760 Boulevard, Athens Georgia: Halloween Story

Oct 29

Boulevard is the name of a street in Athens Georgia. The surrounding historical district bears the same name. In 1898 the streetcar came to Athens. This meant a greater convenience in transit and resulted in new neighborhoods that, in their day, were considered suburbs. The same year the streetcar arrived, the Athens Park and Improvement Company bought the 150 acres that would comprise Boulevard. The lots were north of Prince Avenue and its attendant Neo-Classical mansions. 

Variously, the homes in the Boulevard District were built in Greek Revival, Queene Anne, Neoclassical, Craftsman and American Foursquare. There was a park to the west of the development, with a lake. Oaks that still stand today were planted and line either side of the street upon which electric cars ferried people to town and back again. Eventually, as Athens grew, the population of the area also expanded. As this happened, people moved out, to get further and further away from the town to the apparent quiet and safety of outbound suburbs. Boulevard was, in time, largely forgotten. The park and lake were gone-today, no one knows they were ever there. Instead, there is a sloping trench choked with kudzu and dilapidated businesses in cinderblock squares roofed with tin sheets. As with many historic areas, memories the place has for itself is still there, melancholy and uneasy.

I moved into 760 Boulevard in 1990 with my good friend, Jason Emond. The house was built in Craftsman style in 1915, by the parents of Leonard Postero (the personality of Leonard’s Losers). Tim Gore, a friend of Jason’s, had just bought the house. We were eager to move in. I loved the idea of living in a historic home in a historic neighborhood. The district was well-known for its forward thinking, and many of our peers lived in the area. The house had hardwood floors, an open staircase. The backyard boasted fig, apple and pecan trees. Morning glory profused over old clothes drying wires, and mint was everywhere-the remains, no doubt, of a garden that once decorated the large  back plot.

The house needed repairs. A wandering handyman, fellow Vietnam veteran and friend of Tim’s was on site-plastering walls and doing odd jobs. He noticed, in the course of his work, that the chimney was askew. In 1974 two tornadoes hit Athens in the same week. I remember it vividly. I was down in the park behind our house playing with my childhood friend, John Crook. My mother came out anxiosly, telling us a tornado was coming. We went inside and sheltered in the basement, in complete darkness-the power went out. After this incident, another tornado followed. Ever since, I’ve been under the impression that tornadoes happen often, even though one hasn’t hit Athens since then.

The skewed chimney was important, you see. The family that lived in the house before us was…eccentric. One of the members of the family attempted to rob a bank, but got off on insanity charges. The itinerant handyman theorized that gases leaked from the chimney into the house, and slowly drove the family into a chemical madness. That sort of thing can seep into the walls-when we live in a place we leave an imprint of ourselves. In a sense, the whole house was as skewed as the chimney-you could feel it. Things bent and turned in odd ways are paths for bent and turned events to occur.

There were noises in the house at night. Even when I was the only one home. The television would turn itself on. Items tended to fall off of shelves. An unsettling presence filled the place, which was always dark and cold. Strangers would avoid the house. We never locked the door, confident that whatever was in there would frighten away any potential thief. Jason and I took it in stride. It was an old house in a old neighborhood. The area was crawling with stuff like this-you could feel it. We were laid back guys, we could handle a ghost, whoever he was. We found out later that the father of the previous inhabitants had died of cancer in the hospital sometime before we moved in. He wanted to die in his home. Apparently, after death, his spirit, perhaps restless of its circumstances, returned.

Then, things got worse. The occasional poltergeist phenomenon, I could handle. Heck, it even made for good story. But matters intensified: the pilot light kept going out, we couldn’t keep a third room-mate. I started to have dreams with the old man in them. On one occasion, he was putting a plastic bag over my mouth. After that, I decided enough was enough. At that time, I was self-initiating in Golden Dawn Tradition; among the various elements of this school a prominent one is practical Kabbalah. Practical Kabbalah is, basically, using ritual to achieve various ends-generally by invoking angels, names of God, etc. This phantom needed escort to its next stop: purgatory, its next incarnation, what have you. And I meant to give it to him. One night, I lit the candles, burned the incense, called on the god-names and archangels of the cardinal directions and banished the space that was my house.I achieved the desired results with little fanfare. The spirit was gone-late night rappings no longer were heard, and, more importantly, I could sleep undisturbed.

I’ve returned to the house on occasion since then-Jason still lives there-and it’s still quiet. My treatment may seem stern to some, but I am confident that, in fact, I helped the ghost out and sent it on to where it needed to be.

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The Trials of Prince Charming

Oct 17

It was a while ago after happily ever after. For me, it was really like any other day in the office. You know,  pounding down coffee, calling tech support about the networked printer’s latest breakdown, ignoring the surreal distortion fluorescent lighting lends to reality, that sort of thing. Then, my phone rang-a little earlier than usual. Caller ID showed it was someone I’d known for quite some time, my old college drinking buddy, Prince Charming. We’d been hanging out more than usual lately, something my wife didn’t quite approve of but also didn’t quite address. She liked Charming, he was my only friend that didn’t come over to watch college ball on TV.

“Charming, what’s up, dude?”

“Not much, man. Hey, what are you doing Wednesday night?”

“Uh-got no plans. Why?”

“I just want to hang out, you know. Get a drink or something.”

Normally, I’d tell Charming like it is-I’d have to clear it with the wife first, that’s only fair to her. But something was up, that was certain. Lisa would understand.

“Okay, I’m game. What watering hole we meetin at?”

“Trapeeze, back in Athens.”

That took me off guard. A return to our old haunts back in the Classic City was a foray that would require more than the usual entreaties with the old lady. She was sure to think this was mid-life crisis raising its ugly head. And maybe for Charming, it was. The man was three times divorced with no kids, poor guy. Things never seemed to work out for him.

“Um, okay. Sounds good to me.” 

“Cool-see you then.”

I hung up the phone. As I predicted, it took a little convincing, but Lisa understood my friend was in need of a friend and so I made the trip from Atlanta to Athens, the stomping grounds of my ill-spent youth, back when I thought I was cool.

Trapeeze isn’t one of the old hangouts-not for Charming and me and the other guys in our crowd. It wasn’t around back then, but it’s pretty damn close in character-especially since our old grounds got colonized by Frat boys. I go in and get a Belgian beer-it’s cold outside, and good high alcohol content is just the thing.

I see Charming, he’s sitting with a pretty young thing in a booth by a window. They’re side by side, laughing warmly, and he’s got those same pretty boy looks even though we’re both pushing middle age: white teeth, perfect bronzed skin, flawless brown hair, bright blue-green eyes. He’s one of those guys who could pass for a hot girl if he wanted.

“Charmin’.” I say and take a seat before the Prince and his latest Lady.

“Pete, what’s up, buddy? This is Rapunzel.”

Rapunzel’s got long, long red hair, bright green eyes. And like every woman Charming’s ever been with, she’s an absolute knock out.

“Nice to meet you.” I offer a hand and she shakes it gracefully. It’s amazing how women can shake hands and make it seem courtly.

“Likewise. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Rapunzel says and smiles. She’s meeting someone from Charming’s past, and so I’m a way for her to get a glimpse at the real Prince Charming-who he was when he was coming up in the world. I knew him before he killed his first dragon, before he raised the dead with a kiss, you know the stories.

“Thanks.” We chat for a bit and tell old tales. Charming makes sure to talk about my dealings with the vampires of the Red Enclave, about the half-human, half-angelic Nephilim and the  walking nightmare called the Fear. He and Rapunzel thinks it’s interesting-because it’s all no fairy tale, that’s for sure. It just makes me feel uncomfortable, but I share a little, it’s cool. Some old tunes come on the stereo and Charming and I sing along here and there.

Eventually, Rapunzel excuses herself to the woman’s room.  Charming watches her go and then looks back to me with a smile as big as worlds.

“So what do you think of her, Pete?” he asks, and for a moment, I regress, not too unwillingly, to when we were fifteen. He hasn’t changed a bit-he looks almost exactly the same. Hell, he probably even weighs the same.

“She’s nice, man.” I say and sip my beer.

“Yeah, I really like her. We’re getting serious, you know? I think-I think this is the one.” He pauses dramatically and measures my response.

Now, I’m not sure how much you know about Prince Charming-but he’s always been a favorite of the ladies. He got with and married some of the biggest names out there: Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. But one thing always led to another and the next thing you know, Charming is single again. When we were in our twenties and even our early thirties, it didn’t seem like too big a deal. Charming was a complicated guy, you know? But now…

“She’s pretty-and cool.” I say.

Charming frowns and sighs at the diplomatic flatness of my voice. “I really mean it this time, Pete. You’ll see, man. I already saved her from this old hag-witch. Had to climb up her hair to the top of the tower-believe it or not.”

“Really?” I say this somewhat awkwardly and hope Charming doesn’t get confrontational with me. It’s not my fault I’ve been married for over fifteen years and he’s divorced three times. Just then, thank God, Rapunzel returns to the table. Charming brightens immediately.

“Talking about old times some more?” she asks.

“Yes. Pete was telling me about some of his latest adventures…” Charming says and we fall back into easy conversation. We drink more, things go lax and time spins away. Last call goes out in what seems just a short time. We head outside before the lights come on and talk more on the streetside. Eventually, my cab shows up.

“My ride’s here. See y’all later, it’s been real.” I grin. Charming and I hug and slap each other on the shoulders. Rapunzel gives me a hug too and I’m about to be off in the cab.

Charming grabs my arm. “Thanks for coming out tonight. I really appreciate it.” he says in all seriousness.

“Anytime, Charming. We’re friends.” I say and board the cab. It pulls away and I see Charming and Rapunzel looking around, like they’re wondering what they’re going to do next.

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Ugly Duckling Part Two

Oct 02

The swan grew up among ducks, all along believing himself to be hideous. Later in life, he discovered that there were others that looked exactly like him. To his surprise and immediate delight, he found that, rather than being considered ugly, the swans were held to be the very model of grace and beauty. The laws of the kingdom forbade men from killng and eating them-only the king was allowed to do this, and being the special food of the king was indeed an honor rather than a horror. There were, however, far more swans than the king could ever hope to devour, and he didn’t seem especially interested in eating swans at all.

The swan thought he had it made. Until, after being in the company of the other swans, one asked: “Who the hell are you?”

“What do you mean? I’m a swan like you!” the swan answered.

“No you’re not.” another swan commented. “You may look like us-but you sure don’t act like it. You talk like a duck, you fly like a duck, you even act like a duck. You might as well be a duck.” The others agreed, stuck their bills in the air and trundled off to the lake for a swim-it was clear that the swan was not meant to follow. Swans are beautiful and graceful, but they are also cruel.

“Well that fucking figures.” the swan said-and indeed, his earthy swearing was a habit gained from the lowly ducks (whom the king did not mind eating, by the way). The swan lit a smoke. “Great. Now what the hell am I going to do?”

Just then, a flock of ducks floated by. “Look,” one of them declared, “it’s one of those stuck up swans!” the other ducks grumbled and shot eat shit looks at the swan.

“No-wait a minute fellas.” the swan said. “It’s not like that. I’m-I’m not that way.”

“What do you mean?” a duck asked suspiciously.

“I don’t think any bird is any better than any other. We’re all the same under the feathers, we just look different on the outside…’cause that’s the way God made us.”

The ducks liked this line of thought as it appealed to an inner sense of vanity-which was something for which the swans had a natural affinity. They nodded in agreement. Momentarily, the swan went off with the ducks and was hanging out with them (the ugly duckling rhetoric of their youth was by now forgotten, if not really forgiven). They smoked and drank together. They shot pool and played cards. The swan even allowed the occasional drunk duck to make untoward advances on him.

The swans observed this unseemly behavior with more derision than usual, as it was one of their own acting in such crass manners. They were beginning to discuss what to do with the wayward swan who acted like a duck (namely, whether to drive him off or murder him) when the swan approached. They fell into an uncomfortable silence when the swan drew near.

“Swans! Great day we’re having isn’t it?” the swan asked.

“Not really,” a swan answered. “we’ve been watching you with the ducks. It’s bad enough you are uncouth as they are-but do you really have to flaunt it this way?” the others nodded or hissed their assent to the remark.

“Uncouth?” the swan asked in disbelief and pressed a wing to its breast. “I don’t think you understand. As swans it’s important we uphold our diginity, and the best way to do that is by sharing it with others, not so blessed.”

“I-I never thought about it like that.” the other swan admitted. Some of the others were not too convinced and still eyed the swan suspiciously.

“Think about it, we share our swan-ness with the ducks, and our classiness gets spread around. It’ll upgrade the whole freakin lake. Next thing you know, it’ll be a goddamn nature preserve or a park or something. Sorry-don’t mean to talk that way-I’ve been hanging out with ducks all day.”

This made sense to the swans. It never occurred to them that there could be another application to their marked beauty and style aside from partitioning themselves from others not so fortunate. Perhaps they could most fully enjoy and embrace their swanality by mixing with other water-fowl.

“How should we…share our gifts?”

“Just start hanging out with them. Y’know, like I have. But don’t come on too strong. You might want to-make yourself look more duck-like, and…and act more duck too! Yeah!”

Soon, the swans started to swim, fly and nest with the ducks. They took care muss themselves up at first, so as to not upset the ducks too terribly, and covered themselves with reeds and mud. Eventually, it became difficult to tell the swans apart from the ducks.

One day, the king was out hunting at the lake. He fell asleep in the afternoon sun, with his blunderbus at his side. A loud honking awoke and startled him. It was the swan, it pointed at a flock of birds that took to hasty flight. Not wanting to miss his chance at some good fowl for dinner, the king fired into the flock-and wondered where all his swans had gone. There seemed to be only one left.

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