Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I hear they also have one in Pennsylvania

In comic books, Bizarro is a twisted version of Superman, an imperfect duplicate who wants to be the same but ends up being different. His planet, Bizarro World, is square while Earth is round, he causes disasters instead of saving people from them, the S on his shirt is backwards (but you usually can't see it because unlike the humble Superman Bizarro wears a homemade sign proclaiming himself to be #1), he is vulnerable to blue kryptonite instead of green, and so on.

Bizarro and Superman

Bizarro stories always annoyed me when I was little, but the Superman animated series gave me a better appreciation for him. In his send-off episode, the last time we see him on that show, he frees an animal from a zoo with the comment, "Why am you locked up? Me bet it am for something you not do," and I suddenly understood, and felt bad. At heart, Bizarro means well. He wants to be good. He just doesn't know how, and his essential nature fights against it. He wants to be Superman, but he'll always just be an imperfect duplicate.

I was thinking about Bizarro last week because I learned, from a commuter request form, that just down the road from me there is a Bizarro village of Philadelphia. I've mentioned before that my hometown is Philadelphia, NY, a small village that sits on Route 11, so I was surprised to learn that there's a Philadelphia, TN, and it also sits on Route 11. It's Philly, but not Philly! It's, as I said, Bizarro Philly, and I immediately wanted to go see it.

(Before anyone argues that our Philly is the Bizarro Philly, I'll point out that ours was founded first. Sorry, Bizarro Philly.)

I didn't know if there actually would be anything to see there, but Bryan offered to drive, so off we went on Saturday morning. It turns out that Bizarro Philly really is like our Philly, but different in small, odd ways.

1) We both have a closed gas station on Route 11. At home, ours is the Agway. In Bizarro Philly, I'm not sure what it is, because the sign is gone:

derelict gas station (1)

The whole building is gone, actually, but they left some lovely ruins behind:

derelict gas station (3)

derelict gas station (2)

2) Nothing important happened in our town, ever. Bizarro Philly, on the other hand, was the sight of the apparently famous Battle of Philadelphia:

battle of philadelphia

According to the plaque next to the Civil War Trail sign:

civil war trail

the Battle of Philadelphia was fought a short distance away on Federal Hill:

Federal Hill

It was the first Union defeat in East Tennessee, and allowed the Confederacy to capture a number of guns and supply wagons. Bizarro Philly is historically important, while our Philly has contributed nothing important to the historical record.

They sometimes claim to have invented cream cheese, but this is a lie.

3) Our town has a lot of churches. Bizarro Philly also has a lot of churches:

harmon chapel cumberland presbyterian church (1)

...Including You

Is it just me, or does the "including you" come out sounding a lot less welcoming than it should?

The historical plaque was on the lawn of another church, and there was a non-photogenic Baptist church past the Presbyterian Church. We didn't stop because we were trying to find this church:

Branded Cowboy Church

I have no idea what a cowboy church is. Bryan and I tried to follow the signs to find it, with a slight caution from me: "If we pull up and it looks like snake handlers or 'Children of the Corn', just drive away. I'll try to take a picture without getting out of the car," but we must have missed a turn or something because we just ended up doubled back to a street we'd already come down.

4) Regular Philly sometimes has graffiti problems:

hate crime

So does Bizarro Philly:

stop go sign

5) Regular Philly is smack in the middle of dairy country. Bizarro Philly also has a dairy:

sweetwater valley farm

Their sign said that the cheese shop was open, so we went in, and there was so much cheese:

so much cheese

Case upon case of cheese, and the whole back of the store is glass windows into the cheese processing area, so you can see the presses and vats and drying areas. Even better, when I starting talking to the lady at the counter, whose husband owns the farm, I was explaining that I was from dairy country in upstate New York and she explained that her husband was, too! He's from Cortland, the town where I went to school for my undergrad. We started trading New York towns, and I went on to explain that the whole reason we were in Bizarro Philly was that my parents live in Philadelphia, New York.

"There's a Philadelphia in New York?" she exclaimed, eyes wide. "I never knew that!"

She probably thinks ours is the Bizarro Philly.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My Weekend in Memphis (Part 3)

After Graceland, we ran around town for a little bit.

Jeannie decided that I could not visit Memphis without having some authentic barbecue, so after getting a little bit lost trying to find it we ended up at Leonard's Pit Barbecue:

leonard's pit barbecue

I was thinking we could go to the Neely's, in hopes that Gina might be there and I might somehow be able to accidentally on purpose throw my lunch into her face, but Jeannie swore that Leonard's was better, and that it had been on "Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives". I'd never heard of it, but it seems that lots of other people have based on their thumbtack map:

where ya from?

After tasting lunch:

lunch at leonard's

I can understand why. That was some good pork, and the baked beans with little shreds of pulled pork in them were even better. It was the perfect delicious, filling lunch to tide us over while we went to go look for some crazy that I saw on the internet.

Specifically, this kind of crazy:

statue of liberation through christ (1)

Like I said, Tennessee is a land of wonder, but sometimes it's more of a land of wondering what the hell people are thinking. All in all, though, it was a really good trip, and I'm glad I went and grateful to Jeannie's family for putting me up for a couple days.

Before I wrap up, I also want to share my favorite picture from the weekend:

foyer chandelier

I think I'm getting better at black and white.

My Weekend in Memphis (Part 2)

Saturday morning, we woke up early so that we could get started on our day, and boy did we have a day! First we had to drop Jeannie's kid off with her sister, and while we were over in that part of town Jeannie drove me past the locally famous Pink Palace:

the pink palace

The Pink Palace was orignally built as a mansion by the founder of Piggly Wiggly stores, and after a long series of financial setbacks ended up in possession of the city, who made it a museum. That's what the sign says, anyway:

pink palace sign

I saw it on the web when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go, and I think that they did some retinting or photoshopping or something on the website, because it looked a lot pinker online. It might have been more pink up close, but we didn't have time to get up close because we had a goal:

Graceland welcome

Graceland welcomed us with open arms. Actually, maybe with an open hand out more than open arms since the first thing we had to do was pay ten dollars to park there. That was just a drop in the bucket compared to the tours, though. To this day I will always wonder what was on the sixty-four dollar VIP tour, but I'll never know because we took the (comparatively) cheap thirty dollar one.

Our tour did come with some attractive headphones and radio equipment, though:

jeannie in headphones

tour controls

Only one of Jeannie's headphones worked. When she tried to report this at the end of the tour as we handed them back over, the tour guide response was, "Uh huh," followed by hanging it back up on the rack with all the others. This was the general attitude of all of the Graceland staff, actually, which was kind of sad. Since we talk about customer service a lot at work, Jeannie and I both noticed that the Graceland staff is universally surly, unhappy, and untintentionally hilarious. At one point, when we were in the basement, the tour guide at the bottom of the stairs was yelling up the stairs to the foyer guide about how her Friday not had gone and how she couldn't believe it was only ten in the morning and they had to be there the whole rest of the damn day just standing around and watching people.

They don't really have anything else to do because the tour headphones do all the talking. As we approached the house:


my headphones explained that Elvis purchased Graceland from someone and kept the name because he liked it so much, but I have to admit right now that I was only half paying attention because the headphones were making my ears hot. We had to shut it off for a moment before entering, so that one of the tour guides could yell at us:

graceland tour guide

"There is no flash photography, because it will act like sunlight and fade the artifacts. Myself or any of the staff will be happy to help you turn off your flash if you don't know how."

Really? Because the impression that I got was more that they'd be happy to punch us in the gut and then shove our cameras up our asses, but your opinion may vary. Anyway, fully bullied into submission, we proceeded into the house, which is smaller than it seemed like it should be but perfectly preserved:

graceland living room

elvis' parents' bedroom

I know that parts of those rooms are a little dated, but they'd also look good in most homes today. Minus the stained glass in the living room, both rooms seemed surprisingly minimal and subdued, but all of the crazy over the top decor that was missing from them was piled up in spades by the time we got to the dining room.

Before that, though, there was the staircase, where I took off my headphones and never put them back on again:

peek at the upstairs

The tour narration includes a generic narrator, Priscilla Presley, radio and television clips, some music, and Lisa Marie, and that's what killed the tour for me. While I said yesterday that I have no particular feelings toward Elvis, I hate Lisa Marie because she married Nicholas Cage and convinced him to sell off his comic book collection.

The woman is a monster.

As we were looking up the stairs, Lisa Marie explained, "My dad used to make guests wait... by the door... and then he'd come down the stairs... with all his jewelry... and he'd be jingling... and it was just awesome," and that was it for me. The headphones came off and I never put them back on.

And then there was the dining room:

graceland dining room tabletop

Holy gold-veined coke mirror, Batman! The worst part, which I didn't take a picture of, was that the walls on one side of the room were also covered with gold-veined mirrors that matched the tabletop. It was overdone, bordering on vulgar, and this is the real tragedy of Graceland and how it distorts Elvis: Elvis died before he got to redecorate. All of the rooms, even the Jungle Room:

the jungle room

were hot and trendy when they were designed. If MTV and "Cribs" had existed back then (or still existed today; wow, I'm old) they would have been all over this, and kids all over America would be trying to figure out how to copy the TV room:

graceland tv room

or the bar:

tv room bar

or the pool room:

graceland pool room

They might not have copied that spooky monkey in the TV room, because really, what the hell is up with that thing?

the tv room monkey

Does that eat souls?

But anyway, my point was that other people at the time who had vinyl sofas and tapestry fabrics on their ceilings got to graduate to fake mission furniture and wood paneled dining rooms, while Elvis had the tragic misfortune of dying and having his house preserved as a shrine, so now everybody remembers him as this guy with weird outlandish taste when it really only looks horrible by modern standards.

Once you get out of the house, the rest of the tour is kind of fun, if a little heavy on rules.

keep off graceland's grass

please ignore graceland's horses

no throwing coins

I love that they have Elvis' signature on the corner of each admonishment, as if it's not the Graceland staff but instead is Elvis Presley himself who wants you to stay off the grass or ignore the horses. Do they think that someone with a handful of change is going to think, "No, wait, Elvis wouldn't want me to throw these in the pool" and instead spend them in one of the many gift shops? It wouldn't work on me, anyway, because even though I didn't throw any money in the fountains I was too filled with rage to buy anything at the gift shops:

shunned at graceland

There's a name between Joe and Joey, Graceland marketers. A very popular name which belongs to thousands of people across the world.

Before I got to get mad at that, though, there were a lot of awards and costumes to walk through:

elvis' gold lame suit

gold records (1)

gold records (2)

This one, a television that RCA awarded to Elvis:

elvis' rca tv

was particularly awesome to me because we had a big, huge television like this when I was very small, except the speakers on the sides of ours were red velvet instead of whatever that gold is.

While we were finishing this part of the tour, though, something nagged at the back of my mind: In the same way that the house is locked in time, so is Elvis. As far as Graceland is concerned, old fat Elvis doesn't exist. Instead, there is only the ideal:

elvis painting

Even the costumes from the fat Elvis period are cut to thin Elvis size:

sahara jumpsuit

which is especially jarring when you see the random concert footage near them:

more gold records and awards (2)

As impressive as Elvis' achievements are:

more gold records and awards (1)

it seems disingenuous that the narrative that Graceland chooses to tell is that Elvis went from young and hot straight to dead:

elvis rests

I'm not saying they need a display of pill bottles or a photo of the fatal bathroom, but other things happened to Elvis between his movie heyday and his death, and there are lessons to be learned from that.

Graceland isn't about lessons, though, or even really about Elvis. It's about making money, whether it's from the parking fee or the tour or the vaguely asiatic Pez dispensers:

elvis pez

or the Graceland Christmas ornaments:

graceland christmas ornament

or the plastic guitars filled with popcorn:

elvis aloha popcorn

or the peanut butter and banana sandwich recipe potholders:

peanut butter and banana sandwiches

"A whole stick of butter for one sandwich?"

"That's why Elvis is dead, Jeannie."

What I'm trying to say, in the end, is that Graceland has been made into a place with no soul. Elvis the artist and person has been transformed entirely into Elvis the commodity. This could just as easily have been a tour of Roxy Carmichael's house. The only thing we saw during the entire experience with any sense of meaning were the signatures left by fans along the outside walls around the estate:

graceland's wall (1)

graceland's wall (3)

graceland's wall (2)

That last one is my favorite.