2021: Somehow even worse than 2020! It’s the best and worst of Arkansas
Having clawed and shrieked our way through 2021, we now know things can always get worse. At least in 2020 we were nestled snug in our houses. Scared shitless, sure, but with a shred of hope in our hearts.
Kicking off as it did with a bona fide coup attempt and spiraling from there into a culture war waged against defenseless transgender children, science believers and the jobless, 2021 wrung it out of us. We chronicle the low points here, not to depress you, but to bond through communal trauma. Sure, our pipes froze, our escape hatch bridge to all points east cracked, our elected leaders tried to kill us with conspiracy theories and cattle dewormer. If you’re reading this, congratulations. Your enemies have failed.
In a rundown of best and worst, there must be some bests, and we were able to find a few. Heroes emerge in the darkest days. Dogtown’s own ShadowVision stepped forward, armed with katanas and excellent arch support, carless but ready to walk however many miles it took to end the reign of the Little Rock slasher.
And don’t forget that other hero of 2021, the possum who spent the quarantine era nestled in the rafters of the White Water Tavern but shook off his torpor and crashed down into the midst of the party when it was time for the world to open back up again. Here’s hoping we all burst into 2022 like the White Water party possum, rested, wide-eyed and ready for the next act.
Worst campaign kickoff
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a former flack for President Donald Trump and daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, announced her candidacy for Arkansas governor with a clownish video in which she promised to fight socialism, cancel culture and the “radical left.” She’s stayed on message since then, firing shots in the national culture war while paying little to no attention to Arkansas.
Worst attack on democracy
A shameful number of Arkansans made their way to D.C. on Jan. 6 to thwart the peaceful transition of power. Among them were teachers, state police officers and Peter Stager of Conway, who was caught on camera beating a fallen police officer with an American flag on a pole.
Best Civil War cosplay
As rioters breached the Capitol doors on Jan. 6 and National Guard backups remained tied down in red tape, Rep. Bruce Westerman assumed the fetal position. After plucking a sword from a display of Civil War paraphernalia, Westerman made himself a hidey hole in the men’s room, reportedly crouching on a toilet seat to keep his feet hidden from the bloodthirsty mob.
Worst Foghorn Leghorn impression
Just days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers, made a scene when Capitol Police asked him to pass through a metal detector to get to the floor of the House. Womack told Capitol Police not to touch him and yelled, “You are creating a problem you do not understand the ramifications of.”
Worst way to go on the lam
After propping his feet on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk during the Jan. 6 insurrection, Richard “Bigo” Barnett of Gravette was swiftly identified by the FBI after memorializing the break-in with a photo on social media and multiple online video confessions. Barnett later showed reporters a piece of Pelosi’s mail he’d swiped, saying he’d left a quarter on her desk “because I’m not a thief.”
Worst legal argument
Barnett also left a note on Pelosi’s desk that reportedly said “Hey Nancy Bigo was here bitch.” But Joseph McBride, Barnett’s lawyer, said that the word Barnett actually used was “biatd.” “Instead of writing the accusatory ‘You bitch’ as the government falsely states, it only says ‘biatd’ and without the word ‘you,’ “ McBride wrote in a legal filing in April. “On information and belief, the ‘d’ was meant to be two letters, ‘c’ and ‘h’ with the ‘c’ connected to an ‘h’ to spell the word ‘biatch,’ which is a slang and less offensive word for ‘bitch.’ ”
Best meme (and best catfish)
When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attended the Biden inauguration in frumpy winter gear and with a surly posture suggesting he’d rather be anywhere else, the internet took note. Memes of Bernie in his signature brown mittens started popping up all over the country — in a New York subway, aboard the Millennium Falcon, at a bus stop next to Forrest Gump. The Sanders mitten meme tour even made it to Little Rock, where he stopped off at Lassis Inn.
Worst money for nothing
Former Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the governor’s brother, gambled that a $10,000 payment to a D.C. lobbyist might buy his son, disgraced former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a presidential pardon in the final hours of the Trump presidency. No dice. Jeremy Hutchinson’s guilty pleas for bribery and tax evasion stand.
Worst lost and found
West Memphis officials contacted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FBI, local law enforcement, the State Police and the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management after discovering an item that had been reported stolen. The 95-pound yellow plastic trunk contained a Troxler Electronic Laboratories Model 3411-B soil moisture and density gauge, infused with highly radioactive Cesium 137 and Americium 241.
