10/06/97
Subject: stab from the past
Giving me the wheel to an internet search engine is probably not as prudent as giving a monkey a machine gun. But there it is.

Like Pandora, I've opened the damn thing and bumbled across your e-mail address and all manner of other things. Time and distance used to mean something in the
good, old days when privacy still had some teeth. No more. On the up side, I can perpetrate any fallacy I want to as to what's become of me since our paths meandered apart. Yes, I have become a successful author writing under a penname that you know too well. Or I'm living in a large appliance carton under the interstate overpass and dining out of the dumpster behind the Waffle House. Or something more mundane than either.

You are not obligated to respond. Free will is still inviolable. Use it or be at the mercy of those that do.

yer pal,
Belmar (the magnificent)

Caleb Church

10/17/97
Subject: reality=me+not me, a semi-quick recap

Where to begin. Suddenly the once preposterous theory that time may not
be linear does not seem so absurd. Thirty years doesn't seem like much of
an obstacle anymore.

Firstly, congratulations on the successful manifestation of Justin and
Cameron. No small accomplishment. If that was all you did in a lifetime,
it was all worthwhile. Anything else you do is just fluff compared to
bringing new humans into the world and bringing them to maturity.

Marriage is almost the ultimate challenge. It seems that the universe
conspires to make the concept unworkable. If it's any consolation, I have
never known one to work out - I could almost quit there and be accurate -
without unconditional commitment by both parties. People are laying
broken and bleeding by the wayside of life from failed marriages.
Alcoholics galore. My hat's off to you that you didn't let yours beat
you. Also I'm glad to hear the OG (Old Girl - African American for Mom) is
still thriving. My best to her.

The picture. Wouldn't you know. It just goes to prove my theory that we
will all be remembered for our worst thirty seconds. Although much has
transpired since then, so that I only wish that were the only demon
chasing me to the grave (Well, looky there, I just painted me a word
picher. [supply southern accent]), that may be, at least, the worst
photograph of me.

I haven't been to your web site yet. This computer is a dinosaur and can barely manage to remember my meager ramblings from day to day, so I'm not yet on the internet. Mostly this thing is just a workhorse, a glorified word processor. On occasion I sit at someone else's machine.  Then I'll come a callin'.

Strangely, over the years you and Scot and a very few others, maybe
only one other at that, have never been very far from my thoughts. I've
considered contact, but wanted to wait until I did something spectacular
with which to justify my existence. Well. Arriving at the doorstep of the millennium will have to do. I have survived this long without climbing the Texas Tower with a long-range hunting rifle. Not as easy as it sounds. I have made some absolutely horrendous decisions. Why the very fabric of reality hasn't unraveled as a consequence is nothing short of a miracle. And I have made some good choices, or, more accurately, have not always turned to shit the good that has come my way.

Here is as good a place as any to outline my activities for the last earth cycle, leaving out, naturally, everything really boring, and stuff that I really, really shouldn't have been doing.

reality=me+not me

There was a time when it really seemed that simple. The 'me' realm was, of course, the center of the universe, without which the 'not me' realm was meaningless, would, in fact, cease to exist. Sure, the world was a seething cauldron of human misery, but it was, after all, not me.

Material success, personal achievement, even rudimentary amusements like
pornography were all very well, but they all seemed to take place in the vast 'not me' sector of reality. Thus I embarked on a life of unmitigated self-indulgence attempting to achieve tensile nirvana. That others were incidentally used or hurt was of no consequence. They were, after all, not me.

A decade or so of this and it was becoming increasingly apparent that the line separating the two elements of reality was becoming fuzzy. Still I pressed on. Hedonism is, by nature, a stern master. It cannot be lightly abandoned without an accompanying revelation of self-disgust.

Nonetheless, even in the midst of snoozing soundly at the wheel of my life, I experienced nodding moments of near sentience when the implications of my doings in the world could not be ignored or scoffed into submission. People were getting hurt and, the cruelest irony of all, I was feeling their pain.

Apparently there was virtually no distinction between the 'me' and the 'not me' realms of reality. My unquestioned personal philosophy fell to ruins at my feet.

