Great Hair, Stellar Entertainment: We're Really Going to Miss Rick Perry

For the past 14 years, the state of Texas has been run by the guy with the best head of hair in professional politics. Now we are reaching the end of an era. Come January 20, Gov. Rick Perry will leave office after serving the longest gubernatorial term in the state's history, roughly 5,110 days. Whether he follows through on his threat to go into quiet California Dreamin' retirement or takes the more likely path and tries another quixotic run at the White House, one thing is certain: We're going to miss that hair and the strange and wondrous mind beneath that gorgeous dome.

Perry has been many things to us in Texas -- an Aggie, a Sam Rayburn-inspired Democrat, a state legislator, a more-conservative-than-your-most--conservative-relative Republican, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor -- but he has also been something infinitely more priceless -- dear Lord, even when his policies have been the stuff of nightmares, Perry has been entertaining.

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Life Hacks: Armed With Smartphones, Young Houston Entrepreneurs Work to Live, Not Live to Work

Categories: Cover Story

Vaughn Chung, 22 and a student at the University of Houston, doesn't have a job. Correction: He doesn't have "a" job. Subsequent further correction: He doesn't have a job as most people define the term, though he certainly works and makes money.

Every Friday and Saturday from about 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., he's in his car getting paid to give people rides home from the bars. If he's feeling like making an extra bit of effort, he'll keep going until 4 a.m. in order to pick up some of the strip-club crowd when those venues close.

It's exciting work and he meets exciting people doing it. Strippers and escorts make up part of his clientele, but also celebrities and other notable people who need a ride.

"One time I picked up the road manager of a bunch of metal bands, Ozzy and the like," says Chung. "She asked me to take her to this vegan restaurant in the ghetto. I said okay, and apparently she thought I was cool enough to ask if I'd pick her up afterwards. I took her to the venue. This was Walters, because she was there for Senses Fail."

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Setting New Standards in Stupid: The 2014 Turkeys of the Year

Categories: Cover Story

John Ueland
Albert Einstein once said that the only difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits. Obviously Einstein didn't factor the Turkey of the Year, a creature with a seemingly infinite capacity for senseless, ludicrous and ill-advised decisions, into the equation.

This has been a remarkable year for turkeyism and we had to make some truly tough choices in determining which turkeys had outrun, outflapped and out-dumbed all the competition. It was the best of times -- because there were so many turkeys to choose from -- and it was the worst of times -- because seriously, there were so many viable befeathered options.

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Selling Homes, Ruining Lives: Getting Rich in Real Estate the Scott Wizig Way

Categories: Cover Story

Forget those late-night infomercials -- here's how you get rich in real estate:

First, find a city with a large population of vulnerable consumers. We're talking first-time home buyers, undocumented immigrants, people with no credit or with credit shot to hell. Houston will work perfectly -- these folks are on their own here.

Next, get thee to the Secretary of State and incorporate a boatload of limited partnerships. Go crazy. When it comes to LPs and LLCs, there's no such thing as "too much." Now, pluck one of these shell corporations at random and go down to the courthouse on the first Tuesday of the month, and buy whatever dilapidated properties you can. No windows? No problem. You aren't going to live there.

Now go around the city and illegally slap your ugly and un-ignorable bandit signs all over the place. Between those suckers and your Greensheet ads, you're going to get a ton of traffic. That's why you'll want a smooth-talking sales force. Mind you, these people don't need licenses, because they're selling your property on your behalf. That way, they're out of the reach of the Texas Real Estate Commission, which has jurisdiction only over licensed personnel.

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Fountain of Youth: The Low T Industry Cashes in on Some Dubious Science

Categories: Cover Story

Joshua Carr is 54 and in solid shape, with a healthy weight and average build. He'd been feeling a bit tired in the days before he got his blood drawn for his yearly physical, but he didn't volunteer that to his family doctor because he didn't have illusions about his age. He didn't eat as much or work out as hard, but that was just the years adding up.

The doctor told Carr his blood work was fine, but by the way they needed to talk about something. There's a gravity in his voice that gave Carr pause. "You have low T," the doctor said, showing him a chart with corresponding age and testosterone levels. "See, you're at this number, and it should be in this range. Go see a urologist."

Carr, who asked that we not use his real name, was surprised at the diagnosis. Low T. He'd never heard of it before, but there it was, a chart showing that men his age ideally have a total testosterone level of about 600 ng/dl -- nanograms per deciliter -- of blood. His levels were about half that, although, considering that 400 to 800 ng/dl is an acceptable range for the average man, he was only borderline low.

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The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Unleashed Toxins Into the River and, Residents Say, Their Bodies

Categories: Cover Story

Image by Andrew Nilsen
After a series of storms in March 2012, John Bonta is sorting through the wreckage on his Highlands ranch, 20 miles east of Houston. He's just gotten home from work when his wife, Pam, asks him to help her pick up a portion of the fence that had fallen during the night. He doesn't wait for her, thinking he can get it done more quickly on his own. As he strains to fit a heavy beam back in place, the post suddenly snaps. John jolts forward and there's a second snap -- his back. He goes down. In the distance, Pam is calling his name as she runs out to him.

