Friday, June 30, 2006

Once, Giants Trod Here

This excellent story from Thursday’s Houston Chronicle on the imminent release of former Houston councilman Ben Reyes from federal prison to a halfway house brought back memories (not necessarily fond) of a day, not too long ago, when local politicians seemed to be somewhat larger personages than, say, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs or M.J. Khan. We suspect we were not the only local to find portent in the fact that the release from confinement of the newly humbled, buff and ponytailed Reyes comes in the same week that Superman Returns hit theaters.

Reyes’ cheesy theft of a magnolia tree from the yard of a crackhouse he razed by taking the stick of a bulldozer summed up the man’s approach to politics: a little community service, a whole lot of showboating, and a cut on the side for Benny. The desire for money seemed to be the overriding motivation for the perpetually cash-strapped Reyes: in the government-induced chain of events that led to his imprisonment, the then ex-councilman was caught on tape by the FBI trying to wheedle $1,000 from an undercover operative so he could take a trip to Mexico.

An uprooted magnolia, a mere one grand---you can’t say the man was grandiose.

We recall a conversation with Reyes that we believes dates to the mid- or late 1980s, as we were gathering information on a legislative race in which Reyes’ support of one candidate was the overarching issue, probably the only issue. Reyes rang us back early in the evening, saying he was at a pay phone and in a hurry and acknowledging that he had drunk a couple of beers (although he sounded as if he had had a couple on top of those). He then launched into a long, rambling exegesis of the contest, but, sometime well after we had stopped listening, abruptly cut if off by saying,
“You know what this is all about, right?”

“No,” we said, although we most certainly did, “what’s it all about?”

“It’s about who’s gonna be the No. 2 man in our community,” Reyes said.

We couldn’t resist: “Oh yeah? Who’s No. 1?”

“Me, baby---always have been, always will be.”

“So we can quote you on that?”

“Shit, I don’ care.”

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Referral Service

A story in Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle, headlined “Suspect surrenders with help of Quanell X,” reported that a convicted felon wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer contacted the Chronicle on Monday. Elliott Nathaniel Guerrero apparently did not want to complain that his Sunday paper wasn’t delivered; instead, according to the Chronicle, he wanted to proclaim that he had no pistol on his person when he is alleged to have pulled a weapon on, and possibly fired at, Houston police Sgt. J.R. Chase during a June 16 incident at a north Houston apartment complex.

Guerrero did allow that he had been shot in the leg that day, by Sgt. Chase and without provocation, even though he promptly fled on foot and remained at large. He was crying at the time, according to the Chronicle (crying, that is, during his “contact” with the newspaper, not when he caught one in the leg).

And so, according to the Chronicle:
A Chronicle reporter urged Guerrero to surrender, but the man said he feared police would retaliate. The reporter referred him to Quanell X, who had previously escorted suspects to police custody, and alerted police.

Quanell X met Guerrero at a gas station on the Katy Freeway about noon Tuesday, and Guerrero hopped into a Hummer H2 driven by a member of Quanell X's New Black Panther Party.
It’s not clear whether the Chronicle reporter who referred Mr. Guerrero to Mr. X is the same one who wrote the story, and why the Chronicle didn’t see fit to identify the anonymous scribe, since he or she plays a major role in the very story the paper is peddling.

Whatever the case, you’ve got respect the writer’s eye for detail: The wanted man, despite his leg injury, “hopped” into the New Black Panther Party-chauffeured H2 Hummer (which apparently is not just any ol’ Hummer) and was ushered off to meet his fate.

After reporting on the newspaper’s hand in the hooking-up of Mr. Guerrero and Mr. X, the story takes an odd turn into an uncharted meta-dimension of journalism by noting that a couple of years ago the Houston Police Department implemented a policy disallowing private citizens from arranging the surrender of suspects or fugitives wanted by the police.

This policy change followed Mr. X’s June 2004 arrest for evading arrest when he failed to stop for police officers as he was ferrying to police headquarters a suspect wanted on suspicion of shooting and wounding a police officer. (Sr. X was given a small fine, a brief probation and community service.)

So: The unnamed Chronicle reporter recommended Mr. Guerrero to Mr. X to facilitate his surrender, despite the police department policy (which, the paper noted, may not be so hard-and-fast, as Guerrero was the second fugitive X has handed over to the cops since his own arrest), thus setting into motion the events that led to the headline, “Suspect surrenders with help of Quanell X.”

