Category Archives: Antics

More Search Results that Bring Us Traffic

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I think it’s time to revisit again the search terms that bring people stumbling, bleary-eyed, fevered and shivering, onto this site.

We did this a couple of months ago, and the results said a lot about the Internet. Most of what it said was disturbing.

search terms from past 30 days

The top search terms for our site over the past 30 days.

Again, I don’t know why you’re here, I don’t know what you’re hoping to learn, and I hope you’re not expecting this site to make your life better, richer or more rewarding. I also hope that you won’t attempt the things we’ve discussed on this blog. It’s scary. Don’t do it.

So, without further adieu, we present our top search terms from the past 30 days.

Jekyll Island surges to No. 1 on our list, probably because of this post I wrote memorializing the fantastic Oceanside Inn and Suites which is now well behind schedule in its conversion to a Holiday Inn Resort. People planning their fall escape bumped perennial traffic draw “burt reynolds bear skin rug” from the top. Surprisingly, it looks like a fair number of people are still figuring out how to use the Internet, since they’re actually typing our URL into the Google search term (this tells me that either A) we should focus on deploying an AOL Keyword; or B) people don’t want our site to actually appear in their browser’s search history). I don’t know what the hell ” ‘smoked my pipe’ picnic” means, but the term below that is fascinating. (For the record, we burned down exactly zero houses with bottle rockets in Long Beach, Calif.)

“Guy on bear rug” and “burt reynolds bear rug” round out the bear-loving visitors who found us, while a few are interested in cedar waxwings. Former GDOT commissioner Vance Smith continues to Google himself, and somehow at least one person got here from the World Wide Web while looking for “uncle rick incest.” So, thanks for bumping us up on the government watch lists for that one, whomever you were.

Ah, Internet. You’re a dark and frightening friend.

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Broken, and Broke: My History of Self Abuse (It’s Not What You Think)

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I’m ready to get out of this body.

I can’t claim that my afflictions are any worse than those suffered by others. An accident or other misfortune has not left me wheelchair-bound. I can still bathe and dress myself (though it’d be nice if someone else wanted to bathe me every now and then). My various mental issues are pretty stubbornly controlled with alcohol and silence, at least for now.

But I’m injured, and have been so for some years now. I’m growing tired of the pain, tired of the uncertainty, and tired of carrying the expectation that someday I can make it all better.

In high school, I worked at an Italian restaurant in the downtown area of our bustling little metropolis here on the outskirts of Atlanta. I did a little of everything, but one of the things I enjoyed the most, believe it or not, was washing dishes.

Crazy, right? Well, that’s why I drink.

Anyway, it was mindless. Like Dori in that movies about the fish, the mantra of “just keep washing, just keep washing” was all I needed to get through a night. We would drag those big, gray, ubiquitous trashcans over by the sink, beat the plates against the inside of them to knock off the food, and dunk the dishes into a steaming cocktail of hot water and chemicals – including soap, bleach and something called “Special” that we found jugs of behind the water heater in the back – and if there was still some food on the plate, we took the soaked entrée and raked it off into the trash. By the end of the night, we had a 55-gallon drum of soaked food ready to be hoisted into the dumpster outside.

It was at least a two man job, lifting the trashcan up to the lip of the dumpster and turning it up. But that particular night, I alone was on trash duty. I took the trashcan out, dragging it across the parking lot. I tied off the top of the massive trash bag, studied the odds of dumping it successfully, determined the odds were slim and went ahead and lifted it anyway.

It was sort of a modified jerk-and-clear; I snatched the can up, guided it to the top of the dumpster, and as I turned it up, I heard the pop. My insides immediately glowed with pain. I felt I’d been gutshot. I dropped the can, grabbed my abdomen and laid down on the pavement, curled up in a ball alongside Church Street, waiting for better days.

My employers, ever concerned about the safety and health of those of us in their employment, told me not to go to the emergency room. Rather, I was to go sometime the next day to an urgent care clinic in town. Pay for it myself, and bring them the receipt and they’d pay me back out of the register. Real stand-up folks, right?

I tried not to go at all. I did. I didn’t have the money to pay a doctor’s bill myself. If for some reason they decided not to pay me back – and that was always a possibility – then two weeks’ pay would be gone. But the next day, the pain was so terrible that I could barely stand it. In front of the bathroom mirror with my shirt off, I could see something bulging against my skin, like an alien was about to explode from my gut. I pushed it back in. I lifted my arms. It popped back out. I drove to the doctor.

I’d pulled a hernia, was the diagnosis, which the provider made by sticking a finger through the tear in my muscles and into my gut. You’d probably need surgery, they said. Do you have a surgeon, they asked. I told them I had no surgeon. I also mentioned that I had no money. So they wrote a note telling me to do light duty for two weeks. Back at the restaurant, light duty evidently meant carrying stacks of the heavy clean plates from the dishwasher and putting them away.

I’ve lived with it ever since. Sometimes it’s worse than others. But if I move the wrong way – lean back in my chair at work to stretch, say, or bend down to grab a pot from a kitchen cabinet – the little fucker reminds me that it’s still there.

Then there’s the ankle. Christ, I’ve had a ballad with that thing.

The first time I remember injuring it was playing on a 10-and-under recreational soccer team. A ball shot by me, I stuck out my foot to stop it, the ball glanced off my toe, my foot bent weird, and the coach took me out of the game. (This is the only time I exited a game for injury. I’ve played through concussions and whiplash. I’m not bragging; I’m simply illustrating my history of ignoring the bodily harm I’ve suffered.)

After that, I enjoyed a long history of rolling and twisting and generally learning not to trust the damned thing. Covering a high school football game not long after graduating high school myself, I was rushing down the bleachers of my old high school from the press box to grab a couple of quotes from the coaches after the game. The bleachers, made of concrete, were set on a hillside, and had begun to slide apart in sections. In an area where the stairs had begun to separate, I stepped in a whole. The night turned a beautiful, lingering white as my body twisted in unnatural ways. I whimpered, and fell. My ex-girlfriend watched. She was unconcerned. The ankle was hurt pretty bad. The pride was wounded a bit worse.

The next day, my foot was blue. The whole thing. Then it turned black. I half hoped it’d just fall off; at least then it’d quit hurting. A little more than a week later, it was back to a healthy pink, and I decided to keep on going with life. For now.

Years pass. I’m driving home from work in my Pontiac Bonneville. I’m almost home – within a mile or two of the house, within the range when people say most car accidents happen – and a car accident happened. It wasn’t an accident, of course. They never are. Accidents can’t be helped. This was a case of a kid in his mom’s minivan, driving by himself for the first time, thinking that a green light meant he could take a left turn in front of me, and totalling my Bonneville when I T-boned him. I used to drive a stick, so I’m not one of these who uses one foot for the gas and one for the brake. My left foot – the bad one – is for the clutch. If there’s no clutch, it just sits there and looks pretty. I braced for impact as the kid WAITED UNTIL I GOT THERE TO TURN and shot out in front of me. It wasn’t an accident – if the kid had known what he was doing, this never would’ve happened. Momma should’ve have given the shithead her van.

Anyway, as I braced for impact, I drew my left leg up, away from the floorboard. I was afraid of hurting it. I hit, and it went sideways into the emergency brake pedal. It cracked. The world turned white with pain again. I went to the emergency room, and got an X-ray. They said I’d broken it and put me in an awful, ill-fitting plaster cast. I went to the orthopedic doctor. They put a more comfortable fiberglass cast (I picked a dark blue) and told me that they’d need to go in surgically and take out some bone shards and tighten the ligaments. Then they sent me to physical therapy, which cost $20 a visit, which I had to pay three times a week. I couldn’t afford it, and they wouldn’t let me take therapy if I didn’t pay up front, and the insurance company wouldn’t pay until treatment was complete, and the doctor wouldn’t do anything until I finished physical therapy, and so I quit worrying about it.

Years passed. I turned it and rolled it some more. Then, carrying a box from work one day down the elegantly twisting sidewalk from the office to the parking lot, I stepped on the edge of the pavement – the edge I couldn’t see around the box – and fell down. All I could see was the bright white, visiting me again like an old friend.

I went to the company’s occupational health treatment center. They were very nice. They took X-rays and told me that I had an old break. But it was an old break, and they weren’t going to pay to have it fixed. So they gave me an ankle brace, some crutches and sent me to physical therapy, much of which I missed because of deadlines at the office. They finally said I looked like I was limping along as well as I was before and discharged me from treatment.

A year or two passes. I roll it and turn it a bit more, and it starts happening a bit more frequently. Getting the mail last night at the top of the driveway, I fail to notice a small stone – but a little fleck of gray granite – against the asphalt as I flip through the envelopes and postcards of junk. I step, my ankle rolls. I collapse in a shapeless, angry heap by the road. I cry a little, because tears help wash the white away. And because it hurts. And because I’m so fucking tired of being hurt.

If I had to pick one thing about me to fix, it would unquestionably be my hiatal hernia and acid reflux (the hiatal hernia, which I’ve had since birth, being different than the regular old hernia I pulled lifting a trash can). That, thank God, is managed now with medication. I take it religiously. My Protonix is the prayer I say at bedtime.

But it’s depressing that I can choose just the one thing to fix. I need to get my stomach sewed up, or a bit of mesh stapled in there to help hold my insides in. I need to get the ligaments around my ankle tightened so the joint doesn’t turn as easy, and the bits of bone taken out so they don’t keep jabbing at the soft tissue around them. (The ligaments may actually have to be replaced at this point, based on what I’ve read; the frequency with which the turned ankle keeps happening indicates that the ligaments that are there can’t be salvaged. Replacing them is a much more invasive procedure, with a much longer recovery.)

Though it makes me sound like an angry young man not willing to take responsibility for himself, it’s nonetheless true that the health insurance available to my generation is a joke. After having an MRI done to see what was wrong with my shoulder a couple of years ago, I couldn’t afford treatment. Hell, it still hurts. The thought of the bills coming in from the X-rays and MRIs and doctor visits I’d need, not to mention the cost of surgery and rehabilitation after, is more than I can take or afford. It’d bury me. Worse, it’d bury my family. It’d take away money from my little girl, from my wife. I don’t want that. It’s not their fault I’m hurt. I see my wife fret over bills. I know I can’t.

Still, I hurt. I live with hurt, and I don’t want to live with hurt. I don’t want to feel limited. I was given a body that was whole, and through time, neglect and necessity, it’s sustained some damage. I’m a used car with a new Maaco paintjob and bad transmission and head gasket. I’m OK to get to and from work, but you wouldn’t want to try driving me to the beach.

I wish I could step outside myself sometimes. I wish I could leave my shell slumbering and stretch out my soul. It longs for so much more than my banged-up body can give it. I should’ve been more careful through the years. I shouldn’t have assumed I was indestructible just because I was young and strong. I’ve made mistakes. A lot of them.

And I can’t even walk down to the end of the driveway to get the mail without a staggering reminder of the many mistakes I’ve made.

I may be looking at this wrong. Maybe the solution is right in front of my face. Surely there’s a YouTube video showing you how to stitch up a hernia. They show you how to do your own dentistry, don’t they? What’s the worse that could happen?

I don’t hurt anymore?

 

Googlers Gone Wild: Interns (Allegedly) Wreak Havoc at San Jose Apartments

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I really, really wanted to live in a dorm in college.

I relished the chance to get away from “home” – the place where I slept on a 30-year-old couch in a mildewy basement with no air conditioning and, sometimes, no heat – and live out on my own, where I could make friends and immerse myself in my studies. I had picked out a couple of state colleges at the other end of the state, and when I realized that the cost to live on campus was going to be far, far more than I could afford, I resigned myself to staying at home.

Crescent Village

The Crescent Village apartments — oh, the horror!

I had friends who lived in dorms, though. It looked like they were having a more or less good time. Their roommates remain cherished friends to this day – more than I can say for the moldy glass of something terrible that resided in the corner of my basement and had become, by the end, self-aware.

I don’t know what it was, but it was damned good at chess.

I also had friends who lived in “off-campus” housing; that is, apartments that were a stone’s throw from the “campus proper” but were not technically under the college or university’s purview. These residences, where the young dwellers were left entirely to their own devices, were the most fun and most exhausting option. The party atmosphere was utterly unchecked (save for the irregular intervention of municipal authorities), and noisy social gatherings, fights, loud music and the unimaginable were constant.

(My friends still recall the night that I, dressed in a button-up shirt and tie, slacks and an overcoat while smoking a pipe, leapt from atop an abandoned train platform behind one of these off-campus developments that had previously been a textile mill and ran down on foot an SUV full of frat boys who declared from an open window as they drove past, “Sherlock Holmes is a queer!” When I caught up to the SUV and pondered pulling out the driver and letting the rest of the car and its occupants go wherever the wheels took them, the vehicle stopped. No one moved. The passenger finally emerged and apologized to me profusely. Apparently, no one really wants to pick a fight with a large stranger in a trench coat who can run down a fleeing car. So, now you know.)

But, alas, the gathering of large groups of young people rarely leads to anything good. Even if those young people are bright, hard-working, eager and exceptional enough to score an internship at one of the most famous employers in the world: Google.

This year, Google is subsidizing the cost of housing for some of its interns, providing residences at the Silicon Valley apartment development of Crescent Village. Along with a $6,000 a month stipend, free meals, laundry services, gym and fitness classes and a shuttle to and from the apartment complex and Google’s campus, the interns – which may number as many as 400 – also enjoy living it up at Crescent Village, much to the dismay of other non-Googler residents.

Loud parties, late nights and all sorts of unspeakable shenanigans have become a common occurrence at Crescent Village, such that residents have now taken to Yelp to air their grievances.

Security seems incapable of reining in the interns, according to Yelp reviewer and presumed Crescent Village resident Osborne R.: “Unfortunately, i cannot recommend crescent village.currently, the situation is pretty bad.  There are a lot of parties even in the middle of the week and security is unable to do anything.  One of the lease agents told me that they even called the police but they weren’t able to do anything because the residents wouldn’t open the door. The lease agent also told me that the vp of irvine homes  (the owner company) is going to address the problem with google . I would also say this is not a family friendly place because of the loud noises.  Also, my neighbor posted a one star review but it looks like it was removed.  Please do not remove this one. Its the truth.”

Marcel I. adds: “On the flip-side, I’m not sure it was a great decision to bring in the interns in a rush to fill these new apartments. They are loud and have been taking up the pool area including the 15-person limit on the jacuzzi. Very strange move by the Irvine company who generally has a good reputation. I was ok with the 2 months I had to wait to open the pool, but adding this to the mix is very unsettling.”

Man. Bummer.

Seriously, though — are we sure this isn’t just a promo scheme for that awful new Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson movie?

Now, when I did finally move out on my own (at the ripe old age of 23), I moved into a “luxury apartment” with my girlfriend (now wife) that had two bedrooms, one bath, plenty of space and awful neighbors. The guy across the corridor from us had inflatable furniture and a wall that glowed from all the neon beer signs adorning the walls. Evidently, he was an electrician, and used the railing outside our apartment to tie off cable that he would strip with a knife to sell for scrap. He liked loud music and had frequent guests on his patio that made occupying my own an unpleasant affair.

The people in the apartment next to him were even worse. Lots of police activity.

One morning, just a few weeks after buying our first new car, we came out and found it slathered in spaghetti. Why?

At the time, I was trying to be an adult. It was my first time out on my own, I had a woman in my life, and I had to walk a fine line. I didn’t want to blow this.

In retrospect, though, I see that I blew my chance. This apartment complex was everyone else’s dorm. Just because I had a full-time job didn’t mean I couldn’t sit out on the steps most of the night, drinking beer and cracking jokes. I missed out!

So, Googlers of Crescent Village (and I know you’ll see this – you work for Google): live it up! Make the most of this! Hang out, have fun, have high-minded thoughts, highbrow conversation and high antics. Enjoy it!

But, please, don’t be a dick about it like the guy across the hall of me.

What NOT to Say to An L.A. Hooker

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Some years back, several friends and I – all contributors to this blog – took a (slightly infamous) trip across country.

Los Angeles Hookers

Ahh, yeah. L.A. Hookers. Mmm, mmm.

We drove from Atlanta to Long Beach, Calif., with a slight layover in El Paso.

In Los Angeles, and again in Las Vegas, we were stunned by the obvious availability of escorts. They advertised on posters and fliers, and there were people all over the streets shoving handbills featuring half-naked models and phone numbers imploring us to call for some fun.

So, we did.

And, while at last one of our party (not me) did partake in the pleasures of a prostitute – a story that this blog must surely share some day – we found hours of enjoyment in collecting the advertisements and calling the numbers on them. Sure, we endured a few fussing pimps along the way, but they weren’t going to track down our Georgia cell phones and besides, we were having too much fun to let a few angry vice peddlers to stop us.

So, for a chuckle, below is a selection of some of the lines recalled from those late-night calls to the mysterious, lovely ladies of the west – who don’t look anything like the girls on the posters.

  • “How much to just watch my buddy and I?”
  • “Do you serve Compton?”
  • “I’m good lookin’. Can I have a discount for that?”
  • “Since I already have everything anyway, do I really have to wear a condom?”
  • “I have a coupon that I found online.”
  • “I really just want to share a Haagen-Dazs and watch Leno.”
  • “I want to be your last stop for the night. Don’t shower.”
  • “Do you have children? Can you bring them along?”
  • “Oh, it shouldn’t be that much. I’ll be quick.”
  • “Betcha’ never played ‘Strip Axis & Allies’ under a black light before!”
  • “What’s your ‘first-timers’ rate?”
  • “I want you to teach me yoga.”
  • “This is for my grandpa. It’s kind of a ‘last request’ kind of thing. They told us we needed to start getting the family together, so I need you to come, like, now.”
  • “Would you like me to make you a copy of the tape when we’re done?”
  • “Baby, I hope you like Karo.”
  • “Are you good with kids? I’m kinda’ in a pinch here.”
  • “If you think Jackie Gleason’s sexy, you and I are going to get along fine.”
  • “I’m going to need you to be ready to lick stuff.”
  • “Can I call you Jane? And will you be a real bitch to me? Jane’s always such a bitch. God, I hate her.”
  • “I don’t really have an address. My ice cream truck is parked at 6th Street and Pacific Avenue beside the church.”
  • “How do you feel about wearing a squirrel costume?”
  • “You were pretty highly rated on Angie’s List.”
  • “I should warn you: I have a heart thing. So if anything happens, just wash me off, get your things and go.”
  • “I’m a cuddler.”
  • “What I’m really looking for is someone with a third nipple – preferably pierced.”

Did we miss anything?

An Afternoon at Sweetwater Creek

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Old mill

Down at the ol’ New Manchester mill

There are some strange people in the woods.

Sunday, my wife and I took our daughter, age 4 and fast approaching 5, on a little jaunt at Sweetwater Creek State Park. We wanted to see the old mill, and we wanted to get a little exercise.

We came upon all manner of “new” observation points sturdily constructed of treated lumber, and their obvious age and the fact that we couldn’t recall them having been there the last time we walked down to the old mill told us it’d been too long since we went for a walk in the woods.

See, I have terrible luck. I went to get us dinner Saturday night at a drive thru, and the car in front of me placed three separate orders, then amended two of them. Two cars behind them and in front of me pulled around them and left the line. I had to ask the girl at the window if the people in front of me were drunk or just really stupid. “One of each,” she said.

Creek

The “crick.”

And that’s what happens to me when I go out. I run to the grocery store, and a man looking at his phone walks straight into my shopping cart while I’m putting groceries in the back of my van (this also happened Saturday). I am a magnet for the belligerent and socially insane. They’re drawn to me like a suicidal moth to a flame. This phenomena has led to me becoming a bit of a shut-in (not that this doesn’t still bring the crazies to my door).

But my wife and I have started trying to be a bit more active, getting away from the couch and out into the world. This makes me happy. I’ve always envied the “outdoorsy” types who always look like they’re having more fun in this world than the rest of us, with their Jeeps and Subarus and rugged earth-tone pants and wide floppy hats wicking away their sweat. It didn’t seem that hard, what they did. I mean, hell, I already own a tent and a pair of cargo pants, so I’m halfway there based on the look alone.

(Be honest: every time you see someone in a Jeep, you feel like they’re having more fun than you are. You know they’re not; they’re driving slower than they want to, it’s always too hot or too cold, people pitch trash into their vehicle when the top is down and there’s no way to inconspicuously pick your nose in a Jeep because everyone’s staring at you. But they’re staring because you look like you’re having so much damned fun.)

This is where I hope our move will lead us. I’d like to go kayaking. I’d like to go hiking. I’d like to go camping more than once every three years.

I’d like to eat more granola.

But before any of that can happen, I’ve got to learn to cope with the fact that crazy can even find me deep in the woods.

When we arrived to find a place to park, the lot was full, as you’d expect on the first truly pretty weekend of the year. We circled around, and drove past an ambulance parked at the trailhead. The EMTs were in no hurry. There was someone in the back, but they weren’t particularly animated. Two women were hugging and crying outside the ambulance. It didn’t look good.

I circled around again, and lo and behold, a spot began opening up! I stopped and backed up quickly to grab the spot. The woman vacating it took her sweet time. She kept staring at her phone. I made the “hurry the hell up” motion out my window, and she rolled her eyes. Why do I always end up with the assholes?

But then she pulled in behind the ambulance, which had since been closed. The EMTs still didn’t seem to be in any great hurry. Oh, so that’s what she was doing on her phone. Now I see. I felt almost remorseful as I nonetheless occupied her parking spot.

On the trail, we struggled to make the 4-year-old understand why walking in the woods was recreational. There were no swings, so the whole concept eluded her as she inquired, “are you sure this is a park?” We also struggled with trying to walk my dad’s overly friendly Yorkie, who was hell-bent on greeting every living thing on the trail whether they wanted her to or not. (The whole thing really sapped a lot of the pleasure out of the experience.)

At the bottom, near the water, is where the weird ones gathered. My daughter was transfixed by a Wiccan-looking lady in a long Celtic gown with a leather pouch around her neck, walking with two other guys who looked like they’d be much happier at a Nickleback concert.

Old mill

Down at the mill.

Then there was the giant of a man with a stooped posture and dreadlocks of black hair that looked to be colored more with Krylon than Just for Men. He wore a black T-shirt that was really much tighter than it needed to be. He didn’t look like a woodsy sort, but then, he also didn’t look like he’d be the kind with a good looking woman with whom he had evidently procreated twice, but that appeared to be the case judging by the party that was with him.

And there was the pudgy guy overcomplicating for his evident lack of masculinity with two pit bulls on chains leading him along.

(There also was a film crew working just off the trail, but my wife wouldn’t let me stick around long enough to see if they were shooting a porno.)

These weren’t the outdoorsy types I envied. These were the types that make me feel a lot better about being myself. What were they even doing in the woods? Didn’t they have someplace else to be? Why did they have to douche-up my view? Did they realize they were even more out of place than I was? Did they go home and write blogs about how strange I looked, in my green cargo pants, white tennis shoes and pocket T-shirt?

Am I becoming the stuff of legend somewhere else in the digital ether?

But that’s how it goes.

When I’m around, anyway.

Dispatches from the Road: Into the Woods, F’ the Klan

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We went into the woods, with supremacists in pursuit.

We went into the woods, with supremacists in pursuit.

(Editor’s Note: The following contains liberal use of the “F word,” because the parties involved used the “F word” liberally. In the interest of telling the unadulterated truth as best as I remember, and as entertainingly as possible, I’ve left it as is. Salut!)

“Fuck the Klan!”

All eyes turned toward my passing Bonneville from the patrons of the impromptu market set up in front of the Georgia Peach Museum – a place that sold painted, concrete figures of robed men in pointy hats that might adorn one’s porch, as inconspicuous, as Raymond Chandler would say, as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

In the seat next to me, Elliott (a.k.a., “BOB”) was just drawing his head back in through the passenger’s window. He stuck his cigar back in his teeth and grinned at me with a look of self-accomplishment. In my rearview, a pickup truck fishtailed as it shot from the parking lot of the hick flea market.

There are a lot of myths and stories about the Georgia Peach Museum, which stands somewhere in the gray area between western Paulding and eastern Haralson counties. It’s made the news before for its owner’s inclination to slap incendiary messages on the location’s roadside marquee, most recently for this bit of political commentary.

As a reporter in the Douglas/Paulding County area, I’d heard several accounts of the Georgia Peach Museum from staff writers and stringers on slow days around the news desk. The lore was that it had been a topless bar or strip club or some such, and to run the impolite operation out of business, the local municipal authorities had passed an ordinance prohibiting such operations. So, to maintain their business model, the bar began calling itself a museum, claimed the ta-tas were First Amendment-protected art, and went on about their day.

(Of course, if you saw this place, you’d never want to see naked the woman who’d be willing to take her clothes off in there, but that’s beside the point; I begrudge no one for getting their jollies how they will, so long as everyone involved is OK with it.)

Along with inflammatory signage, the bar also has played host to several events that included a cross in conflagration and men who have no hair.

On this particular day – a Saturday – there was a market out front. Merchants were selling large rebel banners, summoning the South to rise again and other such foolishness. I’m sure there were also knives. There are always knives.

We were on our way to our friend Kirk’s campsite out in Haralson County. His grandfather had a pretty considerable tract out there and had built a cabin/shack alongside a river that ran along the property. It was a great place to spend a night or two, out in the woods, raising all kinds of sin. (Usually, of course, we just got drunk and passed out around the fire ring, but whatever.) Kirk was leading the way in his Jeep, the windows and doors off, the wind blowing through the cab almost deafening – yet, still not so loud that he hadn’t heard Elliott bellow at the white supremacists as we passed.

And now, of course, there was this young man who was in open pursuit of us, trucking down the Haralson County blacktop.

We pulled into the dirt drive to the property. Two posts with a length of padlocked logging chain strung between them guarded entry to the long, rough, four-wheel-drive-only one lane path down to the campsite. We would park the Bonneville about halfway down, throw our gear into Kirk’s Wrangler, and ride grasping to the bars of his canoe rack for dear life the rest of the way down.

The truck pulled in behind us.

The driver was alone. Elliott and I – large figures (though I not nearly as large as Elliott’s abnormally tall, hulking mass) in long, crazed-woodman style beards with long knives clipped to our belts, climbed from the Bonneville. Kirk sprung from the Jeep and trotted up behind us.

“Jesus,” he said to Elliott. “Why did you do that, man?”

“Because I fucking hate the Klan,” Elliott growled. Couldn’t argue with that. Especially when Elliott had a knife on his hip and the number of witnesses was sparse.

Outnumbered and out-knifed, the man in the truck tossed the shifter into reverse and shot back into the road and lurched off the way he came. We unlocked the chain, drove through, and locked it back behind us.

Down at the campsite, I propped my ankle up on a stump and lit a pipe. The ankle had been rendered weak and given to twists and sprains from a break incurred in a car wreck some months earlier, and here again it was injured, leaving me invalid. This was going to be an immobile expedition for me; a chance to convalesce in nature and away from my parents’ dank, mildewy, pneumonia-inspiring basement.

Kirk, who worked as a staff photographer with me at the local daily, sorted through his assortment of lenses. Elliott rendered logs into kindling by smashing them against still-standing trees and collecting the splintered pieces that flew off. Seriously.

Then, Kirk said he wanted to take his canoe down the river a little ways and take some pictures of frogs.

“I’ll go take pictures of frogs with you, Kirk,” Elliott volunteered. It was a weird thing for a man his size who had just spent the better part of two hours beating trees into toothpicks to say, granted, but that was how he wanted to spend the close of day, and I wouldn’t begrudge him that.

He and Kirk took a canoe down the river, well out of site and earshot, leaving me at the campsite, alone with my thoughts. And our guns. And the whisky.

And, well, I got bored.

I limped over to my bag, pulled out a large plastic handle of Passport Scotch, and limped back to my chair. I unscrewed the top and took a swig. It tasted like the last time I threw up. There was a reason for that. I took another swig. And I thought about the Ku Klux Klan.

The hours grew long and late. The shadows stretched themselves out. The light began to wane. Off in the distance, I heard two solitary, staccato gunshots. I raised my bottle in their direction.

“Goodbye, Kirk,” I said. “Goodbye, Elliott.”

Fucking Klan.

Well, I thought to myself, the fellow knew there were at least three of us. And there, he’s got two. They’re going to be looking for one more. I stood, and limp/staggered around the site. A rusted metal table stood in the campsite. I sat myself behind this, facing the direction of the gunshots. I carefully loaded each firearm, cocked it, and laid it out on the table in front of me, along with the handle of Passport. I would not go gentle into that good night if that good night would not come gentle onto me.

Twilight came. So far, I’d taken up a rifle several times, endangering nothing more than a few noisy squirrels. Then, I heard footsteps rummaging through the thick leaves on the ground. I picked up a rifle – it was only a .22, but a semi-automatic with a large reservoir of shells, it could lay down a lot of fire, quickly – and I called into the darkness as my grandfather, a military policeman during World War II, had taught me.

“Halt! Who goes there?”

Elliott and I, friends since we played 10-and-under soccer together more than a decade before, knew me very well. He knew the command sounded sharp. He also knew that they had left me alone, in the woods, with nothing but booze and guns. He’d sensed trepidation coming up on the site anyway; that I was demanding that they identify themselves was all the incentive he needed to dive face-down into the leaves.

Kirk hadn’t known me so long. “Hey!” he shouted back, “it’s just us!”

“Kirk! Identify yourself!” Elliott warned.

“Huh? Why?” Kirk asked, still strolling right up to the barrel of my rifle.

“Because he’ll shoot you,” Elliott said.

“What? No.” Kirk said. He paused. He thought quickly. “It’s Kirk and Elliott!” he shouted.

“Elliott?” I called back.

“Bob!” Kirk said, invoking Elliott’s nickname – one that would not appear on the license that some Klansmen might have removed from his corpse. Atta boy, Kirk.

I laid down my gun. “You may pass.”

We never did encounter the Klan that trip. Maybe they thought better of it. Maybe they snuck in during the night and pissed in our Passport Scotch. God knows, we wouldn’t have known any different if they had. But at least it gave us something to do as we sat up most of the night, drinking, guns across our laps, each facing a different direction, waiting for the lynch mob until daybreak.

Ah, camping is so relaxing.

The Birds

Standard

Cameron was having a bad day.

Slumped in a chair in Tony’s basement, he laid it all out: he got fussed out at work, was short of funds, and had just had a terrible fight with his girlfriend. To close his day, he decided to take a drive in his Jeep. Driving his Jeep, he said, made him happy. But then…

“’Bam! Bam, bam, bam!’ They were pelting the front and the side of my Jeep like little Kamikazes,” Cameron said as I entered the basement for a night of story-swapping and trip-planning.

“Cameron, what are you talking about?” I asked with great interest.

“It was terrible, Joey: I was out driving, and I saw this massive flock of birds walking around on the ground in someone’s yard off to the left,” he told me. “I thought, ‘man, that’s a lot of birds,’ and, right then, they all at once just took off like a big gray cloud. I thought they were going to fly away, but they didn’t; the whole flock just flew right out into the road.”

“Well, what’d you do?”  I asked.

“I couldn’t do anything. They were everywhere,” he said. “I just kept cringing and driving until I got through it. And then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw all these birds laying in the road. A lot of them were dead, and some were almost dead and were flopping about like fish out of water.”

Cameron with Jeep

Cameron, with his Jeep, during happier days.

“Oh that’s awful!” I said.

“Yeah, I felt really bad,” he confessed. “I still feel really bad, but there was nothing I could do. It was like they were all on a suicide mission.”

The Jeep itself was a mess of feather and smeared bird… I don’t know, bird something. Cameron described in grim detail how he heard them desperately beating against the plastic windows of the Jeep, how they’d hit with such force that he’d had to stop shortly thereafter to squeegee off his windshield and readjust the side-view mirrors.

We had all seen birds fly into a closed window, or a pet parakeet fly into a mirror because of the reflection, but we’d never heard of anything the likes of what Cameron had experienced. If I didn’t know him better I would have sworn he was making it up. The thing about Cameron, though is that he never had to make this stuff up.

Despite Cameron’s unintentional bird massacre, we had convened at Tony’s with a mission to plan our trip to Florida in two weeks, so after getting over the shock of Cameron’s incident we got down to business. We left Tony’s basement that night with the satisfaction that another quick weekend vacation had been planned and the knowledge that at least one flock of birds had been infiltrated by a featherbrained cult leader and led into mass suicide.

A few days passed and by the middle of the week Cameron and I once again found ourselves hanging out at Tony’s. As we entered the door, Tony, who was sitting at his computer to the right of us, turned to face us with a look of contained excitement on his face.

“Cameron,” he began, “what day was it that you hit that flock of birds?” He was almost giddy. And Tony’s not a man who gets giddy. It was a little creepy.

Cedar Waxwing

A cedar waxwing, during happier days.

“Saturday,” Cameron said.

“And what road were you driving on when you hit them?” Tony asked.

“Banks Mill. Why?” a concerned Cameron asked.

“Funny thing happened to me at the office the other day,” Tony said. Tony was working as a reporter for the local daily paper, the Sentinel. “I had just got in for the day, and one of the photographers started talking to one of the other reporters about a ‘bird story.’ So, I asked them about this bird story. Seems someone found a massive collection of dead birds along Banks Mill Road on Saturday. The health department is investigating.”

“Really?” I said, not too surprised. This was at the time that the danger of the West Nile Virus to elderly people was a popular news story in Georgia, because the disease is spread by mosquitoes and if there’s two things Georgia has, it’s peaches and mosquitoes.

“Yeah, well, you know one sign that West Nile may be present in an area is finding birds that have died from being bitten by infected mosquitoes,” Tony said.

“Yeah I’ve heard of that,” Cameron said.  “What about it?”

“Well, you see, when you find a dead bird, you’re supposed to report it to the health department, so that they can check it out to see if the bird died of West Nile or not,” Tony said.  “So, you might could imagine the sheer terror one might face upon finding a total of 19 dead birds in one’s yard.”

“Are you saying that…,” I started before Tony interrupted me.

“I’m saying that when I was at the office today, one of our reporters was checking out a story about someone finding 19 dead cedar waxwings on Banks Mill Road,” Tony said.

We all started laughing.  “It can’t be,” I said.

“When did they find them?” Cameron asked.

“Saturday,” Tony chuckled. “I just searched on the Internet for a picture of a cedar waxwing. Is this the bird that flew into your Jeep, Cameron?”

“Yeah, that’s them.” Cameron started giggling.

“Like I said, when you find one dead bird it’s a scare, but 19 is a crisis,” Tony said. “Someone probably came outside and saw all those dead birds and just freaked the hell out. They’re urging old people and children to stay inside if they live near the area where those birds were found.”

“Did you tell your co-worker that those birds committed suicide into the side of your friend’s vehicle?” I asked, knowing that as mischievous as Tony was that he definitely didn’t tell his coworker.

“I thought about it, but the guy said that the workers had already sent the birds off to the University of Georgia to determine the cause of death,” Tony said with a sadistic grin. “They held a press conference. I guess the autopsy results will come back with blunt force trauma as the cause of death?”

The thought of professional public health workers carefully collecting the massacre in little plastic baggies, marking them and sending them to a laboratory made me smile. The likely reaction of the biologist who would determine that all 19 of these birds sent in from Douglas County had been simply hit by a car made me smile wider.

“So, I killed 19 of those little birds, huh?” Cameron said sadly.

Always the optimist, Tony knew just how to cheer Cameron up. “Yeah, but look on the bright side: you single-handedly caused the largest West Nile virus scare this county has ever seen.”

 

Prologue

Driving to Panama City Beach for our weekend away, stopping for one of the many fill-ups the glorified tractor that is a Jeep requires, we spied something peculiar in the springs inside the front wheel well of Cameron’s vehicle. The three of us knelt beside the Jeep, peering at the grayish mash jammed between the coils.

“No way,” Cameron said.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Heh,” said Tony. “That means it was an even 20.”

 

Note:  While searching online for pictures of cedar waxwings to give an accurate description of the birds for this story, I came across a great many articles depicting the habits of the little gray birds. Cedar waxwings are renowned for their voracious appetite and a tendency to eat fermented fruit and berries. When a bird weighing only a few ounces gets a belly full of fermented berries, well, they have trouble flying in a straight line — or just flying at all. 

According to the state of Georgia’s health department on West Nile testing of birds in 2005: “Cedar waxwings, which are never positive, were the third most frequently submitted bird. This bird usually dies from drunken flying into windows or is found dead from alcohol poisoning from eating fermented berries.”

Maybe Cameron won’t feel so bad when he finds out that the birds were FUI (flying under the influence).