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Buh-bye Boho 

When bohemia meets middle age, it's fight or flight time

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One day while Thomas was having lunch at Eats, he received a phone call from director Richard Donner's (Lethal Weapon, Conspiracy Theory) "people" asking to see his next script. Thomas is rushing to complete it, aware that he has one "go" card available with which to approach these Hollywood movers and shakers.

That flurry of interest and faith in his vision has reassured Thomas that he will be a filmmaker, whatever the price.

But for every Thomas Tulis and Milt Thomas, there's a Sam Patton.

Life was good for Patton when he first came to Little Five Points.

He had a significant collection of cult movies and underground films, enough to open his esoteric video store, attached to the back of A Cappella Books. Now the site of the restaurant Teaspace, Blast Off was the definition of a hole in the wall located in a side alley.

It was 1991 and Blast Off was like a party on banker's hours. Patton didn't even have to do anything. The freaks, the babes, the hippies, the retro cult all came to him. In those days, all Patton had to do was kick back with a briny vodka martini, a whiskey or two or three or four and shoot the shit about Mamie Van Doren or who killed Kennedy. From his soapbox, he espoused the scurvy charms of cult movie legends like Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ed Wood.

An amateur shutterbug, Patton found plenty of strippers and shy secretaries through the store, who would willingly pose for him in his Helmut Newton-meets-Bunny Yeager cheesecake photography. Boyfriends seethed, but Patton was having the time of his life. It may have been as close as anyone in Atlanta has ever gotten to a bohemian paradise. Patton's lifestyle was defined by a willful overthrow of his parents' values and their concerns about savings accounts and retirement funds, lawn care and real estate.

One morning, Patton came into the store and a customer asked him about the two blondes he had been with the night before.

"What blondes?" he asked.

If life was that good, why couldn't he remember any of it?

By 1995 the glitter was starting to wear off Patton's sideshow. The clowns, once so jolly and absurd, were now canting and reeling like Bowery drunks. The pretty dancing girls showed wrinkles and yellow teeth beneath their makeup. His insides were "croaking out," poisoned on a "hell diet of booze and chili dogs," Jolt colas, Butterfingers, takeout from Zesto's -- scarfed by the sackful -- and Wild Turkey 101.

Then one day, Patton was diagnosed with diabetes. He remembers it well. It was the same day he heard the news that Ella Fitzgerald's legs were amputated because of her severe diabetes. Like most residents on boho's what-me-worry block, he had no health insurance.

Despite his health condition, the drinking and stress that inflamed his diabetes snowballed. And his compadres? They began to die or disappear: heroin, booze, L.A., N.Y. Others grew up and found real jobs, had kids, took out mortgages. Meanwhile, Patton was raking cash by the shovelfuls into the bottomless money pit of a business that was consuming more than it made. Money was disappearing into a sinkhole of bills and vices.

Patton began to feel like the last guy at the dance. His swinging Dean Martin pulpit of mixology was transformed from party central to prison.

The neighborhood was changing, too. Little Five's counterculture roots were dissipating with yuppie progress. It was becoming overrun with an influx of Virginia Highland-style boutiques, loft developments and particleboard neo-Craftmans and neo-Victorians retailing in the $600,000-$800,000 zone.

And the customers were changing. To Patton, even the crackpots began to look good compared to these new kids on the block who couldn't even manage freaky, but were just banal, limp and tiring with their incessant demands for There's Something About Mary and their politically correct humorlessness.

"It's hard to be a misanthrope and be in customer service at the same time," Patton recalls thinking.

Then there were the guys with guns, who liked to wave them in Patton's face and ask for his till. One night two men blindsided him and the only thing that kept Patton and his cash intact was the pistol he drew on the bastards. One guy ran, but the other one stared Patton down and told him, "I'll be back."

Welcome to the mindset of the middle class. No longer the Man-hating, hot-rodding kid of his youth, Patton came to appreciate the cops who stopped by the store to shoot the breeze, ask him to put on Russ Meyer tittie movies and who watched his back. He was beginning to feel like some kind of fucking citizen.

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