I saw the seven words, then it finally registered with all the synchronicity of a lighted odometer turning over from all nines to all zeroes. This was it! The riddle had been solved! In ill-considered black and white here before me, written three days earlier, on my mother’s 48th birthday was the culminating stroke of this freaky name-change operation thing I had charted for months with soft sell handshakes and strange grimaces to any new person who happened to meet me.
And I took the name Gabriel Thy...
The Howell House was clean and active, even upscale I suppose one could say, secure and nearly two-thirds geriatric. My mother lived four floors above me up on the sixth floor of the 18-story building. She was on staff as the senior citizens coordinator and bookkeeper, and I occasionally helped her out with some of the more confined and colorful patrons doing odd chores for them. I was anxious to tell her of my discovery, although I could hardly expect her to understand the impact this fresh twig of myth and reality would have on me, Richard, the eldest of her seven children. It was her birthday and we were to have dinner together. I was bursting with excitement but I was understandably challenged by a mother's sense of her own naming rightsto bring the gift of reason to the dinner table that night.
How would my family, particularly my mother react to this news, a most suspicious tale ringing with tremendous religious overtones, or as others might prefer, smacking of superstitious or worse, some kind of dangerous demonic affiliations? Of course many people have changed their names with no other purposes other than enhancing one’s business, hiding an ethnicity, blending in, or sheer simplicity in mind.
As it was written on the page, the nameGabriel Thywas not given but was taken. This seemingly minor detail concerned me for a quite a while, not in a truly bothersome way, but as a nuisance, like a flapping scarecrow in a field of errors. Having taken this name was it no longer a gift? But when someone gives you a nickel, don’t you take it and perhaps slip it into your own pocket? Such were the subtleties of bible and literary scholarship, and so it was with my own problematic gestures.
I was thoroughly bewildered. The name was certainly an odd one, a very special one. I liked it, approved of it, but without a doubt it certainly had a very pretentious ring to it. I was not at all certain I in good faith could take it. And what would I do with it? The cornpone religiosity, the in-your-face God-component of the now prophetic name-change operation, self-fulfilling and otherwise, was obvious to me. But I was sure others would laugh me right off the sidewalk. What about those who already knew me as RSNa right interesting vintage acronym already, particularly when pronounced Risen or risin as in...Christ is risen! How would my family, particularly my mother react to this news, a most suspicious tale ringing with tremendous religious overtones, or as others might prefer, smacking of superstitious or worse, some kind of dangerous demonic affiliations? Of course many people have changed their names with no other purposes other than enhancing one's business, hiding an ethnicity, blending in, or sheer simplicity in mind.
Having finished with ecclesiastical literature, about this time I had also finished reading, was presently reading, or would very soon be reading the herded vapors of Gide, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Miller, Darwin, Kerouac, Nietzsche, Castaneda, and Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, A Metaphorical Fugue on Minds and Machines in the Spirit of Lewis Carroll, the latter, a landmark ransom for me, among others. But I would not wholly give up the ghost. I clung to every shred of hope massaging my investigations that God would clear me for landing his understanding, that each and every one of the moderns were wrong in their denial of deity, dead wrong in their intemperance in disparaging the creative power from without, even as they worshipped the creative power within whether it be DNA or environmental advantages. Time and time again I found the writers complaining not against Christ but rather against the wretched incarnations of the church, its scavengerlike methods poisoning their minds against all of the burlier forms of theology and the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jesus of Nazareth. Still I persisted just as I persist today.
And by no stretch of time or imagination was this an easy task to discharge, seeing as I knew almost no women at the time and had little coin with which to persuade others that this was on the level, was no prank, no plot to appear artistic and sublime, nor merely a passing fancy. Yes neighbor, I was feeling tragically symbolic, alone but for the voice of God resounding in my head, just as intricately wrought analysis of my daily experiences had led me to belief.
I don’t remember my mother’s initial reactions to my telling the tale of the harbinger bringing forth her son a new name. Not then, not there. She in all likelihood, since I don’t specifically remember her response, sighed and said something along the lines of, “That’s interesting, son,” while thinking to herself that this was just a passing artistic phase or something or another and to follow form she’d share no words either of encouragement or of any personal horror. She’d always thought of herself as somewhat of a mystic, but was not easily persuaded that any such thing would rub off onto her children. So I use the words "not then, not there" simply because there was no mindjarring quarrel I recall from that Sunday night, and shortly thereafter, speaking both epistemologically and chronologically, things begin to shift into place with great importance.
The name was mine to take. That much was had been chanced upon, had been written, had arrived in a happy circumstance. There was no doubt in my mind that this was living theatre, that I had been given an emblazoned word of prophecy in Corpus Christi, and it was fulfilled here in Atlanta because I had stayed the course. But I also intuited that there were certain terms involved, certain measures and quotas to be filled, certain spiritual hoops to be jumped through in order to discern whether or not this was this real McCoy. Because it was my understanding that I’d come to this earth through the wondrous body of a woman, was named by that same woman, had bullishly married and was now irreparably separated from another woman once twice my age, it was preserved in my mind and reinforced by circular logic that if this name change was truly from God, my doubts could only be dispelled if endorsed by a woman. And by no stretch of time or imagination was this an easy task to discharge, seeing as I knew almost no women at the time and had little coin with which to persuade others that this was on the level, was no prank, no plot to appear artistic and sublime, nor merely a passing fancy. Yes neighbor, I was feeling tragically symbolic, alone but for the voice of God resounding in my head, just as intricately wrought analysis of my daily experiences had led me to belief.
I was working three hours a day downtown delivering pizzas and sandwiches on foot to the downtown Atlanta highrise luncheon crowd. I saw many faces and shared a quick grin or a few words of friendly chat, but my social importance was next to nothing. When I had a few dollars to spare I’d occasionally dip into a rather eclectic pub down Peachtree Street a few blocks from the Howell House for a pitcher of cheap suds, but knew only a few guys, the bar maid, and maybe one woman superficially at best. The happy hour crowd was always buzzing with a spattering of high profile cultural scooters including the nucleus I later grew to appreciate individually as an art curator, a couple of attorneys, an old hippie or two, a librarian, a couple of salesmen, a science fiction aficionado, a banker, a copywriter, an amateur actress, a faux cubist painter, a few struggling musicians, a chess champion, and a CDC technician.
The nihilistic era of the rude nickname had arrived in spades, the new epithet of the unsung, pacing the steamy streets and charlatanic nightclubs with the vengeance of a caged wolf, with little respect for anything, hardly sparing themselves. Visceral yearnings in youth were reshaping a new generation’s perspective on love and hatred, and the mad rush for mostly vulgar monikers had already begun in earnest.
This circle of soon to be regulars was still small at the time of the White Crow writing. All of them knew me as Richard, slightly weird and chalked up with an armload of library books. Keep in mind of course that when I introduced myself to someone, that was the last mention of a name-change operation, the line was dead until the next stranger was introduced. I didn’t go around like some enfilading riflemouth spraying people with some nonsense line in search of attention. In fact I was often quite self-conscious when introducing myself. Within a few days (three, four, five?) however I was to meet a young woman four or five years older than me named Kathleen Baker, a woman whose more delicate features were overshadowed by the liberal contours of her body. She weighed over 300 pounds, sang classical music with the voice of a monk, and immediately seemed to enjoy the nimble dispatches my wit invested among the afternoon mélange. Thinking again as I write this, perhaps I hadn’t told my mother of the Gabriel Thy transmogrification after all, not then that night of her birthday, for whatever reasons I now forget, because with each ascendant memory, in fact, as I am thinking about this concentratedly for the first time in many years, it seems that Kathleen Baker’s were the very first ears to hear the entire mess of fish from beginning to end, sans of course, the still confidential part about needing a woman to validate the transition (part of the test is to not publicly reveal all the details but to allow the truth to unfold according to God’s will and not mine), and that she energetically embraced the novelty of what she was hearing and resolved at that very first meeting to call me Gabriel, Gabriel Thy, enough said. And so in that unorchestrated off the cuff fashion this woman became the first person to know me only as Gabriel Thy, not Richard Nix.
Yes, that was it. She listened to my poem and she approved. Mother would learn only later, and now I recall another event which I shall get to shortly. That afternoon at the Stein tavern I did however note my apprehension at appearing far too pretentious for these cynical hobbyhorse times by dubbing myself Gabriel Thy. I was a nothing, a fledgling writer, a seeker after an illusive and much debated truth, caught within the mechanical web of all breeds and conjugation of fact and fantasy, and yet despite my busy faith and rote exhilaration, I could not call myself a christian because quite frankly I couldn't fathom exactly what the word meant anymore, if indeed I ever did. There were so many conflicting versions of the title that I just preferred to leave it alone, to let the scavengers pick the bones clean if need be.
Little did I know at the time that even as I in all seriousness was changing my name thousands of others were performing a similar operation. The nihilistic era of the rude nickname had arrived in spades, the new epithet of the unsung, pacing the steamy streets and charlatanic nightclubs with the vengeance of a caged wolf, with little respect for anything, hardly sparing themselves. Visceral yearnings in youth were reshaping a new generation’s perspective on love and hatred, and the mad rush for mostly vulgar monikers had already begun in earnest.
