One thing about reporting is that, as a matter of pure fact, observing the appearance of drunkenness is not enough evidence to confidently describe someone as drunk, or even as having consumed alcohol. Sometimes people get sleepy or excitable, and sometimes they take too much cold medicine. Because public figures rarely submit to Breathalyzer tests upon request by their local newspaper reporters, the behavior and remarks of even the most tanked-seeming public figures tend to be described using colorful euphemisms, like “energetic’” or “meandering.”
Why am I talking about this? Oh, I can’t remember, sorry. Anyway, did you guys see Tony Buzbee’s “victory” speech last night? Wow, what a humdinger! Buzbee, the extraordinarily eccentric tank-owning, shark-loving trial lawyer vying to become the mayor of Houston with a campaign that has seemed heavily influenced by the example of Donald Trump, came in second to incumbent mayor Sylvester Turner last night—but he narrowly forced Turner into a runoff, which means his hopes remain alive for the time being.
He stormed the stage at his campaign’s watch party to give an address that will go down in the annals of something as a primo example of . . . something. Houston’s ABC-13 TV station described the speech as “uproarious and at times disjointed.” The Texas Tribune wrote that he gave a “rambling speech brimming with confidence.” The Houston Chronicle diplomatically described Buzbee as “taking a while to get to the point.” I have now watched Mr. Buzbee’s eighteen-minute speech in its entirety four times, and I am not sure if I have identified his point. I encourage you to watch it once. If you find a point, feel free to let me know.
Wearing a black T-shirt and an unbuttoned U.S. Marines jacket, he spoke to a riotous crowd that contained a melange of very Houston characters, including a woman with a Pomeranian named Barbie. There was a lot of talk about starfishes. Buzbee’s brilliant cadence and timing resembled no one so much as Danny McBride, the Righteous Gemstones and Eastbound & Down star. He gives his words a life that can’t be rendered on the page. But here we go.
“Back on October 31, I started this race with the idea to get this city back on track,” he kicks off, reading remarks from a sheet in front of him. “I deeply care about the city of Houston.” So far, so good.
“I wanna take you back. I wanna take you back to 1980. How many of you were even alive in 1980?” he asked, sticking out his tongue. “Can I take you back to 1980? OK, alright, I’m going to take you back to 1980. In 1980, oh goodness gracious, oh goodness! Gracious! In 1980. You know what I was worried about in 1980? I was worried about a lot more, all I was worried about in 1980, and I gotta say it, and my mama is here, my mama is here. My mama’s right there. Mama, in 1980, all I was worried about was could I avoid—you understand what I’m saying, right? In 1980. You don’t remember? Oh I know you remember. Yeah you can’t hear me. She can’t hear me!” He laughs.
There’s a brief interlude where things get back on schedule. “Listen, guys, we’re going to change this city,” he says.
We’re not going back to 1980 after all. “I’m not gonna go too back into our past. And my mama knows our past. And it was hard. It was rough and tumble. And people say, oh, well he had a hard upbringing. Well, I had a hard upbringing,” he said. “My dad used to say I’ll fight at the drop of a hat and I’ll drop the hat. And I love my father and I’ve come to peace with my daddy but it was a hard time. We had a hard time.”
Buzbee loves his mother very much, but he’s not the only one. “Everyone in my community loved my mother,” he said.
“We lived nine miles out of a 1,300 city. We lived in a 1,300-person city and my mother is probably the most famous person in our city. After me, maybe after me,” he said. “Mom, I love you so much. Now my dad, not so much. Nah, I’m just saying, I’m just saying. My dad was pretty mean, and he would like, you know. Anyway, whatever.”
Buzbee transitions back, but gives a different start date for his campaign: “On December 14, I started this race for Houston to put Houston back on track,” he said, to answer the question “are we gonna be the city that we could be? The city that we know we should be, the city that we all expect we could be, or are we going to be the city that we’re a little bit scared we might become?”
Little does the crowd know that Buzbee is working up to an emotional and spiritual climax. Here is his telling of it.
“So there was this guy and he was sitting on his beach house, some fancy guy, I don’t know what the hell he was doing, but he was sitting on his beach house, and he was like sitting on his beach house, and he saw somebody like way in the distance, and he’s like, saw somebody, and—”. He is motioning to his right, as if he’s pointing down the beach, and he pauses to point to the large shark tattoo on his inner forearm. “Look at that, Sylvester Turner hates that. I was a United States Marine, alright?”
Back to the matter at hand. “In the distance, they saw this old man, he was walking down the beach. Have y’all heard this story before? OK, I’m going to tell you what this story is. And so, they saw this old man, and he was down the beach, and he’s like throwing, like, starfish into the ocean, have you heard that, right, ok? And so, the guy was like watching this, and he’s like, OK, I’m going to go talk to this old man, like old man, what are you doing? What are you doing? And the old man is throwing starfish into the ocean. Have you heard this? OK, well, anyway.”
“So the guy gets off of his, the deck of his beach house and gets over and talks to the old man and says, old man, what are you doing? And he goes, I’m throwing these starfish into the ocean. And he says, old man, what difference could that make? And he picks up the starfish and he threw it into the ocean, and he says, For this starfish. It makes a world of difference. Right? You hear me? You understand what I’m saying?” Sorta, I think!
On Wednesday, Buzbee told reporters that the idea that he was drunk was “just silly.” He added: “It’s dumb. I mean, I was tired and it was a long day…Yeah, I rambled a bit. Sometimes I do that. I may do it again.”
That answer was unlikely to clear up things for people watching his speech last night. “I wish I could have a drink,” texted a bewildered reporter covering the speech. “Like a young Bobby Kennedy,” texted a friend who follows city politics. God save and protect the city of Houston: it needs all the help it can get. Tony, take two aspirin, drink two glasses of water, and put yourself down for a short nap. You’ll feel a lot better.