Poor ol' Foots

Gregory Morris has nothing but his musical talent. He gives back more then he gets on the streets of Dallas

"Everything old is new again." Morris is fond of the saying and quotes it aloud, limping into the parking lot next to the Green Room.

He stands before a mural painted on the restaurant's outer wall. Through his crooked glasses, Morris peers into the black eyes of an owl perched in the center of the mural.

Disturbing, he says.
To the right of the owl, two women, faces chalky and distant, casually sip red wine. Their plump white bodies are naked except for a blue cloth boa, which is draped across their breasts and anchored in the beak of a nearby stork. They appear as mindless goddesses, occupying space upon a grassy stage while a gang of bronze monkeys conspires below them.

"This cat here, he's blind. He's blowing the trumpet. Notice his physique," Morris says, pointing out an animal with muscular arms and legs resembling those of a man.

A second monkey steals an apple from the stage. Its tail is linked to the tail of another monkey, which is sucking on a pipe in the darkness of an alley. A third monkey clings to the top of a Greek column, draining the contents of an unmarked bottle.

"Excuse me. Is that your space?" asks a woman, her painted face hidden behind the slightly lowered window of a new Ford Explorer.

At 10 p.m. on Friday night, cars and bodies are flooding into Deep Ellum. Inside the clubs, musicians plug in, the aborted thump of their guitars filling the chilly air with anticipation. Bands of punks in baggy-assed pants sit in doorways, and Park Cities boys saunter by, half-listening to the chatter of the scantily clad girls on their arms.

When dusk arrives, these streets become Morris' stage. Sometimes, he hustles money cleaning windshields with a borrowed spray bottle and a bundle of newspapers. Other nights, he sells anything he can find on the street--discarded paintings, lost IDs, anything.

"Sometimes this works just as well," he says, swirling a batch of pennies around in a styrofoam cup. Watching people parade down Elm Street, Morris spots a familiar face and jumps onto the sidewalk. The boy, who has what looks to be his first goatee, nods and says what's up.

"I need your help," Morris says, rattling the coins.
"Don't start with that," the boy says, stuffing his hands into his coat pocket and stepping up his pace.

"It's already started. No end to it," Morris shouts to the kid's back.
By "that," the boy is referring to the mind games Morris plays as he works the unsuspecting crowd. Windows or handouts, it makes little difference. All Morris has to sell is himself.

With surprising sharpness, Morris fires off compliments and insults, hoping to engage the egos of those who cross his path. When he is on the mark, he earns his pay plus a few laughs. When he's off, the people scatter.

A young couple walks by, the man's arm wrapped around his girlfriend's naked waist. "Excuse me, sir, but what kind of cologne is that you're wearing?" Morris asks. The man mumbles something and clutches his girl tighter. "How did you get a pretty girl like that? It must be the cologne. You know she's gonna leave you."

Pop poppins is headlining at Trees, and Morris follows the crowd there, carrying his cup and a box of leftover baby back ribs a friend gave him earlier in the evening.

A group of guys approaches the club and Morris begins to dance in place. "Can I dance with you?" he sings, jabbing a meatless rib into the air. The guys start bopping with Morris. He stays on them until they reach into their pockets.

"Petty change," Morris says, glancing down at the quarters dropped into his cup. "This time of the night here, people aren't in the giving mood. They don't get humane until they get drunk."

All things considered, Deep Ellum has been pretty good to Morris. There was a time when he spent his nights on the inside.

After graduation, Morris played bass guitar in honky tonks from Dallas to Waco to Houston. His various bands--the East Texas All Stars and Merging Traffic, among others--never made a blip on the radar of memorable local rhythm and blues bands. Still, Morris spent his time in the limelight. Now, Morris says, all he wants to do is get back on stage.

"When I get out from this homelessness, I want to start my own blues band," he says. "I'm going to eat music. I'm going to breathe music. I'm going to live music. I'm going to play until the day I die."

But there is the problem of Morris' current consumption habits. It is not one of his favorite subjects. He won't talk about how he fell off the stage and into the streets. The Beatles, he says, sang that money can't buy you love. It is a motto he embraces.

"I know what it's like to have. I've had some of the finer things in life. But to have and not be happy?" he says, shaking his head. "Money ain't nothing. I put very little value in it. Look at me, I smile. And I sleep good at night, too."

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