Memphis Musings: Wanna go to a klan rally?


I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mountaintop speech, April 3, 1968
We’d just exited the annex to the National Civil Rights Museum; the part of the museum housed within the boarding house in which James Earl Ray had been staying on April 4, 1968 and from which he unleashed a .30 caliber bullet that traveled across Mulberry Street and entered King’s right cheek as he emerged from room 306 onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. In this single act of domestic terrorism, Ray also unleashed what I believe to be a horrific case of collective PTSD, the effects of which we continue to suffer from today.

View of room 306, the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN
The previous few hours had been emotionally exhausting for me. I have known about my true history since my teenage years so the information wasn’t new, but experiencing the museum’s various exhibits; the photos, audio recordings and video, and remembering the evil and terror my forefathers endured always leaves me emotionally stripped. I looked forward to chillin with a cold beer and some good food, and going through the photos I’d taken that afternoon.

Freedom Riders’ bus. Fire-bombed by domestic terrorist, kkk members. Anniston,TX. 1961
We walked along N Main Street in a neighborhood just south of downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Because the Lorraine Motel had served black people during segregation times, I wondered if the neighborhood had been predominantly black. It was obvious to me that this area of town had been ravaged by poverty, neglect, misuse and ignorance over the years, but recently had been chosen to make the transition from utter desolation to trendy cultivation. I noticed more than a few newer businesses in the brick buildings lining either side of N Main Street that looked as if someone had taken care to preserve the structure, the bones, but had changed everything else about them. The renovated buildings had a cool vibe, but lacked soul. The whole place smelled of gentrification.

N Main Street, Memphis, TN
We wanted to get some soul food so we headed toward a little place that also looked like it had recently been renovated, called 99¢ Soul Food, on a tip from a brotha smoking a square outside another gentri-business, a barbershop boasting the name of former NBA player, Penny Hardaway. Ugh! 99¢ Soul Food was closed! I’ve found, when traveling outside major metropolis areas of the country, that many restaurants close at 3pm after lunch service is over, and reopen for dinner service at 5pm. Back in my hometown, I can get a meal in most restaurants anytime between 10am and 10pm. But on this day, in this particular city, it was my unfortunate luck to be on the verge of hangry during this two hour siesta.

We decided to walk around the cute, up-and-coming neighborhood until we found a place that was open, and matched our speed, style and, most importantly, our hunger for good comfort food. After being disappointed by another diner, The Arcade Restaurant, which was also closed, we came across a gastropubby looking spot called The Vault. My fellow traveler pushed open the large, silver door made to look like the door of a bank vault and we stepped into a cozy, old time saloon inspired bar, heavily dominated by wood in that neo-rustic décor that’s so trendy now.

I was so looking forward to plopping down on one of the empty bar stools and ordering a beer. Just as I was about to give my throbbing feet a rest, the bartender stopped me from sitting. Evidently, I’d been about to cop the seat from a gentleman who had temporarily abandoned it in order to take a leak. No matter, my friend and I sat in two empty seats along the adjacent side of the bar, began to settle in and peruse the beer list. I was just beginning to work my brain around what foods and beverages might make the next 60 to 90 minutes most enjoyable, when I heard a raspy voice coming from my left. The voice was attached to a squat, fat, older, white, bald man who was asking my travel buddy, “What are you gonna buy me to eat?”

“What?” my friend replied, “She’s paying for me. You askin the wrong person.”

“She’s payin’?” little old man said with more than a twinge of incredulity. I could almost feel a warm splattering of urine from the pissing contest that might be about to go down.

“Yeah, but I owe him. So It’s all good.” I said. Another friend of mine recently made me aware of how uncomfortable he feels when he goes out with any woman and she reaches for her wallet to pay for or split the check. This, whether she is a friend, relative or a lover. Since then I’ve been hyper-sensitive to this type of situation. But my fat little bar companion cared not one bit about how his rude, intrusive and insensitive questions might be received.

The man then asked us if we were married. “No”, I said. “But we used to be.”

That bit of information completely shocked him. The man’s eyes literally popped out of his head, “YOU were married to HER?!” he asked, in his raspy southern twang.

