In many ways, the Houston Press's annual Turkeys of the Year competition is like the NFL - although some entrants are more successful than others, and therefore are considered favorites going into each year, there are mechanisms in place to insure parity and a slew of surprise contenders.
In the NFL, it's a salary cap and a socialistic sharing of revenues. With the Turkeys of the Year, it's Houston's never-ending willingness and ability to supply so many damn possibilities.
It is always a difficult job to whittle down nominees, but we took it on yet again. We didn't even include any dumb criminals, because there were so many dumb-criminal cases around these parts they deserve their own separate feature.
You may disagree with some of these, you may intensely dislike some of the winners, but remember: They all are what makes Texas what it is and what makes Houston Houston.
Turkey of the Year:
THE BIGGEST UPSET SINCE...well, since a guy named Kim won the latest election in North Korea. We admit this isn't the most surprising choice ever, but in our defense, Perry gave us absolutely no choice.
He strolled to yet another gubernatorial victory, despite the fact no one really likes him, because he was running against opponents fatally crippled by being a) an old Washington insider running in a Tea Party year who hadn't known what it was like to break a sweat campaigning for years; and b) a Democrat.
What should have been the most telling thing in the campaign was Perry's refusal to debate. But no one, Perry most of all, picked up on that little omen.
The combination of his win, his matinee looks, tough-guy soundbites and — most importantly — a GOP presidential field that seemed expressly picked by the Democratic National Committee, all led Perry to believe My Moment Is Now.
So he ran for president. And hilarity ensued.
How well do you know your Perhaps-President Perry? Take our ten-question quiz! (Guaranteed to have no multiple-choice questions where we "forget" the third option.)
1. Proud Texas A&M Aggie Perry has what in common with his alma mater's football team this season?
a) Both began as heavily hyped contenders, only to fail miserably
b) Both were killed by self-induced errors
c) Both will return to forever more being relevant only in Texas
d) All of the above
2. After enduring heavy criticism for narcoleptic debate performances, Perry opened up in a Friday-night speech that showed a type of jolliness that, had he been a high school sophomore returning home from a night out, would have had him grounded for two weeks.
What was the cause of his high spirits?
a) Vicodin, and plenty of it. We're talking Brett Favre levels
b) Rebel Yell whiskey, and plenty of it. We're talking Keith Richards levels
c) An oh-so-satisfying combination of a) and c). Again, Richards levels
d) Getting some maple syrup
3. In perhaps his most famous campaign moment, Perry boldly declared he would dismantle three federal agencies and — despite the pressure of not having Obama's TelePrompter — was easily able to name more than 66 percent of those agencies, right off the top of his head.
In eliminating the three agencies he had in mind — and by "had in mind," we mean "eventually came up with later in the debate" — what important federal service would be eliminated?
a) The Debate-Preparation Agency
b) The National Commission on Monitoring Pre-Public Appearance Pain-Medication Use
c) The National Institute Against Winging It
d) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which warns people — including Texans — where and when the hell hurricanes will hit.
4. In a soul-baring moment, Perry revealed his tortured thinking over same-sex relationships. How did he do this?
a) By an especially loving look as he called Herman Cain "brother"
b) By spending so much money on hair products
c) By saying "That's fine with me" in regards to New York legalizing gay marriage, then changing his answer a day later to "Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me." Just in case anyone was confused by what he meant with "That's fine with me."
d) By once again showing he didn't know the first thing about preparing for any public interview when you're running for goddamn president
5. "Rick Perry" is to "President" as "Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill" is to:
b) Comedy greatness
c) All-time box-office champ
d) All of the above
6. Of whom did Perry say, "We would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas"?
a) Osama Bin Laden
b) Any sex-trafficker who stole his workers out of innocent elementary school playgrounds
c) A serial killer
d) A federal bureaucrat whose policy decisions Perry did not agree with
7. What has been the key question to emerge about Perry since he threw his hat in the ring?
a) Why did he throw his hat in the ring?
b) He did realize running for President is slightly different from running for Texas governor against a Democrat, didn't he? Didn't he?
c) Don't they have televised debates in Texas?
d) All of the above
8. True or false: Perry told the world that Texans like you prefer to elect "the kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets, and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter's dog."
