The Year of Living Anxiously

Are We Having Fun Yet? Or is it just the jangly buzz of advanced urban stress syndrome?

From the bouncing Bud Dome -- first here, then there, then nowhere -- to October's Great Flood and Biblical Ship Channel fire, 1994 yielded exciting new sources of anxiety. Rabid bats were sighted in The Woodlands. NASA scientists discovered the existence of an insatiable black hole. We confronted the awful prospect of new city area codes and $3-an-hour parking meters. We faced a political future saddled with los dos dorky Steves -- Mansfield and Stockman. When we weren't worrying about the bad guys (as in teens toting guns) we were worrying about the good guys (as in cops ripping into high-speed chases). Even the staid 'burb of Southside Place had their constabulary running amok. What could go wrong next?

Plenty. Bad pennies we'd forgotten about for years turned up: former Oilers general manager Ladd Herzeg, in hiding since a court awarded his ex-lover $100,000-plus in child support, phoned home to say he wasn't a deadbeat dad. And President's First Lady founder Richard Minns -- on the run from either (he says) bad publicity or (she says) a judgment won by a former lover paralyzed in a botched hit attempt -- landed in our downtown jail after being nabbed on passport fraud charges during a plane stopover in Dallas. The Minns case put federal Judge Lynn Hughes in a famously bad temper. But then, tempers wore thin at our courthouses in general, where a move to let crime victims have their say resulted in courtroom scream therapy and the Republican tide that swept away dozens of sitting judges left fear and loathing in its wake.

Small wonder that a civic identity crisis seemed constantly brewing. Were we MVP City or the Execution Capital of the Western World? Could we fight back the barely suppressed hysteria engendered by the demise of Tony's restaurant and the news that our beloved Tex-Mex food was even worse for us than we'd always suspected? More to the point, could we recover from the emotional roller coaster of Rockets Manic Depression? In the wake of the famous "Choke City" headlines, it was as if the city believed its fate was inextricably linked to that of its athletic teams, and doomed, like them, to labor under the curse of last-second disappointments. Then came the Rockets' revival, complete with florid resurrection imagery, and suddenly it was "NBA Title Leaves City All Aglow," and our 19th nervous breakdown evaporated in a feel-good haze.

In the end, when we're lying on the couch picking over the carcass of '94, we'll no doubt discover what Houstonians always do -- that we were having fun, albeit in our own peculiar way.

By Alison Cook


If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You A Congressman?
When asked why Sheila Jackson Lee trounced him so handily in the Democratic primary, then-U. S. Representative Craig Washington snapped, "Ask me a more intelligent question. I have an IQ of 200."

He Would Have Voted, But He Was Too Busy Thinking Lame-duck
Craig Washington missed so many U.S. House votes after his primary defeat that when he finally deigned to appear, the Houston Post headlined: "Rep. Washington shows up for vote."

Le Boss, C'est Moi
Harris County District Clerk Katherine Tyra, who requires those on her payroll to resign if they run for office, herself ran for county judge this spring -- without resigning. Said Tyra, "It is just a decision that I made."

Chicken Coop Seeks Fox
At the behest of state Senator (and firemen's fund lobbyist) John Whitmire, the fire department hired Gene Mooney -- a parolee whose rap sheet includes theft, burglary, auto theft and drug possession -- to handle $5.8 million in paychecks, plus thousands of bucks daily in travel and expense checks.

And Mattress Mac Will Be Our Next Senator
When a fire department personnel worker fired parolee Mooney on his first day for failing to disclose his eight felony convictions, assistant chief Dennis Holder warned the hatchet person to "watch out, because Senator Whitmire is going to become mayor one day."

Year Of The Pseudo-Woman
During the Democratic primary, Lynn Thrower, a male judicial hopeful, campaigned against opponent Dinah Bailey with hot pink yard signs.

The Cows Are Considering A Class Action Suit
At one of Spring Valley's City Council meetings, semi-professional mayoral hecklers forsook their usual booing and hissing for the pleasure of mooing like cows.

Candy-Apple Red They Could Have Lived With
Citing a junk-car nuisance ordinance, Baytown officials threatened to tow off a 1975 Mustang that Martha Barnett had painted iridescent purple and filled with flowers to draw attention to her body shop.

Unclear On The Concept
County Commissioner El Franco Lee urged a written code of ethics for county employees, then got his commissioner colleagues to hire Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton -- the prominent law firm that has contributed to his political campaigns for 15 years -- to help with the project.

The Joy Of Self-Interest
A committee appointed by Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Charlton disqualified a potential Charlton opponent for using the term "party chair" instead of "county chair" on his application. Charlton then refused to reveal the names of the helpful committee members.

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