Memphis – With a Bow On Top

Friday, December 9, 2011, Vol. 126, No. 240

GIVE MEMPHIS TO SOMEBODY YOU LOVE. Put a polar bear and a panda under the tree. But walk them first. You really don’t want all that on the living room rug. Do this yourself; don’t ask Santa. Polar bears make reindeer skittish.

Give a membership to the Memphis Zoo, truly one of the world’s great zoos and a great deal. But a little advice – take a kid. By yourself, making stupid noises to make the meerkats stand up and stare at you only makes everybody else stare at you. So does squealing while the otters chase each other. And experience teaches that the stranger next to you doesn’t think your joke about the naked mole rats is one bit funny.

Invite Oscar Wilde, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare – a whole cast of characters – to share stories, maybe sing a little around the fire. But pay attention. These people are sensitive. If you don’t show them some appreciation, they’ll act out. And don’t try and sing along with Sondheim. He’s impossible.

Give a season of live theater and raise the curtain on both experience and expectation.

Gift wrap some fried oysters and blue cheese with a New York strip. Pair the two of you with a complicated bottle of wine and three or four simply wonderful things you can’t pronounce and let them take you somewhere you’ve never been.

Give gift certificates to our local restaurants – not to franchises, but to one from the expanding list of amazing adventures, rapidly expanding both my waistline and our city’s reputation.

Go visit Momma and them – all 75,000 of them – and catch up on everything that’s happened around here since 1852. Give the audio tour of Elmwood Cemetery.

Take a shrunken head, a fully operational mechanical circus, a planetarium and a four-story, movable movie screen. Pack them all in a big box made out of pink marble and give it to people who think they have everything. Or give folks trips inside their own iPods – one, a soulful tour of everything Stax ever did, and another a gig that rocks so hard you’ll dance like nobody’s watching. Or invite somebody you want to impress to Hugo Dixon’s digs or Brooks’ crib. What they’ve done with the place is pure art. Elvis gets lit every Christmas, and the ghosts of Victorian Village are in the spirit of the season.

Give memberships to our museums, gardens and historic homes.

And back to bears under the tree. Add some Grizzlies, and treat somebody to the NBA vs. Memphis. Warning: Don’t put any San Antonio Spurs nearby. Grizzlies eat them alive.

Creative gift-giving in a creative town.

Tie that zoo membership to a stuffed polar bear or panda from the zoo gift shop. Include that restaurant certificate in the cast with theater tickets. Give the new coffee-table book, “Memphians,” and use a Pink Palace membership card as a bookmark for Clarence Saunders. Tape those Grizz tickets to a basketball or a Rudy Gay jersey.

I’m a Memphian, and I’m giving it away.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at