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Buh-bye Boho 

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

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And then, in 1998 something happened that closed the lid on the coffin he was living in, something worse than the escalating diabetes and the inability to maintain his on-again / off-again relationship with a woman he cared about. Patton had a glimpse into his own future, and lo, it was not good.

People called them "bumsicles:" the poor, lost cases who wind up like Jack Nicholson's grimacing corpse in that final image of The Shining.

While Sam Jr. had been quaffing vodka martinis like there was no tomorrow, his biological father Sam "Sticks" Tardy was dying of drink. The former Marine, jazz musician, Benzedrine freak from whom Patton must have inherited his gonzo streak and his love of pistols was another dead bum, frozen in the West Texas cold.

Patton wore the imprint of his biological father on his scarred finger, which he'd caught in Daddy-O's car door when he was 2. Sticks left home not long after that. Patton never got to know his father, and he felt gypped. He began to wonder if maybe he was sporting Sticks' biological destiny too.

Like the worst kind of movie cliche, it was a woman who helped guide Patton from the boho highway toward a strip of stability in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Not one of those dream vixens with the coal black Betty Page bangs and a heart closed tight from bad daddies and rotten uncles. This was a nice, regular girl with impeccable manners and the kind of brisk, squared-away attitude that could put a good scrub on his soul. They met in a college class on Hitchcock years before, but it had taken Patton a long while to realize Mary was film and destiny collided. In 1998, they got married.

In January 2000 Blast Off closed, a casualty of Patton's sheer exhaustion and drained finances. The seductive, delirious, orgiastic fictions of a million cult movies and film noir plots had paved his soul with glamorous possibility. But closing the store ended all those reveries. It was surprisingly easy to walk away, Patton says, especially when all that his life there represented was loss: of health, of money, of friends.

At 44, Patton is beginning a new life.

Deep in the heart of Dunwoody, Patton now lives in a gated apartment complex whose connotations of normality are so shameful, he is reluctant to even part with an address, lest curiosity seekers anxious to drive by with their sneers and cracks about "how mightily the artsy hath fallen" darken his doorstep.

He embarrassingly admits that he now cares that he has a 401K plan and health insurance at his corporate job, a job as blanketed in self-imposed secrecy as the suburban apartment where he lives.

Patton is trying to make up for lost time. The past suddenly looks like a big, expensive mistake. He could have applied himself and studied geology. At this very moment, he could be a geologist "in the Gulf of Mexico looking at salt domes for petroleum companies and making six figures," he says. "But I was like, 'Ahhhh, I hate math. Let's go get a beer.'"

Patton tries to reassure himself. Maybe normalcy can be satisfying for different reasons. Maybe the calm and banality can soothe the soul of a man stressed out from years of drinking and percolating "fight or flight" responses over money.

But then again, perhaps Murger made giving up the boho ghost too easy. Despite all the hardships -- the hand-to-mouth existence, the lack of health benefits and retirement plans, the friends running for the high water of financial security -- there's one thing a bourgeois salary still can't buy: freedom. It's the freedom from obligation and responsibilities that allows Thomas Tulis to spend eight to 10 hours a day doing nothing but working on his art. It's the freedom Milt Thomas strives for, to one day give up waiting tables and pursue his filmmaking full time.

Patton may have joined the legions of the staid, the regular, the normal, but he's discovered something that they share with all of those struggling bohos. Even as they sit in their cars on I-285 or eat lunch at the food court, they are probably dreaming of freedom, too. Because letting go of dreams is never easy.

For now, Patton has resigned himself to a small sliver of white-bread life. But as he floats, stogie in mouth, in the buoying chlorine blue of his Dunwoody apartment complex pool late at night, he thinks. Like all the other regular Joes out there, with health benefits and savings accounts, Patton ponders the steps that will take him from his present into his future. But he still thinks about the past, too. He thinks back to all the crazy stories and characters at Blast Off. He remembers a time when every day was a fresh adventure. It's a story he thinks could trump Clerks.

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