the life of richie

THE GHOSTS OF VEAL CHEEKS

Posted in is by Rich on June 29, 2009

As Rich extinguishes his piece of Nicorette in the trashcan, he has a brief reverie of being visited by a host of young cattle, slapping him with their severed cheeks.

He waves them away with his hand, like he does the man asking for a dollar.

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THE SIXTH BOROUGH

Posted in is by Rich on June 29, 2009

Rich’s forearm sizzles in the heat as he sits reading Infinite Jest and waiting for the train into Philly. To his right some 10 meters away or so rests a quite beautiful young man in a white tee, talking to –– Rich assumes, someone on a cell phone. Rich checks his own phone and looks over to discover the boy has taken off his shirt to sun himself, and is lovely in his selfless nakedness –– as he struts up and down the platform. Rich realizes soon, though, that he is not carrying a cell phone; he is just mumbling to himself, and at one point mentions “mom”, either his mom or someone else’s, but says it in a tone imploring her. Rich escapes the heat into the shade, where the arm and brain will no longer boil (where the breeze is cool/comforting), and looks back to see him now wearing a black shirt, his head in his lap grabbing his ankles, bracing for impact, a puppet whose strings have been cut. When the train arrives, Rich presses past young children to board, wondering if there will be a third act to the beautiful boy with the unbeautiful mind.

Rich arrives at a corner of 13th where a pharmacie sign hangs outside Apothecary. A squirlishly stached squigglyish man in vest & round glasses prepares Rich a tonic as he waits for Anne and boyfriend Tommy. He flirts & fiddles with Facebook until the two arrive, come in from the closeness outside, looking fresh and breezy as a J. Crew advert. The three sit with bespoke-ish cocktails until all pile into the Prius en route to their dinner destination Zahav. At the bar, awaiting table, over Marble Rye and an Israeli Salad Martini, there is some talk of hunting & men. Once seated, the three take the tapas extravaganza that the smiley Justin Long-type character offers them: a salatim sampler with hummus & laffa; crispy haloumi (a hit), baked kashkaval in a small hot-hot skillet (very hot; eaten first), and stuffed peppers; kibbe naya (raw lamb served on lettuce, P.F. Chang’s-style), veal cheeks (Moroccan pastilla; which are delish, moist with tears & sadness), and a grill of offal (kidneys, hearts & testicles of ducks & wabbits); the sabra (young chicken cooked over coals), Monsieur Merguez (a lamb sausage), and the sea bash [stet] w/ fennel (branzino al ha’esh). For dessert, the friends share a black beer float, roasted peach, and konafi, along with a milk & honey drink and Turkish coffee for Tommy. The newly minted trio wander back to the car through the thick night, their stomachs & intestines stuffed with delicious food, “the best in Philly” raves Philadelphia magazine –– but was it the best?

Oh, Philly! You self-proclaimed sixth borough, you! There, Independence Hall; looky-here, Edgar Allen Poe’s house! You beautiful unbeautiful city, you! Our nation’s first metropolis, now proclaiming entrails to be the best you have to offer –– the entrails; city of brotherly hearts, kidneys, testicles.

Rich chews a piece of gum at 30th Street Station. It loses its taste, too soon.

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BUT I DON’T WANNA

Posted in is by Rich on June 28, 2009

Watching Bridezillas, a television show about mental brides-to-be, she says, “This show gives me hope,” and he thinks she means in a “there is someone for everyone” sort of way, but she clarifies, “That I am better off single.” Rich smiles at that. There is something grotesque about the entire ritual; about the excrutiating parties and showers that precede it, the constant proliferation of presents and presence (stealing both time & funds from friends; one last taking before the couple slithers off together to lay eggs and die in domesticity), not to mention the often wretched excess of the day itself. Rich wonders who it’s all for if not an expensive, an excessive “rubbing it in”; rubbing it in the faces of friends and family and rubbing the rice in the eyes of the couple themselves, so that it sticks (the rice) and brands; so that they can believe that this is happening and make the other one believe too. “You are mine now forever, see? Everyone has born testament to this simulacrum of bliss. All of these people witnesses. If you fuck up my life, this mob will be upon you/will fuck you up.”

