Monday, April 28, 2008

I Want to Live Here 24

Christmas Evening in Midtown

“I haven’t been anywhere,” I said. “But I hear it’s really good.” Judith’s husband, Michael, worked for the Peasant though I wasn’t sure which one. There were two. If we were going to walk, we’d be heading for the original Pleasant Peasant on Peachtree Street across from Crawford Long Hospital

The walk to Peachtree from Kevin’s place on 5th was uphill all the way. As I struggled to follow Kevin’s bobbing steps, the dog off her leash, scurried ahead, stopped, turned and waited at each street corner. We turned left and headed south, eventually passing an intersection of the sort I had never seen before. On three corners stood grand but shabby old buildings dating to the 1920s. Was it the gloomy mist that made the scene so desolate?
“Where are we?”
“Peachtree and Ponce,” he said, stopping.
I didn’t know which way to look first or where to settle my eyes. We stood on the northeast corner, our backs to The Georgian Terrace.
“Ponce duh Lee-on Avenue,” he said, exaggerating the syllables. “Short on the duh. Long on Lee. Don’t pronounce it any other way.”
“Otherwise everyone will know I’m from New York?”
He laughed and we crossed the wide street, continuing south. “You’ll never hide that and you don’t need to. What they’ll know is that you don’t care how we do things here.”
“Does that matter a lot?”
“Oh, yes. If anyone asks how you like Atlanta---“
“They have! People ask me that every day.”
“You must say you love it. Do you say you love it?”
“Well, I usually say it seems fine or that I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“If you can’t say you love it, say it’s beautiful. Means the same thing to most of us.” He stopped and turned, pointing to the building we had just passed.
“This is the Georgian Terrace,” he said. “They used to have cotillions here. This was the heart of Atlanta during the War.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing across the street.
“The Fabulous Fox Theater. Possibly doomed for demolition if we can't raise the funds to save it.”
“Is that where “Gone With the Wind” premiered?”
“No, that was the Loew’s Grand downtown. That’ll go soon and so will this.”
I stood, stunned at the bizarre magnificence of it. I’d seen Fox Theaters before. They were real theaters where every last person attending a performance could imagine, by looking at the painted night skies of the ceilings, or by drifting down luxuriously wide staircases, all the glamour of the performance they would attend. It was hard to believe anyone in the 20th century had taken the care to build in such details.
“How old is this theater?” I asked.
“They finished it in 1929.”
“It kind of makes you ashamed of the things built after the war.”
“Except for the TWA terminal at Kennedy,” he said. “And the World Trade Center.”
“Different kinds of beauty, don’t you think?” I said. “I wish we could keep the old, the really beautiful old buildings.”
“I do too. We like to tear things down in Atlanta. We want to modernize too much and too fast.”
We continued to walk. Shivering in the damp. The week had ended in drizzle and chill.

The entrance to the Pleasant Peasant was small – a plate glass window and glass door, darkened by heavy curtains and discreet lettering. But when we walked in, I felt wrapped in cheerful warmth. The room, narrow and occupied with a long bar running down the right and banquettes along the right, with white linen-covered tables in the center, was both larger than I’d been led to believe and crowded with the most promising looking people I’d yet to encounter in this self-conscious city.
No one was fat. No one had a bad haircut. No one was caught up in Christmas. This was where the escapees had come for their own celebration.
Kevin waved to a good-looking man at the bar, motioned to a table near the front and led me to it. “I’m going to put Hazel in the office,” he said, scooping up the dog in his arms.
Alone, I wiggled my toes, enjoying the warmth return. I wasn’t really dressed for the chilly walk, but I wouldn’t have changed a minute of the last hour. I glanced at my stainless steel Seiko, a graduation present from my sister I would wear for the next 30 years. I’d been off the Arborgate property for two hours! And now we would eat and talk. I would be out for an evening! I felt like a little girl escaping the castle. Now that was an odd way to describe an unexpected pleasure, wasn’t it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Want to Live Here 23

Still Christmas, still at Kevin’s Midtown house

“What did she pick out? The Eastern uniform? Those girls loved their costumes.”