So, next time you stop to wonder what became of the potentially evolved but actually short-circuited movement of the sixties, wonder no more. It was 'me' who sank it. See, I was (am?) a microcosm, a random sample, if you will, of my generation and, I believe, the rest of humanity. When I saw thoughtful, caring souls experimenting with mind-expansion, human potential, and unconditional love for their fellow humans, I thought, Wahoo! Dope and sex!

During this period I dabbled in illegal business enterprises and played bass for a truly awful rock and roll band. Somehow we managed to get a few jobs that actually paid us money, though I have no doubt they regretted it. There's a story or two there worth the price of admission, though.

All in all it was an orgy of self-gratification. Not that I didn't know something of loyalty and love. I just had to acquire a modicum of wisdom (the bastard child of guilt and remorse. I'm sure you've picked up some of it, too.  It's easily recognized because you didn't ask for it, no one else wants it, and you'd trade it back for the simplicity of being a happy idiot in a heartbeat if you could. You can't) before I realized their value.

A better woman than I deserved bestowed on me these gifts I so resolutely disdained to give. A cosmic gift! And not the first one; just the first one I didn't use and discard. Somehow I didn't fuck it up and in 1974 we birthed a daughter.

The world was in a state of advanced entropy, on the verge of imminent collapse. The minions of evil were running roughshod over a populace who were informed nightly over their glowing holo-tubes that this was the very thing they wanted and needed.

I did what any one would do when faced with a war for the very substance of reality, which by then I understood was very much a majority-rules proposition, I ran like hell. To a forty acre patch of virtually untouched Florida wilderness on the banks of one of the few relatively clean rivers than ran unobstructed to the Gulf of Mexico. It seemed, for a while, like a place to make a stand.

I bought a raggedy old four-wheel drive, International Scout and fourteen foot camper trailer and took two days to hack and build a half mile of the three mile logging trail into our little paradise. The first night we were bogged in a swamp with mosquitoes thick enough to kill a half-dozen at a swat. It was a lesson in perseverance. With a chain saw we milled some of the virgin cypresses and supplemented by rough cut pine from a local mill, built a pole shack where we lived for the next seventeen years.

Picture this: quiet, sun-dappled palmettos, stately cypress trees, days spent fishing on the river (hot damn, another word picher). We caught fish of all description, catfish upwards of thirty pounds, garfish five and six feet long, game fish by the panload. Nighttime the crickets and frogs were almost deafening, highlighted by the guttural bellow of alligators. Yes, the river was teaming with them.

By dark when there was no moon, we'd take a flashlight with fresh batteries and spot their eyes glowing red or yellow, according to gender I've been told (I've never verified this personally) and hold them transfixed in the beam while we approached often to with a couple of feet. Some big 'uns, too. This and fishing was the principle entertainment we had to offer folks who came to visit. Oddly, it was enough.

On a couple of occasions we packed up our old canoe and made the trip down the river to salt water about fifty miles as the crow flies but a good hundred and twenty as the river winds. It takes only about a week, but it's a week spent in a place and era inaccessible to the late twentieth century except by a very few disappearing magic portals.

We discovered a spring over a hundred feet deep so crystal clear that the shadow of the canoe was visible and distinct on the bottom. The spring was (we later  discovered) a best-kept secret for local divers, but since has had a paved road pushed through to it and a concession stand built. Beer cans and cigarette butts - spoor of the white man.

In those days, not so long ago, we could go to the Gulf of Mexico West of Panama City Beach and drive through a mile or two of scrub pines on sand trails, wade a tidal lake, walk over a sand dune and be on the Gulf on a white sand beach all day long and not see another human being that didn't come with us.  There were miles and miles of seashore wilderness. Now there are endless miles of condos and tee-shirt shops. But we saw the real world before, and I feel honored for it.

We home-schooled our daughter. She is fit and independent, maybe a bit too willful, but better that than a doormat. After a few years of training and raising horses, she is back in school taking pre-vet courses, yet liking her English/writing classes more. Horses are still her passion. She's good with them and has earned a measure of local respect and acknowledged expertise. This is, after all, farm and ranch country. Horses are very much part of the landscape and the annual rodeo is a major event in these parts.

But it wasn't all so pastoral. We built to withstand flooding, but over the last few years the flooding got worse, mainly owing to the bottom of the river silting up from erosion upstream resulting from farming and logging too close to the river banks. The fishing declined, and then pollution. Not as bad as some rivers flowing through industrial centers, but enough to taint the once clean waters of the Choctawhatchee.

