Everybody Dies in Memphis: Tyson, Lewis, the Land of the King

Written by Jonathan Ames on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.



About two hours
after the Tyson-Lewis fight, after the arena had cleared out, after the final
press conference, after 20,000 people had collectively shot some kind of cathartic
wad of soul-semen and soul-pussy-juice, I found an exit and walked alone across
a large, desolate parking lot and up a steep grass embankment. As usual I had
fucked up. This was no way to leave the Pyramid arena. To get back to the world,
which was a dangerous dark road underneath a highway, I had to climb a high
metal fence. I could have turned back, found a proper exit, but naturally I
didn’t. I was too lazy to retrace my steps, but not too lazy to climb a
fence. In other words, I’m an idiot.


So at the top
of the 15-foot fence, as I swung my leg over, my pants, right in the crotch
area, got caught in the sharp, rusted wire, which wasn’t razor wire, but
just as effective.


Oh no, Ames,
I said to myself, don’t fucking rip up your dick, not at 1 a.m. in Memphis.


I couldn’t
get leverage to unhook my crotch, because I couldn’t put my hands down
on the wire to push off–it would have sliced me up immediately. My fists
were in the last safe rung of fencing, and my feet were in holes on either side.


So I was stuck
up there, legs straddled, dick near-pierced, feet starting to slip, when a subnormal
man in thick glasses and a dirty baseball cap came limping along, carrying a
stack of the just-printed limited edition of the local paper, with the headline,
"Lewis KO’s Tyson in 8." He was some kind of Southern homeless
man, face contorted and weird from retardation, but the eyes behind the thick
glasses were kind and gentle–the disposition of all the Memphians I had
met.


"What
are you doing on that fence? Are you lost?" he asked.


"I’m
stuck," I said, and looked at him in the silvery light cast by the parking
lot below.


"Did you
go to the fight?" he asked.


"Yes."


"I’m
going to sell these papers!" he said, wanting praise and affirmation from
me in his childlike retarded way. He was still searching, as most of us are,
retarded or not, for a father to pat him on the back. He looked to be about
50.


"That’s
good," I said, and my feet slipped some more. I could feel the loser in
me wanting to just let go, give up, get a tetanus gash in my dick or scrotum,
and then fall to the ground and break a wrist. But there was the possibility
of the dick getting ripped off and me falling to the ground without it and even
the loser in me didn’t want to see my penis left behind on some rusty wire.


So there I
was on the precipice of castrating injury, and not too far away, Denzel Washington
was probably doing lines of coke, and the scores of NBA stars who had come to
the fight were probably having their impossibly long dicks sucked by some of
the thousands of whores who had descended on Memphis, and David Remnick, The
New Yorker
editor, who had come as the thinking-man’s observer of the
fight, was probably having a nice late dinner and talking to someone intelligent,
before getting his own dick sucked by one of those thousands of whores. Wait
a second, I take that back. I spoke to Remnick briefly. He seemed classy. So
he probably wouldn’t get his dick sucked, which is my way of saying I hope
I get published in The New Yorker someday, Mr. Remnick, should you happen
to read this. New York Press is great, I love it to death, but I have
to think of my rent–The New Yorker pays the big bucks.


Anyway, back
to the fence. The subnormal man said, "You want to buy one of my papers?"


"I’ve
got to get down first," I shouted at him.


And then somehow,
I did it. I got my leverage toe in a hole, pushed off, the crotch unsnagged
and I shakily scaled down the other side. I bought a paper from the man for
two dollars and he staggered away underneath the highway into oblivion, heading
in the direction of the beautiful brown Mississippi, which bisects our country
like the world’s largest septic line. Why the subnormal was going in that
direction, away from town where he could sell his papers, I have no idea.


So I, the less
retarded of the two of us, though not by much, crossed the road, got out from
underneath the highway and went into the first bar I came across, even though
I don’t drink anymore. But I was thirsty from my exertions and craved a
club soda. The bar was simply a door in the back of a building. There was nothing
else around. I was in some urban dead-zone next to the highway. Over the door
was a sign that said Discretions and there was a neon beer bottle in
a window. I sensed something perverted about the place. I have a good nose for
these things. I went in and walked down a hall. At the end of the hall, a little
shiny-faced fellow sat on a stool.


"Five-dollar
cover," he said.