Names like Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious became the norming curve for acceptance into this thriving cult of nothingness. My own name mutation, void of applause or record deals, shock value or normalcy, was a serious matter, referencing everything I earnestly believed about the nature and signature of the Creator, flagging for all to observe, his will for me and mankind. To understand this name would take time for me as I experienced what surely would be a new direction in destiny. The easy part was over. Onto the Directed Path of God’s dotted line I was willing to sign, but where, and how?
My anxiety with these problematic questions did not evaporate with the introduction to Kathleen. I still begged in my spirit for more validation.
Thirty-one years ago, on this date, August 11, I financed my first brand fucking new car. This was about the time the Boss was racing in the dark, but long before, or so it seemed in those days, that the Dead Milkmen busted out their song which burns rubber to say it all about this slamming automobile. My 305 sported a virgin five point one miles on the odometer when I drove it off the lot. A drag city stripper, a beautiful consumer chick cage. A bitchin' Camaro. The Milkmen nailed that much.
This 1976 Chevrolet Camaro was the nothing less than the magic bullet for a non-gearhead like myself. For I would go on to put 96K miles on that metallic blue automobile in the thirty-six months I owned it, traveling back and forth to Texas several times, and winding among the backwaters of the five southeastern states of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee in which I worked as a surveyor for a prestigious civil engineering firm headquartered in Atlanta, flummoxing mayors, city managers, and county engineers with the well-packed trunk and backseat full of bush axes, machetes, hubs, stakes, chains, range poles, level rods, magic markers, flagging, tripod, transit, level, and a truckload of other tools of the trade, all ingeniously organized and functionally accessible when needed. I shall return to this topic. Right here, in this space.
There's so much to tell, not the least is generating an explanation for those fag shorts...
I apologize for the intrusion, but after stumbling across the name, I was wondering whether you are the George Rounthwaite, formerly of Houston, TX, a surveyor (engineer), or are you perhaps his son, Robert, whom I knew to be living and working in the Redmond area?
I am the former Richard Nix, now Gabriel Thy, living in Washington, DC, but I won't bore you with sentiments except to wish you good health and fine purpose. If you are not this Rounthwaite clan, I apologize again.
Yes, that is the same Robert I knew as a young boy of 8-9 way back in the late 70s. His father, George, whom I consider one of three post-parental mentors of my early 20s had a debilitating stroke about five years ago, and from what I gather over a couple of very awkward phone conversations and a short jumbled letter he is still reluctantly estranged from the family he loves very much. When I saw your name on one of the Internet Registers (I forget which, already, sorry), I was hoping on a long shot that George had relocated to Washington in the care of his son Robert, who does indeed work for Mister Bill, and had embraced the Net. It's been about eighteen months since I last talked to him. My sin. I'm afraid I have few comforting words in my vocabulary. Thanks for your offer of locating Robert's phone number, but I think I must decline your generosity. I have not seen Robert, or George for that matter, since 1980, and frankly I would find a cold call to him rather unnerving, not to mention how he might feel. I am much more comfortable with E-mail in certain, well no, MOST situations, and realizing the Rounthwaite family unit as somewhat in ill-repair, I hesitate to step in.
Actually the whole tale goes on for some twenty or so pages in an unpublished novel sitting on my harddrive, as secretly as if it had never been written, because naturally, being of sound mind and not merely out for kicks, there were contributing facts both prior to and after the utterances and the writing of the name, as you might imagine, but since I hardly dare bore you with those details at this point in our communication, I’ll just say thanks for asking…
It was astonishingly difficult even talking to George. Fourteen years had passed before I called him out of the blue back in 1995. You see, old friend George is a hardcore Christian fundamentalist, a very bright, very well-educated man who sought to please God more than the most stringent theology can ever permit. The very passion of health and fitness, George suffered his stroke rather prematurely while still in his early to mid-fifties. It is my perception, not without hints of validation, that his intensity for religion finally cracked both his family ties and his physical well-being. It's a very sad tale of which I was hoping a reunion had overcome...
As for the name change operation, it's quite a long story, but the short version is that after a period of twenty months or so of uttering on a whim to strangers in Corpus Christi TX whenever I was being introduced that"...my name is Richard Spalding Nix, but I'm in the process of a name change operation," the deed was finally accomplished on November 13, 1983 in Atlanta when I wrote the line in a poem that "I took the name Gabriel Thy...", a day that also happened to be my mother's birthday, whatever that has to do with anything. It was only three days later, after going back to edit the poem that I actually noticed the line for the first time. "Eureka!" I shouted, and the rest is history. Actually the whole tale goes on for some twenty or so pages in an unpublished novel sitting on my harddrive, as secretly as if it had never been written, because naturally, being of sound mind and not merely out for kicks, there were contributing facts both prior to and after the utterances and the writing of the name, as you might imagine, but since I hardly dare bore you with those details at this point in our communication, I'll just say thanks for asking...
Yes, Gabriel Thy is my legal name now, since 1984. Being the creative sort who tries to live by the strength of his words (failing miserably of course), while sporting this nasty habit of trying to coerce others to live up to their own, I took the plunge and made it official. But life goes on, under any name, and any banner, and it's a damned shame God is such a mysterious force in the histories of man, offering much consolation and pomposity to so many and so much pain, so much confusion to so many others without rhyme or reason to sift out the differences...
By Georgeyou’ve probably grown weary beyond all decency of what motives I have in telling you all this after I’d promised in the opening paragraphs this letter would not degenerate into a stale polemic or rationalization of failed potential. I threaten daily to cease this letter and let pass a relationship which might only serve to irritate rather than uplift. But there are other times I still hope that you will find at least my articulation of a life lived, more helpful than the bone silence of an empty past, that if you can not share my current faith, then you might perhaps share the humility granted to me in a strong sense of failure and unfulfilled promise, a pale writer without an unequivocal cause within which to write. When I speak of failure and unfulfilled promise, I speak of my own, of course. My temple of flesh and sinew is a wreck, but I stagger immutable among the soaring pressures amidst the love of Jesus. Why should I not? If he is still Jewish, perhaps I still have a shot at likeability. I have read this, and I have heard this so many times uttered by so many with far greater tragedy to overcome, I would be a most princely fool not to believe it for myself as well. Thundering in the well-worn, much treasured Ferrar Fenton you gave me, John 7:63 quotes Christ as saying, “The Spirit is the Life-Giver; the body is worth nothing.”
You and I both know the body psychologically influences and instructs the mind and hence the spirit, but I traverse among those who have long despised and mocked the body in order to elevate or at least test the spirit, to allow oneself to be exposed to the same ridicule that others less fortunate or less inspired fall prey to, a costly assault to common sense so that I might more closely understand the struggles of the negro, the corpulent, the drunk, the jobless, the ignorant, the young, the illiterate, the fiendish, the mutterer. True, the preceding is probably the most blatantly transparent rationalizing statement you’ve ever seen in print, but did not Christ become flesh for quite similar reasons?
Jesus is quoted in Matthew 12:32 as saying, “And if one gives expression to a thought against the Son of Man, he may be forgiven; but if one shall speak insultingly of the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither at the present time, nor in the future. Assume the tree to be good, when its fruit is good; or assume that the tree is worthless when its fruit is worthless, for the tree is known by its fruit. You venomous breed! how can you preach purity, when you are yourselves depraved? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart! The beneficent man draws from his treasury of purity, goodness; and the depraved man can produce only depravity, from his stores of depravity! I tell you, however, that every vile idea that men give expression to, they shall render a reason for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your thoughts you will be acquitted, and by your thoughts you will be convicted.”
She has tried with some minor success to understand the character of my apocalyptic rantings. Raised as a standard Sunday best southern Methodist, she is rather unlearned and disinterested in all things biblical, but I can tell you with exact reasoning without stutter or frosting that ten indubitable years of marriage has marked my wife Sue as the most charitable, unpretentious and giving person I have ever known, quite in line with St.Paul’s own description of that term.
Down to brass tacks, sir. I feel and have very nearly always felt since my introduction to christianity that I am the most depraved creature patrolling the face of planet earth. Just plain, unremarkable dirt, filthy pilfered rags when compared to so many offering so much. My self-loathing tricks my brain and ribs my body into its own condemnation. I do not, dare not, can not envy others simply because I recognize no other way of being anyone or anything but that person I already am. I exist and attempt righteousness but whimper and stutter or stomp and bellow only among the truly impoverished who despite a galloping pride seem to lack a healthy provision of bean and worm, creeping along a daily bread route with very few values at all but next next drink or the next morsel. But these are my boyz—a useless lot—and I seem to be their keeper.
When I try to raise myself to a leveled station I quickly fall sick with false pridethe code of the road in most circles of squanderunable to sustain myself in any sophistried prison of spiritual or corporeal relief, thus forfeiting any sort of normalcy my wife, bless her heart, with long suffering patience in every matter still seeks to encourage. While certainly not one to disparage the American middle class existence, I tamper with its ideals, tending to become a spur in the easy cheer of the self-possessed, suggesting chaos to the measured chaste if they use it like a weapon, while mandating order among the sluggards and tragic pit crew whose awkward desperation disgusts me into those rare moments of feeling justified in waving my own benevolence to and fro like a victory flag in an unwinnable war.
