We woke up spry the next morning, cooked up some bacon and eggs we’d grabbed at the dollar store for breakfast, and readied ourselves for a day around town. We walked a few blocks north to the University of Memphis campus and wandered through it. We found an adult sized playground among the botanic gardens and took the opportunity to play a bit and take pictures of each other. I attempted to build a structure out of flat, but life-size lincoln log-esque wood. I played sailor atop a wooden ship. The lush greenery around us framed every photo. Somewhere in there we’d gotten hungry so we stopped in Brother Juniper’s for a meal. The hours passed by without our knowing.
We weren’t quite hungry, but Sal and I had decided that it would be a travesty to miss out on Memphis BBQ, so we headed to Central and each ordered a full tray of food. Collards, coleslaw, mac and cheese, brisket, pork, chicken, beans and a little banana pudding for me. It’s nearly impossible for me to turn down banana pudding.
We ate our hearts out, to the point of uncomfortable bloat. I was thankful for the little extra room in my jean shorts, all kudos to the union of elastic and cotton.
Now there was no turning back. We were stuffed full of food and ready to be out for the night. I really wanted to hang out around the blue clubs. We started at the open air bar on the corner where a middle aged man with dreadlocks sang raspy blues and old pop hits. The night before he’d been playing “Down By The River” as we’d walked up to the place. I couldn’t get over it. It made me remember the Neil Young concert I’d attended at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. He was killing it. He killed the guitar line. He sang with his heart. It was beautiful.
The night before we’d found a great chocolate stout from a Tennessee brewery called Wiseacre, so we ordered a couple talls. We sat at a high table outside the bar, watching people walk by, listening to the music. During our first drink, we tried to figure out our game plan for the night. After Rum Boogie, we didn’t have much else to do, but I wanted to walk by a couple other spots. There was a patio with an outdoor stage that Elena and I had hung out at a couple summers ago when we came through Memphis.
After the first drink, we walked down to the patio, and recognized that the drink prices were twice as high as those at our comfortable corner spot so we walked back down and got one to go.
Back at the patio spot, they wouldn’t let us in towards the stage with outside drinks, so we stood on the sidewalk talking about life and living, a little bit of quantum theory, a little bit of fate and religion and energy, or lack thereof, if you will. The band wasn’t as good on the patio as the last time I’d been there. It had been the first place I’d head ‘Mississippi Boy’. I’ll never forgot it either. An old black man had sang it, dancing a little bit in his hips, his big belly hopping along with him. ‘I’m just a Mississippi boy/Mississippi mud in my boots/I’m just a Mississippi boy/Gotta get back to my roots.’
Sal and I had heard it the night before by a band on the outdoor stage at the park underneath archways where spray paint artists sold landscape images. There was a whole lot of talent around, and quite a bit of drunkenness too.
We walked back down to the corner bar after trying to check out Rum Boogie, but there was a high cover just to get in. Fifteen dollars. Neither of us thought it was worth it. Don’t get me wrong, the place was great, but fifteen dollars just to stop in there for a minute, maybe ten, maybe twenty minutes, it just wasn’t worth it to either of us.
From the outside, we could see the guitars hanging from the ceiling and hear the music too, but they weren’t having a blues jam. There was a country band playing inside, which was exactly why I didn’t want to go to Nashville. I didn’t want country. I wanted the blues.
So we walked back down to our corner bar again. This time there were a couple spots open at the bar so we grabbed them. We each ordered another tall stout. And they were tall, let me tell you. They must’ve been 60 ounce cups. Those things were huge. We sat there bullshitting a little bit.
We’d decided earlier that after we were done fooling around on Beale St that we’d find a gay club and go try to pick up women, to whom I was affectionately calling ‘lil bitties.’ Earlier I’d said to Sal, “yeah, yeah, let’s go pick up some lil’ bitties,” and she laughed at my dated slang.
We googled up a couple spots. We had an idea about where to go. There was a place right around the block. We were about ready, just waiting for the right time to go. You never wanna show up at a club too early. Eleven o’clock was early enough, but now it was just getting past nine.
So we’re sitting at the bar, drinking our drinks, listening to this old man sing his heart out. He has to be the resident musician at the bar. Somehow I’d felt that he’d been there the last time I was in Memphis too, but I don’t really know. I could’ve been mixing him up with someone else, anybody else really.
