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FRI 3/25

Before the pestilence of American Idol stalked the land, long before William Hung was a twinkle in Satan's eye, America got its freak-show television fix from The Gong Show. Every week a new group of weirdos, would-bes, pipe-dreamers and class clowns paraded their talents for the approbation of host Chuck "Dangerous Mind" Barris and a panel of demi-celebrity judges. The titular gong was a sort of panic button that the judges could ring to immediately 86 any acts that really stank up the joint.

Immortal talents like Arte Johnson and Jaye P. Morgan won't be on hand at Bubby & Sissy's (602 Belle Street, Alton, Illinois), but the cruelly fun Gong Show format will rule the night's talent show. For a mere $5 donation to Pride St. Louis, you can gawk at talents both delightful and delusional (often combined in one performer). For $10 you can enter the contest yourself, but the Pride St. Louis connection will undoubtedly draw some sparkling competition. If you can't handle the gong, stay out of the show. Call 618-465-4773 or see for more information; the show begins at 8 p.m. -- Jason Toon

Take a Breath
Junko Chodos' Breath of Consciousness

The slow spring thaw may have put you in a meditative mood: You're searching for answers not found on Oprah, Dr. Phil or even at your weekly bunco night. It's best to stoke the fire of contemplation while it's hot. May we recommend the current exhibit Junko Chodos: The Breath of Consciousness at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (in Fusz Hall on the campus of Saint Louis University, 3700 West Pine Mall)? This, Chodos' first Midwestern exhibit, draws on the recurring imagery of the lungs in her work. Museum admission is free, and hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, but the museum is closed for Easter weekend. Call 314-977-7170 or check for more information. -- Amy Helms

It's in the Cards
Bid Whist Tournament V

SAT 3/26

The Missouri Historical Society brings back its wildly popular Bid Whist Tournament for another night of camaraderie and competition among families, friends, neighbors and strangers. The origin of the highly competitive game is in some dispute (is it a variant of the British game Whist, or is it a game first created by eighteenth-century slaves?), but there's no arguing that it's a uniquely African-American game. Popularized nationally by the Pullman Porters of the railroad era, Bid Whist draws its slang from both that earlier era and the working-class people who played it. The trash-talking that hot teams spit at one another with good-natured glee -- that just comes naturally when stakes are high. The fifth Bid Whist Tournament begins at 7 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-361-7229 or Reservations are $7 to $20, and participation is limited to the first one hundred teams of two. -- Paul Friswold

Success Smells So Caffeinated

After flunking out of MIT (that's Meramec In-Town) and that TGI Friday's wait-staff class, you may think there's no school that will help you on your rocky, potholed road to success. Not true: Hartford Coffee Company (3974 Hartford Street; 314-771-5282) offers Coffee 101, a class you can definitely pass. This entry-level free coffee tutorial is held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the last Monday of each month (that's March 28), and it covers the basics of the black stuff through tasting (not testing). Easy, right? E-mail to enroll -- and get ready to succeed. Finally. -- Alison Sieloff

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