Writing and poetry
From the 1990's

by Richard Van Ingram

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 you under.
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 husbands.
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 the monotony.
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 college 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.

Frederick Noble

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