Therefore, the question: Did the Chronicle set X up to knock him down?

Nah, of course not. In fact, the paper helpfully supplied these stats attesting to X’s prowess when it comes to handing over the wanted men of Harris County:
Counting Guerrero, Quanell X has facilitated the surrender of 23 fugitives …
Like other Houstonians, we have long wondered about the point and purpose of Quanell X, about how he makes a living when he seems to spend all day and night out shepherding various allegations and accusations of injustice into the public domain or bringing another fugitive down to police headquarters, about how he can command media attention at the drop of a dime (or however much a phone call costs these days) and now even rates referrals from the leading daily newspaper, and about how the media never seem to question his pecuniary motives or how he can afford an H2 Hummer and those classy suits he always wears, even when it’s 99 degrees outside (and the man does look sharp in a suit).

We won’t go into detail in repeating the rumors of case-running or bounty-hunting, although we wouldn’t particularly have a problem with those activities, because we realize, as the late great Dewey Compton used to say, “No matter what happens, folks gotta eat.” We know from experience that “selfless humanitarian” is not a remuneratively satisfying job.

Still, it would be nice — not to mention journalistically sound — if the media made some attempt to disclose Mr. X’s interests in the various media-hyped endeavors in which he engages (we mean, of course, any interest beyond his obvious selfless humanitarianism), or, in lieu of that, exercised more discretion in relaying, unchecked, his various pronouncements (we’re still waiting for some resolution of the incendiary charges that X launched about the Houston Fire Department a while back).

Mr. Guerrero did not look to be the sort who could pay for X’s escort services, so perhaps X performed a real public service in hauling Guerrero to the cops (in style!). Or perhaps X viewed it as a favor to the Chronicle reporter, who now may be in line to supplant this guy as X’s No. 1 media enabler. Or perhaps X just wrote off his time as a loss leader for the advantageous publicity, although it’s not like he really needed the publicity that day, as he was all over the television news and newspaper for “arranging” a news conference with the families of two of those hard-eyed youngsters accused of capital murder in a recent fatal carjacking---a misstep by the youngsters, so to speak, that X conveniently blamed on the undue influence of other youngsters also charged in what the Chronicle correctly described as a “brutal crime spree.” (And what were X’s arrangements, for making this “arrangement” that conveyed absolutely no "news"?)

These are simply rhetorical questions, ones the media will never get around to answering, primarily because of editors’ fears that in poking too indecorously at the myth of Quanell X they risk the prospect of X and his New Black Panther Party minions staging a protest outside their homes, the way they did a few years ago outside the home of City Councilman Michael Berry, a distraction that, at least in the daily newspaper’s case, would detract from the relentless pursuit of that elusive Pulitzer Prize.

Our humble suggestion is that the Chronicle cut out the middleman and allow its reporters to get into the surrender-facilitation game. A good first-person Hechtian yarn every now and then — “How I Brought in Elliott Nathaniel Guerrero” — might be just the cure for those flagging circulation numbers.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Threat to Civic Health Averted, for Now

We see that some gray-hairs with disposable incomes have foresworn forming yet another caravan of geriatric Harley riders and instead plunked their money down to buy Brazos Bookstore, the Rice University-area landmark that’s gotten a good deal of publicity mileage in recent years for being the last, or one of the last, independent bookshops in Olde Houston Towne. Or maybe the last “literary” book seller, something of that sort.

We at Slampo’s Place are longtime promoters of independence, of local ownership, of locality, and thus we’re comforted to know that Brazos Bookstore will be keeping its doors open after the departure of its founder/owner.

Yet, to be honest, upon reading of the bookstore’s reprieve we couldn’t recall exactly when we had last visited the place, much less made a purchase there.

We’ve always found the atmosphere at Brazos Bookstore to be a bit chilly and contemplative, at least for our tastes, more like a gallery or the Rothko Chapel (an interesting place for about five minutes---six, tops) than the musty, cluttered bookstores of our youth, with the fat-assed doyens eyeing you from behind the counter. (It’s not that the workers at Brazos aren’t nice or helpful---they are, and more importantly they always leave you alone when you want to be.) Browsing amid the mausoleum-like quiet and open space of Brazos Bookstore makes us feel as if we’ve wandered into a quaint little museum devoted to a mummified High Literariness---Susan Sontag spoke here! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Not being a member of the “literary community” and never having nursed even the small, fleeting desire to rub our chin in the company of the sort who think writing can be learned in a “writing program,” we’ve found that we can usually satisfy our book longings at the public library, or, if we absolutely must pay, at Borders or through Amazon. It’s usually cheaper at the latter two, we’ve noticed.

