This is Part 2 of “Stewart Avenue Crime Part 1” so you might want to check that out before proceeding but, hey, do whatever you want ! I got a chuckle from this article wherein APD Chief Ericka Shields offered her opinion on the “dark days” of Stewart Avenue.
“We had people from all over the state coming to Stewart Avenue, and it wasn’t for shopping either. [A] Majority of the cases that we made involved those who lived nowhere near here”
What the Chief describes is the classic situation of people cruising an area for “services” they would never tolerate in or near their own back yard though feel entitled to as long as it’s in another neighborhood located far away. This is a variation (albeit a far more serious one) of the practice of cutting though residential neighborhoods during a rush hour commute but then calling for blood should it occur on your street. Once an area is perceived as being disinterested in its own safety (although that is hardly ever the case) it becomes ongoing justification for outlying city residents to ignore the fact that decent people might still reside in the area. And just because they lack the financial and political clout to address the blight and crime doesn’t mean they want (or deserve) for the problem to perpetuate itself. It’s like once a landfill winds up someplace, the outsiders want it to stay there forever because “God knows we don’t want it where we live”.
I was stingy with my sympathies for those caught soliciting prostitutes as it was their ongoing patronage that contributed to the decline of my neighborhood. It’s tough to watch what was once a thriving, prosperous area go down the tubes and when you encounter people who are enthusiastically contributing to that it’s easy to cop an attitude. I was probably more tolerant than most but others, especially business owners (mostly car lots), took great delight in the misfortunes of outsiders seeking illegal action who wound up getting ripped off, roughed-up, arrested, or maybe even all three. There is a rhythm unique to any urban region and those out of sync can easily be identified and exploited. Stewart Avenue had a rhythm as did Ponce de Leon and so did Moreland Ave – at least before the gentrification. And while they were similar, you didn’t necessarily get a pass at “Southern Comfort” just because you liked to hang out at “The Crystal Palace” or “Ray Lee’s Blue Lantern.” While all the inhabitants might not get along we did in fact recognize each other as part of some post-Appalachian, urban-hillbilly ecosystem though it was no guarantee of peace. I’m reminded of Hunter Thompson’s comment in “Hell’s Angels”:
[Nelson] Algren called them “fierce craving boys” with “a feeling of having been cheated.” Freebooters, armed and drunk—a legion of gamblers, brawlers and whorehoppers.
Which is to say that despite a common regional lineage or shared socioeconomic status, the guy you might be drinking with might easily turn on you because of some perceived slight once the liquor had taken hold. So then, how do you think such a person would react to an outsider ?
Caught With The Pants Down In The Wrong Part of Town
Not all of those seeking “action” were outsiders but plenty were and many Cobb County, Ward Cleaver types would take the “long way” to and from Atlanta Airport airport with a stop for some action. And, if they had a flat tire or, worse, got assaulted by a hustler, it would involve an awkward phone call for help. There would be guys coming into Brothers Three or Banks Liquor trying to make you part of an alibi by using the store phone and telling their wives (or whomever):
My car broke down and I pulled into this store and am using their phone. Hey, What’s the name of this place ? Yea, Three Brothers ? Oh, Brothers Three. No, No, don’t worry I’ll call the tow truck from here. I gotta get off the phone now. Let’s talk later.
Actually their car was in the back parking lot of an Adult Bookstore where they had hoped to have met someone but that was all conveniently left out of the conversation. But the work was far from over as they had to cook up a plausible explanation as to why they were in the area in the first place. This was almost always a variation of “I-75 was packed so I got off onto Stewart Avenue and got lost.” Let me be clear. I could not be less interested in someone’s proclivities and personal vices just that they should pursue them closer to their own damn home and not attempt to sell off such an obvious bullshit story. Sometimes, we would have wives call us back and ask questions because their intuition told them that something was wrong.
On occasion an area native would get caught in a way that might expose a formerly hidden lifestyle. Getting nabbed with a hooker could be a problem but much more so if getting caught soliciting men which happened to at least two area business owners. Neither recovered from the resulting shame. I was surprised to see a highly respected teacher of mine cruising the Avenue which didn’t result in any major consequence until he was later busted for participation in an organized prostitution ring. He was successful and cultured but his yearnings for the flesh brought him down. Women weren’t immune from lapses in judgement either. My own history involves being approached by more than one married woman with a yen for younger men. They didn’t take rejection lightly which might later involve them telling their husband that I was the one who had approach them ! That could be incredibly awkward for all involved and I was grateful for having a number of surly co-workers glad to work as my advocate in these cases.
Stewart Avenue always had a significant degree of ambient crime including bar fights, vandalism, and the occasional mugging that might take place down towards University Avenue. The area winos aroused little interest except from angry car lot owners who didn’t like them breaking into cars to seek refuge from the cold or rain. Nothing worse than opening a car for a potential customer only to find a scabrous, urine-soaked drunk writhing on the front seat. Yanking them out and hosing them down was a favored form of revenge but it’s not as if they were guilty of any major crime. One of the more enduring winos was “Mike” who was rumored to have connections to steady money which might have been true since he kept going strong despite obvious health problems. That he was a slave to alcohol did not prevent him from refusing offers of beer even when in the grip of Delirium tremens. A can of Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon simply didn’t pack the punch of his beloved Barton’s American Blended Whiskey. In a pinch he would accept some MD 20 20 or a bottle of gin but beer was for weaker men.
There was lots of fighting going on mostly at night and in the parking lots of various bars and liquor stores. Some of these altercations were a source of great amusement even to the participants themselves who would realize how foolish they must look taking swings that never landed. I watched a fight in the parking lot of Banks Liquor make it’s way to the other side of Stewart Avenue into the Adult Bookstore parking lot where the drunken pugilists (three of them) decided to call it quits since no one was willing to “tap out”. The fattest of the three decided to retreat in a peculiar manner by scaling the fence surrounding the 166 underpass upon which his pants leg got caught resulting in his being suspended upside down. Eventually his pants leg tore and he fell squarely onto his head. And like a bug with a tough exoskeleton he somehow scuttled up the sloping pavement to rest underneath the bridge. His was hyperventilating and vomiting. I had a pair of binoculars that someone had pawned for some Scotch so I could verify that he was sliced up pretty bad. Someone called the cops who showed up and basically screamed at the guy who responded with enough force to convince them that he was okay.
“Stick-up kid, but look what you done did”
Now if you want to talk “real crime”, there were holdups such as the one I was involved in at Brothers 3 wherein some guys busted through the sliding side door while slamming my co-worker Larry in the head with the butt of a shotgun. It was a move designed to signal serious intent and it worked. After dropping Larry, I saw them heading towards me so I just hit the floor as did an older customer and a young black guy named Ron who looked like running back Jim Brown. None of us had any money of which to speak and while they had made a bloody example of Larry they left everyone else alone except to verbally berate us and threaten certain death should we not remain on the ground for at least 30 minutes after their departure. (We were up inside of two). Their take was around $170 and a six pack of Schlitz Malt liquor which, in my opinion, reflected a lack of ambition. The main guy was an impossibly skinny, pimply faced black dude with a floppy hat who had come in earlier to case the joint. He had told me that I looked like Rod Stewart (completely untrue) and it was such an out of context remark that I mentioned it to Larry, but we just put it down to the guy being a flake job – which he was. In the aftermath of the robbery Ron told me that he knew one of the guys and guaranteed that he was going “handle it” though I never received confirmation that he did (not that he owed anyone). In any case, he turned out to be a cool guy who would drop in just to say hello now and then to shoot the breeze. I suppose there is something about being in a tough situation with someone that can help form a bond. He was definitely the kind of guy you would want to be robbed with – assuming you had to be robbed at all.
The problem with the incipient crime was that legitimate businesses simply trying to maintain or make a come back could do very little to combat the growing negativity associated with the area that persists till this day. As a prime example, Caruoso’s Italian restaurant attempted something of a reprise at the intersection of Langston and Stewart next to the new Kroger that itself had displaced Earl Bennet’s Trailer park – a place I detail in this post. However, no one wanted to drive in from other parts of town especially when there were plenty of eating options all over town. Even the famous Pilgreen’s restaurant located on Lee Street struggled to keep them coming in but they at least lasted longer. Atlanta had a problem with crime in the 70s which included on-again, off-again notoriety as the murder capital of the nation. Going back to the article referenced at the beginning, the Chief said the following:
When the name was changed to Metropolitan Parkway, it made many people cynical, and now the corridor has numerous potential for great things to happen. Our goal with the precinct is to integrate it into the community as we will have meeting spaces for local organizations and anticipate having officers moving within the area
I do agree that there is a great deal of potential but unfortunately that’s ALL there is at this point as no major real estate moves have been made. Very odd given the corridor’s proximity to the movie studios and the music amphitheater along with an abundance of cheap land that is also very convenient to downtown and the Airport. The demand for inside-the-perimeter living would suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the area blows up but it still remains dormant for the time being.
Note that this will be Part one of a two part series on the role that crime played in the demise of Stewart Avenue and the resulting negative reputation that persists until today.
In October of 2017, plans were announced to create a Zone 3 Atlanta Police Precinct on a square of land close to the former location of The Fire Place Lounge (an attempt at creating a “classy joint” on Stewart Avenue). The proximal area contains at least one new gas station which presages a nascent form of progress to which the Precinct would add a sense of safety. For those who remember the area in the 70s I think the new precinct would be across the street from what was once Thoni’s (pronounced “Thone-Eyes”) gas station – a dirt cheap but poorly maintained fueling establishment. The last time the city paid significant attention to this area resulted in the name change to “Metropolitan Parkway” which was a ham-handed attempt to “push the reset button” on south side history. The motivating event (and nadir of what was already a bottoming out period) was a bachelor party turned double murder that took place at the once wholesome Alamo Plaza. Some guys didn’t like it that the prostitute they had hired turned out to be a transvestite so payment became an issue and the pimp fired off some fatal shots. Overreaction all around. After that, no one wanted to know anything about Stewart Avenue. Anyway I think the precinct relocation project makes logistic sense as it would provide convenient and rapid access to many areas within Zone 3 while making future expansion much easier than it would be were the Precinct office to remain at its present location on Cherokee Avenue.
Zone 3 has its own Urban Dictionary entry which I suppose is a form of recognition “reppin’ the O-3 all day long, bitches!” although the entry has questions as to whether East Point and College Park are part of any Zone when they, as cities, maintain their respective police forces. Speaking of East Point. When I was a kid it was one of those cities with oppressive law enforcement that preyed on residents as a source of income. Speed trapping “outsiders” is one thing but leaning heavily into your own community is another level altogether. In my experience they preyed mostly on younger drivers and generally anyone who seemed incapable of hiring a decent defense attorney. Things that Atlanta City police would generally NOT pursue (driving with no shirt, loud muffler, cracked windshield, busted license plate bulb), would be pounced upon by East Point’s finest and if there just happened to be some underage drinkers in the car or a pack of rolling papers then all the better. A friend of mine was pulled over for “singing while driving” ! The cop’s analysis was, “Acting the fool like you did coulda caused a wreck. That rock music is too loud anyways”. Ah yes officer, so was it perhaps that “hippie music” that attracted your attention with the hopes of finding a “lid of grass” or two upon which to base your application for sergeant ?