Rich draws the line at one wedding per person. His cousin was married once & divorced within a year & within another two/three years married again, but he can only take one wedding, and had to send his regrets when invited to the second, and told his mom in confidence, “One per person.” Considering he may never get even one himself, he thinks it’s more than beneficent of him; really, someone should throw him a fucking shower for being such a fucking good wedding guest. Considering he is living across the street from a Catholic church, where just yesterday there was a wedding –– the well-coiffed Catholics all spilling from the church, with the bride in white (he was walking past and had a brief urgent notion to yell out, “I GUESS YOU CAN HAVE SEX NOW, EH?”; he doesn’t know why he had this sudden…) –– and living above a law office specializing in matrimonial (read: divorce) law, he expects such cynicism (or realism) is to be expected. But still; why? The entire farce feels so –– farcical and selfish. Rich doesn’t understand the point; what is the point? “Hello, all! Celebrate our own insecurities, won’t you? And celebrate our own gross display of tacky sameness; do it! Buy us crap; we hold it close to smell the newness of stuff to fill in something empty. Give up a part of your weekend for us. And in return we’ll feed you a meal and (hopefully) get you liquored up.” Rich always goes to a wedding with this in mind: that he must drink enough to equal the cost of the gift (usually around fifty dollars’ worth), so no wonder he gets so plastered and then sits around reminiscing about his friend and when they were both single together, going out to bars, in a city somewhere, or just sitting and thinking about uncatered subjects, somewhere when they were young and the world was full of possibilities, which his friend has just thrown asunder in favor of one choice aborting all else/all others; and if it’s a wedding with travel involved, the drinking should be far more extreme.

Rich decides that after this summer, and after Sabila’s wedding in February if he is able to attend, he is putting a moratorium on all weddings. He will just RSVP, “Sorry; if you wanted me, you should have married before now; now it’s too late; I’m weddinged-out, man; I’m old & single; how can you ask this of me? I have never asked anything like this of you, have I, friend?”

But then he thinks of his parents’ own wedding; one at city hall in New York City in secret; a later one in his mom’s backyard out in Western Pennsylvania, a pot-luck, her dress handmade. It should be this: life should be a pot-luck party in a field with the expansive world as backdrop. There should be no registry. Just two people, in a field attended by friends bearing casseroles, an own-sewn sundress, two people in love without any expectations aside from knowing that love is this; so that friends & family will bear witness & casseroles to take heart themselves that there is in the world still this; a moment to be taken outside of ourselves.

And forty years later, his mom will look at his dad and still say, “I would marry you again; if I had to make the choice today. I would marry you again in a field.”

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“FRANCIS BACON SIZZLES,” IS WHAT HE WOULD WRITE

Posted in is by Rich on June 24, 2009

Rich takes the bus to NYC to see Golchehreh. There is a thirtysomething couple two rows ahead of him rapt in PDA for much of the trip; he pushes past the girl-woman-thing as they arrive & alight, but does not look back as his packed bookbag huffingly admonishes, Have you no shame, woman? He strolls over to Murray Hill, feeling calmer and light (though in need of a coffee), and finds Gol in medias laundry. They sit & speak of the unrest in Iran, and she catches him up on what her cousin has been saying and saying that Obama is the president of the world, and both agree he does not do enough. (Rich doesn’t say anything, because it is not the same perhaps, but still it reminds him of the Rick Warren fiasco surrounding the inauguration. The parallel Rich sees is that Obama is one who tries to reach out to everyone, to placate all and thinks that, in palliating them, he is distancing himself from the despotic approach of King George; but one cannot and should not appease all, not all the time.) Afterward, they have dinner at a restaurant named for Ulysses’s wife, and Rich thinks briefly about the South Carolina governor’s wife whose own husband has gone missing; and is she having to beat off the advances of the journalistic suitors come to court her? The two friends have drinks al fresco until the rain recommences and they scurry inside and then home.

In the morning, after rushing downtown for a brief appointment, he convinces her to take in the Francis Bacon exhibit at the Met. Rich meets her on 6th Avenue; her cousin is reporting more violence out of Iran. She asks what Bacon is like; Rich says “sinewy”. (It is the first adjective that comes to mind.) They offer their five dollar admission, and make their way to the Bacon.

The first series is the Figures at Base of Crucifixion.

There is something serene about the nightmarish images. Rich has some difficulty with the canvasses feat. carcasses, with the carcass-canvasses, but has always loved the series of popes (both friends agree their favorite is the screaming P.); the faint suggestion of boxes round figures, of figures being confined, meant to heighten the emotional crisis, is powerful. One feels a bit eviscerated after, and neither has desire to hang around the gift shop as the two stagger out into the blinding sun, and the steps of the Metropolitan. They stumble into the park. Gol checks her e-mail; there are constant updates on the situation. The images are too horrific to let go of, the blood and the human –– the mortal, human element, the screaming coming from the canvasses mixing with cries from e-mail orchestrating itself into a synesthetic crescendo of red screaming and black panic and purple horror and blue crying and blue hope and blue for the night crying with blue lungs on black rooftops in the black-red night and boxes and screens.

