Category Archives: Metropolitan Parkway

Dipper Dan Ice Cream Shop

You can gauge the financial viability of an area by the number of non-essential businesses it offers. By non-essential, I’m referring to cafes, bakeries, curio shops, and ice cream parlors none of which address required needs in the way that pharmacies and grocery stores might. An abundance of non-essential businesses means there is plenty of money in the area for recreational activities that, in tighter economic times, might not be possible. While I mention an ice cream shop in the title, it is more as a reference to a bygone era of considerable prosperity in the Stewart Avenue corridor rather than as a nostalgic pointer to a favorite childhood experience. I wasn’t that big of an ice cream fan but I loved the social opportunities it provided. Dipper Dan was part of a chain and the one at Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center was located between the The Huddle House and The Barber Shop were most of the employees could have just as easily been moonlighting at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island such was their penchant for buzz cuts. There were a few guys who could actually style hair beyond the boot camp look though if the customer was young, they 1) didn’t give a damn what you wanted and 2) enjoyed mowing down fledgling long haired punks as a means to restore order to a society driven mad by hippies and their backers.

Conway’s Nose Hair

The owner, Smitty, was a nice guy and I had a crush on his daughter who, like me, went to Perkerson elementary. So, if I could, I would try to line up a cut with him but usually wound up with one of those surly “barbers” who smelled of last night’s booze and whose shaky hand work would inevitably result in a laceration or two. These guys never acknowledged their mistakes, let along apologized for them, choosing rather to silently break out the Styptic Pen to arrest the bleeding as if nothing had ever happened. To their credit, they were fast. Get in the chair, get buzzed, and get gone. One of my most vivid memories was a guy with Conway Twitty style hair sitting in the chair while getting a manicure. I had never seen a man getting his nails done although the bigger issue was that he had enough hair emanating from his nose to form the basis of a curly mustache. One of the barbers got around to trimming that away (I thought he would need hedge clippers) and I immediately filed that image under the category of “things to never let happen to myself if I can possibly help it“.

Meeting Girls At The Mall

Oh, but this was supposed to be about the Ice Cream shop. There were multiple area locations of Dipper Dan with one opening up at the brand new Greenbriar Mall whose introduction dealt a serious blow to Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center. Greenbriar was an air conditioned, in door Mall with a number of attractive stores and restaurants of significantly larger size and variety than anything else in the region. It also gave a comfortable backdrop for that “teen thing” to happen where you could meet up with your friends and maybe check out the girls from the other schools – if you couldn’t find any from your own. While it was generally frowned upon to seek inter-school companionship, lots of flirtation happened, which might lead to some dirty looks, or even a fight, coming from guys for stealing THIER women ! Kind of an odd accusation since if that were actually true then why were THIER women giving us phone numbers in the first place ? Of course, there is that type of girl who will flirt just to see if she has something that anyone might be interested in yet has no intention of moving beyond that. Part of your job is to try to figure it all out. (Good luck with that).

Ice Cream Kisses

Dipper Dan had this blend called “Rainbow” which was a swirly combo of different flavors. Sort of like Lucky Charms Cereal in ice cream form. It was very sweet but not as sweet as the Bubblegum flavor, infamous for inducing vomiting in the little kids who were attracted to the orange fright wig color. I’m pretty sure they had a mop dedicated exclusively for vomit collection and, of course, no one wanted to be on clean up duty. It was pretty much a job assigned to the new employees most of whom were teenagers. Another frequent problem was the kids who dropped their cones even before their parents had paid for them !  Anyway, Dipper Dan was a place to get a cone and if you could get a girl to share a milkshake with you then you knew you were onto something. Two straws, one shake, sitting across from one another – staring into each other’s eyes ? It was almost like a kiss. There was no actual contact being made (maybe your respective knees under the table) but no one could really complain since it was pretty wholesome and very Norman Rockwell.

Chili Three Ways

There were still plenty of non-mall, standalone malt and shake shops in the area such as Dairy Queen and Zestos. There were some drive in places like Steak and Shake which offered something called “Chili Three Ways” sometimes known as “Three Way Chili”. One night my Mother and Father took me there and for some reason I made the observation that “Chili Three Ways” sounded like an illicit sexual act or something that one might see in a Times Square Peep show (like I would have known). My Mother didn’t react well to this, thinking maybe that I was an emerging pervert with a food fetish. Truth be told, I don’t know what made me say that except maybe I had been listening to George Carlin’s “Class Clown” record which provoked some subversive thinking. My Father reacted by spraying coke out of his nose as my Mother hit him for laughing. It took a while, but he stopped to say, “Son, That’s not a thing to say, especially in mixed company”. I acted contrite but on the ride home he kept making eye contact with me in the rear view mirror almost breaking out in laughter again. He couldn’t come out and say “good one” (until we were alone).

I don’t recall exactly when Dipper Dan closed but once the White Flight took hold and families bolted from the area, lots of those “non-essential” businesses shut down. Even the various hair places and dry cleaners closed because there wasn’t enough discretionary income floating around the area for those businesses to pay rent. The only sure things were the car lots, liquor stores (people drink in good or bad economies) and grocery stores. Sure, there were the NoTell Motels, some pizza joints and bars but once the families left so did the family businesses. Now, all this said. I notice that a new bakery has opened up on Sylvan Rd which looks to have three (!) cafes: Blendz Cafe, Rosie’s Coffee Cafe, and Bakery Bourgoyne (technically located on Evans Drive). This is astonishing to me and also lifts my mood considerably because if these kinds of establishments can flourish then perhaps a resurgence will occur ?

