When I first met Richard, I knew he was a little different from the rest of our crowd. For one thing, he had a trust fund. It’s sort of like being on welfare, but you get paid a lot more. The way he acted, though, you never realized how much money he had because he never made a big deal out of it. He would take a trip with no real notice. One day he’d be there, and the next day he’d be in Mexico or Peru, visiting friends or relatives, or just going on a whim. He always had a nice car, but not a fancy one. And he owned his own house, something no one in my crowd had, not yet anyway; it was a fine brownstone up near the park he had inherited from his grandmother.
Most of us were confined to crowding into cheap apartments with roommates we hardly knew. Whenever I visited him in his house, I would notice that his walls had real trim around the windows and doors. A weird thing to notice for sure, but my apartment had no finished work on the walls, beige wall-to-wall from the home supply store, and cheap trim around the doors, covered with layers of paint. My place looked like what it was, a cheap apartment in a shaky section of town – no crack houses, but close. I’d known him since college, and money alone was not enough to set Richard apart; he had presence. Maybe it came from having money, maybe not, maybe he was just born with it; he was different.
He sends me a text message that morning, wondering if I’m up to anything. “No. Y?” He wants to come over, and about an hour later is at my place with a six pack. We turn on the TV and find a Sci Fi channel; neither of us is into sports. We like campy sci fi – the campier the better. Dr. Who is about as good as it gets, and there’s an old one on, an early Dr. Who with the cute blonde sidekick. They’re fighting the Darleks – again.
We sit and watch, making short comments on the show. Richard is the only friend I have who will sit and watch a Sci Fi show with me and not treat me like I am an idiot. We talk during commercials, and sometimes during a mellow part of the show, unless the blonde is on – then we watch her with respect. I sometimes mute the commercials because I think they have to be the cheapest cable channels out there for advertisement. Judging from some of the commercials, I’d say it costs about a dollar a minute. We talk about the new Sci Fi shows – sometimes now they spell it “syfy,” which is totally gay. They want to get all upscale and edgy. Like it’s real or something – bad idea if you ask me. People like Sci Fi because it isn’t real – comic books too, not real, don’t try to make them real with a lot of “back story”, a waste of time. We have a few beers while we watch TV. It’s one of those days where neither of us feels like doing much of anything.
After a couple hours of this, we decide to go for a walk around the neighborhood. It’s not the best section of town, but it’s safe. We walk past the Korean grocery store and stop at the Greek place for gyro. The few chairs are taken, so we walk down the street, eating our sandwiches, and ending up at the park. It’s a nice day, and people are out jogging or just hanging out. A group of young mothers is near the swing sets. Their older kids are on the swings – some have really young ones in strollers taking naps. One has a baby on her lap who’s having a snack from her breast. Richard points to her.
“Remember last summer when that cop arrested some woman for breastfeeding?” he says.
“Right. He charged her with indecent exposure. What an asshole.”
“That was one huge demonstration,” he reminds me.
“I remember. The TV news guys were all here too. Even CNN showed up.”
“The mayor even came down here and apologized.”
“It was an election year,” I remind him.
“They pay more attention in an election year.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” I say, “feed the kid if he’s hungry. It’s better than listening to him scream.”
“Not to mention you can’t possibly see enough tits,” Richard says, laughing.
“That too, Richard, that too, I’m always in favor of tits. Hell, they have nude beaches in France on the Riviera.”
Richard smiles. Unlike me, he has actually been to the Riviera – many times, along with Buenos Aries, Rio, Antigua, St. Kits, and any other great place you could think of. But it’s Richard, and he doesn’t mention a thing – instead he pokes me in the side and we keep walking. Tossing our food wrappers in the garbage can, we head across the park. Some of the young mothers give him the eye as we walk by, and Richard smiles and nods at them. I smile too, but they don’t see me.
“I went to Peru, to Cusco, to look at the ruins. Machu Picchu. Pretty wild stuff. Amazing how they carried those stones up to that mountaintop and then cut them like that,” Richard says.
“Some guy wrote a book about how extraterrestrials did it.”
“He’s full of shit. It was just a bunch of people like you and me, only they had a purpose. Same thing that made people build the huge Cathedrals in Europe, or the Pyramids, or anything big like that: a purpose. Not like us. We haven’t got a clue as to what the fuck we’re doing here.” He sounds wistful.
“I guess I have a purpose,” I reply.
“What? To work a crap job and watch Sci Fi all day?”
“It’s what I do,” I say very evenly, because he’s pissed me off.
“Sorry,” he says. “I can’t afford to piss you off; you’re one of the only friends I’ve got.” This really gets me because I think Richard must have friends all over the world. “What I meant was that they looked outside of themselves and worked together; they had a real cosmic dimension to their lives that we don’t have, and we laugh at anyone who does.”
