Tuesday, February 24, 2015

To the Mountains of Madness, there & back again with
R.T. Gault

People have influenced me for good, bad, or indifferent. I am largely a mass of other people’s ideas and tastes. Of course, I have made them my own. Taken their idea’s, proclivities, and notions; internalized, distilled them, used them to create what I hope is my unique outlook and experience. We are products of those around us, and I am no different.

          I started reading comic books in Junior High, around age 12 or so. It started small with just a few here and there; then like a kudzu vine sprouting from the virile soil of adolescent literature. My hunger grew exponentially. I was the Borg of the wire rack newsstand. Devouring comics in the way Mighty Galactus devoured home-worlds. Discernment, was not my forte. Fantastic-Four was read along with Teen Titans, Robot Fighters, and Weird War. Somewhere along the line I heard about Centaur Books and Comics, in Tullahoma.

          I begged my Mom, a long suffering woman that loved/loves her child. I used logic, passion, and desperation to get my way, but in the end my Mom took me to the Comic Shop simply because she loved me, and probably knew I was not going to shut up about it any time soon. There’s a moral here, be careful of your desires. Because, you might just get it, you might just get it in spades. Those fairy tales where the loud, precocious child comes to bad end because of his unreasonable desires, they’re true. But at the time I didn’t know that. All I knew was I wanted some comic books and Speedy-Mart was no longer cutting it. I had to go to Tullahoma, had to go to Centaur Books and Comics.

 So Mom would drive me out there once a week, after my allergy shots. I would be so excited………so excited. Centaur Books & Comics was located in a single line strip mall of desperate venues. There was a Musical Instrument Store, a tax service store (read money laundering) and then there was Centaur, located on the very end. Out front and in plain view, just in case you were confused there was the sign. Lit large with florescence was a dancing centaur with the face of R.T. Gault wearing glasses. This was Centaur Books & Comics. Inside, the front was replete with rack upon rack of comics. He had all your main stream comics, and I immediately went for these. Enthusiastically, I would dig into back issues squealing with delight over G.I. Joe “America’s Hero” or Marvels “Secret Wars”. I’m sure R.T. was annoyed to no end by my gushing enthusiasm. However, over time we sort of developed this odd relationship. Me, the eager student and him the all-knowing, all wise sage of comic-literature.  

          R.T. Gault was a big man. Very tall, stoop shoulder he had the worst posture imaginable. He wore glasses, big brown 1980’s shatter-proof style glasses. His dress habits are sort of what you’d expect, and he smoked, but who cared? It was the 80’s and second hand smoke wouldn’t be invented for another 10 years. You could tell he wasn’t from around here and he informed me that he was from Indiana, and his family had once owned Roark’s Cove out in Decherd. Not sure why he decided on Tullahoma as a place of residence unless he was hiding from somebody.

          I guess he got sick of me reading such garbage or what he thought was garbage, or maybe I was his little Guinea Pig. He was probably just bored. Who knows but one day he starts recommending comics for me to read and before long I’m into all this bizarre stuff.

·        Cerebus the Ardvark

·        Watchmen Series

·        Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (when they were still B/W)

·        Miracleman

·        The Shadow

·        Swamp Thing

·        Epic Illustrated

·        Heavy Metal

Of course there were some misses as well, but I’ll forget all about “Radioactive Black Belt Ninja Hamsters” if you will. His store also probably had the largest collection of “Omaha the Cat Dancer” in the entire state of Tennessee at the time. He had all the R. Crumb stuff, back when everybody thought R. Crumb was just a dirty old man with his dirty old picture books. Yeah R.T. was a visionary in some ways. His store ran the gamut. “To catch many fish cast your net far and wide”, as the saying goes. R.T. is probably the reason I still enjoy comics.

          R.T.’s store was truly unique. My mom even said as much when after perusing his shelves she remarked, “He has some strange books”. Little did she know that she was gazing upon what was at that time likely the largest collection of occult material East of the Mississippi, South of the Mason-Dixon Line. He had it all. Allister Crowley, Golden Dawn, Atlantis, and Lemuria: you name a conspiracy or obscure mystic order, R.T. had it. Centaur Books & Comics was a vast cavern of occult esoterica that has fueled my imagination to this very day. R.T. introduced me to H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, Edward Abbey and eco-terrorism, and finally one of my favorite fantasy books of all time he simply handed to me and said “Why don’t you read this?” “Little, Big” by John Crowley which is still to this day one of my favorite books. Not only is it still in print; it is hailed as an “unrecognized masterpiece”. The book is good, and yes I still have my copy.

          R.T. told me stories about writing “romance novels” to make extra money while he was in college. “It’s all very formulaic” he said with a chuckle and downward glance. One day while listening to him lecture about the JFK assassination………he went into the back and returned with a book “The politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia”. R.T. says, “this book talks about the Heroin Trade and the Golden Triangle, did you know they smuggled heroin inside coffins coming back from Vietnam?” Of course how could I know this I was like fourteen. He had to “decide” whether or not to sell it to me, as it was his only copy. Reluctantly he did.

          Here’s a review of the book he sold me for like $2.

 This in-depth academic study researches the central role that opium plays in the economy, politics, and wars of the region. It follows the trial from the highlands of Laos, where the opium is grown and harvested by the Hmong tribespeople, to the Golden Triangle, where it is refined into heroin. Published in 1972, this was the first printed account of the USA's massive engagement in a "secret" war in Laos. It documented the use of CIA helicopters to bring Laotian opium to market in Vietnam (where, ironically, it was sold to addicted US soldiers.) This was done to finance weapons for the army of Hmong highlanders, being led by CIA "advisors", who were fighting the Laotian communists.
There was only one edition of this book; immediately after its first printing, the entire publisher was bought by the U.S. government, and all warehoused copies were destroyed. However, with a bit of luck it can still be found in used bookstores.”

This review stresses a simple fact, yes R.T. was a bit misanthropic and eccentric, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know what he was talking about. He was one of the smarter more interesting people I’ve met. R.T. certainly had a lasting impact on my literary tastes and view of the world, and I’m good with that. Yeah, I was reading this stuff when I was in Junior High School. His reading list and my own geekiness combined with Edward Abbey, Anton Wilson, William Faulkner, and George Orwell’s 1984 to make me truly paranoid. I was ready to pop smoke and vacate Western Civilization for the remainder of my days. If R.T. was alive today he’d have a fit with all these 9/11 Theories and CIA Torture Planes. I imagine him to be doing 360’s in his grave as I write this.

          My good friend, Alex would come over to the house to hang out. He’d find me dressed out in a hybrid blend of combat boots, camouflage pants and Native American regalia either reading the Flaming Carrot or some occult history of the JFK assassination, I’d start yammering about Masons, Lee Harvey Oswald and the Iran-Contra affair. It also didn’t help that down the street the family of Tupper Saucey was selling his book on the Martin Luther King assassination. How James Earl Ray didn’t do it, that it was the FBI who framed him. All this came to roost inside my little head sitting up in my room, tweaking on Sun-Drop, and listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. Yeah, it was a perfect recipe for madness and I jumped in with both feet begging for it.  
I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn't even know it yet. Weeks away and hundreds of miles up a river that snaked through the war like a main circuit cable plugged straight into Kurtz. It was no accident that I got to be the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz's memory any more than being back in Saigon was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own. And if his story really is a confession, then so is mine.” – Captain Willard from “Apocalypse Now”