Jet lag is a motherfucker, and in my dreams, I could still hear the undulations of the Grand Canal against the stone walls of my Venetian hotel.
“You live a charmed life. No real job, travel the globe on Mom and Pop’s dime,” Johnny Stompanato said when I staggered into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. “He does, this bright boy.”
“Just don’t ask him about his girlfriend,” said my father, sitting across the table from Johnny Stomp, both in nearly matching Hawaiian shirts.
“You lose another one?” Johnny said.
“She went on to Paris without me,” I said, pouring weak-ass Folger’s into an SHSU mug, “I haven’t heard from her since.”
“Charm and good looks will only get you so far, Bobby,” my mother said.
“What are you two up to this morning?” I asked Johnny and my father.
“I’m going to put up Andy Brauninger signs in Ward 1,” Dad said.
“And I’m coming right behind him taking them down,” Johnny said.
“That’s not nice,” my mother said.
I laughed at the sidelong glance Johnny Stomp gave my mother, the Rachel Willeford supporter who accused Brauninger—a man she’s never met—of being the George Russell Manchurian in the race to fill James Fitch’s unexpired council term. But Willeford, after a three-week dodge of the voters of HTX, finally announced she was dropping out to follow her financial advisor husband to Georgia.
From Italy, we followed the theories and rumors about Willeford’s withdrawal on Facebook. I had my own: She’s not dropping out, she’s getting a divorce.
“That’s not nice,” my mother said.
“It’s not nice that she refuses to tell the voters what her plans are,” said my girlfriend, Carissa, who had come with us on our tour of Italy. “It’s not very nice to Andy Brauninger, either. Does he keep campaigning, keep putting up signs, keep printing up mail-outs?”
He would have to do that anyway, I said. It’s too late to take Rachel’s name off the ballot. She could still win, but since she can’t exactly vote “yea” when Don Johnson tells her to from Georgia, the seat would be vacant another year, long enough for Sally Nelson and Maria Thodos, aka McIver, to find another nicely coiffed straw dog.
“Bob! Now I just won’t have that kind of talk,” said my mother as we sipped espresso at a sidewalk café. “No one in Huntsville is devious enough to pull something like that. You’ll see. Rachel will let everyone know she’s leaving as soon as it’s convenient.”
Mom was right. Finally, after her husband announced at a meeting full of Establishment wags that he had been transferred out of state, Rachel came clean in the Huntsville Item and justified her tardiness by explaining that her husband’s clients had to be notified first.
“What are we, chopped liver?” my father said. “I understand wanting his clients to know, but couldn’t we all get the news at the same time?”
“Rachel thinks council is just another Huntsville civic club she’s been invited to join. It’s not business,” Carissa said. “Business comes first and thirty-thousand taxpaying citizens can jolly well take a number.”
“That’s not very nice,” my mother said, and I tensed at the white-hot lasers that flashed from Carissa’s eyes. My girlfriend was about to fuck my mother up in a country where I didn’t want to go to jail (Amanda Knox), so I stood up and held out my hand to her. “Hey, honey, let’s go shoe shopping!”
Now, here in late October, even my mother was going to vote for Andy Brauninger. The thought that Fitch’s council seat would stay empty another year if Rachel “won” was more objectionable to her than risking a vote on an independent thinker or, worse, a naysayer water boy.
“That’s nice, dear,” my father said. “I admire your civic spirit.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“Boooolshit,” Johnny Stomp said. “There’s no such thing as an ‘independent thinker’ in this town. You’re either run by those drunk, oobatz liberals like that fanuk kid with the suspenders—what’s his fucking name?— or you want what’s best for this community. Don Johnson says we can’t count on Brauninger to play for our team, so that means he’s wearing the crazy town jersey. End of discussion.”
“Boooolshit,” I said. “Brauninger is the perfect candidate for council. He’s Clyde Loll with time and ethics, and he’s not afraid of the Johnson cartel—they can’t do shit to him, he’s retired. He’s never even met George Russell, and I doubt the Big Mashugana’s famous terror tactics would make him blink, either.”
“Fuck what you know, bright boy,” Johnny said. “These days, the tea party and the Liberty Caucus vet and run these fuckers for office after making them sign a pledge they won’t raise taxes, no way no how. That’s how they lined up Ronnie Allen, Ronnie White, Fitch, Scudder and now Brauninger and Joey Rod.”
“This does not compute,” my father said. “How can Kendall Scudder be a flaming liberal and a card-carrying member of the tea party at the same time? How can you sit here one day calling Obama a red-winged devil and then today tell me Huntsville’s libertarians and tea party conservatives are the spawns of Satan?”
“Because Johnson & Co. said so,” Johnny said. “If we can’t raise your taxes, we can’t stock our government slush funds, which means we can’t develop the west side or build things for Sam Houston State, and that means a lot of Huntsville’s richest and sneakiest shysters can’t earn. These homegrown anti-tax terrorists got to get with the program. Fine, screw with Washington, but around here you better shut the fuck up and do what you’re told.”
“Nice,” I said. “Why don’t you link up with our liberals? They might fall for your tax and spend crap.”
“Working on it, kid,” Johnny said. “They lap up our civility shit like warm milk spiked with cheap bourbon, and then they fill up their Facebook pages with whatever we tell them to.” Johnny Stomp chuckled like Tony Soprano counting vig. “Beautiful. Too bad there ain’t more of them.”
“Can’t you see you’re committing political suicide?”
My dad smacked his forehead. “Bob, shhhh!”
“More and more folks are starting to see through your scams, people who want low taxes and real economic development that brings in jobs,” I said. “That’s a bipartisan fantasy based on accountability and responsibility—not some shady opportunism that has to be window-dressed with smiley bullshit out front and pushed through with threats and intimidation behind the scenes.”
“We can make all youse sound like raving lunatics any time we want,” Johnny said. “Ask the Best Council Ever. Ask Kendall Scudder.”
“You better not count those Ward 2 chicks before they’re hatched,” my father said. “Not everybody’s fooled by Tish’s sloppy Bearkat rah-rah and all her experience from under Gene Pipes.”
I choked on my coffee and my mother slapped me hard between the shoulder blades.
“They know who Tish works for. They know she’s got to fill that seat for Johnson & Co.,” Dad said. “That means raising taxes for special interests.”
“You fucking liberals,” Johnny said. “Always crying about special interests.”
“Since when is small local government ‘liberal’? Since when is zero-based budgeting ‘liberal’?” I said. “You know what’s not ‘conservative’? A ten and a half percent tax increase and a one million dollar budget deficit. What about trying to get a two million dollar tax-funded water line to your property under the guise of a university research park?”
“I wondered about that, too,” my mother said tentatively.
That from Mom was the last straw for Johnny Stomp. “Well, fuck all youse anyhow. As Don Johnson’s sitting at the head of the table, I’m gonna eat, and your limp-wristed mayor and your true blood minority ain’t gonna change that. Now excuse me while I get the fugatz.”
Mom got between Stomp and the kitchen door. “You’re not really going out there to pull up Andy Brauninger signs, are you?”
“Naw, little lady, I’m gonna go vote for Rachel Willeford so I can cancel at least one of youse out,” he said and patted her cheek. “Now, ain’t that nice?”