the life of richie


Posted in is by Rich on July 31, 2011

The last in the Grace Kelly-Hitchcock series at the Arts Center is Dial M for Murder. Thirty minutes in, Caroline slides in next to me, just come from her latest doctor’s appointment, while the two men are plotting the wife’s murder: how it must be done and why. She has appointments all the time now (Caroline). After class and before yet another, she stops into the law office on Friday to see me, to have lunch, and to complain about how her body is not her own anymore. It has been rented out to a noisy tenant, like those surfer boys next door. She can’t wait for the end of the summer: for the eviction. “I fart all the time,” she limns. “I never used to fart before. I used to pride myself on my not-farting.

The boys next door hang out half-naked on the downstairs porch after spending all their days surfing, and all their nights drinking. A fussy old lady comes into the law office before Caroline, to bitch. “Has anyone else complained about them?” she wants to know. “They’ve been vomiting into my yard. My husband –– he’s just had surgery. I can’t sleep. I’ve called the rental agency, but they won’t call me back.” I tell the woman I will make a note that she has called. A few hours later, through the blinds I can see them emerge, all glistening flesh like the vampires in the Twilight movies…

On Friday night, after locking up the office (all of the lawyers are away: my mom and dad in Hudson visiting my sister; his partner off on a spa afternoon with a state judge), I take my mom’s convertible over the bridge to Somers Point to attend a gallery reception. I think of Anne: in June, I drove to New Haven, and then with her up to Boston for a wedding. (With the top down, the whole world is yours, to be played with and tossed aside.) At the gallery, the porch is overflowing with mismatched characters from many of the stages of my life. I find Joni and Gerri on the patio. “I’m just going inside a moment,” I explain. The gallery itself is a furnace, all the artwork thrown into this kiln to be melted down (one might think), to meld together into some new life risen like a savior’s bread when the buzzer sounds; devoured by dogs. Some friends of mine (of my parents) are welcome distractions from the temperature, but after talking a few minutes, I escape back outside, where there is a coy yet sometimes willing breeze.

The reading of four poets commences. I stare at my friend Gerri standing on the porch, her gray hair pulled back into calculated serenity, and smile. Afterwards, we go to Joni’s condo that overlooks the water, where there are boats. We drink wine and talk about literature and college. The next day, I think of this year at school, and recommend to myself a new course. This year will be a vengeance, I have decided. I will strap myself to the college, but. When I go this time, I am gone, and I will not (will never) come back again. (I want them to hear this. I want them to know this and to be ashamed.)

For when the heat breaks, there is usually a terrific thunder. This is how it shall come to pass.

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Posted in is by Rich on July 24, 2011

I am feeling angry, so go over to my parents’ house yesterday morning. After venting, my mom looks out the window at her garden. “I’ve decided I’m going to let it all die,” she says, with sweet bitters in her mouth. “I water. I’m sick of watering. It’s just too hot. If these plants don’t have the gumption to survive, then let them die. The basil looks like it’s surviving. Everything else… And the grass. I want to just get brick everywhere. Everywhere brick. We can’t afford to waste water on this anymore.”

Yes; let us pave over everything that dies; everything that cannot handle the heat. Let us pave it all over into something clean and dead. One feels this way in the heat. In the heat, at the end of July.



