Friday, June 28, 2002

Big Fish, Big River

Commercial fisherman Wesley Hollis is the last of the breed.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 28, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Wesley Hollis has been doing a little fishing in his retirement.

Make that a lot of fishing. Hollis, 74, is one of the last of Memphis' commercial fishermen on the Mississippi River. On a bad day, he'll bring in over 100 pounds of catfish, carp, and buffalo; on a good day, his haul exceeds 300 pounds.

In 25 years of almost daily fishing on the river, Hollis has landed monster catfish weighing well over 100 pounds, run through at least 10 boats, battled poachers, rammed a catfish spine through his big toe, and fallen out of his boat and nearly drowned. For his trouble, he makes enough money to maintain his boat, motor, trailer, and nets plus a little extra. For the money, he may be the hardest-working 74-year-old in Memphis.

Hollis calls commercial fishing his hobby and says he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he stopped. You can usually find him at the boat ramp on the north end of Mud Island around 6 a.m. As the sun comes up in a haze over the downtown skyline, Hollis slips a light rubber suit over his jeans and shirt and checks to see that everything is in place in his 20-foot boat -- three large plastic coolers, a paddle, net, gaffe, assorted hooks and knives, and extra gas tank. Usually, his son accompanies him, but on this day he has agreed to take me along instead, provided I do my share of the work.

A big, friendly man, Hollis was a supervisor for several years for a dairy in Midtown before taking up commercial fishing in 1977. He shares the boat ramp with a handful of sport fishermen distinguished by their smaller boats and trailers.

"I want to be comfortable and safe," Hollis explains. When the wind is out of the south, the river is choppy, and the wake of an upstream barge produces waves three feet high. Slam over those in a 14-foot john boat and you'll soon want something bigger.

Hollis cranks the big outboard motor to life and heads upriver toward the mouth of the Loosahatchie River. He wrinkles his nose at the foul smell in the morning air and points toward shore at the city sewer, the source of the problem. The water is browner than it was a few weeks ago.

"I don't know whether it's Missouri mud or what," he grumbles, but it is not good for the fishing. His nets in the Loosahatchie yield an eight-pound yellow catfish that has suffocated in the mud, a three-foot paddlefish that is also dead (and out of season to boot), and a few live yellow cats and carp. Dead fish go back in the river, live ones into the coolers. "There isn't enough oxygen in this water, and there's too little current this far from the big water," Hollis says. "A few weeks ago, I took 45 buffalo out of this same spot."

You can't get rich in this line of work. Hollis gets 30 cents a pound for buffalo, 60 cents a pound for catfish, and 10 cents a pound for carp in the rough. The fish markets won't buy anything over 15 pounds, so Hollis peddles big fish for bait or gives them away. A year ago, he caught two flathead catfish over 100 pounds apiece. He wound up selling one to a man in West Memphis who promptly gutted it, sliced it lengthwise down the middle, and stuffed the two sides into his freezer without further ado.

Hollis heads upriver to a chute on the Arkansas side where he has strung out a long net marked by floating milk jugs. When he cuts the motor, the only sounds are bird calls and the gentle lapping of the current against the bow. I hook the jug with a gaffe and Hollis begins hauling in line hand over hand. A big carp and a blue catfish are caught in the skein, and Hollis painstakingly separates net from fish with a small tool called a shucker. The fish still have plenty of fight in them and flop heavily against the bottom of the boat. A nearby trot line has snagged a 35-pound flathead catfish, an ugly mother if there ever was one.

"Watch how you handle them," he advises. "A guy helping me one time was pushing them back between his legs when a fish flopped right up into his balls. He like to went through the floor."

A small blue cat once stuck its poisonous fin into Hollis' boot and all the way through his big toe. When he pulled it back out, his foot was throbbing with pain, and by the time he got to a doctor, the boot was filled with blood.

Hollis' most serious accident happened 15 years ago when he was fishing alone and fell out of his boat into 20 feet of water and caught his foot in a net. He bobbed to the surface three times, gulping air and trying to free his foot. By the fourth time, he figured he was a goner, but his foot came free and he swam to a sandbar. Another fisherman saw his empty boat float by and rescued him.

"I said I would never fish anymore after that," Hollis says.

But he did. A few weeks later, he was back on the river, albeit with a partner.

"I'd come out here even if I wasn't fishing," he says. "I just love this river so much."

Friday, June 21, 2002

Round Nine

Dyersburg investors in the big fight are now scrapping among themselves.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Call it the aftercard.