I wasn’t quite sure what he was implying with the carefully chosen inflections he used on certain words. I didn’t bother to ask either. We assured the man that yes, indeed, we had been married up until about 9 years ago. We’d raised a son who had recently gotten married himself and given us a wonderful daughter. The little old guy was intrigued and so we began to tell him a little more about ourselves.

“What do you do?” He asked me.

“I’m an artist.” I said.

“A what?” He asked.

“An ARTIST. A starving artist.” I said, and laughed.

“That doesn’t make sense. Why are you payin for him then?” the little round guy said, but before either of us were given time to answer, he asked my ex-husband, “Well what do you do?”

“I’m a finance manager at a car dealership.” Said my ex. The man’s eyes bulged again.

“Yeah,” I said. “He’s the finance manager. He should be treating me right?”

“So what are y’all doin here in Memphis?” He asked. We told him that we were visiting from Chicago, on a road trip, simply bumming around the city.

The man was still trying to get over his shock at our whole ‘story’. He asked several times if we were ‘for real’, and so I felt the need to whip out photos from my son’s recent wedding. The man peered with squinty eyes at a photo of my ex, posing in a sharp gray suit and a big smile, with our son and new daughter-in-law. He squinted at my iPhone screen, then lifted his gaze to eye my ex as if he were figuring some incredibly difficult calculous problem.

“Are you two stayin in the same hotel?” He asked.

“Yep.” I said.

“Same room?” He asked, again appearing to be in stage 3 shock.

“Yep,” I said. “We rented a one bedroom Airbnb with a kitchen and a couch.” The fat little bald man blinked and stared blankly at me. I assumed he had no clue what Airbnb was, and that he was still trying to wrap his little mind around the ‘shocking’ details of our story. He pressed on, asking more silly questions about our sleeping arrangements for the trip and about our lives.

“Did you argue when you were married?”

“So y’all are REALLY friends now?”

“What does your son think about you two bein friends?”

“Hey, would you like to go to a klan rally?” the impolite man asked, with a sneer edging his upper lip and a malicious twinkle in his bugged out eyes.

Wait. What? Yes, you read that correctly. This weird little bug-eyed man thought it would be amusing to ask, after we’d told him that we’d just come from the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, if we wanted to go to a secret meeting of domestic terrorists who targeted people like us.

Jim Crow exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum Museum, Memphis, TN
I’m the type of person who assumes people have good intentions until they show otherwise and had made the same assumption about this guy. But at this last question, I wasn’t so sure. Neither my ex nor I wanted to get into a discussion about race with this dude. My response to his klan rally question could have been to curse his little ass out and send him packing to the other side of the bar. I do believe if I’d chosen to respond in this way, that the white bartender, who later informed us that the squat man was a regular and completely senile (No shit!), would have taken my side in the matter as well.

Considering that I’d just spent several hours inundating myself with images, thoughts and sounds of the brutality, violence, rape, murder, terror, and theft committed upon my ancestors by the kkk and likeminded individuals, I’m sure anyone reading this would understand if I slapped the little man right across his fat face and threw a drink in it.

Jim Crow exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum Museum, Memphis, TN
I didn’t slap him though. Neither did my ex-husband. Nor did we throw a drink in his face. Nor did we raise our voices at him, or call him a cracker ass racist, or move to the other side of the bar to be away from him. What I did was stare straight back at him, my own lips curving upwards into a sneer, looked directly into his eyes, and said, “Only if we can bring a shotgun.”

My ex-husband laughed at my response, took another sip of his corona, and waved the bartender over so that we could place our food order. Our world will always contain hateful individuals. You can’t do anything to stop someone from hating you. But, you can certainly stop them from terrorizing you.

Jim Crow exhibit, National Civil Rights Museum Museum, Memphis, TN

BIE by billie marie



Stalking easy prey. This was how he understood the wooing process. First dates are for observation; second, for laying the trap. By the third date, no possibility of escape existed for his victims.

Stalking easy prey. This was how he understood the wooing process.
He chose the flowers he would present to her on date number three based on the color of her energy. She was always so impressed with his ability to ‘guess’ her preferences, and altogether failed to remember answering this question about herself, or elaborating on that childhood story. Guided by an experienced hand, her conscious discerned only an intensity of interest on his part, which translated as taking her seriously.

