the life of richie

SISTERS

Posted in is by Rich on March 10, 2009

Rich sometimes imagines that he and his sister will be like the Crawfords of Mansfield Park, who team up to scheme & seduce the wealthy heirs of unsuspecting families. Sadly, he realizes he is more an Elinor and Thelma more the Marianne; he has mixed-up his Austen metaphors.

Marianne has moved to L.A. and, like the Willoughby storm, L.A. has brought her more sense (and cents), and maybe Colonel Brandon doesn’t look so bad after all.

Elinor awaits the rush of sensibility to seize him, like a typhoon that will either crush him or force him into that guttural choke that Emma Thompson offers up at the end — that sudden, unexpected purge of seawater and bilious-Hughed heart —

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING GRANDFATHER

Posted in is, was by Rich on March 9, 2009

Mommie, Daddie, Richie & Thelma would go on vacation & all sit about in the same big bed watching t.v., like that show about that fat yeady who was a vicar, which is kind of like a priest who is a yeady; but not really.

So this is what a family is, Daddie would think. And I’ve never been so happy –– so happy as this, with my family watching funny television, all of us together ––

…but then Living Grandfather rose up from the grave (he was forgotten but not dead), grabbing at Daddie, taking him away. The Richie-cat runned away when Richie was yittle, just as Living Grandfather had runned away from the Evil Stepgrandmother, who had an ironically enlarged heart from eating too many fat-foods. Living Grandfather rose out of the Florida Cemetery, where all the air-conditioned corpses sleep in condos.

He grabbed at Daddie.

Don’t go, Daddie, don’t go!

The wrinkly old zombie rose up from the grave, growling and groveling.

If this is the greatest generation, I’d hate to see the worst, garbly-voiced newsman, Mommie thought.

Richie hoped that one of Evil Stepgrandmother’s million dollar houses would be sent down on her. And her striped feet would curl up into her body. And the Richie-cat would woof-woof. And there would be Technicolor and singing.

There was no singing. And everything was black & white. Everything was gravescale.

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THE AGED

Posted in is by Rich on March 6, 2009

An unfinished play in one act.

Open on a patio-garden, with rod-iron chairs, some redolent flowerbeds, a side table, etc. MOTHER, dressed in black capri pants and a white top (age 60) is seated in one of the chairs. She looks peaceful and radiant –– she is happy. This is an important mood for Mother to set in order for the tragedy to be truly felt. Surrounding the patio is a fence of about five feet in height, hedging Mother and the patio, so that no one is able to escape the patio. On the other side of the fence, which borders the neighbor’s property, is a part of the neighbor’s house. There might be a window visible for a view inside the residence; more significantly, this part of the house will at least have some unfinished steps leading up to a back door, an entrance-exit not used formally.

Door opens to the neighbor’s house, and a young, angelic black woman rushes down the stairs and exits stage left; upon closer inspection one will note that she appears dressed in some unassuming scrubs. Mother pays her no mind, indicating that she comes and goes often from the neighbor’s. Several expectant though relatively still calm moments pass –– count maybe ten –– and the woman returns, trudges up the stairs and back into the house, allowing the screen door to shut with a certain decision, not meaning to be loud but supposing to be heard nonetheless. This route, this routine, will be repeated throughout the play. The woman will always maintain a strong and graceful resilience in her mission.

Into the patio-garden stumbles an old man, fumbling and stumbling, with two trashbags’ full of clothes. His movements are slow and shaky. He stops in the middle of the patio, looking around and not quite noticing Mother, a sort of arrested dignity to his every movement. This is GRANDFATHER (age 86). He is dressed in shorts, white sneakers, and a patterned polo shirt. Mother recognizes him.

MOTHER: (rising) Ralph?…

FATHER enters, dressed in shorts and a button-down shirt (also 60).

FATHER: When I went to pick up my father this morning, he told me that he didn’t want to go back to her. He’s making his escape.

