Monday, November 23, 2020
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
This is a more recent discovery, from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. It is only the first couple lines of the full stanza, which is, for me, deeply connected to my current literary endeavors, as truly all of my writing and exploration seems to be leading me to finally know for the first time all of the places I've been before. Even though it's only been within the past few years that I recall ever stumbling across this, it resonates with me and seems like it has been, somehow, a part of my consciousness for much longer. Like a tune you hum to yourself without realizing it's something you first heard decades ago and barely registered at the time, but has remained with you all the same.
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity."
As with the T.S. Eliot Quote, it seems that this phrase has been rattling around in my head for much longer than it really has. The first time I'm sure I became aware of it was when I left my job in the corporate world for good, to launch my art rental business, Chicago Art Leasing. At the time, I remember a fellow entrepreneur sharing the phrase with me, as it applied to both of our endeavors at the time. Without realizing it, we had been building up the skill set to solve our own specific problems with a niche offering. Ultimately I left Chicago and let the business slip into stasis, but the phrase could apply equally to my more recent experience writing "Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure." It was something that I had been doing, visiting and writing about strange, unusual and unique places, before I realized that it was the making of a potential books. It's also possible that my father, who was an entrepreneur and pioneer in the clinical research industry, shared this quote with me when I was a child or teenager. It certainly sounds like the type of thing he would have imparted to me, but I can't be sure.
“In darkness dwells the people which knows its annals not."
This one clearly is from my Sophomore year as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It is one of two quotes cared into the front of the William L. Clements Library, which I don't think I ever once entered, ironically. I did, however, have to memorize this and other quotes around the campus during my semester pledging Sigma Phi. As a seeker of knowledge, even back then, it was a reminder of the illumination and insight provided by libraries, archives and other places I've spent a good bit of time in since.
“Tradition fades but the written record remains ever fresh.”
This is the other inscription outside of the Clements Library and one that I've pondered from time to time. Traditions do fade, and change both in practice and meaning, but does the written record remain ever fresh? Or does it too fade into obscurity over time and lose its meaning?
"No matter where you go, there you are."
This one takes me back to my early teen and even pre-teen years. It was just a line in the movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, which I watched at least a dozen times with my friend Steven. I think I spent an entire summer making that my response to just about everything. And while it was intended to be just a silly bit of dialog in a weird movie, I have found it to be surprising profound. When I moved to Seattle after college, which was just about as far as I could get from my point of origin, perhaps it was some part of myself I was looking to escape from. But I found then, as I have other times since, that you take you with you, wherever you go. Thankfully, being my own baggage seems today not so much like the burden it once did - I'm no longer running from myself and have, I think, made peace with my many flaws. But I also carry with me now not only myself, but those I've lost along the way - both metaphorically and literally. It was for this reason that I chose to use a variation of the quote in the dedication for my book.
I am sure that there are other phrases waiting to be uncovered as I continue the autoarchaeological dig that this blog has become for me. Perhaps there's some personal Rosetta Stone yet waiting to be found, that will translate and unify all such phrases as part of one single text. Maybe, once I've deciphered the cuneiform of my own experience, I'll find that I had the words out of sequence and old phrases will reveal some hidden meaning. A new tradition of refreshing the written record, perhaps.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
The last time I had been to Atlanta was when I was writing business proposals for a family of consulting firms that included Proudfoot Consulting, more than a decade ago. When I visited the firm there, all I really saw was the inside of a conference room, a no frills hotel room and a strip club. Suffice it to say, this trip was of a very different nature. From the urban farm bed and breakfast that Jen found for us to the Midtown Music Festival that I procured tickets for, to the museums, art and offbeat sites, Atlanta vastly outperformed our expectations. It may not have ranked quite as high as Savannah, but still we loved it and we left more than enough on the table for future trips.
- Item #1: Some Were Quite Blind - we stopped on the way to inspect an unusual set of sculptures placed appropriately outside of the University of Florida's Animal Sciences Building.
