It wasnt fire and brimstone that greeted me as I drove through Alabama en route to Memphis, but rather hell and high water. Or a hell of a lot of high water. Unrelenting Alabama-in-April torrents of high water.
Cruising late at night in my state-of-the-art Geo Metro, complete with an electrical system that kept shorting out my headlights, I smoked my first pack of Marlboro Lights ever and realized that prayer in the Bible belt just might have some allure. Please God, dont let that semi wash me off the road. After about seven hours of this the storm let up and I was left with two realizations. Firstly, I understood why people smoke. I also realized that under certain road conditions a hand-painted billboard with a huge depiction of Satan admonishing go to church or the devil will get cha can be extremely effective advertising.
When I finally got into town, at about 4:30 in the morning, I was almost immediately sucked into the ambience of the city. My best friend was living in downtowns Paperworks building at the time, and from the roof all I could see was mist and history and something more indescribable that I guess you call vibe. An opportunity to work on a small (really, really small) independent film had brought me here temporarily, but the second I looked at the city from that rooftop I knew I was most likely going to stay. Something was going on here, and I wanted to figure out what that was.
My first indicator came when I had a grand falling out with one of the citys more popular Elvis impersonators. Now I had not a clue that one who spends their life impersonating a dead man could both get paid nearly as much as the real artist did (probably on the economic scale of the fifties, but still) and actually have more rock star bravado than the actual performer.
The film that I was working on called for a culminating scene involving Elvis and a Buddhist monk. Im not going to get into all of the details because its kind of embarrassing artistically, but suffice it to say that $300 dollars and a scheduling conflict later my work on the film was over and I had a strong urge to drop-kick every Elvis in sight. Random. Very, very random.
The monk was an indicator of the more positive random elements of Memphis, though. My first experience with this gentleman, who was here on a visit from Bhutan, involved a trip to a shooting range in Northern Mississippi. The director of the aforementioned film that brought me here, was bringing the monk out to the range to learn how to shoot a rifle. He thought it would be great if we could capture some of this on film.
This was right up my alley. I had never even held a gun prior to this, but to my mind, a day at a shooting range with a Buddhist monk is one of those things you dont pass up if the opportunity comes your way. He wasnt a bad shot, truth be told. Not to mention that when I gave it a go at the end of the day, I blasted my little clay disk to bits, and can now tell people that Im a 100% shot with a rifle. Hee hee!
Inadvertently, a psychic in Orlando had forecast my move to Memphis months before it had ever even crossed my mind. Apparently, the amalgamation of letters in my name and the elements of my birth date make me a numerological double-digit. An eleven to be precise. Ill be honest here, I dont really know what thats supposed to mean.
According to this woman who endeared herself to me by giving a fifteen-minute reading for only $5, however, this is a rarity. But heres the interesting part. When explaining this phenomenon of the universe of the spirit to me, her examples of other doubles were Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr.! Now remember, Memphis wasnt even a spark in my mind at that point. Coincidence? Probably. But I prefer to think that its not because its a whole lot more fun that way.
The point of all of this, I suppose, is that Memphis is the type of town where you can experience the utmost in randomness if you open yourself up to it. Maybe its the fact that so many people from so many walks of life have walked down these streets and left a mark, or a residual energy of some kind.
Hell, I even got a hug from Tammy Faye Baker at the flea market one weekend, along with a signed picture professing her love for me, and a tub of eye cream from her new make-up line! Where else can all of these things happen in the span of a few weeks? You just never know what youll see next, and to me, theres absolutely nothing more enjoyable than that.