Staffpicks '04 

Best International Embarrassment
The Joe Brown/Iraqi debacle. You'd think as the chairman of the City Council, Joe Brown would show a little more hospitality. But when he heard a visiting delegation of Iraqis was interested in meeting with officials from city government, Brown insisted that the delegates not be allowed inside City Hall. The story quickly was picked up by the national news, making Memphis look like some backwoods redneck town. Then, to top it all off, before the trip was over, two of the Iraqis were robbed at gunpoint downtown. For shame, Memphis. For shame.

Best New Hardcourt Hero
James Posey. When the Memphis Grizzlies signed the soft-spoken Posey prior to last season, it didn't make much noise around the NBA. But by the time the season was over, the tough-as-nails Posey had helped inject some bellow into the bear for the first time in franchise history, and he created some iconic Grizz moments along the way: tackling a showboating Peja Stojakovic in December and, with the help of a vocal Pyramid crowd, shutting the All-Star forward down a month later; ripping a loose ball free from a scrum of Houston Rockets players near the end of a hard-fought national TV game in January; dropping 38 points, including a halfcourt dagger to send the game to a second overtime, against the Atlanta Hawks in March; and, finally, demolishing the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie sensation LeBron James at both ends of the court to secure win number 50.

Best Excuse To Play the Lottery
The children. With Tennessee college scholarship funds tied to lottery play, your dirty little gambling habit now has an up side. Lucky you.

Best Dance Floor
Backstreet's Coliseum. On any given Saturday night before January 2004, Backstreet was a cramped little gay club where you had to elbow your way through sweaty bodies onto the tiny dance floor. Getting bopped on the head a few times by some dancing diva was a given. But these days, it's a whole new fabulous story. The Coliseum, which was once a warehouse, has a massive hardwood dance floor with three dance podiums, a large lounge area with comfy sofas, and a waterwall bar.

Best Collective Success Story
Local filmmakers. This year, locally connected filmmakers Ira Sachs and Craig Brewer followed the film-fest success of debut features The Delta and The Poor & Hungry, respectively, with bigger-budget locally shot follow-ups (Forty Shades of Blue and Hustle & Flow) that have a chance at much wider distribution. Meanwhile, MeDiA Co-op's Morgan Jon Fox scored a film-fest success story of his own with his second feature, Blue Citrus Hearts, and hopes to do so again with the recently completed away(A)wake.

Best Place to Make You Cry
The Memphis Animal Shelter. Got some pent-up sadness you need to let loose? Just head over to the Memphis Animal Shelter. Looking at all those poor caged doggies on death row is a surefire way to make the tears fall. But if you're prone to raging fits, you might ought to stay away. Poop is sometimes cleaned out of cages with a hose while the dogs are still inside, leaving them shivering and cold. If you do check it out, though, be sure and rescue at least one dog from shelter hell.

Best Place To Meditate
In your car while you're sitting stock-still in the middle of a traffic jam on the I-240 loop between the Little Rock and Nashville exits. Sure, Malfunction Junction is still malfunctioning, but this bit of interstate, with its miles of construction work, is a traffic-stopper too.

Best Place to Buy Magazines
Republic Coffee. It seems obvious to put a magazine rack filled with hard-to-find titles in a Midtown coffeeshop. Yet Republic Coffee is the only coffeehouse in Midtown that carries a decent collection of underground and/or independent magazines. Some of their more popular mags include Bitch (a feminist analysis of pop culture), Under the Radar (a music mag for the hipster set), and Clamour (a liberal rag for radicals). The only drawback to selling mags in coffeeshops is that you must purchase the publication before flipping through its pages.

Best Anti-War Theater
Goodtime Speech by Memphis playwright Randy Wayne Youngblood, directed by Alex Cooke and presented by Our Own Voice Theatre Company. Here's what the Flyer had to say about Youngblood's play: "[In Goodtime Speech], we are presented with a topsy-turvy world where the irrational is rational, where patriotic songs fill the void created by death, where families mourn and politicians celebrate. One often-repeated line: 'I had to put the flag in the washing machine to get all the dirt out of it.' That just about says it all." And it just about does.