Yet now I’m weary of that shallow casting of loafers and unappreciative usurpers. And so I hurl myself even lower into the whirling bowels of self-justified exile, blustering agoraphobia, and noisy withdrawl from all things human but language, and its manipulation, or usage, if this latter word better fits your notions of what I am supposed to say to he who is trying so hard to be a man of biblical times, if not biblical proportions. But I seemed be more more supernaturally drawn to embrace a style of antibravissimo, for the rain knows not its own exemplary moves. Random events add up to a lifetime. Now that can be a lifetime of random events, or perhaps these events mean something. You thought our meeting was not a random event, but an ordained one. Either it is all ordained, or nothing is. Otherwise, it's all just a big stupid guessing game. Why rest one's fate on a guessing game? Either God pulled us together, or you just randomly hired on to the same company for which I was setting elevations on hubs in the ground so the grade operator could load and scrape the figure 8, so that one fine day in the roaring 1980s, designated Houston Metropolitan Police Academy cadets could practice their turns on what would be a concrete or macadam track when we were done. You know, I could load this page up with scripture, but suffice it to say, I have chosen the never a chance meeting approach. All is ordained!
I needed no mollifying label like automatic writing or any such creative writing jargon to prompt me in this venture. But I keep forgetting. You found all creative writing except to the newspapers and surveyor's notes full of spiritual traps and avenues for self-glorification. But I finally rejected all that non-sense. I was choosing my world, and it wasn't yours. Many who have sat at a white sheet of paper in the typewriter stares in a daze, even those who craft their self-importance with writing to the editor.
Sure beats randomness, and it sure as hell beats this on again off again presence of God so many people offer. Have you ever noticed how God is always spoken about in the third person by prayerful folks on the street, at the pulpit, in a sermon, on TV, in a book, almost everywhere except in prayer, when these same prayerful folks seemingly get to talk to Him person to person, gets to carry on long cozy face to face conversations in which God gets to tells them things, helps his praying folk with the higher math of consequential everyday life, offering much-acclaimed advice to these people. Yes. I've always found this a bit odd about how people talk about God behind His back, nope there He is, Pastor Harper is about to pray, he's a knocking, there He is, hey God's here, and now we can have a good chat, ain't that right, Father? Then when I say amen, you'll go back to tending Your Own Business, and I'll get back to tending my, I mean, your sheep. Was fun talking, though, while I had you on the line.
As you might imagine, these rages of antibravissimo against self and society in general grind harshly against the softer wisdoms of my wife. She has tried with some minor success to understand the character of my apocalyptic rantings. Raised as a standard Sunday best southern Methodist, she is rather unlearned and disinterested in all things biblical, but I can tell you with exact reasoning without stutter or frosting that ten indubitable years of marriage has marked my wife Suzette as the most charitable, unpretentious and giving person I have ever known, quite in line with St.Paul’s own description of that term. Her hard work outside the home and her generosity inside the home plus my own passion for canon and understanding make for an odd couple but as those who know us both seem called upon to declarewe seem made for each other, a condition I realize you still believe about your estranged Ann and yourself.
But I am getting ahead of the story. The year is 1982. It is November. I am living in an agreeable efficiency apartment on Peachtree Street across from the famous Fox Theatre in Midtown Atlanta. I am firing off an unsung poem entitled The White Crow. I finish the first draft of the poem in half an hour or so with little realization of what I had written. A simple word purge.
This was quite common at the time, as I would set myself in front of the typewriter and empty page, trancelike (without drugs or alcoholGeorge, despite your strong counsel, but weak presumptions, and tedious accusations, I couldn't write, drive, or dance while stoned because my mind couldn't sit still when writing, I lost lost directional and memory, thus, motor skills when driving, and preferred to organize or do manual work I couldn't ordinarily find the motivation to do when someone asked me to dance, so I would oblige myself a couple of hits instead if available), allowing random words and phrases to filtrate through my subconscious and write themselves down without regard to formula or preconception. I needed no mollifying label like automatic writing or any such creative writing jargon to prompt me in this venture. But I keep forgetting. You found all creative writing except to the newspapers and surveyor's notes full of spiritual traps and avenues for self-glorification. But I finally rejected all that non-sense. I was choosing my world, and it wasn't yours. Many who have sat at a white sheet of paper in the typewriter have stared for long periods in a white daze, even those who craft their self-importance with writing to the editor. Technique was merely how I emptied my mind of current data thresholds, broken phraseology or whatever recently overheard soundbytes and floating images my mind grabbed randomly from the newspaper or street, occasioning no mystery or cult behavior, simply the jotting down of environmental biases and random momentary influences, going with the flow, accepting at first draft what the synapses bred.
Three days later on November 13, 1982, I was rereading the page and a half I had written without thinking too much about the piece at the time. There in the bottom third of the front page were the ordaining wordsAnd I took the name Gabriel Thy!
Stop short I must. Because despite my zeal to write them, speak them to you, I realize my words appear to effect an attack on all things you apparently still hold dear, using examples of verbal exchange that you may not even remember given our difference in ages which may have been the measurement of what sanctioned our friendship in the first place. Young and impressionable minds of a certain stature soak up much that a mature busier mind tosses off in a fleeting moment as general knowledge perhaps unaware of the intensity with which the uninitiated might be paying attention. Couple that with the genuine urge to teach which was your passion, and we have an immediate imbalance. I may have been a fool, but I am nobody's fool. With each passing year I am still astonished by others as they recall something I have apparently said to them, invariably almost in passing, and yet the impact on their lives is alive and vital to their own surviving calculus.
Fortunately, we have the madcap antics of Christ and his disciples to clear us of any whims we might have of linguistic perfection. The needling paradox of Christ as I see it now, is that however plain it might be to us that Jesus Christ is the Word, words almost never suffice in explaining one’s faith in God to others, to oneself, or especially to rogue fictional character pushing for an importance that not for the taking. Perhaps here I might insert a poem I wrote in Corpus in 1982 as I struggled among various underpinnings of faith in religion, in myth, or in anything available to mind and intuition proved only by mass acceptance and repetition. A favorite definitive effort:
DIED IN MY MOUTH
A silent tongue unravels the strangling noose,
Its path, unheralded by truce.
Odd scratched and scribbled graffitti,
Peacemaking my splintered head,
Ballets in dizzy nymph
Arousing the needy.
A parlor hunger, birds unfed.
My mind, a blank page.
My head leaps as a small frog,
There is no comfort.
The nothingness crowd is quoted no more,
Altared but undevoted they pay by nod.
My mind, a cluttered page.
My head sleeps as a burnt ephemeral log,
There is no comfort.
(Yet told around gracious Sin Avenue
camp fires spotting downtown Machinery Row
to the lilies laughing over a fine glass
of the best Napolean brandy
noonday dollars never doubt
where sheer distance is divided by
voteless cog, the mist of democracy
is seen reflecting upon our names
an appointed fog grazing upon
the tracks of method....)
And the saint thus
Spoke scantily to the prophet:
"He who demoralizes another
"Can claim no morality for himself."
To this the prophet said nothing, but
He knew in part the saint
For a shanty fool.
(And the unfed,
Left to perish among
The unwelcome, left to ravish
The beauty of beast, and the beast
Of beauty, established
Many fine logics.)
I fell blank at such a formula—
Asses built on caged numbers observed,
Deserved and dirty word reserved
For quaint molecules and family,
Where my occupation is a gift to anyone
Stroking along fishy fables,
Mentality tables, cradled
Images, daisies, nightsies,
I am the yellow sheep
I can’t earn my keep
Proving the fallibility of this text
World without maps
World without worldliness
My mind, an accurate page.
My head keeps to its own symbol,
There is no comfort.
I wonder what proof died in my mouth.
In Corpus Christi I lived in a tiny garage apartment measuring eight feet wide by twenty feet deep. Painted a heavy pink like the main house, it was comfortable and private. My landlord lived with his elderly mother up front in the rather small big house. Don Allard Gottselig was first generation German American. His parents, both career telephone company employees, had immigrated to Corpus to escape Adolf Hitler in the 1930s although his father had been deceased for several years before I arrived on the scene. Over the course of a very complicated year, Gottselig became my third and final mentor on the basis on his admitted inability to pigeonhole me, or figure me out, as he said he prided himself on just such a spirit of discernment. His early quip that at age 25 I was going through a premature mid-life crisis, immediately caught my attention.
Just an observation, apparently a much-needed observation since your beautiful and adoring wife Ann burst into tears and immediately kneeled at my legs, grasping my hand, exclaiming great thanks when I told you how difficult you make it for people to open up to you, standing right there in the kitchen in hers and the boys' presence just as I was leaving my wonderful three day stay at your Sharpstown home to hit the road back to Corpus, never to see you again.
