Memphis Grizzlies

Grizzlies, grit and trade rumors: With the Grindhouse Blues Again

Supposedly, the Memphis Grizzlies are shopping Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. If so, an article about the death of Grit ‘N Grind is worth excavating and resurrecting and twirling round the internet. Billed as a series of Grindhouse events told in a Southern time-traveling vernacular, the following is an excerpt from “Q3 A history of Vince,” which is a chapter in the always timely novella With the Memphis Blues Again:

Times grew strange, and then, stranger. The future, at least as far as anyone could recognize it, looked very much like the past. And the past felt like a pawnshopped dream.

A man who could not be trusted patrolled the banks and levees between the city and the rivers. He swung an oil lamp in the darkness. He noted the water’s churning, its eagerness to boil. Rarely did a day pass when more rain did not fall than the day before, starting in the north and west and moving south and east. He wore boots and carried a rifle that had many owners before him. He looked for dogs. When he found them, he lowered his lamp and shot them in the full light of a silver moon. He kept the flood of rabies at bay. He listened to the gathering waters and knew a man could only do so much. People called him Lance. He was born ready. He should have been dead many times by now, in Indiana, in Charlotte and Los Angeles, particularly in Miami. He wasn’t dead, though. He had washed ashore in Memphis. He stalked his prey. He laughed in the dead dog’s face. He swung his lamp out wide and remained vigilant. There were storms brewing. Some from without. Others from within. He knew both these fates to be true.

Boys gathered around a dead cow. More and more livestock washed ashore. The boys guessed their origins. Some said Missouri. Others Kentucky and even Kansas. They stabbed the bloated body and lit a match in the hiss of escaping gasses. They torched the night air, even if momentarily. Their names were James Ennis and Ben McLemore. When Lance’s shadow fell over them, they scattered. He poked the cow’s ribs with the nose of his gun. He smelled the revenant smoke.

He asked in the wake of their departure: “Is that you, old Roy?” and if anyone had heard, they would not have known what he had meant. But such questions were not so strange. Rumors and wild takes traveled north and south along the river. A wildness rising to lay claim to the world as it was and would be again. A woman up north gave birth to a wolf pup, not once, but twice in the country’s largest general store. A boy below Memphis was said to be so comfortable with bats they followed him everywhere, even in daylight. A photograph appeared in the Admiral-Constitution with a single bat perched in place of where his eyebrows should have been. People whispered of Viking ships, long buried and filled with ghosts, rising out of the mud and cruising up and down the river in search of their Indian kin. More skeptical listeners said these sightings were nothing more than internet hoaxes. Individuals even more skeptical asked, “What’s the internet?” and no one had an answer for them. The rain transgressed everything. All was dying. All was possible. None of it made any sense.

Lance drew a bead on a shadow. He bit his tongue and fired. He caught the pup in the hindquarters. The pup yelped with childlike pain. And, limping into an alley, the pup found itself crawling in air. A man held it above the muddy street, blood dripping from its leg, by the fur of its neck.

“Not so close to Beale, Lance. There’s still money to be made before the waters arrive,” said Mayor Gasol. “This one’s not even frothing at the mouth.”

“Hard to tell in the dark sometimes.”

The Mayor sat the pup down on its former path into the alley, behind the Grindhouse, where Z-Bo’s trucks often trafficked; bringing the booze into the city that would be dispersed by black hearse and motorboat.

“Well,” ordered the Mayor, “try harder.” He dusted his hands free of dog fur and stepped onto the boardwalk and into the halo of a lit saloon doorway. From inside, he could hear those familiar bars of “Mr. Stern” rising from the piano keys.

Mister Stern don’t low no easy riders here

We don’t care what Mister Stern don’t low.

We gonna bar’l house anyhow

Mister Stern don’t low no easy riders here

He entered the rowdy establishment and took his place at a center table. The waters could only rise so high in so many days and, besides, the city was not so low as others. To let old habits die too soon would be the greatest sin indeed.

Two glasses sat in need of filling. Gasol’s business partner and trusted friend, Mike Conley, had summoned a bottle of Early Times as a way of starting the evening’s ancient and oft-repeated rituals.

The song ended. The player rose and tipped his hat to the room, revealing a bald scalp. No one clapped. They continued to talk of other nights, some with rain and some without. The player sat down on the bench. A new song began.

I went to Sidney Lowe-low’s ‘bout half past nine

Said to Sidney Lowe-low I’ve only got a dime

To get my habits on, to get my habits on

I went to Sidney Lowe-low’s ‘bout half past ten

Said to Sidney Lowe-low I’m back again

To get my habits on, to get my habits on

I went to Sidney Lowe-low ‘bout half past leben

Said to Sidney Lowe-low I’ll never reach the Finals

With my habits on, with my habits on.

Vernacular whores and concession vendors moved through the room. They leaned against the bar and the plaster walls. They talked. They listened. They stood. They left the mounted heads of buffalo and antelope on the walls. They ascended and descended the stairs, rarely, if ever, alone. Entire worlds of meaning unfolded in repeated mannerisms that had but a single following, or follower. Even the dancing bear was barely noticed, except by strangers, who might remark, “I remember when the woods were full of grizzly,” or, “I remember killing a bar when I was only three.”

