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, challenging one’s masculinity / lineage, or hitting them 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 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 neo 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 were into it ? 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 and fast 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 neo-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.
Since that time wrestling has been monopolized and corporatized with detailed employee contracts and performance contingencies 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
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:
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