I basked in the shimmering focus of the enigmatic. I was continuing my studies, now adept at the library frolic, frisky along the glimmering prisms of eclectic titles. Although still very much a slow learner standing at the edge of the woods I was beginning to move past my own age of innocence into something more worm-eaten, something more grounded in the works of men who had asked similar questions to mine. I would press Gottselig with tough questions and odd banter. He said he admired my knack for dismissing the banal and getting to the heart of what he was the first in my life to resolutely sum up as the eternal questions. Of course, I've heard that phrase many times, now, but it goes without saying an autodidact will always be surprised how how much he doesn't know, while the four year scholar will often seem content and proud that four years ago long and away, he once studied at Colombia, got his degree, and is now smarter than anyone when he returns home to his hick hometown among friends and family. As autodidacts, you and I, we seemed to have veered at a certain point when you realized I wasn't just another bright, but blank white canvas, and would resist overbearance. I know it must pain you that your wife has now left you. Yes, I remember. You insisted over the phone that she will always be your wife, beautiful, intelligent Ann, never some other man's. Did she leave you before or after your stroke? I don't think you made that clear to me. But like me, everything is a test from God, and you weather your trials and tribulations. If she left you after your stroke, that makes me particularly sad, even angry. Adultery is common, and understandable for a woman, especially for a sensual robust woman like Ann, to feel thwarted by persistent and pernicious forces she cannot understand, no matter how much she tries. It was you who introduced to me the whirling concept of sexual anthropology. But cruelty after the fact? To walk away as you succumb to weakness? That seems to step into another circle perhaps Dante has already been privy. I do not know. I found Dante rather boring. Just an observation, apparently a much-needed observation since your beautiful and adoring wife Ann burst into tears and immediately kneeled at my legs, grasping my hand, exclaiming great thanks when I told you how difficult you make it for people to open up to you, standing right there in the kitchen in hers and the boys' presence just as I was leaving my wonderful three day stay at your Sharpstown home to hit the road back to Corpus, never to see you again.
When I was a tyke, I used to tell everyone that I knew how to swim because I'd seen it on TV. Later, when I was twelve, still never in enough water to test those skills I'd seen on the screen, I nearly drowned when a teammate on my Little League baseball team named Stan Googe and I went swimming in the pool at his parent's motel in Darien. The Googe grabbed me as I went down for the third time. I remember fearing the worst because I'd also heard about the three times rule. I got as much out of those dinner parties as I gave, and no George, there was no sex, at least not as long as I was around.
Gottselig. A well-educated man in his early forties, he was a social worker for the Corpus Christi office of the Red Cross. He was also a practicing homosexual. And although it was several months before our formal landlord-tenant relationship melted away into a welcomed friendship we immediately shared a mutual respect based on our differences, and there were never any designs to infect the other with our distinct behavioral memes. I have not talked to him either since those days, but on a visit there during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1992, my brother whose ex-wife still lived in the area, and I drove by the Indiana Street house just for old times sake. I was dismayed to see the shrubbery had overgrown and the paint was peeling badly off the little pink house. However the same automobile he had bought new the year I rented there was still parked in the driveway, a tan 1980 Chevy Chevette, twelve years later, and I assumed that his mother had since passed away and he was aging if not ill, the elements of time and a fixed income probably consuming more energies than he could serenely apply to such matters. It made the sad, and I wish I had the nerve to knock on the door. I had and still am visited at night with many dreams that distort that period, that house, Don. None of them to do with sex, but of friendship to an old friend perhaps in need, or perhaps fully recovered to his own high standards where he and his friends at some point invited me to join their silver and crystal dinner parties, carefully planned and executed. Then I would return to my cottage in the rear. Surely I was being used as a prop for their liberalism and lust, but they commented on how sophisticatedly I fit right in. I would always grin, thinking not all long-hairs are drug-addled bums off the street, but actually have watched a little TV too. That's a joke. When I was a tyke, I used to tell everyone that I knew how to swim because I'd seen it on TV. Later, when I was twelve, still never in enough water to test those skills I'd seen on the screen, I nearly drowned when a teammate on my Little League baseball team named Stan Googe and I went swimming in the pool at his parent's motel in Darien. The Googe grabbed me as I went down for the third time. I remember fearing the worst because I'd also heard about the three times rule. I got as much out of those dinner parties as I gave, and no George, there was no sex, at least not as long as I was around.
During those gritty twenty months of wandering through Corpus Christi on an unrehearsed cavort to crack the code reinforcing heaven on earth it was indeed my sound pleasure to learn that not only do lean rigorous Nazarene theologians, boorish Appalachian coal miners, big city unreformed lawyers, zealous vegetarians on the supper take, millionaire ballplayers mopping up life on a single talent, culinary specialists with an eye for the spices, steel-hardened biker broad roughnecks laboring on an icy rig out in the Gulf of Mexico, top shelf economists stuck on desk duty, foul-mouthed construction workers, brainscorched rock & roll lemmings, dinosaur poets in search of the perfect metaphor, early shore race-threatening Connecticut yankees, Alabama rednecks, 20th century negroes in search of the lost dynasty, and let’s not forget the well-defended forts of snowdrop women of all cuts and reward, and children of every coinage from sea to shining sea, all speak in their own peculiar jargon, genre-busting the human identity, each group ceding a language built and maintained for the esoteric control of the situation at hand to its own groomed members, so yes it can be stated simply and securely that not only do all of the abovebut alasalso goeth the homosexual underworld into a language of their own making. And I do not find that amazing in the least.
It was about this time I began sensing God’s signature was to be written on me, whoever I am in the eyes of the world. The tortured buzzing of sectarian flies had never synthesized me into accepting a comfortable slot in the security machine, neither when I was younger, nor even now, as I approach forty years old. This in itself proves nothing, but then what does? short of the resurrection?
In my middle 20s and remarkably naîve as I evidently behaved at the time, but is often a behaviorial mask I use to illicit what may come from whomever I encounter as a possible source of color, anecdote, knowledge, rumor, legend, myth, filthy lie off the assembly line, this somewhat lateblooming recognition of widespread babelism did not exactly alarm me, but neither did it convince me that any of these track thinkers with their tuning forks of self-serving tongues possessed a thimbleful more spiritual aim or aptitude than I had already intuited lived within me. After a while second-guessing gets old, and Father Time commands a muster, a stand, a strength to live out the consequences of that faith, even if that means waxing poetic on the breath-taking landscape portion of our fiction. Resourceful and convinced of my mark, I knew only the God who dwelled within me, knew of my genetics and my blood, my habits nasty, gnarly, and nuanced, pleasing, well-prepared, and productive, and this God spoke of historical things.
This knowledge of God however chiseled deep gorges of restraint into my very being and I found myself unable to preach, unpersuaded that I might be right about anything great or small, and I suddenly knew myself to be a relativist, a solipsist, a sightseer thwarted in my desire to point fingers and lay blame on the state of things in conflict. All arguments could be justified, and who was I to state emphatically my own special warping of facts filtered through the prism of eternity’s pulp? But on the upside of things, from within this mix of spiritual release and mortal confusion, after five convulsive years of great visceral strife I was finally able to shake off the yoke of textbook fear that the Jehovah Witnesses had been so successful in grafting onto me. That fear was truer than feathers on a chicken. My journey into the claims of God versus the claims of Man was not ended but had barely begun as my true nature under God became linked with the testament of my contemporary times.
My own sense of well-being was instantly corrupted when two or three interpreters, straight from the urging of the spirit, such as it was, had to remind the holy there gathered that "outward appearance was not what was important but that which was on the inside, and that one should overlook..."
Failing to meet the standards of one assembly after another, I was beginning to feel ready to invade the smoldering world of rock and roll in the first person singular, ready to spin forth gracefully or not, a perfumed insult to the carefully separated, sound against sound, word against word, hairstyle against hairstyle. It would be vanity on trial. And I would make my way into that world delirium confident in my own words, words I had tested time and time again in what had always in the back of my head seemed like a preposterous hoax of coincidence and wishful thinking, but on faith transformed into the living breathing word and will of God, the voice and path of one thin soldier ready to swing along the pendulum of foul play, God’s buffoon, if you may, in unshunned step with what I had perceived as Jehovah’s masterplan mapped onto our own hypermanufactured age. It was about this time I began sensing God’s signature was to be written on me, whoever I am in the eyes of the world. The tortured buzzing of sectarian flies had never synthesized me into accepting a comfortable slot in the security machine, neither when I was younger, nor even now, as I approach forty years old. This in itself proves nothing, but then what does? short of the resurrection?
In this light I am reminded of my last visit to Houston some evening when you took me to a businessman Christian's meeting, an odd appellation I thought, but I was there with you to give them a shot. Gathered in a fine house full of genuine, nice-looking, smiles a mile folk offering gracious hors d’oeuvres, an ecclesiastic folksinger on acoustic guitar and an opening prayer conducted in these same warbling unfamiliar tongues I had also witnessed at Oral Roberts, and despite all my research, I considered mere syllabic automation, basically, a hoax. My own sense of well-being was instantly corrupted when two or three interpreters, straight from the urging of the spirit, such as it was, had to remind the holy there gathered that "outward appearance was not what was important but that which was on the inside, and that one should overlook..."
Instead of presuming flattery or favor that I was being "accepted" I felt chafed and slandered. Hearing that mature born again christians still had to pray themselves conscious of such a fundamental principle as hair length on a male was preposterous to me. That folk-singer on stage surely didn't arrive by way of the Gregorian chanters or the John Wesleyan devotional hymn school of praising the lord in song. No, he stole the style from long-hairs and colored folks, but cut his hair short to meet his Maker's will, or something like that. And the colored church music I sat outside an old shack Baptist church in Darien to hear, not unlike Jerry Lee and Jimmy, was not exactly what I call devotional. It was ecstatic. George, you prepared me to understand that these people were no ordinary life-long churchgoing frontrow hypocrites the stereotype depicts, but rather, seasoned lambs of Christ girded in faith, bubbling with joy, repackaged shakers and movers, apostles of self-confidence, full of zest in their relationship with the Lord and oh so financially successful according to their firebrand challenge to the sowing and reaping doctrine, and oops—perhaps this is where spiritual blindness was allowed to seep in. A doctrine based on financial success leaves little room for the sheepskin and sackcloth crowd. This cash cow for believers concept however, is an Americanized doctrine, yet somehow, it does not really seem to cure what ails us, but certainly seems to open up huge languishing holes for watershed grievances to take root.