And so the bear danced and a shadow danced on the wall with it, reminding some in the room of books they’d read and others of hunting parties and camping trips.

“Does it have a name?” someone might ask, and someone else might answer, “Faulkner.” To the tourists, the bear was an artifact. To the citizenry of Beale Street’s neighborhood, it was alive and corporeal, with a heart as strong as the rising river.

One night a man named Thabeet killed the bear. On another night, a man named Rudy lowered a cavalry pistol and made quick, sloppy work of the brown dancing hide. Still, on some other night, two wannabe desperadoes rode down Beale Street’s mud-covered cobblestones, firing guns and raising hell, and the bear collapsed at the impossibility of a stray, yet magical bullet. At least that’s how the conspiracy theory worded it.

However, life for the bear, no matter the details, ended, after a few swaying steps that were both drunken and graceful, in the bear taking the form of a woodland rug across the floorboards.

Someone would then comment on the bear’s collapse — the incidental nature of it all — and then the piano would start to play again, usually “Bringing Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake.

On the occasion when a blonde man with azul eyes walked across the room and his path intersected with the bear’s path, their journeys would intertwine in an awkward waltz.  In these moments, a shot would fire, the piano player would pause, the bear would roar, its body would tremble, the fall would crush the blonde man in the primal spin of time’s magnetism. And yet, the chance for something new and bold and virginal beckoned from the ritual tissue of chaos and destruction.

Could the bear be saved? The blonde man wondered, thinking, if the bear can be saved, then so can I — in fact, if the bear can be saved, then we all can be saved.

He looked for pathways, and the footsteps led him back into the memories he didn’t know he possessed. He remembered lives previously lived. An explosion in Dallas. An arrival to a spring in the lowlands south of Memphis. When he arrived there, had he done what he set out to do? The answer was no. His motive and his purpose had been reset. He recalled a moment in childhood.

Jeremy Lin and scorpions. A bearded stranger. He looked presently around the bar in Memphis. The same stranger. He moved forward. The bear trapped him. He died. He followed his steps back in time. He devised new plans. He thought he knew almost everything he needed to know. He did not know nearly the half of it. He walked into the bar. He took his rightful place. He waited for the plan, his plan, to unfold.

The man polished the top of the bar with a wet dishrag as he talked.

And as the man talked, his audience, a 28-year-old blonde man from Texas, yawned. The blonde man with eyes of crystal azul did not look the bartender in the eye. Instead, he lifted peanuts from a bowl and dropped them like poker chips. You could say he was counting peanuts, except he wasn’t counting. He watched the bartender’s lips move in the mirror behind the bar. The man said something about dogs. The blonde man didn’t care much for dogs. Loyalty wasn’t exactly his thing. He was after something else.

“See . . . man ain’t like a dog. And when I say ‘man,’ I’m talking about man as in mankind, not man as in men. Because men, well, we a lot like a dog. We territorial as shit, you know, we gonna protect our own. But man, he know about death. Got him a sense of history. Got religion. See . . . a dog, man, a dog don’t know s**t about no birthdays or Christmas or Easter bunny, none of that s**t. And one day God gonna come calling, so you know, they going through life carefree. But people like you and me, man, we always guessing. Wondering, ‘What if?’ You know what I mean?”

Here Chandler Parsons interrupted the bartender: “Is that supposed to mean something?”

The bartender continued as if reading from a script, “We ain’t gonna get no move in this world, lying around in the sun, licking our a** all day. I mean, we man. I mean, you a player and all, but we man. So with this said, you tell me what it is you wanna do with your life.”

Chandler Parsons checked his pocket watch. “I’m going to take a p**s, Andrew.”

Finished with his lines, Andrew Harrison’s body retreated into a more automated state. He wiped the bar. He stared into space. He wiped the bar again. He waited for a cue, to deliver his words of wisdom one more time, on an endless loop that is.

Chandler Parsons moved across the room, not so much with stealth, but simply unnoticed. At one table, he saw Mayor Gasol and Mike Conley, the man who financed all of Beale Street. They were drinking the bourbon they always drank and scheming quietly for themselves and the city’s future. A bald man at the piano played on.

Oh, the ragbear turns circles

Up and down Beale Street

I’d ask him what the Gasol was

But I know that he don’t growl

And the ladies treat me grizzly

And they furnish me with ice

But deep inside my cave

I know I can’t escape

Oh, Hubie, can you take that for data

To be stuck inside of Cancun with the

Memphis Grizz again

Parsons watched the faces of all the men he recognized. Some were playing cards. Some were gathered at the corner of the bar. The women and men working the floor moved with all the freedom of plow horses. Others stood near the front doors. Then the moment arrived as it arrived every night, on an endless loop.

