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The opposite of upscale

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POSTED: July 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The truth is, I rarely heard anyone say upscale out loud until I started working here, where sometimes it seems everything under the sun either aspires or claims to be just that.

Not that there’s anything wrong with upscale - it's just that every time I hear it said I tend to think of Crosland. Maybe that's because Crosland, as I remember it, was the polar opposite of upscale.

It made Ludowici look like Richmond Hill.

I lived there a short time about 10 years ago while working as a reporter for a small daily in southwest Georgia. Back then it was an eclectic mix of about 10-15 homes (cinderblock, brick and mobile) on Hwy. 319 somewhere in the middle of what otherwise would be nowhere between Moultrie and Tifton.

It's probably the same now. It also had some of the biggest piles of aluminium beer cans I’ve ever seen.

They're probably bigger now.

But Crosland also had some of the world's lowest rental rates, understandable when you the yellow cinderblock house sandwiched among three somewhat dingy single wide mobile homes, chicken coops, playpens, clotheslines, rusty pickups and beer can piles.

And though her name escapes me now, I’ll never forget my first meeting with the woman who would be my landlady, especially when she didn’t come to the door after I knocked for about five minutes.

I looked at my watch, saw I was running about five minutes late and peeked in a window.

I couldn't see anything, but got yelled at by someone inside.

The polite translation: "Stop that. Can’t you see I’m on the commode?"

A minute or two later, she opened the door and for some reason I thought immediately of Winston Churchill, though I've no idea why.

A large woman, she was confined to a wheelchair, having lost both legs at the knees due to a combination of ailments including, I believe, diabetes.

She also had lost a husband at some point in the distant past. Later she told me he got walleyed drunk and staggered into traffic on Hwy. 319, where he got run over.

After meeting her son, I wasn’t surprised about the drinking part.

His four major food groups seemed to be left over Mexican, beer, beer and more beer.

Sadly, his name eludes me as well, even though for the few months I rented a room from his mother I’d occasionally go over and knock back a few cold beers with him.

That’s mostly because I worked from 2-11 p.m. and, since I usually didn’t get home until around midnight, he was the only other person awake in Crosland on a regular basis.

And not just awake, but swigging beer, watching TV documentaries or late shows (he didn’t have cable and the satellite dish sitting out in the yard didn’t work) and worrying about whether or not Y2K would be caused by aliens or the CIA or big business.

You might remember Y2K, when all the computers were going to stop working once the calendar rolled over to Jan. 1, 2000 and we were all going to die or get eaten by electronic wolverines.

This guy was mesmerized by the possibility of it. He stockpiled all sorts of stuff - most of it was spelled b-e-e-r - in anticipation of a Y2K-caused "end of civilization as we know it."

It didn't take much to get him going, either. I could go over to his trailer, knock on the door and say "Y2K" and he'd start showing me his knives and guns and canned beanie weenies.

In short, he was more entertaining than cable TV. And mostly harmless, though once he got a DUI. I'm not even sure if he had a license to start with, but after that he had to go to DUI school.

They had workbooks and all kinds of homework, which he did while sipping beer.

Then he graduated and got a DUI diploma - which he proudly displayed, frame and all.

When Christmas rolled around and I got unlucky and had to work - meaning I couldn't drive back this way to be with my family - my landlady and her son threw a party of sorts. She baked cookies and wore a Santa hat and talked about holidays past. He strung Christmas lights on the washing machine and dryer that decorated his porch and served beer that came in holiday collector cans.

But nothing, not even the woman who lived in a nearby trailer and claimed to be one of Trisha Yearwood’s long lost and unfairly unrecognized cousins, beat what happened the night Pinky appeared.

I had never seen Pinky before, but he had called in advance - apparently to bum some money - and I was warned not to look at his ears.

"Why?" I asked, and was told something to the effect that part of both of Pinky’s ears had been bitten off by migrant workers after he was caught cheating in a dice game.

Or maybe it was a card game.

And then, before I knew it, there was Pinky lurching shirtless out of the night.

I couldn't help it. I peeked.

His ears looked like a little bit like Dr. Spock’s from the original Star Trek TV show and a little bit like a Doberman Pinscher's. He caught me looking at them, so for a while afterward I had this weird fear he would pop up when I least expected it and try to bite my ears off.

Fortunately, I never saw Pinky again. Instead, and almost equally unsettling, my landlady and her son soon thereafter began to plan a trip to Alaska by van and invited me to ride along and write about it.

I had to pass. And I don't know if they ever made it. I hope they did, because it would have been the trip of a lifetime for two kind souls who marched to their own beat and were always good to me.

Sometimes, I wonder how they'd fit in here in Richmond Hill - say in Strathy Hall or Buckhead.

Especially if they brought Pinky with them.

 

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