Carnage

One of the less pleasant parts of walking the dogs up and down the mountain is seeing all the dead animals that people driving cars almost always overlook. There is a little of almost everything — snails, salamanders, snakes, turtles, birds, squirrels, armadillos, possums, dogs and deer. The dogs and deer are usually murdered elsewhere and the bodies dumped along the road. The rest are victims of our transportation system.

I almost never take pictures of the deceased, but a few days ago I saw a snake that showed no obvious sign of its cause of death (in other words, it wasn’t smashed), and was such a beautiful specimen that I did it anyway.

This is what I believe to be an Eastern Milk Snake. Curious Zeke is in the image for scale. This is small for a mature milk snake, so it is probably a juvenile. According to the linked site, the Eastern Milk Snake and the Scarlet King Snake sometimes intergrade in northern Georgia into Tennessee. Make sure you have followed the link to see the picture of the king snake, it’s magnificent. The coloration of the unfortunate snake I saw here seems to be somewhat brighter than the image of the milk snake, so maybe it’s one of the intergraded snakes.

What a shame.

Snakes alive

Leah and I found a snake crossing the road last week on our way into town. It was stretched out across the centerline of the road. I passed, then turned around and came back. It was around three feet long.

Usually all they need is a little nudge to get them moving, but this one didn’t want to be nudged. He coiled and reared his head as I approached. When I got closer he began to lunge and strike. I was sure enough that it was not venomous that it didn’t worry me, but I still didn’t want his little snakey bites, so I got a collapsible umbrella out of the car to nudge him. No dice. Usually snakes just want to get away; this one just wanted me to get away.

While I was busy trying to move him, my uncle and aunt pulled up and stopped. Uncle Tommy said it was a chicken snake. After googling I found that it was a gray rat snake. Here it is at the side of the road, where it’s hard to see.

It’s actually a beautiful snake. The markings remind me of Southwestern design. I didn’t find anything online about the rat snake’s temperament, but “grouchy” seems appropriate.

Another person stopped. A young man jumped out of the car and ran up to the snake. He looked like he was going to stomp it. I told him not to kill it, but all he wanted to do was hold it down while he grabbed it and tossed it towards the edge of the road. I’m not afraid of snakes, but for some reason I just don’t like handling them. I can do it with gloves, but not barehanded. I know how to pick them up, I would just rather not.

A few days later as I took the dogs out just before dark, we found another snake on the driveway. It was too dark for me to tell what it was, but when it started striking at Zeke when Zeke was still about five feet away, I figured it was a gray rat snake. Zeke barked. I told him not to bother, but he felt it was his duty. The snake eventually slithered off into the tall grass at the side of the drive.

That tall grass is just a little bit worrisome now. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Poison Control Center says that snake bites are up 40 percent over last year, mainly because of a mild winter (what winter?). Copperheads seem to be the worst culprits. I’m not a herpetologist, but I knew the rat snake was not a copperhead. The rat snake’s head is small relative to its body. The copperhead’s head is larger, like an arrowhead.

The tall grass at the side of our drive is the result of seeds that were in the wheat straw I put all over the yard last year. I imagine it provides an ideal environment for snakes. I have been avoiding getting into that grass mainly because of ticks, but now I need to worry about snakes as well.

It was almost a relief on Wednesday to see this little green snake on the dogs’ morning walk.

This snake acted like he was supposed to. I nudged his tail and he slowly edged his way off the road.

The Four-H Club and Billy Crystal

Back in the early 1970’s when I went to Georgia State in Atlanta, I lived on 12th Street in an area called Midtown, about a half a block from the Piedmont Street entrance to Piedmont Park. I shared an apartment with a friend in a dumpy building where my brother also lived. We were about a block and a half from Peachtree Street, where we often walked to the little grocery store on the corner.

The entire area from around 10th Street to 14th Street was a haven for the counter culture. The stores were old, single-story buildings. The closest thing to a high-rise was Colony Square on 14th Street.

We spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment. His neighbors were pretty characteristic of the area. The girl who lived across the hall went to work every morning with her hair up and in a nice, respectable dress. When she came home she took off her disguise and became a hippie. Every time I think of her, I think of the hippie girl on the Muppets. Once when someone told her that an acquaintance had had a baby, she said, “Cool, was it a chick or a dude?”

A couple of working girls lived upstairs. There was also a flamboyantly gay guy either upstairs or sharing the apartment with the hippie girl. It was all kind of like one big, happy family. One day when I was alone at my brother’s apartment, a young man in a suit knocked on the door and asked about the girls. I kind of glanced out into the parking lot to see what he was driving. In those days, there was an urban legend that all the undercover police cars had the same three-letter prefix – GFN – because the city got all the tags at one time. I didn’t see that tag. He didn’t look like a cop or a customer, but all the same, sorry, I don’t know anything about any girls. He game me a kind of small, odd smile and left.

One night there was some commotion down the street at the Piedmont Park entrance. We all walked out to see several police cars parked down there with their flashing lights, and lots of people standing around. A kid came walking up the sidewalk from the park towards us, with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched. He kept looking over his shoulder back down to the police cars. When he reached us, he asked if we knew where he could get some skag. It was the first time I had heard that term, but I figured out pretty quickly what it was.

The police were always around the neighborhood, driving and flying their helicopter. In our apartment building, we had to make sure we closed the blinds so that you could look down through them, not up, because most nights the police flew their helicopter around shining their spotlight down into the street and parking lots. If you left the blinds in the wrong position, your bedroom was flooded with light when they flew over.

Back in those days, that’s what Midtown was: hippies, hookers, heroin and helicopters.

I hadn’t been back to Midtown since those days, although I spent several years in the ‘80s’ living across the downtown connector (where I-75 and I-85 make their way through town) while I went to graduate school at Georgia Tech. Leah hadn’t been back there since the 80’s, when we were both in Atlanta but never could seem to get together.

Billy Crystal changed all that a couple of weeks ago. We had made reservations to see his “Spend the Night with Billy Crystal” show at the Fox Theatre. The Fox is on Peachtree about a mile from where I lived on 12th Street. The show started around 8 pm on a Thursday. We didn’t know what kind of traffic to expect, so we ended up arriving early. To kill a little time, we exited at the Howell Mill Road exit to look at the little house where I stayed while at Tech.

Nothing was the same. There was a large shopping center a few blocks from where I had lived, and a multi-unit apartment or condo where the little house had been. Only the street name was the same, Tallullah Street. We drove down Northside Drive (Highway 41, rolling down which I was not born in the back seat of a Grayhound bus) to 17th Street, then cut over towards Peachtree.

Leah was afraid of going to that area. Neither of us knew what to expect, There we found high rises all around, with runners, dog-walkers, guitar players, and all sorts of young, urban hip folks. We didn’t go visit my old 12th Street apartment, but I looked on Google streetview. High rises. No hippies. No obvious hookers. No obvious drug use. I’m pretty sure the police don’t shine their spotlights into these high rises, either.

Well I guess that’s the way it is, you leave a place for 30 or 40 years and people change everything all around.

Everything except the Fox, that is. The Fox Theatre is the last of the old movie palaces surviving in Atlanta. This is an image from Wikipedia of the side entrance.

Here’s the front from our visit.

The Fox was originally intended as a Shriner office building, but ended up being too expensive. It was bought and turned into a movie theater, which opened on Christmas Day in 1929. It went through ups and downs for years and was almost demolished in the early ‘70’s, to be replaced by a parking lot for Bell South. A group was formed to save it, and it has done pretty well ever since.

I had been inside only once, for a performance of the Nutcracker in around 1984. It seemed smaller than I remembered, but still very impressive. This edifice is right above one of the forward exits.

The exterior and much of the interior has an Moorish style. The auditorium is supposed to look like an open courtyard with a starry sky overhead.

You can’t see the stars in the above image, but you can just make out a few here.

Here are a couple of other stars.

We had pretty good seats. I estimate we were about 40 feet from Billy Crystal his own self. We could easily have thrown a tomato from our seats. You can see one of the two chairs he and his co-hot, Bonnie Hunt, used.

We were impressed by the Fox. We also liked Billy Crystal’s show. It was a casual recounting of his show business career, with an emphasis on a few particular aspects, including his relationship with Mohammed Ali. It all seemed spontaneous, but obviously, since he has done the same show many times in many places, some material gets recycled. But we hadn’t seen it, so we enjoyed it.

We especially enjoyed the part where he pretended to be Howard Cosell commentating on the Trump presidency. We thought it was pretty funny, and pretty much spot-on, but remember, this was an almost entirely white, older audience in Atlanta, Georgia. One fellow across the aisle looked unhappy, although his wife was laughing. One bit about Hillary Clinton drew about equal amounts of applause and boos. I’m sure Crystal knew what to expect out of this crowd, and I had to respect him for giving it anyway.

The show was two and a half hours, but didn’t seem nearly that long. Leah thought we should have moved up towards the front as people were leaving the show, until someone came to kick us out. Maybe we could have bargained for an autograph.

Digging a hole

We bought some crape myrtles and hollies for the yard between the side of the house and the driveway a few days ago, and on Wednesday I started digging a hole for one of the crape myrtles. The crape myrtles are in five-gallon containers, so they need a hole a foot deep by about four or so feet wide. That’s a big hole, but that’s not the whole story.

Here is one of the crape myrtles in the ground. It’s about six feet tall.

And here is the start of a hole for the second crape myrtle.

About half of the dirt taken from the hole is wrapped up in the tarp behind the crape myrtle. I dumped the rest down near the woods because it is too hard to use for planting. About four inches below the surface there is a layer of incredibly hard, almost black clay. It is impossible to dig this soil with just a shovel. It’s not easy to do it even with a pick. The clay breaks into rock-like chunks that are impossible to break up with a shovel. Our regular hard red clay can at least be crumbled with a shovel, but this dark clay is impervious. Our neighbor John, who did the clearing and grading for us, lent us a gasoline-powered auger to use for planting. I tried it. The auger bit dug a few inches into the soil and stopped at the clay level, leaving a nice, polished surface where the auger spun uselessly against the clay.

I take the clay chunks out of the soil and use the loose soil that’s left. There’s no way I can put the hard clay back into the hole with the plant, even amended generously with compost.

Planting guides usually recommend against so generously amending the soil that goes back in the hole with the plant because it encourages roots to stay within that good soil and not penetrate out into the rest of the soil. Here, though, we’re going to have to treat the crape myrtles almost like potted plants because the clay is so hard.

Each of these crape myrtles holes take me most of an afternoon to dig. I have wondered about dynamite.

The ground is especially hard now because we haven’t had a measurable amount of rain for about two weeks. We have watched the weather radar as heavy showers pass north or south of us. A few days ago a good shower passed over town. We could watch it from our front porch.

We got a sprinkle. I assume that at least the rain that passes close but misses us helps recharge the ground water, so maybe our well won’t run dry.

Time, Time mag, mag*

Back when I used to go over to my mother’s house in the 1990’s, I would sometimes sit in her living room and read a magazine while she watched the Braves or NCIS reruns. There were a few of the classics, like National Geographic, or a good consumer magazine, like Consumer Reports. I would also find the occasional issue of Money magazine. I never could figure out why she subscribed to that magazine. I couldn’t find anything interesting in it, and I doubt she could either. Maybe that’s why we weren’t rich.

Anyway, so time passed, my mother went to live in Virginia for a year with my brother while he finished seminary school, and then moved into an assisted living facility for a few months, and then went back home to die.

And still the Money magazines kept coming. They ended up being mailed to my brother’s house in Chattanooga. I don’t think he thought much about it. He just assumed my mother had a subscription that would soon run out, and he wouldn’t renew it, because he never found much to read in the magazine either, so he’s also not rich.

But still they kept coming. And, as is so often the case, the whole matter just sort of drifted along just below his conscious mind. Eventually, however, as the months became years –almost four years, in fact – it occurred to him to look at the subscription information on the mailing label. My mother’s subscription to Money magazine was good through 2047.

I can imagine very well what happened. Someone called my mother and urged her to subscribe at a good rate, a tremendous rate, a truly Trumpian rate, and she agreed, despite the fact that she had been retired for 30 or 40 years and did not have any money to speak of. And then they kept calling her back, because she wouldn’t want to let a subscription to such a wonderful magazine as Money expire. And of course my mother agreed that that would truly be a tragedy, so she re-upped. And they called, and they called, and they called, and my mother renewed and renewed and renewed. All the way out to 2047, when she would be 124 years old.

I’m sure it never occurred to the truly wonderful, tremendous magazine subscription salespeople that no one alive in, let’s say 1997, would want to read Money magazine for the next 50 years, no matter how interesting and useful the articles might be. I’m sure they didn’t even consider the fact that it is as near a certainty as one is likely to encounter that Money magazine will not even exist in 2047.

So my brother called the Money magazine subscription department and described the situation. To their credit, when the staggering absurdity of the situation was explained to them in a manner befitting an ordained Presbyterian minister, they agreed that there might need to be some adjustment in the subscription particulars. They agreed to refund payment for some of the excess subscription. Quelle surprise.

Just last week my brother sent me a check for half of the refund. It was nearly $300. So, imagine that, if you will. The people behind convincing little old ladies to renew useless magazine subscriptions out decades beyond their likely death squeezed almost $600 out of my mother.

*Thanks Joan Baez. Yes, it’s Money magazine, not Time. But Time Inc. owns Money, so I think the title of this post is appropriate.