Atlanta Peep Shows and Porno Wars Part II

This is Part 2 of a series of 2. If you haven’t already perhaps you should first check out Part 1 to get the full context.

The Breakfast Club

While the majority of Adult Bookstore activity took place at night there was a type of customer who would check in during business hours presumably to avoid spousal or familial suspicion. There was also the “early riser” who would show up between 5 – 8 a.m. with a mission to score before heading in to work. This same pattern could also be observed at the nearby “No Tell Motels” such as “Gary’s”, “Town and Country”, and “The Alamo”.  Both types of customers usually lived north or west of the city, (as evidenced by their license plate county designations), and would drop in on their way to and from Atlanta Airport. I often wondered how these guys might feel if someone drove 30 miles to an Adult Store in their neighborhood ? Would they even allow such an establishment to exist ? Whenever I worked the morning shift at Banks  I would arrive around 7:30 a.m. to sweep the front store area and would usually see a full lot across the street. Around 8 a.m. there would be an exodus of guys wearing hats and sunglasses making a frantic dash to their cars and zipping down the street thus ending the “night rush”. It was on such a day that I recognized one of my former high school teachers who, unlike the other guys, made no attempt at disguise. This scene was awkward because he was a favorite teacher of mine. He also had this idyllic family scene he used to discuss in class but guess that it wasn’t as fabulous as he projected. I don’t know that he saw me that morning as his expression never changed as he got into the very same car he drove in to school every day.  I never saw him again after that. I thought maybe it was a one time thing but that idea was dashed once Fred told me that my teacher was a “regular”.

“If Georgia did away with its adultery and fornication laws, McAuliffe said [in an interview with John York], ‘We would not be protecting, in many cases, good wives who have husbands who want to play around, or in other cases, protecting good men who have wives who are a little bit promiscuous.’ ’- Hinson McAuliffe in an AJC interview as reported in the 8/25/69 edition of the Great Speckled Bird

On occasion things went awry such as when someone’s car broke down or when someone got hustled in the back room. That is – robbed in a movie booth by some “rough trade” looking to take advantage of a  sexually conflicted individual whose judgment was impaired by some carnal urgency. Who would a victim of such a crime contact for assistance ?  Not the Police. Not the wife.  Even at that time no person was going to make a call that includes the admission, “Hey I’m on Stewart Avenue” let alone “Hey I’m on Stewart Avenue in an adult bookstore where I got robbed by a guy I was trying to pick up”. That would be a life changer now wouldn’t it ? According to Tank the back room robberies were infrequent and rarely involved actual violence with simple intimidation being the primary weapon.  The victim might not complain at all due to embarrassment and potential exposure though, if he did, it was usually not until some time had passed since the perpetrator’s departure. Even then the patron would sheepishly approach Tank or Lee as if making a long suppressed confession instead of demanding law enforcement be contacted or at least asking “just what kind of a business are you running here anyway ?” Tank was like “Hey man, there is a big sign back there that says ‘one person to a booth’ so you break the rules then live with the pain”.  He recreated the event for us complete with hand gestures and recited that phrase reverently as if it represented a universal truth ranking right up there with “Force equals Mass times Acceleration”. It occurred to us over at Bros Three that perhaps the clerks might actually be in on these robberies and were simply employing an accomplice to do the dirty work. Just spot a guy with a wedding ring who appears to be gainfully employed and wait for him to make advances on the seemingly friendly stranger in the back room area who suddenly becomes angry and threatens violence. Easy money.

Be Mindful of Where You Die

One of the more unfortunate events took place in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day around 5 p.m.  I noticed an ambulance and two police cars had rolled up into the parking lot at 2150.  A few of the patrons had scampered away but the cops were interrogating a Barney Fife looking dude out in front as the ambulance crew wheeled out what appeared to be a covered body.  Wow, what happened ? It was all too much to resist so I slipped out of Bros Three and crossed over The Avenue at Langston where I could discreetly approach the building. The cops were still grilling the patron as the usually totally-at-ease Tank was seen pacing nervously outside most likely because he wasn’t accustomed to, well you know, handling deaths during his work shift ? There was definitely some emerging unease between the cops and as I moved in closer, it became clear that they were arguing about who would be informing the next of kin about the death of the individual whose body was just then being wheeled out. Tank spotted me and waved me over with his ham hock of a hand and whispered horasely, “Yea Man, Some Delta or Eastern guy, looked like a pilot or something, was in the back doin’ his thing and some of the boys heard a ruckus and saw the guy’s leg sticking out of the booth twitching around – guess the son of a bitch blew a gasket. But I don’t need this heat – I got warrants. Hope they don’t check”. Tank clearly had other priorities in that moment and sympathies for the recently departed were not foremost in his mind. Evidently Barney Fife had assumed the noise was the result of some heavy action and let it slide until he realized the guy’s legs were no longer moving and hadn’t been for some time so he reported it.  The cops showed up, riffled the pockets, found the wallet, made the id, saw family pictures, and were on the radio consulting with their superiors about who would be delivering the bad news and how.  And you thought your job was hard ?

