the life of richie


Posted in is by Rich on August 29, 2010

This hellish summer of discontent. –Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker (June 2010)

Another glacier breaks apart from the slushy mess of Greenland, that frozen dacquiri of a nation left out on the counter too long. The Middle East seethes in its unsettlement: a veritable beach blanket burka. (In France, the burka is banned: what not to wear from the country that brought us the bikini. This year, Islamophobia looks to be all the rage.) With Russia burning, we waited to witness the radioactive monster unleashed from the kiln/for our kin, coming through the smoke to smite us. Global Warming, once seeming a bit passé, now back with a vengeance –– this, the summer’s hottest trend. D.C. becomes a hottub swamp while New York plays host to a convivial powwow of bedbugs.

So it was I returned from the UK and announced to friends that it was too hot to travel anywhere outside of South Jersey for the rest of the summer –– that I could not stray too far from the seaside and would see out the summer here (see you in September), a recluse-somebody. I returned to find the plants on the back deck (even with another someone stopping over to water) had been scorched down to a desiccated soil; little potted wastelands with garden gnome transfigured into Fisher King attending. “It was a holocaust,” I told Tommy when he & Anne came to visit one weekend in July. “You could always re-plant,” some friends offered. “There is still time and season enough.” But I wanted them to be dead & withered things then. I preferred to sit out back and look at the anorexic sticks reaching up through the dirt, skeletons returning from their graves to get a tan. This was more in keeping with my mood of July and August. I wrote to Linda P––: “Chickens, unhatched, were counted, as you know; I thought all the ducks were in a row, as it were” [re: the future]. But it was not to be. The best laid plans gang aft agley, after all. So fuck it, Lenny.

Instead, there was a succession of lunches arranged: Gerri; Sarah; Caroline & Jill; Emily & her poet-lover; Lori & her baby; et al. Rob B–– teased me about my mania for scheduling lunches, as we sat on the porch of Karen’s new house on the last day of that seventh month. But I like to schedule lunches, like a dowager in some domestic English novel of manners: here goes the fork, there the spoon, bit of gossip et bon mots over coffee. “More cream?” The breaking of glass. Don’t cry over spilled. Sarah’s water breaks two months early; she delivers a healthy little girl, so tiny but so healthy.

And one leafy flower potted on the back deck actually returned to thrive in the heat and could not be cut down. I am the Lazarus-plant, come back to tell you all (I will tell you all).

I texted Rob B–– the next morning after Karen’s housewarming party: “Make it home ok?”

“Yea babe I’m good, thanks.” Rob & I and Rachel on July 4th, drinking Miller High Life (Light), sneaking down to the beach to watch the fireworks with boxed, blush wine dispensed into Wawa travel mugs. It was one of those nights that makes you feel like you’re in a movie.

And in addition to lunches, there continued Sunday breakfasts with dad, with occasional special guests: Tommy & Anne; Rachel often; Karen, too. Sometimes at the North End Grill, where one eats sweet potato homefries at tables by the beach and thinks, “This is one of those mornings that makes you feel like you’re in a teen drama on the CW.”

And on August 1st, writing to a former student who had e-mailed: “Ahh, August first –– it holds such a strange thrall. I look forward to the fall, though.”

In August, some children set up a lemonade stand near my apartment. I would pass them by, and when they asked “Lemonade?” with their goblinny diabetic voices (come buy! come buy!), shook my head and said I wanted none of what they were peddling. Kids must learn, after all, that Capitalism is more often withholding (cruel Randroid philosophy) than promoting. When life gives you lemons and you make lemonade and that lemonade doesn’t sell, then you’re screwed. (Kids should be paying me to squeeze out such good life lessons.) Kids shouting when I pulled up on the street after a nightly literature class: “Punch buggy white! Punch buggy white!” And once a mother reproved, “If you hit him again, I’m going to hit you!” One sees parenting at its finest in the summer, in the summer in a resort town, when it is hot and summery and all humanity is stripped to the waist.

Suddenly, in the pit of August, the nights grew cool, and I caught a cold. I had written to Brittany V––, when she was sick earlier in the month: “I hope by the time you read this you’re feeling better; it’s horrible being sick in the summer, what with the heat & all. I remember all too well the heat of New York in the summer –– somewhere I have a short story I wrote about it; I remember reading once that homicides triple in the months of July and August. I remember walking past the H&M store on 34th Street, that used to leave its front entrance all open onto the street, so that sidewalk outside was cooled by Freon, and there was something wasteful and desperate about that stretch of unnaturally cold pavement; traveling from air conditioned space to air conditioned space and by the end of the day one always feeling so drained –– like ‘a wet noodle’ is what my friend Ally would say. But it will pass –– and here it’s almost September, which has always been a kind of rebirth for me, as a student and then student-teacher and now teacher. […] I do think emotions & sensibilities, ironically, might be heightened during times of illness –– and maybe that’s why at such times, even more than others, we crave the reciprocation of some other human spirit. Then our body rebounds and we are closed up in healthy flesh again and shut off/shut ourselves off. I suppose the trick is always in cultivating the inner world so that it can be heard through the body. I don’t know if that makes sense; it’s early still and I have to get ready to give tours to incoming freshmen on campus this morning.” Prepare a face to meet the Facebook that you meet. The seagirls all return to college. One thirsts for a return to reason; will it never be quenched?

As men trudged out of the burnt-out Iraqi gardens, we gritted our teeth and prepared for The Fall.

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