the life of richie

TO LOVE WHAT IS MORTAL

Posted in is by Rich on September 29, 2011

On the same day that Gerri is having half her liver removed and my twenty-year friendship with Goli is coming to an end, Caroline gives birth to a girl; to Gigi.

At Stockton I run into a former student. He says, “I heard Gerri was sick,” and I explain. He does not look at me while I am relating the prognosis and explaining the course of treatment (surgery; six weeks for the liver to regenerate; six months of chemo); he looks sideways and down at the ground. “She’ll be ok,” I tell him. Joni calls later to report that the surgery had gone better than expected; that Gerri might be released on Saturday and not next Tuesday as was first thought.

Joni says: that what they took from Gerri was the size of a nectarine; a deadly nectarine. Like defusing a bomb, they took it carefully from my friend, and patted themselves on the back when the work was done.

And then: this thing with Gol happened. I write to Linda: Tonight, Goli and I had a falling out. I fear it is irreparable, perhaps. Perhaps she has become a toxic asset herself [as she used to manage]. We just have different ideas about the world: we look outside and see different worlds. I am disgusted by what she sees, and I think she must think what I see is a naive version of things (too idealistic, perhaps). So I just –– told her that, so I didn’t end up hating her, I couldn’t talk to her for awhile. This has been building for several years now: ever since she “retired” to sit around on her gold investments, savagely protecting her way of life by shoving the weak on to the pyre in her place, I think. So I told her I didn’t think I could talk to her for awhile: for a few months or a few years. Maybe forever.

(“So that I don’t end up hating you, you see: and so, goodbye.”)

The doctors grab onto the tumor and wrest it from the host. Is that tumor a part of us, then (homegrown), or just a foreign entity that takes up unlawful residence? (And when did this thing inside me turn into something else, into something hostile? Was it insidious, always there; or were there environmental factors that triggered its malignant genesis? –– the recession maybe; when you left the hedgefund after the economy had collapsed?) But what is done must be done: it is survival. And when it is done, we are weak; exhausted.

Caroline texts early in the morning to tell me the news: Will save you the horror story details! I have been in the hosp. since monday. @ 11:07 tonight, gigi katherine l–– was a successful vaginal birth! she’s perfect!

I call her and she says they were about to perform a c-section when Gigi, determined, pressed her head out into the world, and the midwife said, “Are you ready to push?” and Caroline pushed. And then it was done. And she was here. And she was perfect.

To Linda: I’ve been thinking about Caroline and the new baby and have been overwhelmed with a happiness –– I don’t even know why (the world seems so wicked anymore); somehow, though, a new baby still seems to offer up a hope for something, for something greater than ourselves even…

And Linda, she writes, Mary Oliver says it best in her poem “In Blackwater Woods”:

…you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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IN LOVE & FLASH MOBS

Posted in is, was by Rich on September 10, 2011

PROLOGUE

My sister has moved to Stabbytown, I remember writing to Elizabeth. She has taken two small rooms in a row house on Christian Street. She is living with musicians. My mother prays for her daily.

That same year, my sister came to visit me in London, where I was studying. She assured me that the crack addicts only shoot at each other and you just needed to know which streets to walk down and which ones to avoid. “I love Philly,” she admitted. “Tell mom not to worry. You will tell mom not to worry, won’t you?

And I did. But two years later my sister was moving out to L.A., and I was telling our mother, Pray harder, mother.

Pray faster.

***

IN LONDON (August 11, 2011)

This week, the week the riots erupted, I can’t stop singing The Smiths.

Panic on the streets of London,
Panic of the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself…

My friends in Hackney send out flares on Facebook. My friend’s husband calls for the GMQ hoodie mobs to disperse, insisting ––

This is terrorism. This is war. If you are wearing a hoodie out there tonight you are a target, let’s just hope you find that bullet with your name on it.

This is not the London I knew.

The London I knew was always like an old man: an old man constantly trying on new ways. I would sit, in my tiny room at Langton Close, and read and write and go out with my Hackney friend to the corner pub. It was all so quiet and civilized. There is, for everyone, as someone once said, a city which represents one’s interior state. I thought for me that, that place was London –– just as for my sister it must be Philly.

But now the rioters erupt inside of him like a cancer. They burn down his organs and blush the broken capillaries of his usually stolid countenance. How long had it been growing, this disease inside of him? Had it been there even the year I was living there, while I was laughing it up in the pub? (Yes, I’m sure of it now.) “There’s going to be riots, there’ll be riots,” said one man after the youth club closures, a week before. Austerity measures –– you understand.