For those who forgot or just weren’t around then, the State of Georgia used to have an annual car inspection requirement that could easily be met by slipping some extra cash to the “inspector” (usually a bored-out-his-mind gas station attendant) who would, for enough money, deem a go-kart as being fit for the road. I once assiduously studied the inspection requirements and walked through the parking lot at Stewart Lakewood shopping Center with the checklist in hand. It didn’t take long to realize that few automobiles could legitimately pass the evaluation or remain in good enough condition over time to comply for more than a few months. So almost anyone could be “legally” stopped. Cops could say, “I stopped you because you car is unsafe to operate – I could impound your vehicle right now”. So then, the reason for the stop could be to create the reasonable suspicion required to make the stop in the first place ! (If you just experienced a “what the fuck” moment then congratulations). While the inspection law might not have been conceived specifically to bypass the 4th amendment rights of citizens it most certainly was exploited by various municipal law enforcement groups (almost always smaller cities) to do exactly that. Once the state abandoned the annual inspection approach and moved to the emissions model then things improved considerably but it took some time.
Fairness requires me to say that the Atlanta City Police didn’t really engage in this behavior nearly as much as did East Point, College Park, and the Ga Highway Patrol. Probably because Atlanta Police had its own internal problems and they could always find plenty of felonies to address thus eliminating the need to build a budding (no pun intended) career on hassling long hairs and returning Vietnam veterans. As an example of this different attitude, I was, at the time, driving a junked out, barely-held-together-with-bondo Pontiac Le Mans that was so visually offensive that an Atlanta City Cop pulled up next to me just to say, “I could write you a bunch of tickets but your car is a form of entertainment to me – it makes me laugh whenever I see it”. And then he sped off. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or thankful. Bondo was used to fix holes and dings in the body of a car. The idea was to fill, sand down, and paint but for those of us with real clunkers there could actually be more bondo filler on and in the car body than actual metal. And if you didn’t care to paint the car (or have the money to do so) then it looked all patchwork-like (see picture) especially so if there was an abundance of rust which could produce a kind of car leprosy effect. I had so much rust on the car that I made sure to get an updated tetanus shot.
Back in the 70s the police didn’t do much in terms of patrolling on Stewart Avenue at least in my experience. Once the frequency of low-level street crime reaches a certain level in any area the cops start to ignore it because they realistically cannot address it in any meaningful way. Plus, they get the idea that the community isn’t really doing much to help itself so why bother ? The city then decides to redirect police resources to other locales where complaints are being made by well-heeled citizens whose voice might more easily be heard in the Mayor’s Office. It’s a true sign of transition when cops start blaming you for being a victim of petty crime. “So why were you walking around late a night anyway ? What did you expect ?”. There is some tragedy here in that domestic violence winds up being all too common in these environments and if someone doesn’t have much money then it becomes very difficult to “stay somewhere else” even for a night or two while things cool off at home. I would see women from time to time with bruises and black eyes stroll into the store avoiding eye contact. It was clear something wasn’t working at home but what recourse did they have ? Many of them didn’t work or if they did there wasn’t enough money to leave. This is why some of the waitresses up at the Huddle House would spontaneously leave town with a truck driver. While such a move could look completely irresponsible it could have been the very thing that kept them out of the hospital (or worse).
Whew. I got off track there. So back to East Point…. I had the misfortune of rear-ending a friend of mine. His car I mean. So I got a court date in front of the infamous “Judge Duffy”, a well-known hater of long hairs and, in my view, probably anyone who had NOT participated in one of the World Wars. (I guess The Korean War too). As we sat awaiting the case, an unhappy defendant put on an exhibition of flagrant courtroom defiance:
“Don’t make no difference what you gone do Judge. I ain’t gone bow down to you. In fact YOU da one that gone bow down to ME”.
The courtroom erupted into laughter not because of what the guy had said, but because of to whom he had spoken. Duffy went apoplectic and his gavel oscillated faster than a piston in Richard Petty’s Plymouth at the Dixie 500. By the time order was restored, the lunatic had been dragged out by the bailiffs. I had also been laughing just because everyone else had but then Duffy calls my case and is staring straight at me. “Oh no – he saw me laugh”. He quickly asked if the damage had been addressed (it had) after which he slammed the gavel and shouted, “$35 or 10 days”. So I realize that he has to offer an alternative to the fine in case a person doesn’t have money. But 10 days ? I mean 3 days I could see. Maybe 5. But 10 ? It was then I noticed that the courtroom clock read straight 10 a.m. Hmmmm. Of course, I chose to pay the fine rather than become a guest of the East Point jail which, as I was told by an indigent defendant, “wasn’t really that bad”. “Besides”, he said, “I could use the rest. My old lady is driving me crazy”. I never thought of jail as a possible respite from marriage but perhaps his relationship had some quirks not commonly found in the typical union. So much for connubial bliss. It was also helpful to know that, “No one does the full-time anyway unless you make trouble. You would do at most 4 days out of 10“. Good info but I still had plans that did not involve eating jailhouse food.
There was some intersection of interests between East Point and Atlanta City Police relative to an area in West End called Dimmock Street which was a “stop and cop” – a place to purchase weed typically the absolute worst quality available (so I was told). It was so well-known to police that they would mess with the dealers in the winter by rolling up hard and extinguishing the flames from the burning barrels the weed merchants had going just to keep warm. The dealers would scamper like roaches as the cops blew in and laughed triumphantly as they doused the fire. Sure, they would make arrests now and then but it was just as likely to be customers as dealers. A lot of the customer traffic came from College Park and East Point so the respective police departments of those cities would be on the lookout for cars with loads of “young punks” to roust on the suspicion that they were “holding” something especially if they were coming down Lee Street (which turns into Main Street) from West End. See, going through West End towards downtown was a favored route to rock concerts at The Omni. And while not everyone was interested in Dimmock Street (or what could be bought there) the cops didn’t care and assumed that any group of young people coming from that direction after a certain hour at night just had to be up to no good. Going back to the inspection thing – a noisy or smokey tailpipe would be all that was necessary to pull someone over.
I’m going to end Part 1 here as I’ll need to transition to the more serious types of crime and how it impacted the area. I don’t want to cram too much into one post so I’ll post Part 2 soon.
I find myself at a crossroads with this post in that I’m struggling (albeit mildly) about the direction in which I should take this blog – if I should take it anywhere at all. It was originally motivated by a self-serving need to document some of the events and perspective of the area before I forgot it all. Most of these posts are things I’ve related in conversations through the decades so I figured why not just write it all down and refer people to it just to save time ? You know – I’ll create a “FAQ for Stewart Avenue” kind of thing. What I didn’t understand is that people don’t read as much as they used to and competition for attention is at an all time high what with various social media notifications littering one’s phone. This is in addition to ongoing daily responsibilities and the inevitable vagaries of life. It’s also somewhat problematic that my posts tend be much longer than the typical blog one might encounter. For that I make no apologies because I’m always trying to get AT something with these things even as I’m attempting to be informative at a factual level. Were I a better writer, the posts might be more impactful with fewer words. As to what exactly it is I’m trying to get AT, I don’t really know. It could be something really heavy, (at least for me), though it’s probably just more of the general restlessness I’ve always felt that doesn’t allow me to feel satisfied with the various projects I pursue. I’m no tortured artist here but I know well the frustrations associated with trying to nail down a specific feeling or idea and falling short. Most work is only an approximation of a greater ideal anyway and I suppose I can be cool with that. At least for today anyway.
So people prefer to hear these stories along with any comments (wry or otherwise) that I might use to punctuate the narrative. And having spent a significant amount of time in various “night life” establishments I do realize that the verbal tradition has always been more popular than the written one. And these stories will usually sound better after a few drinks though alcohol is by no means a prerequisite for enjoyment. Nonetheless, I’ve attempted to capture that verbal “saloon dynamic” in how I write these things but it’s only an approximation of how I would REALLY convey the story which might involve more grit. And it wouldn’t be at all gratuitous since the language of the time and place was in fact, on average, more primitive though infinitely more to the point than what one encounters in other parts of life. Just to say that you might suspect that what I’ve offered in these posts is a somewhat sanitized version of events…..and you would be right.
Anyway this approach has all sort of worked and I do get positive feedback although the target readership for this blog is surprisingly hard to nail down demographically. On any given day I get 15-20 visitors most of whom appear to be genuinely interested in the content but there are always a number of apparent out-of-towners who seem interested in escort style companionship as evidenced by the search terms they use and the articles they access. For example, I somewhat regret using the word “prostitute” in one of the post titles because it draws in the “wrong element” (albeit a minority) though prostitution was (and continues to be) a big factor in the demise of Stewart Avenue so it was reasonable to include it. In summary, I do get steady readers who are enjoying the content but I get comparatively few comments thus it remains a mystery as to what they might like to see in future posts. This is not at all to say that the “well has run dry” only that I don’t really know who the readers are so it’s hard to know what direction to pursue. I completely understand that many are, like myself, former residents of the area but there is large variation in age with some having lived there and left before the down turn.
The “baby boomer” generation is supposedly those born between 1946 and 1964 which is a wide enough interval to guarantee big differences in taste, interests and motivation so what might be fascinating for me might not at all be for someone born in 1948 (although I’ve gotten interesting feedback from people as old as 90 !) As an example, I get antsy in discussions with Atlantans who aggressively praise Lewis Grizzard as a comedy genius since I never really “got him”. Grizzard did no one any favors by trying to make a fetish of being southern combined with that over the top, “down home” humor which seemed only to turn back the clock on how southerners are perceived. Put it this way, I’ve never met someone who actually tried to make their southern accent MORE intense although comedians like Jeff Foxworthy who, with his cackling drawl, continue to perpetuate a post-modern Hee-Haw idea of what life is like in the south. He makes a lot of money so there is obviously a market for it. I make distinctions between him and someone like Jerry Clower who actually grew up in the stark rural environment he used to generate material for his act which was more akin to improvisational story telling than offering mere riffs on “redneck culture”. Clower was more organic whereas recent “southern comedians” are more contrived and glibly observational which is odd since most (if not all) of them are in fact southern ! This isn’t to say that I don’t see value in what I call “working class humor” and one the best modern examples actually comes from Canada in the form of the “Trailer Park Boys”. I relate to that show on several levels because 1) I’ve had friends like that and 2) were it not for a few lucky twists of fate, I might very well be one of them ! That show has like 10 seasons though I’ve only watched perhaps the first 5 of them. That it’s set in a Canadian trailer park is just a small detail as the set of characters is somewhat universal.
