Thanks From Slackpole
Again this year we asked our readers to help us slack off for the holidays by writing a big Slackpole chunk of this double issue of Flagpole. Again, you came through with a wonderful diversity of good writing, photographs and art—more, in fact, than we can cram into this issue. See Slackpole online for more of these contributions, and some of them may show up in later issues of Flagpole. Thanks for helping us enjoy the holidays and for making it so much easier to get the paper out prior to taking off, when we were also busy packing for our move to our new building at 220 Prince Ave., where we should be open for business Jan. 2—new address, same phone and fax numbers.
[A note about the Slackpole cover: every week when we “dummy” the paper, Production Director Larry Tenner makes a little sketch of the cover in its place on the dummy. This Slackpole cover, compared to the cover of this issue of Flagpole, will show you just what a good eye Larry has. Enjoy this, the first-ever show of Tenner’s Tiny Flagpole Fronts.]
By Bruce Miller
My fishing skills and experiences are very limited, but I really do like the stories I’ve heard from those who enjoy one of the world’s oldest sports. Any way you look at them they are fishy stories.
My good friend, Ronald, who claims that when he got married his wife cut his hunting and fishing back from seven days a week to merely five, told me this angling story. He had gone river fishing and had steered his boat into a slough along the river’s edge, where he had been casting for bass with little success when he saw a huge fox squirrel in the branches directly above him. The temptation was just too great, so he pulled out his automatic pistol and shot the critter.
That squirrel fell straight down into the boat. Ronald heard a boat motor start up just around the bend up the river, and the sound of a large boat was drawing near. Fearing that the boat might be a game warden, he quickly grabbed up the fallen squirrel and stuffed it into his tackle box which was standing open on the boat seat. He closed the lid on the tackle box and hid the gun. When the approaching boat rounded the bend and came into the slough, it sure enough was the game warden, and he stopped to inquire about the sound of gunfire. Ronald told the warden that he, too, had heard a shot, but he also heard a boat start up and leave downriver. (Fishermen are quick thinkers and fast talkers.) The warden, after checking his license and believing his story, took off downriver to look for the phantom gunman.
After the sound of the game warden’s boat faded off in the distance, Ronald decided to check out his prey, but as he opened his tackle box he was totally surprised. The squirrel had only been stunned by the bullet, and when it was put into the tackle box, it had recovered and then had become entangled in a mass of hooks, lines, sinkers and lures. When the box was opened, out jumped the frightened squirrel. It hopped right overboard and began to swim off.
Ronald was very disappointed. Not only had his poached squirrel gotten away, but it had just taken his best lures and tackle with it.
Then an incredible thing happened. A huge fish snatched one of the lures and started tugging on it; then another fish struck another lure, and together they pulled the tangle of lines and lures off the squirrel. The little squirrel, who had twice escaped impending doom, swam to safety and scrambled up the nearest tree. It paused for a moment at the base, looked over towards the boat, then scampered into the branches, where it sought refuge.
Meanwhile, a third and fourth fish that had been attracted by the moving lures gobbled up the enticing rubber worms and minnow replicas and fought against each other to get away after sensing their predicament. In a short time all of the hooks had fish, and then they became tangled on an upright log. Ronald paddled over and hoisted the fish into his boat. All told, 10 fine bass had been caught, thanks to the frightened little squirrel. To this day, my friend will not shoot a squirrel. (Fishermen learn from their mistakes.)
LOOKING LIKE SOVIET-ERA CHECHNYA
By Bowen Craig
Recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing architectural trend in Athens, and, now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t not see it everywhere. I’m talking about the watchtowers. They’re everywhere.
Little crows nests stick up on top of malls, schools and banks. They’re windowed. They’re too small to be actually used for any conscious purpose I can see. They do, however, send us a strong, subconscious message.
Fire stations have often had these, but that makes sense. Those guys might need to look for fires. It helps to spot fires if you’re up high. That makes sense. There’s one on top of an AT&T office in Alps Village. That does not make sense. Are they on the lookout for the invading hordes of Verizon Wireless? At the corner of Baxter Street and Alps Road, at the redlight, you can actually see three watchtowers if you angle yourself just right. One’s over AT&T. One is over Willy’s Mexican restaurant at Beechwood, and one is over Alps Road elementary school.
I don’t know if there’s just one architectural firm that designs these buildings and adds these watchtowers. Maybe it’s part of a master plan. Maybe it’s coincidence or just a part of a new architectural trend. What I do know is that watchtowers inspire fear. They have had their uses throughout history, mainly as places where people with guns can sit up high and look for the approaching enemy. There are still some WWII towers on the northern Atlantic coast, which were used to look for Nazi ships. But who’s the enemy in downtown Athens? Are we concerned about those damned Watkinsvillians coming in and taking our jobs?
The psychology of architecture is one of the many things that you don’t notice but that has immense power nonetheless. The next time you get a gut feeling when you walk into a room or a building, look around. Check out the scenery. It all has an effect on you. I’m pretty sure that the intended effect of the watchtowers is to scare you into shopping more. It’s ridiculous. People are still going to shop whether they’re afraid or not. We don’t need to be scared into shopping. Sure, that’s what former President George W. Bush told us to do after 9/11 to keep the terrorists from “winning,” but he also told us to use duct tape to protect ourselves from chemical weapons attacks.
I just do not see any need for the watchtowers. I suppose the mildly medieval aura they give off is interesting, but I still believe that they’re a fear-based architectural styling. I could be wrong. Maybe the Bogart militia is gathering for an invasion.
By Rob White
Big, broad-chested heroes: He-Man, Lion-o, Duke from GI Joe.
Those are the guys. Those are the dudes who save the world.
I run around like a maniac, beating my sunken chest and swinging my wooden sword and kicking invisible ass.
One day I'll be that dude. One day I'll save the world and get the girl.
Middle school hits, and I see everyone getting bigger. Skinny kids I knew become broad chested athletes, their muscles puffed up with testosterone and confidence.
Girls' chests get bigger, too. Don't think I don't notice that.
I run home and rip my shirt off and stare at the mirror, flexing my pale arms and waiting for the day my shoulders get broad and my arms get big and that confidence follows.
Didn't happen. By high school, I'm still a skinny motherfucker.
Surrounded by hulking brutes filled with alcohol and cockiness, I begin to think that "Faggot" is my real name and everybody knows it but me.
I like the girls. Love them, in fact, but the swelling chests and flowing hair and tramp stamp tattoos never give me a lick of attention. Seems to them, I'm just a skinny motherfucker.
I work out some and eat more but soon I realize that looking like He-Man or Lion-O is never going to be in the genetic cards. Wrists will always be thin and jawline will always be soft and chest will always be narrow.
Fair enough. I survive high school and the seemingly neverending chorus of, "Faggot!" and get to college.
Girls talk to me now, because I'm the quiet, artistic type. I catch a girlfriend on a rebound once her six-foot-tall guitar playing boyfriend dumps her. She's a goth girl. They like skinny guys, right?
I lose my virginity. It's nothing too memorable, but at least I can say I've seen one of those swelling chests in person now.
"It's cute that I can put my arms around you," she says.
Two months later she leaves me for a fat guy.
I notice a pattern emerging after that. Girls show interest in me; girls sleep with me or make out with me, then girls lose interest when a bigger, handsomer dude shows interest in them, and I am perpetually friend-zoned.
"You're my best friend!" they say.
"I can tell you anything!" they say.
"I'm so glad I can cuddle with you and it not be weird!"
I start to get a sense of how primal urges work. Most women want a genetically desirable mate just as most men do. I seem to be the genetically desirable "non threatening best friend who I sometimes make out with when I'm drunk."
Now let me stop right here and say that I damn well know that I'm generalizing like a son-of-a-bitch.
There are girls who love skinny guys.
There are skinny guys who love large women.
There are girls who love large women and there are large men who love other large men.
That said, we live in a society where the Alpha Male archetype is always rocking a six pack and the Alpha Female is always blonde with a skinny waist and a disproportionate cup size.
Those of us on the fringe of these unfair expectations learn to adapt.
We learn to look for the other weirdos like us.
For every skinny motherfucker there's a woman with a cuddly figure or a man with too many freckles or a girl with small boobs and all of us had to get used to being called our equivalent of "faggot" during high school, and all of us are used to living in the friend zone. Hell, some of us own a timeshare there.
Me, I find small boobs sexy. Freckles are hot, and I love cuddling.
So, hell yeah I'm a skinny motherfucker. I have thin wrists and a narrow chest and knobby knees, and you know what? I can save the world with the best of them.
BILL’S TOP SEVEN OR EIGHT
By Lynn Hatmaker
Overheard at a Christmas party:
• “We’ll just put in an appearance.”
• “Don’t feel like you have to entertain us.”
• “You both look like you could use some eggnog.”
• “OMG, I just unfriended half the people here!”
• “Don’t take this personally, but you have cookie breath.”
• “I never noticed you have green eyes. How festive!”
• “I had no idea he was your ex-husband.”
• “Well, we got that one out of the way.”
Christmas gift exchange:
• “Are we doing a ham for everybody, or is it gonna be ‘Hunger Games’?”
• “Sorry, but my Kickstarter campaign for your gift went nowhere.”
• “Even my building super gave me an Xmas card—is that weird?”
• “I hope you didn’t get me anything special.”
• “Why, it’s a sausage log! You really shouldn’t have.”
• “You can always return it.”
• “Before you go—here, take this home. It’s from Claxton, GA.”
By Connor Kythas
As I sat near the Arch, waiting on the old Athens Transit 12 bus, I couldn’t help but notice the homeless man staring at me. It was dark, and it was just me and him at the stop. I would’ve been worried if he was any bigger. The man stood about 5’4” and weighed maybe 130 pounds.
“Limey?” he asked suddenly. “Limey? Thatchu?”
“Umm… no sir,” I answered.
“Oh thank God! Thought you was Limey! Limey’s not happy with me!”
“No sir,” I said uneasily.
“You ever hear ‘bout Ol’ Limey? Toughest bastard this side a the Miss’ssippi! Once fought off a whole pack a stray dogs butt nekkid!”
“Really?” I asked, intrigued. “He a friend of yours?”
“I used to live with that sumbitch! Crazy bastard once ate a whole Doc Marten in one sitting! Just sat and ate it piece by piece! Hell, I once saw him bite a raccoon’s neck just for lookin’ at ‘im wrong!”
“That sounds… umm… is he still like… roaming the streets?”
“Nah, Ol’ Limey up and died last year. He was nine years old,”
“So… how old was he when he fought all those strays?”
“That’s terrifying. How did he die?”
“Old age, I guess. Nine’s old fer a German Shepherd. That yer bus?” he said, pointing.
It was. “Oh he was a German She… wait, what?” I exclaimed. As I stood up to board the bus, I was more confused than ever. “Why did you mistake me for a dead German Shepherd you used to own?”
He paused to think, scratching his scraggly beard. “I guess cuz I’m hella stoned, man.”
I never saw him again.
TAKE ACTION NOW
By Mark Bromberg
I walked out of Hendershot's into bright afternoon sun and a cold wind on Prince Avenue, warmed by coffee and an hour's catch-up on Facebook. It was all very comforting in its way, the familiar stressed-out complaints from friends and status updates from the usual cast of characters. Here was a midlife crisis; there, some topical, hot political outrage. A link to click on and “Take Action Now" for a worthwhile cause.
Family photo updates, too: A report from my nephew and his family in Seattle was followed by pictures of my niece and her daughter smiling from a warm, sunny schoolroom in Colombia.
The universe was spinning along quite nicely the week before Thanksgiving. I thought just maybe I could get in some early Christmas shopping on a Wednesday at noon. Forty degrees. I buttoned my big leather coat, wrapped the red scarf around my neck to ward of the wind, pulled tight on my knit cap and walked across the street to wait for the Health Sciences bus.
I saw Mary, one of the regular UGA bus riders, at the stop in front of Taqueria Del Sol. She wore sweatpants and a thin blue windbreaker, open to the cold, and there was a big shopping bag at her feet. She had an instant, broad smile when she saw me walk up, a familiar face she knew.
"Have you been down to lunch at the church yet?" she asked.
I laughed. "Well, no, not… “
"A friend told me it's good today," she continued. "They got roast beef and green beans. Mashed potatoes and gravy."
"That sounds warm," I said.
"And a real treat for desert, too: banana pudding. You still got time; they serve ’til one o'clock."
"That's from Our Daily Bread?"
"That's right, serve every day. They're at First Baptist now."
"Ah, that's right, after Oconee Street United Methodist burned. I helped serve meals there a few times with a friend and his wife. I bet First Baptist is a little easier to get to."
"Uh-huh, never missed a day. They good people. What did you do? I see you limping."
"Oh, cerebral palsy, I was born with it."
She smiled a bit. "Well, you do pretty well with it then. How old are you?"
It was my turn to smile. "I'm 61."
"You walk pretty good. Me, I'm 46, but I feel a lot older'n that some days."
The bus came along, and we sat together. She told me about her family, her diabetes ("my sugar problems"), showed me where three bottom teeth were gone. When we got to the Health Sciences campus I got up to leave.
"Bye now, Mary," I said.
Mary put her hand on my arm. "It's early, we can still make it back down to the church. I haven't eaten yet." She looked up at me standing above her. "You got to go? It's pretty windy today," she said looking out the window, as if she was delivering a weather forecast. "Well, sun's out. That's good." She smiled again.
Students were busy swirling around us, getting on and off the bus in gusts of winter jackets, hats and scarves.
"Take Action Now… “
I sat back down. "Sure," I finally said, "I've got the time." Mary sat in a spot of sunlight with her hands resting on the shopping bag. "Oh that's nice," she said, happily, as the bus moved off and swung back around to Prince Avenue.
TELLING JOKES TO CRAZY PEOPLE
By Walker Smith
I am a stand-up comedian. I have been for several years. People don’t seem to like comics that much in a music town. I’ve heard people disappointed that we’re taking up stages that otherwise could have housed another trust-fund-kid’s noise-rock side project, often right behind me seconds before I go onstage. And I’ve got a slight resume, but it’s heavy with weird credentials. I played a house party / music festival in Addieville without a microphone, shouting my jokes to confused kids on a lawn. A friend of mine came to a show I helped organize and ended up telling jokes from on top of a drum kit because the crowd was yelling too much. It helped that they told her to kill herself. How did a town like Athens prepare me for that insanity? Because Athens has Open TOAD.
If you don’t know, OpenTOAD is Athens’ longest-running comedy open mic, and it is a beautiful thing. It was the first brush any of the comedians from Athens—and there are more than you’d think—had with true insanity. There’s something about a place where everybody can get up on stage that encourages basically everybody to get on stage. There was a semi-coherent drug dealer who used to show up. He was tattooed and tended to take his shirt off. He called himself the Tupac of comedy. No one has any idea what that means, and in any case he’s in jail now. Once a man who may have been schizophrenic ran long and made everyone uncomfortable. The next month, I made a deal with myself that I would stay in the room for his opening line, but leave immediately if it seemed too awful. He opened with “I’m gonna talk about shoes and Jews!” I didn’t stay around to hear what the second sentence was.
The show isn’t like that now, but what it is is better. There’s a following: groups that always show up in force. There are new folks seeing whether they have what it takes every single time. Some of them are finding their feet as performers, and that is a beautiful thing to see. It’s become a welcoming home and a place for fearless experimentation. It’s a shelter for funny folks in a town that prefers the empty, arty faces of rock bands whose fans don’t dance. It taught me how to host a show, how to perform and how to be in the audience and watch someone grow in front of my eyes. And, also, it’s twice a month at Flicker, and the beer is cheap. Maybe we’ll see each other babbling nonsense there some night.
TO BUTT OR NOT TO BUTT
By Dan Johnson
It was a slow Saturday in Normaltown. I was blasting CDs trying to make my 7 p.m. closing at Normal News and considering the possibility of a PBR from Allen’s to help me through the afternoon. Then a couple of 20-ish looking young women came through the door.
They approached the counter, and one of them asked for a pack of Marlboro Lights. I asked her for an ID, and she produced her driver’s license. I did the math, and she had turned 18 three months earlier. I told her how unattractive cigarettes are and that she should give them up while she still could. She just stared at me with an incredulous look on her face. I laid the pack of butts on the counter, she handed me her money, turned and left without another word.
A short time later I was pleasantly surprised to see my old friend Dewdrop looking through the door. She came in with a sly grin on her face.
“I just had lunch with my nieces up at the café,” she smirked. “They came down here and got a pack of cigarettes. I asked them who was working, and they said they didn’t know: just some mean old asshole.”
We both laughed. She came closer and putting her hands on my shoulders gave me a quick kiss on the lips.
Damn. It’s great being 50.
THE SEASON OF LIGHT
By Laura Love
It was late December 2001, and I was going to Mexico. Under the influence of the various Carlos Castenada books, I wanted to test his description of “little smoke,” particularly the ingredient of peyote. This was my time to seek it out, to experience the enlightenment Castenada promised it provided.
I targeted the Huichol tribe as the one closest to his descriptions. They live in dry, mountainous terrain, stand-offish to outsiders. Two facts positively supported that I had selected the right group in the right location to see if Castenada's descriptions were accurate. The village I chose to visit was La Mesa de Nayar. High up and difficult to access, it promised an adventure, even if my calculations were off. Indeed, the calculations were off, because the Cora, not the Huichol, live in La Mesa del Nayar. The trip there was everything I expected for a lead-up to a great adventure. The bus took the mountainous curves on two wheels and firm belief in God's protection. Partway through the trip, the bus broke down. After surveying the underside to locate the problem, the drivers ascertained that it was due to very large scorpions that had set up a nest along the axles. Yes, even a greater affirmation that this was the adventure I anticipated.
About six hours later, as I was careening toward the throes of motion sickness, we arrived. The village had only a modest church and a few houses where people constantly resided. The rest of the buildings were three-sided shelters where Cora families stayed to celebrate important days. Of course, I hadn't really planned on a place to stay, because that would be outside the rules of a true adventure. I believed that a pension or some resemblance of a hotel would be there. There was none. I went to the only public establishment, a sort of restaurant, to await what sort of accommodations would appear. I had chosen the right place, because the co-owner of the restaurant lived about 100 feet away across a very dusty, flatter area that worked as a major thoroughfare in La Mesa del Nayar.
As night set in, meaning 6 p.m., the village became dark, very dark. You see, La Mesa del Nayar did not have electricity. Whatever lights appeared did so with the power of generators. And generators only ran at very important times, like when food needed to be cooked. But this year was going to be a great change, because electricity was finally coming to La Mesa del Nayar. The residents of the mesa could begin living beyond the constraints of a very, very dark life between the times of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Wow! I had never set up an adventure to be at the day when a life-changing revolution like electricity happened.
I talked about the change with the owners of the restaurant. Of course, an event of this significance warranted a good party. I reconciled that it would be a small party, rather than the feast of dancing I envisioned, since most Cora do not associate with people outside their region. And, I was definitely not regional nor a Cora.
Anticipating the grand event, we plugged a radio into the outlet that soon would be surging with government-generated electricity, not diesel-generated electricity. We prepared the lights so that we could easily flip them on sometime around the specified time of the great change. After all, the exact time would be like the bus schedules: somewhere around the exact time. A street light had been erected at the end of the loosely defined road to meet the need of people shuffling to the bus stop in thick darkness. This would be the signal.
The light came on slightly after 7 p.m. The radio woke up sputtering bad music through static. Energy surged through the electric lines—noiseless, fumeless energy. We flipped the switch for the lights. And then we danced.
Life after 6 p.m. had finally arrived in La Mesa del Nayar. Enlightenment I sought had arrived, not through a wild ride of peyote through my veins, but through the power lines running out of the valleys to the remoteness of La Mesa del Nayar.
TOLD TO CECIL
By Thomas Wenzka
His war stories had become part of my memory over my years of boyhood service as the reluctant apprentice in his basement workshop. Pa’s colorful Navy stories of the sea war in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean had kept me awake late into the evening while fixing appliances and building bikes for my sister and me from parts recycled by him from trash piles as he patrolled the village streets as a nightshift cop. Twenty-five years of listening to versions told to his WW2 buddies and competing with those of his tailgunner veteran brother at family get-togethers left me with accounts I can still recite and retell to this day, 36 years after he passed. His description of the wartime near-death experiences underwater while diesel fuel burned above had far predated the “near death-experience” concept. His most celebrated roles had focused on fixing shot-up naval aircraft to return to duty and engaging in general shipboard duties, but I identified most with his pride and pleasure serving as night-time lookout during many beautiful and some stormy nights at sea. His and my pride stemmed from the uncannily excellent night vision that he had and had passed on to me.
Fast forward to 1971, an icily distant time between us, following his disappointment after I had abandoned my first college year ROTC in favor of antiwar activity. My move from the family home during application for draft board recognition of conscientious objection in 1969 had been aimed at hiding the application from his wrath and disappointment, but Ma had leaked the news. He had risen and dragged Ma out from my 1970 college graduation a few days after Kent State because of its raucous antiwar outbursts and my wearing of a white arm band with the graduation robe. None of this was ever discussed until that following Thanksgiving, following the draft board’s granting me 1-A-O status. Pa stated during his traditionally lengthy dinner toast, “I don’t agree with your conscientious objection but do respect it.”
Then, a short time later, Cecil, Pa and I sat in the family living room. My casual friend Cecil was the buffer, unknowingly invited to maintain that non-discussing distance with Pa while visiting the old folks. After all, Cecil was a Vietnam vet, recently returned and eager to engage in war storytelling with Pa, while I could safely mind-wander.
But a new war story—no, I was sure I had heard and memorized them all—was being told, but only to Cecil.
Now Pa, when storytelling, commanded the whole room. This time, however, the story was directed at just one person, Cecil. It must have been painful for Pa not to command his whole audience, but he persisted in earnest. It’s an early seaside base camp in the invasion of Italy with Pa on nightwatch duty. Rustling noises and vague movement at the perimeter lead to his “Halt! Halt! Halt or I’ll shoot!” And then he shoots. Shoots twice. Others assemble with lights, and the body of a must-be-teenaged soldier in German uniform is identified. The story proceeds to: “This is why my police service revolver has always been set to twice the pounds of trigger pull, and it’s stopped me twice from shooting a threatening suspect.” The latter had been told so many times but never connected to the nightwatch-in-Italy story. Later, without words, we bear-hugged as I left.
Thanksgiving season always takes me back to this.
By Darrell Kinsey
I found the house empty when I came home for Thanksgiving 2004. I thought my parents knew when I was showing up, and I thought there might be some kind of little reception. The days leading up to the break had me dilapidated, and I regretted the days, and the days had me humbled. The last thing at work that broke me all the way down was a small thing. It was a tangerine with 27 seeds. In that state, I wasn’t capable of dealing with so many. If I had been in better shape, I may not have even counted them, and I probably would not have left them on the break room counter arranged to spell such a filthy word.
I stood in the front hallway of my parents’ house with my eyes caught on the antique chair. The upholstery is gold with a repeating pattern of onions and crowns. When I was small, I thought of the chair as a stately throne, and it was a good place to make up hums and daydreams. I put my duffel bag down and got on my knees beside the chair. It seemed to me like I might still be able to fit into it the old way, which was to climb in from the side up underneath the armrest. I put my head and my left arm in, pushed myself forward and twisted my torso. My right arm got pinned behind my body, and I felt the wooden edges of the frame against my ribcage. Still I thought I could make it, and I worked my way in tighter. The creaking sound was either the old chair or my skeleton. Panic-thoughts kept overtaking calmer thoughts, and I saw visions of drastic options: emergency responders on the scene or me trying to wear the chair out back to the shed in search of a saw.
I heard through the wall the motor lowering the garage door, then bags and keys rattling in the back of the house. They were calling my name, and they were about to discover me, so I yelled out my location and asked them to please stay back if they would.
They wanted to know why.
“I’ve gotten myself in a weird situation.”
“What kind of situation?”
“I don’t want to say right now.”
“Is it an accident?”
“No. I don’t know. If you’ll just do me a favor and go back to the den and watch TV, I’ll be there in a second.”
Their voices had been coming through the dining room. They were just out of view around the corner. I sat there listening, waiting for them to leave the area, but I didn’t hear any footsteps.
“You haven’t gone anywhere, have you?”
“No, we haven’t,” my dad said. “Whatever it is, we want to help if you’ll let us.”
It had been a long time since either of my parents had really touched my body in any way. Now they both had their hands on me. They were pushing me and working. My shoulder socket was a problem at first. They got me turned, but then my head was being pressed. My dad had to fold my ear down for me and hold it like that while my mom helped me ease the rest of the way free. I was embarrassed to have needed help like that, but I hadn’t minded their hands on me.
That throne chair played another crucial role in the festivities that year. Just when we were about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, the doorbell rang. In the driveway, a few days earlier, Mom had casually invited L.G. over to eat the holiday meal with us. He was an elderly ex-minister who lived alone next door. Mom didn’t think he would really come over, but there he was ringing the doorbell just as the oven timers were going off. He came inside carrying an odd little wad of yard trash and feathers, and he was wearing a plaid shirt, cardigan and khakis, which my sister pointed out to everyone was nearly the same outfit I was wearing. L.G. called the thing he carried a centerpiece and dropped it in the middle of the dining room table. My mom complimented the feathers, saying they were so long and beautiful. L.G. apologized. “I’m afraid they’re most likely buzzard feathers,” he said, and I saw my mom’s eyes noting the proximity of the piece to the nearest casserole. We didn’t have enough places set, and a general scramble ensued with plates and places getting swapped. Someone grabbed for L.G. the throne chair out of the front hall, and they ended up squeezing him in at the table right next to me. At first I was nervous about what to talk about with him. Then I realized L.G. was the type of fellow who probably wouldn’t mind hearing about a tangerine with an usually high seed count.
By Bert Richmond
lies quietly on the fields
embracing earth and trees
warming beneath its brilliance
tombs of those who left.
with cheeks of ice
shimmering in sunlight
babbles its story,
born of lightning and thunder,
runs its race to the sea.
Bay-breasted nuthatch trampolining
in my holly tree, jauntily bouncing
from one green toe-hold
to another. Each day
I watch the red holly berries gorged
as gourmet delights—
leaving my winter-long Christmas tree
stripped of its ornaments.
Arrogant your head-first march
down the trunk—barely a wink my way
at the window. Now, upside down, clinging to
prickly holly leaf, another red-plum berry
disappears into a pulse beat
that races from chin to bay breast. An
acrobatic flip-fly and yards away
another green branch sways as you
ride out its teeter-tottering,
gazing at your holly haven. A quick
song of feasting
launches your flight nestward.
Together under the jacaranda tree
as the sun fades beyond the mountain
gray-orange, pillow-rumpled sky
brown of her arms
his dancing dreams
under the blooming jacaranda
Intimate whisper of their lips
chases harshness of the street
yielding a bright paradise for two
under the brilliant lavender
of jacaranda in spring
Young promise del amor
as soft as jacaranda blooms
swaying among the branches
shading the soft embrace
as two young lovers meet.
The rain came
on your face
tiny streams traced
your gentle beauty.
the wetness of your lips
the gaze from your eyes
the sound of your voice.
Rain no longer dreary
now I feel its presence
as I feel yours
REQUIEM TO WINTER
Cotton puffs floating above
on celestial blue palette
feathery leafed crowns
sway in winter breezes
promises of rebirth soon.
Pale brown grasses
lying where the wind goes
inert beneath the sun
as it circles southward.
Spring with its warm probes
stirs awake life arrested
as the cycle continues
in its relentless quest
fulfilling a destiny of beauty.
DOING THE WASH
By Gwen O’Looney
In the early 1950s, I spent part of each summer with my grandparents, Nana and Papa, who lived in Shady Dale, GA, then a busy little farming community. Located between Monticello and Madison, it boasted six or seven stores connected by a raised wooden sidewalk on one side of the road and a community center, the Methodist church and a filling station/store/café on the other side of Highway 83. The town was busy, with a post office run by Miss Dorothy that was daily visited for mail and gossip. The only brick building was the bank, which had failed in the early ‘20s and was still distrusted by some.
As the oldest grandchild, I was known as “Little Emily” (after my mother) and treated like a princess whenever Papa took me to town. I quickly learned to be careful about voicing admirations too enthusiastically, as Papa would buy me whatever I wanted. The store where the men gathered had a barrel of pickles with a fork tied to the side, penny candies behind a glass case and a pot belly stove circled by wooden, cane-bottomed chairs in winter. Stories abounded and grew better with each telling. Farming news and opinions were mixed with local gossip and politics.
Helping with farm chores was a wonder of learning. Animals were either working partners or cared for wards. Pets were workers, with dogs herding or alerting and cats “mousing.” Mules—Queenie and Pat—pulled the plow for planting and the wagon for all kinds of tasks. Pigs produced an amazing number of piglets, and cows seemed always to be relaxed and eating/chewing. Days started early when Papa awoke at 4 a.m. to milk the cows before letting them into one of the pastures and then driving to Warner Robins for work. Once, when my Atlanta-raised father was visiting, a cow had trouble birthing her calf, and my father never forgot how calmly Papa pulled up his pickup, reached up into the cow, tied the rope around the calf and carefully used the truck to pull it out.
Much of the day was spent in either the slow assembly of all that was needed to do a deed that my own family did by machine or to make a product my family bought at the store. For instance, the well was located down the hill and across the road. Seemed like getting water was a constant task, but I always wanted to go with whoever was going, because peering into the depths of the well and having the “talk of the walk” were pleasures to me. Water was raised from the well by one bucket and poured into another for carrying back to the house. It was cold and sweet. My grandfather made sure all the buckets were filled before he left for work.
Nana also rose early to revive the fire in the cooking stove, get the bacon from the smoke house and the eggs from the hen house. (When I was so young I could look straight into the oven fire, I was sure that must be what Hell looked like.) Breakfast always included homemade biscuits. Eggs were fresh, fruits and vegetables in season were served with every meal and canned treasures were served up in winter. My favorite meal was vegetable soup with corn bread, and Nana made a huge pot for me to eat all week. (I was in middle school before I realized that Nana had always doubled the icing recipe when she made a cake so that the kids would get “to lick the spoon.”) Scraps were fed the cats and dogs, with dogs getting first choice, to keep the cats hungry for mice. Chickens were fed by hand-spreading the corn, and while they were eating, we stole their eggs.
Nana was never idle, and one of my favorite memories was wash day. I gathered small kindling while she took from the woodpile to build a large fire out in the yard next to the smokehouse. A big black three-legged pot was rolled over from its spot and set over the fire before we filled it with water from the well. From the pantry next to the kitchen, she retrieved a large bar of the lard soap that she made. All the clothing and linens were carefully spotted to make sure they would be spotless after washing. At last, the whole bar of soap and the clothes were put into the hot water in the pot and stirred with a large stick that was slick from years of use. Soon, she would take out the bar of soap to save it. While she was stirring, I would get water from the well to fill a large washtub for the rinsing. When she was assured that they were clean, we would wring them out and attach them to the barbed-wire fence to dry in the sun. As she removed them from the barbed wire, she put them in a large cotton basket. I never saw one item get torn on that barbed wire. All the while, we had been talking and laughing and celebrating our industry.
Doing the wash was like so many tasks on that farm and all the others. People went step by step. They talked as they went; they gathered from the land or from products of their own hand, and the time it took was not rushed. Maybe it was because I was a child that these days and ways seem so peaceful and filled with fellowship and productivity. Maybe it is because today’s families seem too busy with too many tasks that seem to produce tension and to separate people. Maybe this is why I look back on these visits and these habits as arbiters of what not to lose from our daily lives. Maybe doing the wash is a good example of the best way to do things.
THE INDIAN SPRINGS
By John Gaither
The ones before us believed a spring to be a mystical link with the
underworld, where the opposites of earth and water are combined. Our ancestors believed that a spirit lived in a spring, and its breath was in the water, sometimes warm and sometimes with an odor. More immediately, a spring was a place where game and hunters gathered, a source of life and of community.
The Indian Springs rise from the earth west of the Ocmulgee River, a few miles below where the South, the Yellow and the Alcovy merge in the drowned valleys of Jackson Lake. They are 70 miles south and west of Athens. Until the 1820s, west of the Ocmulgee was the Indian side of the river.
William McIntosh and 49 other tribal leaders signed the first treaty of Indian Springs in 1821, ceding to Georgia all Indian land east of the Flint River. The treaty specifically excepted a thousand acres surrounding the springs, where McIntosh was able to build his second plantation and a hotel to service visitors to the springs. The treaty was also welcome to George Troup, his first cousin and the Governor of Georgia.
William McIntosh’s father was of Scottish ancestry and connected to a wealthy family, and his mother was a Creek Indian of the prominent Wind clan. Scottish and Creek clans mingled many times in Georgia, producing men with power and influence in both the Indian and the white communities. Some owned slaves and plantations. In a society of separate and mutually hostile cultures, in an increasingly reactionary political climate, these multi-ethnic men of 200 years ago were caught in the middle: to be true to one family meant betraying the other.
George Troup was born in 1780 at McIntosh Bluffs in now-Alabama, where the Loyalist McIntosh clan was recruiting Indians to fight on the British side in the Revolutionary War. He served as state senator, Congressman, Senator and Governor of Georgia. He had the support of the plantation owners, and he was faithful to their interests. He supported the policies of the national figures known as War Hawks and was later called “the Hercules of states’ rights.” Governor Troup was a strong proponent of Indian removal, the government policy of taking all Indian land and property and literally driving them into the wilderness.
The majority of the Lower Creeks, who did not own slaves or plantations, were not pleased by the terms of any treaty that dispossessed them of their lands, and a council agreed that henceforward the penalty for ceding Indian land would be death. McIntosh agreed to this as well.
However, he signed a second treaty at Indian Springs in 1825 that ceded all Indian land east of the Chattahoochee River, and this was the last agreement he made. Over 100 Indians came to him at his home near the Chattahoochee and shot and stabbed him to death and burned his house down.
The State of Georgia kept the Indian Springs. Visitors continued to use its waters. Hotels were built. The popularity of springs and spas grew during the 1800s, attracting persons of wealth and fashion. Belgium had the resort at Spa, England had the hot springs at Bath and Butts County had Indian Springs. A railway station at nearby Flovilla made the springs available to those with the means to travel. Success spawns imitators. Mere ground-seeps were claimed to have remarkable properties, like the Anti-Nausea Spring in Taliaferro County with its co-attraction, the Electric Rock.
As the decades passed, interest waned, and fewer visitors came. The hotels burned down. Medical professionals made recommendations based on evidence that was empirical rather than anecdotal. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built the springhouse that stands today, and Indian Springs became one of the first state parks in the nation.
Native rock has given way to concrete and PVC pipe, but the spirit of the spring is still there, and there are those who seek it. Busy times see competing families with gallon jugs, canteens and five-gallon plastic cubes, observing the posted limit of two gallons per turn. Strangers meet, and regulars recognize each other. Fresh from the polyvinyl font, collected from a basin chipped deep enough into the concrete to hold a gallon jug, the water has the strong scent of hydrogen sulfide, evidence of sulfide minerals along its underground path. The aroma fades after a day, and this is a relief to some. However, this also means that the full experience can only be a local one; the spirit is linked to the place.
The benefits of the water for bathing or drinking can only be determined by the bather or drinker. Sulfides can have a therapeutic effect for some conditions. A recent visitor and heavy imbiber noted that the only significant effect was to lighten the color of his stool for two days, but he allowed that this might be the result of other causes.
Today, springs may be recognized but are hardly honored. The recently uncovered spring in downtown Athens is the reason the city is where it is, a small cause with a large effect. It flows along the rails of an old train track, bracketed by bricks and concrete. A wooded state park encloses the Indian Springs now, featuring the familiar attractions of institutional recreation: camping on gravel, hiking and biking, a museum, and water recreation on nearby Chief McIntosh Lake. The entry fee is $5, and annual passes are available.
Life collects around springs. Plants are nourished, animals fed and people satisfied. In earlier days, trade routes passed by, strangers met, horizons were broadened. Some springs had a strong spirit, and the Indians believed in the water’s restorative powers, perhaps that it kept a man young. We may not share their world view, but we can still find a place where life is encouraged and the human experience is shared and refreshed.
MY EROWID TRIP REPORT
By Adam E.
So, I've been hearing very good things about this new drug for a while. I decided to take the plunge and give it a try last night. I did some work, listened to music, and drank a couple of sour lambics. I started to feel pretty tired, and it was getting late, so I went to bed feeling kinda bummed that I didn't get anything from it.
I open my eyes this morning; just a cautious squint at first. Sun streams through the window, its radiant beams gently caressing the landscapely folds of my comforter. Encouraged, I open my eyes further. I feel the rapid contraction of my reclusive pupils as they squeeze into the recesses of my eye in coordinated unison. I imagine if one were to observe this action it would be reminiscent of a colony of coral polyps that, upon sensing danger, suddenly vanish into their respective exoskeletons. Such a colorful, refined and beautifully choreographed dance. A birds-eye view of skilled partners slowly waltzing across a coral dance floor embraced by a magnificently adorned aquatic ballroom rising up from the sands of the seafloor.
Shaking off the early daydream, my gaze shifts back to the window. Bluebird sky frames the hardwood canopies gently swaying in the breeze outside. Clouds drift lazily by, shifting and morphing into varied forms like a dynamic Rorschach-inspired picture-show. Cicadas and birds dominate the airwaves, muffled only by the fan spinning above me. Feeling pretty good about getting out of bed, it's immediately evident that something is amiss. Rather, things have deviated from their normal routine.
"Never anything wrong with that," I say knowingly as I vigorously propel myself out of the cocoon of twisted textiles that I sometimes mysteriously wake up swaddled in.