In a courtroom follow-up to the Tyson-Lewis fight, six investors in the $12.5 million site fee that made the Memphis bout possible are suing three other investors in Dyersburg-based Dyer Investments.

As The Memphis Flyer first reported in April, Dyersburg money played a key role in the unusual circumstances that brought the heavyweight championship fight to Memphis. At that time, it was uncertain that the fight would occur at all because Tyson had been banned in Nevada and New York. The Pyramid was seen by many "experts" as a venue of last resort, and the fight was so controversial that First Tennessee Bank wanted nothing to do with a letter of credit for the site fee.

When it became clear that the fight was not only going to happen but would also generate worldwide interest and make a lot of money, the Dyersburg investors began scrapping.

At issue is exactly who had a piece of the deal. Dyer Investments, headed by a former Dyersburg banker named Billy Y. Walker who went to prison for savings-and-loan fraud 15 years ago, was the investment vehicle. Defendants in the lawsuit filed earlier this month include Walker and Dyersburg businessmen John Ford and Kent Ford of the Ford Construction firm, a major road contractor in Tennessee.

Walker did not return phone calls to his office, and attempts to speak to John Ford have been unsuccessful.

The six plaintiffs, all represented by Dyersburg attorney Robert Millar, include Darrell, Darren, and Dena Sells of Dyersburg, Dr. W.W. Lents II of Newbern, Willie German of Fayette County, and Robert S. Pinner of Hardeman County.

Millar says his clients agreed to, in effect, lay off $7 million of the $12.5 million site fee. The deal was that the investors would lose money if ticket sales failed to reach $12.5 million and would make up to $2.5 million if sales reached $15 million. Millar says his clients were told they would make 10 percent, or $700,000, if all went well. When it became clear that sales would in fact exceed $15 million, the defendants "advised my clients they were no longer needed."

Each of the six lawsuits is identical except for the name of the plaintiff and the share of the $7 million. The lawsuits, filed in Chancery Court in Dyer County, seek $700,000 in compensatory damages and $2.1 million in punitive damages.

A trial date has not been set.

On June 8th, Lennox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson in the eighth round of the bout, which had a record gross from all revenue sources.

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The Distant Echo Of Violent Crime

The headlines are horrifying. Young gunmen are killing innocent children in the streets of Memphis. In the most recent cases, victims and shooters are black. Politicians, police, and neighbors are outraged, concerned, and determined to do something.

A task force of elected officials and leading citizens appointed by Memphis mayor Willie Herenton has issued a special report in the wake of a spate of well-publicized shootings.

It is called the Mayor's Black on Black Crime Task Force Report.

"It is the deep conviction of the task force that the suggestions herein, if heeded, will serve as a solid foundation from which to launch meaningful efforts to stem the tide of Black on Black crime in this community," the report reads.

The date is September 10, 1992.

Ten years ago, Memphis was battling another "epidemic" of violent crime, and the recently elected mayor appointed Shelby County public defender A C Wharton to be task force chairman. Wharton is still the public defender, but now he is also a candidate for mayor of Shelby County.

Time will tell whether the latest crime-fighting efforts of Herenton, Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons, and the Memphis Police Department will be more effective than the Black on Black Task Force, whose members included such current public officials as school board member Lee Brown, state Rep. Lois DeBerry, and city councilwoman TaJuan Stout-Mitchell.

Task force recommendations included establishment of a Mayor's Youth Commission, stay-in-school programs, expansion of Head Start, expansion of neighborhood policing focused on drug enforcement, anti-crime billboards, and a city-sponsored rap concert to "foster better relations" between young people and city leaders.

How are we doing? Well, stay-in-school programs and Head Start are cornerstones of yet another task force on public education, neighborhood policing is an evergreen, drug wars are the cause of the most recent fatal drive-by shootings, tough-talking billboards are plentiful, and we're still waiting on that rap concert and youth commission.

In a concluding section on implementation, the authors of the report wrote: "The task force realizes that even the best reports are useless without a plan for implementation. It is the intention of the task force that each of its recommendations become the project of an individual or organization for implementation purposes."

A sample "contract" followed, with spaces for the signatures of the mayor and a crime-fighting partner. If any of the contracts were executed, they apparently are no longer in effect. Maybe someone will revive them, but the odds favor a brand-new task force and a brand-new report instead.


Uncle Sam's men think undies aren't necessary; why should civilians?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

It's getting hot in here. So take off all your clothes. I am getting so hot, I want to take my clothes off.