I wasn’t
sure I wanted to pay five bucks to get into what looked like a dive just to
order a club soda, and the shiny fellow saw me hesitate. "Normally it’s
$40," he said, to lure me, going into his sales pitch, "but because
of the fight, we’re offering a discount, five dollars, and with that you
can become a member of Discretions. You know this is a swingers’ club,
right?"


"No, I
didn’t know," I said. "What do you mean by a swingers’ club?"


So I was right,
the place was perverted. But I was unsure if swinger meant the same thing in
Memphis as it did in New York. Swingers’ clubs in New York, like Plato’s
Retreat, have long since expired. Could they possibly still be alive in Tennessee?


Then again,
my whole experience for three days in Memphis had left me feeling like I had
traveled back in time, as if Elvis’ death had permanently frozen the city
in the year 1977. So I shouldn’t have been shocked to come upon a swingers’
club.


"It’s
a bar for couples to meet, and singles, too," the little man on the stool
said. "Alternative lifestyles."


So, sure enough,
the definition was the same in Memphis as in New York, and while not a swinger,
I could definitely fall under the heading of alternative, so I paid my five
dollars and went into the swingers’ club to swing my dick, to celebrate
it not having been severed on that terrible fence…


Well, that
was the start of my last night in Tennessee, and I promise I’ll return
the story to Discretions, to that lovely club, but I’d like to go back
to the very beginning of my trip to Memphis, a journey I had taken so I could
see a fight, to see something violent and terrible–I hoped–and then
to be able to say, "I was there." So, in a way, it was an ego
trip, which is always the worst kind of trip to take. It’s that old hubris
problem. The gods don’t like ego, you show too much of it and they stick
you on fences and threaten to remove your genitals, metaphorically or otherwise.


But let me
go back to the beginning, when I first came to Memphis, to this town where Mike
Tyson was beaten to a bloody pulp, where Elvis lived and died, where Martin
Luther King was shot dead, where the blues were born and where so much of lurid
America seems to have come down the Mississippi and washed up on the banks.




Thursday,
June 6, 11 a.m.



I take a taxi
from the airport and go directly to the Cook Convention Center to pick up my
credentials and attend the weigh-ins of the fighters–Lewis at noon, Tyson
at 3. I plan to check into my sleazy hotel later.


The lobby of
the convention center is loaded with cops in riot gear. I give my name and passport
and get some kind of wristband. Then a cop frisks me and waves his bomb-detector
wand in my armpits and up my ass. No bombs there, except for my sporadic explosive
episodes of irritable bowel syndrome.


After being
frisked, I go to a room where I get my temporary credentials and have my picture
taken for my permanent credentials, which I’ll get the next day. Then I
head up some stairs to the media center where I pick up all sorts of folders
and press releases. There are dozens of journalists typing at their laptops,
and radio guys with miniature broadcast stations are talking into microphones.
Mounted tv’s blast ESPN. I’m in sports-journalist heaven and feel
kind of giddy. I can’t believe I’ve pulled this off: press credentials
for the Tyson-Lewis fight! A weirdo writer like me. But also I’m a mad
closet sports fan. I see Remnick. I see recently deposed New York Post
columnist Wallace Matthews. I’m with the big boys.


I go up another
flight of stairs to an enormous hangar-like space, capable of holding rock concerts,
political rallies. There are 200 chairs set up and a stage with a white scale
that looks like a cross.


I grab a seat
right in the front row. I look around–Leroy Neiman is at the other end
of my row. He’s drawing a picture of the scale. He has a Dali mustache
and is wearing elaborate white and black shoes. An old man with white hair stands
next to him, leaning on a cane.


Journalists
from all over the world are filling up the chairs. Behind us is another stage
with dozens of high-powered cameras with black cannon-like lenses pointing at
the scale. So much attention for two men fighting. We’ve got whole countries
fighting. There are huge problems to solve. But I’ve long since accepted
that the world is sick, unbalanced and lunatic. So while we live with the constant
specter of terror, while chunks of polar icecaps are breaking off, while the
Mideast self-immolates, I and thousands of others are gathered in Memphis to
see two black men attack each other.


I ask the British
photographer sitting next to me, "Excuse me, but do you know who the guy
with the white hair and the cane is?"


"That’s
Budd Schulberg," says the Brit.


Schulberg wrote
On the Waterfront. He penned the line, "I coulda been a contender."
No wonder he’s at the fight. "I’m going to try to talk to him
and Neiman," I say to the photog.


