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
In an earlier posting I discussed the evolution of Highway 41 which involved the creation of roadside camps to accommodate traveling families of the early and mid twentieth century making their way to Florida. I also mentioned that the contemporary completion of I-75 had kind of a “Bates Motel effect” on the area wherein only individuals seeking “action” would think of using Stewart Avenue purely as a travel route. It is hardly surprising then that some of the roadside camps eventually evolved into trailer parks as did other parcels of unused land such as the one I’ve linked to here . This particular park, (now a church), was located at the intersection of Langston and Stewart Avenue and was flanked by Sylvan Motors and the immensely popular, family owned La Fiesta Mexican restaurant with its bevy of beautiful sisters. The park extended to the other side of Stewart Avenue (adjacent to Gary’s Motel). I remember going to a Sunday meal there courtesy of Miguel – a classmate of mine at nearby Perkerson Elementary whose family had recently moved in from Guadalajara. There were other trailer parks in the area of course with one being across the street from the Zayre department store although I was not very familiar with it.
Apropos of nothing Earl one day flatly informed us that Schatzi was sexually insatiable and her ongoing satisfaction had became his primary responsibility
It would be too easy to say that the trailer parks were purely for low income residents and immigrants though I can never imagine that copping to trailer park living would be a good opening line in any conversation (then or now). It’s important to understand that these parks were originally there to provide temporary resting spots for motorists with trailers in tow. It was only over time, combined with challenging economic times, that the necessity emerged of keeping or renting a trailer in one spot for an extended period of time. (The history and politics of this kind of housing are briefly explored in this blog). Just to say that the Stewart Avenue trailer parks weren’t part of some master plan cooked up by a group of fat cat real estate developers to erect cheap housing in anticipation of an eventual windfall payout. Nor was it a situation like Cabbagetown wherein the cheapest of housing was provided for Mill workers. The lots were there simply to collect income on under utilized spots of land. So what better to do than accommodate labor-class workers stranded in the very city that had once offered steady trickle down employment. When times were good many of these people made adequate money cutting grass, sweeping up car lots, pumping gas, washing windows, or cleaning motel rooms. Literacy could be, (and usually was), an issue and not being able to complete even the most basic of industrial training meant that factory work at nearby Owens Illinois, Nabisco, or the Ford Plant was out of the question. But let’s be honest – lots of the trailer park residents had little interest in a daily work commitment as showing up to work with a skull-numbing hangover was not an attractive prospect (although plenty of Ford and GM workers did just that). In short the interest in daily drinking always seemed to win out over ambition. These people were mostly binge workers who would labor intensely over a period of days or weeks followed by long periods of alcohol fueled celebration.
Hidden among the trailer park population were those with active criminal warrants or those seeking refuge from other criminal elements. They weren’t too hard to spot as they exhibited a noticeable degree of paranoia combined with an unwillingness to interact with anyone except perhaps only when drunk. Computerized national criminal databases were nascent then so not all warrants were registered thus one might evade the law for years or even decades. And passing an alias to a trailer park manager was easy especially if living parasitically off of a lonely single Mom or divorcee. An extra $20 in the rent might help the landlord take a kinder view of the new stranger who had moved into the lot. There were some ex-cons for whom there were no other housing options and most of these guys were simply cooling off and wanted no trouble. One guy was about as fierce looking as a person could be – a more intimidating and larger version of the ex-con turned actor Danny Trejo.
All muscle and sinew the guy had more scars and tattoos than bare skin. I imagine his shadow alone could subdue the average man. There was a trash talking speed freak type of guy who dealt drugs in the area. He put it out that the ex-con was responsible for the regional drug traffic and the more gullible swallowed the story. It would have been easy for “Danny” to rough up the speed freak but that was precisely what the drug dealer wanted as it would send “Danny” straight back to Reidsville. Instead, “Danny” flipped the guy’s name to my Father including details of past and upcoming transactions which I’m guessing my Father used to his advantage as the speed freak disappeared altogether but not before showing up one day at Brothers Three with a swollen lip, a black eye, and his arm in a sling. Whether my Father had administered the beat down was unclear – he was more than capable of it though it was just as likely that he delegated it to someone else. After that “Danny” had no more trouble except from some rookie cops who were trying to make a name for themselves by harassing an ex-con but that’s another story. My Father frequently intervened in the lives of those he felt deserved some level of help. Technically he was sworn to uphold the law but did so using an old school approach that leveraged information from the street in a manner that was mutually beneficial to all involved. Let’s put it this way – at his funeral there were as many criminals as there were cops and they all seemed to know each other. I was approached by a man the size of modern refrigerator who handed me a card with only a phone number on it. “Call me if you ever get into trouble – I owe your Father and I will be glad to help if I can”.
