Still Montrose!

My mother was visiting this weekend, and I’m pleased to report that Montrose managed to rise above the gentrification enough to produce a delightfully odd moment yesterday: on our way home from brunch, about 4 blocks from home, we passed a buff, shirtless middle-aged dude walking down Taft in the rain holding an enormous green parrot.

Do Not Miss This Play

From 25 September until 17 October, my friends at The Catastrophic Theatre will be producing my favorite play: Maria Irene Fornes’ The Danube.

The same people — director and cast, though I don’t know if puppets are involved this time — staged this play in Houston once before, with Infernal Bridegroom every bit of 15 years ago. I saw that performance, too, and reviewed it for a long-defunct local paper.

Because I am a packrat, I still have that review, which I’ve pasted in below. It’s amusing to me to read, because at the time none of these people were my friends. I hope it’s amusing to you as well, and encourages you to see this show. Performances are all at 8pm, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. All shows at Catastrophic are pay-what-you-can.

Let me be perfectly clear: prior to entering the Atomic Cafe on Friday night, I had no idea what I was going to see. All I knew was “IBP and Bobbindoctrin puppets,” which sounded at least interesting, so off I went. An article from American Theater posted in the lobby gave me a bit more background: The Danube is a piece by Maria Irene Fornes. (This is a name worth remembering.) Her work as described by the AT article makes her sound like a perfect match for Infernal Bridegroom – experimental, often challenging pieces that may well leave the audience just a bit (or more) bewildered. And, as if this wasn’t enough fun, the Danube includes puppets – making the collaboration with Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater a natural development.

The Danube has its origins as a piece of found art; Fornes built the play around an old Hungarian language record. The initial scenes between Paul (Troy Schulze), Mr. Sandor (Charlie Scott) and Sandor’s daughter Eve (Amy Bruce) are enunciated and exaggerated to the point of parody. Add to this an intermittent voiceover from the language record itself preceding each line, and an odd sort of disconnection rules the scene. From these pattern sentences, though, Fornes weaves a simple enough story – at first. Paul is an American businessman sent to Budapest; he meets Mr. Sandor and Eve; courting ensures; eventually, Paul is called home, prompting them to marry, which essentially concludes the linear narrative – but not the play’s action. The pattern-sentence language-instruction motif fades (but never completely) in favor of a sort of Euro-film surrealism that grows into the outright bizarre before the play’s abrupt conclusion. Paul becomes ill; he may or may not have been conscripted. Everyone deteriorates dramatically, apparently afflicted with some grotesque palsy. There is plenty of goggle wearing, and frankly there’s just not enough of that in modern American drama. Two scenes are done with tiny puppets manned by the actors on a perfect miniature version of the stage, complete with smoke and light wafting from the floorboards.

So what’s happening here? Is it life during wartime? Is it a plague? What is Fornes up to? In the American Theater article (September, 2000), the author (Steven Druckman) suggests that “the best way to wrap your mind around the plays of Maria Irene Fornes is to abandon all hope of understanding them.” This is probably true. He goes on: “[Fornes] is for people who prefer passion to fashion, who prefer awe to wit. She is for those of us who don’t mind admitting that we’re still groping in the dark.”

Spot on, I think.

To allow this play to swirl around you is to experience it most fully and, ultimately, purely. Do not chase the plot, ticking off characters and events as if you were at a hockey game. There is ample time for reflection after the final curtain. Allow Fornes (and, by association, IBP director Jason Nodler and company) to assemble this thing on their own terms; you will be hard pressed to find this experience elsewhere. Certainly no one else in town will go this far from the beaten path. IBP is in fine, fine form here, aided in no small part by the collaboration with Bobbindoctrin. The small cast – Bruce, Schulze, Scott, and the irrepressible Kyle Sturdivant in four supporting roles – is well chosen. Schultze exudes the alien confidence of a businessman abroad when the U.S. ruled the world; Scott and Bruce are exemplars of a formal old-world charm. Sturdivant, when so called upon, delivers some of the few genuinely comic lines with scene-stealing aplomb – and his almost menacing monologue as a waiter is not to be missed. Costume, properties, and sound are all beyond reproach; the primary set pieces are beautiful drops painted by Bobbindoctrin. Small details throughout the production are universally solid, from the costumed set-changers to the upholstery on the puppet-stage furnishings. This is some of IBP’s finest work yet.

In a conversation with Nodler after the show, he mentioned that this is at least the third time he’s attempted to stage The Danube – and each prior time he cancelled the production when he feared it would miss the mark for some reason or another; that mark must certainly be met here. Nodler studied under Fornes in college, which no doubt drove his ambition for the play, and in turn informs his obvious pleasure with this show. He told anecdotes about the production, the play, and Fornes, and led my date and I backstage to show us the smoking apparatus used for the puppet stage. His excitement and enthusiasm for the play and production were infectious (and this from a director I have previously described as “grouchy”).

You will almost certainly not “understand” the Danube in the way you might understand a more conventional play. You may find yourself, as we did, unable to properly describe the work – or at least unable to do it justice – when you meet your friends for beer afterwards. You will use words like “postmodern” and “experimental” and “surreal,” but none of these will be equal to the task. It is true that Fornes seems to be playing games with narrative, but not in the traditional postmodern sense (if there is such a thing); there is no winking here. What there is seems best described by Druckman’s quote, above: the characters grope about in the dark for meaning, for understanding, just as we in the audience do. This is a splendid script and a strong production of the sort we don’t see too often in Houston. Do not miss this play.

Confidential to certain neighborhood restaurants

Recently, a joint in my hood — long plagued by spotty food, bad service, a crappy wine list, and a host of related issues — decided that “hey, I’ll ask a TV show for advice!” was the right plan.

Mrs Heathen and I decided to try them out last night, to see if the plan worked.

First, their key problems, as I see it:

  • A somewhat run-down building.
  • Generally poor service, mostly by people who appear to have never waited tables before.
  • Glacially slow kitchen production even when very, very not busy.
  • Spotty execution.
  • Bizarrely long menu.
  • Poorly considered entrees rife with unforced errors.
  • Trifling wine list that needs help.

After the visit, I can report that the interior is much nicer, and the previously unknown to me waiter did seem to have done this before. Further, the menu is much shorter and more focussed, which is great.


We waited about half an hour for a burger and a salad when there were only 2 other active tables in the restaurant. The wine list is unchanged and terrible, which will be even more damning when the always-excellent Max’s opens on the next block. The execution of the food we got was iffy at best; a beet salad should have more than a couple beets in it, I’m sure you’d agree, for example. Worse, they appear to have deliberately sourced burger buns and patties that are wildly different in size, which is unfortunate, because it gives the impression of a very small burger — and leaves you with a bunch of extra bread when you’re done. Of the fries, the less said, the better — “leathery” is not a texture I look for in side dishes unless we’re under siege and dining on filet of Allen Edmunds.

I really, really want this place to work. They’re reasonably priced, and literally two blocks away. But they seem to have a really, really hard time with the basics. Reality TV isn’t going to fix that. Given what they changed and what they left the same, I have the distinct impression that the owners and I disagree about what’s keeping Gratifi from being a great local restaurant.

And they say AUSTIN’s the weird one

Naked man goes on window-breaking rampage near Galleria. The best quote, btw:

“The naked man (was) running around in the street breaking cars,” said the store manager of the W Luxury Car rental. “He looked normal but I am sure he was on something.”

“Normal,” except, you know, naked. And toting a shotgun. TOTALLY NORMAL otherwise.

KHOU has pics of the damage, which includes a UH flag driven through the windshield of a Rolls.

That thing were you stereotype based on appearances, and are completely right

This morning, when I stopped to buy kolaches because my favorite burrito truck wasn’t at my usual coffee shop, an older white dude came in behind me.

He was of a certain type:

  • Pressed blue chinos;
  • White technical mock-T with UH logo;
  • Red and white athletic shoes;
  • Leather belt with “UH” medallions;
  • Big honkin’ gold “Presidential” Rolex; and
  • A charming affect that nevertheless suggested he was used to being in charge.

“Huh,” I thought. “I’ll bet that guy is either UH’s head basketball coach, or head football coach.”


HOWTO: Come out as a Douchebag

It’s easy! In a needlessly fawning profile in a more or less worthless glossy for the rich and shallow, be quoted thusly:

  • “Houston has a crush on Austin.” Seriously?
  • “In L.A., there’s like a thousand food trucks [. . .] so I wanted to bring that here.” Well, thank god for that; God knows there were NO food trucks AT ALL before this clown showed up OH WAIT.

I’ve been to Bermudez’s “flagship” bar, Royal Oak, once — but only as a meeting spot for the Karbach Brews Cruise monthly bike ride. At 6, it was okay, but it’s also pretty clear that by 8 or 9 it’d be completely jam packed with wall-to-wall douchebros.

I will say this: the article IS useful for providing a list of spots to skip if one wishes to avoid funding this kind of weaselry: Royal Oak; the new Pistolero; a variety of resale shops on Westheimer; and the Koagie Hots and Golden Grill trucks. Me, I’ll spend my money with the Clumsy Butchers.

Astros to Houston Area Women’s Center: Drop Dead

The heretofore anchor donor for the Houston Area Women’s Center’s fundraising efforts has pulled out and abandoned them.

Help the HAWC with a single donation here. Or, better, do as I do and give them a monthly donation. You never notice it, but they damn sure will.

I joked about refusing to support or care anymore after their move to the AL, but this is seriously bullshit. They can fuck off as far as I’m concerned, for now and evermore. I’ll take what little baseball amusement I need from the Nats.

Houston: Damn Right

John T. Edge on covers our exploding food scene in Savoring Mutt City: Why Houston is becoming a top-tier destination to eat and drink.

The story begins:

We’re boating the high-top cloverleaf in a kandy-kolored streamline baby, if you know what I mean. A 1967 LeMans ragtop, stardust blue, with red-lined fatties and cigarettes-and-whiskey mufflers.

It’s a summer night, circa right now. I’m in the backseat, leaching liquor and perspiration onto the vinyl. Chris Shepherd, who spent the afternoon at a Vietnamese nail salon here in Houston, is digging his shellacked toes into the front passenger-side pile, while Bryan Caswell palms the steering wheel and blasts Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears through a removable-face Blaupunkt that would have gotten him laid in tenth grade.

Goddamn if that didn’t just send me to eBay motors searching for late-60s absurd convertibles… Apparently, if you don’t care about “original” or “concours,” you can get something for well under ten grand…

Welcome to Houston!

You know, I really DID miss the sorts of storms that we’ve been enjoying the last week or so, but I really don’t need them to be so dramatic as to zap my power.

On the other hand, this is the first power outage of measurable length — 35 minutes and counting — that I remember since Ike back in 2008. Let’s hope this one doesn’t go for 4 day.

Also? All hail iPads with keyboards and 3G.

What You Need To Do

Go see American Falls by Miki Johnson, over at DiverseWorks.

Mrs Heathen and I have just come from opening night, and I’m still processing it, but I can say this: It’s one of the most affecting, beautiful, amazing things I’ve seen on stage. It’s truly remarkable. I see lots and lots of plays. I see lots of plays with these people in them. I don’t see many plays that leave a lump in my throat or my eyes wet. This one did.

I’m going back tomorrow, because that’s the only time I can. Show runs through June 9. Don’t miss this. When people talk about what’s amazing about Houston’s arts community, it’s work like this that they mean.

Trust me. I know things.

Dept. of Crazybats in Houston

Local shutterbug and tech guru Jay Lee cuts a relatively wide path in Houston between his column at the Chronicle and his radio show over at KPFT. He’s also been investigating just how often his (quite good) photography is being used illegally by other sites.

This story of what happened when GoDaddy (correctly) shut down one offending site is pretty amazing. tl;dr? The site owner — some local lawyer named Candice Schwager — went full crazybats on him, accusing him of being in cahoots with her political enemies, threatening to sue, and the whole nine yards. Seriously wackdoodle stuff.