Talking ‘Bout My Generation

The face of a generation

My first actual “get off my lawn” experience came from a guy who lived on Springdale Place in Southwest Atlanta. (Out of respect for the current owners I won’t be specific about the address). On my way home from school. I cut though this guy’s yard and he comes out screaming that I was “disrespecting his home” and that I shouldn’t be “so goddamn lazy” and that I should “get a haircut”. When I related this story to others, someone rolled his house (something of a lost art) which of course made the guy think that I did it. Anyway. Moving on to a more general (if not biased) view of this dynamic – It becomes the duty of each generation to discredit the one preceding it just as the established populous will condemn younger generations who “carelessly squander” the “hard won freedom so selflessly given” to them by their forefathers. “Ungrateful young punks” was a commonly heard phrase. Some degree of generational friction is inevitable and especially so in times of economic decline when people go on fault finding missions. However, I’ve also noticed that in communities where job possibilities remain scarce, Happy Hour conversations will usually telescope down to the troubles of that particular day as taking a longer view becomes far too depressing. Sort of a working man’s realization of “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof“. And the commonality of the shared struggle, along with gallons of booze, would allow people to forget the differences which is why you could find people in their 20s tossing back drinks right next to some geezer all without conflict unless (or until) someone cadged one too many drinks which was a serious offense.

His defense mechanism involved blurting out random accusations of homosexual activity with the hope that any scrutiny he was enduring would be redirected to his target long enough to allow for an escape

Who knew that “Ray The Mooch” had a spirit animal ?

Speaking of which – there was a professional mooch named Ray, a young guy, who got banned from LP Pips for stealing left over drinks from uncleared tables. He positioned himself in proximity to large parties waiting for the group to disband after which he would swoop in and guzzle half empty pitchers of warm beer while alternately sucking down residual vodka from long abandoned mixed drink glasses which might also contain cigarette butts. “The vulture is a patient bird, my friend” he would say of his “accomplishments” which was shocking in that he saw his scavenging as some noble strategy sanctioned by Mother Nature. When confronted, his defense mechanism involved blurting out random accusations of homosexual activity with the hope that any scrutiny he was enduring would be redirected to his target long enough to allow for an escape – sort of like an octopus squirting ink to disorient. And as people took time to puzzle out the veracity of his claim (which might also involve those not present such as the President, Mary Tyler Moore, or Billy Graham) he would be gone. Someone rightly pointed out that if he put half as much energy into legitimate enterprise as he did mooching, he could afford his own damn drinks and perhaps rescue whatever was left of his loathsome reputation.

Talk to any young woman who worked a hotel check-in desk during a typical fraternal convention. Having to endure the amorous advances of fezzed-up “Potentates” took its toll

Mooses, Elks, Lions, and Shriners

While I encountered many representatives of preceding generations at Brothers Three and Banks Liquor store I also ran into them at the The Stewart Avenue Moose Lodge which was located on the hill behind the Golden Ribbon. The Lodge served as a private club for the older set who basically liked to get their drink on, shoot some pool, and have the occasional BBQ for charity which is ostensibly what they were all about. What I liked about the Moose crowd was that they did not give a damn about anything and with the exception of a few jerks who couldn’t hold their liquor it was a laid back place. If you walked out the door connected to the pool room, the view overlooked the Ribbon and a portion of Stewart Avenue. If you were buzzed enough you got the idea that this was really “something”. That you were seeing a “city in motion, on the up and up” and that just maybe things were going to work out after all. But then your eyes would fall down to the parking lot of The Ribbon where someone was throwing up.

This was still the era of the Fraternal  Organization which included The Lions Club, The Shriners, The Elks, The Lions Club, The Rotary, The American Legion, and The VFW with lots of member overlap between them. Civic clubs used to be THE way to get the inside angle on good jobs particularly in sales. I’m not challenging the sincerity of these groups, or their charitable contributions, but they could do some Olympian level drinking which, in the case of the Shriners, was addressed by Ray Stevens in his “all too real” Shriner’s Convention song. For supporting testimony, talk to any young woman who worked a hotel check-in desk during a typical fraternal convention. Having to endure the amorous advances of fezzed-up “Potentates” took its toll and on-the-spot employment resignations might occur due to the unrelenting (and completely unwanted) attention from men with more hair growing out their nose than on their head. George Carlin’s Shriner assessment was quite direct possibly because they disliked his long hair and hippy sensibilities:

Forty percent of all arrests, traceable [to alcohol]. Fifty percent of all first admissions to mental institutions traceable to alcohol. And then, of course, there’s diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, heart disease, insanity, divorce. So I always say “Drink up, Shriners!” whenever I see a couple of ’em.

Despite the generational friction, you could learn something from these old timers though it always fell along very practical lines such as “work for a good company”, “get married”, “buy a house”, “have children”. (preferably in that order). This was totally understandable if you grew up in the shadow of economic ruin and ongoing military activity both of which would require different existential skills than those required in the 60s and 70s wherein diplomacy and social activism might be more appropriate over a defensive mentality. (“Are you a Hawk or a Dove ?”) It’s the difference between protecting hard-earned achievements and trying to grow something totally new based on a kinder world view. Both approaches are useful although not necessarily in equal amounts or at the same time or under the same roof. Maintaining hyper vigilance in anticipation of the next financial crisis would come at some mental expense just as throwing caution to the wind when planning one’s future could be reckless and irresponsible. Family dinner table discussions could be very interesting.

Defrocked Priests and Trust Funders

I knew a guy who liked to drop acid and read The Book of Revelation. That took courage.

