I spent the 10 years prior to the crack-up as an English teacher, but before that, I had several lives, one of which was in Atlanta where I co-owned a small café at 1028 Peachtree Street called TV Dinner or TVD to friends. It was there that my dear friend Diane met Jules. It was there that I first met Dan.
The space we rented for TV Dinner had been a strip bar, the Aquarius Lounge, and was on the old hippie stretch of Peachtree between 10th and 11th Street. My partner at TV Dinner was a rock ‘n’ roll guy known as Ransom Paid. Most people called him Ransom or Paid; I called him those names but also Ransam or just Sam. Our history was this: he was an interesting guy who would call me in the night to chat, but in a few minutes he would either fall asleep in mid-sentence or say he had to get off the phone because he heard “cats” at his door. Yes, he was good looking. And yes, girls would come prowling around his apartment. He called them cats.
We left intact the old Aquarius Lounge neon-lit runway because the colored neon still worked even though the space had been vacant for several years, and, of course, we left the pink kick pole. After a Paint It Pink Party, the walls were pink. With the help of my sister Sierra’s boyfriend from Memphis, we pulled out the sin-soaked carpet, mopped, and painted the floor grey. Ransom hired an electrician who installed outlets around the upper walls where we mounted TVs. The TVs were linked to a system that could show Atlanta cable TV or our own videos.
Ransom bought a Sony Beta camera. TVD produced videos and also showed the videos of other artists. Bands performed there: Boat Of, The Weasels, Oh OK, The Now Explosion, and many more. Once, Allen Ginsberg gave a poetry performance there in exchange for one of my garbanzo burritos. Atlanta has always had the best drag queens of any city, and they graced the neon runway of TVD: Diamond Lil, a crazy Ethel Merman impersonator, and someone who was either called Banana Peel or Lemon Cream. I can’t recall the name exactly, but her act had to be cut short one night in the interest of preserving some kind of peace on old Peachtree Street!
TV Dinner Burrito Garbanzo
Drain a can of garbanzo beans and smash with a fork. Use a garlic press and add the juicy pressings of one squeezed garlic clove. Add curry and chili powder and snipped green onion. Stir in enough mayonnaise or sour cream to reach a creamy, comfort-food consistency. Spread a dollop of garbanzo mixture down the center of a very fresh flour tortilla, top with some very slightly steamed rough-chop cauliflower, grated cheese, and a drizzle of Hitsville hotsauce. Give the tortilla a burrito fold and heat briefly in a microwave or oven. Serve with tortilla chips and Hitsville hotsauce; Hitsville was the salsa we made at TVD, but you could substitute your own.
My favorite performances at TV Dinner were random events staged by our own mad man, Ransom Paid. He was a bass player and a talent impresario. One group who played with him was the Cowboys in Paradise, good looking guys playing after-hours new wave in a dark corner wearing trench coats and cowboy boots. The great guitarist Miami Beach was another TVD regular favorite. Glen and Ellen were friends of TVD, unpaid door keepers, and made noisy-fun cassette tapes for us to play in between bands.
One night a week, Ransam and his girl Lola would stage a Teknoglyphics event which featured music, dance, and costumes. The concept blended Sam’s Techno New Wave with Lola’s Egyptian burlesque. One night La Dearest, Diane, entered TVD and the Cowboys in Paradise were cranking huge, live, bass-driven music, and Ransom Paid, wearing a vinyl tunic and a mask, was dancing on the runway with Lola who wore black tights and a small piece of red duck tape on each titty. Roz, A3J, Julia, and probably Meg Fox were trying on pseudo Egyptian garb and Bag Lady fashion to see what looked insanest, Barbara Mackenzie was taking photographs, and in stepped La Dearest, was this before or after she wrecked her Mercedes? She gave the joint one look and delivered the deathless line, “What are all these people doing here in drag-g?” What indeed? No one ever found out. But so many people had crazy fun!
Down the street from TVD was the Atlanta College of Art, and its students were some of the early discoverers of TV Dinner because they could stroll a few blocks down P’tree and cop a cheap meal, view some video, and maybe hear a band who would play for no money and still be amazing.
Ransom Paid had his night prowling cats, but Lola was his real girlfriend. She was a figure model at that art college that was close to TVD. I think she had been a tom boy earlier in her life. Of course, once Ransam had claimed her, she became stunning with an edgy boyish fashion, but she kept the sexy down-drifting smile that could have been a meal ticket somewhere if she ever gave a damn about food which she didn’t. She cared for costume, but she did not mind walking around nude. In her off time, she would pose for Ransom Paid, Inc., and he would bring the videos to TVDinner. They would be black and white, a fan would turn in the background, and behind that would be Atlanta. Their apartment had high-ceilinged charm and would be one of the ones soon lost forever, transformed into a condo that only a sultan could afford. But even on his best day, that sultan would not have a dish as delicious as Paid’s Lola stretched out on his divan.
