GNG, alFalaq, decided to participate that Tuesday on January 7th, 2014.
Photo: Mammal Gallery on Facebook.
(All Al's photos were dark, fuzzy and completely un-useable. LOL)
Following my Mapquest print out, I pulled my Nissan into a curbside parking spot on a deserted looking corner on Broad street in Downtown Atlanta. I was fairly certain the place I needed to be was right across the street, though my confidence faltered at the darkened windows resting sleepily aloof behind padlocked burglar bars. Leaving my car to walk across the street through the biting January breeze, I regarded the aged building skeptically. Looking no less aged and no less permanently fixed to the locale, a lone man sat perched on an old wooden bar stool on the sidewalk, munching a burger in an undecorated white paper wrapper. He seemed like he might be found there on that bar stool any hour of any day of the year. Maybe even with that same damned sandwich in his hand. I approached what seemed it would pass for the entrance to the Mammal Gallery and found it locked. Referring again to my print out, I called the number Kitty had thoughtfully included in the notes. Voice mail. Looking to my last available resource, I took another look at Bar Stool Man, idly tossing in his direction the phrase, "This place even open?"
"You gotta knock on the door," he replied, continuing: "Knock real hard," then muttered something about if I can hear the dog start barking, someone would be along soon after. I turned back to the door to the place; it was a standard store front door of a sheet of Plexiglas in an aluminum frame. Inside it, a staircase ascended away through darkness. I knocked as hard as I dared, watching my reflecting bend and dance in the vibrating Plexiglas. I knocked again after a couple of listless minutes on the sidewalk, daring a little harder. I could hear the rough, muffled chant of a large dog barking echoing somewhere inside. Momentarily, a tall slim guy in clothes that could as easily have been worn for the city as for mountain biking stepped slowly down the stairs and opened the door.
Trailing him up the stairs, I could smell air heavy with earthy aromas as I breached the door at the top landing, finding only a couple guys dressed in similar mountain biker apparel and a gent in a suit and trench, who spoke with a French sounding accent, a bit diluted. Canadian, maybe… who knows? After a few questions, I was told by a young man sitting cross legged on the bar that I was waaaay early; the event would begin about ten; people would start arriving at about nine, the place would fill up fast, he told me. Okay. I'll say my good faith was holding my reactionary judgment in reserve. A few paintings held places of note along the walls or propped up on tables. A mural close to the large windows exhibited an infant, snobbily enjoying a refreshing Sunkist Orange soda to the chagrin of another who was without. Just beneath the mural was a use-weathered couch, whereon I planted myself and read a book of Walt Whitman from a coffee table. Someone here had good taste in literature.
I'll admit I was surprised and pleased when, about nine o'clock people did indeed begin to filter in from the shadowed staircase and by nine-thirty, the space seemed filled with folks milling about, chatting discreetly but happily. Every now and then, a peal of laughter would echo from the white painted antique brick walls. I met Anna, the organizer of the event, who sweetly said I could go up first, since I would have to leave to go to work soon. When things got started and I stepped onto the small performance area before the large window, everyone gave their attention so securely to what I was saying and gave such a warm response; I could not have felt better. I stayed as long as I could to hear the works and performances of some of the other artists; a few songwriters and poets; a performance piece involving a man dressed as a soldier munching some crackers, a vacuum cleaner, some electric toothbrushes and a juggler. It actually made a pretty good impact, when it was finished. You had to be there. Even Anna herself treated us to a musical performance which was only slightly startling (the screaming caught me off guard, the first time) but quite sincere.
Despite the winter's teeth, scraping just outside the window, the room held a lot of warmth, human and emotional; artistic seeds were sprouting in the balminess of it. I can say I regretted having to leave for work, not having seen what else would be up for offer that night.