The Enron Show

How Houston really feels about the trial’s finale.

THE FINAL EPISODE OF HOUSTON’S most gripping reality series has arrived at last. Ever since Enron’s spectacular collapse in December 2001—nearly five years ago, but who’s counting?—locals have waited for the official verdict on ex- CEOs Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, who for months have been on trial for, essentially, their lives. As theater, the trial did not disappoint: Skilling abandoned his master-of-the-universe mien, reverting to that doughy, pontificating nerd of the early Enron years. In contrast, Lay abandoned all pretense of the warm, folksy exec Houston thought it knew and became the kind of snarly, arrogant greedhead who personified Enron all along. And disgraced finance chief Andy Fastow? Consistent throughout, which made him the most credible witness of all. (Asked whether a set of given assets was worth a ridiculously low price, he answered, “No, I was just trying to cheat my limited partners.”) But in fact, the outcome is kind of irrelevant, at least to locals. In the court of public opinion, the verdict of guilty has been in for a long time. Most of Houston made up its mind when the value of Enron stock slipped from around $50 a share to, say, 11 cents—and never thought twice after that. Alas, the trial’s unanswered questions remain unanswered, like, Who gave the Wall Street Journal the damning documents that so hastened the company’s demise? Is Lay really as broke as he claimed? And just how did Skilling become such a chick magnet? But the answer to the final question—how long will it take this notoriously forgetful city to erase Enron from memory?—is a no-brainer.

Hint: Think in nanoseconds. Houston is the city that never looks back.

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