Just Another Saturday Night in 1980’s Atlanta

We pulled up in my Alfa Romeo wearing Dave’s dad’s suits to try to get into one of the trendiest clubs in Atlanta at the time: Elan.

I gave my keys to the valet, and we approached the bouncer who’d seen us get out of the car. I tried to go first hoping he wouldn’t notice Dave, who almost looked like the kid at the end of the movie Big, swimming in his adult-sized suit. The seersucker I picked out might not have been the most chic-looking, but at least it fit.

“Just act like you own the place,” Dave muttered to me as we made our way to the entrance. What Dave lacked in height, he made up in confidence.

Getting in turned out to be the easy part, socializing with this crowd was a bit more challenging. We got a few drinks and Dave tried unsuccessfully talking to any girl that came within a six-foot radius.

On the surface, this group seemed a bit more polished than at some of the other places we could get ourselves into with our young faces and hodge-podge of fake ID’s: The biker bar that probably figured if we were ballsy enough to enter, then have at it; Confetti’s which was the after-work dance club for all of Atlanta’s bar and restaurant crews, so we could have been bar-backs or busboys paying it sideways; then there were any number of bar & grills that would serve you if you knew the waitress or could smooth talk them; and there was always Clarence Fosters, which was so packed every Thursday to Saturday they couldn’t keep track of what day it was, much less what year you were born.

I went to the bathroom at Elan and was greeted by an attendant. There were empty urinals, but I was never able to go with someone peeing right next to me. The attendant noticed I was eyeing the stalls, so he pushed one open for me and stood aside to let me in.

“Thank you,” I muttered while wondering what kind of tip I was supposed to leave for this experience.

When I finished peeing, I came out and washed my hands, while eyeing all of the different impulse items the attendant had out on the counter. There was mouthwash, cologne, combs, mints, even condoms.

I really wanted a mint, but I didn’t want to have to tip the guy so I held back. When I finished washing my hands I looked for a paper towel, but the attendant beat me to the punch. He offered me the towel he was holding.

Flustered, I just wiped my hands on my seersucker suit and walked out.

While I was navigating the bathroom, Dave had surprisingly lured two women to our table. I nodded as I walked up.

“There’s the dentist,” Dave said.

“Huh?” I asked.

“Marla here, has a question for you.”

Marla suddenly got real close. “I’m a little self-conscious about it,” said Marla.

“Oh, just ask him,” said Dave.

“Okay then,” she looked me right in the eyes. “Do I need braces?” she asked as she smiled at me, a mosh-pit of teeth two inches from my face.

“Uh, ya’ know, I’m a dentist, not an orthodontist, so…”

“Give her your opinion,” Dave said.

“Okay,” I acted like I was studying her teeth, “no, I think they’re fine,” I lied.

When the girls went to the powder room, I looked at Dave. “Dentist? And what are you?”

“Architect.”

“Of course, you get the cool job.”

Dave just shrugged. “Look, my Dad and Carine are at my house tonight, so let’s take these two to Carine’s.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Dude,” he answered with his multi-purpose word. Depending on inflection, it could mean many things including: “come on, let’s do it”; “don’t even think about it”; “awesome”; or the definitive “you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?” This one was a “come on, be my wingman” type of utterance.

The Alfa was only a two-seater, so the girls had to follow us. I’d never been to Dave’s Dad’s girlfriend’s house so Dave navigated.

Carine’s place was in a Brady Bunch style Dunwoody neighborhood. The house had a For Sale sign in the yard and lockbox hanging from the front door. We pulled up the driveway and Dave hopped out.

“Keep them busy for a minute,” he said as he ran around the back.

“You don’t have a key?” I called out.

“Dude,” Dave answered over his shoulder with the “you fuckin’ kiddin’ me” inflection.

I kept the girls busy by showing off my new car until Dave opened the front door of the house from inside. The girls and I entered, taking in all that this single mom’s house had to offer: flowery wallpaper here, pink pillows there, a family portrait of Carine and her kids over the fireplace.