In other words, we’ve always liked the idea of Brazos Bookstore more than the reality.

Still, it’s good that people with literary aspirations and pretensions, as well as those well-put-together older women from Southhampton, have a place to go to see and be seen and buy $95 architecture books. But we think one of the new owners of Brazos Bookstore overstated the case when she said, according to the Houston Chronicle, “To lose [the bookstore] would be a real blow to the civic health of the community.”

It’d be much more of a blow to the community in which we dwell (the reality-based one) if, for instance, the Borders at the shopping center a couple of miles from our house shut down. It’s the literary hub of Meyerland, my friend, and we’ve noticed that a scene of sorts has taken root there at the coffee shop, which at almost any hour of its operation is packed with all strains of humanity---suburban moms pretending to read their latest purchases, high school kids instant messaging, college students doing homework, mouth-breathing older guys battling brainy Asian kids in chess, etc. It’s diverse, too---young and old, black, white and brown, etc.

Come to think of it, we can’t recall ever seeing a black person at Brazos Bookstore.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Favor de No Tocar Television (Gracias)

Says the sign
parenthetically thanking customers
at the Taqueria Arandas

No tocar, especially not today
Because everyone is watching
Los Estados Unidos
lose to Ghana

The way we remember people used to be
watching the World Series.

The waitresses sit in the booth
beneath the TV.
Neat and clean, with their hair pulled back
and squealing with excitement,
then disappointment
as the U.S. shoots and misses.

Shoots and misses.

With one remarking to the others
that the guy whose header hit the goalpost
es guapo.

We came for the $2.29 breakfast:
Two scrambled, refrieds, jamon o bacon, corn tortillas
and the green sauce that gets our head up.
But stayed as the clock wound down.

We must have been in our 20s before we saw soccer
but have come to appreciate it, grudgingly.
Now the coffee has us wishing we were young again
and thinking, We could play this game.

The young business type with the laptop
The wrinkled working guy in the Astros cap
The hippie-ish Anglo couple
The dishwasher from the back
The squealing waitresses

Everyone on edge now
as he clock winds down
and the clock stops
catching the world
in a net.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Police Story

The following is a true story, as are all stories told here at Slampo’s Place. However, any resemblance to persons living, dead or in-between is purely coincidental, depending on who’s reading this. – H.H., reader representative, Slampo’s Place

At mid-morning Friday we looked out the front window and saw two Houston Police Department patrol cars parked in front of a house a few doors down from ours. Two cop cars: Must be something serious, we thought, mindful of all the killing and thievery and general sociopathology that’s had people in our part of town on edge for the past few months.

Some of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking intermittently, including ours, but that was a good thing: There were workmen at the house next door, replacing fascia board and rebuilding a fence for our neighbor, and their presence had riled the dogs. One of the workmen had parked his truck in front of our house, next to a fire hydrant, and we wondered momentarily whether it was really necessary to send two cops to write him a ticket.

We strolled over and asked the officers if there were trouble afoot. “Everything’s OK,” replied one of the officers, who shrugged slightly and made a “yapping” motion with one hand before pointing toward the next house down the block. From the back yard, we could hear two dogs yapping, as they occasionally do when given reason to.

It took us a second to grasp what was going on: Two HPD officers had been dispatched on a dog-barking complaint at 10 o’clock on a Friday morning. In the midst of what the media are calling a “wave” of killings involving teenagers.

We recovered from the shock and went on about our business. But later, as we headed out of town for a couple of days, we noticed that the owners of the dogs---a pleasant young couple with a small child--- had a red tag from the city on their front door.

When we returned Sunday morning we got the lowdown from the neighbors: The cops had been called back twice in our absence. That’s three visits in two days. It seems the woman who lives next to the couple, whose house the cops had parked in front of on Friday morning, had been calling the city to complain every time one of the couple’s dogs opened its mouth. In the daytime.

The woman, childless and pet-less, had moved in just three or four months ago and appears to invest quite a bit of time and money in renovations. She seemed pleasant the one time we spoke to her, but come to find out she’s called the cops another time about another barking dog.

