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June 2008
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August 2008

Trouble in Paradise


When ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition came to Stumptown, I was just as excited as everyone else at the office. The project site was one block from my high school, on a street where I had trick-or-treated, babysat and toilet-papered houses. Ahyoka Drive was one of the nicest streets in a low income neighborhood, which by 2005, wasn’t saying much.

During the shoot, I cruised by to get a glimpse of the action. It was winter and through the naked trees I could see the construction zone, surrounded by cranes and lit up like a movie set. People with bullhorns and Starbucks were moving about purposefully. People from LA!

I even tuned in to the Sunday night broadcast to get a look at the interior, “meet” the family and share in the community-wide freakout. And I’ve cruised by a few times since the “dream house” was finished and the cameras cleared out. With its turrets and archways and copper gutters, the place looks like nothing else in Clayton County. It inspires gawking.

So now Lake City’s Extreme Makeover home is making the news again. I saw the headlines and thought, great. One more embarrassing story to put Stumptown in the national news. I was worried by the grouchy remarks of Lake City Mayor Willie Oswalt who said, "It's aggravating. You do that much work, and they just squander it."

He’s “aggravated?” The Harper family is losing their home. I thought a touch more compassion would be appropriate. And what did he think would happen? That they would live happily ever after in their fairy tale castle?

But the mayor’s statement was just the beginning. I am truly blown away by the amount of casual racism being thrown at this family who, from what I can see, are regular people who got caught up in a twisted social experiment. The blogs are full of commenters who are righteously pissed and openly delighted to see this family’s crass misfortune on display once again.

Check out the oldschool racism in these comments, if you can stomach it. I haven’t seen this level of unrepentant schadenfreude since the Michael Vick indictment.

Let’s just get past the illusion the house was a “gift” for the Harpers. The house was for us, the viewers. It was for Beazer Homes and all the sponsors who benefited from the publicity. This is a Hollywood version of “charity.”

For the Harpers, that house was a white elephant from day one. As soon as the crews disappeared, we all had to admit, it stuck out like a gaudy, super-sized, sore thumb. The city couldn’t figure out how to value it or tax it. The Harpers, newcomers to Clayton County, were now established as “that family with the TV mansion.” With the school system in worse shape than their septic tank, they’d be challenged to give the property away.


Extreme Makeover purports to be about helping in families in need. What would that really look like? How about teaching financial literacy? Career counseling? Insurance coverage? Investment advice? You probably couldn’t pull it off in 7 days. Would that make for boring TV? Maybe not for the 740,000 families who’s houses went into foreclosure in the last 4 months. Ever wonder why this show doesn’t do a “Where are they now?” episode? Because it would be painfully obvious that this kind of “charity” doesn’t last in any meaningful way.

Beyond the surprisingly vicious press, it seems to me this story has been misplaced. Rather than a symbol of America’s foreclosure crisis, this is the same story we’ve heard a hundred times about lotto winners, black and white, who find themselves broke again. It's a story about financial illiteracy and its spectacular consequences. We should be aggravated that both the Georgia Lottery and Extreme Makeover are inundated with hopeful customers.

Ye Olde Southlake Mall

Teal house

When you drive south on I-75 from Atlanta, heading out of the city and into the sprawl, you’ll pass Southlake Mall on your right. This is “The Mall” of my childhood– destination for Christmas shopping, gift certificate spending, giant cookie cake pickup and Glamour Shot sessions. There is no lake at Southlake, but there is a patch of woods between The Mall and the interstate.

Over the past few years, and many trips down 75, I’ve watched the progress of a strange development on this site. One by one, these huge historic-looking houses were wheeled in on flatbed trucks and reassembled in the swampy no-man's land between the Sears parking lot and the expressway.

They seemed so forlorn and out of place. Who was doing this? I wondered. And what for? I stopped to take this photo in September of 2006.


So I just got back in town after 6 weeks in the mountains, and had to make the rounds of Stumptown: Anne & Bill's Restaurant, the Library, and of course, I pulled over to check out the progress at “Olde Morrow.” It's fancy!


Today I called the City of Morrow’s Economic Development office to get the lowdown. Lawanda told me it’s going to be a 17 acre development that will include taverns, retail, restaurants and a bed and breakfast. The central fountain and gardens will host receptions and outdoor events. Here’s the craziest part: they’re building the lake. As in “Southlake.” It's about goddam time!

Those are, in fact, historic structures from all over the state... the kind of old estate homes that have been displaced and demolished due to suburban sprawl. So this is where they go to die. (I can’t help but think of the old Victorians they rolled out of Mountain View to make way for the expansion of the airport. Wonder if they'll be wheeled back in someday for a mixed use development?)

