Everyone knows it — 2008 was a year of change. A black guy won the White House, for crying out loud.
Would it be too much to ask that Houston be spared any no-brainer candidates for Turkey of the Year?
Alas, when Houston was asked the question "Can you have a bunch of people who will publicly and strenuously embarrass themselves?" Houston's answer was, "Yes, we can!"
2008 Turkeys of the Year
We had a Texans team that started out talking about the playoffs and ended up talking about a great place in the draft. They'll probably blow that opportunity, too.
We had a city saying there was going to be wi-fi for everybody, only to end up saying residents can enjoy a treasure hunt trying to find a spot with free city-provided wi-fi.
We had the original Grumpy Old Man decide to go all Charles Bronson on a couple of burglars and become a hero to the talk-radio crowd.
We had what seemed to be a true feel-good political story — Vietnamese immigrant makes longshot run for office, unseats longtime State Rep — turn sour when it emerged that the newly elected rep was also kind of a slumlord.
And we had an election where the long-predicted Democratic sweep of the courthouse finally came via straight-ticket voting — except for those Democrats with ethnic names. Mekisha Murray, a white Dem who lost, is changing her black-sounding name to Jane. R.K. Sandill, who won, is thanking whoever told him to use his initials and not his first name of Ravi.
So Houston, as always, was full of candidates to be Turkey of the Year. But in the final analysis, there can be only one.
Turkey of the Year:
For years and years, going back to the — we don't know, the Chester Arthur administration? — there have been very few jobs more secure than being the Harris County District Attorney. Dictator of North Korea comes to mind, maybe Pope, but other than that you'd be hard-pressed to find someone with a tighter grip on employment than the DA.
The job description was clear — kill as many defendants as possible, talk tough on crime, have an "R" after your name on the ballot and you're there for life.
But that was all before the invention of e-mail.
Chuck Rosenthal had never struck anyone as being the kind of guy who'd spend lonely library hours poring through obscure tenets of case law trying to develop a sound philosophical grounding in constitutional theory.
Instead he was the kind of guy who lit firecrackers in the stairwell.
But he emerged as the successor to the legendary John B. Holmes, so once he took office everyone assumed he'd be there until they carried him out. He faced a re-election contest in 2008, but so did Kim Jong-Il. Orrin Hatch would have a better chance of losing his senate seat in Utah.
But then the world discovered what an idiot Chuck Rosenthal could be when it came to e-mail.
As part of a low-level, run-of-the-mill civil suit against various agencies in the Harris County criminal-justice system, a federal judge ruled that Rosenthal had to hand over e-mails written in the course of his public duty.
In response to the ruling, Rosenthal did two really, really stupid things:
1) He "lost" a bunch of the requested e-mails, claiming he was simply a computer incompetent who accidentally messed up.
2) More importantly, he didn't "lose" all of the e-mails.
Oh, Chuck. The man who habitually told people "I'm blessed" found out that Jesus doesn't protect the dumb.
What was the best Rosenthal e-mail? It's a question worth pondering.
There was the photo of the black guy lying on the sidewalk, surrounded by half-eaten watermelon and fried chicken, with the caption "Fatal Overdose."
Let's examine: On the negative side of the ledger, he didn't create it himself with all the incredible Photoshop skills it would need to create something like that (or an lolcats picture). So, from the strictly technical standpoint, Rosenthal doesn't get points here.
But the sheer majesty comes with the content. African-Americans have long claimed they have been treated poorly by the DA's office; Rosenthal greeted all such complaints with the condescending, pat-on-the-head "We'll look into it" that he felt such gripes deserved.
So if there was a single better way to display the hypocrisy inherent in such public pronouncements, you couldn't top this.
Just think of it — watermelon and fried chicken? It's not the blatantly racist aspect that offends, it's how out of date the whole thing is. We guess that, among the e-mails that were lost, Rosenthal had a whole bunch of killer stuff about how the Japs make cheap transistor radios.
Try to put yourself in the position of someone who opens an e-mail, sees a joke about how blacks like watermelon and fried chicken, and laughs. Unless you're the president of the Embarrassing Grandfather Club, you have no business operating a computer. Much less an office that prosecutes people.
But in addition to the watermelon picture, there was the photo from, as news reports put it, a "website showing unsuspecting women getting their clothes ripped off on public streets."
Now that's sophisticated Web-surfing. None of that namby-pamby upskirt-video shit, where the woman doesn't even know she's being used and abused.
This e-mail was sent to Rosenthal by Sam Siegler, husband of prominent prosecutor Kelly Siegler.
"I didn't intend for it to be offensive," Siegler told KHOU. "I didn't e-mail anybody that I thought would be offended by it."
Okay, you're saying — maybe Siegler just completely, totally misread Rosenthal and tabbed him as someone who would get a kick out of looking at a woman having her clothes ripped off on a public street. Why blame the Chuckster?
There is some evidence, however, that Siegler might have some insight into Rosenthal's sense of humor. He was the DA's personal physician, for crying out loud.
Sentences never uttered by Chuck Rosenthal: "My dear doctor, I fail to see the humor in this exploitative, misogynistic trash. Need I remind you, sir, my office vigorously and energetically prosecutes cases of attacks on women. Please confine your humor to watermelon jokes."
All right, maybe that last sentence was uttered.
All this — the watermelon, the unclothing of women — may have been excused as some silly sophomoric humor by the kind of guy who enjoys lighting off firecrackers in the stairwell.
But then there came the love letters.
When Rosenthal wasn't telling interviewers about how much Jesus loved him, about how Jesus would make darn sure no innocent man had ever been sent to Death Row from Houston, he was extolling his marriage.
Jesus loves a good marriage, you know.
So when e-mails emerged showing Rosenthal clumsily trying to act seductive towards his executive assistant, the main reaction was one of outrage.
Well, first the main reaction was a collective "Ewwww." No one wants a mental image of Chuck Rosenthal offering to kiss behind some woman's right ear.
The second reaction was — well, it was probably more "Ewwww," if you want to know the truth.
But the third reaction was, "Hey, why has this woman gotten such a plum salary and car allowance?" Which is right up there, by the way, in the pantheon of Questions Politicians Hope They're Never Asked.
Rosenthal's explanation was pure gold: Yeah, I had an affair with this woman 20 years ago, but nothing's going on now. Just an occasional ear-kissing e-mail or two, or three.
Which, you must admit, is ballsy. One might have expected Chuck to go for "By 'kiss' I meant Keep Incarcerating Sinful Suspects, and by "right ear" I meant the Harris County Jail."
One thing needs to be remembered in all this — these are the e-mails that Rosenthal didn't lose. What could have been in "Rosenthal, The Lost Bootlegs"?
The mind boggles.
The DA resigned, of course, and blamed it all on his doctor. The doctor who sent him the attacking-women photos.
Not that the doctor did anything wrong, Rosenthal said.
"Although I have enjoyed excellent medical and pharmacological treatment," Rosenthal said in announcing his retirement, "I have come to learn that the particular combination of drugs prescribed for me in the past has caused some impairment in my judgment."
Remember that line, Houstonians, the next time you get picked up for DUI. Or for ripping off a woman's clothes on a public street.
Chuck, we can't remember anyone who worked harder to make themselves a Houston Press Turkey of the Year.
Whatever pharmacological treatment you had, we want some of it.
POP CULTURE TURKEY:
It's not easy living in the shadow of a superstar. Well, it is easy, in the sense that you get doors opened for you worldwide that would otherwise be slammed in your face, and that you can basically have a career coasting on your relative's laurels.
But do people realize how hard you have it? No.
Consider the case of Houston's own Solange Knowles, sister of Houston's own Beyoncé Knowles, of Houston's own Destiny's Child (Note: A local ordinance mandates the inclusion of "Houston's own" before any mention of these entities.)
Beyoncé is out there, marrying Jay-Z, starring in movies, anchoring high-profile cosmetics campaigns, attracting paparazzi wherever she goes. If you're Solange, on the other hand, you're desperately hawking a mediocre album that's been dismissed by any critics who've bothered to review it.
So you end up giving a lot of interviews trying to push the thing. And all the media wants to talk about is your sister and brother-in-law, for crying out loud.
What can you do? You could blame the fact that reporters only care about things that are so-called "interesting," or you could take charge.
That's what Solange did, when she and her people made sure a Las Vegas station knew that if they wanted to talk to her, they'd better not ask any questions about Beyoncé or Jay-Z.
It's only fair. And the local station should have known, if they had simply taken the time to read the riders on the Solange Appearance Contract:
a) Solange does NOT appear in any mall that is not at least anchored by a Sears. No 99¢ Only Stores are allowed, unless, you know, the album's not doing that good.
b) No TV interviews will be conducted in the studios of middle-school A/V clubs. (High schools are fine.)
c) Print publications must not include the words "Greensheet" or "PennySaver" in their title. (Exceptions: See previous "Unless the album's" clause.)
a) No questions allowed about "Beyoncé," whoever she is.
b) No questions allowed about "So how come you couldn't even get into Destiny's Child?"
c) No questions allowed about Frank Stallone, Billy Carter, Roger Clinton or Joe Montana Jr.
d) No questions on how to spell "Solange."
e) Permissible questions include "How do you possibly maintain such a high level of excellence in everything you do?" and "How come more people don't appreciate how much better Destiny's Child would have been with you in it?"
f) No asking if you can get Beyoncé's or Jay-Z's autograph. (See, again, the "Unless the album's" clause.)
a) Yes, please.
Yes, it is tough being Solange.
Especially when you have to sing the new, improved lyrics to "Survivor" that have been custom-made for you:
Now that I am out of your life
I'm so much better (Background singers: No, really, I am)
You thought I'd be weak without ya,
But I'm stronger (Background singers: No, really, I am. Really)
You thought that I'd be broke without ya,
But I'm richer (Background singers: No comment)
You thought I'd be sad without you,
I laugh harder (Background singers: [Looking at their shoes, embarrassed] )
You thought I wouldn't grow without ya,
Now I'm wiser (Background singers: Don't ask about Jay-Z!!)
You thought that I'd be helpless without ya
But I'm smarter (Background singers: Ummmmmm...)
You thought that I'd be stressed without ya,
But I'm chillin' (Background singers: [Will this verse never end?] )
You thought I wouldn't sell without ya,
Sold nine million (Background singers: Uncontrolled giggles)
I'm not Beyoncé
I'm not gonna give up
Don't ask me questions
I don't wanna answer
I'm not Beyoncé
But I'm gonna milk it
Tourin' all week
On the D-list circuit...............
We have been semi-reliably informed, by the way, that at one point this year Solange was asked who her favorite author was, and she replied something along the lines of "The guys who wrote the Bible."
But we have not been able to find definitive proof of this, and, in the spirit of God's infinite mercy toward the helpless, we refuse to believe that it's true. (But we bet it is.) And we bet those "guys," whoever they are, are bustin' their buttons with pride.
There are worse lives out there, we suppose, than touring the "Zany Morning Crew" world of drive-time radio plugging some album that will be forgotten in two months.
We're just glad we don't have to live them.
Astros owner Drayton McLane has long been striving to be a Turkey of the Year: He maniacally throws himself face-first into startled employees, asking what they've done to be a champion today ("I've...ummm...fried up those corn dogs extra good?"); he seems to think he knows more about baseball, via his few years paying attention to the sport, than those who've spent their lives studying it; and his forays into the free-agent market have usually been bombs.
This year, though, he topped himself.
The Astros had been left for dead by almost all of the civilized world by mid-August but, due to the stunning mediocrity infecting the NL Central, they clawed their way back into having at least a shot at the division title.
The race, it was clear, was coming down to a crucial series against the Chicago Cubs, to be played at Minute Maid Park. This was amazingly terrific, as far as McLane was concerned, because even if jaded Astros fans knew there was no reason to head to the ballpark, transplanted Cubs fans would fill it up.
The problem was, Hurricane Ike was barreling down on Houston.
What a conflict for an owner: a) Put your fans, your employees, your players and their families in mortal danger by forcing them to stay in town while a massive hurricane loomed; or, b) lose some money.
McLane dithered. He was like Jack Benny in the classic skit where a mugger says, "Your money or your life" and Benny stands there for untold seconds before yelling in exasperation, "I'm thinking!! I'm thinking!! "
There was a chance, after all, that every meteorologist, every so-called "Weather Channel" and self-proclaimed "National Hurricane Center" would be wrong, and Ike would miss Houston and the games would be able to be played at Minute Maid. (Oh frabjous day!!! All that Cubs money in my pocket!!)
Eventually, as the city of Galveston became part of the bay, as Bolivar Peninsula became a thing of the past, even McLane was forced to admit that the series would have to be moved.
Except by then, there was no good place to move it. So baseball commissioner Bud Selig decreed it should be played in the neutral site of Milwaukee.
Which was kind of like the NFL commissioner saying, "The neutral site for the Cowboys-Redskins game will be Fort Worth."
The stadium in Milwaukee was filled with Cubs fans. It would have been filled with more of them, but there wasn't time to schedule enough workers to open the upper deck.
How bad was this decision? There are few people whom Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice loves more than Drayton McLane or (especially) Bud Selig. Maybe his wife and kids, maybe not.
But even Justice was appalled:
"Neutral field? Are you kidding me? There's ridiculous and more ridiculous and whatever this was supposed to be.
"Commissioner Bud Selig should be embarrassed to have thrown a team in the thick of the playoff contention into this situation. If the Astros miss the playoffs by a game, remember this one.
"Drayton McLane shouldn't be given a pass, either. He refused to believe predictions that a monstrous storm was headed for Houston. He wanted those three home games against the Chicago Cubs so badly that his judgment was clouded."
"His judgment was clouded" is, in terms of Justice criticizing a local franchise owner, about the equivalent of him calling McLane a child-raping, murdering pornographer.
Most of Houston didn't really catch all this, of course, what with being without electricity and trying to secure ice, gas and food. Whether the Astros lost the home-field advantage in a series they no doubt were going to choke away anyway wasn't exactly on top of anyone's priority list at the time.
But just think — we were deprived of the chance to see every network in the world rhapsodize about how the Astros, had they won that series and kept winning, were rejuvenating the spirits of a battered, but not beaten, Houston area that was seeing its spirits lifted by these scrappy, magnificent men in their brick-red uniforms.
On second thought, Drayton, thanks. We might have wished our power had stayed out for another two weeks if all that had come true.
Ike was a high-pressure situation for the public officials who were in charge of dealing with it. Some thrived under the pressure; some didn't.
Perhaps the most famous incident involving politicians concerned Mayor Bill White. He released a few F-bombs at some workers from the Georgia Forestry Commission (don't ask) when he felt trucks weren't being dispatched fast enough to needy areas.
It wasn't a big deal, until Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue complained to fellow Republican Governor Rick Perry. Perry, knowing that White possibly has designs on the Governor's Mansion, unctuously apologized to Perdue for the apparently unheard-of horror of an F-bomb.
Some White critics said he only let loose with the barrage because the employees were female; although we're not the hugest fans of Bill White, we somehow don't see him bullying women and then Uriah Heep-ly asking male truck drivers to please, at their earliest convenience, if it's not too much trouble, maybe they could possibly move their supplies.
White ended up getting great press out of the deal; Perry ended up with a reputation for prissiness (partisan prissiness, no less). But it did open a new gig for the governor; he's now a noted authority on etiquette, as these excerpts from his syndicated column show.
Dear Governor Manners: I'm the mayor of a town that was recently pummeled by a hurricane. Whilst tending to my mayoral duties, I noticed that people were standing in line for hours in 95-degree heat to get basic necessities that should have been delivered earlier. What should I have done?
Dear Mayor Black: One is often frustrated when one believes that a bureaucracy is perhaps not moving with as much alacrity as one would like at a time of crisis. The proper way to deal with this is to ask who is in charge, wait 45 minutes for an answer, discover that the person you've been told is in charge is not actually in charge, wait an additional 45 minutes to be told who the correct person is, wait for that person to get off a break and then politely inform him or her that several additional police units will be required to handle the riot that's broken out because people have reached their breaking point. Remember, those who sully with profanity the tongue the Lord gave them are doomed to suffer. Suffer such things as riots, for instance.
Dear Governor Manners: Some might say, "Take a chill, B." But fuck that shit, there's a nigga trying to kill me...I'm staring at the woman on the corner — It's fucked up when your mind is playing tricks on you.
Dear Geto B: I'm sure it is, but that's no reason to resort to profanity.
Dear Governor Manners: I have just been interviewed by a guy who, politely and humorously, ever so slightly implied that I didn't quite answer the questions he asked as directly as I might have. What should I do?
No Need To Be Offended Interviewee
Dear NNTBOI: "Adios, MoFo!" is always a good, classy way to indicate that the smallest imaginable "offense" has really gotten under your skin.
Dear Governor Manners: I have been trying for years to get my hair to stay in place. I notice that yours is absolutely perfect all the time. I'm dying to find out — what is it you use? Shellac? Varnish? Enough Aqua Net to burn a Texas-sized hole in the ozone? Please help. Unfortunately, my schedule does not permit me to spend 90 minutes a day on my hair like you, so any shortcuts would also be appreciated.
Dear Shaggy: Adios, MoFo.
HONORABLE SPECIAL TURKEY MENTION:
The overwhelming news event of the year (we sincerely hope, in terms of what the rest of the year might have in store for us) was, of course, Hurricane Ike.
Ike started as a storm that we were told no one around here needed to pay attention to. Then we were kinda told to watch it a bit, but no worries. Then we were told to get off Galveston OR WE WOULD DIE.
Ike sucked in a multitude of ways, providing a veritable cornucopia of suckage.
The deaths, of course. Tragedy abounded.
The rest of us, who weren't touched by death or injury, can't complain. But, being human, we will.
The Ten Degrees of Ike Hassle:
1. You lose your house. And not just your summertime, weekend-getaway, built-with-outrageous-lawyer's-fees second home, but the place you live. It's now gone, and good luck getting it replaced.
2. You have hefty damage to the house. You're now in the insurance hell of deciding whether to rebuild or write it off as a loss. There is no part of this that is any fun.
3. You have minor damage to your house. A fence down, some siding off, a little roof damage: Try getting a contractor who's not busy racking up the big bucks on major projects. Oh, and when you do, be prepared to pay through the nose. Just a little bit over the deductible, in fact.
4. You lost electricity for two weeks or more. Looking back, it doesn't seem so bad, does it? A fun interlude of getting to know your family and finally putting away the distractions of modern life? Fuck you. It sucked. The "distractions of modern life" include air conditioning and not having to go to bed at 9 p.m. And your family is probably doing nothing but a) bitching and b) asking when the power is going to come back on, so "getting to know them" is no prize.
5. You lost electricity for a few days. Boo-hoo, dude. What, did your kicky little jar of crème fraîche spoil? Did you miss an episode of Mad Men? Try living with a 16-year-old going through computer withdrawal and get back to us.
6. You had electricity, but everyone else didn't. Yes, you had to be very, very careful not to mention how funny 30 Rock was last night. You couldn't bring in a fresh lunch from home for fear of being killed by dirty looks from co-workers. Our hearts go out to you.
7. None of the traffic lights were working. Never before had we realized what an intricate, confusing, highly complicated maneuver the four-way stop was...to some people. Oddly enough, chances were pretty close to 99 percent that you would get stuck behind the grandma who would inch out into the intersection, slam on the brakes when someone on the right glanced her way, and then repeat that two-step process for oh, say, 15 minutes or so. The only fun part was watching her burn rubber when she finally just closed her eyes and took the plunge.
8. You had electricity, no need to get on the road and plenty of time to kill. Sounds good, but the airwaves and papers were filled with sad-sack Ike stories. Who needs that buzz kill? Plus, you had to put up with friends and relatives calling breathlessly from out of state to check on you, only to be disappointed that you had no real horror story to tell.
9. You had a greedy owner who idiotically waited to make plans for a crucial series against the Cubs until it was too late.
10. You weren't living in Texas or Louisiana. In which case Ike was a one-day story. But then again, that just meant you had more time to worry about the market crash, which we barely heard about.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
We can't really honor a hurricane as a Turkey of the Year, but if we could, Ike would be the one. And it wasn't even the Big One. What wonders do we have in store next hurricane season?
We don't want to know. In fact, we are putting our faith firmly in the belief that 2009 will offer no hurricanes, no imploding DAs, no sports disasters, nothing that could provide any nominees for next year's Turkey of the Year.
We're sure you won't disappoint us, Houston.