Best partisan payday
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge hired former Arkansas Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb to supervise her office’s redistricting efforts to the tune of a $150,000 salary. His relevant job experience? In 2020, Webb earned a $20,000 commission for helping to fight off a bid to make redistricting nonpartisan. A bumper sticker once seen around Benton, Webb’s hometown, said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a Webb,” a reference to his reputation as an ambulance-chasing estate lawyer. Max Brantley, on the Arkansas Blog, offered a new tagline: “Where there’s a dole, there’s Doyle.”
Best architectural reveal
As part of its $142 million rebranding and renovation, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts — neé the Arkansas Arts Center — nodded to the building’s history by uncovering and spotlighting its original 1937 Art Deco facade.
Best drag queen
Woe to the producers of RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” who, after witnessing Symone’s blinding brilliance, had to put on a poker face that’d make Lady Gaga proud and manufacture an element of suspense for the TV viewers at home — despite the Arkansas native’s early and steady status as a favorite for the crown. And win she did. Symone the Ebony Enchantress, born Reggie Gavin and raised in Conway, got her start hosting drag shows at Sway and Discovery here in Little Rock (christened #glitterrock), and as a member of the gay street gang/party collective House of Avalon, developed a drag persona that veered nimbly between comedy and conviction and pop culture and utter grace. Symone’s since been a face for Vogue and Savage Fenty X and Skyy Vodka, graced the covers of Interview and Paper and Out magazines, walked the red carpet at the Met Gala, moderated a panel for Madonna’s “Madame X” documentary series, and generally become the toast of the forward-thinking fashion world. Cheers!
Snowpocalypse brought 20 inches of snow to Central Arkansas in February, providing job security for plumbers and some prime sledding runs for the rest of us. But that weeklong white-out wasn’t as fun as it should have been. Snow days, it seems, are a thing of the past. Preparations that schools made for pandemic-related shutdowns weighed many students down with enough online assignments to keep them busy for the duration.
A pipe at the Museum of Discovery that froze and burst during the winter storm caused extensive flooding damage to galleries, theaters and offices and led to the death of a blue-tongued skink. The $7 million in damages shuttered the museum to visitors for six months.
Worst looking a gift horse in the mouth
Following the mailout of economic stimulus payments from the U.S. Treasury, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office fielded several dozen calls from citizens concerned they might be victims of a scam. After looking into it, Rutledge’s office determined the payments were legit and advised Arkansans not to toss those $1,200 debit cards.
Worst cancel culture
Only women can be shamed for abortion, according to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, the breakout villain of 2021. Columnist Debra Hale-Shelton was fired for pondering in prose whether there are other Trump progeny or aborted pregnancies out there that we don’t know about. “Vile and vulgar,” Hussman declared of Hale-Shelton’s musings on the pussy-grabber-in-chief, whom his paper had endorsed in 2016.
Best new word of 2021
Stonks. More specifically, Gamestonks. Remember those? January was a confusing and exhilarating time for amateur finance bros to buy stocks of seemingly declining companies like GameStop, BlackBerry and AMC and drive up their value. Part of the appeal for the bros was to stick it to hedge funds and other institutional investors who had taken short positions in them, investing in a way that they would profit if the stocks’ value declined. Kevin Kelley, the celebrated former Pulaski Academy football coach, was among the stonkers. “If you just say, ‘Hey, let’s go buy this stock,’ nobody’s going to do it,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “But if you say, ‘Hey, let’s go screw the hedge funds,’ a lot of people think that’s a fun idea.” But on Jan. 28, Robinhood, E-Trade and other online stock brokers halted trading on the stonks. That led Kelley and his son to file a class-action lawsuit against the companies. Kelley said he was teaching his son, newly graduated from college and about to be married, the ins and outs of stock trading.
Best cat lady
Representatives for the estate of Neva Nell McCormick celebrated in February a $1 million donation to the Animal Care and Adoption Center of Texarkana. The wife of a local chiropractor, McCormick died in 2020 at age 91. She left her entire estate to animal-related charities, but only the gift to the Texarkana animal shelter was made public. During her life, McCormick cared for as many as 40 cats at a time and even bought them their own house, the Texarkana Gazette reported.
In late February, pork fat that dripped on coals in a pit behind the Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Mariana caused a fire that severely damaged the legendary Marianna restaurant. In business and owned by the same family since the 1910s, Jones is considered one of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in the country. The James Beard Foundation named it an American Classic in 2012.