Naturally, the pet owners are distraught. The woman’s never spoken to them about the dog-barking. They talked to someone at the city who suggested they work up a petition with neighbors’ signatures attesting that there dogs aren’t a nuisance. No one’s complained previously.

We’d like to work up a mad-on at the mayor or chief of police, but for the moment will save our ire for our pissy new neighbor, who one night may wake up wishing she’d heard the dogs barking next door.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

White to Houstonians: Use It Or Lose It (in the Circle of Life)

o A recent letter from the mayor of Mexico City … no, ’scuse us, it’s from our mayor, Bill White … to the habitantes de Houston … sorry, let’s flip it over to the English-language side … to Houstonians relates that we are blessed to live in a city “rich with history, culture, diversity and resources.”

Ah, yes. So what’s your point, mayor?

The point is, apparently, is that despite these blessings, the city faces many challenges, including “protecting our environment” (to which we can only say, “No shit?”). But el alcalde is on the case. His latest offensive, the letter relates, is a “recycling awareness campaign,” which looks to be the major initiative hooked to the recent 2006 Environmental Summit, sponsored by the city and the oxymoronic Keep Houston Beautiful organization.

Well, the costs of “awareness” are nominal, we suppose.

The mayor notes that the letter recipient lives in a neighborhood that has curbside recycling collection, but only one in five residents citywide who receive the service actually use it while a “number of neighborhoods are on the waiting list” to get it.

So … “a lack of neighborhood participation may result in a loss of service.”

Oh. Awareness= potential loss of service.

We’re not sure how to take this. As a vigorous, even obsessive recycler---we compost anything we can from the kitchen, then regularly piss on our heap, because human urine is 1 whole percent nitrogen, a key component in decomposition---we’d be more than a little miffed to lose our curbside service because our slovenly neighbors are too lazy to toss their empties in their city-supplied bins.

Hell, we’d be pissed. We might start hauling our plastics and cardboard over here.

What’s puzzling about the mayor’s missive is the lack of explanation for the threatened loss of service. Is recycling a zero-sum deal---there’s only a certain amount the city will entertain, and that’s it? Or is it that recycling’s not turning the requisite profit, which was the explanation offered a few years back when White’s predecessor cut out glass recycling (forget about saving landfill space and contributing---marginally [very] to be sure---to the overall betterment of the planet, not to mention that expansive sense of virtue one gets from this act of pseudo-environmentalism, the way hybrid drivers became taken with the smell of their own emissions on that episode of South Park).

There’s a carrot with the mayor’s lil’ stick, though: the neighborhood that “scores” highest in recycling (participation and, um, poundage) will win $5,000 that can go to sprucing-up the environs.

We’ve tried to rally our neighbors to the mayor’s recycling cause. One shot us the finger. Another wagged the blunt barrel of a small-caliber handgun at us from behind a partially opened door. A third cussed us in a language that neither we nor our Spanish-speaking neighbor could understand.*

o Count us among what surely will be the growing legions of Houstonians unimpressed by City Councilwoman Sue Lovell. According to this Channel 2 report we saw Tuesday evening, Lovell, apparently after being on the receiving end of some grousing from constituents, placed an unspecified quantity of blame on Lamar High School for the recent gang-related stabbing death of a boy of either 14 or 15 (although he sure looked a lot older in the pictures) in Ervin Chew Park. Lovell
said parents have told her that the problems started at Lamar High School on June 6, the day of the stabbing. Lovell said the students were asked to leave the campus and ended up fighting with rival gang members at Ervin Chew Park. "HISD must step forward, must acknowledge a problem and must reach out to the people that can help them," Lovell said. "Not ignore them, nor shove it off to the neighborhoods where it does become a problem and where people get hurt."
Yes, once again the public schools have fallen down on the job, which, at least the way Lovell sees it, is to be these kids’ mommas and daddies.

o Speaking of “gang-related” (the third most-often-used adjective in southwest Houston, according to a recent survey), we see that the National Geographic cable channel is re-running its documentary World’s Most Dangerous Gang, which examines MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, the conglomeration of Salvadoran youth with which the young man killed in Ervin Chew Park supposedly was affiliated. (We’re pretty sure this isn’t the “culture” the mayor was referring to in his letter.) It's on sometime Sunday night, probably after our bedtime.