Dave’s girl spoke first. “You married?”

“No, no. Divorced,” Dave said, as he took the picture off the wall and turned it away from us.

“You build this place?” the girl asked, still believing Dave was an architect.

“You like it?” he threw out.

She looked around again. “I do,” she blurted.

“I did,” Dave lied, “let me give you a tour.”

 

A half hour and several discussions about teeth later, Marla must have thought I was either gay or not that into her and she gave up. She went to look for her friend and they both left shortly thereafter.

Later that night Dave and I recounted our evening over scattered, smothered and covered omelets at Waffle House. Dave had the time of his life. I, on the other hand, did not.

“Dude,” I said to him in his own language. He just laughed. I took a bite of my omelet and shook my head, “next time- you’re the dentist, and I’m the architect!”

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The Kids Are Alright

We were at Dave’s cousin’s place, who was out of town with her parents. We walked around to a side gate which was locked. “You don’t have a key?” Dave shook his head, “we’ll climb the fence” he said in his usual matter-of-fact way. So much for belonging. In a matter of minutes, we’d scaled the fence and were basically breaking-and-entering. But not to steal anything. We were just there for the pool.

After a quick dip, we settled into a couple of lounge chairs to soak up some of what we considered healthy 1980’s sunshine. I shut my eyes and felt the warmth down to my bones. The bright sun created psychedelic images through my closed eyelids. I still had the Baba O’Riley synth going through my head, and I was just about to doze off, when I sensed a giant shadow above me like a bird, but bigger. I felt a whoosh of air and heard a loud splash. This would be Conor who had jumped off the roof, instead of climbing the fence.

Conor was known for grand entrances. This was a guy who created dress-up Fridays at school; not as a school-sponsored thing mind you, just something he did for kicks. One Friday he’d be Steve Martin from the Jerk, carrying a broken chair, the next he’d be dressed as our principal, Mr. Whaley, down to the tan leisure suit with wide lapels and fat tie and even a walkie-talkie on his hip. “Go for Whaley,” he’d say into his walkie-talkie, totally in character, “we’ve got a smoker outside the designated smoking area, code 10, code 10!.”

But the ultimate Conor entrance would be later the next year at senior prom, when he’d take a mannequin as his date. He named her Monica, dressed her in a silky sequin-belted sea-green number, even bought her a corsage. The photographer asked him why the mannequin, and he said “the girls here are all plastic anyway.”

In all fairness, there were some great girls at our school. Better than us really. We weren’t bad guys, we just wanted to have some fun, and since the girls in our grade seemed to be all sincerity and seriousness, we hung out more with the girls in the grade below. They were dubbed the Smurfs. The nickname came from the girls in our grade who saw this gaggle of younger, one-year-more naïve girls as an annoyance, and the name just stuck. Dave’s cousin, who’s pool we were borrowing, happened to be a Smurf.

Conor dried himself off and popped a beer from a cooler that appeared out of nowhere. I say out of nowhere, because that’s how it always seemed. I mean, we were teenagers who probably should have been drinking Gatorade but we always had beer at the ready. “You hear about The Who retiring?” Conor asked. “Dude,” Dave said with an inflection that meant “what a shame.” “Any Smurfs coming today?” Conor asked. “Nah,” Dave said, “just us.” Dave didn’t really get our infatuation with the Smurfs, maybe since his cousin was one, or maybe it was that feeling of not wanting to go backwards. Dave and I were always looking ahead, trying to do things that we hadn’t yet done.

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My Generation

Atlanta in the 1980’s was an ever-evolving tapestry. Like a 16-year-old boy, it was full of ideas, hope, and testosterone. For years, the little brother to older and bigger cities. But after all the hand-me-downs and noogies, Atlanta had finally gotten its driver’s license. As had I, and looking for a car of my own.

From the candy-apple red, to the curves, to the easily removal top, she exuded sex appeal. Her name rolled off the tongue like foreplay: Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. This was an R-rated car and I was a PG-17 kid… in the eyes of my father anyway. Unfortunately, he was the one person I had to convince to buy the car for me: and for that I would need detailed information.

