the life of richie


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


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.



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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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 was by Rich on July 7, 2010

26 DECEMBER 2007

Arrived in London yesterday amidst pleasant drizzle. Staying at the Sloane Sq. Hotel. Took a taxi through Hyde Park. Dined at Al-dar Lebanese on King’s Road. Difficult to be back in the Capital. Was so indecently happy here two years ago.

28 DECEMBER 2007

Took a train to Cardiff. Staying at St. David’s Spa on the Bay w/ view of Red Dragon. Lunched at Harry Ramsden, fish & chips. Walked around. Drank w/ dad & Rach. Smoked too many fags. Sick this a.m.

29 DECEMBER 2007

No coffee yet. At the Abbey in Penally, Wales. Lovely.


In Bath. Dinner @ Crystal Palace. Walked around. Waitrose for chocolate. Vicar of Dibley w/ fam.

31 DECEMBER 2007

Again in London. Staying on Edgeware Rd. Dinner last night at Turkish rest. Today: museums?



Posted in is, was by Rich on February 14, 2010

The film streams instantly on the little laptop on top of his hot lap, streaming and purring like a hot electric kitty. Audrey Tautou plays a girl obsessed with a doctor (cardiologist). Rich remembers a poem he wrote as an undergraduate, about a heart patient in a similar situation, written when he was in love with a doctoral candidate at NYU. (And why You? (He can’t remember anymore –– isn’t that sad? That he has only the memory of it remembered, but can’t recall the cause, only a sympathy with the symptoms, a fondness for the side effects of the medication. But he remembers –– the mania in a milder strain than the chirpy French girl’s; Tautou with her delicate bird-like bone structure, all her clothes hanging from her wiry wings, so effortlessly chic (even as she writhes in erotomania: Ophelia Resurfacing –– and with a vengeance!). Rich remembers: leaving You poems in Your mailbox, the one underneath Jacques Derrida’s box. (Do You remember that? How Derrida came to lecture that year and your mailbox was right beneath his in the English Department? And You said once, “Derrida and I are mailbox neighbors.” And, oh! –– I liked that so much, what you said then! There were things You would later say that I would not like; but not then: then it was all, well –– life before the comma, I suppose!) Then Rich slipped into the coma (supposèd): life after. You said, “Do not leave me poems in my mailbox. (What would Derrida think?)” I wanted to ask him that myself: how to deconstruct this? How, Jacques, did we go from symbiosis to binary opposition?

––Vous êtes toujours la diffèrance, je pense.

––C’est vrai –– c’est ça; that’s it, Jacques. En effet. The gap in the text was just in my chest. (Tu jestes.)

Years later, Rich would have a dream; dreamt last night that some students wanted to make a Xerox copy of my heart; asked to borrow it; I consented. Woke up in the dream with my mom in a glass room (like the bell jar underwhich the little plant grows, little plant dies in the Tautou film) watching a science fair fare down below. There, down below (underneath/which), one of his students held something. Mom had asked, “Is that a human heart?” At that moment, in the dream (under the) –– my heart seized –– when I realized, they’d taken the original; left no receipt. (That was going to be a poem.) The ink stained the four-chambered nautilus-device. I remember you said you liked that phrase; that it was worth the lot of that first fist of fever (thanks alot). Four-chambered nautilus-device: tattooed there.)

Tautou here: tears up the house; the bell jar broken, and she tears out the tiny tree –– little plant deracinated –– exterminate. Rich was driving earlier and, for a moment, thought about crashing into a parked car. But just for a moment; and didn’t; and just to feel the metal contact the metal. Audrey Tautou’s character in this is the anti-Amélie: a girl undone by her own fantasies; that is why he and his friend Elizabeth found Amélie so déspérant: a girl abandoned to her own imagination, cast-out of the material world. (He is falling asleep. (Have the children taken it, then? Will they come for it in the night?) In the hypnagogic hallucinations that presage sleep,) he remembers that old maladie du cœur:

They say that in recovery one’s individual senses are heightened…
Sweet doctors attend me, brushing their candied instruments to my lips ––
And I taste –– the medicine strange and not unlike the sickness…

And I taste ––

But I will not will myself to walk, to stand from the bed in dressing gown
and run rampant down the hall, crying, “I am cured!” ––

I will not will myself to well.