* Pardon our Lynn Ashby-ish flight of fancy.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Commercial Landmarks of Houston, No. 2 in a Series

This famous clinic is located in southwest Houston. Ok, maybe it's not that famous. But it's gotten good reviews. Make that review.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Now That’s Entertainment

Life’s kind of a drag for Brandy Briggs, the 24-year-old East Harris County woman who was released from prison last year after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned her injury-to-a-child conviction for the death of her infant son.

According to this long feature in the Houston Chronicle, Briggs, who spent almost five years in prison, pretty much has her life on hold while waiting to hear whether the Harris County district attorney will bring charges again.

In the meantime, though, she's had the “temporary diversion” of efforts by her attorney, Charles Portz, to sell her story to Hollywood. The newspaper relates that
Briggs couldn't imagine sitting in a darkened theater while Drew Barrymore or Natalie Portman portrayed her personal tragedy. "I'd see it at home," she said as Kerri Grounds, the promotion director of Portz's entertainment division, talked about a theatrical release versus a made-for-television film.

But the movie talk was only a distraction. No deal has been signed, and besides, real life proved far more unsettling than anything on the
Diversion, distraction, whatever: If Briggs’ life is anywhere near as dreary as the Chronicle suggests, we too would have a hard time imagining Natalie Portman in the lead role.

We have even more difficulty accepting the notion that Portz (described in the story as "fiesty") has his own “entertainment division” with its own “promotions director.”

Who says the era of the Gentleman Lawyer is dead?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Commercial Landmarks of Houston, No. 1 In a Series

There's a stern, Germanic finality to this message, as if a simple “Closed” was insufficient to convey the gravity of the development.

This unit in question used to be a Luby’s. The other side of the sign offers a cheerier message to northbound motorists on Buffalo Speedway, thanking customers for 40 wonderful years.

It wasn’t a lack of patronage that killed the place---every time we visited, the line always seemed to snake nearly out the front door (although we haven’t darkened that door in a good 12 to 15 years, having long ago shaken the twin delusions that cafeteria food is not only “good” and “filling” but “economical”). The property on which the building sits, at the edge of West University Place, was too valuable to be wasted on a giant parking lot for the segment of the over-65 demo that craves liver and onions and that watery, breaded fish stuff that was sold as “Cod.”

New money’s on the way, but before it washes away this vestige of a simpler time, let us recall that it was here in this parking lot, during that heady Clutch City championship season, that Rocket Vernon Maxwell was arrested after “waving” a pistol at another motorist who had honked his horn at the Rockets guard’s purple Porsche.

We always had a soft spot for Mad Max. When Ron Artest was but a toddler, Maxwell already had set the standard for player-fan relations by charging 10 rows into the stands to swing at a heckler. Last we heard, Maxwell was doing time.

After being fined for the gun-waving incident, Maxwell said something to the effect that he would no longer carry a handgun in his car because doing so was illegal (for him, at the time).

He noted, however, that he could carry a shotgun---as long as he didn’t conceal it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Long Arm of Hearst: Grass-Fed Beef, Fancy I-talian Equipment, Leon Hale and … Dean Singleton

We recently had a bit of fun mocking and belittling Houston Chronicle publisher Jack Sweeney’s explaining-away of the newspaper’s continuing decline in circulation as measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, just as we did six months earlier on the occasion of the previous ABC report, and just as we’ll probably do six months hence on the occasion of the next report (we’re comforted by routine and like an easy target).

While the bad numbers may eventually bode ill for the monopoly franchise, we know that today they’re the mere splashing of small, frothy waves against the iron sides of a slow-moving behemoth of a battleship. Daily newspapers, especially those without competition (which is about, um, almost all of ’em) continue to enjoy the sort of margins not usually found outside the loansharking industry.

Of course, you never really know for a fact about the Houston Chronicle, because, since the mid-1980s or thereabouts, it’s been part of the privately held New York-based Hearst Corp. But not to worry: Hearst is doing all right, according to this article in Monday’s New York Times.

You might say better than all right: Hearst has built “resplendent new headquarters” at 8th Avenue and 57th Street---a glass-and-steel monstrosity slapped atop the company’s vintage 1928 building---and paid for it in cash. $500 million in cash (we, too, like to close as many transactions as possible with cash, although we’ve never been able to scare up enough to spring for a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan). The new digs include a 168-seat theater with “top-end acoustics” and a gym with “fancy Italian equipment,” among other amenities.