Posted in is by Rich on July 23, 2011

Caroline and I catch To Catch a Thief on Monday at the Arts Center. “My grandmother used to say, ‘Grace Kelly is someone who doesn’t sweat,'” Caroline says. We are not yet sweating ourselves (…though we will be by Thursday). On Tuesday, we meet Karen for lunch at Mosaic. Karen is taking a pottery class. She comes to lunch speckled in the day’s clay. Her teacher says: “The clay doesn’t care about you. But you must control the clay and not allow the clay to control you.” We eat jerk chicken and rice & peas and sweet plantains and cool, unsweetened iced tea. These are the last cool days ever. On Wednesday, as Karen and I drive to the Union game in her Jeep Wrangler, with all the windows open, we can sense that It is coming. The heat doesn’t care about you. We stand in the parking lot drinking Anchor Steam and Summerfest beers, long after the official start of the match against Everton, and leave the stadium not too long after the half. There is still no score when we leave, but later we find out that the Union has won (the Union have won). On Friday, after work, dad and I drive down to Avalon to pick up his pants from the haberdashery there. The heat index is 115-120°. We are in the oven now, thrown into the kiln (the kiln doesn’t care about you) being cooked, and who knows what we will look like when this is all over. “Sea Isle is a strange town,” my father says as we drive down through the shore towns; I am wont to agree with him. Norway is struck by a bombing and mass shooting; we listen on the radio as Obama announces that the debt talks have broken down. “How can anyone support the Republican party?” my dad says. My Libertarian friends on Facebook rile me up again. (I find Libertarians insufferable: I’m sorry but I do.) By Saturday I have had enough of It all: of the heat, of the news, of Libertarians, of the tourists, of my car as the air conditioning compressor breaks again. I want to just leave my hot car in the middle of the street and walk away.

I want to just walk away from it all.

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Posted in is, was by Rich on July 23, 2011

My ears have filled up with wax to drown out the sirens’ song (it often happens in the heat). Plug your oarsmen’s ears with beeswax kneaded soft; none of the rest should hear that song. But what song am I so afraid of, sailor? I dig at the wax with my nail but make no progress. I am deaf. I am the walking drowned.

One spring, I got a ringing in my right ear so intense, I thought: “This must surely be a brain tumor.” I was young then, and a beautiful fool. I decided I would, after seeing the doctor and touching upon the diagnosis, go into my class of beautiful, young things, tell them I was dying, that I was quitting teaching to travel the world before the Silence fell. How would they feel? I would tell them not to cry for me. (But in the phantasy I imagined them crying for me.)

The doctor said, “Not a brain tumor. Wax. Big ol’ ball of it. Ye’ll need ta soften it up first before we can extract it proper. Use these drops. Come back in a few days.”

But wax? But from where? Have I flown too close to the sun again, father?

A few days later I returned to the office, held a cup up to my ear as the gruff doctor squirted warm water into the canal. The wax ball dislodged, dropped into the basin like a piece of waxen ear-fruit (kerplop!).

He smiled: “Yer can keep it if ya like. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

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Posted in is, was by Rich on July 18, 2011

Mom says that every spring her mother would instruct her on the taking of dandelion tea: of fresh dandelion roots steeped in hot water.

“It helps to thin the blood. The blood gets thick in the winter and must be thinned out when the sunnier weather arrives.”

Now, in the spring/on the shelves of the Shoprite, mom searches for the same.

In the seventeenth century, it was believed that the overuse of hot caffeinated drinks, thought to soften the body, would lead to a “general feminization of the human race” (Foucault, Madness and Civilization 170). Foucault quotes: “Woe to the human race, if this prejudice extends its reign to the common people; there will be no more plowmen, artisans, soldiers, for they will soon be robbed of the strength and vigor necessary to their profession.”

So, too, I think, standing in line at the Starbucks for my iced, unsweetened green tea. Watching the hordes and hipsters sipping their foamy, creamy beverages. Their whipped cream delicacies. Do we realize how absurd we all look? Madness and civilization, indeed! I see Max, a former student, waiting for his order. “Working this summer, Max?” He says not. “Gotta be a functioning member of society,” I say. He knows, he knows –– so he’s been told. Yes; it is a thing to say. He carries his frothy load out and we bump elbows in parting.

Outside; through the glass I see there is an anabolic grandpa preening without his shirt on. It is a grotesque display in a way that –– one cannot look away. Every hair from his bloated, overworked-out, protein-wheyed torso plucked and polished to a state of the hyperreal. And he must be at least fifty. (My order is called.) What kind of a society?…

My hand closes around the sweating, cold tea. Without consideration, an errant pinky stretches itself outward ––



Posted in is by Rich on July 13, 2011

Everyone says it is very hot and very humid, but here on the Island it feels all right. I meet Caroline at the Arts Center on Monday for a free screening of Rear Window. She says, “Remember when New York used to be affordable,” as if we could actually remember. We sit outside, and she is very pregnant and looks so tired (her eyes begging for something to give). She says she’s always tired now, and lifts up her feet to show me her painfully swollen ankles and red manicured toenails.

We talk about school and our summer classes. There is a breeze. Didn’t we maybe sit here when we were just teenagers come over from the middle school? Just thirteen or fourteen or so? Did we leave behind bits of those people here for later? For when we would need.

Caroline says that she might not go back to teaching at the college after the baby comes; says she’s had enough, and I understand that, I do. Perhaps I am pregnant with something and will give birth this year and not go back either. Everything must change, but still –– a part of me feels like the child in her is a time bomb, ticking, and that when it goes off, that will be a new end to our friendship. Will we still be able to sit here, just the two of us, catching a bit of summer breeze and quiet after a free film? (I almost imagine a tug from some phantom infant on her pant leg, and it startles me.)

My mom, too, feels she has lost her sister [my aunt] to my cousin’s children. She says, “It makes me very sad, but I need to realize that my sister [my aunt] is gone (at least for the next decade or so), and that we won’t be able to meet for lunch like we did, or go shopping like –– or coffee. I need to say yes to myself and to invitations from other people. I need to go out.”

And I have felt like this, too: like I desperately need to get all new friends like one might decide that he has nothing to wear and so can’t go out. (But you understand what I mean, married friends and friends with children; you understand. Just as you needed to seek out other married friends and babied friends, so, too, must I seek.) It’s like a survival instinct has been triggered, but I feel too lazy to socialize (I’ve always loathed July; who wants to make new friends in July? and like Alex used to say, “It’s too hot for other bodies about,”) and it’s too hot to be bothered the next day [Tuesday] –– and I text Karen that next night: “Will you be terribly sad if I don’t make it over tonight? The heat has me feeling rather unsocial,” and she says, yes, “Terribly,” but understands, I’m sure.

Instead, I stay at home and think about writing, but can’t write anything. I watch Grand Hotel. I fix myself a Pimm’s Cup with leftovers from the wedding in April. A whole new life, one thinks; and it would be so easy. To discard all of this, this apartment with the disposable IKEA furniture, and the job without a contract, and everything and just –– just GO. (It is very exciting, so much so that I need to sit down, to steady myself.)

(To just run away…)

But not in July.

July is no kind of month for anything.

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Posted in is by Rich on July 13, 2011

“Mom, did you hear that the Susquehanna is now the most endangered river in America? I read it in an article.”

She looks down at the ground and becomes very quiet and very small a moment; I have told her this because I know what she will say; and then she says it: “Your grandfather used to say –– ”

Yes, I know, I know, I think. (But I want the story told again, as if it will bring him back and bring back the river, too. Bring all of it back.)

” –– that for some reason, he thought Susquehanna was…”

What is the most beautiful.

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Posted in is by Rich on July 11, 2011

I was saying to someone recently, while I was working at my dad’s law office, as has apparently become my custom this summer (to estivate at the customhouse on Fridays), that being an English teacher, like my mom & I both are –– as my etymology professor had once said that The sons of linguists all become lawyers, and the sons of lawyers, linguists –– that we were all in the business, the profession, (my family, that is) of language and its interpretation.

Except for sister.

Sister, you see, is in sound (a recording engineer); has rebelled against the Linguists of South Jersey and fled to the musicians in the Hudson River Valley.

There, she listens to the acoustics in the old church where she records new groups.

She listens to the silence in her small attic apartment at night.

Listens to the conspiracy of mosquitoes on the porch.

Listens to the secret rain.

She calls to hear our mom’s voice on the phone.

I’m so alone here, she almost says, but knows that mom will over-analyze those four words and interpret them to mean that she isn’t happy, thus defeated.

Like the linguists, the sound engineer, whose business is to record that which is most beautiful, is a beautiful occupation, which also makes it a useful one.

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