It was time to move on. We emerged from the late nineteenth century into the late twentieth a la Rip Van Winkle. Man, what the hell have you people been doing out here anyway? As near as I can tell, the only actual improvements are disk brakes and computers, although giving the latter to the government was a monumental mistake. I think history will bear me out on this. Contrary to popular misconception, inefficiency in government is, or should I say was, the source of freedom. Well, okay, you're right, freedom is between my ears; it is not the province of government; and relinquishing accountability is immature and counterproductive.

Free will, as someone once said, is inviolable. Even if we use it just to give it up. I, as you so bluntly stated just now, am at the wheel of my life, even if I'm asleep at the wheel, drooling down my shirtfront, and drifting toward the shoulder of the road (will he never stop with these infernal word pichers). Thanks for that figurative slap on the face. I stand corrected.

This is getting way too long, and I'm digressing excessively to boot. It's getting late and this little buckaroo has had a busy day. I have more or less arrived at the present anyway and came out looking better than I deserve. All to the good.

So what've you been up to?

ramblingly,

Belmar (the flatulent)
Caleb

11/21/97
Subject: Tawdry tales of a summer eve

Actually there are none, at least in this correspondence, I just kind of liked the rhythm and mood of it. Even here, summer seems a long way off right now. I remember Al Penny, but not the other guys you mentioned. Whether this is due to a few synapses falling by the wayside during some dedicated self-indulgence: some predictable escapades and one semi-serious motorcycle accident in Austin, Texas in which I wore a helmet and was only knocked stupid (as opposed to dead; a perfectly good BMW R-90 was also dashed to scrap in an instant on the red Chevette that pulled in front of me; an illegal alien grinned apologetically and looked confused at the mention of insurance, then wandered back over the border back into Mexico) as a result, or is because I never met them, I don't know.

I have found evidence of a few holes in my memory here and there. Yet, having had a couple of sudden spontaneous recollections of things I would have preferred stayed buried, I count those blanks as gifts and don't dig there anymore. Well, now there's sort of a tawdry tale after all.

You know, I would have thought a health food store in the seventies would have been bulletproof - a ground floor kind of thing. What sank it? Location? Bitter tahini? Bad vibes? I know losing your mom's house had to have been cause for a near terminal case of self-recrimination (I had that once; it was hellish, almost incurable, and I still suffer relapses when my resistance is low - sort of like malaria, only not so nice), but it did provide some of the regret necessary to make a lifetime on planet earth complete.

Remember the recipe for wisdom. Sadly, some would say that all human experience is necessary for that goal. Either get real busy or buy into reincarnation. Or maybe learn the lesson vicariously via empathy. Hmmm. Choose door number three; it's far and away the easiest access to life experience. But empathy for Jeff Dahmer? I guess it's better than living it.

Wait a minute, is this the foundation of that whole 'Judge not...' thing? Rambling from your Moss Hill escapade to cannibalism to admonitions from the Messenger all in one paragraph - that has got to be flying flagrantly in the face of one literary law or another. It's almost reminiscent of pot-think, yet accomplished without chemical assistance. I guess that proves that drugs are unnecessary, though I would feel a little better if that sort of disjointed mental meandering were induced rather than the normal function of my brain.

Freddy Mercury and Queen. That is impressive. Even when I wasn't paying much attention to what was happening musically out there - I refused to even listen to the radio for a while - I watched the Freddy drama play out. The guy had actual courage, which is quite different from socially acceptable public displays of machismo, and was a ground breaker.

And never forget, it's the real serious inhabitants of the fringe that take the heat off of those of us who would otherwise draw the malevolent eye of the beast, which is to say, the lowing disapproval of the herd. I offer my condolences to those that knew him and are left poorer for his departure, but I offer heartfelt congratulations to him for his timely graduation.

Speaking of photography, I have made a meager living off and on over the last decade or so working for a book dealer who has three warehouses full of books, some antiquarian as old as leather bound Bibles from the late 1400s to more recent religious and philosophy books and even a few picher books (my favorite!). Several years back I stumbled across a book of contemporary photographs including one that, if I'm not mistaken, was Tina. Yes, that Tina. However, I was cataloging these books and packing them into boxes and lost track of which box it was in. It's probably findable if you have a burning desire to see it, though I suspect you have a few pictures of her somewhere already.