The Times article offered many interesting tidbits. We were aware that the Chronicle was but a small cog in the great Hearst machine, and that the company has purchased sizable interests in a dizzying array of television and new media properties, but we didn’t know, for instance, that the Chronicle loiters under the same corporate umbrella as Floor Covering Weekly, nor were we aware that Hearst sells “ketchup and grass-fed beef” from its California ranches.

But perhaps the most interesting tidbit of all concerned Hearst’s ongoing relationship with Dean Singleton, the notorious baby-faced Texas newspaper killer. A few months ago Hearst announced what the Times described as a “complex deal” that would give the company a 20 to 30 percent stake in Singleton’s MediaNews Group. The cost was $263 million. The Times did not specify whether that transaction was handled in cash. Of course, whatever complexity there was in the arrangement was no doubt rendered wholly incomprehensible by the Hearst announcement.

Locals of a certain age or with long memories will recall that it was Singleton who put the Houston Post down, as they say out in the country. As it was reported by the Chronicle---there being no Post to report on its own demise---Singleton had simply shuttered the joint on his own and Hearst had come along and snapped up all the assets---save, alas, for Lynn Ashby---as if Singleton had held a garage sale and Hearst was the only buyer.

But a few months after the closure, Singleton added much fragrant detail to the Hearst press release when he returned to Houston to speak to a group of Harvard alums at a private downtown club. Singleton thought his talk was off-limits to the press, but thanks to this intrepid bit of reporting he revealed to the world that he had actually reached an agreement with Hearst to sell the contents of the Post’s closets eight long months before the morning he blindsided his unsuspecting employees at 4747 Southwest Freeway. It’s nice to see a long-term relationship continuing to bear fruit.

We’ve gotten this far without quoting or making reference to Citizen Kane, and while the temptation to do so is great, we’ll take our leave with this glimpse of Citizen Singleton, one of our only two, as he sat in the cafeteria of one of his now-dead newspapers, eating a meal that appeared to consist solely of limp leaves of Romaine lettuce in a Styrofoam bowl. No dressing, no tomatoes, no radish, no onion.

Just lettuce.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Too Bad There's No Market for Graffiti Abatement Futures

File this one under Defining Deviancy Down: According to last week’s Alief/Southwest zoned section of the Houston Chronicle, the police department and the new Brays Oaks Management District are working together to turn back the rising tide of graffiti blighting southwest Houston.

That’s the good news. In its entirety.

The bad news is the Sisyphusean futility of this endeavor: What amounts to success, at least as the Chronicle story suggests, is the apparently never-ending painting, repainting and re-repainting over of the same walls that get tagged (as they say) and retagged by two collections of unsupervised youth who skulk under the names La Primera and Sureños.

Here’s the recent activity report for the graffiti-marred backside of a strip center on Roark Road near U.S. Highway 59:
District officials went to the site for the second time May 22 to paint over new graffiti bearing the name of the Mexican gang Sureños. The district cleaned the same building on May 16, but the gang retagged it during the weekend.

"It's a never-ending battle, but if you keep abating it, they'll come back one or two more times, but eventually they'll stop coming back here," said James Myers, director of community services for the management district.
As you might expect this boulder-rolling can be costly, in both dollars and elbow grease. The management district has contracted with a clean-up crew:

[Martin] Chavez, who has abated graffiti for five years with the East End Management District, worked with two other members of his crew to clear the Roark Road strip mall.

"We spent six hours cleaning this place and it cost a lot of money," Chavez said of the strip mall. "They can come out here in one night and in a few hours do so much damage."

Chavez said it took about 20 gallons of paint at a cost of $20 per gallon plus labor to cover up graffiti at the Roark Road strip mall the first time.

Since the Brays Oaks Management District began its graffiti abatement program April 12, Myers said it has cleaned 119 sites at a cost of about $7,500.

That’s in a month and a half.

According to the “graffiti liaison” for HPD’s Fondren Division
catching the perpetrators is too costly.

"There's no way the city can provide the money for cameras and officers, and there are so many locations you don't know where or what time they're going to hit. So we're doing the next best thing, which is continuing to get rid of it," she said.
It’s funny. Thirty years ago, maybe even twenty, this business would have sparked public outrage. Now it’s just another reason to shut the door and pull the covers up over your ears.