"Don’t
bother with Neiman. He’s just here to sell paintings. A prostitute."


Suddenly, Neiman
does look a little whorish to me. That mustache. Those shoes. I’m very
impressionable. I go over to Schulberg. I hear him say to another reporter,
"It could be Shakespearean."


The reporter
leaves. "Mr. Schulberg, excuse me," I say, "but did I hear you
say you thought the fight could be Shakespearean?"


"I think
something out of Shakespeare could happen to Tyson," he says. "There’s
this violence inside him. I worry that something terrible will happen and he’ll
come to a terrible end." Schulberg speaks in the sweet, halting tones of
an older man.


"Do you
think something bad could happen in this fight?"


"I don’t
know," he says.


"Who do
you think is going to win?"


"It’s
a tough fight to call. Such a mental game. Lewis has to take the fight away
from Tyson right away, like Holyfield did. But Tyson doesn’t have the jab
he used to. He might be naked in there."


I can’t
think of any more boxing questions, so I say, "I read once about your cross-country
trip with F. Scott Fitzgerald."


"Yes,
I wrote about that in The Disenchanted."


"The two
of you got drunk on a plane and then went to the Winter Carnival at Dartmouth,
right?"


"Yes,
Scott started out sober. But my father ordered Mumm’s champagne for the
flight, and nobody warned me about Scott’s problem. Once he started with
the champagne that was it."


"What
was Fitzgerald like?"


"He was
immensely appealing, awfully likable. He was interested in you, would really
listen. He was interested in people."


I love hearing
about Fitzgerald, but then two policemen on motorcycles come roaring into the
hangar, followed by a police car and two white SUVs. Lewis has arrived! Schulberg
and I stop speaking. Lewis emerges from his car–tall, sunglasses, sweatsuit,
a Rastafarian hat. He’s a physically beautiful human being and I wonder
if I’m watching a dead man walking. Lewis is the superior boxer, but Tyson
has a lethal punch. If he can land it maybe Lewis dies. That’s why we’re
all here.


Lewis gets
on the stage; he’s surrounded by his team, his bodyguards–about 20
large black men in powder-blue sweatsuits. SWAT team cops with guns and clubs
and biceps line the front of the stage. Lewis’ trainer, Emanuel Steward,
undresses Lewis–helps him remove his pants. I once had an amateur fight
and my trainer would be intimate like that with me–removing my clothes,
rubbing me down. Trainers are like mothers; they’re kind to you, sweet,
gentle.


Lewis steps
onto the scale, just wearing a pair of gray briefs. He’s 6-foot-5 and powerfully
built; his hands and arms are enormous; his hair is in braids. I’m not
gay, I’m more straight than gay, though I’ve been known to be crooked,
and so I notice the prodigious outline of Lewis’ drooping trunk-like cock.
How embarrassing for him. Or rather how embarrassing for all us normal-to-underendowed
men. Lewis raises his arms in the traditional boxer’s pose. White stuff
is in his armpits. Cameras flash repeatedly. The announcer calls out, "Two
hundred and forty-nine pounds and a quarter."


Lewis steps
off the scale. One of his handlers helps him to dress.




1
p.m.



After a free
lunch provided for the media–pulled pork, coleslaw and beans–I leave
the convention center to get some fresh air. At the front of the center, there
are six Tyson protesters–four lesbians and two gay men. They’re holding
signs that say, "Tyson Opposes Homophobia, Thanks Mike!" and "Thanks
Mike for Saying Gay is OK!" I figure their signs are a joke, ironic. I
approach one of the lesbians, an overweight girl with nose piercings and very
pretty blue eyes.


"Your
sign is a joke, right?" I say.


"Oh no,"
she says. "Mike hugged that fellow over there"–she points to
a little swishy blond fellow–"and said, these are his exact words,
‘I oppose all antigay discrimination.’ Everyone is quick to judge
him, to give him bad press, so it’s important to give him good press when
he does something appropriate."


I go to the
next lesbian, a waifish girl, cute, also with nose piercings. I’d like
to ask her for a date.


"What
group are you guys all with?" I ask.


"Some
of us are Memphis Area Gay Youth, but also Equality Tennessee, and that man"–she
points to a skinny, scary, Edgar Allan Poe type–"is with OutRage!,
an organization in London. We just want to support Mike for making a step in
the direction of tolerance."