“She was considering it. I guess I talked her out of it,” I said and told Kevin about the blue Halston from Filene’s Basement, including the price tag with its triumphant list of mark-downs.
“Abigail didn’t know much about clothes, neither does her sister. But they both love a bargain.”
“What was she like, Abigail?” This was what I wanted to know. What she was like and could I have helped her? I might never know that answer but after spending the last two days among her detritus, I wanted to know who she was.
“Oh, she was a country girl in her heart of hearts,” he said with a sigh. “We were friends in college, down in Columbus. I transferred to Georgia Tech to study architecture, but she dropped out and went with the airlines.
“We met up again on a flight to New York. Started seeing each other and,” he shrugged. “We just sort of got married. We were 23 and it seemed like a good idea. It seemed like the only idea. Then we moved here and I started renovating. This was my grandmother’s house. She grew up in it.”
“You’re an architect?”
“I have a degree. But I fell in love with the renovation work and that’s what I’ve been doing that for the last couple of years.” The arm he waved encompassed more than the view directly before us. “There’s going to be plenty of work in Atlanta for years to come. This city is on a roll.”
“So what made you think Abigail wanted to get married again?”
“I didn’t. I just thought she was seeing someone. She sounded busy and full of herself. Not happy in love, more like I am woman, hear me roar. She was roaring up the wrong tree, though. There was something off about it and about her.
“For one thing, she’d decided she wanted me to pay her for her half of this house. And I wasn’t about to give it to her. It was never her house, she’d done nothing on it. I guess she had a legal leg to stand on but that was about it. Instead, I offered her a down payment for a little cottage around the block. I even said I’d help her renovate it but that wasn’t good enough.”
What was she, nuts? I thought.
“Is that when you came to see her? Is that what your fight was about?”
“When? What fight? There wasn’t a fight about this house. She wasn’t getting it and that was that.”
“Last month. You didn’t come to see her, I think, around the 15th of November? Kind of drunk and threatening?”

I shook my head.
“Does she have any other ex-husbands? Boyfriends?”
“I don’t think so, but she may have gotten herself involved with someone. She’s had a lot of opportunity, especially at work.”
“I wasn’t friendly with Abigail. But I did rent her the townhouse and I guess I was the only one she knew. One day I got a call from her. She was almost hysterical and begged me to help her. She said her ex-husband was in the apartment, threatening her with a gun. I didn’t know what else to do so I called the police.”
“It wasn’t me. I don’t own a gun and I would never threaten her.” Although his voice was calm, his tone disbelieving, he must have felt anxious. As I watched Hazel squirm in his arms to be released, his fingers flexed against her neck. Furiously, she wriggled free, nipping at his fingers. “Hey!” he cried, sucking his thumb. “Don’t do that.” But he let her go. Instead of jumping from the swing, as I’d expected she would, the dog curled up next to him. Forgiving and forgetting.
As if reading my mind, Kevin asked, “I wonder who she had in there.”

Before we go any further I need to tell you that a member of the APD, a detective named Michael Boeker, stopped by the model/office yesterday. Goodness, could that be right? I’m losing track of time. Anyway, he’d matched up the disturbance call I’d phoned in the month before with the accident report and was, evidently, covering his bases. Or his ass, I don’t know how things work in police circles. My own description of the event, essentially, a three-hour siege that ended at 3 p.m. when the shift changed and, simultaneously, Abigail called to say “her husband” had passed out and she was okay now. The detective had raised an interesting point: Had anyone at all been in her apartment? After all, we were just taking her word for it, weren’t we? I’d had to admit this was so but I couldn’t believe someone would drag out a couple of cops just to get some attention.

“Yeah, that’s possible,” said Kevin.
“Really? Why would she create that kind of a fuss for nothing?”
“Oh, it wouldn’t have been for nothing. She liked to create scenes. She liked drama. She should have been an actress.”
“But dragging the police out?”
“That was your doing. Her job was to drag you in and let you do the rest. Which, you did.”
“Well, what else was I supposed to do?”
“That’s just it. Any normal person would respond as you did, at least the first time.”
It was too cold for sitting on the porch but I could not, did not want to move. Kevin was the first man, the first person I felt really interested in since I’d moved to Atlanta, or even before that. I didn’t want to disturb that sensation.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. “I’m heading up to the Peasant. Have you been there?”

