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 ?
There is a rock quarry located on Sylvan Rd in Southwest Atlanta (well technically East Point) which I’m told was at one time worked by a combination of convict labor and black citizens who found themselves in violation of arbitrary laws, historically known as “Black Codes“, designed to (re)enslave them despite the ratification of the 13th Amendment. However, I don’t know when this particular locale was “opened for business” or to what extent the labor pool included Black Code “violators”. History would have us believe that it was only the “worst of the worst” who were employed for cutting stone under the blistering Georgia sun. This page, however, describes such issues in greater detail as well as the Atlanta Bellwood Quarry for which solid documentation does exist of labor and human abuse. According to another site, Georgia was, in the 1890s, the first state to use convict labor outside of prison walls though it rapidly “caught on” in many other states. That the idea of a “convict” might be extended to include a person or family who found themselves in violation of trip wire laws designed to entrap them was/is shocking.
Employment of chain gang labor persisted into the 50s when it was largely abolished but not before politicians / businessmen had enriched themselves by offering massively discounted labor as part of project bids. (See The Shawshank Redemption for a dramatization of such actions). Georgia abandoned the practice only in 1955 and North Carolina only in the 70s. By the 60s, the Sylvan Rd quarry was abandoned as a going concern and apparently hadn’t been touched in years. I wanted to point all of this out because the area might represent an enduring offense to the humanity and dignity of those forced to carve stone for a city that valued only part of the population. For the kids coming to the area in the 60s, we were unaware of this past. No one talked about – at all ! The quarry was merely a fascinating land mark to be explored and “conquered” in a way that kids imagine – long before video games that is. That is also attracted winos and indigents only added to the mystique.
Access to the quarry (outlined by the red rectangle) could be gained directly off of Sylvan Rd though it involved commercial trespass so the winos waited till close of business before descending into the quarry to traverse the field of unevenly distributed sharp-edged rocks on the way to the opposite side where the cave was located (the green oval) – about 10 feet up. The easier approach was to enter from the rear of Springdale Christian Church (outlined by the blue square) and proceed up through some lush woods that overlooked the southeast corner of the quarry and provided direct access to the cave. But as that route required walking conspicuously through what was then a very new neighborhood, the winos wisely avoided it, fearing arrest. The cave opening had been formed by some mutually receding, clam shaped rocks that seemed content to remain in place until some future tectonic action might end their relative placement as well as the life of whomever had the misfortune of being inside the cave at the time. But, such a possibility didn’t stop us or the area winos from fully investigating what it might offer. It was perfect for teenagers wanting to sneak a drink of King Cotton Peach Wine, smoke a Camel or look at one of the nudie mags someone left behind. For the itinerant alcoholics, or those on the lam, it was simply a place to cool off before moving on.
Getting into the cave was a young man’s game as one had to crawl head first into the entrance and move slowly downward while spidering out one’s limbs to balance across some oddly angled rocks until reaching a relatively flat and spacious area about 5 feet down. How the winos made it in (especially when drunk) I don’t know as none of them seemed in sufficiently good shape to get TO the cave let alone INTO it. Not surprisingly, they accumulated a number of bruises in addition to the ones they already had. So once they made it, they usually didn’t go anywhere for a while. It’s tough to accurately estimate a wino’s age as they will always look older due to ripped garments, random extremity lacerations, and the usual personal hygiene deficiencies accompanying the lifestyle (rotten teeth, fetid breath, and weapons grade body odor). But it didn’t stop them from offering up tales of olympian achievement or circuitous justifications for their behavior.
Who Shot John ?
One of the winos characterized himself as a former military insider whose knowledge of John F. Kennedy’s “true” assassins (surprise, there was more than one) made him an enemy of the state. So he was destined to be forever on the run adopting various disguises as he made occasional contact with similarly ostracized individuals identifiable only by a set of secret gestures. “How do you know who might be such a person“, I asked. “Oh you just know, it’s the look. And then you offer up the signal. But, I’ve really told you too much already“. Most of these guys were just providing entertainment in exchange for money, cigarettes, old clothes or anything we might offer. None of them remained long in the quarry but they left us with a valuable gag reel which we riffed on for weeks making ridiculous hand gestures as if mercenaries in some unnamed military campaign. “My nom de guerre is Colonel Sanders and I served proudly in the Fried Chickens Wars of the 60s“. No one, especially our parents, knew what the hell we were talking about which made it even more funny.
Ann Margaret Was Bad In The Sack ?
One of the longer residents of the cave was Howard who, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, preferred to be called Sonny as a form of tribute to his birth Mother whom he claimed to have known only for a few years before being packed off to live with his Father and new Step Mother. I noticed a correlation between the names and level of drinking. “Sonny” liked to get unapologetically and paralytically drunk whereas “Howard” drank less (though still to excess) and exhibited anxiety with his inability to cease alcohol consumption. Unlike most of the winos seeking refuge in the cave, Howard was a local who lived in a trailer on Stewart Avenue with his sister. She had given him money to purchase tomato seeds and fertilizer at King Hardware though failed miserably in the mission having chosen to buy a half gallon of Smirnoff instead. So he was banned from the trailer and sought refuge in the cave. He expressed great admiration for Rod Stewart who was just then experiencing his first major taste of success as a solo artist. He saw in Rod a kindred spirit attached to the ways of romance and nostalgia for the “Gasoline Alley” of one’s youth. Howard talked openly of his brief but torrid love affair with none other than famed actress Ann Margaret whom he claimed to have met as her star was in ascendence. “She was a lousy lay“, he said while puffing on a Lucky Strike. “Not nearly as good as Jayne Mansfield or Raquel Welch”. Wait… What ? I noticed that exaggerated masculinity was a characteristic of any of these stories as if their problems could all be traced to being “too much man” for society at large.
The appeal of what was once powerful and compelling will usually wane with time especially when considering that girls had no interest in going to the quarry with me which is why I stopped going. Besides, I had already begun my tenure on Stewart Avenue which afforded access to many things of far greater interest than some smelly cave inhabited with outcasts and those not long for the world. In viewing the Google satellite maps of the area it appears that the quarry is intact although overgrown with a mixture of kudzu and the greenery common to humid Atlanta. Since the geography seems the same, perhaps the cave is still there and it might even contain the refuse of teenage drinking and smoking – or even some of the graffiti we spray painted on the stone. I’m pretty sure I could still find it though getting into it might be a challenge what with the extra pounds that I now carry. As I keep pointing out in my posts, the general area is quite ripe for aggressive housing development though building on top of quarries is usually quite difficult. So even if town homes and condos spring up on the proximal boundaries, the quarry will probably be left alone. It could become a dedication site for those who labored and died there but that would require a much larger examination and corresponding acknowledgment. This is one of those situations where I would really like input from the older readers of this blog so we can get the story straight. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2019
Learning Your Craft
Lots of guy learn to play guitar simply to impress girls but those with serious intent usually separate themselves from the pack by progressing rapidly and seeking out performance opportunities, which is where you really learn your craft because you see instantly what works. Getting feedback from strangers is essential to growth and if you are in any way good, you will own your weaknesses and learn to separate the constructive comments from the crap. During a live set, I once had an obese lady throw a dill pickle at at me in what I initially believed to be an expression of dissatisfaction until she pulled out another, (from where I do not know), placed it between her rather large breasts and started licking it. While this didn’t count as nuanced feedback on the performance taking place, I did take it to mean that whatever song we were playing in that moment was provoking a definite reaction and should maybe remain in the set (or not). See, that’s profound and memorable feedback you would never get in a pure rehearsal situation or when playing for friends.