They start to drink, on a rooftop bar, many thousands of minutes and miles away from purple popes and red screaming. Rich tells her what the headline for his review would be of the centenary exhibit, were he an art critic; which he is not, of course. After a few drinks, the friends notice that all of the waitresses here are wearing corsets (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

The two progress to a new bar, indoors, which is dark and cold and safe. And then to dinner. And then.

The next day (today), the lost governor is found! In front of the suitors who once attended his wife, during his absence at sea, the governor reveals himself to be a swine.

“I have been on an island,” he says, “for the last six days; but really for the last year; but really for ten years, traveling. I always liked traveling and hiking. But after straying and traveling (and, well, not really hiking), I’ve finally returned to my wife.”

It remains to be seen if Penelope, or the people, will take him back. But the suitors will take him.

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SURELY YOU JEST, INFINITELY

Posted in is, Rich's book club by Rich on June 21, 2009

Rich has decided to give Infinite Jest another go, as part of Infinite Summer. As remarked to friends in an e-mail, he hopes more will join him in his immediate circle of friends than did when he announced the Gravity’s Rainbow book club back in the Summer of ’02. Then it was just he and pal Gabriel; and angel Gabe did not last the first week. Rich had set down a schedule — maybe around 100 pages a week (give or take; he wishes he could find that schedule still); but it ended up being just he reading in the main building of the New School when the hot stink stank to him, the stick and the A/C making his flesh moist and rent. And he reading in bars or coffeeshops, arriving an hour in advance of someone-meeting just to have convict time to sit with Lt. Slothrop like one of his ill-fated liaisons. Just he, like the single, suicidal lightbulb: those passages he still vividly recalls for some reason.

He hopes that this will go better; and at least he has Colin Meloy in it, too.

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CVILLE

Posted in is by Rich on June 17, 2009

The family stays the night at a golf club (dad didn’t realize it was a golf club when he’d booked) with rooms done up in a mixed colonial/little old lady-style. (Ruffled covers on the electrical cords. Calico cacophony. Baskets of proliferated little soaps & scents.) They have a lovely dinner al fresco so that mom can smoke during her three glasses of wine, and then retire, to get a good night’s rest before traveling to Monticello in the morning.

Mounting the “little mountain”, one reaches first the visitor’s center and boards a tour bus up to the top. At the shuttle stop there is a statue of Jefferson: exponent of the Enlightenment (despite the slaves, who were split up & sold after his death to cover his massive debts). The family inadvertently hijacks a flock of gregarious seniors; mom begins asking questions of their attendant, not realizing that he is independently contracted. (Dad and Rich pretend not to know her, contemplating the flora.) “Is anyone going to tell us how they got all of these building materials all the way up this mountain?” mom requests. “Slaves!” rings the chorus. The slave quarters –– or remnants of the cabins –– are cramped and primitive, desperate, and mom wonders whether Sally Hemmings and her children lived in such cramped desperation themselves. They walk down Mulberry Row and past and passed the gated cemetery, where Jefferson and his lily white kin lie.

Back at the visitor’s center, the place is now crawling with babies and children and strollers, and the family is relieved to be escaping into town, to mingle with the college kids and eat lunch at The Nook. When they check into their hotel in Annapolis, they entertain fond visions of Jersey, the ferry which will pull into Cape May in the morning, returning them from their Grand Southern Tour, happy to be back in the north; albeit still technically south of the Mason-Dixon.

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MORE ON BILTMORE

Posted in is by Rich on June 16, 2009

The name arrives from German Bildt, the town the family hails from, and more, ‘open’.

Later that night, the fog rolling in, lightning prodding the landscape, mom sits on the small terrace of the family’s modest, yet very comfortable, room at the Inn on the estate, smoking while surveying the land, as if it were her land –– and, for the moment, maybe it is.

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THEY DON’T BUILD ‘EM LIKE BILTMORE ANYMORE

Posted in is by Rich on June 16, 2009

As the family drives north from Savannah, shaking off the Spanish moss (which, their haunted pub walking tour guide warns them on their final night, is full of chiggers — recounting that a crazy man once covered himself in the moss and later died, his blood sucked from his body, she suspects), they continue listening to Sedaris on tape (or mp3), laughing almost to the point of having to pull over, almost unable to see the road through their laughter and tears.