A young woman was arrested for trying to stuff her grandmother’s wig down the throat of a horseshoe rival.
A fraction of the trailer park women turned to prostitution for extra cash although this practice wasn’t viewed favorably by the residents as it drew heat down on the Park itself. In the Summer, short shorts and halter tops were standard for most women walking up and down The Avenue but they did it more so for personal comfort than for attracting attention although it was a standard response for men working in the car lots and gas stations to line the street and whistle or cat call them. Kind of a “white trash” beauty march. One day a resident named Al offered me five dollars to help him move in some new furniture. None of the pieces he described seemed particularly heavy but once I got inside and saw how narrow the trailer hallway was it became evident that he definitely needed assistance tilting the furniture to avoid puncturing the paper thin walls. He could have gotten help from someone within the trailer park itself but as he told me, he needed someone “sober” for the job. Upon entering the Trailer Park I felt like an interloper at a Carnival who had accidentally walked past the Ferris Wheel and Cotton Candy machines into the tents where the Carnies themselves actually lived. It was like catching the bearded lady engaged in some mundane activity such as eating dinner. Everyone we passed stared at me even though I recognized several of them as being customers at Brothers Three. One of the women whistled and screamed out. “Save your strength honey – Mama’s got some lovin’ for ya”. My own role in all of this was more of an observer as I initially found the accents of the residents to be so thick so as to be incomprehensible. I thought it must be like “The Cant” of the Irish Traveler or perhaps some organically evolved Trailer Park Patois – and maybe it was. After a month or so I could get my head around it.
The most well known of Trailer Park characters was Earl Bennett – a tall lanky hillbilly with a bloated belly that characterizes the career beer drinker. From behind you might never know that, from the front, he looked as if he had swallowed a bowling ball. Miller or Rough House would flip him a six pack of tall boy Pabst Blue Ribbon in exchange for odd jobs such as cleaning up the lot, washing windows, or cutting weeds. The beer had to be doled out every 45 minutes or so, which kept Earl working with a nice enough buzz but not so strong as to interfere with his productivity. At the conclusion of his labor he would retire to the area behind the store to finish off the beer in peace while deeply inhaling a few no filter Camels. He was the originator of the infamous Sunday afternoon Trailer Park Horseshoe games. They could, and usually did, get quite ugly. After the alcohol kicked in aggressive accusations of cheating were common. More often than not, a horseshoe would be thrown at someone’s head and that’s all it would take for a full on melee to break out complete with rakes, kitchen utensils, and mops. A young woman was arrested for trying to stuff her grandmother’s wig down the throat of a horseshoe rival. These events caught the attention of the Atlanta City Police who found themselves in the odd position of having to instigate a ban on Horseshoe games although they really had no legal basis. But they scared the residents enough that they found other ways to entertain themselves on Sundays. Anyway it was during one of these events that Earl injured his hand which led to further calcification of his already arthritic fingers so holding a can of beer became a challenge – but he found a way of course.
Earl moved across the street to do clean up duty at Gary’s Motel – one of the first in the area to aggressively promote the availability of “Water Beds” for the “sleeping” (wink wink) comfort and pleasure of its customers. It was at this point that Earl became a full time gigolo for Schatzi the operational manager of Gary’s. She was an older German woman who was the most unattractive female I have ever seen. Her accent was so thick almost to the point of self-parody – She could have been an extra in a Mel Brooks movie. The story was that some shell shocked GI (I’m guessing also blind) had married her and brought her back to the US after which he promptly died – perhaps in a Medusa like event wherein upon recovering partial sight his heart turned rigid with regret. Given the abundance of WWII vets in the area she caught a lot of heat more so for being world class ugly than German although the latter did not help her cause. Apropos of nothing Earl one day flatly informed us that Schatzi was sexually insatiable and her ongoing satisfaction had became his primary responsibility in exchange for free room and board. (Since that time I have yet to encounter a more extreme non sequitur). According to Earl it was his hand, the one damaged in the drunken Horseshoe match with its calcified bumps, that provided Schatzi with unspeakable pleasure. He would then reproduce for us (completely unsolicited mind you) these events along with an approximation of Schatzi‘s ecstatic moans. I’m still in therapy as a result.