As we’re chatting, a tall, blonde, handsome boy comes up to the bar. He’s cute, really cute. We catch eyes, and I smile at him, but I don’t say anything. He gets the bartender’s attention and orders as I get up to pee. I’m overfull of beer. I’m a little drunk too, but a good drunk, ready to go, ready to have a fun night. When I get back from the bathroom, he and Sal are chatting, and I slide into the conversation.
He asks us with a little Southern drawl, “Ya’ll ladies want shots?” smiling a big grin at us.
“Hell yeah,” I say as Sal nods.
“Alright, well here’s the deal,” he says, making eye contact with both of us, “I’ll rock-paper-scissors you for them.” I giggle at him and look over at Sal.
She says, “You gotta do it,” and looks back at me.
I agree, “Alright,” nodding along and readying myself, “alright.”
“Best two out of three,” he says. I nod again and have my left hand out, ready to pump.
“Alright let’s go.”
‘Rock-paper-scissors-shoot’. We pump adjacent fists on our palms in rhythm together and throw our best.
The second round now. “Rock-paper-scissors-shoot.” We throw.
Now the pressure’s on.
We smile at each other and pause for a second.
“Alright, alright, let’s go,” I say.
“Rock-paper-scissors-shoot,” one last time in unison.
And I win!
“Damn! Yes!” I laugh and throw my hands up in the air. “Yes!”
He hangs his head briefly, but perks back up quickly, and asks, “What do you want?”
“Oh, I dunno,” I say and look at Sal.
“Well, I’m a wimp,” he starts, “I’ve been doing Fireball.”
To which I reply, “I can do Fireball, that’s fine with me, if you’re paying,” smiling and laughing. Sal’s expression when I won still lingers in her smile.
He buys us a round of shots and begins to introduce himself, but first he asks, “What’s your middle name?”
“Leigh,” I say, spelling it out, “l-e-i-g-h, what’s your middle name?”
And he replies, “Keith.”
Sal chimes in, “Wait, I don’t know your first name!” And we all laugh.
“Tyler, my name’s Tyler,” he says.
“Sal.. I’m Clarissa Luc..,” she starts but I cut her off.
“Sal, just call her Sal,” I say.
Then he asks, “where ya’ll from?”
“Ah, we’re from Denver. Just here visiting for a few days. How bout you?”
“I live here. This is a bit of a local spot, really,” he tells us.
“I didn’t know that, but it’s cool. It’s nice here.”
“So how long ya’ll here?” he continues.
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” I say.
“Well, so you want me to show you around Memphis a little bit?” he asks, “The local way? The good way?”
We both agree, enthusiastically nodding our heads.
He names off a slew of places that we’ll go. The list seems quite impressive, honestly. We resolve to leave once Sal and I finish our huge stouts, of which we’ve only drank about half, so we chat some more and make rounds to the bathroom while getting to know our new friend and tour guide.
On our way back up Beale St towards the club, 152, I nickname our new friend affectionately as ‘Tyler the Creator’. I’m both shocked and impressed when he gets reference, playfully arguing with me, “Nah nah, you gotta call me Cool Keith, I don’t wanna be Tyler the Creator,” but all night I’m playfully calling him Tyler the Creator and he’s playfully correctly me to call him Cool Keith.
We head upstairs into 152, after a high class entrance through two bodyguards and an empty queue defined with gold banisters and red velvet ropes.
Our tour around the place reaffirms my opinion that you can’t show up to the club too early. The place is classy, but dead. Tinted neon lighting highlights features around the clean white walls of the room, pulling a little bit of brightness out of the windowless club. It is adorned with lounge chairs in places, more than one booth for VIP, and a few private rooms, but it’s totally dead. There’s almost no one in the whole joint so Tyler says, “We gotta go, we’ll come back here. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
I buy us a round of shots before we leave, and we ask what he does for a living. He tells us he works in marketing, as a designer. He really likes it, too. His face lights up when he talks about it.
The next stop is a moonshine bar off South Main St, which reminds both me and Sal a little of the 16th Street Mall in Denver. It’s a street that isn’t really a street. It’s a street that’s really a mall. It’s a street just for tourists.
South Main embodies the charm of the South. Cobblestones line the street and the sidewalks in a medium brown hue. The sidewalks boast planters of gorgeous deciduous trees, mossy oak and willow, whose branches hang above us seemingly luminescent against the glow of the setting sun. Trolley tracks run down the center of the street breaking up the cobblestones.