Makers Mark – the favored Bourbon of defrocked priests the world over – well maybe just on Stewart Avenue

Moving into less serious territory, there were a couple of older characters I enjoyed talking to. The first was a former priest who I’ll refer to as Father O’Malley since I never knew his name or the circumstances of his departure from the Church – defrocked, resigned, or excommunicated ? There weren’t many Catholics in the area so it was hard to verify his backstory, but I could easily imagine him in the predawn darkness shuffling past rows of saints, some high level, some obscure, on his way to the six a.m. Mass where he was met by the same three parishioners. He had the stilted gait of the aged though his face remained unaffected by any pain he might have had so people thought him to be much younger. Periodically he would walk into the liquor store carrying a large Bible in whose margins he had scribbled various interpretative notes highlighted by tobacco smears and dried bourbon splotches. I thought these writings must surely relate to secret truths or ancient christian mysticism. And maybe they did – but there was also quite clearly a phone number written on at least one page (in the Book of Ephesians) with the name “Zelda” under it. His brand was Maker’s Mark which had that melted seal thing going on which maybe reminded him of Papal authority. Or maybe he just like getting blasted and reading the Bible. I knew a guy who liked to drop acid and read The Book of Revelation. That took courage.

Father O’Malley rattled on about church politics and how the priorities were all wrong (something of an understatement even then). “I should have been paid by the sin” he laughed. “There is no money in saving a soul just once – you gotta keep ’em coming back to pony up. Confession is just a cover“. I imagine that it was such frank talk that displeased his superiors which no doubt facilitated his exit though he had a point which definitely applied to other denominations. If you are “once saved, always saved” then why bother going to Church after conversion ? Evidently his years in the Confessional gave him preternatural ability to see through anyone’s line of bullshit and, when drunk (which was most of the time) he called them out which made him no friends. My takeaway lesson was that having deep insight into others is worthless in absence of self-restraint.

There was another guy named Bill – a pipe-smoking, professorial looking gentleman of some means which, based on his check mastheads, was due to a trust fund. Well into middle age, he alluded to Ivy League education, extensive global travel, and friendships with famous musicians though rarely included specifics. It seemed calculated to promote an air of respectability but there was a sophisticated sleaziness to it all which was very entertaining.  One evening he is in NYC having “soup at Ratner’s” with some “poet friends” and two days later he is San Francisco “listening to an acetate of the upcoming Grateful Dead” album. I suspect that portions of his overall story were true though he clearly had a well lit pilot light for bullshit that could be fully dialed up in the presence of women or whomever it was needing to be impressed. He was like a performer always in search of an audience. And I was just a struggling student working in a liquor store which is why I think he let me in on his approach that legitimized “aggressive embellishment” when discussing one’s pursuits and accomplishments. “Don’t understate what it is you do. Talk it up. If you don’t then no one else will”. He had a point and I definitely needed to up my self promotion game. His “thing” was to mix pipe tobacco with marijuana and puff on that throughout the day. He could get away with it too since he looked perfect with a pipe (the only thing missing was a monocle). This “system” allowed him to smoke up in public without getting “too stoned” so he was engaging in a form of micro dosing decades before it was in vogue. He took great pains to ensure that the odor of his special blend did not betray his motives. That he was rarely without his pipe completed his cover. In addition to the look, he also had the confidence to pull it off which supports the idea that if you do something with élan then no one will take notice.

As always there is more to say and these are but two of the older characters I encountered on a frequent basis with the bulk of them being kind of hard-assed about life and not the least bit interested in anyone’s opinion especially coming from some “young punk“. What I did find was that if you could make people laugh (intentionally or not) then you would be welcomed. Not necessarily because they liked you, but just that the tension of the day would be eased, the laughter would attract women, and then the drinks would REALLY start to flow which is really all a working man really needs. There will always be the world class bullshitters like Bill and while I don’t see myself ever rising (or sinking) to his level I do understand his motivations and took a page from his book. The same with Father O’Malley. Just because I can see imminent trouble in the lives of others doesn’t mean that I should say anything. They probably already know anyway. (That I can’t seem to recognize it in my own life is another issue altogether). By the mid 70s there were at least two retirement communities in the area that were well populated and this overlaps with my job at Brothers Three that involved helping old women hide booze under their groceries so they could smuggle it into these buildings. Anyway, maybe I’m writing all this because I’m “getting up there” which I knew would happen though didn’t realize it would be here so soon. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid

Can I Tell You About My Savior ? Part 1

Alligator farms – Mere recreation or a metaphor for existence ?

One of my favorite origin-of-life theories involves the notion that each of us has chosen to be on Earth to experience a recreational break from Eternity which, I suppose, could become boring. Kind of like choosing to pull off the Cosmic Highway into a rest stop – in this case Earth. Like how a traveler down I-75 might check out one of those Alligator farms on the way to Florida. Certainly this can all be represented in far more noble terms but I’ll hold off on the deep theology at least until Happy Hour. Some of the early church sermons I endured as a kid were as interminable as the promised pleasures of Heaven (or agonies of Hell) that await us upon departure from this planet. I remember sitting in a stifling-hot sanctuary fidgeting against itchy “church clothes” while having to feign appreciation for the Preacher talking about things that made me paranoid long before I knew such a word existed. When someone says, “God is always watching over you” my default reaction is, “Wow. Even in the bathroom ?

Many of my fellow congregants looked like this gentleman. Imagine the smell of moth balls permeating the air

And then there was that after-the-service walk down the center aisle and the predictable comments of elderly parishioners who smelled strongly of moth balls. It was like they were being embalmed incrementally so by the time they got to their own funeral there wouldn’t be much left to do except slip them into the coffin. The only thing that made the overall church experience bearable was a number of cute girls in the nearby pews but the scene was too well chaperoned to offer any interaction opportunities.  My family “churched around” at places like Springdale Christian, Perkerson Baptist, and Capitol View Baptist before settling in at Capitol View Presbyterian (no longer in existence) located across from Sylvan High School. At the time, Presbyterian churches represented a form of “Christianity light” in that you got “sprinkled”, not fully immersed and your personal interpretation of biblical passages could be as figurative as you would like as long as you didn’t try to start theological debates. I think the Presbyterians were trying to go after the “walk-aways” from the Baptist Church which was a total drag (at least for me) with its promised damnation for those refusing to comply with the hyper conservative missives of the church few of which could actually be found in the Bible. Being horny was definitely a crime even if you didn’t act on it. Even thinking about being horny was off limits so on that account alone I needed to find another scene.

