the life of richie

12 STAVES OF CHRISTMAS

Posted in is by Rich on December 31, 2009

1. CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER there is roast beast and chicken, sweet and regular potatoes mashed, and flourless chocolate cake with brandied cherries for dessert. Aunt Sue and Cousins Debbie and Greg come over to eat and exchange presents and then take off, all within an hour’s time. Mom lights all the candles in the house. “This is my favorite night of the year,” she says, as if in a trance what from the brandied cherries or the candles.

2. MIDNIGHT SERVICE at the ecumenical church, where mom has been randomly selected as usher for the second, later mass; Rich fights to stave off sleep. Even the pope had an earlier Christmas Eve service this year. There is a zaftig flautist procured; this is the biggest night of the year, though less crowded than one suspects the earlier show was; the flautist is brought in to add a bit of pomp to the proceedings. Candles flicker from the altar on down the aisles, and Rich realizes that everyone looks very sexy in the church under candlelight; he admires all the burnished sexiness of the parishioners in his tired state, which muddies and uncensors his thoughts. When they all blow out their candles and exit, it is midnight and clear in Margate.

3. CHRISTMAS MORNING the family meets to have coffee and bread pudding, chicken sausages and eggs. They break their Christmas crackers and don the multicolor paper crowns inside while opening the few gifts bought for each other; gifts have become an unimportant part of their Christmas tradition. Everything now is much more tasteful and tasty than in years past. Together with the food and the paper crowns: it is enough.

4. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON is framed and gifted to mom from Rich. Mom overdoses on coffee and sugar and almost faints. She swoons onto the sofa. Keep calm.

5. BBC AMERICA Britcoms crackle in the background for most of the day. They watch the Vicar and Mr. Bean and Gavin/Stacey and Blackadder et al. Everyone laughs in excess. Carry on.

6. NINE Though wanting to see Up in the Air, the line is too long, so the four settle for Nine instead. It is good, but still, Rich wonders, “Why not just watch Fellini?”

7. DRIVE TO THE BERKSHIRES the next day, on Boxing Day, they listen to The Santaland Diaries while in transit, guffawing all through the still snow-covered countryside –– Rich and his sister and mom and their dad.

8. STOCKBRIDGE, MA, where they all stay one night in a cramped country cottage suite, the rooms decked out with country curtains and knickknackered furnishings –– all stenciled hearts and spiralling vines and twee country scenes on the walls, which is all a bit too cutesy and ruffled for the family to stomach. “We’re going to need wine,” mom instructs. “Lots.” The family eats at the Inn’s Tavern, which is quaint but overpriced. Everyone is anxious to return to Jersey in the morning. They will take a scenic route through Lenox and the environs, stopping at a sumptuous Sunday brunch buffet in Pittsfield before cruising down through Connecticut; Rich will fall asleep for much of the quaint country ride.

9. HO-HO-HOBOKEN, NJ; check into the W along the river. Waking up next to the erect, flickering Manhattan in bed with you. More than enough.

10. HIGHLANDS GHOSTS visit Rich in Hoboken. On that night (the Sunday), he meets his friend Amanda, with whom he taught several years ago, for several drinks at the Living Room bar in the lobby of the hotel. She is going to the Poconos with her boyfriend the next day. A student brought a gun to the school where she now works before the break. In the morning, tired and stumbling around with his family on his way to breakfast, he runs into a former student of his. “This is my lovely high school teacher,” the student says. We burn ourselves down inside; burn out. He thinks of a better exchange between them later.

11. THE CITY AT CHRISTMAS the four of them huddle together on the Lackawanna dock, to catch the ferry over to Manhattan. On the other side, they warm themselves in the Winter Garden and then visit St. Paul’s, where mom lights a candle. I used to live down here, so long ago, before Highlands. There are ghosts here too, and former selves sloughed off still skulk about the streets down here, downtown. It avails not, time nor place. They find their way uptown, have a dinner of Cuban food, tuck into a Dean and Deluca’s before their eight o’ clock show.

12. WEST SIDE STORY Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the
bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift
current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the
thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

And it will be enough.

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KILLING HUSBAND #2

Posted in Stories by Rich on December 25, 2009

WIDOW – I thought about killing that son of a bitch before, I did. For nine years I watched him and waited for the right time. Just so happens that time was Christmas.

[Lights reveal a disheveled kitchen with a large pot boiling on the stove. There is a small messy table with two chairs. In the doorway hangs a sprig of mistletoe. The BODY enters.]

BODY – Woman –– what are you bubbling up in your cauldron now?

WIDOW – I’m making me beef stew.

BODY – Steeewww? Ha!

WIDOW – I thought you liked me beef stew. I thought you said it put hair on your chest.

BODY – Aye –– hair on me chest and on me testicles and on me backside too.

WIDOW – Don’t you love me anymore, sir?

BODY – The stew’s getting cold, madam.

WIDOW – [Aside.] This is how he treated me. Nine years I put up with this. And for what? “Must be the sex,” people’d say. “He must be hung like a friggin’ horse, him.” Like a friggin’ horse? Ha! That there stew’s got more beef in it than he ever had.

BODY – The stew, woman! Make with the stew!

WIDOW – The stew? I’ll give you your bloody stew…

[She throws a dinner roll at him. He laughs.]

WIDOW – [Aside.] It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning, he was a sweet, sweet man. Said he wanted to be a playwright, he did. Of all things –– a playwright! He’d take my hand and say –– [to BODY] Do you remember what you used to say?

BODY – Aye, madam. I remember.

[They take their places in the doorway. The WIDOW notices the mistletoe.]

WIDOW – That’s right –– it was Christmas! I knew it was Christmas by the mistletoe hung up in the doorway, like.

BODY – You look mighty pretty tonight, miss.

WIDOW – Oh, you!

[He takes her hand.]

BODY – Your hand’s real nice. Reminds me of a fish I caught once.

WIDOW – Oh! A naughty, naughty man you is!

BODY – Worser men might take advantage the fact that we’s standin’ here under this mistletoe and all.

WIDOW – I’ll admit –– it is rather erotic, sir. Gets me panties all bunched up in the crack, like.

BODY – Some women stand around waitin’ for men in doorways such as this one.

WIDOW – Mistletoe slags they are.

BODY – Not like you though. No, you’re like a grand helping of shepherd’s pie, you are –– all warm and meaty, like.

WIDOW – You speak with a poet’s stomach, sir.

BODY – I’m a playwright, in fact. Just as my father was a deadbeat and his father a deadbeat before him.

WIDOW – Ooh, a writer, eh? Perhaps you’d be liking to stick your pen in this here ink well, Mr. Author-man. Might put some color in your cheeks.

[They kiss. The WIDOW pulls away. The BODY resumes his previous position at the table.]

WIDOW – [Aside.] See, I didn’t care that his john thomas was still shopping in the little boys section. He was a playwright ––

BODY – Where’s me stew, woman?

WIDOW – I’m bringing your lousy stew, shithead! [She throws another roll at him.] I didn’t need no porn star lover so long as he treated me in the manner befitting a woman of my gentile nature. All I asked was that he keep food on the table and the toilet seat down. That’s all I asked. Was that really so much?

BODY – Who the hell you talking to, wench?

WIDOW – No one! Shut up, you!

BODY – The stew, madam. I want me stew!

WIDOW – [laughing] The stew. He wants his bloody stew. Well, I’ll give him his fucking stew!

[She dispatches the mistletoe from the doorway and throws it into the gurgling pot. She stirs the mix. The stage is silent. The WIDOW ladles out several heaping portions into a large bowl. She carries it to her husband, standing before the BODY with his supper-gruel.]

BODY – Would that be my stew then?

WIDOW – Aye. It is that.

BODY – That’s all I wanted, madam. Thank you.

WIDOW – [with mock reverence] Will you be wanting anything else, your highness?

BODY – No. [thinking] Well, yes. There is one thing, woman. I want to say I’m sorry for yelling about the stew. I just get a little irrational around the holidays is all.

WIDOW – I noticed. You were carrying on like a chimpanzee, what with all the wailing and moaning.

BODY – Chimpanzees don’t wail. They more holler and shriek, like. But the point is well-taken. I want you to know, Mrs. Wife, that despite my temper sometimes… I love you, I do. I really bloody-well love you.

WIDOW – [surprised] Love me? [Aside.] Did you hear him? [She takes the soup back to the vicinity of the pot.] He loves me that one does. Still, after all these years. Maybe I won’t kill him after all then. He has always kept food on the table. He has always given me that. And the toilet seat ––

[A spotlight comes up on a toilet downstage right. It should be made quite apparent that the seat has been left up. The WIDOW, furious, grabs the ladle and fills the tainted bowl even fuller. She serves the stew to her husband.]

WIDOW – Your stew!

[The BODY begins eating it. During the WIDOW’s closing monologue he will begin choking and die.]

WIDOW – I never asked for much after all. Two simple things. I would have traded love for the bit about the toilet seat. When the police came, they said it was the mistletoe had done him in. Oh, no, –– oh, dear –– but however did that get in there, and –– it must have fallen in while I was cooking. He was so adamant about having his stew right away, you see. How could I deny him his supper? And they said, “sorry about the trouble and all,” and I said, “ ‘tis no trouble at all, but how will I go on, what will I do,” and shit like that. And it’ll be sad, tomorrow being Christmas and all.

[The WIDOW leaves. The BODY lies dead as a doornail at the kitchen table. The WIDOW returns and hangs a new branch of mistletoe in the doorway. She stands under it, waiting.]

WIDOW – Merry Christmas.

CURTAIN

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KILLING HUSBAND #1

Posted in Stories by Rich on December 24, 2009

Mr Chimbly sat by the fire smokin’ ‘iz pipe.

Ho-haw! bah-hummed Mrs Chimbly. Haven’t you chopped any chunkers fer the feu yet, husband?

–Naw, woman, sputtered Chimbly. For I’s been a-sittin’ right ‘ere puff-puff-puffin’ on me puffer as you can right’y see, sow. Whyn’t you just relax and leave ol’ Chimbly alone.

Lousy old Chimbly! yelled the missus, and set her husband en flambé.

Late after supper, Mrs Chimbly served a right plum pudding. And everyone so loved Mrs Chimbly’s plum pudding! How it wrestled all warm and chimbly in their tummies, like.

THE MORAL: Don’t do drugs.

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… …

Posted in is, was by Rich on December 21, 2009

At Caroline & Bill’s on Friday, four friends sat around the fire, dipping crusty-toasty bread and ham and veggies into the warm cheese fondue. Bob Dylan moaned Christmas tunes from the hi-fi. Wine flowed promiscuously. When Bob had finished, Caroline stoked the karaoke machine. Karen lost her voice. Bill fell asleep on the couch, and Caroline said, “Stay the night! –– stay!” but Rich insisted, “We need to get home before the snow starts.” Caroline and Rich sat by the fire, smoking cigarettes up the chimney and talking about health care and the education system (, their place in it) and Caroline’s friend, who used to be a stripper in Atlanta, who had gone skinny dipping with Caroline in the Atlantic and, on separate occasions, had solicited sex from both of them. (Both had declined the offer, but still, it is always nice to be asked; as Rich’s friend Anne’s mother says, “Always nice to be invited even if you RSVP no.”) Caroline went over to Bill and laid down on the carpet next to him, exhausted. Rich puffed one more seasoned menthol by the fire and then woke Karen: “Karen, time to go now.” Then hurry home through the expectant land, which hunkered down and awaited the snow. (Rich even remembered to cover his windshield.)

In the morning, there was some snow, which became more insistent as the day progressed. The Winter Wonderland cabaret at the Music Pier was cancelled due to real-life winter wonderland. Rich, his stringy nose cheese all stopped up & no-neti-ed in’is head, languished in his apartment for the next two days, sending out brief updates on Facebook. On Saturday at 10:58 A.M. he whinged “très congested; curse you, sinus cavities” and then was silent (wrestling in his bed or watching bad movies on his couch) until an early morning notice Sunday at 6:31 A.M. when he waxed, “drowning in me own mucus; watching the snow plow dig out the church parkinglot across the street.” One of Rich’s former students likes his status, to which Rich riposted, “That was not a song lyric, Mark! I really was drowning in me own nose juices! (Sheesh.)” and then “Srsly it was like my sinuses were waterboarding me.”

He watched, in the aftermath of the storm, early on Sunday, the brisk Catholics with their Puritan work ethic digging and salting and clearing the parkinglot and church steps. The rest of the town remains (even on this present Monday and future Tuesday) encased in a sheath, a sheet of ice except where the Catholics walk. After the service, a Catholic family climbed a mountain of snow.

They laughed and waved; Rich sees them.

Rich watched and sees them.

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Posted in is by Rich on December 18, 2009

There is the expectation of prodigious snow for tomorrow.

Karen and Rich are going off the island to have dinner with Caroline and Bill at their house in the woods later on, before the snow starts. Rich has replenished the antifreeze in his car. He hopes he remembers to install his new winter windshield cover when he returns home. The snow is expected to start around 1 A.M. Caroline texts that Bill’s son will be joining them for dinner; Rich doesn’t mind. Last Friday he sat with Lori as her baby drooled on her, and as the cat fell asleep and drooled on Rich. If he can handle drool. The other night, Rich went over to Karen’s with a bottle of spiced rum and some eggnog leftover from book club. The two friends laughed so hard at one point that ‘nog clogged up Karen’s nose. Rich later says it would not have been a good way to go: death by ‘nog. (Still, if she can handle ‘nog, then.)

Still, still the world, expectant: so much depends upon. The simple warmth of the apartment this afternoon. The twinkly Christmas tree lights. An uncluttered kitchen table, prepared. When he went out to do errands earlier, his own nose started to run with eggy mucus mixture, and he was forced to use his sleeve. He sniffled and sniffled as long as he could. Then looked down: to sleeve.

So much then.

If he can.

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BOOK CLUBS ROUND-UP: PUSH, ULYSSES III, MISCELLANY

Posted in is, Rich's book club by Rich on December 16, 2009

The Monday after Thanksgiving we (I mean they) assemble at Taimi’s house for chicken tortilla soup and much wine. Caroline arrives with Bill, Lori with her sister, and singly other Lori and Chrissie and Rich. They assemble by the tree and start to discuss the month’s selection [Sapphire’s Push], until the dog comes in from out the rain, shaking its soaking coat and exciting Taimi and Tim’s daughter Aili, who is admonished Do not pull doggy’s tail; no. We do not pull on doggy’s tail. Somehow, before Rich realizes what has happened, the talk has turned from Push to wet canine to breast feeding. Karen has stopped coming to these book club meetings (has splintered off into the Ulysses set) and has asked several times please remove me from the mailing list, opining, alas, a sad reminder of what cannot be, which seems significant: is she speaking of book club or the fact that she, like Rich, has nothing, no desire to contribute to a lactation dissertation?

Except for mother’s milk Guinness, which is dispensed at the following week’s meeting of the Ulysses book group, the third (plus organizational meeting) of the year. Rich purchases Smithwick’s and Guinness but is unable to procure the Harp; Karen supplies the Harp as choirs of angels sing her arrival. Pattimac brings the holiday shortbread, which Rich realizes he has forgotten to offer only at the end of the evening when it’s too late, so brings it to a faculty party at school he attends two nights anon. The kid from round the corner calls Rich several times, inviting him to a party he is having that very night, but Rich is getting too old for this, even if KFRTC thinks that Rich is worthy of attention. After some talk of the book (though Karen has not read: oh, the public ignominy! –– it is good no one reads this blog save for herself), Patty must leave (over the river and through the woods to Pattimac’s house she goes) and Karen and Rich have one more beer apiece (the Guinness all, they string the Harp) and semi-drunkenly conspire about fondue, at Caroline’s, next Friday, and plans for Europe and, sooner than Europe, perhaps Philadelphia for January’s meeting.

One week later, Rich is toting booze (spiced rum) and ‘nog to a reprise of Paragraph 1: the annual Christmas book club edition at the home of Lori and Jeff, festive Fezziwigs thems is. He and Caroline (and once Jeff, though he is chastened by Lori to abstain) sneak outside for fresh air and menthol cigarettes to flambé the boozy ‘nogs. Outside, they can hear babies crying within (either Lori’s or her sister’s), and Jeff attends the crying, but Caroline and Rich linger a moment more, and then take two more “cigarette” breaks during the three hours ensuing. “It’s so warm for December; but it’s going to get much colder.” But right now –– so warm. And outside –– so quiet. The Fezzwigs have erected (teehee) a slim, tasteful tree in their front picture window; slim, tasteful Jeff stands beside it in his new slim, tasteful black shoes. (He has another, a second catering gig this weekend; Lori looks less excited than he, the traveling chef, as she sits with fussy baby in front of the roaring, HD OnDemand Yule Log on telly.) There is visitation of a second nicotine ghost before they discuss the month’s two articles on marriage; at least, the few who’ve read the articles do; others offer empirical data. “Why marry?” Rich cross-examines, and Sarah believes that it’s to make a commitment and so that both people know that the other person can’t just take off in the middle of the night, because of the contract they signed, you see; it sounds so depressing, but Rich doesn’t even want to commit to a mortgage ever, when Lori stresses, “Don’t buy a house,” and Rich says, “Oh, I never will; I like life as a renter too much.” (All this life is, is renting, after all; anything more is folly. Silver and the price of gold.) Caroline’s answer seems more sensible: she married for financial reasons (to consolidate finances) and for Bill’s health insurance. For love, too, but –– one doesn’t have to be married if in love. But Sarah appeals the most tenderly for marriage; everyone else (and everyone else except Rich being married) seems somewhat less keen to lend support; perhaps it is a moot point for everyone else, a fait accompli for them, so why bother fighting? (America, country of highest divorce rates, also the country that still, ironically, believes in marriage most: straight marriage anyhow.) By the time the parenting article is to be parsed, the party has begun to break up. Last cigarette. Taimi comes out back just to talk. Women have gotten a raw deal, the three friends agree. Oh well. The next day, Rich writes out the thank you note to his friends, the Fezziwigs:

Lori & Jeff, Thank you, as always, for a lovely Christmas b.c. The food was delicious, the tree impeccably decked, the babies very cute, the pets fluffy. Let’s get together over break. Love always, Rich xoxo

But he is not sure if they will.

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HOLIDAY LETTER 2009

Posted in is by Rich on December 15, 2009

From the desk of Richie. Some of you may have received this letter via post, and that is why you are here: welcome! Re-read the holiday letter or sally forth to previous posts, beginning with a review of this year’s Thanksgiving.

Dear Friend or Acquaintance:

So, another year. As I have so little “news” to report, I thought I’d best send out a retro holiday letter, in case you were worried that you had been remiss in buying me a gift for some registried occasion, other than a May birthday card I might still be owed (ahem). This year I, myself, have attended many friends’ weddings and born witness to the births of several friends’ children; rest assured that I remain, myself, both childless and single. I am still teaching and so have those “children” to care for, as one becomes responsible for creatures domesticated (if some of these “children” are seventy-two years in age themselves), conducting literature and composition courses at A.C.C.C. here in South Jersey, the cradle of civilization. Speaking of which, three books I read this year that I would recommend: Disquiet (Julia Leigh), My Cousin Rachel (Daphne du Maurier), and Wake Up, Sir! (Jonathan Ames); I also recently re-read Mrs. Dalloway and Death in Venice and am, with friends, revisiting Ulysses, which I haven’t read since I was a bumptious undergrad in Denis Donoghue’s class (I wonder if he’s still alive; but doubtful). One book read this year that sucked (well, I thought sucked) despite critical acclaim: The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters). Three recommended movies: I’ve Loved You So Long; I Love You, Man; and In the Loop. Two crap films: The Edge of Love, Twilight (but the book was also shit, so what did I expect?). My, it gets dark so early now, doesn’t it? –– it’s only five o’ clock and already so dark. One student, around this time last year, wrote in his journal, I kinda wish that it wouldn’t get dark so early it ruins my day, but whatever it’s life; I copied that line into my notebook, for it seemed significant for some reason. The seventy-two-year old I mentioned, after a semester in my literature class, having read Chekhov and Faulkner and O’Connor and Whitman for the first time, admitted that he couldn’t believe he’d been alive so long and never read what he read in our class. But I told him I was very excited for him; but I was also very excited for myself (“suck it, Ayn Rand!”). I have never really kept a journal before –– I mean, not a real journal, not a “Dear Diary, You’ll never believe what happened to me today” deal, but did birth from out my manly artist’s uterus a blog, started February 12, 2009; you can read many more details of my year online at the url ipso facto below. Before the blog –– well, not much happened in January. I hosted that month’s book club; we read Pretty Monsters; it was just alright. Oh! I visited Anne in D.C. in January, and we ate hamburgers at the same place where a few weeks later Obama and Biden would go to eat hamburgers. We saw all the seats being set up outside the Capitol for the inauguration that would take place the next week: and all the port-a-potties (there must’ve been hundreds of port-a-potties; maybe not hundreds). I remember –– I think I cried for two days last November: I still feel that, despite everything and everyone. The Atlantic has an article this month about orchid children: personalities that are delicate and for whom everything is felt, as Sam Johnson once said, everything is felt with greater sensibility and for whom, consequently, nothing is taken lightly. And so too am I

With almost too much affection, yours ––

R.

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