My dad was a stickler for details. He would read a manual before even touching a new device. I, on the other hand, had to touch, feel, maybe break something before I could really understand it.

This was the pre-internet early-1980’s, so I couldn’t just Google the information. I had to go out of my way. I had to go to the dreaded library. I borrowed my dad’s brown-turd-of-a-car, with a name that stuck to your tongue as you tried to spit it out: Chevy Citation.

My dad had bought the Chevy after Car & Driver magazine had given it a front page with the headline: “Outperforms a Ferrari Boxer.” As I drove down Heards Ferry- one of Atlanta’s many hilly and winding roads named after ferrymen- I jammed the sticky gearbox into 3rdgear, I wondered in what category this rattlebox could have surpassed a Ferrari. To me, this turd on wheels felt more like driving a covered wagon to the ferry, than a Ferrari to the library.

The library was not the most user-friendly experience back then. I’m not even sure “user-friendly” was in the lexicon of the day. Once past the judgy-looking lady at the front desk, who glared at me over her reading glasses just waiting to shush me, I tried flipping through the giant filing system. This behemoth held thousands of 3×5 notecards, which meticulously catalogued everything in the place. This was Google’s Lucy. After a good ten minutes of dead-ends and frustrated noises on my part, I noticed the judgy-lady coming my way. Oh, crap, do I just walk away so I don’t catch the wraith of this woman?Too late, she was quicker than she looked.

“May I help you?” she asked icily. “Uh, I’m looking for information on cars?” “Have you tried a car dealer?” she said, apparently wanting me gone as much as I wanted to be gone at that moment. But my quest was too important to abandon. “I, uh, I’m trying to talk my dad into buying me a used Alfa Romeo, and I need some stuff to convince him.” The lady took the reading glasses off her nose and put them back in her hair. “Convertible?” she almost cooed. Wow, if I get this kind of reaction from just a mention, imagine what driving it would be like? 

About an hour later, I had all the documents I needed, and the librarian’s phone number. She slipped it to me on my way out. Her name was Liz and she insisted I take her for a ride one day… with the top down.

The first piece of evidence I presented to my dad was a Car & Driver magazine article that Liz helped me track down on micro-fiche and even Xeroxed for me. For some reason my dad still trusted the magazine. I think he was in denial that his Citation was anything short of what he had been sold. “Look dad, Car & Driver calls it ‘a dream’.” “Yeah, you’re dreaming alright,” was his response. He then grabbed the Xerox copy and said “where’d you get this anyway?” “The library…. Look, a friend of mine’s dad, who’s loaded, is willing to give this car to me for cheap.” I figured this would make my dad listen. After-all, he was the most frugal man with money I knew. Probably the only heart surgeon driving a Chevy Citation anyway. “You went to the library?” was all he said, in a surprised tone, as he left the room.

I waited until the first olive from his martini glass was in his mouth before I hit him up again. From years of observation, this was my window when all was good. By the second olive, everything was an argument.

“Here is a current Kelly Blue Book,” I said as I handed him the book. “I’ve earmarked a page I want you to see.” He smiled at my unwillingness to cave as he looked over the details. “$12,000 dollars?” he snorted. “My brand new Chevy Citation was only $6,500, and it outperforms the Ferrari Boxer.” But does it. Really?I thought about saying, but I held my tongue and pulled out more evidence. “Current used car ads. Notice your Chevy tends to lose value rather quickly. The Alfa Romeo does not.”

He was already into his second olive. That was fast, I thought, I’d better wrap this up. “He’s willing to sell it to me, as a friend of his son’s, for $7,000.” He shook his head, but he didn’t say no.

My next move was a little more subtle. At the advice of Liz the librarian, I’d rented “The Graduate”. After the argumentative stage of martini drinking, my dad would sometimes get a case of melancholy. Bring on the melancholy, I thought.