The general activities at our church were geared towards the interests of “older people” and youth programs weren’t even on the map. I recalled how Pilgrim children always looked like adult Pilgrims except in miniature. There was no period of adolescence back in the the Pligrim days and the kids were viewed as adults-in-training simply to be seen an not heard until they could demonstrate comparable levels of repressed behavior customarily exhibited by adult Pilgrims. The concept of adolescence emerged only in the early 1900s evolving slowly over time well into the 60s as the youth of America grew restless with the idea of having to leap directly into forms of work favored by their parents especially when there were new possibilities on offer. That this might have been perceived as laziness or ingratitude for the sacrifices of previous generations was most unfortunate. The early work-aptitude tests I took made no mention of artistic occupations and teachers sought to route anyone with such tendencies into factory jobs, draftsmanship, architecture, or some form of engineering. No Sir. No way was society going to tolerate another generation of distracted, self-indulgent hippy workers.

When someone says, “God is always watching over you” my default reaction is, “Wow. Even in the bathroom ?

The reason I bring any of this up is because lots of people, (then and now), didn’t seem to understand how and why various religious cults grew in popularity in the 60s and 70s, but when considering what I just told you then it should be easier to understand. Put simply, organized religion of that time, combined with long established societal expectations, ignored the interests of young people while doubling down on the practice of berating the youth of America for not falling in line with another war on communism. The social condition of the US was far from ideal at the time and a generic repetition of what might have been appropriate (or at least familiar) a decade or two before might not be in the best interest of the country. So, imagine that in this context if some new, hip church showed up that intentionally welcomed young people then could it be that big of a surprise that there were takers ? I mean a church (even if it wasn’t a recognized one) that had people your age who held common interests ? That didn’t require you to wear suffocating clothing ? Alternative religions exploded in size in the 70s because young people needed a place of their own – that’s all there was to it. In saying this I have demeaned the work of many Sociology PhD students who had to dress it all up just to get past their committees and eventually graduate although I stand by my version that has more explanatory power.

A pothead acquaintance of mine used to roll joints on his Ouija board to get “some of that paranormal thang goin’ on – Ghost Ganja !

It didn’t mean that these setups were all on the level or that they had the best interests of everyone in mind. Maybe they did at first and the mission got corrupted over time or perhaps there was bad intent from the get go. Some “older” people figured out how to mobilize and manipulate “hippie labor” to their own ends. And it certainly didn’t escape my attention that lots of participants (young and old) were simply pleasure seekers looking for action. So you had older clergymen dipping into the congregation for some “comfort” but it was all rationalized because there are “no rules” right ?  Any pretense about trying to better the world through communal action was generally abandoned although, as we moved into the 70s, the sex and drugs remained. Any time you have large collections of young people then hookups will happen and outsiders will notice – some of whom were representatives of the larger mainstream churches angry that their offering plates were losing money to some “sex cult”.

For a time, George Harrison liked hanging with the Krishnas. Note the lack of women.

For reasons only they could tell you, the Hare Krishnas used to aggressively canvas Stewart Avenue in the late 60s and early 70s which paralleled their activities in downtown Atlanta especially before rock concerts at The Omni where they would offer bread and incense in exchange for small change donations. The Krishna women (the few that there were) had this rapid fire sales move where they would step to you while pinning a rose to your shirt all within like two seconds after which they would extend their hands to get the donation. It was an impressive maneuver and easily worth the 50 cents I might offer as tribute. On Stewart Avenue, the Krishnas worked the stretch starting at Zayre’s discount store up to Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center as there was a fair amount of foot traffic which simplified their goal of selling incense or a copy of their magazine which talked of the “GodHead”. They targeted younger people such as myself but weren’t shy about talking to anyone who might have some spare change jingling in their pockets.

For those old enough to remember, Atlanta Airport, and US airports in general, used to be plagued by any number of religious and human rights groups who would aggressively panhandle travelers so much so that it was finally shut down altogether. Such activity was masterfully parodied in the Airplane movie wherein Robert Stack runs a gauntlet of donation seekers. The Krishnas had a temple down on Ponce which hosted a weekly vegetarian feast where it was rumored that they laced the food with “brain washing chemicals” which only served to intrigue me. But my objections to the Krishnas had nothing to do with religion or their choice of food (spiked or otherwise). I could just never join a group that required baldness or at least a crew cut. Maybe I was vain but I also noticed that women did not generally look favorably on Krishna men except perhaps for the female Krishnas themselves who always seemed to have a peculiar form of body odor. It’s quite possible that the men did also but the women had this flirty way about them that involved getting much deeper into your personal space which would make any hygiene deficiencies much more apparent. Of course, 4 hours of canvasing the Atlanta streets in July might result in having a certain body aroma independently of your religious mission.

I think my Quija board was afraid of me because it kept hiding !

I’ll be splitting this post up into multiple parts because I’m like 1800 words into this thing and still have a lot to cover. But before I wrap this up I wanted to point out that the first ever Christian (or religious) bookstore I ever encountered was Berean Christian Bookstore located on Cleveland Avenue. It’s still there ! Although I think the name might have changed. For those of you familiar with the area, who might also be having a senior moment, this was close to the Old South Bottle Shop and the K-Mart farther down Cleveland Avenue right after it crossed over I-75. One could also move farther down the road to play a few rounds of golf at Brown’s Mill Golf course.