Best rising from the ashes
Following the fire, online fundraisers generated $87,000 for Jones, and Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice chipped in a $25,000 emergency grant. James Harold Jones, 76, owner and pitmaster, repaired the diner, installed a new metal building and reopened in May.
Best ‘get out of jail free card’ for white people
Despite outcry from across the political spectrum, Arkansas lawmakers passed a “stand your ground” law that allows anyone to kill if he or she feels threatened, even if they could have simply walked away instead. Similar laws led to an increase in homicides in other states, and people of color are significantly more likely to be murdered by people using “stand your ground” laws as a defense.
Best later-in-life rebellion
Jim Hendren, the governor’s nephew and member of Arkansas Republican royalty, disowned his birthright and announced he was becoming an independent. Sure, it might be the end of his political career, but it sure is fun to watch.
Worst covering his tracks
Police arrested Artez Wright, 31, after following his footprints in the snow away from a cellular repair store that had been broken into. Wright was charged with felony possession of ecstasy along with commercial burglary. He was treated for hypothermia at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock before being transferred to Pulaski County Jail.
Best raptor redux
A barred owl survived an early February morning collision with an 18-wheeler on Frazier Pike. Little Rock Police transported the owl to the Little Rock Zoo, which in turn shipped the bird to Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas in El Paso. Rodney Paul, director of the rehab facility, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that 95% of the birds that come to his facility have been struck by vehicles. The owl was eventually released to the wild.
Best thanks for nothing
Sen. Tom Cotton, who supposedly represents Arkansas, sponsored legislation with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) that would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. Arkansas’s existing minimum wage is $11.
Worst bang for buck
The city of Little Rock paid some $13,600 to produce a virtual broadcast of Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s State of the City address in March. The 46-minute video was an advertisement of sorts for Scott and his vision of Little Rock and the initial pitch for a sales tax increase that voters would soundly reject in September. The first half of the presentation was a political convention-style production, with schoolchildren reciting the pledge of allegiance and local musicians performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a rooftop somewhere in Little Rock. As of November, the event had been streamed on YouTube fewer than 900 times.
Best pastry as protest
Mark April 8 as the day the donuts went up on Kavanaugh and the curvy girls had their say. The sweet little protest came in response to fat-shaming and anti-vax social media posts by Tulips dress shop owner Emily Hay Brown. “It was just a bash on body images and I think women bash themselves enough,” organizer Sharon Boehm-Hussman said. So she brought donuts and donut-themed accessories, situated herself across from Brown’s dress shop and threw a delicious party.
Worst debtors’ prisons
Failure to pay rent in Arkansas remains a crime that can land you in jail, further ensuring your inability to pay rent. Lawmakers declined to support efforts by state Rep. Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) to revoke an antiquated law that lets landlords file criminal charges and jail time for tenants who fall even one day behind on rent and don’t vacate within 10 days. The legislature’s failure to act means Arkansas remains the only state in the country where late rent payments can put you behind bars.
After a lot of lean years, University of Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman appears to have the Hogs pointed in the right direction. In his second year, he led the team to a 25-7 record and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8 since 1995, where the Hogs lost to Baylor, the eventual champs.
Best ‘It wasn’t me’ defense
A hearing for a man charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm briefly went off the rails when investigators revealed that the defendant, Tommy Windell Wright, and his identical twin brother, Tony Windell Wright, both had criminal records and had for years used each other’s names. Tommy Wright’s lawyer claimed the arrest was a case of mistaken identity, but he was ultimately convicted.
Worst shooting scene
Marlon Marbley, 21, was charged in the March 7 shooting death of a 32-year-old woman outside a North Little Rock Chuck E. Cheese where Marbley’s 2-year-old son was having his birthday party.
Worst assault on civic participation
An Arkansas dad speaking up for the rights of transgender children got handcuffed and marched out of a legislative committee hearing after talking beyond his allotted 2 minutes. Countless others committed the same crime before him, had their mics cut and that was that. But Chris Attig’s heartfelt advocacy for vulnerable children cast legislators in quite a bad light, and committee Chair Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Jonesboro) retaliated with force. Attig was booked at the county facility, charged with disorderly conduct.