Monday, April 21, 2008

Atlanta is Beautiful in the Spring

It's beautiful at other times of year too, but this is when the whole town looks like a big wedding.

And if you're not sneezing, you feel like this:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Want To Live Here 22

Christmas Evening

His little dog? Why this struck me, I don’t know. The sensation that I’d moved, not to a Southern boom town but to a variation on Oz had kicked in three months ago and was, with the mention of the small animal, back again and stronger than ever.
Any of my critics could claim the decision to drive to Patterson’s was pure Nora impulse reinforced with a latent goody-two-shoes tendency I despise in others but cultivate in myself. It’s an arrow my survival quiver. Still, path leading to colorful spires (Peachtree Street?), promise of a small dog and fit of fabulous new blue boots? I felt prepared for adventure.
So, Ollie Butler informed me, in a voice saturated in regional ancestry, that I could rest from worry on Abigail’s behalf. She would be, he said, pointing to a notice in the afternoon edition of The Atlanta Journal, on view tomorrow and the next day and then buried in her husband’s family plot at Oakland Cemetery. He left me convinced Abigail was a lucky girl in spite of her fate.

One sixty-one Fifth Street wasn’t hard to find. The address proved to be a dilapidated Victorian, near the corner of Penn Avenue, in a neighborhood where most of the grand houses had been converted to apartments and boarding houses and all were left with an air of past respectability gone to seed and now flowering in a leggy, survivalist abandon. The neighborhood struck me as gloriously decayed but exciting as a flea market treasure hidden in plain sight. Midtown Atlanta trees were massive, their roots as large as bodies breaking up the octagonal cement paving stones of the sidewalks. In that first glance I missed the obvious signs: the hookers, the street people, the city’s old ladies behind the wheels of their late husbands’ Oldsmobiles. In my ’61 Fleetwood, I must have looked like yet another restless crone come cruising for a Christmas martini.
I parked near the corner in the only spot I could find large enough to accommodate my land yacht and was halfway to Abigail’s former home when it occurred to me that I had no business here and, worse, no plausible excuse. I would have turned around right then if a small white dog hadn’t burst from the front door and launched itself at my blue suede boots.
“Hazel! God damn it, Hazel!” A young man hurried out, scooped up the little scrap of poodle and, holding her close, greeted me with an open and genuinely friendly smile.
I faced him uncertainly. Was this the man Abigail once claimed had held her at gunpoint? This slender, boyish man didn’t look like he’d ever seen a gun, much less got drunk and waved one around. He was clean and neat though not as hyper-groomed as the Buckhead boys I’d been showing apartments to, and nothing like the messy red necks in their plaid shirts and drooping jeans. He stood about 5’ 9” held the little Hazel with strong arms and long tan fingers. The dog in his arms nipped playfully at the mustache that covered his top lip.
“Would you like an obnoxious little dog?” he asked.
“Are you Kevin Snowe?” I asked, extending my hand. He accepted it. Then I patted the dog. She licked my fingers. She wasn’t obnoxious at all. I would love a little dog like her.
“Does she wait for you at the window when you come home?” I asked.
“That’s her best thing,” he said, nuzzling his pet. “Isn’t it, you silly dog.” The love fest might have gone on but Abigail’s husband was a well-brought up young man and drew me in. “I’m Kevin,” he said. “How can I help you?”
“I’m Nora Cahill. I work at Arborgate Apartments.”
He maintained the friendly look but cocked his head quizzically and very much like his dog. He was obviously too polite to say what was obviously on his mind: So?
“Do you know where that is?”
“Somewhere in Buckhead, maybe? Peachtree Battle?”
I nodded. “Biscayne Drive? Your wife lived, lives, lived there.”
It was as if he’d shut himself behind a screen door and latched it. From that relative safety he spoke, carefully, armed to the emotional teeth. “Uh huh. I knew the address, but I don’t think she ever told me the name of the complex. ”
I wanted to touch that symbolic screen that hung between us, press the pads of my fingers against it and reach through. But the only way to do that was with honesty. I was too far out of my league for anything else.
“Look, Mr. Snowe. I’m sorry to bother you. I have no business being here at all. I just went to see Patterson’s because Susan asked me if I knew of any funeral homes and a resident suggested them. When the director there, there was someone there today, isn’t that amazing? When I was asking him about arrangements and told him about Abigail, he said you’d already arranged it. I don’t want to get caught up in a family fight, so I thought I’d come over. So I did.” I drew a breath, dared to look up at him, but was barely able to comprehend my own relief when I saw him smile. “I came here.” My last words dripped, inconsequent as the rain.
He nodded. “Patterson’s was my choice,” he said. “It’s the only place. It’s not, of course, but it is, if you know what I mean.”
“Did Susan call you?”
He turned around and led me up the stairs to the porch where, protected from the elements, he sat on a metal swing, indicating nearby a chair for me. I watched him cuddle the little dog and wondered how long he’d owned her.
We sat there examining each other at each other for I don’t know how long. It’s my embarrassment that kept me silent. In my urge for doing something I had not given any thought to what I would say to him or why I thought I had any right to be here. But I had wanted to see Abigail’s husband and here I was. Paralyzed with success.
The porch swing was old and its chains rusty. For a while their creak was the only conversation. In the tiny front yard, the leaves of an overgrown magnolia rustled in their stiff, papery way. Across the street a black cat took careful steps along the banister of a cement stoop, then leapt to the ground and disappeared around the back of a shabby house painted in rich chocolate brown.
Kevin’s house boasted a swept porch, and the swing, though old and protesting, was painted a cheerful red, its cushions clean. He, or someone, had hung giant ferns on hooks drilled into a blue ceilinged porch high above. These turned clockwise, just a few degrees, then stopped and reversed, counterclockwise. This was a part of Atlanta that felt secret to me, though it was I who hadn’t bothered to find it.
“The police called me. Yesterday. A guy named--- Michael ? Mike Booker? I’m sorry, should I have come to see you? As you know already, Susan is taking charge.”
“Boeker,” I corrected him. “He’s a detective. Did he tell you how Abigail died?” I hoped he had. I didn’t want to do it.
“He said she fell and hit her head on a table.”
“Yes. It seems she was alive for several hours. She must not have realized how badly she was hurt.” I didn’t tell him she’d tried telephoning me, possibly for help. Had she called Kevin as well as me?
“Subdoral hematoma,” he said, nodding. “My grandmother died of the same thing. Only, she’d had a minor car accident. Went home, dropped dead in the living room.”
“Were you going to come to the complex? You’re listed as the emergency contact in her lease.”
That surprised him. “Really? But Abigail and I broke up a year ago. We’re not divorced yet. Officially we’re estranged. Isn’t that a horrid word? It sounds almost violent.”
“It’s the embedded strangle,” I said. “It also suggested a temporary state. Were you going to get divorced or maybe reconcile? Is that why you hadn’t divorced?”
“God no! We’re just lazy and, I don’t know. As long as we were living our own lives, there didn’t seem to be any rush. It’s not like we hated each other. I’m certainly not marrying anyone and I didn’t think she was in any rush either. Though I think she was dating.”
“What makes you say that?”
“She called me about six months ago. She was staying at Susan’s.”
“Susan’s? I don’t think so. Susan said Abigail was living at Arborgate. In fact, she was under the impression that she’d been living there all of this year.
“She did?”
“I met Susan today. She came by to pick up some things for Abigail’s funeral.”
“ I thought she was letting me do that.” He looked down, hiding his expression by playing with the dog. “What did she pick out? The Eastern uniform? Those girls loved their costumes.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Marking Anniversaries

This picture represents my brother David's memorial service, held last May at Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, Fl.

David died on April 8, which was actually Easter Sunday in 2007. This year, Easter came much earlier and sort of threw me (all of us).

Marking anniversaries is something I'm pretty new to, especially when it comes to the death of someone who was too young to go.

Some last moments are still fresh in my mind... that last minute in the hospital when he lay on his bed, released from machines and from us. His widow Deborah and her daughter, Darrah, and mine and David's mother (the Irish Knuckle) had, for the moment, left the room but I could not. It was as if someone had to sit with him at all times until the orderlies could come. Or it was as if have shared a play pen with him, I could not. I don't know.
Weeks past and we threw him a party, sending him off in strong weather balloons that took him up over the Gulf of Mexico. And time persisted in passing through the seasons, as a hand might pass over waist-high rosemary. His and Deborah's wedding anniversary and their summer birthdays and my birthday, and our sister's birthday, Thanksgiving, then the mid holidays when my mother slid and fell, surviving three days on her bedroom floor. And Christmas and the distractions of Mom's new life in rehab and the chaotic move to assisted living.

Then Easter. but that was in March and now it is April, a full year.

When you grow up Catholic, you march by the church's calendar. Easter memories have no dates attached. and now that the first year has passed, perhaps the wounds of a sparkling Good Friday when we decided he'd had enough of machines and a breezy Holy Saturday when we broke the news to my mother and a rainy Sunday when we sat and sat for 12 hours watching will melt into each other, like these balloons will, far off in some heaven never to be seen, only to be believed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I Want to Live Here 21

Christmas Afternoon
How little I knew of the area south of Biscayne Drive. Like a typical New Yorker, I had staked out a few blocks for myself and kept to them. Now it was time to stretch my boundaries.
By three o’clock I’d had enough of Arborgate and was itching to leave, if only for an hour. Driving south on Peachtree Road past the abandoned, but still eerily beautiful, Brookwood Hotel, I passed Piedmont Hospital and the Brookwood Train Station, eventually reaching Spring Street where it peeled away from what was now Peachtree Street at triangle where a busy restaurant called the Crossroads was doing a spanking business. Here, or just a wee bit south, is also the juncture for Peachtree and West Peachtree Street. And no, there are no fruit-bearing trees to be seen.

Mr. Invalid had not lied; the Patterson Funeral Home overlooked Spring and Tenth and looked very out of place among the rundown buildings, empty lots that neighbored it. Even under the misty rain that had been drizzling down all day, its tall pines, magnolias and oaks, and the very height of its property, gave it an air of willful detachment. I drove the Cadillac up the driveway to emerge at a peaked and pretty brick mansion complete with porte cochere and gardens ranging in front and behind. The fact that the property also overlooked the downtown “connector,” a merging of Interstates 75 and 85 and beyond that, the Georgia Tech campus, did not detract from its homey dignity.
There were no viewings that day, but a youngish man who looked as if he were going to skip middle age by losing his hair and muscle tone in my presence was standing in the garden clipping wet camellia blooms. (I would later discover these flowering shrubs were actually camellia sasanquas and it would take even longer for me to be able to tell the difference. I was not, in 1976, the gardener I would become.)

Itching to get a look in this marvelous old house, I pulled the Fleetwood over and approached him. When I told him I was helping Susan Suddermill arrange funeral services for her sister, Abigail, he forestalled me.
“I’ve got that right here,” he said, escorting me through a large black and white tiled kitchen and down a hall wide enough to park the caddy. In his old-fashioned ledger book was the dates (December 27-28, 1976) for the viewing and a burial to follow at Oakland Cemetery.
“Did Susan reach you then?”
“Why no, ma’am,” he said. “Her husband arranged this. Kevin. Kevin Snowe, isn’t that right?”
“Lives in Midtown?”
“Yes, just a short distance from here, in fact. He walked over yesterday. With his little dog.”
With his little dog?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Knuckle Update

The honeymoon would appear to be over. The fact is, spending an hour's worth of work time, even late on a Friday afternoon when the average middle-aged daughter is brain dead anyway, getting shunted from Wellcare's shared services center (today's rep claimed to be in Santa Domingo) to Medicare's steely customer service (yes, it is an oxymoron) agent only to be reassured that while they believed I was my mother's daughter, they still cannot help me help her with a change of address. (Social security, meanwhile, managed it in two seconds.)

Medicare would send the Knuckle an authorization the house she left 4 months ago...and when that is returned, they will talk to me. The problem is, by the time we got to that point in the conversation, I'd pretty much forgotten why I'd been transferred to them.

oh, yeah, authorization. well. i'd actually called Wellcare to follow up on the few items Rep. Jennifer from the Utah center promised she would do:

1. ask Enrollment to call and clear up the pesky matter of having the Knuckle listed as a Wellcare Choice client but issuing a summary of benefits labeled Wellcare Select, a much better policy, frankly, but not the one they're paying on. were we to know this?

