In Memphis, Mike Tyson opened his heart to me and revealed the real birthplace of the blues. "I've been hearing comments from people most of my life," he said with a sigh while holed up in a house on Friday night. "Since before Robin Givens. After the Holyfield fight a guy gave me a poster of the ear, and a line underneath it said: GOT MILK?" Tyson paused and said, "I just laugh. You have to." It's all you can do when you're Mike Tyson—a 26-year-old, Harley-riding truck driver from East Memphis.
Just laugh: You had to in Memphis, where Fight Week began in earnest at the Rum Boogie Caf� on Beale Street. There, on Tuesday night, golfer John Daly sang, on stage, "Knock knock knockin' on heaven's door." It was a lovely rendition, if an imprudent choice, as Daly was hosting a benefit for—yes—the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Across the street, at Silky O'Sullivan's, two billy goats drank beer from a bucket. There you would also find former light heavyweight champion Bobby Czyz, the only boxer in Memphis who is also in Mensa. "Most of 'em," says Czyz, "can't spell Mensa." Still, World Boxing Council president Jos� Sulaiman did betray a bit of bibliomania at a press conference on Wednesday, when he said that the Mississippi River puts him in mind of the classic American novel, " Huckleberry Finn, by Tom Sawyer."
As for the prefight rhetoric of the fighters, Tyson and Lennox Lewis, it was evidently scripted by that litigating, alliterating Seinfeld attorney, Jackie Chiles. Said Lewis, "I'm a pugilist specialist...." Said Tyson, "I'm a tyrannical titan...." Said Lewis, "He's ignorant, arrogant...." Said Tyson, "I'm impetuous, impregnable...."
The story of Tyson—enriched beyond measure, corrupted by hangers-on, medicated by prescription—is not a new one. "He was the sweetest guy you'd ever want to meet until his momma died," Bernard Lansky said on Thursday, speaking not of Iron Mike but of Elvis. Lansky was, for 25 years, the King's tailor, making everything from Presley's prom suit in 1953 (black pants, pink jacket, pink-and-black cummerbund and tie) to his all-white burial suit in 1977. "Laid him out clean as Ajax and too proud to speak," said the clothier of his client, who liked his belts roughly the size of the WBC's.
Though there is still a pair of Everlast gloves at Graceland (signed by Muhammad Ali—YOU ARE THE GREATEST), Presley always preferred football to boxing. Among the few books gracing Graceland is The Illustrated History of Pro Football. Removed from Graceland, and displayed in Presley's boyhood home in Tupelo, Miss., is Great Running Backs of the NFL. You'd recognize each of these volumes. You read them when you were eight.
Lansky's haberdashery is in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, which last week warehoused most of the celebrities in Memphis. Out front, stretch limos with arena-ready sound systems had Union Avenue thrumming like the surface of an old electric-football game. In the back window of one blocklong white Escalade was a fully stocked aquarium. It was spectacular, the automotive equivalent of platform shoes with goldfish in the heels.
Inside the Peabody, as they have done daily at 11 a.m and 5 p.m. since the early 1930s, ducks rode from their rooftop roost in a gilded elevator to the first floor where they paraded to and from the lobby fountain for the benefit of tourists, who last week included Jerry West and Samuel L. Jackson and Lewis himself. Decades ago a group of sailors threw a Peabody duck from a penthouse window, wrongly presuming it could fly. Said Lansky, mournfully, "On the sidewalk wasn't nothin' but a grease spot."
It is a strange country, filled with opportunity, that produced Presley and Tyson and fish tanks for the car, where ducks inhabit five-star hotels and billy goats down Coors. Indeed, even those Memphians uneasy with the fight would not deny the rights of Donald Trump and David Hasselhoff and at least one woman in a miniskirt made of pull tabs to rubberneck at ringside on Saturday night.
Or so suggested Bill Walton, an 82-year-old Memphian who told me an improbable story in his home on Friday. In 1953 Walton and two other men—none of them high school graduates—took an idea and a dilapidated storefront and tried to start a business. "The place stunk, there was dirt on the floor, the venetian blinds were all wampus-eyed," Walton recalled of that office, at 877 Rayner Street. But soon their idea was catching on. "Within 16 years," said Walton, "we had hotels in 51 countries of the world."