Shooting hoops with E-Z in the Tinfoil Palace
words by TJ Masterson; photos by Tim Fitzwater
Are you easy like Sunday morning? “Yep, and every other morning.”
If you frequent any club downtown or in Highland Square, you’ve probably seen him. You can’t miss him. He dresses to be noticed. I’ve crossed paths with him dozens of times and knew nothing about him, but every time I would see him, I would whisper to myself, “there’s E-Z,” in the same way I’ve done it when coming across Chrissie Hynde. But with E-Z, there’s more disbelief, like you’ve seen a unicorn strutting down the road. If that unicorn were decked out in a monochromatic color scheme trimmed with scarves, sunglasses and his hat tilted just right. E-Z’s strut is slow and deliberate, like his every movement anticipates a snapshot.
He told me to meet him at his private club — no friends and no photographer, “just you and your cellphone, man.” I have to admit I was nervous as I entered what other people have called “The Tinfoil Palace”. The music was loud and I was struck by the glare of Mylar, mirrors and string lights that covered most of the interior, so I didn’t catch the welcome he offered when I walked inside. E-Z sat in a high back, wicker chair in his full regalia. He looked like a king on his throne. A throne near the stripper pole where he sometimes practices his exotic dances.
He walked me over to the bar and made us a couple of Screwdrivers. Before I could ask a single question, E-Z proceeded to share his knowledge of local nightlife history and what it’s like running his own private clubs for 37 years. And what makes him tick? The ladies. Period. Most of what he discussed revolved around his love for women. They motivate him. The way he dresses, talks and what he does — it’s all aimed to please the ladies.
However, he is not, he insists, a pimp. The difference, he says, is that “pimps get paid for what they do.” Instead, he did gave the impression that he’s more comfortable singing, “Everywhere I go, people know the part I’m playing.” Enough said.
Born Mitchell Moss in Akron back on February 9, 1952, he grew up poor with his four sisters on Balch St. His father, James Moss, was, E-Z says, “The best golfer in Akron, but couldn’t make a living at it back then, because he was black.” So his dad turned to hustling card games like Spades and Pitty Pat to support his family. For his part, young Mitchell was forced to wear second-hand clothes from Goodwill and one night, that almost cost him his life.
As he walked home from his job at the Brown Derby in Cuyahoga Falls, a group of white guys in a convertible on the other side of the Main Street bridge stopped and threatened to throw Mitchell off the side into the river below.
“Thank God I could run a 9.70 [in the 100-yard dash] and there was that divider on the bridge and they had to drive all the way around to get to me or I would have been dead,” E-Z says.
That run-in shook him and he decided he needed more respect, which meant working harder so he could afford to dress sharp. That’s where it began. But where did he get his style, which seems like it was influenced by Bootsy Collins or Prince.
“No, man,” E-Z objects. “I’ve been dressing like this since 1972. I don’t dress like Prince; he dressed like me.”
Instead, he credits Steven Tyler, Janis Joplin and even Al Capone. His thinking is to get noticed by the ladies — “like a peacock with his feathers,” as he says. The reason he hasn’t updated to something more contemporary?
“This is the look that has always worked for me,” he says.
That makes sense, and since history repeats itself, I say, “Well, all fashions come back into to style anyway, right?”
“Man, by the time this look comes back, I’ll be dead,” E-Z snaps back, laughing.
Sometimes he’s mistaken for a celebrity and gets photo requests. He obliges, too. For $20 a shot.
“When I go on a vacation, I’ll walk in somewhere and people pull out their cameras,” he says. “They think I’m Michael Jackson or somebody.” Not that he minds the attention.
Almost four hours after I first arrived, we’re talking about pop culture — Favorite movie (the first “Star Trek”), favorite bands (The O-Jays, Levert, Isaac Hayes) and performers he admires (“Mick Jagger’s style, the way he moves.”) — when we talk about do-overs. What would you do differently if you could? He says he’ have played basketball or football professionally. He says he played cornerback for the Cleveland Lions (minor league football) for nine years and claims he had a 48-inch vertical and could dunk even though he’s only 5’7″.
So I tell him, back in the day, I was a pretty good basketball too. Just like that, he went out and grabbed his basketball and said, “Let’s go! I have a hoop out front.”
That’s how the night ended, playing H-O-R-S-E with the legendary E-Z who was dressed to the nines in his full attire with him up by two buckets when I had to leave.