Friday, June 09, 2006



GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Atlanta has always had a special place in my and Monte's heart. For me it was where I developed into a post-college adult, made a name for myself in my career and fell in love, all in the steamy hot, magnolia-scented, southern drawl of a fast growing city.

Monte and I met at the corporate office of Waffle House. He was in risk management and I was in corporate communications. I wrote him into my Waffle Chatter newsletter as a reoccurring character called Safety Man. As glamourous as it was to have my own column called Dear Karmen along with a hotline for questions that drunk grill operators would call and leave lewd messages on at 3:00 am, after a year I had to get out of the Waffle House. It wasn't until I was picking up my last paycheck that Monte revealed his love for me. But I moved back to Indiana anyway and left all my belongings in a storage unit in Atlanta (Monte's idea).

Oh, how I missed the city, and the way it empowered me to spread my wings. In Indiana I was eternally a kid, in Atlanta I was independent. Its draw was irresistible.

After Monte and I married, we lived in a 2-story condo building in the heart of Buckhead. It was partially furnished and bleakly painted. It was a 2-bedroom, 1 bath (the toilet and tub were gray) with a stackable washer and dryer right inside the bathroom that took approximately 22 hours to dry two pairs of jeans.

The woman who lived across the hall HATED us. Judging by the 47 bumper stickers she had on her hatchback Toyota, she hated most everyone--especially men who might not care about the near extinction of the spotted owl. She had a habit of blasting opera music in the early hours of the weekend and knocking on our door to ask for pinches of spices I'd never heard of. She used to ALWAYS catch us holding hands or snuggling in the hallway and would stomp off huffily muttering to herself things I'm sure we did not want to hear.

That apartment was drab, the linoleum kitchen floor could not be cleaned (my mother tried every visit) and the gray toilet sported hopeless rust stains. But we LOVED it. I remember spending an entire day making cornish hens in this terra cotta cooker thing we got as a wedding gift. By the time they were done I was famished but ate alone to the sounds of Monte retching mucous in the bathroom from a bad sinus infection. Good times.

Our next apartment was on the 6th floor of an 18-story high rise. There was a pool, and free tennis lessons from a pro every Saturday morning. The doorman (what was his name?!) did so well at Christmas that it bumped him into a different tax bracket. My best friend lived with us in the 2nd bedroom which allowed us to save and buy our first home a year later. Monte's best friend lived in the penthouse where we watched 4th of July fireworks practically at eye level. It was like we were out the script of a sitcom.

The building was an interesting mix of young singles, newlyweds and single seniors not quite ready for a nursing home. The building hosted several happy hours and buffet dinners which was always attended by a resident we swear was Bea Arthur.

Our first home was walking distance from our apartment building in Buckhead but was smaller than either of our first dwellings. But it had a yard--horribly sloped so that hard rains ran right into our crawl space, but a yard (containing gorgeous azaleas) nonetheless. It only had one bathroom and no garage. There were bats in the attic and a colony of yellow jackets in the front yard that Monte unknowingly "disturbed" while mowing and was stung multiple times which he handled in true Monte style: he wildly thrashed about screeching that "they" were after him and made me call my mom. Here's a tip she shared with us: meat tenderizer mixed with water makes a paste that takes the pain and swelling out of a sting (it also is an important ingredient in my mom's cheese ball recipe). Interesting tidbit: yellow-jackets take off and land like fighter jets and their sting is worse than any other an insect could inflict (or so Monte says). We watched from the window at 5:00 am while a man with large gloves and a black garbage bag removed an enormous hive from the landscape timber in our front yard. He later told us that it contained 40 queens. Those weren't the type of queens we were used to in Atlanta. We had no problem paying his outrageous removal fee.

But we loved that little flesh-colored house with the red door with a romanticism that only two idiot people in love could. We hosted huge parties where no one had enough places to sit or relieve themselves. We mourned the loss of my grandfather there, planned our trip to Paris, celebrated birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. We brought home our first baby knowing she would never grow up in the tiny nursery we painted to look like the ocean. We moved to Columbus when McDaniel was just one month old--ironically, it was April Fool's Day.

Monte just got back last night from a business trip to Atlanta. He took pictures of that first apartment building and first home and the good memories have surrounded me like mosquitoes on a steamy southern night--but I don't mind the swatting. The apartment looks exactly the same--down to the small mailboxes. Gone is the flesh-colored paint of our home replaced by a preferable white. Thank goodness the red door remains. But this time Monte left the city with no longing to move back. The honeymoon is so over. It took him 25 minutes to drive one mile (with no sidewalks to get out and walk), everything seemed overly built-up and it was stinky hot. Columbus is our home now, we can finally say it out loud. This is where we are going to raise our family and have the quality lifestyle we want. But breaking up is hard to do…I need to tune in to an opera station on the radio, eat some scattered, covered and smothered hashbrowns at the Waffle House and plant a magnolia in the backyard. I know it may not survive the midwestern winter, but it's worth the romantic, southern, fragrant memory-laden risk.

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