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Archive for the ‘Recollections Personal’ Category

Me and the Shorebirds

It is August 2002, a few minutes after sunrise. I am at the tidal pool at the mouth of St. Andrews Bay in Panama City Beach, Florida. No one is there except me and the shorebirds.

I am 50 yards from shore, chest deep in the water, on my tiptoes, approaching the jetties. In my left hand is an older Nikon DSLR that I told myself was expendable, but which I am terrified of dropping. The camera survived.

The water is impossibly clear, impossibly aquamarine. Ten feet in front of me, pelicans line up along the jetty rocks. I shoot photos by the dozens, and I think to myself, this is the life.

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Along the Delaware Shore

It’s a sunny spring day in 2010, and I’m on a road trip to New England in my Toyota MR2 Spyder convertible, a recent retirement gift to myself. I’ve just stopped somewhere along the Delaware shore where a man has erected a canopy and is cooking shrimp in a large black kettle.

Having made my purchase and staked out a spot on a nearby dock, I watch as the seagulls play overhead and the shrimp boats go about their business on Delaware Bay. Beside me are a cold bottle of beer, a pint of freshly-steamed shrimp, and a cup of tartar sauce.

I take a sip of my beer, select a shrimp to peel, and think to myself, this is the life.

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Mementos

Over time, I have developed two noticeable habits: I have allowed assorted collections of things to accumulate and proliferate, and I have taken to placing esteemed items on display around my house.

Re the former, I have assembled a number of disparate collections, as detailed in the 25 Random Things post elsewhere on this blog. Re the latter, I display individual treasures on every available flat surface because the items please me and evoke nice memories.

Walk around my house, and you will see family photos, enlargements of scenic shots from my travels, works by folk artists, favorite pottery pieces and sculptures, and assorted knick-knacks that I enjoy having around.

The truth is, my house looks like an antique shop or a thrift store. Every table, wall and counter is adorned with… stuff. Lots of eclectic stuff.

I do this because I can. I’m divorced and living alone, so no one is here to dissuade me. It’s a bit quirky, I admit, but harmless.

However, one aspect of all this, I have come to realize, is a bit sad. Let me explain.

Most of my mementos are self-explanatory. Their value is unambiguous — more or less obvious at a glance.

For example, I bought this foot-tall figurine at an art show in the 1990s. It’s a replica of a pre-columbian statue, possibly Mayan.

The figurine is simply an interesting $50 reproduction, and I enjoy it as such. As would anyone.

Likewise, I bought this sculpture several years ago at an art gallery in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s a raven by Oregon artist Steve Eichenberger. His crows and ravens are handsome and wonderfully expressive. Look him up.

You get the point: the value of most of my treasures is in their beauty or uniqueness and usually is self-evident.

On the other hand, many items in my possession have significance for other reasons — reasons often known only to me.

Take, for example, this three-inch tall carving that you would conclude, correctly, to be an Eskimo. When my dad was stationed at Thule AFB in Greenland in the 1950s, he purchased it from an Inuit man who carved it from walrus tusk.

You would have no way of knowing that.

Nor would you know that these glasses belonged to my grandfather, Walter Anthony Smith, Sr.

Nor would you know that this railroad spike is a souvenir from my first dayhike — literally my first hike ever — in the summer of 1979.

Nor would you know that this cheeky ring holder was a gift from a friend during my Air Force years.

A fellow lieutenant brought it back from the Philippines and gave it to me as a joke. It has been on my bedroom dresser for half a century and counting.

Another memento with special meaning is this paring knife, which belonged to my Savannah grandmother, Stella Smith.

I watched her use it countless times when we visited Savannah, starting when I was a little kid and continuing until I was an adult. In my mind’s eye, I can still see her hands as she peeled potatoes and sliced carrots in the kitchen sink. She would slice, rinse the knife, and slice some more, often humming to herself.

Long after my grandmother died, my aunt continued using the knife. A few years ago, when the house was finally sold, I claimed the knife. I use it almost daily.

I’m fully aware that the subject of my special treasures is trivial. Everyone has had experiences similar to mine, and we all have equally treasured possessions.

But it’s an unfortunate fact that when we’re gone, all of those small, intimate memories are lost, as well.

Like tears in rain.

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My mother, Ann Horne Smith, was a great lady. She was whip-smart — probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever known. She was pretty, funny, vivacious, generous, and a person of great integrity.

And Mom gave her children a gift that is valuable beyond measure. Without fail, Mom judged others by their behavior and character, never — never, ever, ever — by their race, religion, or nationality. The example she set was profound.

This from a woman born in 1921 in rural south Georgia.

Mom cursed like a sailor, but racist and bigoted language was forbidden in our house. When we spoke about someone, she insisted we do it fairly and respectfully.

“Talk about people as if they were in the room,” she would say.

The same rules applied to the students in the Sunday School classes she taught. She scolded many a young girl for gossiping or being racially insensitive.

Mom addressed everyone in the same courteous manner — family, friends, neighbors, tradesmen, store clerks, strangers — regardless of their race or other factor. Mom believed that everyone is entitled to respect, unless and until they demonstrate it is undeserved.

I like to think I absorbed Mom’s lesson. I consider myself to be — I try to be — a fair and unbiased person. To the extent that’s true, I owe it to Mom’s example. I raised my own kids accordingly, and both boys, as well as their kids, show every sign that the lessons were learned.

How Mom turned out the way she did, considering when and where she was raised, I don’t know. My grandmother Leila is the likeliest influence, although she never seemed as outspoken and uncompromising about personal behavior as Mom was.

But maybe I’m not giving Leila enough credit. when Mom was just a few years old, my grandfather Bill Horne walked out, and Leila suddenly was on her own as a single mom. Still, she had the grit to open a beauty salon and operate it through the Great Depression.

Take it from me, folks, it’s crucial to talk to your elders. Have long conversations with them. Pick their brains.

You need to ask the important questions while people are still around to answer them.


Ann Smith (1921-2005)

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Overcompensation

over·com·pen·sa·tion | noun: excessive reaction to a feeling of inferiority, guilt, or inadequacy, leading to an exaggerated attempt to overcome the feeling.

———

Back in the 1970s, we lived in Fort Lauderdale, and I was trying to get established in the advertising and PR business. Those first jobs didn’t pay much.

Money was tight, a constant worry. The boys didn’t really lack for anything, but the situation weighed heavily on me and Deanna.

Things eventually worked out, but those were difficult times. I am reminded of them some mornings when I step into the closet to choose a t-shirt.

Yes, therein lies a tale.

It’s funny how the mind works. Back in our Fort Lauderdale days, as I struggled to pay the bills, I seized upon a small, inconsequential matter to be irritated about. Or, rather, to pout about.

It was the fact that, while everyone around me — friends, family, neighbors — owned cool and interesting t-shirts, literally every t-shirt I owned was plain, unadorned white. (Men’s t-shirts typically were white back then, in case you didn’t know.)

I didn’t own any t-shirts that bore logos, cartoons, or printing of any kind because I couldn’t afford them.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. More correctly, the money was better spent in other ways. I guilt-tripped myself out of owning t-shirts that were fun and appealing — and it bugged me greatly to be deprived in such a manner.

Time passed, and our money situation improved. Eventually, I rewarded myself with a few interesting t-shirts — a Georgia Bulldogs here, a Led Zeppelin there — but only a few. The money still was better spent in other ways.

That line of thinking ended when I found myself divorced. Suddenly, I was on my own and answerable to no one but Rocky Smith.

Accordingly, I began collecting t-shirts with gusto. I did it because, by God, I deserved those t-shirts. Not a very mature reaction, but immensely satisfying.

In the years that followed, I started taking regular vacations out west. I came home with t-shirts from Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Moab, Durango.

When I went on whitewater rafting trips in Arizona and West Virginia, I got t-shirts from the outfitters — Class VI, Outdoors Unlimited, AZRA.

Later, when I bought an RV and began taking road trips, I picked up souvenir t-shirts from the Northwest, the Great Lakes, New England, the Gulf coast, and more.

And naturally, in addition to souvenir shirts, I bought others that caught my eye. These two beauties, for example.

T-shirt-1

T-shirt-2

Okay, so what’s the bottom line? How many non-plain t-shirts do I own today? About 40.

The number seems to have reached equilibrium and stabilized there. When a shirt wears out, it gets a second life in the rag box. Meanwhile, I’ve picked up a new shirt to replace it.

I freely admit that my affinity for the t-shirts is excessive. I am overcompensating for a perceived deprivation from long ago that, in fact, I inflicted upon myself.

On the other hand, I truly appreciate and enjoy my shirts. And, as obsessions go, this one is pretty benign.

On wash day, when the t-shirts come out of the dryer, I hang them up instead of folding them. That way, I can peruse them more easily in the closet.

The shirts take up about two feet of closet space. As part of my morning ritual, I go down the line and pick out a t-shirt to wear that day.

Am I in the mood for the Elvis mugshot t-shirt? The SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirt? The Roswell UFO Museum t-shirt?

Perhaps a shirt from Grand Canyon (I have several from which to choose). Or the Allman Brothers Summer Jam 1973. Or the NASA I Need My Space.

Aha! The Beavis and Butthead. Perfect!

Anyway, that’s the story of my t-shirt collection. I should add that it involves one great irony:

I always wear a button-up shirt on top, so nobody ever sees the t-shirt but me.

T-shirt-3

 

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On the website of the magazine Psychology Today, I found a pretty good definition of psychoanalysis. It’s a bit intricate, but you can handle it.

Freud pioneered the idea that unconscious forces influence overt behavior and personality. He believed that childhood events and unconscious conflict, often pertaining to sexual urges and aggression, shape a person’s experience in adulthood.

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis created the framework for psychoanalytic therapy, a deep, individualized form of talk therapy. Psychoanalytic therapy encompasses an open conversation that aims to uncover ideas and memories long buried in the unconscious mind.

Psychoanalysts employ specific techniques, such as spontaneous word association, dream analysis, and transference analysis. Identifying patterns in the client’s speech and reactions can help the individual better understand their thoughts, behaviors, and relationships as a prelude to changing what is dysfunctional.

As the final sentence explains, the goal of psychoanalytic therapy is to help the patient understand the subconscious causes of dysfunctional behaviors in hopes of changing them.

A few decades ago, I spent a year in psychoanalysis. I met regularly with a psychiatrist, and we explored what makes me tick.

It was a unique and, in many ways, strange experience. All that effort and professional firepower focused solely on me, my thoughts, my beliefs. Having my innermost self under a microscope was surreal and a little spooky.

How I ended up seeing a shrink is an interesting story.

Deanna and I got divorced in 1989. I’ve mentioned the split occasionally on this blog, including here and here, but never in much detail.

I don’t intend to elaborate now, except to say that, when she handed me the divorce papers, a part of me was surprised, but another was not. There had been signs.

She and I began to have disagreements, but all along, I thought they were transient and fixable. I never believed they were significant enough to end the marriage.

Deanna saw it otherwise. It’s a fact that the only person you can understand with even remote accuracy is yourself. And even that is an iffy proposition.

Several years before the divorce, she expressed an interest in seeing a therapist. I took it as a positive thing. If issues are bugging you, it’s good to try to understand and deal with them. She ended up going to a psychiatrist affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta.

Immediately, the doctor proposed seeing both of us, in separate sessions, to facilitate Deanna’s analysis. She said sessions with both marital partners is always advisable.

To be clear, I’m a believer. Freud had some nutty ideas, but his central belief that (1) experiences in childhood affect behaviors in adulthood, and (2) it pays to understand them — that makes sense to me. I certainly don’t object to the concept of therapy.

Nevertheless, I was hesitant. I felt no need to undergo analysis. I was confident no sinister, malignant demons lurked inside me. All my demons are minor and benign.

Further, there was the cost. For one patient, $70 or $80 per session was brutal. For two, it would be crippling.

On the other hand, two facts were clear. First, the doctor might be right that understanding me would help her understand Deanna. And second, if I declined, I would be seen as an obstacle and a villain.

I agreed to undergo analysis.

The sessions were casual and calm. No couch was involved. The doctor and I got along well, and, session by session, she went about the task of sizing me up.

At the same time, I got to know the doctor and her methods. Often, I could see where she was taking the conversation.

For example, she showed interest in how my dad was affected by his World War II experiences. (He was a bomber pilot, was shot down, became a POW.)

After the war, Dad suffered significant anxiety and flashback problems. He struggled with PTSD for many years until, late in life, he finally fought it to a truce.

The doctor wanted to understand how Dad’s condition affected the rest of the family, and me in particular, which I freely admit it did. It was the topic we spent the most time talking about.

In those days, Deanna was a stay-at-home mom. My modest salary sustained us. Under those circumstances, the cost of therapy was a significant financial burden.

To her credit, the doctor arranged a generous payment schedule that I could manage.

And ultimately, also to her credit, she announced that she had seen enough. She said continuing my therapy sessions was not worth the time and expense. We were done.

In effect, she concluded I was acceptably normal and stable and did not require her services. It was a veritable thumbs-up for my mental health, a seal of approval from a professional. I was shrink-certified.

I wasn’t surprised. And it was supremely satisfying.

Mic drop

I don’t recall how long Deanna continued therapy. I never learned anything about her sessions, whether they were fruitful, or how they ended. I never asked.

But I well remember sending checks to the doctor every month, slowly paying down the tab.

Then one day, long after Deanna’s therapy ended, a letter arrived from the doctor.

She informed me that a fire had swept through her office building, and many financial records had been destroyed, mine among them.

She and her accountant decided to declare my debt absolved. Roughly $1,000 was being forgiven and, I assume, written off on her taxes.

I mean no disrespect to Freud or his disciples, but that gesture did more for my mental health than all of the therapy sessions combined.

Lucy

Freud-S

 

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In my last post, I wrote about my visits to Chattooga River country starting in the early 1990s and my special fondness for the territory along Section IV of the river.

I wrote about a regular destination, a sandy beach near the river’s confluence with Camp Creek, and my frustration over the lack of trails along the river — as if the Forest Service owes me a trail for every whim.

My specific gripe: just downstream from the beach are the crown jewels of the Chattooga, the famous Five Falls — five major rapids in less than 1/4 mile of river.

This graphic shows the five rapids: Entrance, Corkscrew, Crack-in-the-Rock, Jawbone, and Sock ’em Dog. All are rated Class IV or Class IV+.

Five Falls 2-1

Here they are in person.

Five Falls 2-2

The flat water below Sock ’em Dog goes by the ominous name of Deadman’s Pool. The unmarked trail I learned about in Clayton ends there.

Once you know the trail exists, it’s obvious and easy to follow. My dog Kelly and I reached Deadman’s Pool in about 30 minutes and emerged onto these rocks:

Five Falls 2-3

We were alone, but within a few minutes, kayakers appeared in the distance, working their way through the rapids.

I took this photo as one of them ran Sock ’em Dog.

Five Falls 2-4

Kelly and I spent the next hour exploring the river bank, pausing to watch when boaters came along. Our vantage point on the rocks gave us a good view of Jawbone and Sock ’em Dog.

Kelly was off-leash that day. I always carried a leash in case it was needed, but, especially in such a remote location, she was unrestrained. That was routine on our hikes. When we encountered people on the trail, I would call her back to get hooked up. Kelly was a well-mannered and cooperative lady.

It was a fine, warm day. We had lunch, explored, and exchanged pleasantries with the rafters and kayakers who paused at the pool after running the rapids.

All was peachy — until Kelly ventured onto wet rock, slipped, and tumbled into the river.

She fell about six feet and — kerplunk — went under and out of sight. By the time the situation registered in my brain, she bobbed to the surface, wild-eyed, dog-paddling furiously.

The river current was negligible, so she was in no real danger of being swept away. But she was panicked and disoriented, going in circles. I kept calling to her, trying unsuccessfully to get her attention.

But luck was with us. Three kayakers had just exited Sock ’em Dog and entered Deadman’s Pool. They paddled to her, and one grabbed her collar. Instantly, she relaxed and regained her focus.

While the kayaker held Kelly by the collar, his friends pushed him toward the shore. I hoisted her to safety, babbling my gratitude.

After all that excitement, remaining at the pool any longer seemed anti-climactic. The three kayakers continued downstream. Kelly and I hiked back to the beach and up the trail to the car.

Over the next few years, I went back to Deadman’s Pool with Kelly twice, with my two sons once, and a fourth time with Paco. Nobody else ended up in the river involuntarily.

I probably owe Jake a trip sometime soon.

Five Falls 2-5

My best girl Kelly in the early 1990s. She was a fine lady.

 

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In 2009, I posted a story about being confronted by two armed local dudes while hiking to the Chattooga River in Northeast Georgia. It happened in 2002. The memory still gives me the willies.

That post focused on the incident itself, not the river or the experience of being there. That, I see in retrospect, was a serious omission.

I hope to fix that with the following story.

———

The Chattooga River, the inspiration for the novel and film Deliverance, begins in North Carolina and flows south as the state line between Georgia and South Carolina. It passes through terrain that is mountainous, dense, fertile, and humid. The region gets the most rainfall in Georgia.

The Chattooga is designated a National Wild and Scenic River and thus is under federal protection. No development is allowed within 1/4 mile of either bank. The river corridor is pristine and spectacular — clean, green, peaceful, natural, invigorating. A balm for the spirit.

Chattooga country is a premier destination for whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and camping. For boaters, the upper sections of the river* are relatively tame and forgiving, with exceptions here and there. But Sections III and IV at the lower end feature multiple rapids that will test your skills.

Section III consists mostly of Class II and Class III rapids, ending with Bull Sluice, a Class IV+. Section IV takes it up a notch with 10 rapids rated Class IV or higher.

The Chattooga abruptly fizzles out at Lake Tugaloo, the first of a series of reservoirs inflicted upon the Savannah River, which the Chattooga becomes downstream, as it flows to the Atlantic.

For me, kayaking Sections III and IV is out of the question, but I’ve rafted both several times commercially. Raft trips with the local outfitters are reasonably priced, reasonably safe, and great fun.

Over the years, however, most of my visits to the Chattooga have been to go hiking, and occasionally camping, in the magnificent mountain setting. My dog Kelly, and later her successor Paco, helped me explore numerous trails that lead down to and along the river.

Five Falls 1-1

Kelly in 2000, ready for the day’s adventures.

From the headwaters down through Section III, Chattooga country has numerous dirt roads and trails, and you have good access to the river and the surrounding forest.

For example, the Chattooga River Trail follows the river corridor for 19 miles from GA 28 in the north (where Section II begins) to US 76 in the south (where Section IV begins).

But along Section IV, only a few roads access the river. And the handful of trails at river level are short and primitive.

For me, this always presented a problem. The upper Chattooga is terrific, and I’ve been there often. But it’s more crowded than Section IV. And the rapids aren’t as imposing as those on Section IV. And the terrain isn’t as steep and scenic as on Section IV.

I’m simply a bigger fan of Section IV.

On the map below, Section IV begins at point #1 and ends at the takeout on Lake Tugaloo, point #25. Note that only a few roads access the river in this 8-mile stretch.

Five Falls 1-2

Sometime in the late 1990s, by asking around and exploring the roads myself, I learned that the easiest route to the river on the Georgia side is via Camp Creek Road and Water Gauge Road, ending at Point #19 on the map.

(Point #22 at the end of Camp Creek Road is where I was confronted by the previously-mentioned armed local dudes. I decided not to go there again.)

At the end of Water Gauge Road, an abandoned dirt road serves as a trail down to the river, arriving at a spot just north of the confluence with Camp Creek. The river there is straight and calm and features a rare sandy beach.

I took the photos below in 2004 when I took Paco there to introduce him to the river.

Five Falls 1-3

Five Falls 1-4

Paco liked it fine, as long as his feet could touch bottom.

A few years earlier, Kelly and I had visited that spot several times to go swimming. But each time we went, I had the same nagging complaint: just downstream, literally around the next bend, are the biggest and best-known rapids on the Chattooga: the Five Falls.

And there is no trail along the river to get you there.

Five Falls 1-5

Five Falls — just around that bend to the left.

True, you are free to bushwhack downstream, climbing over rocks and wading where necessary. But trails were invented as a sensible alternative to that.

Then I got lucky. Someone at the visitor center in Clayton told me about a primitive trail that begins near the beach, climbs away from the river, crosses the adjoining hill, and drops back down to the river just below Five Falls.

The next weekend, Kelly and I went back, found the trail, and had an eventful day at Five Falls.

Details in my next post.

* From north to south, the Chattooga consists of six sections: 00, 0, I, II, III, and IV.

 

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The expression “May you live in interesting times” supposedly is an old Chinese curse. It’s considered a polite way of wishing someone ill, owing to the fact that interesting times usually involve strife and unpleasantness.

For America, “interesting times” accurately describes the entire decade of the 1960s. And in my case, it started with a bang.

In January 1961, when I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, a major brouhaha erupted in Athens when UGA was ordered by a federal judge to enroll its first black students. I wrote about that in some detail here.

A lesser brouhaha, one that barely made the national news, occurred in Athens not long after that. I’m referring to a series of protest marches to desegregate a popular local restaurant.

The restaurant was the Varsity, a beloved fast-food joint that had been an Athens institution since 1932. Owing to the time and place, it was open to whites only. A bit of background to set the stage.

In 1928, businessman Frank Gordy opened the original Varsity drive-in near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. The business was an immediate success. The day he opened, Gordy had 300 customers. By the end of the 1930s — a Depression economy, mind you — Gordy was a millionaire.

It’s the burgers, the chili dogs, and the fries, people. Varsity food is fast food, not health food by any stretch, but it tastes great. And, incredibly, it tastes exactly the same today as it did when I had my first meal there in 1960.

Varsity-1

In 1932, Gordy opened a Varsity in Athens. It was located downtown, across the street from the UGA campus.

Varsity-2

Varsity-3

It remained there until 1962, when a larger building with loads of parking was built on Atlanta Highway. That location is still in operation today.

Varsity-4

The closing of the beloved downtown Varsity was traumatic, and it took a while for Athenians to warm to the new location. But they did, and the Varsity has remained popular with students and townies through the years.

The desegregation of the University in 1961 prompted the black community to address the irksome fact that the Varsity did not allow black customers in the restaurant. Ironically, most of the employees were black.

In my student days, it never registered with me that the Varsity was white only. Yes, the place was a sea of white faces, but Athens was a college town in the 1960s, perpetually awash in white faces.

I was a liberal Democrat then as now, and I agreed that admitting black students to the University was the right thing to do. But in other ways, I was just an oblivious white kid.

Not until years later did I learn that the downtown Varsity only served African-Americans through a walk-up window on the sidewalk.

The new Varsity on Atlanta Highway didn’t even have a walk-up window.

In 1963, taking a cue from the successful lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina, Athens civil rights activists began marching on the Varsity in protest. Sometimes the marches were peaceful, sometimes they weren’t.

Protesters regularly were arrested and hauled away, but the city usually released them immediately. Prisoners in jail have to be fed, clothed, and looked after. That costs money.

Reportedly, the largest and most contentious march happened in the spring of 1964. And, yes, I was there to see the fireworks.

At the time, I was a senior, set to graduate in June. Everyone knew about the protest marches, and we had heard talk that the Varsity management was weakening, fearing that the negative publicity would affect business. That would never do.

That spring evening, a friend said he heard that the KKK had arrived at the Varsity to protest the protesters. Immediately, we went to see for ourselves.

We arrived just after dark. The black marchers had gathered under the trees on the south side of the building. Between the protesters and the south entrance stood 15 or 20 Klansmen in white robes and pointy hats. Only a few wore hoods that covered their faces.

Earlier, heated words were exchanged and a few bricks were thrown, but the police had made no arrests. Everyone — protesters, Klansmen, cops, and onlookers — stood around more or less quietly, waiting for what came next. The mood was calm, but tense.

I guess it was tense enough to make me thirsty, because I excused my way through the line of Klansmen and went inside to get a drink from the water fountain. No problem, I’m white.

As I passed them, one Klansman pulled back his robe to reveal a holstered pistol on his hip, as if to say: look here, boy, I got me a gun.

I was genuinely embarrassed for the guy. Personally, I think being a Klansman identifies you as a mental midget and a detriment to society. Being a Klansman who flaunts a weapon to a passing teenager further identifies you as an obnoxious jerk.

Somehow, the situation that night remained calm. The protesters occasionally chanted, and the KKK guys watched in silence. Then the protesters walked in single file back to a nearby church, where the march began. Then the Klansmen left, then the police, then the onlookers. The Varsity was back to normal.

A month or so later, I graduated from UGA and left Athens to begin a new adventure in the Air Force in exotic New Mexico. The Athens Varsity was rarely in my thoughts.

But, indeed, not long after I departed, the restaurant saw the error of its ways and opened its doors to all paying customers, regardless of skin tone.

Nowadays, when I stop there for a chili dog fix, I observe that most of the employees are either black or Hispanic, and of the customers, a few black faces might be peppered among the white.

But in truth, the Varsity never became a big thing for black people in Athens. Maybe they don’t like the food.

No matter. What counts is they have the choice.

Varsity-5

Varsity-6

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Friends, I am truly jaded when it comes to fads.

To be clear, I’m referring to fads, not trends. Beanie Babies and pet rocks were fads; electric cars and ebooks are trends.

These days, when I learn of a new craze or obsession — the latest sensation in attire, style, or whatever — my reaction is either a chuckle, a sigh, or an eye roll.

The only reason something clicks and is deemed cool and exciting is that, for a brief time, people have a chance to feel cool and enjoy the excitement, right? We all know the novelty will wear off and the mania will fizzle.

Consider the many fads that came and went in recent times. Bellbottoms, drive-in theaters, fallout shelters, ant farms, tie-dyed clothing.

Zoot suits, leg warmers, eight-track tapes, Rubik’s cubes. Members Only jackets. Break dancing, yo-yos, hula hoops.

The Twist. The Macarena. Bermuda shorts. Mom jeans. Overalls with one strap dangling.

Nothing wrong with a shared enthusiasm, mind you. But, wow, fads sure do lean toward the dopey and pointless.

What, you ask, brings me to opine that embracing the next new thing is dopey and pointless? Simple. I was thinking about myself back in the day, when I was young and foolish, too.

Back in high school, I was — you can trust me on this — a hip and savvy dude. I knew what was happenin’, and I put much energy into following the fads du jour.

Note, for example, how I rocked the epitome of cool in those days, a flattop haircut. Not to mention this stylish tweed blazer.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), about 1959.

Before long, I advanced to a glorified flattop — AKA a Detroit, AKA a “flattop with fenders.” That baby was flat on top and long on the sides, tapering to a handsome ducktail in the back.

Fad-2

When I went away to college in the early 1960s, the times were a’changin’. Flattops were becoming passé on campus, so I heeded the call to go preppy. It was sort of the astronaut or folk singer look.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), freshman year in college, 1960-61.

By the time I graduated from college, the hippies were in ascendance. Long hair was the new thing for men.

But not for me. Alas, I went immediately from college into the Air Force, which tolerated no longhairs. I was obliged to keep the preppy look.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), Cannon AFB, NM.

By the time I was a civilian again, I was married with kids and working 9 to 5 in an office. Becoming a longhair would have been ill-advised as a career strategy. Thus, for a goodly time, the only variation in my hair style was the length of my sideburns.

Eventually, I got tired of worrying about whether my sideburns were the fashionable length of the moment, so I grew a beard.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), 12/25/1984.

That was in the mid-1980s. I haven’t shaved since.

Also, to be honest, a sobering personal reality was becoming obvious in those days: the signs were undeniable that male pattern baldness was in my future. Being a longhair probably wouldn’t be in the cards anyway. Nature can be cruel and without pity.

So can some people. My dad, who kept a full head of hair to the end, found this turn of events greatly amusing.

Anyway, as a result of how the hair thing worked out for me, I bypassed half a lifetime of men’s coiffure fads.

I say that with no regret whatsoever.

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And, hey — don’t get me started on skinny jeans.

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