"Have
you heard any rumors that Mike Tyson might be bisexual?" I ask. I’m
dying to imply that his prison time may account for his pro-gay sentiments,
but I don’t want to be rude.


The girl hesitates.
Then she says, "Well, from past comments it seems like he is very
caught up with anal sex. Some people say he’s repressed."


I go over to
the little blond boy who created this whole stir.


"How did
Tyson come to hug you?" I ask.


"Well,
we were protesting at his training camp, trying to raise consciousness about
homophobia in sports, and he came out of his car and just hugged me and he said,
‘I oppose all–’"


"I know,"
I say. "So what was it like to be hugged by him?"


This guy is
clearly jazzed by the encounter. He’s all lit up from within, kind of like
Cinderella before midnight. Television cameras are on him, pictures are being
snapped.


"I was
shocked," he says. "But I wasn’t scared. I had to smile and hug
him back, being an activist, you know."


If I wasn’t
such a pansy myself, I’d ask him if he got a hard-on when Tyson’s
arms went around him–I’m sure he would have happily been Tyson’s
girl in the pen–but I’m too much of a wimp to be rude to people.


"Are you
going to root for him to win?" I ask, which is my polite way of saying,
Are you in love with him now that he held you?


"I’m
opposed to boxing," he says. "I’m a nonviolent person. I just
hope neither gets hurt. We’re here to raise consciousness. Using antigay
words in sports, you know, like homo, fag"–he whispers
them–"is just as bad as racist words, like the N-word."


"Come
on, you’re not going to root for him? He hugged you!"


"Well,
I hope he doesn’t get hurt."


What the hell,
he’s a sweet kid, and I leave him to be pounced on by 10 other eager journalists.
It’s his big day. Belle of the ball.




3
p.m.



Three motorcycle
cops, four police cars and five SUVs–Tyson’s entrance is more grand
than Lewis’. He comes onto the stage and strips himself. His bodyguards,
unlike Lewis’, are ragtag, no uniformity of outfit. Tyson’s smiling,
chewing gum. He throws some punches. He looks to be in good shape. He has enormous
breasts, which must further endear him to the gay community. He jumps onto the
scale. He’s wearing shorts; you can’t tell if his cock is as big as
Lewis’. He weighs in at 234 and a half.


I had been
looking forward to this moment of seeing Tyson in person. But it’s a let-down.
I read some article recently–don’t remember where–that said scientists
have proven that Americans think they have more friends than they actually have
because they watch so much tv. Our primitive brains, still using Stone Age operating
systems, are designed to think that a face we see often is a friendly face,
so if we watch a lot of tv we come to think that these faces, these tv
people, these celebrities, are our friends. And that’s what I experience
when I see Tyson. My brain tells me that I know him already, that he’s
an old pal. Hence, the let-down. I think that maybe if I could touch him
or smell him or be hit by him that would be exciting, but there’s no chance
I’ll get close enough.


A woman journalist
behind me, looking at Tyson on the scale, says in a Southern drawl, "He’s
quite a specimen." There’s a sexy hint of desire in her voice. I think
of Sylvia Plath’s line, "Every woman adores a Fascist,/The boot in
the face, the brute…"




3:40
p.m.



Press conference
with Tyson’s handlers. Stacey McKinley, one of his longtime trainers, is
asked, "Why do you think there’s such a fascination with Mike Tyson
in this country?"


"Not just
this country," McKinley says. "All over the world. People in England
slept outside his hotel. When he was on the street they followed him. He had
to run to a police station. Can you imagine Mike Tyson running to the po-lice?
And here in America we’re a violent race of people. We like to be entertained
with violence. People like hockey. People like Mike Tyson. He can break jaws,
fracture skulls, break bones. You’ll see, the South is going to rise again.
Mike Tyson is going to rise it. I like Memphis. Good catfish. Collard greens.
Stars are here. Mike Tyson is putting Memphis on the map. Feeding people in
Tennessee."




7
p.m.



After checking
into my hotel on the outskirts, I come back to downtown Memphis and attend a
Minor League baseball game. I’ve been given free tickets because I’m
media, and I get a free meal: hotdogs, beans, coleslaw. The local team is the
Redbirds, Triple-A affiliate to the St. Louis Cardinals.