It’s a general truism that praise from a family member or a close friend (or sales person) is mostly meaningless outside of its ability to soothe and encourage – unless, or until, it is balanced by input from a neutral third party with specific knowledge in the domain under consideration. In absence of such it becomes an American Idol kind of thing where the tone-deaf contestant submits for an audition on the encouragement of a drunk uncle who sort of, kind of used to be in a band that, back in the day, got really close to making it. And when the contestant gets slaughtered by the judges, they really never saw it coming because no one had “the talk” with them about their actual prospects for a music career. Not to say that American Idol judges (or drunk uncles) are especially knowledgeable (some are, some aren’t) but there is a certain level of bad that is objectively observe-able in those desperate for a shot at stardom. Let’s just say that playing some tunes at the family barbecue picnic is fine though should never be confused as a general validation of talent.
A Very Short Artist and RCareer
As I pointed out in this post, there were many cover bands in the East Point, College Park, and Sylvan Hills areas with most of them working the local bar circuit while writing originals in hopes of attracting record company interest. Many were accomplished in faithfully reproducing the rock tunes of the day with some of them choosing to play songs likely to appeal only to other musicians. This became a problem for club owners whose priority was to sell alcohol. (No one can easily dance to “Roundabout” by Yes). Thus, bands would have to calibrate their performances for dancing and drinking or risk not being invited back. In their group biography, Aerosmith referenced a deliberate intent to avoid the cover band grind so they could focus on their original set even if it meant living in poverty and having to steal food. While playing 5 sets, 6 nights a week will do wonders for your musical chops, and put a few bucks in your pocket, breaking out of that into a record contract is difficult especially if your original songs are simple approximations of the covers used to promote beer purchases.
I went to Los Angeles right before “hair metal” peaked and the glut of bands made it pointless for anyone to come to LA since there were a million groups already present most of whom were equally as good as, if not much better than, anything you could bring to town. It was a peculiar mix of desperation, greasy long hair, and onset alcoholism. The mayor should have put up a sign “Dear Rock Bands – No Vacancy. There is No Room for You. Go back Now“. Everyone was incredibly insecure and restless which led to aggressive drug use and frequent personnel turnover as guys jumped ship to find that “magic” combination that would land them the top marquee spot at Gazzarri’s, The Whiskey, or The Starwood. (See Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years which explores this topic in much greater depth). Once “pay to play” was implemented it should have been a sign that maybe you go back home and roll the dice there (and much more cheaply). Some bailed out of the hair metal scene and landed in “New’ Country bands – a genre just then getting off the ground. Most found straight jobs or enrolled in College and generally adjusted to a life of convention. Some, however, couldn’t let it go and kept at it even though hair metal continued to wane in popularity.
You Guys Are Marvelous, Let’s Keep In Touch
I once shared a large number of drinks with an A&R guy at Atlanta’s Charley Magruders who was in town to scout one of “The South’s hottest bands“. I was astonished by his capacity for alcohol as well as his general knowledge of politics and science which dominated that evening’s discussion even as everyone else was totally digging the band. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me so I asked him about the group, “Oh them”, he said, as if they were an intrusive presence, like an apartment neighbor playing the stereo too loud. “Well the singer is too pudgy, the guitar player is good but he looks 35, their songs are average – they are more like jams, not real songs and, besides, everyone else has passed on them”. So he was there just for the drinks – the band’s manager was picking up his tab (and by extension mine). He had absolutely no intention of signing them with the main reason being that no other record company wanted them so how could they be any good – outside of the club scene, that is ? When the sweat soaked singer (he actually was kind of fat) looked over at the A&R guy for the smallest sign of approval, my host raised his glass high and gave the thumbs up as if watching a 26 year old Mick Jagger lather up the crowds at Madison Square Garden. Al Pacino would have been envious, so masterful was the acting.
He invited me to join him and his boss (my potential employer) not long thereafter at Danny’s in Marietta where he similarly rejected another “hottest band in Atlanta“. It was particularly awkward when the singer and guitar player sheepishly strolled over to check-in during a break. My record label friend adopted a hyper-supportive tone,“Dynamite set guys. Any hotter and we would have to call the fire department”. Wow. What a line. Any career I had been contemplating in A&R ended that evening as I didn’t relish the idea of having to lie so overtly to bands. I was told to treat it like a mediocre date – be positive and polite, promise to call, but let it fade into history and if you just have to be honest, then do it via phone to eliminate the possibility of physical assault. I was really good at identifying talent (still am) just that I lacked the tolerance for accommodating the endless layers of bullshit endemic to the music business. The bands that did get signed believed quite mistakenly that their troubles were over and certain fame awaited. But of course, that rarely panned out and the A&R guy who signed them would always leave or get fired leaving them with no advocate at the office. But that’s okay. Everyone at the label “still believes in you, baby” even as they quietly drop the option for the second record and slowly, yet firmly, show you the door “Let’s keep in touch, you are so talented“.
There is a type of musician who, in the presence of more flashy players, can easily go unnoticed though you quickly realize that he or she is instinctively covering a lot of parts musically and vocally, while writing songs that do an end-around on your critical thinking filters. As an example, instead of using a complicated chord progression, they “see through it” and offer a tasteful alternative that is easier to play and provides fluid voice leading ultimately resulting in something better with much less effort. Most of these guys are what I call intuitive musicians who see the bigger picture of any song and work inwards to remove the junk, thus allowing the essence of the song to become evident – as opposed to the more technical musician who just likes to throw in things on top. The late Sonny Sharrock characterized most rock guitarists as “Jugglers”, musicians who have a set number of “tricks” they rotate though or juggle as part of their performances. It doesn’t take long before you’ve heard all of their tricks and become bored.
But there were two guys in Sylvan Hills who were of this intuitive type. The first was Terry K. whose Father was a local music teacher. Terry was part of The Spontaneous Generation who had a regional release in 1968 with “Up In My Mind” backed by The Who’s “Pictures of Lily”. Jan Whitten was also in the band (cousin of Mike Whitten, the original drummer in the Atlanta rock band Alien). Most people from Sylvan Hills will probably remember an unfortunate accident which resulted in Terry’s general withdrawal from life though he still wrote songs and served as a sounding board for others. While he wasn’t the type of guy who mastered note-for-note renditions of something like Third Stone from the Sun he could comfortably sit in with someone who had and offer complimentary accompaniment all without much preparation. He had a solid ear, almost like a jazzer, so hearing chords and melodies was easy for him. Need a harmony line ? No problem. Advice on a chord substitution ? Sure. A complimentary descending keyboard chordal sequence ? How many do you want ?
