the life of richie

THE GRAVEYARD BOY

Posted in is, was by Rich on October 30, 2009

When he was little, his mom would take him to the cemetery to play. Some parents took their kids to the park; we never went to the park. In the cemetery at the Head of the River, they would make rubbings of the tombstones: run the led pencil across and across the grave until the name and date were announced through the white breath of the vellum. Looking back on it he would think that, maybe that was odd; but now when he goes to cemeteries, he does not think of death and endings: he thinks of being a child, of no worries before the advent of possibilities which breed limitations. He would think of that liminal space: between nothingness and consciousness, when, as a toddler, one’s memories are just vague rubbings themselves.

Last night, at the Halloween parade, Lori’s baby watched the firetrucks go by, and when he closed his eyes, Rich said, “You know he won’t remember it,” but Lori said, “But he’ll enjoy it now,” his little eyes all staring and staring at the flashing red, the little guy all dressed up in his snuggly monkey costume. When he was in preschool, his mom made him a Snoopy costume; everyone at preschool hugged Richie, because he was huggable and snuggly; he chased them around barking.

Sometimes he imagines himself back in the cemetery where things were never sad.

For book club this week, they’ve read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which makes Rich feel very safe, just as the ghosts warn Nobody Owens (the protagonist) not to leave the graveyard where it is unsafe. He thinks again of his online students: they are like ghosts themselves. Is he teaching in a graveyard this term, with them? Someone in one class said it was like we weren’t really real people, and maybe that student meant like we were really wraiths and not living, just a “degradation of wraiths”, then. Nobody [Owens] wants to go out into the world (into a biliothèque, to be more specific) just to sit in a room and read books and listen to people breathing; that is what is lacking in online education. That is why Rich agrees, there is something so essential about having to go out into the world, to sit in a room with other human beings and listen to them, to their breathing. To just be among the living; like when Rich stops at Walmart to buy his rubber boots (his Wellies, but the woman rings them up as “rubber boots”), and there is the degradation of human beings, but human beings in all our messy, fleshy humaniness are we. (Though Rich wishes he had taken two Lexapro before deciding to stop at Walmart; he had not been to Walmart in years and years before last Tuesday.)

They sit around Sarah’s table gobbling up delicious sandwiches and wraps. Rich reads out bits from his notebook: “I wrote down death is the great democracy on page 29; I liked that line.”

Someday he will go back to the cemetery to play; but not for a long time yet. There’s still a lot.

Taimi brings out the pumpkin cake she’s made. There’s still pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.

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LATE O.K.TOBERFEST

Posted in is by Rich on October 26, 2009

Rich brings a five-pack of New Castle as offering (got a little thirsty before coming to Karen’s for the beerfest). There are tubs and tubs of different brews. Rich’s eyes sparkle as he sees Kronenbourg 1664, which reminds him of Goose and of London; after they’d given up drinking Stella, which caused a night of drunkenness so extreme that Goose neglected to brush her teeth before bed: Goose never forgot to brush her teeth before bed. That was the night –– was it The Queen’s Head? is that what it was called? –– where they’d ended up at the end of the first night of her return after winter break, and had ended up playing cheesy music on the jukebox and watching a crooner on some BBC for old people channel belt out a version of The Golden Girls theme. And Goose had tipped the old biddy of a bartender 10p., insisting, “No, really –– have it. I insist.” Oh, she looked pissed! But not as pissed as they, stumbling back to the Close; promising themselves in the morning, no more Stella; no more –– Stellaaa!! And switching, instead, to 1664 (a good year for beer, but not for the people of London, what with the still precipitate plague and all).

The Kronenbourg inspires the Proustian spell, which is broken when Caroline and her entourage arrive [Bill and Melissa, on her annual pilgrimage out from Hawaii]. Everyone has married and/or had babies; but not Melissa. “Anything new?” he asks. Rich is relieved that Melissa is not married/no babies. He drinks to that!

People fill up Karen’s porch, which is kept dry by the protective striped awnings when the monsoon rains start. “This is what it’s like for most of the winter,” Melissa admits. This being fall and New Jersey, the downpour dissipates after maybe thirty minutes. And afterwards, when the rain has stopped, Caroline and Bill are gone –– and Karen’s friend Mickey has sneaked off, disappeared into the mist; and the night is cool and clean and fresh. Everything feels clean and new; a new world birthed when the rains broke: a new world broken from the first. A new, more decadent world, where there is crème brûlée beer and two-bite cupcakes for Patty’s birthday. Patty, who is another year sexier: so says the pin Rich picked out for her (it came with the card). Jean brings delicious spiced cookies which look like pumpkins and ghosts. “Did you say goats?” He cannot hear goat without thinking of Edward Albee.

Rich has a textual exchange with Golchehreh on his way home, everything moist with the womb waters. He forgets his phone as he changes into his jammies, and a half-hour later she texts back, “U up?”

Rich, asleep –– he should not have switched to Stella. At least he remembered to take his contacts out this time.

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LITERATURE 2.0

Posted in is by Rich on October 26, 2009

There had been no posts all week in his online literature class.

Rich stared and stared at the screen, refreshing and re-refreshing the browser. Are they all dead? he wondered. Did they all, all of them, drop? Am I alone; the captain of a ghost ship. He has memories of being little and looking into the murky backwash of a sea monkey tank. Is that something living there, or –– is that just pieces of dirt? I thought I saw something swimming. Is there anything alive in there at all?

Rich went to sleep.

In the present tense: the sea monkeys have left their droppings; have been active in the night. The women post their censure of Nora Helmer for leaving her husband and their children. Each one speaks of how mothers have a duty to their children; how could Nora abandon the children for her duty to self? She was a monster, howl the sea monkeys. Rich feels sorry for Nora: all dressed up in her gypsy costume, in the doll house, binging on cookies. As a father of sea monkeys himself, Rich understands her; how she sometimes just wanted to be done with them, to flush them all down the toilet: start again. She must’ve thought, in a moment as she slipped off the costume and brushed the crumbs from her breast, must’ve seen: It is possible to start again; it is possible.

Rich writes: In Nora’s defense, as some of you mentioned last week, this was a different time for men and women. There was no sense of “shared custody”; that is, Nora would not have been able to move out and pursue her life’s work (understanding herself and her place in the world) and still maintain contact with her children: it was all or it was nothing. She would not have been able to have an independent life without leaving Torvald. We might argue that she should never have married and had children if she realized she wasn’t cut out to be a mother, but it was a different time: women got married and had children. Nora did what she was expected to do: and then realized that it wasn’t enough for her. I always wonder: What would this story be like if Krogstad had never re-appeared –– or if Torvald had never gotten sick in the first place –– and Nora had stayed in the house and the marriage? Is an unfit mother, which Nora admits that she is, better than no mother at all?

The students talk around him: I believe that everything you do after becoming a mom is for your children. And: I agree. The most important thing you should know as a parent is to love your children, and choosing to abandon your children for self discovery is not love, just abandonment. And: As a parent, six times over myself, I also found that baffling and cruel. It’s wonderful to want to rediscover yourself again, but at what expense? This decision should not be a burden the children should have to endure. So: I don’t feel sympathetic for Nora at all. But: Let’s get her! Let’s burn her!

So Nora was just another monster, then; but so some mothers must eat their young in order to survive. (Rich’s stomach rumbles.) Is she not worthy of some compassion, at least? There is only one who comes to her defense, who gathers courage from the professor, but it is an unenviable cause. And Rich soon realizes that Nora’s detractors are not even reading posts from their classmate or the one from him. This is the ethical wasteland of online education:  we read only what we want. We ignore everything else. We do not grow. We stay as sea monkeys do. You cannot teach compassion online, prof.

Can’t you? Is it impossible to teach compassion in this virtual space? The Internet is neither good nor bad but people make it so; so. Rich opens another tab, where, on Facebook, a boy is falling in love with a girl through her status updates; he LIKES her –– or at least her status. Is it possible?

He falls in love with your status updates; and you LIKE it, too. Is it not possible?

In the darkness, he hears the sea monkeys, howling and howling.

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NOR A WESTER

Posted in is by Rich on October 19, 2009

On Sunday when it is still raining and more of the island has slipped beneath the waterline, Rich drives downtown to meet Caroline for lunch at John & Patty’s café. Rich has a brie and mushroom omelet; which seemed like a good idea at the time; Caroline sticks with a chef’s salad (no carbs). It’s strange to think that she is married, that suddenly her life is different; it does not feel different to him; should it feel different? Is there now a string that attaches to her and travels back to her husband wherever he is; or is that a backwards view to take of marriage? Her husband. Caroline wonders if she can make it over to visit her parents after lunch; the acqua alta makes navigating the island more difficult if not impossible. Best just to return to the Lido and wait out the tide. Is this the moon, trying to drown us? Rich wonders; revenge for us blowing up part of it. Is the moon glowering down at us, plotting: Goodnight, Earth. (Little bitch planet!)

He feels suddenly somewhat single for a moment, sitting with Caroline who has a husband somewhere, who is married; even though she does not seem married/different; as the tide rises round them and Rich eats his omelet of what seemed like a good idea at the time. Caroline asks about the Ulysses book group. Lots of babies (it was lots of, not so many); he keeps thinking about that text from Karen from Lori’s: lots of babies. “Oh, it was lovely. Really nice. Just, you know, me and Karen and our friend Patty.” In a parapet as the water rises: the scrotumgreen sea.

Later he chats with his sister on Skype. It has stopped raining there; it is back to sunny 72. She has stopped suggesting that he come to live out there; just as his friends have stopped asking about his relationship status. He imagines it would be funny even to turn up sometime for lunch with Caroline. “Anything new?” she would ask, and he would say, “No, nothing; oh, I got married,” or to show up with someone, like, “Yes; and the moon is still trying to kill us; that’s quite the turn itself. You think you know someone.” But it probably will not happen. Just as he will probably never move to California. Rich was not cut out to be a significant other.

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NOR’EASTER

Posted in is by Rich on October 17, 2009

Who can say? There is a storm: within and without, it rains. Rich chats with his sister in L.A., where it is raining even there, and she says she dares not go outofdoors for fear of mudslides and flooding. She sits in her apartment and drinks coffee in a “Golf Pro” mug purchased at Big Lots. In the fall, in New Jersey, the leaves seem to catch fire; in the fall, in California, the state is still smoldering from summer conflagration, the chronic bonfire of synthetic vanities; everything smells of burning plastics and carcinogenic dreams. “Can you see the rain?” his sister asks, as she turns her webcam to the window. But he can’t.

Rich and Karen get into his little car and drive to Sea Isle. At Braca’s they sit at the bar and drink their beer, waiting for Patty to make up their dinner party. The baseball game is on. The restaurant is plush and comforting. “This is old Sea Isle,” Rich says, and Karen looks around at the geriatric patrons and agrees, “Yes –– old.” What with the cold, wrathful rain and the convention of Methuselahs here, everything feels somewhat Biblical. Patty arrives; they sit in an overstuffed booth and eat very quickly, or so the waitress says. (How uncouth, Rich will later scorn.) Rich and Karen find the road they traveled into town now under water. You cannot go out the same way you came in. They take the parkway and listen to the Pet Shop Boys. Back in Ocean City, gangs of hoodied teens rove the streets. Are these the hell-hounds? Is the flooding over? Are we past the apocalypse now? In his apartment, in front of the space heater, Rich sits texting people in the dark. He looks at the clock and decides it’s not too early to go to bed.

He wakes to more rain. Karen is going to Lori and Jeff’s for college football. Rich tries to drive to the drugstore, but the waters have again risen, and he turns back and finds himself at his parents’. His mom is wrapped in a blue Snuggie; when she walks around in it, she looks like a Roman Smurf. She tries on the Kate Gosselin wig she’s bought for Halloween. Kate Gosselin in Blue Snuggie: the anachronistic title to some 17th c. Dutch portrait. His mom takes off the wig and goes back to grading papers. Karen texts him: so many babies. He imagines the scene at Lori’s: an embarrassment of mothers, a keg of fathers, and the poopourri of babies present.

Back at his apartment, he watches Chekhov’s The Seagull on DVD, with his flannel blanket slipping off his too long legs; finds himself wishing it had arms; would give his kingdom for a slanket. The space heater purrs like a kitten at his feet. The electric heat feels lovely if unholy; in London, his flatmate would turn her small space heater up so high that it smelled faintly of burning fur in her small chamber.

Nina comes in from the howling storm. I am a seagull. She goes out. Constantin shoots himself. The Doctor: “Don’t tell his mother.”

This is how it ends.

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ULYSSES BOOK GROUP: OCTOBER

Posted in is, Rich's book club by Rich on October 14, 2009

Karen, Rich and Patty meet at “Kay’s Place” she hates that, Karen does; “Kay/K,” which is what the little one calls her at school to discuss the first three chapters of Ulysses. Chinese food is ordered: veggie dumplings and scallion pizza and spring rolls with dipping sauces. And fortune cookies. There is talk of false fathers (like their supervisor at school and in Hamlet) and erect Buck Mulligan; Karen has made a note of that: Buck Mulligan erect.

Patty has typed up the reading schedule so the three will be finished by June in time for their proposed sojourn to Dublin. Rich texts Karen before the meeting, “Is everyone coming?” and Karen texts back, “You, me, and Patti” with an implied “?” as if to augur everyone. So they are like three trim, casually attired scholars in a parapet, they are. Karen writes on the first page of her edition So happy! They drink Guinness and Harp at Karen’s pub table and discuss Joyce’s haughty, turgid tome, like digging into a rich, plump repast. Druidy druids; Rich and Karen both like that phrase, and there are others that are noted, and Beckett is broached, Catholicism catechized (the Cathoholic Joyce), the significance of rosewood and wetted ashes parsed, and an ashplant is a walking stick. We have grown out of Wilde and paradoxes, Rich has written; even Wilde was betrayed with a kiss, by a boy, by an English boy, by a Bosie. Karen’s Virginia Woolf doll is wearing a Phillies cap. “She almost took her top off while watching the game yesterday,” Karen jokes. (Oh, Kay.) Kinch? Why Kinch? Rich makes a note to Google it later; Google later says Buck calls it Stephen “presumably a patronizing reference to Stephen’s wit”. Rich also Googles Ireland World War I Germany to find out about Ireland’s relationship to Germany during World War I. Wikipedia opines, “However, a smaller, more radical element of Irish nationalists took the opportunity of the war to launch an armed rebellion against British rule, with German help.” Is it time for the shortbread? I could eat the whole box. Is it time for the Walkers shortbread; again? Silently, in a dream she had come to him… Hear this here: Thought is the thought of thought. All agree: the language is to be loved (if Stephen is a bit of a drip sometimes, a bit of an anorak). There is something about the Oomb, allwombing tomb of the haughty, hefty tome.

Rich’s fortune, heralded by smiley faces, announces: “You are working hard.” All laugh; the subtext: “You are such a Stephen of late.”

Rich laughs; so happy!

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FANTASTIC SNAKE DREAM

Posted in is, was by Rich on October 13, 2009

He had a dream.

There was a black snake in a dazzling bright-white-white church with glowing light-white, and he was there and in love: it was a holocaust. The snake; he stomped on it; turned out it was made of plastics after all.

He promised to be good and not so terrible.

He re-wrote this dream as The black quivering phallus was black and quivering when it went slithering through the vaginal wall-gap.

He remembered this as in the country in the brown house in the country there was a black snake that was often seen around the house. Richie would haven heathen dweams about da black snake. Once or twice he sawed him even; whenever he sawed him, he would feel faint. Mostly in the garden shed he and Daddie would find skins; Daddie would hang them up in the shed yike snake stweamers.

In the brown house in the country before they moved to the island; before Richie had felleden and scarsed his toothd. In the brown house in the country, where there was a black snake, who was harmless.

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REAL SIMPLE SOUL

Posted in is by Rich on October 12, 2009

Rich raises Occam’s brand razor to his two-day old beard, to consort with Emerson (simplify! simplify!); but hesitates, placing the blade back upon the shower shelf. He will let the beard stand one more day; let the entia afflict the head a little longer.

THE HEAD is clearer since starting the Claritin-D treatment. But he knows, when he stops the treatment, the sinuses will again flare up; but maybe not as bad if the mold retreats first. But still he knows problems are not solved; the people who perceived the problems just die out. Is that true? Do we go on making and re-making the same problems: turning and turning in the Widening…

Golchehreh, in Japan, visits an internet café where there are cats. Hello, kitty, she writes. Rich writes, “Don’t get a hello kitty; I’m allergic.” Kittens conspire with the mold spores against Rich. (Fuckyou hello kitty.)

But Golchehreh notes: “I’m 30, single, and living in an apartment in NYC that has scented candles in it. A kitten (stuffed or live) is just about the last thing on earth I’d get. But I might get a plastic one.”

Rich: “Plus, you’d kill it [a live kitten].”

G: “Yes, I killed a cactus dead.”

R: “Like you killed that plant I sent you. Byebye planty.”

But maybe the plant exists somewhere not-dead. Maybe the plant, like the Cat, like Jesus, can be both dead and not-dead; just as here, Richie and Richard are both here/not-here.

But Rich likes how Golchehreh writes “I killed a cactus dead” (emphasis mine), and he wonders if she picked that up from their friend Jaime, whose catch phrase (one of her catch phrases) used to be just that: “I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you dead.” Rich remembers –– he said that once in London, when they were sitting around brainstorming ideas for their theses. “I don’t want to kill literature to death with critical theory,” Rich had said; his friend Rachel (but not that Rachel or his sister; another one) had laughed at that, and said, “I like that –– as if you can just kill something a little bit as opposed to kill it dead.” Because it’s true; because quantum mechanics speculates that the cat in the box can be both dead and not (cf. Jesus and plant).

Hello, not-dead kitty. Next to the not-dead plant. Beside the not-dead Jesus.

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TB-D

Posted in is by Rich on October 11, 2009

Rich wakes with a great congestion in his chest which he knows for certain is the tuberculosis. He rises, and the phlegm rises to inflame his sinuses: to hold his head hostage. The news reports high levels of mold, a hostile allergen. (So it is the mold, then; so we meet again, mold.) He coughs up clear sputum into the crook of his thumb like some consumptive (if less sanguine) Keats. This is it, he knows, wrapping himself in a blanket. My body will drown itself.

He must have the drugs, he decides. Drinking ginger tea will not do this time; the mold is too much with him. He must have the decongestant; the Pseudoephedrine; the stuff sold behind the counter at CVS that makes one feel like a criminal to request it; the ingredient in homemade meth; the DIY crank. He goes to the drugstore and purchases it. It alone can dessicate his drowsy numbness now; leave everything absolved and arid. In an hour. Until then: the nose-juice continues to waterboard him.

But in an hour, will he not find some relief? ––

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ON JOHN KEATS

Posted in is by Rich on October 7, 2009

Rich and Karen go to see the Keats movie on Saturday. Days later, he will pull from his bedroom floor his Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2.

1795–1821

1795–1821

He is pained by drowsy numbness upon reading the marginalia: “When you are spouting psychobabble, my lips do long to linger on yours,” he has written, the words pressed into the thin vellum like a dried flower, dead and no longer a joy forever; more a foe than ever: as though of hemlock I had drunk; Keats, who writes that he would long to take poison himself from Brawne lips. Looking back at the heavy tomb is like purchasing stale yew-berries, expired nightshade; no more legitimate now than a stolen vase, a steely visage of shadows and nothingness.

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