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The Legend of Huey

There’s a store in Marietta, Georgia.  It should be called a warehouse really; it’s bigger than it probably has a right to be.  Perhaps conscious, or self-conscious of this fact, a few years ago store planners built additional walls ranging from 20 to 100 feet inside the originals, making effectively a store within a store, a retail Matryoshka doll, if you will.

Even before the revisions, the place was already a mad warren, one of those buildings that, though large in appearance on the outside, appeared far bigger on the inside.  I know this because I worked there for a while a few years ago.  I won’t tell you what the place is called so I can protect the pseudo-anonymity of its most respected resident and subject of this story.  Anyway, this “nameless” store is huge; it has an attached outer building connected by long hallways with 25 foot high ceilings made of style-less industrial sheet metal.  For some apparently forgotten reason, large fans up there turn slowly, non-committedly.

Though the store is open for business, thriving actually, there is a lot about the contents of the building that is a mystery to current staff members.  It’s old, it’s changed hands majorly a couple of times.  It has phone systems that nobody can trace the origins of.  When there is an outage managers just call random service providers and hope for the best.  They always manage somehow to keep the store running. The store’s computers are older models that never break down, and look anachronistic, even given their age, because they’re surrounded by even older clutter.  The upstairs office floors are covered with rancidly stained carpets.

The week I started working there I explored, I peeked behind the proverbial curtain to see the workings of it all.  I got a weird feeling there in those outsized hallways.  Maybe it was the docking bay doors that were almost big enough to squeeze in the Lusitania.  Maybe it was the chilliness of the air there (though it was summer there were these large refrigeration units) or the rumors I had heard of an employee who had hanged herself back there years before.  Maybe it was other things I’d heard, stories about the man who had opened the place decades before; a man whose sudden rages led to daily firings and re-hirings as well as sporadic equipment destruction.  He seemed to have a special animosity towards printers.

The "Hanging Hallway"

The “Hanging Hallway”

Only days into my job and I had almost heard it all, employees loved to talk about the place and babbled to me in a curious mixture of pride and shame.  I realized later it was wonder.  More curious, I learned a little more about the area around us. The neighboring businesses were empty and almost as big as…oops, I almost said it, my store.  The effect was like a big Old West strip mall, sans tumbleweeds.

Close by, really close by, not far from the Big Chicken (a local landmark), a man named Leo Frank was lynched from a tree (a tree that still stands) by angry townspeople who were convinced he had murdered a little girl named Mary Phagan.  This was in 1915.  Mary was killed in Marietta and Frank was arrested and taken 170 miles away for what would hopefully have been a fair and impartial trial.  Locals went out there and broke him out of jail, returning him nearly to the exact place of the alleged crime.  Hollywood made a movie about it called “They Won’t Forget.”  People at work didn’t know much about this but I like to look up and research local history.  I proudly added it to the oral lore of ghostly sightings and flying Hewlett-Packards, suggesting slyly that maybe the weird feeling people got in those back hallways was just the ghost of little Mary Phagan.

In between the old exterior walls and the new interior sat years of merchandising detritus, relics of failed or scrapped ad campaigns; like rubble created by an all ADHD cast of “Mad Men.”  Then there was that hallway connection to the outer building, I never entered the place myself, by the time I worked there they had closed it off.  I heard it was a bulk goods distribution area but why did they wall it off behind painted cinderblocks?  With a reinforced wall in place, I wondered whether (with all these stories) they wanted to keep us out, or perhaps something in.

There were periodically spaced large metal doors, locked, with machinery behind it.  One day, wandering around back there I saw there was another set of double doors with a “Warning-Keep Out” sign on it.  I had to try the handle.  Sure enough it opened up and I peeked inside.  It looked like a machine shop, there were tables with stuff that looked like it was being worked on; a huge lamp, a small engine, a boat propeller.  I heard noises from the back of the room and ducked out.

When I got back upstairs I asked my friend Calvin about it.  He said, “Oh you don’t want to go in there without an invite, that Huey’s place.”  His place?  Huey?  I hadn’t heard of this guy before.  I asked what was up.  Calvin told me he worked there and lived upstairs, as far as he knew he’d “been there forever, they could well have built the building right around him;” he chuckled as he half muttered that to himself, like he’d just made up his mind to believe it.

Nearing Huey's world

Nearing Huey’s world

Huey was a little man, a native Georgian who kept to himself, himself (that is) and his pet squirrel. Calvin said he was a handyman, a real jack-of-all-trades.  “You’ve really got to have a conversation with this guy if you can,” Calvin said.

I asked someone else about him.  “Oh, Huey, he used to work for NASA; he has a go cart that he likes to ride around on the roof.”  “Wait, what?” I thought he was a repair guy.  This quickly turned into a little game to me because I got a different answer from everyone I asked.  He was a skydiver, or he had built a Van de Graff generator in his workshop (I had to look that one up), or he had lived off the grid for decades, or he was with the Defense Department.  Someone told me he built radios in his spare time. He sounded like a real life Lazlo Hollyfeld.

One morning I came in to work and there was a guy with a little beige baseball cap lacquering a work desk.  This was Huey, he stood up and shook my hand, he introduced himself in a strong Georgia accent, an accent that sounded like it came straight from a Civil War battlefield.  It took me a while but I understood him, I guess I had to kind of slow down my hearing, if that makes any sense.  He was about 5’4”; maybe 60-65 years old with a lined face and a permanent wince that looked like it was the hard earned prize of years of sun exposure.  He had flinty eyes but an easy smile.  I asked him about the squirrel; “Oh ma pat squirrel dahd but I got a new one now.”  He sounded proud that I knew about it.

I found out from future observations that he was the furniture guy too, he built several pieces for the store, anything ranging from desks and chairs to a Christmas tree made of soft drink bottles.  Now I was building my own “Huey Bio” I could tell to people who were new to the store.  “Yeah, he’s the furniture guy, a woodworker,” I’d say.

Our encounter ended but the stories from others kept coming in; he built giant million horsepower engines for wind tunnels, or he brewed his own beer, or he had a working Tesla Coil in his machine shop.  I realized I had to see that place again.  Calvin scored me an invite.  I slipped back through the “Warning-Keep Out” double doors and saw Huey hunkered down over an old Macintosh tube amplifier.  “Come ahn in bet keep quiet.”  Maybe the squirrel was asleep. 

The machinery was old and the room was damp and dark, it looked like Freddy Krueger’s school basement set from “Nightmare on Elm Street.”  But unlike as in the rest of the store, the feeling I got was pretty inviting and homey, maybe because someone actually had made the place his home.  There was a stairway, Huey said, “Hed on up!”  I walked up there, more machinery; some had rusty oil cans on top.  Then there was this long hallway with what looked like hundreds of circuit breakers, what the hell was all that for?  It looked like a whole town’s generating system.

And then a voice behind me, “Don’t touch those!”  I think he knew visitors were very tempted to trip some of the breakers, just to see what would happen.

At the end of the hallway was a little apartment, I didn’t want to be too nosy but I saw it wasn’t a bad setup, had a bathroom and all.  Little lamps gave off a yellowy light.  I thought that from this point it was a weird little journey he had to take to get back among the living people in the store and beyond.  There was a picture on the wall of a man jumping out of a plane, it was Huey.  If that was true maybe it all was, why not?

On my way out Huey asked me if I had a plasma TV.  When I answered I did not he told me to ask around because he wanted to tinker with them, he had taken one apart to fix it recently and loved it.  I felt comfortable enough to ask about NASA, he said, “well that’s been awhile” and then talked a little about particle accelerators.  I didn’t understand a lot of it.  The little twinkle in his eye told me he knew.  He told me if I wanted anything, just “tek a picture of it and awl build it fer ya.”  Looking at all the stuff in there I believed him.

During my tenure at this weird large place I went into the machine shop one more time, I saw Huey hanging upside down like a bat from one of the supports.  He had an apparatus strapped to his ankles.  He told me he did that for half an hour a day.  It wasn’t making him taller but people’s stories about him turned him into a kind of giant.  He was the handyman there, but he had a real past.  He was a squirrel-loving Renaissance man of the South, with an emphasis on engines and electrical generators.

The only things anyone knows for sure here is that he was born somewhere in Georgia, maybe Rome, maybe Valdosta, who knows.  He’s 60-ish but nobody’s nailed that one down either.  He’s done at least some consulting work (but most likely engineering) for NASA helping construct huge engines for supersonic wind tunnels.  And he has a pet squirrel, name unknown.

He’s still there today, but I’m not going to tell you his whole name…… OK his last name starts with a ‘C’ but that’s all you’ll get from me.  If you find him you just have to have a conversation with him; he’s a little spare with his words but he’ll open up if the mood is right.  That store is still in business too; musing on that I can’t help but wonder what will happen to Huey when the place is gone, when they finally tear it down and find an Indian burial ground underneath.

Just kidding.

Because I don’t believe the ghost stories, I don’t really care about the creepy nuclear blast doors or the rotary desk phones or slowly turning fans.  Or even the walled off other building.  But I do believe all the stories I heard about Huey, they just ring true.  His modesty and his real world know-how testifies to that.  If Huey was a multiple choice question, you’d have to select D) All of the Above.

If and when you happen to find this place, good luck finding him, because though Huey is always where he needs to be, nobody at the store ever knows where he is at any given time. Oh, one more thing, if you do find him don’t tell him I sent you.  He likes his privacy.

This MAY be a partial pic of Huey

This may be a partial pic of Huey

 

1 reply
  1. RC
    RC says:

    Best story ever!!!! I hope to go to this magical store one day and meet Huey. I wonder if his squirrel appreciation began before or after Bob Ross was an icon. I’d like to think that Huey was a friend of Bob.

    Reply

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