At some point around 1974 I think – Kroger purchased the lot and the residents were displaced to make room for a brand new grocery store and some other business. Caruso’s Italian restaurant which had previously been located down the street across from Nalley Chevrolet tried to recreate the magic next to Kroger and it seemed for a while as if the area might turnaround – but it didn’t. The other area trailer parks experienced a similar fate though whatever replaced them failed also. I don’t know what ultimately happened to Earl – he came in one day to tell us that he had left Gary’s (and Schatzi) and moved down to the Town and Country Motel but that wasn’t working out either as Schatzi had said bad things about him to management so he was packing it in and leaving to escape sexual slavery . I find it interesting that micro housing is now something of an interest to those not wanting to commit to a specific address or large mortgage payment for extended periods of time. Mobility, both geographic as well as social, has always been a feature of the American way of life so I’m not at all surprised that people might be pursue such a lifestyle given the shenanigans of the real estate bubble. Let’s hope that the economy doesn’t tank again as even those capable of towing their homes behind them might have to “park it” due to lack of work or opportunity. It happened before. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid
Marvin was a late-20s, seemingly homeless, black man who roamed Stewart Avenue though without the customary despondency and gaunt visage that marked the typical destitute person. He was schizophrenic and was the first individual I had personally encountered to have suffered from this devastating illness. He had returned from Vietnam a couple of years earlier and made his way onto Stewart Avenue where he worked intermittently at Gary’s Motel or The Alamo. Ed, a co-worker and a Vietnam vet, thoroughly validated Marvin’s military history though this probably wasn’t necessary as there were plenty of area vets (going back to WWI) capable of sniffing out false military service claims so guys rarely tried the “down and out veteran” scam. Still, it was good for me to know that Marvin was on the level. The primary symptom of his illness involved being plagued by the voices of unsympathetic women who aggressively berated him – mostly at night as he tried to sleep.
He said that that multiple women spoke to him in a variety of accents and at different levels of volume but most of them sounded like women he had known previously. “What do they say to you ?”, I asked. “Man what you think they say ? The same shit a bitch says to any man. Why you ain’t got a job ? Why you can’t buy me things ? When you gonna find us a nice place to live ?” He paused before delivering the shocking piece-de-resistance, “You might be able to stand against one or two of ’em but can’t no man stand against twenty bitches in his head goin’ on like that”. He had a point. I could not possibly imagine what it felt like to be excoriated on a nightly basis relative to every perceived failing as a man and a provider. Let alone by an ensemble of twenty women. I always imagined Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son leading the pack of Marvin’s accusers.
Since that time I’ve known a few schizophrenics all of whom tell me that the voices rarely have anything positive to contribute and when they do it’s usually a setup for something worse to come. How Marvin got accepted into the Army with schizophrenia, an illness which almost always begins in youth, remains a mystery. Perhaps it hadn’t yet fully manifested though I’m pretty sure that the area Draft Board wasn’t very choosy and unless someone demonstrated overt signs of illness then they got sent over. At times Marvin displayed an other-wordly serenity and benign indifference to life normally associated with a mountain top Guru or someone like David Carradine’s character in Kung Fu. On such days he rarely said a word but exhibited a beatific smile as he looked through me as if seeing Ganesh on the left, Jesus in the middle, and Buddah on the right. (Or whatever Deities one might prefer to imagine). At such times it was easy for me to believe in the Divine as I found it impossible that anyone could fake a smile like that. (It has been said that God speaks to you through others).
“You might be able to stand against one or two of ’em but can’t no man stand against twenty bitches in his head goin’ on like that”.
When Marvin felt like talking he liked to create words he believed necessary to address society’s ongoing and willful ignorance of transcendental concepts. He carefully explained that there is a rarely observed dimension of truth and realness to life that “the fakers” and “unenlightened” could never see. So he coined the word “reallyality” to capture this idea as in, “So dig it my young brother. Let me lay down the reallyality of the situation for ya which I can see that you can’t see.” In stark contrast, on his bad days he seemed a solid candidate for exorcism such was the suffering and confusion in his eyes. His facial expression would morph between shame, terror, anger, and ecstasy as if auditioning various personae to find the right one to help combat the demented, soul-flavored “Greek Chorus” in his head.