There was another guy name Olin Rainwater who fell into this category though he was far more prolific in terms of musical output having written hundreds of songs. He was truly a walking band in the sense that he could sing, play guitar, and write tunes so he required minimal backup to perform. He could have easily been a power trio guy in the vein of Mountain or Creem as his lead lines were bluesy and his rhythm was spot on even as he was singing. The act of singing and playing simultaneously came quite naturally to him whereas I always struggled with that. When it came to covers, Olin was able to listen to songs, even those with rich instrumentation and complex arrangements, and boil them down to the essentials. Oh, he might miss some of the extensions but his ultimate chord selections captured the right tonality while leaving room for the color tones which he could supply vocally. Amazingly, he could do this within minutes of hearing a song and, best of all, be ready to perform it not long thereafter. Now, that’s talent and courage that few people have. I would still be worried about whether a chord was an F#minor with a flat 5 and he would be like, “No, let’s do it. 1-2-3, go”. That he was so confident bolstered my confidence which made it all so much easier. It was an additive, no, a multiplicative effect that was truly liberating. When people trust each other, great things can happen.
While rehearsal was important, he also liked to throw songs my way (his own or cover tunes) which required learning the song as the band was playing it. This involved me looking at his guitar neck, copping the chords, and internalizing the structure – again, while the song was being played. He might solo but it was just as likely he would give me the nod. It all somehow worked – not because I was so good but because I didn’t have to worry about him dropping the beat or screwing up which only emboldened me to try things I normally would not have. Like me, he was a Stones fan particularly of the weaving interplay between the two guitars where the listener might not be able to immediately distinguish who is playing what. It all sounds so well integrated that there is no need to dissect it. Besides, if that even crossed your mind it simply meant the performance was at best average.
When it came to writing songs, I didn’t know what his process was but it was fast and versatile such that he could write to a title or a phrase or begin with a set of chords. However, he told me that his biggest challenge was the distraction of having multiple options. He felt he could go in different directions – rock, country, R&B, or avant-garde and it wasn’t clear what the most expedient thing would be. And the resulting confusion undermined his goal setting efforts. Most people are limited in a way that makes these considerations largely academic or irrelevant, but Olin was gifted in an absolute sense so I could appreciate his struggle (not that I shared in it) just that he truly had a number of possibilities that most artists do not. And there was always the tug of financial obligation which led to a stint with local oldies band The Cruise-O-Matics. just to pay some bills.
There are a number of stories to relate though I’ll let it sit for now. I do recall with great fondness in the mid 80s stopping by his apartment on Pharr Rd which he shared with his future wife Sloan. At the time I was living behind the original Longhorn Steak house on Peachtree so it was easy to pop by and talk, learn tunes, and generally shoot the breeze. We had both left the south side for more convenient access to things and Buckhead was only in the earliest stages of becoming the obnoxious night time entertainment district that it would grow to be. However, then it was easy to get around. But as is the case in life, he went his way, I went mine and it was quite some time before I spoke with him courtesy of a chance encounter with Sloan. Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago but it was really good to reconnect. For a taste of his music check out this video compilation assembled by Dean (a fellow south sider and good friend to Olin) which is just a sample of a much larger catalogue of impressive stylistic variety. I have an 8-track tape of some of his sessions completed at Song Bird studio off of Howell Mill Rd which I plan to convert to MP3 – as soon as I find an 8-track player to do so. © 2019 The Stewart Avenue Kid
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
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.
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
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 ?”
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 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’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.
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.
This is Part 2 of “Stewart Avenue Crime Part 1” so you might want to check that out before proceeding but, hey, do whatever you want ! I got a chuckle from this article wherein APD Chief Ericka Shields offered her opinion on the “dark days” of Stewart Avenue.
“We had people from all over the state coming to Stewart Avenue, and it wasn’t for shopping either. [A] Majority of the cases that we made involved those who lived nowhere near here”
What the Chief describes is the classic situation of people cruising an area for “services” they would never tolerate in or near their own back yard though feel entitled to as long as it’s in another neighborhood located far away. This is a variation (albeit a far more serious one) of the practice of cutting though residential neighborhoods during a rush hour commute but then calling for blood should it occur on your street. Once an area is perceived as being disinterested in its own safety (although that is hardly ever the case) it becomes ongoing justification for outlying city residents to ignore the fact that decent people might still reside in the area. And just because they lack the financial and political clout to address the blight and crime doesn’t mean they want (or deserve) for the problem to perpetuate itself. It’s like once a landfill winds up someplace, the outsiders want it to stay there forever because “God knows we don’t want it where we live”.
I was stingy with my sympathies for those caught soliciting prostitutes as it was their ongoing patronage that contributed to the decline of my neighborhood. It’s tough to watch what was once a thriving, prosperous area go down the tubes and when you encounter people who are enthusiastically contributing to that it’s easy to cop an attitude. I was probably more tolerant than most but others, especially business owners (mostly car lots), took great delight in the misfortunes of outsiders seeking illegal action who wound up getting ripped off, roughed-up, arrested, or maybe even all three. There is a rhythm unique to any urban region and those out of sync can easily be identified and exploited. Stewart Avenue had a rhythm as did Ponce de Leon and so did Moreland Ave – at least before the gentrification. And while they were similar, you didn’t necessarily get a pass at “Southern Comfort” just because you liked to hang out at “The Crystal Palace” or “Ray Lee’s Blue Lantern.” While all the inhabitants might not get along we did in fact recognize each other as part of some post-Appalachian, urban-hillbilly ecosystem though it was no guarantee of peace. I’m reminded of Hunter Thompson’s comment in “Hell’s Angels”:
[Nelson] Algren called them “fierce craving boys” with “a feeling of having been cheated.” Freebooters, armed and drunk—a legion of gamblers, brawlers and whorehoppers.
Which is to say that despite a common regional lineage or shared socioeconomic status, the guy you might be drinking with might easily turn on you because of some perceived slight once the liquor had taken hold. So then, how do you think such a person would react to an outsider ?
Caught With The Pants Down In The Wrong Part of Town
Not all of those seeking “action” were outsiders but plenty were and many Cobb County, Ward Cleaver types would take the “long way” to and from Atlanta Airport airport with a stop for some action. And, if they had a flat tire or, worse, got assaulted by a hustler, it would involve an awkward phone call for help. There would be guys coming into Brothers Three or Banks Liquor trying to make you part of an alibi by using the store phone and telling their wives (or whomever):
My car broke down and I pulled into this store and am using their phone. Hey, What’s the name of this place ? Yea, Three Brothers ? Oh, Brothers Three. No, No, don’t worry I’ll call the tow truck from here. I gotta get off the phone now. Let’s talk later.