I stayed quiet throughout the film, even when the red Alfa Romeo made its appearance. I’m still not sure if it registered with him that this was the car, in an older version. He cleared his throat at the end of the film, and I looked over to see him wipe his eye. Was that a tear or just an eye rub? I’ll never know, but the next day he bought me the car.

Car & Driver got this one right: driving around Atlanta in the Alfa Romeo was a dream. You know when you hug someone and everything fits just right?  Well the leather seats in this thing were like that kind of hug, and the smooth burled wood steering wheel and stick-shift handle felt like they were made for my hands. I took the top down and cranked up the aftermarket Blaupunkt 6-speaker stereo. It sounded like a symphony in that small space, but this was no classical score. No, this was The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” aka “Teenage Wasteland.”

We listened to a lot of music, me and my friends, from Springsteen to Zeppelin, from Jimmy Buffet, to Soft Cell. (Yeah, Soft Cell. Tainted Love. You know the song even if you won’t admit to liking it). The Who, however, was a constant. I’d say the soundtrack of our lives. They had a sweeping powerful operatic vibe and a little of that snarly young rock attitude that we connected with at our age.

“Baba O’Riley” started off with a pulsing synthesizer that built into a pounding piano, and a crescendo of deep thumping drums… And that was just the intro! By the time Roger Daltry’s voice took off with “Out here in the fields”, I was rocketing down Jett Road in my convertible with the top down. Jett Road was somewhat unique for Atlanta: relatively straight, long, and traffic-free. Being Atlanta, there were hills, but they were of the rolling kind, which made it all the more fun to speed on.

Off of Jett Rd. there was an appropriately named Tanglewood Trail. Oh, the tangled webs it weaved. This area of Buckhead was an enclave of old and new money. There were the houses with tennis courts and swimming pools of course, and then the one on Tanglewood with the basement disco: professional sound-system, professional lighting, even a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. The son and daughter went to our school. Rumor was that the father was in the music business and owned the rights to some Beatles songs, among others.

I always felt a little out-of-place in this area, even as a doctor’s son. You remember the car he drove, right? Well today I felt like these were my people as I turned my bright red Alfa Romeo onto Tanglewood Trail. I pulled into a driveway across the street from the disco house just as Baba O’Riley was reaching its final verse and Roger Daltry screamed “they’re all wasted!”

My friend Dave was sitting, shirtless, on his old dark-orange Camaro. The color was more like rust. I don’t believe this was a Camaro approved and applied color. Dave directed me where to park. I was just about to turn off the car when the DJ made an announcement that would change both of our lives forever: “Okay Who fans. Dates have been set for the farewell tour. Yes, I said farewell. Now if you haven’t seen them live, you’d better do everything and anything to get there because this is your last chance! Unfortunately, the closest to Atlanta they’ll be is Birmingham, Alabama…”

“Dude!” was all Dave said, but I could tell by the inflection that he meant “this is a once in a generation event and we have got to get tickets!”

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Marking My Territory

In Los Angeles, we’d see a duck land in our black-bottom pool or a raccoon in our water feature. There were even coyotes on our streets from time-to-time. They’d come down from the hills of the Santa Monica Mountain range probably looking for small pets, disappointedly I’m sure, since most of the small pets in LA are safely carried by their owners in handbags or strollers.

Here in Atlanta’s outer suburbs now, we get coyotes and many other kinds of wildlife: from the hawks constantly catching thermals as they circle above, to the wild turkey, snakes, and even bears. But the ones that seem to affect our lives most are the deer- especially when they eat the things we plant.

A co-worker who lives nearby told me he pees around his garden to mark his territory, and claims it works. Now I’m all for a good old outdoor pee at the right place and time, but I think my neighborhood association would frown upon it around my house.

So I’ve armed myself… with deer spray. It smells kind of like pee and rotten eggs, so maybe my co-worker was onto something after all. I sprayed the stuff on every hosta, azalea, gardenia, camellia, and any other plant ending in “a” that I saw out there.

And it’s worked so far! We have lush hostas now that we’ve not seen since we planted them years ago, and azaleas that could be on the 13thhole at Augusta National.

