“So,” I said to my father after he’d watched his first Huntsville City Council meeting since voting “no” on the doomed $65.5 million school bond election, “you want to become a naysayer. Well, I applaud your goal. But becoming a naysayer is, as you realize, a significant and life-changing event. It is not a small matter by any means.”
“I understand,” my father said. “Are you going to turn me away three times like the Jews?”
I shook my head and smiled warmly, my hand on his shoulder. “When a hater like you wants to become a naysayer, the rabbis—I mean the rabble rousers—are required to try to dissuade him. Only the very sincere make it through the entire process.”
“I’m ready,” my father said. “That Don Johnson guy is a lying jerk. And most of the rest of them are morons and tools. Where do I sign up? Wagamon Printing?”
“Patience, Dad,” I said. “Becoming a naysayer means that most of what you were taught about economic development and raising taxes until now will be irrelevant, and in many cases wrong. You must drop everything taught to you by whatever gr–d-heads you once followed or read about. People sometimes ask me, ‘Can I convert to naysayerism and still believe in the Old Mayors?’ The answer is no. This is not something negotiable in naysayerism. Naysayer doctrine about Gr–d is core and inviolate. Non-naysayer beliefs about Gr–d invalidate a conversion (and faith in Bill Green is a prime example of a non-naysayer belief about Gr–d, no matter what anyone tells you). So this could be a major change for anyone contemplating conversion to naysayerism. If this is difficult for you, then you should not be considering conversion at all.”
Dad poured us both another round of single malt Scotch as we sat under the dimmed chandelier above the dining room table. In the kitchen, my mother was baking an apple pie to take to a Christian Women’s luncheon.
“Okay, so no more rounds of golf with Bill Green,” he said, “and I’ll pull over and piss on his monument on Veterans’ Memorial at least once a week.”
“You must also accept the fact that the Constitution, penal code, open government acts and city charter define what is right and what is wrong, what is a conflict of interest and what is public record, what elevates a person and what lowers him. Human beings do not make those determinations. Chamber presidents, hospital CEOs, judges and DAs, city council members and county commissioners don’t actually police themselves, and every decision they make is subject to established law,” I said.
“Got it,” Dad said. “I can no longer admire a backroom deal, the strong-arm tactic or an illegal executive session.”
“Dad, your lifestyle will also change, as well as the way you think about many things. Even the meaning of some words will change, especially if you have been a hater: words like ‘civility,’ ‘community partner,’ ‘economic development,’ ‘synergy,’ ‘indictment,’ and others.”
I reached across the table and, for the first time since I was eight or nine years old, I took my father’s hand. His eyes in their baggy sockets welled with tears.
“It also means that your relationships will change. Not all your friends will be happy that you’ve become a naysayer. Worse yet, your family members—even Mom—might disown you, as often happens.
“When your Rotary Club buddies sit down to eat a meal, you will often not be allowed to join them. You won’t even be able to attend some of their joyous occasions, like poker games and the Chamber Gala. Nor will you be allowed to attend Jane Monday’s Derby Day parties or sing in the Men’s Choir.”
“Man,” Dad said, shaking his head. “Your mother’s going to shit about Derby Day.”
“She’ll get over it,” I said.
“What about George Russell? Is he going to start making sense all of a sudden? Will I want to bank-roll slasher porn and forget to wash my feet?”
“No!” my mother yelled from the kitchen.
“But you might vote for a known Democrat if he’s running for City Council,” I said.
“Shit,” Dad said, his face in his hands. By the mournful way in which he ran his hands over his nearly bald head, I was sure this was the deal breaker.
“As a convert to naysayerism,” I said, “you will be a naysayer—a full-fledged naysayer. Think about the word ‘naysayer’ for a minute. It’s a title we bear proudly, yet it’s a word that comes from many mouths as a curse and insult. Of course, that’s stupid. It’s like when a little boy thinks he’s insulting a girl by calling her ‘girl!’ Not only is it not an insult, but it should be borne proudly and openly.”
“Proudly and openly,” Dad said.
“Yes, once you become a naysayer, you will bleed naysayer blood,” I said.
“So if they round up all you naysayers in the middle of the night and gas you in a chamber, they’ll come for me, too?”
“Yes!” my mother yelled from the kitchen.
“And once you have become a naysayer, then the Old Mayors, the chamber of commerce, the Rotarians, all the churches in town, even the Optimist Club, will say you are always a naysayer, even if you stop believing,” I said.
“Can’t I just sit back and vote against their tax and spend horseshit when it comes up?” Dad said.
“If it were only that simple. When you join the naysayers, you become equally responsible for watching out for their every shady move and you suffer with us together,” I said. “I must warn you of this, however: Do not announce your intentions in a public forum over the Internet. And think twice before writing a letter to the editor. If you do, you are likely to get dozens of emails from every sort of crank and idiot that exists. Then, after Mickey Evans gets wise to you, you’ll be off their email list and added to ours. It isn’t worth the annoyance.”
Mom, while eavesdropping in the kitchen, had become inspired. Bright-eyed with urgency, she ran into the dining room.
“Honey, maybe you could reform the naysayers, teach them how to be less nasty and more reasonable. Just like this thing, this monument to Bill Green on the veterans’ parkway. There was no reason to talk about the man like that on TV, like he was a common criminal. Was there? I mean, if this is really just about raising taxes and school bond elections, you can be nice about it, can’t you?”
Dad wavered, obviously in the final struggle with his inner demons. I refreshed his drink.
“I’ll be as nice as they let me be. But as soon as they start pulling shit, I’m going to throw down,” Dad said. “We’ve got to stand up and be counted. We need to show up at public meetings in uniform or something so these jokers realize just how many of us there are now.”
“Maybe you could wear SHSU polo shirts,” Mom said. “Everybody’s for the Bearkats. That looks unifying rather than dividing.”
“We’d look like a bunch of bright-orange pussies,” Dad said.
“Mom, the haters don’t want to unify this town,” I said. “They need division. It’s their smoke screen. They’d lose almost everyone in their ranks but the most hard-core grafters if they didn’t lie and steal and then bait everyone who disagrees with them into looking like paranoid assholes.”
Dad rose to his feet. “We need armor and pole-axes. We need horses and banner men. We need a flag!”
“How about something like this?” my mother said.
“No, no, no,” my father said. “Too many of us have been tiptoeing around these crooks for decades. Let’s show them we’re serious:”
“Holy shit,” my mother said. “Bob, talk some sense into your father!”
“I bet Delora King would hoist this bad boy,” Dad said.
“Oh, I’m sure she would, ” Mom said. “Tish Humphrey still cries when she talks about what Delora said to her at her first council meeting.”
“And you can forget ‘naysayers,’ Bob. That word belongs to the victims, not the victors, and winter is coming,” my father said. “Lock and load, kid. It’s election season. From now on, we’re not naysayers. We’re NAYSLAYERS.”
Just then, the oven timer went “ding.”
“Oh, good Lord,” said my mother as she ran to take out the apple pie before it burned. “Converts are always the worst.”