The stadium
is beautiful, brand new: a cross between Camden Yards and Fenway Park. The game
is enjoyable. I’m really in America. A balmy night. Baseball. Families.
Children. Toxic food. Beer.


John Rocker
comes in to pitch for the other team, the Redhawks, affiliate to the Texas Rangers.
He’d been demoted to the minors. He’s bigger than the other players,
very muscular, his legs like a ballet dancer’s. He throws the ball extremely
hard–98 mph. But he gets hit and is visibly frustrated. The guy is all
will and force. Destined to fail.


The Redbirds
have glorious young cheerleaders, a couple of white girls and a couple of black
girls. They wear red miniskirts and red bra-tops. They stand on the Redbirds
dugout and incite the crowd, waving their suggestive pompoms, like they’ve
pulled out a handful of hair from their beautiful young muffs.



9:30
p.m.



I’m on
Beale St., four blocks of blues clubs, neon signs, blaring music, street musicians,
Gang Unit police, thousands of people, beer flowing. It’s the only street
that is alive in Memphis. Everything else is empty 1970s storefronts, abandoned,
forgotten.


I don’t
go into any of the clubs. They’re too crowded and there’s plenty of
free music on the street. I listen to a good blues band playing in a little
park. Then I go into a hamburger joint. Sit at the counter. Four sexy young
white-trash girls are at a table. I kind of eye them. This one girl in a halter
top keeps lifting her arms over her head, like she’s stretching. When she
does it she looks at me, flashing me her oddly super-white, beautiful shaved
armpits and sweet breasts.


I order a club
soda and french fries. The girl with the pits comes over to me.


"Hi, I’m
Jennifer," she says in her Southern twang.


"I’m
Jonathan."


"Are you
drinking?"


"No."


"Why not?"


"Trying
not to."


One of her
girlfriends joins her, the other two stay at the table.


"Even
though you don’t drink, can you buy me and my girlfriend a drink? My sister
died."


She looks right
at me. I can’t tell if she’s lying. "I’m sorry about your
sister. When did she die?"


"A week
ago. I’m out partying to forget, but I tell everybody first thing we meet."


"How’d
she die?"


"Car accident.
Tractor trailer drove her car off the road… Can you buy us drinks?"


I order drinks
for her and her girlfriend. Vodka and cranberry juice. Good for urinary-tract
infections and getting wasted. The drinks come in big plastic to-go cups. Eight
bucks. I’m on a tight budget.


"What
religion are you?" she asks me.


"No religion,"
I lie. I’m afraid to tell her I’m Jewish. I’m in the South, after
all.


"I thought
maybe you were Catholic," she says.


"Why?"


"Jonathan’s
a Catholic name… Well, see you." She and her girlfriend suddenly leave
me, their drinks in hand. I’ve been conned. They go out of the restaurant,
onto the street. Her two other friends get up to leave. I call one of them over.


"Did your
friend’s sister die?"


The girl looks
a little startled. But she catches on quick, that her girlfriend must have pulled
a con. "Yeah, she died."


"How?"


"She was
on drugs." She leaves me. I don’t know what to believe. Doesn’t
matter. Those armpits were worth the eight bucks.




10:30
p.m.



I go to the
Peabody, which is Memphis’ most famous hotel. It’s a grand old thing,
and the lobby, which is a big bar, is packed with an unholy throng of white-trash
and black-trash, all gathered for the fight. It’s like spring break for
adults. About 1000 people are jammed into a space the size of a basketball court.
The women are all wearing incredibly revealing dresses; the men are either costumed
like gangsters or wearing professional sports-team tops and baggy pants.


I’m trying
to spot prostitutes, but it’s hard to tell the difference between the regular
women and the pros. Maybe they’re all pros. I do make eye contact with
this one lovely woman, who is definitely on the job. She gives me a sweet smile
and there’s that fake shy look in her eye, as if she and I are in on the
same cute joke. But it’s not a cute joke. For money, she’ll put her
legs on my shoulders, we’ll pretend to make love and we’ll both feel
like hell afterward. Well, at least I will; I can’t speak for her. But
she is gorgeous–light brown skin and a figure like a mountain pass in the
Tour de France. Then I see her make those same eyes at a pro basketball player
whose name I don’t know. He walks over to her, they exchange a few words
and he punches her number into his cellphone. She walks off. The basketball
player is then surrounded by four white girls in skimpy dresses.