Read it and weep.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

…To the Bone

We returned from an extended Memorial Day vacation to good news on the home front: Roger Clemens would be returning to the Astros, the ground was getting a desperately needed soaking, and, most reassuringly, the city’s spirit, or something, remained unbroken by the fall of Enron, contrary to what the Wall Street Journal and New York Times would have you believe.

Still, we were bothered, anxious. We traced that feeling to our drive back into town, heading west on I-10 to 610 East, then south over the Ship Channel Bridge, where we are invariably elevated by the awesome spectacle of all those cranes and boats and cargo containers (a panorama, admittedly, that is best enjoyed from 130 feet or so in the sky, at least by us).

But only a few minutes later we quickly deflated, as we sped past the giant mountains of gravel and broken concrete chunks near the Cullen exit of the South Loop, then onward past the long-abandoned neighborhood shopping center with the grass growing on the roof (and it’s gettin’ high---maybe someone should run a mower over it).

These sights caused us to confront that eternally bothersome question: Why (oh why) is Houston so damn ugly? And: Was it always this ugly? And further: Is it just our imagination or is it getting uglier, and if so is there anything that can stop the relentless uglification (other than moving out to Cinco Ranch and not having to look at any of it)?

These are questions we occasionally ponder as we drive down one local thoroughfare or another and it is again made clear to us that the true face of Houston isn’t the view out Elyse Lanier’s back window or that gaze down Main Street from the old Warwick Hotel that supposedly set Bob Hope to rhapsodizing, but rather the beat façade of a dowdy apartment complex, now in the 30th year of its 20-year lifespan, or the rutted parking lot of a gone-to-seed and mostly vacant strip center, the one with the nail shop as its anchor tenant.

We are no simpering aesthete, having learned life’s hard lessons in the dark woods and on the public playing fields of the Hub City, yet all this ugliness can’t be good for the soul, individual or collective; it's certainly more burdensome to the city's spirit than the mere fall of Enron.

It is, of course, axiomatic that no one ever moved to Houston for the scenery or atmosphere---we certainly didn’t---but does a run-and-gun economy necessarily have to be complemented by such a repulsive landscape?

We have vowed to investigate this matter, thoroughly---we may even make it our life’s work, at least though next weekend---and will report back with our findings.

In the meantime, we see that the Houston City Council OK’ed not only those traffic-light cameras but the use of federal money for a day-laborer gathering site. While the Slampo’s Place editorial board, after a recent heated meeting at a nearby halfway house, expressed faint disapproval of both measures, we personally are unable to get excessively riled about either, although the use of a Community Development Block Grant (a CBDG, as we in the know call it) for the illegal worker gathering spot (that’s not what it’s called, but that is what it is) again points up the ways that illegal immigration discombobulates otherwise rational people and politicians (and many who aren’t).

The vote, predictably, split on party lines (we have no problem with partisanship on the technically non-partisan council, although it seems the body did attract a better caliber of individual before term limits, when it wasn’t always so obvious who was a Democrat and who was a Republican), with the Democrats, including the mayor, all coming together to support the measure, helping to ensure that their party lives up to its new slogan: “We’re Keeping Wages Down” (and the only party more discombobulated by the issue than the Democrats is the other one).

The lone Republican to favor the measure was our own representative on council, the well-known (well, not so much) International Man of Mystery, M.J. Khan, who, according to the Chronicle
said he believes there are people at the site seeking lawful employment. “It’s presumptuous on our parts to assume that all the people who will use the center are illegal immigrants,” he said.
It’s good to have beliefs, but better to have facts, at least when deciding public policy. Again, we’d challenge the councilperson to go to a day-labor site---formal or informal, there’s dozens and dozens to choose from---and locate one legal worker. If Khan keeps this up he may find himself with a real challenge on his hands next election (our proposed slogan: “Let’s Get Together and Make Houston a Real Pretty Place”).

But Khan’s discombobulation was nothing compared to that of Bill White’s, who according to the newspaper said:
"We fund the streets and highways. I'm sure because of the federal government's failure to enforce immigration laws there are some people who are undocumented on the streets and highways. That doesn't mean that we're condoning unlawful immigration."
We always hear what a smart guy the mayor is, but this "analogy," as the newspaper described it, gives us pause to wonder.