There I was baking in a dusty Quonset hut in a rural farming town in south Alabama, and suddenly I'm looking at a face I hadn't seen in more than thirty years. This time warp stuff is kinda fun.

Your music experiences sound positive and life-affirming as your prose eloquently reflects. Achieving that higher musical state with other people is a real gift, one that has always eluded me. I have played with other folks some, but it was never really what any of us hoped. Having sold my guitar and bass in 1977, I gave it up. But then my brothers brought me the proverbial cheap, crappy, Japanese, electric guitar for my birthday about ten years ago.

I was living in the woods then, but I set up a little studio on the banks of the river and ringed myself with solar-powered 12 volt amplifiers and got a stereo chorus pedal. It was a world-class Mickey Mouse rig, but I finally got to that special state where you listen for the song, then pull it from the ether. One man jam, not counting the squirrels.

For years this was how I played, and it worked. But, to say the least, it was eccentric music and, much as I loved it, even lived for it, I was not anxious to subject it to other people's judgments and opinions. In spite of which, the last two or three years I have gotten together with a few more seasoned veterans of the music scene in a recording studio not too far from here. It's still not the giddy, balls-in- the wind, muse-at-your-back music that I love, but it could get there. Maybe.

At any rate, it's fun. Many nights, whether the music is good or not, we find occasion to laugh ourselves sick. Always worth the bother of arriving. And it's access to equipage more appropriate to the late twentieth century than Harmony battery amps surging on an old car battery juiced by a solar panel.

Now I use an ART stereo processor through a Marshall tube half-stack and a '68 Super-reverb. I've got a fairly OK Jackson Pro, but the Floyd whammy is a pain in the ass, so I mostly play an old, battle-scarred Fender Squire that actually stays in tune. Toys for big kids!

Incidentally, I have a little Christmas story about that crappy Jap guitar I got for my birthday. It's sort of a kid's story for grown-ups, which as we all now know, are kids with aging and traitorous bodies. I'll send it along sometime when I'm not already clogging the phone lines with literary cholesterol.

The problem here is that it's hard not to try to tell everything all at once. And there is a lot to tell, the most interesting of which we'll have to save for judgment day and wiser heads than we. But, other than blathering endlessly on about anything that happens to pop into my head, one of the things I do is collect and exchange views on The Way It Is. You know, the nature of reality: religion, spiritualism, politics, whose to blame: you, God, the liberals, the NRA, Bill Clinton, anyone else - just not me.

Just what in hell is going on here anyway? Hopefully hell is not the operative word here, even if I've heard some pretty convincing arguments that this is just that. Having lived through a pretty extensive panorama of human experience, you have no doubt evolved a personal philosophy of sorts. I'd like to hear your version. And fear no mocking from me; you would be hard-pressed to out-strange me in a view of the universe and our place in it.

And too, what is your business? Barter what? I still haven't gotten to your web site yet; I have only just recently been forcibly ejected from the early twentieth century into the 1980s. I need to catch my breath before I tackle the nineties.

Crap. It stopped raining; now I have to go back to work. Today I'm wearing my carpenter hat and am building yet another warehouse for my employer. This is the third for him and smaller than the other two, only about a thousand square feet.

Am I just a renaissance kind of guy or what? With what I know and can do, I could write my own ticket, if this was about 1930. As it is, well, let's just say I manage. I actually own some dirt, some of which doesn't become river bottom during the spring floods. By the way, I highly recommend dirt as an investment. As you know, they quit making the stuff.

I also own my vehicle free and clear. One thing to be said for a 1983 Ford truck, you can leave the keys in it at the grocery store, and it'll still be there when you come out. Words to live by. Or not.

On re-reading this, I feel obliged to reiterate that this little note was not contrived under the influence.


Lquaciously,

(will he never shut up?)

Belmar (the Expectorant)

Observation of the day: There is no dignity in being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable. I can't tell you how many times I've taken that particular class.

02/28/05 Caleb Church
Subject: The Meat Circus

Isn't that a rough translation of carnival? Remind me to look it up sometime. Anyway, I'm not sure what happened; maybe it doesn't matter. Though if it didn't, it would stand alone and completely unique. Lately things seem to be mattering (literally and metaphorically) quite a bit and even a little thing like popping an email off to an old friend seems like a large event with echoes that ripple through eternity.