Pam half-carries, half-drags John into the house, where he lies down in a daze, insisting he doesn't need an ambulance. The family already has substantial medical expenses, and he doesn't want to make something out of nothing.

The days pass, and the pain worsens. Early one morning as Pam sleeps, John collapses on his way to use the bathroom. There's no arguing the second time. They check him into the ER, where doctors run a series of tests confirming he has fractured his spine. They also tell him he has multiple myeloma -- a rare blood cancer that starts in the bones and affects about .02 percent of Americans, according to the National Cancer Institute. He already has it in more than 80 percent of his body.

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With Riverside Hospital Shut Down, Patients Scramble for a Place in Houston's Recovery Care System

Categories: Cover Story

Photo by Daniel Kramer
It's a late morning in August as Verenice Lopez leans against the passenger seat window of her boyfriend's pickup truck, watching the leafy residential streets of Houston's Fifth Ward speed by. They're on their way to Riverside General Hospital's drug treatment center on Lyons Avenue, which had been Verenice's home for the past three months. She isn't talking much, so her boyfriend cranks up the radio to Country Legends 97.1.

Verenice's mind is on the certificate waiting for her at the hospital, proof of all the work she's put into an intensive 30-hour-a-week drug treatment program to kick her crack addiction. She's proud of that, but she's also worried about where to go next. What she needs is just a little more help, this time to find a halfway house that will ease her into living alone.

A part of her is afraid that if she returns home to old friends and falls back into an old grind, she'll want to use again. Detox and rehabilitation were only the first steps on the road to recovery. It's like what a tech told her when she graduated from Riverside just the day before: "Get ready for your new life to be uncomfortable."

The recovery campus looms up around the corner, a four-story, 100,000-square-foot facility tucked behind a metal wire fence that runs the length of the block. As they pull into the parking lot, maneuvering around potholes cratering the gravel, Verenice sits up. There's a thin cluster of patients gathered outside, arms full of their personal things.

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The Girl on the Torture Board: Rhonda Williams Opens Up About Being Attacked by Dean Corll

Categories: Cover Story

She wakes up to a sharp pain in her side -- someone kicking her, telling her to wake up, bitch.

For a moment, she thinks it's her dad. Then she opens her eyes and sees it's Dean Corll, the electrician who's renting this house in Pasadena. She looks over and sees her friend Wayne Henley handcuffed, his feet bound, his mouth duct-taped. She looks to the other side, and there's the boy Tim she hadn't met until the night before, when she escaped from her father's home in the Heights. He's tied and taped, too.

Dean's still berating her when she looks down at her own body and realizes she's also been tied. Dean never liked her -- never liked any girls -- but this is unexpected. Dean had disappeared before she passed out; retreated to his bedroom, saying something about having to work in the morning. The three plopped down on the living-room carpet and got to feeling good. Wayne and Tim were huffing acrylic paint from a bag; all three shared shots of Wayne's dad's moonshine. She had taken a puff of a joint that one of them passed her way, and then it was lights out.

Dean walks over to Wayne, slips his arms under the teenager's shoulders and carries him to the kitchen. Dean must've taken the tape off Wayne's mouth, because now she hears two voices.

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Medical Marijuana Refugees Are Fleeing Texas to Help Their Loved Ones

Graphic by Brian Stauffer
Sitting cross-legged on the floor in her apartment outside of Houston, Faith's mother looks over at the toddler repeatedly as she talks. There are no physical indicators that signal the start of a seizure, but Faith's mother can tell one is on its way.

Everything about raising Faith involves watching and waiting, and today is no different.

Suddenly, Faith's mom jumps up, her words stalling mid-sentence, and makes her way to the mat where the chocolate-haired child is lying. She plops down next to her daughter, gives her moon face and chubby-cherub limbs a once-over, and places a hand across her tiny chest, feeling for any sign of what's to come.

It's an unnerving ritual, the watching and waiting, but Faith's mom can feel what is happening in her own bones. She knows that Faith is about to seize.

Slowly, the toddler's eyes begin to flicker. The gut-wrenching convulsions quickly follow, working their way up her tiny body, while the anxiety that has worn premature lines across her mom's forehead works its way into sheer terror.

Fear fills the room, and she yells out to no one in particular.

"It's a seizure," she says. "Faith is having a seizure."

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Bad Blood: Chikungunya Kills and It's Coming to a Mosquito Near You

Categories: Cover Story

It started in mid-April with a fever, as if her body were trying to burn itself up. Then 39-year-old Belkys Jimenez developed a pounding headache and pain in her muscles and joints. Her feet and ankles ballooned, and even taking a step became difficult. Jimenez had dealt with hypertension for years, but this was something new.

Over the next two weeks, her symptoms came and went. Several times, she visited a doctor in her hometown of Bajos de Haina, in the Dominican Republic. He provided acetaminophen for the pain and swelling and promptly dismissed her. The night of April 30, a Wednesday, Jimenez was feeling better. Before going to bed, she told her mother she would wake up early to go to the market.

But the following morning, Jimenez didn't get out of bed. Her worried mother found her daughter cold to the touch, without a pulse. "One day she was fine; the next day she was bad," Jimenez's mother told the Dominican television network Tele Noticias. "She never got better from this."

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