While this doesn’t seem such a big deal now it was then because it never occurred to me that there would be an entire enterprise dedicated to christian publishing. I just assumed that all you needed was a copy of The Bible and a decent Church and you were good to go. But Berean’s had like 15 different styles of Bibles and Concordances on offer as well as study guides in addition to books about “Godly Living”, “Christian Ethics”, and several publications on the dangers of the occult – to which I was immediately attracted. This wasn’t at all a superficial interest as my Father had a book by parapsychologist Hans Holzer, all around “ghost guy”, long before such a thing was popular. I read how he and his “medium friend”, Sybil Leek would investigate supernatural activity which probably influenced later movies like Poltergeist. Just to say that I was no stranger to the terminology of the occult or its negative image in the eyes of Church.

Hans “OG” Holzer – The Original Ghostbuster !

I had a Ouija board when I was a kid and I’m certain that any spirits inhabiting that thing were scared off (more probably bored) by my inane questions. The odd thing is that I kept misplacing it although it later occurred to me that maybe it was hiding from me. “Oh no – You again ! Please, NO !” I wasn’t the only person who took a cavalier attitude towards the thing – A pothead acquaintance of mine used to roll joints ON his Ouija board to get “some of that paranormal thang goin’ on – Ghost Ganja !“.  At the time, Scéances were still happening and there was a group of older kids who held these things and they talked about how they got “signs from the beyond” so I attended one of these and NOTHING happened. Well, the girl next to me did put her hand on my thigh which in my mind qualified as a supernatural event. So we left the Scéance early thus breaking the “sacred circle” albeit for a very good reason…. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 1

Note that this will be Part one of a two part series on the role that crime played in the demise of Stewart Avenue and the resulting negative reputation that persists until today.

In October of 2017, plans were announced to create a Zone 3 Atlanta Police Precinct on a square of land close to the former location of The Fire Place Lounge  (an attempt at creating a “classy joint” on Stewart Avenue). The proximal area contains at least one new gas station which presages a nascent form of progress to which the Precinct would add a sense of safety. For those who remember the area in the 70s I think the new precinct would be across the street from what was once Thoni’s (pronounced “Thone-Eyes”) gas station – a dirt cheap but poorly maintained fueling establishment. The last time the city paid significant attention to this area resulted in the name change to “Metropolitan Parkway” which was a ham-handed attempt to “push the reset button” on south side history. The motivating event (and nadir of what was already a bottoming out period) was a bachelor party turned double murder that took place at the once wholesome Alamo Plaza. Some guys didn’t like it that the prostitute they had hired turned out to be a transvestite so payment became an issue and the pimp fired off some fatal shots.  Overreaction all around. After that, no one wanted to know anything about Stewart Avenue. Anyway I think the precinct relocation project makes logistic sense as it would provide convenient and rapid access to many areas within Zone 3 while making future expansion much easier than it would be were the Precinct office to remain at its present location on Cherokee Avenue.

Back in the day, The East Point Police did not like the musically inclined

Zone 3 has its own Urban Dictionary entry which I suppose is a form of recognition “reppin’ the O-3 all day long, bitches!” although the entry has questions as to whether East Point and College Park are part of any Zone when they, as cities, maintain their respective police forces. Speaking of East Point. When I was a kid it was one of those cities with oppressive law enforcement that preyed on residents as a source of income. Speed trapping “outsiders” is one thing but leaning heavily into your own community is another level altogether. In my experience they preyed mostly on younger drivers and generally anyone who seemed incapable of hiring a decent defense attorney. Things that Atlanta City police would generally NOT  pursue (driving with no shirt, loud muffler, cracked windshield, busted license plate bulb), would be pounced upon by East Point’s finest and if there just happened to be some underage drinkers in the car or a pack of rolling papers then all the better. A friend of mine was pulled over for “singing while driving” ! The cop’s analysis was, “Acting the fool like you did coulda caused a wreck. That rock music is too loud anyways”. Ah yes officer, so was it perhaps that “hippie music” that attracted your attention with the hopes of finding a “lid of grass” or two upon which to base your application for sergeant ?

For those who forgot or just weren’t around then, the State of Georgia used to have an annual car inspection requirement that could easily be met by slipping some extra cash to the “inspector” (usually a bored-out-his-mind gas station attendant) who would, for enough money, deem a go-kart as being fit for the road. I once assiduously studied the inspection requirements and walked through the parking lot at Stewart Lakewood shopping Center with the checklist in hand.  It didn’t take long to realize that few automobiles could legitimately pass the evaluation or remain in good enough condition over time to comply for more than a few months. So almost anyone could be “legally” stopped. Cops could say, “I stopped you because you car is unsafe to operate –  I could impound your vehicle right now”. So then, the reason for the stop could be to create the reasonable suspicion required to make the stop in the first place ! (If you just experienced a “what the fuck” moment then congratulations). While the inspection law might not have been conceived specifically to bypass the 4th amendment rights of citizens it most certainly was exploited by various municipal law enforcement groups (almost always smaller cities) to do exactly that. Once the state abandoned the annual inspection approach and moved to the emissions model then things improved considerably but it took some time.

My car looked a lot like this. Bondo is a filler product for patching holes in the body

Fairness requires me to say that the Atlanta City Police didn’t really engage in this behavior nearly as much as did East Point, College Park, and the Ga Highway Patrol. Probably because Atlanta Police had its own internal problems and they could always find plenty of felonies to address thus eliminating the need to build a budding (no pun intended) career on hassling long hairs and returning Vietnam veterans. As an example of this different attitude, I was, at the time, driving a junked out, barely-held-together-with-bondo Pontiac Le Mans that was so visually offensive that an Atlanta City Cop pulled up next to me just to say, “I could write you a bunch of tickets but your car is a form of entertainment to me – it makes me laugh whenever I see it”.  And then he sped off. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or thankful. Bondo was used to fix holes and dings in the body of a car. The idea was to fill, sand down, and paint but for those of us with real clunkers there could actually be more bondo filler on and in the car body than actual metal. And if you didn’t care to paint the car (or have the money to do so) then it looked all patchwork-like (see picture) especially so if there was an abundance of rust which could produce a kind of car leprosy effect. I had so much rust on the car that I made sure to get an updated tetanus shot.

