I used to live on another planet. The air was pink, no one had a head, and all the trees were red. The Planet Claire lyrics from the B52s song was to become eerily true, more than I could’ve ever imagined.
Before I breathed the pink air of Planet Claire, I was a super nerd, geeking out in my software engineering job for a hi-tech communications firm in Atlanta. At first, I loved my corporate job. I thought I was lucky to be one of the first employees at a company that later would grow into a worldwide software giant. From the beginning, I signed on for the most complex software communication product. I was in demand inside and outside the company for my knowledge and experience of complex systems. A nice perk of the job was travelling to London, Ireland, Amsterdam, San Francisco, and Australia.
After five years, I began to hate the work. The technology was changing every six months. Only a person whose interest was monumental could keep up. I wasn’t that person. I had difficulty sustaining my level of geekdom for the world of bits and bytes. The long commute to Alpharetta from the city was arduous. I lived in gridlock.
The company recognized that I was fried in my field and, as I look back, were highly supportive of me. They sent me on expensive vacation conferences. I would usually use the time to shop at the local thrift store. The company gave me a nice four-day work week and allowed me to occasionally work from home. I didn’t deserve such a great employer. Our relationship was like that of an old married couple, who stay together for the sake of the children or out of habit.
In my free time, art was my passion. I delighted in the creative process, painting pieces of used furniture in colorful designs of Egyptian, African, and Mexican motifs.
I took furniture apart and rebuilt it with my own designs using car body parts from 1950s-60s automobiles. I would take grandma’s 1950s side board and integrate a 1957 Ford Galaxy rearview mirror and chrome stripping going down the side panels. I would remove the armrests from a leather chair and replace them with the smooth fins from a 1959 Lincoln. Art and furniture galleries sold my pieces and wanted more, but time to do my art and what I enjoyed was a luxurious quantity. I had quickly outgrown my two bedroom apartment that I mostly used for studio space. On Tuesday nights, before Wednesday trash day, I made a habit of driving around the wealthier neighborhoods of Atlanta, looking for cast offs and treasures that I stored in my apartment for a future project. All I needed was a junkyard dog to complete the picture.
After a long day at the office, grinding over computer dumps that were thicker and wider than Kirsty Alley’s backside, I took a different course home. My head was throbbing and my vision blurred from looking at hex codes all day long, trying to solve a difficult communications problem at NYNEX. It didn’t help that the NYNEX data base manager called every hour to remind me that time was money.
Then I saw it. The “space for lease” sign. It was a unique building that had caught my eye before. The building was built by an architect who must have been a fan of the 1960s futurist cartoon television series The Jetsons.
It was modeled after George Jetson’s home, with forty-five degree angle wrap-around windows that fronted two streets. The building was on the border of the trendy Victorian neighborhood of Inman Park. The backside was an up-and-coming neighborhood of Cabbagetown and the downtown side was the historic Martin Luther King National Park: the only urban national park in the United States.
The next day, I contacted the landlord and made an appointment to see the interior. It was in shocking condition. When I opened the refrigerator I almost threw up from the smell of the putrid contents. The space was larger than it looked from the street, with one large showroom and a one bedroom apartment with a fenced side courtyard. I had been looking for a loft space for almost three years. Loft space rents were sky-high with nothing included. I mean nothing. No plumbing, no electricity, no heating, just four walls. This building had it all, and with an affordable rent. I signed a three year lease without hesitation.
My best friend, Tad, had just returned from Germany, after a long-term relationship went sour. Tad worked for years doing floor to ceiling reconstructions and he was happy to accept the renovation job. I sold my pricey foreign convertible and bought a used pickup to pay for the remodel. That my foreign car returned to Germany was a bit of irony.
Tad labored for months. He hauled away so much crap. The building had accumulated decades of bad choices in flooring and dangerous wiring. The owner told me the building had been used as a plumbing business, a church, a recording studio, and a half-way house. When he finally finished the job, Tad gave me a dazzling blank canvas. The space was screaming art gallery. The view from the modernistic windows of the downtown and midtown Atlanta skyline was breathtaking at night. I had installed soft lavender neon that outlined the Jetson windows, blending the grey and black exterior. A hairdresser friend gave me a dozen mannequin wig heads with beehive hairdos that I put in the windows. There was a constant screech of brakes on Edgewood Avenue and almost some car pileups of gawkers, staring at my fishbowl Jetson studio home.