Unfortunately, the deer spray is expensive. So, if I lose my job or something, don’t be surprised if I’m out there marking my territory the natural way.

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Have Spices Will Travel

The steak we got from the Winn-Dixie on our Florida trip was not that great. Almost every bite was one of those where you chew it and realize it’s not going down so you try to politely take it out of your mouth and hide it somewhere on your plate

Thankfully, this particular meal was just me and Alex, and even more thankfully, the spices she had put on the steak could have made a paper bag taste good. So at least we got some flavor out of those steak bites.

See, Alex doesn’t leave home without her spices. She’s got different size portions for shorter or longer trips in either a 15ml conical tube, or a 50ml conical tube, depending. Sometimes it’s just enough to fit into her purse pockets, other times it’s a whole ordeal. This trip was a long one, so she took both sizes, plus some regular off-the-shelf bottles, and put them all in a large Tupperware for transport.

We’ve done this same sort of thing from Kauai to Positano, and everywhere in between. When we’re somewhere more exotic than North Fort Myers Florida, Alex will add local favorites to her travel spices like Herbes de Provence from the south of France, or Fleur de Sel from the Camargue.

I’m not sure what the North Ft. Myers spice might be, but if it smells anything like the car wash scent they sprayed in our car when we splurged for a “deluxe wash” here the other day, I think I’ll pass. As Alex described it, “it smells like coconut suntan oil from the ‘80’s, combined with rotten fruit, and used cat litter.” We had to drive with the windows down for the rest of our trip.

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Del Boca Vista, Phase 3

My parents have been snowbirds for the last half decade or more. They escape their cold Minnesota winters and “fly south” like so many other old birds.

The place they nest is nice, but generic and geriatric. We dubbed it “Del Boca Vista, Phase 3” as a nod to the show Seinfeld. It’s got all the HOA infighting and shenanigans; people know everyone’s business; and rascal scooters are considered ATV’s, used for everything from a trip to the grocery store to  taking out the trash.

Our first trip down to Boca 3, the talk around the community was all about how they were going to fire their grounds crew. Alex and I looked around and saw green grass and colorful flowering bushes with maybe an errant weed or two, but I guess when you’ve got nothing else to do but watch the grass grow you notice every out of place blade.

This trip, we’re the ones watching the grass grow, since the parents left early for doctor’s appointments up north. We couldn’t let a Florida condo sit empty, especially one that’s paid for.

Day 1 we had breakfast on the lanai and tried to map out our time here. We realized we were further from the beach than we had remembered. North Fort Myers is not Naples. There seem to be more Dollar Stores than Starbucks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: We picked up some great stuff for our stay, and all for $1 each!

Day 2, breakfast on the lanai. Ducks waddling by. Herons floating overhead to perch on the edge of the community pond. Life slows down. Books are read. This isn’t so bad.

Day 3, breakfast on the lanai. Humidity of Florida summer starting to creep through the screened porch. A commercial on TV advertises the Hurrycane: a three-pronged hybrid cane/walker thing. I find myself comparing this to the regular old cane. Am I becoming one of them? No, I’m too young for this, I tell myself as I enjoy a strong coffee out of a cup that my dad must have gotten when he joined AARP, and a book perhaps presciently titled Cabin Fever.

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Wine “Kuntry”

We drove past homemade wooden signs scrawled with crooked letters that spelled out things like Boiled Peanuts and Pork Rinds. Not the types of things you’d associate with wine country. But we weren’t in wine country, we were in wine kuntry; north Georgia mountain style.

I had found a coupon to a place called Yonah Mountain. My wife was skeptical, since the only Georgia mountain wine she’d tried was some Muscadine that could have doubled for grape jelly. But the pictures of Yonah Mountain online were nice and the price was right, so we decided to do their guided tour.

About an hour or so in the car from our house in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, we pulled off the road and through the entrance. There were some vines on a slope and what looked like a trailer-home on a hill. Alex looked at me like she did after trying that Muscadine.