He prided himself on setting the scene. Sometimes, he wished her in a dress, and so, he arranged for a more upscale location at a later than usual dinner time. Other times, he desired her in something casually-cool so would get tickets to the theater or a concert. On rare occasions, he was drawn to the more masculine aspects of her person, and liked her in jeans and gym shoes. This prompted something along the lines of a sporting event.

He was truly and overly obsessive during these endeavors. Perhaps they served as his second advanced degree; quite possibly a graduate degree in seduction. He studied her mannerisms, voice inflections and facial expressions so intently, she had no choice but to believe he was genuinely ‘into’ her. Indeed, he was ‘into’ her, and though an inevitable end would come, he honestly hadn’t the foresight to see it.

By date number three, he knew all he believed was necessary to know about her. This was why he made sure to never schedule encounters more closely than one week apart. He found through experience, that after he had absorbed all of what he wanted of her, their time together was limited to merely an additional 11 weeks. An average 14 weeks was not ever the relationship time-frame he set out to achieve. Nonetheless, this is the span he tended towards.

By week 10, she began to notice that his interest appeared to be waning. Week 11 brought her to the realization that she had developed feelings for him. By the end of week 13, induced by his ever decreasing attentions, panic set in and she began to initiate contact more frequently.

Week 14. The end.

He simply could not understand why the women who chose to date him were always able to hide their ‘crazy’ until after he’d invested so much time, attention, energy and money. How were they so deceptive? How, with all the questions and careful observation, could he keep missing it until the end? “Ah well”, he often thought on the occasion of such an end. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”




Your duty to all women

Girlfriend: Yep, I came home last night and he had cleaned the ceiling fan blades, light bulbs, light fixtures …the whole thing.

me: Awww! What a sweetheart.

Girlfriend: And he’s not feeling well this week. Yesterday was his day off. I told him to rest. But he said he’d feel bad if he didn’t do anything …sigh

me: Guilt.

me: That’t rare in a man. Milk it for all it’s worth, Young Padawan.

Girlfriend: LMAO!

Girlfriend: I will do this for all women.

me: You must! It is your duty.

girl talk

Weekly Writing Prompt #50 – Fortuitous Sleuth

For The Secret Keeper Weekly Writing Prompt #50


Fortuitous Sleuth

She didn’t mean to pry, really she didn’t. She simply thought it would be nice to take a short walk after dinner to stretch her legs before relaxing into a new mystery novel. The fact that she knew her neighbor from three doors down was in Philadelphia on business didn’t factor into her decision to venture out that night, even though she never took walks in the evenings after dinner. Nor did the fact that she noticed an unfamiliar car pulling into the driveway closely behind said neighbor’s husband just as she also happened to arrive home, have anything whatsoever to do with her decision.

Once outside, she began her walk around the block headed in the direction away from her neighbor’s house. “Yep, just out for a leisurely stroll on this beautiful, warm night.” She thought. On the street south of hers, just behind the aforementioned neighbor’s house, she noticed a light on in one of the bedrooms on the second floor. She’d been inside the house on only a few occasions and wasn’t sure if the light was that of the master or another room. “Not my concern.” She thought, turning the final corner of the block. As she passed the driveway to the neighbor’s house, something caught her eye. The garage door was wide open. “I should really let him know. What if someone steals something?” She thought. She walked towards the front door, but stopped abruptly upon reaching the front porch. Music, soft jazz music, was coming from somewhere inside the house. She didn’t intentionally seek out adventure. Nevertheless, adventure always seemed to find her.

Turning again, she left the front porch, and headed for the open garage. “I’ll just check the inside door. It’s probably locked anyway.” She thought. Easing her way past the husband’s car, she took extra care to keep from accidentally brushing anything with her body. Placing her hand on the knob, she was about to give it a gentle push, but abruptly stopped, deciding instead to press her ear gently against the door. No voices could be heard, only the sound of soft jazz. Now she did turn the doorknob and, upon hearing a quiet click, gave the door a gentle push. It opened.

She peeked inside, looking right then left, and opened the door just wide enough to allow her medium frame to slip through. The music, now louder, seemed to come from upstairs. Glad for the soft rubber bottom tennis shoes she’d chosen to wear, she walked stealthily to the stairs and then up, testing each one for squeaks with the toe of her shoe. She followed the music to a room at the end of the hallway. The door was ajar.

