You could walk down Madison Avenue going west on an early fall Sunday morning in Memphis, past TGIF on your left and Paulette's on your right. Two different clienteles there, forsooth. Fridays would serve you a bleu cheese dressing on your salad that was oil and real bleu cheese chunks. Perhaps you'd stop in there for one of those salads and a bowl of French onion soup. You'd fit right in with the Bohemian diners as the huge wooden Indian at the edge of the bar stared down at you without judgement. Perhaps, halfway through your bowl of soup, the Fridays folks would open up the huge windows overlooking Madison Avenue. As you sat there right at sidewalk level, Dancing Jimmy might show up and hit you up for a buck. Maybe you'd have given him a buck if you hadn't seen him duckwalking down below bar level the night before, taking the bartender's tips just like he was The Invisible Bum. It's likely you told Dancing Jimmy to go fuck himself. Anyway, the rumor was that Dancing Jimmy really was an ex-established businessman with a nice house who just pretended to be homeless when he actually had a fat-ass retirement plan paying his bills while he spent his skinny time on the street in those raggedy ass clothes and that attitude of cheery despond.
Maybe instead of turning left into Fridays on that Sunday morning, you decided to cross the street and go into Paulette's. Even though you were dressed in cutoff blue jeans and a t-shirt, you wouldn't have been turned away at Paulette's. Yes, there would have been a gentleman in a tuxedo playing Gershwin tunes on the grand piano in the foyer, but you'd have been seated just like anyone else on the waiting list. When your table came available, you'd have been placed at a small arrangement with a starched tablecloth and offered a menu which you had no need to see. There, too, you'd have ordered a bleu cheese salad. It would have been a different appetizer than that offered at TGIF, but just as distinct. At Paulette's, the Romaine lettuce would be chilled to just the correct temperature and the dressing would be creamy and filling. Paulette's is a real French restaurant where they make the crepes as you watch. The ceiling is high and the room is white and the beef Bourguignon is one of the most delightful breakfasts you can have at noon.
Regardless of what you eat, you are not so far enough from Overton Park that you can fail to smell the scent of the old-growth forest lying right there in the middle of that Southern town where so many outlying folks have arrived over the years to escape the small town oppression of Mississippi or Alabama or the entire world out there on either side of the Great River. Some even came from above. Elvis was one. Prince Mongo was another.
Prince Mongo might have lived not too far from you. There is no doubt that he had lined the roof of his upper middle class home down off of Peabody in Central Gardens with 3" of lead just so the aliens from his home planet could not locate him with their honing devices. Had they been able to do so, they would have ferried him back to unhappily take his rightful heritage in hand and rule the planet from whence he came. Planet Zambodia's most famous Memphian has just recently told you that he was sent to Earth to offer atonement, redemption, and enlightenment to Earthlings as well as to save us from various natural disasters. It's likely you might have voted for Prince Mongo when he ran for Mayor last year. In fact, you're almost sure of it. You try to remember if there were any natural disasters when he lost decidedly.
Leaving whatever establishment you chose for dining, you'd likely walk on westward down Madison Avenue. It would be just past noon, and the folks at Huey's would just now be opening the double doors facing the street at their legendary 45o angles. But let's not get to Huey's just yet. Let's imagine that you stop and smoke an after-breakfast cigarette outside of Paddy O'Brien's place. Paddy's is painted that resonant green that's reserved for Irish Royalty and, of course, it's always the most popular stop on the annual Pub Crawl down Madison Avenue. Paddy is a red-faced fat man about your age who won't live much longer. Somehow you know that, even though it's you smoking the cigarette with all the gusto that one man can muster.
You might remember the afternoon about a year ago when you were sitting in exactly the same place, smoking a Sunday cigarette on just such an early autumn day. You had heard some live music coming from a few blocks over, north of Madison. Do you remember how you thought of letting it pass and then decided at the very moment you stood up to go ahead and detour over there and see what was going on? They were opening up the windows at Huey's just as you took that detour and you were torn about the decision. This would change the entire schedule, and those are important. One small decision can change your entire life. You know that's true.
As you found the little cul de sac just a block away from the zoo where the live music was playing, you saw an older lady on a girl's bicycle. She was a stunning blonde-turning-gray with one of those wide Kathryn Hepburn headbands around her forehead, holding her hair back. Perhaps you almost felt sorry for her on that blue Schwinn bicycle with the big tires and the female curvatures. You'd busted your balls so many times on the boy's bicycles over the years, you might have always been secretly jealous of the much more sensible girls' design. The lady might have seemed terribly out of place at that makeshift block party with a shaky stage holding an 80s wannabee rock band playing some godawful stuff like Ramones music. You could tell that she's be much more at home with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz instead of trying to shove Joey Ramone under that once-fashionable headband. You probably just took in the image and forgot about it soon afterwards, as you retraced your steps back to Huey's.
But that was last year. Today it is most likely approaching 1:30 in the afternoon. As it does in the fall, the air was already getting cooler with a slight breeze from the northwest. That breeze might have begun in Canada. A couple of stray brown oak leaves might have fluttered just above your left temple. When those short bursts of cool air hit you, it's a reminder that another summer has wilted into a memory. Was there really anything that happened during the growing season which made you stronger or wiser? Melancholy, the modus operandi of fall, drifts into your nostrils and settles throughout your system until it hits your gut, hard.
Is this why you walk to Huey's every Sunday afternoon? Is it the same pattern of phases every lastday of every week? You shouldn't kid yourself so forcefully. You walk to Huey's every Sunday because they serve liquor there and you cannot buy liquor at the store on a Sunday in God's country, which still includes Memphis (for now). The reason you choose Huey's is because, just like at Fridays, they will open up the front windows on a nice day such as this and let the fresh air in, smelling of the Old Growth forest just down the street and letting Dancing Jimmy give you an uncomfortable laugh as he dances his homeless jig behind the jazz band playing on the stage in front of those open windows as you partake of the legal drug which most likely was what drove Dancing Jimmy to this stage in his life in the first place.
You know the guys in the jazz band. The sax player is in another band with you where he plays simpler songs than this on Friday and Saturday nights. As you listen to your friend filling in the delicate lines of an original tune, you remember last year when you walked in here and found the older lady from the block party sitting at the bar after you'd walked away from her as her image burned an intaglio dream into your brain. You remember thinking how life seldom works like this. You don't lust after an unknown woman in one location and then find her sitting at a bar an hour later, alone, smiling at you as if she already knew you when you sit down next to her.
Later that evening, as she told you bluntly in her apartment, "I'm not like any woman you've ever had," you wondered whether to chalk that statement up as just another hyperbole of fall, where large misshapen trees become completely naked and hold out historic hope that they will form small green leaves again in spring.