Eventually, they arrive in Asheville; wind their way through the grounds of the Biltmore Estate to the Inn where they will spend the night.

Driving over to the house itself, the mansion –– the castle (it was modeled after those in the Loire Valley) is coyly hidden by the trees, leading to a sense of expectation. They huff up a small hill and there –– there! –– it is sublime, erupting from the esplanade; one almost is lost for breath/words. The audio tour takes them through the massive, wretchedly excessive late-nineteenth century home. Rich’s mom says, upon peering into one of the servants’ quarters on an upper floor, “This room is bigger than the one I grew up in”; and the servants each had her own room. The pantries in the basement are the size of small cottages. There is, additionally, a heated swimming pool and bowling alley. Edith Wharton was entertained here and, supposedly, Henry James, and one can imagine them reposing by one of the many fireplaces in the evening, living large, at least for a moment, and then scurrying off to chronicle it all in writing.

The portrait of George Washington Vanderbilt, the man who built the Biltmore, Cornelius’s grandson, which hangs in the tapestry room –– Rich’s father says, “There is something strange about that portrait…” and without saying more, Rich smiles, “Yes.”

But they did have one child. But George did like to entertain his male friends in the wrestling mancaves of the home: the smoking room, the billiard room, the lush library of dark wood and purloined Venetian fresco ceiling depicting Aurora bringing in the light.

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MIDDAY IN THE NAZI’S GARDEN

Posted in is by Rich on June 15, 2009

The Davenport House dates to the early nineteenth century and, like everything else in Savannah, is haunted. Rich is mostly terrified of the grotesque (yes) false surfaces inside: this time gray brick wallpaper that infests the entire home, both upstairs and down. There is an annoying fatman on their tour from (where else?) Philly who is loud and demands information just as Rich imagines he must demand his second helpings of fried fat rings at the Applebee’s.

Outside, everywhere is lush, the Spanish moss dripping off the trees, the trees deliquescing into dripping fountains in the city’s twenty-two squares. The sultry sweat of the city here renders everyone indolent, which irks the Northern family who have come to expect a certain degree of attentiveness, being as they are from the bustling arcade of New Jersey. But in Savannah, everyone seems just to sit around in a sticky dullness, unable to be bothered, especially not for some damn Yankees

Even the Olde Pink House has turned its color because eventually the residents couldn’t be bothered to keep re-stuccoing it; and so the red bricks bled through the white veneer, like a white shirt that’s gone through the wash with a red sock. It comes out and, here, one might think, “Eh, whatever. I’ll still wear it. Can’t be bothered to get a new one; or to fix this’ne.” The Pink House, though, is gorgeous: inside and outside and in palette and person, the staff both attentive and attractive. Here is an oasis off Reynolds Square.

On the second day in Savannah, the family takes a Civil War walking tour. The guide is an Austrian woman, who punctuates her peregrination with phrases such as “But you know all about that”, failing to provide the group with details. She leaves them at the Green-Meldrim House, prompting, “Well, I think I did a good job; gratuities are appreciated.” (Such crassness! Rich expectorates. Where is that Southern gentility I’ve heard so much about but’ve yet to see in practice?) The Green House, where Sherman stayed after he spared the city, is marvelous: all Gothic revival architecture, to complement the gothic Spanish moss, which a later guide will describe as “creepy”, the moss. The main double-doors close into the foyer’s walls on either side, precipitating two sets of pocket doors: screened or unscreened, depending on the weather. The rotunda was lit, in its day, by a series of small gas jets; the dome itself was able to lift off the top in order to suck out the stale air of the house.

Sherman was met, outside the city, by the mayor of Savannah and, among others, Mr. Green, who invited him to stay. Green knew that if he kept his frenemy well-fed and rested, his precious home (which cost $93,000 at the time) would be spared the Union soldiers. The mayor surrendered the town; couldn’t be bothered to bargain or fight. (The Confederate army had long since left.) And so Sherman set up camp. And Green hosted the enemy.

Rich’s favorite line from the movie, one which was not in the book: “This place [Savannah] is fantastic. It’s like Gone With the Wind on Mescalin. […] Listen to me, they walk imaginary pets here […]. On a fucking leash. Alright? And they’re all heavily armed and drunk. New York is boring!”

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I HOPE THIS ISN’T THE START OF A FLANNERY O’CONNOR SHORT STORY

Posted in is by Rich on June 15, 2009

Driving through North Carolina, listening to David Sedaris, on their way to Georgia.

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