Each year, the title of “Mayor of Stewart Avenue” was given to a successful area businessman who exhibited likeability and, more importantly, a willingness to share that year’s bounty by hosting a number of alcohol-fueled bashes designed to distract everyone from the undeniable economic decline plaguing the area. In preceding decades, I’m sure the honor was reserved only for those of the highest moral rank, those captains of Southwest Atlanta industry whose wholesome character guaranteed success, well-behaved children, and a Norman Rockwell home life. For sure, mid 20th century enterprise was prosperous though by the 70s, businesses offering things like boat motors and fishing accessories were not a priority for Stewart Avenue residents. The economy had leveled off into auto pilot which, for a while, was fine but the fiscal dip started cutting into the bottom line. Many stores moved or closed while sleazy car dealers, Liquor Stores (a hit in any economy), No-Tell Motels, and privately owned markets (such as Brothers Three) remained. By the end of the decade there weren’t many candidates for the mayor title though it was a decent excuse to have a party.
The last “Mayor of Stewart Avenue” I recall with any clarity was a guy named Ken K. (his relatives might still be around so I’ll take the anonymous approach) who seemed to be doing quite well financially. He was fond of a drink which he might enjoy spontaneously throughout the day as can only the person with enough money and authority to avoid a rigid work schedule. This didn’t mean that he didn’t work just that he did so when it suited him. Like many in the area, he carried a gun and, when drunk, might discharge it more so to punctuate whatever was going on rather than out of self defense.
I know he certainly did it one night in Bros 3. He stumbled in the front door as he raised a 22 and popped of some shots with the bullets going into the ceiling. We were on him quickly from behind and wrestled the gun from his hand after which he staggered outside to his Cadillac where he wrangled the door open and fell into the front seat with his legs hanging out. Someone later pushed his legs in and shut the door, not out of the customary concern for a brother human, but just to get his ass out of the way. (Whoever did it probably rifled his wallet). When I returned the next morning, he was sitting in the store dealing with a hangover. He had no memory of the firearms display or, more likely, just didn’t want to cop to it since that would involve the assumption of responsibility. Besides, he already had a drink in his shaky hand to take off the edge.
Carrying a gun was not as odd as you might think given the time and place. This was long before credit card use (or possession) was ubiquitous, when gambling debts were always settled with cash (most still are) thus, being rolled was a distinct possibility. Additionally, being known around the Avenue as someone not afraid to bust a few caps could discourage a would-be robber. It could also work against you in that a thief might conclude that it’s easier to first shoot and then take the money. There were instances of that also. A cocky repo guy named Rick, known to “pack heat”, as we used to say, overplayed his hand one night and was himself gunned down by someone who feared being shot first. It flipped me out because just two days before he had helped me execute a candy bar stealing rat who had taken up residence at Brothers Three. I had found the sugar eating rodent behind some Styrofoam coolers. The rat hissed and Rick, who was standing nearby, handed me a 5-iron from a pawned bag of clubs while urging me to “fuck that rat up, boy !“. I took aim at the rodent, who had moved onto his haunches, and swung the club in a perfect arc, culminating in solid contact with his neck which snapped him into the next dimension.
Anyway, back to Ken K. His general manner of speech inferred intoxication. He slurred his words, grunted, and didn’t walk straight even when totally sober. Many in the area would drink daily and one of my regular duties was to mix drinks at 4:45 sharp for Roughhouse and whomever might be joining him. My orders were direct – make the drinks simple and strong – usually Tanqueray and Tonic or Vodka and OJ. This was the backdrop against which I learned to function. These guys worked pretty hard at the so called “straight job” in addition to whatever side “action” they had (usually gambling). It was hard enough for me to get to work after school and back home in time to finish homework but the Avenue education I received opened my eyes to intriguing possibilities – legal, illegal, and in between. Many of these men would keep drinking well into the evening and sometimes even into the next morning – yet would take exception to the idea of having a drink before the appointed “cock tail hour”. Others had no such compunction. Most people, especially business owners, need to be sober at least for some portion of the day though if your supplier or partner is like you then it’s just as easy to do deals over lunch time (and sometimes breakfast) drinks. You can do this if you are the boss.
The mayoral election ceremony event was just a formality as that year’s recipient was usually selected well in advance during various drinking sessions held throughout the year. In previous decades, I bet there was a rigid protocol in place for nominations and voting, followed by a family-friendly award ceremony where high quality, catered food was the main event. The general banter would revolve around christian ethics and economic betterment with large checks being written to charities. Many of these businesses were good for sponsorship of Little League teams over at Perkerson Park which at the time was a really big thing (a topic I discuss here). This was the era of Civic clubs such as the Lions, Civitan, Shriners, Elk, and Moose Lodge whose membership included Stewart Avenue business owners. They surely liked to drink but held up the veneer of social respectability at least until much later in the evening when clumsy sexual propositions would be made to waitresses and even the wives (and sometimes daughters) of fraternal brothers. Such activity, emanating from amateurs and the inexperienced, is never effective.
The 70s version of the Mayor’s ceremony, however, would dispense with any social pretense and might well involve women of the night (as a stated intent) and numerous bottles of liquor being hastily consumed straight out of the case. (Wives and daughters would most definitely NOT be in attendance). Dice games would breakout and public nudity would occur. In terms of the setting, it could be a bar but might just as easily wind up in a place like Kaiser’s Trim Shop where the work area would be converted to a party space – although no one bothered to move customer cars out of the way – the backseats of which might be used for a quickie. I know all of this to be true because it would be my job to run the liquor down to the shop in preparation for the event.
None of the Mayors I encountered would have been invited to articulate their personal ethics and entrepreneurial philosophies at a Church or to a classroom of business students. However, it would be too easy to dismiss them as layabouts or hedonists (well uniquely so) because many did in fact build businesses from scratch and managed to purchase homes, cars, and finance college education for their children. Even In the face of economic decline, these types were agile and pivoted into other lines of work. They might also tap gambling winnings to pay college tuition or at least a child support payment. Anything to keep the hustle going.
Another thing I noticed about these men was their general lack of self-pity, not that they didn’t complain now and then, but it was usually just a happy hour comment, “the goddamn bank wants to foreclose on the shop”, that would soon be forgotten in the interest of finding a way around the problem even if it meant just accepting it. So, no – they wouldn’t be writing the next “Habits of Successful Business Dudes” but they could probably give a mean Ted Talk on innovative thinking in times of crisis. The title might be, “A Business Guide For The Functional Alcoholic – How To Have A Good Time, All The Time”. Had any of these Mayors been around during the crash of 29, (some were, though as children), they certainly wouldn’t have jumped out the window. Nor would they have missed using acute national economic ruin as an excuse to have a drink. À votre santé
You can gauge the financial viability of an area by the number of non-essential businesses it offers. By non-essential, I’m referring to cafes, bakeries, curio shops, and ice cream parlors none of which address required needs in the way that pharmacies and grocery stores might. An abundance of non-essential businesses means there is plenty of money in the area for recreational activities that, in tighter economic times, might not be possible. While I mention an ice cream shop in the title, it is more as a reference to a bygone era of considerable prosperity in the Stewart Avenue corridor rather than as a nostalgic pointer to a favorite childhood experience. I wasn’t that big of an ice cream fan but I loved the social opportunities it provided. Dipper Dan was part of a chain and the one at Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center was located between the The Huddle House and The Barber Shop were most of the employees could have just as easily been moonlighting at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island such was their penchant for buzz cuts. There were a few guys who could actually style hair beyond the boot camp look though if the customer was young, they 1) didn’t give a damn what you wanted and 2) enjoyed mowing down fledgling long haired punks as a means to restore order to a society driven mad by hippies and their backers.
Conway’s Nose Hair
The owner, Smitty, was a nice guy and I had a crush on his daughter who, like me, went to Perkerson elementary. So, if I could, I would try to line up a cut with him but usually wound up with one of those surly “barbers” who smelled of last night’s booze and whose shaky hand work would inevitably result in a laceration or two. These guys never acknowledged their mistakes, let along apologized for them, choosing rather to silently break out the Styptic Pen to arrest the bleeding as if nothing had ever happened. To their credit, they were fast. Get in the chair, get buzzed, and get gone. One of my most vivid memories was a guy with Conway Twitty style hair sitting in the chair while getting a manicure. I had never seen a man getting his nails done although the bigger issue was that he had enough hair emanating from his nose to form the basis of a curly mustache. One of the barbers got around to trimming that away (I thought he would need hedge clippers) and I immediately filed that image under the category of “things to never let happen to myself if I can possibly help it“.
