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Our Story

I’ve resisted about as much as possible the urge to post on this.

No, I haven’t seen “Memphis Beat,” the cable cop show with characters set in Memphis but shot in New Orleans.

I have an aversion to just about any portrayal of our city in movies or on episodic television and I think I come by it honestly.

I get the whole thing about Memphis being a backdrop for a story arc that could take place anywhere. I know it’s not personal. But it is my hometown, so I feel the need to waste time making the point that Memphis is interesting enough without making up stuff about us.

The general notion in these kinds of portrayals is that we aren’t too bright or if we are, we aren’t capable of knowing it.

The ultra-eccentric xenophobic Memphian or Southerner rooted in an alternate universe of their own creation while dispensing unknowing wisdom with an exaggerated Southern accent is a movie or television character I’ve seen enough of. But to each his or her own.

The problem is that folks who aren’t from here, I believe have a greater tendency to use the movies and television shows as their guide to the real Memphis and the real South than they would if they were visiting some other part of the country.

If anyone writing these Memphis storylines really knew Memphis they would understand that our relationship with one Elvis Presley – while a quick way to establish location – is much more complex than they have ever imagined. And imagination is, I would think, a necessary quality in writing these stories.

Yet, here we are again with another faux Memphian bellowing the King’s tunes for family and friends as a regular part of his everyday life. That’s so you get that the story is set in Memphis, I guess.

It’s like the Law & Order detectives having to shoot one scene per episode in Ralph Kramden’s kitchen from The Honeymooners.

Maybe making the point wouldn’t be necessary if at this time of the year I didn’t continually encounter visitors to our city who are under the impression they’ve walked onto the set of Driving Miss Daisy or Steel Magnolias.

Little Feat and the late Lowell George are on the list too from years of working on Beale Street and encountering people trying to find the Commodore Hotel.

Note to those who have yet to visit Memphis but think they might want to: Those thousands of people you see every August outside the walls of Graceland dressed like various incarnations of Elvis or covered in every Elvis button and gee gaw copyrighted by EPE – That’s not us. They are very nice people who spend a lot of money here while on vacation. But they are living in a world of their own creation that has little to do with the day in – day out Memphis.

We are pretty tolerant of much of this. No one gets hurt. And the folks who visit have a good time even if they don’t really encounter any Memphians on a sustained basis.

Blending or hanging with the locals is a new frontier these days in tourism along with eco tourism and heritage tourism.

Memphis can and should be a big player in those frontiers because it has a richness to offer that few outside the city understand.

That’s why we need to be about the business of telling our own story.

Wells Fargo to Memphis: We didn’t break it, so we shouldn’t buy it

Memphis and Shelby County’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo over the way the lender allegedly steered blacks here into predatory loans took an interesting and little-noticed turn last week.

In a motion to dismiss the city-county complaint, attorneys for Wells Fargo gave a hint at what direction their litigation strategy is taking. The Daily News reported on the filing here.

Basically, the city-county position against Wells is: “The local foreclosure problem was worsened by the bad loans Wells Fargo made.”

But after citing almost a dozen news articles in its motion to dismiss the suit – including stories from years ago published in The Commercial Appeal and Memphis Flyer about various socio-economic woes in the city – the Wells Fargo position amounts to “Memphis was in a bad way long before we got here.”

Or, in other words, we didn’t break it, so we shouldn’t buy it.

Old Encyclopedias

Their time had passed long ago. But the set of blue and white covered books held on in several garages through decades of hard winters and hot summers.

Some of the volumes got the worst of a leaky garage roof with the water cementing dozens of pages together.

There may be nothing on Earth more obsolete than a set of encyclopedia from 40 years ago.

About the time that the 1969 edition of Compton’s Encyclopedia arrived at my house, I remember that our family had inherited an obsolete 1930s set of some of encyclopedia. It too wound up in the garage where I would marvel at the non judgmental references to a still living Adolf Hitler and a world that was between world wars as I sat out a rain shower or put off summer yard work as long as possible.

This month the time came for the once new Compton’s to go. They have held on a bit longer because Goodwill doesn’t even take sets of encyclopedia anymore.

It seems odd to be sentimental about something so cut and dry. But I can still remember the day they arrived while I was at school. The whole week I had been waiting for them to come and asking every day as soon as I hit the doorstep home from school.

In true Cold War style, I wanted a set of my very own because I had a friend with a set of World Books that came on a metal roll around cart. He could take them anywhere in his house he wanted. But they stayed mainly in his room where he had a working model of a steam engine and a cardboard box over his television set with a space for the screen cut out.

The box formed a border around the screen that had bicycle reflectors doubling for controls of rocket thrusters and other carefully arranged homemade mission control knobs and adjustors.

We didn’t talk about science a lot or even as much as he probably wanted to. But we did once talk about the end of the world. He assured me it would be like reading a book and turning the last page of text to find the next page is blank. That kind of certainty, I believed, could only come from having a set of encyclopedia and I wanted that kind of certainty.

Finally my set had arrived and I was ecstatic, telling everyone at school about my new set of encyclopedias. Yes, you would be right in assuming that not every sixth grader was as excited as this particular one was about new encyclopedias.

To some it was about as exciting as a new phone book arriving. But not to me. I was immune to considering whether such declarations were cool or in vogue. There would be plenty of time for such considerations in the not too distant future as voices changed, clothes became too small, banana seats on bicycles were no longer a must have, hair got longer and girls were able to command not just more attention but all attention at times.

For now though, the books weren’t World Book or Brittanica but they had maps and charts and big color pictures and verified information to consider in evaluating the world.

There could be found the definitive answer on the origins of linoleum just in time for the dawn of the 1970s. A detailed photo of a “modern Linotype” machine shows the different working parts on which an operator can set about 10,000 characters an hour.

He could also smoke in the workplace while he did it. But that wasn’t in the entry.

Looking back at them 40 years later, the books seem just as quaint as the old set from the 1930s did at around 1969. And they are revealing as well.

There is no entry for Martin Luther King Jr. or Robert Kennedy, who had each been killed the year before.

It is as if the trauma was too recent. But probably it was a matter of deadlines for publishing a multi volume set.

There is an entry for the new President, Richard Nixon, free of Watergate and Vietnam and enemies lists.

Amelia Earhart’s entry is just as intriguing today as it was then. However much time passes, someone traveling around the world who vanishes trying to find a flyspeck of an island in a vast ocean is always going to be a source of fascination. You can describe her disappearance in the most objective and clinical terms and it is still fascinating. But keep in mind, I’m the kid who was running home from school to see if the new set of encyclopedia had arrived.

The entry on the moon declares it “one of the goals of space travelers.” Later that year, two Americans would land on the surface.

Every year after for several years, a yearbook from the Compton’s company came to keep the set up to date.

And that’s when the set began to catch up to the tenor and turmoil of the times. Or maybe that’s when the line between events and emotions blurred for me.

The yearbooks captured the moon landing and filled in Nixon’s record. They chronicled the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia and the reaction on college campuses across the country including Kent State University where four students were killed when National Guardsmen opened fire on them.

Forty years later, the indelible image of a college student’s lifeless body face down in rivers of his own blood seems to defy explanation as much as Amelia Earhart’s disappearance did back in the 1930s.

The first Earth Day was included along with the rise of the women’s movement and the violent decline of the Black Panthers.

By then my search for the objective had become a quest for the empirical. By that standard some of the events got lost in the shuffle of growing up. Other events had greater meaning and a personal connection.

A bit from both sides of the line can be found in today’s encyclopedias which no longer come in the form of a couple of dozen books capable of filling a book shelf. Today, the outdated is quickly replaced in on line versions with the next part of the story.

It doesn’t replace the uncertainty, the hopes and doubts that we all feel as time continues to move us forward – closing some chapters and opening others.

From South Memphis to the Silver Screen

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson grew up in South Memphis. He wrestled at Raleigh-Egypt High School. Today, he’s a professional mixed martial artist and is one of the stars of “The A-Team“.

Herenton: You’re Here, Right?

There are times when the relationship between former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and the media seems like one of mutual need and mutual hostility.

Almost a year after Herenton left City Hall, the relationship resumed this week at Herenton’s Southgate campaign headquarters.

As Mayor, Herenton often used such events to talk directly to supporters, detractors and everyone inbetween. A Herenton press event during that time could include plenty of give and take with the press.

This week, it was at times more conversation than “free for all” press conference – as it was billed.

Some of that may be because he’s not mayor anymore. Whatever the reason, it also seemed insular — like a conversation between the press and Herenton that matters to both parties but seems to have less and less consequence beyond the press and Herenton.

There is still some consequence because Herenton is running for an important elected office. And Herenton is an important political figure who although he maintains he is not a politician has held his own with the political titans of post-Crump Memphis politics.

But there is less consequence in these encounters because Herenton is not holding elected office. The mayor’s office has its own heft. It’s own sense of urgency that goes to whoever occupies it and stays when that person leaves and is replaced by another mayor.

And local politics has changed some since his departure at the end of July. How much is still an open question that won’t be settled for several more election cycles.

“Come at me as hard as you want,” Herenton said by way of setting “ground rules.”

It began with a question about whether Herenton was looking for free publicity for what some judge as a virtually non-existent candidacy in the Aug. 5 Democratic Congressional primary.

“You’re here, right?” Herenton responded.

For Herenton, the most important part of the encounter was at the end when he unveiled the new “Just One” campaign slogan for the Congressional race.

He dutifully posed for cameras wearing a hat with the slogan and holding a sign without a trace of the combativeness before the display and which resumed immediately after the display.

Herenton cautioned reporters against trying to isolate parts of his record as mayor for over 17 years – a record that is his claim to being worthy of a seat in Congress. He cautioned reporters after he was asked pointed questions about his administration’s mismanagement of the city Animal Shelter and the Memphis Sexual Assault Resource Center (MSARC).

“Who gives a damn about those peripheral issues when we are in one of the deepest recessions that this country has ever seen?” he said. “I would hope that you would respect the role of a United States Congressman.”

“I’m responsible. We dropped the ball on it. Are you happy?” Herenton said when pressed further by News Channel 3 reporter Mike Matthews.

“Is that how you feel?” Matthews asked.

“No, I just want to make you happy,” Herenton replied. “I told you that. I don’t give a damn about all of that. It ain’t important in the whole scheme of things.”

Before unveiling his new campaign theme, Herenton repeated his vow to answer all questions.

“Did I fulfill that?” he asked the group of reporters. No one answered. “Thank you. Your silence tells me yes.”

Dansette

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