What has amazed me is that I’ve been able to travel to different parts of the world and have a talent for finding the equivalent of Stewart Avenue in that locale. It could be that I unconsciously seek it out but it’s probably just as true that it seeks me out if that makes any sense. Perhaps I’ve been indelibly marked with a universal symbol which implies that I’m always down for some action and craziness. And maybe I am but I’ve somehow been able to put that aside long enough to get some work done now and then. It’s been suggested that perhaps I should making a documentary of the area what with guerrilla style, IPhone-based filming being all the rage. So it should be relatively cheap outside of personal man-hours. And while this is a possibility the question then remains “for whom would I be making it” ? Once I get a direction in mind then the compass will surely work. Your comments are welcome.
The history of “modern” professional wrestling goes back well into the 19th century though the distillate thinking is that it reached its first “golden era” (at least in America) after World War II, leveled off in the 60s, and experienced a decline in the 70s. It rebounded in a very big way in the 80s once it was more or less centralized but not necessarily in a way that benefited the wrestlers themselves. Anyone who has seen Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler” should quickly understand that it is usually someone else other than the wrestler who makes the big bucks. Obviously, there have been individuals who have carved out their own financial independence (or seem to have) in a way that has transcended the ring – Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, and The Rock come to mind. If you want more background on the history and evolution of Atlanta wrestling in particular then check out this page, this YouTube series, and this page.
The appeal of wrestling has always been pretty basic. The guys of old said what they wanted and any resulting conflict was handled quickly by going into the ring. All problems could be addressed via physical competition which as we know isn’t how life really works but if you can relieve your frustrations by watching some other guys deal with theirs in an entertaining fashion (even if they are only acting) then perhaps its worth a watch. They draw out the villains who at first seem to be getting a way with unchecked badness though the good guys eventually catch up to them and administer justice in the form of a “smackdown” thereby restoring order after which it all starts up again because, you know, that’s the cycle. It’s okay to watch but I wouldn’t recommend actually trying to apply a “crossface chickenwing suplex” to a jerk co-worker or a “heart punch” to the guy who cut you off in traffic as 1) there are serious legal consequences and 2) you would probably hurt yourself more than the other guy. Just keep cool and learn to meditate. I don’t know how many guys (and a few gals) I’ve seen who attempt various wrestling moves (usually after several drinks) only to wind up in the Emergency Room where the pain of embarrassment usually far exceeds the pain emanating from any actual physical injury.
I wasn’t what you would call a “true” wrestling fan but in the late 60s there were only three network channels and a single public station. As far as I was concerned wrestling stood out from the other shows of the time (I could never get into Bonanza) so it provided novel entertainment. Initially, the wrestling matches were shown on WQXI / WXIA TV but later moved to TBS Channel 17 where it found a new generation of fans or perhaps just some viewers who were stuck at home and had nothing else to watch. A guy named Ed Caparal called the action and conducted interviews though Freddie Miller was later part of the scene as was Gordon Solie. You should also remember that television sets at that time had a problem with the channel selector knob falling off or breaking altogether in which case you had to use pliers to change stations. (One might also have to use a coat hanger in place of a broken antenna). For the UHF channels it was a bit easier as you could spin the selector dial. Let’s just say that switching channels could be a pain so people might have watched wrestling because they were too lazy to get up.
“Policemen turn in their badges when I come to town” – Rowdy Roddy Piper
The least you need to know about wrestling is that the good guys are “faces” and the bad guys are “heels”. Occasionally a face can become a heel (or vice versa) but the roles usually remain intact for a while once established. The primary purpose of the televised matches was to setup conflict that could only be fully resolved later that week (or month) at a live ticketed match. Some injustice would be perpetrated by a heel against a face involving assault from behind, gang beatings, challenges to one’s masculinity / lineage, or attacks with a folding chair. The better wrestlers were those with the ability to creatively trash talk (also known as “shooting”) to further insult opponents and their fans thereby promoting ticket sales. The nature of the manufactured conflict would also frequently fall along political lines wherein the “heel” is alleged to be from Russia (Nikita Koloff) or whatever region is currently perceived as being the least friendly to US interests. I’m told that in the 50s that German and Russian heels were quite common and that those “Iron Curtain punks” were always soundly defeated by “wholesome American boys” who knew “damn good and well how to whip some commie ass”.
One of the Atlanta stand outs was El Mongol (né Raul Molina) who was emblematic of wrestlers who were assigned roles not always congruent with their natural heritage and background. In the ring El Mongol was presented as a sadistic bone breaking Mongolian martial artist though he was actually a Mexican family man with a Fu Manchu mustache. It was the same with Canadian Abdullah The Butcher (né Lawrence Shreve) whose native tongue was English and whose culture was far from that of a “Madman from Sudan” as the script had it. But who cares as long as the crowd gets into it ? Just to say that if a wrestler is alleged to be a former KGB agent don’t be surprised if the guy couldn’t tell you where Russia might be located on a map. There were exceptions in that the Iron Sheik was Persian which came in very handy once US-Iran relations soured in a really big way although he got his start a few years prior to the hostage crisis. Other conflicts were based on one wrestler ripping off the image of another such as Tommy Wildfire Rich who allegedly appropriated the style of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (a consummate trash talker). The most entertaining bit was that of the thinly veiled gay wrestler – a role first presented by the flamboyant Gorgeous George whose influence was apparent in guys like “The Exotic” Adrian Street and Adrian Adonis. Adrian Street would celebrate victories by applying lipstick to his supine opponent, kissing him, and then following up with a kick to the face which enraged the rabidly homophobic crowds who were disgusted by a triumphant overtly effeminate wrestler. The words you would hear from the crowd were not even remotely pleasant.
“I’m wearing six hundred dollar custom made lizard shoes” – Ric Flair
For those wrestlers who lacked the gift of gab there would be managers to do the trash talking for them. A prime example was Dandy Jack Crawford – a bowtie and bowler wearing aristocrat who lurked at ringside tripping up opponents with his umbrella while feigning innocence when caught. Some of these guys might have wrestled previously but usually they were men of average build hired for their strong ability to stir up crap and exacerbate ongoing feuds to keep the crowds fully engaged. They would sometimes “betray” their proteges by switching loyalties to opposing wrestlers (during mid match). Or, the protege might betray the manager resulting in a switch from heel to face (or vice versa). Most wrestling managers worked with heels since the potential for twisted plot lines was far greater than those of a good guy whose persona was generally more limited and boring.
Many of the early matches happened at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, a once prestigious event space, which in 1980 became part of Georgia State University. Towards the end of its run it hosted rock shows and numerous high school graduations even as the facility fell into a state of neglect and disrepair. Large vermin could be seen in and around the venue. One of the roadies for Johnny Winter said that the rats backstage were impossible to scare off and would scamper on stage during equipment load in and sound check. (Why they didn’t come on stage during the actual show remains a source of mystery – maybe they just weren’t into the music ?) Once the Omni opened in 1972, the wrestling events moved there and while the word “Omni” has only two syllables it turned out that for Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes it had three syllables – The “Ahm-a-nee”. The new facilities were far better and the seating capacity was much larger giving the impression that match attendance was down when it actually wasn’t it. But they turned up the heat anyway by having some “Cage Matches” to sell more tickets. (According to this source the first ever Cage Match was in Atlanta on June 25th, 1937 though it doesn’t say where it took place). These specialty matches were designed to up the ante by having a full on group melee with the winner being the proverbial last man standing. The customer got more bang for the buck.
“A computah took yo place, Daddy ! That’s hard times !” – Dusty Rhodes
Many of the the wrestlers of the 60s and 70s were not what you would call obvious athletes nor did their physiques reflect a lifestyle normally associated with a world class competitor in any sport. Many were just naturally large “farm boy” types who wanted more action than small town life could offer. So circuit wrestling provided relief in the form of mobility albeit to larger smaller towns in the region with Atlanta being the biggest. It was better than working in the local factory for the rest of your life. Despite the fact that lots of wrestlers were not physically “cut” it would be unwise for a layman to engage someone very accustomed to slamming into turn buckles and being thrown (or throwing someone) out of the ring especially when they are weighing in at 240 lbs. As the 70s progressed, bodybuilding intersected with wrestling and steroids became more freely available which led to greater strength and impressive physiques such that by the 80s many of these guys were truly intimidating – not that some of the old timers weren’t. Freddie Blassie, (for a time billed as “The Vampire”), used to file his teeth ringside in anticipation of biting his opponent. Of course the problem with steroids is that if your competitor uses them then so must you assuming you don’t want to look out of place. Then again, there were plenty of guys who carried extra weight and managed to be amazingly nimble in the ring.
“I should have been born triplets. That’s how much talent I have, you pencil neck geek” – Classy Freddie Blassie
The Stewart Avenue connection was that many of these guys could be found drinking in area bars just like anyone else seeking diversion from the daily grind however that might be defined. They were usually treated well and enjoyed a form of celebrity recognition. One night there were approximately six of them boozing it up in LP Pips. André the Giant was up front near the entrance holding court with three women sitting on one of his thighs. He was drinking out of a beer pitcher as it didn’t make sense to provide him with the conventional 10-12 oz beer mug. Towards the back were Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo McDaniel, Ivan Kolloff, and some others whose names I’ve forgotten. The rules of Kayfabe (the protocols on how wrestlers should interact with each other in public) have it that heels and faces should never mix though there were no faces present so it was just some wrestlers getting soused after a match. Dusty seemed particularly moody and even when a few girls wanted to talk to him he brushed them off using his normal voice which was a far cry from that soul gospel accent he used on TV. If you aren’t familiar with his accent then check out the infamous Hard Times speech – “A computah took yo place, Daddy ! That’s hard times ! Start watching around the 50 second mark.
I attempted a conversation with Wahoo McDaniel who in reality had Native American heritage which calls into question his decision to drink like he did that night. He looked at me as if I were a bug on his windshield so I concluded it was in my best interest to move on. What struck me was that they were all bloated and carrying a lot more weight than I would have expected. And with the exception of André The Giant they were all shorter than they appeared to be on TV. Note that I didn’t say that they were “short” just that when an announcer says someone is 6’6″ though in reality they are 6’1″ then it’s gonna be surprising. You could see obvious razor cut scars on their foreheads (an old wrestling trick to get the blood flowing to rile up the fans) as well as the “road weariness” common to anyone who travels for a living. With the exception of André they all exuded a brooding “don’t f**k with me” kind of insolence and had no interest in answering questions or going into character for anyone not even the women who had been buzzing around.
