“Seven years in the City” by Ron Clinton Smith

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Before beginning an acting career, the only thing I wanted to do was write. I rented a dark little hovel in the basement of a large yellow house on Winn Park for ninety dollars a month, an upscale, eclectic, colorful neighborhood near downtown Atlanta. Peachtree bordered one side, Piedmont Park the other. White-columned mansions mixed in with modern remodels, old-moneyed families with young professionals. My shower stall was so small you had to duck into it, and there was a tiny kitchenette next to the toilet. But it was all mine, I thought, until one night I heard rustling in the trash by my bed, was sure I was dreaming it, and bolted awake as paper and orange peels flew in the air.

I’d hear them gnawing every night, teeth-sawing, realizing there were fat rats sharing my hole in the wall, grandfathered in from generations. The white-haired owner, pretending surprise, installed poison and traps. I heard one slap shut in the middle of the night and found a rat the size of a cat smashed in it. There was a healthy tribe of them though, and all night they’d grind and work on a few feet away. I was waiting tables at a popular steak house built out of train cars, then up late reading, working on stories. The second I moved in a major construction project broke ground up on Peachtree called Colony Square, a twenty story building. I’d be trying to rest after getting in late and being gnawed awake by my rat pals, the whistle blew, cranes cranked up, and I was stuffing my ears with pillows, writhing around trying to get some sleep. One morning I heard pounding at my door, groggily cracked it, and there was a pamphlet from Jehovah’s Witnesses that said AWAKE!

I escaped my rat hovel after a year, scraping up enough for my girlfriend and I to travel in Europe, and when we came back I found a large efficiency one bath with a two person claw foot tub on the third floor of an old red brick off Piedmont. The landlady told me it was the same floor Margaret Mitchell lived on when she’d been struck and killed by a taxi cab on Peachtree in 1946. I wasn’t bothered by Margie’s company; she was a bit daunting at first, but comforting too in a colleague sort of way. I was charting my first novel, and late at night I’d feel a curious presence looming over my shoulder. But the old place had been there since the turn of the century, so no telling who was still hanging around.

It was a high-ceilinged room with tall windows looking out on white oaks with a nice view of houses across the street and rooftops and trees beyond. I had a large antique dining table I wrote on, listening to Debussy and gazing out into the green space. I’d disappear and forget about time, writing until I was hungry, pick up Chinese from Tong’s Kitchen, or run a few miles through Winn Park down the street.

Continue reading ““Seven years in the City” by Ron Clinton Smith”

★ ‘New York With The Invisible Whip’ by Ron Clinton Smith

soft cartel may 2018

1. Within The Brown Box

I started doing standup comedy in a quaint little Atlanta jazz club at the corner of Virginia and Moreland. Nights every stripe of late night creature would slip in to hear The New Ice Age, then the Colonel would take the stage with his inflated mannequin leg at 2 A. M. to do a bizarre monologue with offbeat original songs, most made up on the spot, gradually seeming to lose his mind, turning finally into the Southern Heavyweight Championship Belt yelling at and berating the audience in a red-faced, unprovoked rage before storming off again. “Every night we’re overlooking Grady Stadium,” he’d start quietly, as the bar sat just above the stadium where I’d played high school football. “The doors are locked, nobody can get out, we‘ve turned up the heat, and we’re going to sit in this brown box and sweat for thirty-six straight hours, at the end of which time I’ll climb to the top of a fourteen foot ladder and drop to the floor of the Midtown Jazz Club where my body will be outlined in chalk. I’ll then be wrapped in aluminum foil, and with dill pipe cleaners reaming my nasal passages, and trying to reach Ty Cobb through a MEDIUM…sized person, travel through eternal nothingness where I’ll become one with oil, ink and pencil stores…Thank you for the clap, it’s good to be back, how’re the wife and kids” (pretending to smoke an invisible joint as he pretends to look at a watch that isn’t there) “–I’ve got to see my dentist in fifteen minutes. Let me introduce the band to you if I may,” pointing to imaginary people on stage with him, “on jazz chazoid, Raymond Wooster; on sespatoon, Bobby Forte; on daralator, older type of man, doesn’t suffer any problems, had sex in astral projection for a couple years now, Crawford Boyd; and on organ erect, ladies and gentlemen, one of my favorite people, Dr. Joyce Brothers!” then he’d break into a frenetic version of a “K-nade Down,” a tongues-like balls out acappella tune while he played the mannequin leg and made bizarre trilling noises, snapping it forward like a yard long erect penis, throbbing it upward. “K-nade down and grope until, around the peak at Voltag’s Will, the crayon 4th and 6th shall speak, sytemis blonk of bladed geek, light bulb heads and grandmother faces, pound accelerator, cathartic races, eat and after desert’s gleam, knasian stamp and asses ream!” the leg jumping obscenely to attention over and over again as he made the high-pitched trilling runs, repeating the verses with even more maniacal intensity, ending the song with a berserk flourish, then stopping very seriously, smoking the phantom joint, looking at the phantom watch, saying, “I tell ya, working here at the Midtown Jazz Club’s making me a better person every day. I’d like to give everybody a back rub and a piece of cheese on the way out….I’d like to give everyone a mink stove,” then suddenly looking like he’d just woken from a trance and was shocked to see everybody sitting there. “What? People? What are people doing in the Midtown…I’ve got to see my dentist,” looking at the phantom watch, staggering to the edge of the stage puffing the phantom joint, looking around with bewilderment. Then going back into his narrative, talking about getting on a UFO the other night that said “United” on the side of it, but they had women with frozen hair. “They had food that looked like our food, but it wasn’t. Sixty-five people landed in Tucson and no one was hurt.” Every now and then he’d look at the missing watch and smoke the invisible joint, then ramble off again talking about straddling the equator holding a canister of sediment with Barbara Walters, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and Bob Dylan, Dylan singing, “How many times must a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? the answer, my friend, is blowing your Congressman, the answer is….” Then appearing totally shocked again, gawking around the club, seeming disoriented and puzzled, saying, “What? Who are you people? You people don’t have any respect for the Southern Heavyweight Championship Belt!” pointing and jabbing the air. “You come in here night after night stinkin’ and smellin’ up my club like pigs, farmers and hogs from Hahira and Valdosta, in your ’65 Buicks and your ‘58 Pontiacs! You don’t have enough guts to drive a Chrysler 300 like a real man! I wear diamond rings and alligator shoes, I go to the Greek Isles on my vacation like a real man, you people go to the Ramada Inn in Cordele! I’m not taking off my shirt for you ladies tonight! I’m not taking off my sunglasses for you men! And you think you can come into my club night after night insulting the Southern Heavyweight Championship Belt! I don’t see any competition out here!” strutting back and forth like an orangutan in a cage stabbing the air. “I see a bunch of pencil neck, genetic drift, nickel-rate geeks in here! I’ve got the Once Over Toe Hold! I’ve got the Russian Sickle and the African Grape Vine! You people disgust me!…” Then suddenly coming out of it and looking at everybody like they were ghosts, like he had no idea where he was or what he was doing there, backing away slowly; looking at his imaginary watch, laughing quietly out of his mind, his eyes completely crazed looking, swaying and giggling, frowning at the invisible watch, smoking the nonexistent joint. Staggering into the darkness he’d crow like a rooster, jabbing his finger at the crowd, walk away and come back and do it again a few more times, then disappear into the darkness. It was different every night, then I’d start a Mingus record behind the bar and patrons would chuckle and murmur, ordering drinks, and some baffled soul would ask me who he was.

Continue reading “★ ‘New York With The Invisible Whip’ by Ron Clinton Smith”