the life of richie

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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