Sacred Cow Au Jus

Jokes or criticism from the Chron? Nah, it's just fluff for Jus' Stuff

The decision by Linda Lay, the wife of Enron's Kenny Boy, to open a secondhand store called Jus' Stuff has provided much fodder for media outlets across the country. Not to mention the world.

The comic strip Doonesbury skewered the shop for a week, and reporters jumped in when the place opened in mid-May.

"We're talking Salvation Armani here," said the Los Angeles Times, in a piece headlined "Lesson Learned from Enron -- What You Can't Shred, Sell."

"There was no word on what kind of 401(k) plans would be available for Jus' Stuff employees," reported the New York Daily News. A columnist for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel imagined a Linda Lay sales pitch: "This last item is especially exciting. It's a pair of gold tweezers that Kenny used to pluck out his conscience just before giving 500 bonuses of up to $55 million to top executives and board members three days before Enron declared bankruptcy."

Even the usually determinedly bland Associated Press wire service got into the act, quoting in its May 22 story an antiques dealer who sniffed, "It would sort of be like Marie Antoinette opening up her house to sell her wares, hoping to save her neck." Another shopper told AP, "It's just stuff all right -- stuff they got by ripping off other people."

The CBS Evening News had a former Enron employee saying, "I mean, on one level, I think it's -- it's tasteless. On the other level, it's just unbelievable."

Almost all the stories noted that the prices were rather outrageously high, unless you ran in the Lays' kind of circles.

And then there's our own Houston Chronicle. Our own very humorless, very Lay-protecting Houston Chronicle.

It has run jus' two stories on Jus' Stuff -- the first being a front-pager the day after The New Yorker magazine broke the news. (Its cheery lead: "While Enron continues to shed assets in bankruptcy, its ex-chief's wife is starting an upscale secondhand shop to help friends and family do the same.")

The second was a truly wonderful piece May 22 by society columnist Shelby Hodge, who called Jus' Stuff "the resale shop celebrated in the cartoon strip Doonesbury all of last week."

No former Enron employees were quoted in either story, but Hodge said in her column that brisk opening-day sales were "one bit of good karma" for Linda Lay. "So many items were sold over the weekend that Jus' Stuff ran out of its signature zebra-print tissue wrap and the supply of business cards was all but depleted," she reported.

Hodge was somehow able to put aside the tissue-wrap tragedy to continue on with her mission: providing free advertising for the Lays. "Prices vary from pocket change to serious investment…Souvenir hunters will find a few knickknacks in the affordable range," she wrote, citing "ceramic votive candles for $8" and "a silver letter opener for $30."

But that's not all. "In addition to offering antiques and used furnishings," she concluded, "Jus' Stuff also offers decorative and design services."

And tell 'em the Chronicle sent ya!

The Horror, The Horror

The true tragedy of the Enron saga, by the way, is not the shortage of signature zebra-print tissue wrap. It is, according to Chronicle business columnist Jim Barlow, the fact that the government might actually take some action.

Barlow -- who gained fame for writing, even after Enron CEO Jeff Skilling resigned, that the energy company's "current problems will blow over" -- penned a piece May 30 lamenting the looming "revenge of the regulators."

The column, on the front of the business section -- the business section that had to rely that day on a wire story for its lead item on the outrageous severance package for disgraced Dynegy CEO Chuck Watson -- said that after the S&L crisis in the '80s, regulators "came down from the hills to shoot the wounded."

These days, he said, accounting standards had slipped. "So companies started fudging a bit. Lots of companies, not just Enron," Barlow wrote. ("Fudging a bit"? That's like saying George Lucas thinks computer effects may just have a place in today's movie-making.)

The "real danger" of all this isn't the collapse of the economic system, he said. "No, it's that the American people, disgusted with this kind of greedy behavior, pile on so many regulations that we inadvertently destroy the wealth-creation machine that free markets bring."

No, we wouldn't want to lose our heads. Those big-business types have surely learned their lesson this time.

When Life Gives You Lemons

We quickly got our chef's hat and utensils May 29 when Channel 11 morning anchor Eileen Faxas promoted an upcoming item on "a piece of Texas quiche."

Alas, it was not to be. The item was instead on the restoration of the famous Cadillac Ranch, which we're assuming is a piece of Texas kitsch. Faxas, you shiksa, you.

If KHOU had indeed served some quiche, they could have washed it down with some lemonade from the folks at Channel 2. That same morning the station had done a piece on ready-to-assemble Sunkist lemonade stands.

A link to Sunkist from KPRC's Web page shows the lemonade stands are available for $25. And under the Web page's section on "What You'll Need" to start a lemonade stand (a list that includes "A B-I-I-G Smile!") is this apparently crucial item: "Great lemonade made with Sunkist lemons."

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