Grandfather does not react, as if this is all happening to someone else or that he isn’t a part of it, or can’t be bothered –– like a child who has broken an expensive item and is expecting someone else to clean it up; a baby who’s crapped itself and is waiting for its mother to change it. Grandfather just stands there holding the two trashbags, which Father eventually takes from him.

FATHER: These are all of his clothes.

MOTHER has not yet realized that her life is over (but she will steadily begin to).

FATHER: He didn’t tell them that he was leaving –– he just left. He packed up his things and, when I went to pick him up, greeted me on the sidewalk with whatever he could take with him.

MOTHER: Does he have his cell phone?

FATHER: He has his cell phone.

MOTHER: Does he have his wallet?

FATHER: He has… (fishing through a handful of cards) He has his driver’s license, his health insurance card ––

MOTHER: Does he have his debit card?

He does not have his debit card; mother had suspected this, and takes confirmation from their countenances.

FATHER: (with emphasis) DO THEY HAVE YOUR DEBIT CARD, DAD?

[ It should be noted, when the characters’ dialogue is indicated in all-caps, this is not meant to indicate shouting per se, but instead the sort of forced, articulate speech one must adopt when speaking to small children, the retarded, or persons hard of hearing. (Grandfather is a little of all of these.)]

GRANDFATHER: They took my debit card. They won’t let me have it.

MOTHER: Well, I can’t understand why he doesn’t have his own debit card.

FATHER: (to G.) Dad, why don’t you sit down in the shade.

Grandfather sits in one of the rod-iron chairs –– the same one that Mother has just abandoned.

MOTHER: You’ll have to charge them with theft.

FATHER: (getting upset) Effie…

MOTHER: It’s his debit card! –– He’s not allowed to have his own debit card?!

FATHER: She’s his wife.

GRANDFATHER: She took it from me.

MOTHER: I don’t understand that. Where’s his wallet?

FATHER: (to G.) DAD, WHERE’S YOUR WALLET?

GRANDFATHER: They have it.

MOTHER: How can they just take his wallet?

FATHER: Effie… Let’s just calm down a second.

MOTHER: I told you –– I told you, Richard –– They’ve been planning this for months!

FATHER: He says that they’re never coming back here again. They’re going back to Florida and never coming back.

MOTHER: They planned to just leave him here –– with us.

FATHER: He doesn’t want to go back to Florida.

MOTHER: They’ve been planning this… You have to close his checking account –– the one that his pension is deposited into; the one that he doesn’t have his own debit card for. They’ve been using his checking account. He doesn’t have anything except his pension to live off of.

FATHER: I’ll call the bank.

Father exits. Mother continues to pace.

MOTHER: RALPH? –– (annunciating each word, loud enough so that he can hear) DO YOU THINK THEY’VE BEEN PLANNING THIS?

Grandfather looks confused.

MOTHER: DID THEY TALK TO YOU ABOUT COMING TO SEE RICHARD? THAT YOU COULD JUST STAY WITH RICHARD?

GRANDFATHER: Yeah…

MOTHER: THEY’VE BEEN TREATING YOU BAD THESE PAST FEW MONTHS –– –– –– AND THEN SAYING THAT YOU COULD JUST STAY WITH RICHARD WHEN YOU CAME UP TO NEW JERSEY WITH THEM?

GRANDFATHER: Yeah…

Father returns.

FATHER: We’ll need to go down to the bank and set up a new account for dad.

MOTHER: Ok.

FATHER: (to G.) DAD –– WE NEED TO GO DOWN TO THE BANK ––

MOTHER: Let me see the cards you have ––

Father hands her the cards i.e. license, insurance, etc.

FATHER: (still to G.) WE NEED TO GO DOWN TO THE BANK AND SET UP A NEW ACCOUNT FOR YOU.

MOTHER: This is a duplicate license!

Shock, except from Grandfather who is senile enough not to register shock until some delayed time to be determined, like a reverse-botox patient who has gone all wrinkled but still cannot express immediate, appropriate emotions.

MOTHER: She has his license! –– and his debit card! His social security card…

Grandfather’s wife is, as they say, holding all the cards.

