By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
This is going to be tough.
Now comes the point at which Buzz annually recounts some of the more significant events and people of the past 12 months in Dallas and makes fun of them. In the past, this has been fairly easy, as the months generally have provided a steady stream of ridiculousness. This year, as you can see by the accompanying chart, a sharp drop in the incidence of absurdity occurred sometime around mid-September.
You may have heard about it. It was in all the papers.
Suddenly, pundits tell us, we've become less frivolous and not as materialistic; we're now the sorts who are wholly unconcerned with the state of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's marriage and more interested in world affairs. Our new heroes no longer come from Hollywood, but are firefighters or have names like Rumsfeld and Powell. We are a more serious people--like Canadians, or maybe Belgians.
After years of listening to our parents and grandparents drone on about how they confronted evil and won the Big One--as seen on A&E and available on home video for $69.95--it seems the time has come for us modern slackasses to step up and become the new Greatest Generation. Buzz should be off collecting scrap metal or rolling bandages or something. How can one look back on this year of recession, terror, loss and war and come up with 12 months' worth of simpleminded wisecracks about local news?
Well, it helps if you're an insensitive jerk. And, of course, there is the fact that Buzz gets paid for it, but we like to think that there's another, better reason. (Cue patriotic music.) Buzz can do it, by gum, because we're American. An absurd fascination with trivia is our birthright. Americans hold up the torch of freedom with one strong hand, but with the other we still flip through the latest edition of People. Donald Rumsfeld may be the new face of celebrity, but he's not the one bouncing on a trampoline with a come-hither look on his face in our favorite bedtime fantasy. Jennifer Aniston has made the occasional appearance there, however.
Great, tragic events are a bit like tent revivals that way. They can move the spirit profoundly, but not often for long. So we've all been waiting for the return to "normalcy." After looking back over the months, Buzz can assure you that we've always been there, as in "situation normal, all fucked-up."
The world may have changed, but Buzz hasn't. Sure, we'd love to take part in the new seriousness and patriotism, but wrapping ourselves in the flag just isn't an option. Horizontal stripes make us look fat. Besides, we figure that the odds of dying in a terrorist attack or coming down with the 'thrax are pretty long. Barring a sudden tobacco-related heart attack or car accident, we could easily live a long, long--depressingly long--time, which means we, and likely you, have some hours to kill in the meantime. You serious people can toddle off and do whatever it is you serious people do. Those of you who, like Buzz, are still blessed with short attention spans and not-too-particular senses of humor can while away a few minutes reading this. Don't worry, you latter bunch. If you think there's a dire shortage of goofiness in politics and news these days, just repeat the following: Laura Miller, Dallas mayor; Ron Kirk, U.S. senator; George W. Bush, statesman.
Still not sold? Want something better to do? Then Buzz suggests that instead you lie back, close your eyes and picture a verdant field on a warm spring day. There's a trampoline there. Someone is bouncing on it and beckoning you. Maybe it's Jennifer Aniston. Maybe it's Brad Pitt. Or just maybe it's Donald Rumsfeld.
You sick bastard.
January & February
A fine mess: In two incidents roughly a week apart, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is fined a total of $350,000--$250,000 for criticizing officiating, $100,000 for sitting at the baseline during a game against Minnesota, an infraction NBA officials deem "decorum not becoming an NBA owner." The amount brings the hotheaded Cuban's total fines for the season as of January to nearly $400,000. For its part, the NBA announces the hiring of new "chief of decorum" Judith "Miss Manners" Martin, who says that to dress up the league, players will now wear spats and kid gloves and that former NBA star and Dallasite Dennis Rodman will no longer appear in white wedding gowns. Instead, he'll confine himself to pale blue numbers "more befitting his personal history, poor dear."
Sky high: Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines, announces a $3.5 billion bid to acquire financially troubled Trans World Airlines, creating one of the nation's largest "mega" carriers and adding nearly 200 planes to American's fleet. To service the customers for the new, larger airline, American announces that it will hire "three, maybe four" additional reservation agents, bringing the total number of people available to take customer phone calls to "a solid dozen, most days."
Cabin fever: News reports reveal that supporters of Al Lipscomb, sentenced to 41 months of home confinement on a federal bribery conviction, had sought clemency for the former Dallas City Council member from the Clinton administration. Lipscomb, while lacking the tens of thousands of dollars normally needed to acquire a Clinton pardon or clemency, reportedly was willing to "do whatever it takes to get out of here--wink, wink, nudge, nudge."
Beware of geeks bearing flags: University of North Texas officials suspend the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity after some of its members are accused of confronting about 35 mostly black football recruits while waving a Confederate battle flag and chanting racial slurs. In an effort at damage control, chapter members assure the community that not all its members are "beer-swilling, stereotypical redneck Texas frat-boy bubbas. Some are from out of state."