The bear turned to embrace him. The first time he attempted to dance away from the bear his knee buckled, and he had ended the night dead. But, now, in the present, he could feel the ghost of that pain, as if the injury had already happened. He planted a foot. He spun away from the bear. He parted from one path and embarked on another. The moment he spun away, a body was flung through the backdoor that opened to a path leading down to the privy. Chandler Parsons had expected the body at this precise moment, and the bear embraced the body like a kindred sacrifice and swayed to the music.

Well, Fizzdale, he’s in the alley

With his spectacles and his suit

Speaking to reporters

Who say it’s all the same

And I would send a Harden

To find out if he’s true

But the officials blew the whistles

And boxscore is all Popped

Oh, Hubie, can you take that for data

To be stuck inside of Cancun

With the Grizzly blues again

A man yelled in French. A shot fired. A table flipped over and the bear groaned. A sleepy looking man rushed the dancing couple. A steel knife flashed. The man collapsed. The bear collapsed into the bar stools. Andrew Harrison, the bartender, started once more, “See . . . man ain’t like a dog,” but he was talking to a dying bear. Mayor Gasol was pointing at the sleepy looking man. Mike Conley was pointing at the man who yelled in French. The sleepy looking man turned to run. He faced down the barrel of a gun.

A man with a beard told him, “Not so fast, LaMarcus.”

“Ah, Jimmy, you forgot to check behind you,” said an Argentine, who had sailed the Atlantic tracing the Americas in profile. The man with the beard looked behind him. He, too, stared down the barrel of a gun. Meanwhile, the Frenchman collapsed in pain, wincing at the knife inserted like a red hot poker above his knee. His assailant was a man Chandler Parsons recognized as Patrick Beverly. Then a man with three rattails clubbed Beverly over the head with a broken chair leg. The Mayor and Conley looked on, wondering where the muscle was.

Out in the street, a pack of wild dogs rushed by as if sprung from a breaking levee. Lance rushed after them, and individuals in white hazmat suits began to disperse throughout the city, preparing for an unspoken change in the narrative culture. Andrew Harrison continued to compare homo sapiens to canis lupus. No one was listening. A man with cornrows and large hands rushed from a room upstairs and down the wooden staircase. A seven-foot man from Georgia — the country, not the state — stuck out his leg and tripped the dashing hero to be. He crashed to the bottom of the stairs, unconscious or dead. It was difficult to tell. At one of the card tables, two men yelled to the rest of the room that they were robbing the place and that if anyone moved, they would shoot a man named DeAndre. DeAndre cried, “I should have stayed in Dallas.” No one paid any attention. Three other men then burst in through the backdoor. Two of them were tall and wore twin mustaches, but sometimes one of them had two first names and the other wore a black hood. The shortest of the three men always wore Fizzdale’s glasses, or at least that’s what the Mayor claimed. The man in Fizzdale’s glasses unfurled a badge, but sometimes it was a plate full of cupcakes. He told everyone to freeze. The robber who looked like an insurance salesman shot his partner in the foot and struck DeAndre in the head, and out the door dashed a man named Gordon Heyward, yelling about the need for repentance. Off in the darkness, at the end of his rainbow’s escape, a bear trap waited for him.

The piano played on, and Chandler Parsons slipped out the room and down a narrow hallway to an office belonging to a silent backer of the Grindhouse.

Mar’e tried to tell me

To stay away from DeAndre

He said that all the Clipper men

Just drink up jaguars like wine

An’ I said, “Oh, I didn’t know that

But then again, there’s only one I’ve met

An’ he just Dirked my kneecaps

An’ snuffed my cigarette.”

Oh, Hubie, take that for data

To be stuck inside of Cancun

With the Grizzly blues again

The blonde man opened the door slowly, somewhat surprised it wasn’t locked. The curtains swayed in the midnight air. He could hear the rain pelting the slate roof and running down the drainpipe. As he walked past the window, he felt the penetrating mist, but mostly, he basked in the moonlight, taking a seat behind the large wooden desk. He leaned back in the chair and the leather scent mixed sweetly with the rain-woven fabric. He stomped his feet in time with the music, as if still part of a dance he didn’t quite understand, until he heard a hollow sound echo in the floorboards. “Ah,” he smiled, bending down to remove the floorboard.

Now young Chandler came around here

Showing ev’ryone his glock

Handing out triple shots

To the bachelors and the grooms

An’ Conley, pushed his chips forward

An’ called out to lady luck

To be stowed on the next railcar 

And be more money than ol’ Jeff Green

Oh, Hubie, take that for data

To be stuck inside of Cancun

With the Memphis Grizz again

He withdrew a briefcase from the cavity. Tied to the handle was a tag the size of a ticket stub. He fingered its edges. In a light cursive scrawl, he read the initial ‘D.’ followed by the last name ‘West.’ And cursed by a limited hindsight, he misread the clue.

As he climbed out the window and into the storm, he failed to see the piano player lurking in the hallway, just shy of the doorway. He failed to hear the light, maniacal hum on the man’s lips:

To be stuck inside of Cancun

With the Memphis Grizz again

And somehow the piano still played, the keys rising and falling, as if pushed by invisible hands.

*Credit for all the artwork goes to Todd Whitehead (@CrumpledJumper).

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