It is often used in connection with the Government Survey System. Yes, as you said of me in 1978, I am a born surveyor, but did God create me to take a job at some engineering or construction firm measuring distances from sticks to stones, from pipes to wood, with chains and transits, knuckleheads and time clocks? I think not. What's a mere job to God the Messenger?
Don't get me wrong. I am a proud believer that the American system is serving God’s purpose, but so have the many others which preceded it, and frankly, experience has ranked me lower than a crass amateur in the fluttering ways of money, so in seeking a level perspective my only interest is one of a universal nature. Each man trapped within a system must posture himself and others in whatever resources are available to him. God will polish the coin according to his own plans, not ours. Does this explain petty thieves and robber barons throughout the ages, no, but life goes on its dizzy way, and each trespasser must figure each barbed wire fence out for himself, until the final trumpet is blown.
There is much to explore here but I would rather treat fiscal matters later when the chronology permits. I just didn’t want to leave out such an important event, a veritable public enzyme supercharging the reaction of my spiritual molecule, so to speak. Fully aware that any and all of these fleeting moments in time I describe, can be reslated and proposed as something entirely benevolent and thus mean just about anything anyone wants it to mean, I am not placing blame on anyone. The fact that I reacted in a certain homeopathic way is telling of my own nature, and of the rise and fall effects that are peculiar to the individual and usually can not be thwarted without the pressures of an effective discipline administered in the freedom of individual choice or enforced from outside with any power available, which is of course, the complete opposite of the freedom of choice, except to the contrarian who knows his metes and boundsthe boundary lines of the hand and mind, with their terminal points and angles, describing the hand and mind by listing as many compass directions and distances of the boundaries that the surveyor can muster. It is often used in connection with the Government Survey System. Yes, as you said of me in 1978, I am a born surveyor, but did God create me to take a job at some engineering or construction firm measuring distances from sticks to stones, from pipes to wood, with chains and transits, knuckleheads and time clocks? I think not. What's a mere job to God the Messenger?
But years later, here from Washington, I sent Robert Tilton a hundred dollars. His ministry only cashed one of the two fifty dollar checks I sent, that being the one stapled to the front page of a 24 page letter. The second check was stapled to page nineteen, and never made it back to my bank. Several months later, news reporter Diane Sawyer broke nationally the story of Tilton’s ministry fraud, highlighting his tossing into dumpsters outside the studio thousands of personal prayer requests and letters with little regard for his flock.
But it's not the only high stakes example I have of such lightning coincidences. In fact, there are many. Too many to neglect. We are just getting started. I saw God written in black magic market upon a pink bathroom wall one day. My hand had pushed the marker, but who on God's green earth pushed the conspicuous message through the electrical cables snaking inside my head? It read simply, "Do not neglect thy holy memory."
You see, I had worked one day for a political action group that did exactly the same thing. The shaky handwriting of the elderly who would send in a dollar to help the fight for lower taxes was another watershed moment for me. Not that I did not already tie religion to politics, but that I had an example. My job that day was to peel off the money, dump the rest. The questionnaire was nothing but a prop, the handwritten notes that found their way onto the margins of that questionnaire or a ripped out piece of paper as useless to the action group as the length of my haiR.
All monies went to pay for modest office overhead and the salary of one person, Jules, his palatial, and I do mean P-A-L-A-T-I-A-L home on Lake Barcroft in Fairfax County, suburban DC. A very prestigious zip code for very prestigious people. In other words, a scam, plain and simple so that this one man could live high. Oh sure, he talked to a few people on the Hill every once in a while. I mean, what's better than that? A prestigious job among prestigious people, and a wonderful glam palace to bring his women to visit. I forgot. There was a modest salary for my wife the accountant, one of those women before I'd met her, who'd gotten permission to bring me in for a day to help in the backlog of mail. How much did Jules accomplish to lower taxes in the Reagan years? None, I suspect. He was not on the Reagan team. He wasn't needed. Reagan came into power on those words of lowering taxes. In short, his job appeared to be nothing but a typical political sham in fleecing mostly Depression Era and WWII seniors who took their seats at the table in Washington somewhat seriously, a lot more seriously than the rest of us.
Tall tale short, I used what I learned from this one day at the political action office to spot that eye-fluttering televangelist a regal opportunity. That a famous TV personality took him down a few weeks later, I can take no credit, not even as an anointed instigator of the Most High. But it's not the only high stakes example I have of such lightning coincidences. In fact, there are many. Too many to neglect. We are just getting started. I saw God written in black magic market upon a pink bathroom wall one day. My hand had pushed the marker, but who on God's green earth pushed the conspicuous message through the electrical cables snaking inside my head? It read simply, "Do not neglect thy holy memory."
In June, 1979, a few months before landing the chicken farm post I sopped up my best spiritual pride with the breads of change and proceeded to pry into affairs of the heart and its seating arrangements. I tried unsuccessfully to merge the two longstanding Episcopal church congregations in my historical hometown of Darien, Georgia, population 1600, county seat, but neither faction was ready to give up what they considered their own exclusive holy sanctuary. The Negroes wanted to remain segregated, didn't want to give up their smaller, less ornate, but exquisitely located St. Cyprian'sthe little church on the lookout bluff high above the Darien River marsh. The Crackers (for lack of a better word, although Scottish aristocracy might fit), my own blood relatives, proud, high church office, the same. The unpleasantly conspicuous fact that a single priest, a white man, a robust dignified septagenarian, the Reverend Chambliss, whose wife had taught me sixth grade, presided in both houses staggered an hour of time each Sunday seemed only to concern me, a naîve do-gooder who'd merely been christened and confirmed in this very church built in the eighteenth century, the White Church, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.
As an young adolescent I’d served God and Darien in royal acolyte robes in awe of this beautiful ornate high-ceilinged building knuckled with long corridors of dark mahogany pews and grand stained glass windows, blood red carpets and a crimson front door of knightly proportions. My great-grandfather Joseph Woodward, the local parish priest there some fifty years earlier had murdered the diocese bishop sitting sixty miles north in Savannah, before turning the gun on himself after the bishop refused to promote him after Grandfather had sold all his equitable land holdings in Atlanta and given the money to the poor blacks of the county, leaving his own family near penniless, or so the legend goes. Later I heard it was because Joseph suspected the Bishop of an affair with my great-grandmother. GeorgeI only learned the gruesome details of the tragedy a couple of years ago. As a child, of this event, I had only snatched mere whisperings of sandgnat-infested air breezing along the salt marshes of McIntosh County, or any facts of Joseph Woodward's suicide, even the idea of suicide was shrouded in mystery. In fact, all discussion of Granddaddy's father had been expressly forbidden by family elders, but I chanced to see his name was still engraved on the tasteful brass plaque tacked near the entrance to the churchlisting the long succession of parish priests who had served the whites and presumably, the colored folks, of our county in what were basically the rites inherited from the Episcopalean Church of England from the 1700s forward.
Nevertheless, the deacons of St. Andrew's, relations of mine all, were adamantly against merging with St. Cyprian's. The pearl oyster tabbied cinderblock church overlooking the marshes of the muddy Darien River where the colored folks, now African Americans I suppose, met in peaceful droves on Sunday an hour later than the white folks two blocks away, would remain strictly as it was before I had returned to reinvent the wheel. I was not overly dismayed, accepted it as a lesson in humility and false modesty of ordinary human spirituality. Turns out that Negro segregationism is on the rise again everywhere, from churches to college campuses, just as radicalism in all forms is growing in vigor and violence.
Still I sample the turbulences but never feel quite properly configured to glide easily upon the winds of these questions without registering some sort of personal expression on this mess, and yet I shuffle my energies back and forth in fruitless activities, self-restrained, psychologically drained, hesitant, unimpressed, unsure of myself, but busy flagging the line Of sight between each P.I. like any surveyor worth a brass plumb bob would…
As I recall it, you weren’t much of a filmgoer back in the Seventies but another hushed fact of hometown intrigue was only exposed to me while my wife and I were watching a 1990 film on cable, a film called Glory. Nominated for a host of Academy Awards, and starring Denzel Washington, Glory is an historical account of the first black Civil War regiment commanded by a young Lt. Colonel Robert Shaw from Massachusetts. I’d known since old enough to read the patina and gold historical landmark signs sprinkled around town that it was almost completely burned down during the Civil War, but it seems that Darien was the very first attack mission of the war for this Negro regiment. All this time I had wrongly assumed Sherman had personally led the raid on quaint mossy-eyed Darien near the end of the war. The key point I believe I’m trying to make here is that I had never been raised by my parents to blame black people collectively for anything or everything under the sun, and I am proud of that fact. But now my intelligence is daily teased and taunted. I live chastised in a hard-edged city and country energized by a mythology of past and ongoing white oppression on the one extreme and a sinister mythology of racial superiority whether that be black or white, on the other. Criticism of these spectacular myths or witnessing for a more honest awareness borne out of the mouth of babes is not tolerated these days. Scuttlings of the fire and brimstone sort rag the peaceful just as banality and gangsterismintent to prove its own resurgent bigotry as gospelseep into every utterance placed in the service of honesty, duty, and liberty.
