Fair Play?

In Inman Majors' new novel, it's politics and payback, Tennessee style.




You remember that World's Fair back in 1982 — the one in the unlikely mid-size city of Glennville in Glenn County, East Tennessee. They said it couldn't be done, but it was done.

The Sun Tower was the expo's centerpiece (just like the Space Needle in Seattle!), and the theme was energy — new energy, solar power, with Helios the sun god as symbol (just like Vulcan in Birmingham!). The fair brought jobs to the city: short-term, long-term. It brought tourists. And tourist dollars: millions of them. It helped to revitalize a sorry piece of crumbling real estate in downtown Glennville (right next to the state university and its looming football stadium), though, it's true, the promised monorail — a monorail! — never got built. But a lot else did get built: pavilions, cultural exhibits, an amphitheater, restaurants, hotels, new roadways, thanks to some federal money, some state money, some private investors, and the good citizens of Glennville. Let the local newspaper question the spending of public money. Let Newsweek call Glennville "a bleak little town hosting an overgrown state fair." So what. The fair was a success for its six-month run. Hell, even a reporter for The New York Times enjoyed himself — despite the fair's architecture, which reminded him of a low-budget sci-fi movie, and despite the fair's workers, who killed the reporter with kindness. This was, in the minds of Glennvillians and once they'd help pay for it, "our fair." If you didn't like it, you weren't needed anyway.

You remember too the Cole brothers: J.T. and Roland. They were the bankers who dreamed up the idea for a world-class world's fair, who pushed for it in Nashville and Washington and strong-armed the citizens of Glennville into agreeing to it.

Roland Cole: He was the younger brother, and he'd already built the town's one glittering glass skyscraper to house the bank he headed: 1st Bank of Glennville. He'd also already run in '78 for governor — and lost — to a Republican challenger named Montgomery, who won. (The sitting Democratic governor, a guy named Hart, you remember him. He'd been disgraced in a pay-for-pardon prison scandal that rocked the state.) Roland wasn't going to let a political loss ruin his future chances at elected office, though. He would wait it out. He would work the back channels, make friends, influence people. He was real friendly with that popular state senator from clear across Tennessee in Memphis, practically in Mississippi. But the senator was making a name for himself, he was good to the people who voted for him, he was good to his district, he got things done — a black guy, Kirkwood, that was his name. But the governorship was years away. Roland would focus on the fair. His brother was behind him. Their wives, their children, and their mistresses would just have to understand.

J.T. Cole: He was older than Roland by two years, and he headed Valley Industrial Savings & Loan, to be housed in his own skyscraper — a full four stories higher, J.T. made sure, than the 1st Bank tower, no hard feelings, little bro.

The Coles were new money, the New South. So what. They were out to beat old-money Glennville at its own game and challenge the old guard's rich but do-nothing, hill-country ways. The Coles came from the hills too: Henry City, to be exact, the tiny town outside Glennville where their father had started as the owner of a dry-goods store and ended up a banker himself. Only not so "creative" as his sons when it came to making money, loaning money, the promise of money. You in? You're taken care of. But keep it quiet.

Silence: That's what the Cole brothers paid Mike Teague for. You don't remember Teague? He was the Coles' "point man," the guy out front making nice with the media and the legislators. (Not so nice with his wife, Janet.) He'd gone from struggling school teacher in Glennville, to lobbyist in Nashville for senators, representatives, and corporations, to champion promoter of Glennville's world expo. He knew everybody. He knew the corridors in the capitol. He knew the Nashville steakhouse where the politicos hung out and hooked up. But he kept his word: He kept quiet. His wife and daughter and former mistress . . . they'd have to understand this business Teague was in. Understand that to make the kind of money Teague made, best leave him to work his own back channels but wonder in the quieter moments what the hell he'd made of his life. Why it was, say, during the Pledge of Allegiance, he could hold hand to heart but not utter the words. Wonder how in the world, once the Feds got in on it, his name was attached to one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history. The TBI, the FDIC, the FBI, and the Tennessee Treasury said so: allegations of insider loans, unsecured loans, forged signatures, to the tune of two billion dollars.

This, again, was back in '82, and the names have been changed but the plot points are strictly by the book: The Millionaires (W.W. Norton), a sprawling, smart, fast-moving, insider novel by author Inman Majors, who knows his way around politics, Tennessee style. His father was a prominent lobbyist in Nashville for decades. And he knows his way around a key setting in the book: a college football stadium. His uncle was University of Tennessee head football coach Johnny Majors. You know the name.

And you no doubt recognize in Glennville, Knoxville; in the Cole brothers, the Butcher brothers; in Governor Hart, Ray Blanton; and in Senator Kirkwood, Harold Ford Sr. The talent to put this all together, though, is pure Inman Majors, who's already written two welcome novels of the New South (Swimming in Sky and Wonderdog) and whose name you should get to know.

The Millionaires is all over the place — stylistically running from traditional narrative to screenplay to poetry — and all over the character-driven map — from power players, to money launderers, to media handlers, to wives and mistresses, and to one Mike Teague, a hardworking but sympathetic guy just doing an honest day's job in the not-so-honest world of big money and state politics. Fair play? Not then in East Tennessee. Not now in today's national headlines.

"Men"-tal Notes: — What's she got that you haven't got? If you're in the market this Valentine's Day, a man, that's what, and here's native Memphian Nancy Nichols to let you in on a secret: Maybe it's not a matter of the men you're not meeting. Maybe it's a question of that critical attitude of yours. To wit and to quote:

"In the end, it is a woman's non-judgmental Love-All-Men attitude that releases her Approachable Spirit. It is her Approachable Spirit that puts her eyeball-to-eyeball with a wider selection of men. And, who knows? The next 'average man' a woman accepts, affirms, and approves of may turn out to be the Love-of-Her-Life!"

The italics, the caps, and the exclamation point are Nichols' own, the quote comes straight from Secrets of the Ultimate Husband Hunter (Epiphany Imprint), and the subtitle says it all: How to Attract Men, Enjoy Dating and Recognize the Love of Your Life. What's more to add? Some self-disclosure.

Nichols, a motivational speaker now living in Houston, does just that in her opening chapter, in which we learn that her "relationship Ph.D. is pain, hurt, and dysfunction." She's graduated, though, into some self-acceptance. It's helped her. It's helped her to meet men. And it could help you. For some initial pointers, go to ultimatehusbandhunter.com. For some eyeball-to-eyeball advice, be at Bookstar in Poplar Plaza for a booksigning on February 21st from 2 to 5 p.m. For the full course, it's in your hands — the book, in paperback — for $16.95. M