I'm a blues boy now. Another NASTYbook
tour, homestretch ? groggily off the plane in Memphis (having risen pre-4 a.m. in Dayton) and my author escort, Pat, guns the motor to make a local TV interview. I hustle onto the set ? lobby of a downtown mall ? just in time to mike up and yuck-yuck with the show hosts for five precious minutes. "It's a book about being nuts for candy bars!
" I hoot. "Hey, that me all right!
" the guy host hoots back. Then off to Barnes and Noble, where the scheduled grand reading for busloads of kids has been cancelled last second due to "testing." So does No Child Left Behind shove its stick into spokes everywhere. A mom and her two kids, though, show up: homeschoolers. "Our teaching emphasizes character
," mom informs me cordially. Why does that word make me twitch with foreboding, as if I'll shortly be denounced as the duplicitous social menace I really am? The homeschoolers aren't content just to chat, god bless em; so we head over to the reading platform and I read aloud my Nasty stories to an audience of three, at close quarters. With nasty delight I do the nose-picking tale. It goes over well; they buy two books.
After this, some of that famous Memphis BBQ, at Corky's, under the Elvis memorabilia. I have a footlong slab of ribs "dry" style, dousing on Corky' sauce to taste. Pork is the meat of Memphis, not beef. "For eatin', swine/Is mighty fine!" declares escort Pat (something like that). Amen, sister.
Then late afternoon, down across the state line for Oxford MS. My first time in the real deep South (not counting visits to Atlanta and Knoxville) ? and here I am barreling along the highway in a Black Cadillac (albeit not a big ole one, a little new one) with a lanky ex-deputy sheriff (Pat's husband) at the wheel, him sipping his Dr. Pepper. We cruise into Oxford past John Grisham's spread with its Little League diamond, and pull into the portico'ed jewel of a main square. My event is at Square Books, another storied indie enterprise and a big deal in these parts. One of the co-owners is in fact Oxford's mayor. The bookstore hosts a celebrated live radio variety show, Thacker Mountain Radio, featuring visiting authors and musicians. So I get to read the first two chapters of my candy-bar kids' saga in between soulful smoking blues bands. We're deep in blues country. "You know, when Muddy Waters was starting out along here in Clarksdale," I tell the audience, "he'd have a children's book author as his opening act Saturday nights. A little known fact." One feels a trifle undergunned, you see, just reading from a book when the other acts have electrified guitars. When the fun is over, I cadge a Moon Pie (sweets crazy, ain't we) and a T-shirt from the bookstore.
Then by black-Cadillac down a darkcountry road for catfish eating at famous Old Taylor Grocery ? but the place is packed. So back to Oxford's square for fried fish, hush puppies, turnip greens (you sauce it from a vinegary bottle) and black-eyed peas. I pass on the pecan pie, and fall asleep in the rear seat on the ride back up to Memphis.
Next morning I hang around my hotel, the glorious Peabody, where the Mississippi Delta is supposed to begin, for the march of the ducks into the Grand Lobby fountain. An announcer booms tackily on a mic for the tourists. More tourism and tackiness on nearby Beale Street, the crucible of the blues. I find a postcard of natty young BB King guitaring away in dress Bermuda shorts and two-tone shoes. My new style icon, I decide.
And then a quick dash through the Rock 'n Soul Museum ? and then the airport, book tour done.