Illustration by Peter Arkle
I thank god every day for the fact that I have no recorded history before the age of twenty-nine. I consider it a huge plus. And when I say “recorded” history, I mean the kind you can Google. Thank God (again), because there are a few specific incidents that come to mind—a public fight with an ex that ended when I poured a bowl of chili over his head, an awkward groping session on a ride at Disney that ended when the park employee admonished us with “Keep in mind that kids are present!” And if I had been born a few years later, there might be at least ten pages of search results depicting me that night I passed out in the parking lot of the Clermont Lounge.
“I’m almost positive that picture would have been unflattering,” I tell my friend Grant, who is the reason I ended up passed out in the parking lot all those years ago in the first place. He and my other friend Lary abandoned me there after they told me they were ready to go, and I told them, “Go ahead! I’ll be fine.”
“I was drunk, you bovine!” I tell him today. I am always haranguing him for leaving me alone, drunk, at the Clermont Lounge. Haranguing Grant about abandoning me at the Clermont is part of our history.
“You said you’d be fine!” he says.
“All drunks say that!”
“You got a good column out of it, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but . . .”
Grant is always taking credit for my success, much like I always take credit for his (only I really deserve it). It’s part of our history. Today Grant is a respected businessman and I am a respected author, and we always have to have coffee at his place, which is a renovated belt factory behind a locked gate. Why locked? Well, the business he owns is Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, otherwise known as Church Bar, and since it opened almost three years ago, it’s become the most popular place in Atlanta, and possibly the planet. If we go anywhere together, we are regularly accosted by people who love us (and by us, I mean him), and in order for us to have conversations like we used to, we need to do it behind a locked gate. Lary too. People love Lary now, and he hates being loved.
Grant bought the building for his bar from our other friend Joe, who bought it the year my girl was born. It sits at the corner of Boulevard and Edgewood, and I remember the building used to be one of those sketchy neighborhood markets where the carts were all janky and fly strips hung from the ceiling. When Joe wanted to clean it out, he called all his hoarder friends, which of course included me, to come and take what they wanted.
“Ooh, free crap!” I grinned, grabbing a supply of rectal thermometers and a box of diapers. I had squealed into the parking lot within minutes of Joe’s email, only to discover he had called Grant first, and Grant had been there for hours already, cherry-picking the best stuff for himself. Grant is the master of hoarding, only his hoard looks a lot better than the usual. Instead of flattened dead cats under piles of newspaper, for example, he has modern furniture and collections of ceramic masks made by some Danish designer I’ve never heard of.
I like looking at the corner of Boulevard and Edgewood today and remembering the sloppy market that used to be there. When Lary and I were rummaging through the top floor, he found a tattered mattress and some bloody butcher aprons. I found a mound of old toenails in the carpet. Downstairs, the meat had been left to rot behind the counter. That’s the kind of place it was. Now it’s Church, the most popular spot on the planet, and possibly the universe.
Before I came to Atlanta, I’d moved every single year of my life. This is a past designed perfectly for erasing and rebooting. I’m used to going back to the places I lived and marveling at the change, not marveling at the changes where I now live as they occur. Today I drive by places and point them out to my girl and say, “That used to be a giant eyesore; now it’s a lovely marketplace,” or, “This BeltLine we’re walking on? It used to be a railroad track; the train used to go right by my window when I lived in the Telephone Factory. And that gorgeous loft complex right there? It used to be a telephone factory.” Stuff like that. It’s odd. It’s odd to watch all this change as it’s happening. It’s odd for me to have history.
“How does it feel?” Grant asks.
“Kinda nice, I guess.”