Across the street, we enter the moonshine bar and up a few stairs, where a baby grand piano backs up to the foyer banister. No one is playing the piano, but it shines gloriously against the exposed brick wall of the rowhouse. Tyler tells us that sometimes they have a performer to play the piano, but that we aren’t lucky with it tonight. Then he takes us to the bar and orders us a round of cocktails. The moonshine mixes into such bold flavors that they are forced to melt together. It feels like Tennessee tradition, smooth and sweet and hiding a strong punch.
Then Tyler says to us, “We’re only staying here for one drink cause I wanna take you to BarDog.” He’s really excited about this bar, continuing, “We gotta go there. We gotta have breakfast shots,” and he asks me, “You ever had a breakfast shot before?”
“Nah,” I answer shaking my head, “I don’t know what that is.”
“Well, we gotta have breakfast shots,” he nearly cuts me off and he keeps on talking about these shots.
All the while going on, he is interrupted when he sees some people that he knows. Their names and faces disappear in my memory, but they are awfully nice and cordial towards us. Then we meet Neil. He’s older, a skinny, little, gay man; some of my favorite people. He is so friendly and kind, and we tell him about how we’re gay, and we just talk about random things and Denver and Pride and it is great and really fills me up with joy. We found a little piece of community there. Neil is wild, and we leave him too quickly for my liking, but we’ve got to get a move on.
We suck down our moonshine really quick since Tyler wouldn’t stop going on about the breakfast shots. And it’s moonshine, so shit, it just slides right down. You don’t even know how easy your glass is emptying. You don’t know a damn thing about moonshine until it catches up to you. Thirty minutes later it hits you like a fucking brick in the head, and all of a sudden, you’re drunk. You’re wasted. And you say to yourself, “holy shit, how did this happen to me?” So anyway, we finish our moonshine and float out the front door.
Before BarDog, he takes us by his office. It’s just around the corner in an office building on the fourth floor overlooking the city. Panoramic glass windows line the walls in one of those new age style offices where they have a ping pong table and open space and lounge areas, because it’s a design and marketing office. They want to stimulate your creativity with things like games and cushy lounge chairs and views of the city. There’s cork boards and message boards everywhere with random ideas and notes written on them.
Tyler shows us his office. He shows us his work, things he’s drawn for the company. It’s all very impressive, and he’s humble about it. He says, “yeah, it’s cool. I just gotta work my way up.” We go in his boss’s office. It’s twice as big as any bedroom that I’ve lived in. Sick. Ridiculous. We grab a soda out of the cooler, and head back downstairs.
I ask, “So when does this place close?”
“Never,” he answers quickly, “It never closes.”
And I stop and I look at him because I don’t believe him, “Are you serious???” and I pause and then, “Tyler the Creator, don’t lie to me. Tyler the Creator!”
And he replies, “Maaaaan, I’m Cool Keith, I’m Cool Keith!”
As we approach, there’s a dishwasher standing out in the alley beside BarDog and Tyler knows him. They start talking and he introduces us. We walk into the bar through this back door, through the kitchen, and out onto the floor. Sal strikes us a conversation with the dishwasher. I decide the moonshine must’ve hit her a little harder than me. I keep looking over to check on her, but she is engulfed in conversation.
Then I’m sitting down with other people after I get a beer in a corner booth that backs up to a stairwell. I am chatting with people about who knows what, sipping very slowly on my beer. Occasionally still, I check on Sal behind me, but she and the dishwasher are just going on and on in Spanish. She is smiling and laughing and I wonder if the dishwasher will ever go back to work, but I’m not mad about it. I don’t even know what they were talking about. She doesn’t even remember talking to him, so I know she doesn’t know what they were talking about. I was having fun and she was obviously enjoying talking to him, smiling each time I caught a glimpse.
Tyler gets my attention because he has finally gotten to the bartender and has ordered us breakfast shots. On the bar in front of me I see six plastic shot cups lined up in pairs. Three full of orange juice and the three others with a liquor that looks like syrup. He tells me it’s maple flavored vodka and he hands me a lemon.
I get Sal’s attention. She’s reluctant, but I have to break her away from the dishwasher. I pull her over and I realize the moonshine’s really got me now. I am happy, but I am really drunk. I am the easiest, happiest drunk, talking to anybody about anything and a whole lot of nothing.
