Since moving to Atlanta, I have frequently been afforded the opportunity to attend a variety of events that go well beyond the norm of lameness and breathtaking melancholia. It’s now that when I choose to attend anything that I arrive with such low expectations as to rarely be disappointed.
Earlier this year, my family and I went to a neighborhood puppet show at a church that was very well attended. Now, I know one shouldn’t have any expectations of a puppet show for kids. I mean, it’s clearly not for adults and it should stink. Still, I found myself aghast at the older puppeteer shaking his thrift store puppets about, inviting kids up onstage and then forgetting what it was that he wanted them to do. He seemed to have arrived possibly inebriated from a nearby bar and was making everything up on the spot. Had he just handed these puppets to any random four year olds, the kids would have surely come up with something more coherent and entertaining. At least, it was only about fifteen minutes long.
Being a parent provides one with all sorts of fish out of water experiences, where one is adrift in a sea of uncomfortableness marked by balloons, cake and banal conversation. It was there that my wife and I found ourselves at a birthday party in a music school vexed that there was no safe haven for adults. Along with the kids, all parents were expected to saunter around barefoot and dance whimsically to kiddy music. If you were to refuse, you would be the only one standing and scowling amidst the revelry. There was a cat puppet, name of Mrs. Squiggles, who the children were encouraged to pet. The cake arrived, the music stopped, we managed to live another day.
Adult parties can be just as insidious, especially if the occasion is a jewelry party. Yes, I went to one. Perhaps you have never heard of or pondered such a thing. A jewelry party is where someone who makes handmade jewelry displays their wares and ladies (I was the only guy there, except for a three year old) drink wine, buy jewelry and do lady stuff. If that sounds like your idea of fun, take a hard look in the mirror. Why did I agree to go to this party? I don’t remember. There isn’t so much to do here in Atlanta. Still, one should be able to live their lives, even here, free of jewelry parties.
At one point, when I was stressed out, I thought a meditation session might help. I convinced my wife to go and we got a babysitter, though I was embarrassed to tell the babysitter where we were going. In Atlanta’s scruffy alterna-neighborhood, Little Five Points, in the back of some building, in a tiny carpeted room with no windows, an uninspired man lead us and a couple of other desperate folks in a meditation session that would make the Dalai Lama want to self-immolate in protest. I remember that someone was doing something very noisy in the office below us and that we somehow escaped before the session was through. Getting out of there did relax me some.
On another occasion, I accompanied my wife to a downtown hotel for a meet and greet at a gender studies conference. Now, I’m aware that that doesn’t sound like an event that portends liveliness. I wasn’t expecting a DJ or strippers. But this event was a real stinko: ladies, a couple of male professors sitting around conference tables, no cheap wine, no cocktail weenies, only popcorn to nibble on and such palpable gloom and conversational bewilderment that time stood still and farted. Even the jewelry party had decent appetizers.
But large events in Atlanta that have been planned and executed annually by eager volunteers can be just as shitty and dreary as private parties or events for preschoolers. Many of the city’s large public spectacles and street fairs center around beer and to a lesser extent, fried, greasy food that goes well with beer. While these events may sometimes claim to be about art or music, it is the beer line that always appears to exceed the amount of folks in front of the stage or the tiny proportion of people interested in cat watercolors. I’m not sure which of Atlanta’s many street and park festivals is the most insipid. I have been to the Summer Shade Festival in Grant Park on an extremely humid day when the $8 falafel was disgusting, the beer lines snaked on to eternity and the bands seem to wilt in front of the eight people in folding chairs. The music stage is set up next to the street I live on and I am always amazed as I drive by at the paucity of music fans for free music even when it’s a band I have sort of heard of. This festival has actually gotten a little better now that I have a kid. There is a good amount of kid activities, so I would likely go again, as if I had a choice. That’s not the case with the much larger and more drunken SweetWater Fest in Candler Park, more of a social festival for 20 to 40 somethings with body odor and blues rock. Much worse, though, are the festivals held in Piedmont Park (Dogwood and I think another one) that primarily feature crafts and homemade, commercial, often quirky art for sale. Almost every single public festival in Atlanta includes these same artistically rendered photos of pets and painted spoons for sale, though these festivals feature them as the main attraction.
One of the worst events that I ever went to that sticks out in my mind like a cousin’s funeral is the Marietta Holiday Tour of Homes. We had been to the Grant Park Tour of Homes, which had included the Burns Mansion, a stupendously decorated Victorian, and so, for some reason, decided to go to this event despite my abhorrence of anything holiday related. The event was coordinated by a large smattering of silver-haired ladies in Christmas sweaters. I had never seen so many people wearing Christmas sweaters in one place at a time. You see one Christmas sweater somewhere, you giggle. You see one somewhere else, you stare a bit. But this was a premeditated Christmas sweater wearing event. The houses we toured were all ghastly old mansions furnished in the 1980s with beige, flowery pomposity and for this event strewn with CVS plastic Santas and dusty Christmas chachkas smelling of cat pee.
Not everything I have been to in Atlanta sucked this bad. But who knows what I have willfully forgotten, which events will resurface in a nightmare where I am being chased by bearded guys on bicycles bearing funnel cakes, their wives selling homemade soap.