Ewww: Penthouse magazine publishes an e-mail interview with Mark Cuban in which he reveals his strangest pickup line ("Wanna fuck?") and "the strangest thing a girl has asked [him] to do during sex." Cuban's answer (this is a real quote): "This one girl wanted me to let her bite me while she was giving me head. I yanked her off so hard I thought I would get sued for causing whiplash." Not to be outdone, Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones e-mails Penthouse offering to reveal details of his love life. Penthouse disconnects its e-mail server.
Swallow this: The Reverend James Simmons steps down as minister of White Rock Community Church after he fails to win a two-thirds majority in a vote of confidence by his congregation. Simmons, formerly a married father and evangelical minister named Wesley Barrett "Barre" Cox, vanished from a rural West Texas road 16 years ago only to re-emerge claiming that he had suffered amnesia, was found unconscious in the trunk of a car near Memphis, Tennessee, and was now gay and celibate. Doubtful church members, unable to find any records to verify his story, say they may be willing to accept a virgin giving birth and Jesus raising the dead, "but we're not complete idiots." Simmons later takes a position at a new church in Garland created by former White Rock members. The new church is dedicated to St. Patsy, the patron saint of the extremely gullible.
March & April
Good work, Sherlock: A police lieutenant and secretary claim that police Chief Terrell Bolton lied about his alleged role in limiting police enforcement at topless club Caligula XXI. The pair suggest that Bolton may have played some part in a scheme to reduce police investigations at the club at the behest of former city council member Al Lipscomb, who was accused of accepting a $7,700 bribe from the club's owner. Despite objections from Mayor Ron Kirk and others who believe an investigation is unnecessary, City Manager Ted Benavides pledges to look into charges. Eschewing the usual investigative techniques of interviewing witnesses or looking at FBI records, Benavides instead takes a clever, direct approach and simply asks Bolton if he did it. Bolton, equally clever, employs what is known in legal circles as the "Bart Simpson I-didn't-do-it defense." Case closed.
Woof and whinnie:Aircraft maker Boeing Co. announces plans to relocate its executive offices and 500 jobs from Seattle to one of three cities: Denver, Chicago or Dallas. City leaders and The Dallas Morning News welcome the news with open legs--we mean arms--engaging in a festival of civic promotion and salesmanship roughly on par with putting on a pair of fishnet stockings and trilling, "Hey, sailor." When Boeing opts for Chicago, outraged Dallas leaders ask what downtown Chi has that Big D doesn't, except Lake Michigan, the Magnificent Mile, the Art Institute, the El and people. "No way they can beat our wig and sandwich-shop selection. No way," a Dallas Chamber of Commerce spokesman says.
Waiving goodbye:Citing salary cap limits, the Cowboys cut veteran quarterback Troy Aikman. Aikman, who during his career suffered nearly a dozen concussions, later announces his retirement from professional football in an emotional ceremony, saying he "enjoyed my many years playing in whatever city I'm in and...HEY, SOMEONE ANSWER THAT DAMN PHONE! THAT RINGING IN MY EARS IS DRIVING ME NUTS!"
Say 35,000 Hail Marys:Citing the separation of church and state, city officials tell the organizers of a St. Patrick's Day Mass that they will not be allowed to have the service at City Hall despite earlier promises to the contrary. Worried officials fear that a Mass may lead City Hall further down the road to papistry. "Next thing you know, we'll be having confession here, and none of the city council wants that," a city worker says.
Soap drama:Dr. Peggy Little, assistant principal at Garland's Abbett Elementary, comes under fire from Hispanic groups that complain she forced a group of foul-mouthed first-graders to taste--just taste--dishwashing detergent as punishment. Garland-area dentists report a surge in business as crotchety middle-aged people grind their teeth in reaction to the notion that anyone anywhere could get in trouble for washing out a kid's potty mouth.
Make 'em drink the bottle:City Council member Laura Miller becomes the target of bullhorn-toting protesters at her home after she and fellow council member Donna Blumer continue to press the council to seek FBI records concerning police Chief Terrell Bolton's role in the Caligula XXI affair. The protesters, led by County Commissioner John Wiley Price, carry signs claiming that Miller is a "bitch," "whore" and has "penis envy" for pursuing the case against Bolton. An upset Miller, the mother of three, complains that the signs upset her children. "If anyone's going to use that kind of language around my kids, it's gonna be me," she says. Price later reluctantly apologizes for the language after Garland's Dr. Peggy Little threatens "to come down there with a jug of lemon-fresh Joy and go to town."
Skoal:Vodka maker Smirnoff agrees to temporarily remove its name from Fair Park's Smirnoff Music Centre for a children's concert by teen popster Aaron Carter. For the night of the concert only, the name will be changed to something more appropriate. Thousands come to the God-Awful Crap Music Centre to enjoy the show.
May & June
Blockhead voting:In a radio ad, incumbent city council member Maxine Thornton-Reese urges voters in her predominantly black district to pick the candidate "who looks like you" in her race against former council member Larry Duncan, who is white. Duncan counters with an ad urging voters to pick the candidate who looks like he's not a dim-witted racist.
Ka-ching: Dallas voters agree to a pay increase for the mayor and city council members, giving them their first raise since 1969. Under the plan, council members will receive $37,500 and the mayor $60,000 annually. In keeping with long-standing tradition, the council members' new salaries will be paid in worn, non-sequential $20 bills and delivered in plain brown envelopes in a parking garage at Love Field.
All in the community:St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church, a politically influential black church, is struck by vandals the night before a crucial debate on a hate-crimes bill in the Texas Senate. Though the vandals painted a swastika on the church, fears that the desecration was racially motivated quickly subside when an investigation reveals that the culprit most likely was someone who looks like Maxine Thornton-Reese.
Working blue:KXTA-TV announces that it has given Mark Cuban his own 30-minute television show, to begin airing in the fall. Unlike ordinary sports shows, the new Cuban offering will be scrambled and available only on a pay-per-view basis, between late-night showings of B.J. and the Bareand Lord of the Cock Rings.
Irie, irie:Two Dallas police officers are suspended, and one later fired, for refusing to cut their dreadlocks to conform to department policy. A police spokesman explains that although the hairstyles themselves were not particularly odd, the sight of someone with dreadlocks carrying a pistol "scared the bejabbers out of white folk in North Dallas."
Vote early, etc.: Election officials throw out between 150 and 200 absentee ballots after learning campaign workers for losing city council candidate Dwaine Caraway allegedly violated technical rules governing how ballots may be gathered and delivered. The move stymies a long-standing practice in which paid political operatives cajole, wheedle, pay for or outright steal ballots from elderly black voters in Southern Dallas. Embarrassed voters explain that they didn't know that turning over their ballots was wrong; they merely handed them to someone "who looks like them."
Ramped up: Work tentatively begins on the Trinity River project with construction of a concrete boat ramp near Sylvan Avenue, part of a $246 million bond package approved by voters in 1998. City officials hail the work, proclaiming the ramp a godsend for Dallasites who dump old refrigerators, mattresses and dead bodies in the river.
July & August
They is smart:More than 1,000 members of American Mensa, a group composed of geniuses, gather in Addison for their annual national convention. The first order of business for the conferees will be to figure out why anyone with half a brain would have a convention in Addison in July--or any other month.
Fashion sense: Dallas Independent School District adopts a new dress code that bans body piercings, short skirts, bare midriffs, droopy drawers, untucked shirts and flip-flops. In a later vote, district trustees amend the code so that it applies to students as well as teachers.
He feels pretty: Jerry Jones reveals a new, slimmed-down, less-wrinkled appearance but refuses to comment on rumors that he had undergone a face-lift. The cat exits the bag, however, after comedian Joan Rivers sues the Cowboys' owner for trademark infringement, alleging that he "stole her look."
Thrilled to be here:Six Flags Over Texas celebrates its 40th anniversary. To commemorate the event, concessionaires serve hot dogs left over from the theme park's original opening in 1961. "We would normally do that anyway, but this year makes them collectors items," a park spokesman says.
Tequila sunset: City council members and some in the Hispanic community object to an offer from liquor manufacturer Guinness United Distillers & Vintners North America Inc. to name a planned performance hall at the Latino Cultural Center the Jose Cuervo Performance Hall in exchange for a $1 million donation. Council members opt instead to sell the naming rights to Dallas-based Oak Farms Dairy, saying that "Sour-Milk Breath and Fatty Deposit Performance Hall" has a much nicer ring to it.
Fetch the soap: City council member Laura Miller stirs anger among Hispanics after she threatens to close a small Oak Cliff bus line that offers trips to Mexico. Miller refuses a request for relief from the widow of the company's owner, who had committed suicide. Miller complains that the bus company was operating in violation of city codes. The Dallas Observerstory on the controversy includes this quote from Miller concerning code-busting businesses on Davis Street: "I'm going to go up and down that motherfucking street, and if they don't shape up and comply, I'm gonna close those fuckers down." Miller denies making the statement. "Anyone who says I talk like that is a lying cocksucker," she says. In fact, no more than one of the preceding two quotes is made up.
September & October
Goodbye, kitty:Belo Corp., owner of the Morning News and WFAA-TV, announces that it is abandoning the CueCat, a computer device that allowed Web surfers to scan bar codes printed in the newspaper to direct their computers to Internet sites. The move comes several weeks after Digital Convergence Corp., creator of the device, laid off most of its workers and announced it was "restructuring," as in "restructured until further notice." Belo had invested more than $37 million in its partnership with Digital Convergence in a move business and Internet analysts described, in their highly technical jargon, as "dumb as a bag of hammers." At the height of its popularity, three, maybe four, people--all of them Belo employees--used the CueCat. A Belo spokesman says that in the future the company will invest only in more promising new technologies: "I don't want to give away the store, but let me give you a hint--perpetual motion machine."
When the levee breaks:The White House Office of Management and Budget releases a letter sent to the secretary of the Army that accuses the Army Corps of Engineers of deliberately deceiving the public about the supposed benefits of the Trinity River project. Among OMB's concerns is the fear that the joint city-Corps plan to extend levees will actually make flooding worse. A city council majority, apparently unaware that deceiving the public about high-dollar, business-backed projects is in fact wrong,votes to press ahead.
Not even a bronze:Just days before voters are scheduled to decide on financial guarantees for the city's bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, U.S. Olympic Committee officials cut Dallas from the list of potential host cities. The remaining finalists are Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. "There was room for only one hot, humid, entirely inappropriate Southern city on the list, and Houston got here first," a USOC spokesman says.
Blank check:Less than a year after the opening of the American Airlines Center, built with the help of more than $125 million in tax money, arena developers ask the city council to set aside another $44.5 million in future taxes to help build a retail, office and residential district around the center. The request comes despite earlier assurances that $125 million would be the limit for public financing for the arena project. "What, you mean deceiving the public about large projects they helped pay for is wrong?" says a clearly puzzled spokesman for developer The Palladium Co.
Here's the story...:Laura Miller reveals to the Morning News--she stopped talking to the Observer after that unfortunate quote--that her decision on whether to run for mayor hinges on a family vote. The newly matronly Miller says the household gathers in the evenings at family meetings to nosh on Alice's meatloaf, hear Greg's latest song, chart the future of Dallas politics and stare at Marsha's developing hooters. ("It's always Marsha, Marsha, Marsha," Miller's middle daughter, Jan, complains. Miller tells her to "shut your fucking pie-hole and vote 'yes' for mayor.")
November & December
Washington or bust:Mayor Ron Kirk resigns to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Phil Gramm. Kirk announces that his campaign slogan will be, "Vote for the person who looks like Ron Kirk." Facing the loss of its favorite mayoral son and the upcoming Laura Miller and Domingo Garcia candidacies, the downtown business establishment scrambles to field a candidate. Members of the Citizens Council assemble a crack team of computer, puppetry and animatronics experts from Disney World who work feverishly to produce challenger Tom Dunning, whom they tout as appearing "almost lifelike."
Lord no: Authorities in Denton County drop cocaine-possession charges filed against former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin because the evidence against him was obtained through an unlawful search. Irvin credits divine intervention. "This is a God thing," Irvin says at a news conference. A spokesman for God issues a statement denying responsibility. "The good Lord has all he can do looking after fools and drunkards," the spokesman says. "There are not enough hours in His day to deal with the drug problems of former Cowboys."
Out of the pink: Mary Kay Ash, founder of Dallas-based Mary Kay Cosmetics and purveyor of everything pink, dies. Mourners reveal that for the first time in history, a comment commonly heard at funerals turns out to be true--she really did "look just like she did when she was alive."
Florida-style:Judge Richard Mays discounts 32 ballots found to be illegal and voids the city council election of Maxine Thornton-Reese, who defeated District 4 challenger Larry Duncan by 16 votes in May. Thornton-Reese denies any wrongdoing and retains her council seat while she appeals the ruling. The Bush administration files a friend-of-the-court brief on Thornton-Reese's behalf, stating "the notion that to win the election you have to receive more lawful votes than the other guy would set a dangerous precedent."
Meanwhile, at the plantation:Mayoral hopeful Tom Dunning draws fire for his membership in the Dallas Country Club, which has no black members. Dunning shrugs off the criticism, noting that he has tried to attract African-Americans to the club but has been unable to locate any self-respecting black person willing to hang out with a bunch of white, upper-middle-class stiffs in Highland Park.
Rocker road:The Rangers acquire controversial relief pitcher John Rocker in a trade with the Cleveland Indians. Rocker, who won notoriety and a suspension for making disparaging comments about foreigners, minorities and homosexuals in an interview two years ago, says he hopes to put the past behind him and become part of the community. "I'm even thinking of joining a country club," he says. "Anyone know of a good one around here?"
And finally...: Don Venable, the former Dallas school board member, political gadfly and frequent character in Buzz, is, as far as we know, still alive and kicking. We mention this not because he has done anything noteworthy lately but because he called us earlier in the year to complain that Buzz had referred to him in a column but did not insult, ridicule or otherwise malign him. He felt slighted. Buzz admires that kind of bring-it-on spirit, and to make amends we offer him and everyone else who bothered to read this far these parting words: Here's hoping you have a much better year. For those of you who didn't read this far, up yours.