Semantics of inverse proportion to truth rule the roost as twisted histories are written into reality by mass appeal. No more is an eye an eye, or a tooth a tooth. No longer are we all guilty of original sin, but it appears that only selected race offerings must bear that cross, alone, without justification, without counsel, without judicial restraint.
This retrofixation on transitory blame is America's greatest test to date. But who is being groomed to rebuke the grabbers and the agitators with the truth of God’s finger on the pulse of man? Who is left who can respect the message of Job or the eternal symmetry of God’s stratagem with his own prized possession? Am I tricking myself into a dullard's ache when I feign hopelessness but listen to the scores of sentiment muscled by greed with ears sharpened for durable goods in an age where nothing will last longer than the fickle roar of the crowds? Am I digging my own ditch when I read with confederate eyes bloodshot and pickled to resemble the incandescent sky cracked open by the splendor of dawn’s earliest light the words of the filthy but well-fitted over the ages to include my own generation? Perhaps. Still I sample the turbulences but never feel quite properly configured to glide easily upon the winds of these questions without registering some sort of personal expression on this mess, and yet I shuffle my energies back and forth in fruitless activities, self-restrained, psychologically drained, hesitant, unimpressed, unsure of myself, but busy flagging the line Of sight between each P.I. like any surveyor worth a brass plumb bob would...
Thursday, April 21
True, like blood, I've got time on my hands, but as the saying goes, I know I must wash myself clean of this time, not because I have accused Lucifer of being the author of time, but because legend says that time leaves terrible stains on the skin. Do you remember? You suggested that if I wanted to be a writer, I should write to the op-ed pages in the local newspapers. I have done just that many times, and have yet to be published there, but that’s far ahead of the story.
I'm telling you all this, George, not to dodder precipitously or to solicit stale emotional feedback, nor to spoon you through the wretched tautologies of my own mental soup, but merely to mark the peculiar emphasis my own spiritual journey has lead me to place on things seemingly coded within or onto the strands of my own life, strands of overlapping discordant meaning, juggling some manifest pecking order of questions suggested by feverish explorations of my own near and distant histories, amalgamated in such a way as to somehow force myself to accept the discipline I have been asking for all along. I write because I need to write. I'm no Hemingway. That's for sure. Nothing mat ever get read, and I suppose, as a man who values communication, I want those readers to explore my thoughts to help excavate their own. I don't necessarily consider this a healing project, but an entertainment, a joyous exposure of the hidden, a walk in the park among friends not addled by the latest, but the earliest, not the surface outline of the sculpture but original rock that was willing to be shaped by the hands of destiny, asking little from this destiny, demanding it all, standing by idly as the flood sweeps through the camp, picking through every pile of junk after the flood has receded to recover a single lost treasure.
Saint Paul’s admonition to disregard genealogies aside, it seems to me that I am being ordered through this gateway of presence in order to help resolve some of these issues on a larger social scale than my meager credentials might imply. The crux of my dilemma however, is not an urge to write, which I’ve always possessed, but rather, the freedom to write. I tend to allow everything else associated with my life to interfere with this calling to write the damned equations in a fashionable way. I am not alone, but I have a self I did not know at birth. By this I mean to say that I have insisted on unambiguous mental signs to guide every endeavor with a keen emphasis on a pre-determined consciousness, ultimately feeling compelled by "obedience to spirit" to give credence to the ragged details of life, to believe with all my energies that these details are important symbolic syzygy set in motion and remembrance by God’s own purposes for global regeneration, and are not mere byproducts of a solo life lived without focus. Ulterior latencies ripen, motives are granted, and details made ready for a seasonal harvesting.
I've always felt this way, a small child, lost baseball, praying behind a large oak, instant recovery, and the longer I live and the stronger I appeal against this sort of self-important interpretation of a petty life, the more I am exploited by configurations of faith which ultimately force me to see myself as a writer of purpose organized by the very hand of Christ, if by Christ, we mean destiny, while my good sense is forced to wait in line, on point, until its elevation. Your own curt dismissal of my earliest intimations at literary ambition have infiltrated and stymied the necessary confidence to brave the stroke of God's name just in the nick of time, time after time, which is to argue that the mathematics of success may actually be beyond my reach. True, like blood, I've got time on my hands, but as the saying goes, I know I must wash myself clean of this time, not because I have accused Lucifer of being the author of time, but because legend says that time leaves terrible stains on the skin. Do you remember? You suggested that if I wanted to be a writer, I should write to the op-ed pages in the local newspapers. I have done just that many times, and have yet to be published there, but that’s far ahead of the story.
NoI am not blaming you for any particular frailty of my own nature to cut the pattern of my own cloth with a firm resolve. But I hope that having digested this somewhat stilted effort due to the silent passage of years between us, you might yet discover a mutual benefit in blessing this lifelong urge of mine to make manifest the word God has given me to reveal to a generation of readers perhaps less prepared and no longer believing in His Living Breaththe space constrictions of this letter obviously will not allow me explore every theological nook and cranny I can advance otherwise in more appropriate forums, but I do wish to impact the doubt which had fogged our last meeting late in 1981 when I visited your home near Sugarland for several days after hitchhiking from Corpus Christi.
For change outwardly has stripped away our ability to remember without nostalgia, fable, and yearning on the one hand, and forgetfulness, dogma, and disgust on the other. When I last shook your bold hand and waved goodbye in departure, the highway was my future, and you knew me as Richard Spalding Nix, the name I'd inherited from my parents. But even that simple factor of human tradition has been altered.
There is so much I remember about our times together, sharing a six pack after work, an occasional dinner and good cheer received with your family on perhaps a crisp autumn evening, the hallelujah trek to ORU, sponging our shared observations and queries with the fresh air of another turn of the page, or the virtual nebulae of speculation and mystery with yet another. But the fact remains...
It was never easy communicating with you George.
We were both strong, opinionated thinkers sometimes crippled by a foreboding sense of failure, our greatest fear being a cowering dread of obscurity. I sense you recognize this now in ways you could never understand then. Or perhaps you knew, but shared notions of leadership similar to my own, and that could never have worked in the long term. My own earnest intellectual and spiritual respect for you, however, was never and will never be in doubt. You once noted that I reminded you of yourself when you were young; I now believe that we were and remain more alike than either of us will ever fathom due to discretion and compartmentalization, and although our paths once and now again have crossed, our struggle to find the light that never darkens has taken us to nearly opposite poles striking the tent where the cult of perfection gathers by grace.
Barbed wire negligence separated us then, and none of it was merely "generational." The terms of our faith in God and each other were far more precious than teleology or theology by force of argument. I was young and had hardly begun my education. You were a mature family man who had traveled globally and had studied the classics to your own satisfaction. But rather than warp further an already compressed friendship with blustery platitudes, rationalizations, and laws of thermodynamics, we were content to play out our nearly forgotten roles to the best of our respective visions.
I'd admit I didn’t know why I was saying something as odd as that, the extra words about some future name change and all, and that I really had no clue as to what it all really meant, but after the first couple of times, it became my standard overture.
And now I come before you, hiding behind the mask of chlorinated time and closed door circumstances, neither of us quite sure we are truly observing the other. For change outwardly has stripped away our ability to remember without nostalgia, fable, and yearning on the one hand, and forgetfulness, dogma, and disgust on the other. When I last shook your bold hand and waved goodbye in departure, the highway was my future, and you knew me as Richard Spalding Nix, the name I'd inherited from my parents. But even that simple factor of human tradition has been altered. Sometime toward the beginning of my twenty month hitch in Corpus Christi, I suddenly and without forethought took it into my head to introduce myself in those situations which called for an introduction in what can only be described as a quite strange manner. I would thrust out my handshake and state in all seriousness
"My name is Richard Spalding Nix, but I’m in the process of a name-change operation." There would be no rise and fall in audible pitch, but the tone of my voice would evince emphatic if somewhat flat notes, each word in the sentence as evasive and as crucial as the next. No attempts at irony or wit were made. It was up to the stranger to hear what had been said and react according to his or her own impressions. That became my test. I’d admit I didn’t know why I was saying something as odd as that, the extra words about some future name change and all, and that I really had no clue as to what it all really meant, but after the first couple of times, it became my standard overture.
I was corruptible not by passing events but by my own flaming desires to transcend humanity and its unsolvable matrices of pettiness, when the check came due one iconoclasm at a time.
In Corpus Christi, I lived in what was a quaint and as it turned out, a quite homosexual neighborhood, including my landlord, Don Allard Gottselig, who was to become my third and final mentor. It was my contention then, after prayer and contemplation of this somewhat dubious reference to a name change operation that I was feigning innuendo off the sex-change operation language then making news in the story of a high profile male to female tennis player, whose name I now forgetnopejust remembered, Renée Richards, or something like that. Anyhow, I kept repeating that phrase to strangers, unsure of its implications or its abrupt fruition, for over a year until November 13, 1982, several months after I had returned to Atlanta.
