Two Windows In Atlanta

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(In the last month I’ve tackled a lot of the writing I’ve been meaning to do. That New York Tour Stories piece had been a nagging thorn in my side for quite some time, waiting to be finished. Once that story was done, I knew I had one final story to tell in the same vein. I wrote this four days ago on a long overnight flight to Oregon. I wrote the way I used to…with a pen and a notebook. My hand would not stop writing.

I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to make sense of aspects of my late teens and early 20s. Whereas “New York Summer Tour Stories” dealt with finding closure and answers in New York, this story talks about finding closure in Atlanta. And as usual, this is a story about all those wonderful things…hope, heartbreak, crazed youth, coming of age, and finally closure and acceptance. I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I did…)

And so I was in Atlanta to play the Mondohomo queer music festival. I lived in Atlanta once upon a time. I’ve written about that before. In songs. In other stories. I’ve even been back to visit the old places before. Back to the house that seemed so far from home. Back to the house full of “bugs and the sound of gunshots.”

But this time in Atlanta before I could meet my new friends, before I could get onstage, before I could finally fully understand that brief and strange chapter of my youth, I needed to go back one more time. Because this time I was alone.

All that was left was Atlanta. I’ve made my peace with Buffalo. I made my peace with my hometown. And I made my peace with my family. All that was left was Atlanta.

It was my friend Sadie who talked me into moving there from Buffalo in 1996. And being a wide-eyed 21 year old I ran for the prize. Bigger is always better when you’re 21. And Atlanta was bigger.

I was chasing unrealistic ideas of fame. And love. And some kind of personal fulfillment and escape from my nightmarish life in Western New York. I ended up moving to Atlanta with four friends. Our first night in town we ate at a Waffle House. The waitress’s last words to us that night after our meal. “Be Careful.” If only she knew. How prophetic.

So July 2007 on my way to play the Mondohomo Queer Music Fest, and on my way to catch up with my friend Enid, I veered off the highway and faced the places that brought me nightmares. Head on. For the first and last time. Alone.

First I went to Kroger. The grocery store. I bought all the meals that I ever cooked in Atlanta at this grocery store. And I bought a little notebook that became my diary. It was a thick mini notebook with a pink checkerboard cover. “The Chub.” And I bought a chub for myself and the boy I was in live with. My secrets and songs hid in The Chub. 1997.

But on this day in 2007 everything looked an eerie dusty shade of brown. More businesses were closed. I walked into the Kroger up and down the aisles. Those same aisles I walked ten years earlier crazy, suicidal, and slipping away. And I bought a notebook. It wasn’t The Chub but I wanted to bring a piece of that Kroger back with me to Tampa.

My next step was to be the WalMart that I worked at across the street from the Kroger. But it was closed. Boards on the windows. The parking lot worn and empty.

I remember cold cold Atlanta mornings working at that WalMart during the Christmas season. My hands freezing off as I rode my bike to work. And I handled the bikes and boxes in the outdoor layaway storage sheds. So cold. I felt so young and empty and confused those early Georgia mornings.

And Christmas eve. I was so far away from everything that was familiar. And I just wanted to be at my house with the four friends that I’d moved with. But fate had other plans for me. I wrote about it in a song once. How I spent Christmas Eve at a WalMart store cleaning somebody’s shit off of the floor. And it was true. I tried so hard to unclog that motherfucking toilet. The water was filled to the top of the rim. Shit was splashing everywhere. On my feet. On the floor. And the smell of the cleaners and the bleach and the human waste murdered any joy that a holiday should bring. Holidays have always been important to me. I am a traditionalist.

And ten years later, July 2007 I parked my car in the middle of the empty parking lot in front of that closed down WalMart. And I cried. And I grieved. For the kid whose heart broke inside of that building ten years ago. I lost a lot of hope inside those walls. I grieved for the kid who had to clean shit off the floor. I grieved for the kid who had ten dollars to his name. I grieved for the kid who had to walk the lonely dark streets at six a.m. I remember one of those winter nights. It was one of those rare nights in Atlanta when snow fell. And a light white snow fell on that WalMart parking lot. The parking lot I hated. And there was a little bit of magic amongst the tragedies.

I left the WalMart with tears in my eyes. But I smiled as I glanced at the Taco Bell nearby. Once during a WalMart lunch break I ate at that Taco Bell. And my fly was down. And my wiener came out of my fly. And there I stood. 21 years old at a Taco Bell in Georgia with my cock hanging out. Yes, in tragedy there is humor too.

I next drove past that Waffle House where the waitress warned us to be carefull. And then past the Honeybaked Ham store where I once put in a job application. And then I drove by the house where I once lived. It looked so small. I remember my bedroom window. It was nailed shut. And in the sweltering heat of the Georgia Summer all I wanted was a gulp of fresh air. And that damn window seemed to symbolize most everything in Georgia at that time of my life. Nailed shut. No opening. Stuck. At 32 years old, this year that window looked so small. A big S.U.V. was parked in the driveway. This was someone else’s home now. I wondered if there were still ants in the kitchen. And that old lady smell. A man got out of the S.U.V. I wanted so badly to park my car and tell him my fabulous story. How I lived in that very house once. How four young boys drove down in a van from NY and lived here for less than a year before it drove them all crazy. I wanted to tell him about the possum that ran into the living room once. And how I screamed like a bitch and ran all the way from the living to the road in about ten seconds. Those were the days. But I didn’t get out of the car. I didn’t tell him my stories. I drove away. I will never go back. There is no reason to now. I saw for myself and by myself just how small my nailed-shut bedroom window was. It wasn’t my imagination after all…

So I drove away and spent time with my wonderful present and future. Great laughs with new and old friends. And I made new Atlanta memories. Different Atlanta memories. But before I could completely turn my back all the way around I had one more window left to see…

I fell in love in Atlanta. His name was Will Fridlin. I met him at the Dunk’n’Dine. A 24 hour diner. So many memories. He had a gorgeous baby face. Big pouty lips and shiny blue-black hair. And piercing brown eyes. I have written of this love in different songs throughout the years. It was the unrequited love that drove me mad. And eventually I fell of a mental cliff. I eventually left Atlanta all together because of it.

But it had started wonderfully. When Will and I were still friends. Just friends. Nothing sexual ever happened. And I used to fall asleep next to him in his bad. I could recognize his breathing. His punk rock bedroom tucked in the upstairs of a rich house. Spotless crystal downstairs with graffiti on the walls upstairs. Chandeliers and candelabras downstairs with Christmas lights and Cure records above. I fell asleep to Will once listening to the Cure’s “Disintegration” over and over again. Or maybe I didn’t sleep. Maybe I just laid there and thought about how beautiful he was to me. And I could tell you the quirky and colorful things that made will so beautiful and special. But those stories are already in my old songs. And those stories are faded.

In the end my heart broke. No, it exploded. It busted and shattered and splattered all over the walls and the streets and the fields of Atlanta. It was my fault. I knew he was straight. I let him sleep on my shoulder anyway. So many stories fading… The last time I saw him was in Little Five.

And this July 2007 I knew I had to find his bedroom window one last time. I hadn’t seen it in ten years. I wanted to be in front of that rich house where he parked his big punk rock tank of a car. The house where he cooked me a vegan breakfast. The house where he buttered my rye toast. I can clearly hear the sound of Will putting butter on my toast even ten years later. There was something so domestic and kind that really melted my heart in that moment. And inside that bedroom window I had once hoped so fucking fucking hard and then it grossly went wrong.

Amongst the graffiti I wrote my name in huge letters on Will’s wall. Ten years ago. I wanted him to remember. And in the year 1997 I wrote the letters “LYLAFAP” nearly everywhere I traveled. It stood for “live your life as free as possible.” Ironic considering how imprisoned I was by my own foolish choices and obsessions. And of that was once in a song too…

I got lost trying to find Will’s old house. It took me awhile to figure out which house it was. It is on a small street. Even people shopping in stores near this street had never heard of it. I tried to steal free wireless and mapquest the address. But it was intuition that eventually led me back… And there I was 10 years later. In front of Will’s house. Today I have very little hope in my heart left. No that kind. That part of my heart and mind has long since passed. Or so I thought… And I looked into his tiny bedroom window and grieved. Grieved for the 21 year old boy who fell in love so hard and so fast. Grieved for the kind who chased Will around long after my novelty wore off. Grieved for the kid who went absolutely crazy in front of everyone. There’s people who still haven’t forgiven me ten years later. Parked outside that house on this beautiful Georgia summer day, I forgave myself. And then I drove away. I will not come back. And I listened the “Doctor My Eyes” by Jackson Browne over and over and over and over…

I believe Will’s family are long gone from that house. And Will is long gone too. Only rumors and an email that he isn’t doing well. I’d love to find him and hug him as an adult who has come a long way. And If that happens it will be in a much different time and a much different space. I wonder if Will has a beard now, just like the homeless men he idolized ten years ago. I knew he adored them. But I thought it was a novelty to him. I didn’t even think he’d become…one of them. I wonder if he’s cold at night… I miss him. And no matter what lived in that house now, no matter how many times the walls have been pained over, somewhere beneath it all my name remains in big black magic marker letters. JEREMY GLOFF.

Once again I drove away back to my wonderful present and future. I played a fabulous show at MondoHomo. I walked to the Kroger where Will and I and other people I’ve long forgotten used to shop. Will, the vegan punk from the band Necrolust. How I loved you. And how I wish I still had my Necrolust shirt! Just for the memories… Well, and the fact that it was a pretty cool shirt.

Finally I have made my peace with Atlanta. And it’s no longer the city where I fell apart in 1997 but the city where I completely came together and found solace in 2007. And placed an awesome show. Ten years. Wow.

And to all my dreamers, runners, romantics, and the foolish…always live for love and learning No regrets. And maybe I do have a little tiny bit of something I haven’t had in a really long time. Hope. Hope. I like the way it feels to type that.

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