"You’re
beautiful!" this one girl says to him. She puts her high-heeled foot next
to his. "Your feet are huge!"




Friday,
June 7, 11 a.m.



I go to Graceland.
It’s situated on a dreary four-lane highway–Elvis Presley Blvd.–of
fried chicken places and gas stations. It must have just been a country road
when he bought the house in the 50s.


On line for
the tour, several sports journalists nod at me. It’s like we’re all
in Memphis for a long wedding: you get to know people, feel friendly.


Elvis’
house blows me away. I never was a huge fan before but now I am. The guy was
incredible. Weird. Alive. Driven. Beautiful. I kind of feel like crying. The
whole place is one big mausoleum, a wake. He tried so hard for so long–thousands
of concerts, thousands of hours in recording studios and on movie sets–no
way would he have wanted to die on a toilet at age 42 from an overdose of pills.


In a museum
across from the house, right at the entrance, there’s a plaque that
says Elvis’ heroes were Rudolph Valentino and Captain Marvel, followed
by this wild statement: "Everyone shares a common element with Elvis. He
encompasses the daring, the familiar, the spiritual, the sexual, the masculine,
the androgynous, the eccentric, the traditional, the God-like, the God-fearing,
the liberal and the conservative in all of us."


On another
plaque, there’s a list of Elvis’ posthumous accomplishments; here’s
one of them: "Guinness World Record–First Live Tour Starring a Performer
Who is no Longer Living." For the last four years, video concerts of Elvis
have been touring around the world to sold-out crowds. When I look at some pictures
of Elvis from his Vegas years, it occurs to me that among the many dreams for
himself he made come true, he got to be, at the end of his life–when he’d
wear his crazy, sparkling capes–his childhood hero: Captain Marvel.



2:30
p.m.



I eat lunch
at the Yellow Rose Cafe, which is on deserted N. Main St. A trolley car runs
up and down the street, but there are no businesses, just a few ancient cafes
like the Yellow Rose. I order the catfish special, which comes with spaghetti,
corn on the cob, green beans and coleslaw. The decor of the place is circa 1972.
My waitress is defeated and ancient–no top teeth. But she’s sweet
and the food is good. Memphis reminds me of my trip a few years ago to Havana–a
place stuck in time.




4
p.m.



I’m walking
around and I spot the basketball players Charles Oakley and Derrick Coleman.
They’re drinking beer out of plastic cups with a bunch of Memphis street
people. I approach Oakley, whom I followed for years when he was with the Knicks.
The guy is so damn tall it’s supernatural. I don’t know if I should
call him Mr. Oakley or Charles. Is it rude to call him by his first name when
I don’t know him?


Oakley is talking
to a homeless guy whose mouth looks like it has exploded. "What the hell
happened to your lip?" Oakley asks the man.


"I had
a seizure," says the man.


"A seizure.
Damn. That’s nasty. Get that shit fixed."


The man with
the exploded lip walks off. "Excuse me, Mr. Oakley," I say, "can
I ask you a few questions? I’m with a New York paper."


He peers down
at me from far away. My head comes up to his nipples and I’m nearly 6 feet
tall. "What do you want to know?" he says.


"Who do
you think is going to win, Tyson or Lewis?"


"Don’t
want to answer no questions about the fight. Here to have a good time."
Coleman is by his side. They’re both staring at me and sipping from their
beer.


"How about
the Nets/Lakers then?" I ask.


"Lakers
in four."


"Even
with Jason Kidd?"


"I like
Kidd but David Stern doesn’t." David Stern is the commissioner of
the NBA. This seems a curious thing to say.


"How does
David Stern not like Jason Kidd?" I ask.


Oakley scowls
at me. "No more questions. You better watch out, man. You’re the only
white person around here. Get out of here." He steps toward me and so does
Coleman. "Yeah, get out of here," Coleman says. Their hostility feels
completely uncalled for and strange. I slink off. White and humiliated.




10
p.m.



I go to another
baseball game and then stagger around the steaming hot town. Memphis is in complete
frenzy now. Everyone is running around trying to spot someone famous. You hear
shrieks and screams up and down the streets when a celebrity like Dikembe Mutombo
or Magic Johnson or a rap star is seen. I come upon 20 black girls all dressed
exactly alike–blue terry-cloth mini-shorts and mini-tops. I ask one of
the girls, "Are you some kind of group or team?"