Meeting Girls At The Mall
Oh, but this was supposed to be about the Ice Cream shop. There were multiple area locations of Dipper Dan with one opening up at the brand new Greenbriar Mall whose introduction dealt a serious blow to Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center. Greenbriar was an air conditioned, in door Mall with a number of attractive stores and restaurants of significantly larger size and variety than anything else in the region. It also gave a comfortable backdrop for that “teen thing” to happen where you could meet up with your friends and maybe check out the girls from the other schools – if you couldn’t find any from your own. While it was generally frowned upon to seek inter-school companionship, lots of flirtation happened, which might lead to some dirty looks, or even a fight, coming from guys for stealing THIER women ! Kind of an odd accusation since if that were actually true then why were THIER women giving us phone numbers in the first place ? Of course, there is that type of girl who will flirt just to see if she has something that anyone might be interested in yet has no intention of moving beyond that. Part of your job is to try to figure it all out. (Good luck with that).
Ice Cream Kisses
Dipper Dan had this blend called “Rainbow” which was a swirly combo of different flavors. Sort of like Lucky Charms Cereal in ice cream form. It was very sweet but not as sweet as the Bubblegum flavor, infamous for inducing vomiting in the little kids who were attracted to the orange fright wig color. I’m pretty sure they had a mop dedicated exclusively for vomit collection and, of course, no one wanted to be on clean up duty. It was pretty much a job assigned to the new employees most of whom were teenagers. Another frequent problem was the kids who dropped their cones even before their parents had paid for them ! Anyway, Dipper Dan was a place to get a cone and if you could get a girl to share a milkshake with you then you knew you were onto something. Two straws, one shake, sitting across from one another – staring into each other’s eyes ? It was almost like a kiss. There was no actual contact being made (maybe your respective knees under the table) but no one could really complain since it was pretty wholesome and very Norman Rockwell.
Chili Three Ways
There were still plenty of non-mall, standalone malt and shake shops in the area such as Dairy Queen and Zestos. There were some drive in places like Steak and Shake which offered something called “Chili Three Ways” sometimes known as “Three Way Chili”. One night my Mother and Father took me there and for some reason I made the observation that “Chili Three Ways” sounded like an illicit sexual act or something that one might see in a Times Square Peep show (like I would have known). My Mother didn’t react well to this, thinking maybe that I was an emerging pervert with a food fetish. Truth be told, I don’t know what made me say that except maybe I had been listening to George Carlin’s “Class Clown” record which provoked some subversive thinking. My Father reacted by spraying coke out of his nose as my Mother hit him for laughing. It took a while, but he stopped to say, “Son, That’s not a thing to say, especially in mixed company”. I acted contrite but on the ride home he kept making eye contact with me in the rear view mirror almost breaking out in laughter again. He couldn’t come out and say “good one” (until we were alone).
I don’t recall exactly when Dipper Dan closed but once the White Flight took hold and families bolted from the area, lots of those “non-essential” businesses shut down. Even the various hair places and dry cleaners closed because there wasn’t enough discretionary income floating around the area for those businesses to pay rent. The only sure things were the car lots, liquor stores (people drink in good or bad economies) and grocery stores. Sure, there were the NoTell Motels, some pizza joints and bars but once the families left so did the family businesses. Now, all this said. I notice that a new bakery has opened up on Sylvan Rd which looks to have three (!) cafes: Blendz Cafe, Rosie’s Coffee Cafe, and Bakery Bourgoyne (technically located on Evans Drive). This is astonishing to me and also lifts my mood considerably because if these kinds of establishments can flourish then perhaps a resurgence will occur ?
Part of the joy of being in a band is playing live (see the dill pickle appreciation story) in front of diverse types of people, some of whom might represent a stepping stone to a new level of existence in the music business (if only incrementally). That shouldn’t necessarily be the primary motivation for performance but it certainly doesn’t hurt when someone approaches you with a well-intended, (and hopefully legitimate), offer of financial support. Some forms of sponsorship might be shady or based upon the execution of a chain of events, perhaps involving the movement of some “material”, before the cash becomes available. It’s more common, though, to receive basic types of appreciation, such as a home-cooked meal or a place to stay for the night.
Playing private parties can be a good source of income and once you make a few solid connections of this type, life can becomes easier. The only down side is the implied quid-pro-quo wherein the host generally wants to hear certain songs or expects to “sit in”. That’s generally okay but it does get awkward when someone’s wife wants to go all Janis Joplin, usually in some horrible approximation thereof, and then not leave the stage.
My band was once hired to play a private 4th of July party for a large and very well organized colony of nudists. When I say “large” I mean both in terms of body count and average attendee girth. When I say “organized” they owned the land they used for the festivities and had built an impressive compound that hosted people throughout the week. There were about 350 nudists present and although the event was 40 years ago, I’m still in therapy. I’m all for self-acceptance and personal esteem but I was not prepared for the jiggling mounds of flesh on display that sweltering Georgia day.
The nudists were very nice people, in that zany way that hippies usually are, and their generosity was overwhelming. The band was not in any way compelled to disrobe. Someone had deep pockets as the PA was top flight and professionally engineered (a guy from Showco). The event was also impressively catered with a veritable cornucopia of food (including vegetarian options) as well as top shelf alcohol. Not all in the crowd were unattractive but enough were so as to make it difficult to look at anyone straight-on for more than a few milliseconds, thus dark sun glasses became a necessity. I must have looked like John Kay except I did not suffer from any type of visual impairment – though might have were I forced to view the mountain of flesh without some form of protection.
Most nudists, at least the ones I’ve encountered, are politically and socially motivated more so than by any lurid or carnal urge that the typical outsider might imagine. By stripping (literally) away any pretense, people can presumably better view the other for what they truly are – a human being to be accepted independently of any perceived physical imperfections. (Or so goes that zany hippy logic) Talk to any seasoned medical professional and they will generally exhibit a bored attitude towards the nudity of others although generally only within the confines of a medical encounter. I’ve always been on the fence about the whole “let it all hang out” thing. If you have the body for it then I suppose it might be alright but in absence of that then maybe first hit the gym for a few months (or years) before presenting yourself to the public ? I’m speaking in general because intentional public nudity is not on my bucket list. I mean if I have to run out of a burning house with little or no coverage then so be it, but that’s about the only way I’ll do it.
My Father had a roommate named Bill whose very plump girlfriend we chose to nickname “Elastic Woman” because of her preference for those thick, industrial grade bras and girdles that were clearly visible under the polyester pant suits that were once all the rage. Women of a certain size used such clothing to forcefully constrain their flesh which might otherwise “spill out” in a vulgar protoplasmic display. We theorized that, so tight were the garments worn by “Elastic Woman“, that should they break under the strain, they would jet across the room in a sling-shot style effect, killing any one in the line of fire – a sleeping boyfriend, the cat, or maybe even the television. Damn, how did I get off into that ? Oh yea. There were a lot of women at the gig who resembled “Elastic Woman” minus the clothes that is.
For the most part, the gig progressed quite well with the crowd demonstrating its appreciation by dancing in clusters of hand-holding hippy families which hearkened back to the commune days of the 60s. During a break, one of the upper level colony representatives introduced us to his wife which I thought might be part of some Inuit-influenced wife sharing ceremony. If it was, the fact that I, nor any of the other band members did not know the proper acceptance protocol, must have stopped it. In retrospect, I’m sure it was nothing of the sort. Rather than continue the awkward moment, he asked if he could sit in with the band on a few tunes. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem but the fact that he was nude and profusely sweating from lots of outdoor hippie dancing in the July heat meant that he would have had to wear the guitar in such a way that it would make contact with the matted greasy stomach hair (see photo to the left) as well as certain “other” body parts which in my mind would totally defile the guitar. I certainly knew he wasn’t going use my guitar.
I think he sensed the overall vibe and said, “Hey, I’ve got my own instrument” for which I was very grateful. His over emphasis on the word instrument suggested he was about to add, “no pun intended” but thankfully he declined. As a guitarist, he was pretty good in that Yasgur’s farm kind of way where you turn it up like Leslie West whom he kind of resembled albeit with no clothes. His sitting in led to more nudists on stage (which they had built) so it’s not like we could ask them to leave. Any mental adjustment I had made over the past hour in response to playing for the naked hippie pack was reset by having sweaty, corpulent bodies jumping around in uncomfortably close proximity. Mercifully, that was more or less the end of the engagement. The load out was plagued with people asking various questions which in any other case would have been fine, except, again, they were totally naked while trying to help lift road cases – a very unsafe proposition. So I kept the shades on even though it was well past sun down.
These days it’s difficult to escape body obsessed culture and shows like “Naked And Afraid” – a name I could never really remember, confusing it with names like “Nude And Angry” or “Irritated and Naked”. I notice that gyms seem to have these programs on wide screen TVs perhaps as a motivator for people to get into shape. Given the widespread availability of plastic surgery I suppose that route is a possibility though it seems that once you go down that route, it requires ongoing “touch ups” and associated procedures to protect the original investment. You just have to decide if what you have really needs any “help” in the first place. I mean, maybe the hippies got it right in that you should just roll with what you got but maybe just keep it private ?
I’ve been on something of a break while attending to other matters which has included catching up on (re)reading some favorite books to recharge my creative batteries. I rarely check out new publications, not out of some form of “they don’t make them like they use to” snobbery, just that when pinched for time I’ll gladly opt for the familiar over rolling the dice on the latest “must read” whose publication was probably facilitated by some back end nepotism or an inside favor granted to a former sorority sister. Sorry, but I’m recovering from the bitter sting of rejection as my essay on Southside Atlanta crime apparently lost out to a “Top Ten Botox Docs” style article which, by the way, was a huge smash. When I stare daggers at the person who just cut me off in the around-the-clock traffic jam that Atlanta has become, I really like it that the face shining back at me will be smooth and wrinkle free. Where was I ? Oh, yea. So I ran across a copy Jim Carrol’s “Forced Entries” when looking for a lost debit card (which is still missing). I’m a pushover for my favorite books. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, sit down, and start reading. Oh and this isn’t a book review. I’m not sure I’m capable of that. It’s more of a recommendation and some brief comments.
Sordid Tales or Catholic Sojourn ?
On one level, Forced Entries is a book of observational tales set in 1970s New York where Jim Carroll (of “The Basketball Diaries” fame) handles life as a young poet with a clingy drug habit (is there any other kind ?) And, taken superficially, it does provide plenty of entertaining anecdotes on topics such as Warhol, the shame of being a poet, and the realization that 60s style activism smelled funny in the sunlight of the new decade. Certain icons (Leary, Hoffman for starters) might have just been as full of it as any corporate leader or politician they ever demonized. This is where a real book critic might use the word irreverent though Carroll is anything but that. He earns the right to sarcasm by laying out a careful analysis of almost every situation with the (eventual) ability to see his own role in the scene. Most of us will detail the behavior of everyone else, few talk about how we might have contributed to any emerging controversy. Don’t get me wrong, Carroll is no saint, though he does make appeals to them – even the lower tier ones:
I light a candle midway down the right aisle, in front of the statue of an obscure saint named Dustan, who I find out later is the patron saint of lighthouse keepers… I don’t know if I should take it as an omen, but the fresh wooden taper will not catch on the flame I am using to get a light… I take my seat under the plaster blue eyes of St. Dustan, who it turns out was also heavy into politics and writing hymns, one of which was quite a hit on the Gregorian charts.
There are lots of way to board the train with this book meaning you can start reading anywhere although, as with most books, it’s better to start at the beginning. I treat it like a literary “8 Ball” where you shake the ball containing the answer wheel suspended in some form of murky ink from which answers creepily emerge. Except with Forced Entries I tend to get confirmation in some strange sense that I’m either full of it or am living more honestly than before. The capacity to deceive oneself is quite significant and something about reading this book counteracts my tendencies towards that behavior. It’s not a morality thing, more of spiritual investigation. I mean, is it an accident that Carroll keeps winding up in cathedrals, sometimes sitting through “4 funerals” of people he doesn’t even know ?
The Ritual Within The SpiRitual
Continuing with this line of thinking, the book is a sojourn of a lapsed Catholic whose connections with the Cool and Hip (The Velvet Underground Warhol, Ginsberg, Burroughs et al) provide no insulation against life’s bad weather or even the tedium of daily existence which can be as hard to handle, if not more so, than any crisis.
There is no cool left in me. The only resources I retain are a minimum of rage and controlled madness, barely enough to offset the bullshit paraphernalia of art and the city. I thought I could deal with, perhaps even come to understand, my obsessions through some strained eloquence.
I can’t keep a steady style in my writing standing on these shifting platforms of artifice and quick change. I try to fuse my life and my work, to keep up with the tiresome dodging of cars and drugs. Bur when you are walking such a thin wire above such a chic and sleazy cosmopolitan abyss, you don’t stop to think.
His view on the Church:
I was this Catholic kid, and I never really lost that. I loved the rituals of Catholicism. The mass is a magic ritual; it’s a transubstantiation, and the stations of the cross – I mean, a crown of thorns? Getting whipped? It’s punk rock.
He tries a proverbial geographical cure to Bolinas, California where life improves yet, his path to redemption inevitably requires a return to (rematch with) NYC where he rids himself of literal and figurative corruption. His comeback does involve a couple of harrowing temptations that invite a return to the bullshit artifice and manufactured hipness inherent to the city experience but he he experiences relief which, at a minimum, allows him to function in a much less anguished fashion.
I’m like a boxer making a comeback out in the sticks, where I was sent by too many knockouts in the big city.
The only problem with this book is how, like its predecessor, it has been hijacked by would-be hipsters as evidence of drug use for creativity enhancement. It didn’t help that the movie version of The Basketball Dairies pandered to this idea while promoting second string ideas into major movie components (the classroom violence scene). However, if you pay the least bit of attention, such activity is unambiguously represented as a dead end street. Collections of impressions rarely translate well to cinema as they will be reworked in service to lowest-common-denominator audience sensibilities or, in the case of the Art-House circuit, desired critical acclaim at an upcoming film festival (no matter how obscure). “Winner Of The Coveted Frowning Pygmy Award for Best New Film In An Unknown (And Unwanted) Genre”.
I understand that some enjoy reading the “look what I did to support my drug habit” type of story which might be part (a small one) of a larger arc but it’s not really about that. Anyone interested, or cursed, with a thirsty spirit for what lies beyond will probably pursue any number of activities that will not make any sense when viewed through the lens of practicality. But there is little hope in discouraging the true pilgrim from what is most assuredly a Mission that will involve some sordid side trips now and then. In terms of the title of this entry, “Writing as Penance“, that is a phrase associated with Forced Entries as well as some other publications though I don’t know who first coined it. However, to me, it makes perfect sense as forcing oneself to put down words that capture ideas and experiences in a way that is honest and reasonably intelligible is not only difficult but does purify the author or at least validate the workman-like nature of the effort. It clears the books if only for a while.
It somehow escaped my attention that S&S Cafeteria at 2002 Campbellton Road closed last year after 50 years of service to the Southwest Atlanta community. I remember this place as well as other cafeteria chains that have either waned in popularity or have been edged out by real estate development. I’m talking about Picadilly, Morrison’s, and Davis Brothers cafeterias all of which flourished in the southeast during the mid to late part of the 20th century. The food quality varied with location but it was generally passable with an occasional glimpse of accidental culinary excellence. Of particular significance was the role these places played on Sunday afternoons throughout the Bible Belt (more on this in a bit). Cafeterias were also popular during the week and provided chow for working stiffs or the elderly for whom home cooking had become dangerous or difficult due to cognitive (or appliance) failure. For the aged, the cafeteria might be the only form of public interaction outside of a doctor’s visit.
And then you had people like me – an inveterate bachelor totally disinterested (or incompetent) in cooking who needed to fulfill the biological obligation with an occasional halfway decent meal. These places were also great for eating your way out of a hangover though it required dark sunglasses as the interior was extremely well lit and the heat lamps radiated such intense heat that sun screen would have been helpful. I would also go to some of those buffet style, (dis)comfort food restaurants that instigated rules to prevent abuse of “all you can eat” deals. There would be a huge sign, in retina singeing red, explicitly forbidding buffet take out. When confronted, an obese woman clutching a Styrofoam box screamed, “I didn’t come her to read no damn signs, I came to eat”.
You’re An Imposter !
It never occurred to me that anyone would use cafeterias to make social or romantic contact but I was wrong. My physical similarity to another customer, a popular local physician, helped perpetuate an ongoing case of mistaken identity. Any attempts to correct the situation only intensified it. One of the line workers would say, “Oh hey Doc, What’s up man ?” I would jump in, “I’m doing well but I think there has been a big mistake, I’m actually not a do-.” But they were too busy and would cut me off, “That’s funny Doc. Gotta get back to it, See ya later Doc.”
The whole thing came to a head one night when a regular diner, an older woman, brought over her daughter and granddaughter, respectively about 40 and 20 years of age, and introduced them while making reference to an absent daughter in case I was underwhelmed by the beauty presently on offer. I had just cracked my 30s so I guess she was splitting the difference age-wise. “And girls, this is Doctor Phillips, an up-and-coming $urgeon. He was recently featured in the Atlanta Journal.” It was like Moses being offered his pick of Midian Shepherd women. I explained that I was not “Doctor Phillips” nor a physician or even close to being one. Well, that did the trick and they became red with embarrassment, but not for themselves – for me ! As they marched off, the daughter asked, “What kind of sick bastard would act like a Doctor just to meet women”.
I wasn’t out of the woods just yet – one of the cashiers took a liking to me though it became noticeable only after examining my ticket which included a “senior citizens discount.” I assumed it was an accident but it kept happening. While she was in my age range I did not find her at all appealing at least in that way so it got to be a bit awkward. However, it wasn’t awkward at all for my roommate who, unbeknownst to me, invited her and a co-worker over to our house one night. I came home to find two randy Picadilly women sitting on my couch – they were still in uniform ! Before I could react, one of them said, “I would just LOVE to get out of this itchy thing and take a long hot shower right about now.” As a person who likes to compartmentalize things in my life, this was like a cattle prod to the brain. Was I hallucinating ? I know it was rude but I feigned illness and locked myself in the bedroom until they left. Of course, this then meant that I had to find another cafeteria to go to.
How Sunday Church Works (Or Doesn’t)
Church attendance took place in two waves with the first group going only to Sunday School so as to complete their religious obligation in time to make it to the cafeteria and enjoy a leisurely early lunch. So the fat and happy first wavers would be strutting out of the cafeteria around 12:10 just as the second, and much larger, wave of main service parishioners would be queuing up in a line that might already be out the door. There would be some nasty looks exchanged between the two groups with the latter questioning the former’s spiritual integrity. Although, in my opinion, Church was mostly secondary to the food experience for either group and those obsessed with beating the crowds would always park on the fringe of the Church parking lot to facilitate a quick getaway. You couldn’t really blame the Moms who might look forward to the experience so they wouldn’t have to cook on a Sunday. But they tried to bundle too much into it all – bring along Grandpa and Grandma and task the older kids with guardian duty. These diners might not offer a Blessing over the meal under the assumption that their earlier service attendance provided more than adequate evidence of gratitude thus it was fine to proceed directly with the chow down.
The clergy were definitely hip to this scene and most would never dare end the Service late, fearing that next week’s collection plate might be light as a form of retribution. Some clergy would openly joke about the situation going so far as to make reference to that day’s anticipated food specials within their sermon !
I know I’m keeping you from that butter milk fried chicken and smooth cream corn but remember that no human gets through life without experiencing at least some of what Job went through during his tribulations.
Quite a juxtaposition but he wanted (perhaps needed) to let congregants know he wouldn’t be keeping them much longer. They were already thinking, “Job didn’t have to wait in cafeteria lines like we will if you don’t wrap it up there, Preach.” In contrast, some clergy, particularly the Baptists, might hold the congregation late just to assert authority and make a case against gluttony albeit without explicitly mentioning it. My friend Demetrius told me that his Church had it the worst where the Preacher might drone on until 1 p.m. or longer depending on “where the spirit took him.” The cafeteria rush would begin around 11:45 a.m. and might not end till around 3 p.m. after which the dining room looked worse than the chow hall at San Quentin after a nail gun riot.
You Gotta Act Right !
Engaging the cafeteria line involved a strict protocol. First was picking up a tray and some rolled up silverware that might become magnetized due to repeated washing in an industrial sized utensil cleanser. Next was the selection of coleslaw, carrot salad, or the “radiation green jello” topped with cottage cheese any of which could be subbed in for a vegetable if going for the daily special. Next up was the pricey entree, a large piece of fish, quiche (rare in the South at that time), a Ribeye steak or some Prime Rib. Anyone selecting these options might be singled out for derision by those in line behind the “big spender“. “Ooooo. Mr. Money bags, gettin’ that high dollar food.” Next up were the daily special options (e.g. “Dilly Plate”) such as the square cut cod, spaghetti, chopped steak, sliced roast beef, followed by whatever vegetables were on offer – mashed potatoes were a standard. A dinner roll or corn stick was available as was dessert including that lemon pie wedge with the meringue that would shift and collapse under its own weight after an hour at room temperature. Then you picked the beverage from pre-filled glasses of ice-tea or sodas before encountering the food line cashier who would print up a ticket to be paid at the conclusion of your meal to another cashier located near the exit doors. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it ?
Don’t Even Think About It !
Breaking in line could result in an ass kicking. One simply did not try this and exceptions were made only for the elderly, infirm, or someone who was obviously joining a family already in line. Still, the latecomer would get the stare-down and be expected to offer an explanation which was usually along the lines of, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry. I was parking the car and need to get to my wife and kids.” Another offense involved holding up the line by asking stupid questions or making witless remarks to the line workers who did not like behavioral deviations as it interfered with overall efficiency. I discovered that the thing to do was tip the table workers very well so word would float back to the line that I was “okay”. This would establish some bankable good will upon which I could later draw should it become necessary. Not that I ever held up the line – I just didn’t want the people handling my food to NOT like me.
Cafeterias are still around and the behaviors I describe are not unique to the South or a specific type of Church. I’ve seen plenty of Catholics bolt immediately after Communion to beat the crowds which, if you live in a metropolitan area, is really not necessary since there are many more eating options now than in previous decades. There are even various brunch joints where people willingly stand in line for hours waiting for a shot at an overpriced Spanish omelette delivered by an overworked wait person. But, if it’s in the right part of town then your social rep can improve. It has never occurred to me to Instagram my high dollar eggs-and-bacon experience yet many do. Let’s just say that enough eating and takeout delivery places exist to lessen the concerns of even the hungriest church goer stuck in an interminable Church service. Ryan’s Steakhouse is popular I’m told and evidently the “Chocolate Fountain” (!) at The Golden Corral is not to be missed. If, however, you live in the country or deep in the suburbs you might find yourself having to plan an early departure from a service gone into overtime. Not all cafeterias are equal and where you go could well be the difference between a full on Redneck Communion or a solemn, loving meal between family members and fellow congregants. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid.
This is an update to my Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 1 post on what I believe to be a very important development for the Stewart Avenue / Metropolitan Parkway corridor. The City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs has just recently called for proposals to install art in and around the Zone 3 Police Precinct which is soon to be built at 2353 Metropolitan Parkway. Area residents, as well as the Police Chief, expect the precinct to contribute significantly to neighborhood safety but also to the revival of the area’s image. I find it interesting, and entirely appropriate, that the precinct will be located directly across from what used to be The Alamo Plaza where the nadir of Stewart Avenue took place in 1993. As an area native, I appreciate what I think is a strategic decision though even if it wasn’t, it represents a stabilizing bookend to that tragic event which I covered in Let’s Go Drink One. I’ll provide an excerpt here: (I know – how arrogant to quote myself though it is kind of relevant)
Some North side guys experienced a nasty bachelor party run-in with a transsexual hooker and his/her pimp. It was the classic consumer case of “we didn’t get what we paid for” although the “Returns Department” issued a “Lead Refund”. So the City stepped in, closed down the the Alamo Plaza, (once a wholesome motel for traveling families), repaired some potholes, did some repaving, and applied a new name with little expectation that anyone would buy in to the idea that it would change anything.
The Stewart Avenue name had already become quite offensive to city leaders of the time and the resulting double murder at The Alamo (sounds like the name of a movie) was the proverbial last straw. Check the Atlanta Time Machine page for some more details. Atlanta likes to change street names as if that alone will fix things but I sincerely hope the precinct makes an impact. Logistically, the location is excellent as it provides plenty of room for expansion as well as rapid access to a number of areas. While I can’t be sure, I think this might be the essential turnaround event for this area to flourish. In-town properties are scarce and the Metropolitan corridor is minutes from Downtown or the Airport with almost no traffic when compared to all other parts of Atlanta. Lastly, if you are new to this blog, it’s pretty much devoted to the history (albeit a personalized one) of Southwest Atlanta so feel free to look around.
There is a rock quarry located on Sylvan Rd in Southwest Atlanta (well technically East Point) which I’m told was at one time worked by a combination of convict labor and black citizens who found themselves in violation of arbitrary laws, historically known as “Black Codes“, designed to (re)enslave them despite the ratification of the 13th Amendment. However, I don’t know when this particular locale was “opened for business” or to what extent the labor pool included Black Code “violators”. History would have us believe that it was only the “worst of the worst” who were employed for cutting stone under the blistering Georgia sun. This page, however, describes such issues in greater detail as well as the Atlanta Bellwood Quarry for which solid documentation does exist of labor and human abuse. According to another site, Georgia was, in the 1890s, the first state to use convict labor outside of prison walls though it rapidly “caught on” in many other states. That the idea of a “convict” might be extended to include a person or family who found themselves in violation of trip wire laws designed to entrap them was/is shocking.
Employment of chain gang labor persisted into the 50s when it was largely abolished but not before politicians / businessmen had enriched themselves by offering massively discounted labor as part of project bids. (See The Shawshank Redemption for a dramatization of such actions). Georgia abandoned the practice only in 1955 and North Carolina only in the 70s. By the 60s, the Sylvan Rd quarry was abandoned as a going concern and apparently hadn’t been touched in years. I wanted to point all of this out because the area might represent an enduring offense to the humanity and dignity of those forced to carve stone for a city that valued only part of the population. For the kids coming to the area in the 60s, we were unaware of this past. No one talked about – at all ! The quarry was merely a fascinating land mark to be explored and “conquered” in a way that kids imagine – long before video games that is. That is also attracted winos and indigents only added to the mystique.
Access to the quarry (outlined by the red rectangle) could be gained directly off of Sylvan Rd though it involved commercial trespass so the winos waited till close of business before descending into the quarry to traverse the field of unevenly distributed sharp-edged rocks on the way to the opposite side where the cave was located (the green oval) – about 10 feet up. The easier approach was to enter from the rear of Springdale Christian Church (outlined by the blue square) and proceed up through some lush woods that overlooked the southeast corner of the quarry and provided direct access to the cave. But as that route required walking conspicuously through what was then a very new neighborhood, the winos wisely avoided it, fearing arrest. The cave opening had been formed by some mutually receding, clam shaped rocks that seemed content to remain in place until some future tectonic action might end their relative placement as well as the life of whomever had the misfortune of being inside the cave at the time. But, such a possibility didn’t stop us or the area winos from fully investigating what it might offer. It was perfect for teenagers wanting to sneak a drink of King Cotton Peach Wine, smoke a Camel or look at one of the nudie mags someone left behind. For the itinerant alcoholics, or those on the lam, it was simply a place to cool off before moving on.
Getting into the cave was a young man’s game as one had to crawl head first into the entrance and move slowly downward while spidering out one’s limbs to balance across some oddly angled rocks until reaching a relatively flat and spacious area about 5 feet down. How the winos made it in (especially when drunk) I don’t know as none of them seemed in sufficiently good shape to get TO the cave let alone INTO it. Not surprisingly, they accumulated a number of bruises in addition to the ones they already had. So once they made it, they usually didn’t go anywhere for a while. It’s tough to accurately estimate a wino’s age as they will always look older due to ripped garments, random extremity lacerations, and the usual personal hygiene deficiencies accompanying the lifestyle (rotten teeth, fetid breath, and weapons grade body odor). But it didn’t stop them from offering up tales of olympian achievement or circuitous justifications for their behavior.
Who Shot John ?
One of the winos characterized himself as a former military insider whose knowledge of John F. Kennedy’s “true” assassins (surprise, there was more than one) made him an enemy of the state. So he was destined to be forever on the run adopting various disguises as he made occasional contact with similarly ostracized individuals identifiable only by a set of secret gestures. “How do you know who might be such a person“, I asked. “Oh you just know, it’s the look. And then you offer up the signal. But, I’ve really told you too much already“. Most of these guys were just providing entertainment in exchange for money, cigarettes, old clothes or anything we might offer. None of them remained long in the quarry but they left us with a valuable gag reel which we riffed on for weeks making ridiculous hand gestures as if mercenaries in some unnamed military campaign. “My nom de guerre is Colonel Sanders and I served proudly in the Fried Chickens Wars of the 60s“. No one, especially our parents, knew what the hell we were talking about which made it even more funny.
Ann Margaret Was Bad In The Sack ?
One of the longer residents of the cave was Howard who, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, preferred to be called Sonny as a form of tribute to his birth Mother whom he claimed to have known only for a few years before being packed off to live with his Father and new Step Mother. I noticed a correlation between the names and level of drinking. “Sonny” liked to get unapologetically and paralytically drunk whereas “Howard” drank less (though still to excess) and exhibited anxiety with his inability to cease alcohol consumption. Unlike most of the winos seeking refuge in the cave, Howard was a local who lived in a trailer on Stewart Avenue with his sister. She had given him money to purchase tomato seeds and fertilizer at King Hardware though failed miserably in the mission having chosen to buy a half gallon of Smirnoff instead. So he was banned from the trailer and sought refuge in the cave. He expressed great admiration for Rod Stewart who was just then experiencing his first major taste of success as a solo artist. He saw in Rod a kindred spirit attached to the ways of romance and nostalgia for the “Gasoline Alley” of one’s youth. Howard talked openly of his brief but torrid love affair with none other than famed actress Ann Margaret whom he claimed to have met as her star was in ascendence. “She was a lousy lay“, he said while puffing on a Lucky Strike. “Not nearly as good as Jayne Mansfield or Raquel Welch”. Wait… What ? I noticed that exaggerated masculinity was a characteristic of any of these stories as if their problems could all be traced to being “too much man” for society at large.
The appeal of what was once powerful and compelling will usually wane with time especially when considering that girls had no interest in going to the quarry with me which is why I stopped going. Besides, I had already begun my tenure on Stewart Avenue which afforded access to many things of far greater interest than some smelly cave inhabited with outcasts and those not long for the world. In viewing the Google satellite maps of the area it appears that the quarry is intact although overgrown with a mixture of kudzu and the greenery common to humid Atlanta. Since the geography seems the same, perhaps the cave is still there and it might even contain the refuse of teenage drinking and smoking – or even some of the graffiti we spray painted on the stone. I’m pretty sure I could still find it though getting into it might be a challenge what with the extra pounds that I now carry. As I keep pointing out in my posts, the general area is quite ripe for aggressive housing development though building on top of quarries is usually quite difficult. So even if town homes and condos spring up on the proximal boundaries, the quarry will probably be left alone. It could become a dedication site for those who labored and died there but that would require a much larger examination and corresponding acknowledgment. This is one of those situations where I would really like input from the older readers of this blog so we can get the story straight. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2019
Life can sometimes pile on in ways that seem unfair, particularly when compared to those people better prepared (if only financially) for the vagaries of existence. Most will view a job layoff, the loss of a family member, or being dumped as exceptional and not something to be taken personally. Those more accustomed to misfortune might view such events as evidence of diminishing luck and regress towards a fatalistic outlook. And if you swallow the idea that the exception has become the rule, then a drink, or something like it, can help keep the mind straight as conventional coping mechanisms will become increasingly ineffective under chronic stress. Of course, drinking is a conventional coping mechanism customarily employed by the masses to smooth nerves frayed by a demanding boss, a looming deadline, or a shrinking bank account. Social drinking can also ease communication with prospective love interests or at least cushion the trauma of personal rejection (is there any other kind ?) so it’s not without benefit. However, when pursued over time and ritualistically, (e.g. happy hours, nightly cocktails, weekend benders, tail gating), it can facilitate an incremental nadir involving a special blend of raw misery, legal problems, and self-loathing – which lends credence to the expression:
If you have 100 problems and 1 of them is drinking, then you really have only 1 problem
Alcohol (or an opioid) is no respecter of persons. It exhibits a profound normalizing effect across socioeconomic and racial groups. To wit, there are plenty of well-heeled sloshes who find themselves quivering through withdrawals in a sweat-soaked hospital bed, lying next to a homeless guy as both wonder “how the hell did I wind up next to him ?” At that point, they have more in common than not. My personal view is that addiction is a spiritual tapeworm which intercepts any good that might ordinarily be destined for the better parts of yourself. The addiction flourishes even as you don’t and inversely so. A deteriorating physical state and decline of self esteem will correspond to an increase in cravings.
I’m no Carrie Nation. So, if and to what extent someone drinks or “uses” is really their business until it spills over (no pun intended) onto spouses, children, co-workers, or strangers at which point it does become a larger issue. Morally though, if you wish to supplement, limit, or expand your consciousness then no problem as long as you keep your personal revelations away from me. After all, I did my own brand of experimentation and also worked in a liquor store which involved frequent encounters with urban shamans hawking their drug-and-booze-derived philosophies. Stewart Avenue was mostly a hard drinking section of town though one had easy access to any thing including LSD, the Ayahuasca of its day, which promised deep insight otherwise available only to the Mystics or meditating mountain dwellers. Despite its undeniable entertainment value, it didn’t really “fix” anyone or anything. A friend, and one time prelate of the local LSD scene, offered:
If I’m being honest, the wonderfully intricate answers that were so solid in the trip, would easily disintegrate with the first bit of returning reality. All that insight ran for cover when I sat down in front of that unpaid stack of bills.
Evidently, knowing life’s underlying scared geometry doesn’t help with the tedium of daily living. What a surprise ! The power company doesn’t really care if you just spent 7 hours circling the rings of Saturn while mind melding with The Universal Architect. Just pay your bill there, Dr. Leary, and we’ll turn the lights back on so you can experience some REAL “illumination”.
Geez ! What’s Got You So Worked Up ?
But what started this particular post (rant) ? Ah yes, this 1980 video of Richard Burton being interviewed by Dick Cavett. A friend of mine sent me the link and I recall seeing this interview when it originally aired. Well I think so. I might have been out partying and saw it later in reruns. I always liked Burton and in addition to being a quality actor he possessed a velvety smooth baritone which I emulated in my youth (minus the accent) to unintentional, humorous effect. Anyway, he discusses a number of things though it’s the topic of alcoholism that interests me. Let me be clear that I’m not particularly interested in roasting Richard Burton or entertainers in general though this video so well captures the struggles of substance abuse that it merits discussion. The majority of the video commenters cast him as an unwitting victim, unfairly targeted by alcohol, whereas I see someone in denial who continues to play an active role in his own demise. Being equipped with abundant financial resources and a certain level of fame meant he didn’t have a particular boss to please. Nor was there a looming financial disaster that, for those of fewer means, might motivate a life change. He could, and did, delay his descent even though his persona had already become inextricably linked to alcohol. Unlike Dean Martin, who comically exaggerated his own drinking to good effect, such an approach would not be helpful to Burton who was, after all, an accomplished thespian who generally took on serious and challenging roles.
Accommodations were made for his “situation” which involved accepting work beneath his talents and for less money than he commanded in previous years. Anyone seeing the will know instantly that something went horribly wrong. Merely taking the role raised eyebrows. To be fair, It was a bad movie all around so its failure can not be attributed solely to Burton, but he was supposed to be the ace in the hole to ensure its success. The funny thing was that both Burton and Boorman, (the director with an unfortunate surname), thought separately that each was doing the other a favor. I suppose what really concerns me about the video are his references to maintaining abstinence via “my particular form of self control and, of course, the enormous assistance of my wife” as if either could realistically sustain abstinence in the long run. And was it really her job to monitor his behavior ? I’ve also never met someone, firmly in the alcoholic grip, who could summon enough self-knowledge or will power to effectively control addiction. There are heavy drinkers who are not at all alcoholic who can stop given sufficient motivation. They distinguish themselves from “real” alcoholics by being able to not drink without experiencing the crippling anxiety exhibited by one who has become “pickled” and not only wants the drink but “needs” it.
How Much Is Enough ?
In my experience, Burton was not simply a heavy drinker who accidentally got a bad rap. He wouldn’t cop to being an alcoholic though readily concedes, “I’m right on the edge of being one”, something I’ve heard numerous times from people invested in the idea that a drink remains a reasonable option despite all evidence to the contrary. In this regard, the video can be as harmful as it might be helpful in raising awareness to the problem of addiction. In Burton’s case, what was once a stellar career ended 4 years later at the age of 58 due to complications from alcoholism. Just so you won’t think I’m singling him out, take a look at this video of Oliver Reed and this one of Jack Kerouac both of which serve as evidence of decline hastened by substance abuse. Reed passed away from a heart attack attributed to a drinking bout during a production break from filming The Gladiator. I’m not sure that I ever fully bought into the idea of chemically assisted inspiration though admit that getting out of one’s own head can lead to productivity though in no way guarantees it.
Without giving too much away I will say that I’ve tried such an approach (like it wasn’t already obvious), but found that it offers diminishing returns – and might even present a bill. Your mileage may vary. I recall reading The Pleasures of Opium by Thomas de Quincy and nodding (no pun intended) in agreement with his description of “portable ecstasies” and how “happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in a waistcoat pocket.” For the uninitiated, he is talking about opium but substitute in the name of any popular recreational chemical and you get the point. Also, substitute in the word “inspiration” for “happiness” and you will understand why creatives might be loathe to forgo use of something that at one time might have worked for them. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2019.
Learning Your Craft
Lots of guy learn to play guitar simply to impress girls but those with serious intent usually separate themselves from the pack by progressing rapidly and seeking out performance opportunities, which is where you really learn your craft because you see instantly what works. Getting feedback from strangers is essential to growth and if you are in any way good, you will own your weaknesses and learn to separate the constructive comments from the crap. During a live set, I once had an obese lady throw a dill pickle at at me in what I initially believed to be an expression of dissatisfaction until she pulled out another, (from where I do not know), placed it between her rather large breasts and started licking it. While this didn’t count as nuanced feedback on the performance taking place, I did take it to mean that whatever song we were playing in that moment was provoking a definite reaction and should maybe remain in the set (or not). See, that’s profound and memorable feedback you would never get in a pure rehearsal situation or when playing for friends.
It’s a general truism that praise from a family member or a close friend (or sales person) is mostly meaningless outside of its ability to soothe and encourage – unless, or until, it is balanced by input from a neutral third party with specific knowledge in the domain under consideration. In absence of such it becomes an American Idol kind of thing where the tone-deaf contestant submits for an audition on the encouragement of a drunk uncle who sort of, kind of used to be in a band that, back in the day, got really close to making it. And when the contestant gets slaughtered by the judges, they really never saw it coming because no one had “the talk” with them about their actual prospects for a music career. Not to say that American Idol judges (or drunk uncles) are especially knowledgeable (some are, some aren’t) but there is a certain level of bad that is objectively observe-able in those desperate for a shot at stardom. Let’s just say that playing some tunes at the family barbecue picnic is fine though should never be confused as a general validation of talent.
A Very Short Artist and RCareer
As I pointed out in this post, there were many cover bands in the East Point, College Park, and Sylvan Hills areas with most of them working the local bar circuit while writing originals in hopes of attracting record company interest. Many were accomplished in faithfully reproducing the rock tunes of the day with some of them choosing to play songs likely to appeal only to other musicians. This became a problem for club owners whose priority was to sell alcohol. (No one can easily dance to “Roundabout” by Yes). Thus, bands would have to calibrate their performances for dancing and drinking or risk not being invited back. In their group biography, Aerosmith referenced a deliberate intent to avoid the cover band grind so they could focus on their original set even if it meant living in poverty and having to steal food. While playing 5 sets, 6 nights a week will do wonders for your musical chops, and put a few bucks in your pocket, breaking out of that into a record contract is difficult especially if your original songs are simple approximations of the covers used to promote beer purchases.
I went to Los Angeles right before “hair metal” peaked and the glut of bands made it pointless for anyone to come to LA since there were a million groups already present most of whom were equally as good as, if not much better than, anything you could bring to town. It was a peculiar mix of desperation, greasy long hair, and onset alcoholism. The mayor should have put up a sign “Dear Rock Bands – No Vacancy. There is No Room for You. Go back Now“. Everyone was incredibly insecure and restless which led to aggressive drug use and frequent personnel turnover as guys jumped ship to find that “magic” combination that would land them the top marquee spot at Gazzarri’s, The Whiskey, or The Starwood. (See Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years which explores this topic in much greater depth). Once “pay to play” was implemented it should have been a sign that maybe you go back home and roll the dice there (and much more cheaply). Some bailed out of the hair metal scene and landed in “New’ Country bands – a genre just then getting off the ground. Most found straight jobs or enrolled in College and generally adjusted to a life of convention. Some, however, couldn’t let it go and kept at it even though hair metal continued to wane in popularity.
You Guys Are Marvelous, Let’s Keep In Touch
I once shared a large number of drinks with an A&R guy at Atlanta’s Charley Magruders who was in town to scout one of “The South’s hottest bands“. I was astonished by his capacity for alcohol as well as his general knowledge of politics and science which dominated that evening’s discussion even as everyone else was totally digging the band. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me so I asked him about the group, “Oh them”, he said, as if they were an intrusive presence, like an apartment neighbor playing the stereo too loud. “Well the singer is too pudgy, the guitar player is good but he looks 35, their songs are average – they are more like jams, not real songs and, besides, everyone else has passed on them”. So he was there just for the drinks – the band’s manager was picking up his tab (and by extension mine). He had absolutely no intention of signing them with the main reason being that no other record company wanted them so how could they be any good – outside of the club scene, that is ? When the sweat soaked singer (he actually was kind of fat) looked over at the A&R guy for the smallest sign of approval, my host raised his glass high and gave the thumbs up as if watching a 26 year old Mick Jagger lather up the crowds at Madison Square Garden. Al Pacino would have been envious, so masterful was the acting.
He invited me to join him and his boss (my potential employer) not long thereafter at Danny’s in Marietta where he similarly rejected another “hottest band in Atlanta“. It was particularly awkward when the singer and guitar player sheepishly strolled over to check-in during a break. My record label friend adopted a hyper-supportive tone,“Dynamite set guys. Any hotter and we would have to call the fire department”. Wow. What a line. Any career I had been contemplating in A&R ended that evening as I didn’t relish the idea of having to lie so overtly to bands. I was told to treat it like a mediocre date – be positive and polite, promise to call, but let it fade into history and if you just have to be honest, then do it via phone to eliminate the possibility of physical assault. I was really good at identifying talent (still am) just that I lacked the tolerance for accommodating the endless layers of bullshit endemic to the music business. The bands that did get signed believed quite mistakenly that their troubles were over and certain fame awaited. But of course, that rarely panned out and the A&R guy who signed them would always leave or get fired leaving them with no advocate at the office. But that’s okay. Everyone at the label “still believes in you, baby” even as they quietly drop the option for the second record and slowly, yet firmly, show you the door “Let’s keep in touch, you are so talented“.
There is a type of musician who, in the presence of more flashy players, can easily go unnoticed though you quickly realize that he or she is instinctively covering a lot of parts musically and vocally, while writing songs that do an end-around on your critical thinking filters. As an example, instead of using a complicated chord progression, they “see through it” and offer a tasteful alternative that is easier to play and provides fluid voice leading ultimately resulting in something better with much less effort. Most of these guys are what I call intuitive musicians who see the bigger picture of any song and work inwards to remove the junk, thus allowing the essence of the song to become evident – as opposed to the more technical musician who just likes to throw in things on top. The late Sonny Sharrock characterized most rock guitarists as “Jugglers”, musicians who have a set number of “tricks” they rotate though or juggle as part of their performances. It doesn’t take long before you’ve heard all of their tricks and become bored.
But there were two guys in Sylvan Hills who were of this intuitive type. The first was Terry K. whose Father was a local music teacher. Terry was part of The Spontaneous Generation who had a regional release in 1968 with “Up In My Mind” backed by The Who’s “Pictures of Lily”. Jan Whitten was also in the band (cousin of Mike Whitten, the original drummer in the Atlanta rock band Alien). Most people from Sylvan Hills will probably remember an unfortunate accident which resulted in Terry’s general withdrawal from life though he still wrote songs and served as a sounding board for others. While he wasn’t the type of guy who mastered note-for-note renditions of something like Third Stone from the Sun he could comfortably sit in with someone who had and offer complimentary accompaniment all without much preparation. He had a solid ear, almost like a jazzer, so hearing chords and melodies was easy for him. Need a harmony line ? No problem. Advice on a chord substitution ? Sure. A complimentary descending keyboard chordal sequence ? How many do you want ?
There was another guy name Olin Rainwater who fell into this category though he was far more prolific in terms of musical output having written hundreds of songs. He was truly a walking band in the sense that he could sing, play guitar, and write tunes so he required minimal backup to perform. He could have easily been a power trio guy in the vein of Mountain or Creem as his lead lines were bluesy and his rhythm was spot on even as he was singing. The act of singing and playing simultaneously came quite naturally to him whereas I always struggled with that. When it came to covers, Olin was able to listen to songs, even those with rich instrumentation and complex arrangements, and boil them down to the essentials. Oh, he might miss some of the extensions but his ultimate chord selections captured the right tonality while leaving room for the color tones which he could supply vocally. Amazingly, he could do this within minutes of hearing a song and, best of all, be ready to perform it not long thereafter. Now, that’s talent and courage that few people have. I would still be worried about whether a chord was an F#minor with a flat 5 and he would be like, “No, let’s do it. 1-2-3, go”. That he was so confident bolstered my confidence which made it all so much easier. It was an additive, no, a multiplicative effect that was truly liberating. When people trust each other, great things can happen.
While rehearsal was important, he also liked to throw songs my way (his own or cover tunes) which required learning the song as the band was playing it. This involved me looking at his guitar neck, copping the chords, and internalizing the structure – again, while the song was being played. He might solo but it was just as likely he would give me the nod. It all somehow worked – not because I was so good but because I didn’t have to worry about him dropping the beat or screwing up which only emboldened me to try things I normally would not have. Like me, he was a Stones fan particularly of the weaving interplay between the two guitars where the listener might not be able to immediately distinguish who is playing what. It all sounds so well integrated that there is no need to dissect it. Besides, if that even crossed your mind it simply meant the performance was at best average.
When it came to writing songs, I didn’t know what his process was but it was fast and versatile such that he could write to a title or a phrase or begin with a set of chords. However, he told me that his biggest challenge was the distraction of having multiple options. He felt he could go in different directions – rock, country, R&B, or avant-garde and it wasn’t clear what the most expedient thing would be. And the resulting confusion undermined his goal setting efforts. Most people are limited in a way that makes these considerations largely academic or irrelevant, but Olin was gifted in an absolute sense so I could appreciate his struggle (not that I shared in it) just that he truly had a number of possibilities that most artists do not. And there was always the tug of financial obligation which led to a stint with local oldies band The Cruise-O-Matics. just to pay some bills.
There are a number of stories to relate though I’ll let it sit for now. I do recall with great fondness in the mid 80s stopping by his apartment on Pharr Rd which he shared with his future wife Sloan. At the time I was living behind the original Longhorn Steak house on Peachtree so it was easy to pop by and talk, learn tunes, and generally shoot the breeze. We had both left the south side for more convenient access to things and Buckhead was only in the earliest stages of becoming the obnoxious night time entertainment district that it would grow to be. However, then it was easy to get around. But as is the case in life, he went his way, I went mine and it was quite some time before I spoke with him courtesy of a chance encounter with Sloan. Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago but it was really good to reconnect. For a taste of his music check out this video compilation assembled by Dean (a fellow south sider and good friend to Olin) which is just a sample of a much larger catalogue of impressive stylistic variety. I have an 8-track tape of some of his sessions completed at Song Bird studio off of Howell Mill Rd which I plan to convert to MP3 – as soon as I find an 8-track player to do so. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid
My first actual “get off my lawn” experience came from a guy who lived on Springdale Place in Southwest Atlanta. (Out of respect for the current owners I won’t be specific about the address). On my way home from school. I cut though this guy’s yard and he comes out screaming that I was “disrespecting his home” and that I shouldn’t be “so goddamn lazy” and that I should “get a haircut”. When I related this story to others, someone rolled his house (something of a lost art) which of course made the guy think that I did it. Anyway. Moving on to a more general (if not biased) view of this dynamic – It becomes the duty of each generation to discredit the one preceding it just as the established populous will condemn younger generations who “carelessly squander” the “hard won freedom so selflessly given” to them by their forefathers. “Ungrateful young punks” was a commonly heard phrase. Some degree of generational friction is inevitable and especially so in times of economic decline when people go on fault finding missions. However, I’ve also noticed that in communities where job possibilities remain scarce, Happy Hour conversations will usually telescope down to the troubles of that particular day as taking a longer view becomes far too depressing. Sort of a working man’s realization of “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof“. And the commonality of the shared struggle, along with gallons of booze, would allow people to forget the differences which is why you could find people in their 20s tossing back drinks right next to some geezer all without conflict unless (or until) someone cadged one too many drinks which was a serious offense.
