Missouri & Tennessee

Some things work.

Ibuprofen. Sad songs.

Our last night in Memphis, as my body wearily attempted to digest fried eggs, grits, biscuits, a milkshake, and french fries, the one-side-of-head headache I got undulated with my pulse.

In twenty minutes, it was gone, sudden as a bird flies off.

My sister played the saddest song as it rained, and people with umbrellas came to the doors of the Civil Rights Museum. The balcony was right there. My sister cried, and my insides echoed.

Ducks also work. We cozied up to the edge of the red carpet. The ducks were coming. After a classically southern extended yarn about how and why the ducks were led to and from the hotel fountain every day, we were amped.

And the ducks came! They were silent. One male and three females, taking the carpet, gently encouraged by the presence of the duckmaster general. Yes, that is his job, and he has a cane with a gold duck head atop it.

Whiskey works. Wearing spaceman silver leggings, I sat in the bar the ducks had just vacated. Stained glass floated above us, and trees and trees’ worth of paneling enveloped us. In Tennessee, a whiskey drink made sense. It came with a duck swizzle stick and a tiny rubber duck floating in the top. I tasted the pecan pie. You can’t win ’em all.

My sister and I, dance pals from the jump (pun intended), we are now middle aged ladies grooving to a full wall-sized screen playing “Soul Train.”

My cousin’s daughter ran from daffodil to daffodil. I think she is smelling them. “Wait, are you kissing them?” “Yes,” she said.

We pull into a tiny diner in downtown St. Louis. They have ten tables, and open kitchen, every surface is either chrome or a tired white. The sign says White Knight, which sounded a bit Ku Klux Klan, but as the restaurant had some black clientele, I decided they must be okay. We ordered. We listened to others congratulate the waitress on her new job. It was her last day there. We asked a guy at another table to take our photo. “I guess you trust me, huh?” he said. I did trust him. My shitty old phone is worth nothing compared to a good place to get lunch.

A theme: the white ladies are offered cautions. We stop in Arkansas for gas. I go in to the bathroom. When I return, my sister is chatting with two guys who are gassing up their work van. “You gotta be real careful in Memphis,” one said. “People get their cars stolen all the time. You gotta be real careful.” I marveled at how, in contrast with all the cultural bullshit about Black men, Black men have in fact offered me assistance and protection and warnings many times. We told him we would be careful. I was more worried about him, a Black man in Arkansas.

My uncle pours and waits and flips the family legacy pancakes. My uncle’s uncle made these. It is a sacred recipe. The table has hydrangeas and tulips, a white cloth. Behind me is my great-grandfather’s watch under a glass bell. My aunt brings in butter on a dish, and bottle after bottle of real maple syrup. I feel puffed up like a good pillow.

“Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?” someone asks the tour guide.

“Mick Jagger,” he says. We are at Sun Studios. I gaze at the black electrical tape “x” on the floor. This is where Elvis stood to record “That’s All Right,” his first single. Sam Philips, owner of Sun Studios, had to be nagged by Elvis for a solid year before he was allowed to record a real track.

The polar bear, slightly lemon flavored white fur, flowing along, swimming pat un on the other side of thick glass.

The lone panda arches her back, pulls her shoulders back, and looks intently up. She’s either performing a wiccan ceremony or asking for more bamboo. The keeper brings more bamboo. Yaya sits and munches on bamboo for as long as we want to watch her. Then she stands up, stares at her keeper’s camera, and silently asks for more.

An Egyptian man sells us pizza. In Memphis, this is particularly noteworthy. They have an odd relationship with their Egyptian name. “You are both so beautiful,” he tells us, as we pay $5 for pizza that is worth $2. We ask what brought him to Memphis. “A mistake,” he says.

In Springfield, Missouri, we pop into an antique shop. On the counter are cards laid out for solitaire. The old man standing over them says, “I keep trying to cheat, but then I feel bad.” The old man is watching “Dragnet” on a small TV. I look over the dishes, dresses, salt and pepper shakers, lamps.

Another man enters. He tells his friend a story about a local resident who rents his car out for $20 a pop. Sometimes he doesn’t even know the people. “Could be off the California,” he says. “And the police won’t help him get it back anymore because he shouldn’t be giving people his car like that. People he doesn’t even know.” It’s been raining all day. “It’s almost impossible to get out of your car if it’s in water.”

Every slight dip in the sidewalk cement is a small sea. We skip around them to find dry places, on our way back to the car, for the last leg of the journey.


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