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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MOSAIC

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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IN THE OVEN

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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