Worst day in the park
An argument between two men in Little Rock’s Boyle Park in March led to gunfire and 10-year-old Ja’Aliyah Hughes was killed in the crossfire. “She will be missed with her infamous TikToks, sister dance-offs and laughter,” read part of her obituary. “Her joy knew no boundaries and she will forever be cherished.” Eric Hall, 17, of Little Rock and Ladarius Burnette, 18, of North Little Rock were arrested, each charged with capital murder in Ja’Aliyah’s death.
Worst public servant
A Bentonville fire captain attacked an Asian man outside Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs on March 13. Bentonville Fire Department Capt. Benjamin Snodgrass, 44, approached Liem Nguyen and reportedly asked if he knew he was in America and began pushing him. The two men ended up on the ground and when officers arrived on the scene they found Nguyen with a ripped shirt and a red mark under his left eye. Snodgrass had previously called 911 and told the dispatcher, “They’re probably fucking pumping gases like no one’s business.” His attorney later argued that he was drugged, but Snodgrass, who resigned from the fire department, was ultimately found guilty of battery and public intoxication and forced to spend two months in jail.
Pushing through unconstitutional laws to hurt children and help no one, all while pretending to be good church-going folk, was a favorite pastime of the Arkansas Legislature in 2021. Rep. Jim Wooten (R-Beebe) displayed satanic levels of hatred in his heart by shrugging off reports that lawmakers’ cruel attacks on transgender adolescents was driving some of them toward suicide. It’s their own sin that’s the problem, Wooten said of the suffering children. “Don’t make me feel guilty because you made a choice to follow a different path. …. Don’t put a guilt trip on me.”
Best glimpse into the future
Prepare to welcome our new furry overlords. Having driven transgender Arkansas youths to suicidal ideation, Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) turned her attention to her next target: students identifying as animals. “When we have students in school now that don’t identify as a boy or a girl but as a cat, as a furry, we have issues,” Bentley warned.
Daniel Joseph Harvey, wanted on a battery charge for trying to stab a Madison County sheriff’s deputy and throwing a Molotov cocktail at him, took the same deputy on a chase through downtown Huntsville in April, throwing more Molotov cocktails at him and threatening him with knives, according to police. The chase included a deputy using a stun gun on Harvey to no effect, Harvey side-swiping a police vehicle and Harvey stopping outside Granny’s Kitchen in downtown Huntsville and attempting to light a Molotov cocktail. It ended with Harvey stopping outside his home and trying to stab his machete into the ground. He was arrested without force and charged with multiple crimes, including attempted murder.
Best Onion cameos
The hits kept coming for Arkansas in April, when The Onion turned its sights on us multiple times (we absolutely deserved it). Rep. French Hill’s voracious dependence on NRA blood money even as the bodies keep hitting the ground earned a headline. So did state senators’ bizarre and monstrous obsession with passing new laws aimed at ruining the lives of vulnerable transgender youths. Haha?
Arkansas’s premature lifting of mask mandates in restaurants was cause for celebration at the Fort Smith Brewing Company, where owners invited patrons to come burn masks even as COVID-19 continued to rage.
Passing laws to ensure rental properties won’t kill people proved too difficult in Arkansas where, conveniently enough, the legislature counts loads of landlords in its ranks. Despite pleas from public health experts, firemen and a mother whose son died because his rented apartment lacked a simple carbon monoxide detector, legislators resisted the push to change Arkansas’s status as the only state without a minimum habitability law. Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs), a landlord herself (of course), blamed renters who found themselves besieged by vermin. “I hate roaches,” she said, but “they only come when they’re invited.” Lawmakers eventually settled on a compromise version that fails to even require smoke alarms.
Worst Santa impersonation
Elliot Stewart, 36, was arrested in a fatal stabbing in Forrest City. Police say Stewart fled from the crime scene and hid in the chimney of a nearby house. He was arrested there after the owner of the home called police to report a stranger stuck in the flue.
Former House Speaker Davy Carter posted a video on Twitter of Circuit Judge Brad Karren of Bentonville throwing down his cane as if to advance on Carter in a heated discussion that ensued after Karren found Carter’s son’s truck parked in his parking space near the Benton County Courthouse. A sign on the entrance to the lot reads “Benton County employee parking only, 7 am to 5 pm,” but another sign in front of the spot where Carter’s son parked said “reserved parking 24/7.” “I walked out and saw a very angry man with a gun on his hip and a cane berating my son and wife because my son parked in ‘his’ parking spot,” Carter tweeted. “It was beyond berating, and, like any dad or husband, immediately caught my attention.”
Worst crooks in the books, worst hacks in the stacks
In May, the Arkansas State Library sent out a bulletin to libraries across the state, advising them to be vigilant over their holdings of six Dr. Seuss books that were recently removed from publication by the author’s estate because of racist images, because now that the books are no longer being published they’re more valuable and may be targets of theft.
Best itinerary change
California state government wants nothing to do with Arkansas, and has banned employees from coming here on official business. The ban came in response to the 2021 wave of cruel new state laws targeting transgender youth.
When a serial slasher terrorized midtown Little Rock, North Little Rock’s mysterious hero ShadowVision pledged his aid. A quiet presence in Dogtown for nearly a decade, ShadowVision vowed to bring his crime-stopping prowess over the river. It was a big commitment, considering he lacked the super spiderwebs, sporty cars and invisible jets his cohorts use for transportation, and had to schlepp on foot.
Best 50 Cent special
Rapper 50 Cent posted up at Little Rock’s Warehouse Liquor on a Thursday in May to promote his Branson cognac brand and meet the fans. He was in town for a show that night at the Empire club.
A contractor discovered a crack in the Interstate 40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge between West Memphis and Memphis that officials determined could lead to the collapse of the 3.3-mile span. The bridge was closed for 81 days to allow for repairs. The Arkansas Department of Transportation initially pinned the blame for missing the crack on one bridge inspector, but a federal assessment released in November suggested broader departmental failings. The department also admitted that the crack had been visible at least since 2016. The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network published a photo that seemed to show the crack in 2014.
An anonymous group of artistic activists calling themselves INDECLINE commandeered a billboard at the Roosevelt Road exit along Interstate 30, altering a self-care suggestion from a Christian group and replacing it with their own. “Stressed Out? iblp.com,” was the original message, directing people to an evangelical website espousing conservative dress, homeschooling and large families. Stealth artists painted over the url with the word “MASTURBATE.”
Best way to alienate your customers
The River Market nightspot Cannibal & Craft posted a new dress code that banned as “unacceptable attire” such things as baggy jeans, gold chains, backward hats and gang/club-affiliated colors. The new rules were so poorly received that other Cannibal & Craft locations distanced themselves on social media, and the Little Rock nightclub quickly backed down.
Arkansas supervillain Walter Hussman reared his trademark pinhead again, using his status as a major donor to dissuade the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from hiring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones to a tenured professorship. After months of negotiations Jones finally walked, taking her superstardom to Howard University, where her fundraising cachet quickly matched the $25 million Hussman used to buy influence at UNC.
Worst caveat emptor
If Tractor Supply is your pharmacy of choice, please rethink it. The ag store took to posting signs online and in the aisles asking customers to stop using the veterinary dewormer Ivermectin as a prophylactic for COVID-19. While Ivermectin formulated for human use is sometimes used to combat head lice, scabies and other parasites, taking the medicine as it’s formulated for livestock can cause severe injury or death, all while doing nothing to stave off coronavirus. The warnings didn’t take, and calls to poison control about Ivermectin overdoses surged in 2021.
Worst thanks for nothing, Asa
Governor Hutchinson ended the state’s participation in the $300 weekly supplemental federal unemployment benefits for 70,000 Arkansans two months early. Hutchinson, like a number of other Republican governors, said the extra money was keeping people from seeking work.
Worst traffic stop
Lonoke County Deputy Michael Davis shot and killed 17-year-old Hunter Brittain in June during a traffic stop. Brittain was walking toward Davis with something in his hand. It turned out to be a container of antifreeze to block a wheel so his vehicle wouldn’t roll. He and a friend were test-driving it after a transmission problem. Davis, who did not have his bodycam on as he shot Brittain in the arm and neck, lost his job and faces a charge of manslaughter.
Six and a half years after the state took control of the Little Rock School District, the Arkansas State Board of Education voted to return full authority of the district to the locally elected Little Rock School District Board. Though the practical effects of the transfer were negligible, symbolically the move surely helped to garner support from voters for a millage extension in November.
Worst cruel and unusual punishment
Inmates in the Washington County jail who fell ill with COVID-19 were offered only livestock dewormer for treatment. While it’s widely embraced by conspiracy theorists as a pandemic miracle cure, there is no scientific proof that Ivermectin is helpful at all in combating coronavirus infection.
Best bank statement surprise
Parents got a welcome surprise when direct deposits for child tax credits started hitting their accounts. Biden’s historic tax relief for families is credited with keeping millions of American children out of poverty.
Best courthouse celebration
We still get chilly bumps thinking about the day the good guys won at the federal courthouse in Little Rock. Advocates successfully pushed back on a new state law prohibiting transgender youths from accessing gender-affirming medical care, and won a stay, meaning the law is stalled out, at least for now. A gleeful and glamorous pack of transgender youths, their loving families, supporters and their clever legal team gathered out front afterward for the most life-affirming group photo of the year.
Worst spoiled Phish
Arkansas got a rare sighting of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in July when she showed up, maskless of course, to a Phish concert at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers.
Worst death wish
Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) told KNWA, Fox Channel 24, he would support a mask mandate only when 30% of Arkansans diagnosed with COVID-19 were dying. At the time, the in-state death count was 6,000, far fewer than the 120,000 deaths it would have taken to reach Garner’s threshold to do even the bare minimum.
Best you had it coming
Fence straddler extraordinaire Governor Hutchinson could never seem to land his messaging about COVID-19. Telling constituents to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and get vaccinated, while at the same time paying lip service to the Republican talking point that government entities (like the CDC) are not to be trusted, left people across the political spectrum alienated and irritated. A crowd in Siloam Springs showed up for Hutchinson’s traveling town hall to heckle and call him a liar for claiming vaccines could reduce hospitalizations and save lives.
Best self own
East End School District leaders ripped out a yearbook spread that included accurate information about George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, the establishment of Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., and the police shootings of Jacob Blake, Daunte Wright and Breonna Taylor. The Bigelow High yearbook adviser quit her job over the censorship, and the national Student Press Law Center put the school on blast. “Arkansas news sites, NPR and the Associated Press all covered the censorship, often featuring a copy of the torn out pages,” the Student Press Law Center said on its website. “That means far more people have seen the yearbook spread than would have if school officials had never intervened.”
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox pulled the plug on an audio feed of a hearing on the state law banning mask requirements in schools after someone who signed on to listen displayed an animated GIF of a man masturbating as his Zoom profile image. When court officials logged on to try to hide the offending GIF, the first thing one of them said was, “How do we get him off?”
Best ball hogs
A week after a new rule took effect allowing college athletes to accept sponsorships, Wright’s BBQ in Fayetteville started signing on UA student athletes on the football and women’s basketball teams. What exactly those sponsorships entail remains a mystery, but we suspect athletes lucky enough to sign on with Wright’s aren’t missing any meals.
Worst unarmed but still dangerous
Brian Dale Reams was arrested on charges of harassment following reports from multiple women in Conway that he’d followed them around stores and asked to touch their feet. The fact that Reams has no arms made the crimes even weirder, but it also narrowed down the suspect list.
Worst moment we knew we were screwed
A Fort Smith-area nurse, undergoing cancer treatment, told the Wall Street Journal she would not get the coronavirus vaccine, even after her unvaccinated father and stepmother died of the disease.
Best business opportunity
“I’m a hustler, I’m a legit entrepreneur, I sell things.” So said Little Rock businessman Richard Johnson on a PSA from the Arkansas Department of Health encouraging people to get COVID-19 vaccines. “If you live the type of lifestyle I live, you’re out here in the streets, you’re hustling, you’re an entrepreneur like me, why not do it safely?” Johnson asked. The internet erupted with Tyrone Biggums-themed jokes about what exactly it was that Johnson sells. But the joke was on them, because Johnson capitalized on his 5 minutes of fame to elevate his clothing line, Borgata, and launch a new endeavor with isellthings.com.
Best Kool-Aid Man impression
A sweaty and disheveled Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) burst into the Old Supreme Court room to accuse lawmakers there of meeting in secret. Education Chair Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) ended the official meeting after only a minute or two, and the video live feed was cut then. But a number of legislators stayed on to hear from constituents who had traveled to the Capitol to weigh in on masks in schools. It was a kindness Garner could not abide.
Worst reward for candor
Joey King, president of Lyon College, resigned in August following a community furor over comments he made in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about white supremacists in Arkansas and a Donald Trump rally. King insisted he was misquoted about the rally. He said he imposed a lockdown for the small number of students still on campus last year because of Trump rallies promised in other places in Arkansas, rather than a rally in Batesville itself. But he didn’t disavow saying that the college’s home of Batesville, while a good community, was surrounded by an “angry, disenfranchised” population with “a large white-supremacist population.”
