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Faces of Carapace: Tim Banks' strange magic

Carapace raconteur (and writer) Tim Banks talks about life with, and without, father.

This is the latest in a series of profiles from Carapace, a free event of true personal stories told without notes to a pre-chosen theme at Manuel’s Tavern, 602 N. Highland Ave., on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m.

After the Carapace show last month at Manuel’s, where Tim Banks told the poignant story of his father’s death, something weird happened.

It was the sort of synchronistic oddity that no longer surprises the show's organizers. They've been struck by unexplained, mostly helpful coincidences since they started, more than two years ago.

But Banks, of Stone Mountain, can’t shake it. At first, he told only a few family members.

In the story he offered onstage, Banks explained how the Atlanta doctor had advised him to expect his father to live about six more weeks. The passing would be painless, the doctor said. His father would simply spend more and more time in bed.

Like many medical people, the doctor was “very clipped, professional and neat,” Banks says, ”but when it came time for my father to die, he was gentle and reassuring.”

Six weeks and two days after the phone call, Banks’ father passed away.

Last month, as is customary after each Carapace, the crowd milled around socializing, Banks recalls. “A short, nice-looking man comes up to me and says, ‘Do you know me?’ It was my father’s doctor.”

The doctor had never seen a Carapace show, and could not have known Banks would be there. Banks himself had not decided on his story until a few days before the show, over dinner with another Carapace regular. The doctor had arrived late, and found a seat just before Banks’ name was pulled from the hat.

Father and son, writers both

Banks, 58, has missed few Carapace events since its inception. After a long career as a computer programmer and technical writer for Delta Air Lines, he retired a few years ago. He is writing a coming-of-age novel set in central Florida, where Banks lived during his teen and college years.

“I fell in love with so many people at Carapace only to discover that they are writers,” Banks says. “Creative people are drawn to one another,” even if they don’t understand why right away, he adds. It’s more of Carapace’s “strange magic,” which was the theme of a show last summer.

Banks’ parents, high-school sweethearts in Atlanta, raised three children here and, for a while, in Florida, where his father worked at Stetson University in DeLand, not far from Daytona Beach.

In 2005, Banks’ older brother died suddenly – an event surrounded by eerie coincidences shared during in a story during the Strange Magic show. Banks’ sister, “my best friend,” lives nearby and helps care for their elderly mother.

“I don’t know what to make of [Carapace] sometimes,” Banks says. “It fills my soul. It fills a need in so many people now. Here’s somebody’s story that touches you. You think, ‘Yes, I’ve been there!’ Or, ‘I’ve been there and I never realized, but I see it now.’ Or, it’s like, ‘Who knew?’”

Lately, Banks says, he realized he tells stories mainly for his father. “He was a genius – an administrator all his life, worked a lot in education, was in the Peace Corps. He was very creative but never found an outlet for it.”

Although Banks' father "wrote a lot for his own purposes," he did not publish and showed his work only to his sister. Banks’ aunt has a folder of material that she has promised to send him soon.

“My father would have loved Carapace,” says Banks, who appreciates the event on his father’s behalf. “Sort of like, I’ve gotta clean my plate because of the starving kids in India,” he says.

Atlanta’s ever-bigger literary “snowball”

A man of sequoia-like stature who delivers intricately painful and wildly comic lines in the same baritone, Banks is sometimes asked by friends from the old days in Florida what's new with his "stand-up" group.

“I almost take offense at that, and I think most people would,” he says. “It’s nice to get laughs, if that’s what you want, but I’m putting part of me out there, and other people are, too. Sometimes it’s somebody you won’t even see again.”

He mentions medical student Howard Chiou, who also took the stage during the Strange Magic show.

“All of my friends now are Carapace-related, but he’s one of those people I don’t know,” Banks says. “I didn’t speak to him that night, but he carried me away with that story. Some of the greatest nights of the last couple of years have been at Manuel’s.”

Banks points to “the variety, a remarkable patchwork and cross-section of people” at Carapace – among them Banks’ daughter, 26-year-old Lauren, a dancer in grad school at Georgia State, and his son, Travis, 24, who graduated from Georgia Tech and works for a chemical company in Atlanta.

“It’s like a snowball, really,” Banks says of Atlanta’s literary / spoken-word scene. “Just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

The next Carapace can’t come soon enough for him. “I often feel like it’s been a year since the last one,” he says. “I feel that way now.”

Once in a while, the routine of looking after his mother while Banks’ own injury heals – a while ago, he fell off his roof and broke a few bones – gets interrupted by an event that is not Carapace, such as the stray dog that wandered into his yard.

“I just called her ‘bitch’ for a long time, because I didn’t want to get attached to her,” he says. “I didn’t want a dog, really. But then the kids in the neighborhood would come along and want to play with her, and I didn’t want to call her that in front of the kids. So I changed her name to ‘Daytona Bitch.’”

And he kept her.

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