We then drove past a giant old tree and over a hill to see mountains that looked like Mother Nature lying on her side holding the Yonah Mountain vineyard in front of her. This could have been Italy, France, or California if you substituted chestnuts for boiled peanuts, and prosciutto for pork rinds.

The tour was led by the owner, a character, who started the tour on the grand piano in the tasting room. He was a true storyteller and said that he and his wife had to live in the trailer, since they spent all their money on the vineyard. Besides the vines, they had constructed a tasting room, cellars and event space that looked transported from Napa. In fact, he said their wine-making skills were gotten from California, and they grew Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes among others. My wife and I looked at our empty glasses in anticipation.

The wines were good and the tour was funny and informative, but we passed on taking a bottle home with us as it was expensive for us coupon cutters. We drove home thinking how it was nice that there was some class in the “kuntry”.

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Springsteen, Freud and Notes From Mom

My mother’s handwriting is so perfect, you think you’re getting a wedding invitation anytime you receive a letter from her. This made it really hard for me to skip school when I was a teenager… until I saw my little sister’s handwriting, which was identical to my mom’s, and fortunately my little sister had no problem writing me notes to get out of school.

This was back in the Springsteen Born in the USA days when he was singing “we busted out of class, had to get away from those fools, learned more from a three minute record baby than we ever learned in school.”

Nothing against current music, but there was a lot more of a thematic, didactic tactic to records back then. Because those records weren’t just singles, they were part of an album. Now I’m not sure how much I learned, but I sure listened to a whole lot of three minute records and albums while skipping school back then thanks to my little sister’s perfect cursive.

Then I went to college, Paris, New York, LA, got a real job, and got married to a beautiful woman who’s handwriting could of gotten me out of school too. Her perfect curves and sharp lines of cursive look just like my mom’s! Only difference is, Alex is left-handed so she has to be careful about smudging her text.

I’m not sure what Freud scholars would say about all that, but we sure had some great looking wedding announcements!

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OG Style Label Making

After my last post about label makers, my brother texted with some photos of my mom’s OG style label making.

My mom did not mess around with her handmade labels. They were often accentuated with all caps, double-underlines and exclamation points. Sometimes they were taped onto things, but other times she’d just whip out a Sharpie and write directly on whatever needed extra instructions: Cutting board that she didn’t want anyone to cut onions on for some reason? She kept it straight and to the point with a  “No Onions!” in permanent black ink on the top corner of the cutting board. People dragging mud into your house, or using up too much of your electricity? Got to go OG on those labels. My mom, who would correct me if I used I wrong, and has not sent a text in her life, wrote “Plez Wipe Your Feet!” And “Plez Turn off Lites!”

Maybe she wanted to make sure everyone got the message, millennials and Miller Lite drinkers alike. Come to think of it, that last one could have been to get my Miller Lite drinking attention.

Put a Label on It

When we first got the label maker, I thought we’d officially jumped onto the obsessive-compulsive train for good. Sure, we’d taken rides on that train before: trying to alphabetize our joint CD collection after we’d first moved in together and realized just how many CD’s we had collectively (thank you Apple for figuring out that one for us with the first iPod); trying to color coordinate the clothes in our closet after realizing just how many clothes we had; and don’t get me started on shoes- we both have too many and no real system for keeping them organized.

So when Alex brought home the label maker, I held my tongue. Would this be just another gadget that collected dust in our closet?

It’s old technology, reminiscent of a Polaroid camera, but it spits out labels instead of pictures. I’ve got to admit there’s something very satisfying about typing out a short description of something, and watching a sticker wiggle out of the machine like a newborn.

We labeled large containers of spices and condiments in our pantry. We labeled our Christmas stuff, now neatly organized into different bins. We labeled all of our different charger plugs that look alike but are just different enough to have to be used with their designated gadgets.

There’s almost a tendency to over-label. My wife’s parents, for example, would be dangerous with this thing. They make their own labels with scotch tape and little pieces of scribbled paper for seemingly obvious stuff already….

Come to think of it, this might just be the perfect present for them. I mean why should we have all the fun?

All aboard!

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