

Skeleton in Her Closet (With Beret)

We tuned to the Municipal Channel earlier this week in hopes of hearing that the mayor and the city council were moving to correct the mucked-up mess on Dunlap Street, where the bankrupt contractor installing a new water pipe abandoned the work in mid-project, leaving the main ingress and egress to Slampo's Place (our real place) looking like some chewed-up, bombed-out World War I landscape. (This is a state of affairs that we care a great deal about, and we'll be mulching it over in eye-glazing detail in some future posting.)

Instead, we got sucked into watching this debate over programming on the city's public access television channel, a subject we care less than nothing about.

As all informed citizens now know, the public access channel is run by a non-profit outfit called Houston MediaSource, and the cable-only station --- home to programs produced by any exhibitionist, religious zealot or teeth-grinding boor who can hold a camera or sit upright while being filmed --- is under the gun. MediaSource's problems began when Councilwoman Addie Wiseman stumbled across an access show full of vile and offensive language that aired in the wee hours of the morning. She got mad, started asking questions. Soon enough, other programs of questionable taste --- including one that featured what we heard described as bare-ass "booty-shaking" --- were unearthed from the public-access netherworld.

It's become a big to-do, with the D.A. being called in, council members rushing to darkened cloisters to view the videotapes, and MediaSource's future in doubt.

Although we like to fancy ourselves First Amendment absolutists, we must concede that Wiseman and her allies have a point. The city grants Time Warner its exclusive cable monopoly, and Time Warner funds the public access channel from subscriber fees as a condition of its deal with the city. So it seems to us that if you avail yourself of "access" on a venue that is essentially provided by a government, then you do indeed subject yourself to the whims, political and otherwise, of that government.

But, to reiterate, this is an issue that we honestly don't give a shit about.

We do care about people, though. And Wiseman, for her efforts, has reaped the scorn and ridicule of Our Town's many sophisticates, which includes the seemingly endless parade of angry MediaSource supporters who harangued her during last week's council meeting with their learned discourses on the True Meaning of Free Speech. This business was starting to annoy us, as the rainwater filled up the gouged-out stretches of Dunlap Street, until one MediaSource supporter, a gentleman who sported a haircut that was fashionable for a few months in 1986, went all ad hominem on Wiseman.

We didn't get his exact quote, but it was something to the effect: "Well, Ms. Hypocrite, you didn't care so much about filth and obscenity back when you were doing stand-up with Sam Kinison at the Comedy Workshop, did you?" Actually, we don't remember whether he used the term "doing stand up"; he seemed to be implying some closer relationship between the prim Wiseman, who has laid claim to having once been a stand-up comic, and the foul-mouthed Kinison, who croaked back in the early '90s (car crash, we think, but we're not fact-checking tonight).

The look that crossed Wiseman's face was priceless. It seemed to say: How dare you besmirch the memory of the sainted Sam Kinison? Then she recomposed herself and blurted out something like, "Well, mister, Sam Kinison never performed his routine on the access channel when kids could be watching."

No, he was much bigger than that. For all our readers in France, and those under 30, Kinison was a short, dumpy, rubber-faced gent who wore a beret to cover his well-receded hairline (and managed not to look like a twit). Sometimes he wore a trench coat, too. He got his comedy start, or honed his routine, whatever, at the Comedy Workshop --- that was the name of it, wasn't it, that long-gone joint at San Felipe and Shepherd? Later he ascended to late-night TV, HBO specials, paling around with Howard Stern and Guns 'n' Roses, etc. His shtick was anger, rage, constant agitation. Try as we might, we can't recall a thing he said --- nary a line, a joke, a riff or a rant --- but we do recollect that he stomped about the stage and hollered a lot. His signature response when offended by some especially egregious outrage --- and we hope we're not confusing him with some other comedic genius of the time --- was to scream "Fuuuuuuuuck!!" at the top of his lungs.

Mention of Kinison perked us up momentarily. But just as quickly as his name was tossed into the middle of the City Council chambers, it disappeared. No one sought to further explore the relationship between Wiseman and Kinison. No one mused aloud whether Kinison, if he had lived, might also have been elected to City Council, and what he might have thought of the cable access controversy. No one offered to rename a street in his honor.

This saddened us. So we turned off the TV, stumbled out into the rain, and, in memory of the late sainted Sam Kinison, stood in our front yard, gazed down at the water backing up on Dunlap Street, and bellowed "Fuuuuuuuuuuccckkk!!!!!" at the top of our lungs.

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