FATHER: Let’s go down to the bank.

Grandfather and Father exit. Mother paces, begins to cry. She is beginning to realize the enormity of the situation. She exits.

There is a moment of almost too beautiful stillness in the garden, interrupted by shrill, violent screaming from offstage (not quite a woman, but not quite beast), coming from where the neighbor’s house is intimated. It is, perhaps, the strident pent-up waste and frustration of all the living and half-living on earth. (It is the neighbor’s 90-year old mother.)

The screaming subsides. There are a few more half-seconds of uneasy stillness before the black woman emerges from the neighbor’s and rushes urgently down the stairs and offstage. Mother returns with a portable phone and a pack of cigarettes; sits and begins smoking.

MOTHER: (on phone, smoking) Besty? –– it’s Effie… Your father’s here… He left M––… He showed up with his clothes stuffed into two trash bags… He and Richard went to the bank right away, because I told them they would have to close his account… Ralph’s account… We know that she and her children use his card when they go out to dinner… And when they go gambling at the casinos… Well, he doesn’t have anything except his pension, his four-thousand a month pens––… We can’t take care of him here, we can’t –– … I’ve been looking into places… I was worried that this might happen… (I didn’t think it would, but I was…) I don’t know how much he can do for himself… Ok; take care of Charlie… Bye-bye.

Mother switches off the phone. The black woman next door returns to the house (ibid).

Lights darken on stage. Lights return moments later. Mother is gone. There is a brown grocery bag that has been left on the patio.

Father and Grandfather return. Grandfather slowly, forlornly, finds his way into a chair. Father sees the bag; he begins dispersing its contents onto a small side table.

FATHER: It looks like they dropped off your medication… There’s a note that says, “Richard, here is a two-week supply of all of his pills.” It’s all, just –– in two weekly pill boxes. And there’s a list of when you need to take what color pill. (reaching into the bag again) And here are some puzzles…

Mother returns.

MOTHER: What’s that?

FATHER: They dropped off his medication.

MOTHER: No prescription bottles?

FATHER: There’s a list…

MOTHER: What did the bank say? Were you able to set up a new account?

FATHER: It was a little more complicated than we thought.

MOTHER: Why?

FATHER: She had secretly put her name on the account.

Mother realizes the true evil ––

FATHER: So we canceled the account. Now we need to see about having his pension deposited into the new account.

MOTHER: If she hasn’t put her name on his pension!

FATHER: Effie –– I don’t know!

Mother takes out a cigarette.

FATHER: What are you doing?

MOTHER: I’m having a cigarette! (to G.) RALPH, I’M HAVING A CIGARETTE! I’VE BEEN HIDING MY SMOKING FROM YOU FOR THE THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS THAT RICHARD AND I HAVE BEEN MARRIED! BUT NOW I’M HAVING A CIGARETTE!

Mother sits in a chair next to Grandfather. She smokes; he stares.

MOTHER: She expects us to take care of him! (exhaling) We have worked forty years of our life –– forty fucking years –– worked ourselves to death –– We had nothing –– nothing –– This house, this house that we bought from your father –– we paid for this house –– at ten percent interest –– We haven’t gotten anything these past forty years… –– And she, who has millions of dollars –– she wants us to take care of him!

Mother smokes, which seems to say it all for all of them.

MOTHER: Well –– I won’t.

She puts out the cigarette.

MOTHER: I won’t.

The cigarette is out.

MOTHER: He can stay here for now, but when I have to go back to school, he’s going to need someplace to go –– someone to take care of him.

FATHER: He has his pension…

MOTHER: We don’t know that, Richard! –– she could take that! –– (She could’ve already.)

GRANDFATHER: (as if regaining a moment of coherence, regardless of how misguided) I’ve never had to worry about money before.

MOTHER: Well, Ralph, now –– NOW YOU HAVE NOTHING –– NOTHING! DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SIGNED OVER TO HER?

GRANDFATHER: No… They would just tell me to sign things… They said it wasn’t important…

MOTHER: The car that you bought –– with your money –– that they wouldn’t let you drive –– that isn’t even in your name!

