TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS 

TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS

LOCAL PARADOXES A couple of weeks ago I was heading west on Southern towards Highland, past the infamous church that created a bit of a media frenzy several weeks ago with a sign proclaiming “Jesus said eat me.” When I got to the convergence of the two roads, I saw the most beautifully paradoxical juxtaposition of images. Facing Southern, there are two billboards. On the left side, Mother Teresa smiled down, framed by the words “Reaching out to others—Compassion--Give it a try.” Then I looked to the right, which advertised an upcoming gun show in bold black and yellow. I want to say it was for the same gun show that took place on Easter Sunday. To further this paradox, if one were to interpret this sign placement from the vantage point of Christian mythology, Mother Teresa should have been on the right, and the guns on the left. Paradox makes the world go ‘round, since otherwise there would be no gravity. I think that it might make Memphis go ‘round with an even stronger pattern of rotation. But maybe this interpretation of the city stems from a more personal contradiction. Where I grew up, I was in a geographic locale that hosted a view of the sunrise over the ocean. I can remember delivering papers at dawn, the sky a big purple monster crawling over the Atlantic’s waves and sand. Now my sun sets over the Mississippi river, and I travel home from work with a big bowl full of oranges sinking into the cityscape behind me. Whatever the deep-rooted psychological explanation, I see the concurrence of opposing forces everywhere. If you wanted to get into art theory, and spin the matter on the color wheel, we are both the home of the Blues and the Redbirds. These, of course, are polar on Itten’s color scale. Yes, I know, that’s kind of pushing it. Thinking in terms of American history, this is probably the only place in the country where the phrase “The King is Dead” can have such wildly divergent meanings. Sometimes I wonder if the significance of Martin Luther King Jr’s place in Memphis history doesn’t get a bit lost in the layer of glitter showering down from Elvis’ jumpsuit, however. It’s sad that there needed to be a media campaign in place to urge people to commemorate the day of his passing. It’s interesting, anyhow, that two of the premier (and very different) figures of 20th century American culture are part of the backbone of this single city. But there’s more. Like the paradox of the Peabody hotel, which plays host to a group of ducks in lush surroundings that cost upwards of my monthly rent for a single evening’s stay. Now that’s just not fair. I saw another instance of this pattern of opposites last week at the New Daisy, as well. Lined up outside of the venue was a mass of local metal aficionados, waiting on line for the GWAR and Soilent Green show. Set up on the sidewalk alongside this brood was a guy (who I think is the owner of Xanadu) playing a cigar box guitar, a drum kit and a harmonica in a one-man delta blues extravaganza. If you don’t know anything about GWAR, this was most certainly a paradox. The strongest contradiction I see here, though, is actually in the layout of the city itself. Firstly, there are the rival slogans of “Midtown is Memphis,” versus “Downtown is the heart of Memphis.” Wouldn’t that place the city’s heart in its feet, the body being centered in Midtown? More importantly, though, there is a checkerboard of neighborhoods here like I have witnessed nowhere else. Unlike the model of the “right” and “wrong” sides of the track that seems to reign as the norm of urban planning, Memphis neighborhoods are some of the most diverse that I have seen in the country. Right alongside multi-million dollar homes are apartment complexes with signs boasting “drug dealers evicted here.” You can drive about a mile in most directions, and find yourself in a completely different place than that from which you started. There’s a taxidermy shop right down Cooper Avenue from the House of Mews, which rescues the lost kittens of the world. There are as many strip clubs and bars as churches. I don’t know about you, but I love all of it. The paradoxes that make Memphis interesting and the very same that have made it my new home. Incidentally, there is another Mother Teresa billboard now, over the intersection of Cooper and Young. It sort of serves to remedy the contradiction on Highland. This time, the sign for “Compassion” is juxtaposed with a sign from Altoids proclaiming, “We Dare You!” The revered Saint, however (Care to respond? Write mailonthefly@aol.com.)

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