So how did I know Ransam? This is crazy, but I knew him almost forever, or at least from the very beginning of that scene in Atlanta in those days. I was at the Agora one Halloween with my sister, the Sierra Bandit. I was always clueless in crowds, but like Ransam himself, the Bandit could always spot talent. She saw Sam that night wearing eye makeup, no shirt, and a see-through raincoat. She said, “Hey, this girl wants to dance with you!” She meant me. Paid took one look at me and moved in for a dance.
He called me two weeks later. He was putting henna on his hair and waiting for it to dry. I heard from him from time to time in between cats or girls he was living with. He always drank too much, he sometimes liked to come over and soak in my huge claw foot-tub, and then sit out in the stillness up on the roof of my back porch with the oak tree tassels falling down. By the time we did TVD, he was pretty tight with Lola.
Back to Diane and how we met Jules: one night a favorite band, the Now Explosion, was playing TVD. OK, now remember this space had been a strip bar. It was a long narrow room with a neon runway dividing it down the middle. Most bands played on the runway. The dancing crowd had to fit itself around this middle-of-the-room obstruction. So Diane and I were dancing on one side of the runway, and we looked just across from where we were and saw a guy whose face was covered in red kisses. We knew where those kisses had come from. They were one of the signature art forms of Elouise Montague, who, along with the Lady Clare, sang lead in the Now Explosion. Once the Now Explosion had played 688, a top club of our scene in those days, and Elouise had red-kissed endless streamers of white toilet paper and festooned the stage with them. Her kisses were always serious, and artistic, and they were all over the beautiful face of a beautiful guy whom Dearest and I had never met. I called to him from across the runway, “Hey! Come over here and dance with us!” Around the runway he came, and we danced, and we talked about kisses, and we danced.
A few days later, he called TVD. I don’t know why he called, but it was kind of like that night at the Agora when Sierra said, “This girl wants to dance with you.” It felt right to say, “What’s your name again?” “Did you say Jules? Like Jules et Jim?” “Oh, I love that movie.” “OK.” “Well, call this number ‘cause my girlfriend Diane just loved dancing with you. You remember her? She’s your Jeanne Moreau, kissy face boy; you jus better give her a call.”
Of course, he did, and decades later they are still married and living in crazy Tuscany! Just one of those little fairy tales that real life throws in now and then to show it is not the depressing, boring, dead end that we usually take it for.
Here’s another hook-up story. One night during TVD’s early days, Ransam booked some friends of his to come in and play. They were not a real band. The lead guy, his name was Dan Dacron, was in this very popular local band called War Torn. The band Dan brought to TVD was his “playin around with jazz and noise” band. Were they called Heidegger? It doesn’t matter. They only played one or two gigs. Anyway, I heard a knock at the TVD back door and pushed it open. I was dressed fancy in my beige lace tight dress with TVD stenciled across the neckline. At the door was a guy in an old suit coat, some baggy grey trousers, and a pair of shoes that had been worn out by whoever had worn them before him. He was Dan, the lead singer of War Torn, here to load in Heidegger or whoever they were. I had seen him around and even heard his War band on New Year’s Eve that year, but this was the moment when we met.
Later that night, when Dan was winding cords and packing up, we talked. He told me that one day cords would be gone forever and everything would be wireless. I stared at him. I had never before contemplated a wireless world. He may have won my heart then. I am a pushover for ideas. Tell me something that I don’t already know, and I am yours pretty much. A few nights later, Diane and I ran into him at the Bistro at a Method Actors show. I don’t remember much about the show that night. Dan was hanging out with Clare from the Now Explosion, and then he was pretty much hanging out with me and Dearest. Was this one of those nights when Vic persuaded Diane to let him stay at her place so he would not have to drive back to Athens?
I was living in an apartment near TVD. Just before this apartment, I owned a huge house on North Highland. But I developed a bad attitude toward houses, sold my house, and when I moved into an apartment, I would not call it an apartment. For me in those days, life felt temporary. Houses and apartments were too permanent. So I called my apartment the hotel. I only lived in the front room and the bathroom. I never had the stove connected in the kitchen. There was nothing in the refrigerator except sometimes a bottle of cheap Spanish champagne. I think Vic did avoid the drive to Athens that night, and I think this was the night I took Dan back to my hotel.
Once I was seeing Dan, Paid began to do this flirt tease that was one of his antidotes to boredom. Example: one day I called him to talk about TVD. It turned out he had tried to call me. We got together and bought paint and ended up having dinner together, making plans for TVD, and then went for drinks at Lafitte’s, this bar on Peachtree near TV Dinner. He flirted with me, then talked about Lola, and then about our future. Later when I dropped him off at the apartment he shared with Lola, he said, “You aren’t going to kidnap me?” No, I let him out.
Sometimes I was the one who flirted with Ransam. One afternoon, while I was still working as a waitron at a downtown hotel, he called. We needed to take the kegs back that were from the last TVD party. After we did that, I was leaving to go, but he wanted me to stay. “I wish you did not have to go to work,” he said.
Here is me flirting, “Oh, oh, I shouldn’t have gotten you into this weakened condition.”
He said, “It’s been getting weaker and weaker.” I left him reading Ferlinghetti and went to work.
In the midst of all this, we were seriously trying to do TV Dinner. My metaphor was that TVD was a boat in which we had set sail, we were out of sight of the shore, so there was no turning back. I wrote in my journal, “No turning back. I must sail until we reach our destination (destiny). I must be a good sailor. I’ll just think about the ship and how to make it float. Emotional upheavals have no right to sink a ship, only winds and waves, and outside forces. Anything else is suicide. So how to be good sailor and steer clear of emotional trials that rock the boat? Any possible romance between Paid and me we should throw overboard. Let some whale swallow it. Maybe the whale will spit it out one day on some safe shore, but that would be up to the Whale Gods of Destiny.”
Still upheavals and storms kept blowing. One night at TVD, Ransom was in such a dark mood. I tried to get him to go to a movie with me and Dearest. NO.
Later after the movie when we stopped back by, he was out on Peachtree Street in front of TVD with a bottle of wine. I said, “How are you doing?”
“Not good,” he answered.
“Diane and I are going to make some coffee. Why not have some with us.”
“No. I’m too vicious tonight!”
I said, “I love you.”|
He said, “Thank you.”
Lola was nearby with her bicycle, but she was talking to this young guitar guy called Sid.
“Jesus!” I thought. “Secret Storm!”
The next day, Dan brought me a red carnation: the fragrance, the cold, damp, soft feel. I cooked fettuccine and spinach. Then back to his place we called the Beat Pad, a storefront on the Edge, a million records, electric typewriter, crazy clothes on a free-standing rack, the Mr. Coffee maker and hot plate in the corner, the toilet with the paint can catching the drips from a leaky pipe. The New Bohemia and this is not NYC where even a place this rancid would have cost some cash. Dan lived there and his band rehearsed there rent free because the owners just never got around to collecting rent.
Lack of demand caused TV Dinner to give up on being a real café. We quit serving lunch or dinner, except on Friday and Saturday nights. This left some time for some real Secret and Unsecret Storms to get going on. I have journal entries from those days that don’t even say who I was with. I wonder if I knew even at the time. They read like this: “Zazu’s for Filet Mignon. Friday film French Lieutenant’s Woman. Champagne and Spray Paint. Disorderly conduct at 688. War Torn was playing. I was going nowhere. Diane, La Dearest, took me home. Saturday night to the movies. Later Paid came over, and then left. I went out. Dressing room with Dan. Marriott Hotel for coffee and a sandwich. Beat Pad. Skin. Next day at the former Pillowtex factory, low tech life style with the very great Arthur and Lucia. Aqua bathroom. Coffee and Brandy. The Big Room at Pillowtex so breezy cold; dance to keep warm. Pizza. Laundry. Fun to just run around and play.”
Ransam was at the War Torn show for a while and at one point, he threw everyone out of the dressing room except Dan who he grabbed and said, telling the truth, “I love you!” He kissed Dan, so I am told, and left terrorizing some unsuspecting partyers on his way out of the club.
Now, my journal wondered, “Will he punish me? Will either of them punish me?”
Yes, if innocent partyers must tremble, it would not go easy for me. At TVD, Paid was distant and so was I. He had turned the tables over. Really, he did that kind of thing. When we talked about who would set them right, he threw tequila in my eyes so I could not see, but I saw.
A few days later, more words, a kind of truce. “Paid and I made a minestrone and put a peace carrot in it. American Music Show at TVD. Comedy Hour. Paid is sweet to Lola. She leaves. She calls. They fight. He comes home with me. What a scene! He is wearing her artifacts, her fish tackle from the old hardware store at 10th and Peachtree. This is good. I would not want to get the wrong idea. I make eyes at him and realize I am getting to be just as dangerous as he is. We split.”
“Dinner at Capos. American Ballet Theater with Diane, Elise, and Susan, stunning in white moire peddle-pushers and a white beaded sweater. Now, I am in my clean hotel (just done today). I have to make the transition. Alone tonight.”
So there it is. How did Diane meet Jules? How did I meet Dan? We met in a hopeless place of crazy clubs, beat pads, and music that put Paradise in its name and also War. Yes, I am headed where you think I am. Of course, I am writing about Paradise Lost when I write my story.
For all the others: Paradise Found. Paid would soon meet his dream girl whose blonde beauty would keep his eyes on her and whose humor would keep him off his darkest roads on most days. They are still together decades later. The same for Diane and Jules. Some loves last. Some don’t.
When should I have turned back? Maybe I should never have opened the back door that night at TVD. Maybe I should have gone home to my hotel instead of listening to Dan tell about the wireless world. Maybe I should have played longer at Pillowtex. Was the Beat Pad the cool music romance nest that I thought it was or was it the no-rent room of a loser? You can see I have thoughts that cast dark questions.
If a love fails, are you allowed to look back and wish that it never was?