But mental illness was not at all limited to men and there were a few women who came by Brothers Three or Banks Liquor though their pathology seemed to be of the “bag lady” variety in keeping with the “gathering” stereotype commonly associated with women. I’m not sure if society is more kind to mentally ill women but in any case I saw far fewer women than men on the streets. It could also be that many men have no interest in the institutional life and seek release even if it means living on the street and in shelters. In any case there was a regular female customer whom I believed to have been in the grip of an obvious mental decline that was taking some time to fully bottom out. In her mid 30s (by my estimate) she lived nearby with her parents, which itself was an indicator that not all was well. She, let’s call her “Blanche”, was an attractive woman who exhibited a very dangerous form of behavior involving the simultaneous expression and repression of sexual desire. Basically, she would talk to men in unambiguous sexually-laced overtones only to react with righteous indignation when they responded (which they always did). Blanche preferred to torture older men and zoned in on Johnny – a middle-aged divorcee with more hair growing out of his nose and ears than on his head. His beer gut had become so large that he had outgrown his Sansabelts and had resorted to buying pants that he could close up and over his stomach. He had a decent singing voice with his marquee number being “Mack the Knife”, (a song I’ve always despised because it encourages overwrought performance), which he would deliver on Friday nights at the Moose Lodge located on the hill behind the Silver Ribbon. Despite his smooth vocalizations he still couldn’t score even with that super heavy drinking crowd with an average age of 45. He was perpetually strapped for cash as he would blow all his money buying drinks for much younger women who would always wind up leaving with someone else. The ongoing rejection, which should have led to a reconsideration of his approach, seemed only to feed his desperation and desire for feminine company.
Blanche grabbed a bottle of wine and walked past me over to Johnny’s cash register even though I was much closer. Johnny’s mouth was already hanging open so I knew this was going to be good. “So young lady – how are you this evening”, he asked. “I’m doing fine Sir, but I might be doing a whole lot better if I had someone to help me drink this wine. As a matter of fact I could use help doing a lot of things”. She punctuated her remarks by slowly stroking the bottle with an up and down motion as she stared Johnny down. Although I had seen her performance previously I had to admit that she had taken it to a new level. But she wasn’t finished. Before Johnny could offer a response she continued with a bad girl giggle, “I went to the pet store today and the manager asked me if I wanted to play with his big long pet snake. Do you think I should have ?”. She drew out the words “biiiiiig” and “loooonnnng” for dramatic horny effect. Now at this point the adage, “Anything that appears to be too good to be true usually is” should have emerged in Johnny’s thinking but in his enthusiasm (and onset priapism) he clearly missed the personality switch. And, like many before him, could not help but take the bait, “I damn sure like what I’m seeing and I have a pretty big pet snake that you could play with”. But the personality in Blanche’s head who had laid down the kinky talk stepped aside and some maternal, nun-like, repressed identity kicked in with, “Why you sick motherless bastard ! You scum bag ! How dare you talk to a lady like that ! I’m going to call the police !” And then she spun around and blew out of there. After I stopped laughing, which took quite a while, I had to console Johnny who was understandably confused and irritated and even more so once he realized that I knew all about her scene and had seen it play out before – usually in the area bars where it always ended similarly until bar owners got tired of the act.
“I damn sure like what I’m seeing and I have a pretty big pet snake too”
Periodically there were itinerant mentally ill people (or terminally senile what with Alzheimer’s disease not yet fulling being on the radar then) who would show up. It wasn’t always easy to detect until you were half way through the encounter. To wit, one day an elderly gentleman walked in decked out in a faded pin-striped suit and a fedora asking for a pint of Schenley’s vodka. He resembled an older incarnation of Fred McMurray’s character in Double Indemnity. We occasionally got guys like that – walking anachronisms high on some nostalgia kick. As I bagged the booze he slowly peeled back the left side of his jacket in a deliberate manner as if to reassure me that he was not going to draw a weapon. He paused, (obviously for effect), and with his right hand pulled out what appeared to be a long stick of incense, which he then admired as if it were a treasured find. He retrieved an antique-looking cigarette lighter (adorned with Masonic engravings), flicked the ignition wheel, and elegantly waved the large flame back and forth under the tip of the incense as if initiating sacred communication with the Great Beyond. The incense emitted a pungent odor after which my strange friend then raised the stick high in the air and bellowed, “Come in Arkansas ! I say there – come in Arkansas !” I was stunned. I had seen some crazy shit but this was on an entirely different level. He stared intently at the tip of the incense while his anxiety grew given that no response had been offered from “the other side”. After twenty five seconds of uncomfortable silence I gently said, “Arkansas here – mission aborted. Repeat – mission aborted”. Without acknowledging me in any way he visibly relaxed. So much so that he stumbled towards the door and then outside where he collapsed on the curb front. I considered calling the cops but noticed a cruiser already rolling up. I walked outside but before I could weigh in the cop says, “We know him. He is a repeat customer. His wife reported him missing”. I ran down my story and the cop laughed, “Yea, last time it was Alaska but I can’t figure out the incense connection”. I had to remind the cop that there were lots of Hare Krishnas working the area and incense was their primary product on offer. Of course I’m certain that when the cop got back into the cruiser he told his partner about the Krishnas without giving me credit for the info. Avenue cops were like that – always gleaning information from the locals and later passing it off as the result of their own personal research or “cop intuition”.
