Wednesday, November 16, 2005

CITY BEAT: Generation Gap

The torch is passed, and that's a very good thing.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Her smile was wan and her greeting tentative when I ran into Janet Hooks at the grocery store the other day.

She was grabbing a cart on the way in, and I was toting a box of fried chicken and checking out. We’d known each other slightly as City Council member and reporter for several years and had a few rough innings, but I saw another side of her last year when she led a lonely and doomed campaign for a Memphis payroll tax. Some fights have to be fought even when the outcome is as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise. Plenty of politicians run to the front of a parade but not when it’s going off a cliff.

The Hooks clan has been in the news a lot this year. Janet is leaving the City Council for a job in the Herenton administration as head of the office of religious and multicultural affairs. Her husband, ex-Shelby County commissioner Michael Hooks, is under indictment in the Tennessee Waltz. Her son, Michael Hooks Jr., a member of the city school board, has been in news stories for his contacts with E-Cycle Management, the FBI’s bogus computer company.

Interesting stuff, but I’m taking a pass because of a conflict of interest called children — another Hooks son and my daughter — who graduated from the same high school and started college this year. It’s one thing to be a smartass when you’re an anonymous blogger or a columnist writing about George W. Bush or Karl Rove or the Clintons. They’re built for it. It’s different when the people you write about run into you in the grocery store and have kids who get scholarships to good schools and come to your house for dinner on prom night and graduation, hug your wife, call you “sir,” say thank-you and how-do-you-do, pose for pictures in your backyard, and exchange e-mails with your daughter.

Somebody must be doing something right, because these kids are the huggiest generation I’ve ever seen. They hug when they meet and they hug when they say good-bye, then they break and repeat 10 minutes later. They hug when they win, and they hug when they lose. They hug boys, girls, black people, white people, old people, and even — gasp — their teachers and preachers. My daughter has more cheek-to-cheek pictures in her room than the art director of People and, at 18, more BFFs than I’ve had in my life.

That’s “best friends forever.” Before I got so hip I came from a place in the chilly Midwest where you took a stranger’s extended hand like it was a deadly snake, hugged like a bad dancer, and said “I love you” at engagements, weddings, and funerals.

Not that I need any more reminders, but you know you’re an old fart in this business when you start interviewing the children of the people you interviewed when you broke in. I met Kerr Tigrett last week to hear him tell me about some plans for the Mid-South Fairgrounds. Mr. Branston this, Mr. Branston that. Nicest, most polite young man you ever saw. While he was talking, I kept being distracted by how different he is from his father, who was cordial enough but in a different way. The old man — and John Tigrett wouldn’t have minded that usage at all — used to call me and other reporters — and even mayors — “sport” and “boy” when he was pitching The Pyramid. He was a piece of work and a product of another place and time.

I don’t have any illusions that Marcus Hooks and Katy Branston and Kerr Tigrett and their friends won’t have to learn to use their elbows as well as their arms and their brains if they want to get ahead. But like the old Buffalo Springfield song says, “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” When you’ve been through hell and come out the other side, maybe an office of religious and multicultural affairs is just right. So when I ran into Janet Hooks in the grocery store, I couldn’t let her go by with a nod and a quick hello. I wanted to give her a damn hug.

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