Tom Wolfe & David Berman & Charlie Croker & Roger Too White & Freaknic(k)

January 8th, 2011

In which we attempt to connect a bunch of seemingly disparate things related to Atlanta. A Man In Full, Tom Wolfe’s brilliantly researched fictionalization of mid 90′s Atlanta, intertwines the stories of a bloated real estate mogul, a black star college quarterback, a righteous prison escapee from San Francisco, and the various lawyers, women, preachers, politicians, and Atlantans around them. It’s always been hard to take Wolfe seriously – to read one of his books without picturing him smirking back at you in some ridiculous suit – but his journalistic taste for research and detail somehow always makes it worthwhile. He gets the lay of Atlanta exactly right, and manages to pull in basically every single strain of the city’s character. The book opens in a Freaknik traffic jam where Roger “Too” White (a black lawyer) is stuck on Piedmont:

“They were coming to the streets of Atlanta. Atlanta was their city, The Black Beacon, as the Mayor called it, 70 Percent black. The Mayor was black–in fact, Roger and the Mayor, Wesley Dobbs Jordan, had been fraternity brothers (Omega Zeta Zeta) at Morehouse–and twelve of the nineteen city council members were black, and the chief of police was black, and the fire chief was black, and practically the whole civil service was black, and the Power was black, and White Atlanta was screaming its head off about “Freaknik,” with a k instead of c, as the white newspapers called it, ignorant of the fact that Freaknic was a variation not of the (white) word beatnik but of the (neutral) word picnic.”

Seems like the varied spellings of Freaknic or Freaknik have been standardized into Freaknik, as evidenced by Adult Swim’s Freaknik The Musical and recent efforts to revive Freaknik (or iFreaknik?) in Atlanta.

Charlie Croker, the real estate magnate, good ol’ boy and self made billionaire at the center of the book, has just built a monstrous complex of towers on the far north side of the city. The property isn’t renting and he’s about to lose his shirt. The towers stand as a monument to his failing oversize ego and Atlanta’s dubious real estate boom. Reading the book, I always assumed “Croker Concourse” was The Concourse at Landmark Center, the King And Queen Towers in Sandy Springs — two buildings that seem to have been built with the hope that a smaller city would spring up around them (a new Buckhead). The two towers – the largest suburban skyscrapers in the country – are also on the cover of David Berman’s Actual Air, a book of poems from 1999. Berman’s not from Atlanta – but many of the poems feel like they’re taking place in the small overlooked parts of America’s Southern cities — somewhere between the suburbs and the city.

And then of all the great weird Atlanta tattoos out there, this might just be the most:


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