Houston’s heart has been broken by corporate scandal twice just twenty years in the 21st Century, once last week by the Houston Astros and in 2001 by the Enron Corporation. If you felt no grief for Enron, then you didn’t know personally any of the people who worked there. They were engineers, clerks, and HR folks like you would find at any other company around Houston. They stood out as innovative, productive employees and good citizens. Most of them had the reputation of being smart, generous and kind.There were only a few bad apples and they worked at the top of the chart.
Our hearts were broken again by our Astros. The sign stealing scandal has forever stained our memories of the beautiful gift of a World Series championship for a city that had suffered a Category 4 hurricane and catastrophic floods in August of that year. It was the year of Harvey and this was a team that brought joy to a hurting city. They were beautiful to watch on the field. They played with excellence and they behaved like the nicest kids you would ever know.
Late November in one of my happiest years: we wrapped ourselves in the soft thrill of friendship not knowing how rare it was and how hollow - for lack of it - would be the days and years ahead.
Chattering with the sophistication of underclassmen we crossed a vacant city lot grown over with weeds, toward the road that exited the airport. The young president and his wife had landed and would pass here on their way to speak in Houston. His red hair flamed in the late afternoon Texas sunlight.
He waved and each of us stored the memory of an instant as the car sped by, the woman at his side, his shining hair, the slightest wave of his hand, the memory – a still photograph in each of our minds.
In less than a day, he was dead; hit by two rifle shots. His wife was returning, spattered with his blood to the emptiest of homes, the White House. Another memory – but this one with the remove of miles and overwritten with the static snow from our early technology television sets.
Those same sets had been on that morning before he died as we searched to see if there would be news of his visit. Maybe a camera had caught us as well and our friends would see us so close to history. Instead, we saw four floppy-haired singers from Britain who were planning a visit to America.
A few hours later, there was only the news that the man on whom we had hung our hopes was dead.
Friendships that we thought were the most precious gifts in our lives that day, faded with the years. Each of us had lives to live, purpose and gifts to give.
The floppy-haired Brits gave us the happy crutch we needed to weather war and loss, and, not least, the death of that soft thrill of friendship we still had heart to feel on November 21, 1963.
The Flickr feed in this chronicle’s righthand column has been revealing photos from rehearsals and performances of the Brazosport Fine Arts Council’s Elizabethan Madrigal Feast, 2018.
Once again, area talent has gathered in The Center to slip a Shakespeare comedy by an audience that may have been expecting something a little more tinsel-themed and Toyland oriented. Sorry, there is way too much talent around to waste it on the ordinary fluff of a commercial Santa Land production. This is an assembly of talented singers, dancers, instrumentalists, actors, artistic designers, foodies, theater techies and costumers who muster and present a big city show with Broadway brilliance in the beautiful little chemical burg of Clute, Texas.
It’s one of those little Texas secrets — like where to get the best barbecue or hear the best live country music— that you hope Texas Monthly doesn’t discover any time too soon so that you will still be able to get tickets.
That’s not really true. There are mixed feeling about the event becoming well known, but to be honest, we need people from around the state to start coming into Clute to experience the Feast first hand. The financial well being of the Center for the Arts and Sciences would benefit greatly from a statewide reputation that would appeal to foundations and other donors able to offer large gifts.
And, while we are at it, why not raise the ticket price, too, to make the cost align more correctly with the quality of the production? I contend that it would be a $200 ticket (drinks, tips and coat check not included) in a major urban center. It would probably run higher than that in NYC where people expect to pay the performers they wish to keep in town. Bottom line, The Center needs revenue to maintain and expand facilities for its program of education and entertainment in the arts and sciences.
The place is bustin’ at the seams, well-used and scheduled to the hilt. The lines for restrooms during the EMF intermission pretty well illustrated the need.
There are four more performances as I write this. Reservations are available at the Center box office web site.
Hurry and get your reservations. There is no better way to say “Welcome Yule”.
Don Sanders, songwriter and singer, died Saturday from the combined effects of frontotemporal dementia accompanied by ALS, a very cruel combination in the Alzheimer family of disorders. It was a final irony on his career that his death was big news in the Houston Chronicle, a paper that had paid him little attention during his most productive years.
I met Don Sanders just after enrolling at the University of Houston in 1961. Don came there from Jones High School in Houston. I arrived from Galena Park.
We had both been accepted into the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, the forerunner of today’s Honors College. We had several classes together each our first two years and a weekly colloquium in the junior and senior years.
Don was a sharp kid. He had an acerbic wit and a green corduroy suit that he wore almost every day of our freshman year or, who knows, he may have owned several. But I doubt it. He didn’t come from the kind of family where the kids had more than one suit. The suit was in the style of his heroes the Kingston Trio.