Back in the 70s the police didn’t do much in terms of patrolling on Stewart Avenue at least in my experience. Once the frequency of low-level street crime reaches a certain level in any area the cops start to ignore it because they realistically cannot address it in any meaningful way. Plus, they get the idea that the community isn’t really doing much to help itself so why bother ? The city then decides to redirect police resources to other locales where complaints are being made by well-heeled citizens whose voice might more easily be heard in the Mayor’s Office. It’s a true sign of transition when cops start blaming you for being a victim of petty crime. “So why were you walking around late a night anyway ? What did you expect ?”. There is some tragedy here in that domestic violence winds up being all too common in these environments and if someone doesn’t have much money then it becomes very difficult to “stay somewhere else” even for a night or two while things cool off at home. I would see women from time to time with bruises and black eyes stroll into the store avoiding eye contact. It was clear something wasn’t working at home but what recourse did they have ? Many of them didn’t work or if they did there wasn’t enough money to leave. This is why some of the waitresses up at the Huddle House would spontaneously leave town with a truck driver. While such a move could look completely irresponsible it could have been the very thing that kept them out of the hospital (or worse).

Whew. I got off track there. So back to East Point…. I had the misfortune of rear-ending a friend of mine. His car I mean. So I got a court date in front of the infamous “Judge Duffy”, a well-known hater of long hairs and, in my view, probably anyone who had NOT participated in one of the World  Wars.  (I guess The Korean War too). As we sat awaiting the case, an unhappy defendant put on an exhibition of flagrant courtroom defiance:

“Don’t make no difference what you gone do Judge. I ain’t gone bow down to you. In fact YOU da one that gone bow down to ME”.

The courtroom erupted into laughter not because of what the guy had said, but because of to whom he had spoken. Duffy went apoplectic and his gavel oscillated faster than a piston in Richard Petty’s Plymouth at the Dixie 500. By the time order was restored, the lunatic had been dragged out by the bailiffs. I had also been laughing just because everyone else had but then Duffy calls my case and is staring straight at me. “Oh no – he saw me laugh”. He quickly asked if the damage had been addressed (it had) after which he slammed the gavel and shouted, “$35 or 10 days”. So I realize that he has to offer an alternative to the fine in case a person doesn’t have money. But 10 days ? I mean 3 days I could see. Maybe 5. But 10 ? It was then I noticed that the courtroom clock read straight 10 a.m. Hmmmm. Of course, I chose to pay the fine rather than become a guest of the East Point jail which, as I was told by an indigent defendant, “wasn’t really that bad”. “Besides”, he said, “I could use the rest. My old lady is driving me crazy”. I never thought of jail as a possible respite from marriage but perhaps his relationship had some quirks not commonly found in the typical union. So much for connubial bliss. It was also helpful to know that, “No one does the full-time anyway unless you make trouble. You would do at most 4 days out of 10“. Good info but I still had plans that did not involve eating jailhouse food.

Dimmock Street was an infamous “stop and cop” location

There was some intersection of interests between East Point and Atlanta City Police relative to an area in West End called Dimmock Street which was a “stop and cop” – a place to purchase weed typically the absolute worst quality available (so I was told). It was so well-known to police that they would mess with the dealers in the winter by rolling up hard and extinguishing the flames from the burning barrels the weed merchants had going just to keep warm. The dealers would scamper like roaches as the cops blew in and laughed triumphantly as they doused the fire. Sure, they would make arrests now and then but it was just as likely to be customers as dealers. A lot of the customer traffic came from College Park and East Point so the respective police departments of those cities would be on the lookout for cars with loads of “young punks” to roust on the suspicion that they were “holding” something especially if they were coming down Lee Street (which turns into Main Street) from West End. See, going through West End towards downtown was a favored route to rock concerts at The Omni. And while not everyone was interested in Dimmock Street (or what could be bought there) the cops didn’t care and assumed that any group of young people coming from that direction after a certain hour at night just had to be up to no good. Going back to the inspection thing – a noisy or smokey tailpipe would be all that was necessary to pull someone over.

I’m going to end Part 1 here as I’ll need to transition to the more serious types of crime and how it impacted the area. I don’t want to cram too much into one post so I’ll post Part 2 soon.

Stewart Lakewood – Ghosts of Malls Gone By

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.

S&H Green Stamps were “a thing” back in the day

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.  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.

A 2018 Google Satellite Image of Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center.

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.

Southern Comfort – A drink long favored by underage drinkers and the women of Stewart Avenue

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.

This was a horrible album

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.

Perkerson Park – Forgotten Southside Treasure

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.

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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:

LL_1970

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LL_Sponsors

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Trouble In The Trailer Park

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

Example of a 70s era trailer park - What was supposed to be a temporary situation became permanent

Example of a 70s era trailer park – What was supposed to be a temporary situation became a permanent one

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.

Imagine a much larger version of this guy

Imagine a much larger and meaner looking version of this guy

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.

PBR - The lifeblood of Earl B.

PBR – The lifeblood of Earl B.

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

 

 

 

Are you Crazy or Just High ?

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.

One Aunt Esther would be enough let alone twenty

Dealing with one Aunt Esther would be plenty but try handling twenty

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.

"I've always depended on the kindness of Stewart Avenue men"

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of Stewart Avenue men”

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”

Fred MacMurray - "Come in Arkansas"

Fred MacMurray – “Come in Arkansas”

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” on The Avenue

“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.

Stockbrokers Are Bookies With An Alibi

Stockbrokers are Bookies too though they won’t admit it

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.

