Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Lenny's, Atlanta, GA 2003

Lenny's, July 4, 2003

Have you ever had the kind of year where you felt snakebit? The kind of year where everything hard that could happen, did? 2003 was that year, and I spent many afternoons of it sitting in a random bar that was down the street from my house, a place where nobody knew me and I didn't know them either and we were all just fine with that.

Lenny's was in a blighted, forgotten area of town, a single-wide trailer welded to a shack squatting in an ungraded clay lot. It sat across the road from the spaghetti sauce factory, and at 4pm the shift would change and black men in white paper jumpsuits and hairnets would come in to play pool. They'd mix with the regulars, some of whom had been there since 10am, when the place opened. Cowboy, Al, Steve and the others whose names I can't remember didn't hang out there to drink, exactly, though they did that, too. They hung out there to play cheap pool, listen to the excellent jukebox, and discuss various schemes and injustices.

I would sit at the bar and eat stale nachos and listen to David Allen Coe while the other patrons ignored me. I was a good 15 years younger than everyone else, and would often come in wearing the suit I had worn to work that day. I looked and felt like someone who didn't belong, and I liked feeling that way.  
One day, this woman asked me to play pool with her. I don't know what her real name was, but I called her Queen. I was a terrible pool player, but she still played with me nearly every afternoon for a year. We played in absolute silence -- I don't think I ever heard her speak to anyone -- and I know nothing about her other than that she was an excellent shot. After a few weeks of playing pool with Queen, I started to get better.

I brought my camera to Lenny's and photographed the patrons. I don't think any of them ever knew my name; they all referred to me as "that girl with the camera." For once in my life, I wasn't there to talk to anyone.

My favorite time of day at Lenny's was what I thought of as "hipster twilight," the hours when the daytime crowd and the nighttime crowd overlapped. The black men from the actual factory would play pool with the white boys trying to look they'd just come from the factory, and the good-old-boys would clog to the music of Dearhunter. It was good times.

I didn't quite fit in with this evening crowd, either. I was a good ten years older than most of them, and would sit there in my business suit, which by this time would be smeared with blue pool chalk, and watch them breakdance, or fiddle with their Moog synthesizers.

I was not exactly a daytime alcoholic, and not exactly a nighttime scenester. I had a foot in both camps, maybe. But Lenny's didn't care.

I loved Lenny's because it still, to this day, was one of the most integrated places I've ever seen. Not just racially, but every other way, too. And I loved Lenny's because when Steve Miller died, they gave him a wake.

Steve was a homeless man, a Vietnam vet, and he lived at Lenny's. He slept outside, on a folding beach chair. He lived off a diet of bar food and borrowed PBRs, and would light up when asked to pick songs on the jukebox. One afternoon a pretty girl gave him a haircut, and everyone was surprised by how handsome he turned out to be.

One morning in January the regulars arrived to find Steve frozen to death outside where he slept. The next afternoon, they threw him a party to say goodbye. The regulars brought casseroles, and fried chicken, and set it up on the bar for everyone to share.

There was even a personalized cake. A few of the older guys went with Steve down to the potter's field where he was buried. According to them, Steve had no family. Or at least if he did, nobody knew where they were.

Eventually, Lenny's was featured on a local TV show. I was there the afternoon the aggressively well groomed blonde lady came to interview the bartender, and the bartender, along with everyone else, looked unhappy. They knew what it meant, I think, and they were right. After the show aired Lenny's began to get more crowded, intolerably so for the regulars, and a few years after that the bar relocated to Decatur. The regulars didn't relocate with them. I don't know where they went. Well before Lenny's closed, I had moved on, too.

Here are some of the pictures I took of Lenny's, the bar that gave me the exact kind of refuge I needed at exactly the time I needed it. If you recognize any of the patrons or the bands, please let me know.

And if you'd like to read more about Lenny's, which apparently is now known as "the CBGBs of Atlanta," this is a good place to start.

No comments:

Post a Comment