In reality (or reallyality as Marvin might say) the general policy towards the end of the 70s and moving forward was to “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill population which pushed many of them out of facilities onto the streets and into jails. The distillate thinking at the Federal level was that the governmental financial burden was too great and that Medicare (as well as private insurance companies) wanted no part of sustained long-term or life-long care so what else to do but release people. Idiotic justifications were trotted out along the lines of , “they [the mentally ill] really need to learn how to function in society so what better way than to put them back into it”. Nice logic there huh ? Adding to the complexity is that it’s difficult to determine the causal directional flow between alcohol/drug abuse and mental illness – that is which causes which ? Guys like Marvin weren’t alcoholic at least in any way I could detect though on occasion he would enjoy getting loaded. In general those suffering from depression can experience an uplift and a form of happiness when using alcohol, which is a contradiction given that alcohol is itself a depressant. And after decades of sustained chemical (ab)use one has to wonder if a life without the chemical is actually possible, which is an intimidating consideration for someone whose grasp on reality might already be rather tenuous. It is important to note there ware also plenty of “winos” many of whom were simply low bottom alcoholics who were otherwise capable of work and normal social interaction if they were so inclined. It’s just that they preferred life with an ongoing buzz and were taking a booze-fueled break from the daily grind. Lots of these guys were just looking for a kick and many of them were capable of responding to treatment. Just to say that not every down-and-out case has a mental issue behind it.
In any case there were many more examples of “crazy” Stewart Avenue people and to a large extent anyone who remained in the area for long might very well start to unconsciously assume characteristics of those people merely to combat personal boredom or to liven up social interactions. The mentally ill can be charismatic and free speaking in a way those with an investment in society might never consider. It can be risky to say what you really think or to point out the absurdity of daily life in a public setting. But if you are at least entertaining about it and/or have an interesting spin then you can kind of get away with it at least for a little while. Just don’t expect that big promotion anytime soon as society (and the workplace) tends to value conformance and predictability over innovation and humor. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid
“Getting Down” – A sports wagering phrase used to describe the act of placing a bet
It has been my experience to know many professional gamblers most of whom worked as hard (or harder) as any young attorney scuttling for recognition in a large, soul-sucking law firm. Unlike the lawyer, a gambler needs a decoy job of some sort to minimize IRS scrutiny and at least two of the guys at Brothers Three Package Store worked there for this purpose. I should note that I’ve encountered lawyers for whom their ostensible occupation was merely a front for lucrative illegal activities so maybe attorneys aren’t the best example but you get the point. Stewart Avenue gamblers were mostly of the football “spread betting” variety although dice games and the occasional multi-day poker matches were also popular. The idea with spread betting is to accurately predict the margin by which a team will win, which is far more interesting and financially rewarding than straight out win/loss betting. For example if the Atlanta Falcons play Seattle then one might reasonably expect the Seahawks to win the game outright. But it might be more interesting for the one accepting the bet (the bookie) to offer a point spread of 7 points to entice bettors to put money on the Falcons – so if Seattle doesn’t win by more than 7 points then the bookie pays off to those with money on Atlanta. If the Bookie knows his trade well then that point spread will result in a predictable betting pattern that can be exploited.