Gambling Is A Job

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 then, (and still is many places), 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, copious 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 PlaceAdmiral 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.

Legendary Detroit Bookie Allen Hilf aka “The General” aka “Fat Allen”.  He took action for close to 40 years ! Note the athletic wear

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 Prediction Business Takes A Lot of Work

It’s possible that a dog’s weight (x) influences how fast he rounds the track (y) which you can estimate

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, how 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 their relative importance. 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.

I don’t think Brad Pitt really knows much about math but then again he doesn’t really have to now does he ?

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. 

Somebody Always Wants A Cut Of The Action

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 ?

What It’s Like Now

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

Stewart Lakewood Library Closes

The parking lot view. The door on the left opened into a meeting room (at least in 1969 anyway) where Bernard, the emotionally fragile puppeteer, had a breakdown

The parking lot view. The door on the left opened into a meeting room (at least in 1969 anyway) where an emotionally fragile artist had a breakdown

On September 18th, 2015 the Stewart-Lakewood Branch of the Atlanta Public Library closed its doors after 56 years of service to residents of the 30315 zip code and surrounding environs.  While I was aware of its imminent demise I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia, which hit me with a level of intensity I had not anticipated. All this activated a long dormant neural pathway as I vividly relived the panic of having overdue books. My God ! What would the fines be by now ?  I’d rather displease my parents than one of those eternally aging, yet never dying, librarians who, in their off hours, inhabited the nightmares of Roger Waters. Strange thoughts given that the last time I stepped foot inside the building was around 1987. I’m astonished at how fast one can regress, mentally speaking, from middle age to adolescence within milliseconds. This overdue-book neurotic flashback aside there are few places in your life that offer a respite from whatever it is that, well, causes you to seek out “respites” in the first place. And while I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to many global destinations it is the Stewart Lakewood Library Branch (and memories thereof)  that has always provided a reliable “go to” psychic oasis for me in times of distress. Back in the day it was a great place to experience what the enlightenment gurus of today might call “The Now” or “The Moment”. I didn’t get hung up on what hadn’t been done or what needed to be done which, paradoxically, made it possible for me to get many things done seemingly without much effort. Before we leave this section, (and before I start trying to convince you that I’m the new Tony Robbins), it is important to know that the Stewart Lakewood Branch closed as the brand new Metropolitan Branch opened up the street near the intersection of Dill and Metropolitan Pkwy. So it’s not as if they left the area high and dry although I think maybe they should have first checked in with me before doing any of this.

SL_ENTRANCE

A recent photo of the entrance from a Yelp reviewer. Note the book return container which is probably the same one from 1971. Horrible people would wait till the darkest of night to throw in their long overdue books thinking they wouldn’t be found out. Bwa ha ha ha

My first memories of the Stewart Lakewood Branch start in the mid-late 60s when we would take short walking trips from Perkerson Elementary located right across the street. It’s not as if the Perkerson Library was deficient or lacked interesting books. Just that the teachers thought it a good idea for students to become facile with the operational dynamics of a real functioning library since that was where serious scholarship and research would be accomplished. I was a very quick study with the Dewey Decimal system and could zoom through a card catalogue faster than anyone I knew (including my academic arch nemesis Doreen). Mrs. Hemphill, the Perkerson Librarian, showed me the protocol for inspecting books: when removing a book for browsing also pull out the one next to it about an inch so you will know where to replace the first book should you not find it helpful. This simple knowledge impressed one of the craggy librarians over at the SL Branch. Perhaps thinking that I might have the stuff to be a librarian she gave me a tour of the sacred “behind the counter” area where I suspected they maintained Stasi-like dossiers on all those with overdue books and even people who simply looked like they would not return books on time. I was greatly relieved to find no evidence of such files though I did most of my reading at the library so I didn’t worry so much. I did notice 1)  the overpowering smell of stale cigarette smoke and 2) that they maintained a list of physical descriptions matching people suspected of unsavory behavior. I never had any problems at the Library even as the rest of Stewart Avenue declined. However one of my classmates told me that when walking she was occasionally followed by a creepy guy (and not always the same one).  So she started getting rides to and from the Library which was quite inconvenient since she lived at most 1,000 feet away from the building. As for the smell of cigarettes ? Well back then people liked to smoke in public and smoke breaks at work were very common. It was no worse than say the Teacher’s Lounge at Perkerson which at times contained what resembled a rolling bank of fog. When someone entered or exited smoke would billow out into the hallway forming cumulus like structures.

As you entered the Library they had a rack of paperbacks which was always my first stop. I would stand there reading through stuff like “The Exorcist” (it was way too scary to attempt a full read) or “Chariots of the Gods” which flipped me out with its theories of prehistoric alien visitations and discussions of extra-terrestrial landing strips such as the Nazca Lines in Peru. I even took a crack at The Autobiography of Christine Jorgenson (“The first person to go abroad and come back a broad”) until it disappeared permanently from the rack. I was told that people frequently stole the paperbacks which was quite easy as inventory control systems then weren’t very sophisticated.  I also liked sports biographies such as Jerry Kramer’s “Instant Replay” which I found to be very inspirational even though I had no interest in becoming a football player. And Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” destroyed my illusions that baseball was a pure sport. In reality I preferred the opposite side of the library because it got more sunlight courtesy of a dark candy green, plate glass window.  When it rained the drops would hit the glass with a pleasant sound resulting in a hypnotic effect and I would drift off to sleep. The reading area was spacious and the chairs were large and comfortable. When my friends came along we could setup comfortably in this area as long as we didn’t make noise. We had all perfected the “library whisper” so rarely did we get any grief.  I found it incredibly odd that the while the Librarians wouldn’t let me check out a book rated for adults such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” or “The French Connection” (also a famous movie at the time) they had no objections whatsoever if I read the same book while on the premises.

