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"The Clermont Hotel served as home to all kinds of folks, from working-class to hookers," says Mitchell, who now teaches photography at the Paideia School. "My feeling was, as long as you were cool, you were welcome," he adds, invoking a largely archaic usage of "cool" that here translates roughly to "kept your mouth shut and minded your own business."
Speaking of all kinds of folks, the Clermont's most infamous guest was of another kind altogether. Legendary cult rocker G.G. Allin lived in Room 216 for several months in 1993 while in Atlanta to record what would prove to be his final single; its B-side is a song titled, "Hotel Clermont."
(Allin, whose outlook on life made Sid Vicious seem like Norman Vincent Peale, died a few weeks later of a heroin overdose after a New York concert during which he stripped naked, crapped onstage, dove through a glass door and ran screaming down the street.)
Both Jeff Bakos, who produced and played bass on Allin's swan song, and Paul Cornwell, the marijuana activist and former Metroplex owner who released the record, say they never felt particularly compelled to visit the self-destructive sociopath during his stay at the Clermont.
Surprising as it may seem, the Clermont isn't especially cheap, considering there's no cable TV, no pool and no complimentary shower cap. With a nightly rate of $51 for a no-frills, single room, this is no flop house.
I have to lay down $158.90 in cash up front to check back in for a week. This time, I draw Room 508, which is stiflingly minuscule, with one small, intensely grimy window that's caulked shut against a fitfully functional A/C unit. Apparently, a room this tiny doesn't rate a TV remote.
The toilet seat has been worn to the bare wood by decades' worth of derrieres. Inside the sanitary wrappers intended for drinking glasses are a pair of Styrofoam cups. Hand-lettering on the back of the wall mirror propped on top of the dresser reads, "Aaron Rents, 1971."
Room 508's one saving grace is the bed, which boasts a firmer, comfier mattress than some B&Bs I've visited. I decide to settle in before doing a bit of exploring.
Exact figures aren't available, but most of the rooms at the Clermont are occupied by long-term residents: cooks, waiters, grocery clerks, airline workers and a collection of retirees and others who don't appear to have day jobs. At 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., every hallway in the building buzzes with fluorescent lights and the tinny piping of a dozen TV sets, punctuated by the metallic hum of the elevators.
The Clermont is an eavesdropper's paradise; whole conversations can be heard through the room doors, none of which are equipped with peepholes. About half the rooms have slatted, exterior privacy doors, but their placement appears utterly random.
There are only two rates, daily and weekly, based on what type of room you have. Efficiencies have a small galley kitchen, while one-bedroom apartments also boast a living room.
Making a local phone call costs 50 cents, payable only by advance deposit -- a fee that's easily enforced since the hotel still employs an antiquated switchboard of the kind last used by Lily Tomlin on "Laugh In." It costs two bits simply to fill up your ice bucket.
A few of the preconceptions Atlantans may have about the Clermont are not reinforced during my week here. I spot only one woman who obviously looks to be a low-rent prostitute, and she was merely using the lobby pay phone one morning. I never see a cockroach, nor am I kept awake by loud music, midnight love sessions or gunplay.
In addition to the elevator operators, some of the faces I get to know during my stay in the "penthouse," as the top floor is known, include a brusque, impatient housekeeper who seems always to have an inch of ash hanging from her cigarette as she changes sheets; a Busta Rhymes lookalike with a Buckwheat 'do whose room emits a ganja cloud worthy of Cheech & Chong; and a legless Vietnam vet who warns me away from brunch at the retro-hip Java Jive across the street. "It's mostly yuppies who eat there," he says.
The hotel's own private celebrity is Miss Rogers, a loyal, longtime front desk clerk who, when she grew too frail to work, was given a room at the Clermont by the hotel's owner. Now cared for by the housekeeping staff and seldom seen by other guests, Miss Rogers turns 100 this year.