Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Excursus: a look back at Memphis
I don't think I was really fair to Memphis to say it's just Jonesboro big. For years it served as Babylon for me and many of my friends. The closest thing we had to Rome, on the banks of the Mississippi rather than the Tiber. The Shelby County Courthouse had the first classical statuary I ever saw.
Memphis had the only cool radio stations we could pick up during the day, with black, rock and roll, and WREC from which to choose. (WDIA was broadcast from Beale Street when it was still a black neighborhood, there were a couple of rock and roll stations, but WREC played show tunes and jazz and made me feel more sophisticated than I was.) It was where one could buy books, and eat bagels, and go to an airport with more than DC-3's to carry one away to the ends of the earth. Our first television came from Memphis. I had a friend at Memphis State from a small Mississippi town who had to go to Memphis to buy underwear. The Metropolitan Opera came to Memphis.
And Memphis was my city of refuge on three different occasions. It was there I went following High School, when my father was worried that if I went to Harvard or any school in California (I liked Stanford) I would become a Communist, when I rejected Rice because it was where my father's friends wanted me to go, so Memphis State seemed neutral. At Memphis State I met my first true love, made some very good friends, came to understand the paranoid nature of political Amurika, and was reminded how safe a refuge marriage can be, how dangerous it is to be egregious in any way.
Memphis would be my alternative to Vietnam, where teaching in an absolutely horrible school would substitute for being drafted, where it seemed that it would have been much more honest just to drop napalm on children than to subject them to Memphis public schools, at least the ones for black kids. Memphis on that trip was where I tried to be straight by being a father.
Finally, it was where I went when my business career in Jonesboro collapsed and a reboot was needed.
Memphis on my last return would be the site of many momentous decisions. (And I would recognize that the Memphis Public Schools were tortuous for white kids, too.) I would return to the church, professionally,and leave it, sort of. (The Episcopal Church remained a social activity, especially since it is so gay in the South) I would come out. Again, I would meet some wonderful friends in Memphis, and I would meet my second true love. I would use Memphis as the launching pad from which to enter the bigger world, the world beyond the river up which jazz had traveled. Thinking about that last eight-year period in Memphis makes me realize how selective, how unrealistic, story telling is. This blog is a sort of autobiography, but as much is left out as is included.