Jonathan Ames: Everybody Dies in Memphis
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.
"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 saidDiscretions 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.
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.
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,
Sign up to get our newsletter emailed to you every week!
- Enter your email address in the box below.
- Select the newsletters you would like to subscribe to.
- Click the 'SUBSCRIBE' button.
Residents press city on bridge redesign
Taking safety to the street
Out & About
Clad in red, making a difference
Map shows empty storefronts
Visual haikus at the Whitney
Residents press city on bridge redesign
Taking safety to the street
Out & About
Clad in red, making a difference
Map shows empty storefronts
Visual haikus at the Whitney
DOT ignores input on bike stations
Name of the rose amended