But André (a native of France) was “on” that night which might explain why he was up front while the others sulked in the back. He was definitely interested in the ladies but I’m not sure they were interested in him outside of basic curiosity. That guy was super tall and his head seemed as large as a small beer keg. I offered him a “Bonsoir monsieur, comment allez-vous” which genuinely pleased him as I suspect he didn’t get much of that down south or if he did it wasn’t recognizable as French. He gave me a big grin and shook my hand which was truly shocking as his index finger landed on my forearm such was the size of his hand. I think he responded with a “Pas mal jeune homme, pas mal” but his voice was so low and thick it was hard to tell. (He made Barry White sound like a choir boy). The moment was short lived as he left to track some short-shorts wearing waitress who had caught his rather large, saucer-like eye.
When wrestlers of old recount their achievements, they frequently cite the various championship belts they might have “won” which is odd given that match outcomes, especially the marquee events, were always negotiated in advance. Thus, could anyone say that a “Championship Belt” really meant anything ? And some of the titles were perhaps created only to hype specific events such as “Introducing the new Georgia TV Tag Team Championship holders, The Assassins !”. Isn’t the championship belt thing just a prop in the ongoing saga between faces and heels ? For the most part it is though wrestling isn’t without its own brand of politics. It turns out that “winning” (or being selected to win) a championship is something of a testament to one’s popularity (or infamy) which can obviously help sustain one’s career. Being popular with those who booked the matches was essential to putting bread on the table. Those who couldn’t provoke a reaction, or appeal in some way to a regional crowd, or effectively trash talk were destined to become one of the anonymous drones who got tossed around (and out of) the ring literally and figuratively.
Since that time wrestling has been monopolized and corporatized with detailed employee contracts being the norm. Script writers exist to generate copy for promos and the wrestling matches more closely resemble rock concerts than the bare bones budget productions they once were when being produced and broadcast out of Atlanta. Everything is efficiently managed to the point of being incredibly boring. According to this Forbes article John Cena is the WWE’s top draw who pulled in around 9.5 million in 2016. I must say that after seeing his promos I was not impressed with his “shooting” ability compared to the old timers. When looking at YouTube vids of Ric Flair or Dusty Rhodes promos you see true improvisational artistry that betters that of any in-town hipster improv comedy troupe. But Cena’s promos come off as being dry rehearsed readings of tightly managed story lines. But that’s okay since the WWE will probably make more money off of merchandising in one week than I’ll make my whole life which tells you what it’s all about now. If I had to pick a favorite contemporary wrestler it would be The Undertaker although at this point in time he is now considered an “older” wrestler which means I must be getting “old” also – but how can that be ? © 2018 The Stewart Avenue Kid
Stewart Lakewood Mall was built in several phases with the original groundbreaking taking place around 1952 with subsequent construction in 1962 followed by the addition of a spacious discount store called Woolco – a subsidiary of Woolworth which already had a presence in the Mall. I became an unwitting shoplifter at Woolco by walking out with a Duncan Yo-Yo (the Butter Fly model). I really didn’t mean to do that and considered returning to pay though a friend of mine had once been arrested because some youth-hating manager thought my friend was trying to return stolen merchandise to get some quick cash. (As if two T-shirts would be worth the risk). In general I noticed a reflexive distrust of youth coming from the older generations many of whom didn’t like anyone without a crew cut. Some level of inter generational tension is inevitable but the older store employees seemed to harbor special resentment for those they perceived to be “undisciplined young punks”. My track record with older people has never been that good. I once had an old timer call me a “long haired son of a bitch” just for quietly going around him in a Piccadilly (or was it Davis Brothers ?) cafeteria line. Others did the same before me though they were spared insult. My response was a simple, “Well Sir – at least I have hair”. The line workers got a kick out of that.
I was always dubious of Depression era people who seemed to think that everyone else was by comparison wasteful, ungrateful, and lazy. Not everyone felt this way but enough did so as to make it a true drag. Eating beans and rice every night and putting cash under a mattress isn’t evidence of being a good person (especially if you are going to be pr**k to everyone else) but there were plenty of old timers then who felt that way. I was fortunate in that while my oldest relatives lived through the Depression, and preferred the simple life, they didn’t begrudge my enjoyment of modern conveniences nor did they require me to suffer in some neo-Puritanic way as a demonstration of character. If you want to save every penny then good for you but don’t get angry with me because I’m having a good time and still find ways to save. Now there’s a grudge that I’ve kept for some time now. Could you tell ?
One of my geekier pursuits as a youngster included the assembly of car model kits which was then a really big thing with some kids pursuing it as a competitive hobby. Woolco offered a nice model selection and the hobby was interesting for a time though I became far more enamored with slot car racing because of its kinetic nature and the social interaction. Anyway, the better kits could have around 100 parts that required paint and glue so the acquisition of craft paint, brush sets, and high quality adhesive became necessary. I recall Tester’s being a popular brand and, if you weren’t of age, you had to have an adult make the purchase since underage glue sniffing (aka “huffing”) had become a problem at least as far as the media was concerned. While I never actively pursued this method of intoxication, the model building process involved long hours in the presence of fumes which could easily result in (at least to me) an unpleasant lightheaded dizzy feeling. It seemed to me that a glue high was akin to drinking rot guy whiskey and therefore must be a refuge for only the most desperate. But there were always those “glue heads” who swore that it was a “good kick” followed by some pseudo-jive lecture on which brands provided the “cleanest high”. In my experience, huff heads occupied the lowest rung on the thrill seeking ladder and were generally ostracized by everyone unless they were buying lots of drinks and only then for the duration of the drinking session. No one liked these guys, especially cops and women, and they generally met with untimely ends. Only a glue head can tolerate another glue head.
In the middle of the Mall, between the parallel walkways, was a free-standing, glassed-in kiosk containing pay phones. In the Summer this structure became a lung-melting heat trap appropriate for use in at least one of the nine Circles of Hell. I used to rifle the coin returns for left-behind change and frequently came up with something although my actions were motivated more out of boredom and borderline OCD behavior as opposed to financial need. One day my Father and I were walking by this hothouse and noticed a very tall man slowly dropping to the ground as if kneeling to pray before flopping over onto his back where his head rocked back and forth a few times and then stopping still. “Damn ! A heart attack“, I thought. My Father entered to check it out thinking that the guy might simply be drunk (a reasonable suspicion) but he wasn’t. And while I don’t remember the exact dialogue, the cause for the fainting spell had a lot to do with the guy’s total lack of preparation for the sweltering temperatures of Atlanta in August. Speaking of the parallel walkways, I would sometimes take my bike to the Mall and cruise up and down them which angered store owners and patrons although I never went very fast. But again, it was just one of those generational things and there were lots of old women who would be startled by the smallest of noises. So you know – better to dismount and push the bike when on the premises. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series if you want to vicariously experience the SL Mall then visit Ansley Mall which I believe has preserved the outdoor parallel walkway structure. You could always drive to SL Mall now and despite the fact that there are stores there, a lot of it is in ruins and doesn’t present a good idea of what it used to be like.
The stand out memory of Stewart Lakewood Mall relates to the horrible Atlanta Child Murders which took place from 1979-1981 (approximately). On January 3rd, 1981, Lubie Jeter was selling automobile air-fresheners and had made his way up Stewart Avenue towards the Shopping Center as he stopped at establishments along the way including Brothers Three. It was a particularly busy Saturday so I paid almost no attention to him as he leaned into the store propping the door open with one of his feet as he asked if anyone wanted to purchase some car air-freshener. (These types of solicitations were fairly common). I told him “no” and he proceeded towards the shopping center (or at least appeared to be) where he, according to the published chronology of the case, was picked up by Wayne Williams. Obviously, I had no idea who he was at the time and even when the story broke I still didn’t put it together that he was the kid. It wasn’t long thereafter, maybe a week, that an attractive blond woman (I believe she was with the GBI) came into Brothers Three and asked myself and Terry if we had seen this young man selling car fresheners. When I responded in the affirmative she pulled out a pad, made some introductory notes, and calmly asked a series of questions. It was long ago but I recall that the questioning was very thorough and that she concluded the interview by verifying my personal information along with a comment that there would probably be a followup…. and she was right.
Listen – we’ll come back as often as we like and we’ll ask as many questions as we want and as many times as we want”.
I received visits from the Atlanta Police (for sure) and FBI (I think – or it could have been the GBI again) who basically asked the same series of questions to help nail down the sequence of events. When I was a kid I thought that cops, like Joe Friday, wanted “just the facts” but that’s not the way it always works. They like to ask the same question many times (at different times in the conversation) to establish consistency. Standard stuff really. The larger problem, well more of an inconvenience, was that they never called ahead, choosing rather to just show up unannounced. This wasn’t a problem for me but it was for my older co-workers who might be discussing their sports betting strategies for the upcoming week which might not go over well with the four plain clothes cops who just walked through the door. But if the cops/agents heard anything they didn’t seem to care. After all they had bigger fish to fry. They kept asking the same questions trying to get more details which is natural but I was coming up dry. I don’t know if I came off as disrespectful but one of the plain clothes guys said something like, “Listen – we’ll come back as much as we like and we’ll ask as many questions as we want and as many times as we want”. Okay…… I get it. There is immense pressure to solve this case and I’m definitely happy to help (and had been) but there is only so much I can offer based on a 5-10 second interaction….. It would be some time before the case was solved but at that time the larger impact was that everyone in town became aware that Stewart Lakewood Mall was a spot where a child met his demise so then the distillate thinking became that the south side of town must REALLY be going down hill.
As I’ve attempted to convey in several posts on this blog, I believe that it is only a matter of time before this area experiences a revival since there is a dearth of in-town properties. Prior to the real estate bubble burst (circa 2006) there was talk of Home Depot possibly moving into the Mall (more likely replacing a large part of it) in anticipation of home flipping and renovation. However, that never played out as the market froze solid so no moves were made. I haven’t been able to find out anything more recent though willingly concede that I haven’t researched it very hard. My sense is that with the nearby movie studios and amphitheater as well as close proximity to downtown and the airport that this area simply will rise again and when it does the land on which SL Mall sits would make an excellent shopping locale for a new generation of residents. There might be a Part 3 to this – might not. I tend to let things float into my head based on how (and if) people respond which might trigger long dormant memories. There is much more to say for sure some of which I captured in my post on The Stewart Lakewood Library which was located in the “corner” nearest the Huddle House. When I think back on this scene I now realize how close everything was then and I pretty much walked from my house (or grandmother’s place) to the Mall and to School. I had a bike I would use now and then but walking seemed more fun as I encountered many of the Stewart Avenue characters. I don’t know that I would have had it any other way. © 2018 The Stewart Avenue Kid
Crossroads Mall, originally known as Lakewood Center, is by far the most forgotten mall in Atlanta. It is located at the intersection of Metropolitan Parkway (formerly Stewart Avenue) and Perkerson Road next to Langford Parkway (formerly Lakewood Freeway). Sky City Retail History
In considering Stewart Lakewood Mall you might want to visit Ansley Mall which is its “twin” (more paternal than identical) having been built by the same developer although Stewart Lakewood evolved in phases over time. While Ansley has always been relatively well maintained and has endured the ups and downs of the Atlanta economy over the past 5 decades, the Stewart Lakewood mall (henceforth known as SL Mall because I’m tired of typing out “Stewart Lakewood”) took a commercial dive starting in the late 70s from which it has never really emerged. I mean no disrespect to current tenants of the mall but when at least half of the structure is abandoned and dilapidated it’s difficult for anyone to get excited. The back part could easily be used as a movie set for a post-apocalyptic thriller (Soylent Green – The Reckoning). In many ways, my decision to document the Stewart Avenue area was motivated by this blog (from which the opening quote was taken) which exists primarily to discuss retail mall space. And here is another blog from someone who grew up in the area though split the scene prior to the general regional decline. You might want to start with these references for some factual background which will also relieve me of the responsibility of having to list all of the shops that once existed at SL Mall many of which provided first jobs for area teenagers.