Actually their car was in the back parking lot of an Adult Bookstore where they had hoped to have met someone but that was all conveniently left out of the conversation. But the work was far from over as they had to cook up a plausible explanation as to why they were in the area in the first place. This was almost always a variation of “I-75 was packed so I got off onto Stewart Avenue and got lost.” Let me be clear. I could not be less interested in someone’s proclivities and personal vices just that they should pursue them closer to their own damn home and not attempt to sell off such an obvious bullshit story. Sometimes, we would have wives call us back and ask questions because their intuition told them that something was wrong.
On occasion an area native would get caught in a way that might expose a formerly hidden lifestyle. Getting nabbed with a hooker could be a problem but much more so if getting caught soliciting men which happened to at least two area business owners. Neither recovered from the resulting shame. I was surprised to see a highly respected teacher of mine cruising the Avenue which didn’t result in any major consequence until he was later busted for participation in an organized prostitution ring. He was successful and cultured but his yearnings for the flesh brought him down. Women weren’t immune from lapses in judgement either. My own history involves being approached by more than one married woman with a yen for younger men. They didn’t take rejection lightly which might later involve them telling their husband that I was the one who had approach them ! That could be incredibly awkward for all involved and I was grateful for having a number of surly co-workers glad to work as my advocate in these cases.
Stewart Avenue always had a significant degree of ambient crime including bar fights, vandalism, and the occasional mugging that might take place down towards University Avenue. The area winos aroused little interest except from angry car lot owners who didn’t like them breaking into cars to seek refuge from the cold or rain. Nothing worse than opening a car for a potential customer only to find a scabrous, urine-soaked drunk writhing on the front seat. Yanking them out and hosing them down was a favored form of revenge but it’s not as if they were guilty of any major crime. One of the more enduring winos was “Mike” who was rumored to have connections to steady money which might have been true since he kept going strong despite obvious health problems. That he was a slave to alcohol did not prevent him from refusing offers of beer even when in the grip of Delirium tremens. A can of Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon simply didn’t pack the punch of his beloved Barton’s American Blended Whiskey. In a pinch he would accept some MD 20 20 or a bottle of gin but beer was for weaker men.
There was lots of fighting going on mostly at night and in the parking lots of various bars and liquor stores. Some of these altercations were a source of great amusement even to the participants themselves who would realize how foolish they must look taking swings that never landed. I watched a fight in the parking lot of Banks Liquor make it’s way to the other side of Stewart Avenue into the Adult Bookstore parking lot where the drunken pugilists (three of them) decided to call it quits since no one was willing to “tap out”. The fattest of the three decided to retreat in a peculiar manner by scaling the fence surrounding the 166 underpass upon which his pants leg got caught resulting in his being suspended upside down. Eventually his pants leg tore and he fell squarely onto his head. And like a bug with a tough exoskeleton he somehow scuttled up the sloping pavement to rest underneath the bridge. His was hyperventilating and vomiting. I had a pair of binoculars that someone had pawned for some Scotch so I could verify that he was sliced up pretty bad. Someone called the cops who showed up and basically screamed at the guy who responded with enough force to convince them that he was okay.
“Stick-up kid, but look what you done did”
Now if you want to talk “real crime”, there were holdups such as the one I was involved in at Brothers 3 wherein some guys busted through the sliding side door while slamming my co-worker Larry in the head with the butt of a shotgun. It was a move designed to signal serious intent and it worked. After dropping Larry, I saw them heading towards me so I just hit the floor as did an older customer and a young black guy named Ron who looked like running back Jim Brown. None of us had any money of which to speak and while they had made a bloody example of Larry they left everyone else alone except to verbally berate us and threaten certain death should we not remain on the ground for at least 30 minutes after their departure. (We were up inside of two). Their take was around $170 and a six pack of Schlitz Malt liquor which, in my opinion, reflected a lack of ambition. The main guy was an impossibly skinny, pimply faced black dude with a floppy hat who had come in earlier to case the joint. He had told me that I looked like Rod Stewart (completely untrue) and it was such an out of context remark that I mentioned it to Larry, but we just put it down to the guy being a flake job – which he was. In the aftermath of the robbery Ron told me that he knew one of the guys and guaranteed that he was going “handle it” though I never received confirmation that he did (not that he owed anyone). In any case, he turned out to be a cool guy who would drop in just to say hello now and then to shoot the breeze. I suppose there is something about being in a tough situation with someone that can help form a bond. He was definitely the kind of guy you would want to be robbed with – assuming you had to be robbed at all.
The problem with the incipient crime was that legitimate businesses simply trying to maintain or make a come back could do very little to combat the growing negativity associated with the area that persists till this day. As a prime example, Caruoso’s Italian restaurant attempted something of a reprise at the intersection of Langston and Stewart next to the new Kroger that itself had displaced Earl Bennet’s Trailer park – a place I detail in this post. However, no one wanted to drive in from other parts of town especially when there were plenty of eating options all over town. Even the famous Pilgreen’s restaurant located on Lee Street struggled to keep them coming in but they at least lasted longer. Atlanta had a problem with crime in the 70s which included on-again, off-again notoriety as the murder capital of the nation. Going back to the article referenced at the beginning, the Chief said the following:
When the name was changed to Metropolitan Parkway, it made many people cynical, and now the corridor has numerous potential for great things to happen. Our goal with the precinct is to integrate it into the community as we will have meeting spaces for local organizations and anticipate having officers moving within the area
I do agree that there is a great deal of potential but unfortunately that’s ALL there is at this point as no major real estate moves have been made. Very odd given the corridor’s proximity to the movie studios and the music amphitheater along with an abundance of cheap land that is also very convenient to downtown and the Airport. The demand for inside-the-perimeter living would suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the area blows up but it still remains dormant for the time being.
Dee Fords was a night club in the Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center (now “Crossroads Shopping Center“) located next to the Jolly Fox strip bar that was owned (co-owned ?) by Dee’s brother Jerry or so I was told. My dentist, Claude D. had his office located next to the Jolly Fox although he started his practice long before the decline of Southwest Atlanta. He was generally a good guy but thought anyone with long hair was a dope fiend – an idea confirmed by his refusal to provide a script for pain medications following the difficult removal of an impacted wisdom tooth. To complete the work, he used my forehead as a fulcrum to generate the necessary extraction force but that didn’t work so he broke the impacted tooth in two for easier removal – well at least for him. I half expected him to ask, “Is it safe?“ This whole scene prompted an inquiry about post extraction analgesics to which he curtly replied, “aspirin should handle it just fine, don’t chew on that side of the mouth for a few days“. “Wow. Thanks Doc. That never occurred to me. I was gonna go out and eat a T-Bone“. Anyway, he had been liberal with the numbing agent but it wore off a few hours later leaving me with raw pulsing pain the likes of which could motivate a deal with the devil. I wanted to tell Claude that if I really wanted drugs I could walk out the door and score more quickly than going the whole pharmacy route – not that I wanted to score anyway. I settled for slamming a couple of Big Mouth Mickeys down at Brothers Three and waiting it out.
