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Left Field

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Tyler Stoddard Smith takes a satirical stab at the budget crisis.

Dear Sherman OfficeMax High School students, parents, teachers and staff,

I know many of you are concerned about the budget shortfall and the potential impact to education. I want to put you all at ease. I have it under control. Remember 2003? We filled a $10 billion dollar budget hole and barely broke a sweat. It was like taking candy from a baby. Actually, it was more like taking health care from a baby, but let’s not sweat the details.

I, your new principal, have an MBA in corporate downsizing. OfficeMax High will be implementing something I like to call a “value-add.” First, you’ll notice that we are no longer the Sherman Rebels. That’s fine: It’s high time we put the Civil War and all its complications behind us—specifically, behind the laser printer donated by our new corporate sponsor, OfficeMax! Second, I’ve brought in a subcontractor to staff the teaching positions. Most of these recruits were hired out of a parking lot at Home Depot for half the cost of our current teachers. They’re all extremely qualified for leading our new landscaping and construction magnet program.

I think you’ll find our new library exceedingly spacious now that we’ve gone digital. We’ve repurposed the espresso machine from the degenerates at Krispy Kreme High. It’ll be just like 1920s Paris. You can sip espresso and pretend to discuss music, literature and the horrors of vitamin deficiency. With the money we collected from gutting the library and hawking those dusty books, we can afford three laptops with eBooks! Our 3,000 students will be able to buy term papers online and post videos of themselves smoking salvia.

As the saying goes, nothing comes for free, not even lunch. This brings me to lunch. In the midst of a budget crisis, it’s always prudent to attach a fee here and there to keep folks honest. Some new surcharges will include:

 

$175 surcharge for Free Lunch card.
Water fountain donation: 54 cents per second.

 

This cuts down on those show-offy kids who tormented me in second grade by threatening to “drink it all.” (I found out later it’s impossible to drink it all, but that doesn’t mean it was OK.) 

We’re still negotiating with TacoBell KFC, but for now OfficeMax runs the cafeteria. Sometimes the lowest bidder doesn’t have the tastiest stuff, but printer toner can taste a lot like licorice if you open your mind. Lunch condiments will be limited to zinc tablets and sand you can pretend is mustard.

The smart money says you can always bet on Texas for forward-thinking adjustments to get us through tough times. I can’t think of a single instance Texas and Texans haven’t come through huge! Sure, it got a little hairy at the Alamo, but we prevailed! If you want, I suppose it could be considered a tie. The point is, nobody is going to tell us how to run our state. 

I’m proud that Gov. Perry doesn’t want to spoil us with state funds. He did the right thing by not applying for President Obama’s Race To The Top initiative. The liberal establishment is keen on standardizing mediocrity and pandering to the masses by promoting reading. Can you remember the last time the book was better than the movie?

You could argue that 2 Fast 2 Furious was deeper before it hit celluloid, but in the original Russian, the novel demonstrates an embarrassing misunderstanding of the Edelbrock intake manifold. And no Eva Mendes.

So here we are, the OfficeMax Rebels, ready for the new school year and a freer, more efficient future. I’ll close with a message to the rogues at Krispy Kreme High: It’s our espresso machine now.

Come and Take it!  

 

Sincerely,
Principal Edwards

It’s the sad truth: Many Texans cast their votes based on political ads running incessantly on prime-time television. To give viewers some perspective on this season’s crop of campaign commercials, embittered ad man Tyler Stoddard Smith raises an eyebrow (a genetic “defect” common in geniuses and wolverines) and takes an objective look at the content and the effectiveness of Bill White’s and Rick Perry’s latest.

The Ad: “A Perry Home Companion”

Paid for by: Bill White and the Facebook group, “Whatever happened to C. Thomas Howell?”

Description: This ad begins with the ominous timbre of a once-esteemed actor doing voice-over work to pay the bills. “He’ll cut the budget for kids and old folks, but not his wine list,” intones C. Thomas Howell of Red Dawn and Soul Man fame. The ad then berates Gov. Perry for living in an opulent, state-funded shooting-gallery-cum-mansion outside of Austin while cutting funding for schools and nursing homes.

Analysis: To the outsider, the message might appear black and white. In fact, it’s more red and white. The accusation that Perry refuses to cut his wine list at the expense of Texas schoolchildren is only partially true. Yes, Perry recently placed an order for a case of 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Laurence, Domaine du Pegau, but the ad doesn’t tell you Perry parted with two bottles of scrumptious 1997 Nuits-Saint-Georges, Aux Murgers, Meo-Camuzet as a gift to Gail Lowe, chair of the Texas State Board of Education. While Perry will assuredly cut funding for pre-K, you must ask—what can be learned at such a young age anyway? ABCs? Please. Isn’t there an app for that?

The ad misses how most voters view the governor’s pleasure palace. Everybody wants a bigger house—get over it. We can’t all plunder the state’s coffers while raising a manicured middle finger to federal stimulus money. If we could, it would be called “socialism,” and we’d be left half-drunk on government-subsidized vodka, waiting for a spring thaw that never comes. Why didn’t the Democrats seize on something more tangible? Perry’s uninhibited and reckless use of Grecian Formula comes to mind. This seems like a missed opportunity for C. Thomas Howell, not to mention White and his team.