-- Nelly, 2002

Unfortunately, or fortunately, we can't be naked all of the time. There are moments, quite a few of them, in fact, when clothes are not just a necessity but a legal requirement. How then do we deal with the sweltering heat? If you're already down to shorts and a tank top, or your breezy little sundress isn't breezy enough, there's only one thing left to do: You've got to "go commando."

Call it free-balling, California casual, alfresco, or the much-preferred "going commando." Unless that sundress is super susceptible to breeze, super short, or you're super drunk, no one will know the difference. Fans of fashion swear by it, and ever since Joey popularized the phrase on Friends, everyone knows what it means but few have the, ahem, balls to go through with it.

Why is that, you ask? Perhaps it's the puritan in all of us. We may not wear knee-length knickers anymore, but even that strand of butt floss provides a last line of defense against, well, whatever. We simply like the sense of security that underwear provides.

But another question remains: Why is it called "going commando"? Ever the journalist, I decided to find out so that you wouldn't have to. An Internet search yielded some pretty interesting Web sites -- discussions about the merits of letting it all hang out, other articles about being anti-panty. But nothing I saw had a definitive explanation of the origins of the term. Well, dammit, I'm an investigative reporter and won't be stopped by dead ends.

As luck (my God, the luck!) would have it, when I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I stumbled across 12 Special Forces soldiers who were staying at my hotel. These were Army guys, Green Berets, commandos in the truest sense of the word. What better way to find out the origin of the term than to just go looking myself? It's war time, these are commandos, and while I'm no USO girl, surely I could serve my country by solving this puzzling question.

Long story short, commandos go commando. That's apparently how the term came about.

I'll admit this was not a scientific investigation. I certainly didn't go around checking all of them, but the one I checked was definitely anti-panty, and he says every Special Forces guy he knows does the same. They do tend to stay in bunkhouses, so it stands to reason that they'd be aware of the other soldiers' habits. But, still, I wasn't satisfied. I needed more information.

A week later, the same commandos were scheduled to be in northern Mississippi attending a shooting school that specializes in training Special Forces. For this school, they'd all be staying in the bunkhouse. So I got my favorite soldier to let me in the house. The floor was covered in clothes, both clean and dirty -- imagine summer camp for boys who have passed puberty, wear night-vision goggles, and shoot automatic weapons. (Can I just say now that I'm becoming patriotic?) I looked around the mounds of clothes and saw nary a boxer or brief or even a boxer brief. He guessed what I was doing and said, "I told you. We don't wear underwear. Is that why you wanted me to bring you here?"

It turns out they have good reasons for free-balling.

"We spend so much time in tropical, moist environments that, if we wear underwear, we'll get crotch rot," he told me. Underwear can also give rise to other maladies in men. Enticing things like anal itch, chafed penis, jock itch, and infertility.

As the soldiers' jobs require extensive swimming, one of their official uniforms consists of swim trunks and a gloriously tight T-shirt. (Did I mention the luck?) Anyway, the trunks are very short by contemporary men's fashion standards, and, feeling coy, I commented that it's a good thing those trunks are lined, otherwise it could get obscene.

But, according to another soldier, the trunks aren't lined at all. And, yes, sometimes the little decision-makers do fall out. But that's the uniform the Army makes the commandos wear, so they just deal with it. (I had never felt greater affection for Uncle Sam in my entire life.)

I asked, "If it bothers you, why don't you just wear underwear?" I was met with blank stares.

"We don't wear underwear," I was told.

"Ever?" I asked.


It's getting hot in here, indeed. In the spirit of the Greatest Generation, I propose we all swear off those poly-cotton, 2 percent Lycra blends. Our grandmothers got to skip pantyhose for the war cause. In this time of terror, going commando is the least we can do.

Lay Out or Stay Out

A sun worshiper and a sun boycotter square off on the best place to spend a summer day: under the rays or in the shade?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Sun-kissed Isn't Just For Oranges

by Mary Cashiola

I have this nasty little habit. Every year, when 74.2 degrees rolls around, I unearth my old beach towel, grab a mag, lotion up, and hit the beach, pool deck, or backyard for a roasty bit of relaxation.

I love to "lay out," as we used to call it in junior high. That was before we knew what "benign" and "malignant" meant. We thought we'd be young and beautiful forever and a tan could only contribute to that. As we lathered up and checked our strap lines, we'd all take pity on my friend Jennifer. A strawberry blonde from a family of redheads, Jennifer's only chance at a tan was if all her freckles fused together.

Now, years later, I am still laying out. My skin is not yet the consistency of old leather nor do I want it to be. I do not use one of those foil contraptions to get the color even on my face. I know all the health risks. But I still value a good tan.

A tan is the finishing touch to the body fantastic. It's the mint on the hotel pillow; it's the sprig of garnish on a plate at a four-star restaurant. Would you eat an Apple Brown Betty that wasn't browned to perfection? Or a cake without icing?

You don't need a tan, just like you don't need the garnish, but having a tan makes anybody look better. The sun's golden-brown kiss seems to sing off the skin: Happy! Active! Outdoorsy! Fun!

Not to mention that it camouflages fat better than a size-24 muumuu with a zip-up hood. Cottage-cheese thighs don't look quite so dimply; uncut abs don't feel quite so conspicuous when they're not glowing like radioactive waste.

Even though a tan might not be "in," so to speak, white (and being white) has never been more "out." Just look at Alicia Keyes or Jennifer Lopez. White is square, gangly, and just plain boring. Add a little color and you've got exotic, daring, sexy.

There are risks; yes, there are risks. Skin cancer is a big one. Mind-numbing red-as-a-lobster burn is another. Itchy dead skin peeling off in big sheets is yet another.

No one ever said looking good was easy. In fact, they say the opposite. Beauty is work; no pain, no gain.

Even so, getting a tan is probably one of the least complicated beauty treatments you'll ever go through. There are no needles. There are no messy bleaches, no painful waxes or razors, no nosy technicians. And you don't have to worry about rubbing anything in evenly or channeling the skills of Mary Kay Ash herself.

Getting a tan is like getting a UV-ray massage; not only does it look good, it feels good. You spread your towel out on a breezy beach, the sun gently beating down. Then you sink into the sand, and all your cares just melt away. You don't have to worry about work or the house payments or taking your car to the shop. There are no traffic jams, no checkout lines, no to-do lists. It's like taking a nap in the daytime without the guilt; it's like watching television without the insipid dialogue.

If you want, you can read a magazine or listen to music. Laying out is a time of complete and utter relaxation (our society doesn't seem to value that enough) that has plenty of health benefits on its own: lower stress levels, therefore longer life.

So lighten up. Darken up.

A whiter shade of pale

by Susan Ellis

Back in the day when I was like Britney Spears -- not a girl, not yet a woman -- sometime around the mid- to late '80s, there was no date rape. That is to say, we believed in things. If, as a female, you dressed provocatively or had too much to drink or were alone with a boy and then something bad happened ("no" did not necessarily mean no), you were asking for it. If you took acid, no gender bias required, you would (no maybe here) go nuts and jump off a roof.

But, like today and probably since the beginning of time, we did not heed those annual warnings about the harmful effects of too much sun for those most at risk for skin cancer: has moles, is fair-colored, has had two or more serious sunburns. Nope, as soon as the temperature nudged 70, we snapped out our beach towels, put on the barest swimsuit we could bear, lubed ourselves with baby oil, gave about seven pumps to the Sun In bottle for our hair, and settled down for the day. At dusk, we emerged painfully red, swollen, and feverish with brittle, oddly orange hair.

Then, phase two: peel, itch, itch, peel, more Sun In to "fix" the hair. And then triumph, for under the skin flakes was the "base" coat of our tan.

It's not worth it. You should consider those yearly reports about sun-cancer risks because they are very real and very serious. And you should consider this: To be honestly pale -- splotchy and so white that your bare legs are slightly blue and provoke eeyows! -- is to be daring. For, to be truly fashionable, one must be willing to be ugly. The bottom line is the same one that drives us to embrace the sun: vanity.

Let's break it down.

The Looks Department. There's no denying the appeal of slightly red cheeks and a splash of freckles across a young person's nose. Emphasis on the young because it will catch up to you someday.

Back to more nostalgia. I remember a girl whom I will call Wendy. She had gigantic blue eyes, was tiny-thin, and was my high school's veritable George Hamilton. That is, even at sweet 16, she looked to be about 50. Given the time that's passed, I'm sure that she is now enjoying all the perks of the AARP.

It wasn't that Wendy was just tan; she was super tan. If you look too tan, you look like a freak. What's more, you don't look very smart because, obviously, you don't listen to those yearly sun warnings. Really, add a strap to your head and I'd throw my keys into your mouth and use you as a purse. That's what you look like.

As for the alternatives, self-tanning cream has dramatically improved. But have you dramatically improved? Do you leave a discernible hand print on the back of your thigh? Are your palms brown? And tanning beds -- don't even try to tell me that your sun came from a strip mall.

If You Can't Stand the Heat. Oh, it's hot outside. So very, very hot. Damn, it's hot. There's air conditioning inside. Jesus, please bless the air conditioner.

Time Is On Your Side. Let's face it. You are just lying there. The book you bought is bad. It's boring, boring, boring. And the time involved to be tan and remain tan equals infinity.

Think about it: If all the Miss America contestants from all the years past took all the time that they worked on being tan then they really could have achieved world peace by now. This is a fact; look it up.

The last time I was in the sun for a purpose, I emerged red and swollen and feverish. That was 1988. More recently, I was at the dentist's office when the attendant looked at me and asked if I was sick and did I need to go to the bathroom. My first thought was, What's it to you, bitch? But then I realized that I am pale, very Boo Radley.

Mission accomplished.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Math Problem

Memphis spends millions on high schools with few graduates.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Eight Memphis high schools graduated fewer than 100 students this year, but that hasn't stopped the school board from spending millions of dollars for new or extensively renovated buildings for them.

A report obtained by the Flyer shows that Manassas High School, slated for a $20 million overhaul, produced just 60 graduates. Carver High School, renovated for $12.3 million four years ago, had only 79 graduates. Booker T. Washington High School, renovated for $7.9 million, had 78 grads, while Mitchell High School, booked for a $13.8 million replacement school, had 72.

Enrollment has become so lopsided at the 28 Memphis public high schools that the two largest ones, Whitehaven and White Station, accounted for 15 percent (780 students) of the 5,157 graduates in the class of 2002. The eight smallest high schools -- Carver, Manassas, Mitchell, Oakhaven, Sheffield, Treadwell, Booker T. Washington, and Westside -- had only 599 graduates. Nearly half of the graduates in the class of 2002 came from the eight largest high schools.

The imbalance is a consequence of Memphis sprawling over 300 square miles, school-system policies that encourage choice and movement, a dropout rate that exceeds 35 percent at some schools, and a growing county school system. While several city high schools are shrinking, suburban and county schools are at capacity or overcrowded. Cordova High School, claimed by both systems, was over capacity four years after it opened. Recently annexed Countrywood needs three new schools with an estimated cost of $65 million. The oldest high school in the city, Central, is still one of the most popular and most successful, with 289 graduates this year, including 83 honors graduates.

Simply put, the money for capital spending is not following the students. All property-tax payers of Shelby County, whether or not they live in the city of Memphis, are paying the bill because of the school funding formula that allocates roughly $3 to Memphis schools for every $1 spent on county schools.

A task force has proposed funding changes, but so far, no one has zeroed in on the money spent on high schools relative to the number of students they serve and graduates they produce. Making the issue especially sensitive is the fact that the shrinking city high schools are almost all black, while the overcrowded suburban schools are mostly white.

The city schools administration hasn't closed a high school since Douglass in 1981, when Mayor Willie Herenton was superintendent and Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson was his assistant. Veteran school-system employees say there are still bitter feelings over Douglass and that it is virtually politically impossible to close a high school.

But is it smart to spend millions to renovate them or replace them with new buildings with empty classrooms and nearly as many staff members as graduates?

The city school administration and the elected school board disagree. Watson's staff did not recommend the $20 million Manassas renovation; the school board did. Board member Sara Lewis is a Manassas graduate, as is entertainer Isaac Hayes. The school is located north of downtown near an abandoned factory. It could get a boost in enrollment from the Uptown development next to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital but only if that project attracts hundreds of families with children in public schools.

That has not been the case at Carver High School, which is also located in a neighborhood that is losing population. The school board debated closing it when Gerry House was superintendent, but with plenty of money available for capital spending thanks to the funding formula linked to the growing county school system, it changed its mind. Not only did Carver stay open, it got a spiffy new building. In 2001, Carver had 108 graduates. This year, it had just 79.

In Countrywood, the city school board can bide its time as long as the county keeps responsibility for the schools there. The single-source funding plan would set boundaries for each system while lowering property taxes in the city and raising them in the county.

The issue is complicated, but it could be made clearer and more urgent by looking at how much is spent on schools that are hurting for customers and schools that attract them. The proof is in the pudding, which in this case is the graduates.

Number Of Graduates 2001/2002

Whitehaven: 369/400

White Station: 426/380

Ridgeway: 213/297

Fairley: 205/256

Wooddale: 335/207

Melrose: 143/201

South Side: 177/91

Sheffield: 124/79

Carver: 108/79

Mitchell: 58/72

Westside: 41/70

Treadwell: 77/63

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