Each January, Texas Monthly unveils its annual “Bum Steer” awards, a tradition that celebrates an authoritative list — in the magazine’s view, at least — of a year’s worth of embarrassing behavior, ten-gallon villainy, can’t-make-it-up incompetence, and general ineptitude from Texans of all stripes.
“Last year,” the magazine intoned in its 2020 “Bum Steer” introduction, “many Texans comported themselves in an admirable, even heroic manner. But too many other Texans seemed quite happy to try to compensate for all that decency by acting in an idiotic, even malevolent fashion.”
One could squabble over whether some of the awards are deserved — even in the great republic of Texas, our “national magazine” often moseys to the political left — but the reasons for most are decidedly clear. Who, for instance, could fail to question the judgment of the Houston restaurant that recently unveiled a $400 plate of fajitas? Who could possibly applaud Neiman Marcus for marketing a $7,100 couch shaped like a giant hot dog in a bun? Moreover, who could defend the Lufkin, Texas, teenager who “was videotaped by her boyfriend opening a half-gallon tub of Blue Bell Tin Roof ice cream, licking it, and then replacing the lid and putting it back in the freezer”?
Ah, 2019 — we did not know it then, but you were so innocent and quaint! Remember how people used to complain about how busy they were and how many places they had to be? Remember how, just a few months ago, one could waltz into a packed music festival or a crowded airplane or even a long line at a taco truck that might or might not have been sanitized in the past three days — or ever! — and fail to feel even a tiny flicker of fear? These days, defiling a carton of ice cream might get you sent to Gitmo in five seconds flat.
In the future, when the coronavirus pandemic remains only in the mists of our memory — and we all should earnestly pray this occurs sooner rather than later — we should first remember the heroes, helpers, and doers of this time: the doctors, first responders, truck drivers, grocery-store cashiers, donors to charity, and more. But this moment will have its own select list of Bum Steers, too.
Forget licking the Blue Bell. Here is an actual headline from the March 25 New York Post: “Influencer reportedly hospitalized with coronavirus after licking toilet.” Here’s another headline, also from the Post, a mere day later: “Woman who licked toilet seat for ‘coronavirus challenge’ wants to cough on Dr. Phil.” I’ll just sit back for a moment and allow this all to sink in.
The hall of shame goes on, unfortunately. Who could forget the knuckleheaded spring-breakers who flooded Florida beaches and enthusiastically spread the virus while posing for press photos to show off the innovative new drinking game known as the “butt luge”? Who could forget the public officials in New York City who exhorted everyone in the nation’s most crowded urban area to attend as many shared-plate dinners and parades and festivals as they possibly could before finally backing away wide-eyed and whispering, “Whoops. Never mind!”
I could go on and on, but it might lead some of us to eat or drink our feelings, and heaven knows we’re doing enough of that already. I ate a whole loaf of cornbread last night! Instead, I’ll share my own coronavirus-related secret, which occurred on the day President Trump announced the European travel ban, which was also the day that many Americans realized that (a) things on our shores were getting real and (b) we would be staying home for a long, long time.
At that moment, I did something I swore I would never, ever do, shattering a promise I made to myself long ago. I ordered my kids a Nintendo, paid for next-day shipping, and then let them play it for hours and hours upon end.
Yes, it’s true: I did not use our canceled spring-break travel to enrich my children’s STEM education, shore up their Spanish-speaking skills, or develop their high-level crafting abilities, as many earnest Facebook posts encouraged me to do. For days, my kids played Mario Kart and Zelda, occasionally calling in their useful Gen X parents — we, that heroic generation whose youth was seasoned with summer boredom, structureless afternoons, and hours of aimless video-game playing — to get them past the really hard sections like Bowser’s Castle or Zelda’s Social-Distancing Gauntlet or whatever they’re called these days.
They were not reading the news; thus, they had a magnificent time. For my part, I read the news, spiraled into various brief panics, ordered all the wrong groceries, texted almost everyone I knew, promised myself I would stop reading the news, felt an occasional surge of perhaps unwarranted optimism, and then promptly spoiled it by reading the news again. I also finished reading all 858 pages of Lonesome Dove. (I highly recommend that last item in case you’re looking for something to do.)
For us, remote schooling starts today; the days of wanton video-game consumption have finally come to an end. At press time, it’s scary out there; we can only pray, help where we can, and do our best. We should all hope that we leave this period with a new appreciation for the most important blessings of life — health, food, shelter, family, and friends — as well as the things we took for granted before. The simple clementine orange. The fresh carton of blueberries. A carton of untouched Blue Bell ice cream. The simple, glorious, and elegant — let’s face it, you knew this was coming — roll of toilet paper. And, of course, Nintendo. I doubted you before, maligned video-game system. Now you have my grudging respect.
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