Friday, September 15, 2017

Poles-A Love Story


~Doc Lawrence

The word has a ubiquitous presence in our vernacular: pole beans and pole cats rank right alongside tad poles, pole dancers and pole vaulting. Utility poles are perhaps the ugliest blight along streets and highways, exceeded only in aesthetic revulsion by monk fish. If you’ve been spared seeing this still alive sea creature just before being sliced into overpriced filets, avoid it at all costs.

After days of being in the dark and hearing everything that is wrong blamed on Irma and beautiful trees, I did my own very unscientific observation, and still find myself unable to shed a tear for utility poles with power lines hanging down like dead, rotting serpents. The fallen oaks and pines in my little world, are to be mourned.

Curley Burnell: Jackie Gleason's Twin?
Once young pine saplings are matured on “pole farms” the straightest ones are cut, stripped bare, “cured” in creosote (few things outside a sewage treatment plant rival the stench) en route to subdivision streets and city sidewalks to be planted by what looks like the world’s biggest corkscrew, a preparatory ritual of planting before being adorned with power lines and an assortment of other conduits. The lower 10 feet are popular places for concert festival posters, strange upcoming events low budget political candidates lacking the funds for TV ads. “Ask me how I lost 100 pounds,” or “Bother Love’s Rockin’ Away Sin Revival” resonate on mounted pole placards.

Ever met a pole farmer? Curley Burnell, a retired high school football coach, maintains a pole tree farm in some hardscrabble  land passed along through inheritance since the Civil War. Ebullient Burnell, with a countenance that invokes images of Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit,” loves what he does. 

“Utility poles don’t hurt anyone,” he proclaims. “The economic benefits are obvious. How the hell are you ever going to deliver vital energy and communications by going underground?” he asks. What other see as blight, Burnell sees as paradise. “Straight up, reaching towards heaven, just doing what nature intended.”
Ugly and More Ugly

What about downed lines from winds, ice and falling trees? “We’re working on growing taller pine trees much quicker,” Burnell says. “If we can do a mission to Mars, we can grown poles faster and bigger. Count on it.”

Overflowing with information about this otherwise overlooked news story, Burnell believes that something he describes as “virtual current” is on the horizon. “Works like the Bitcoins,” he revealed. “You get it at home on your laptop, pay for it directly, and use what you need when you want it.” What about the poles? Why would you need them if this ever caught on? “Poles will be around as long as we have developers and local governments. Many places in the country still don’t have internet access and not everyone can afford a fancy computer.”

Coach Curley, as he likes to be called, is very likable and totally self-assured. I only wish that Lewis Grizzard was around to ask him the location of good barbecue joints.

Poles have a fan base. Poles make good cash flow. Some may think they have a more exalted place in popular culture than trees and public safety. For those who think they can change anything at the ballot box, or by lobbying or protests, Coach Curley Burnell is waiting on you. He is very formidable and says the Burnell coat of arms warns that his family loves a good fight. “Without our pole farm, we’d have to look at opening a hazardous waste dump. That’s not what we want to do.”

Monday, September 11, 2017

Theatrical Outfit's Hunchback of Notre Dame-A Relevant Classic

~Doc Lawrence

This musical dramatization of Victor Hugo’s epic early on has the ensemble singing, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” The story addresses the mission of The Cathedral of Notre Dame: Is it a place of sanctuary for only those officially welcome while all others are consigned to exclusion? The Hunchback of Notre Dame opens Theatrical Outfit’s Season of Character, inspired by the observation of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus that “character is destiny.”
Esmeralda and Quasimodo

With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Peter Parnell,  the actors are deeply embedded in great literature. Dom Jean Claude Frollo (David De Vries) the archdeacon of Notre Dame, has a  mission to save souls from corrupt gypsies after sparing the life of his brother’s deformed child, Quasimodo (Haden Rider), who, from childhood on, is warned to never leave the sanctuary of Notre Dame.

A lonely Quasimodo finally leaves and encounters cruelty with no mercy. The gypsy Esmeralda (Julissa Sabino) intervenes, keeping a mob from Quasimodo, becoming his protector and Frollo’s sexual obsession.

Rider as Quasimodo gives a performance rarely seen on an Atlanta stage. A strong, emotion-filled voice parallels the physical demands of climbing ladders, lifting bodies, fighting off assaults, all while flawlessly singing of loneliness and love. Some moments are truly heartbreaking.

Ms. Sabino was born to be Esmeralda. Is she really a Gypsy after all? Her beauty is arresting and men, good and evil, find her irresistible. Her appeal reached into the audience.

The large ensemble adds depth with an assemblage of voices that when unified, rattled and shook the walls of Downtown Atlanta’s magnificent Rialto Theatre.

This is a large cast backed by the highest quality support. The scenes take on authenticity with Shannon Robert’s magnificently functional set design. The orchestra is talented, seamlessly matching every note of every song.

Julissa Sabino as Esmeralda
The Hunchback of Notre Dame has added relevance now. The nation is grappling with issues that many believed to be settled. Who do we want as neighbors? Would we look down on people who have different skin color or don’t share our religious beliefs? Long ago, Victor Hugo addressed these questions in the confines of a sacred cathedral in the beautiful city of Paris. 

Likely, we would never burn someone at the stake.  But, would a deformed man, otherwise pleasant and innocent, terrify us? Are we even close to judging, in Dr. Kings words, a man “not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character?” 


Through September17. theatricaloutfit.org. (678)528.1500

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Art of Tailgating



~Doc Lawrence

The game is hours away from kickoff but the masses of people, vehicles, tents, grills and tables occupy acres upon acres in lots near the football stadium. It seems that every available space is dedicated to food, cocktails, wines, iced tea and soft drinks.

Welcome to college football tailgating, a national and very friendly outdoor feast that is transcending the actual games in popularity. While the men-more given to beer and hot dogs-weren’t looking, the women, who long ago mastered home cooking and entertaining, came forward with more elaborate dishes, table decorations, wines, sangrias, serving everything in plates and glasses decorated in school colors. 

Women are winning this friendly competition. I’ve strolled through over 60 college tailgating areas over the years and can confirm that some of the dishes I’ve tasted put good restaurants to shame and the quality and diversity of beverages is improving by the week. We owe the girls a nod of thanks.

Photographing tailgating is difficult because of the huge perspective and the fact you cannot arrange the audience and scenery. But, the trained eye of an award-winning artist can accomplish wonders.

Olivia Thomason with her Stone Mountain Village Mural
“I’ve been tailgating,” says Atlanta artist Olivia Thomason, “and I love the combination of hospitality, tradition and serving wonderful food. It has the feel of a good backyard celebration.” With a roomful of trophies going back to her days as a gallery owner, Ms. Thomason recently completed “Great American Tailgating,” a whimsical, colorful interpretation of what she calls ‘the ultimate tailgating experience.” College banners are everywhere. The Goodyear blimp hovers over everything. There’s even a fortune teller selling predictions about the final score.

More than anything, there is overriding joy. In an era when it seems intolerance and nastiness are de regeur, it’s absent here. Olivia Thomason maintains that “these gatherings are almost always friendly and festive. Seniors playing with grandchildren. In Baton Rouge outside Tiger Stadium, I’ve seen folks dancing to live bands. No mater where you go, tailgaters insist you eat their good food and have a glass of something cold and delicious.”

Atlanta writer and historian Dick Funderburk owns some of Olivia Thomason’s paintings. “As someone who doesn’t particularly like football, I absolutely love this painting.”


NOTE: A limited number of 18"x24" high quality prints are for sale. Make checks payable to Big O Art for $28.00 + $5.00 postage and packaging. Include your address. Mail to:

Olivia Thomason
933 Gordon Street
Stone Mountain, GA 30083


Tune in to "Tailgating Down South"- http://speakingoftravel.net hosted by Marilyn Ball.