So the bettors interact with “Bookies” who establish the spread (aka “the line”) for upcoming professional and college games though some simply republish this information from a more authoritative source. The act of making the bet is called “getting down” (at least back in the 70s) and the cost of making a bet is the “vigorish” or “vig” for short. The initial line is established early in the week and can fluctuate in reaction to “the early action” especially if that action becomes one sided suggesting then that the line was perhaps unwisely established. Adjustments are possible and the Bookie himself can “lay off” the action onto other Bookies (and so could a bettor) which is known as hedging one’s bet. Just to say that distributing financial liability is not a concept unique to Wall Street. And if all of this sounds like the basis of a financial market it is – a very big one wherein the potential for profitability is significant. Little surprise then that people of all occupations (postmen, CEOs, mechanics, physicians, cops, salesmen) would be attracted to these potential gains. Even less surprise then that guys would obsess over betting decisions because for many it was the only way to pay for a family vacation or the upcoming Christmas Season.
Bookies could be independent or function as a representative of an organized bookmaking outfit that might employ any number of people to insure a well run “sportsbook”. As bookmaking was illegal (and still is) in Georgia then some payoff to law enforcement might be involved although many law enforcement personnel liked to bet – including the occasional Judge. Sports betting was seen as a “soft vice” and as long as there was no major violence and the money wasn’t mixed with income related to drugs or prostitution then it was usually left alone. Many bookies liked to flash it up with large cars, copius neck and hand jewelry, exposed chest hair, and ostentatious consumption of food and liquor. Track suits and athletic wear were popular clothing choices as most of them were overweight. They attracted a certain type of woman – the fast and loose type that enjoyed having access to quick cash. There was this middle-aged dyspeptic bookie who seemed to belch out every word of a sentence in between drags off a no-filter Camel. He was forever gobbling Rolaids that he would chase down with sips of Scotch. (That alcohol and cigarettes might be contributing to his stomach issues was evidently not a concern for him). Another guy had a shaved head and eyebrows like Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon which he thought made him look all mean. However, his attempted bad boy image was totally compromised by the out of control nose hair which snaked its way out of each nostril.
Some of the novice bookies with pinky diamond rings and gold necklaces learned the hard way that keeping quiet about winnings was better than being pistol whipped in the parking lot by someone who saw them flash a wad of cash in the bar. On The Avenue, Bookies might take your action in person or at The Fireplace or at one of the many Airport Bars like the Scotch House, My Brothers Place, Admiral Benbow, or Modine Gunch’s. The Moose Lodge overlooking the Silver Ribbon was an active bookie site although one needed to be a member or guest of a member to gain entrance. Some action was taken late at night but that was dangerous as most people, including the bookie, were usually too drunk to think clearly. Many phoned in their bets which was a ritualistic process not to be interrupted since a guy might be putting down money on 12 or more teams (maybe double that if including college games) thus accuracy during transmission was essential. In a tone usually reserved for somber occasions such as funerals, a guy would read aloud his picks after which they would be confirmed by the bookie. Once the bet was “down” the tone and mood would lighten considerably.
Most bettors stuck with football season but one of the Brothers Three guys also bet on basketball and baseball. He also took frequent side trips to the dog track in Florida which is how I first became interested in gambling. Terry brought back a track book containing finish times and place information on each dog. Having “read ahead” at school I pointed out that these kinds of details could be used in a process called regression that could predict a dog’s finish time given that a number of assumptions were met. A more involved type of regression could help predict if the dog would finish first, second, or third but just being able to generate a finish time was a helpful start. As far as Terry was concerned I was talking another language so it wasn’t until I actually developed some actual predictions that he paid any attention to me. I would work things out using an old accounting-based calculator though would have to write out intermediate results onto a legal pad as I went. This was a tedious process that had to be repeated to verify results since Terry would then take this information into consideration when making bets at the track. The initial predictions were useful and Terry did better than his normal “baseline” (what he would have bet in absence of the generated information). Remember that this was long before cheap personal computers, Excel spreadsheets, and statistical programs that make quick work of this kind of thing.
The initial period of betting success was due mostly to consistency of conditions at the dog track though I cautioned against aggressive betting as the predictions were aging. No one ever really knew if a dog was underfed, over fed, or had been given a drug to perform better. And of course new dogs would come onto the scene so the predictions would have to be regenerated. Any scrap of information from a track employee could be helpful, “Oh yea – one of the trainers we had for 10 years up and moved to San Diego” or “we cut our chow budget by 10%”. I didn’t always know how to integrate this information into the model but did what I could and the relative prosperity continued. It was difficult to determine to what extent Terry was using the predictions as gamblers have a certain pride in their own abilities that prevents them from acknowledging others especially if it is coming from “some goddamned formula” which is how he originally characterized my idea. Relative to football he was a natural seeker of information and had assembled a national phone-based network that facilitated the discovery of insider details such as, for example, Oklahoma’s quarterback just got dumped by his girlfriend. This would factor into his bet and unless the bookie was equipped with similar knowledge then Terry would usually come out on top. He had a nose for less obvious factors that might be important but it remained difficult to determine the relative importance of these factors. How much weight should you give a particular variable when making a bet ? Is playing in snow more important to consider than if playing without the usual starting Center ? That’s where the regression came in handy.