Now horders smash into an affluent restaurant in Notting Hill and rob the patrons.

A Victorian furniture store in South London is burned.

At a different time and in a different city, a woman once said: Tell the Wind and Fire where to stop. (As written by a man living in the Capital.)

Baseball bats are selling out on Amazon UK as the citizens arm themselves. How strange, I think; baseball bats.

Could life ever be sane again?

***

IN PHILADELPHIA (August 9, 2011)

Karen and I travel through violent rain up the Expressway. Her cousin has just returned from South Africa. We are going out. It’s a Tuesday in the summer. We’re going out. “I hope we don’t encounter any flash mobs,” I say, lightly. We drive through flash floods to get to Philly, my sister’s City of Brotherly Love. My sister always did choose boyfriends who were mangy and somewhat troubled. Still, unlike her ex-boyfriends, I now see what she sees in this place. She is up in the Hudson Valley but still keeps a room for herself in a house in West Philly, “the Cambridge of Eastern Pennsylvania.” I see it now, little sister, though it took awhile… As Karen and I sit at St. Stephen’s Green, sipping pints. The weather, after the deluge, is so clean.

The weekend before, of the flash mobs, the Mayor had said: “They’re lawless. They act with ignorance. They don’t care about anybody else, and their behavior is outrageous. Well, we’re not going to tolerate that.” Curfews have gone into effect. Freud reminds us: “When individuals come together in a group all their individual inhibitions fall away and all the cruel, brutal and destructive instincts, which lie dormant in individuals as relics of a primitive epoch, are stirred up to find free gratification.”

The rain returns. There will be no flash mobs, only flash flooding, tonight. Karen and I rush from Spring Garden Street to The Dandelion, an Englishy pub on 18th and Sampson. There, Karen’s cousin meets us, and we have shandies & such. There is some talk of the violence, both here and abroad. Everyone in the world, it would seem, is angry. Even the earth itself is angry, and two weeks later will send earthquake, hurricane, and mudslides to try to destroy us. No such luck, and after the hurricane: So much for that!

One rioter reports: “No one has ever given me a chance. I am just angry at how the whole system works.”

We don’t need Mommy Earth. We don’t need mere Mommy. We will buy our bats and tear each other apart ourselves: we will do it ourselves.

***

EPILOGUE

In Los Angeles, in 1965, following five days of rioting in the Watts neighborhood, a commission formed to investigate the disturbance published a report, insisting at one point, “It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens.”

So much for that.

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THE SURFER BOYS (JERKS NEXT DOOR)

Posted in is by Rich on September 10, 2011

Dad says: the jerks next door moved out. They left their junk on the curb.

I look at the barricade: evicted mattresses piled up, getting wet in the rain; mattresses stained with summer sweat and suntan oils where the surfer boys would pass out after endless days spent at the beach and half-naked nights spent on the porch drinking, when they would scream to people on the street, “I take it up the ass!” Furniture: high chairs with palm tree patterns, a bureau; home appliances: a vacuum cleaner. How often did the surfer boys keep house, I wonder. I imagine the little blond one in a moment of domestic servitude, vacuuming in his slouchy board shorts, unsure about what he is doing even. Turn it on. Turn it on and it goes. Just pass it over the dirt. Over the spilled spliff. Over the cereal bobs. Suck it up. Suck it up and see.

The porch, which once was a mess with a big gas grill and dead beer bottles and surf/skate boards and towels and cast-off clothes, now is nothing. It looks so clean; so clean and peaceful. So empty and clean. The end of their endless summer. The sense of an ending. And where did they end up, I wonder. Where: like convicts taking off one afternoon (they would have slept in, after all; never get up before noon, unless it was to get in a quick surf, and then go back to bed), just throwing everything out the window, off the porch, getting into one of their trucks blinded with the Billabong stickers in the rear windshield, and then gone. The surfer boys, who must now have to return to the world of shoes and shirts (maybe late for their Return), now do they enter the world that I know. Sometimes I would see them on the porch and think, “That was never my life,” and “I was never that young,” and not in a regretful way, just in a way that made me realize, “I was always too old to play as kids play. To party like that. To have that life. To want it, even.”

One imagines, though, seeing all of the exfoliated refuse shed like an itchy skin, sloughed off onto the sidewalk, about their life; about their inner lives. There must have been something more beating beneath the taut, tanned torsos next door. There must have been some fleshier truth there. One looks at the chairs and the mattresses and the vacuum cleaner. One looks closer. Squinting a bit.

One imagines and…

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