A brief silence serves as confirmation.

MOTHER: And the house you paid for down in Florida ––

GRANDFATHER: (the most coherent he has been yet) I know they’re renting that.

FATHER: (calm compared to Mother) But you haven’t seen any of that money, have you?

GRANDFATHER: (as if just now realizing this) No…

Mother starts to cry again.

MOTHER: She’s been planning all of this! She wants to destroy you! –– us! –– She wants to destroy us!

FATHER: (almost naively defiant) She can’t do anything to us.

Mother starts to smoke again.

MOTHER: We should go down to the police and file a report of theft. Say that his driver’s license was stolen.

FATHER: Effie…

MOTHER: We should write a letter to her, saying we’re going to subpoena her bank records, her investments, her properties…

FATHER: Effie…

MOTHER: We need to say that if she hasn’t had him on her long term care insurance policy, that we’re charging her with fraud.

FATHER: Effie –– no! –– we’re not going to do that!

MOTHER: Why not?!

FATHER: Because that’s not how these things are done!

MOTHER: She’s evil, Richard! She’s going to not only come after his pension, but she’s going to come after us!

FATHER: She can’t come after us.

MOTHER: (crying, almost hysterical) Richard, you’re a nice guy. You’re a nice guy! We’ve worked our whole lives for what we have! You’ll be working until you’re seventy to support your father –– you’ll never be able to retire! How much does it cost to get him into a place? How much will it cost when he’s shitting himself? He has four thousand dollars a month in pension –– and that’s all that he has. He doesn’t even have social security because he was a government employee. And what if she demands half of his pension? What if she says she needs two thousand dollars a month to live on?

Silence.

SILENCE should really be listed as a character in the play. Silence functions as that state of unknowing fear, of Grandfather’s inchoate senility, of the family’s anger and resentment for having to go through this (for Grandfather, after a twenty-five year hiatus, subjecting his son and daughter-in-law and their children to this), and finally the ineffable silence of everyone’s sadness.

MOTHER: I’m going to call the pension people. I’m going to call the Office of Personnel Management and see if I can get a human being on the phone…

Mother exits.

FATHER: DAD?

GRANDFATHER: (as if woken from a nondescript daydream) Huh?

FATHER: DAD –– you’re sure that you don’t want to go back to Florida with her?

GRANDFATHER: No, I don’t want to go back with them.

FATHER: And if we found you a place to stay –– a place where people could take care of you –– do you think you’d want to live there?

GRANDFATHER: Yeah, that would be alright.

FATHER: Because you have to be sure. Because if you’re sure, then I’ll have to go to my office and draft a letter to her.

GRANDAFTHER: Ok.

FATHER: But I can’t have you tell me in a week that you want to go back.

GRANDFATHER: No, I don’t want to go back. I don’t ever want to go back.

FATHER: Ok. That’s all I need to know.

Mother returns, on the phone.

MOTHER: I’m on hold. (to G.) Ralph, they might have to ask you some questions.

GRANDFATHER: Ok.

MOTHER: (on phone) Yes… Yes, I’m his daughter-in-law… Yes… We opened a new checking account for him and are trying to have his pension deposited into this new account… (to G.) Dad, they need to ask you some questions now…

Mother hands the phone to Grandfather.

GRANDFATHER: (on phone) Hello?… (clears throat) Yes, I’m Ralph R––… My address?…

Grandfather continues to talk on the phone, with some help from Mother. When he’s finished, he returns the phone to her.

MOTHER: (on phone) Yes… The other thing I’m concerned about is –– he doesn’t have his claim number or pin number for his pension and I’m worried about someone else being able to access his account online… Ok… Ok… Ok… Thank you. (switches off phone) They’re going to send him a new pin number.

FATHER: Did they say when they were going to start depositing his pension into the new checking account.

