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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pink Sunglasses, Karaoke, and Memphis

It had been a long time since I was last in Memphis. I was there this time to be a participant in an Emergence Christianity event that celebrated the life and legacy of Phyllis Tickle, and her chronicling of the "movement." But it's what happened the night before the event that got me thinking...

It all started with a BBQ dinner in honor of Ms. Tickle on Thursday night. Since I knew nobody really, I sat down with a beer and joined in a conversation. They were from the Church of the Nazarene. OK...God 1, Scott 0. You see, the Nazarenes are one of the Christian traditions that  are tee-totalers...I had a beer, and I felt guilty (it should be noted that this is not the first time I have had alcohol with a Nazarene around, as a friend of mine from Grad School was a Nazarene), and although we made a few jokes about it, one beer for one pound of ribs is not an ideal ratio.

So, I got a text from the producer of Darkwood Brew that he and his wife were having a cocktail at another bar (he is a vegetarian, and BBQ dinners are not this thing), and I should join them. a Knob Creek on the rocks later, I was heading towards my hotel at a little before 10 pm. Responsibility? Thy name is Scott!

Because I am cheap, I usually stay at the sketchiest motels I can find, and downtown Memphis is no exception. In the basement of my hotel was a bar with the sign "Hot Jazz, Cool Blues." So Responsibility left town...

Now, as a good basement bar, I am sure there was an emergency exit. There were no windows, and I was expecting to hear some great music. As I squeezed into the bar to order a drink, I asked a woman sitting there is she knew if a band was playing tonight...she did not, and the bartender arrived, and so it begins...

She was much younger looking than the crowd gathered around, and she had short, dark curly hair, a mega-watt smile, and these huge pink sunglasses perched on her head. I mean big. Like the size of dinner plates. Sitting there like ears. She turned her smile on, stared at me with some dark eyes, and asked "What?"

It seemed like I was catching up with God here, and I asked the obvious question: "Do you turn the disco ball on later, is that why you need the glasses?" She laughed and began to do a version of the Hustle, and after a few seconds every guy at the bar was watching her...because, well, you know....

After some dancing, she asked if I wanted a drink. Now, wouldn't you know, but right behind her was one of the big promotional bottles of Knob Creek (filled with colored water), that companies give out bars. It was clear to me that I was back on God's preferred team. "Do you have any Knob Creek," I asked, pointing to the bottle, which is about 3 feet high. She looked back at me, flashed that smile, and said, "That's mine for after work, but I have a little bottle on the top shelf." I hate to mention this--gentle reader--but I went for the short joke, and I am not proud of this, as she could not have been more than 5-2. "Do you need a boost?"

Again with smile, and a "Maybe later, but not for this." As she brought my Creek, on the rocks with a lime wedge (I always like to drink my bourbon with lime for some reason, I haven't had enough therapy in my life to figure that one out.) I gave her some money, and she brought back my change. I stuffed a five in her tip jar. AND SHE FROWNED.

I was crushed. I mean, granted Knob Creek is about $10 a shot, but I thought 50% was a good tip. I felt like I had let down this wonderful young lady and her pink sunglasses. I was genuinely sad (but also being genuinely cheap, I was not going to give her more.) I looked at her with my saddest, doleful eyes, and said, "Not enough?" She smiled, not the flashy smile, but a genuine smile of respect, and said, "It's fine, I was just hoping for a phone number." Now it is my turn to laugh. I told her I'd have one of my daughters call her, and they could hook up, but there was no way on God's green earth our relationship would ever NOT have a bar between us. "I just need a bartender tonight."

Turns out there was no band on Thursday night, but rather, karaoke was on the docket. Well, one drink, listen to a few bad singers, and off to bed...Responsibility joined me again. So the DJ was getting set up, and a few songs were playing, and I was asked to dance. No. I was asked again by another woman. No. I was asked by a third, and I realized I may be in over my head. I asked the lady, why are you all asking me to dance? (People were dancing, there was 3 ladies celebrating birthdays, and those groups were all over the place.) She smiled at me, apologized, and said she thought that was why I was here. When I looked at her like she had stepped off a space ship, she patted my shoulder, swung her arm around the room, and said, "After all, you are the only white guy here." As I looked around, I saw she was right. (I am always thankful that God sends prostitutes into my life to remind me of the painfully obvious--and if you've heard other stories of mine in other bars in other towns--this does seem to happen with surprising regularity.)

By now the place was packed, I was sitting in the center of the room, sipping Knob Creek, and sharing my table with the drink of the guy in the table next to me (were were separated by the back of his chair), and the first singer came up. He gathered the three birthday girls in a line and sang It's Thin Line Between Love and Hate by the Persuaders. This is one of my all-time favorite songs, and this guy was spot-on. The birthday women were ecstatic, and the dancing was off the charts. At this point I realized I might need to tap into my bartender's Knob Creek in a bit...we were going to be here for awhile.

I heard a few songs, including a Junior Wells number to a grandmother celebrating her 89th Birthday, who was once in school with him, and her favorite singer. It was nicely done, and the guy singing it sounded just like Jr. Wells. Then, a young woman came to the stage. Now, most the evening had been dedicated to us old folks. Apparently, the caravan was changing overnight...She began to sing If This Isn't Love and I thought there was an earthquake. Tables and chairs were crashing, people were rushing up to the stage, and the dancing went crazy. She sang the song twice. And it just got better and better each time. By now I have texted my youngest daughter, a huge JHud fan (and also on LA time, so I knew she was up), and finished my Knob Creek. I made my way back up to the bar, but the bartender was too busy for banter, and the pink sunglasses were now resting on her tip jar. She gave me my exact drink without asking, pushing a Budweiser towards me as well. I gave her the quizzical look, and she said (over the noise it was more like lip reading)..."on me." I dropped another $5 in her jar, and said, "For new glasses...something a little more flashy." I got that million-dollar smile one more time.

As I turned back towards my table, I could not even see it. There were so many people dancing, moving, drinking, laughing, flirting, propositioning, and what-not that I was tempted to just leave, but as I made my way back to where I thought my table might be, I found my chair leaning up against the table, being saved. The guy behind me, with Stetson hat, silk suit, and a long cashmere scarf, smiled, and said, "I saved it for you son, as you looked like you were having a good time." I said thanks, sat down, and had another drink.

Towards the end of the hour, it's now about 1 am, I got up, and offered the chair to the guy in the hat. "You can use this chair for your wife or a beautiful woman." He laughed, nudged the lady next to him, and said, "Well, the beautiful woman already has a chair, I guess I'll leave it for my wife." We shook hands, I made my way to the door, and soon I was walking in Memphis.

There's way too many cultural and social subtexts for me to process in this evening, and I'm a theologian anyhow. But isn't it funny how God works? I start out an evening with a Nazarene feeling guilty about a beer, and end the evening feeling proud that a bartender will serve me Knob Creek, laugh at my jokes, and not embarrass me in order to get a tip. You really can't ask more from God on a night like that. I have been alone in many cities and towns across this country...but not really. I go with God's Spirit, but also with family and friends and readers like you, who remind me that no matter how crazy it gets, how weird it seems, the point of life is to make music and color the world. Memphis is a perfect city for that.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

1 comment:

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