Tyler tells us, “Lemon, then orange juice, then shot,” or maybe a little different. I can’t quite remember. Alcohol will do that to you. We take our shots, and they’re good. It tastes like a bite of pancakes with a swig of orange juice to wash it down. Breakfast shot, the perfect name. So, so very tasty. But after that, my memory gets brown. Nothing bad happens, but I just have spots, blank spots in my brain of my memory that I’ve lost.
Like I’ve been transported into a film, the next scene opens and I’m sitting at two-top table upstairs at a bar that I think is still BarDog which is also in a rowhome, just like the moonshine bar. It’s not just one bar though. It’s an entire rowhouse of bars, three floors of bars. Or maybe just two, but I know now we are upstairs. Tyler and I are sitting to the front of the building, and in this room there is a saxophonist playing his heart out, jazz melodies with a backup track behind him playing on a little stereo boombox resting on a bar stool.
He’s playing Misty. ‘Look at meeeeeee, I’m as helpless as a kitten in a tree,’ I’m singing along a little bit, and Tyler’s talking to me about something but I’m not really sure what. I ask him, “Where’s Sal?”
And he reassures me, “Ah, I don’t know, but she’s here, she’s here. She’s in the other room, but I’m sure she’s fine, but I’m not sure where she is.” He goes on talking about something else, but all I hear is “Mistyyyyyy, I go misty just holding your hand,” and I’m not sure if I’m singing aloud or just in my head.
We’re talking and talking and finally I stammer. “I gotta go find, I gotta go find Sal.”
He concedes, “ok, ok,” he says, “ok that’s fine.”
“But, Tyler the Creator, maaaaan you’re it, man. You’re the best.” I tell him.
He chuckles at me and shows a half smile, correcting me one last time, “I’m Cool Keith, I told you.”
And then I laugh too.
In a split second, I flashback to us following him down the street, down South Main, with the mossy oaks hanging over our heads and the street, where the red brick rows of building contrast nature’s beauty surrounding the trolley line, and it’s all symmetrical, the setting sun hiding red brick stones where our feet trample.
But now, I’ve gotten up from our two top and I’m finding Sal, not sure of where Tyler is, but I find her in a bar that runs the length of the second floor. I walk in there, and she’s just chatting her heart away, talking to a couple people, standing with her arm draped on the bar. Once I’ve found her, he leaves, but not before asking us if we’re ok, making sure we’ll be safe, and I reassure him. “Yeah, yeah, we’re good.”
At this point, I decide we need to get some weed, cause I am just drunker than a skunk and we’d run out, and I knew she was really drunk too. I know as long as we stick together, we’ll be fine. She’s talking to this guy Brendan that we make friends with, and he tells us, “yeah, I’ll help you get some weed. How much you want?”
“Just a twen-,” I start, “like a dub. Dub sac. Twenty bag.” I am drunk but still awkward.
“Ok,” he nods. I’m browning out even harder now, because I’ve constantly put alcohol into my system and my liver couldn’t possibly keep up with it even if I had the liver of a 300 pound man. There is so much alcohol in me. We leave the bar with Brendan but I don’t remember it, and then my memory is back. We’re in the backseat of Brendan’s car, taking us to get weed. I remember that getting into his car was awkward when we both got into the backseat. He says, “Really? You two really just in the backseat though?” And I laughed and respond,
“Yeaaaaa, man, we’ve been riding ubers around. We gotta stick together.”
So we are riding along, each leaned against the passenger down but I’m not quite awake until I realize Sal is puking in the backseat of his car. Brendan is so kind with us as he pulls into a gas station and gets paper towels to clean up a bit and I try to help him clean but mostly I am consoling Sal because she is upset about puking and I am attempting to clean her off a bit. I keep apologizing to Brendan but he isn’t even mad with us, and he drops us off at our little cottage and we awkwardly say goodbye.
I know that in different circumstances we would’ve smoked with him, but things have turned so sour that I am just trying to get us in the house in one piece. We already added each other on social media and I tell him to hit us up if he ends up in Denver and that we’ll have to get together sometime when we’re back in town. I thank him some more for being so great and it feels like an awful way to end our little friendship but I don’t know any other way to do it. We get in the house and pass out, on top of the covers and fully clothed, sprawled like toddlers deprived of their afternoon naps.