There was nothing facetious or mocking about my declaration. After leaving my brother’s roofing company after four months, I drove a taxicab, the only Anglo in an all-hispanic company for four months, was unemployed for four, and worked at a sign shop for four, and finished off my stint with four more months with my brother again. I was studying the bible and reading classical literature. I had begun writing poetry back in 1980 at the chicken farm. I was lonely. I was corruptible not by passing events but by my own flaming desires to transcend humanity and its unsolvable matrices of pettiness, when the check came due one iconoclasm at a time. A natural skill. Meanwhile I was doing nothing but turning the other cheek, nested in my hermitage, a tiny garage apartment, unable to drag myself outside to daylight in order to confront the spasms of the happy or the maxims of the healthy. I was poor in pocket and in spirit. Yet I liked it that way and resisted efforts to mainstream my life with money, cars, or women. And I was still going through a name-change operation, whatever that was.
Thirteen years! In and of itself thirteen years even to my 38 year old mind does not seem like such a long time, but when I am reminded of the numerous changes I have spent on the road a whole lot louder than I was then, and now that some of your own changes have been plugged into the equation, I am smacked with emotion. After several eager dialings over the course of these years to metropolitan Houston directory assistance to confirm that you still maintained a telephone in the area, I finally found the courage to ring you up, facing whatever destiny our two paths had reckoned. Certainly delighted I did, reassured by your innate friendliness, although I must admit. I never expected news of a debilitating cerebral stroke nor the loss of your Christian wife to another man. Unsure of your own willingness to presently discuss with someone of my distance these two very personal issues, I will not press for details, but whatever strikes your fancy within your own comfort levels and timing.
Even as I hastily type out this preamble to what shall certainly evolve into a lengthy dispatch, because my own natural stimulus leaves no stone unturned, no ambiguity unanalyzed, no shadow unembraced, once I discover them hiding under a rock, a leaf, a building, a field of arguments no man has ever built and they came running, particularly after all these years of silence and personal migrations, reconfigurations, makeovers, retoolingI feel my language in this letter will never wholly match in faithfulness my spirit to explain those matters of choice which simply cannot be explained with tiring the reader. Some say I never get to the point. As an old journeyman land surveyor I celebrate the linethe line made of up infinite points, intersecting points, points of curvature, end points, beginning points, random points, topological points, non-existent points, hidden points, blocked points, coordinate points, and error, accumulative error. I take advantage of this knowledge.
Beyond outward appearances, inward cesspools, or the algebra of faith, it is easy to admit that my flesh has never been able to trigger its own comfortable purposes; my pawning gnawing spirityearning forcefully toward some sort of systematic success never quite available however carefully transcribed to me in secret languages beyond the scope of others, even my devoted wife’s stunted curiositystill rages against my body proving an easily recognizable quantum that the body has spent a lifetime stifling the spirit and the spirit a lifetime of trying to void the body.
That is to say, the cult of love, as it instructs and subsequently withers (or puddles) the individual psyche into parasitic perversions symptomatic of or fluid to a basic yet unraveling (diluted) meaning of life, is the story of the self-replicating worm colony feeding upon the cold marbleizing carcass representing the association between love and death gone untold. Mostly.
But this isn’t news in any language. Thousands of years and millions of minds have conspired to convert the eternal rites of passage into a mere truism dried of all meaning. My life I’m afraid has been a testament to the inflexible conflict between passion and indifference, the conflict of the lion and the lamb residing within the same skeletal savannah, of the need to know versus the need to forgive and forget, escaping numbers only to falter along ruinous paths maximizing the storms of an irregular personality marking the forehead with faith while resisting the queues of metaphorical Babylonia which seem to know only what molten men of the hour can teach and respect solely on a statistical curve.
Trajectory failure, one chapter at a time, as only a man of unquenchable thirst can survive is not only an interesting sentence, it does not erect imaginary fences either. The apparent loss of God the Waterbearer is rank speculation and dog tired dogma, the two strong vices which still snarl my flesh, and its façade like immeasurable strands of thread wrapped around a burning man, yet they still engage and tempt me into feeling justified in rejecting what’s leftover of love's devices, the word itself having degenerated into merely another cultural pathos. That is to say, the cult of love, as it instructs and subsequently withers (or puddles) the individual psyche into parasitic perversions symptomatic of or fluid to a basic yet unraveling (diluted) meaning of life, is the story of the self-replicating worm colony feeding upon the cold marbleizing carcass representing the association between love and death gone untold. Mostly.
Leaving on March 11, 1979, the day after my brother’s wedding, I set out to explore the nature of God, myself, and the way, only a few days after you baptized me at my request in that sad moonlit apartment pool in the southwest sector of the city in which we were then living.
These past weeks since hearing your proud cheerful voice exactly as I remember it have been pocked with recurrent memories of our regular theological exchanges. For sixteen years that voice and those words have echoed through my mental and spiritual chambers. It is no exaggeration to say that probably not a month has passed in all those many that you, your family, and the boast of our fellowship did not enter my social milieu like rainclouds over parched clay both to inspire and to challenge my efforts to attain God’s Tender Will. Indeed you have exerted a major influence over my life. I have dozens, perhaps tens of dozens of times, employed the title—My First Post-Parental Mentor—when referring to you in recollection among contemporaries. This admission is not meant to flatter or embarrass you, merely state a relationship.
While appropriate honor is certainly intended, I mention this only to emphasize your timely importance in my life. I was a fledgling 23 in the Texan autumn of 1978, still perky from the jarring experience of marrying and separating from a Jehovah Witness twice my age heavy with three kids, when we first surveyed together under the tricky financial wings of lovable diamond-mouthed Larry Godfrey, two extraordinary surveyors charged with the task of laying out the figure eight track at the City of Houston Police Academy and other site preparation tasks at the airport next property line over.
I lived and worked in Houston precisely three days plus one year. I gave away most of my possessions. Everything in my apartment in fact, save my books, music, and the short change of clothes I could fit into my car. Leaving on March 11, 1979, the day after my brother’s wedding, I set out to explore the nature of God, myself, and the way, only a few days after you baptized me at my request in that sad moonlit apartment pool in the southwest sector of the city in which we were then livinga wide open city still growing by a thousand people a week, a high stakes city still burbling in a the last big Texas oil boom, a sprawling segregated city that claimed to be the nation's fifth largest at that time, a wildcat city of mighty skyscrapers, whipping freeways and mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood of busy, treeless parallel and perpendicular lines paved in spectacular unwavering concrete grids, nostalgic signage, barrios, gringos pushing & shoving a 40/40 population wheelhouse, a city which I would only return once more after I left this time in my Blue Devil 305.
Regrettably, little has changed in that regard even now. Studies among the exegeses of Tolstoy, Schweitzer, Pascal, St. Augustine, Van Gogh, Cayce, Goethe, Tillich, Gibran, Pascal, Rousseau, Paine, Durant, and other biblical and ethical commentators filled my head with all too many strange transfixing questions and all too few answers, presaging an addiction to the printed word which still haunts me.
Within three months of packing myself into my car I landed a job as a caretaker on a chicken farm in Nassau County, Florida, just north of Jacksonville. Forty thousand fluttering birds my equal needed to be fed, quenched, and culled, water and feed troughs cleaned, manure and fresh wood chips shoveled, dead birds buried. This period proved to be a sharp lesson in the intentional devaluation of the self. Farming a half acre assortment of vegetables and fruits, I ate sparingly, becoming emaciatingly thin on a diet of little meat, mainly an occasional roasted fowl or catfish caught in the lagoon off Lofton Creek at the back of the cabin where I lived alone and satisfied that I walked with a living savior. Those days were delightful, pure, serene, purposeful, quixotic, flowing, and the night air was lucid for bookworming and practicing in earnest what I had hoped would one day manage to keep me in cottage and applied theorythe writing craft.
Bare minimums were code. A secluded sandbottomed lagoon wrestling with beauty offered itself for skinny dipping and the daily summer bath. Loneliness was sometimes a factor at Lofton Creek, alone as I was, caring for the unflappable birds and tending the fields of manure-fertile raw vegetable goodness I planted. Youthful polarity provided the future with great purpose as I craved to learn the ways of the intellectual, the saint, the poet, the madman whom the world, Jew or Gentile, could not force its indistinguishable patterns onto without the consent of the governed, daring to transcend each and every stone cast upon the pond, walking the walk, talking the talk, bending and bowing to the rays of the constant light within. Ah, such is the reverie of an uncouth youth seeking to belong to himself.
Landlord and his wife, the Earl Wilson's, who lived in their National Register Tabby home ten miles away in town, would occasionally bring out a mess of rockshrimp and a feast of the few would be promptly called. Fellowship, tangency, and the delicate prospering of a solitary man’s vital era ranked among the finest times I have ever achieved and was common to each visit and each conversation we shared, a genteel but unaffected mutual regard very much like our own. Earl Wilson, who later passed away of a heart attack at the tragic age of 55, had in truth and in spirit, become my second personal mentor. The second elder in whom I would be able to listen to or confide in without some sort of spiritual grudge match fostering my intelligence. Of course this is aside from what I would continue to scan heavily from books and other media accounts. My fifteen months at Lofton Creek were a gentle canvas of leisure, painted with a measuring schtick spoiled only by a natural intolerance to any perceived decline or stagnation. Was I not being groomed by the All-Purposeful Lord for great things, greater things than this? Like Elisha, I wanted more.