She felt a flush of excitement, but her heart beat steady. The door was open just enough to see inside to the opposite corner. Her eyes widened in disbelief. She knew she would have to be discreet about what she was witnessing. “But how the hell am I going to keep this a secret?!” She thought and backed away, making her escape.

It’s Tuesday, Another Challenge Day! – Subliminal Inspiration


She had fashioned the bird all on her own. No help from anyone else; no detailed instructions. She had been looking at the blank sheet of wide-ruled paper and then, as if possessed by an outside force, her hands were folding it, this way and that, into squares and triangular shapes. And before her mind caught up to the movement of her hands, a bird in flight lay before her. She stared dumbfounded at the paper bird for several minutes before placing it carefully in the palm of her left hand and lifting it to eye level.

When her attention finally shifted from the paper bird, Mrs. Moraz was standing right in front of her desk. “What have you made, Lyla?” She heard the sing-songy words come from above while she gazed at Mrs. Moraz’s navy blue skirt.

“It’s a bird.”

“How beautiful!” Mrs. Moraz said. “Would you like to show it to the class, Lyla?”

She shook her head.

“Well then, may I show it to the class?”


“Children, look at the pretty bird Lyla made!” Mrs. Moraz held out her hand, waiting patiently while Lyla gently placed the paper bird into her teacher’s palm. Mrs. Moraz held the bird aloft, while the other children gathered round her cupped hands to inspect Lyla’s creation.

Lyla remained in her seat, watching the group from afar; apprehensive they might hurt her bird.

“We should put Lyla’s bird in the cage.” This suggestion was offered by Randy, who sometimes was chosen as Lyla’s reading buddy during story time.

“What a wonderful suggestion, Randy.” Mrs. Moraz agreed. “Lyla, what do you think of Randy’s idea?”

“Okay,” Lyla said, and smiled.

Mrs. Moraz walked over to the empty cage that sat on the counter along the window side of the classroom and placed Lyla’s paper bird inside.

“Thank you, Lyla, for the beautiful addition to our classroom. Now children, shall we return to our math lesson? We were learning about angles.”

*Written for:


She herself was not beautiful, but her shirt was – shiny, satiny material with a blue crisscross and circle pattern on a crisp, white background. I watched her back as she walked in front of me, down the train platform, up the stairs to the street above and down one block until we went our separate ways. I thought to myself, “That is a very pretty shirt”.

And in that moment, I realized that the trick to being happy, truly happy, is to find the beauty in every small and simple thing;  and then, to try to become that beauty for another person.

The morning after

She thought it befitting that the weather was stormy and warm on the morning after the last night they were together. Time spent with him had always been charged with excitement, yet somehow cozy and comfortable at the same time.

Determined not to slip into melancholy, she forced her thoughts to various directions away from anything that might remotely relate to him. While twisting her hair into a loosely neat bun, she listed to a sermon podcast about God’s wisdom; appropriately titled, “The Foolishness of God”. The message set her mind to things outside of herself, and kept at bay the general feeling of separation one tends to experience when the season for a close relationship has come to an end.

Our wisdom, as it relates to understanding of the human experience and life here on earth, does indeed differ from that of God’s; and not just when viewed from the Christian perspective. This teaching wasn’t new to her, but this morning, she heard it with a new understanding; the understanding that we truly understood very little, if anything at all. All of us, from the time we were blessed with conscious awareness, have been searching to make sense of the outside world and the inner psyche. We may come to a period where we think we have it all figured out and then, from out of the cosmos, some circumstance forces us to reconsider our philosophy; to reinvent ourselves.

Her mind meandered through this realm of contemplation as she packed her tote, grabbed her keys and umbrella, and prepared to plug back into the world. She wondered, if our wisdom continually shifts depending on our circumstances, would it be sensible to try living by a more enduring wisdom? Would it be possible to manage her life, to connect with others, according to a more productive, more enriching and healthful intelligence?

How could a person such as herself; someone who, over the course of several decades, has formed habits and ways of responding to the world, begin such an adjustment? Considering, also, the constant barrage of directives received from our society, she thought it impossible to accomplish something of this magnitude on her own. If she decided to move forward, she would need help; an abundance of help.




She thought, “Now look at that! Someone really got it right when they designed this pier.”

The immense slabs of concrete were held in place by interconnecting pieces of rusting steel; orange and peeling from the elements. Each thick sheet of steel curved into a c-shape at the top and joined with the one beside it, forming a new shape that brought to mind linked hands. She thought about how these hands held strong and fast to position the concrete pier, providing a barrier from the turmoil of threatening waters for beach goers.

At the end of the pier stood a light-tower; a beacon of safety for boaters. She thought, “How appropriate that two joined hands should be the thing that held all of this together; this delicate balance of stone and steel providing insulated safety from danger and destruction.”

She took a photo of one of the adjoined c-shaped pieces of steel while she listened to him tell her how he cared deeply for her, but was so confused about what, precisely, he wanted for his life.

The way things might have been

While making good use of my investment in a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, I was inspired by this painting. I apologize for not giving proper credit to the artist as I did not make note of his name and cannot seem to find him online.* I will update as soon as I can. For now, I’m compelled to get this out.


“I am soooooo glad you guys are here!”, she said, the threat of tears bubbling up. She had just finished her second round of chemo treatments and was finally feeling up to being in the company of people other than her mother.

“I brought vodka!”, her oldest sister screeched. This one drank more than a lot of others, less than some and had built up quite a tolerance. Most people would describe this sister as a lush rather than a drunk. Although, if these people were honest, they would have to admit to being unable to make out that line with the naked eye.

“Of course you did”, baby sis chimed in. “And I’ve got the cigars.” The youngest of the three was all about business, all of the time. More adept at closing deals than soothing nerves, this sister was the trio’s ‘type A’; helping to keep all of them financially sound and comfortable when storms like this one hit.

The three hugged and laughed. The older sis headed to the kitchen to mix dirty martinis for everyone. Tito’s vodka, medium dirty, shaken with three olives was the ONLY way to make a dirty martini. This was probably the only thing, in the whole of the universe, on which the three could agree.

With a twinge of regret, she knew there was no way she could actually consume an alcoholic beverage. But holding a martini glass in her hand, while giggling uncontrollably with her sisters, would be all she needed to feel human again. She loved these two women almost as much as she loved herself. She knew that they were the only people on the planet, other than her mother, who could be counted on when the proverbial shit hit.

Nestling in together on the sofa, they clinked glasses, “Cheers to my little sister! May you be ever young, ever beautiful, and have all the men you could ever want!” Big sis proclaimed in overly dramatic fashion. The women laughed like they had no cares; like they were free and alive. The world belongs to women such as these. They need only to leave pettiness behind, take hold of what they want, and spit out the rest. She now knew this to be true, deep in the core of her being, and hoped that she would remember after, when she was healthy again.

For today, for this moment, she let go the heaviness of cancer and kids and husbands and bills. She indulged in ridiculous fun-loving chatter and hilarity. Shrieking with delight and tearing with elation, the three sisters wasted the afternoon away.

Years later, the oldest would write about this day in her journal, sadness and regret tugging at her heart. The youngest would depress the memory, deep into the bowels of her subconscious, choosing to focus on more pressing and seemingly important affairs. And she would see them all, and the entirety of all their lives together, and smile, with only love …only love …only love.

*Stamford after Brunch, 2000 by American painter John Currin


As she ascended to the sky, above the clouds, onto another world she’d not yet had the good fortune to explore, she decided she would not return to Chicago. She had grown weary of Midwestern complacency; both the lost and the dreamers who feasted on them. Years ago, she had awakened to the realization that the world in which she lived was a false construct.

With this awakening came both a sense of sadness, and an exhilaration of joy which she could not comprehensibly explain. Whenever she attempted to communicate this newly achieved sense of being, she became very excited with a flood of emotionally charged words that never quite seemed to adequately communicate what she was experiencing. This difficulty in self-expression frustrated her at times.

Frequently one to offer help, she was a nurturer, at heart, with a desire to share. She wanted others to also benefit from the liberation she’d gained from this knowledge about their world.  And her perceived inability to aid in a connection could leave her feeling like a failure.

The steep climb not only brought on a feeling of separation from the mundane and false, but also from those she knew and loved. Her spirit was relocating. With each kilometer that the plane carried her up and across the great expanse of sky, she became more certain of her decision. Though unsure of how her new life would take shape, she was certain of one thing: God held her and would not let go.