2. the previous calls to change her address to a new county that somehow didn't trigger the bell that new county=new policy so she was still on an old one which meant that if she needed service she'd be considered out of network. Despite assurances, and yes, Frank in Santa Domingo did say the request had been made, Wellcare had not sent the new stuff yet. but i don't know what the Knuckle is getting down there in Clearwater cuz I'm up here in Atlanta and I'm not quite sure she's telling me everything she's getting. Except irritated at my sister-in-law when the woman doesn't snap to.

The Other Fun Part

As noisesome as it is to recite my social security number and date of birth in an open cube work environment next to a wise-ass co-worker pretending to memorize my most private data and parrot it back to me (by way of easing the tension), what's really fun is working through those old issues about Mom's inability to spare me her pent-up irritation at people she really needs to be grateful to. And I'm not even counting me. Hell, I'm just staff.

Somewhere in the back of that crafty mind, she's snarky laughing. After all, if you don't make a choice about where you want to go after you can't live in your own house and Plan A (die) doesn't work out for you, then whoever has to do your worrying for you, well, they have to do your worrying for you. The Knuckle didn't have a Plan B so we created one for her. Since it's not her Plan B, she is free to complain about all she wants, and hint, maddeningly, that if she'd bothered with a Plan B, it would have been a lot better than this.

I'm sure she was handling her own affairs much better without us, but then, after the fall, was it possible she could handle them again? She's not saying and I simply do not know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I Want to Live Here 20

The rest of that Christmas Day should have been as dull as I’d hoped and expected but I found myself focused on work and the afternoon hours ticked evenly by. No one came looking for an apartment but I kept myself occupied with the telephone book researching funeral parlors in the area. Mrs. Mason’s words rang in my head like an accusation, propelling me to do my interfering best for Abigail now that I could no longer help with her life. Maybe I could have saved her life, if I’d been in the office to answer the telephone. Maybe if I’d transferred the phones to the service, they could have done something.

I also went into Abigail’s file and copied down the telephone number and address she’d listed as her last residence. Then I made a list of the possible ways I could pin down her movements since last year. After all, I had only Susan’s word that Abigail had left Kevin and their house on 5th Street last December. It’s possible Susan was wrong and that Abigail and her husband and separated and reconciled several times before she officially moved out. Despite Susan’s grief, which appeared genuine if schizophrenic, the two sisters still hadn’t spent much time together. Her desire to see Abigail’s few belongings packed up and given away struck me as slightly ruthless, but what experience did I have of sudden death? None at all.
Taking a fresh steno pad from the supply in Judith’s closet, I opened it to the first page and wrote: What do I want to know?

1. Where did Abigail spend the months between December of 1975 and the first weeks of October this year?
2. Was she living in Atlanta or up in Boston?
3. Where else did she fly?
4. Had she been living with someone? If so, was that why she needed to pay deposits on her gas, electric and telephone bills? My own initial deposit to New York Bell actually traveled with me to Atlanta, but I paid hefty deposits to Georgia Power and the Atlanta Gas Co. Representatives a both companies said it would be the only time I would have to pay them, however often I moved, as long as I remained a “good” customer. So either Abigail was just starting her own service or she’d been a late or non-paying customer earlier.
5. What about her finances?
6. Where were her accounts? Go back to the file and find the bank reference!
7. Did she have life insurance? (Why does that matter?)
8. A will?
9. An heir?
10. What was her history?

Kevin could tell me whose name their previous service had been in. Probably his, I thought, making a note. Bills usually did appear in the husband’s name. One of the reasons women are establishing their own credit and even keeping their own names when they marry is to have the ability to open accounts without the hassle of large deposits. If Abigail, who was only 26, had married in 1970 or so, chances are, when she divorced, she’d had no credit of her own. Even her charge cards were likely in Kevin’s name.
Aaron Rents would have some kind of credit history, or once I started clearing out Abigail’s townhouse, I might find the records myself. It would ghoulish of me, but I felt excited about being there, looking for her among the things she’d left behind. She was become a puzzle to be solved.
I made a quick call to Mr. Invalid thanking him for the poinsettia and telling him about Susan’s visit.
“You want Patterson’s, sweetheart,” he said. “They’re just down on Spring Street and Tenth. You know what they say…”
“If Patterson’s ain’t buried you, you ain’t dead!”