the life of richie


Posted in is by Rich on July 31, 2009

The rough, gray sea alive at some still early hour forenoon. The lifeguard stations unmanned for another hour, but families already scampering about on the unprotected shoreline, looking for sea stars or monsters washed up in the sand: a horseshoe crab; a jellyfish (or is that a plastic bag?). A couple attempts to fly kites, but their kites continue to kamikaze into the terra arena, submitting to gravity. As humans we only submit to gravity in the grave, or in sleep (which is like practice for death); otherwise, we stand up, not content to scuttle about on all-fours on the seafloor.

There are surfers; one, stripped unabashed to the waist, naked pelvic bones thrusting from the spandex; setting his board in the firmament for a moment; surveying. Surveying, under sunglasses, one’s gaze can licentiously touch one, for a moment. The trembling touch –– blisters with hope and pain; the naked flesh of figures already lying-out pornographically, sprawled out lasciviously on blankets or with parts buried in earth like ancient idols. It is a relief to pass more closely and find someone unattractive: a satisfaction. Else, all of this should be too much, too concupiscent, to he who feels it with great sensibility; says Mann himself: the tender concern by which he who sacrifices himself to beget beauty in the spirit is drawn to him who possesses beauty [in the body]; so many bodies possessed of the raw, muscular response. The runners –– lifeguards out for a run –– short shorts clinging to too eager buttocks. One moppish-haired object in a speedo thrusting from a trench he has dug, as if Adam fashioning himself from dust, rising from the sentiment; or Apollo, banishing night from the hot sediment.

Rich comes to the tidal pool. Crossing over the jetty, he finds the beaches here clogged with mussels pulled submissively from the surf; stinking excrement of the ocean turning the already muggy air green and squiggly. A swamp of fetid bivalves; the rank flotilla come ashore for a moribund fleet week. The seabirds attack the rotting buffet, pulling at the chewy, nacreous innards, calling from their horrible, prandial orgy. A sacred, deranged world, full of Panic life. Rich loses his appetite for prurience, and quickly flees the scene; the entire scene he now finds repugnant.

At home, with the windows open to receive the South Jersey sirocco, he can still taste the mal-olfaction. He can still hear the gulls’ bacchanalia, gorging & screaming themselves on the putrid, Mytilus flesh.

He looks down at the carpet; gazes into the carpet. The snotgreen, scrotumtightening carpet. This same carpet was his in London, too, he thinks, though that one less hirsute; the carpet in his small room in London with those unusual, dirty stains left by former tenants.

The empty, blue-black shells. (One passing will find them.)

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Posted in is by Rich on July 30, 2009

Lori says, “I’m still leaking from every orifice;” and after reading yesterday’s post: “I have tears running down my face!”

Two more orifices –– leaking, ––

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Posted in is by Rich on July 29, 2009

Rich and Caroline meet for brunch at the diner that overlooks the traffic circle (Caroline, who is on a no-carb diet, orders just a side of Italian sausage & coffee), and then drive round the corner to visit Lori and Jeff and newly born Little Jeff. Lori greets him at the door, with baby in arms; Jeff works out front in the garden (Lori’s own order of Italian sausage). When Margaret had texted Rich, “R u going to hold him??” [the baby], Rich had responded, “No holding.” But when he sits on the couch next to Lori, and she asks if he wants to hold him, Rich melts immediately. The little creature in his arms is so delicate & precious: it is like he grew from some leafy plant out in Jeff’s garden, though not ex brassica, for Lori beams, “I’m so happy not to be pregnant anymore” and refrains “I’m surprised I haven’t had to take a Percocet yet today!” He is calm and warm in Rich’s arms; a little bundle of newness & fidgety life.

Caroline arrives a few moments later. “Ohmigod; Rich is holding the baby!”

The tautly muscled, shirtless lawnboy pushes the lawnmower past the picture window. “Look at my husband,” Lori muses.

Little Jeff gurgles.



Posted in is by Rich on July 28, 2009

He asked, “Is she happy?” and he was on the phone, trying to call a cab for them, but said, “I think she is.”

And, later –– “I mean, what else could I say?” he asks her.