"No."


"You just
all dress alike?"


"Yeah,
we’re all friends. We came down from Milwaukee to party."


"Who are
you rooting for?"


"Mike
Tyson."


Most everyone
I ask is rooting for Tyson and predicts he will win. It’s the best storyline.
People want him to have a second chance. It’s projection: we all want second
chances. At everything. We all want to prove Fitzgerald wrong that there are
no second acts in American life. Larry Merchant, an HBO announcer, said to me
earlier in the day, "Tyson’s trying to redeem his whole life with
this one fight."


I go to the
Peabody and it’s more packed tonight than last. I’m hitting that point
when you’re traveling by yourself and the despair kicks in and you start
craving to be with a friend. But it’s nearly impossible to make a friend
when you’re on the road; hell, it’s practically impossible to make
friends with my own friends when I’m home in New York City.




Saturday,
June 8, 11 a.m.



I’m in
the lobby of my hotel drinking the bad coffee and waiting for a taxi. A thick,
heavyset man with a bald head is also drinking coffee.


"You here
for the fight?" he asks me.


"Yes,"
I say.


"Who do
you like?"


"I can’t
imagine that Tyson can do it. But maybe, he’s got that punch."


"Nah,
he won’t do it. He’s only fought tomato cans the last few years…
You need tickets?"


"No, I’m
covering it for a newspaper."


"What
paper?"


"A New
York weekly, New York Press."


"I’m
from New York, too," he says. "Long Island… So, listen, I got a
problem. You know anybody that wants tickets?"


"No,"
I say.


"Yeah,
well, I got $10,000 worth in my pocket that I have to sell. I was on the streets
last night. The Peabody. But nobody with big money is out there. You should
write about that. White corporate America didn’t come. Three reasons. Turned
off by boxing in general. Didn’t know if Tyson would do something. And
the town. It’s a black town."


It hits me
that this guy is Mafia. He asks me if he can borrow my cellphone. I give it
to him.


"Anthony,
no luck," he says into my phone. "I’m going to the airports,
hit people when they come off the planes. Then I’ll go to the casinos,
then the stadium… Right. I’ll call you."


He gives me
back my phone. "Listen," he says to me. "You’re a writer,
right? I have this idea for a sports cartoon. I want to sell it. I called the
YES network but they blew me off, fucking bastards."


He tells me
the idea; it’s actually really good. "So you want to roll up your
sleeves," he says after spelling out the concept, "and get to work
with me on this? I need a writer for the dialogue."


A Mafia guy
is proposing I work with him. I tell him I have no experience with cartoons.
He looks at me disappointed.


"I’m
sorry I can’t help you," I say. "But it’s a really good
idea."


His taxi comes.
We shake hands goodbye.




2
p.m.



I go to the
National Civil Rights Museum, which has been built out of the Lorraine Motel
where Martin Luther King was shot April 4, 1968. Like Elvis’ house, the
place has been preserved just as it was–two late-60s cars rest in the parking
lot, the original motel sign still stands and you can look up at the second-floor
railing where King was killed. Strange: two Kings died in this town. No wonder
it has the blues.


There’s
a modern addition built onto the motel’s structure and after walking through
galleries that portray the history of civil rights, you come to the room where
King spent his last night, which you can look at through a glass partition.
His bed is left unmade.


Martin Luther
King was only 39 when he was murdered. I’m struck by how young he was.
Throughout the museum you can hear tapes of his rich, beautiful voice–the
speeches and sermons he gave.


There’s
a plaque outside the motel, beneath his room, like a gravestone. It reads: "They
said one to another, behold, here cometh the dreamer… Let us slay him… And
we shall see what becomes of his dreams."–Genesis 37:19-20




9:45
p.m.



I walk around
the floor of the arena. I see Denzel Washington, Magic Johnson, George Foreman,
Cuba Gooding Jr., Matt Dillon, Samuel Jackson, Joe Frazier, Montel Williams,
Laila Ali (very beautiful), Morgan Freeman, Val Kilmer, David Hasselhoff, to
name a few. But it’s like they’re all my friends, so I get no thrill
out of spotting them. I do get Vince McMahon’s autograph for my son, which
is nice. Then I approach David Remnick.


"Excuse
me, Mr. Remnick," I say. "Can I ask you a few questions? I’m
with New York Press."


"Oh, sure."


"Who do
you like?"


"Do you
want the rationalist answer or the Nietzschean? The rationalist says Lewis.
Tyson hasn’t had a good fight in years, and Lewis has sufficient skill
to keep Tyson away. But he can’t afford to make mistakes the way Tyson
can, which you can do when you have a punch like Tyson’s."


"And the
Nietzschean?"


"Tyson."


"Why?
Because he’s beyond good and evil?"


"Yes,
he’s crazy."




10:15
p.m.



I’ve snuck
down from my $1400 seat to the $2500 seats. I’m about 100 feet from the
ring. Tyson enters the arena. The crowd is on its feet and screaming primal
bloody murder. It feels like a massive gang rape is about to take place and
we’re all the rapists and the victims at the same time. I’ve smoked
crack: the energy in the arena is like five really good hits in a row. My heart
is ready to ejaculate itself out of my chest. The place is seething, gladiatorial,
rabid.


Lewis comes
into the arena and then climbs into the ring. He and Tyson are separated by
a phalanx of yellow-shirted security guards; there won’t be the traditional
touching of gloves. All precautions have been taken so that Tyson doesn’t
do anything to cost everyone millions of dollars–like throw a punch before
the first bell is struck.


Then the first
bell is struck. Tyson comes out swinging. Charging like a bull, his squat body
launching these missiles that are his arms. Lewis evades and wraps Tyson up,
but gets hit a few times. We’re all scared. There’s mayhem before
our eyes. But Lewis is formidable, he lands a few shots, slows Tyson down. He
holds Tyson around the neck, which will tire him out. That happened in my little
amateur fight. Three minutes race by. The first round is over. Tyson has won
the round, but Lewis is not dead. This seems a triumph.


But that round,
it turns out, is all Mike Tyson has in him. After that Lewis repeatedly smashes
him in the face with his left jab. Tyson’s head keeps snapping back violently
like something out of a Rocky movie. By the third round, I begin to feel quite
sorry for him. His face and brain are getting pummeled. He absorbs almost every
punch Lewis throws. Every now and then he unleashes a flurry of punches, some
life in him wanting to emerge, but by the fifth round he stops punching and
just takes a beating. His face is battered, disfigured.


In the eighth
round he takes a shot to the head that sends his Brooklyn-born brain flying
hard against the inside of his own skull. He crumples. Concussed. But he’s
half-standing. Lewis gives him a shove down to the canvas, so he won’t
have to hit Tyson any more. Tyson lies there, and puts his hand to his face,
like a child covering a wound, ashamed and injured and overwhelmed.


Several minutes
later he is standing and being interviewed with Lewis. He reaches up and wipes
his own blood off of Lewis’ face. It’s his best punch of the night:
a tender gesture.




1:15
a.m.



I’m in
Discretions watching a sexy middle-aged black couple dance. All of the other
couples, about five, are unattractive white people in their 50s. Two women who
look like the kind of ladies you see playing bingo are playfully pinching each
other’s nipples and laughing. They have their feet in their men’s
crotches. Every other place in Memphis is packed to the gills, but this joint
is nearly empty, except for these aging swingers. What the hell have I stumbled
into? There’s a sign that says, "No Sex on the Premises."


The black lady
on the dancefloor hikes up her orange skirt and her man gets behind her and
rubs against her beautiful ass. I sip my club soda. They finish their dance.
The man comes up to me, "Would you like to dance with my girlfriend?"


"Yes,"
I say, shocked.


She gives me
the same treatment. Lifts that orange skirt. She’s in her late 40s but
hot. She’s wearing a thong and has an ass like two halves of a bowling
ball. Life is good sometimes. I figure her boyfriend likes to watch. She treats
me very nicely. I do worry that I dance like a white boy. But I am a white boy.
The dance comes to an end. I thank her and buy the two of them drinks. There’s
no invitation to come home with them, but I’m not hurt. I get the hell
out of there. I have to find a taxi, get to the motel, pack up and catch a 5:30
a.m. plane.


I walk for
two hours: no taxis are free. Plenty of hookers on the street are free, but
not really free. Finally I get a cab. The driver says to me, "I’ve
been working 24 hours and I’m not stopping. We may never see something
like this again in Memphis."


"I think
you’re right," I say, and I look out the window to the black morning
sky, but if I was being poetic, I’d say it was dark blue.


..