“You can jail the Revolutionary but you can’t jail the Revolution“
Dee Ford’s occupied the spot previously occupied by The Paint Store lounge which itself was previously a Pittsburgh Paints store. A band called “Mighty Joe Young” played at the Paint Store lounge though I was too young to get in but my older friends raved about them. I don’t remember exactly when it turned into Dee Ford’s but almost immediately the club became a seedy destination for 70s party types, would be rock stars, fledgling drug dealers, and the occasional older guy looking to pick up a “foxy chick“. There was also a lot of redneck drama. To wit, there was a sinewy recidivist hick who would go around asking “Who was it that Cain married if not his sister or some very close blood relative?” (An ongoing conundrum for many Christians). Given his Hillbilly background it occurred to me that it might have been an attempt at rationalizing some Jerry Lee Lewis style familial fraternization. And if enough people seemed to accept the idea, hopefully without significant negative reaction, then maybe his conscience could rest a little easier at night. Then again maybe he just wanted to be viewed as Cell Block D’s most accomplished jail house intellectual. While he had a lot of “wisdom” on offer his flow was suspect. “You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution” followed up by ” The powdered eggs in Fulton County ain’t half bad“. Uh okay…. Wait ! What ?
“Let’s go to the Twilight Club and meet some REAL men“.
The women could be scary and sleazy. They weren’t bashful and frequently made the first (and second and third) moves which wasn’t always welcomed as many of them weren’t attractive and well known to get around. At the time, sexually transmitted diseases were colloquially known to the layman (no pun intended) as “VD” (Venereal Disease) with most people thinking that the only two possibilities were “The Clap” or “The Crabs“. Many felt such afflictions to be the inevitable result of the promiscuity so common to the 70s. Some of the more extreme felt VD to be evidence of accomplishment like a merit badge or rite of passage. In the early 70s the tenants of the North side Riverbend apartment complex (featured in the 2002 “Catch Me if You Can Movie”) became well known for its infamous nude pool parties and even more more so for reliance upon penicillin. Condom use was not then prevalent and though we offered them for sale at Bros Three, the only people who bought them were patrons of the street walkers. One guy would walk in and loudly request a pack of “Sultan the Man Protectors” as if he were a compensated spokesperson. However, that didn’t deter most guys. The Silver Ribbon down the street was a Country and Western bar (no one includes the Western anymore since the Bakersfield scene was so long ago). I was in the parking lot drinking beer with a friend when two massively intoxicated cow girls staggered towards us as one of them let loose with a stream of projectile vomit. She never broke stride. As she wiped her mouth she gave me the once over and told her friend, “Let’s go to the Twilight Club and meet some REAL men“. Guess I wasn’t her type.
“Who was it that Cain married if not his sister….”
Dee’s was well known for “Nickel Beer Night” and “Drink and Drown“. There was usually some violence resulting from unintentional body contact between men whose only way to distinguish themselves was through violence. The women could get in on the action too with crude exhibitions of primal jealousy leading to hair pulling, biting, and drink tossing that in turn triggered more action. It certainly wasn’t always a fight scene but anytime you have that much alcohol someone is going to get upset. The bouncer, a guy named Reed if I recall correctly, could handle things so it was far from being a roadhouse. Any place on The Avenue had a capacity for alcohol fueled fights – it was just part of the scene. The thing for us was to hit Nickel Beer Night and after a few hours of that then stumble over to the “buffet” at the Jolly Fox to scarf down some buffet baloney while we watched the dancers work through their set. They had this one very statuesque blond whom the DJ called “Jean, Jean the Dancing Machine” though as it got later it became “Jean Jean The F*****g Machine“. I recall one night being paralytically drunk while this dancer, “Little Bit“, did her dance for me and misinterpreted my stare as a form of interest. She had a really big “smiling” C-Section scar which I found amusing. After her dance, she came over to see if I was willing to share any money though stalked off in disgust as she realized I was incapable of any movement so there was no way I could open my wallet.
Sylvan Hills, East Point, and College Park had a wide variety of musicians many of whom were good with a few being exceptional if only in a well-rehearsed, copy band kind of way. Dee hired many of them to grind through sets till 2 a.m. when they might try to work in an original song or two. Dee always wanted to sit in with the band (an imposition I think) and offer up such classics as ”Standing on Shaky Ground” though he developed some originals such as ”I Want to do Beautiful Things to You in the Morning” which, after a night at Dee Ford’s couldn’t have been possible. One of the better house bands was an ensemble named Glyder fronted by male and female singers which gave them an edge over other bands. I recall the guy singer (Kevin?) being really short. I’m sure that wouldn’t make him feel good to know that’s how some might remember him. The wildcard was the guitar player Nicky who was a pretty good musician who used to drop by Brothers Three in a hearse that the band used to haul around their gear. This was interesting as I had another friend who interned at a funeral home who also used an older hearse to haul around band gear. Nicky had an unusually optimistic outlook (perhaps chemically assisted) to the extent that we nicknamed him “Mr. Wonderful” – not to be confused with wrestler Paul Orndorff who operated under the same name and could also sometimes could be found in Stewart Avenue bars. When I was too lazy to learn how to play a certain song I would just go to Dee’s, sit at the bar, and cop the chords by watching Nicky (and other guitarists) play. It was dead easy and I probably learned like 90 songs that way. You gotta be a visual learner for this approach to work though.
Another band that setup shop there periodically was Alien who had a variety of members over time (like many bands) before settling into a configuration in the 80s when they made a serious bid towards getting a record contract although I don’t think it worked out for them at least at the national level. Most bands Dee brought in were pretty solid with some bands being very meticulous to a point of being obsessive. One such group rolled in and the singer wore a leotard similar to the kind favored at the time by Freddie Mercury. I mean he wore it the entire night which was odd because if you saw Queen in concert then you know that Freddy would switch up his wardrobe several times during the show. But the cover band singer was quite comfortable wearing his leotard even if no one else was. In any case, they really nailed the tunes but ran out of songs midway through the second set which was awkward since it meant they had to repeat themselves way too soon in the evening. Oddly, they had no apparent ability to jam or improvise so filling up some time wasn’t a possibility. I noticed that there were several bands back then who couldn’t play outside of the parameters of the song they were covering at least in a way that was interesting. So their careers were pretty much restricted to the cover band circuit since writing songs was probably out of the question. Or maybe not. The band U2 got it’s start by writing original material almost immediately as they had little inclination (or talent) for covering songs by existing artists – but then U2, and bands like them, came of age a few years later when groups no longer needed to first prove themselves on the bar circuit before getting the attention of a record company.