“I don’t know. A lot of people go to church and stuff.”
“Only to save their own souls, not because they care at all about anyone else. Or just to show everyone how holy they are.”
“Maybe. Not all of them though,” I say.
“Okay, you’re right; not everyone’s a hypocrite.” He doesn’t sound convinced. “I like the fact that you don’t let me get away with anything. People cut me way too much slack, let me get away with too much.” He puts his arm around me and gives me a squeeze.
Again, I’m surprised. This is the first time Richard has ever referred to the fact that he has money, even obliquely. We wander in the direction of the big park in the center of town, just making small talk and joking about the weird people we see. Richard points out a famous director wearing old jeans and a faded khaki shirt. We nod to him; he nods back, looking a little scared for a moment. Some tranny is standing on the sidewalk wearing a yellow boa and holding two yippy dogs on a leash. I say that some people just didn’t get enough attention when they were kids. Richard laughs. After a while, I’m surprised at how far we’ve walked. We stop and look at the sidewalk vendors and Richard buys a corny drawing of a city landmark. The guy rolls it up, puts it in a cardboard tube, and wraps it like it’s a Michelangelo.
“You like it?” he asks me.
“It’s okay,” I answer.
“You’re being polite.”
“Okay, it sucks.”
“The guy looked hungry, though.”
“He was real happy you bought his drawing,” I agree. We walk farther, then cut into the park. We take a winding path past the fountain, and end up near Richard’s Brownstone. It’s been in his family for three generations. He got it when he turned 21.
“Come on in for a minute, okay?”
“Sure.” I haven’t been in his house for a while. We climb the stairs, and he opens the heavy oak door with the large “C” engraved in the middle panel. The place smells like wood and furniture oil – like a museum or a library. The last time I was here was when Richard threw a party. It was a lot of fun until someone made a pig out of himself like it was the first time he’d had good booze; he probably did a bunch of drugs, too. He had to be taken to the hospital, and that was the end of a decent party. The guy sued Richard, as if he had personally poured the liquor down the asshole’s throat. He didn’t get too far, but Richard had to pay him some money to go away and had no more parties after that. The place is the same as I remembered it: oak and chestnut woodwork, oak parquet floors, and plenty of fancy trim. The house is neat, if a little dusty. All the wood makes it a little dark, even on a bright day like this one. He goes into the kitchen to get us something to drink. I go to the living room, turn on his giant TV, and find a good movie, something watchable on HBO.
“I’ve got the latest Dr. Who and Torchwood on DVR,” he says, coming into the room with two beers. “They’re straight from Britain, haven’t been aired here yet.”
“Cool. You’ll have to work it, though,” I say, pointing to the three remotes sitting on the table.
He picks one up and pushes a few buttons. The TV goes black and a Torchwood episode starts up. We watch in silence for a while, and then he says something really weird,with the strange edge he’s had all day. It’s about halfway through a show when he asks me if I have many friends. I say I have a few, not as many as in college, but I still keep in touch with a group. Then he asks if any of them ask me for money. I laugh out loud.
“Where would I get any money?” I ask. “I did lend a few dollars to Billy once when he couldn’t make his motorcycle payment, but he gave it back to me the next month.”
Richard smiles and gets us a couple more beers. He orders two large pizzas from the corner pizzeria and we finish them both while watching every episode he’s recorded.
“I think I like Sci Fi because you know everything is going to work out some way,” Richard says. Even if it gets edgy, you know that somehow, it will all work out. Mysteries are like that too.”
“Well, some of them don’t. Look at The Invasion of the Body Snatchers; it’s scary in the end,” I point out.
“That’s more of a horror story than real Sci Fi, and it’s political – at least, the original was.”
“Yeah,” I say, even though I’m not sure I agree with him.
We’re quiet as the last show winds up. It’s pretty late, and since I have to work the next day, I get up to leave and tell him that I’ll see him around. He pats me on the shoulder and gives me a hug. I leave, splurging on a cab – the bus is way too creepy late at night.
Work gets pretty hectic, and I don’t get a chance to see anyone for a few days, so when I see his photo in the paper, I immediately read the story. “Heir to ‘Old Money’ Commits Suicide.” Richard was found dead by his cleaning lady. The coroner said he had been dead for a couple of days. He’d been found sitting on his couch with an empty bottle of sleeping pills, a few empty beer bottles, and two empty pizza cartons.
The story says there was no note.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Zeppetello is the author of the forthcoming title, Daring to Eat a Peach, a novel to be published by Atticus Books in November of 2010. He is the Director of Writing at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and lives in the Catskill Mountains.
Photo Source: Plus Magazine