 

The Ad: “Please Report to the Cafeteria”

Paid for by: Rick Perry and Luby’s

Description: As everyone knows, there is only one way to attack former Houston Mayor White: Remind undecided voters that a vote for White is a vote for a man who resembles a boudin-blanc sausage with teeth. This approach puts White on his heels, and there’s nothing more compelling than pointing out the shortcomings of the frumpy and the bald. Unfortunately, the ad consists of Gov. Perry barging into a Luby’s, telling everyone he is “setting aside $8 billion for a rainy day.”

Analysis: Why our governor insists on wandering around a Luby’s dressed like he just looted a Neiman-Marcus is beyond me. This is not going to endear you to the working folk of Texas who’ve queued up to spend their hard-earned pay on artery-clogging foodstuffs. The viewer’s natural reaction is going to be “Oh, you’ve got $8 billion for a rainy day? How about staking us to a chicken-fried, or at least some Jell-O, while you’re at it, guvnah?” Don’t go bragging about your bankroll in a Luby’s unless you’re treating.

This goes to show, again, how out of touch the Perry camp can be when it puts its mind to it. Not to mention, you can tell from the beginning of the ad that Perry probably didn’t even bring his wallet. What’s more, he has probably never been in a Luby’s before. You have to get in line like the rest of us. Why not seize on White’s refusal to dye Buffalo Bayou blue and install a classy casino on Allen Parkway instead? Or at least implement a poignant tracking shot of Gov. Perry’s implacable coif? None of this. Instead of bridging a political divide, this ad widens the chasm between working-class Texans and an empty suit we can believe in.

The Guilty Project

photo by Catherine Smith
Armed banana

A majority of the Texas Forensic Science Commission has tentatively concluded that there was no professional negligence or misconduct by arson investigators whose flawed work in a fatal Corsicana fire contributed to the conviction and 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.
—Austin American-Statesman


Willingham’s case made
headlines, but the commission sided with investigators in several other questionable cases. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Observer was able to obtain information on these previously unreported incidents.

 

The Spoon Incident

 

Houston, 1985

Sheldon Spoon, a man living in posh River Oaks, wakes up to find his wife and children missing. A hastily scribbled, indecipherable note is left on the refrigerator. At wit’s end, the Houston Police Department enlists the help of fingerprint expert and aspiring luchador Dwayne “Dwayne” Chambers. Chambers, familiar with the psychotropic and crime-fighting effects of Super Glue fumes in developing latent fingerprints, flies over to the opulent mansion on Lazy Lane on a magical, winged pony with the head of Leonid Brezhnev and the stutter of Mel Tillis.

After investigating whorl, loop and arch patterns of fingerprints left throughout the house, Chambers determines that while rich, this family can’t buy happiness, though there is something to be said for a Jacuzzi. A sweeping manhunt is suspended when Spoon remembers that his children, 44-year-old twins Mandy and Mindy, live in Austin with families of their own. Mrs. Spoon remains unaccounted for, but an arrest is made on Chambers’ assertion that the perpetrator is most likely Houston Astros announcer and broadcasting legend Milo Hamilton, whom Chambers blames for the Astros’ 8-18 record during July.

Mr. Spoon becomes increasingly frustrated when it’s determined that Hamilton was broadcasting a game in St. Louis at the time of the abduction. Investigators finally decipher the note on the refrigerator: “Going to store. Back in an hour.” With Mrs. Spoon home safely, the Spoons continue their fragile domestic armistice while Dwayne “Dwayne” Chambers resolves to save up for a Jacuzzi. A 19-year-old African-American male is held over the weekend for questioning, just in case.

 

The Corn Dog Murders

Corsicana, 2002

Corsicana police are stunned when three mimes turn up dead inside an abandoned Corn Dog Hut. Arson investigators determine someone “close to the mimes” set the fire because grease, an accelerant commonly found in corn dogs and arson, is all over the Corn Dog Hut. During a heated inquest, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, Chair of the Forensic Science Commission, says “let the facts lead us wherever they do.” As expected, the facts lead the commission to a ski trip in Zermatt. Later it is discovered that the three mimes are not dead, nor are they mimes, but mannequins, relics of Corn Dog Hut’s attempt to draw customer traffic on a tax-free weekend.

A cover-up ensues, with the medical examiner insisting that the mannequins were doomed from the start. In another brief inquest, Gov. Rick Perry demands to know the difference between an “inquest” and an “inquiry.” The affair draws to a close, and local Caucasians kick back with Harvey Wallbangers. The sordid episode has been put to bed, though a 19-year-old African-American male is held over the weekend for questioning, just in case.

 

The Corpus Cannibal

Corpus Christi, 1989

A male body is found in a Corpus Christi home with its legs bound and its skin thrown in a trash can. Bite marks cover the corpse. It’s a grisly scene. Inspector Dee Boone, an experienced lawman with a face like a gravy dinner, is suspicious—that his wife is having an affair with a neighbor. After a night of heavy analysis and heavier drinking, Boone blames the heinous crime on himself.

Thanks to advanced pattern-recognition technology and the light of day, Boone recognizes that when you’re drunk and without your spectacles, a half-eaten Hungry-Man Fried Chicken Colossus can look a lot like a skinless man with his legs bound. “Ah, oh. Voir dire is gonna be a bitch this time,” laments the inspector with uncharacteristic disquietude.

Poring over a Hustler hidden inside a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Inspector Boone considers his own version of a “teleological suspension of the ethical,” but decides not to press charges against himself—although a 19-year-old African-American male is held over the weekend for questioning, just in case.

 

Tyler Stoddard Smith is an Austin-based humorist. His work has appeared in Esquire, McSweeney’s, The Best American Fantasy, Meridian and other publications. He is also an associate editor at the humor site, The Big Jewel.