The Worst and The Best

When the time finally arrives for the Great Reckoning, and the spirit takes leave of the body for horizons everlasting, and a person’s life can be measured as a bracketed and finite test of a certain character, behavior and achievement, there are definitely better and worse ways to be remembered. In short when descriptions like “necrophile” “psychopath” “serial killer” “rapist” “knife-wielding maniac” and “evil bag of shit” make their way into a person’s obituary, that person has earned a big fat “F” in the standardized test of Life.

So it goes with old Winston Moseley, the infamous attacker, rapist, and murderer of Kitty Genovese in 1964, who died last week in Dannemora prison. Not only did he destroy an innocent young woman all those years ago, he also engendered the overblown social phenomenon termed “Bystander Effect” that has plagued New Yorkers for half a century. For those who don’t know Kitty Genovese was a bar manager who lived in an apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens. On her way home from work late one night Mr. Moseley stalked her and set upon her with a knife, slashing her numerous times. Because of her screams some confused neighbors awoke and, thinking it a lovers’ quarrel, turned on their lights, came to the windows and told them to shut up, which caused Mr. Moseley to run off, only to return when the coast was clear to finish the job. After details of the assault were uncovered, a story came out in The Times that made it seem like the residents of Kew Gardens had filed out of their rooms and circled around the slaying to shout and place bets like they were at a rooster fight, when in fact it was a late night mix of confusion and fragmented complaints from a somnolent apartment house.

While imprisoned for rape and murder Mr. Moseley earned a sociology degree, which is an ironic area of study. With an advanced degree he could really get to the bottom of just how fucked up and heinous his behavior had been. Winston Moseley with a sociology degree is like Ted Bundy earning a degree in women’s studies, with a focus on the writings of Camille Paglia, underscoring the indignities and imbalances of a patriarchal society on women’s rights and freedoms while trying to lure them into his Volkswagen Bug in order to strangle them. I sure was looking forward to Mr. Moseley’s book, “Bystander Effect: How callous apathy lets freaks like me do whatever the hell they want. What’s wrong with people? An investigative study.”  It will remain unfinished. Mr. Moseley is gone. Good riddance to Mr. Moseley.

Other than Mr. Moseley’s passing there was a shocking news story last week that was really about as shocking as a dead eel.  Apparently rich people hide their money to avoid paying taxes. I know, I know, I’m as surprised as everybody else. Before last week Panama papers were used to roll up and smoke cocaine and marijuana. Now they highlight the fact that people with vast sums of dubiously earned currency are cheats and crooks working in an entirely legal system of their own creation. We can’t claim to be entirely unaware, though. The evidence of this perfidy was right there all along, uncovered by the greatest muckraker since Upton Sinclair. I’m talking about David Lee Roth. I need look no further than the 1984 Van Halen song Panama to know that rich people will do whatever it takes to stay rich. “Model Citizen, Zero Discipline.” You spelled it out, Mr. Roth. We thank you.

From the Shitsville of human behavior all the way across the spectrum to unsung greatness, comes the story of Joe Patten. I was legitimately saddened when I happened upon his obituary last week. Joe was 89 years old. He was a very important person in Atlanta culture for saving one of the city’s greatest historical treasures. The Fox Theatre.

I had met Joe some years back while I was on a tour of The Fox. A friend of mine was the beverage director and she offered, during one of the rare lulls in the place’s busy schedule, to give me a behind-the-scenes look at the grand theatre. The Rolling Stones, Prince, David Copperfield, Tom Waits and Yul Brynner have all graced its stage. The place was built at the turn of the twentieth century as a Shriner’s temple, a congregating place for the ancient Arabic order of the noble mystic shrine. During the film industry boom of the thirties, forties and fifties it offered Atlantans a place to watch Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Mae West on the silver screen. It is difficult to describe how stunning the interior of the theatre is. It is a somewhat magical Arabesque motif with a star-lit sky on the ceiling, castle turrets around the stage, and a mandala art design along the walls and floors. It transcends time and location. To walk into the Fox Theatre is to leave Atlanta and the modern world and walk into something out of a Persian dreamscape. And the whole place would be gone if it hadn’t been for Joe. 

While I was getting my tour I noticed, up in the back balcony section, past the Egyptian Ballroom, there was an open door that led to what looked like an apartment.

“That’s Joe’s place,” said my friend.

“You mean someone lives here,” I said.

And there emerged Joe. Apple-cheeked and elfin with amusing red shoes on, I had a quick introduction with the man and I got the backstory. The theatre had begun to deteriorate from neglect in the sixties. The theatre’s pipe organ, known as the “Mighty Moe,” had fallen into disrepair. There are seven rooms worth of pipes for the organ, the pipe sizes ranging from a pencil to a telephone pole, which means the whole theatre itself is almost one huge musical instrument. Joe showed up to the theatre to ask whether he might try to get the pipe organ working again. At first he was dismissed, and then when the managers realized he wasn’t some loony but a technical genius they let him do his thing. He put down close to seven miles of wiring to get the pipe organ working, taking him the better part of a year, after which the prodigious instrument was brought back to life. Then, in the mid seventies, when the theatre was sold off to Southern Pacific to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, Joe led the charge, standing in the streets to block the wrecking crew, and won in his efforts to have the building declared an historical landmark. If you are ever in Atlanta and find yourself standing spellbound in the middle of the Fox Theatre, thank Joe. 

They called him the Phantom of the Fox, Joe, as he could get anywhere in the building in about thirty seconds. He knew all the secret passageways. He took us high up above the stage to the castle turrets where I sat soaking in the grandeur from a hundred feet up. At that moment, amid the Byzantine and ornamental gold, the brocaded tapestries and scrolled etchings, I really appreciated the fact that I wasn’t staring at a bunch of pollen-covered cars lumped together on a concrete slab in a crappy parking lot, which, had it not been for Joe, was probably what I would’ve been looking at.

Like a phantom, Joe vanished, and I never ran into him again. I do go to the Fox still, from time to time, and my friend will whisk me out of the lobby through an invisible door in the wall to walk through the little seen recesses where the spirits are alive, and well, and working for the good of the good. A little magic is tonic for the soul, and whenever I am nauseated by the Winston Moseleys of the world, thankfully there are the Joe Pattens, and the possibility of achievement far beyond the expected norm.

More Alembics to come.

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