For maximum lulz, read her account and compare it to Jay’s. We’re not friends, but we have lots of friends in common; he’s a nice, friendly guy who would just prefer folks not view his Flickr stream as a stock photo catalog, and he’s within his rights to feel that way.

Well, Candy, welcome to Google.

Update: Jay had to take down the post, but there’s a mirror here, which happened after the post made it to Slashdot. Meanwhile, the attorney bullying him still has her one-sided rant about it over on her blog. What a tool.

Today’s Montrose Moment

When I went out for the mail, four women dressed as flappers, purporting to be on a “Beer Hunt,” asked if they could (a) pretend my front yard was a public park and (b) photograph me leapfrogging them. Note that whether or not I was willing to leapfrog was never, apparently, at issue.

Sadly, this did not come to pass, as one of the flappers was insistent that my yard was in no way a public park, and that any resulting photograph would be unable to hide that fact, and that it was cheating besides.

So that happened.

Dear Houston Chronicle

STOP THIS. No, I do not want your app. I do not need to see this information-obstructing hyperobnoxious ad every. single. time. I visit on my iPad.

Cron sucks

No wonder they named a town after him

On this day in 1861, Sam Houston was forced to resign as Governor of Texas for refusing to secede and swear allegiance to the Confederacy:

Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas . . . I protest . . . against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Houston retired to Huntsville, and was dead by 1863. To say he’d had an interesting life is to understate things rather dramatically. Immigrants to Texas like myself would do well to review that Wikipedia article, since we missed the no-doubt otherwise inescapable “History of Texas” classes in middle school.

Churches sure love hatin’ on them gays

I guess the folks out at Grace Church in the Woodlands got tired of being the other Houston megachurch, so they’ve decided to make a play for being Houston’s most homophobic megachurch by calling out Mayor Parker for her stance on gay marriage.

Local columnist Charles Kuffner may have the best take:

Unless Pastor Riggle believes Mayor Parker is going to take over the County Clerk’s office and give out marriage licenses as she sees fit, and also take over the Attorney General’s office to prevent any consequences for that, I’m puzzled as to what exactly he thinks she is doing that is wrong. Well, except for the fact that he thinks being gay is icky, because it forces him to spend so much time thinking about what gay people do so he can always be in a state of disapproval about it. You really should be more considerate to the gay-obsessed pastors of the world, Mayor Parker.

Something Else Awesome About Hay Merchant

The current “beer board” is not what Kevin Floyd wanted to begin with:

Although it may seem like no expense was spared, there is one focal point of the bar that didn’t make the budget. The chalkboard beer list, which takes constant updating as Floyd switches out the 80-odd taps, was envisioned originally as an old-fashioned split-flat board like the ones found displaying train schedules in old European stations. Unfortunately, only two companies in the world still make the analog boards, and they’re located in Japan and Italy.

Citing a move toward the digital model, they quoted the board Floyd envisioned at $150,000. He politely declined.

So, how dry WAS Houston in 2011?

The drought in Houston (and Texas) in 2011 came up in conversation with a co-worker today, which set me wondering what the hard numbers were.

First, let’s figure out what “normal” rainfall looks like. Wikipedia says we usually get something like 54 inches of rain a year; NOAA says it’s more like 49.77″.

NOAA also has per-year values. We got less than 25 inches of rain in 2011. That’s less than half normal, which is a lot for a place that typically gets more than four feet a rain a year.

NOAA’s figures since 2000 are below; note that no other year in the list is even close to 2011.

  • 2011: 24.57″
  • 2010: 42.72″
  • 2009: 47.01″
  • 2008: 53.00″
  • 2007: 65.52″
  • 2006: 57.86″
  • 2005: 41.21″
  • 2004: 65.06″
  • 2003: 45.76″
  • 2002: 59.68″
  • 2001: 71.18″ (19″ in June alone thanks to Allison)
  • 2000: 47.61″

So, yeah. Pretty dry.