Before I get much deeper into any of this it is interesting to note that while larger mall installations are experiencing something of a crisis, the standalone / strip mall concept seems to be making a comeback. For example check out the renovation of Toco Hills which has gone retro perhaps as a nod to its past but it’s more likely that the lower maintenance costs of an existing one or two story setup combined with easier parking access might have something to do with the recent attraction to outdoor malls. That some long time tenants are leaving the mall due to pricey rent hikes doesn’t seem to bother the surrounding community or perhaps they aren’t yet aware of what is going on.
In the 60s and well into the 70s the SL Mall was quite practical and served the interests of the families still residing in the area. It was easy to drop by Big Star (formerly Colonial) grocery store for supplies or JC Penny’s to pick up some back-to-school clothing. Jacobs offered pharmacy services though my family favored Hays and Weldon over on Sylvan Rd. This was also the era of trading stamps so we would also shop at the Big Apple across from Hays and Weldon which was located next to an S&H store where you could redeem your stamp books for merchandise. The SL Mall had various promotions such as when radio station WQXI hired a helicopter to drop a bunch of ping pong balls marked with various prize names and dollar amounts. And the movie theater would host “Tubby and Lester” (a local Laurel and Hardy knockoff duo) on the occasional Saturday morning for the kids interested in that kind of thing. At Christmas they would put up a large blowup Santa (always a hit). Check this blog for some full on Southside / SL Mall photo nostalgia. Opinions vary as to when things started going “down hill” but I would say that by 1975 the exit momentum had been well established and families were leaving the area in an undeniable pattern so it was little surprise that Mall business began to suffer. Once the SL movie theater became one of those “99 cent theaters” in a desperate move to attract customers the writing was on the wall and it became so very clear that money wasn’t flowing into the area.
One of the businesses that stands out in my memory was the Huddle House which was a classic short order diner perfect for some post rock concert chow – usually on the way back from The Omni or The Fox. The waitresses were loud and brassy with a tendency to employ words like “honey”, “baby”, “sweetie” (sometimes all in one sentence) as a means to generate better tips. Frankly, such talk always creeped me out. One of the more senior waitresses lived in Blair Village which sounds simple enough to pronounce although in her patois it came out more like, Blay-a-yer Veal-ij which was then commonly known to locals as a place “where the elite meet to get stabbed” – such was it’s reputation for crime. She seemed the type to have a razor stashed in her bra right next to her cash roll. She hustled hard for the money (presaging the Donna Summer song by a few years) and flirted aggressively with men, especially truck drivers, who might offer her a better deal than whatever she had going on in that moment. Having seen this pattern a number of times I concluded that being a truck driver must have a form of sex appeal although it was the mobility offered by the job that was the real hook. Many of these short order waitress types liked getting around (in more ways than one) and saw the long haul drivers as a safer alternative to hitchhiking or an interminable Greyhound bus ride across the country. That they might have to give up “some lovin’” was simply part of the deal.
There was also a collection of girls from the area trailer parks who would congregate outside the Huddle House trying to flirt up some action. Many of them might have been built like Raquel Welch or some prototypical Daisy Duke (long before the show even existed) though I would lose interest after about two minutes of attempted conversation during which I might have asked horribly inappropriate questions (at least from their point of view) such as, “what school do you go to” (they didn’t). In the end I couldn’t talk their language – a point once driven home when a truck driver leaving the Huddle House said, “Hey ladies I just might have some of that Southern Comfort out in the truck” which ended it all right there. I was later told by one such girl that I was “too uppity”. That became a recurring theme in my early social life – that I was “too north side” for the south side girls but “too south side” for the north side girls. That wasn’t entirely true as there was a girl named Candace I liked whose father “Smitty” used to cut hair at the Barbershop located just next door to the Huddle House. But they split that part of town for a safer setup. In reality I don’t think I ever got a haircut from the barbershop – it was more like an express buzz cut. I was never in the chair for more than 3 minutes. For anyone with an interest in an actual hairstyle you had to go around the corner to The Viking which provided a full on luxury experience complete with a hair wash from a bosomy woman who might have been the primary attraction for many.
As the 70s progressed SL had its very own “head shop” which offered a rich selection of music much more so than the nearby Woolco or Woolworth who stocked “45” singles and only very few “long playing” albums and then it was “square” stuff like the Osmond Brothers or Pat Boone. But not much at all for a growing music snob with greater interest in groups not routinely featured on the pop radio. There were record stores in the area such as the Record Bar over at Greenbriar who encountered competition in the 70s from Turtles and later Peaches record stores. Of course the head shop also offered les accoutrements for the budding (no pun intended) marijuana smoker as well as “black light” posters, “underground” magazines, candles, and t-shirts. The clerks did little to hide the fact that they were heads themselves and were happy to entertain various hangers-on of the post-hippy type looking to chat up the cute hip-hugger wearing girls who might wander in “just to look around”. Much of the shop talk was laced with references to cannabis and general drug use so much so that it became irritating. I mean yea I get it – you are down, you are hip, you are a freak, we know you “turn on” – but why would you want to promote it? Even then I thought the freak parlance sounded stupid.
What I did like about the place was that there were people who could talk intelligently about, for example, the latest album from Nektar and how it compared (or not) to whatever Wishbone Ash had out at the time. The general mood was generally quite mellow though I distinctly recall there being something of a customer backlash when Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music double album came out. Lots of people were eager to buy it thinking that it was gonna be great only to find out that it was, well not what anyone expected – so there was a large scale demand for refunds for what was basically Lou’s big ole “F**k You” to RCA his then record company. Of course, the hipsters today inevitably encounter Metal Machine Music on their way to someone like Stockhausen though refuse to accept the joke and profess great love for this “work” claiming that it was somehow groundbreaking (it should be in the ground). Despite these occasional musical taste disagreements things rarely got out of hand. One benefit to the employees was that if they had the munchies they could go right next door to Orange Julius to get a cool drink.
There are other shops that figure heavily in my memory which I’ll address in a part 2 of this posting (Pet Jungle comes to mind as does the Bakery and Dipper Dan Ice Cream) but I’ll stop here for now. SL Mall also plays a role in the Atlanta Child Murders which was a truly unfortunate period in the town’s history. It’s also important to note that prior to the real estate bubble circa 2006 there was hope that this area would experience revitalization and that the likes of Home Depot would see fit to move into the Mall. After all it remains one of the few in town areas to not be redeveloped but with its proximity to the Belt Line I think it’s only a matter of time before things improve.
Dee Fords was a night club in the Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center (now “Crossroads Shopping Center“) located next to the Jolly Fox strip bar that was owned (co-owned ?) by Dee’s brother Jerry or so I was told. My dentist, Claude D. had his office located next to the Jolly Fox although he started his practice long before the decline of Southwest Atlanta. He was generally a good guy but thought anyone with long hair was a dope fiend – an idea confirmed by his refusal to provide a script for pain medications following the difficult removal of an impacted wisdom tooth. To complete the work, he used my forehead as a fulcrum to generate the necessary extraction force but that didn’t work so he broke the impacted tooth in two for easier removal – well at least for him. I half expected him to ask, “Is it safe?“ This whole scene prompted an inquiry about post extraction analgesics to which he curtly replied, “aspirin should handle it just fine, don’t chew on that side of the mouth for a few days“. “Wow. Thanks Doc. That never occurred to me. I was gonna go out and eat a T-Bone“. Anyway, he had been liberal with the numbing agent but it wore off a few hours later leaving me with raw pulsing pain the likes of which could motivate a deal with the devil. I wanted to tell Claude that if I really wanted drugs I could walk out the door and score more quickly than going the whole pharmacy route – not that I wanted to score anyway. I settled for slamming a couple of Big Mouth Mickeys down at Brothers Three and waiting it out.
“You can jail the Revolutionary but you can’t jail the Revolution“
Dee Ford’s occupied the spot previously occupied by The Paint Store lounge which itself was previously a Pittsburgh Paints store. A band called “Mighty Joe Young” played at the Paint Store lounge though I was too young to get in but my older friends raved about them. I don’t remember exactly when it turned into Dee Ford’s but almost immediately the club became a seedy destination for 70s party types, would be rock stars, fledgling drug dealers, and the occasional older guy looking to pick up a “foxy chick“. There was also a lot of redneck drama. To wit, there was a sinewy recidivist hick who would go around asking “Who was it that Cain married if not his sister or some very close blood relative?” (An ongoing conundrum for many Christians). Given his Hillbilly background it occurred to me that it might have been an attempt at rationalizing some Jerry Lee Lewis style familial fraternization. And if enough people seemed to accept the idea, hopefully without significant negative reaction, then maybe his conscience could rest a little easier at night. Then again maybe he just wanted to be viewed as Cell Block D’s most accomplished jail house intellectual. While he had a lot of “wisdom” on offer his flow was suspect. “You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution” followed up by ” The powdered eggs in Fulton County ain’t half bad“. Uh okay…. Wait ! What ?
“Let’s go to the Twilight Club and meet some REAL men“.