I'm feeling really good, certainly better than normal, not that I feel bad on a normal day; this is just better than baseline. Quickly clean, dressed and feeling refreshed I head out the door. It feels as good out here as it looked from the window. In search of a caffeinated beverage, I begin the short journey to the local gas station. Pandora comes to life through my speakers, the shrill pitch of trumpets triumphantly trumpeting in successive and expanding bursts like sharply focused lights fading into a soft and supportive background bokeh of bass and ethnic percussion. This song always makes me feel good. It's comforting in some way, but not because of its global and long-running airplay. Songs like that tend to lose their power for me after so many rides 'round the needle. In what would seem to be a natural order, and probably once was, the feeling a song generates should lead to its popularity and not the reverse of that.
As I climb a slight grade in approach to my neighborhood's exit, the brilliant blue peak of an EZ-UP tent rises into view. I reluctantly turn down Buffalo Soldier as I realize it's a lemonade stand. Ahhh, no caffeine in that, but so very, very nice to see kids outside doing anything!
Eerie calm and quiet have always permeated this community amid the absence of cheerful voices, coasting bicycles whizzing against their gears and rubber bouncing against the blacktop. The complete lack of any evidence that children live in this neighborhood built entirely of large family homes has always fostered a nagging sort of disappointment and concern for me. Sort of like the polar ice caps that are melting and we know it's bad. We don't know exactly why it is happening, but we have theories. Most importantly, we don't know how to stop the trend or reverse it, or if that is even a possibility. Frighteningly, the effects of such a great environmental shift on the human race are left only for our imaginations to ponder and attempt to describe.
Music again changes my focus and mood, this time the passionately inquisitive Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” brings an unwavering smirk across the right side of my face. I know what to do so surely now. A tremendous wave of euphoria warmly washes over me as the smirk softens into a permasmile. I must be hitting the peak of this wonderful drug I think to myself, secretly hoping it will last a bit longer. A u-turn brings me to a slow and cautious stop just past the shadow cast by the tent. I approach a young girl and her toddler brother who stand in nervous anticipation behind a brightly crayola’d sign. She greets me with a smile and I ask for one lemonade. I notice her brother in my periphery. He awkwardly balances on a narrow line, wavering between shy reserve and excited curiosity. She hands me a red solo cup with sharp ice and a finely sliced lemon round floating in what was obviously not the Kool-Aid junk I used to hawk on a bumpy potholed strip not far from here. The large spigoted vessel from which she poured my beverage made it clear that this was lemonade evolved. Seeds litter the bottom of a gently rolling lemon-tinted sea, upon which floats a dozen or so yellow rounds I visualize as beachgoers’ floating mats in a Monet painting I’ve never seen. I give her a dollar and thank her and her brother, each displaying grateful smiles.
“Have a good day,” she says. “Already have,” I think to myself. ”Good luck,“ I offer, returning to my truck.
Driving the few blocks home, I have only a short time to contemplate this trip. I’m sure more time will allow me to further digest it. I can certainly say it makes for a wonderful start to a day, and I fully intend to try this again. Sure, it’s unfamiliar to me, and occasionally fear of the unknown has seen us make rash and premature judgements. So, I’m going to treat this one differently and give it a chance to show that it does hold value to me in some way. Like all drugs, its always been here, available and waiting for a serendipitous intersection between itself and a contemporary explorer with a mind open just enough to let it squeeze in and make itself at home. Keep it on the DL, you know, but word on the street is this new stuff is called Sleep.
GARDENER, SPARE THAT SHED!
BLACK VULTURES MAY BE NESTING
By Liz Conroy
The old shed squats like an ancient gnome with glassless windows for eyes. The doorway yawns open like a toothless mouth. My husband and I peer inside the shed on occasion to observe spider webs and ant lion nests. With a newer garden shed near our house, there’s no need for a distant one. However, a certain bird needs it. On June 2, 2013, strange noises rose from the abandoned structure. Peeking inside, I heard small hisses and tiny growls coming from one shadowy corner.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw two large, dirty-looking eggs, about the size of goose eggs, side by side on the dirt floor. Along with the scary sounds, something was chipping a small hole in the shell from inside the egg. What was hatching?
Suddenly, a large, black bird flew over the roof, past one of the windows and out of sight. It was time to back away and leave the place undisturbed. A sighting of one of the parents later on confirmed that these were black vulture eggs.
On June 30, as we walked near the shed, an adult black vulture, clearly visible this time, flew rapidly out of the doorway and perched in the tree overhead to watch us closely. I peered into the shed again. Like a steaming tea kettle ready to overflow, loud hissing sounds arose from the dark corner. Two fluffy, beige creatures with black eyes and faces turned toward me with their downy wings spread in a defensive stance. This time, with camera ready, I took a few pictures and quickly left.
At home on the Internet, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website provided answers to questions such as: Why would these birds use an abandoned building for a nest site?
A black vulture pair may spend several weeks perching near a promising nest site, probably to check out the safety of the place. They seem to prefer dark recesses and places with cover. Abandoned sheds fit this preference well, especially when nesting sites are in short supply.
After the nest site is chosen, the female lays two eggs on the ground which take about 38 days to hatch. The chicks grow slowly. This may be an adaptation to unreliable food supplies since black vultures avoid foraging in rough weather. Numerous storms occurred throughout the spring and summer 2013. Such frequent rainy weather likely meant fewer regular feedings for these little guys. At least they were well protected from the elements in the old shed!
High-quality nesting sites are often used in successive years. I hope that our unused shed remains attractive to black vultures and becomes a big birdhouse for vultures in need of a safe place to nest. Attention gardeners: let your open, unused sheds remain, if vultures are using them. Many birds are losing quality nesting sites as urbanization spreads. Let’s give these great scavengers a chance.