Because, in recovery, there is always the chance the sickness will again
overtake my body –– that you will steal me away into fever.
The beautiful surgeons attending the heart donor’s procedure,
after the cyst has been wrested from the host, stroke my forehead, telling,
“You can come home with me in the morning, beautiful young artist…”

But when they are gone ––

at night when the staff has slipped from my hospital cell, I vomit up their pills,
pull tubes from my testicles, spring (potent) back into scourge,
the masochistic desire for the disease the disease the disease…

And I wonder when or if you will relapse
to steal me away
into your tenderest affliction.



Posted in is, was by Rich on February 12, 2010

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Posted in is, was by Rich on February 1, 2010

One time, before the new neighbors had moved in and when the nextdoor house was empty that one winter, the nextdoor driveway froze over once after a storm. Richie and his sister called it “the skating rink” and would beg mom everyday that week to let them run nextdoor to go skating.

(To be clear, “skating” denoted slipping across the ice on their boots; the rink itself just a grotesque patch of splotched ice.)

But when they were kids, though, there was a really real skating rink at the Carousel hotel in Ocean City, Maryland, where their families would go (Mommie and Daddie and their friends and friends’ kids) every President’s weekend for years and years. They would take the ferry and get delicious split hotdogs on toasty buns and play card games and then retrieve the car and drive through Dehyeaware and drive and drive until reaching the Carousel!

The skating rink was in the center of the dark hotel, and rather than a beach view, Richie and his sister would beg and beg for an outside-windowless view of the inside skating rink. They would sit on the floor outside their hotel room and watch all the horsey-faced skaters go round and round the rink; and at least once during the weekend would rent skates and go skating round-round themselves (well, with Mommie).

In retrospect, the romance of ice skating seems lost on Rich; his wobbly six-foot-three lanky frame does not take to the idea of thin, sharp blades attached to tight-fitting shoes anymore. He was fearless when he was five; as he grew, he perhaps grew more self-conscious, or less interested in going round and round in circles. Having been once in the center, he is content –– to stay off the rink; to spectate now; to observe. He prefers ice clinking in a tumbler now. Ice clinking, swirling round and round.

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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 was by Rich on November 15, 2009




Posted in is, was by Rich on October 30, 2009

When he was little, his mom would take him to the cemetery to play. Some parents took their kids to the park; we never went to the park. In the cemetery at the Head of the River, they would make rubbings of the tombstones: run the led pencil across and across the grave until the name and date were announced through the white breath of the vellum. Looking back on it he would think that, maybe that was odd; but now when he goes to cemeteries, he does not think of death and endings: he thinks of being a child, of no worries before the advent of possibilities which breed limitations. He would think of that liminal space: between nothingness and consciousness, when, as a toddler, one’s memories are just vague rubbings themselves.

Last night, at the Halloween parade, Lori’s baby watched the firetrucks go by, and when he closed his eyes, Rich said, “You know he won’t remember it,” but Lori said, “But he’ll enjoy it now,” his little eyes all staring and staring at the flashing red, the little guy all dressed up in his snuggly monkey costume. When he was in preschool, his mom made him a Snoopy costume; everyone at preschool hugged Richie, because he was huggable and snuggly; he chased them around barking.

Sometimes he imagines himself back in the cemetery where things were never sad.

For book club this week, they’ve read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which makes Rich feel very safe, just as the ghosts warn Nobody Owens (the protagonist) not to leave the graveyard where it is unsafe. He thinks again of his online students: they are like ghosts themselves. Is he teaching in a graveyard this term, with them? Someone in one class said it was like we weren’t really real people, and maybe that student meant like we were really wraiths and not living, just a “degradation of wraiths”, then. Nobody [Owens] wants to go out into the world (into a biliothèque, to be more specific) just to sit in a room and read books and listen to people breathing; that is what is lacking in online education. That is why Rich agrees, there is something so essential about having to go out into the world, to sit in a room with other human beings and listen to them, to their breathing. To just be among the living; like when Rich stops at Walmart to buy his rubber boots (his Wellies, but the woman rings them up as “rubber boots”), and there is the degradation of human beings, but human beings in all our messy, fleshy humaniness are we. (Though Rich wishes he had taken two Lexapro before deciding to stop at Walmart; he had not been to Walmart in years and years before last Tuesday.)

They sit around Sarah’s table gobbling up delicious sandwiches and wraps. Rich reads out bits from his notebook: “I wrote down death is the great democracy on page 29; I liked that line.”

Someday he will go back to the cemetery to play; but not for a long time yet. There’s still a lot.

Taimi brings out the pumpkin cake she’s made. There’s still pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.