Though I was never specifically acknowledged for my work, I was given a full introduction to the gambling culture which was incredibly entertaining. No one batted an eye when I showed up at some of these bars – I was clearly underage but no one cared and I got the full brunt of the crazy talk, heavy drinking (though I did not participate – at least initially), and of course the fast women who, quite frankly, scared me. They could be quite attractive but very aggressive and intimidating with their come-ons. An older woman with freakishly large breasts and spidery eyelashes (note the order in which I presented that information) took a liking to me and offered to “break me in” anytime I so desired. But I couldn’t handle the intensity or speed at which the proposal was made. Nor was I particularly interested in having the world know about what I thought should be a private matter. I failed to mention that she made her offer in front of about twelve other men and women all of whom were looking at me going, “Well ?” before breaking into uproarious laughter. Though these guys lived only for the moment and seemed to focus uniquely on sporting outcomes I’m sure that any of them would have made good stock brokers, financial analysts, or even statisticians as they possessed an instinctive understanding of numbers and could easily spot things that ran counter to an existing trend. So where I might be an analytical gambler they were of the intuitive variety. Modern gamblers seem to be combination of the two.
Later when I studied mathematics formally I started to look at ways to maximize the return on an initial pool of money over a series of bets. This was not anything special as I was sure that other people had considered these applications. My overall thinking about math was why bother with it unless it could be practically applied ? Terry would see my calculus text book and took a childish joy in pronouncing the title as “Cal-Koo-Lus” or “Kak-U-Lus”. He liked to chew on cigars and I could tell when he had been thumbing through the book as there would be tobacco juice splotches on various pages. Despite his jokes (and disregard for my book) he respected what the math could do. The problem at the time was that to apply it to football or baseball games was more involved as getting data could be difficult and generating predictions for many more variables was an exhausting process. I was also struggling with how best to integrate this information into a model. Worse, there were humans involved whose behavior varied more than that of the dogs making it more difficult to predict a weekly score. The death knell to all of this was that eventually word got around that someone was attempting to employ a “system” which no bookmaker likes even though bookies themselves commonly used their own systems. It all really came to an end on a personal level when one bookmaker dropped by with one of his goons to quiz me on the nature of “my system” and to suggest a “collaboration”. I feigned ignorance by claiming that it was all just a school project that had gotten out of hand. “Besides”, I said, “it doesn’t work so well on team sports” (which was partially true). I’m not sure he believed me but not knowing anything about the mathematics there was no way he could argue. More importantly he knew that my Father was connected to law enforcement which likely tempered any inclination he had of pushing the matter further – at least by using simple intimidation. I was shy then but not fearful and in the bookie’s mind the fact that I had put together some predictions was evidence enough that I had some options so why continue to lean into me ?
Mathematically assisted betting is now very common and thanks to movies like “Moneyball” there is increased awareness of how statistics has been used by professional sports teams to identify under-valued talent. Baseball in particular now has its own branch of analysis called “Sabermetrics”. There are entire conferences where sabermetricians go to present research results on almost every imaginable angle in baseball. Vegas has also invested in data science approaches to insure that their casinos and book making operations remain profitable. So anyone seeking a short cut or simplistic system to beat the odds is in for a rude awakening as odds making outfits have their own guys working against you. Just to say bring your lunch if you want to go head to head with them because you are going to need it. Back to the bookies – one important aspect of their trade that I have yet to mention is that the more successful ones know the habits of their customers quite well which allows them to exploit that knowledge over time. For example if you know that a guy has a weakness for the home field advantage then why not leverage that info against him ? In particular bookies love bets made out of emotionalism since it usually impairs logic. And online betting is no exception. In fact it is easier for them to look at your betting history and use that as input into THEIR models ! But you still have options in that you can use one or more local guys, Vegas, or go to the offshore services. The distillate wisdom is to use all three to leverage differences in point spreads. It’s not like it used to be – that is for certain. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2016