Saturday, January 16, 2010

From the Ashes

The timeline is a bit fuzzy now. Somehow, I have reported on 1973-75, and am now heading into 1976- 77. I am getting into the glory days (for me) of Southside.

I went back to work, and moved into a very nice one-bedroom apartment on Highland Avenue.
I remember that it had one black wall that I hung my large vanity lights on, with posters underneath. I put my 50's style chaise in front. It was kind of glamorous.

I was getting better physically and mentally. My own rehabilitation coincided with the rehabilitation nursing I was doing at the University of Alabama's Spain Rehabilitation Center. I worked on the spinal cord unit and found that I enjoyed the pace of rehab much better than the crisis-like atmosphere of intensive care. I was still in my early twenties so I could relate to the mostly young guys with injuries suffered as a result of car, motorcycle and diving accidents. They were the risk takers and the partiers that weren't so lucky. In those days, patients could stay at the hospital for months, so we had long term relationships with them and their families. It was all about teaching and creating independence- what a far cry from today's insensible medical "care".

One day near the hospital after work I ran into a friend's younger brother that used to come by the enclave in Crestline. He was working in the pharmacy at UAB as a tech. We started hanging out a lot and decided to go in together on a large apartment near one of the parks further down Highland Avenue. It was the top half of a big house, and it included a large attic that could be used as a room as well- later the site of many late night jam sessions.

In the back of the house was a large concrete courtyard that backed up to the side of the steep hill behind us. The hill was covered with gorgeous 60 foot tulip poplars. Sitting in the kitchen looking out the back of the apartment, all you saw was trees and a small cottage that housed an older man who had lived there for many years- he was a holdover from when his family took care of the house and grounds that we were renting. He had a hat collection and he rode a bicycle. He was very quaint but very quiet. We were respectful of him and his little house. God only knows what he thought about us and our raucous parties. I guess we were somewhat acceptable- we both had good jobs and were not dealing drugs!

The house was great, and just called out for parties and gatherings. We had them a lot. We would have double keggers- one would be out back in the courtyard and one on the first floor of the house. I can't remember any of the crowds of people that came to those parties other than my close friends. I had acquired so many record albums that we got several large heavy duty plastic tubs. I could stand the records up in the tubs, and then could easily flip through them to find what I was looking for. Unfortunately, when we had parties and guests over, they must have helped themselves to my records, because many went missing.

The place also had a claw foot bathtub. I loved getting in there and soaking.

Sometimes things were rather straightforward, sometimes things were crazy. In that one location, upstairs and downstairs, with all the people who were in and out, there were enough stories to fill several volumes. Two of the more endearing and interesting roommates we had were Ananda Marga devotees. One gave me a cookbook called Cooking for Consciousness. He saw more potential in me than I was showing at the time I am sure. He was raising his little girl, Angel, and she lived in the house, too. The next door neighbor worked in nuclear medicine but he knew everything about plants and had tons of them. It was a renaissance kind of culture and we were in the middle of it all.

I bought a Chevrolet pick-up truck with a camper top. We outfitted it with everything we could- carpet, curtains, and electrical outlet, speakers, a porta potty, and all our camping gear. We went camping and hiking everywhere within a days ride. I bought a raft and we started going white water rafting on the Chatooga, the Nantahala and the Ocoee Rivers. No guides, no lessons- we just started riding the rivers. We hiked the Appalachian trail.

Our dog JC (Joe Cool) was as much a Southsider as any of us. He was part collie, part border collie and part Gordon setter. He was beautiful and just the right size. He was so friendly and smart that he was genuinely loved by all, so he could go anywhere he wanted to. I imagine he fathered some Southside puppies, too.

We started having regular musical gatherings that would last for hours into the night. We would sing John Prine songs, Neil Young songs, Crosby Stills and Nash songs. Once a week we had craft night, and my girlfriends would come over and do macrame and needlework. See the twin peacocks shirt embroidery that I did during this time. I started listening to reggae music. We would put on Bob Marley or Toots and play their music all day. Katy Lied by Steely Dan and Sweet Forgiveness by Bonnie Raitt also stand out from that time.

Our neighborhood was a succession of parks so we could walk down on Sunday afternoon and play volleyball or play with the dog or go for a stroll. It was a relatively safe and pretty serene scene (discounting the night we had a party that got so wild that everyone started howling like wolves).

The trees, the people, the times were wonderful, but the times they were a-changin.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mostly Madness - The L& N Cafe

I am sure there are people with unclouded memories who can say a lot more about the L&N- who owned it, who worked there, when it opened and closed. I keep hoping that these folks with find my blog and fill in some of the details someday. I will keep plugging away meanwhile with what few fragments I have remaining of a very fragmentary time of my life.

It is hard to describe a dreamscape. Having just seen Avatar, I realize that words on a page are hardly adequate. I am going to try.

Playing in the background are leftover riffs and phrases- Al Kooper, Staple Singers - and I am jamming with Electric Ladyland on the piccolo. The telephone and all the telephone wiring is flung into the frontyard. The sound of napalm bombings and cries of wounded soldiers and Vietnamese on the television provides the drone sound. I remember the exotic feel of the cassette tape spoken tour of American Samoa that John sent.

I tried to reconnect with some of my friends who had scattered, running from the craziness that I had fallen into. They had also descended into their own madness. Everyone was wasted. I think that is why the L&N was so appealing. It was the most "anything goes" place at the time. So I started going regularly with Caveman and friends. His household included his very smart artsy girlfriend, his roomate and my best drinking and hanging out buddy Bobby, some monkeys and other assorted creatures. He was actually an intelligent guy who went on to get several degrees-don't know where he is now. We payed Go and Mastermind and listened to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker when we weren't at the L&N.

At the L&N we would get a booth and start drinking huge mugs of beer that soon slopped all over the table. Each table had a large candle. We started a tradition of making melted wax art on the table top that was easily picked up and then plastered on the wall. After a while we could sit at our favorite booth with our own wax artwork surrounding us. That was carousing at its finest. How I drove after that is a miracle and something that still sends shivers down my spine. I was in a blackout most of the time. I do remember looking up at the bar one night just before closing, and a la Ugly Coyote, there were dancers up there, but all guys, who suddenly as a group- mooned us all.

I don't know why I quit going, or if the bar just closed. The curious thing is that I cannot recall a single memory of music from the L&N. It remains a dark and mysterious chapter in my life.