Gimme That Old Time Religion

I suppose that Solicitor McAuliffe’s on going project might have had something to do with preventing things like the above described events from happening although I never recall reading specific references to such incidents. His was more of a generic effort designed to eradicate places, publications, and people who sought to promote and/or profit from sexually oriented material. You might be tempted to think that all of this activity was initiated in the 70s but the Solicitor’s ideas go back to the previous decade when, according to 8/25/1969 edition of Atlanta’s own “Great Speckled Bird Magazine”, he stated: “If Georgia did away with its adultery and fornication laws, we would not be protecting, in many cases, good wives who have husbands who want to play around, or in other cases, protecting good men who have wives who are a little bit promiscuous.” It is interesting that he acknowledges a capacity for infidelity independently of gender though it’s even more interesting that he employed language (e.g. “play”, “a little bit promiscuous”) that minimizes the very behavior that motivated his aggressive campaign. I would have expected  much stronger  and more damning language though maybe he felt the laws were there simply to motivate good marital hygiene and to make an example of those who might “play” from time to time. And by removing magazines, movies, and gadgets from stores and theaters then those otherwise “good” people would be guaranteed to have problem-free marriages.

”If you need a dirty book, you’ll have to leave Atlanta to get it,” said Glenn Zell, an attorney for the stores. Mr. Zell said the owners of at least 16 adult bookstores had agreed Friday to close if the Fulton County Solicitor would dismiss all charges against their employees. – New York Times 01/19/1981

Selective Enforcement

However, there were some inconsistencies at the city level that were puzzling.  For example there was a “massage parlor” on Stewart Avenue located next to the Purple Onion Bar which was once home to a Shakey’s Pizza Palace.  The inconsistency was that these businesses, at least the one on Stewart Ave,  rarely encountered any significant pressure from the police even as The Solicitor was going full tilt on the Yellow Fronts and small markets who sold magazines. The proprietor of the Massage Parlor used to come by Brothers Three to pick up a six pack now and then and he always looked as if he had not one care in this world. There were no repeated raids, busts, or declarations of war on these establishments.  The same was true with the area prostitution which remained more or less the same as in previous years.  The distillate thinking was that either these Parlors were kicking up money to someone that the Yellow Fronts weren’t or that the issue of prostitution was somehow more tolerable – at least for the time being.  As 1979 rolled around there was the horrifying issue of Black Atlanta Children being murdered as well as prior concerns about the behavior of Reginald Eaves whose policies and practices as Atlanta’s “Super Chief” allegedly impacted the Atlanta Police Force in an enduring and irreversible way. So it’s not as if all was well with the city in all other respects.

Le Dénouement D’une Crise

The issues I’ve described here and in the previous post captured the attention of publishers such as Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, and more famously Larry Flynt who was paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet in 1978 while on trial for Obscenity in Gwinnett County. While there were  lawsuits and court actions challenging the Solicitor’s work on the basis of First Amendment rights it was easy to see that neither side was being especially noble.  The publishers were making plenty of money and wanted to continue to do so.  I’m really sure that a general reader of these magazines was not that interested in “the intriguing interviews” which was the infamous and well-worn cliche used  to justify the purchase of Playboy. On the other hand does an adult really need someone to screen material and decide what is decent (or not)  ?  Should publications such as Playboy and Penthouse be classified in the same category as the Adult Bookstores ? Was the Fulton County Solicitor truly representing the interests of Fulton County residents or perhaps, (and more likely),  his own religious beliefs ?   These were all reasonable questions especially if you are growing up in a neighborhood that is on the front lines of such a conflict. Anyway, it all became academic as by 1981 the Book Stores decided to close up shop and leave town in exchange for having charges dropped. So the “Yellow Fronts” had been vanquished. In terms of the magazines, however,  they returned to the magazine stands of gas stations and small markets without consequence. And by the late 80s even places like the very popular and well respected Atlanta Oxford Book Store offered a selection of adult material that far exceeded (in quantity and variety) anything being offered in the 70s. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I wasn’t keen on the reality that there was a Book Store establishment so close to where I lived but I accepted it. Didn’t really have a choice. When traveling around town my default behavior was not to broadcast this history simply to avoid the inevitable questions like “What was it like ? Do you ever see anything weird ? What kind of people went there ? What’s the wildest thing you ever saw ? So why didn’t your family just move away ?”  Of course this blog answers some of those questions (in considerable detail I might add) though in reality I never really minded answering those questions except when it was clear that those posing the questions were just in it for the titillation and vicarious experience with little or no regard for how these things might have impacted the area.  In terms of the Stewart Avenue corridor the closure of the 2150 book store didn’t change anything at all. The location remained empty and dormant for quite some time after which it was purchased, renovated, and reopened as an “exotic dancing” establishment. The owner, a charismatic bald muscular guy with a Fu Manchu moustache dropped in at Brothers Three and assured us that it was going to be “a classy operation”.  I responded, “but there are already so many other classy places around here” which was a risky move on my part given his size. After a moment of silence, during which he no doubt had attempted to determine if he was being insulted, he decided to ignore me.   The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2016

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