If you pick up a historic house and move it from its historic context, is it still historic? Is history portable? Is it packagable and marketable? I guess we'll find out Spring of 2009.

Blue house

Retro Doughnuts

(photo pilfered from RW)

The Krispy Kreme doughnut “factory” on Ponce de Leon Ave has been there since the '60s. When the neon sign out front is switched to “HOT,” you can look through the plate glass windows to watch the doughnuts being born. A conveyor belt slowly moves the soft little doughballs from the proofing racks to the deep fryer, where they are flipped and fried by mechanical tongs. Then, golden and greasy, the naked pastries nose through a cascading sheet of liquid icing. As they bump along the snaking metal track, the wet icing congeals to a waxy shell. Some lucky employee, yawning, latex-gloved, corrals them into dozens, deftly flicking them into a flat white box using an special doughnut-flicking stick. This place has always been a magical fixture on a notoriously rough stretch of Ponce.

A few years ago, the Krispy Kreme on Ponce got a major facelift. Inside and out, the old doughnut shop is shiny and new. It’s now a place where suburban parents and kids, after a show at the Fox Theatre perhaps, can be seen late at night comfortably enjoying their coffee, licking the kreme from their fingers while cracked out hookers still dart along the edges of the parking lot.

They did a nice job with the renovation. It’s all retro chrome and seafoam green and those signature tiny polka dots. And you can still watch the doughnuts being fried and enrobed in sugar. But the wallpaper really bothered me. It’s a stylish collage of black and white photos from the chain’s history. I stood there for a while thinking, Where am I?

Right now, I’m miles away from Atlanta and it’s probably been over a year since I visited Krispy Kreme. But that wallpaper is still so puzzling to me. When I think about my hometown, that’s the kind of thing that fills me with dread. This always seems to be happening in Atlanta¬– they take a real place and tear it down. Or, even worse, they take a real place and make it into a non-place. A movie set version of a place. A parody. I don’t know. There is no there there.

Atlanta is full of non-places. I think Krispy Kreme was just responding to the trend of designing restaurants like a Vegas casinos– safe, phony versions of real places. In the Atlanta suburbs you can visit dynastic China (PF Chang) next to faux Sonoma (California Dreaming) next to Margaritaville (Bahama Breeze, Joe’s Crab Shack) next to Irish pub (O’Charleys). Around the corner from the Krispy Kreme is a condo complex called The Savannah. Why couldn’t it be called The Atlanta? What would that look like?

(Even when I was a kid, Bennigan’s kind of bothered me. All those fake antiques hanging on the walls… where did they come from? And what were they doing there in Stumptown, overlooking my baked potato bites?)

Why not just find some authentic period wallpaper? Rather than just restoring the ‘50s-era coolness of original Krispy Kreme, they made the place into a safer, franchisable version of itself. It could be anywhere. It’s like they’re cannibalizing their own brand. The doughnut eats itself. Twenty-five years from now, what are they going to use for decor?

Defective Poetry


In class today we turned to Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein and I discovered that my anthology skips from page 162 to 227. Looks like they left out an entire signature during binding. It was like finding a four leaf clover.

And I wonder if Broadcast loves Stein? This is from their album Tender Buttons:

The big guns


Last summer I listened to the French Kicks on my headphones all the time, feeling bright and powerful. Like I could stay up all night writing and never be alone.

Then we went and saw them live and the performance was a total letdown. The lanky lead singer hid behind a mop of curly hair. They looked sloppy. They played sloppy. I kept waiting for them to get it together and sound like they sound in my head, buzzing and hot like July. Shawn said they were probably on drugs. Why didn’t I think of that? Am I naïve? Is that why they made me feel high?

I’m sick of everything that used to turn me on.
I wanted everything but it took too long.

It’s summer again and I have avoided last year’s music. I thought it would be foolhardy, maybe even depressing, to play that soundtrack again. However. “One More Time” just came on my iPod and I feel like a fool, A FOOL, for not bringing out the big guns sooner. French Kicks, I still love you.

One More Time mp3

The worst story I ever wrote


The worst story I ever wrote was for Mrs. Massey in 5th Grade. It was about the lights of downtown Atlanta. I think it was my first piece of nonfiction. Up until that point, I had been submitting fantasy stories about talking animals. She liked those kinds of stories better and encouraged me to go back to fairy tales. She was right, and the criticism stung my little 9-year-old ego.

(My experience with the lights of downtown Atlanta would’ve come from weekend visits to see my mother. The drive to her house was like going to Disney World. So it was fantasy, sorta.)

Now everything I write turns into that story. They all turn out dark and serious. They are all about home. Mrs. Massey would be disappointed, but I can’t stop trying to get it right.