B y T o m D a n e h y
EVERY YEAR WHEN it comes time to do the "Best Of Tucson" issue, we have the pleasant task of assembling a list of prominent Tucsonans to feature along with the many wild "Best of" items. Naturally, we'd like to present a mix of people that reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of our community.
This process has had an interesting evolution. In the early years, with a real small staff at work, I pretty much had my way, seeing as how I was the only one who knew actual ethnic people. The rest of the people working at the time were and are wonderful human beings, but were and remain tragically white.
As the staff grew, I found myself in a real battle as to whose friends would grace the pages of The Weekly. Pretty soon everybody had ethnic friends (I think it was a hiring requirement in the late '80s) and I got shoved aside.
I think they felt my friends were certainly ethnic enough, but somewhat lacking in the culture department. (Which is not true. For example, I know one guy who once jammed with a guy who knew a guy who knew Bootsy Collins. You get any more cultural than that, your head will explode like the guy in Scanners.)
They seemed to want people who hung out on Fourth Avenue, not at Randolph Gym.
The past couple years, they haven't even asked me. But Lord knows, they do pick some winners.
This year they had a guy named Hassan Al-Falak, who is a dancer, choreographer, artist and director. How'm I supposed to compete with that? He seems like a decent enough fellow, but I can't truly judge the content of his character until I see him on the court, down two with 15 seconds left.
While I've know for years that everybody has ethnic friends nowadays, it just dawned on me that I have something they don't--a column. So let me tell you about my friend Mel.
First, I must say in all seriousness that I wouldn't tell you about him just because he's ethnic, although he is, sort of. Mel Dixon is actually one of the most fascinating people I've ever met, plus he can shoot the three-pointer. Which he really shouldn't be doing, since he should have his big 6'4" butt down on the blocks getting rebounds, so Brian and I can shoot the three.
Like 73 percent of all worthwhile people I've ever known, I met Mel on a basketball court. Back in the mid-'80s he used to play for a team called the Sandcrabs. They were an odd bunch, professional men all--well-read, well-dressed.
Mel stood out. He played hard, never complained about a call, and once at halftime I saw him reading a book that didn't have pictures in it.
We eventually talked him into joining our team, Four-and-a-Half White Guys and we went on to win the City Championship. We've been buddies ever since.
Mel is a fourth-generation Tucsonan, a direct descendant of Morgan Maxwell, the first black educator in the Tucson area and the person for whom Maxwell Junior High is named. He was born and reared in Tucson and attended Canyon Del Oro High School, where he excelled in basketball and track.
He went on to become a dentist and came back to Tucson, where he joined with his father (Melvin D. Dixon) in a family dental practice on Speedway, just west of Stone Avenue. His dad's name might be Melvin, but I'm sure Mel is short for Mellow. The dude's so laid-back, he's one nap away from slipping into a coma.
You should schedule a root canal just so you can hear him talk. He sounds like a '70s FM jazz deejay, smooth as silk and nasty as he wants to be. Mi cunado Jesse says he once saw Mel cruising along in his Jag. He pulled up next to him and Mel looked over and said, "Hey Jess, where're the babes runnin'?" (This, of course, was in the days before political correctness, and Mel no doubt regrets the phrasing of that question.)
Mel does have the unsettling habit of showing up at the gym with strikingly beautiful women. Not long ago he walks in with this tall woman from Eritrea, sending half the guys in the gym scrambling for an atlas.
There may be one knock on Mel: You can't count on him to show up every week. One time we had a big game coming up, so I called Mel. He said that he'd like to play, but he was going to South Africa to speak at a symposium and volunteer his services in the black townships. A couple times a year, he spends a week or so volunteering in Harlem.
In his spare time, he composes music. Last year he put together a group that performed at the Outback. He wrote and arranged all the music and even sang backup (although he was relegated to Pip-dom, with a couple well-timed spins, some finger poppin' and an occasional "Whooooo!")
This year, a song he wrote showed up on an album by a best-selling Spanish artist. And this past summer he somehow found time to write a movie screenplay.
The word on Mel is, if he's not in the gym, he must be jammin' in Bucharest. And now finally, he's made the big time. He's in The Weekly.
THE KISS OF DEATH: A few issues back, I looked at all the new sitcoms on TV this year and I gushed over exactly one, If Not For You. Well, guess which show has the honor of being the first to be canceled this year? Yeah, that's right.
The show was ranked 31st for the season, out of more than 100. But some dweeboid numbers guy at CBS determined it wasn't holding the audience inherited from Murphy Brown on Monday nights, so it was axed.
This is the second show by writer/producer Larry Levin that I have loved and that has been killed. But maybe I could use my power for good. Hey network guys, have I ever told you how much I love Baywatch?...
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