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Designing the perfect fish story
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They wanted to go to IKEA. And they were driving.

You can find me in the cafeteria, I said. I’ll be eating Swedish meatballs and reading something Nordic, because if I can get through the rest of my life without ever buying anything at IKEA, I’ll be pleased. I like what I see at other people’s homes, but not enough to decipher the predictably cryptic instructions -- let alone hunt out the old Allen wrench to assemble the stuff.

We were heading for Atlanta. The sliver of wood (a “foreign body,” said the podiatrist, but not necessarily Italian) that accompanied me to England was out of my foot and we were ready to play tourist, which meant a visit to IKEA to buy all the things you never knew you needed, the Flying Biscuit cafe for its creamy grits, the Farmer’s Market and possibly the Georgia Aquarium, billed as the largest in the world.

But first we had to find the Marsha Wood art gallery in Atlanta’s new Castleberry Hill Art District, among dozens of other galleries near downtown in an area of old vacant warehouses and factories. We’re Marcus Kenney fans and when Marcus, who lives and works in Savannah, has an opening within driving distance, we follow because we like to tell everyone who asks we knew him back when.

Like his art – complex, nostalgic and occasionally disturbing collages culled from children’s book illustrations, vintage lithographs, coloring books, vintage paint-by-number images, personal papers, original typed sermons, canceled checks, Green Stamps, light bulbs, cigarette papers, vintage wallpaper and science book cutouts – Marcus and his choice of dress-up clothes are also vintage, also original.

For the opening, he chose a close-fitted 1940’s suit, a florid Maxfield Parrish tie, and a black, broad-brimmed hat, Amish-style. The show – “Happily Ever After…” is quintessential Marcus.

But come Saturday morning when we awoke to frost, I dreaded the worst. If we couldn’t get into the Aquarium - which looked doubtful - we’d get lost on one of the Peachtree streets, lose our car in a parking lot, and I’d have to go to IKEA.

We thought about buying tickets ahead to the Aquarium, but after hopping on someone’s unsecured wireless network in the well-wired neighborhood and reading that only yearly members could make reservations, we gave up the thought.

“Let’s just drive by so at least we can get a visual,” I said. Consensus. Plenty of time after that for IKEA.

We headed towards Olympic Centennial Park, the CNN center, Philips Arena, the Georgia Dome. Then, pulling onto Luckie Street - a good sign, I thought - we saw a corner of the new facility and the ornate G of the Georgia Aquarium, artfully scripted into the shape of a fish.

With sundry lines snaking this way and that, we couldn’t tell how crowded it was. “Let’s try,” I said. “Hey, we’re on Luckie Street, aren’t we?”

After circumnavigating the ropes, reading the signs – no guns, no lighters, no matches, no knives – hearing the guards bark, “Arms up,” and watching them run the wand up and down everyone who entered as if we were in an airport, and putting $21 on the old credit card - ka-ching, ka-ching - we got in.

Praise the Lord. Praise Home Depot’s Bernie Marcus and his millions.

I was psyched. Using foresight, the staff only admits a certain number of people per hour so it really was possible to get up-close-and personal with the sea nettles, moon jellies, sawfish, stingray, leafy sea dragon, fur-covered sea otters, sea lions, several whale sharks, African penguin and my personal favorite, the Casper-the-ghostlike Beluga whale, surely the most limber, carefree, amusing creature on earth.

There were crowds but it wasn’t overwhelming, even on a Saturday. Even the lines at the restaurant - no fish sticks or fish sandwiches, by the way, and for some reason, no straws (they might hurt the fish) - moved efficiently.

Nearly three hours later we emerged, found the car, visited SCAD’s Savannah Gallery in Buckhead, got a cup of coffee, passed Robert Mitchum’s graffiti mug for the fourth time driving under an overpass, headed for an early performance of David Sedaris’ sardonic and hilarious “The Santaland Diaries” at the Horizon Theatre.

We even managed to put the appropriate distance between us and what we saw at the aquarium to eat some grouper at Six Feet Under, a restaurant situated across from Oakland Cemetery.

Darn. A whole weekend in Atlanta and no time for IKEA. Maybe next time. Maybe not.

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