- Item #2: University of Florida Bat Houses: While we were there, we also paid a visit to the home of some 30,000 winged rodents.
- Item #3: The Social Goat - Upon reaching our destination we checked into an urban farm B&B that was adorable, affordable and super comfortable.
- Item #4: Adalanta Desert - One of many plaques placed throughout the country (of Kymaerica) detailing important sites and events in an alternate reality.
- Item #5: Sparkles the Diva - Since Tinker Bell the Shih Tzu was traveling with us, it only seemed right to introduce her to another Instagram-famous canine.
- Item #6: Ponce Market - Very much like Chelsea Market in New York, which comes as no surprise since it was developed by the same group.
- Item #7: The Belt Line - As above, the Atlanta version of New York's High Line.
- Item #8: Grant Park
- Item #9: Tiny Doors Atlanta - Jen has a thing for faerie houses and gardens. Consequently we sought out some 20+ tiny doors planted throughout the city.
- Item #10: Trader Vic's - I have a think for Tiki Bars, and Trader Vic's is one of the last of the originals. The food was great and we had to sample the drink they claim to have invented: the Mai Tai
- Item #11: The Gravity Research Monument - On Emory's campus. It's one of a dozen or so along the East Coast, planted by Roger Babson, who truly loathed gravity. Long story for another time.
- Item #12: Junkman's Daughter - All your vintage shopping dreams (or nightmares) come true. Actually a lot like Love Saves the Day in New Hope or Retro on Roscoe in Chicago.
- Item #13: Vortex Bar - Entered through the mouth of a weird giant skull. (*Not on my list)
- Item #14: The Martin Luther King National Historic Site: In a word, powerful.
- Item #15: 54 Columns - A sculpture installation that locals seem to either love or hate.
- Item #16: Oakland Cemetery - home to a number of memorable tombstones and final resting place of author Margaret Mitchell among others.
- Item #17: Soaps & Antiques - While Jen shopped for soaps, I found my way down into a sprawling underground cavern of antiques and treasures. Unexpected and better than imagined.
- Item #18: Music Midtown - We attended both nights and caught performances by Seven Seconds to Mars, Portugal the Man, Foster the People, Billie Eilish, Fallout Boy, Sylvan Esso, Imagine Dragons and others. Probably the best two-day line up Jen and I have attended together.
- Item #19: Doll's Head Trail - Sort of like taking a hike through the set of a Blair Witch film. Equal parts fascinating and disturbing.
- Item #20: Grant Park Farmer's Market (*Not on my list)
- Item #21: The sideways grave of Sideways the Dog.
- Item #22: Noguchi Playscapes - Geometric and vaguely brutalist artwork, made fun for kids.
- Item #23: Krog Street Tunnel - Where Atlanta's street art lives.
- Item #24: The Crowley Mausoleum - In the middle of a big box retail store parking lot.
- Item #25: Cator Woolford Gardens - A little known garden just minutes from downtown Atlanta. We didn't venture too deep into it, as we were being eaten alive by insects, but it was well worth the visit.
- Item #26: Margaret Mitchell House - Gone With the Wind is one of Jen's favorites of southern literature. The book has become somewhat more problematic of late, but it remains a defining and important work, even if the lost paradise it portrays was only ever paradise to some.
- Item #27: Autoeater - As the name implies, a marbleized sculpture eating a car. (*Not on my list)
- Item #28: Coca-Cola World - Just like Disney. Without the rides. And a carbonated soft-drink instead of an animated mouse.
- Item #29: Westview Cemetery - Largest in the Southeast and full of fascinating history.
- Item #30: Barbie Beach - On the way home we had to stop off in Senoia to see a few things.
- Item #31: Senoia Main Street - This tiny town is a mecca for television and movie magic. It is perhaps most recognizable as Woodbury and a few other towns in The Walking Dead.
- Item #32: The Titan I Missile - Another brief stop on the way home.
- Item #33: Giant Peanut Monument - Our last stop on the return trip.