Best possum nap
We all pretty much checked out from March 2020 until this summer, and so did a possum who made himself cozy in the rafters of the White Water Tavern during the popular music venue’s coronavirus-imposed hiatus. The possum made a memorable reentry on Aug. 27, when he dropped from the ceiling and onto a table just before a Dylan Earl/Willi Carlisle concert.
During an August special legislative session, a number of lawmakers spoke against requiring children to wear masks in schools. Their concerns included the debunked claim that masks restrict oxygen to the brain while poisoning children with carbon dioxide, and the marginally accurate claim that said masks sometimes have poop on them. (Newsflash: Everything kids touch might/probably does have poop on it. Go wash your hands. Right now.)
Worst waste of time
Calling Arkansas lawmakers back for an extraordinary session proved to be a total bust. Worried about spiking COVID-19 numbers just as the academic year was about to begin, the governor had hoped lawmakers would walk back a ban on mask mandates in schools. What a sucker! Instead, legislators treated doctors and other experts like dirt during the session, and doubled down on their debunked, QAnon-inspired arguments that mask mandates in schools equal child abuse.
Worst wig out
White men in Afro wigs aren’t funny. Just ask Nick Genty, a news director at KATV who lost his job after on-air personalities Chris May and Barry Brandt donned Black Afro wigs to celebrate a return to temperatures in the 70s.
Best last night on the town
On the evening of June 25, Connie Hamzy — better known as “Sweet Sweet Connie” of Grand Funk Railroad lyric fame — paid a visit to the Old State House Museum for the opening of “Play It Loud: Concerts at Barton Coliseum.” She posed for photos next to a framed 45 of “We’re an American Band,” the song that cemented her nickname and groupie status for rock fans everywhere. She drank chardonnay on ice and sported a mint-condition Highwaymen T-shirt. The house band got word she was in attendance and launched into a rendition of the Grand Funk tune as she swayed appreciatively in her lawnchair. It would be one of her last shindigs; Hamzy died Aug. 21 at age 66 after a brief illness.
Worst wild goose chase
Nearly 20 years after birders from across the country descended on Cotton Plant and Brinkley to investigate reported sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called off the search. These large and regal creatures, once common in hardwood bottomland until hunters and loggers decimated their habitat, hadn’t been spotted in the U.S. since 1944 until an ornithologist thought he spied one while kayaking in eastern Arkansas in 2004. Nobody was ever able to secure proof, though. Now, the scarlet-crested, prehistoric-looking creature so striking it was nicknamed the Lord God Bird is headed for the extinction list.
Best lunch date
The rumors were true. With zero fanfare but mountains of goodwill, singer Lizzo did indeed send lunch to nurses and housekeeping staff at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to thank them for their work through the pandemic.
Governor Hutchinson offered a genuine welcome to refugees after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan. Nearly 100 Afghans whose connections to the American effort put them in danger are now safely living in Arkansas.
Best city board diss track
In the course of complaining about the majority of his colleagues on the Little Rock Board of Directors voting for an ordinance aimed at removing Mayor Frank Scott Jr. from the board’s redistricting process, At-Large Director Antwan Phillips referenced pugnacious ’90s-era NBA basketball player Anthony Mason and an famous internet clip of Allen Iverson talking about practice and paraphrased a Jay-Z lyric: “What I’m about to see may not be politically correct and it may offend my political connects.”
Best seeing double
The North Little Rock School District’s Seventh Street Elementary School has nine sets of identical twins enrolled this year.
Best delayed justice
Rolf Kaestel, 70, imprisoned for 40 years for robbing a Fort Smith taco stand for $264 with a toy gun, was finally released from prison. The Arkansas Parole Board had recommended clemency for Kaestel three times. Governor Hutchinson, who once refused it, commuted Kaestel’s sentence on the last try. Kaestel appeared in Arkansas filmmaker Kelly Duda’s 2005 documentary “Factor 8” about an Arkansas prison blood bank scandal. Soon after appearing on camera, state prison officials transferred Kaestel to Utah, where he was imprisoned since.
Best streak ended
The University of Arkansas football team defeated the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff 45-3 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Oct. 23. It was the Razorbacks’ first in-state matchup in 77 years. The ban on in-state competition was instituted in the mid-1940s under Athletic Director John Barnhill. The Razorbacks also announced a game against Arkansas State University at War Memorial in 2025.