tachisto

A tachistoscope – the one I used looked different. It was silver and more streamlined. These days you can download software to do the same thing

I was able to rapidly read books which I believe was the result of training with a Tachistoscope – a device that was en vogue in late 60s-early 70s education in general and at Perkerson Elementary in particular. It projected a page of text onto a screen and, starting at the top, a light would overlay a series of words on a sentence moving from left to right with the number of words being adjustable by the user. The rate at which the light moved was also adjustable and with practice the reader could “take in” more and more words per sentence and even multiple sentences at a time thus increasing reading speed without sacrificing comprehension. They would test you after a reading session to insure that you were actually “getting” the material. As for me I can say that this system worked extraordinarily well and to this day I can rapidly zoom through an abstract, email, or article sometimes having to pretend to read it slowly just to convince someone else that I actually did read it. I don’t think that this technique has much to do with intelligence – it was just a matter of practice as far as I was concerned. Anyone around at the time will also be familiar with the then heavily promoted Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course that I assume relied upon similar principles though I don’t know if a projector system was involved. Advertisements for Ms. Wood’s reading system were infamously parodied on Cheech and Chong’s 1973 Los Cochinos hit comedy record.

Bernard's reaction to the assertion that Puppetry isn't a true artistic pursuit

Bernard’s reaction to those foolish enough to question his career choice or the legitimacy thereof

The Branch also had interesting artistic demonstrations, poetry readings, and plays that provided much needed distraction for antsy school children especially in the brutal heat of Summer (Perkerson not then being air conditioned). It was around 1969-70 that we went to see an exhibition put on by a troupe of dedicated puppeteers led by a super serious beret wearing guy named Bernard who clearly did not dig having to do this gig. His assistant was a pretty woman who selected myself and two other guys to help move in their gear and set things up. The rest of the troupe hung back and shared a smoke in the parking lot. It was cool unpacking the various puppets and implements of the show and very fascinating to get an idea about what went on behind the scenes. Bernard watched from a distance and snorted in disapproval when someone set down a road case a little too hard for his taste. I thought he was actually going to cry – but the Assistant ran over and consoled him in warm velvety tones.  I realized he might not be happy with how his career was going. From an early age I had been exposed to various creative types (mostly musicians) who were always lamenting about ongoing lack of recognition and having to forever play less than desirable gigs. But this was different in that most people could at least understand what a musician goes through – but a puppeteer ? That’s gonna be a very hard sell at the Family Reunion. I imagine the following taking place:

“So Bernard, will you be joining your Father’s Accounting firm soon ?” Bernard would then storm off in righteous indignation leaving his Mother to say, “He is under a lot of stress these days. His little Ventriliquist group isn’t as popular as he had hoped”. And Bernard, hearing this horribly inaccurate description of his life’s calling, would tearfully exclaim, “Dammit Mother, how many times do I have to tell you that I’m a Puppeteer NOT a ventriliquist ! You never listen to me…….”

Anyway  the show came off really well but ended on a sour note when Bernard finally lost it during the Q&A session when some kid’s simple minded comment caused him to seize up in a frothy rage rendering him unwilling (or unable) to respond. The charming Assistant stepped in to smooth it all over which apparently was her primary role in the troupe – that of managing Bernard’s temper tantrums and setting right his offenses.

So where are we now ? Prior to the economic recession of the mid 2000s the Capitol View area experienced significant gentrification and Sylvan Hills was not far behind what with the proximity to the Belt Line. Nearby East Point had boomed and even Hapeville was experiencing a resurgence. I heard that the owner(s) of the “Cross Roads Shopping Center” (formerly Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center) was attempting to attract the likes of Home Depot to facilitate the anticipated flurry of repair and renovation business.  This triggered some romantic notion (at least for me) that the area and the Library would return to its former days of glory when it was packed with children and teenagers though 1) it wasn’t clear that the initial wave of buyers would be bringing/starting families and 2) the whole Shopping Center would have probably been razed anyway. As developers, home flippers, squatters, and old time residents of the area pondered these possibilities the real estate bubble burst so it all became academic and since that time it’s all been in a holding pattern. I’m told that Sylvan Hills has recently been experiencing some sales activity as the Belt Line concept seems to have taken hold.

Sting is telling you to "read". Better pay attention !

Sting is telling you to “read”. Better pay attention because he turned out okay.

In the end I realize I probably haven’t adequately explained why I liked this Library choosing rather to relate some tales about the place. Everyone has their Zen Garden and the concept of Zen  (not that I know much about it) supposedly defies explanation. It’s hard, if not impossible, to “reverse engineer” one’s serenity inducing moments and places. It just happens and you can’t force it. Sometimes it’s a key relationship or a specific positive event but in my case it was neither (that I can recall anyway). It was more of a sustained experience of learning and developing in a pressure free environment not that what was going on at home or school was bad – just that I could be myself at the Library and really get some thinking done. While I’ve been rough on the librarians in this post there were a few who were very cool and supportive once they detected that I was on the level. One guy named “Van” (last name long forgotten) used to cruise by Brothers Three to score a six pack. He was always enthusiastic about books and learning and for a librarian he was extremely outgoing and talkative. I get the sense that the others with whom he worked probably felt that he was too loud. I think my last visit was around 1987 to see if they had a certain book. Near the front there was a poster of Sting dressed like some old world scholar holding a book with the caption of “Read”. (This was from a poster series sponsored by the American Library Association) Much of the look and feel of the place was the same as it was in the 70s though equipment had been modernized (for that era) and I noticed that many of the books I had read were still there suggesting perhaps that there wasn’t much rotation going on. But the same vibe was there. Anyway I regret not making it by the Stewart Lakewood Branch before it closed so I’ll have to rely purely on memories moving forward. I have been anyway but it would have been nice to have an updated mental snapshot. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid