The Pleasures of Street Art, Atlanta Edition

My interest in street art commenced in 1975-7 when I lived next door to the artist Blue Sky. I can’t claim that Blue Sky and I were even acquaintances—don’t recall any conversations I had with him, meaningful or otherwise. We merely nodded and smiled as we passed, coming and going.

To me he was just another old hippie stubbornly clinging the ‘60s zeitgeist at the dawn of the disco age. Even though we were neighbors, I wasn’t aware that he was in the process of creating the iconic[1] mural Tunnelvision on the Federal Land Bank until shortly before its unveiling, which I attended with a few of my friends.[2]

What a contrast in worlds! I wanted to pass through that tunnel out of the otherwise soulless streets of Columbia into the wide-open spaces of that setting sun.

A quarter of a century later, visiting my son Harrison who was studying at Humboldt University, I once again encountered graffiti that blew my mind. The building, originally a department store, stood in the Old Jewish quarter in East Berlin on Oranienburger Straße.  After reunification, a group of artists moved into the building as squatters. Harrison frequented a bar in the building that once held French prisoners during WW2. For whatever reason, the mural, with its marching African army or conga line and smiling spermatozoa, thrilled me.

photo by me

Of course, the remaining sections of the wall that had not been torn down also became media for graffiti artists.

a 4 second video I took during the Berlin trip

So, I became interested in street art, in commissioned murals as well in the renegade productions of spray-can-wielding night painters like SEEN, the so-called Godfather of Graffiti. Whenever we visit an urban area, my wife Caroline, who wrote her master’s dissertation on outsider art, seeks out graffiti and murals, and I am more than happy to tag along.

Thus,[3] over a long weekend in Atlanta celebrating stepdaughter Brooks’ thirteenth birthday, we wandered over to the High Museum to check out the KAWS exhibition, which Caroline enthusiastically embraced, pointing out to her less visually astute husband the ways in which KAWS’ work, a crown jewel of the genre, illuminates the work of all graffiti artists.

photo by me

After seeing the exhibit, immediately I started paying closer attention to my physical surroundings, noting especially the shadows of trees on the sidewalks of Decatur, where we were staying. Even at night, these shadows created beautiful, life-enhancing patterns.

photo by me at night

The next day, Caroline suggested we Uber to Cabbagetown, a funky Atlanta enclave with some of the finest street art in the city. Cabbagetown was originally a mill town east of Atlanta, and the ruins of the high wall of the mill span a half mile along Wylie and Tennelle Streets in an electrifying, eclectic array of divergent styles.[4]   

Here are a couple of examples:

photo by me

As we Ubered back to the house, we traversed the incredible Krog Street Tunnel, a place so spooky few people attended a Halloween festival staged there. 

me again

Obviously, visiting both the museum and Cabbagetown inspired me. I couldn’t wait to come home and create one of my collages.

Ta da!

Blind Woman in Cabbagetown

So hail, museums, hail street art!


[1] I hate the overused word “iconic: however, in this context, I can’t think of a more accurate adjective. 

[2] Although the Federal Land Bank refused to fund the project, they did grant Blue Sky permission to use the side of the building, that is, if he swore he wasn’t a communist (Wikipedia).

[3] A creaky looking old word that when uttered out loud sounds so cool, a sibilant hiss of a transition. 

[4] Check out Day Trip Queen’s excellent overview of Cabbagetown art: https://daytripqueen.com/cabbagetown-street-art/

Literary Messaging

Me writing fiction circa 1980

When I first started writing as an adult, around 1978, publishing short fiction was very difficult.[1] Hotshot quarterlies like The Georgia Review received a thousand manuscripts a month, and of those three thousand submissions, they’d publish maybe two an issue.  Stephen Corey, one of its editors in those days, told me if the story didn’t grab a reader’s attention in the first paragraph, it was tossed in the “thanks-for-submitting-your-manuscript-but-it-doesn’t-meet-our-needs” pile.

Fortunately, my home state of South Carolina has an Arts Commission that provides writers chances for publication. I was fortunate to be selected to participate in a workshop led by Blanche McCrary Boyd. We met once a week for six weeks or so, and I learned a helluva lot about technique, but on the less positive side of the ledger, I discovered that my writing was no great shakes. Jo Humphreys, Lee Robinson, Starkey Flythe Jr., and William Baldwin were among the participants. It was humbling –disillusioning in the positive sense that – poof – an illusion had disappeared.

It was through the Arts Commission that I published my first story “Airwaves,” which was later anthologized by the Hub City Press. Encouraged, I started sending manuscripts out to literary journals I’d cull from the Fiction Writer’s Market published by Reader’s Digest Books, a pre-internet storehouse of possibilities. 

One journal that caught my eye was a quarterly out of Richmond, Virginia, the New Southern Literary Messenger. They, according to the entry, received 140-150 submissions per month and published five. The pay was meager, $10, 6 copies, and a free subscription. So, I sent them a story entitled “Almost Blue,” my latest.

It took them so long to get back to me that I had forgotten I had submitted it. In fact, I’d gotten full-time teaching job in the meantime and had more or less given up writing. 

I’ll never forget reaching in my mailbox in Rantowles, pulling out the acceptance letter, and doing a little jig of joy. They wanted me to provide a photograph and write a first-person bio. Of course, I was ll too happy to comply. 

I crowed, I boasted, informed my parents and in-laws and my new bosses at Porter-Gaud. After all, Edgar Allen Poe had once been an editor of the [Old] Southern Literary Messenger!

I should have been more careful reading the entry in the Writer’s Market, for example, that the journal was 5×8 with card stock cover.

Here’s a Xerox reproduction of the last page. To say I was disappointed at the layout would be an understatement.

My poor parents, my poor in-laws, my poor wife. The Georgia Review this was not.

So now that I’m finally publishing my first novel, I have some trepidation about the quality of the product, but so far so good. I received the preliminary proofs this week, and the editors had gone through the manuscript with [awkward attempt at avoiding a cliché alert] a cootie comb, and with David Boatwright doing the cover, I’m confident that the book itself will be high quality.

The quality of the writing, however, I’m still not so sure about.

A Cootie Comb

[1] It’s still very difficult, but a bit less so with so many on-line journals out there nowadays. 

Wintry Mix

Here’s a brief video of me reading “Wintry Mix” at the George Fox’s Singer/Songwriter Soap Box at Chico Feo on 31 January 2022. The poem is printed below.

Wintry Mix

I’m not a fan of the wan light of winter, the weakening light of day, the marrow-penetrating 
wind off the river, the fallen leaves’ decay. 

I’m not a fan of hypocrisy, the politician’s flipflop, the post hoc ergo propter hoc array of fallacious thinking I hear every day.

I’m not a fan of fantasy, ogres, princesses, dragons, flying carpets defying gravity, flagons containing elixirs, mages with conical caps, sages holed up in caves.

I am a fan of poetry, though, even the darkest of wintery verse, Dylan Thomas’s father’s curse, John Keats’s death lament – that shiny black hearse in reverse.

South Carolina, the Creation Science State

Senator Mike Fair, the carefree hypochondriac, has successfully struck a clause from cutting edge South Carolina’s not-so-new new science standards as the Modular Home State continues to lead the nation in embracing the concept of a 1st Century AD classroom.  

This educational apostasyphilosophy, according to Senator Fair, will prepare students for the most profound challenge they will face in the upcoming century, i.e., avoiding an eternity of everlasting perdition, “torture without end [. . .] a fiery deluge, fed with ever-burning sulphur (sic) unconsumed,” as the 17th Century astro-physicist John Milton put it.[1]

Here is the controversial clause in question:

Conceptual Understanding: Biological evolution occurs primarily when natural selection acts on the genetic variation in a population and changes the distribution of traits in that in that population over multiple generations.

Not so fast, says broad-minded Baptist Fair: “To teach natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong.  I don’t have a problem with teaching theories.  I don’t think it should be taught as fact.”[2]

In agreement with Fair is state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, a Darwinian doubter who for some odd reason introduced forensic chemistry into Newberry College’s college curriculum when he served as president.  “This has been going on in South Carolina for quite some time,” Zais noted.  “We ought to teach them both sides and let students draw their own conclusions.[3]

Actually, Dr. Zais’s idea of teaching the theory of evolution vis a vis with creation mythsscience has already been implemented in a few avant garde Upcountry independent schools in the state.  Your commentator has obtained an exclusive copy of a comparison/contrast essay by a senior at Pitchfork Ben Tillman Christian Academy.

***

Skinner Hodges
Mrs. Tammy Jean Weektee
English IllI
Febuary 2014 A.D.

For the six thousand years man has walked the planet

earth, they have been arguing about how this God-Created

miracle of a planet came to be. And we are not only talking

about people, that are saved, but about pagean people, too.

That being the case, it is not, we reckon, not all that

surprising that people are still arguing about this topic.

This six-weeks we have been studying two different

versions of creation. The scientific and biblical versions.

The scientific version is based on human observation, that

is often faulty, and the Biblical version is based on the

unerrant Word of God. This paper using the block method

will compare and contrast the two theories.

     First, the scientific theory, which is full of holes. According

to this, out of nowhere this bigbang spit stars that cooled

and somehow or other little cells popped up on earth,

started dividing and over a ridiculous long period of time

ended up being monkeys that ended up being man. Not to

mention they haven’t found a missing link to prove any of

this.

     The Biblical theory is that the Lord created the world and

all of its creatures. This makes more sense. First, the world

did not come from nothing, which even a special education

kid could tell you makes no sense, but from the Hand of the

Almighty. Adam and Eve started out as people, not as

germs and viruses, who could walk upright in the garden

from Day 1. Add to this that this version does not come

from the faulty observations of Fallen Man but from the

Mouth of the Almighty by way of Its servant Moses.

     In conclusion. We live in a free country. You’re free to

believe in evolution if you like or in the Biblical version.

The facts, though, speak for themselves.

A+

Great job Skinner. Almost perfect, except that
“Six Weeks” should be in capitols because it
refers to a specific school-related period of time

***

In other good news, Governor Hayley is expected to sign the bill allowing patrons to bring their firearms into bars without their having to go through training or criminal background checks.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!

SC Celebrity, Pee Wee Gaskins

[1] Symbol S, atomic number 16.

[2] When self-proclaimed right-thinking leftist Pointee Head questioned if Fair, a product of SC schools, could actually read, given that the above clause says nothing about “origins,” he was easily squashed by Fair’s Churchillian sally, “Hey, if I can’t read, how did I get a football scholarship to USC?”

[3] The “naked” this in above sentence doesn’t refer to sex education but to “not believing in science.” Dr. Zais believes students should receive abstinence only sex education and that students should not be aware that condoms even exist because sometimes letting students “see both sides” and “draw their own conclusions” can lead to eternal damnation.

Strange Encounters

In 1989, the South Carolina Fiction Project selected my story “An Invasion of Tourists” as one of twelve short stories to be published in Columbia, South Carolina’s daily newspaper, The State. The story, written in second person, dramatizes a male twenty-something’s encounter with two very strange bar patrons who seem not only foreign, but downright alien, and by alien, I mean alien in the extra-terrestrial sense:

There’s another woman, but something’s not quite right about her. In a tropical print sundress, she’s practically catatonic. Her eyes are fluorescent green, very far apart and don’t blink. Slowly, she picks up her banana daiquiri, cocks her head, and laps it up with a flickering tongue.

You stare in disbelief. She looks at you and smiles stupidly. “Hello,” she says, “how goes it, amigo?” Her voice is fresh, friendly, but somehow mechanical, like the voice on your Portuguese Made Easy records.

[snip]

“Where y’all from?’

“Q.”

“Queue? Where’s that?”

“Just around the corner from Tri-Alpha 6.”

They’re smiling like his and hers ventriloquist dummies. You manage to muster a fake laugh as the jukebox engages. Pop-a-top, pop-a-top, pop-a-top. Reggae. Bob Marley.

“Excuse us,” they say in unison and head for the small, tiled rectangle that serves as a dance floor. Like exotic birds, they go through elaborate steps, a mirror image mating dance. Then shoulder-to- shoulder, back-to-back, butt-to-butt, they shimmy, like two people with terrible itches.

“What’s the scoop on those two?” you ask the bartender.

“Beats me,” he says, “but they sure can do the Dorsal.”

As the story progresses, the unnamed protagonist sees more and more evidence of an intergalactic incursion. For example, the lead story on the eleven o’clock news is unexplained lights hovering over cars on I-26. After a sleepless night, he drives to the television station to share his story with the anchor. There he encounters a teenager convinced he’s also seen an extraterrestrial. The kid looks crazed, so the protagonist decides to bail.

You’ve called in sick. Deservedly so. You’re shook. You came within a heartbeat of making an utter fool of yourself. You can’t believe that you’d ever fall a victim of mass hysteria. With so little sleep, your memory is even more suspect than usual. Probably her tongue wasn’t as long as it seemed yesterday. Maybe she was wearing contacts that made her eyes that color.

Maybe you’re going insane.

You head out to the beach for rest and relaxation. You’ll swim, exhaust yourself, and go home for 18 hours or so of sleep.

Food. You haven’t eaten. Food will make you feel better. So you pull into Frankie’s Place, a rundown joint on the front beach. Seated on the deck with a salt breeze blowing, you feel better already. Frank, a fat, freckled, tattooed ex-Marine brings you out a cold one.

How’s business,” you ask.

“Great,” he says. “Tourists are flocking in from everywhere.”

“Do you get many from Tri-Alpha 6,” you ask, as if he’s your pal, as if it’s an inside joke.

“Huh?”

“Tri-Alpha 6.”

“What’s that? A fraternity?”

You don’t answer him.

As he waddles off, he shakes his head as if to say, “Give me a break.”

You turn to look out over the ocean, half hoping to see one flashing over the horizon, but there’s nothing, not even a cloud in the sky.

***

Scene of the Second Encounter

Well, brothers and sisters, yesterday I had a real-life strange encounter, though not quite as disorienting as the one in the short story.

I was walking my dog to the end of the unpaved road where I live (see above). A grey medium-sized SUV slowly made its way towards us and stopped. An elderly woman on the passenger side rolled down her window, and the driver, another grey-haired woman, leaned towards the steering wheel so I could make eye contact with both. They didn’t look like aliens from another planet but like characters in a David Lynch movie, corny and blandly friendly in a creepy, Trumanshowesque[1] sort of way.

“We just have a question,” the passenger said in a vowel-deprived Midwestern accent.

“Ask away.”

“What’s behind these houses? Marshes?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Marshes and the Folly River.”

“A river?” the driver asked. “There’s a river back there?” Her tone was incredulous.

“Yes, ma’am, a river.”

“But what are those long things jutting out? Flat wooden things projecting outwards. It looks like you could walk on them.”

“They’re docks,” I said, somewhat taken aback, wondering what planet they were from.

“Docks!” They seemed flabbergasted.

The passenger said, “You mean you can have boats back there?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s deep water. You could take a boat out of there and sail all the way to Lisbon, Portugal.”

The passenger said, “We’re not from around here.”

I laughed. “I’d never guess with those accents of yours.”

They were beaming.

“Where are you from?”

“St. Louis.”

I mentioned going to see the Braves play at Busch stadium when my boys were young.

“We’re Cardinal fans,” they said, almost apologetically.

“No shit Sherlock,” I thought, but instead said, “I got to see Ozzie Smith do his backflip.”

They both smiled genuine smiles. They knew who Ozzie Smith was, which came as a relief. 

(You may have heard that during the Battle of the Bulge, army units would quiz each other at checkpoints with baseball trivia after they learned that German spies, wearing US uniforms and speaking perfect American English, were attempting to infiltrate the lines.)

I showed them where to turn around (it’s a dead end road) and bid them goodbye. Twenty minutes later, as I was walking to Lowlife for my afternoon constitutional, they passed me without waving, puttering along about fifteen miles an hour.

When I told the tale to my pal Jeremy at Lowlife,” he said. “Haven’t they seen movies? There are docks in movies. St Louis is on the Mississippi, for chrissakes. They must have seen a dock before.”

He added, waving and nodding, “I would have said, ‘good day’ and walked away.


[1] Yes, goddammit, add it to the dictionary.