Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Recollections Personal’ Category

(My report on The Village Idiot, a short-lived humor magazine at the University of Georgia in 1964, continues herewith.)

In 1956, Patti Carruthers graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Education. (I looked it up on the Google.) After teaching for a time in Missouri, she moved to Hollywood, where she worked as a substitute at a junior high school. Her salary was $550 per month.

In 1959, at age 24, Patti Carruthers accepted an offer of $1,000 a week to become a stripper at Hollywood’s Moulin Rouge. She took the stage name Patti White.

“I miss teaching because I love boys and girls,” she said in an interview at the time. “But this is a great switch, getting up late and sleeping late.”

Miss White, who measured 37-22-36, said she was glad she made the career change because “the traveling involved is so educational.” But, she added, stripping was just a stepping stone. She aspired to be an actress.

“Now I can afford acting lessons, singing lessons, and dancing lessons,” she said.

By 1961, due to circumstances I was unable to ascertain, Patti White was working as a stripper at the Domino Lounge in Atlanta.

VI-6

Promo flyer from the Domino Lounge, 1961.

And it was there that the editorial staff of the Athens magazine The Village Idiot (see my previous post) interviewed her…

———

Q & A

An Interview With Miss Patti White in Which She Exposes All

NOTE: This story was so important to our first issue that we decided not to entrust it to one reporter. Miss White’s tale, we reasoned, required the attention of our whole staff. So off we went to Atlanta and THE DOMINO, where the following conversation occurred.

Q. (By the staff) May we buy you a drink, Miss White?

A. No, thanks, boys. I don’t drink. Well, maybe just… you know. But, please be my guests. I feel I owe you a great deal, you know.

Q. Aw, you don’t owe us nothing, Patti. (Double scotch, waitress.) (A double CC, ginger chaser, doll.) (I’d just like a whiskey sour, please.)

A. But I do owe you something. Anything I can do, please ask.

Q. Well, now… (Shut up!)

A. I mean, really. After all, it’s not every day a girl gets to be the Village Idiot. I mean, I’ve just never been an idiot before, you know?

Q. Great sense of humor there, Patti. Great, just great. (Another Scotch, please.)

A. Now, boys, tell me about your publication. I’ve always been interested in books and things like that. You know, I’ve been thinking that someday I might go back to teaching again. Or maybe I’ll open a string of Patti White clubs. I mean, after all, why not? Playboy has its rabbits springing up everywhere, so why not me?

Q. Do you mean you’ll have white rabbits? Ha-ha. (Write that down.) (Yeah, we may have to use it.) All right to order another round, Patti?

A. Sure, boys. I get a discount. But let me tell you my idea. See, the Patti White clubs would have all these darling little waitresses — all young and beautiful and eager to serve, and guess what they’d be wearing!

Q. A happy face? (Scotch on the rocks.)

A. No, silly. You’re pulling my leg.

Q. (Pregnant pause while the Idiot staff grins.)

A. Now, in my club, the girls would be first class. They’d wear mortar boards and cute little shorty gowns. Wouldn’t that be clever?

Q. Sure it would. (Yeah, they could take orders on cute little blackboards.) (In chalk.)

A. Oh, that’s a wonderful idea. I ought to have you boys help me, you’re so clever.

Q. That calls for a drink, right Patti?

A. Right! And I’m buying. After all, a person in my position shouldn’t risk getting on the wrong side of the press.

Q. Speaking of blackboards and chalk, Patti, how did you happen to quit teaching and become a stripper?

A. Oh, I’m not really a stripper. I mean, well, I take off my clothes and all, but when I’m up there, I still feel like a teacher, you know?

Q. We’ll have to admit, it’s a revelation.

A. You see, I was really a dedicated teacher. I tried everything I knew to get across to my students, and I think, I mean I really do, that I must have been pretty popular with the boys at Sun Valley School. I mean, I could tell. hey would watch me very carefully, no matter what I was doing. But then, the administration began to watch, too.

Q. And what did they think?

A. Well, I think they looked pretty hard at me, too. But it wasn’t my fault I was a healthy girl. Why, ever since I was 14, I could pass for a… well, you know what I mean.

Q. Yes, ma’am, we know. (I can understand how you’d have trouble with the administration.) (Another Scotch, please.)

A. Well, the whole trouble was in the way I dressed. Do you see anything wrong with the way I’m dressed?

Q. No, ma’am.

A. So, either my clothes had to go, or I had to go.

Q. So, both of you went, huh? (Tragic loss to Sun Valley.) (Another example of inept administration.)

A. I keep hoping that someday, I’ll find a principal who’d like to have me.

Q. Well, now, I’m sure there must be many. (That brings up the big question, Patti.) (Anybody want another drink?)

A. Order up, boys. I have to perform in a minute. Say, you boys are pretty clever. I wish you’d tell me what you think of the act.

Q. I’d be glad to tell you. (Uh, the big question, remember?) Oh, yes. Patti, do you think a college degree is a liability or an asset?

A. Well, in my case…

Q. Thank you, Miss White.

A. I didn’t finish. You see, after college, I went into teaching. Now, the California system doesn’t pay too badly, but teaching doesn’t pay enough for what the administration wants you to do. Sometimes, I could hardly make out. But what was a liability in teaching turned out to be an asset in show business, and now I make up to a thousand a week.

Q. A thousand a week?

A. Oh, yes. I mean, well, I work very hard. Twice a night, six times a week.

Q. Wow! Miss White, we of the staff salute you. Now, gentlemen, let us quaff a final toast — one more, Patti? — to Patti White, the Idiot’s Delight.

VI-7

VI-8

———

The Patti White interview no doubt was the pride of The Village Idiot staff. They probably thought the story would make The VI an overnight sensation.

For all I know, it did. I didn’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of Athens in those days.

In truth, I was just an anonymous 20-year-old, no car, chronically broke, a guy with Buddy Holly glasses and a flat-top haircut. My chief interests, beyond keeping my grades respectable, were observing females and conspiring to get alcohol.

In other words, The Village Idiot easily could have been the toast of Athens that year without my knowledge.

Anyway, that’s the story of The Village Idiot. If you know what became of the magazine, the people who created it, or, for that matter, the lovely Patti White, fill me in.

 

Read Full Post »

In January 1964, during my senior year at the University of Georgia, a “provocative variety magazine for University students” made its debut in Athens. It was The Village Idiot.

VI-1

An editorial said it would be a monthly publication similar in concept to such college humor magazines as The Harvard Lampoon and The Florida Orange Peel. To set the tone, the VI featured this depiction of the Idiot himself.

VI-2

Note his lapel button, which is a slap at The Red & Black, the longtime University-approved student newspaper.

Volume One, Number One of the VI consisted of 32 mostly black-and-white pages plus a two-color cover. Inside was a mixture of articles, cartoons, and short fiction. Much of the content, if you’ll permit me to be frank, was forgettable. Still, several things stood out.

First, no Volume One, Number Two ever materialized, to my knowledge. And I don’t think I simply missed it. More likely, the people who conceived The VI (students, I assume) simply walked away. The Dublin musicians in the movie The Commitments come to mind.

Second, for a modest startup, the staff did a good job of selling ads. Scattered through the publication are two dozen display ads by respectable Athens businesses of the day — restaurants, clothing stores, drug stores, news stands. Making those sales took some skills.

VI-3

Third, even though the writing isn’t as funny/thoughtful/compelling as the staff probably thought it was, some of the stories have their moments.

There is, for example, “Requiem,” a nice remembrance of the Old South Tavern, a beloved Athens beer joint. The Old South was a local institution for two decades until, over the 1963 Christmas holidays, it abruptly closed, causing widespread anguish.

I was among the anguishees. I wrote about the Old South, its mystique, and what it meant to the students of UGA in this post in 2016.

Here is the story from The VI.

———

Requiem

By William Straightarrow

VI-4

There was no epitaph, no word of explanation: there was only a crude sign, “CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS.” I sat on the curb outside and watched the line of students step up to the door. A rattle of the glass and a long perplexed stare at the marker provided the prelude for a chain of oaths.

The Old South was dead. Athens’ most famous beer hall has passed into history without even the fading scent of magnolias. There were no street demonstrations by the D.A.R. The Athens Historical Society had not even proposed a marker. The local temperance league commemorated the event with a wild party that ended with everyone getting stoned on the communion wine.

But the Old South Tavern was just as much one of Athens’ institutions as Henry Grady’s home, the first garden club, Crawford Long’s ether-filled handkerchief, and Effie’s.

(Ed. note: Effie’s was an Athens brothel that operated for nearly 50 years before the law finally shut it down in 1974.)

“Closed for Christmas,” locked tighter than the lace on a preacher’s daughter.

Why so much concern for a beer joint? The question is unanswerable. It’s like standing on the corner and gazing at girls, or shooting pool for a round of beer, water-battling on a warm spring afternoon, listening to a forgotten tune on a raspy radio late at night. Nostalgia is a cheap and childish emotion, but we are all guilty.

The history of the Old South is linked directly to Athens and the University. Stories of its past reek with the distinct, often offensive odor of the brew it dispensed. At the same time, the Old South was not offensive.

“They were perfect gentlemen… drunk or sober,” recalls Miss Lula Blakey, who worked in the Old South from its beginning in 1946. She had been everything to the establishment: busboy, barmaid, waitress, cashier and occasionally ex-officio manager.

“I just can’t sleep since they closed this place,” she says when recalling the happy hours she spent in the tavern. Reaching back into the foamy past, she recalls the many Homecoming Weekends which always meant “elbow room only at the horseshoe bar and rickety booths. The boys brought in such pretty girls with such pretty flowers… and they’d just be so drunk.”

Miss Lula had an added role at the Old South — confessor for the myriad characters who needed someone to listen to their woes. She’s probably patched up more engagements than anyone around.

Few people in school now can remember when the tavern gained a wide reputation as some sort of fairyland without frills. A few fraternity men would still come in for a quick beer and a hamburger, but public opinion had indicted the clientele, thus the reputation of the Old South.

The well-known haven of hops was dominated in those days by limp-wristed leftovers from Greenwich Village. Such sensual sipping and intellectual intercourse had long since found another haven before we first learned to chug-a-lug and eat hard-boiled eggs.

University alumni always used to come back to the old malt emporium as if it were some fraternity lodge. Miss Lula seldom forgot a name of a former regular customer. She could spot them in spite of physical changes. Some were broader; some lacked hair; all were older.

“Everyone would come back on football weekends — already drunk — and stay up all night raising all kinds of hell.”

“The brotherhood” had its peculiar “grip” — a hand extended to receive a frosty mug or some luscious little lass.

“Nobody ever drank us dry,” said Mangleburg, the Old South’s third owner since it opened. Customers would drain about 10 kegs of beer a week, but the draught just never really caught on. “We sold about 3,000 mugs a week, but four times as many cans.”

A good weekend would put $800 or $900 into the till. The personality of the dim hall kept the taps flowing. Nowhere in Athens could you find the same kind of atmosphere that hovered in the Old South.

Stories about the Old South are as numerous as the names carved in the booths. Most of the tales are attributed to Miss Lula and Chuck Cain, who managed the tavern for several years.

One afternoon, a strapling jock-type lumbered into the door carrying an overloaded armful of mugs. “I’m graduating next week, and I thought maybe you might like your glasses back,” he explained.

Chuck’s face was stern as he raised hell with the boy for stealing the mugs. “Well, if you’re gonna be so damn mean, I ain’t gonna bring the rest of ’em back,” was the embarrassing reply.

An unusually busy evening resulted in a shortage of mugs and soon a complete lack of them. Chuck bristled his feathers and steamed. He watched several fellows return from the head without their mugs. He found his entire stock of mugs stacked neatly in a closet which stored other items more directly associated with rest rooms.

Chuck fathered the Old South inspiration and furthered its relations with the students. Just as Miss Lula played housemother, Chuck was a natural big-brother type. He had a glibness about him which was excelled only by his knack of knowing when to use it. After closing, Chuck often bought a case of beer and went out “drinking with the boys.”

Chuck made the Old South hamburgers famous, preparing them with an undisclosed technique of his own. Miss Lula says the hot dogs have kept many boys in school. A few of the regulars used to be able to get credit on food bills.

One of the most famous (and popular) features of the Old South was its bathroom. Its decor was early American outhouse, but necessity overlooks much. Drunks found pleasure in knocking holes in the wall, ripping off plaster, and generally contributing to its character. The commode was busted, and the floor received its share of punishment… not always with city water.

Ah, but the art work. Sheer genius. Not including a local female directory, there are the complete works of Kilroy, Zorro, Melvin Ford, Anonymous. The proper poems for an occasion, the profound thoughts of deep meditation were constantly being replenished. Outstanding revelations of our time startled the wandering eye. Best known is the inscription, “God picks his nose.”

So another tradition falls without a protest. No mention of the death in the newspapers, no Society for the Restoration and Preservation of the Old South, no SOS movement. No one seems to want to save the Old South.

Mangleburg says he is trying to find someone to operate the place. Rent is very high for the location, high overhead, various notes on equipment are discouraging for operators. Perhaps our favorite oracle is doomed. We can only hope that the South will Rise Again!

———

“Requiem” celebrated a colorful local joint that was remembered fondly by multitudes of UGA students. Considering the abrupt closing of the Old South, the story probably was a last-minute addition to the magazine. The article is a bit rough, a bit lacking in places, but still a solid effort.

In my next post, another noteworthy article from the first and perhaps only edition of The Village Idiot: an interview with Miss Patti White, an exotic dancer at the Domino Lounge in Atlanta.

VI-5

 

 

Read Full Post »

The following recollection isn’t a parable, because parables involve human characters. I looked it up. Nor is it quite a metaphor. Metaphors are about symbolism, not literal truth.

Allegory? Analogy? A label eludes me. You decide.

———

In 1979, having lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of a decade, my family and I moved back to Metro Atlanta.

We settled in Lawrenceville, a bedroom community in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, near my parents and siblings. My job was in the eastern suburb of Conyers, and I began the routine of weekday commutes cross-country from suburb to suburb.

Back then, Lawrenceville and Gwinnett were growing uncomfortably fast. The county government had been taken over by developers, literally, and one of Gwinnett’s major assets, the beautiful greenery, was disappearing lickety-split.

Subdivisions and strip malls sprouted everywhere. The communities and neighborhoods became badly overcrowded. Government resources were strained. The traffic was terrible. Nobody liked it except the landowners, developers, builders, and tradesmen who were cheerfully cashing in. Because America.

My commute from Lawrenceville to Conyers was a drive of about 25 miles and 40 minutes. Usually, traffic at the Lawrenceville end was busy and unpleasant, but the rest of the drive was easy and peaceful along rural roads.

I thought of those commutes as my personal time to relax and reflect. I became an attentive observer of life along the route of the commute, about which I elaborated in this post in 2009 and this one in 2015.

I mention this because of something else that held my attention during those years: a handsome forest of hardwoods along Georgia Highway 20, the main route between home and Lawrenceville. Over time, as the human presence expanded, I watched the forest change.

The hardwoods were at their most picturesque near the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive. Swanson Drive led east to the county jail, the animal shelter, and an elementary school. There, of course, the trees long since had been razed.

But at the aforementioned intersection, the trees were striking — a mature stand in its prime, dominated by beautiful White Oaks with broad, dense crowns.

At the southeast corner of the intersection, under the oaks, was a small building, originally a residence, now a business.

The sign in front read

WHITE OAKS DAY CARE CENTER

For several years, I passed the place twice a day on my commute, and it was one of the highlights of the drive. The setting was attractive and restful. The little building under the trees was a pleasant, welcome sight.

Apparently, the day care center was doing well, and the time came to expand. The house was demolished, and most of the surrounding oaks were cut down. Only half a dozen remained.

A new building was constructed on the property, suitably larger and more elaborate.

The new sign in front read

OAK GROVE DAY CARE CENTER

In 1996, I moved to Walton County, and my days of commuting across Gwinnett County ended. After that, I passed the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive only on weekends, on my way to see my parents in the old neighborhood.

Time passed. Outwardly, little changed at the intersection. Then, in 2001 or 2002, the parking lot was repaved and expanded. Of the remaining oaks, all were cut down except two, one on each side of the building.

I wondered if the business would rename itself TWIN OAKS DAY CARE CENTER, but I was disappointed.

During the next several years, my life and routine changed significantly. Mom and Dad passed away, and I retired. I moved to Jefferson to be closer to my son Dustin and his family. Trips to Lawrenceville became a rarity. I lost track of the property at the intersection and its two surviving oak trees.

Over the decades from 1979 to the present, GA 20 north of Lawrenceville progressed from two lanes, to three lanes, to four, to six. Swanson Drive was extended west across GA 20, where a massive new industrial park was built. All typical of Gwinnett’s pell-mell growth over the years.

If you sense that I disapprove, you are correct. The county is overcrowded and choked with traffic to an appalling degree. Home prices and taxes are prohibitive. In short, Gwinnett long ago squandered its redeeming qualities. I avoid going there when possible.

In the end, the county’s steady growth and constant road improvements effectively canceled each other out. Morning and evening traffic have attained a state of hopeless, permanent gridlock, probably forever.

But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I passed the aforementioned intersection and was surprised to find that the day care center was gone. That was unexpected, but things change. Maybe the owners had retired or moved away.

Occupying the property instead were three small businesses: a U-Haul dealership, a rental car company, and a used car lot.

Also, I regret to report that only one of the two large White Oaks remained. There it was, the lone survivor of the original stand, providing shade for a row of used cars.

Too bad no one thought of LONE OAK AUTOMOTIVE.

Lone survivor

The intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive in Lawrenceville, showing the surviving White Oak.

The day care center, by the way, did not close. I discovered later that it merely had relocated a few blocks south on GA 20. The sign at the new location reads

OAK GROVE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER

I certainly understand. “Child development” has much more panache than “day care.”

Still, considering the fate of the trees at the old location, the use of “oak grove” is ironic.

That, and the fact that the new location essentially is treeless.

OGCDC

Quercus alba

Quercus alba, the White Oak, native to North America from southern Canada to Florida to eastern Texas. So named because of the color of the finished wood. In favorable conditions, a White Oak can live for 450 years.

 

Read Full Post »

In 1989, I arrived at an unexpected milestone in my life when I was slapped with divorce papers after two decades of marriage.

Slapped is the right description. I had no idea it was coming. I wasn’t guilty of anything, and, I eventually concluded, her reasons for leaving had little to do with me. People change.

But it happened, and it caught me off guard and left me reeling. In time, I coped and adjusted and moved on. I wasn’t the first guy to get dumped.

After several years, I began casually dating again. Some of those relationships lasted a while, some didn’t.

Happily, most of my dating encounters were positive. None became permanent, or even lasted long, but they were pleasant at the time. For the most part, good memories.

But not always. A few times, the women I met had issues — carried baggage in their lives that wasn’t healthy.

One turned out to be clingy and needy to an unsettling degree, as if her self-worth needed proving. The evening was awkward. I felt bad for her.

In cases like that, when the alarm bells went off and I felt uneasy, I distanced myself as soon as I could politely do so.

I suppose that’s how the dating scene goes, especially later in life. By then, everyone has a history. Kids and grandkids often are in the mix. Everyone carries baggage, some benign, some toxic.

I mention this because of an old memory that surfaced recently, a sad memory, about a woman I dated not long before I retired. At the time, I was living in the community of Between, Georgia. I moved there, fittingly, because it was located between work and family.

Her name was Carol. She was 10 years my junior, which was intriguing, and divorced for some time. She was an accountant for a large Metro Atlanta construction company, and she lived in a subdivision about a mile from my place. One of my co-workers knew her and thought we should meet.

So, I called her, and we talked, and we agreed to a Saturday lunch date at Ruby Tuesday.

The anticipation as I walked into the restaurant was intense. Blind dates will concentrate the mind, no matter your age.

I told the hostess I was meeting someone. She gestured toward a nearby booth, and there was Carol, smiling at us.

She was disarmingly attractive. Slender, stylish, coal-black short hair. My immediate prayer: that her personality would be as good as her looks.

And it was. She was charming, intelligent, interesting — superlatives all around. I tried to be my nicest self and not act too giddy, but giddy I was.

The reality, of course, was that we both were trying to make a good impression. This was our first meeting, much too soon to assess or understand someone. You have to be realistic and patient.

And soon, I got my first glimpse of the real Carol.

I had told her that my passions were hiking and kayaking, that I spent most weekends either on a trail somewhere or paddling. She replied that she had been canoeing a few times, but she was unable to walk very far because of an accident.

She explained that, several years earlier, she fell and broke several bones in her right foot. The injury never healed properly. She underwent surgery twice. She remained under treatment and was no longer in pain, but she was left with a slight limp.

She explained all this with great intensity. Her voice had an edge. It was clear that she was fixated on the accident and her situation.

When we finished lunch and were leaving the restaurant, I got to see the condition she described.

To my surprise, the limp was barely perceptible. I didn’t comment, but, to me, this thing she spoke about with such feeling seemed relatively minor.

To Carol, it wasn’t remotely minor. What happened to her was unfair, unacceptable, and anguishing. As we walked to the parking lot, I knew she was both embarrassed by the moment and furious that fate had dealt her these cards.

After that, we went out two more times. It was clear that she was consumed by the matter and the perceived unfairness of it. It dominated her life.

Maybe, in one rosy scenario, I could have helped her get beyond the bitterness and deal with her situation. But I knew almost nothing about her life and background, and I had no real skills to offer. Not without regret, I decided to walk away.

We all handle adversity differently. I’ve known people who faced significant life problems — medical, marital, financial — with grit and grace. They didn’t always prevail, but they handled their issues with dignity, maturity, and class.

I’ve also known people who found themselves in serious situations, but couldn’t cope.

At about the time I met Carol, I got a call from an old college friend who was working as a NASA administrator in Florida. Over the years, we had been in touch periodically.

He said he was the victim of botched renal surgery that left him damaged and in chronic pain. The doctor was incompetent. A lawsuit was in progress. He mitigated the pain with prescription drugs.

For the next couple of years, he called me every few months, stoned and miserable. As he rambled, usually incoherently, I sat quietly at the other end of the line. My role was to listen, not speak.

Apparently, his drug use got out of control. He lost his job. His parents took him in.

I dreaded his calls, but I took them.

Then the calls stopped, for reasons I can only guess. I was relieved and despondent at the same time.

What happened to Carol was less dire, but a tragedy nonetheless. She simply couldn’t find it within herself to cope with a problem that, in truth, amounted to bad luck.

That failure poisoned her as surely as any drug.

Better

 

Read Full Post »

Here, let me give you one of my cards. Now, if you should ever want to reach me, call me at this number. Don’t call me at that one. That’s the old one.”

— James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in the movie “Harvey,” 1950.

———

I cast my first ballot in 1961, the year I turned 18. Technically, my 18-year-old self could vote only in state and local elections; at the time, the minimum federal voting age was 21. As you know from your high school civics, the 26th Amendment, enacted in 1971, lowered the voting age nationwide to 18.

But it’s a fact that from 1961 to the present, I have faithfully cast a ballot whenever the law has allowed me to cast it, without missing a single election, ever. An unbroken string of 50-plus years. I’m right proud of that.

Also notable in this regard is that I have never once — never once — voted for a Republican.

Just to be clear, I’ve voted in a boatload of elections over the years — primaries, runoffs, special elections, general elections, local, state, national — and I’ve never cast a ballot for anyone running as a Republican.

Judging from the way the GOP continues to spiral downward into lunacy, delusion, and paranoia, I never will. But let’s not talk about the Republicans and their beliefs, which range from the laughable to the selfish to the mean. It befouls my mood.

This record of never having voted for a Republican wasn’t planned. It occurred naturally, owing to the fact that I’ve been a liberal Democrat as long as I can remember. That’s just how I roll. When I realized I had a no-GOP thing going, I found it quite satisfying and resolved to keep the record intact.

A couple of decades ago, the political landscape was different from today. In the old days, the Republican Party was, as always, fixated on greasing the skids for business interests and rich people. It was right-leaning, but far less wild-eyed and extreme than today’s GOP.

Democrats back then were a mix of non-whites, white liberals like me, and, awkwardly, Southern white conservatives. The latter belonged to the Democratic Party by long tradition.

Under those circumstances, I had no trouble choosing candidates. I simply ignored the Republicans, and I ruled out any Democrat who admired George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, or anyone of that ilk. Voting was a piece of cake.

But then, in the late 1960s, the Republican Party enacted its despicable “Southern strategy.” This was when the GOP brazenly tacked to the right in order to curry favor among white Southerners who resented societal changes, such as the civil rights movement, and despised the hippies.

The Southern strategy was cynical and dirty, and it worked brilliantly. The GOP siphoned off virtually every white conservative voter in the South. Within a decade, the Democratic Party was devoid of Southern white conservatives.

By and large, nothing really changed in Southern politics, government, or governance. The same people who ran things as Democrats now ran things as Republicans. Their worldview and behavior changed very little.

And, as far as my voting habits and practices were concerned, none of this mattered much. For a while.

The transition of the South didn’t take long. The GOP steadily took over virtually all local and state politics, like mold on cheese. And once that was done, in order to keep Democrats out and Republicans in, the gerrymandering commenced.

Gerrymandered

Georgia’s gerrymandered congressional districts.

Examples are everywhere, but here are two from my own back yard.

— Atlanta, a stronghold of the Democratic Party, was gerrymandered into four separate congressional districts. Atlanta’s voting strength was diluted, and three of the four districts immediately elected Republican congressmen.

— Athens has been a liberal bastion for years, but gerrymandering split Athens between the 9th and 10th Congressional Districts. Both were large enough to neuter the city’s political influence, and today, those districts, too, are represented by Republicans.

For me, who never misses an election and doesn’t vote for Republicans, this presented a problem: what to do when everyone on the ballot is a Republican?

I don’t remember exactly when I faced this dilemma for the first time. Probably sometime in the 1980s. Probably in a local election in which all the candidates on the ballot were Republicans.

Voting for one of them was unacceptable. So was skipping the election. So was turning in an empty ballot. The obvious recourse: a write-in candidate.

The first few times, making a good-faith effort, I wrote in the names of local people I could imagine doing the job. But, really, what difference did the name make? It was a single write-in vote, destined to mean nothing.

So I came up with a new system. Each time I encountered an all-Republican ballot, I wrote in the name Elwood P. Dowd. Over the years, I’ve voted for Elwood countless times.

Just last week, I early-voted in the Jefferson mayoral election. The race is between the incumbent and a challenger, both cookie-cutter, small-town Georgia Republicans. No Democrat was on the ballot. Therefore, I voted for Elwood P. Dowd.

By so doing, I was able to extend my unbroken voting streak of 50-plus years and also preserve my record of never having voted for a Republican.

That’s assuming Elwood P. Dowd was a Democrat, you understand.

Georgia voter

Dowd

 

 

Read Full Post »

Sometimes, an improbable thing happens, and you are left flabbergasted. Dumbstruck. Such a thing happened to me, very memorably, about 10 years ago.

Back in the 1950s, when my dad was in the Air Force, we lived in Europe for a few years. I attended a high school for U.S. military dependents in Stuttgart, Germany.

Living in a beer-centric country like that, and being a red-blooded teenager, I was an expert on the numerous breweries, biergartens, and gasthauses in the Stuttgart area. I probably knew as much about the local breweries — the products, histories, reputations, and relative merits — as the natives did.

Breweries were, and still are, ubiquitous in Germany. The German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, of which Stuttgart is the capital, is home to some 175 breweries. Stuttgart itself has many dozens, the largest and most popular being the Dinkelacker brand. (In German, the word Dinkelacker means wheatfield.)

The improbable part of the story came about one weekend not long before I retired, as I was browsing through a local antique/junk store. On a dusty lower shelf, I discovered three brand-new, unopened 50-packs of bar coasters that advertise — I kid you not — the Dinkelacker brewery of Stuttgart, Germany.

I stared in disbelief at the logo so familiar in my youth. I was stunned, practically a-swoon. The fact that I, Rocky Smith, would find a huge stash of those particular coasters 50 years later on another continent — well, it was highly improbable.

It was absolutely thrilling, as well, and I gleefully purchased the three 50-packs for the princely sum of one dollar each.

I’ve been using the coasters freely around the house for the last decade. They hold up really well. Clearly, my remaining stash is a lifetime supply, and then some.

Dinkelacker

At some point, my thoughts about this unlikely occurrence turned to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Specifically, I was reminded of the “Infinite Improbability Drive,” which, according to the book, allows a starship to go anywhere in the universe instantly. A very convenient plot device.

Engaging the Infinite Improbability Drive, you see, suspends “normality” and means that, in theory, anything is possible. As explained here, however, there’s a catch:

But I digress. The discovery, by me, of those bar coasters in that junk store is a hugely unlikely thing.

Even random chance seems… highly improbable.

Normality

 

Read Full Post »

ABC Package is a large and well-stocked liquor store in Athens, Georgia. From its convenient location on Atlanta Highway, it has served the alcohol needs of the University of Georgia student body for 25 years.

abc-1

ABC Package opened in the early 1990s, coinciding with the years my sons Britt and Dustin were students at UGA.

Both boys, it turned out, conducted business with surprising regularity at ABC Package. I learned this when I would balance their bank accounts (this being the old days, before debit cards and such, when writing checks was still a thing), and I would see checks payable to ABC Package.

Oddly enough, they both had the same explanation for this — five years apart, mind you — which they expressed to me with sober, stone-faced sincerity.

The conversations went something like this…

————

Rocky: Britt, I balanced your checkbook yesterday and made a deposit. I see you wrote four checks to ABC Package. Seriously?

Britt: Oh, that. Well, the thing is, ABC Package is the only place in Athens that will take a check for cash. I go there to get spending money.

Rocky: You don’t go there for beer or liquor or anything.

Britt: Nope.

Rocky: I see.

————

Rocky: Hey, Dustin, tell me about these checks to ABC Package. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?

Dustin: Dad, it isn’t what you think. ABC Package is the only place in town that will take a check for cash. That’s why I write checks there.

Rocky: So… you write checks to a liquor store, but not for alcohol.

Dustin: Correct.

Rocky: I see.

————

All of which reminds me of the classic question, “You expect me to believe that? What do you take me for?”

The correct response being, “Everything I can get.”

abc-2

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »