It’s Berney Seal night in Corpus Christi, and 350 Berneymaniacs have packed a bay front hotel ballroom, eager to roast my father, crusading realtor and local pro-growth TV-news evangelist Berney Seal. Protestants and Jews, Hispanics and Anglos, priests and politicos, insurance agents and con artists—all the characteristics of his vainglorious life—are giving Berney a taste of what he’s given them in his 29 blustery years in Texas’ sleepiest major metropolis.
“Berney,” says then-mayor Betty Turner, “is what you get if you cross Joan Rivers with Jaws.”
As usual, my dad gets the last laugh. When he finally takes the podium—245 pounds of rowdy Texas realtor on a rampage—the preceding jokesters seem like amateurs. A hurricane of humor, he gusts gale-strength on politics, business, local issues—all the inside jokes of this insular town. “Laugh on,” he commands his audience, who rise up to embrace him with what Berney calls the clap-laugh, riotous laughter that explodes into applause. It should be a supreme moment. But while he couches his life in comedy, Berney Seal is at war.
Hurricanes, floods, lost elections, and his real estate signs and house foundations sinking and cracking in the black gumbo ground…my father has survived the plagues of Corpus Christi. But the current economy is about to kill him. After arriving in 1962 with nothing more than a suitcase and a dream, he has become Corpus Christi’s mightiest residential realtor, a superstar in his own back yard. But faced with a dwindling sales force, sliding annual home sales, and such a slow market that foreclosures are often the only properties moving in the tropical breeze, he finds that his fame is frequently more a burden than a blessing.
“Business is so bad,” he tells his audience, “I’ve spent six months writing this speech.”
The way Berney sees it, Corpus has one chance for greatness, and its name is Berney Seal. Tonight is yet another whistle-stop in his campaign for what he calls the Great Awakening of a new Corpus Christi, a city of endless wealth and opportunity, the Miami, the Las Vegas, the Hong Kong of the new Texas.
Once, Corpus could ignore him or merely vote against him—this flashy, charismatic super salesman and thrice-failed city government candidate who stars in his won TV commercials (“Berney Seal—a House Sold Word!”). But now Daddy has a forum, a four-year-old two-minute news spot called Berney’s Second Opinion, and old conservative Corpus is running for cover. Twice a week on KRIS-TV Channel 6, the NBC affiliate, he glares out at his city through aviator glasses,