MOTHER: They said starting on the first of the month. But if she has his claim number and pin, they might just be able to divert it back into their account… (beginning to fear the worst again) What if she calls the pension people and says that she’s his wife –– that he has Alzheimer’s, and that she needs his money ––

FATHER: She won’t do that.

MOTHER: You don’t know what she’s capable of!

FATHER: Trust me –– you have to trust me. I’m going to give her two options. The first option will be that she can stay married to dad, but that he will need his pension and the house in Florida –– his house in Florida –– to live off of. She can keep his medical benefits as his wife. The second option will be a divorce.

Silence, and then –––

GRANDFATHER: Well, I guess the worst is over.

Mother starts to smoke again.

Lights go out.

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THE HEART PATIENT

Posted in is by Rich on March 5, 2009

A few weeks ago, he drove his grandfather to the doctor’s office to have his pacemaker checked. His grandfather was waiting for him in the lobby of the retirement complex when Rich arrived; there had been much commotion in the lobby on this particular afternoon –– a traffic jam of walkers and wheelchairs, coming-going/not knowing. Grandfather steered clear of them all, still independently mobile himself, threw on his windbreaker and made a break for it. Rich helped him into the Beetle, assisted to secure his safety belt. On the drive, Rich turned the volume down on NPR so that GF could tell him about how he had once –– or twice –– owned an old VW himself –– oh, for a long time –– years. Once he had picked up two hitchhiking sailors… (Rich didn’t entirely follow this story, but is sure it was less salacious than it might sound. (Although this was, after all, his grandfather, who had left the family after meeting a woman who had taken her bra off in the car on their first date together. (Where her mind had made his grandmother schizophrenic, grandfather’s penis had made him mad.)))

On the bridge, out of town, Rich pointed out the vastness of the landscape, the waterscape, and vast construction of the new expanse, being constructed around the old. Grandfather commented on the efficiency of the work. Then they descended from the bridge into the traffic circle, which seemed a primitive relic of retro-days, retrograde compared to the sleek, straight road systems of today. Rich mentioned to his grandfather that when construction of the new bridge was finished, so too was the traffic circle (finished), set to be extirpated like a dead coiled root or rotted, twisting innards.

“You know –– I’ve always liked traffic circles,” Grandfather remarked.

Rich smiled. “Me too,” he said.

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LET THERE BE SNOW

Posted in is by Rich on March 3, 2009

8.5″ here.

Rich went out to shovel and now his bony back & wingèd shoulders are sore; are all tense & sore.

He goes to his neighbor Karen’s apartment, trudges in the kneedeep snow for four blocks for two types of crab soup: spicy & bisque. (Both prefer the spicy.) He then trudges home. His ponderous figure crunches into the fluffy white ground. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.

The plows have been through here. They have thrown up a drift of snow onto his white VW bug parked on the side of the road. Bloody hell. He telephones his mom, who brings a proper pick to unstick his car.

He watches the man across the street shoveling out the parking lot of the Catholic church –– across the street. He looks sad if complete in his labor. God sends snow to shovel; he shovels. Rich bets he even savors the sore lower back he will later sit with as he drinks a hot cuppa Earl Grey & thinks of God & the snow & the shoveling that was the day.

Rich takes to eating carbs, once tucked indoors with his aching back of bones in front of the television; will come to regret the carbs come morning.

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ANCILLARY CHARACTERS: THE NANNY MAN

Posted in was by Rich on March 2, 2009

Richie’s not-name was Binky, just as Sister’s falsifier was Thelma, which is what the Nanny-man would call Sister. The Nanny’s name was Wayne, and he would come take care of Richie and Sister when Mommie went away. He would build fires in the fireplace, and build Lego castles with Richie, and make dinner, and have wine waiting in hand-on-tray for Mommie when she returned from wherever Mommies went when they were not mommying. Wayne was like the man-Mommie, and Richie loved him like a Mommie who was a man. He never got mad or yelled when the mayonnaise farted. He was thin with long hair and would come in the winter wearing a fur coat and sip eggnog at Christmastime, which Richie wasn’t allowed to taste because it had alcmehol in it. And Mommie and Wayne would drink lots of alcmeholnogg and laugh and yaff by the fire until the children fell nestled into the valley of dreams in their beds and sugarplums crackled in the dancing flames. And if Richie’d have had his way, he’d’ve poked at the smoldering sugar-things with a stiff stoker. As it was, Wayne let the dreamlings kindle slowly and then die lightly. Mommie watched her dreams die with them –– lightly –– slowly ––

And she said that someday Richie would be a writer just as she never was. Just as Daddie was a lawyer who’d studied art history. Just as sister was a sister. And when Wayne went away, he went away, and there were no more fires in the house after that then. And Richie heard he’d gone to France to take care of some little old lady like the one who’d watched the naked priest stand all cold and dripping in the rain.

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ANCILLARY CHARACTERS: LIVING (& DEAD-CRAZY) GRANDPARENTS

Posted in was by Rich on March 1, 2009

The first night Living Grandfather brought his girlfriend, who would someday be Stepgrandmother (and someday be Exstepgrandmother), over for dinner, nobody liked her at all, but nobody said anything at all, and they all wondered where Living Grandfather had found her at. And later Richie would hear the story about how Now Stepgrandmother had taken her bra off in front of Living Grandfather on their first date together. And that they’d met at the tenness course. They both liked tenness as much as Richie did rice –– (or naked…)

Anyway so Dead Grandmother had been schizo an’ould talk to dead presidents in wand’ring ‘round the house. She’d tried to stab Living Grandfather (et tu?) but eventually died all curled up in a fetus like a cheesedoodle gone to the ding-dongs. Dead Grandmother had been Daddie’s mommy like Mommie was Richie’s mommy. Living Grandfather was Daddie’s daddy, except that he did not have Daddie’s same first name, and so Daddie was not sad like Richie was sad when the priest was separated from the Australian woman who married a pig keeper named Yuke, but not like sister to Yeia, ok? But so Stepgrandmother was over for dinner, and there was mayonnaise served as condiment (in a squeezer) with supper, and someone squeezed the mayonnaise, which belched, and Richie sceamed that the mayonnaise farted, mommie, it farted! he yaffed out yelling, and Stepgrandmother was offended by the terrible child. Mommie smiled, because she did not like the new old stepgirlfriend, and was the first to say she did not like her. And besides, Richie was her little Binky. Even though his name was Daddie’s.

One day Mommie bought magnetic letters for the fridge. But instead of spelling words out with’em, Richie would take the letters and make letter mazes. And someday he’d be a writer (maybe) and fuck with English just like he liked dallying with the plastic alphabet as a wee babe. His letter labyrinths always circled round and round till he’d get so frustrated an’ould destroy the whole yucking fuckstem But that destruction was like creation too

Richie liked taking spices and mixing them in large pots, spilling here and there and everywhichwhere, spices to double Mommie’s trouble of clean-up. One day he got hold of some flour and sprinkled it round the house to trace his way round. Mommie was mad, but Richie was her little artist (even though he didn’t knowityet) and so how could she be mad at little Binky? Daddie was mad though. Daddie didn’t approve the flouring. Daddie did not like where Richie was taking his name (to vain).

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CHIVE STEW’S ON!

Posted in was by Rich on March 1, 2009

Mommie would take spices outof ‘er cabinet for Binky to mix &mashup. Richie would bang them bout in pots & pans togerther in panspots making chive stew, chivestew.

CHIVE! stew! CHIVE! stew! CHIVE! stew! time!!

He would just like to mixis fingers through the messmix of greengrassy flakes like plantdruff dander, dandying about in the dreggs. Richie preffered chives to other chiddlin (or cabbages). How like sweet sweet clippings. The plunge:

CHIVE! stew! CHIVE! stew! CHIVE! stew!

(BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.)

Then, when finished, when Binky got bord with makinhis marvelous messterpieces, Mommie would sweep up all the stewspices into separate jars so that Richie could recreate the mess the next day.

Sweep! sweep! sweep! away the spices.

‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! away the work.

It was his favorite time.

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