This is a new blog to book of an edgy, gritty novel set in 2004-2005 Atlanta by Han Vance; for any other previously-published titles by Vance go to the small press book publisher’s online bookstore at www.silverstonepress.com. Comparable authors (for this title): Henry Miller, Brett Easton Ellis, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Genre: social realism, fiction.
pOp 101: Prince of Peachtree
Copyright © 2020 HV Han Vance
AC: ADULT CONTENT / AL: ADULT LANGUAGE
CRYSTAL CLEAR WATER, this little river flows rapidly through Cen-Tex. I’ve been so stuck. Back home, in Atlanta, hooked. Lost. Hooks in me, but I’m from here. I was born around here.
Could I be reborn here? Can I save myself? …Save me!
These waters washing me clean, I’m deep down in it now and haven’t felt this alive in months. Save me. The light. Swim to it. Salvation. …Save me!
“THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED with the Olympics,” Ren says, “the city blew up.
“And he doesn’t mean Centennial Park,” I interrupt to mild laughter in the room. On a good one, I continue, “We thought it was blowing up before, but that was just a start. Do one of mine this time?”
“Brothers have a chance to get in on the new wealth.”
“Allegedly,” Ren says in a newscaster voice, raising an eyebrow. He grabs the plate in front of me from the coffee table with his right hand and repositions it back on it in front of himself. Nurse Renaldo “Ren” Jackson hooves one of several massive lines I had carved out and says, “Too big, Wiggaboo. Gotta learn how to moderate.”
“Maybe I will someday. Sorry for giving you too much of mine. Anyway, the whole idea behind AUTA is this: the Atlanta Urban Thinkers Association will bring both sides together to talk and think and share thoughts. New millennium.”
“In a both sides country?”
“It’s a both sides city still, Ren. All we can help is Atlanta. You AUTA.”
“True. I’m in.”
“Be great to have a medical industry professional from Grady like you.”
“And a real working person, not an admin in his ivory tower. Take me to Grady…I want to live.”
“That’s right. Grady babies. I’m from Texas but my sons were born right across the street. Right here in SoBu at Piedmont Hospital across Peachtree Street.”
“I know. I’ve heard you say that before. What’s that ‘SoBu’ shit supposed to be?” Ren asks in a friendly tone, throwing air quotes around the acronym.
“South Buckhead,” I say, “trademark and copyright,” snatching the plate with my left hand for filling the straw I hold in my right. I snort a daily second oversized line and continue to ramble. By my third or fourth line, I know I’ll be quiet. Trapped off in a suddenly darker fantasy, thinking cops could kick in the door of Sweat’s place any minute. Not enjoying myself.
Manically I say, “How many other white dudes even sit around and talk real shit with y’all? I’m right here doing this shit again today, true – like third time this week – but I’m also up for sharing any good ideas. Black folks up north way out in the suburbs…we had two black friends in my main peer group, and it spanned two high schools, and one was half-white – which straight up makes him a black kid in America – and his dad was from Trinidad not like College Park…or Harlem. He wasn’t even the realest brother. Not really. In my neighborhood, my younger siblings and I had a whole family of good black friends, where we lived in an older subdivision that wasn’t that fancy. We weren’t even close to wealthy.”
“You wasn’t poor, though,” Sweat says. He’s been sitting near but away from us listening in, in the sparsely decorated living room of his Darmont apartment, breaking up his usual midgrade weed for a blunt and watching a huge TV with the sound off and Young Jeezy rapping on a super-nice brand new stereo Ren and Hambone and I definitely paid for via our addictions.
He’d slit a sweet mini-cigar with a razorblade and scraped out the waste tobacco. Blunts we smoked were just weed inside a tobacco leave wrap. He always stayed off the white: never even tried it.
“It wasn’t the hood, true,” I confirm, shaking my head no. “It was barely into the edge of East Cobb, just an older subdivision.”
“I gotta go pick up my son,” Ren says, standing and stuffing what is left of his $40 bag in his sock. “Ha-ha, good meeting. We’ll settle up Friday, Sweat.”
“No Sweat,” he says, cooly switching his glance to me, as Ren quickly departs.
“You wanna hit this with me today, Van?”
“Nah, I’m not even smoking anymore for a while. Just snorting.”
Ren bounces and Joe “Sweat” Smith blazes up alone. He’s wearing dark sunglasses inside and I can’t see how engaged at all he really is.
To me, “You not gonna drink or nothin’? You know, to bring the edge off?”
“Pablo and I will still do happy hour some Fridays, I’m sure. Rum-a-rita.”
I do another line and sit in verbal silence, listening to the edgy beats.
Then, I do another line, leaving the rest of my shit on the plate for the next fiend, maybe me tomorrow, though I hope not. And, it happens, the near-total shutdown, the creeping fear. This place could get raided at any time. Sweat has seen it all from me too many times before, but hey he needs the money.
I have to get the fuck out of here.
The Main Office:
THE MAIN OFFICE is on Peachtree Street in Midtown, where William Windrop II is sitting behind his nice desk the next morning, tearing small stacks of papers into eighths as I enter his office, all upbeat. I’ve got my high-energy be the best you can be today midmorning adrenaline buzz going. Fast-talking, silver-tongued charmer and fast-walking skill position white boy athlete in a tan with popping purple pinstripes suit and royal blue banker’s shirt, tan tie has blue or lavender shimmer depending on which angle you look at it. Tan leather shoes, a cobalt blue leather belt. I’m cat quick, mind and body.
Charisma oozing. Yet, he’s staring at me like I’m a rodent of some kind, perhaps the world’s best-dressed cockroach.
“You look over that variance analysis from Marc yet, Van?”
“No, but I will today. I ran into a few little issues yesterday.”
“Oh like what?” Rip. Rip. Rip.
Quickly, “Standard ops issues, new personnel on the sites and whatnot, boss.”
“Any drama?” He looks me in the eyes for the first time, raising a brow.
“Nah.” I don’t flinch an inch, recalling myself thinking fucking cops were everywhere on Peachtree yesterday, my nose was running and I was a street walkin’ cheetah heart pumping nitro. Walking almost like a hooker, actually, who never got picked up; too fucked up.
He pauses to process, making sure I’m done. “Perfect…Mike happy?” We’re a commercial real estate management firm, working for other commercial real estate interests, large or medium, and Mike Tanner was my direct client, the boss of all the other clients. His office onsite with mine out by the Lindbergh train station, the other side of South Buckhead from where I hung out. Mike was a snappy Smithland employee, gay mixed doubles tennis ace who went to the Atlantic Ocean all the time, an interesting enough total ball-breaker, with a perpetually creased forehead. He always looked like he was thinking deeply. I’d heard him working in his private office like I often did, through the office space where my cubicle was, previously this morning, but we hadn’t spoken, which was fairly common. Trying to sound genuine and on it I state, “I always hope so…I think so. Saw him this morning, and he was fine.”
“You see Mr. Mike Tanner every day.”
Even quicker, “I do. But you know Mike asked me to spend more time out in the field and with the staff, on the sites. So, I’m making a point to actually do that.”
“Perfect.” Rip. Rip. Rip.
“How’s Janet doing with the new assistant manager we gave her? You know she’s the only woman we have doing a full site lead in this whole city right now, and when I heard she was struggling, I had to wonder, is she the right guy for the job?”
“Ha, ha, ha…She’s good. I’ll stop by there this afternoon. Make another unannounced appearance, make sure she’s staying sharp.”
“Perfect” Rip. Rip. Rip.
“You know we have a paper shredder, William.”
“I know, buddy,” he says, but with the “buddy” sounding like “little buddy,” all condescending. I bow up in my seat, thinking how quickly I’d kick his ass in a fight. I’m a lightning handed six-footer and he’s a thicker, heavier and shorter guy at least five years older than I am; I could rip his old throat out before he even knew what happened if I lost it. I start to get calm by thinking how I straight up challenge all my bosses one way or another when they condescend me. They all at least subliminally know it so they rarely try it anymore. I can easily talk circles around any of them. Greedy motherfuckers. I’ll do whatever they want me to do at work, but a whipping boy I’m not. I’m The VAN!
He sees me silently seeing him seeing me in a maybe less than flattering light and knows my huge as fuck fragile alpha ego maybe got hurt and says, “It’s a habit.”
Hearing that keyword I shudder. Here it comes. “Are you a drug/sex addict?” he doesn’t ask me.
Saying instead, much quieter, self-reflective, “It’s a nervous habit.”
I feel pretty embarrassed for him. My work mentor’s huge and fragile ego caught my unintended punch and I for the most part like him, so I change the subject. “Hey, can I borrow this book?”
“It’s my only copy,” he says daftly. Who has more than one copy of any non-biblical book?
“Is it good?”
I ask, “You read it?”
“I know that guy up in Buckhead, guy who wrote it, and he wanted to make sure I had a copy. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.”
“You’re a busy guy. You going to?”
He shrugs. “Probably not.”
“I’m a fast reader. I’ll bring it back in two days and tell you if it’s worth your valuable time. Shorter book like this, I’ll read it on the bus in a couple trips home …I gotta jet. …Have a good day.”
“It’s going to be a busy one. …Talk to you later.”
I walk out with an unread yet copy of the book “Mr. Shmooze” in my hand and am almost out of here when I hear, “Hey, Van, can I see you for a minute?” Speaking of company whipping boys, it’s the full city boss, the one whose job I didn’t want and don’t listen to at all unless I absolutely have to, Bill Banter. My joke is he’s so bad at banter that his middle name is Badat.
“Be right there,” I say in an (fake but professional) ultra-positive tone.
I bound into his makeshift office. Freeze frame. Here’s this guy running the whole city, supposedly, except the company is based out of Atlanta and over half of its business is in The ATL, so he’s always feeling the wrath of the real bosses, the moody at best probably clinically bipolar owners, over minutiae, because they are hung over or having a bad day with their stock portfolios or can’t get laid without paying through their polished white teeth for it. He doesn’t even have his own office.
“I need to talk to you about your attendance,” he says, closing the door.
I say, “Yeah, I had a football league injury last week. Lost my footing wearing the wrong shoes practicing with my brother actually and dislocated my shoulder.”
“Aren’t you a little old for football, brother?”
“I average 1.2 touchdowns per game, Bill. …It’s spring league flag. I play on a hoops team, too. I could still play in the pros, I’m pretty sure, on 3rd downs or like going for two, I…”
“Week before that, you missed a day…maybe the week before that.”
“I was ill,” I say while making a mental note not to call out tomorrow no matter what.
“Call me when that stuff happens. You never call me!”
“We have this RIM pager – Resource Information Manager – BrickComm gave us, so I can message all my clients and my people directly if I’m going to be out. I’ll call Win and leave him a message before he even wakes up if I’m going to miss anything. I mean, I’m sure my attendance for the year is well in line with, um, company procedure standards and practices.
“Yeah, I’m sure. You just still haven’t been around here that long.” I say this to remind him that I’m an established huge company breadwinner, and he’s more of a newbie and total whipping boy.
“I catch holy hell from Stan when I don’t know everything that’s going on, is all. I need to feel like you care about this place.”
“Of course I do. And I have 34,000 customers a day in my separate system alone, outside of your normal business operations. You can’t know everything. You wouldn’t even want to know all the shit I’m having to deal with from the clients and their clients…brother. Lots of bosses.”
“I’m your boss, too, since the account is in Atlanta”
“Ok.” I change the script, “You think maybe Stan is bipolar?”
“He’s uni-polar: always an asshole…to me.”
Best banter he ever did, I think, laughing a little.
“You’re just too close to him. I always get along with Stan Franklin.”
“Get the hell out of my office! …Tell me you’ll call me.”
“Isn’t this really Doug Dubois’s office still, Bill?”
“Get the fuck out of my …temporary office then!”
“…I’ll call you,” I say, lying, fake phone fingers to my ear.
Before I leave, I make flirty small talk with the monthly customer accounts lady. Surprisingly, she more or less verbally pounces on me.
I start to sweat. I take her card.
On The Peach:
AND I’M ROAMING the Peach. Wind in my hair, sun on my face. Walking to the beat of my own drummer. …And it’s a fast beat. This is my street. I put on for my city.
I see a sign glowing in my mind: ~ Prince of Peachtree ~
Life’s good, I’m thinking. What the fuck was that slutty secretary doing? Or should I say, “sexrecatry.” The chubby-cute, big tit monthly customer specialist or whatever her title is, Alicia Love. She’d be so much prettier if she had better hair and knew how to dress.
I briefly catch a reflection of myself in a glass building’s exterior. Like me, I look good out here, today. Every day…unless/until I use.
Saying to me before I left, “I wish you weren’t married; I wish you were single, because I don’t date married guys. It’s a rule. It’s my only rule.”
Like I’d “date” her if I were single. Please. She was blatantly hitting on me at work. I came on way softer, more ambiguously. Was I into it? Maybe so, I was definitely flattered. I like her soft voice and the way she was looking at me, behind a pathetic borrowed “for-the-time-being” desk – we simply must get better work lodging and furnishings if we are to be this super slick company we pretend to be, we need more office space – and just said, “Oh, is that so now.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t some of my better banter, either, but she was blushing like crazy and caught me off guard. She made me start to sweat it out.
I wonder what Sweat is doing? I could go get him up and straighten his place up for him, like I’ve done sometimes, while he sits there, watching the Channel 3 news at noon. See, as he says, “Who got shot, and who got got.” I usually hate the non-sports news.
He’d let me in. Nah, I better get back to my office before I get got.
I need a day off from using. Please help me to stay off the coke, today, God, if only for today.
…I’ll use tomorrow, I’m sure.
Just keep it together, Van.
This was a good call to walk to the next station instead of getting on at North Avenue like I was supposed to do. I’m supposed to do what I want. I get on and stay on. I don’t have to be anywhere but here on a nice day.
Walking The Peach. Loving Atlanta.
My 18 properties are good or they’ll contact me, eventually. I’d find out soon enough, and get them good. And, I saw my top client already this morning. I’m good. I’m fucking great.
It feels great to be alive today.
Aloud, “I love this city!”
I hurdle a full-size windjammer sign, thankful for my comfortable good tailoring. Feeling young. Hope they saw that shit. I can still get it. For an almost 35-year-old, I can get it.
ALICIA ON THE BRAIN after Burrito Brothers on Piedmont, her card confirms she is indeed the monthly customer specialist. Her role doesn’t apply to the corporate structure of which I’m a dedicated and embedded contractor for BrickComm, not at all. “She doesn’t work for me…” I mumble under my breath, in my cubicle. I can hear the client’s client big boss lady typing away next to me, through the shared airspace a cubicle over. Alicia isn’t a peer manager. She even a colleague of mine? She knows good and well I’m married.
Let’s see, not even the respect to put her full name in her email, just firstname.lastname@example.org. No “Love.”
She’s not even a close colleague.
I type: Rules are for losers.
Not enough to get into trouble for, definitely a bit of better banter. I’m excited, a little horny, thinking about seeing her torpedo tits.
Next time I’m there, maybe we’ll flirt.
Her quick reply email says: Get down here now!
I immediately type: On my way.
Wow, I can’t believe this is happening. Be cool.
This time it’s straight to the train station, adjacent to my office and directly to the main office. To say I’m a little anxiously distracted on the train is major understatement. Thought of the corny old joke: I’m as nervous as a whore in church.
She’s stationed out near the front again, a noticeable light blush to her otherwise creamy white cheeks, but I make sure to keep my focus on and greet reception, sounding warm, hyper-confident and fun, to announce my presence to them both. Then: “Going back to see old Marciano for a few.” Detail is to reception but it’s loud enough and tactfully for Alicia’s information.
Her spunky and sharp black friend Precious (real name) Robinson is, per usual, working front reception today, running the show.
“Marc” Marciano gets an expense report he didn’t really need promptly from me. I’ll need the slowly arriving return of monies as soon as possible, anyway. We bullshit about his day for about five minutes; he loves to bitch about him being a savior of the company running the daily numbers, while everyone piles work on him. He often shows extremely visible signs of overexertion, much cussing and gnashing of the teeth, telling of how they “make the sausage” in his personal accounting department hell. He’s our head bean counter, in practice, that actually has to do work for the site managers all the time. It’s an awkward act for sure but he’s not that bad. I definitely need him when I need him, like monthly financials time, for the report. He even sometimes randomly goes to the same patio happy hour I hit.
Back out front Alicia says, “Go to the 3rd floor and wait.”
“What?” I can’t believe this is happening and going to a lower floor in the building doesn’t sound safe. Thought maybe she’d get away for a quick cocktail at a nearby bar on the street; I frequent several semi-regularly. “Can’t you just pop out for a drink?”
“No. I can’t take a long break now. It’s empty. …Just do it.”
Luckily, I get an empty elevator car.
Down, this is wild. Looks like the empty trading floor when it had been cleared out in the movie Boiler Room in here. Wonder if I’m on camera and look for cameras, and remember there’s no active building security. Here it’s us in lieu of security, we oversee everything, even common area maintenance aka “CAM”…oh, here she is.
She: “Do you have any condoms?”
She: “You have to fuck me in the ass. We don’t have any condoms.”
FIVE HOT MONTHS LATER, I’m the one fucked in the ass. Self-analized is my self-analysis of my self-created situation. Could be worse, though.
The aftermath. Confronted about my girlfriend/concubine by my mentor at work, I played it off as a “just friends” situation, saying, “She’s one of the only people I can ‘really’ talk to up here…about my life and stuff. She’s just a good buddy, Win II.”
I called it off with her only later, as the logistics got to be too much to manage, the planned sneaking around. Not because I felt bad about my job, which I didn’t really or my wife, Jane, which I did. I have kids, two awesome young boys I love dearly. I feel like I failed as a father, as my father sadly had repeatedly failed, by having an affair myself. Even though my Janey had visibly lost herself out in the suburbs, lost interest in any form of excitement, had taken to often wearing sweats, not leaving the house much except to go get groceries, for a lengthy period of time. Her mom and I even had to talk with her about it. She was a great mom and good wife, though.
I fucked it up.
I still want it to work out.
I want it to work because of my sons. But, I also realize our relationship is permanently damaged.
It’s sad that I basically, ultimately sabotaged normal marital un-bliss for unfaithful kinky sex. Alicia is a total freak. Plus, she’d use cocaine with me sometimes and go in on it.
When I cold-shouldered and broke up with her it was pretty painful for us both. See, I’d actually fallen in love with her, and I was at least an obsession for her, maybe the true love of her life. That was two months after she got canned because of “performance issues” but really because she’d been sexually seeing one of the few truly bright shining stars of the rapidly growing company, sometimes during the workday even, and I was straight up too monetarily valuable to fire. That’d be like throwing money away. …I’m money.
Alicia was expendable, yet she had claimed to me to be doing her job tasks just as well still. Kind of hard to imagine her working that well, though, as much as she thought about sex, which was all the time. She thought about sex way more than I did. Before the breakup, I’d lost my desire to fuck her much, just wanted to use more.
Anonymous called my wife, after that, they/she ratted me out to my better half for cheating. It was 100% not Alicia, I think. I hope. I considered that she could have done that to break up the marriage, to get me, to have me, forever. She vehemently denied it, which I believed, saying she’d moved on, which I questioned. I hadn’t fully.
That type of ego-fueled thought process is what got me in this mess, in the first place. The bubble had burst, but it was reforming.
Jane and I are trying to sort things out. She was still committed and faithful and absolutely loved playing the martyr, while I was the man who fell from grace. We’d actually been having a pretty good run at it. I’ve fallen back in deeper love with my wife, and right before this I was definitely respecting her staying power. I love her.
Goat Ravisher Building:
THE SPOT is always a good place to escape to, I’m thinking, as I approach the Goat Ravisher Building by foot. The shabby old building located near the edge of the hotel district was named by us due to a graffiti tag spray painted on its side that says “Goat Ravisher,” and we always call it that or just “The Spot.”
“How’s it, Crispin?” I say.
“It is what it is,” my BFF Crispin Jones answers. “Come in. Please, come in, I mean, brother…I’m actually near ’bout bored.”
“I’ve been stressed at work today. …Can we burn one?”
“Sure. I was just about to put one together.”
“What you listening to?”
“Mastodon…again. Keepin’ it local.”
“Shane home from work today? I saw his car.”
“I reckon he’s around here somewhere then.”
He points with a tilt of his head and we walk out to the dingy enclosed patio overhanging a confluence of highways on the connector and watch the traffic slowly crawl. Like we often do.
He sparks the joint with a Zippo, and we pass it back and forth without saying anything.
“Too wet, dude,” Crispin breaks our silence. “You lipped it.”
“Sorry, brother,” I apologize.
“I mean again, you lipped it again. …How’s married life going, I guess? You already said work sucks.”
“You know, it’s weird. We were forgetting to work at it at all, with the kids and whatnot and me down here. She actually gets jealous of my job, her being home all the time, and we were so emotionally distant. But once I got busted for cheating on her she became reinvested in the relationship…we both did.”
“That is weird, it being almost good for the marriage.”
“You going to fuck Alicia anymore, Van?”
“No. I plan not to make that same mistake.”
“Good. That makes me feel good to hear you’re doing so good.”
“I’m keeping it together. I didn’t want to turn into my dad.”
“Keep it together, buddy,” he encourages.
“We still planning on going to the game tomorrow?”
“Fuck yeah! Braves baby. I’ll bike over there and get us some $1 seats as soon as they offer them. Worst-worst case scenario some $5s.”
“On your little BMX?”
“Yes and don’t make fun of me again for riding a kid bike.”
“I’m just envisioning you pedaling your ass off on that little thing in a hundred degree weather wearing a pretty Hawaiian shirt.”
“That’s a fairly accurate image, asshole. Do I amuse you? Am I put here to amuse you?”
“Am I a clown to you?”
“Saw that again at Mom’s the other night. Funny. …Funny stuff.”
“You want to do some stuff later? …Go score some shit.”
“Maybe so…nah, I gotta be good today and save it up for tomorrow. Tell you what, we can go to Trader Vic’s and have two – I mean two – and then call it a day. I’ll even buy for once. I have to quit partying so much.”
“Fair enough. I could go for drinks when they open…half an hour.”
“I need to meet some nice ladies soon. It’s over with old girl.”
“Yeah? Should be no problem for you.” Crispin is funny and looks like a young Paul Newman, so I’m sure he’ll be able to attract a female’s attention easily.
Shane walks into the room wearing only tighty-whiteys and carrying a full mug of coffee. He’s a handsome and fit heavy metal bandleader and parking facilities developer I went to high school with, at the one of my three high schools from which I graduated.
“Long morning,” I say to him.
“Yeah, I called in sick,” he replies.
“You look sick, Shaneling,” Crispin jokes. “Cover up sometimes.”
He replies, “I heard you guys talking about baseball and didn’t want to miss anything, so I came right out.”
“Ah, no time for pants,” I say.
Shane says, “That’s right, The VAN. I can’t wait for the game tomorrow. Ha, ha, I promise to wear clothes to the game.”
“More clothes than that,” I say, chuckling.
“Did you guys hear me on TV last night?” Shane asks.
“You were on?” I ask.
He replies, “I was heckling the hell out of the Pirates’ relief pitching staff, but in the quietest times. We had amazing seats, not way out in the Chophouse where you guys always hang out. Me and my girlfriend, and she was packing to leave town today and she had a replay on and said you could hear me plain as day. It got caught on the broadcast.”
“Then you woke up sick,” I say. “Good work.”
“How is your cousin by the way?” he asks me.
“Who? …Oh Alicia. I don’t see her anymore. She wasn’t really my cousin, we were on drugs, she liked to freak my friends out.”
“She likes to get freaky with your friends…freak-n-frack. …Does Cris know that story?”
“I don’t want to, I’m sure,” Cris replies. He means it.
Continuing anyway, “Yeah so…some months back The VAN brings this alleged cousin of his, who I just hear now she wasn’t a relative, to my practice studio.” Pregnant pause and then, “Okay?”
“Go on, I guess,” Crispin replies. “Only because I can’t stop y’all.”
Shane continues, “We do some shneef but not too much and I’m playing guitar. Band practice was way over. Then, after about a half hour of drinking lukewarm PBR and yapping, she bends over and starts giving her quote unquote cousin here a blowjob. I mean I’m from LA, Lower Alabama, and live in inner ATL and all but wow.”
“So? She’s a slut,” Crispin says. “I knew I would hate this story.”
Shane answers, “So she had a jean skirt on and no panties and was all bent over going to town. She looks over her shoulder and says for me to come here. She’s pretty I think so I did, I mean, I put on a condom first then drilled her.”
“Sick fucks,” Crispin says. “Van you’re about ready, I hope. I’ll need a Mai Tai or three, four, just to wash that visual out of my mind. Please put some fucking clothes on, Shane! I don’t enjoy discussing MMF group sex with y’all while you’re in your underwear…at all.”
“I hear ya,” Shane says. “I just thought she may want to go to my show with us Friday, since my girlfriend is still going to be out of town. Nice girl, I had pure, the purest of intentions, per usual.”
A New Era:
“POINT OF ORDER!” the founding director of AUTA proclaims a week later. This org has given me a lot of shine, because it’s mine.
I made an A in Parliamentary Procedure at UGA not all that long ago as a nontrad student, so I, let’s say, relish the podium and gavel. I’ve even joked about wearing a powdered white wig to the next meeting twice in small group conversations after we’ve finished up.
The black society folks love us, because our focus is inclusion and city ideas even though I, the founder, am a white male and wrote the organization charter. Ren as my second-in-command is supposed to get in front of many of the black faces. His attendance and participation have been limited, though.
I’m a natural at community building, I found. In a one-off tributary way, I’m sort of in emulation of Perimeter’s primary owner C. Daye Smith. I originally found Mr. Smith by reading of him in the local business newspaper Atlanta First and chose to work at Perimeter Mgmt. Corp. because of him.
I always glean. I try to look for good qualities in people, especially successful people I’m exposed to regularly. And, I copy in homage or do my own version of what they do so well. Sometimes, I improve it. I’ll take their idea of what is right and good and a best practice and mesh it with an original idea of my own or the right and good and best of another, maybe I’ll take three ideas and use elements of each.
C. Daye Smith was an officer for top local civic groups and had organized an invigorating street cleanup downtown that was noticed as a big shine moment for the firm. He even championed a streetcar running up-and-down Peachtree Street as a path forward at the core of the sprawling and only partially connected-at-points megalopolis, to turn her main thoroughfare into a real futuristic urban hub. While returning to the former cultural glories of Atlanta’s streetcar past, near and dear to my heart. It was such a brilliant idea.
As she stood, Atlanta had no mass rapid transit subway train station on/off-points anywhere on the Peachtree Corridor between the Arts Center, up in the higher teen streets of Midtown but still distant, and Buckhead Station, way uptown over close to Lenox Mall, which was too near to and redundant with the Lenox Station. And the Lindbergh station where my office was located was off to the Piedmont Ave swoop, not even Peachtree.
This between-trains area of The Peach was well within my domain, as I was passing through to score drugs regularly. I had various properties around either end of the stretch where the train stations were located. To navigate the Peachtree area between those touch points without a car – and I still wasn’t driving or even missing driving – I had to take the 101 MARTA bus. “Here comes the 101,” I’d say, when it finally or inevitably arrived. Taxis were pricey, so I tried to limit them to when I needed them, and there was always Pablo Roams, an unlicensed car transport business owned and operated by my dear Puerto Rican friend (and sometime sidekick) Alexander “Pablo” Romeria, whom I alone also sometimes called AR for short.
He was short, like only a couple of inches over five full feet tall, but he weighed I’m guessing 220 and had an intimidating look. He was not a hard ass and smoked cigarettes incessantly, but he wasn’t someone people were comfortable messing with. He filled out a coat, and I used him as my driver regularly and occasional additional security.
We’d first met back when we were attending neighboring high schools, a non-Spanish speaking suburbanite who literally didn’t know much Spanish at all beyond burrito. He’d worked for Perimeter, before he walked out with no notice and just turned his phone off and ghosted, two weeks before I was due to collect a $500 referral fee for recruiting him to the company and him making it six months. He just wasn’t Perimeter material, I suppose.
“Pablo has the floor,” I state. Happy to have him here as a relatively safe and effective means of getting to-and-fro this meeting itself and an ally but I’m not too sure what his early meeting agenda item could be. “Stand up when you want the floor, AR. This is Pablo, everybody, actually Alexander or Alejandro Romeria, a resident of Marietta, Georgia, who has worked all over the city in myriad capacities. Remember you guys please: We want to be hyper-local in most of our actions but still super cognizant of the fact that we’re part of something even greater, I guess you could say. That’s all of Greater Metro Atlanta…and America.
I continued blabbing, while finally gesturing back to him, “Sorry about that, now please go ahead, Mr. Romeria.”
“My friends call me Pablo!!!” he says, way too loudly for the small group meeting on Bennett Street off Peachtree, right down the hill on the left past Piedmont Hospital if heading uptown, across from the trap.
He continues after slightly too long of a pause, to let the “Pablo…” sink in, “I was thinking we could meet at a bar next time, point of order.”
“Well, I second that motion, Pablo, as long as it’s hereby understood to be strictly cash and carry – y’all need to bring your own money for any beer or cocktails…since we aren’t exactly fully funded yet.”
“Thank you, Van! And, thanks for having me here, you guys!”
“All in favor say Aye…”
“…And all opposed say Nay…”
“…Looks like the ayes win. Pablo, you can help me find a fun spot with booze and snacks. We partially met here because it was convenient for Ren, who is missing in action for a third straight meeting and our founding treasurer Joe Smith, who is also out today. We may need to elect new officers soon. Let’s go ahead and expect to meet in Midtown next; we’ll vote for Pablo as possible entertainment chair at that time.”
~ Old Business, threefold, handled.
~ New Business, twofold, addressed and: a. handled, b. tabled.
~ Dollars: Dues; Donations
Moving right along. Then more me, “Point of consideration: the original creation of the group, and its inception as AUTA, an acronym for Atlanta Urban Thinkers Association, has run into a bit of a branding snag. The group being the type of org that it’s already becoming…it’s much more standard for the website to be at a domain ending in dot o-r-g, and since Anything Association Organization is from the department of redundancy department, and we’ve zeroed in on our inclusion efforts, which can encompass for many of us other previously-discussed urbanist facets and causes, like the importance of better public transportation access for all citizens, a big one for me, a rebrand may actually be in order.
“I recommend that we may consider AUTA to be the legacy organization or a name used in the legacy of the creation of the organization. But as the most pressing issue I still see right now where we can shepherd real growth and activate our group, by cultivating the most dialogue leading to actions, is race. …Always hot in Atlanta.
“Let’s consider the name ERA: End Racism Atlanta, or it would still even work for us if this went national, End Racism America. I’m hereby proposing the name ERA. Then our new website could be viewable at some variation of that new brand, definitely containing ERA.org in it.”
Pablo trumpets, “I love that!” a little too loudly for the room. He knew it ahead of time.
“All in favor say Aye…”
“…And all opposed say Nay…”
“…Looks like the ayes have it,” I conclude, smiling warmly.
Then, “One or two of the old guard still liked our original AUTA better apparently, which has been duly noted in minutes respectfully. “And we shall surely continue being quite key cogs of Atlanta’s urban thinkers as well, of course, team. May this, our new era, bring about great good for the city…AUTA T-shirts are hereby on sale for $10.”
“WHERE WE HEADIN’ now, Van?” Pablo asks, shortly after the post-meeting dialogues die down, in the parking lot.
“You really want me to decide?” I retort as my stomach churns, hungry for cocaine and absent any dinner. I glance away from him and yearningly toward the illuminated “Greater Metro Atlanta Population Now” sign, as it ticks ever closer to an inevitable “3,000,000.” The population sign is out front on Peachtree Street, which turns into Peachtree Road further north up the way: The Peach runs the full length of the heart of the great Southern city.
A glowing brag bit, that sign, stationed for all to see from their cars, passing by on the busy street. Their total running number was always slightly on the high side of the estimates I heard elsewhere. Yet the other way it’s right in front of the front two lots for the Darmont apartment building, a drab, old tan mini-skyscraper reminiscent of so much of the aged housing which I’d seen all over New York City on frequent trips up with the wife. You don’t see much construction of that type, or from that utilitarian only era, at all similar anywhere in Atlanta. Our tall buildings are newer and not flat roofed: they look like rocket ships. While much of the midrise development is relatively new or always being retouched, the charming older single-family Southern house is still by far the most prominent dwelling.
I say, “You up for Sweat’s then aren’t you, there, Pablo. I had half an intention to head straight back to The Rhetta, but that’s fine.”
“Just $20 a piece won’t hurt you. Get us a little $40. You been by there lately?”
“Little too often,” I mumbled, counting up my weekly usages so far.
“Can you take care of it since I’m driving?”
“Yeah, that’s fair, Pablo. I get drugs on credit”
Atlanta city limits’ proper population peaked in 1970 at barely under a half a million, 496,000. However, 1996 excitement an outlier anomaly not a trend, the city itself had lost over 100,000 residents between 1970 and 2000, around a 15% drop in total population. 15-of-100 or so actual “Atlantans” may have been in suburban flight over three decades of inner city slippage. But the, not geographically contained in any direction by a natural feature, such as a waterfront, greater metro area as a whole, boomed. Again and again, greater Atlanta trended up.
Everyone when they traveled out of region identified, of course, “from Atlanta,” and my generation, Gen X, tended to travel more widely and regularly than the generation who’d raised us. And, we brought back good ideas sourced from better-working urban areas around the country and world when we returned from trips. We were just beginning to be old enough to have any real influence at all, to spread this energy, though resistant, narrow-minded, often downright selfishly greedy Boomers were almost always our bosses.
Personally, I was getting more and more deeply attached to the real ATL itself, the more time I spent down here through the years. It was work but wasn’t just where I worked or came for recreation, like it had been when I was so into nightclubbing.
“The City,” I say. “When we were in high school in the mid-1980s, the assertion was that ‘Atlanta,’ meaning the totality of the significant suburban sprawl, was the fastest-growing civilization in the history of mankind.”
“Oh yeah? It’s poppin’ again,” Pablo says, smoking.
Cobb County, to the north, where we currently lived, and Gwinnett County out to the east in a direction I only headed when going back to Athens and UGA, where we’d gone to school, led the way back then; new McMansion and less subdivisions in myriad multiples sprouting up everywhere simultaneously. Always spreading, spreading….”Like the great phoenix spreading her wings,” I say, as we walk toward the car.
Pablo was finishing his cigarette. He smoked one every 18 minutes, so I was used to his frequent cancer stick pauses. “…Fuck Phoenix, though,” Pablo replies. “The ATL is where it’s at.”
“Risen from the fire. …Rising from the sorted past.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling it too, Pablo.”
“I mean, who wouldn’t be?”
It’s back to cities in America. Time to boom. Soon, the bigger buildings will be being built again I’m in the know, like the lovely-crowned NationsBank Plaza, now Bank of America Plaza. Though I still preferred what I considered the 80’s glory almost preppy aesthetic of gold-crowned One Atlantic Center, once Atlanta’s tallest, it had been surpassed by the NationsBank as tallest building in any US state capital. The newer bank building, with its glowing beacon, was most emblematic of our ambitious pride now. To imagine my Atlanta had the tallest building on the North American continent outside of the so-called birthplace of skyscrapers, Chicago and the capital of the world, New York. Not anywhere out West in California, or Mexico City, Toronto, Houston, Big D, Miami, Philly or D.C. We’d arrived.
We were finally arriving, as an American epicenter. I first moved to Atlanta – meaning Marietta – in 1976, on America’s 200th birthday, and here I am, all grown up and shining in the city. Like many suburbanites, sure, suddenly taking more of an interest in anything happening in-town, but I’ve worked all over the central city, and I was suddenly operating in this strong, sort of Chamber of Commerce-ish way, doing bigger things at work, heading up an org I founded, a do-gooder businessman of this magical city. Seated silently, except for a noted Kranskey Jewelry ad on the radio, in Pablo’s newish slick black Lincoln Town Car, moving through my too-fast brain like a speeding train, I rapidly thought all these layered thoughts about my place in an exciting new Atlanta…I was definitely a part of it.
I’m all fucking gooey, physically excited that we’re going to use. …I’m jonesing hard now. Not wanting to do or think anything good.
We drove an extremely, almost comically, short distance across Peachtree, while Pablo got Sweat on the horn and told him loudly that we’d been across the street, were coming. I rhetorically commented on it being “fairly farcical to drive anywhere so short,” as we’d arrived.
We park. We get out. We walk to the building, me surging. I get out in front of Pablo by several yards and have to wait for him. We ring up from the front buzzer box and almost immediately get buzzed in. We take an up elevator toward the top. It’s Sweat’s second, nicer place. He used to be on a lower level, then paid more to move up.
We knock. We enter. We score. We bump. We leave.
“WEED HOME?” I ask Ben early the next evening, in the kitchen in which I’ve hung out in the second most over the course of my life, only after my mom’s place. Nearby to the house Jane and I bought and to Mom’s, it was his parents’ house in high school. Our whole group of cute guys and girls hung out over here regularly, even then. Many of the then boys still do as men.
From the front room comfy couch Ben answers, “He’s up there taking a shower or something.” Now Lazy B owns the place, Ben was finally the housemaster, with at least a roommate or at times multiple roommates. He was from a middle class family, but was a spoiled only child who got a nice black Nissan on his 16th birthday, and his folks had somewhat recently moved to Asheville.
Right now only Weed lived with him, friend Joe Burns had recently moved out. John “Weed” Snead was my good friend; Ben was beyond a good friend, one of my best, so I’m always in total comfort at their place, fully in my surroundings.
Ben says, “Can’t wait to play poker tonight. Pablo is going to come over here and make a donation, his usual weekly donation, and Shem and them. Blairbio hasn’t beaten me in a long, long time. Plus it’s almost football season, and his fantasy team is always my bitch. Ha, ha, I’ve been taking his ass out. It’ll probably, and I mean probably, come down to me and Weed. Like seven times out of ten it does.”
Me, “That’s cool that you keep it in the house. You basically know you’re going to keep it in the house. No wonder you guys always play every Friday. I’m just going to DJ or whatever. Drink a shitload of High Life cans. …I’ve got some blow.”
“I’m not doing any of that shit until after, I gotta get my shit going in the right direction, you know what I’m saying,”
“Have a few drinks on me. I brought you guys a bottle of bourbon.”
“I’ll just have a couple of beers first, and then get which y’all a little later.”
“Oh hey, dude,” Weed says, as he comes downstairs to the kitchen and joins us. “What brings you by?”
“Just stopping by to hang out with Ben,” I answer.
Weed says, “Thanks. Thanks a lot,” sounding all hurt.
“I mean and you…and see what you guys were up to.”
“I’m going to hang out when you guys play cards and play some music for y’all.”
“Good. I hate having to get up to do it when I’m playing. Just make it good.
Ben says, “Yeah it better be good, Van.”
“It’ll be good,” I say. “It’s going to be good!”
“I suppose you want to get high,” Weed says, and he walks out toward the garage. Looking back to me, “Well, Come on.”
Later, when the poker game was in full swing and it was Pablo and Blair and those guys in there playing with the residents, I piped in musically: “Hello, my friends,” as the band Silver Jews started to begin. They lyrically beckoned to the kitchen, as DJ Vanity Plate is in the house, y’all.
I’ve had a couple bumps, about four beers, and I’m super stoned on Weed’s dank and crushing my empty cans and putting them on top of the entertainment center cabinets, atop the most massive television.
Ben’s stereo bumps, so I shift it to The Clash “London Calling,” and then stay on them but change albums and go “Straight to Hell.” The next room is mine, now, they’re all ears, and the guys chime out mildly in approval for this edgy offbeat start to my set.
“Who’s in there rocking it like that?” friend Shawn Rammer says.
Ben says, “That’s The VAN in there! He’s playing the music for us tonight. You alright in there, Van?”
“Yeah, I mean I could use some beers!”
“Well get it.”
“Oh, I am,” I say, stepping into the kitchen, where they’re playing in an adjacent small dining area full of table and faces. I grab two more High Life cans from the crisper and pass back into the front room, where I immediately chug about 40% of the first one.
Richard Hell and the Voidoids, “Blank Generation” probably has them wondering if I’m going old punk rock forevermore, so after it’s the Beastie Boys. You can 100% count on “white kids” our age to know and love them, and it’s a room of all men, all 30-somethings. You really do have to fight for your right to party. I can’t believe Jane let me have a rare Friday night hall pass. I usually go to happy hour with Pablo for a few hours on Fridays and then basically call it a weekend. Family it up and rest. I’ll go to Ben’s maybe on Sunday afternoons just to have something recreational to do. I don’t come over here and gamble on Saturdays now that college football season ended. I was hot this season.
After another Beasties, “So What’cha Want,” The Stones “Waiting on a Friend” is sent out so they know how I feel about them, bring it down a notch. I fire “Start Me Up,” as a pick me up and walk upstairs to the bathroom to do a medium-sized bump.
I’m back almost in time for “Fall on Me,” by REM, time for Athens. Pylon’s “Stop” is up next, the progenitors. I’m crushin’ it.
Jim Morrison croons in, to further mild salutation.
I play one of The Doors longer songs next and get the blow out of my sock and just do the rest of it, on the couch. Get rid of it. I’m instantly way too fucked up. Hiding the empty bag under the rug. All paranoid and lightly shaking, my face is twitching.
‘ Back downstairs, “Play a different Doors song,” Weed says.
I obligingly do then play Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” the whole album, partially because I love them but more so because my set is over.
I chug the rest of the cold beer and place the can and open the less cold next one and hit about a third of it in a giant gulp that chokes me.
I for some spun the fuck out reason decide to open the front door and glance out to the street, and I see some cop cars blue lighting it by at medium speed without their sirens on, back-to-back one after the other, through the stop up on the main street outside the subdivision.
Ben walks into the quiet room what feels like shortly thereafter, finding me completely paranoid, face down and obscured, sitting upside down basically, on a dark brown leather chair.
“Geez,” he says walking over and gesturing with his hand to the crushed cans on his furniture.
“Sorry, bud. I’ll put those away in a minute. I put them up there for fun”
“You all fucked up, Van.”
“You did too much shit.”
“And I think the police are coming here.”
“They aren’t! …If they do, I’ll tell them to leave.”
“Ok,” I mumble through the side of my mouth. “I keep thinking we’re going to have a visitation, because I saw them when I looked outside, up on Burnside.
“Ok. And they weren’t coming here tonight. …Okay?”
“So chill the fuck out, Van and relax.”
“Fuck, man…I’ll play something.”
PEACHTREE AS MY MAGIC Mississippi River on Monday morning, I’m zipping. This is an epicenter of American commerce and activity now, and I’m using the train system and my feet to navigate it. Captain. Our captain. Sailing the city. This is the energy I need to stay in. Mighty.
We inked the deal down in South Florida, so that’s a feather in my cap, for another beautiful winning proposal. And I’ve written two new SOPs, Standard Operating Procedures manuals, for locations. My value and merit are evident for Perimeter, and Win knows that.
They all know that, by now. I’ve been doing it! Found out Friday, which was payday, that we were recognized in the business paper as the 7th-fastest growing private Atlanta-based business. I was as responsible as anyone for the boost.
I guess I celebrated it up pretty good for that, before I ended up at the frat. Baraonda downstairs on the corner for a round, that place is a fucking rip-off. Beaux was working at Jamaican chain Bridgetown Grill right across Peachtree, so he’d hooked it up. Then, I’d hailed a cab up there in front of the Fabulous Fox Theatre to The D, where I was in and out, only taking two huge bumps there, before stuffing a $100 bag in my pink sock, which matched my tie.
And I’m zipping. Traffic is afterthought when you’re tubing in an underground train. It feels like the city, the river. Flow energized electric river, sailing.
The streets beat to these quick feet, today, step, step, I’ve been losing weight I’m walking Peachtree so much, more and more.
South-City, this city is the South. I didn’t mean Southside, of the city there, rather the city for the New South, this city is so the South. And I eat a peach. …Don’t forget to spit out the pit.
I’m down south today, thinking: “Be cool white boy!” Remember that tall bug-eyed black fucker that robbed you in hard driving rain right down over there in a petty drug deal gone bad for me, some fake hard. I’d had in my slicker jacket pocket a new hardback of Tom Wolfe’s “A Man In Full,” which looked to him like more than the knowledge gun it was.
Work flow earlier, then, I was on the train and downtown for a lunch with old friend Chuck Paganio. I hadn’t seen him in months, not since the Peach Bowl. He was doing a printing deal in Peachtree Center and asked me to and bought lunch.
He said, “I been worrying about you, brother. Good to see you looking good.”
I said, “It’s a workday in the A.”
“Since everybody died…I’m out. I’m just out.”
“I hear ya, brother…I’m keeping it together.”
I used to work downtown for years so it has a special place in my heart. It’s so “ATLANTA,” and after I walk around missing my friends, the sidewalks and streets, under the buildings and pedestrian tubes, for a stretch of time and my limbs. Admiring the glowing facade of the hotel where I went to prom in ’89, and the blue spaceship atop the hotel chain, which created the open balcony experience.
New Year’s Eve there with Jane was so shitty few years ago, after Georgia won that Peach Bowl. We’d had another horrible fight, basically fake-decided to split up. We argued too verbally roughly and far too often and it hurt.
I jump into a station to head north into Midtown, happy after such a delicious lunch of elegant and authentic gourmet Chinese food at Hsu’s, my choice. The lovely Anna Hsu was working, which is always a treat. Both lines go north through Lindbergh some stations up the way north of here, so I don’t have to pay attention to which train it is and can grab the first train. I do.
I detrain at North Avenue station by the main office. On the platform, an out of the know lady from out of town with a navy blue suitcase is asking which color train she needs to take to the airport.
“Ma’am, you have to walk out and go to the other side to go south,” I say sympathetically in tone. “All southbound trains go to the airport. Last stop is Airport, so you won’t have to worry about missing it.” Then much more quietly, “World’s Busiest.”
I am missing it, it occurs to me at the edge of the station, the cultural aspects of travel from a previous job two jobs back, being a Southern regional manager plus going to NYC a few times a year through my first three “real jobs,” by plane with Jane. Although, my career has been better since I left the huge company I worked for in between, biggest in the world. I need to travel more, like I was for a while there. I went up a few months after I started at Perimeter and haven’t been able to get away since. These days, I was too busy with things rapidly evolving at work to travel. …I was really doing it here.
After that, I went briefly to the main office to see Marc about the final blowback on the financials and how we’re dealing with it for Mike Tanner, as Tanner sees fit. Always a pleasant surprise: got my expense report reimbursement check today, which is my extra personal fund monies to spend as I please, so I’d immediately known I was going to score blow, instead of go back to my office. I bounced from the main office ASAP. Cashed it right on Peachtree, basically next to the main office just up the block, then jetted back south a block to the station and took the train north waving and speaking, without stopping this time, to the delightful black older gentleman that works the loading dock there and is stationed out front, very cool guy.
Thought: At least, I’m doing it here. I’m doing it, ATL, making it happen still…cut down on doing this shit so much. Be a better husband and keep being a loving father. I’m good when I’m home. I’m staying on point when I’m at my house, but still feel like a piece of shit because of this shit. I’m hooked.
I got off at Arts Center and thought of the museum show I needed to get to, the great black American collagist Romare Bearden had started. Caught the 101 bus, thinking pOp 101: Prince of Peachtree, an album cover, I visualized a bubble bursting, as fictional metaphor for an ego bubble bursting inside the subject, the character or star or teacher or artist, me, on Peachtree Street under the sun, and an intro course on princedom and its inherent folly. The like ten-word elevator pitch for it.
Having another brief walk north on Peachtree Street in SoBu, fast, after I got out of the bus a stop early and hit the drugstore for some soft drinks. I didn’t want to go to the bodega in the Darmont, and I was thirsty and low blood sugar, even though or because I was so pumped.
It’s ridiculous how often I’m becoming a presence in that place. These days, I like to get in and then get the fuck out of The D.
And I’m almost to the building, so I’m adrenaline buzzing.
When you are going to score is the highest you ever get in spirit, when you are an actual addict, like me. Your body is literally on a high because you are about to get high, and your mind and soul knows that. You feel it in your stomach swirls and increased heartbeat.
CHINKS IN MY ARMOR, or I should say further chinks. I went to a client’s property meeting, out at one of my properties, at the most distant of the four full campuses I oversaw, post a midday, daytime strong cocaine high, and I kicked total ass in it. But regrettable afterward, I was all swelled up with hubristic ego and humorously but a wee bit too aggressively, I guess, flirted with this huge booty black security guard who is so fine out there, the one with green eyes, who’d once been a masturbation fantasy, honestly, and was obviously an exotic level of fine I wasn’t having in bed.
I told her she didn’t need to be drinking those diet shakes then walked behind her to the train station, where we were both organically going, getting an eye full. I told her to have a fun weekend, walked away. It was nothing.
Bragging I cockily assumed, she told her boss, whom I’d later find out was married and having an affair with her. He was fucking her. He reported me. She didn’t work for me, not a subordinate, definitely not a client, but since the property was in my portfolio it was seen as unseemly, at best, to flirt with a co-contractor of my real estate client on their worksite.
Unprofessional, sure, I was too flirty, after I’d been coked up.
Mistakes add up, so I took a forced two-day paid suspension and worried. Had a longer than envisioned uncomfortable dramatic meeting with Nancy Stephenson of HR and William Windrop II afterward, took a $5,000 a year pay cut, which I almost walked out over, since I was literally managing millions and making peanuts. Got unassigned from the nightmare BrickComm portfolio, instead worked on short-term management projects and answering RFPs at the main office, more writing. I was doing lots of the new business proposals well and won several of them.
Then, I was given a single location to open for Georgia State University, had an office there for the project, floated between there and the main office. Windrop began to rely on me more than ever for behind the scenes analysis and oversight of all of his business, which was much of the company’s holdings. Crispin Jones moved away to California, so I lost my best friend and hangout spot. But, work itself worked out well.
Soon enough, I got an even bigger portfolio than I’d had, running half the city, which, like I said, was actually much of the company.
Majority of my accounts were throughout Buckhead, with my farthest south location in central Midtown. Then my portfolio of myriad portfolios headed north. I had a shitty old desk in the office of one of my subordinates far enough removed up town, near the old Buckhead Village, where I used to party in nightclubs on a fake ID in my late youth.
I was busy but fairly free to run around, which I did.
Atlanta’s economy soared. Business boomed. And, I continued winning as the primary communications lead for the whole company.
Kicking ass at my new roles, for the most part, coming to work every day ready to shine. Looking good. I’d work well and quickly, usually get bent later in the day. Come down on the bus. Go home. Take the next day off from drugs and catch up on any lingering business issues. There were always ops issues, but I cleaned my to do list every Friday, rewrote it. I had a to do list. I was a doer, always crossing the done agenda items off and always adding to it.
Besides main owner C. Daye Smith and myself, Larry Gold, our VP of alternative solutions, was the only other out of the box huge idea radical in the whole org, a Jewish New Yorker, who’d gone to Columbia for Urbanism graduate school. He was another mentor, in a niche way. Windrop was more and more my mentor and boss, while Larry got me into alternative revenue streams. He had also been the first to encourage me to try using alternative transportation regularly and had introduced me to his associates who handled transit for companies, including my old client’s client, my previous end user.
Smiling, I said, “I’m a survivor,” to him, at the main office one day.
“I know,” Larry said, grinning. “I love the way you come in here with your snazzy briefcase and do work. I see you handling everything, which is nice to see. You keep on keeping on.”
I was keeping it together, mostly, although I regularly used blow.
There was this new clause in my employment contract, which HR thought up. It said that in all of my actions I was to be “beyond reproach.” An active drug addict, I knew that was something I couldn’t easily live up to.
SADNESS. The friends that left this earth could have been you. The first Wes to go and second Wes to go…”Wes and Wes and _______?” Can’t remember who asked it first. …That was the scary question that sort of hung in the air. Who’d be next to go from our circle from drugs, die from an overdose? The real truth was that many of us were, to varying degrees, flirting with destruction, maybe. Those two guys went so hard, and they’d bitten the dust. I missed them, mourned for them.
I thought of mortality and fatherhood. So, I had my dad over for a college football game, we watched TCU, the Horned Frogs together, his alma mater from his hometown, Ft. Worth. I’d lived there until I was five. They’ve been going good awhile and won. My mom, from Nebraska, went to Texas Christian University for grad school. It’s where my parents met.
The trait I took from that little book I’d borrowed from Win, “Mr. Shmooze,” was give people you liked the type of small gifts that would really show you knew them. I’d bought a miniature BYU, Brigham Young University, helmet for a college football fan of his alma mater client. Then I found a pretty off-white Texas State coffee mug for his boss, another client. He’d gone there when it was Southwest Texas State, saying, “Figured you might not have anything from your school with the new name on it, Harvey.”
For Dad, a reversible blanket, one side a rich bright purple, white writing said the school’s acronym/name; the other side was a different print on white, with the silhouette of a purple horned toad, actually called in Texas a horned frog. I ordered it for him when I picked out their stuff, and it wasn’t a holiday or anything. I was generously giving to men whose respect and admiration I needed for various reasons.
It was great to see the old man. We’ve had our differences, and I’m just ecstatic that we’re getting along so well, and he’s getting to see my sons, the elder son saying to him, “I missed your smell,” which was cute and quirky. Even the younger really played ball with him, and they were both loving seeing Grandpa…and his new wife Action Annie isn’t all that bad, really. At least they didn’t make out at my house like they’ve done at Mom’s a few times…so that was good.
Before it was like this: Before the transfer, back when I worked the big client’s portfolio still, before I got into that particular iteration of trouble at work some months back.
That’s where the news came to me. Hard drugs took two of my best friends over a six-month span. They were both named Wes, and I got the word about both of their deaths while I was at work in my office. I had the same frame-of-mind both times: middle of a workday, caught up in details, to do lists and minutiae of the job. The next second you get a phone call, and your breath is taken away.
The first time I broke down openly.
But the second time was worse. I had to act like I hardly knew the guy because how many corporate executives are regularly contacted at their office and informed that a good friend has just died of an overdose or drug-related heart attack? Not very many, I suppose. Then…that second friend, that fucking time all I could safely get away with saying at work was: “A guy from my neighborhood just died.”
Try holding in the emotion of your friend’s death in front of a bunch of corporate cogs that only care about pathetic career survival.
We were closer; we were still close friends, the first Wes and I.
The second to go and I had been much closer friends with each other when we were younger. I still saw both of them around, regularly, in the time before they went. I’d known both since high school. We all went to Larchmont High in East Cobb. It was fucked!
Was I close to my own death?
“YOU GOING TO MIAMI?” William asks at the main office the on a Tuesday, after I only spoke to him once by phone that Monday.
“I wish,” I say, “I’d been thinking I missed business travel.”
“Seriously. Pack your bags and be at the airport in the morning.” Just keep in the loop with your clients by phone and email rest of the week. Can you? ”
“Nancy will make all travel arrangements. …I figured it’d be good to have you around with me.”
“Just the two of us on this one?”
“I wish…for a deal this big we’re calling in the Calvary. My good friend Doboy unfortunately wants to go this time, Mario since he’s from Florida and speaks Spanish better than you. You speak a little, right?”
“Not always enough. It’ll be good to have him around in South Florida.”
“Speaking of that, I want just you and I to go to my locations in Ft. Lauderdale. You know I already have two deals in Lauderdale?”
“I knew you had something down in Florida.”
“Yeah. But that’s it. This is the real start of me expanding out of Georgia. You’ve helped a lot lately with the proposals and clients, so I figured I’d buy you a basket of shrimp. …Our client used to work for me.”
Windrop takes a call, answering same as always: “WILLIAM WINDROP!” So, I motion to him that I’ll talk to him later and walk into the accounting department hell. Marc has more visible dandruff than usual, wearing a starched black Polo button-up that accentuates it, topped by a yellow silk tie with black paisleys.
He says, “The billing cycles all having closings is really kicking my ass this month. You guys just keep getting more deals, and I have to learn every nuance of how the motherfuckers want to see their numbers reported.”
“It’s not boilerplate, ” I agree, as he frantically plugs numbers.
“No, it’s not fucking boilerplate!” My blood pressure is fucking boiling and I’d need to snort a fucking plate of cocaine to have enough energy to get all the way through all the shit I have to do today.”
“Yeah, I was agreeing with you. Clients, man. I’ll work on scoring that blow for you. Let’s see, I believe Doboy is the resident staff drug dealer these days. I bet he’s holding”
“Doug Dubois! That conservative pussy has never even smelled a strong quality joint at close range. …I bet you have.”
I point the conversation away from me, “It’s not from drug use and sweating the cops coming? Then, why does he always have those visible soaked pits under his arms?”
“You’re a sick smooth dressing animal, Vanimal. You should be ashamed. Picking on your boss like that.”
“We hardly ever even have to interact for long. Both too busy.”
“You’re fucking nasty for reminding me, I’m seeing that. I’m glad he doesn’t have to do location monthly reports with me, because it could drip on me.”
“Ever notice that he almost always wears yellow?” I say, gesturing to his tie.
“Come to think of it…yeah.”
“That’s to cover the pit stains. His wife has to scrub them for him. That’s what Phil told me.”
“That fucking guy. How is Phil?”
“Feel Deez Nuts! He is nuts. Don’t know…or care. He moved down to Florida to develop it for us and apparently went rogue and wasn’t reporting back much. He didn’t close anything at all and eventually got canned. There isn’t much down there, yet. We’re just getting Florida cranking.”
“Great! …More fucking work for me, I’m serious, if Doug doesn’t get me more help soon – and not another fucking temp for the love of all that is fucking holy…idiots – I’m going to seriously boil over. I need to go smoke! …What can I do for you today?”
“I just need another Q-145 if you can print me one. I’ll get the proper authorizations, ram it through after the Sunshine State.”
“What are you talking about sunshine? What is that?”
“We’re going down to Lauderdale and Miami in the morning. Soon as we can get a flight out, we’re out. Nancy is doing our travel agendas.”
“You didn’t hear?”
“You’re the only person that tells me anything, Van. Unless they immediately need something like yesterday from me.”
“We got that huge AmeriSun deal.”
“Great! …More fucking hard work for me every month.”
“Job security, Marciano.”
“It’s accounting hell.”
“I hear you,” I console through a genuine smile. He’s amusing.
“It went to main printer, since I’m running this shit here.”
I walk out and go all the way to the back and get my form off the massive printer and then go up front to talk to Precious.
“Hey boo,” I say.
“Hey, you good?” she says.
“Yeah, just socializing with you.”
“I need to talk to you in a sec.”
“I’m right here.”
When there’s a break in the heavy door flow, where she has to buzz a parade of busy-looking individuals back, she says, “Alicia called me last night and was saying she was worried about you.”
…”I’m fine,” I say. “Just working too much.”
“She misses you.”
“I miss her too, but we got too close…”
“And I’m married. I’m hanging out with my wife and kids.”
“I can’t wait to get married next spring. She’s going to be my maiden of honor, you know.”
“I know. Hey, keep that stuff about A under your hat.”
“I always do! You know I’m the only one who knows everything that goes on in this place…and they still treat me like some secretary.”
A longer break in the flow of walking pedestrians than usual, finally the assistant HR director walks through, and Precious quietly buzzes him back, with me nodding my head to him: “Connor.”
We resume with me, “I know, that’s bullshit. You run this bitch! She doing ok?
“Oh yeah. She found a new job already. She’s staying positive.”
“She’s like that. …I liked that about her. Opposite of my wife.”
“You sure you’re good.”
“Yes…I mean, more or less.”
After sitting alone in the front conference room for a half hour, doing paperwork, I nod and wink to Precious as I start to walk back to the main section of the always hiving main office. She buzzes me back.
Janey calls. I take the call in the hall and tell her I will be going to Miami, and she cusses at me for not being able to be at home, telling me it isn’t acceptable for me to travel without her. She keeps going off, talking over me, so I hang up on her and say audibly, “Bitch!”
A little later, still at the main office, Larry Gold says, “We got the Ortheneum deal!”
“Congrats!” I say.
“I’ll be doing only the ownership-level operations, meaning the company will get someone to oversee the day-to-day operations. I’ll do the transition plan, head up a manager selection team.”
“You doing deals now?” I asked. “Doing sales?”
“I mean, they knew me from my previous job, so it was only logical for me to take the lead on that one.”
“I want to do some deals… I was wondering why it wasn’t for Windrop. I didn’t even get in on the proposal writing effort.”
“Oh, Win has got a piece…he’s involved on that level. Not sure who the site manager will report up to, but that won’t be directly to me.”
“Sounds like a lot of work, obviously such a huge mixed-use like that, I mean, I’m busy as hell now but let me know. I’ll do whatever you guys need me to do. I’ve been interested in that project for forever.”
“That’s good to hear, we’ll get somebody to do it, but you and I need to work on its plan together, maybe.”
“I just wrote two whole SOPs, Larry. I’ll need to tend to my accounts for a while. You should’ve grabbed me on the proposal.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll write it, then get you to edit.”
“Thanks, bro. See that address last night?”
“Yeah, I was wondering how W thought he could say that near the end, for all Americans. He definitely doesn’t speak for all of us with those sentiments. That’s for sure. Maybe these guys, but not for me.”
“I thought about what you’d said the other day about his blanket statements like that, was wondering what you were thinking.”
“I was thinking he’s a terrible president. …You heading to Miami soon?”
“In the morning. I just found out, actually”
“I heard a group of you guys were going down there to do the somewhat-hostile takeover. Miami with William should be fun.”
“Another Win for the portfolio. We’re kicking total ass. Wish you could be down there with us this, too.”
“Ha…yeah. You guys be safe down there at South Beach.”
I’m anxious and excited the next day and bummed to be at work, planning to leave early and go straight home to pack around 3:00 p.m. We ended up getting delayed a full day and will have to fly into Ft. Lauderdale, due to the exorbitant costs airlines charge for the convenience of booking flights with such short notice.
From my office, I wonder aloud over the phone to Nancy at main why we don’t have our preplanning more streamlined. “It can be a little mystifying doing things last minute all the time,” I confide, even though I know she’s generally a rat about any secretive insider information. “But at least I’m being asked to go on the trip.” In a bragging tone, “I could have easily gotten us tickets on Travelocity for $120 each roundtrip to MIA with proper notice, by the way.” Before she runs and snitches that I’m “being negative again,” I clarify my source of concern. “We’re wasting company money doing things this way. That’s all. You know I lived down in Florida one year, so I had to go back-and-forth to Georgia by plane and car a lot. I came home all the time.”
Airport Bound Train:
ATL AIRPORT. The World’s Busiest Airport, as any Atlantan should be able to tell you, is almost always thronging and my head already hurts. On an airport bound train, I’m running late and worried, tired as fuck.
Before it was CCT Express Bus from Kennesaw’s Park-n-Ride, the 101 to the city.
I’ve clearly worn myself out lately.
Finally passing Five Points, our grimy little Grand Central Station in Atlanta. It’s a straight shot long haul south to the airport. Ticketing has been done by Nancy, and I’m meeting Windrop “at the plane.” Not sure about the rest of the Perimeter guys.
The essentially unfamiliar southern half of the train line ticks off, station by station:
A big stretch of south Atlanta, where I’m almost asleep.
A big stretch of the small cities south of south Atlanta.
Another big stretch of those cities.
Approaching Airport station. Our behemoth of an airport is finally glowing to my left. As the sun comes up, the train reaches its destination.
I still have to check my black bag since it is not a carry-on and get my boarding pass. No chance of getting to any fight that quickly in this place, fuck, checking my stainless steel silvery watch, I realize that I practically have to run. Something needs to go faster than usual; I need to make up some time.
I get off and hustle my ass off, and I’m a natural hustler. I’m scooting as absolutely quickly as possible while rolling a wheeled bag.
First, I make the ticketing desk and check my bag, which always takes some time but thankfully isn’t too terrible at all, this time.
Breaking into full run briefly without the bag saves some time.
Then, it’s “duh-duh-dah-duh: Atlanta Airport Security,” which you simply can’t hurry. So I slow the engines way down while I stand in corrals with the airport’s washed masses. I shook off the tired having to haul ass like that. I’m starting to sweat pretty good, thinking, by contrast with much else, air travel is virtually a country club. It’s working class, sure, but it’s up-market working class still. You have to be able to afford, or have someone afford for you, the price of a ticket. Lots of in-motion workers like us in America today, spending money to make money. And all these air tourists are out here spending their money, too.
Ha, it can seem like all flights must pass through Atlanta.
By the time I pass through security and get my blue leather belt and tan leather slip-on shoes back on, I’m threatening to not catch the flight at its gate before departure.
So I double-time it…and get there just for final-final boarding. Relief washes over me like a wave, and I wonder where in the heck Windrop is, I was supposed to see him…
…Oh, ok. First class.
He looks at his Rolex and looks at me, and I just sort of half-smile, smirk, simply pleased to have caught the plane at this point in reality, but still trying to make a face that says, of course I’m here for work.
I’m never late.
I must be slipping if I was almost late for a flight like this, I think, while walking back to be with my caste. The look on his face had definitely been, if you missed this flight I’d have fired you.
Coach is always just fine for Miami/Lauderdale/West Palm/Orlando etc. Florida is like an hour, so why fly first class?
When we get to the airport, I see Doboy and Windrop waiting for me at the top of the carousel.
We walk to baggage, and my wheel compartment busts off my old bag when getting it off the carousel, the zipper is broken. “I’ll get a new one soon,” I say.
Nobody was talking to each other en route to the rental cars. I thought: American river cities have a special feeling I first grew acquainted with in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in middle school. Didn’t realize, as coastal as it was, that Lauderdale was a river town, until Janey and I hung out in Miami and Lauderdale one winter break. My last go round at UGA, later ’90s after the Olympics. Everything in Greater Metro Atlanta terms – which didn’t contiguously contain the 70ish-miles-away Athens, Ga., but still impacted the college town greatly – was either pre- or post-Olympic. We came up to Lauderdale on a calm daytrip, during our fairly decadent romantic getaway in Miami, back when South Beach was hot. Be cool to get back to Lauderdale. …Miami, too, back in Miami, baby! Travel opens the mind.
“You and I are in one car, Van,” Windrop says, at the rental car pickup area. “You drive.”
I don’t have a valid license due to two DUIs, but recalling his skeptical face toward me on the plane I think better of mentioning it.
“No problem. …I’ll drive…unless you want to, Win II.”
“Um…yeah you drive. I’ll direct us to the location. The properties we have down here are right next to each other.”
So, I take the keys.
MIAMI, BABY! Miami.
I have to get in some action before my wife gets down here, back of the trip. She insisted on coming down, so I extended my plans to stay, after I finally got her ambiguously wounded esoteric clues and asked her to come. Later.
Plenty of excitement, Latin sounds around through the window and the pulsing energy, while I drove slow as an Orlando grandmother, reveling in taking care to follow all traffic laws.
Win switched to the driver’s seat after we did our location(s) site see in Ft. Lauderdale. I like Lauderdale’s colored glass buildings. Ours there were nothing too special, but hey, at least we had something down here. We weren’t outcast-invaders. We were a registered State of Florida existing operation, a Georgia-based business looking to get into Miami itself, in style. Nothing wrong with that…this’ll be an easy takeover compared to what I used to do for Thrasher Facilities.
Hotel isn’t too fancy. Located on a little waterfront facade, so it feels like Florida. We’re near where we need to be for business, which is the urban neighborhood of Brickell Avenue, South Florida’s major financial district, south of the historic central business district.
Doug Dubois and I are sharing a room, Win having said, “You and Doug are bunking up, I’ll be right upstairs.” I’m pretty sure they put the company jack-of-all-trades ops honcho in with me so he can watch me, and I’m a little annoyed about it. Doug Dubois is an Admiral’s son, a no nonsense allowed accomplisher of every fucking work task available, at all times. We more or less like each other and are oil and water different, but we both handled our work and stayed out of each other’s way.
I say, “Sorry to be all up in your hair, Doug. Windrop up in a fucking presidential suite or what?”
“No, just a room. Hey, I’m actually a lower man on the totem pole on this one so you’re not in my hair.”
I have the TV on, which is getting a late season Atlanta Braves game. “You watch baseball?”
“Not really, I mean, I keep up with the Braves. I go to games. With Turner and whatnot they’re always on TV everywhere. Sort of wish they were playing the Marlins this road trip. I’d go.”
“I don’t do sports…a little football, may watch a playoff game.”
“College is where it’s at.”
“College? Why do you guys love that stuff, really?”
“…It’s part of us.”
Windrop calls me and I standard answer, “This is Van.” We’re ready to roll and directed to head downstairs. I’m hoping I don’t have to drive and ready for some stiff drinks.
Mario is seated with a dapper Windrop who is wearing a navy blazer white shirt and casual tan pants and saddle oxford black shoes. He’s holding court at an outside patio table. Mario is drinking a Corona with lime. He’s always a slick customer, MBA from South Florida and undergrad in business from Tennessee, he’s a diehard rival Vol in football season, but rest of the time is a tan, of course, he’s Mexican, tall, dark and handsome tennis playing guapo compadre I actually look up to a bit. Total Mexico City Zona Polanco Antonio Banderas type smooth motherfucker, wearing an expensive gray suit with a custom lime green dress shirt unbuttoned several buttonholes to barley reveal his macho manly hairy chest. I first knew him vaguely when he worked for a rival in downtown Atlanta and we banked together midmorning several times a week. He’s a Perimeter man now.
“Doug, hello. Van!” he calls out super gregariously.
“It’s good to see you enjoying yourself,” I chide.
“I’m always enjoying myself in good company. Delighted to accompany you fine gentlemen on this embarking into Miami.”
“You weren’t on the flight. When did you get in?”
Know-it-all Doug answers for him, “Three days ago.”
“Yes, Van. I have been down here a couple of days already. Handling some operating issues for William.”
Win, drinking what looks to be a frozen margarita or daiquiri says, “Since our buddy Phil decided by his actions that he wasn’t working with us anymore, I’ve been lucky to be able to reach out to Mario for support. Well…I would buy you all a drink but you guys about ready for dinner?”
Drink at the fancy dockside seafood restaurant feels like success. It tastes like success, so I have another. We’d arrived, were arriving.
“Would have brought you all by the new location, but I wanted just Mario and I there one last time before it’s official. To thank them for their business and for the closing of this deal, thankful. Raise your glasses, gentlemen. …Thank you all for your help with this deal.”
“Cheers!” I cavort. Chink-chink.
“Here’s to being a Perimeter man, to you guys…and Miami nights,” I addressed the crowd with my glass raised again. Chink-chink.
A total rich showoff comes crashing our boisterous party, docking his big white boat to the restaurant’s dock. He’s wearing a captain’s hat and looking bewildered but bemused, being dragged by a gaggle of three hooker-ish hotties, two skinny peroxide blondes and a curvier brunette Latina, lots of expensive silicone.
“Florida, right?” Windrop says. “I want to move down here.”
“Not me,” I say. “Already tried that in ’95, but I do love it.”
“I was wondering if you’d want to. We have too much big stuff happening in Atlanta together already, maybe. How about you, Mario? Would you consider working down here, living here fulltime again?”
He answers, “All appropriate propositions will merit my full consideration. I would love to listen.”
Miami nights. This oceanic air feels so amazing.
I didn’t know they had trains. The multicolor neon alighted transit bridges enchantingly encircle us as the wake from the boats have the water whapping the dock lightly. This is the Sunshine State feeling.
I order a third drink, and Win says after a pause, “Go ahead but that’s your last one. I need you on point in the morning, Van.”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine,” I assure, snapping back into a work reality.
Miami nights, I think again. Miami (lowercase) vice, humming the theme song to the 1980’s TV show silently in my head. Tick-tock.
I suddenly want desperately to pull off from these guys after my only average mahi-mahi and perfect key lime pie. I’m ready to get high…somehow. I gotta shake these lightweights, find a way to score.
But I can’t.
SO BACK in our hotel room Doug Dubois and I have a heart-to-heart, me all: “Where do you see me in the future?”
“Doing a lot. That’s for sure. When you don’t have enough to do, you get bored. No offense. When you have more to do you always perform better, and that’s my job to make sure everybody has plenty that they are working on. At all times if possible but it’s not always possible.”
“That sounds challenging.”
“It’s harder when we have all these new accounts coming into the fold all the time, and easier. There’s so much that needs to get done at Perimeter, and I’m atop the ops trying to keep all these plates in the air at the same time.”
“That makes sense. That’s been the Perimeter way. …Too much?”
“That’s just how we’ve been able to pull this thing off so far.”
“Lights out. TV off please after the game ends.”
Braves win over the Cincinnati Reds, and I sort of half-drift into sleep then decide to get up for some air, quietly throwing the same pants back on over my one-tone sport boxers I was “show-sleeping” in and nicking silently a shirt I had hanging up. He clearly heard me exit.
Once I’m downstairs in the lobby, it’s a night on the city.
I hit the door. Fuck that lights out shit, I’m off-duty.
Walking toward that grittier area I saw in the direction of the restaurant, thinking that was a fun meal.
Step, step, step, step, step, it’s a pretty good haul, though quasi-near here, step, step, step. I’m walking Brickell Avenue, in “Me-am-I” and thinking, we don’t have anything in Atlanta quite like this, with these rows of new ritzy residential towers. Cool curved glass, colored cutouts. I mean that building has a glass palm tree laid into it, so obviously not Atlanta or anywhere inland. This feels like the coast…and big city.
I walk on through to the other side, so to speak, as I sense the night energy. Then, there starts to be some feeling of grittier activity near me after I branch off streets, street to street by feet, foot-after-foot, under the underpasses so I keep my eyes on peep.
“What the fuck is she doing out here?” I say aloud. Poor thing, I think, seeing what I, at first, believe is a pregnant young woman with a gorgeous face.
I keep on keeping on, eyes still on peep. When I’m crossing the street I see her again, she’d doubled back this way.
“Hey,” I say.
She answers, “Hey, what you up to out here?”
“Walking through, peeping for any action I guess. Anything going on near here?”
“Brickell back there might be something over where you were coming from I guess, I saw you walking this way.”
“Nothing going on there at night. Where else?”
“There’s some little out of the way party spots.”
“Oh yeah? Cool.” I can see now that she has possessions in her gray T-shirt, caramel-skinned Latina, a little rough around the edge, but not pregnant. I notice her neon pink bra through an armhole.
“You want to party with me, or what?” she asks.
“Um, you’re really pretty and all but I’m married.”
“So? Where’s she at?”
“Atlanta. She’ll be down here tomorrow evening.”
“Oh. Ok. Walk with me.”
“Ok. …Do you stay around here?”
“Up over the way, that way for the last little while. I’ve only been there a few days. …I don’t have anywhere to stay really…right now.”
“Tell me about it.”
Step, step, step, “I thought you were pregnant at first, that’s just your stuff?” I’m hoping this isn’t all of her worldly possessions.
“Yeah it helps keep assholes away, but I like you. You aren’t an asshole are you, baby?”
“So you want to get with me or what?”
“I can’t do that tonight. …But do you know where to get any blow?”
“Yes. You swear you aren’t a cop are you? Because that’s entrapment if you lie to me.”
“Fuck no I’m no cop. …I’m not the police.”
“I was just needin’ some powder.”
“Rock’d be a whole lot easier. It’s right out here…” she gestures to the area around us with her hand.
“What about soft? But legit shit not some plain white powder.”
“Yeah, I do know of one spot, but it’s a pretty long walk.”
“You up for it?”
“Yeah if you’ll be with me for a while I’m not going to hook you up and then you just up and bolt on me. Am I?”
“We’ll hang out for a while of you want. I was kicking it by myself.”
“Where do you live, can we go there?”
“Oh, right…your wife is a lucky girl, dreamboat.”
“That’s not accurate.”
“I’m Carmen, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Van.”
We drop her stuff under a lean-through board in a sad weeded lot and stroll. By and by, we see her peer street friend, actually streetwalking. She’s an older slightly less pretty Latin lady, even shorter hair, a sweet enough but working lady weary face and huge nipples protruding through a circus peanut orange wife-beater tank top. You can vividly see that they are a different brown color and accenting big beautiful tits I can’t keep my eyes off.
“Boring as fuck out here, girl, nobody is out tonight, hardly.” she confides in my friend from before, Carmen.
Carmen replies to her, “That sucks for you. Hey, this is my hot friend from Atlanta, Van.”
“You going to fuck us tonight, Van, or just my girlfriend?” her friend asks.
“Staying faithful to my wife tonight, but I’d love to see those tits.”
“They’re for pay, these big boobs aren’t free.”
A white jeep buzzes by, and she turns her attention to it and juts out her ample chest and slut strolls in statement of intention. I think they are going to and wish I could justify fucking her. They don’t pause.
Carmen says, “Let me talk to you,” and grabs her tenderly, like an intimate lover and whispers in her ear where I can’t hear.
Surprisingly to me, Carmen lifts the tank top up over her smiling friend’s breasts, and the friend purrs to me, “There you go, baby. You like those huge jugs?”
“Oh yeah, very, very nice. …Thank you.”
She makes them bounce a little in her hands and smiles and pulls her shirt back down. “For a second I forgot you were a friend of Carmen’s and not one of my Johns for the night. I really wish we could all go somewhere and get high right now and fuck around. You may have money…but you two don’t even have a car.”
Carmen, “No, it’s cool. We’ll catch up with you later, though. Thanks for showing him those fine tits, girl.”
And we are off further into the hot South Florida night with her holding my lightly sweaty hand.
“Yeah, I mean you only wanted a $20?” she asks.
“I want to make sure it’s legit.”
“It’s legit. I wouldn’t ever fuck you over, baby. I even got my friend to flash you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. Alright, $40.”
We start to pass an adult video store and then she drags me inside, saying, let’s watch some of porn. I want a break from walking. …Shush!”
Still holding hands she pulls me into a peep show booth, saying quietly, “They only let one person in these at a time.”
“This is cool though?”
“Yeah. Sit down, baby.”
I sit down and she sits in my lap, and she gets my wallet out from my back pocket and gets my credit card out and charges some viewing time, without even getting off of my lap. I’m nervous and don’t have an erection, but I’m liking her there. She takes the two $20s and a $10 that I have and puts the card back in the wallet and the wallet back in my back pocket, saying “I need that $10 more than you right now.”
She scrolls through various kinky porn scene previews, many of them featuring and for gay men or S&M. We find something straight, and she briefly touches herself through her pants and writhes on top of me.
“Hold on a second,” she says and scoots up to her feet and undoes her blue jeans button and zipper and reaches into her hot pink panties, which I’m staring down at, wondering if the show has shifted to reality.
Instead, she pulls out a stem, a clear straight shooter crack pipe wrapped in a paper towel. She takes a cheap, bright clear green lighter with the safety guard off from her front jean’s pocket and slithers back on top of me.
“You have something?” I ask. “Is there anything in that?”
“It’s still loaded,” she says and blazes a huge flame and cooks the screen and area around it where it’s residually a cloudy white crack coloring. She doesn’t have rocks apparently, and it only lightly fumes an ethereal smoke. She got only a small hit and asks me if I want to try.
“That’s ok,” I say shaking my head no. “Wait for that powder.”
“Here, this is what my pussy smells like, it smells good.” She puts her hand down her pants again, inside her lacey mesh panties and puts her shit away. Then she proffers some fingers to my nose to smell. I very lightly take in a mild, not unpleasant aroma, nothing I’d ever ask to do.
We scroll to a second only somewhat arousing porn scene on the screen. It ends, and we scroll to another, our third in the three-for-$12 deal. It ends and we step out of the booth and then the building.
Step, step, step, we eventually reach her supposed drug spot. “Don’t leave me!” I say.
“Don’t leave me, baby,” she says.
I wait outside on the broken sidewalk, up two or three blocks from the trap, hoping she comes back, hoping she doesn’t get popped by the police or rip me off, half expecting her to. …It’s eerily quiet out.
She gets served fairly quickly and returns, saying, “Come on.”
“We good?” I ask a block up, step, step and step.
“Yeah, we can get in one of these empty houses nearby.”
Step, step, we push in a back door that the top half of is ajar and get inside a teal one-story house, and my heart is racing like crazy.
I can barely catch my breath as we get the coke out and snort over half of it in short order off of my room key.
“You going to be set with just this little amount?” she asks.
“For tonight. I’m working early tomorrow.” Then I hear a rustling through a visibly barricaded with shelving wooden off-white, paint-chipped door in the middle of the room, to my right.
Growled out: “Who the fuck is in here!” Big scary black man is my guess from the sound of the ominous deep voice. Oh shit!
Carmen, quickly, “It’s me.”
“You best not be the fuck in here without my say so, Carmen! Who the fuck is with you best not be no got-damn po-lease! I heard a man’s voice. I’ll come over there and knife you, cut you motherfuckas up!”
“Stay on that side, Quan!”
“Fuck you! …You know I got this spot, and I got a bitch wit me.”
We here female sounds through the door. I hope he’s chilling some.
To me Carmen says, “Are you tough?”
I answer quietly, “I mean, yeah, I’m quick but I don’t…”
“What kind of tough? I mean, how are you so tough?”
“I mean…I played football.”
“Football? You’re no use, baby. …Come on.”
And we climb out a through a busted passage between the wall and a boarded up window, squeezing through there instead of the door. Which I keep thinking is going to be full of a cracked out, blue-balled violently angry Quan, ready to carve our pretty asses up.
Step! Step! Step! Step! Step! We run away.
Then a winded Carmen says, “We better stop running. …People will attack you and rob you in this part of Miami if you look too scared.”
“I need to be getting back,” I say, through gulps of humid air.
“We’ve got shit left, though, baby.”
“I’m at the very least heading back toward my hotel, Carmen.”
“Can I walk with you, baby? Can I walk you home?”
“Sure,” I say, and she takes my hand again and leads me.
On the waterfront of the hotel, she and I do the last of it, in the shadow of this huge old empty pink Florida house.
“My stepdad used to live in one of these big houses down here, a mansion chocked full of free love hippies back in the ’60s,” I say.
She, “I wish I’d had a good stepdad after my daddy died young. …I keep hoping you’ll change your mind and get with me.”
“I had an affair before and it fucked my life up too bad.”
“Your wife maybe wasn’t fucking you well enough, baby, if you did that. You aren’t a bad person. You’re not tough enough for all this bullshit out here, maybe, baby. You are a nice boy.”
“Just give me a hug. I hate it out here, Van. I hate it, baby.”
“I know.” We embrace and it’s a friend thing. She’s my friend.
“You stay out here all night with me in this little breeze, baby?”
“I have to go inside…now.”
“Take me with you. Be your girlfriend just until your wife gets here, if you want and change your mind.”
I get up and walk in the hotel. She’s still following me.
“I have one of my bosses staying in my room, so you have to leave.”
“I’ll fuck him. He’ll love me since you can’t. Let me in the room.”
“Out of the question!”
“Hold up,” she reaches down and out of a small hotel trashcan she takes out a crumpled white Wendy’s bag.
“Don’t eat that shit,” I say, aghast. “It’s fucking garbage.”
“One man’s garbage,” she says, chuckling. “I’m hungry!”
She pulls a used foil out and gets an uneaten tomato slice and says, “You want some of this, it’s still good. It’s a hotel so it’s from today. They do the trash every single day. I love hotels. Please let me come up there and take care of you guys. Please.”
“Maybe if it was one of my other bosses who’d consider doing it. This guy is so square. You have to leave. …I have to go.”
She eats the tomato slice, and I walk away. Following me still, “Please don’t do this to me, baby. I want to be with you rest of tonight.”
“Look, here’s a drink machine that accepts cards, I can charge you a Coke. Wash that nasty shit down and get the taste out of your mouth.”
“Ok, I want it. Make it Sprite. I love cocaine but hate Coke, ha, ha.”
Clank-clunk, “Here you go. Now, I have to go, Carmen. …It was nice to meet you. I have to go to sleep.”
“Sleep? I’m coming in there. I promise to be quiet.”
“No way! Here’s the door right up here…Shut the fuck up.”
“Am I coming in or what?”
“No. …You’re fucking leaving now.”
“No, I’m not. …I knew you were just another faggot.”
I walk inside and silently get in the covers of my bed and pray that she leaves before Doug notices that I’ve been out and with company. She slaps the door…then she is gone into the night, into her troubled life.
I’m less so but physically scared a little, still. I’m fairly geeked up and hearing my heavy heart drumbeating loudly through my heaving chest, wishing I’d just gone to sleep. My face is covered in beads of sweat.
Thinking, I actually wished she could have come in and stayed in here in safety…before she ate that yucky tomato. Poor little thing, I do wish her well. I hated to have to leave her out there in the jungle tonight. I’m so relieved and knowing I must have been watched over by a guardian angel. I pray for safety, Carmen’s and mine, and I quickly drift off into a deep sleep.
ALARM CLOCK!!! My phone is going off. It’s work time already? Feels like only a few minutes passed, and it’s go time…day we do our takeover.
Jane descends this evening. It’ll be an exciting Friday night in Miami and I’m already exhausted.
Felt a little military morning, when the Admiral’s boy, fucking Doboy barked, “Get up and get ready for work. It’s time …You up?”
“I’m up, sir,” I confirmed and popped into the bathroom and peed.
I came back out to make sure he didn’t need to use it – he’s already clean-shaven and well dressed in his standard yellow Oxford, with a navy silk tie and a nicer-than-usual-for-him slate gray suit – then pooped.
Hung over lightly from those sweet cocktails and dehydrated as fuck, I speed-shower and come back out to notice General Doboy has gone down already. Quickly, I throw on a predetermined outfit of what I call “my scary suit,” the dark brown with black plaid Ralph Lauren but not Polo brand one, clean white undershirt beneath and fine brown hosiery with black paisley’s to pull out the colors of the suit and the monochrome neck ware of the day, an otherwise plain, crested, black silk Tommy Hilfiger tie, atop my finest designer Italian white shirt from the Apparel Mart, that I was married in, actually. My do-it-all tan slip-on Steve Madden’s and shining silver with square face watch, a recent gift from my wife, which I straight up paid for, obviously, since she hasn’t been working. …Did I spend too much last night? I already didn’t have as much money for us as I wished. They need to pay me more. American Crew pomade for the neatly parted light brown hair I always fix with my hands instead of brushing and pearly whites brushed a bit too vigorously. Clear Eyes eye drops sting like hell when you’ve been partying but work. Dry shave of cheeks, leaving the sensitive neck alone today.
“Damn, I need an espresso, yo, but let’s do this,” I say.
Downstairs, “Good morning. Congratulations on the Win, William.”
“You guys ready to shine?” He says, noting we’re all super sharp.
“Of course,” I confidently blurt.
Doboy says flatly, “Let’s go.” I wonder how annoyed he is with me. I’m hoping there is nothing much to discuss, focus stays on the work.
Next thing I know, as zombie tired as I am even with the adrenaline boost of the Win, as we’ve all taken to calling call them since I coined that, we arrive and park and get out of the car.
Tallest building in Miami, I think to myself, this is a huge day. I’m still fuzzy and quite thankful Win drove, with Doboy riding shotgun.
“Mario is already here,” Windrop says, “Little different than usual today, gentlemen. All is already communicated inside, and Mario is going to be the site manager…at least for now. He’s in there working with his newly acquired team already. They’re looking over your proposal, Van, seeing who stays and who goes. We’re going to meet people on their way in, just becoming familiar faces with our ultimate customers.”
I nod and immediately walk to the front entrance of the building and greet folks fondly as they keycard access into the building entry drive, one after the other.
“This is the hostile takeover,” I muse to myself aloud in a Spanglish bandito voice. “Real use of my superior comm. skills,” I mumble.
Perimeter is on the scene…looking awkward out here, though, like a detective or something in this dark suit. Making people nervous.
Where in the fuck is everybody? They may be hobnobbing inside without me, leaving me out.
I greet a few more workers entering the structure, and nobody is cordial back at all. Thinking, in Atlanta somebody would say hi back. I wonder if most people in the (real) South would. “This ain’t no South,” I say, feeling further out of place and wander back up into the guts of the parking deck.
Windrop and Dubois are at the inner parking gate not far from the car staring at me incredulously, like I did something wrong. …Did that little bitch Doboy have to run his mouth about me?
“Where you been?” Windrop asks coldly.
“The front of the building greeting people when they first drove in.”
“No. I wanted you by the card readers here.”
“There are external card readers, remember, by where we took a visitor’s ticket. This is the second place they scan in.”
“Oh…ok. I thought maybe you went to the bathroom and got sick.”
“No, I’m good. Just trying to follow your instructions.”
“Misunderstanding on my part, William.”
The three of us stand there in our fancy suits and “Welcome” and “Thank you” and “Good morning” graciously the quizzically looking back at us patronage, the ones ultimately paying our bills here today.
I think of that when I say, “Thank you” to a few, sincerely.
After the morning rush dies down, Windrop heads inside to “grab Mario” and Doug says to me, “Take a walk with me.”
I think I’m about to catch shit, maybe, but he instead talks about a little crumbling bit of building facade. Then, “Let’s you and I do a full site inspection report. …I happen to have one in my portfolio here.”
We do and the time, the tension between us passes. I’m relieved.
Mario comes out in a pinstriped gray suit and teal shirt, no tie, looking very South Florida rich swell, and we all take a walk to where we can see the water from the building. In its beauty there is a palpable power, these towers around the water, this bay, us, we are doing it.
Lots of new construction is going on, which reminds me of home.
“I want to get a place down here, ” Win says again, as he’d intoned last night.
“What about Atlanta, boss?”
“Maybe just a condo…”
Doug ruins it, “You guys ready for lunch soon? We never had any breakfast, William.”
He replies, “I never eat breakfast, Doug.”
“I know but my wife makes sure I always do.”
“Always?” I ask.
“Pretty much. I live a very routine life compared to most.”
“Very,” says a scoffing Windrop. There always like that to each other, in constant combative conversation.
Mario has been unusually quiet, and I wonder if he’s been forced to relocate or is at all pleased about it.
I say, “Sounds like you just moved back to Florida, Mario.”
He says, “I welcome this exciting opportunity with open arms. This place is fun, and I never got to live in Miami before. I’m just curious how my live-in girlfriend in Atlanta is going to handle this news. …She’ll be down here later this weekend, so I’ll find out.”
“You’ll be fine either way,” Windrop says, and I realize what a men’s club this is, Perimeter, how we as a company still have a 1950’s, or early 1960’s ethos, where the man in a family or relationship, decides. William, Doug and I all have stay-at-home wives. Mario is different.
“This is a great city…and fertile frontier for Perimeter,” Mario says.
Little later, we go to lunch at the building’s cafeteria, after schmoozing for what feels like hours with the over-stylized gel-wearing meathead who is Windrop’s former employee, our current client.
I’m famished and low blood sugar and anxious for some food. I get flustered and visibly agitated when I’m like this, so I as quickly as possible scoot through the line and pay on my card, thinking I need to get some more cash out of a money machine when I can, to have some.
I don’t like the client, but we all continue to kiss his ass, which he eats up. He and Windrop decide to go have a workout, which I think sounds both gay and pointless.
Mario slips back into the building, grabs his things, and Doug, Mario and I roll back to the hotel, where we busy ourselves with calls to back home. I’m walking and sitting around the property rather than in the room much.
We all go to happy hour after work hours, and there are some gorgeous fancy women at the overpriced lounge we choose, and I throw some game at them just for practice. The douche bag client is there saying, “I think those guys are looking at us,” wanting to fight.
I see Mario sort of storm out and go outside and he’s talking to Windrop on the place’s porch. Mario walks off, as I walk all the way up.
“You really pissed Mario off in there,” Windrop says.
“What? How and why?” I reply.
“He said he had some ladies on the hook and ‘Van came in here doing his bullshit.””
“I was just talking to some ladies…they were interested.”
“You think for a second maybe they were interested in the Latin Lover, not so much you?”
“Didn’t occur to me, actually…my bad. Where’d he go?”
“His room. Went to call his girlfriend. …They may break up.”
Little later, Janey descends to Miami.
Only Mario comes out to meet her with me at the onsite hotel bar, after I got him on the phone and asked him to have a drink with me.
When he leaves, before she and I leave for our room, she says, ” What the fuck was that?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“The way Mario kept looking at me, looking me up-and-down.”
“He’s just like that. …Like what?”
“Like he desperately wants to fuck me.”
“He probably does…I would. I do right now.”
“Then show me to our room.”
Where her huge pretty tits serve as soft safe respite from any outside world drama for twenty or so minutes of fairly hard and fast sex.
Into it, I dirty talk her about Mario wanting to fuck her and how she should let him and I pump and grind her until she gets off, and then I finish and roll off of her. it was hot but there was no romance to it, which we can more often than not be like that, although I have love for her. I give her my undershirt to wipe and grab my phone.
“I’m going to call Mario,” I tease.
“You really calling him? You better not say anything crazy about me!” she demands. “You’re such a big perv.”
“I’m just seeing if he wants to go party with us. Relax.”
He doesn’t answer, so I leave a message telling him to give us a buzz later, if he wants to go out. I call the bellman on the house phone and get us a cab.
And soon we are out on the town together as the sun is setting. I’m satiated, satisfied with my wife, she’s fine when occasionally agreeable and came to see me and is beautiful, with light skin and large glowing green eyes, against ever-changing hair colors. She was a redhead when we met and later still when we fell in love. I love her and am in love with her, again.
The South Beach scene doesn’t work for us, though, not as it did when we were younger club kids here together and the vibe was way better.
We go to a frozen drink chain for an overpriced head rush on the way in and see the rapper Fat Joe driving by in a Bentley, with his obnoxious homeboys all hanging out the side of the car smoking cigars and fronting hard.
“They’re doing it,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says, who was that?”
“That’s Fat Joe. You know, the rapper,” guiltily recalling Alicia and I listened to him together, not her.
South Beach is a total has-been, a cheesy tourist trap these days, so after a typical-for-Miami bad serviced dinner where we repeatedly have to flag our server down at News Cafe’ and a buy-one-get-one-free round of overpriced watered down vodka drinks, we decide to walk on the beach a little. It’s still beautiful as the backdrop for the pastel Art Deco architecture, and so is she. She’s a beautiful person. I really like her striped hair now.
Suddenly though, and keep in mind I’m an easily emotional totally strung out volatile asshole fuck up, it all goes wrong. First, I have to shit and further vilify a nasty public bathroom.
Then, we fight. We even decide to just get divorced. I walk off thinking, I get along with a chick that eats out of the garbage way better than my wife.
Jane calls my name, and I walk back.
Then, sharing another taxi back to the room, we act like it never happened. None of it, the fight, the affair, the drugs, the big chill.
We decide to hit a dive bar instead, and ask the cab driver to take us to one, back in Miami proper.
We love the place, which reminds me of some of the locals’ spots I used to hang at in Orlando in ’95. When you’re out at a cool spot in Florida, generally everyone is pretty friendly with each other. Actually, cooler than in Atlanta at times, where it can be more who you’re with.
I meet a friendly Cuban dude named Juan, and soon he says, “Hey, Atlanta, you and your wife follow me and my homeboy outside. Let’s smoke a blunt. We follow, and it’s fun to bond with more locals.
She passes. I imbibe and feel better. Way better, I was so angry.
Juan says, “Think about it. I’m a Cuban, right? That’s my heritage same as you have a heritage. What’s your heritage?”
“Total Euro mix. I’m originally from Texas.”
“But you live in the ATL?”
“Yeah, outside the city, though.”
“Texas and outside a big city in the Deep South. …That’s so America, right, you see what I’m saying?” He hits the blunt again. “But I was born here! …I mean, I’m all about USA and baseball, and this country is my heart and my home. I’m as American as apple pie.”
AND I’M BACK in a Georgia groove, I think, anxious for the weekend to arrive and bored at my desk late, a fairly soon afternoon. “Miami es demasiado caliente,” I mutter under my breath. “I Survived Miami” should be a T-shirt for that trip. Another accomplishment to claim, though, I finally did something out of state for the company. We took over that tall building, and working down in Florida was good for my resume…holy shit, that first night was wild.
Empire State of the South, Georgia life.
This is my home, and an autumnal Athens simply can’t be too far away, for me, because it’s American college football season. Out in Marietta, where I live, and where I work down here in ATL proper, college football is the hugest deal and Georgia football is a big deal. My Dawgs are looking good this year. Definitely a contender, Coach Richt has the Davids back for one more run at it. …We are 50-yard liners.
I was just talking about going to the games with my old friends Shug and Dantonio at a Mexican lunch. Funny, I usually just pick “number five” when I go eat Mex-lunch no matter at which little joint. I don’t even look on the menu to see what it is, leaving more time to focus on cheese dip for sure and maybe Dos Equis green or margaritas.
Apparently, Shug had been using too much at the nightclub that he owned downtown, and my old friend Dantonio had grabbed me of all people for a kind of low-key sort of quasi-intervention type of chat, I wasn’t qualified to be in. Another voice of reason, I was not.
An old close friend and former boss when I first got into this line of work, Dantonio had no idea how much or even that I’d been using, obviously. He values my persuasiveness.
I just went for the cheese dip, pickled and fresh jalapenos and the 5. Maybe a cocktail, some funny Buckhead boy banter, and D threw me in on that. Good intentions and all. What do they say, best intentions.
I mostly just listened, actually silently vowing to go back to Shug’s club, which I had a sharp pang of guilt about, potentially enabling instead of helping, even though he isn’t a close friend. Then, I switched to talking about going to Athens for Georgia games.
On my way to the main office now after some paperwork, still nicely stoned and full and thinking, I need to get clean. Blow has me in its grip.
Before, Dantonio had said, “That grip! When it gets you. …I know that grip…It’s one of the worst grips. It’s the worst one I’ve experienced.”
Frowning, Shug said, “Yeah.” His head down, eating chips, solemnly. I was sad for him.
“That’s the thing,” he’d said, “the fucking lounge is such a hole.”
We’d gone by Shug’s nearby home, where he lived alone and smoked a joint, because that shit doesn’t matter when you’re trying not to use cocaine. I think it can even help.
“I was meant to be there,” I say to myself now, after the train announcer says, “Midtown is next stop.” I change my mind about my destination and get off and take an awaiting Tech Trolley to the edge of the property of one of my clients, and I walk the plaza there making phone calls.
That black reverend/maintenance man there, with the cool ice blue eyes, prayed for my younger son with me right here right before he was being born, then my amazing son was born with the same piercing eyes. We prayed for him to be healthy and be a leader. My sons are fine.
I made some calls and everyone is seemingly too busy or not here, so I skip the impromptu site visit, walk the few the short blocks through Midtown to the nearby main office, on Peachtree Street. It’s hotter than fuck. When it’s really hot in ATL, it’s hotter than Miami, way less breezy.
“Doboy is looking for you about some meals on your expense report,” my dude “Marc” Marciano says when I pop into his office. “He rejected it and said you have to do the whole thing over again.”
“Bullshit,” I say and walk out.
Doug Dubois is in his office standing and writing on a whiteboard when I enter, “Now a good time, Doug?”
“Yeah, Marky Marc said you had questions for me about an expense report.”
“Oh yeah, you don’t get lunch. You pay for your own lunch when you’re out of town for Perimeter, and you turned in lunches for Miami.”
“First time I’ve worked out of town for the shop.”
“Oh…that explains it. When you travel with William he’ll usually buy as you saw, but lunch is out of pocket.”
“Ok. Workday lunches I put on there.”
“Unless you’ve been bringing your own lunch to work.”
“Actually…I have. Been trying to get my money better, plus my wife meeting me in Miami wasn’t free for me.”
“Surely not. …That makes sense. Ok, in that case, don’t worry about redoing it.”
“I could but it’ll be tough with all the authorizations I’d gathered.”
“No don’t worry about it. That’s ok, few of us extended our stays.”
“I had to get back here but William stayed behind and went golfing with the Lauderdale clients on Sunday. …I wish I could have gotten out on a boat.”
“Yeah, we could’ve maybe squeezed in some more fun if we’d gotten down there sooner, like we tried to at first.”
“Just how it happened. Hey, I been meaning to talk to you about something…since I’ve got you here.”
“You’re getting a bad reputation around here.”
“I got complaints that you were getting off your phone out in the hall here and said the word, bitch loudly to someone. Not a client of Perimeter, I hope”
“Of course not a client…that was my wife.” More quietly, “We haven’t been having such a good go of it lately.”
“Thus the Miami trip for her?”
“Exactly. I hadn’t planned on bringing my wife to our work trip.”
“William’s wife was wanting to go, too, and shop and everything, before they decided on the golf. …It’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
“I guess everything has its explanation.”
“Right. …I’m guessing it was Nancy I offended.”
“Maybe say something to her about it. Actually, don’t. I told her we’d address it and we just did.”
“Good. Sorry about that.”
“I mean, go to the conference room. Go outside or something. It’s not like anyone is keeping you from excusing yourself for a minute.”
“You’re right. Got it.”
“I know Banter had a recent real concern about your sometimes spotty attendance that he met with you about, and down in Miami you just, hang on a second…” He checks his phone, buzzing on high almost violently in his hand. “This is…I can deal with him in a second. You disappeared on me a couple times…I mean, you reappeared and are very good at your job when you are there, and I know for a fact you do your own thing. Lord knows. Bill runs Atlanta.”
“Yeah. …Were you assigned to keep tabs on me down there at all times? That sort of bothered me.”
“Not really. I mean you’re your own man, Van, but Windrop did want me to make sure we had the absolute best out of you.”
“Figured. I perform admirably enough?”
“Especially all you added to our report.”
I smile and then half-nod, waiting for something else, any more condemning evidence.
I’m starting to wonder if I can leave.
He turns and looks me in the eyes.
“Do I need to worry about you?”
Ye Silver Britches:
“THE DAVIDS,” I say, “Pollack and Greene.” Two amazing seniors, who’ve played football together since little league, instate. They broke onto the scene at different times and to vastly different levels of popularity at UGA. The University of Georgia, located in Athens, the oldest state chartered public university in America (1785).
I go, “Recall when Greene got in as a redshirt freshman, he has started throughout even with Shockley there as a true frosh who also played, and he’ll be having the most wins of any QB in college football history when the year is done.
“But that next year after the Greeney to Gibson freshman connection, the other David’s true sophomore year, after he’d played somewhat sparingly as a frosh, Pollack came out of nowhere to become the major cult hero in the great state of Georgia.
“Think on this: a former back-up lineman, a white kid from the burbs came in and won, overall, SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore. From his defensive end position, he was all over the field. Remarkably, though he was on defense, with the ball often in his hand. The man has a nose for the football and an engine that never stops revving high. I believe in David Pollack…and I believe in Greene, not his talent though, just his sheer will to win. Pollack is the athlete. …Can you imagine the odds you could have gotten on him winning that award in Vegas?
“When Georgia won the SEC for the first time since Herschel Walker their first year together fulltime, ultimately their sophomore seasons…eligibility rules of college football can be so complex unless you know them. I know everything about college football.
“That’s why I gamble college, which is what has been partially funding my falls for years; it did again last season, when I was rolling. Fucking betting on UCONN and Boise and Hawaii and TCU and Utah and other, to borrow a college basketball term, mid-majors, that didn’t have as much investigation done by the odds makers, because so much less is at stake for them compared to the big TV games.
“You recall I used to bet on Nebraska every week before, when they were THE bullies. Then, I dug deeper and became a trend analysis bettor. I use Phil Steele’s ‘College Football Preview’ magazines’ five-year program score histories at the bottom of each team’s page to verify bets. I’ll have circled where I thought lines were off in the paper, where I thought I saw fluff and opportunity. I’m looking at various scenarios, like say between rivals that always play, throwing in common variables, and how often they’ve panned out recently, as a probability projection of future performances for each weekend. Then, I use my Steele method to cross bets out that didn’t have the best trend forecasts according to this or that variable. And I bet the rest of the games.”
“That’s intense!” Pablo kicks in, previously only saying a deep monotone, “Yeah” more than a few times and listening.
“When I stay disciplined and as conservative as I intend to be in my bets, I regularly win money. I win money, Pablo.”
“I know you do, The VAN…geez how much coffee did you have?”
“Like five cups, that’s the one client who likes to have me sit around and drink a whole pot with him and talk.”
“I may be compensating for something.”
“Right. You’re way more chill on blow.”
“I know. …Example: Team A I note, over a few years performance, obviously wanting to move up in people’s opinion of them, which is everything in the unequal popularity contest which is by far my favorite sport and obsession. So I’ve noted that when they play lesser comp at home they always and I mean always cover the past few like three to five years, max of 10 I usually look back, anyway, they run the score up as high as they can for the pollsters and whatnot who don’t watch their games but definitely catch the scores. They don’t even have a great overall record, maybe, which keeps the lines relatively low, too low.
“We’ve been covering on these in the first quarter often and starting the celebrating more zestfully so early into the game day, nice early East Coast money to set things sailing and buying pizzas for lunch. …I’ve even been getting a few of those guys to bet some on my locks.
“See ahead of time, I study the schedule to see when said lesser programs are coming to the campus of Team A for a bully ball beat down. I circle it on my calendar. Next thing you know my boat is named ‘The UCONN’ …although I’ve never even set foot in the state.
“‘I’m going to get me a fucking boat!’ I bellow out after I realize I’ve pushed my guy over the Mendoza Line. He has to pay on Wednesdays. …It’s pure ego, Pablo. I may spend some of it on blow, but it’s a seasonal part-time job. Rest goes for my tailgate life, tickets and Taco Stand. Combo Burrito Deluxe Extra Hot, that’s still my jam. In reality, I really don’t bet big enough for the percentages that I win. I could literally be doing this for a real job, and since I always place bets on Tuesdays as early as I know which way to go from my big board, as I call it, my 1-5 best bets out of all the biggest division games in the whole wide country, from the pre-recorded final lines’ phone message we use. Study all college scores online on Sundays. Bookies actually take my bets and bet them like 10 x with their bookies. They fucking love me. …They quickly answer my calls cheerily.”
“I bet they do!” Pablo exclaims, after only adding the occasional, “Right” between my previous ramble(s).
“My old bookie is dead, of course. Wes dies of a goddamn speedball, our first Wes to go, bro. …Then the new guy pays in cash…and coke. My new guy isn’t one of our buddies. ‘Esq.’ they called him for his could-be-in-Esquire suits he wears daily, old white guy. It has been dumbed down even further to ‘E.S.'”
“No way his initials are “E” and “S” …he’s pretty careful.”
Pablo, they love me at our Frat too, when I roll through winning to see my homeboys, when the Dawgs have an away game or bye. You have to get one Saturday off work and get over there with us. You work every Saturday?”
“Yeah at 4:00.”
“If it’s a home Saturday, I’m Classic City.”
“Oh I know! You go! You go to games!”
50-yardliners. 18th row. LSU Saturday. …I sometimes cry when we lose.”
“Were going to win.” Pablo went to Georgia, too.
“It’s much bigger than my bets to me, which can be substantial based on my, you know, limited income, just average coin I make.”
“You do good!”
“Not when divided by four people.”
“Few extra hundred every couple weeks helps, in the fall. …Sure, I take a bath once a season and have to go double the difference to get back down below Mendoza by blindly betting on the home team on Monday Night Football, and if I don’t hit that I pay through the teeth. It hurts. They say when you win, it’s hookers and blow and when you lose it’s your mortgage and car payment…but I don’t worry about the latter. Car is paid off and just parked there, that pretty purple. …Thanks for the ride, my friend.”
“You owe me the usual. We’re at $60 total, with what you owed me from before.”
“Gotcha. …I’m so accurate picking games longer trend, I get all the money back over a few weeks at most, and then I continue collecting.”
“That must be nerve wracking!”
“It is, but it’s so good to be a consistent winner. Like, I can afford to pay you in full today, bro, because of my expert know-how at this.”
“Whatever works for me to get paid back…quickly. I don’t mind giving you rides but I need the money.”
“I hear you, Pablo.”
BEFORE THE GAME after my brother and I finally quit throwing the football, there is this chick I don’t know who is trying to get someone to drink Jaeger with her. She cracks the bottle, and pours some shots in red Solo cups which we hand out to various passersby, tons of true red-clad Bulldogs’ fans out by the Forestry building where we set up shop. I take one and my brother gags one down he doesn’t really want. The hosts of our tailgate, big Fred and Marietta Mark only drink beer after years of whiskey meltdowns and confrontations with fellow UGA and especially away fans. We haven’t met Richie yet, he’ll be at the seat, and Mike S. and I have been doing lines of coke in the SUV, periodically, but he doesn’t drink anything but Diet Cokes. Nobody from the tailgate will really get down and drink with her, and she calls them pussies, correction: she calls us pussies.
So I say, “I drank with you. Let me see the bottle,” and I close my eyes and turn it up and cash most of it, quite a good bit more than I thought was possible.
Marietta Mike says, “That should balance you out nicely, Van.”
And big Fred says, “You can fuckin’ drink, boy. You gonna be ok?”
“Yeah…that was a lot.”
“That was a lot,” Fred box checks. “Hey you want to um, go to the vehicle one more time? I was thinking I’d join you guys and jump in this time, since the tailgate is in good order.”
“Yeah, I better after that…shot.”
“Shot?” Vanimal…fuckin’ return of The VAN. …Van is back, baby!
“I was here last week, too, we just got up here too late to tailgate.”
“Dawgs played like shit.”
“If they play like that today, we’ll get beat. …Sorry I missed y’all for the Southern tailgate, too, I was with my dude from UGA whose dad is one of their higher ups at Georgia Southern, and our ladies, the grandparents watched the boys for Jane to go with me. They got kicked out at the gate for booze actually, so Janey and I just jetted through and waved, ‘Bye, bye.’ We sat with Mike S. and Richie…which was fine.”
“Thought you were down in Miami then. Weren’t you saying when I saw you at Lazy B’s that you were heading down to South Florida…lucky bastard?”
“Weekend before the season. That was mostly business. Mike and I went to Georgia-Carolina, up there with all his hot Greek cousins, stayed at one of their places in Columbia, which was amazing. …Was Face at the Southern tailgate again? I remember he was around when we’ve played them before.”
“Yeah, he came up with Fat. …Why?”
“I just like that guy a lot, I’d like to get to know him better.”
“Face is the best…for a kicker. Y’all ready?”
“Hey Mike! Mike let’s take one last pit stop, Fred is joining.”
“I was just about to say that to you,” Mike S. says.
“I’m so drunk,” I say. “Sorority girl mating call.”
We bump up, they pack up and we leave, Mike S. wrapping an arm around me to bolster my balance.
“I’m not that fucked up, Mike S.”
“I can walk.”
“GOoo …ooo…DAWGS!!!!! …. Sic ’em!!!!!!!!!!! …Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!!!!!!!, yells most of our tuned up 90,000+ capacity rabid home crowd. It’s the big game of the week in the South, the 3:30 CBS game.
“Let’s go GEORGIA…” I say.
“Wethead is in full effect,” Mike S. says, pointing a thumb to the visibly wasted ancient alumnus Richie, the proprietor of our season tickets. We have four together, one each, the oldest of my kid brothers, the only alum one, Jared has one. And I have one and Mike S. has one. It’s a major pain in the ass only having one and constantly having to make various arrangements based on who is going each week.
Mike Stephenopolos is a long-time diehard insider Georgia fan; he went to Atlanta’s Georgia State for undergrad and his MBA before becoming an energy trader. And, he hooked us up a few years ago with Ol’ Richie, a family friend of the Robertses with a long history of donating to the University, who we call “O.R.” mainly joking about him quasi-derogatorily, “Or not.” Though, we do have love for him. He’s one of us. “O…R not.”
Georgia is #3 and LSU #13, with Thomas Davis and Pollack the keys to the football game. Can the Bayou Bengals control them? As great as Pollack is, in such a bright national spotlight, the opposition’s offenses have been forced to install complex layered game plans just to thwart or slow him down. The knockout artist Thomas Davis has filled this void of dominant surprise player on the Dawgs defense from his safety position, big hits.
“We’ve never hit like this…I’m Thomas Davis, Richie. I’m going to come over there and blow you up,” I say. “Knock some sense into you right quick, ol’ boy.”
“I wish’d you would,” Richie drawls back in country-speak, raising his fists in jest. “He’s been playing good.”
“He’s blowing people up this season.”
My fellow alumni brother Jared is silently mixing us a giant cocktail, one for the two of us to pass back and forth, a 50-50 Maker’s Mark bourbon and coke in an oversized souvenir collectable cup featuring none other than the All-American, David Pollack.
“Offense was garbage last week,” I say to us all.
“Here we go!” Mike Stephenopolos says, and Greene steps to the line, left to right across your radio dial, Dogs in their red tops and silver britches, he’s got two dangerous wide outs split right and one left and is on his way to being the all-time passing yardage leader in the SEC and QB with the most wins in college football history.
RBU, Running Back U, chooses instead to do what it bread-and-butter has always done best and runs the damn ball. Last year was the first in decades that Georgia had no running back with a 100-yard game, the consensus benchmark for having any real success at running back. The running back by committee, post-Musa Smith platoon, is a source of concern…which should never be the case at the position. We get backs.
“I was with some of my employees last Saturday up top, that’s why I didn’t see you guys. Was it fun?” I ask my brother.
“He replies, “Yeah, I mean it was my first time bringing a client to our seats.” Sip. Sip. Sip. “Game kind of sucked.”
“Not the same without me down here with y’all.” Sip. Sip.
“Just Marshall, dude. We don’t get up enough for teams like that. I would’ve met y’all if that worked out.”
Three times a weaponized Thomas Davis jets all the way from his back of the defensive backfield position and meets a Tiger in the hole, and they go lifeless each time, literally limp and abandoning the football, unaware of any football.
“Blow up! He’s putting Bayou Bengals to sleep blowing them up!” The VAN roars.
“Bitches,” says Jared, he’s blowing up those bitches,” you mean. His tone is as serious as can be; he’s usually the straight guy.
It’s 10-0 Dawgs at the end of the 1st and 24-10 at the half.
At halftime, I’m coming down, way down in the seer of sun.
The onslaught continues and the purple college-aged kids full-body painted directly in front of us hear about it. “You’re a real glutton for punishment,” I say. “You know you shouldn’t have come here like that.”
The 3rd quarter ends with Georgia having poured on two more touchdowns and LSU nothing. More Thomas Davis…Boom!
“After this we’re going back to the tailgate and wait out traffic some, just a little hour or two if you can handle it, Van,” Mike S. says.
David Greene ends the 45-16 beat down with five total similar, looping fade touchdown passes on only 10 completions. Any time the Dawgs got near field, he simply flung another one in. Remarkable, he only had 172 yards and 9 incompletes, barley over 50% completions: shows how some stats can lie or be overshadowed by others in football.
Danny Ware finally cracked a lousy hundred yards rushing, which is a good sign. We have to be able to run the ball, too.
“Can’t believe it’s October already. Tennessee is in big trouble next week,” I say from the back of Mike S.’s dark blue SUV on the way home, in a massive traffic jam on Highway 316 that night, after another post-apocalyptic postgame tailgate, where we usually have only about half the pregame numbers even after a win and everyone is as wiped out and chill as if we’d actually played in the ballgame.
THE DUAL LIVES led is the major problem at hand, and what this is about…this feeling. I’m in the back bedroom thinking, this isn’t about work, which is going well, or home life, which is great, too. I love my family. This is about my addiction.
How I bounce from normalcy to sheer madness many days and now it has become most weekdays.
Football actually helps me focus; I have to think about my Dawgs x hours a week, depending on upcoming opponent, like 10-50 hours a week, and that gives me direction and focus, in the season. Gambling is going great, which is great. …I’m losing my grip on reality, though.
Thinking, how I bounce from the house to the park-n-ride, my mom gives me the short 10-minute ride so Janey can stay in bed with the kids. Express Bus to station-to-station, the city by trains. All good energy and accomplishment-in-action, the chief, the boss, answering a million cell phone calls from the managers under me and my big bosses and occasional clients. They don’t call me that much: kind of nice. I’m having lunch and just sailing, then when the wind finally catches up to me, I skid off track sometimes. Literally silently crying by the time I’m on the bus home in the late afternoon to early evening, where my father-in-law on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or my mother who lives one adjacent neighborhood over, pick me up, depending the day. He has done a lot for us, Papa, the in-laws, giving us the down payment to this house. I’m very grateful for them and this nice family home.
Wiped after the big drink and taking a bath – shouldn’t have chugged all that yesterday; I was astonished at the amount that went down my gullet and worried but handled it as well as possible. I was half-asleep on the ride home, sure.
Thinking, baths are my only moment of relaxed Zen these days.
Whether or not Jane has come in to make love to me the night before or not, I sleep in there. The boys still sleep with her in our California King-sized and basically physically wedged me out.
On workdays I’ll get my clothes on quickly after a bath – I’ve started taking baths every morning again instead of showers – and get myself dressed lickety-split in the clothes I’d laid out the night before down to the socks, underwear and jewelry. We don’t have to wear suits everyday, but you definitely should wear a shirt and tie Monday through Thursday. I wear ties most Fridays even.
Thinking it’s good to be chilling and not having to get out of sweats today, I’m not into the NFL, relatively not that much, don’t bet on Sundays at all, so Sunday is always just chill, even if I do go to the Frat for a couple of hours some weeks. I still try to watch the Cowboys some, but they have fallen on hard times.
Stoked ole Gordon is coming down from Ohio, where he lives now! My old college roommate at Georgia in a couple of houses, Gordon Stancil IV, sometimes “Flash Gordon,” a diplomats’ brat from DC, both parents in the US politico game when his dad was still alive. Gordon was a St. Alban’s prep boy who’d stumbled South, down to UGA after his older stepbrother of the much more famous DC last name had chosen to come down here. The younger followed.
Recalling, his stepbrother, Jon, used to buy us calzones at Rocky’s in Athens on Sundays and say, “You guys don’t look so good. I’m buying you lunch again just to make sure you have proper nourishment.”
I used to go out West a lot when Gordo was out in San Diego as a Hollywood Marine after UGA, as the diplomat family tract is: college, then military minor officer and then the professional ranks with some sort of clout, when possible immediately, or soon expected. Gordo was kicking ass now in advertising.
LA once, was out in San Diego, 1-2-3 times, once on a daytrip on my honeymoon and twice when I’d worked a side promo art gig at Comic-Con and visited Gordon…I love that city. Wish I could get away.
But back here in my city, I’m a struggling daytime drug user, thinking a dark storm is a brewing right now. I’m afraid. I’m very afraid of myself, my addiction. Like I said, this feeling isn’t about my loving family life out here in Marietta. I’m blessed, and I love my sons and enjoy spending family time. We have a nice starter home, I love this house, and my rocky marriage alone isn’t my biggest problem right now.”
This is about my Peachtree Street life.
DAWGS ON at 3:30 again, the CBS big game of the week is an SEC East rivalry, with the orange-on-white of Tennessee in Athens.
Friday afternoon before game day.
Thomas Davis and Greeney and Pollack. I’m stoked!
Pablo and I were maybe picking up Gordo at the ATL airport, or meeting him as soon as he lands and gets in the city, so I encouraged him just to take the train, which is physically in the airport, and pop north on either line to the North Avenue station.
We go into Papi’s down Ponce a few blocks from Peachtree and order Cuban sandwiches and mojitos at bar seats, and Gordon shows up with his large green suitcase. My gay admirer bartender Chachi is working so we’re getting his most attentive service, though service by him is always spotty at best. He has other things on his mind, always, and he usually puts a few of my rounds on the house.
It’s great to see Gordon and Pablo has never met him before, since I only saw Pablo occasionally at UGA, mainly up there before I went there, since he was a year ahead of me and I had a gap year to play volleyball and work at a gas station and live at Mom’s, and date a senior who also planned to go to UGA, while he was living in the dorm tanking math. We’ve known each other since we were 16.
Gordon I’d also met before my enrollment, at age 20. We lived together in my third and fourth houses in Athens, my last two homes before I moved in with my girlfriend, the one I moved to Florida with.
“You have any good tequilas,” he asks, and the day goes from there. It was a good time, more rounds were ordered. We talked work a little, and we talked plans for football. We spoke of family.
Shafty calls my phone and asks to talk to Gordon so I pass it to him. Then, Pablo and Gordon bullshit about the advertising industry for a while, while I tend to my mojitos and the back half of my sandwich. Chachi is in full flirt and keeping me with full drinks better than usual.
Pablo, in his standard working-today outfit of black slacks and a machine-cleaned white dress shirt, of course, says, “If you don’t need a ride right now, I’m going to go ahead and head out, guys. I definitely have to work in a little while, Van. Airport run.”
“That’s cool,” I say.
Eventually Pablo says, “It was nice to meet you, Gordon! I’ve heard good things about you. …Van said you might need a ride.”
Gordon, in his standard all-business classy but not overdressed nice blue shirt and gray pants style, says, “Our other friend they call Shafty who works with Van is coming out for a bit apparently and he’s got me.”
Pablo bounces and a perma-grinning Gordon mentions, “He had a little B.O. but seemed like a good guy.”
I say, “I keep hearing he can be malodorous at times, but I hardly ever notice. Not sure I can smell well anymore. …He’s a good guy.”
“Seemed pretty solid. Very friendly and interested in what I was doing. He knew what you guys were all about, also. Does he work for Perimeter, too?”
“He used to but he hated it. He’s doing a Town Car service right now, driving. Went to Georgia, I know him from my high school daze.”
“Sorry I didn’t use his services then, since he’s a friend of yours.”
“Don’t worry about Pablo, bro, he wanted to eat with me anyway.”
Before long, he was replaced by Shafty, who had agreed to eventually drive Gordon to his hotel room via my phone prior.
Perimeter Man, John “Shafty” Thompson, is an old Athens friend of ours I’d gotten the job. He cleaned up well, and upon arrival in the Southern Mecca was always rocking this baller full-length gray coat, in winter, that looked all imperial New York City. He was a mess of unbridled energy all over the place when you spoke with him, here in a light blue dress shirt, shiny gray slacks and white tie that matched his lace-up white dress shoes. John had that old Southern mannered charm and was above all else funny, but if he somehow shafted you over you could kiss his narrow ass, because he wasn’t sorry.
Soon enough to barley make it, I bid the boys a fond fair adieu and make my way on Ponce De Leon Avenue by foot and think about taking a right on Peachtree…and I stay straight ahead instead, reluctantly but in a minor way, triumphantly, heading to the Express bus by the train station, and on to the safe harbor of my home.
The next day, Gordon and I, in standard Georgia game day attire, are dropped off by high school era friends of mine from Marietta up for the game, at the old Milledge Avenue Taco Stand in Athens where he worked for several years. The manager Todd lets him roll his own burrito. “I didn’t realize they wanted me not to roll all of our burritos, at first. I was about to pump out your two too, like old times for a second there, and Todd was like, “We got this part, Gord,'” which was nice. …That’s pretty cool Todd let me twist mine.”
“It’s a fatty,” I say, woofing down a third of my first burrito in a bite. “He didn’t want you hooking mine up all huge like that, I’m pretty sure. Look at the size difference, dude.”
“He gave me a free beer too. Fool better recognize.”
After smoking a bowl while getting a ride downtown from our buddy Dave Swafford who arrived to meet us for lunch after we’d almost finished ours, we all had a drink at the Georgia Bar for old times sake. Dave called it a day, with plans to let us crash after the game, and we strolled. The Classic City’s dense downtown is adjacent to the ancient American college campus, entered upon passing through the Arch, on Broad Street.
“It’s really on when we hit this point,” Gordon says. The sporting party atmosphere and unrivaled academic setting that is North Campus, both bucolic historic classic and beautifully ascendant, we’re home.
There is a narrowing crush of thousands as we near Sanford Stadium, but I know the way the pedestrian traffic flows best and jive us through quickly, across from the Tate Student Center, which I managed in college.
Lots of orange, way too many checkerboards and a plethora of diehard Georgia fans…but it feels to me like last week was a palpably bigger game. It was way rowdier up here then, even though this is a rivalry. “It’s hard to get so up two weeks in a row,” I say. “Most times Georgia-Tennessee will be the biggest game on an annual schedule.”
“LSU got served,” Gordon says. “That game was so sweetner.”
Shortly I’m yelling, “Go Dawgs!” to no avail, up in the old stadium. “He has happy feet,” I say, “Greene has happy feet. I’ve never seen him like that, this bad with his footwork. His timing’s way off!”
“C’mon, you guys!” Gordon is suddenly standing and motioning with an arm to the mostly sedate crowd behind us to get more involved and loud. They’ve been lulled to sleep by our bad offense.
I’ve been loud as hell of course, and I hate sitting over here on the rich side, side away from the students, the shade side. Between the Hedges at Sanford Stadium is the field, outside of which there are two distinct sides, which is most noticeable in a stadium designed with the distinct feature of the top of one end zone being a bridge in view, rather than more seats.
We were near enough the middle – where I rightfully sat and where my tickets were – and opposite in the cool shade. Cooler and far more judgmental heads prevailed in the shade, see this was just not me; did not jive with my mind at all on Saturdays in Athens. Mike S.’s wife was a Vol alumna so he had exclusive dibs on all the tickets for the Georgia-Tennessee series, which was pretty unfair considering the high face value of that game compared to other home games and happened every other year. I had to scramble for tickets, as a season ticketholder, it’s ludicrous.
In college football, championships are decided in much part by eye test popularity contests, and thus regular season losses feel like the end of the world. And on this day the #3 Bulldogs are upset by the #17 Volunteers, 19-14 in a defensive battle gone sour. The apparent running game from last week was a mirage, and Greene and Fred Gibson and friends couldn’t score enough, offsetting another solid performance by the Georgia defense and its stars. Nothing so sensational in the individuals’ play today, I feel, yet nineteen certainly is not that many points to yield in any game. We have a defense, but need to score more.
“We’ll tumble in the polls and are behind them in the SEC East in the tiebreaker,” I say knowing they always have a weak schedule once they get through an earlier gauntlet that includes Florida and then Georgia every season, big advantage to them vs. us because they’ve been way more tested than we have at that point. When we’re behind them late, which used to be every year, it was essentially impossible to catch them because they have too much talent for the weak programs like Vandy and Kentucky they play in the back half of the season.
“We’ve done real well in the series lately, at least,” Gordon says. We expected to win today and walk out all sullenly disheartened by the Dawgs, at a time that we rightfully in my mind should be celebrating a huge win together, because this is Gordo’s only game. I wanted it for him. I was here last week; was I ever.
“Stupid Dawgs,” I say borrowing my brother’s common refrain after bad losses, and all losses are bad in college football. “I wanted to yuck it up and gloat…and now I’m crushed and want to cry. We kissed it, farger. …The sky is falling.”
Gordon says, “Yeah…couldn’t believe those people weren’t cheering for shit when the defense needed them. The crowd could’ve made a bigger difference and didn’t. Pissed me off.”
“I could tell! You let them have it and you were right.”
“I was like get up! Dude, I wanted to see Pollack just yanking the ball from them and taking off”
“Nah, that was his sophomore year. …Richt maybe called a bad game; Greene was straight garbage!”
‘”He’ll bounce back from that. Tennessee just had his number today.”
“They did. …Fuck the fucking Vols!”
TUESDAY MORNING FLIGHTS are best, it’s definitely one of if not the single best time to travel as far as catching cheap flights via ATL, and Gordo is heading back out early tomorrow Tuesday. Even though it’s a travel day, he has to work on Tuesday, so do I.
Shafty manages a weekend-oriented facility downtown for Perimeter, he’s off Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Since it’s my only chance to go out with my roomie, though, I go along with the notion of going out in the city on a “school night.”
Worked my ass off today, all on point and got everything done, did like two days worth of work to clear my docket as much as possible.
Heard from my friend Shafty way too many interruptive times by phone. Later Shafty is at the helm, which always means: go, go, go. …The idea being maybe I’ll end up crashing at Shafty’s little brother’s place northwest of the city, outside Vinings, where Shafty has been living since he moved to Atlanta – little bro works for Delta – where he’s been painting the nice big place for rent, then maybe he takes me to work for a small fee. He says he doesn’t mind getting up early if I get him up. Or I could afford to catch a cab. Regardless, I’m working.
We go to Wendy’s drive-thru on Canton Highway and ever the jester Shafty says, “Biggie, Biggie, Supersize!” He’s asked to pull around to order. The fast food workers are laughing mildly when he gets up to them. He gets his junior bacon cheeseburger, as a small piece of bacon slips out of it onto his lap. He’s driving us away as he scoops the bacon saying, “A ha, bacon in my lap…Life is good!” He pops it in his mouth.
Same suburban sprawl and then eventually urbanizing terrain we’ve seen so on repeat so many times, being from Marietta, different day, then…rocket ships, buildings pointed to the moon. ATL.
75 South becomes The Connector, one super highway that is both Highways 75 and 85. Running parallel to Peachtree then breaking in all directions, Atlanta, where we exit the roaring sea of automobiles and break left onto tributaries of the rivers that are the city streets of Atlanta, before we park the auto and exit.
Gordon, with his brown hair and ever-present Kennedy-smile, just finished up a fancy dinner with his stepbrother and sister-in-law, and we meet him at his stepbrother’s place in the tony Ansley Park section of Midtown. “Cool. He’s outside waiting,” says Shafty.
“I need a tequila stat,” Gordon says, jumping in the backseat of Shafty’s brown Delta 88 beater. “Correction, I need some tequilas.”
And it’s on. We head south to South Midtown, pop into Bazaar.
I went all the way home after work and it’s somehow a little surreal just to be back down here at night, right down from the main office on Peachtree Street, in the glow of the flashing lights of the Fabulous Fox Theatre. “Bright lights big city,” I say.
“Last week a car crashed through the main window right here,” I say to Gordon minutes later, inside the trendy Eurotrash bar. “There was this big old American car lodged in the window…they closed. It’d been cooler if they’d been able stay open.”
“It was p, pretty cool,” Shafty says. “There she is.”
Shafty falls in deep with a well known to him service staff, especially this one gypsy-looking chick and won’t leave his beer, which he is nursing slowly, saying to me when I order liquor drinks, “You should drink beer. Beer is your friend.”
“Beer is not your friend,” I retort to the rail skinny wiry strong, 6-3 alcoholic Georgia-born lifetime Auburn fan from Columbus, can’t tell him nothing, as the saying goes in Atlanta. He thinks drugs “sounds good” but won’t help do anything to procure them when he’s already in good here. If free or discounted beers are around, Shafty is around.
So Flash Gordon and I catch a cab right out front, north on Peachtree to Sweats and score and do two bumps each in the building right quick, then cab immediately back to the lounge. Gordo loudly taking bumps in the cab, although I’d asked him not to beforehand.
Predictably, Shafty has made good friends with most of the bartenders in Underground Atlanta since it has reopened for late nights, he casually brags, and he suggests we go the Highlander on the other side of Piedmont Park for a few rounds, then go to Underground, after this. He’s always a million steps ahead of himself, and we’re on “Shaftytime,” as it’s known. Though, primarily via the constant self-promotion of his own comical misadventures, by Shaft himself.
Highlander is a grungy dive near by the movies, the backside of Piedmont Park with a bunch of games in a back-half room where we hang out, on the eastern edge of Midtown near the edge of the Virginia Highland neighborhood. I used to go do bumps there with Crispin, and mainly his roommate Shane, who would totally hold court in there in a throwback Tampa Bay Bucs Starter jacket all shiny with that creamsickle orange trim, a three-quarter length sleeve T of any cresting heavy band in all color on black or black-and-white, and a black trucker hat with his band in black-on-white, Ear Plugger. It was a fresh hat, though I’d never wear a mesh one. Looked awesome on him with his straight and extremely conditioned all-one-length blond hair jutting out of the sides and back. He drove a black Cadillac and was a minor headbanger icon of sorts already in the city.
Before that, we used to all go to the Highlander after Stein Club, on Peachtree, on Monday nights. That was by far their biggest night of the week, Stein Club the beloved bar that had been bulldozed for condos. Highlander was open later back then, so I’d bounce down 8th straight into the parking lot, in an old tan convertible I got from Mom with a tape deck blaring Pavement or Silver Jews. …I hope she’s well.
The place was dead but we put back three or four rounds each. After the couple rounds at Bazaar, I’ve worked my way down from the blow, which we did in their upstairs bathroom back on Peachtree. Nobody was hardly around up there and we looked down on the somehow semi-happening scene below.
“Should we get some more?” I’d asked Gordo.
He said, “I mean if we can…you know anybody?”
“No, not here right now. We could go all the way back to SoBu.”
“Nah. This is fun enough.”
“It’s my Friday,” Shafty cheered us with his Bud beer bottle.
“We have to work!” I said, don’t chink it.
“C’mon” he said…stumbling over his words and long pausing, “Cheers!”
We all chinked glasses, “To Athens,” I said.
…We end up at the first bar much longer than I want to be there, me eventually having to drag Shafty out. ” I have beer left,” his always refrain upon exits.
“But we don’t,” I say.
“Yeah, John,” Gordon says.
Underground is an all-night scene for us, and we’d even hosted a wild party with a bunch of go-go dancers from the Kittycat Club and the valets before some months back, out at Shafty’s brother’s place. Shafty’s best black friend, Tate, who worked for Perimeter, used to be a valet manager there, and they had hooked the party up. So, even I knew some of the bar folks. That party had started at 4 a.m., and it was way out, like Greater Vinings area. I’d stayed over there at his brother’s house before that once too, and Shafty and I could usually ride into work together.
“Can’t believe this…can’t believe I’m getting to do this with you two,” Gordon says, hoisting another golden-colored middle shelf room temperature tequila shot in the air with no lime chaser or salt. I clink my tall Maker’s and coke; they tell us to order them tall and make them super strong for us here.
Gordon says, “Can’t believe this whole scene down here.”
I say, ‘Yeah I met Elton John down here at Underground’s grand reopening, Shafty and me. …He had on the red suit.”
Gordon says, “Ha, ha, Shafty in a red suit…nah, I know, his like signature look.”
“He was really nice,” I say.
Shafty says, “I’m in good down here at several spots.”
And on and on it’s fun. Then it gets too repetitive, then fun again. “I want to leave,” I say eventually.
“Hey, I have beer,” Shafty says predictably.
“Fine, I’ll have another.”
“I’ll be glad to buy you guys another round,” Gordon says. “Tequila this time?”
In unison Shafty and I say, “No!”
Gordon buys Shafty another beer and though I’ve had way too much sugar and dark booze I gladly accept another drink on Gordon’s expense account.
I flash back to Athens when we were roommates on quarters and I’d get a student loan check each quarter. I’d ball out in the beginning, and then the trust fund blessed Gordon would make sure we stayed lit the rest of the quarter, and on and on.
The night goes like this on repeat until it is literally way past last call and we are hanging out with the staff, Shafty still has beer.
The hottie black dancers we know have on sweatshirts over their skimpy work get-ups and are cordially drinking well rum and cokes and it’s good to see them again, but it doesn’t go anywhere for us, and we finally get the late-crew boot.
We stumble to the car and then can’t find the fucking place Gordo is staying and are circling Ansley Park widely, passing it and looping back around. “We’re taking another loop,” Shafty says. He’s smashed only slightly less than us, Gordon and I are totally wasted.
He drives over an orange cone on the second pass, which gets lodged in the front of the car wheel basin. We pull over and park and I get out and try to get it out.
“It’s stuck!” I say.
“Shafty says, “Leave it there. I think it’s funny.”
“It’s not funny!” I cry. “I’m going to punch you.” I get back in.
“Shaftymobile, ha, ha,” Gordon says.
“Exactly. …You gotta admit it’s funny, Van,” Shafty says.
“Dude…seriously? We could get pulled over and he’s DUI as fuck, Gordon.”
“That’d suck,” Gordon says.
“Yeah for him and he’s supposedly a friend. …Don’t tell me you’re holding. You said we were out. Let me have some,” I say.
“Here,” Gordon says.
“It’s not enough to even really do anything to me,” I say, handing it back to Gordon, who hooves it loudly.
“Hoove much!” Shafty says. “Thanks for leaving me out,” long pause, “on that one.”
“There wasn’t shit left, Shaft,” I say. “Throw the baggie out now!”
We finally make it, on the third pass, straight out of a Three Stooges cartoon, me bitching at Shafty all the way, back to the eventually wildly desired destination, the stepbrother’s. Inside, we wait it out for an hour or two, zombie bodies silently fading on couches in their living room. I’m still wishing to have left and sort of half-sleeping on a loveseat.
Shafty is across from me sleeping sitting up on a couch with his low-profile cotton faded navy Atlanta Braves cap pulled down over his dark-encircled eyes.
I just shake my head and go all the way out.
“…We’ve gotta go,” Gordon says solemnly.
“Ok,” I say groggily.
“I’m staying awake. …I have to work soon anyway,” I reply.
“Cool, me too, I’ll work on the plane.”
“You mean you’ll kick back with the sports pages.”
‘That was the old me…I have to work now.”
We fight through another virtually impenetrable level of Shafty’s bullshit and finally drag him outside of the house with us, after we’ve as quietly as possible each called cabs.
“I’m off today,” Shafty says, barely opening his eyes at all.
“But we are all leaving, Shafty,” Gordon says. “My cab is on the way…were you going to drive me with your orange cone? Delta 88 coming through…Go ahead!”
I say, “Hilarious. Seriously fun last night, Gordon! Thanks for going to the game with me, too, even though the Dawgs choked. …See you in a year or so, my brother.”
“Until then, bro, ” he says, hugging me solidly. He’s a solid friend.
“Fuck off, Shafty!” I say half-jokingly to my less solid one. “I’ve already called a cab, too. …Fuck it! I’m going to go to work. This sweater isn’t all that bad and I’ll fix my hair there. Nobody besides security will even be around so it doesn’t matter I’m rough around the edges. I’m leaving early today for sure.”
My Checker Cab arrives before the taxi Gordon previously called and I say, “Godspeed, Gordon. Shafty, I’ll see you later. …Thanks for driving.”
Week later the following Monday afternoon, I’m on the phone with a finally recovered Gordo, safely back home in Ohio. “When are you coming back to ATL?” I ask.
Gordon says, “Whenever I can, now that I have some business down there, dudener. Thanks again for arranging the Georgia tickets and everything for me.”
“That’s a most-weekends sitch for me, no problem, bro.”
“How was Homecoming? …Saw the Dawgs ruled Vandy!”
“It was fun; that’s what made me think to call you.”
“Remembering the good old times at UGA?”
“Recalling it all…it was fun.”
“Exactly. Speaking of, you seen Shafty? I thought you were going to hit him for real at one point the other night by the way, which was a good time. …The fucking orange cone.”
“No. That boy’s a pain in my ass when I do. I’ll see him at work sooner or later. …I could take a break from him.”
“Yeah well you’re not going to believe this, but apparently Shaftermeister went back inside my stepbrother’s place and went back to sleep.”
“No! After we left? What the fuck?”
“I told him not go back in there when I left. Something told me he was thinking about it. He propped the door.”
“Holy shit. …He’s such a fucker.”
“Yeah, apparently Judy comes out there sort of skimpily attired in her nightgown, and she knows I was out with you and knows you still from when we went to a game with them or whatever, much later the next morning and she’s like, “Time to wake up, Van.”
“Oh fuck! …We saw her out on Peachtree last time you were in town, too, remember Gordon? …At least I know her a little.”
“Exactly! My stepbro had to leave for work then or whatever, and Shafty was still sleeping there snoozing away face down.”
“His scabrous-looking skinny ass. …So what happened?”
“She’s never met him before like I was saying and was of course like, ‘Who the fuck are you?'”
“Geez. …What a morning surprise!”
“I mean, remember I told you when my mom met him in Virginia with me she said she thought he was some type of refugee.”
“Yeah, I remember when y’all did that DC trip together.”
“Shafty the refugee, ha-ha.”
MONTHLY REPORTS aren’t what they used to be, now that I’m of BrickComm. Most of them are a one-pager to a five-pager, there’s rarely anything to change on them.
I just meet with Marc and look them over and sign them out, and they deliver them to all the clients by email, with hardcopy paperwork mailed as needed.
The massive multi-sectional detailed books we were building for BrickComm monthly and hand-fucking-delivering were totally different, lots more work. I hated report time to the point of breakdown every month until I trained up a skilled portfolio assistant, Linda, to do much of the assembling for me. Hate using copy machines for myself, like I had to at first back then. This shit is easy now, and I’m just patiently waiting my turn for Marc, after Jim gets finished up.
Jim comes out and sits with me in the queue of office chairs, saying, “Marc needs some time with some pages of mine, of course, but he said he’ll be right with you in 10 minutes, give him 10.”
“How was football?” I say to my BrickComm portfolio replacement, Jim, my former company mentee.
“Falcons won. It was good.”
“Those are great seats you have. …I’m spanking my bookie so hard right now.”
Windrop suddenly comes zipping around the corner and says, “What’s wrong…what are you guys talking about…honestly, Van?”
“I was telling Jim I’m crushing my bookie at football.”
“You guys are killing me right now!” he blurts and storms out, apparently leaving the main office part of building in the other direction, instead of continuing on forward to his desk.
“What’s the big deal with him? I didn’t mean to get his panties all in a wad today.”
“I have no idea.”
“Thought maybe it was something BrickComm at first.”
“I bet it was…I hope not.” Jim always worries, visibly.
“But that’s still going good?”
“Yeah, it’s always something…but it’s pretty good. I was just talking to Bill Banter about the crazy amounts of money they always have us spending, just the Doorworld Inc. invoices alone will get in the high thousands, and I have stacks of them we haven’t paid.”
“Oh, I know. That’s the way these guys do things around here. They only pay when they want to or have to, it seems. Far as the client’s client, they spend what they spend – or we do, you do, your guys do – and what’s left is what’s left. …It’s a managed account with nothing out of pocket, so as long as you have all the proper authorizations, Bill should just be happy we’re collecting our fees and stay out of it.”
“He isn’t happy! …Stan Franklin is always berating him.”
“I have caught some of that. That must suck.”
“You know, I learned this a long time ago: There are some jobs you don’t want,” his serious face accented by nondescript black glasses and a perfectly off-blond cop moustache.
“Why, just too much heat?” I joke. “I mean you’re working for Mike Tanner, doing BrickComm. That isn’t an easy gig at all, with all those facilities and personalities.”
“That’s why I was so nervous about sliding into it, after you did such a good job. …It’s been fine but seriously, and remember this, there are some jobs you just don’t want. Wise man told me.”
“I’ll remember that, Jim. Was that before you were a cop?”
“No, I was APD before that. Talk about a job I wouldn’t want. …That was at my last big company job, with the security company. …I thought you’d end up with Bill Banter’s job. You were next in line for that around here, for sure.”
“Guess it was a job I didn’t really want. Or I’d have gone and found a way to get it and behaved as such.”
“One way to look at it. Don’t worry about it. You deserved that job if you, not they, you, wanted it…You’re fine at least. I mean, I sure hope they are taking good care of you as much as you’ve done for them, and for as long now.”
“Not like they should, but I’m doing ok…that’s why I was so happy to win an extra lousy $200.”
“Can’t expect a rich guy like Windrop to understand that. Couple hundred bucks so different for him than it is for one of us.”
“They gave me what you were making minus $5,000.”
“Should have been my full freight rate.”
“I’m ok. Just me, remember, no family. Just my cat.”
“How’s Linda doing for you? Saw she took an official promotion, new title, in the company newsletter Precious sent out.”
“She’s back there now, working. She’s so good. That’s why I’m able to be up here with you guys today and not worrying about things as much, unless they call me.
Marc pops out of “Accounting Hell” and says, “Van! Let’s go. Yours are a fucking piece of cake compared to this maniac.”
I say, “That’s not an accurate description of Jim,” as I pass the door threshold. “Unlike you, he’s pretty chill.”
“I’m fucking frozen at heart is what I am. This monthly BrickComm drama is freezing my balls solid.”
“Sorry to hear about that, Marc.”
After Marc and my reports, I see a “40” on the door and pop into COO Stan Franklin’s office on the back of the building, where he’s out. I leave a Fast Company magazine on his desk with one of my business cards on it and write on another flipped over on the magazine itself “check page 17” – which has a short article on our client Biff Tumbleton, why I’d bought the issue. I’d already read it on the train, thought it was a good business touch.
I write on the “40”: “Stan, You fucking rock, man!”
I’m leaving the main office, and Precious says, “Hey Van, holdup! It’s Stan’s 40th birthday and you need to sign his card.”
“I already did, the “40” on his door.”
“No that’s just a ’40’, and this is his real card.”
“Oh, whoops.” I grab it and write: “Stan, You fucking rock, man!” -Van, but I draw a little simple van around the “Van.”
“Where the fuck is he today…and everybody?”
“They’re out with him right now, they’re doing it big.”
“I guess so. Where?” I’m contemplating going there.
“Not even sure on this, they just said they were “going drinking.”
So, I leave to go score some blow at The Darmont.