Best Free Political Satire that Isn't Really Satire/Best Reason to Listen to that Crazy Guy in the Tinfoil Hat
Mayor Herenton and his "lazy-ass cops." Two police officers stop a car for speeding. They see the driver of the car putting something inside a hat. As this routine traffic stop escalates into a drug bust, a white van pulls up. Out jumps W.W. Herenton, Memphis' 12-foot-tall mayor-for-life. Herenton scolds the officers, declaring, "Lazy-ass cops," the most pestilent of all the awful plagues gripping Memphis. This is the same mayor who used his inauguration speech to tell Memphians how God sometimes tells him things. It really is better than fiction.

Best Place to Feel Like You're on an Acid Trip When You're Not
The restrooms at XY & Z. The bathroom doors in these one-person bathrooms are built so that they're slanted away from the toilet area, and the tile on the wall is placed diagonally. When you're in there, it's hard not to think for just a moment that you may be having a flashback. Beware: If you're having a few drinks at this Midtown after-hours bar, remember that angled surfaces and drunk people don't mix. You may need a buddy to help you keep your balance.

Memphis' Most Political Artist
Jan Hankins. Even before 2000 when the American electorate became so very polarized, Hankins' skillful brush dripped with anger. His large canvasses are full of surrealist tricks and nods to the underground comics of the 1960s. Smoke-belching nonsense-engines driven by ample women in star-spangled bikinis and protected by brutish men with guns threaten to set the world on fire at every turn. Hankins' paintings represent a nightmare world but still manage to look nice over the sofa. Good show!

Best Place to Recoup City Revenue Losses
In front of 201 Poplar. You'd think that people entering and exiting from a building that houses the city jail and the police department would be wary about breaking the law. Unfortunately for drivers using Poplar Avenue, the area between Second Avenue and Danny Thomas is a maze of jaywalking Memphians. With one lane already out of service due to idling police cars, the short stretch narrows to one lane because pedestrians use the remaining lane to talk and sometimes just meander. If the police ticketed each of these jaywalkers, surely the city would have enough money to stall a property tax -- or at least enough to pay for an MLGW pension.

Best Sporting Event
Ford family smackdown. On July 10th, Fords John (state senator) and Joe (commissioner) and Jake and Isaac (both Harold Sr.'s sons) entered the ring during a Memphis Wrestling event. They were there to back up a friend getting whupped by a threesome that included Jerry "The King" Lawler.

Best Use of Double-Talk
Mayor Herenton's "nationwide search." Last year, the mayor made a marked man of MLGW president Herman Morris, pushing him to resign. A month later, Herenton was rubbing shoulders with God and recommending city finance director Joseph Lee for Morris' old position. "Foul!" cried the City Council. "We want someone with utility experience." The always-agreeable mayor then conducted a "nationwide search" which still included Lee's name at the top of the list. Who knew that the mayor's nation only extended to City Hall?

Best Place to Meet a New Friend
The Flying Saucer. This place is great for talkative people. The open-air seating looking out on Second Street provides the perfect opportunity for lunch and dinner patrons to yell out random greetings to passersby. Just last week, a male patron was heard yelling a marriage proposal to a female pedestrian. While no one heard her response, the man immediately purchased a round of beer for the entire bar. Will it be a June wedding?

Best Bargain for the Buck
Libertyland. We know that this place is trash-talked for its aging and limited rides. But for a family looking to have a little fun without having to mortgage the house, Libertyland is the place. It's not always the quantity that matters but the quality, and this place delivers with pleasant operators, tidy grounds, and short lines. Throw in the Midway during the Mid-South Fair and it's on! Besides, any place that serves funnel cakes at 10 a.m. is okay with us.

Best Daily Lunch Site To Encounter Politicians and Other Civic Notables
Hands down, it's the Little Tea Shop on Monroe, which also has the best hostess/proprietor, Suhair Lauck, and some of the best plate lunches around.

Best Thoroughfare
It's Poplar Avenue, which is Shelby County's real Main Street, running from the river and the Government Center downtown all the way to Collierville, passing through prime parkland, shopping areas, and posh residential addresses along the way.

Best School/Crossing Guards
The ones at Cordova High School, who give service with a smile through the most visibly trying circumstances.

Best Free Show
Any of the criminal courtrooms at 201 Poplar. Nelson Algren would have had a field day.

Best Local Musician to Skip Town
Greg Cartwright. Once of revered local garage-punk bands the Compulsive Gamblers and the Oblivians, Cartwright has been to Memphis rock over the past decade what Alex "Big Star" Chilton was in another era: not a star in his own time but a legend-in-the-making. But as his latest band, the flawless Reigning Sound, prepped the release of its third record, Too Much Guitar!, Cartwright relocated to Asheville, North Carolina. You can take the boy out of Memphis

Best Album by Local Musician to Skip Town
East Nashville Skyline by Todd Snider. Snider got his start as a local troubadour, honing his craft at the now-defunct Daily Planet. He headed down the highway to Nashville, where all rootsy singer-songwriters eventually land, years ago and never has made it "big." But he's still managed to age like wine somehow, as illustrated by this career-best album -- the smartest, funniest, most humane, and most modest bit of social commentary this bitter election season is likely to see. You better believe we'll still claim him.

Best Place to Buy a Hat
Mr. Hats in Poplar Plaza. This store offers a dizzying array of toppers and an old-fashioned sales staff that takes hats seriously, very seriously. It's fun to go into a store where a wannabe MC is trying on an R. Kelly cap next to an aging blueblood agonizing over which floppy Tilley hat will look best in the Grove.

Best Golf Course Nobody Plays
T.O. Fuller Golf Course. T.O. Fuller offers some of the most hilly terrain in Shelby County and lots of privacy. The greens are tiny and the fairways are so sloped the carts should have four-wheel drive. But it's all yours, baby. Pretend you own the place.

Best Quick Read for Local Film Fans
The Black Lodge Video new-release newsletter. The ostensibly just-the-facts-ma'am, ALL CAPS synopses in these semiregular four-page tip sheets from the Cooper-Young video store regularly veer into comical screeds, fanboy raves, or intentional unintentional comedy. (After fumbling the plot of The Passion of the Christ, they apologized: "Sorry, we don't read much fiction around here.") Better, though not for the easily offended, are the film blurbs in "The Book of Filth" on the store's Web site (BlackLodgeVideo.org), in which unspeakable exploitation movies sit matter-of-factly beside such accidental atrocities as Bibleman! ("the Christian Coalition version of Batman an absolute riot") and The Joe Piscopo Halloween Special ("a must for any fan of bad comedy").

Best Music Festival
The Memphis Music & Heritage Festival. Smaller crowds, fewer fratboys, no rivers of urine on the sidewalks. Great, diverse sampling of local music. Nice downtown setting. Free. Others are bigger; none are better.

Best Sigh of Relief
The cancellation of the 50th Anniversary of Rock-and-Roll concert. Could you imagine the kind of chaos that would ensue if Rey Flemings, as head of the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission, had been able to nail down this event? The naysayers wouldn't be able to tsk-tsk about Memphis being a third-rate city. Then what? THEN WHAT?

Best Things To Do with The Pyramid Besides Turning It into a Casino 2004
1. Local celebrity boxing. Remember, every Wednesday night is Carol Chumney night!
2. Survivor XX: The Pointed House.
3. Terrorist-seeking missile silo.
4. Fill the whole thing with little plastic balls for the kiddies.
5. Detention center for visiting Iraqi VIPs just in case they get any funny ideas.
6. Kevin Kane should personally offer the arena to the pope free of charge. It's newer than the Vatican, it's virtually unused, and it's shaped like a pyramid, which is meaningless but pretty darn cool. His Holiness would have direct access to FedEx. Having the Vatican in Memphis would also bring about a big increase in tourism to rival the 50th Anniversary of Rock-and-Roll.
7. Bomb shelter.
8. Install a roller coaster.
9. A museum dedicated to dearly departed Harold von Braunhut. He's the guy who invented Sea Monkeys, X-Ray Specs, and all the crazy crap you used to see advertised in comic books. Sure, his politics were a little racist, but he invented Sea Monkeys. And he's from Memphis.
10. Paint the mother pink! •

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