The waking up process is not without some peril. Awareness, if some day I achieve it, looks like it might be pretty intense and require a spine and then some. So it would seem that some intensive spine-building is in order. I read a thing that said, "Find out that which is the hardest thing in the world for you to do, then do that." Well that is almost exactly what I have done, although not intentionally and, ironically enough, I did it in the pursuit of its opposite.

Lately my acceptance of challenges has been a little less haphazard. I mean, why wait and get caught with my pants down when I can meet it head on and somewhat prepared? If I may quote me: “There is no dignity in getting dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable.” Probably dignity is over-rated, but you get the idea.

The thing is, for reasons unclear to me, writing this is harder than it probably should be. Most likely, at some point I ran off on some paranoid tangent and made some kind of unilateral decision that seemed emotionally safer than resolution. That's my left-handed apology for cowering in the face of honest feeling, which now that I've said it, seems like a pretty close synopsis to what actually happened.

So I came across your website, which is probably as close to time travel as I've ever experienced. Add a sound track (Rubber Soul, Byrds, Yardbirds, & amp) and a smell (diesel fumes at the train station, or Robin's perfume) and I would probably lose my tenuous anchor in the present altogether. I seem to have a tendency to discorporate at the littlest provocation.

Anyway, .I just wanted to say thank you for doing it. Finding it was another "event" in my life. The Scot pictures especially caught him in those quintessential "Scot" moments. I haven't explored all the corners yet, but among all the really great pictures of people, a few I have known forever, some I've never met, I came across a "me" picture.

Reality, as I've said before, is composed of two regions: the "me" part, and the "not me" part. Once dwarfed to insignificance by the "me" part, the "not me" part was relegated primarily to sets and extras in the grand extravaganza of "me". Now, many decades later, I am still the eyes through which I see, but I discover I am only a fraction of the whole. Imagine such a thing.

There is probably some cosmic justice in that picture I'm in, as I don't remember the occasion, and, other than Scot, the other guys look only vaguely familiar, (the "me" period was apparently reigning supreme) and I would swear in a court of law that it is
not me. Except for the shirt.

I remember that shirt, and there were not two of those things in existence at the same time else the very fabric of reality might be in jeopardy. So if it's not me, some asshole with a rug or horrendously bad hair stole it from me, proving his grasp of acceptable social facade as questionable as my own. And honestly, that there could be two such clowns floating through this carnival really stretches the limits of credibility.

Okay, so although this letterish thing makes perfect sense to me, at times I've glanced up out of my self-absorption and noticed that people were looking at me and scratching their heads. If it makes no sense to you, waste no worry in my direction; for the most part, I have the people in my neck of the woods convinced I'm normal, and, in fact, a functional adult.

As I said to you years ago, this costume is getting pretty damn uncomfortable and it needs constant care and cleaning. Even so, the damn thing is showing some wear
and has a tendency to smell bad and leak all manner of strange effluvia. And getting it off is no picnic either. It's not like there's a zipper or anything as straightforward as that. And I don't recall asking for this character either. He seems pretty unsympathetic and more than a little thick. Oh well, anything for a part in the play, I suppose. No doubt watching from the sidelines won't be anywhere near as cool.

No reply is required; social protocol is suspended. You should do exactly what you want in this instance (though that can be a dangerous life philosophy; take my word on that).

Love always (in a manly, back-slapping kind of way, of course),

Caleb

My Reply: Take my pen... my typewriter... my keyboard... I'll stick to photography. You do the writing.

Perhaps it's because we were friends in the formative years and I've had a nugget of your virtual DNA in me all these years that make your words come so alive when I read them... regardless, I suspect anyone reading even the email you just sent me would be thrilled to know someone out there is having as much fun with the English language as you are.

I'm glad you found my web site... years in the making... still adding to it when I can. It's fun to go thru my old negatives and slides and see what's there. I'll have to dig deeper and see what other pictures I can find that you would like to see.

You made my day Caleb. Hope to hear from you again soon.

Love Always,

John
P.S. You really blow me away Caleb. Extremely wonderful writing!

 

 
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