Friday, November 13, 2020
It's a problem with trying to capture one's personal history that it continues to happen, sometimes far faster than the pen can keep pace with. It reminds me of that unsettling movie effect where a hallway seems to elongate before you. Our world keeps changing; my personal world along with it (and sometimes against it). I started out wanting to tell the story of two awkward kids who became friends and spent their days creating their own world together rather than trying to fit into the one that didn't seem all that interested in having them. I wanted to tell the story of my friend Steven, and I feel that thread slipping through my fingers.
Those moments are getting lost in time. Riding together to Blue Bell Day Camp in the back of a packed car, listening as "That's All" by Genesis or "Always Something There to Remind Me" by Naked Eyes came on the radio while we laughed at our driver's dirty jokes. Sitting on log benches and listening to Burt the science counselor tell spooky stories and somehow transcended his nerdiness to become "cool" for just as long as his tales lasted. Watching Blade Runner, The Thing, Eddie and the Cruisers, and Buckaroo Banzai again and again and again.
I can feel those things slipping by and past me, like photos being plucked form an album by the wind from the deck of a boat and coming to land for a moment on the surface of the water before drifting down into the depths.
Procuring matching key chain switchblades (the blades being all of an inch long) from the back of a voodoo shop together on South Street after browsing through the assortment of punk rock tee shirts at Zipperheads and grabbing a cheese steak from Inky's. Playing computer and first generation Nintendo games until our eyes were dried out and bloodshot. Reading Tolkein riddles and comic books.
There's more. I'm almost there, but I need to keep hold of the loose thread, before it unravels entirely, taking that part of me along with it. I know I can't quite reach that point in my past anymore than an asymptote can ever connect with the line it leans infinitely towards, but I can keep getting closer to it. That thread, that story of who I was, is also the story of how I got to be who I am now. As it is for all of us.
Stick with me, and I'll pull it all together soon, I promise. A picture is even now emerging from the scattered puzzle pieces, and I'll get us to that mystery at the heart of things, before it's all washed away.
Like tears in rain.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
I debated including this chapter in the book but ultimately decided against it for two reasons: 1) Scientology is always very actively recruiting down here so I was reluctant to send folks into its headquarters, and 2) I didn't want the church itself to take any offense (even though I've tried to keep my own opinions out of the writing). That said, I present it here for you.
What’s that huge building in the middle of Clearwater with the unusual bronze cross on top?
Inevitably, any discussion about the nature and composition of Clearwater must touch upon its long, complicated and often contentious relationship with the Church of Scientology. The Flag Building (sometimes referred to as the Super Powers Building) represents the spiritual headquarters of the church, the largest building in the city and ground zero in the ongoing power struggle between the two.
Science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard incorporated the first church of Scientology in Camden New Jersey in the 1950's, with the mission of reawakening human beings to their forgotten immortal natures as “thetan.” The organization quickly spread to other locations, and as early as the 1970’s began acquiring land in Clearwater.
Construction on the Flag Building began in 1998 and was completed fifteen years later. The building’s primary purpose is to deliver a training course called the Super Power Rundown, designed to enable Scientologists to fully utilize all 57 of their sense (what they refer to as “perceptics”).
The 127,000 square foot building (which includes a 15 story tower) has an assessed valued of $80M. It features 889 rooms as well as theaters for training, a bookstore, library and separate museums honoring the church’s elite Sea Org and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. A bridge connects it to the Scientology-owned Fort Harrison Hotel.
When the building opened its doors on November 17th, 2013, it did so in a ceremony attended by thousands of members including some high profile celebrities such as John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
Whatever your opinion is on the legitimacy of Scientology as a religion, it seems to have become a permanent feature of Clearwater, reminding the local sun worshipers that the star at the center of our own solar system is just one such celestial body available for their devotion.
What: The Flag Building
Where: 215 South Fort Harrison Avenue.
Cost: Free to view from outside, 10% of your income if you decide to become a regular
Pro Tip: Scientology in Clearwater is extremely active in recruitment, so unless you’re in the market for a new set of religious beliefs, you might want to view the building from the outside.