Cable channels may flunk “unbiased news,” but in my book, they do surprisingly well with their drama series. I like the way they infuse them with a bit of comedy and don’t try to gross me out with crime scenes. One of them, Memphis Beat, takes me back to our years in that city: Beale Street, Mud Island Park, the Mississippi River with Arkansas on the other side, the Peabody Hotel, the funky restaurants.
When we moved there, people assumed we would want to live the suburbs. They have Macaroni Grill, but not Rendezvous Ribs. No comparison. We decided we wanted to be part of the progress of a re-energizing city and the diversity therein, so we bought a house in Midtown, where purple hippy houses and stately old mansions intermingled and the people were as eclectic as the housing.
The late Howard Lee was a puppy then and he and I took long walks through the neighborhood. Sometimes I wrote articles for the paper about our excursions. Recently I found one of those old clippings– about life on the balconies of those homes (by then many had been converted to apartments) because they reminded me of the way folks used their front porches in the small Southern town of my childhood. Here are some excerpts:
Yesterday I was serenaded on my walk by a young man accompanying himself on his guitar. He sang lustily to the treetops, over the jackhammer noises of the utility repair crew on a nearby street. It seemed so normal I barely glanced up at him.
Further along on my walk, I was called to look up, however, although it took a minute or so for the voice to separate itself from the book on tape I was listening to on my Walkman.
“Ma’am? MA’AM? Up h-e-e-e-r-e!”
Finally I saw her, waving frantically from an upstairs porch a half block ahead. Howard and I walked to a spot underneath her balcony and looked up at her.
“THANK GOODNESS you saw me! I’ve been trying to attract someone’s attention for an hour! I’m locked in up here!”
She was dressed quite neatly and looked sane, if a bit frazzled. To attract the attention of a woman in baggy sweats, walking a 100-lb. gum chewing dog (he’d picked it up in the grass somewhere) she had to be desperate. I was a bit leery.
“The iron security door is locked downstairs and I don’t have the key. I wonder if you’d go to the main door and get my landlord. I’ve got to catch a plane in 30 minutes!”
No one answered the bell or my shouts and knocks, so I returned to the sidewalk to break the news to Rapunzel.
“I’ve GOT to catch that plane! I’ve been looking to see if I thought I could jump. Do you think it would ruin my luggage if I threw it down?”
It was a very high porch with no soft landing spots–just shrubbery and concrete. And she was worried about her luggage?
She paced from one side of the porch to the other. Howard continued to watch her and chew his gum thoughtfully. My neck was getting tired from looking up. I glanced up and down the street.
At the intersection where the jackhammer was still tunneling to Beijing, several utility trucks flanked the temporary tent covering over the hole. I found a Bell South worker in back of one of the trucks and pointed out the damsel as I explained her situation. He did not look the least bit surprised by my story, at my dog still making smacking noises with his gum, or at the woman waving from the balcony in the next block. It was, after all, Memphis.
Strangely, he never said a word to me, just nodded as to accept the baton I passed to him, so I waved to the woman and continued on my walk. I looked back once to see him carrying an extension ladder up her sidewalk.
Returning to my own house, I heard the neighbor’s parrot belting out O Sole Mio from their balcony across the street. His knowledge of opera, I realized, was far superior to mine. He stopped his aria and squawked out an inquiry about my health as I climbed the front porch stairs.
Just another voice from an upstairs balcony on a spring day in Memphis.