Don played guitar and banjo and sang folk songs that were beginning to pick up in popularity in the early sixties. We learned from Don about hootenannies, the Limeliters, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly and Joan Baez. As Don became an accomplished musician, he sang with beautiful control and a great range. Early on, he was always high pitched and his voice could be irritating at first. The beauty and finesse of his vocal performances I heard thirty years later were shocking to me at first.
But Don was so much more than a folk singer. He wrote songs, performed on stage, did comedy, wrote a novel or two (never published as far as I know), performed for children, and wrote probably tons of poems. Apparently, even more than those things, he inspired other people to do their best work. Some of them are names you probably know very well. He was a regular at Houston’s Anderson Fair and on KPFT.
I wasn’t in touch with Don after college. His music scene was not one that I fit into and I was busy with the kind of boring white collar jobs he was intent on avoiding. His astonishing career is fairly well covered in the Houston Chronicle article. There is also an interview in the Houston folk music oral history archive.
Don and I were in touch again after Hurricane Ike in 2009 when he performed at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston as a benefit to help rebuild the facility that had been severely damaged in the storm. In 2012 he asked if I could help him with some memories from our college years for the personal memoir he was writing. I wondered whether it would still seem like a friendship after all those years pursuing our very different lives. But we found a lot of joy in our conversation that day, July 1, 2012.
As it turned out, there wasn’t much I could offer to fill in the cracks in such a creative life as his. We reminisced about the day in November 1963 when we went to his house near the runways of Hobby Airport (it was Houston International then) to see if we could see John Kennedy on his arrival in Texas. There were several of us from University of Houston and we did, indeed, get to see the president and first lady, two days before he was killed in Dallas.
Three or four of us stayed over at Don’s house that night. His mother made breakfast for us and as we prepared to make our way back to our morning classes at UH, Don called out, “Charles, Tom: come and see these guys. I have never seen anything like this. They are going to be big.” So we rushed in to see the image of the Beatles performing on tape on the Dave Garroway Show. You could have fooled me. Although I became accustomed to and learned to love the Beatles later, I really didn’t get what was so special then. But Don had the ear for it. This was several months before they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and took America by a storm.
My regret today is that I did not pay more attention to an old friend as he struggled to make it in the music world. He apparently inspired others and they did the things they had to do to have fame. But Don wanted something else. He wanted peace: peace in the world and peace in his own life. Staying in Houston was his gift to America’s new great city.
Don came back to visit Lake Jackson again in the summer of 2013 when I invited him to see our Brazosport Center Stages production of Les Misérables. He had kind things to say about our local production.
I went to see Don at his home in the Heights a few weeks ago. By then, his disease had greatly diminished his ability to communicate. We spoke a few short minutes and he told me had to go somewhere which was highly unlikely. I held his hand and told him I would try to return when he had more time to talk. But I knew he was uncomfortable with the visit and I really doubted I would be returning.
Sunday morning, I received the email announcing his passing.
Back when FaceBook was a viable medium for honest people, I was the administrator for a group I called Morning Paper. The idea was simply to give people a place to share links to news stories they found interesting and have a chance to discuss them with their friends. I set it up as a “secret group” — that is the FB term for a group that a person enters by invitation. Only members can see the posts and comments. I tended to think of it as private rather than secret, a subtle but meaningful distinction.
Yes, it was an echo chamber to a certain degree but there were occasional disagreements and they were always discussed in a very civil and helpful way. It’s the thing I miss next-to-most about FB, just after the photos of my grandkids.
Today, LJ Citizen will begin posting links (and a few comments maybe) on the things I read in the morning papers. As a rule, I will not show the article but simply direct you to it should you decide to read it. So, let’s get started with the news of the day. I should mention that I subscribe to several publications that may limit your ability to open the stories if you are not a subscriber.
The Guardian published an article this morning giving fairly specific location information regarding forecasts of U.S. properties at risk of flooding from rising sea levels within the next thirty years. The maps were prepared by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group not known as a fake news source unless you read more fake news than real. You can access their maps by clicking on site below:
There are a couple of maps in particular that should interest Lake Jackson residents. One map shows the Lake Jackson area within the zone predicted for significant property losses within the period of a typical thirty-year home loan suggesting a loss of property values right away. Another map shows the areas that could be affected positively if action is taken by nations having advanced developed economies.
Summer approaches and a subtropical storm named Alberto has already made landfall on the northeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico soaking Florida and Alabama.
It was late August of last year that Harvey made landfall at Rockport, Texas and dumped heavy rains to its east. Lake Jackson had 24 inches as I recall but some of the best was yet to come as Houston’s 51 inches headed downstream in our direction. It has only been nine months. We know people in Lake Jackson who are still putting their lives and homes back in order.
This was what we saw when we went to visit a friend whose home had been flooded. Virtually everything they owned was piled in front of the house. But there were also about fifteen cars parked in the driveway. People from Chapelwood and The Center were there to do all they could to help with the cleanup.