On the cusp 80s, Atlanta became saturated with rock cover bands and it got to be competitive and very boring since they were playing mostly for each other. There was a band who offered a note perfect rendition of Elton John’s “Funeral For A Friend” and yet another group prided itself on their faithful reproduction of “Roundabout” by Yes. And while the crowd might have been impressed, (more likely the musicians in the crowd), the bar patrons always preferred something more “common” and dance-able such as “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” or maybe a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Rolling Stones song. Dee brought in another regular band called Nightflight who wisely chose tunes that the crowd could move to. On occasion they would throw in a ballad such as Gino Vannelli’s “The Wheels of Life” which seemed out of place until I realized that it was a good slow dance number liked by the girls.
I started going to places like 688 to get a break from all the wannabee guitar heroes, stratospheric singers, and would be Keith Emerson style keyboard wizards of the cover band world. And even if some of those 688 bands weren’t that great from a musical standpoint it was still refreshing to hear original music at the start of the “New Wave” era. There were still places like Uncle Tom’s and C.W. Shaws which hosted top tier, original rock bands poised for a record deal. However, as would become a general life pattern I always found myself out of step with both the South and North sides of Atlanta since I didn’t blindly accept various bands being offered as the “the best in Atlanta” or “the best in The South” which was a term bandied about so much then. I mean you could drive to Birmingham or Florida and see some pretty good bands also. I got called a “snob” a lot when that really wasn’t the case. My wanting to check out something new shouldn’t have been interpreted as a betrayal simply because I did not want to go see the same ole bands even though many of them were my friends – some of whom, 40-45 years later, are still playing – God Love’em !
Anyway – back to Dee’s – a lot of the people “action” took place in the parking lot with people going to the car to “burn one” or randy couples looking to engage in some quick backseat action. You should remember that this was the age of large pimp style gas hog automobiles with enough room to host a church barbecue. Some people lived in these cars and even hung curtains or blankets in the windows whereas others didn’t mind being seen. Customized vans were also a big thing then and they always attracted since everyone assumed nefarious activities were taking place therein. This was the era of “If this van’s a rockin’ don’t come a knockin'”. Many Avenue bars had as much action going on in the parking lot as was going on in the club. In fact some nights I might not even go inside if the scene was happening in the parking lot. I mean if the band wasn’t that good then why bother because you knew that there weren’t any pretty girls inside. Plus you could drink out of your own trunk (everybody had colors of beer in the trunk back then).
I don’t recall exactly when I stopped going to Dee’s nor am I sure when it closed. Maybe somewhere around 82 ? At some point, the City of Atlanta Police started visiting some of the South side bars with teams of menacing cops looking to uncover whatever they could. They would demand identification, look in the bathrooms for active drug use, and generally come on real strong as a means to intimidate customers as well as the club owners. Then again maybe they were just looking for a payoff. Anyway, they would sometimes find some unlucky soul with an open warrant. I’m not sure that these “raids” accomplished much of anything in terms of reducing city crime. I recall hearing that Dee opened up a club in Columbus at some point. I don’t know if that was actually true but I know that I heard that from more than one person. There might have even been some overlap between the two locations but once I got busy with other things I just left it all behind and had expanded my game so to speak to include other venues and bars. In any case, from what Google tells me, Dee is apparently still at the bar and music game over in Anniston Alabama still going strong. I don’t know if he still wants to “do beautiful things to you in the morning” but he should get a longevity award for being in the night club business for as long as he has. © 2018 The Stewart Avenue Kid.
Perkerson Park, situated in Southwest Atlanta, had been largely ignored for decades before it experienced a resurgence courtesy of a Disc Golf Course which has flourished in the location since its debut in 2011. It amazes me that this general area continues to be ignored by developers given that before the real estate bubble Capitol View had some action and Sylvan Hills was being eyed by a number of land speculators. Since that time, however, investors continue to hold on to their money waiting to see how the Belt Line project will progress. While I’m aware that people started moving into the area as far back as the 90s the growth has never been comparable to that experienced by neighboring areas such as East Point and College Park. Years ago I ran into a buzzed hipster who claimed to be a reporter / writer for Creative Loafing (if i recall correctly – I was probably buzzed also). She was telling anyone who would listen that she had just closed on a “cool house”. Upon making an inquiry as to its location I was met with the classic hipster response of “Oh I’m sure you won’t know where it is but if you must know it’s Capitol View”. Rather than engage in a back-and-forth with someone hell bent on one-upping the universe, I offered a simple, “You’re such an urban pioneer”, which she mistook as a compliment. Back to the geography – it’s important to note that the official address for Perkerson Park is 770 Deckner Avenue which produces confusion for those unfamiliar with the area as there is a nearby street called Perkerson Rd. which hosts the Jeremiah S. Gilbert house located in the neighborhood of Perkerson Woods. In reality Perkerson Park is more aptly described as being in Sylvan Hills so the proximal street names can be somewhat misleading.
Wholesome Jam Sessions
A reader of this blog informed me that in the early 1960s the majority of Perkerson Park “action” was mostly of the “wholesome variety” with the pavilion being a favorite hangout for teenagers and church groups. My source also tells me that local boy turned music star Tommy Roe would show up for the occasional jam session as he was perfecting tunes like “Sheila” though he was somewhat protective of that particular composition perhaps sensing that it would be a hit. Later there was The Spontaneous Generation who was destined for the big time and had some success with Up in My Mind. (backed with a cover of The Who’s Pictures of Lily). They never realized their full potential due in part to an unfortunate accident involving keyboard player Terry K who remained in the region for quite some time thereafter making music now and then produced by local music teacher Jon Lloyd. Another band that jammed there included Enertia though there were other musicians worthy of note whom I will attempt to cover in a future post.
Relative to aesthetics and geography Perkerson Park was lush green and in close proximity to Sylvan Hills High School (The Golden Bears) which insured a lot of use by students. (Exactly what they “used” there varied with the times). The Park was comprised of two major parts – the upper level which contained three baseball fields (one for softball) and the general recreational area that included a tennis court and a pavilion. The levels were bisected by an unimpressive creek that ended into some woods which provided an easy escape for marijuana smoking kids seeking to avoid the law or bullies looking to rip them off. Those not experienced with navigating that back patch of woods (or too stoned to do so) would inevitably trip on the underbrush or run into trees. You then had to loop around behind Cahoon Street and emerge between one of the duplexes to complete your escape – not that I would know anything about that.
“You Bitch. How Could You ?”
In my first year of Little League the ball fields were unkempt with over grown grass and a creaky old score board with metal numbers. In my opinion this was the best situation as we could play baseball in peace without hyper competitive parents injecting their madness into our games. As the 70s progressed I noticed that some of the dads would drink liquor at the game and harangue coaches to get more playing time for their “gifted son” who might very well be just an average player. Some of my coaches were “fans of the flask” themselves and weren’t above getting a little tight to deal with the lunacy of the parents. One of our coaches passed out during the game and we let him sleep it off as we knew how to deal with tactical game issues as well as he did. The funny thing is that while in his semi-coma state he kept muttering, “you bitch, how could you” under his breath. It became a tag line at practice and later games. I’m also pretty sure more than a few affairs got started at the ball field bleachers as some of the dads would zoom in on women whose husband always seemed to be traveling. The pickup action would start even before the game as some guy would slide onto the bleachers next to a Mom and open with the line, “so what team does your son play for ?”. In reality it was a small world then and people more or less knew who was in the market for action as the gossip traveled rapidly. But it was still kind of tough to watch such garish displays wholly lacking in polish. To put it bluntly these guys had no game and even I could see that.