Posted in is by Rich on July 28, 2009

She catches him on Facebook chat, asking what he is doing up so early. He is writing a note to a friend, long overdue, he writes; and checking in with his online classes.

Her brother is moving to LA. “Why?” he asks. PhD at UCLA, she notes.

“My sister lives there now. It’s miserable. Everything’s plastic, as Andy Warhol says. Everyone selling him/herself. It’s like Amsterdam, without the tulips.”

“I love Amsterdam!”

“I love Amsterdam, too! They’re much more upfront about their prostitution there. Plus, there are the tulips.”

Such beautiful tulips…and windmills…and canals…and the Dutch, on bicycles…

But in L.A., he writes to another friend, “There’s a reason all those noir films (and the series Angel) are set in L.A.: it is grotesque and soul-crushing. But my sister has lots of work; everyone works in the industry out there (waiters and baristas and dry cleaners and bodega owners are all just actors playing a part until they get a ‘real’ part; until then, they are all just extras in someone else’s life). I worry that she’ll become L.A., though; she’s always had L.A. tendencies. But it’s like the snake pit; eventually, how can you tell your sanity from the scenery?”

And no thronging of tulips; and why don’t we just sell off the bankrupt state altogether; sell it back to Mexico. A foreclosure sale.

May-we-divest destiny.

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Posted in is by Rich on July 27, 2009

It is good to occasionally consider one’s mortality and there may be no better way to do this than to walk through the graves surrounding Old Tennent Church. This vast cemetery has been here a very long time with many graves dating from the eighteenth century. And Old Tennent’s congregation first buried its dead at an even older cemetery, Old Scot’s Graveyard, where the first burial (of Rev. John Boyd) was in 1708. [Source]

Among the Fogg is the family plot; here, the resolution to that conflict which is life, the inciting moment (the birth) setting into action a series of complications leading to climax, and the fall: the end engendered in the beginning. The narrative has long longed for this resolution.

Who is it doesn’t love a cemetery? on a pleasant summer day, with low humidity and the intimation of breeze. The weary materialize from cars at the appointed setting; the mise-en-scène scèned-in with a small tent to keep out the sun; and the coffin, closed, expectant, waiting for the embedding. Before the minor characters arrive, Dad and his sister (Aunt Betsy) are allowed to look at Grandfather. The lid is lifted, and Rich stands on the other side, looking at Aunt B and his dad looking at their dad, and realizes that someday this scene will repeat itself: his sister and him looking at their dad (but who will be looking at them?).

Mom reads a passage from Ecclesiastes as the church bells ring out as if on cue. It is a lovely ceremony, Rich thinks objectively, as if critiquing the affair for a society column. Rich feels little connection to the man in the box; he could be anyone. He tries to think of something to say, as others exchange stories of the man in the box, but this just exacerbates the sense of unfamiliarity with the man, a sense that he doesn’t know him & never did, can’t think of one story, cannot summon one tender moment, not even one. All he can choke up is a moist globule of resentment mixed with some phlegmatic regret; he swallows it, mixing it with the Starbucks he had earlier, which now sits in his stomach like a sludge.

The gathering lasts fifteen minutes; then the guests adjourn into town, into Farmingdale, into the rusting Americana, for lunch. Dad provides the guided tour of there, where I used to bicycle out to buy my models; there, where my dad and I would get our hair cut; there’s where we would have to come to do our food shopping. There is something seductive about Small Town America with its chipping white picket fences and sagging porches, its produce stands, its dilapidated downtown; one feels like passing through the Land of Lotus Eaters; one wants to move here to die. This is where people die, Rich thinks; or where people come when they are dead, if they have died in hospital after having been found on the bathroom floors of their apartments in their retirement communities after having left their opportunistic second wives after having chosen her over. There are ghosts everywhere here; dad conjures & conducts them; we used to play hide and seek on bikes after dinner; the railroad tracks were the boundaries. Suddenly they can see the boys with crewcuts riding around town as the evening closes about them like a shawl (or a pall). We pass what mom calls the “Tennessee Williams House”, because she remembers Nanna [Dad’s grandmother] up in that room on the third floor one night in the summer, playing cards with her friends, all of them dressed in hats and lace gloves even though it was the summer, and so hot.

Whenever they return here, they must pay their visits, pay their respects, to both the living and the dead; and there is now one more dead than living here now.



Posted in is by Rich on July 23, 2009

Rich and his mom go over to the Home to clean out the kitchenette and the bathroom and the closet and bureau. Dad wishes to go through the personal artifacts himself: to sit in the room in the Home with the half-finished projects & puzzles; to go over the year that was –– it was, only one year. “He had a nice year,” mom reflects. “He had Christmas Eve and Christmas and Easter and all the holidays with us. And all those Sunday breakfasts with dad.” And dad or mom or both with sometimes Rich were over there every day to see him.

Now: the unwashed dishes in the sink: Mom throws them all away. Rich is upset about the waste, but at the same time cannot conceive keeping them (washing them and keeping them); the dishes in the cabinets might be given to goodwill. The fridge is stacked with Ensure, and these cases are set aside. (“Food bank?”) For the rest, the stale juices and not-yet-spoiled milk (milk had not even had time to spoil), rinsed down the drain; containers recycled. (Like us; like we are.) It reminds Rich, that Caius is a man, all men are mortal, therefore we’re all going to die and any meal could be the last and he begins taking a mental inventory of his own refrigerator; what will they say when they find his eye drops in there, because he likes to keep them cool for when his eyes are red & weary so he can dispense the chilled, ersatz tears into the arid lachrymal ducts. Is that weird? Will they think it odd that he has a bottle of eyedrops sitting next to the tube of tomato paste –– or that he buys his tomato paste in a tube?

And then the bathroom. Everything is thrown away, but when he finds the unused L’Oréal for Men softsoap, he thinks he could use that, and his mom says you can have it, but he can’t bring himself to take it, so it goes with the unopened toilet tissue and unopened kleenex in a white crate, the crate where he used to throw his dirty clothes. Maybe someone else will salvage them, the toiletries; Rich would rather someone else, takes comfort in assuming someone will take them and not be wasted. He can’t imagine using the softsoap; would feel like washing himself off with It. (Can It alone be true? Can it resist even the softsoap?) The only artifact not placed into the white crate or the trashbags are two pairs of eyeglasses discovered in a drawer. “Dad can decide what to do.”

The two archaeologists move on to the closet and the bureau. Mom picks out an outfit to drop off at the funeral home: khaki pants, his dress shirt, belt. “I don’t even know –– does he need underwear?” (The mortician’s assistant will later say: “You were right to bring underthings. We need those too.”) They survey the closet. “Put the clothes and the hangers in the bags.” Rich notes the Lands’ End tags and thinks the clothes all very smart and should get fine homes. These will go to goodwill; someone will buy them & wear them. He feels It on his hands, but he knows that’s impossible. (Grandfather didn’t even die here, not in this room.) The hallucinatory olfaction takes over, and he thinks he can smell It, everywhere, even though he wouldn’t even know what It smelled like. They leave a hat with the insignia of his naval engineering station, and two tee-shirts advertising businesses in his hometown, in the closet for dad to decide on; along with a box marked “memorabilia” to be later salvaged.

In the bedroom, they empty the bureau drawers. Rich feels the winter socks, stashed away in the bottom drawer; they are woolen and warm, and Rich thinks them very happy socks, and imagines that grandfather must’ve been happy wearing such socks. (Was he able to? –– appreciate the simple pleasure of a pair of fine woolen socks?) Underneath the sleepwear, they find his only tie. “Oh, it’s nice –– red. That will look nice.” She arranges it with the outfit on the bed. “I think that’s it for now.”

When they pass the woman on duty at the front desk, she comes around to give mom a sobbing hug. (The sobbing seems strange.) “He was happy,” Mom insists. “He was playing pool everyday. I remember going to visit him a few weeks ago and he was whistling! It seems so strange –– just a few weeks ago…”

For grandfather, death is over. The torments that just were, are no longer. The family must now decide on prayer cards (They’re all so stupid) and on things like what he should wear, what to keep and what to throw out, or donate. Death is the end of decisions, Rich decides. Their friend saw dad at the coffeeshop and thought he looked very fragile, and mom cries because “He is –– he is very fragile.” Rich decides to call his sister out in L.A. to see if she will fly home. She vents about her job in the recording industry and about her boss and her new apartment. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I just called to see if you were coming out for the funeral. It’s Saturday.”

She has not decided.



Posted in is by Rich on July 21, 2009

Caroline texts over the weekend: “Hows your grandfather?”

Rich: “Still dying.”

Then sister, yesterday: “What’s goin on? I haven’t heard from anyone, I’m worried”

Dad, yesterday (or this morning, maybe): “Dad died.”

And Rich, to sister: “He died.”

To Caroline: “Grandfather’s gone.” (She: “Im soooo sorry” / He: “It’s ok; go back to sleep.”)

And then, the tweet is,

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Posted in is by Rich on July 20, 2009

Mom finds him today hooked up to a mask. He struggles & struggles and looks to be in severe distress. The respiratory therapist returns. “This is what we do; this is what is done; unless you say otherwise,” and, sotto voce confesses, “90% of the health care expense in this country comes during the last six months; and it doesn’t do much. If you’re worried about him being in pain, because when I suction him out and when I apply the mask, he is in pain, then you need to talk to social services. Otherwise, we will do everything in our power to prolong this. He’s paid for this. He will go on paying.”

Scene change: two goblins come by, come by to take the hemoglobin.

Mom asks, “Just what are you doing?”

“We are soul care-consuming!” as they suck & suck at Pappy’s arm for Pappy’s juices, that run into tubes into vials vile. “Sweet and sound,” they say as they scamper off to test the jammy preserves; to feast on further infection they have found.

Then come next the chest X-ray men, who hasten mom from the room: “Radiation, radiation, beware! You must not tarry with radiation men!”

Grandfather is hoisted from his bed, and now the screaming starts in earnest. He screams! screams! screams! as the X-ray men apply the machinery, to tell him how well he is dying. He had a pacemaker put in at 85, and she wonders what kind of a system installs a pacemaker in an 85-year old man. A fatuous, inefficient system; they wouldn’t do that in England, no; there, is too much dignity & socialism.

But when lunch is deposited, when the lunch of creamy chicken gruel and puréed beef and ginger ale is delivered, there was no one nowhere to feed him. And so mom lifted the spoon & straw to his lips; but his lips were too sore to suck or suck.

This is no way to be a patient treated. This is a goblin market: Capitalist & conceited.



Posted in is by Rich on July 18, 2009

He seems to lie in unpleasant dreams.

He lies not in death, and not in life, which is the misfortune; for, as Epicurus notes, when one is, death is not; when death is, one is not. He is the cognate of death and life now. He breathes as if through a pall now in breathless darkness, ashen like a figure from Munch or Bacon, sunken mouth rapt in silent “O” that cannot be summoned, it cannot be articulated (the scream). And with the shaking, the rattling of the limbs: the workmen at work inside (Death’s workmen). Rich wants to get close to smell him, to smell what death smells like, but doesn’t remember what he smelt like before, and does not know if this is him or death now; or the hospital. Do any of us know what it smells like anymore? There was a time we might have been born and slept and died in one bed; might have smelled death naturally every year; now we are born in one wing of one hospital and return to another, a separate room to die in, a foreign, narrow space. Like a baby, lying in the nursery bed again, wrapped in the white cotton cloth, making that hollow moan. But it is not that Death that looks us in the face at this moment; it is life. Michelangelo: “If we have been pleased in life then we should not be displeased in death.” It is life we look in the face. That is what we are scared of; scared to confront.

Rich bought his train tickets today to Goose’s wedding next weekend; he hopes that Pappy will wait until after next weekend. This is not cruelty, this is natural: the planning of one’s life for living and not for death, for when one is alive, death is not; if one prepares room for death, how can there be? Mom plans to go into her office on Monday to clean. Dad waits to see; continues going to the hospital and the office and home, the route all of us follow: hospital, office, home, then back to hospital.

For Rich –– the worst must be if life had meaning only to himself.

The worst, he thinks, would be that all of this should go on.