b) True, very, very unfortunately
c) False, in a sane world
9. Perry believes America is aching to have another macho-talking Texas cowboy of limited verbal ability who can't think on his feet in a debate setting. Why is this?
a) EVERYONE loves Texas, don't they?
b) Americans don't care about elitist concepts like debatin', bein' coherent or usin' g's.
c) Again, that lovely combination of painkillers and booze
d) Because he thinks if a fake Texan like George W. Bush can get elected President twice, an Aggie from Paint Creek, Texas, sure as hell can
10. Perry tried to use his "oops" debate moment as a fundraiser. Who fell for this gimmick and actually gave money?
a) People who not only drank the Kool-Aid, but are drowning in it
b) People with business before Perry-appointed state committees, not only because they admire the brilliant appointments Perry made to those committees, but also because they really think he can still win. No, really, Governor, we really do...and we just need a little ol' stamp of approval for this project
c) Perry's son. Or at least he would have, if Obama hadn't forced him out of a job with his socialist economy
d) The National Air Polluters of America (Motto: "You Know Who Liked Regulations? Stalin")
Answers: We'll let you figure them out.
Turkey Sex-Advice Columnist:
Former Hand Doctor Michael Brown
It was seemingly a tough year for former hand doctor Michael Brown, long famous for the heartwarming TV ads featuring him and his family.
Even though he was acquitted of charges he assaulted his latest wife, the trial brought out even more damaging testimony about his ugly ways. That, combined with our reporting of his drug use and abusive, very strange behavior, even as he was the toast of River Oaks society, didn't exactly make it the best of times for the old (former) doctor.
But that's not what has earned him Turkey honors.
Instead, he has won the coveted laurel for his new career: Sex-advice columnist. Court documents include a series of letters he wrote to his newborn daughter, and they are filled with cogent advice for the married gal. We have provided the questions; the answers, complete with Brownian spelling and grammar, are from the Brown letters.
Dear Former Hand Doctor Brown:
I am embarrassed to say it, but my husband suffers from premature ejaculation. Or at least I think he does. I am too bashful to ask anyone about this, but I simply do not know: How long should a good bit of lovemaking last?
You are wise, not weak, to simply give him his 10 minutes of pleasure. Act like your enjoying it and he'll only take 5 minutes. Then, don't forget to tell him how wonderful he was.
Dear Former Hand Doctor Brown:
I love my husband, but our sex life consists of him watching anime bestiality porn until he gets an erection, then sticking it in me to finish. How can I make him understand I have needs, too?
During lovemaking, your partner's enjoyment should be your prime concern...not your own.
Dear Former Hand Doctor Brown:
I appear to have had sex with a "cold-hearted bitch." This has resulted in two pregnancies. What words can I use to explain to the two children why it happened?
"Sorry, she had a nice ass and I was hard."
Dear Former Hand Doctor Brown:
I love making love with my husband, but I also enjoy the post-coital talk and snuggling, where — in the warm afterglow of a mutually enjoyed manifestation of the physical act of love and union, we share our hopes and dreams in the most intimate way possible. What is the best type of post-sex conversation?
And a follow-up question: What's the single most wrong way to use the word "illicit" if you have a checkered past with the law?
If after sex say 20 minutes later the conversation begins with your husband saying "That was great!" rest assured he's not giving you a compliment (though he might want to) but rather he's trying to illicit a compliment from you. If you answer "yes" he's gonna continue fishing and may say "Did you enjoy it?" if you say "I said yes, quit asking" then you are diminishing the value of the just finished love-making.
Former Hand Doctor Michael Brown, Sex Columnist: Syndication rights available.
The Houston Police Department
To: The Houston Police Department
Re: Your Irrational Attempt to Start World War III
The Chinese are a peace-loving people, but as enemies have learned to their regret through the years, we cannot be pushed beyond our limits.
So we are left to wonder why the Houston Police Department ("HPD") has decided to declare war upon us.
We realize you have arms, cavalry and even helicopters, but our understanding is the helicopters are chiefly used to give City Hall employees exciting tours of the city. They will be no match for our sophisticated heat-seeking missiles and nuclear weapons.
The indignities heaped upon our great people began last year, when HPD officers chased a Chinese diplomat into the consulate in Montrose (Which, by the way, is written in Mandarin by four characters meaning "Was Hip, Now Townhomes") and injuring him.
Your Mayor Parker wrote an open letter saying, "We cherish our international residents," so we took no action.
Our forbearance was "rewarded" with an attempt by HPD to assassinate a highly trained team of Chinese law-enforcement officers.
These officers came to your city in the spirit of peace and cooperation, even pretending that your inept American agency could teach them something.
Perhaps they were naive, but, suspecting nothing, they accepted your invitation to sit in one of your HPD cars as you demonstrated how one should drive in a high-speed chase.
Only by luck did they survive the ensuing "accident" with another HPD cruiser.
You have been warned, Houston Police Department. Your pitiful attempts to foment war, which we can only assume are part of some nefarious plot to have Texas secede from the U.S. by defeating a rising superpower, are doomed to failure. You will find we are not Santa Anna, and will not be sleeping with some Mexican whore while you attack.
P.S. Our sources have informed us of yet another incident, where an HPD officer tossed tear gas into a competitor's tent during some sort of apparently religious ceremony called the "Bar-B-Q Cook-Off" at the annual "Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo," which we assume is some sort of mass gathering to worship large belt buckles.
There is speculation here in Beijing that the tear-gassed competitor was a Mongolian Barbecue team. For now we are choosing to disbelieve that, but investigation continues.
Turkey Music Impresario:
From savior to pariah in less than a year: Promoter Mike Kelley is the Rick Perry of the local music scene.
When legendary Montrose favorite Numbers looked to be in trouble, Kelley and his OnStage Events stepped in, to general hosannas. They replaced the club's aging sound system and brought in some acts that drew big crowds.
Things then went south.
Our Rocks Off music blog had been among those applauding Kelley, but by last month it was already time to do a postmortem:
Kelley and the club seemed to be on the rise, but just as soon as it started, the good news coming out of OnStage slowed to a drip, then a full stop, and rumors about bookings at Numbers began to swirl.
"Mike Kelley has left a trail of failed shows and broken contracts with acts and instead of helping Houston has created more issues for this already struggling city," said a patron of Numbers who wished to remain anonymous. "A lot of people did not realize it was not Numbers fault as to what happened. The club was just the host venue for Mike Kelley and Onstage, not the actual booking agent or promoter."
How bad did things get? Kelley had to cancel shows by Flock of Seagulls and Three Six Mafia.
That's not something you want on your résumé. But the news at least did inform us all that Flock of Seagulls and Three Six Mafia were still available for work, in case anyone was doing any wedding planning or bah mitzvah organizing.
Kelley has gotten out of the music business, and Numbers survives. Luckily.
State Rep Larry Taylor & HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez
As is typical in Texas politics, there were some apologies delivered this year for inartful remarks.
And as is typical in Texas politics, the apologies were as inartful as the original offending statements.
Our Turkey Apologists award is shared by two upstanding Texas pols, one from each party, who both managed to exhibit stunning tone-deafness not only in what they did to create the need for an apology — after all, anyone can accidentally make some bigoted remarks, right? Right? — but also in the apology itself, which really takes some doing.
First, Taylor. The co-chair of an important legislative committee on windstorm insurance, he spoke authoritatively to insurers on how they should deal with customers.
"Your job is to pay claims," he said. "Don't nitpick. Don't try to Jew 'em down."
Displaying the nimble political instincts that have made him the pride of League City, Taylor quickly added "That's probably a bad term." (We assume he wasn't referring to possibly disparaging people who pick nits.)
The Colbert Report devoted an entire segment to how Taylor's brain operated in that one brief, shining moment, and as we noted at the time, that's not a good thing.
Taylor issued an apology, saying, "I inadvertently used a phrase that many people find offensive."
Which invariably leads to the conclusion, of course, that Larry Taylor thinks a sizable part of the population does not find the phrase offensive. Come on, Larry, you couldn't even bring yourself to say most people?
And then there was HISD's Manuel Rodriguez Jr. Never one of the most inspiring members of the school board, Rodriguez apparently sensed his re-election bid was in trouble.
He sent out a flyer just days before Election Day that offered reasons to vote against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca.
Highlighted in that list about Fonseca: "Program manager of minority male initiative at HCC. His records show he spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights...not kids."
Thinking that might be too subtle for his constituents, Rodriguez added that Fonseca was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Caucus.
Still afraid the message had not gotten through, the list ended with these two bullet points:
• 54 years old man with no children
• Male partner
We can only surmise there wasn't room to include
• LIKES STEPHEN SONDHEIM MUSICALS
• PROBABLY WATCHES PROJECT RUNWAY
• HAS SEX WITH DUDES
• IS GAY, GAY, GAY, GAY, GAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
After (very barely) winning re-election, Rodriguez apologized. And he apparently had read Larry Taylor's Apologizing for Dummies in the interim.
He said, "I am aware that some people have said they were offended by one of my ads, and I apologize to all of those people."
Oh, Manuel: Some? You couldn't even bring yourself up to a Larry Taylor "many"?
Turkey Sportsman of the Year:
Like Rick Perry, Astros owner Drayton McLane has won this trophy before, but his unparalleled performance this year — even as he was selling the team to a new owner — easily precluded anyone else winning in his stead.
Just think of the baseball world six short years ago:
• The Astros won the pennant and brought the World Series to Houston.
• The Texas Rangers weren't even an afterthought, and the idea of a World Series in Arlington was as laughable as it should be in a proper universe.
• The Astros were in the National League, where they were born, where Houston fans had been weaned even as the city only had a farm team, where God intended them to be.
Now look at the baseball world circa 2011:
• The Astros lost more than 100 games. This is almost statistically impossible if you field nine reasonably healthy human beings each game who have held a baseball bat and glove at some point in their life.
• The Rangers are coming off their second straight World Series appearance, although thankfully they have been beaten each time.
• The Astros roster is not only completely free of exciting big-league-level talent, the farm system is utterly barren.
• They are moving to the American League.
Gee, Drayton, how can we thank you?
Moving to the plodding American League, with its strange Royals and A's, is so heinous a move that McLane had to knock $65 million off the agreed-upon $680 million purchase price. The "That's a fact, Jack" furniture guy doesn't cut such desperate deals to move a damaged armoire.
The new owner — and, quite possibly, future Turkey Sportsman candidate — is Jim Crane, whose businesses have been hampered with EEOC complaints and allegations of war profiteering. Crane promises that rebuilding the team will be a slow, steady process, emphasis on the nicely cheap "slow."
McLane's legacy will live on in many ways: In the relatively nice ballpark that he has schlocked up beyond recognition by covering every square inch with hideous ads; with a ready-made excuse by any new Astros executive for the next five years ("The cupboard was bare when we got here"); by watching old ballplayers who can't field their positions lumber to the plate as DHs.
Drayton, we wish we could say we hardly knew ye, but your huckster spirit will live on in Houston for a long time to come.
Holding a festival in downtown Houston in June is something that takes some planning. The sun will likely be sweltering, so you want to be sure you have crowd-control and line issues taken care of.
Someone apparently forgot to tell that to organizers of the Houston Beer Fest in Hermann Square Park.
Obviously, the idea of a Houston Beer Fest was a good one: More than 20,000 tickets were sold.
First problem was that the location only had a capacity of 12,000. (Maybe the organizers just really loved The Producers.)
The results were what you'd expect — long, long lines leading to overwhelmed ticket-takers (as in two and a half hours to get in), long lines for beer, and much, much grumpiness.
The event was supposed to last until 10 p.m. The beer ran out hours before then, and the water had run out by 5 p.m.
So all the downtown bars benefited because people ditched the Fest for some a/c and easy-to-buy beer, right? Not really. Although there were big crowds in the bars, no one had really planned for that and so the places were also overwhelmed.
The organizers, who faced questions about their nonprofit status before the event, were as classy in reacting to the debacle as they were smart about organizing it.
They put up a Facebook page called "I hate the Houston Beer fest" before anyone else could. They took their Twitter account private, and ducked reporters' questions.
We look forward to the 2012 Houston Beer Fest, which we'll bet will be staffed by two people, on the vast treeless parking lot of Reliant Stadium, in the middle of August.
Given what happened at the first one, the two staffers will probably be all that's necessary.
We know, we know: We complain about the Houston weather when it rains too much, like with Tropical Storm Allison or Hurricane Ike.
It's been awhile since a significant drought has hit Houston, and it's been since time immemorial, it seems, that anything like the current drought inflicted itself on us.
We aren't suffering as bad as the state's farmers and ranchers, to be sure, but still there are effects.
Here are five:
5. You find yourself looking at Memorial Park and wondering what it will look like with half the trees.
One good windstorm, and the dead and dying trees of Houston will be toppling over like flies, assuming flies topple over like dead trees. We're not saying it's going to look like a WWI No Man's Land, but it will look different. And even without a windstorm, the city will be trying to cull out as many dead trees as possible.
4. You get pissed if some other neighborhood gets one of the rare "scattered showers."
"Fuck the Heights! They got an eighth of an inch last week!!! They're practically drowning out there!!"
3. You actually care about weather reports even when there isn't a hurricane in the Gulf.
Sign you're becoming drought-crazy: You follow the progress of one little greenish blob on the radar that looks like it could, with a little English and some luck, quite possibly get within spitting distance of your lawn. Don't bother: It won't.
2. You try to imagine making the cracks in your ceiling and by your door into an art project.
Call it "Je ne suis pas une foundation problem."
1. You start thinking Rick Perry's call to pray for rain wasn't really crazy after all.
This is when you have to take a deep, long look at yourself in the mirror. You can get through this. There's no need to go batshit crazy, like Rick Perry.
Annise "Red-Light Camera" Parker
The story of how the previous mayoral administration agreed to red-light cameras is a tortuous, shady one that we told in a feature story, one in which previous mayor Bill White declined to participate. (Cough-cough.)
The story of how removing them could be done so poorly that it became a political albatross even as she did something most people agreed with, however, is all Annise Parker's.
Red-light camera haters got enough signatures on a petition to force a citywide vote on removing the money machines.
The vote succeeded, mostly on the basis of people who'd been forced to fork over the $75 for daring to incur the cameras' wrath, not to mention the wrath of the company that shared the revenue with the city and was quick to mention collection agencies and blotted credit scores in letters to violators.
So, cameras off, right? Not so fast.
The camera company, American Traffic Solutions, was quick to point out that they had a valid contract with the city that lasted until 2014, and that the referendum on turning the cameras off came years after a city charter deadline for such things.
Nevertheless, the cameras went off once the vote became effective. In July of this year, Parker ordered them turned back on — without getting approval from city council — because of the fear of losing millions in breach-of-contract damages.
A month later, she asked the council for a resolution authorizing the cameras to be turned off yet again. She thus nicely opened herself up to charges she'd made the latest "turn 'em off" decision because of the filing deadline for the upcoming election. (7,700 tickets were handed out during the time the cameras had been back on, meaning 7,700 possible new anti-Parker votes.)The two sides will negotiate a buyout on the contract.
Just spitballing here: Is there any way Parker could have handled this worse?
• Changed her mind just one more time in the course of events. (Sure, that would have done it, but it would almost be humanly impossible for her to do so without violating every rule of physics.)
• Personally signed every red-light camera ticket, complete with a picture of her holding a sign saying "Pay up NOW, you law-breaking, child-endangering scofflaw with ugly kids!!!" (Possibly might have made matters worse. Possibly.)
• Decided not only to turn the cameras back on, but added a 20 percent surcharge "for having offended American Traffic Solutions."
Nah, let's face it: There's really no way she could have handled it any worse.
This Effin' Economy
And finally, we have the vague but ever-present, always looming in the back of everyone's head, dread feeling of these modern times: The economy.
Few people are secure and comfortable in their jobs, knowing they'll have them until coasting off into a nice, well-funded retirement spent on cruises and visits to grandkids.
Now they get to see their grandkids whenever the youngsters order a Happy Meal from granddad at McDonald's.
College grads used to grab their diploma, their mountainous pile of student debt and their stack of job offers and then ponder whether it wouldn't be cool to take a year off in Europe before heading for the Wall Street grind.
Now they're fighting each other death-cage style for a low-paying entry position that offers no hope of advancement.
Houston has been spared the worst of the Great Recession — so far. We always seem to lag when it comes to suffering economic slowdowns and, unfortunately, recovering from them.
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But the intractable persistence of these bad times is starting to bite just about everyone, both in the public and private sectors.
It ain't pretty, but we'll get through it. We're Houston. After all, we're able to endure an onslaught of well-deserving Turkeys each year and shrug it off.
And at least we won't have to experience President Rick Perry.