The women could be scary and sleazy. They weren’t bashful and frequently made the first (and second and third) moves which wasn’t always welcomed as many of them weren’t attractive and well known to get around. At the time, sexually transmitted diseases were colloquially known to the layman (no pun intended) as “VD” (Venereal Disease) with most people thinking that the only two possibilities were “The Clap” or “The Crabs“. Many felt such afflictions to be the inevitable result of the promiscuity so common to the 70s. Some of the more extreme felt VD to be evidence of accomplishment like a merit badge or rite of passage. In the early 70s the tenants of the North side Riverbend apartment complex (featured in the 2002 “Catch Me if You Can Movie”) became well known for its infamous nude pool parties and even more more so for reliance upon penicillin. Condom use was not then prevalent and though we offered them for sale at Bros Three, the only people who bought them were patrons of the street walkers. One guy would walk in and loudly request a pack of “Sultan the Man Protectors” as if he were a compensated spokesperson. However, that didn’t deter most guys. The Silver Ribbon down the street was a Country and Western bar (no one includes the Western anymore since the Bakersfield scene was so long ago). I was in the parking lot drinking beer with a friend when two massively intoxicated cow girls staggered towards us as one of them let loose with a stream of projectile vomit. She never broke stride. As she wiped her mouth she gave me the once over and told her friend, “Let’s go to the Twilight Club and meet some REAL men“. Guess I wasn’t her type.
“Who was it that Cain married if not his sister….”
Dee’s was well known for “Nickel Beer Night” and “Drink and Drown“. There was usually some violence resulting from unintentional body contact between men whose only way to distinguish themselves was through violence. The women could get in on the action too with crude exhibitions of primal jealousy leading to hair pulling, biting, and drink tossing that in turn triggered more action. It certainly wasn’t always a fight scene but anytime you have that much alcohol someone is going to get upset. The bouncer, a guy named Reed if I recall correctly, could handle things so it was far from being a roadhouse. Any place on The Avenue had a capacity for alcohol fueled fights – it was just part of the scene. The thing for us was to hit Nickel Beer Night and after a few hours of that then stumble over to the “buffet” at the Jolly Fox to scarf down some buffet baloney while we watched the dancers work through their set. They had this one very statuesque blond whom the DJ called “Jean, Jean the Dancing Machine” though as it got later it became “Jean Jean The F*****g Machine“. I recall one night being paralytically drunk while this dancer, “Little Bit“, did her dance for me and misinterpreted my stare as a form of interest. She had a really big “smiling” C-Section scar which I found amusing. After her dance, she came over to see if I was willing to share any money though stalked off in disgust as she realized I was incapable of any movement so there was no way I could open my wallet.
Sylvan Hills, East Point, and College Park had a wide variety of musicians many of whom were good with a few being exceptional if only in a well-rehearsed, copy band kind of way. Dee hired many of them to grind through sets till 2 a.m. when they might try to work in an original song or two. Dee always wanted to sit in with the band (an imposition I think) and offer up such classics as ”Standing on Shaky Ground” though he developed some originals such as ”I Want to do Beautiful Things to You in the Morning” which, after a night at Dee Ford’s couldn’t have been possible. One of the better house bands was an ensemble named Glyder fronted by male and female singers which gave them an edge over other bands. I recall the guy singer (Kevin?) being really short. I’m sure that wouldn’t make him feel good to know that’s how some might remember him. The wildcard was the guitar player Nicky who was a pretty good player who used to drop by Brothers Three in a hearse that the band used to haul around their band gear. This was interesting as I had another friend who interned at a funeral home who also used an older hearse to haul around band gear. Nicky had an unusually optimistic outlook (perhaps chemically assisted) to the extent that we nicknamed him “Mr. Wonderful” – not to be confused with wrestler Paul Orndorff who operated under the same name and could also sometimes could be found in Stewart Avenue bars. When I was too lazy to learn how to play a certain song I would just go to Dee’s, sit at the bar, and cop the chords by watching Nicky (and other guitarists) play. It was dead easy and I probably learned like 90 songs that way. You gotta be a visual learner for this approach to work though.
Another band that setup shop there periodically was Alien who had a variety of members over time (like many bands) before settling into a configuration in the 80s when they made a serious bid towards getting a record contract although I don’t think it worked out for them at least at the national level. Most bands Dee brought in were pretty solid with some bands being very meticulous to a point of being obsessive. One such group rolled in and the singer wore a leotard similar to the kind favored at the time by Freddie Mercury. I mean he wore it the entire night which was odd because if you saw Queen in concert then you know that Freddy would switch up his wardrobe several times during the show. But the cover band singer was quite comfortable wearing his leotard even if no one else was. In any case, they really nailed the tunes but ran out of songs midway through the second set which was awkward since it meant they had to repeat themselves way too soon in the evening. Oddly, they had no apparent ability to jam or improvise so filling up some time wasn’t a possibility. I noticed that there were several bands back then who couldn’t play outside of the parameters of the song they were covering at least in a way that was interesting. So their careers were pretty much restricted to the cover band circuit since writing songs was probably out of the question.
In the late 70s, Atlanta became overloaded with rock cover bands and it got to be somewhat competitive and, after a certain point, very boring. That’s why I started going to places like 688 since they had bands with original content. And even if some of those bands weren’t that great from a musical standpoint (at least initially) it was still refreshing to hear original music some of which fell into the then “New Wave” category. There were also places like CW Shaws which hosted a number of straight ahead rock bands on the rise. As would become a pattern I found myself out of step with both the South and North sides of Atlanta since I didn’t blindly accept various bands being offered as the “the best in Atlanta” or “the best in The South” which was a term bandied about so much then. I mean you could drive 3 hours to Birmingham and see some pretty good bands also. Or take a trip down to Florida.
Anyway – back to Dee’s – a lot of the “action” took place in the parking lot with people going to the car to “burn one” or randy couples looking to engage in some quick backseat action. You should remember that this was the age of large pimp style gas hog automobiles with enough room to host a church barbecue. Some people lived in these cars and even hung curtains or blankets in the windows whereas others didn’t mind being seen. Customized vans were also a big thing then and they always attracted since everyone assumed nefarious activities were taking place therein. This was the era of “If this van’s a rockin’ don’t come a knockin'”. Many Avenue bars had as much action going on in the parking lot as was going on in the club. In fact some nights I might not even go inside if the scene was happening in the parking lot. I mean if the band wasn’t that good then why bother because you knew that there weren’t any pretty girls inside. Plus you could drink out of your own trunk (everybody had colors of beer in the trunk back then).
I don’t recall exactly when I stopped going to Dee’s nor am I sure when it closed. Maybe somewhere around 82 ? At some point, the City of Atlanta Police started visiting some of the South side bars with teams of menacing cops looking to uncover whatever they could. They would demand identification, look in the bathrooms for active drug use, and generally come on real strong as a means to intimidate customers as well as the club owners. Then again maybe they were just looking for a payoff. Anyway, they would sometimes find some unlucky soul with an open warrant. I’m not sure that these “raids” accomplished much of anything in terms of reducing city crime. I recall hearing that Dee opened up a club in Columbus at some point. I don’t know if that was actually true but I know that I heard that from more than one person. There might have even been some overlap between the two locations but once I got busy with other things I just left it all behind and had expanded my game so to speak to include other venues and bars. In any case, from what Google tells me, Dee is apparently still at the bar and music game over in Anniston Alabama still going strong. I don’t know if he still wants to “do beautiful things to you in the morning” but he should get a longevity award for being in the night club business for as long as he has. © 2018 The Stewart Avenue Kid.
Perkerson Park, situated in Southwest Atlanta, had been largely ignored for decades before it experienced a resurgence courtesy of a Disc Golf Course which has flourished in the location since its debut in 2011. It amazes me that this general area continues to be ignored by developers given that before the real estate bubble Capitol View had some action and Sylvan Hills was being eyed by a number of land speculators. Since that time, however, investors continue to hold on to their money waiting to see how the Belt Line project will progress. While I’m aware that people started moving into the area as far back as the 90s the growth has never been comparable to that experienced by neighboring areas such as East Point and College Park. Years ago I ran into a buzzed hipster who claimed to be a reporter / writer for Creative Loafing (if i recall correctly – I was probably buzzed also). She was telling anyone who would listen that she had just closed on a “cool house”. Upon making an inquiry as to its location I was met with the classic hipster response of “Oh I’m sure you won’t know where it is but if you must know it’s Capitol View”. Rather than engage in a back-and-forth with someone hell bent on one-upping the universe, I offered a simple, “You’re such an urban pioneer”, which she mistook as a compliment. Back to the geography – it’s important to note that the official address for Perkerson Park is 770 Deckner Avenue which produces confusion for those unfamiliar with the area as there is a nearby street called Perkerson Rd. which hosts the Jeremiah S. Gilbert house located in the neighborhood of Perkerson Woods. In reality Perkerson Park is more aptly described as being in Sylvan Hills so the proximal street names can be somewhat misleading.
Wholesome Jam Sessions
A reader of this blog informed me that in the early 1960s the majority of Perkerson Park “action” was mostly of the “wholesome variety” with the pavilion being a favorite hangout for teenagers and church groups. My source also tells me that local boy turned music star Tommy Roe would show up for the occasional jam session as he was perfecting tunes like “Sheila” though he was somewhat protective of that particular composition perhaps sensing that it would be a hit. Later there was The Spontaneous Generation who was destined for the big time and had some success with Up in My Mind. (backed with a cover of The Who’s Pictures of Lily). They never realized their full potential due in part to an unfortunate accident involving keyboard player Terry K who remained in the region for quite some time thereafter making music now and then produced by local music teacher Jon Lloyd. Another band that jammed there included Enertia though there were other musicians worthy of note whom I will attempt to cover in a future post.
Relative to aesthetics and geography Perkerson Park was lush green and in close proximity to Sylvan Hills High School (The Golden Bears) which insured a lot of use by students. (Exactly what they “used” there varied with the times). The Park was comprised of two major parts – the upper level which contained three baseball fields (one for softball) and the general recreational area that included a tennis court and a pavilion. The levels were bisected by an unimpressive creek that ended into some woods which provided an easy escape for marijuana smoking kids seeking to avoid the law or bullies looking to rip them off. Those not experienced with navigating that back patch of woods (or too stoned to do so) would inevitably trip on the underbrush or run into trees. You then had to loop around behind Cahoon Street and emerge between one of the duplexes to complete your escape – not that I would know anything about that.
“You Bitch. How Could You ?”
In my first year of Little League the ball fields were unkempt with over grown grass and a creaky old score board with metal numbers. In my opinion this was the best situation as we could play baseball in peace without hyper competitive parents injecting their madness into our games. As the 70s progressed I noticed that some of the dads would drink liquor at the game and harangue coaches to get more playing time for their “gifted son” who might very well be just an average player. Some of my coaches were “fans of the flask” themselves and weren’t above getting a little tight to deal with the lunacy of the parents. One of our coaches passed out during the game and we let him sleep it off as we knew how to deal with tactical game issues as well as he did. The funny thing is that while in his semi-coma state he kept muttering, “you bitch, how could you” under his breath. It became a tag line at practice and later games. I’m also pretty sure more than a few affairs got started at the ball field bleachers as some of the dads would zoom in on women whose husband always seemed to be traveling. The pickup action would start even before the game as some guy would slide onto the bleachers next to a Mom and open with the line, “so what team does your son play for ?”. In reality it was a small world then and people more or less knew who was in the market for action as the gossip traveled rapidly. But it was still kind of tough to watch such garish displays wholly lacking in polish. To put it bluntly these guys had no game and even I could see that.
