Sunday, July 27, 2008

About these peaches

I live downtown. No kidding. Not Buckhead (aka (770)-in-training, not even Midtown or Virginia Highlands, though I've lived in all those places and enjoyed them each in their way: the enthusiasm, the vibe, the trees, the walking, the shops.
And I lived in those 30305, -09 and -06 zip codes (oh and 30307, too) with my share of smug snobbery because I'd found the neighbhorhood and moved in, and sometimes out, before each had reached its cool zenith.

But in 2001 I invested in downtown, land of million dollar views and serious tax abatements. I bought in winter so didn't realize I would soon live too close to the kleenex-sized parkletts sleeping six to nine a night and to a disorienting spread of mid-1960s optimism where all 3,000 regular residents keep a pair of binocular in every window sill (hotel guests downtown never think to draw their curtains). Downtown is the grit is more than metaphorical, rather, it is tangible with every breeze. Here's where I live now, having outsmarted myself at last in the name of getting in first. Ah well, as her daddy so succinctly said, "It's the land, Katie Scarlett, it's the land."

In my subterranean parking deck I point my little rice rocket at a chain link fence. It's supposed to keep the inevitable parade of 'homeless' guys who patrol the connector and often camp out in the weeds along side the overpasses from breaking our windows and stealing the loose change. This works 364 days a year for me. Less so for others.

One morning, around 8:30 or so, just as the sun was beaming sharply into my front window, I noticed what appeared to be a tennis ball wedge just beyond the chain link fence. For a second, memory contradicted reality and i thought the ball was stuck in the fence. I had seen that before in my life,; somewhere that image was stored and coming up like instant google.
What had to wait for recognition was the sight of one, then two, three, a cluster of peaches hanging just outside our security fence, huddled against it as if to keep from the JWDobbs offramp and its dangerous lazy traffic.

Peaches on Peachtree St. are rare, indeed. Peaches on an I75/85 offramp in down downtown was something I'd never seen. So for a couple of days I took pictures. This portrait is the last one I took, just as they were ripening.

The next time i looked they were gone. All of the peaches were gone.
But I will remember them now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Want to Live Here 32

I drove straight back to Abigail’s former address. Not that there was anything to see in her former apartment, but still, I figured it couldn’t hurt to drive around a little. And maybe I’ll run into a neighbor who knew her. And that’s about what happened. More or less.
The apartment was on the ground floor. As I was going through a pile-up of old mail, including a Penney’s catalog addressed to Abigail, a door opened to (and there’s no other word for it) reveal the boy next door.

He could have been about thirty going for something younger and yet more sophisticated: WKPR meets McMillan. From his blow-dried do to his high-waisted tight jeans he was giving the look his all. In one hand he held a glass of red wine. He fingered his mustache suggestively. Or maybe he was checking it for dribbles. In the dim light of the entry way I really couldn’t tell.
“You're back early,” he said, then stopped when he realized I wasn’t whoever he was expecting.
“Hi!” I squeeked.
“Looking for Patty?” he said. “I just saw her up at the model.”
I swallowed and smiled.
“No. I’m here to see Abigail.”
Secure about his mustache, he now leaned against the door jamb, giving me a peek into his living room, a temple of macramé and leather.
“Oh, he got rid of her months ago. Patty’s the squeeze these days.”
“He?” A man in Abigail’s life was something new. Could he have been the vodka drinker?
“The man himself. Here’s Patty pulling up right now.” He grinned. As grins go, it wasn’t bad. He might have been a beautiful baby.
The woman stomping up the cement path looked awfully familiar to me. “Holy crap,” I said, looking around frantically for a way out.
“Hold on, sweetheart, I’ll introduce you.”
“No, thanks,” I said, and slipped under his arm, into his apartment and through the kitchen where I stopped, confronted by a solid wall. Where the hell was the back door to this place?”
I could hear the sound of Patty opening the building’s front door and what must have been their ritualized and flirtatious greeting.
“Friend of Abigail’s just left,” I heard him say.
“Abigail? Really, who?”
“Didn’t say. Little Yankee girl with red hair, ‘bout your size.”
I held my breath to pray, please God, I’ll find a Catholic Church in Atlanta and come back just, oh what the fuck,” I thought, “What’s she gonna do to me anyway?” And with that brave thought, I swaggered out.
“Miss Appleton? I understand you’ll be moving to Buckhead?”
Jaws do drop. Hers, elongated by inbreeding, fell about a foot.
“Uh, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, just checking references,” I said. “That townhouse you were so interested in might be available sooner than you think, so I thought I’d buzz by after my day with Barbara and Tina to let you know.”
“Very funny. Ricky says you were looking for Abigail, not me.”Right.

Guest Teacher at SCAD-Atlanta

Guest taught last night at SCAD. I have taught my own creative writing class at the Atlanta campus off and on as the class makes since 2003 or 2004, when the ACA continuing education program (and the rest of the Atlanta College of Art) moved lock, stock and permanent records up the street to the old Equifax building the Savannah College of Art and Design had bought for its newest campus.

SCAD kept a few legacies of ACA, including the name of its community (or continuing) education program and library. I think its new owners kept CE's name because ACA still means something and may continue to resonate in this curiously long-memoried town (and that's a well-kept secret to many who move here and go blind here without finding it). I hope so.

My own class rarely makes in the summer, primarily because I don't want it to. I'm dumb as a stone in summer and shouldn't be doing anything near as responsible as teaching. But last night I delivered a quick writing class to a small group of Kim Landor's Sketchbook class.

One exercise involved contour drawing combined with the search for metaphor within one's own universe; literally, the universe rests within your the palm of your own hand. To reach it, draw it. To hear it, draw it in slowly, one breath at a time.

So we did. Here is a shot of my own page for a glimpse of what the process looks like. In a week or so, when Kim's students have had a chance to work their vignettes into art journal pages they are pleased with, she will (I hope) send me photos and I will post here.

In the meantime, here's my page and photos of the students:

Billy, Belinda and Kim (the blonde).

The class was great! I'd forgotten how exciting it is to teach to students who are not necessarily interested in writing but who are artists and therefore interested in the same/similar passions. For many visual artists, words are simply more pictures; agreed-upon symbols and yet another tool for seeing.
For a poet, words are less visual and more musical. We know we are, first and foremost, hearing the words, listening for the sounds of the voice.
One thing I learned while teaching in ACA's CE program and its degree program, was that artists are artists---music, visual, dance, design. And many many students practice with more than one instrument. I've taught lots of musician/painters; poet/painters; design/musicians, etc. and it's been a terrific reminder that art is an approach to life and creativity, I firmly believe, a response to life.
thanks for an evening well spent,

Monday, July 14, 2008

I Want to Live Here Episode 31

The sound of a car horn blowing brought me outside where I found Mr. Eberhard at the wheel of a banana yellow Datsun 280z. My goodness, we all drive such particular cars, don’t we?
“Get in, I’ll take you to your car,” he said.
“Is the office closed already?” I asked
“Barbara’s finishing up some stuff. The girls have left.”
“Because I didn’t come close to finishing the filing.”
“There’s always a backlog. This complex stays busy with move outs. Unlike Arborgate. Do you know why that is?”
Trick question, I thought, feeling quizzed. “Probably because no one wants to settle on Buford Highway. It’s a pause along the way. Arborgate’s in Buckhead, where people want to live.”
“That’s exactly right. Can you tell me why I won’t be raising the rents at Arborgate anytime soon?”
“Because you’re such a nice guy?”
He laughed. “Guess again?”
“Because the units need work? You might raise the rent gradually, though. As we move from the green shag to the beige and add those mini-blinds?”
“–And frost-free refrigerators. Yes, I could do that. Microwaves are going to get much cheaper too.”
“What’s a microwave?”
He laughed. “You’ll find out.”
We drove in silence listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me,” our heads bobbing companionably.
“So, how’d you like the new Xerox machine,” asked Mr. Eberhard just as we were pulling into the lot at the Atlanta Flea Market.
“You do know what a Xerox machine is?”
“Yeah, it’s a copier. Is that what you’ve got? I thought it was a Canon.”
“Did you use it?”
“Why would I use it? I was filing.”
He looked thoughtful. I looked away.

He had my battery going within minutes. When he pulled the cables loose, he handed them to me.
“If you’re going to drive a vintage car, you need to own a pair of these,” he said. “Jesus, you could fit a body in here,” he said.
“I fit two,” I said. He laughed and ruffled the hair on my head.
“Be good, kid. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Fuck, I thought, clinging to the chill of my steering wheel. Had my coolness convinced him? I could lie. It was a gift I knew I had from high school. Not that I cultivated the talent and frankly, I probably just didn’t look like the type to do anything wrong. But I did have that Irish flatness of feature that could transform itself into an immobility that had (or so I imagined) kept British soldiers at bay for hundreds of years. Or at least make them think they couldn’t touch me. Had it worked with the nice Jewish man from Boston? Who knew. He’d looked thoughtful and then as if he’d had an idea, like maybe there was someone else interested in a browse through Abigail’s archives.
I couldn’t wait to get home and lay things out. Maybe slip into the townhouse after dinner at Nancy and Stephen’s. I wanted to discuss my findings with them because I didn’t understand what the hell was going on and maybe, just maybe, Abigail had said something about living at Belle View to them. On the other hand, with Mr. Eberhard visiting Judith, I’d better wait.
Yeah, Mr. Eberhard would be almost to Arborgate by now. I guess that’s why I turned the wheel left on Piedmont and headed back to Buford Highway. Now might be a good time to check out Abigail’s old apartment and see if any of her neighbors were home.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Peachtree Road Race July 4th

I just love this picture. Someone fastened this bouquet of balloons on Peachtree Street right around 12th St. I shot this around 9 a.m., having walked and watched the race since 7:30 a.m. not much of a training walk for me, but while most parades make me cry, the Peachtree Road Race just slaps a smile on me and the thousands of other supporters watching friends, old colleagues and neighbors pound down Peachtree for hours on a holiday morning.

Didn't get a picture of the much older woman who pushed past cuz I was too moved to see the role model of my dreams not ten feet away. She knew it too. Caught my eye and my nodding, "Yes, you can and you will" and grimly pursued her finish line and coveted T-shirt. But these guys did.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I Want to Live Here Episode 31

I studied the map, getting my bearings. Belle View was less than five years old, built with the early optimism that would make Atlanta developers infamous. Anyone with a foot of land had known the city was due for an influx of new blood and had built accordingly. At this one complex, which dwarfs Arborgate but is nothing to the swinging singles places along the Chattahoochee River were twenty buildings, each holding some dozen apartments, most of them two- and three-bedroom units built for the thousands of young people heading to Atlanta. I had no idea, when I left New York, that I was part of such a migration. I probably should have known. My parents had been part of a similar exodus to Florida and were living on a new street where all the neighbors decorated their mailboxes with license plates from their home states. They were all northern: Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Their baby boomer children, now in our twenties, are moving to Atlanta, Denver and Seattle.

Belle View’s buildings were faced in white painted brick and deep balconies of the sort that would get very little light and no cross breezes. The rooms behind them would get little natural light and be dependent on individual heating and air conditioning units throughout the year.

It took me most of an hour to pace the complex, stopping at the clubhouse and swimming pool where I took note of the remains of a Christmas party. I wonder how strict Barbara is with the deposits. I’d be hard pressed to refund this host his $100 without another swipe at the bathrooms. Yuck.

Someone had left a window open as well. I walked to it and paused. Across the pool stood Building H, where Abigail had evidently lived. I might be looking at her old apartment. I pulled the receipt from the file under my arm and stared at it and then at the building. Although it seemed irrefutably clear, I was, as the British might say, that confused.

Do you suppose confusion isn’t a way of pausing the action? Have you ever wanted to world to just stop and catch its breath, or stop so that you could? I do. A lot. Maybe this quiet moment among the beery Herculon sofas was a way of stopping the world for me.
Abigail had lived here before moving to Arborgate. Coincidence? If not, what did it mean? Barbara’s and Tina’s questions, even their promptness in sending flowers for the funeral suggested, what? That they had known her? Had she moved to Arborgate in advance of Mr. Eberhard’s purchasing the complex? Perhaps as a kind of spy? Getting the lay of the land, as it were.

Building H showed no sign of life. The parking spaces before it were empty. Despite the growing darkness no lights shone from within, though in the buildings around it I could see faint Christmas trees glowing behind the embedded balconies.

It is December 26. I am standing in the Belleview clubhouse in Atlanta, Georgia. I recited these facts to myself as a mantra. I do this periodically when I’m feeling lost or more than ordinarily disconcerted. I will always do this, though I will not always feel quite so intensely “funhouse” mad. I am standing in a white room smelling of beer and peppermint and I am staring out a window at a swimming pool where the water has sunk below level and which looks as if its smells of slime. The light is sparse and chill. I am not home.

Without warning I found myself sobbing. Never saw them coming, heaves like boulders up and over my mouth, an open hole full of hot drool and the color blue before me – ah – my corduroy coat. I must be bent over double.

It was over in a flash. No one had seen yet I felt embarrassed and hot. What on earth had shaken me so? I was not home. I am not home and I don’t know when I ever would be.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Knuckle Update: Pass on the Buddy Pass

Just try and visit mom in the home the weekend before Independence Day. Just try!

I won’t mention the particular airline, cuz it ain’t their fault EVERY employee not working a gate was trying to get to and from Tampa this weekend. Thinking I could manage it and forgetting that my other experiences with using buddy passes were good because they were from people with A LOT of seniority, e.g., my dad (TWA DOE 1948) and my sister (TWA DOE 1968), I trained on down to Hartsfield last Thursday evening hoping to snag the last flight out. (note to self: call first, check weather in surrounding cities.) A little aerobic exercise in the form of sprints from one gate change to another (note to self: wear sneakers in Atlanta Hartsfield, home-town carrier commands gates in three, even four concourses, gate changes are not made to accommodate you) before fetching up at 10 p.m. at very long line. Made friends with fatigued full-fares who had deplaned from 4 hour siege of Charleston airport.
Great people watching. Six of us left behind at midnight to try again on first flight out following morning. It is well-known fact that the best flight out is the first as everything goes to hell from there. Also, first flight out is rarely cancelled as they always need the plane to be where it’s going.
Marta back home, slip through empty downtown streets to condo. Weirdly quiet. Did notice that homeless guys on and around Peachtree Center were all eating heartily from Styrofoam boxes. One bellowed for money, “I need a Coke!” I’m sure he was right. The night was, after all, quite warm.
Four hours later, on Concourse E after only one gate change, and that a false alarm (maybe a mile of walking between E and A? any takers on this, I can’t be sure. Would have worn Nikes but they, unlike me, were already in Tampa).
Lovely visit. The Knuckle was on her best behavior. Sister in law, as always, a sweetie to pick me up and hand over car keys. A little too much wine at Jolly Mon’s in Delightful Dunedin bitched my participation in the “Thanks for the Mammories” team training walk following day, but I did get to feel young again knowing I could still hurl cookies without kneeling before the porcelain altar. Suspect inner-thigh work with Pilates ball to thank for this.
Getting back took just as long. Charming interplay with security at Tampa on both Sunday, when I camped out from 5 to 12 noon hoping to get on a flight (Finally tapped the gate agent who reminded me most of my sister and asked, “If you were me, what would you do?” (Answer: Got friends in Tampa? Call them.) and Monday when, because I was not actually booked for a seat, I was “selected” for a more intensive search. This meant standing around for five extra minutes barefoot in large airport (gross) but Tampa’s architectural organization is superior to most municipal projects. Moving from one gate to another here is no more difficult than shifting in one’s seat. Thank you, Carlos Alfonso for the spoke and wheel design.
But here’s what I blogged on to say: During the weekend, I picked up Deborah’s copy of The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. This is not just another self-help book preaching the benefits of a good deep breath and don’t worry, you’ll never stress again. I didn’t read it all, I opened at “random” (ha!) and read from there, somewhere towards the end where writers usually pick up speed and start putting out what you’re paying them for, that life is, indeed, a matter of balancing the present with the ego. Everything not present, like this breath right now, is ego.
So when I watched my name flicker down at the low point on the Stand-by list that Monday morning (the buddy pass had a DOE of 2007), I followed Tolle’s advice and simply observed my sensations. Observing the sensations and the feelings of anxiety absolutely short-circuited what otherwise would have been feelings of anger and frustration and a grown-up’s version of a temper tantrum. (I mean, don’t we all really believe, deep down, that a good head of tears will get us what we want? I know the young man who turned to me at the check in line at 5 a.m. and bawled “I’m so PISSED” may have actually thought I gave a crap). (note to self: if you leave your cell phone at home, as this man did, there are rental kiosks in both Atlanta and Tampa airports)
Remembering Tolle’s advice saved my blood pressure and self respect Monday morning. Sure enough, I didn’t get on the first or even the second flight out that day, but I got home eventually, the journey itself, as much a part of the trip as the destination.