Soon enough though, an unchecked overwhelming sense of urgency pervaded my serenity. I spent afternoon and evening reading book after book checked out from the library in the town from which I had graduated highschool, six years earlier, the town where the landlord and his wife lived. The urgency of succeeding somewhere somehow sometime soon in a way that matched what I believed where my strong points, kept me at odds with the seclusion of my near perfect pastoral lifestyle. Regrettably, little has changed in that regard even now. Studies among the exegeses of Tolstoy, Schweitzer, Pascal, St. Augustine, Van Gogh, Cayce, Goethe, Tillich, Gibran, Pascal, Rousseau, Paine, Durant, and other biblical and ethical commentators filled my head with all too many strange transfixing questions and all too few answers, presaging an addiction to the printed word which still haunts me.
In short, I feel I am a healthy neurotic, now as I was as a child, a struggling, inept, argumentative teenager, a terrible twentysomething, and so now as a twisting thirtysomething, a solitary seeker of unbiased unprotracted truth and justice of what's happening, righteousness and compassion among those I intersect, guided not by my own sense of self-worth but by a hovering sense of duty, not quite positive everything I effect is going to put a smile on God’s face, but secure in the knowledge that without that healthy dose of doubt, purpose would then be defined as beginning and ending with myself, an absurdly brutal concept to which I’ve never long subscribed.
As a precocious child I devoured books with the vigor other kids ran through mud puddles and sticker bushes, and after surging past the glib yet stagnant years brought on by my earlier experience with a much more constrained thinkingthanks to that sorry excuse of a first marriage, but when I knew you for that year, I had already walked away from all that history, grown past the years of stain in a sense.
I'm not what one might call a naturally happy person, George; not terribly unhappy, but not particularly happy, not in the same way that I would describe you&$151;you George Rounthwaitethat wonderful impish but manly grin, a grin I could hear and could almost see over the telephone that morning you returned my call, a grin that is shaped by the ever resourceful spirit which lives within you. And yet in defense of my own robust spirit, I can never concede that I am unduly deprived of God’s intent in when weathering whatever shades of depression and simple joy I experience. I accept my local joys and those spells of dark seclusion which work to direct my life in ways most citizens, believers and pagan alike, in our culture find less than ambitious to say the least, and dare assert I, speak more to their own faulty judgment than to my own sense of frailty.
In short, I feel I am a healthy neurotic, now as I was as a child, a struggling, inept, argumentative teenager, a terrible twentysomething, and so now as a twisting thirtysomething, a solitary seeker of unbiased unprotracted truth and justice of what's happening, righteousness and compassion among those I intersect, guided not by my own sense of self-worth but by a hovering sense of duty, not quite positive everything I effect is going to put a smile on God’s face, but secure in the knowledge that without that healthy dose of doubt, purpose would then be defined as beginning and ending with myself, an absurdly brutal concept to which I’ve never long subscribed.
Why then all the straining psychobabble first before I begin detailing the struggles, the contours of my individual path? Because unappended details unfortunately are easily cut and quartered into categories of right and wrong out of context without supportive evidence. Because I have no wish to parade facts in front of someone who historically may not approve. And because I am neither here on this earth nor this page to shame anyone who is genuinely unprepared to understand the ways I feel called to manifestthat God in his own good sense may fulfill all the promises to those who have prayed for understanding and ultimate peace according to His previous messengers.
Giving way to nothingness, and following conscience, what could be more feckless and puerile for a "transit & hub" man walking away from a thriving dialed up world where the dollar is king...
Like a grapecoloured sky’s lively first pelt onto a rolling semi’s sideview mirror as load and driver barrel down the highway, I intend to reflect off these words into the surgical eye of the quick and the dead extending the free trade of ideas among other fine washables of life as keen as my powers allow. I am here to push further the envelope of comprehension, emphasize the degrees of perfection and sample the varieties of fruitbearing trees rooted in the heart of this age.
Selling the car was a major decision I actually made rather easily once I decided it was time, that my reasoning was solid. Mr. Rounthwaite, I loved that car, it was my pride. Therefore it had to go. Remember when we drove up to Tulsa from Houston to visit Oral Roberts University a few years earlier? Blew a flat as we were pulling into campus. Act of God, you said. I eventually left the serenity of Lofton Creek and Florida in September, 1980, for hurricane-tattered Corpus Christi to help my brother Clydeat his requestbolster his fledgling roofing company, and return me to respectability from slacker life I suppose he and his wife might have discussed. My Blue Devil 305 ride rolled on tiger-grip Hercules Honcho tires, Gabriel shocks. Gabriel riser shocks to tell the truth. Took pride in it. Put 96K miles of artery on odometer in thirty-six months that I owned it. Had but five when I picked it off the lot.
It still frequently pops into my dreamlife now, some fourteen years after I sold it to a Jacksonville dealer for next to peanuts. In my dream it’s invariably parked in a public lot somewhere when I discover it, and usually in the perfect shiny blue state it was in when I sold it. But I do recall a recent dream when in route to nowhere in particular I casually stumble upon a burned out shell of blackened steel and crisp memories, and I knew it was my old car, ready for the resurrection and a pure nature. In this dreamlife, I always manage to steal it back successfully, without incident, and drive off into the sunset, so to speak, with no remorse, no concern for its current owner, simply radiant that my inner self has renewed the fecund energy this dazzling dance of road machine represents to my subconscious mind. Obviosuly this dreaming of one’s earliest prized and therefore most pleasureable possessions is not rare. Yet no other figurative symbols of my life except maybe the house I grew up in from the age of six to thirteen recur as often as does that car.
But I had become uncomfortable with financial success at the expense of others even to the point of resisting due payment for my own labors. My common refrain for a period was, “Just pay me what you think it is worth.” Obviously I was opening myself to exploitation, for I was never the slacker, but I could not excuse myself in this war of wages. Finally, after a decade of fighting a losing battle against my own nature to appease the temperament of business, its capitalistic pressures urging my own strong will to succeed (paralleling family and peer considerations)only recently has it became crystal clear to me that I simply have not been called to embrace the American business routine.
Abandoned to a state of self-denial and chicken farmer ethics however, I felt compelled to junk it off to a dealer as contraband, a shiny nuts and bolts conspiracy illuminating my spiritual depravity, just as I had given away most of my household possessions except for my books and albums, including my finer threads and shoes, when I had left Houston. Giving way to nothingness, and following conscience, what could be more feckless and puerile for a "transit & hub" man walking away from a thriving dialed up world where the dollar is king...
Turning away desirable girlfriends, worldly possessions, and normal occupational ambitions came unnaturally easy to me, but in the spirit of diminishing returns, I carefully worked to steer as best I could from perverting the paradox of faith along the lines of what one might call humble arrogance back over to its converse formarrogant humilitya decidedly common open trench planted with razorsharpened spikes and mirrors many pretenders seem incapable of dodging in their eagerness to appear to self and others as profiling God’s Own Image of Himself. And so Corpus Christi on the bay would become the next corporeal stage upon which my lifelong collusion with the spirit of man versus beast would manifest its theatre deep into my being.
Fifteen months as a hermit in the backwoods of my beginnings had taken their toll. I was no longer fit to be a businessman. Lasting only four months with my brother, I finally quit his company because of what I considered unsportsmanlike price-gouging practices. Although his rates were very competitive, it just seemed to me that hard times justified hard times for all, not accelerated pricing schedules when business was booming due to a recent storm. We parted friends and have become even closer as the years tear back the youthful packaging to reveal two pensive beings bartering the spectrum of ideas with earnest achievement at opposite poles of brotherly nature. But I had become uncomfortable with financial success at the expense of others even to the point of resisting due payment for my own labors. My common refrain for a period was, “Just pay me what you think it is worth.” Obviously I was opening myself to exploitation, for I was never the slacker, but I could not excuse myself in this war of wages. Finally, after a decade of fighting a losing battle against my own nature to appease the temperament of business, its capitalistic pressures urging my own strong will to succeed (paralleling family and peer considerations)only recently has it became crystal clear to me that I simply have not been called to embrace the American business routine. That this anticommercial strain of business acumen is not by any means unique to religious zealots, I was aware, and careful to acknowledge prevalent economic bidding as worthy of men’s attention and God’s grace, quite unlike some in the political arena who have always seemed a bit revolting to me.
My brother has since returned to Atlanta, divorced, gone bankrupt, started another company, and remarried. His high profile roofing and remodeling company will gross over $3 million this year. Eighteen or so of his company’s advertising billboards grace Metro Atlanta’s highways. The high ornamental fabric of his lifestyle is in good taste and worthy of a poor man’s envy. My brother Clyde never graduated from junior high.
At sixteen he made a remarkable breakthrough in his life via a popular rehabilitation program, learning to read and speak there, although he still does not read much outside the Wall Street Journal and roofing or contractual specs. He does not truck with religion or the standardized version of God, although he is quite an introspective, let us say, spiritual man. After years of juvenile delinquency he saw the proverbial light, although it certainly took years for the complete transformation, in both the social grooming and personal hygienic senses, as well as for the full juices of his mental capacities to kick into overdrive.
The ensuing fact that he is quite the classical handsome man, while certainly adding to his notorious vanity, does most assuredly favor his strong faculty for self-confidence and secular direction as he makes his way among worldly affairs. Everyone pegged me for the smart brother, the rich brother, the glorious brother, of us six. Christ, said I, was not the one.