Each team was sponsored by a local merchant such as Holton Dodge or Millirons Garage (I played with the brothers Larry and Donald) though we were individually required to sell chocolate to raise additional funds to further supplement the league’s bank account. As if that wasn’t enough each team also had to select a “Team Queen” who was usually a sister of one of the players although a cruel dad singled out an effeminate player as a possible candidate. It all escalated to the point where they had a beauty pageant to select the prettiest Team Queen. It was a total circus and I got tired of showing up because of all the activities that had nothing to do with baseball combined with the coaches becoming all “big league” and competitive even though most of them really had no solid ideas about the game let alone how to teach the fundamentals. Worst of all they took note of whose parents showed up and benched any kid whose parents (or parent) didn’t show up. In effect bowing to pressure to play the children of the loudmouths and sponsors. This, combined with the fact that my folks were fighting at home led to a personal malaise and a corresponding slump on the field. What had once been fun was now a total drag. I do have to give props to one of the umpires, Don F., who cheered me up and was very encouraging.
Being Too Good Can Be a Problem
Most parents were completely delusional about the true extent of their kid’s actual talent and it was only in the face of “real talent” that it became clear that their son was probably not destined for the big leagues. As an example there was a young black kid named Daryl Underwood who hit home runs with great ease and he regularly embarrassed the league’s best pitchers by effortlessly “moon decking” any type of delivery that came his way. Despite his obvious ability (or perhaps because of it) he was denied participation in that year’s All Star team. This was one of my first personal experiences with overt racism and it puzzled me that the league would forgo the superior abilities of a player simply because of skin color but the coach was overheard saying in a rabid tone that that year’s team was “goddamned going to be 100% lily white“. This all became academic at least for that moment when Daryl died not long thereafter having fallen out of the back of a pick truck on the way home. There was another great athlete named Jeff Culbreth who was far too good for the Little League scene and after a successful high school career in baseball, football, and basketball he was drafted by the Braves though spent only one year with their Greenwood team before returning home and also meeting with an untimely demise.
Ah before I forget – here is a picture of one of the sponsor pages from my 1970 version of the Perkerson-Sylvan Little League bulletin. Check the end of this post for more pictures. If you grew up in the area get ready for a trip down memory lane mes amis.
Quaker State Hair Mousse
The Park was also a place for backseat romance for the younger crowd but guys like James B. (a mostly toothless illiterate gas station attendant) enjoyed taking his conquests there for some action which he would relate to us (completely unsolicited mind you) at Bros Three. He had a habit of punctuating the sexual aspects of his story by sharply inhaling air which made a whistling sound as it rushed over his bare gums. The volume and duration of the resulting sound corresponded to the level of pleasure he had experienced. Once he started down this road there was no stopping him so you would just have to walk away if it got too vivid. He would usually be smoking no filter Camels during these performances and if he inhaled too deeply or quickly he would double over into a paroxysmal coughing fit. Upon recovery he would behave as if nothing happened and then offer, “but it was soooo goooooood”.
James worked at the Shell station at the corner of Stewart and Cleveland which was operated by Raymond Hoffman a straight-laced import from Pennsylvania with whom I later worked at Banks’ Liquor Store. James was pretty good with gas station activities and this still being the era of full service gas stations he had plenty of work. It also put him in direct proximity to lustful women who would drive into the station in various states of undress. I believed him as we experienced the same phenomenon at Bros Three with the Drive in Window which was actually more of a door. The trouble though was that these women were usually unappealing in the extreme at least as far as I was concerned. Some of the older guys, or guys with lower standards, would happily roll the dice.
James was not what you would call a hygiene fanatic. On Friday he would have a couple of day’s worth of accumulated oil in his hair which had dropped from the grease rack under which he spent most of his time doing oil changes and lube jobs. Gobs of the stuff would still be there on Monday afternoons when he stopped by for a few beers. It functioned like sort of a hair Mousse. As he had pretty thick hair it kind of worked but he had this continual petroleum smell that followed him around. Every time he lit up a cigarette I was afraid he might burst into flames. None of this seem to deter his conquests. James had a daughter who took a liking to me and she would drive up to Bros Three and ask if I wanted to “go parking” with her. She would catch me on the way back from taking trash to the dumpster (how romantic). It’s not that she was bad looking just that after having endured many of her Father’s conquest stories, combined with the whole petroleum hair gel thing, I really couldn’t get enthused. I mean what if she too enjoyed making that whistling sound ?
I cannot reasonably capture the significance of Perkerson Park in a single post. I just wanted to present an overview here. There are many more stories I could relate but I’ll save them for the book ha ha). Anyone with personal experience of the Park will have their own tales on offer – the proverbial good, bad, ugly. And depending on the era of your experience it could be innocent memories of teenage romance, a family reunion or a church barbecue. Or …..maybe a bad (or good) acid trip, a great band, or a fight between those types who had no other way to distinguish themselves except by violence. In fact my last time at Perkerson Park was not a positive one as it seemed to be inhabited by those with no promising job possibilities so they didn’t know where else to go. I mean once you start closing in on 30 you might want to consider making some decisions that don’t involve getting blasted in the Park. And while I can understand the appeal of such actions and wasted plenty of time doing nothing myself – I kind of knew that it was best to move on. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid
And finally here are some more excerpts from the 1970 Perkerson-Little League bulletin:
Back in the 60s any kid living in the Stewart Avenue area probably went to one of four grammar schools: Sylvan, Hutchinson, Capitol View, or Perkerson. I attended the latter whose location still remains the same since its inception although the original building has long since been demolished and replaced with a more contemporary structure possibly several times over. The Principal at the time was Mrs Merriam Phillips who later retired and was replaced by a guy name JA Walls who some say was brought in to deal with the impending integration and busing activity to support that. In any case my entry into the scholastic life was pretty gentle. The Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Smith, taught us how to sit still for a period of time and also encouraged collaboration on various art projects. My most vivid memory of this time was of a kid in leg braces who used to chew his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with his mouth wide open. He would look at you slack jawed while making loud smacking noises as the dark brown peanut butter congealed with the purple jelly into a thick goo that coated his teeth and tongue. Frankly, I think he did it on purpose but no one called him out on it since he was probably going to be wearing those braces for the rest of his life. I just made sure not to sit near him which was probably the first ever major decision I made that required significant analysis on my part.
As we eased into the first few grades we were presented with a number of those rigid standardized tests designed to determine one’s occupational potential. My results indicated a fruitful career in sanitation engineering or waste disposal. I was totally cool with this as I particularly liked how the garbage men hung on the back of the trucks cruising from house to house. People seemed happy to see them come and go. I didn’t put it together that the whole process was a bit aromatic but the apparent coolness was enough to entice my young mind to consider this line of work. This didn’t go over well at home. My Mother worried that she had failed me in some way but my Dad was like, “What the hell – at least you know he doesn’t mind working”. Back then there was this operational idea that a student was destined for either the “academic” (college) track or the “technical skills” track (blue collar or military). The results also sought to flag those with artistic tendencies and rediect them into more socially acceptable job areas such as “engineer”, “journalist”, “HVAC technician”, or perhaps “detective”. It was never cool to have an outcome which suggested that being an artist, dancer, musician, or actor could be good in and of itself. The reigning philosophy then was that the last thing our country needed was another generation of artistic shiftless hippies.
As a supplement to the diagnostic test the students would be asked to write essays about their future intent which seemed a harmless enough exercise until you realized that the teachers used these essays as a profiling tool to identify potential troublemakers and “bad eggs”. You have to understand that many of my grammar school teachers had been teaching since the 40s so their idea of a “clean young mind” was based on archetypes from a bygone era. Consequently, there is no telling how many students from this time are still in therapy (or various 12 step meetings) because some test result routed them into a line of work which they accepted simply to appease familial and social expectations.
I found great humor in the fact that a friend of mine stated a strong desire to become a mortician despite the fact that no one in his family lineage had any thing to do with the funeral home business. Initially I thought he was just trying to anger the teachers and I admired him for that but he was completely on the level and had an authentic enthusiasm for the job. He thought (quite rightly I suppose) that the job would offer good pay and flexible hours. Later, as we moved into high school, he interned at a local funeral home and they let him drive the hearse around which he, (unbeknownst to his employers), used also to haul music gear for his band. The school teachers had no idea what to make of his stated intent but couldn’t really find fault as it was something that society needed.
We had some relief in that there was an influx of younger more progressive teachers such as Miss Atwater whose penchant for mini skirts inflamed the passions of her older male co workers along with the fury of the matronly teachers who despised the rising hem lines and the flourishing sexual revolution which Miss Atwater symbolized even though her manner of dress was totally mainstream for the time. Like many her age, she had a husband over in Vietnam “fighting the spread of communism” while she held it down back in the US fighting off guys with college deferments. I must say that she never judged us in the way that the older teachers did who demanded obvious and ongoing evidence of patriotism, civic duty, and “good home training”. Miss Atwater was totally cool even if you said you wanted to be a circus clown, juggler, or magician (all of which I wanted to be at one time or another). Unfortunately not all young teachers were so hip. Miss D. wasn’t much older than Miss Atwater but seemed squarely in the “Cold War” camp as she berated our apparent apathy and general lack of appreciation for US efforts in Vietnam. She genuinely feared Kruschev’s prophecy that Communism would one day bury the United States. Her boyfriend was supposedly a Forest Ranger and I visualized this hyper masculine outdoors type of guy who had hacked out a radiation proof bunker deep under the forest floor where the two of them would wait out the inevitable Russian invasion while making strong patriotic babies worthy of the land that my apathetic generation had carelessly lost.
I was popular with the girls or at least it seemed that way. One day the cutest girl in the class (I know because everyone said she was) came up to me and announced that we were going to be boyfriend and girlfriend. I had no idea what that meant but it seemed to be cool. On paper her name was simply Janet Jones BUT her first name was pronounced as Zhuh-Nay. What I didn’t know was that her Mother was a Burlesque Dancer of some reknown at a time and place when that occupation was still very much in the margins of society. The annual Parents Day Lunch was announced and after Janet’s Mother indicated her intent to attend there was an unusually high turnout of Fathers who might have otherwise skipped out. I need to be direct – Janet’s Mother had a magnificent bosom that was captivating even though I was far too young to understand the full implications of such physical attributes. Evolutionary biologists will tell you that the tendency to stare at large mammaries comes form the same place in the brain as does hunger and thirst. This would account for the fact that everyone (Moms, Dads, Teachers) found themselves gazing at Janet’s Mother.
Most of the Mothers and teachers had that “tsk, tsk” thing going on while the Dads were exchanging knowing smiles between each other while trying in vain not be noticed. The whole scene was somewhat reminiscent of the “Harper Valley PTA” song. As Janet was my “girlfriend” we sat at the same table and there was a steady stream of men dropping by just to “say hello”. Janet’s Mother was used to jaws dropping (and wallets opening) in her presence though since she was there with her daughter she had toned it down some but it was impossible to conceal her generous endowment. She was in total control and everyone knew it. Had she dropped her fork I think 10 guys would have stabbed each other for the right to be the one to pick it up and return it to her. I suspect that several divorces were set in motion that day but I was getting the thumbs up from grown men whom I guess were theorizing that Janet might grow up to be similarly equipped. I was far too young to be thinking like this though once the older kids ran it all down for me I knew the score. My elation at being associated with Janet and her Mother was short lived as they moved away soon thereafter which was a frequent occurrence given that burlesque dancing was an itinerant profession. I would say that I missed Janet but the void was filled almost immediately by Darlene Dyer who, like Janet, approached me and declared us to be boyfriend and girlfriend. So once again I was “off the market”. Although she too soon abandoned me by saying, “I can tell that you don’t like me”. Well actually I did but she seemed so sure that I assumed that she knew better. It was only later that I learned that she had dealt me in for an “older guy” a grade or two up.
While this all sounds so innocent it wasn’t very long thereafter that things changed rapidly in the area which triggered a decline that persists to this day in Southwest Atlanta. When I finished Perkerson the area was still pretty solid but many families had left the area as part of the “White Flight” to the suburbs in anticipation of court ordered school integration. There was a corresponding turnover in the school teacher roster with most of the older set choosing to retire leaving the “new generation” of teachers to deal with the issues facing urban Atlanta. Keep in mind that Perkerson was located right across the street from the Stewart Lakewood Library and the Shopping Center so the recollections I discuss in this blog post also contain information on the school’s decline at that time. I don’t wish to short change my experience at the school. It was a pretty idyllic experience and I did manage to learn many things although at times the curriculum seemed designed by social engineers who had first sought the approval of McCarthy and J Edgar Hoover. Despite this there was a high degree of rigor and an insistence on learning math, geography (sometimes in the extreme), and writing although one teacher, Mrs Creech, had a maniacal fetish for verb conjugation that eventually resulted in her dismissal. As the school integrated, so did the teaching staff. In particular, the Librarian Mrs, Hemphill hipped us to the poetry of Langston Hughes at the same time she talked up the merits of Silas Marner. (An interesting juxtaposition). She also recommended the then relatively new “Outsiders” book while also pointing out the earlier published “Durango Street” that was written from an Afro-centric perspective. While the area did in fact decline the quality of my education did not. I learned a great deal – it is too bad that others didn’t stick around to do the same. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid
Consider the following list of wine names – Annie Green Springs, Deuce Juice,TJ Swan Easy Nights, MD 20 20, Wild Russian Vanya Wine, King Cotton Peach Wine, Wild Irish Rose, Ripple, NightTrain, and Thunderbird. If any of these bring a smile to your face (or fire to your stomach) chances are you sampled some of these popular “flavor fortified wines” as a teenage drinker – possibly not yet of legal age. Many on the list, such as TJ Swan or Annie Green Springs, weren’t as potent so these were ideal training wines for young women and first time drinkers. The most popular was “MD 20 20”. The “MD” stood for “Mogen David” (though the nickname was “Mad Dog”) and the the “20 20” came from the fact that the wine was sold in a 20 oz bottle with 20% alcohol. No one drinking this wine was concerned with image – it was cheap and powerful which is all that mattered. At Bank’s we chilled these wines in a standup cooler and from a distance one might easily mistake the MD for a bottle of cold grape juice. It did look to be refreshing and for someone looking for a buzz without the liquor taste (or smell) it wasn’t a bad purchase.
While these wines conjure images of toothless vagrants thrusting their scabby arms at passersby hoping to score some drinking money, it wasn’t just the down-and-out types who would drink this stuff. There were the functional alcoholics who would drop by to pickup some wine or a half pint of Bartons Vodka, sit on the wall next to Sylvan Motors, and chill before going off to do some menial labor to finance the next buzz. (They might not have been particularly ambitious but they were focused). But we had plenty of hard working laborers for whom a liquor store stop (sometimes several) would be factored into any day’s work. A guy riding on a delivery truck could work off a bottle of MD and keep a nice buzz going until night when he would transition to something with a little more kick. And then we had the area retirees who just had to get out of the house or die from boredom. That they might more sooner die of alcohol related illness didn’t seem to phase them.
Those with factory jobs could slip out to nearby liquor stores if they wanted but it was probably easier for them to stash the booze in their car. However that got to be dangerous as other workers (including management) might be able to see what was going on – so it became better for them to leave the premises. (I know all this because they told me). These types usually preferred liquor to wine because it packed a bigger punch. E&J Brandy was a popular choice most often referred to as “Easy Jesus” and sometimes “Eddie Johnson” in honor of the Hawks basketball player. We had a crew from the Grand Union Warehouse who would take lots of breaks over at Banks but they were mostly Seagram’s gin drinkers. The ring leader was a bony black guy with Asian features named Luke. He was the arbiter of the gang and would counsel younger guys on their various personal problems and help settle warehouse grievances out in the Bank’s parking lot. At times Luke would defer to a feisty older man named David Terrell who was retired or at least not working. David had a real mean edge and didn’t seem to like anybody. His catch phrase was “I’ll fuck you up” which he offered in response to the smallest of offenses most of which were imaginary. He reminded me of a geriatric version of the Atlanta wrestling sensation Thunderbolt Patterson. As David was then close to eighty years of age I suspected he had seen the worst that the 20th century had to offer in terms of racism and was therefore entitled to his attitude – so I let him rage on. It was only after a few sips of Orange MD that he would he mellow out and behave in any way ordinary.
She actually spiked Luke’s vodka with some of the “Demon Dick Potion” which produced a sustained erection that Luke claimed took days to subside.
One day I noticed that Luke appeared to be very fatigued and when I made an inquiry as to the cause he told me that his wife had paid a turban-wearing psychic in West End to brew up something called “Oo-Lah Juice” which I later realized was a spoken corruption of the phrase “Allah Juice” (not that I had any idea what that was either). The purpose of this concoction was to stimulate the libido which meant that every time he went home his wife wanted to have sex immediately and throughout the evening and even the following morning. Luke was intimidated (and unprepared) for this development and his wife’s onset horniness led him to suspect that she was possessed by a “Jezebel” spirit. Especially after she spiked Luke’s vodka with some of the “Demon Dick Potion” that produced a sustained erection that Luke claimed took days to subside. Ice packs and quarts of gin had not helped. His wife’s sudden sexual obsession was also concerning because it occurred to him that she might be tending to those needs with other men while he was at Bank’s having a drink.
I don’t know that he ever resolved this issue or if he succumbed to the dark power of the Oo-Lah Juice though he did consult David Terrell who seemed to understand the problem in a way that others did not. Of course the fact that these men frequently drank liquor in the morning suggested to me that by the time they got home in the evening that marital relations might not be a possibility. Speaking of the morning many times these guys would roll into Banks Liquor around 9 a.m., pick up a half pint of gin, then come to Brothers Three and score a greasy Polish sausage that we sold off a rotisserie. One guy said, “I see you have my breakfast ready”. Many times those sausages had been sitting in the cooler overnight resting in congealed grease. While in principle I was not opposed to early day drinking I could never really handle it because of generalized morning dyspepsia. Adding a Kielbasa on top of alcohol at 9 a.m. would have put me in the hospital.
If you are getting the idea that there was a lot of drinking going down in the Stewart Avenue area you are right. For most people, drinking was a necessity – a way to deal with the mind numbing tedium of doing the same thing day-in and day-out with little prospect for change. When I first started working on the Avenue I had absolutely no idea the extent of drinking and how it was at the foundation of the lives of so many people. My first job at Brothers involved helping old ladies smuggle alcohol into the recently new Lakewood Christian Manor retirement facility (where alcohol was strictly forbidden). The scam worked like this – old women would get groceries at Kroger, then come to the drive in window at Bros Three where I would open their back car door, pull out a half full bag of groceries, remove the contents, put a six pack or a twelve pack (usually the latter) at the bottom of the sack, stack the previously removed groceries on top, and then return the bag to the car. So when they took the groceries up (or had them taken up) none would be the wiser. Now they could have picked up the beer at the grocery store but this was dangerous since they might encounter a fellow LCM resident and then have to explain the alcohol. Also the grocery store clerks were usually too busy to do a good job of hiding the beer during the bagging procedure. Thus it became my problem.
These women were usually concerned with whatever packed the biggest wallop so they would buy things like Country Club or Colt 45 malt liquor though less potent brands like Carling Black Label or Falstaff were also popular. I hated this procedure because they never tipped me and they always blamed me when a facility representative found the alcohol. They would come to the store and whine, “Your boy didn’t pack my groceries correctly and I got into trouble”. (Yea – like the administrators weren’t already hip to the hustle). We had an old guy named Mike who worked at Brothers Three and also lived at LCM. He hated it that women drank for the simple reason that since LCM was a medical retirement community, the resident doors could not be locked so poor Mike would have drunk horny biddies showing up for some sleazy senior action. I was already angry with LCM because they built the facility on what was previously a large wooded area at the intersection of Springdale Road and Lakewood Avenue where I used to go to explore things as a kid. It was a cool place to disappear and chill. So I didn’t require much more to hate the place.
While there were a large number of bars in the area (which I’ll cover in an upcoming post) it was amazing how much drinking took place in liquor store parking lots, behind dumpsters, and in the mechanic shops of the various car dealerships lining The Avenue. There were ordinances against consuming alcohol within so many feet of a liquor store but if we enforced that we wouldn’t have had any customers. Larger stores such as the Old South on Cleveland Avenue had lots of business because of their better discounts so their in/out traffic was pretty intense at times whereas ours was less frenetic so guys could pull in their van and chill. On occasion we would have crews out in the lot drinking some beer and smoking weed which some feel is the best after work mixture to come down from the stress of a hard day of labor. These guys appreciated having a place for an after work drink without having to first go home and clean up. As long as no one got out of hand then it was cool. I’m sure I’ve missed a few of the popular “bum wines” and have forgotten the various cheap liquor brands – after all we are talking 35-40 years ago. I do know that many of the wines I’ve mentioned are still available for purchase. I think their overall sales might have taken a hit once the 40 oz bottles of malt liquor became available. Back in the day we had quarts of beer and I got out of the scene before 40s came into vogue. I’m sure though that there are plenty of Atlanta liquor stores that still let the patrons get loaded in the parking lot. It’s kind of a tradition. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid