Best-selling author Brad Meltzer's latest Washington thriller, The Zero Game, involves congressional staffers running betting pools on upcoming votes (naturally, things go awry, and the next vote is for danger!). Since its publication, he's heard from lots of Capitol Hill folks regaling him with descriptions of real betting games that go on.
One of which involves the loquaciousness of Houston's own (very loquacious) U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. (Actually, Meltzer wouldn't identify the specific congressperson in question; one current Hill worker, though, says, "Lee is the only member I've heard of the game being played with.")
How does it work? There's a jar that starts out in one representative's office. Every day the House is in full, formal session, staffers there (either all of them or just one) put in a "unit" (that could be a quarter, a dollar or even more) every time Lee gets up to speak. At the end of the day, the jar goes to the staff in another office, which repeats the process.
This continues until that rare day when Lee actually does not speak. Whoever has the jar at that point keeps the cash.
"I've known at least a dozen offices, from coast to coast, who have played at one time or another," says the staffer, who wants anonymity.
Rules can vary -- sometimes the "special order" speeches given after legislative business is done are counted; sometimes not. Sometimes written statements inserted into the record are enough; other times it qualifies only if Lee decides America is so in need of her views that she simply must get up and speak.
Winning pots can vary too, obviously, but they've been known to get over $100 before a Lee-less day occurs.
Lee aide Ravi Sawhney says he's never heard of the game. "We're excited about her being up there talking," he says. "A lot of people have been calling for Democrats to be more outspoken on the issues, but you can't say that about her."
Christ knows you certainly can't. And somewhere in D.C., beer money is being earned because of it.
Gimme a J!
The Super Bowl featured cheerleaders for the Pats, the Panthersand blunts. The Medical Marijuana Cheerleaders hit the big game in order to, as ringleader Tracy Blevins said, bogart some of the media coverage. Blevins, a native Houstonian who ran for New York City comptroller as a member of the Marijuana Reform Party (and what a party it no doubt is), led the crew in shout-outs and cheers downtown and at the stadium. We even upstaged the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, member Steven Nolin said. We got a lot of thumbs-up from the police and fire departments doing security. Of course, they didnt exactly flare one up in front of them.
Crime Don't Pay (or Count)
The University of Houston isn't exactly located in River Oaks, so students can be forgiven if they're a little wary about security. If they were so antsy as to request a copy of the federally mandated Annual Crime Report, though, they'd be heartened -- burglaries and robberies are down.
There's just one thing: The report doesn't include such common crimes as simple theft cases or burglaries from cars. And there were 507 of those incidents last year (a 34 percent increase over 2002), constituting more than half of all police reports filed. More than $350,000 of lost property was involved.
UHPD officials say the federal report doesn't require reporting those types of crimes. "We don't like an increase any more than anyone else," Lieutenant Roger Byars says.
He says most of the auto burglaries happened when students and professors left their cars unlocked (in the Third Ward, no less), and they need to learn to lock up.
Once they master that, we guess, they can move on to the less obvious stuff, like Food Goes In Mouth.
The Galleria Is Fan-tastic!
Super Bowl madness evidenced itself in a lot of ways the last week of January. But the packed streets downtown couldn't hold a candle to the roiling mobs causing a near-riot at the Galleria on the Saturday night before the game.
For the first time in memory, the upscale mall was forced to close early, kicking everyone out at 8 p.m.
It's not like stores lost any sales, though. "All these people were just congregating and standing. No one was going into stores; it was just a mass of people waiting for stars to go by," says Sydne Douglas, an employee at the Betsey Johnson boutique.
They jumped on tables to see LL Cool J at Starbucks; they backed rapper Trick Daddy up against the glass of Douglas's store; they scrambled to catch sight of Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and P. Diddy near Neiman's. We're not one to judge without all the facts, but knowing the snooty stores at the Galleria, we're guessing they just loved having the place filled with rap fans.
Chief Deputy Dan Pruitt of the Houston Fire Department says things were more dangerous than they seemed. "The normal, everyday shopper is not normally thinking, 'Well, I may get stampeded or trampled to death,'" he says (and speaking for normal, everyday shoppers everywhere, we agree). "They think, 'It's a big crowd and nothing can happen.' But if the lights go out all of a sudden, or if somebody passes out or somebody stumbles and falls, it can create a panic."
Come on, Pruitt -- it was P. Diddy. It was Trick Daddy. Surely some things are worth risking your life for, right?
A Super Pink Slip
Reliant Resources exulted in the Big Game, with its name on the stadium and the top brass in the finest superboxes.
Not everyone at the giant energy company enjoyed the spectacle, though. They were too busy looking for work.
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One former employee says the company laid off 20 percent of its Houston office workers while everyone's attention was distracted by the upcoming gridiron battle. "I guess Janet's nipple being seen in the Reliant Stadium is more newsworthy than hundreds of Reliant employees losing their jobs," he says.
Company spokesman Richard Wheatley says there's no way that 20 percent figure is right. Sixty people have been laid off. So far. "I cannot tell you if [the layoff process] is complete or how many positions will ultimately be eliminated," he says.
Wheatley says Reliant has 2,867 full-time employees in Houston; some divisions got hit harder than others. A "streamlining" was announced January 9, he says.
Such things can be expected, we suppose, from a company that pays $300 million for naming rights to a sports complex. At least now, when ex-employees say where they used to work, people will recognize the name.