His defense mechanism involved blurting out random accusations of homosexual activity with the hope that any scrutiny he was enduring would be redirected to his target long enough to allow for an escape
Speaking of which – there was a professional mooch named Ray, a young guy, who got banned from LP Pips for stealing left over drinks from uncleared tables. He positioned himself in proximity to large parties waiting for the group to disband after which he would swoop in and guzzle half empty pitchers of warm beer while alternately sucking down residual vodka from long abandoned mixed drink glasses which might also contain cigarette butts. “The vulture is a patient bird, my friend” he would say of his “accomplishments” which was shocking in that he saw his scavenging as some noble strategy sanctioned by Mother Nature. When confronted, his defense mechanism involved blurting out random accusations of homosexual activity with the hope that any scrutiny he was enduring would be redirected to his target long enough to allow for an escape – sort of like an octopus squirting ink to disorient. And as people took time to puzzle out the veracity of his claim (which might also involve those not present such as the President, Mary Tyler Moore, or Billy Graham) he would be gone. Someone rightly pointed out that if he put half as much energy into legitimate enterprise as he did mooching, he could afford his own damn drinks and perhaps rescue whatever was left of his loathsome reputation.
Talk to any young woman who worked a hotel check-in desk during a typical fraternal convention. Having to endure the amorous advances of fezzed-up “Potentates” took its toll
Mooses, Elks, Lions, and Shriners
While I encountered many representatives of preceding generations at Brothers Three and Banks Liquor store I also ran into them at the The Stewart Avenue Moose Lodge which was located on the hill behind the Golden Ribbon. The Lodge served as a private club for the older set who basically liked to get their drink on, shoot some pool, and have the occasional BBQ for charity which is ostensibly what they were all about. What I liked about the Moose crowd was that they did not give a damn about anything and with the exception of a few jerks who couldn’t hold their liquor it was a laid back place. If you walked out the door connected to the pool room, the view overlooked the Ribbon and a portion of Stewart Avenue. If you were buzzed enough you got the idea that this was really “something”. That you were seeing a “city in motion, on the up and up” and that just maybe things were going to work out after all. But then your eyes would fall down to the parking lot of The Ribbon where someone was throwing up.
This was still the era of the Fraternal Organization which included The Lions Club, The Shriners, The Elks, The Lions Club, The Rotary, The American Legion, and The VFW with lots of member overlap between them. Civic clubs used to be THE way to get the inside angle on good jobs particularly in sales. I’m not challenging the sincerity of these groups, or their charitable contributions, but they could do some Olympian level drinking which, in the case of the Shriners, was addressed by Ray Stevens in his “all too real” Shriner’s Convention song. For supporting testimony, talk to any young woman who worked a hotel check-in desk during a typical fraternal convention. Having to endure the amorous advances of fezzed-up “Potentates” took its toll and on-the-spot employment resignations might occur due to the unrelenting (and completely unwanted) attention from men with more hair growing out their nose than on their head. George Carlin’s Shriner assessment was quite direct possibly because they disliked his long hair and hippy sensibilities:
Forty percent of all arrests, traceable [to alcohol]. Fifty percent of all first admissions to mental institutions traceable to alcohol. And then, of course, there’s diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, heart disease, insanity, divorce. So I always say “Drink up, Shriners!” whenever I see a couple of ’em.
Despite the generational friction, you could learn something from these old timers though it always fell along very practical lines such as “work for a good company”, “get married”, “buy a house”, “have children”. (preferably in that order). This was totally understandable if you grew up in the shadow of economic ruin and ongoing military activity both of which would require different existential skills than those required in the 60s and 70s wherein diplomacy and social activism might be more appropriate over a defensive mentality. (“Are you a Hawk or a Dove ?”) It’s the difference between protecting hard-earned achievements and trying to grow something totally new based on a kinder world view. Both approaches are useful although not necessarily in equal amounts or at the same time or under the same roof. Maintaining hyper vigilance in anticipation of the next financial crisis would come at some mental expense just as throwing caution to the wind when planning one’s future could be reckless and irresponsible. Family dinner table discussions could be very interesting.
Defrocked Priests and Trust Funders
I knew a guy who liked to drop acid and read The Book of Revelation. That took courage.
Moving into less serious territory, there were a couple of older characters I enjoyed talking to. The first was a former priest who I’ll refer to as Father O’Malley since I never knew his name or the circumstances of his departure from the Church – defrocked, resigned, or excommunicated ? There weren’t many Catholics in the area so it was hard to verify his backstory, but I could easily imagine him in the predawn darkness shuffling past rows of saints, some high level, some obscure, on his way to the six a.m. Mass where he was met by the same three parishioners. He had the stilted gait of the aged though his face remained unaffected by any pain he might have had so people thought him to be much younger. Periodically he would walk into the liquor store carrying a large Bible in whose margins he had scribbled various interpretative notes highlighted by tobacco smears and dried bourbon splotches. I thought these writings must surely relate to secret truths or ancient christian mysticism. And maybe they did – but there was also quite clearly a phone number written on at least one page (in the Book of Ephesians) with the name “Zelda” under it. His brand was Maker’s Mark which had that melted seal thing going on which maybe reminded him of Papal authority. Or maybe he just like getting blasted and reading the Bible. I knew a guy who liked to drop acid and read The Book of Revelation. That took courage.
Father O’Malley rattled on about church politics and how the priorities were all wrong (something of an understatement even then). “I should have been paid by the sin” he laughed. “There is no money in saving a soul just once – you gotta keep ’em coming back to pony up. Confession is just a cover“. I imagine that it was such frank talk that displeased his superiors which no doubt facilitated his exit though he had a point which definitely applied to other denominations. If you are “once saved, always saved” then why bother going to Church after conversion ? Evidently his years in the Confessional gave him preternatural ability to see through anyone’s line of bullshit and, when drunk (which was most of the time) he called them out which made him no friends. My takeaway lesson was that having deep insight into others is worthless in absence of self-restraint.
There was another guy named Bill – a pipe-smoking, professorial looking gentleman of some means which, based on his check mastheads, was due to a trust fund. Well into middle age, he alluded to Ivy League education, extensive global travel, and friendships with famous musicians though rarely included specifics. It seemed calculated to promote an air of respectability but there was a sophisticated sleaziness to it all which was very entertaining. One evening he is in NYC having “soup at Ratner’s” with some “poet friends” and two days later he is San Francisco “listening to an acetate of the upcoming Grateful Dead” album. I suspect that portions of his overall story were true though he clearly had a well lit pilot light for bullshit that could be fully dialed up in the presence of women or whomever it was needing to be impressed. He was like a performer always in search of an audience. And I was just a struggling student working in a liquor store which is why I think he let me in on his approach that legitimized “aggressive embellishment” when discussing one’s pursuits and accomplishments. “Don’t understate what it is you do. Talk it up. If you don’t then no one else will”. He had a point and I definitely needed to up my self promotion game. His “thing” was to mix pipe tobacco with marijuana and puff on that throughout the day. He could get away with it too since he looked perfect with a pipe (the only thing missing was a monocle). This “system” allowed him to smoke up in public without getting “too stoned” so he was engaging in a form of micro dosing decades before it was in vogue. He took great pains to ensure that the odor of his special blend did not betray his motives. That he was rarely without his pipe completed his cover. In addition to the look, he also had the confidence to pull it off which supports the idea that if you do something with élan then no one will take notice.
As always there is more to say and these are but two of the older characters I encountered on a frequent basis with the bulk of them being kind of hard-assed about life and not the least bit interested in anyone’s opinion especially coming from some “young punk“. What I did find was that if you could make people laugh (intentionally or not) then you would be welcomed. Not necessarily because they liked you, but just that the tension of the day would be eased, the laughter would attract women, and then the drinks would REALLY start to flow which is really all a working man really needs. There will always be the world class bullshitters like Bill and while I don’t see myself ever rising (or sinking) to his level I do understand his motivations and took a page from his book. The same with Father O’Malley. Just because I can see imminent trouble in the lives of others doesn’t mean that I should say anything. They probably already know anyway. (That I can’t seem to recognize it in my own life is another issue altogether). By the mid 70s there were at least two retirement communities in the area that were well populated and this overlaps with my job at Brothers Three that involved helping old women hide booze under their groceries so they could smuggle it into these buildings. Anyway, maybe I’m writing all this because I’m “getting up there” which I knew would happen though didn’t realize it would be here so soon. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid