Way back in 2000, Richard asked
me to edit this collection and perhaps write a foreword. I looked through
the collected works and decided not to change a word. I didn't live
his life and the words were obviously pulled straight from the heart.
Changing things would be a falsification of historical records.
However, I'll gladly fill in some background, a warning for those
whose lives were different from his, so that you'll have an idea
what inspired these works.
Dahlonega was a small town in
the mountains of North Georgia, not then easily accessible from the closest
urban center of Atlanta. I say "was" because things have changed
drastically from Richard's youth there. Once upon a time there were
still folks that only came down out of the hills once a year for
supplies. Everyone waved at each passing car on the road because chances
were you were related by blood or marriage or both. The farmer's co-op
was still the major social center and the economy was only barely influenced
by the occasional tourist dollar. But as highway 400 inched closer and
closer, more and more outsiders moved in, trying to get away from it all,
and more and more tourist dollars poured in, completely changing the face
of the businesses on the town square.
The early transformation era of Dahlonega was the period in which Richard
grew up there. Lumpkin County High School was as divided as the town.
Upstairs, the college-bound courses taught the newly imported kids
and the occasional native freak how to get out of town. Downstairs the kids from
the old locals' families learned shop and other "vocational arts"
guaranteed to keep them within the county boundaries. The stairwells could
be dangerous places where the tides of these divergent forces could pull
I arrived a pure outsider, an import from Atlanta. I hid myself in the
upstairs classrooms, the sanctuary from the often physically abusive,
always mentally abusive local elements. There I met a guy who was even
more of an outsider than me. He sketched strange drawings in the halls
between classes, wrote strange things in a calligraphic font, read books
that sounded foreign even to us recent imports from the city, and shunned
all except those on the outer edges of the outside, despite his long family
history in the county. Though he might say otherwise, it is fortunate
for Richard that he was related to most of the population of the county.
It kept him from the physical abuse, if not the mental torture, inflicted
on other outsiders. To the locals he was just "my crazy cousin Rick."
To the rest of us outsiders he was that dark, brooding guy you wished
would open up for just a minute. But even in the small band of outsiders,
Richard still managed to stay outside.
North Georgia College is in the
middle of Dahlonega and accounts for a large portion of the population
living within the official city limits. However, the students rarely interacted
with the townsfolk, and on those rare occasions when they did there was
often a fight of one form or another. The locals didn't think too much
of the school, as it brought in more outsiders. This is ironic
since the school began as an agricultural college. And more ironic since
the campus culture closely mirrored the town culture. NGC was, at the
time of these tales, a military college. All those generals' sons who
were too dumb to get into West Point or VMI got dumped at NGC.
The corps of cadets accounted for the vast majority of NGC's male
students. Conservative, often brutish, distrustful of outsiders, they
were guaranteed officer positions in the armed forces if they could graduate
from the sometimes-less-than-academically-challenging school. The girls of NGC were those too dumb
or poor or conservative to attend UGA or other big, respectable school. These
young women would troll the corps of cadets looking for future officers to
be their future
Add to that the midnight curfew in the separate-sex dorms, the rules against
public displays of affection, and the homogenous campus body and it felt
like Faber College from Animal House, without the Delta guys to break
Then there were the outsiders.
"Commuters" we were called officially. If you lived within 20
miles of NGC with your parents you weren't required to be in the military
program. Without the olive drab uniform, you stood out in every class.
"Hairbags" we were called unofficially, since we didn't have
to wear the flat-head look dished out by the local barbershop to the cadets.
We were perhaps 20% of the student body, and only a handful
of us hung around campus outside of class. We few hairbags with
nothing better to do would cluster in the less-traveled rooms of the student
center and plan our nightly escapes.
Out into our "home" town we'd go in search of alcohol and a
party. We'd usually find the alcohol and create our own party, of sorts. Years later the nights
seem like one continuous blur, like one long night spent on the hood of
my car talking shit with Richard and a few others, as drunk as we could afford
to get while watching the rare female look at us in horror before retreating.
There were a few high points, a few nights less lonely than most, but
it would be fair to say I wish I could have afforded to go away to
like most of my high school friends.
It would also be fair to say
Richard wished he could have afforded to go away to a school that actually
taught some academic content instead of yet another school of hard knocks.
Athens, Georgia, is a college town in every way. The student body is the
majority of the otherwise-small-town population. The University of Georgia
is renowned for two things - football and alcohol. UGA has been rated
#1 at both several times, but regardless of how "The Dawgs"
are doing during any given season, the party never stops. You didn't have
to be a brainiac to get into UGA. Anyone with any higher intellectual
aspirations (and the money to do so) generally avoided the place. But
if you couldn't afford to go elsewhere, or wanted to be anything
but an intellectual, you wanted to be at UGA.
Even at 18 years old I'd already classified Athens as "the town of
wannabe's." Nobody actually WAS anything.
If you were a smelly hippie wannabe, but kept wasting your extra time
working so you could afford to stay, you went to UGA.
If you were sort of a money-grubbing yuppie wannabe, but kept wasting
your extra time drinking instead of working 'cause mom and dad were footing
the bill, you went to UGA.
If you wanted to be an artist, but spent all your time working and drinking
instead of creating, you probably knew Richard.
But unlike most of the artist and/or philosopher wannabe's, Richard was
working his ass off at his trade. I have rooms full of his work to prove
it. Unfortunately for me, he spun so far outside my circle of friends I
rarely saw him after he left Dahlonega and North Georgia College for
Athens and the University of Georgia. Unfortunately for him,
he was so far outside the social circle of humanity that his sanity, already
as thin as warm ice, degenerated further and further. On the rare visit
back to "home" he looked like Moses come in from the wilderness.
And like Moses he refused to rest, back to the wilderness, back to the
desert wasteland, back outside.
So you have been warned. This
is a look in, from the outside.