June 09, 2002
Stop me before I write another clueless article about Houston!

Larry vents his formidable spleen at this tiresome article about Houston's soul, or spirit, or spunkiness, or whatever theme former Houston Press writer Randall Patterson's editor asked him to write about. Ginger has her say as well.

The first clue that Patterson may have lived in Houston but was never truly a part of it comes right in the first graf, as they say in the highfalutin' dead-tree media biz:

After the disaster, I got back to Houston as quickly as possible and at first could hardly tell anything had happened. It was not as if a bomb had exploded or a building had collapsed. There had been a disappearance, that is all, and the effect was not apparent until I got out of the car. It was the fear I noticed, and I saw it first when I sat down with Elyse Lanier.

Elyse Lanier, bless her fashionably decked-out little heart, is nowhere close to what a normal citizen of Houston is like. Elsye Lanier is the Arlene Oslaf-Joseph character from Grosse Point Blank. She means well, but she simply isn't from the same planet as the rest of us.

Patterson goes on the do the usual trashing of Enron and Ken Lay that we here have grown accustomed to. His purple prose contains howlers like this:

It has never been like other cities -- not like San Francisco or Denver or Palm Beach. People have never gone to Houston for its beauty or climate, or because it is in any natural way a good place to live. Houston from the start has been a place to make money -- the great interior commercial emporium of Texas,'' as the Allen brothers promised. And if money was Houston's singular attraction, then certainly the city would impose no heavy restrictions on the making of it.

Um, Randall? Just FYI, but the last people to see New York City's natural beauty lived there in the 17th century. And I daresay that I inhaled more exhaust fumes in four-plus years of commuting into Manhattan than I have in fourteen years of living in Houston.

On top of that is all of the nose-wrinkling about making money. It never ceases to amaze me that in a society that so clearly worships having money there are so many people who gets prissy about people who actually work to make it.

And if we're going to look down our nose at people who work at making money, we have to spend a few sentences making Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale look like a rube. Mack is many things, including a live-action cartoon character in his own TV commercials (and anyone who thinks that this sort of thing is endemic to burgs like Houston has never seen a Crazy Eddie commercial) and a businessman who is truly dedicated to customer service. I've bought furniture from Mack. Most times I've gone to Gallery Furniture, he's right there. You can walk up to him and tell him what you think. I've done it. The decor may not be Hamptonsesque, but I've never walked out of there feeling like I got ripped off. If that's tacky, then so be it.

By the way, while prominent New York businessmen like the fellows behind Crazy Eddie became famous for their role in a huge financial statement fraud case, Mack is known around here for being the fastest checkbook in the West for all kinds of worthy causes. He spends Thanksgiving at the George R. Brown Convention Center feeding turkeys that he paid for to "the less fortunate" as the newsies like to say. Somehow, that sort of thing never makes it into articles like Patterson's.

In the end, I think what really chaps my ass about this piece is how Patterson gives two seconds' worth of time to Tropical Storm Allison, then goes on ad nauseum about the trauma that Enron and Ken Lay wrought on Houston's society, as if anyone in Houston gave a shit. Patterson could have written about how a year later, there are still over 700 families still awaiting FEMA assistance. Patterson could have written about how many of the people in one of the 70,000 flooded houses are still doing repairs or have sold their homes for lot value. He could have written many different stories, but somehow he thought that this society-page pyschobabble would somehow serve the readers of the New York Times. I'm still not sure if I should scorn him or pity him.

I could go on about the reasons why I choose to live here (and for the record, I came here to attend graduate school, an activity which was and is no one's idea of a good way to make money) but that would probably be as boring and self-indulgent as Patterson's piece. I'll just say that whatever else may be true of Texans in general and Houstonians in particular, we do have a pretty good sense of humor about our native or adopted state. That's good enough for me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 09, 2002 to Elsewhere in Houston