Worst wig out, part 2
At-Large Little Rock City Director Joan Adcock was attacked outside the Wright Avenue Alert Center. A drunk woman tried to grab a food container from Adcock’s hand, then tried to grab Adcock’s hair, saying, “Give me that wig. I want it.”
An anonymous donor blew KUAR/KLRE’s $150,000 fall fundraising goal out of the water with a gift of $1.5 million. This boon to the public radio stations at the University of Arkansas Little Rock is the largest donation it’s ever received.
Best defense of Little Debbie’s virtue
Sheriff’s deputies in Johnson County took great offense during a traffic stop when they found 100 grams of methamphetamine stashed inside a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies box. A man and woman from Oklahoma were arrested, and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office took to social media to warn others against committing the same offense. “As cops, we can’t begin to tell you how much that upset us!” they said on Facebook. “Snack food is our life.”
Best third time’s a charm
Voters approved a Little Rock School District millage extension that will generate an estimated $300 million, which will go toward building a new K-8 school in the former site of McClellan High School, a new West Little Rock high school and other projects. Voters had previously turned down two other millage proposals, but those came while the district was still under state control.
Best halftime show
The Razorbacks scored the most points but The Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South owned the field. The game may have been historic, but all anyone will remember from that game between Arkansas and UAPB is having their faces blown off at halftime by the 240-piece marching band known as M4, which accompanies Pine Bluff’s Division 1 (Football Championship Subdivision) Golden Lions.
Worst keyboard warriors
On the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 7, word circulated that Cody Jinks would take a detour from his big-venue tour to play a solo acoustic pop-up show at the White Water Tavern, donating all proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House. Not to be swayed by the fact that Jinks was fundraising for a good cause, hundreds of Jinks’ anti-vax fans responded to the surprise announcement on Facebook with vitriol over the venue’s vaccination card requirements for admission, urging Jinks to “Help us take freedom back” and “Don’t be Isbell for the love of God!” Also: “Travis Tritt isn’t allowing that BS and I agree. Welcome to communism.”
Best honky tonk swan song
Nov. 13 was the night the lights went out at Jimmy Doyle’s Country Club, ending a half-century of fiddle bravado, pedal steel and cigarette smoke. The hulking honky tonk that sat just off Interstate 40 in North Little Rock with the words “LIVE COUNTRY & WESTERN MUSIC” painted on its brick exterior, closed with a final hootenanny from the house musicians in the Arkansas River Bottom Band — Michael Heavner, Bruce Hearon, Joseph Logue, Ritchie Varnell and Freddie Martin. As for the prospects of Jimmy Doyle Brewer’s second act, don’t expect him to ride off into the sunset just yet. “This isn’t the end of something,” a post on the Club’s Facebook page said. “This is a new beginning for The Doyle’s, to continue their work in all things country music in Arkansas! Just watch and see.”
Worst on the nose
Bradley Rowland, a former Henderson State University chemistry professor, who pleaded guilty in November to charges related to manufacturing methamphetamine in a school laboratory, praised the television show “Breaking Bad,” about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook, in a 2014 interview with the school newspaper. “I thought it was a great show,” Rowland said. “It was spot-on and accurate when it came to the science, and it has gotten a younger, newer generation interested in chemistry. I feel like it was a wonderful recruiting tool.”
Worst money for nothing II
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced in November that the state was suing a Virginia-based medical supply company that UAMS and the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration in 2020 paid $10.9 million for gowns, face shields and ventilators they never received. While it’s not usual practice for UAMS to pay for goods before receiving them, normal practices went out the window during the early days of the pandemic, as hospitals and health care providers scrambled for scarce supplies and manufacturers and distributors held all the cards, and it became common to have to pay upfront. The money was supposed to be held in escrow, but the escrow agents didn’t return it when the good weren’t delivered. The state sued them, too.
Worst plague that never ends
Remember this time last year when we were planning a coronavirus-free 2021? That hope appeared to be coming true in the early spring, with vaccines widely available and new case and hospitalization numbers dropping. But then the much more contagious delta variant came along and wreaked all kinds of havoc in the summer, at one point nearly filling all the ICU beds in the state. A fall drop in hospitalizations and vaccine authorization for young kids again provided hope, but at press time, the numbers were again headed in a worrisome direction.