Each team was sponsored by a local merchant such as Holton Dodge or Millirons Garage (I played with the brothers Larry and Donald) though we were individually required to sell chocolate to raise additional funds to further supplement the league’s bank account. As if that wasn’t enough each team also had to select a “Team Queen” who was usually a sister of one of the players although a cruel dad singled out an effeminate player as a possible candidate. It all escalated to the point where they had a beauty pageant to select the prettiest Team Queen. It was a total circus and I got tired of showing up because of all the activities that had nothing to do with baseball combined with the coaches becoming all “big league” and competitive even though most of them really had no solid ideas about the game let alone how to teach the fundamentals. Worst of all they took note of whose parents showed up and benched any kid whose parents (or parent) didn’t show up. In effect bowing to pressure to play the children of the loudmouths and sponsors. This, combined with the fact that my folks were fighting at home led to a personal malaise and a corresponding slump on the field. What had once been fun was now a total drag. I do have to give props to one of the umpires, Don F., who cheered me up and was very encouraging.
Being Too Good Can Be a Problem
Most parents were completely delusional about the true extent of their kid’s actual talent and it was only in the face of “real talent” that it became clear that their son was probably not destined for the big leagues. As an example there was a young black kid named Daryl Underwood who hit home runs with great ease and he regularly embarrassed the league’s best pitchers by effortlessly “moon decking” any type of delivery that came his way. Despite his obvious ability (or perhaps because of it) he was denied participation in that year’s All Star team. This was one of my first personal experiences with overt racism and it puzzled me that the league would forgo the superior abilities of a player simply because of skin color but the coach was overheard saying in a rabid tone that that year’s team was “goddamned going to be 100% lily white“. This all became academic at least for that moment when Daryl died not long thereafter having fallen out of the back of a pick truck on the way home. There was another great athlete named Jeff Culbreth who was far too good for the Little League scene and after a successful high school career in baseball, football, and basketball he was drafted by the Braves though spent only one year with their Greenwood team before returning home and also meeting with an untimely demise.
Ah before I forget – here is a picture of one of the sponsor pages from my 1970 version of the Perkerson-Sylvan Little League bulletin. Check the end of this post for more pictures. If you grew up in the area get ready for a trip down memory lane mes amis.
Quaker State Hair Mousse
The Park was also a place for backseat romance for the younger crowd but guys like James B. (a mostly toothless illiterate gas station attendant) enjoyed taking his conquests there for some action which he would relate to us (completely unsolicited mind you) at Bros Three. He had a habit of punctuating the sexual aspects of his story by sharply inhaling air which made a whistling sound as it rushed over his bare gums. The volume and duration of the resulting sound corresponded to the level of pleasure he had experienced. Once he started down this road there was no stopping him so you would just have to walk away if it got too vivid. He would usually be smoking no filter Camels during these performances and if he inhaled too deeply or quickly he would double over into a paroxysmal coughing fit. Upon recovery he would behave as if nothing happened and then offer, “but it was soooo goooooood”.
James worked at the Shell station at the corner of Stewart and Cleveland which was operated by Raymond Hoffman a straight-laced import from Pennsylvania with whom I later worked at Banks’ Liquor Store. James was pretty good with gas station activities and this still being the era of full service gas stations he had plenty of work. It also put him in direct proximity to lustful women who would drive into the station in various states of undress. I believed him as we experienced the same phenomenon at Bros Three with the Drive in Window which was actually more of a door. The trouble though was that these women were usually unappealing in the extreme at least as far as I was concerned. Some of the older guys, or guys with lower standards, would happily roll the dice.
James was not what you would call a hygiene fanatic. On Friday he would have a couple of day’s worth of accumulated oil in his hair which had dropped from the grease rack under which he spent most of his time doing oil changes and lube jobs. Gobs of the stuff would still be there on Monday afternoons when he stopped by for a few beers. It functioned like sort of a hair Mousse. As he had pretty thick hair it kind of worked but he had this continual petroleum smell that followed him around. Every time he lit up a cigarette I was afraid he might burst into flames. None of this seem to deter his conquests. James had a daughter who took a liking to me and she would drive up to Bros Three and ask if I wanted to “go parking” with her. She would catch me on the way back from taking trash to the dumpster (how romantic). It’s not that she was bad looking just that after having endured many of her Father’s conquest stories, combined with the whole petroleum hair gel thing, I really couldn’t get enthused. I mean what if she too enjoyed making that whistling sound ?
I cannot reasonably capture the significance of Perkerson Park in a single post. I just wanted to present an overview here. There are many more stories I could relate but I’ll save them for the book ha ha). Anyone with personal experience of the Park will have their own tales on offer – the proverbial good, bad, ugly. And depending on the era of your experience it could be innocent memories of teenage romance, a family reunion or a church barbecue. Or …..maybe a bad (or good) acid trip, a great band, or a fight between those types who had no other way to distinguish themselves except by violence. In fact my last time at Perkerson Park was not a positive one as it seemed to be inhabited by those with no promising job possibilities so they didn’t know where else to go. I mean once you start closing in on 30 you might want to consider making some decisions that don’t involve getting blasted in the Park. And while I can understand the appeal of such actions and wasted plenty of time doing nothing myself – I kind of knew that it was best to move on. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid
And finally here are some more excerpts from the 1970 Perkerson-Little League bulletin:
Consider the following list of wine names – Annie Green Springs, Deuce Juice,TJ Swan Easy Nights, MD 20 20, Wild Russian Vanya Wine, King Cotton Peach Wine, Wild Irish Rose, Ripple, NightTrain, and Thunderbird. If any of these bring a smile to your face (or fire to your stomach) chances are you sampled some of these popular “flavor fortified wines” as a teenage drinker – possibly not yet of legal age. Many on the list, such as TJ Swan or Annie Green Springs, weren’t as potent so these were ideal training wines for young women and first time drinkers. The most popular was “MD 20 20”. The “MD” stood for “Mogen David” (though the nickname was “Mad Dog”) and the the “20 20” came from the fact that the wine was sold in a 20 oz bottle with 20% alcohol. No one drinking this wine was concerned with image – it was cheap and powerful which is all that mattered. At Bank’s we chilled these wines in a standup cooler and from a distance one might easily mistake the MD for a bottle of cold grape juice. It did look to be refreshing and for someone looking for a buzz without the liquor taste (or smell) it wasn’t a bad purchase.
While these wines conjure images of toothless vagrants thrusting their scabby arms at passersby hoping to score some drinking money, it wasn’t just the down-and-out types who would drink this stuff. There were the functional alcoholics who would drop by to pickup some wine or a half pint of Bartons Vodka, sit on the wall next to Sylvan Motors, and chill before going off to do some menial labor to finance the next buzz. (They might not have been particularly ambitious but they were focused). But we had plenty of hard working laborers for whom a liquor store stop (sometimes several) would be factored into any day’s work. A guy riding on a delivery truck could work off a bottle of MD and keep a nice buzz going until night when he would transition to something with a little more kick. And then we had the area retirees who just had to get out of the house or die from boredom. That they might more sooner die of alcohol related illness didn’t seem to phase them.
Those with factory jobs could slip out to nearby liquor stores if they wanted but it was probably easier for them to stash the booze in their car. However that got to be dangerous as other workers (including management) might be able to see what was going on – so it became better for them to leave the premises. (I know all this because they told me). These types usually preferred liquor to wine because it packed a bigger punch. E&J Brandy was a popular choice most often referred to as “Easy Jesus” and sometimes “Eddie Johnson” in honor of the Hawks basketball player. We had a crew from the Grand Union Warehouse who would take lots of breaks over at Banks but they were mostly Seagram’s gin drinkers. The ring leader was a bony black guy with Asian features named Luke. He was the arbiter of the gang and would counsel younger guys on their various personal problems and help settle warehouse grievances out in the Bank’s parking lot. At times Luke would defer to a feisty older man named David Terrell who was retired or at least not working. David had a real mean edge and didn’t seem to like anybody. His catch phrase was “I’ll fuck you up” which he offered in response to the smallest of offenses most of which were imaginary. He reminded me of a geriatric version of the Atlanta wrestling sensation Thunderbolt Patterson. As David was then close to eighty years of age I suspected he had seen the worst that the 20th century had to offer in terms of racism and was therefore entitled to his attitude – so I let him rage on. It was only after a few sips of Orange MD that he would he mellow out and behave in any way ordinary.
She actually spiked Luke’s vodka with some of the “Demon Dick Potion” which produced a sustained erection that Luke claimed took days to subside.
One day I noticed that Luke appeared to be very fatigued and when I made an inquiry as to the cause he told me that his wife had paid a turban-wearing psychic in West End to brew up something called “Oo-Lah Juice” which I later realized was a spoken corruption of the phrase “Allah Juice” (not that I had any idea what that was either). The purpose of this concoction was to stimulate the libido which meant that every time he went home his wife wanted to have sex immediately and throughout the evening and even the following morning. Luke was intimidated (and unprepared) for this development and his wife’s onset horniness led him to suspect that she was possessed by a “Jezebel” spirit. Especially after she spiked Luke’s vodka with some of the “Demon Dick Potion” that produced a sustained erection that Luke claimed took days to subside. Ice packs and quarts of gin had not helped. His wife’s sudden sexual obsession was also concerning because it occurred to him that she might be tending to those needs with other men while he was at Bank’s having a drink.
I don’t know that he ever resolved this issue or if he succumbed to the dark power of the Oo-Lah Juice though he did consult David Terrell who seemed to understand the problem in a way that others did not. Of course the fact that these men frequently drank liquor in the morning suggested to me that by the time they got home in the evening that marital relations might not be a possibility. Speaking of the morning many times these guys would roll into Banks Liquor around 9 a.m., pick up a half pint of gin, then come to Brothers Three and score a greasy Polish sausage that we sold off a rotisserie. One guy said, “I see you have my breakfast ready”. Many times those sausages had been sitting in the cooler overnight resting in congealed grease. While in principle I was not opposed to early day drinking I could never really handle it because of generalized morning dyspepsia. Adding a Kielbasa on top of alcohol at 9 a.m. would have put me in the hospital.
If you are getting the idea that there was a lot of drinking going down in the Stewart Avenue area you are right. For most people, drinking was a necessity – a way to deal with the mind numbing tedium of doing the same thing day-in and day-out with little prospect for change. When I first started working on the Avenue I had absolutely no idea the extent of drinking and how it was at the foundation of the lives of so many people. My first job at Brothers involved helping old ladies smuggle alcohol into the recently new Lakewood Christian Manor retirement facility (where alcohol was strictly forbidden). The scam worked like this – old women would get groceries at Kroger, then come to the drive in window at Bros Three where I would open their back car door, pull out a half full bag of groceries, remove the contents, put a six pack or a twelve pack (usually the latter) at the bottom of the sack, stack the previously removed groceries on top, and then return the bag to the car. So when they took the groceries up (or had them taken up) none would be the wiser. Now they could have picked up the beer at the grocery store but this was dangerous since they might encounter a fellow LCM resident and then have to explain the alcohol. Also the grocery store clerks were usually too busy to do a good job of hiding the beer during the bagging procedure. Thus it became my problem.
These women were usually concerned with whatever packed the biggest wallop so they would buy things like Country Club or Colt 45 malt liquor though less potent brands like Carling Black Label or Falstaff were also popular. I hated this procedure because they never tipped me and they always blamed me when a facility representative found the alcohol. They would come to the store and whine, “Your boy didn’t pack my groceries correctly and I got into trouble”. (Yea – like the administrators weren’t already hip to the hustle). We had an old guy named Mike who worked at Brothers Three and also lived at LCM. He hated it that women drank for the simple reason that since LCM was a medical retirement community, the resident doors could not be locked so poor Mike would have drunk horny biddies showing up for some sleazy senior action. I was already angry with LCM because they built the facility on what was previously a large wooded area at the intersection of Springdale Road and Lakewood Avenue where I used to go to explore things as a kid. It was a cool place to disappear and chill. So I didn’t require much more to hate the place.
While there were a large number of bars in the area (which I’ll cover in an upcoming post) it was amazing how much drinking took place in liquor store parking lots, behind dumpsters, and in the mechanic shops of the various car dealerships lining The Avenue. There were ordinances against consuming alcohol within so many feet of a liquor store but if we enforced that we wouldn’t have had any customers. Larger stores such as the Old South on Cleveland Avenue had lots of business because of their better discounts so their in/out traffic was pretty intense at times whereas ours was less frenetic so guys could pull in their van and chill. On occasion we would have crews out in the lot drinking some beer and smoking weed which some feel is the best after work mixture to come down from the stress of a hard day of labor. These guys appreciated having a place for an after work drink without having to first go home and clean up. As long as no one got out of hand then it was cool. I’m sure I’ve missed a few of the popular “bum wines” and have forgotten the various cheap liquor brands – after all we are talking 35-40 years ago. I do know that many of the wines I’ve mentioned are still available for purchase. I think their overall sales might have taken a hit once the 40 oz bottles of malt liquor became available. Back in the day we had quarts of beer and I got out of the scene before 40s came into vogue. I’m sure though that there are plenty of Atlanta liquor stores that still let the patrons get loaded in the parking lot. It’s kind of a tradition. © 2017 The Stewart Avenue Kid
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.
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.
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.
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.
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