A quarter-century ago, I was exiled out of New York. The bridge and tunnel crossings were closed to me. When asked to explain my misfittedness in the south, I’ll cover with a “federal witness protection program” pathos of personal diaspora. Like most liars, I embellish out of insecurity, inflating my self-worth. But the shifty truth is only three degrees of separation.
Post-Olympic Atlanta wasn’t much different than the depressing tome on Atlanta written to prop up Rem Kollhas’s hold on a PR proclaimed finger on the pulse of urbanism, and hence his personal future commissions as a curative visionary to fin de millennium development. A few weeks after buying a car and upshifting to Talladega speeds on the speeds of the 285 perimeter, compared to the nine foot wide, blind curve driving lanes of the Bronx River Parkway, I was asked to be on a mayoral commission for downtown housing in central Atlanta. At that time, the population of downtown Atlanta was one – Ted Turner.
There will be a separate thesis for another post, but once again my myopic self centeredism only valued expressing my ego in the moment, not the value of the future. Had I been less a less snarky New Yorker in exile, more visionary, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. I’d be sitting along the river Clerkwell in Oxford living off the investments of Atlanta as the New York of the South.
Drinking and punting.
Today more than 175,000 people live in the core of Atlanta – that’s 174,999 more than 1997.
Like me, Rem missed a lot about the Atlanta experience, mostly because he wanted to tell the financial capital world that his Rotterdam was way hipper than the vacuousness of American urbanism. His loss. My loss.
One of the sensual rewards of Atlanta Rem missed is the drive through its topographic rain forest. So after a year of upshifting and downshifting, I bought a 70’s Sea Ranch vintage house on a lake. It’s quirkily magnificent, with light scoops and slot windows that suck in the diurnal, seasonal dance of sunlight and water. In the context of brick veneer mini-mansions, everyone thought the little house was a teardown, not Tara.
The teardown was coming.
A year ago, or about eighteen N95 masks ago, the downgraded remnants of hurricane Zeta, powered by warm, moist Gulf air, crept over Atlanta on Halloween eve like an unfettered, hungry demon. The little lakefront house was a 4 am snack.
Hangry Zeta plucked an old-growth oak tree, chewed on it, and chucked the trunk stalk through the living room, splitting the living areas away from the sleeping – cleaving public away from private in a violent tribute to Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenal thesis on the psychological attributes of the house. Three hours later, in the light of a wet dawn after rescuing some possessions, I thought the result had the potential of a mash-up between Gordon Matt’s Clark’s chainsaw massacre in the Beaubourg and Gerry’s self-inflicted wounds on his house in Santa Monica.
In that moment of exhaustion delirium, I also mused on the metaphor of Zeta’s cleavage – public had been sundered from private much in the same way that, eight months and 14 masks earlier, the Covid pandemic had exiled everyone away from public life to the safe isolation of home.
I blame dear little mother for the underlying fissures.
One of my most memorable little motherisms is “Kevin Dwight – there’s a mister inside voice and a mister outside voice.” When she invoked my middle name, it put the words following the invocation in a bold, italic register. She voiced a possibility that the singularity of Kevin was actually two Kevins, an outside Kevin and an inside Kevin.
My angelic little mother also dressed me up as the Easter bunny one Christmas.
Psychic cracks were forming
15 months of the Covid solitary confinement meant 456 days of introspective self-cannibalism for me, with predictably wobbly results. Pair that with six months alone in a hotel room as little house was reconstructed and those fissures metastasized into eight idiosyncratic personalities. Now that we Georgians are 52% vaccinated, it’s time for those Kevins to go public.
Sumo Kento (aka Little Powerman)
Little Powerman lives to go “Belly to Belly” with anyone. Any day with a fight is a good day and he’ll take on anyone under, equal or over his fighting weight – although the latter is rare. His taste for the fight is borne of insecurity. Teenage Kento, metabolism running in the red arc, weighed in at 56 kilos in middle school and had an arm broken on the gym’s wrestling mat. Bullied by his classmates for his bony fragility, Kento sought solace in mass quantities of sake, Kobe beef and mochi – mostly sake. Today, Kento lumbers around the office provoking his peers, belittling his friends and coworkers, teasing out their flaws, all to taunt them out onto the 4.5-meter circle of rice bales, the dohyo, that’s in place in the TVS Peachtree Conference room for a little Kime-dashi action.
Wim Kof ( aka the Iceman)
The iceman is a new-age Shaman of self-actualization, but like Kento’s gluttony, his body/mind purity was forged by years of self-indulgence – not actualization. The 30 minute (second) ice baths, the months (hours) of rumored intemperance and doubtful decades of chastity are all hair-shirted recompense for a life of dopamine craved sensual indulgence. The Wim Kof is a PR You-tube of piety, acting the repentant foil to Kid of Kid and Nancy.
More of a sham-man, than Shaman. You try sitting in a tub of ice cubes.
Kid and Nancy
All the pirates sailing under the black flag sail under the winds of a dopamine addiction, a Sisyphusian Odyssean quest for pleasure. Dopamine’s siren song has a deep resonance in my gene pool. My 4’10” Aunt Bernie, invoking the family curse, asked if, “my feet were running in my shoes.” She once drove from Pittsburgh to New York, looped around Times Square and back to Pittsburgh because she “was bored.” Kid is so tense, so wound up, that his hair spikes up as if he wired to a Tesla coil. As the captain of his self-worshipping pirate ship, Kid has a sycophantic Nancy as his quartermaster. Cynically bored, Kid is contemptuous of everything including himself – self-destructive, self-worshipping and ultimately, self-denying.
He is my second favorite me.
Most of the eight selves are reactionary spawns of guilt or insecurity, but Saint Kevin is aspirational. As all Saints should be. Like his real-life namesake, Saint Kevin of Ireland, he was beatified for eschewing human interaction, preferring the innocent company of the native wildlife around his rural cave beyond the messy human temptations of Dublin. The daily devotions of Saint Kevin of Cobb are his care and feeding of the backyard chipmunks, birds and Fluff, the neighbor’s cat.
In my self-exile, other than scolding admonitions with myself, I chat lakeside with my best friend Tom, Saint Thomas of Aquinas. Like two old codgers allowed outside under supervision at the assisted living home, we sit in the sun and chew over beauty and the morally, heretically suspect pleasure of beauty.
Tom and I have a secret bet, who will be struck by lightning first.
While Kento lives to fight, he’s tranquil off the mat, napping off the calories and the ethanol. Angus is angry, always angry. It’s an ancestral anger. Think of Mel Gibson as William Wallace being disemboweled on the rack. He’s angry that the copiers are gone, angry that he has to do a timesheet, angry that his kilt chafes skin unaccustomed to wool, angry that the bar at The Castle is closed, angry that he has to use a key fob to summon the elevators, angry at the Revit, angry that he’s named after meat, angry that sheep only live three years, angry about rust… His anger is a seething, fire pit worthy of a dark Pearl Jam lyric.
Five of my eight personalities are like veins on the back of the hand, distinct yet sprung from a common heart. Pere Gordu was formed as a wish towards consolidation, toward Unite’. He combines the rebellious anti-anything of Kid Vicious, a serene, monastic love of beauty of Saint Kevin, the impish pranks of Sim-Me-N (why else paint the neighbor Eileen Grey’s house in the nude) and the wish for recognition of our last personae Scout Pete. By invoking the once avant-garde, now après garde, stance of Le Corbusier 56 years after the swim, Pere Gordu can at once be rebellious, serene and benignly, comfortably acceptable. An amalgamation of impulses.
The nine of us live on a lake. My less-than-professional diagnosis is that Pere Gordu needs the reassurance of the other eight against the fear of irrelevance.
One of my cleaven selves lives on another rung of Darwin’s ladder, higher or lower we’re not sure. Monkey Man is the Sheng Xiao, the Chinese zodiac, manifestation of my birth year cycle – although if the Sheng Xiao manifests the year of my conception when little mother and Dad came home from a party at a neighbor’s house a little too tipsy, then this self would be Sheep Man.
“People born in a year of the Monkey have magnetic personalities and are witty and intelligent. Personality traits like mischievousness, curiosity, and cleverness make them very naughty. Monkeys are masters of practical jokes because they like playing most of the time. Although they don’t have bad intentions, their pranks sometimes hurt other people’s feelings. Monkeys are fast learners and crafty opportunists. They have many interests and need partners who are capable of stimulating them. While some like the eccentric nature of Monkeys, others don’t trust their sly, restless, and inquisitive nature.
Although they are clever and creative, Monkeys can’t always exhibit their talents properly. They like to accept challenges and prefer urban life to rural life.”
Who’s to argue with the Google machine. It’s preferable to the Urban Dictionary definition of Monkey Man popularized by The Stones or Neenah Cherry.
After extended self-examination on beloved sofa, I’ve realized that the conflicted and complimentary fissures of my cloven self aren’t exclusively due to little mother dressing me up as the Easter Bunny on Christmas. Some of the blame lies with my father’s refusal to say the K-word – he disliked the name so much, calling me Pete instead. Scout Pete is my psyche’s foil to Punker Kid. He is a consummate do-gooder in search of paternal approval, the only scout in the troop with merit badges on the front and back of his army green sash. One of the badges, fourth row, second from the left, on the backside is for “do-gooding.” There’s also a merit badge for forswearing the F word for a week.
Scout Pete is at once my most favorite and least favorite me. To invoke the Churchillian rebuke – “he has all of the attributes I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
We’re all back in the little house. It’s crowded, the nine of us on the sofa. Little house has more light scoops now- it’s great what destruction can prompt into action.
A few nights ago, when the few remaining delicate leaves were clinging to limbs out of fear of falling, at two in the morning moonlight refracted among them. From sofa, we saw fluorescent fireflies.
We tried to capture, to share, the fireflies with a cell phone camera- in the end disproving the “ a picture is worth a thousand words” adage. Two words, fluorescent fireflies bested a lot of pixels.
The nine of us, Kevin, Kento, Wim Kof, Kid, Saint Kevin, Angus, Pere Gordu, Sim-Me-N and Scout Pete are fighting something akin to the opposite attraction of magnetism to congeal into a single person. I don’t mean a mash-up of Kento’s ham hock body, Punker Kids stress hair and Pere Gordu’s telescopic black frames. Nothing attractive in that. I mean a person that isn’t confusing to everyone in daily interactions.
And those Everyones want an end of the story. There’s always a dominant personality. For the sake of the few brave people who actually enjoy my company, let’s hope it’s not Angus.