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The Ghost of Ricky Smith

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Ghost of Ricky Smith

Jesus, Ricky, forgive me.  I've started a blog.

Ricky Smith was sort of a jackass, minus the "sort of" part, a thorough pain in the ass to be around, never shut up, and rarely did he comment on anything not directly involving himself and his own brand of personal pain.  Ricky once did an excruciatingly uncomfortable hour-long spoken word performance in a coffee shop, in which he, among other things, sodomized a blowup doll with a flashlight while simultaneously simulating injecting her with heroin and railing against the press and government.  This was part of a talent show, in which everyone else read a poem for about five minutes.  That was the kind of guy Ricky was.

I met Ricky in grad school in Miami, 2005.  Pushing fifty, he was an old New York junkie, withered, weathered, wretched and ragged, who could make my oft surly disposition downright pleasant to be around by comparison.  You never conversed "with" Ricky as much as you were talked at.  Ricky was like that Kristin Wig character on Saturday Night Live, the one who can always outdo any tragedy.  If you knew someone who caught swine flu while fishing in the Keys, Ricky knew someone who contracted Ebola in a Turkish prison.  But I liked the guy.

I didn't get to know Ricky that well until my second wife pulled the proverbial rug out from under, leaving me on Easter Sunday to stay behind and fuck one of my oldest friends in Houston.  We shared a similar background, Ricky and I, and when I was at the breaking point, couldn't take it anymore, he was a sympathetic shoulder.

Ricky hated a lot of things, including, among others, Miles Davis, Catcher in the Rye, sunny days, rainbows, and laughing children.  But above all, perhaps, Ricky hated blogs.

"Everyone with fucking fingers has a fucking blog these days," Ricky said one night in class, dragging out the word "blog" to mimic retching.  "Fucking pissing out their mouths, like everyone needs to hear their every thought.  It's not writing; it's blogging.  Don't talk to me about blogging.  I don't want to hear it.  I fucking hate it, makes writing seem easy.  And writing's not easy.  It's fucking hard work."

Ricky died the next year, complications from a hard life, found dead on his bed, in front of his computer, post rigor mortis fingers curled on the keyboard, working on his still unfinished life's story.  We included an excerpt in my final issues as editor of the grad school's lit magazine.

But I still see him around.  Not in the "oh, his soul lives on" kind of way, or the hippy "we're part of the wind" crap.  I mean, I see him, or rather guys who look just like him, the beaten down, the broken, the angry-pushing-50-something-wasted-life guys, with the same lachrymose soul bleeding dread and despair, sloughing down dirty city streets, in search of a fix or a fuck or whatever temporary relief they can find, in their ragtag flannels and unwashed jeans, pulling up lame outside some residential hotel, faces carrying more years than can be measured by calendars, and to look in their eyes, it's like Bruce says: they're the ones who hate for just being born.  And every time I see one of these guys, I'll text my buddy from grad school, C-Love, and say, "I just saw the ghost of Ricky Smith..."  And a couple days later I'll get a text or e-mail back, saying, "Me too."  Which isn't a surprise, because once you start looking, you see guys like that everywhere.


At June 26, 2011 at 11:19 AM , Blogger Petronius said...

I knew Ricky growing up, we went to grammar school, junior high, high school together - lived in the same apartment complex, mothers were best friends. He always had a chip on his shoulder, I didn't find out until years later it was because his stepfather used to, among other things, make him strip naked, pick up lint off the carpet while getting beaten with a wire hanger. I asked Ricky - why the hell didn't you tell me any of that stuff, after all the shit we went together? He said, "I thought I put it behind me." Of course, his mother finally shot the bastard. When Ricky got into heroin, we didn't know anything about the drug - it was Ricky's first real girlfriend who introduced him to it, and I guess we just thought it was something else, didn't realize it was a life changer that it was - the end of everything. And ironically enough, Ricky didn't really straighten out until his mother died. I guess there was no reason to keep killing himself if there was no one to left to punish. I last saw him in 2005, his goodbye tour I guess, but no one at the time knew that that was that.

We (his old friends) read his book - I for one was sorry he never finished the one he was working on since that was about growing up. And THAT would have been an interesting story - all those friends of ours who died in high school. They dropped like flies - at one point I counted 12 people we knew who had died from drugs or booze. You go to graveyards, you see all the teenagers who died in the early 70's, it's an eerie experience - didn't anyone connect the dots?

Anyway, it's interesting to hear from someone else who knew Ricky later in life. Doesn't seem like he changed too much - the year before he got into heroin I remember Ricky as one unhappy human being. We all were since none of us had a clue what we would do now that school was over. No jobs, no money no future. But, Ricky at least, ended up with some redemption at the end, I guess, in a bizarre sort of way.

At June 26, 2011 at 11:55 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Wow. Thanks for writing. Ricky was a tough guy to know, but like I said, I did have a soft spot for him. He was tortured, no doubt; I always wondered why. I knew his stepfather was an asshole, but I didn't know to the extent. I can't even imagine. My father and I didn't get along, but he never did anything like that, more of a butting heads and wills, I think. Again, thanks for taking the time to respond. Drugs suck, and they cost so much in the end. Even when you "get out," they exact a heavy heavy toll, and nothing is ever the same again.

At June 26, 2011 at 9:05 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

Yeah, well Ricky could be intense, but I knew him as well as anyone, up to the days when he went to NY to be a full time junkie. As I said, we thought it was just another drug, we had done everything else, so for him it was sort of a natural progression. And with the exception of one of the group - the guy identified as 'Lou' in Ricky's novel (have you read it? -if not I can send it - the one called 'Leaving Home') we for the most part didn't get as involved with dope as Ricky did. But that's not entirely true either. But in high school as I said, alot of guys died, including in bizarre ways - Gillan on 'hits' (cibas and medicine), another died on the Garden Stae Parkway after two or three quaaludes, "Bird" died of a brain hemorrage after too much meth, another drowned in an inner coastal canal in Fla., also quaaludes, another in the side of a motel in NY state - booze, another in a mental institution - bad reaction to major tranquilizers, but LSD got him there and early onset schizophrenia, and on and on and on - more I could name, That stuff is common, now but in the 70's it was brand new. It was 'Leave It to Beaver" before then and all of a sudden its the 70's and BAM! a new world.

Anyway I;ll get to it in the AM, some of it is interesting, but maybe not, as you say there are lots of Ricky's walking around. Maybe each has a unique story to tell but as you know junk has a way of making every story the same. Like in that John Waters film - before drugs lots of problems, after drugs, only one problem.

Anway, I can give you a short syopsis of pre-Florida Ricky, some of it is interesting. Such as Ricky's real father was a jnnkie in the 50's - Ricky met him years later when Ricky was working in a car wash - he ave him a $20 tip.. It's a god story I can promise you that, and it will take a few pages.

At June 26, 2011 at 9:44 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Yeah, I read a lot of Leaving Home. I was the editor of FIU's graduate literary magazine, GulfStream, and we published a selection posthumously. I know the junk story well, took away ten years of my life, and even when you kick, you don't come back unscathed... Y'know, they found him at his computer when he died. He was still working until the end, literally. He helped me through a pretty rough time. I'll always remember him for that.

At June 27, 2011 at 8:19 AM , Blogger Petronius said...

Well Ricky wasn't a saint, but as I said we always knew he had a chip on his shoulder, never could figure out why. I had to wait 15 years after knowing him - when we went through everything two friends growing up could go through together before finding out why he was so intense - and that was the story he was writing about when he died.

After hearing about Ricky's death I contacted the woman who found him - she sent me a copy of "Leaving Home" and two old friends were at her graduation party and said a few words about Ricky.

I have in front of me an article from the New York Times, circa 1979, entitled, "The Governor and His Commissioner." The article details an event that happened 14 years before that and a resulting..

"....confidential investigation that went back to the days when [about to be governor of New Jersey Brendon} Byrne was Essex County Prosecutor and handled the Richard Brody murder case. In 1965, Brody was shot and killed by his wife, Rona, after he had taken out a substantial life insurance policy with a double indemnity clause in the event of accidental death. The shooting was listed as accidental. ..This inference is based on a rather fragile network of facts."

Brody was the stepfather of course. Brody would alternate between extremes of kindness and brutality. As Ricky explained, Brody would either show up with a car trunk full of toys intent on something else. Ricky learned the sound of his car as it pulled in the driveway. Brody had a police scanner in his car and was later arrested for imitating a police officer - he took Ricky on some of his 'runs' where he would assist firemen or police, wherever the scanner led him. It was a bizarre situation. My parents were with Brody in Florida when he bought the gun that was later used to kill him - I understand that Brody would take it out at get togethers and point it at people for fun, including his wife.

Ricky was never told about what happened to his adopted father - one day Brody was there, the next he was being put in the ground. He told me that his feelings were mixed - joy at the fact that the monster was gone, and guilt, as if he somehow had something to do with it. We - his friends - knew what had happened and assumed he did as well, and it was by accident that we mentioned it to him. His take on it was that his mother did it intentionally to protect him, that the monster was slain to protect her son. Maybe...

And maybe that's enough as well - as I said Ricky wasn't a saint by any means, but he was capable of great kindness - he wouldn't hesitate to give you his last dime, and could torture you endlessly with his contrariness. So it doesn't surprise me that Ricky helped you out with dealing with something he struggled with right to the end.

At June 27, 2011 at 8:21 AM , Blogger Petronius said...

(Continued from above)

One other question I had is this - I was sent a copy of what was on Ricky's computer when he died, but it does not include what I was told by him is the significant work he had done on the new book. In his own words - from an e-mail he sent me (edited) in May of 2006:


"Funny you should mention those years right now because I'm in the middle of trying to zero in on that particular time. (Brody died when I was in the 3rd grade; I had Nelson, although that was her new name after she got married...Clune, that's it!) The 4th, 5th & 6th grades are just a little cloudy (I had Benenson, Handy & Ameral those years--and then I started getting into trouble. Man, this shit truly is hard work, but now at least I'm done with classes so I can put some time in for a couple of weeks, at least till the summer term starts (one more "writing" class left). Sometimes I just can't remember, or can't think, and sometimes I can think but not write...and getting it "right" is another headache altogether. Who knows? But as long as I can keep up with what I've been doing (20-30 pp per week), I'll be on target. I'm just starting on that night the cops caught Elliott and me decorating a tree with toilet paper (he reminded me of that in an e-mail). They were chasing me, threatening to shoot a 12 year-old kid in the back. The trick is making these trivialities sound interesting. I'm done teaching already. Apparently, there are certain words you cannot say in a Miami COMMUNITY COLLEGE classroom, like "ignorant." [edit]

Almost like high school anyway! Although, one should know when to just shut the fuck up and play the game, which I've never been too good at, and which is why education in this country is dying. No one cares about learning; what they want is entertainment in a country that approves of cheating, and as long as you get what you want. ("Where be mines?" is the operative phrasiology here) [edit] But real estate has gone so crazy around here that I could probably do better renting this place out [edit] and not having to work at all. At this point, I might be shopping around for a PhD program after this (Talahassee, perhaps?), or else go back to music school. Remember: Be a jerk 'an go to work...? I don't have any kids or any responsibilities like that, so I don't have to. All I have to do is hang on to this place. But Miami is quickly becoming uninhabitable. Someone asked me if I was going north this summer. I said I doubt it; last year cost a couple of grand and I didn't even have to pay for a room. But I did love seeing Jersey. If I do (if only for a week or two), I'll let you know. The WO Police finally came through with the report"


At June 27, 2011 at 8:22 AM , Blogger Petronius said...

(continued from above)

The question is - what happened to the incomplete manuscript? It's also mentioned in this earlier note:


Yeah, like my grandma says: No news is good news. If you're overwhelmed by all this 21st century bullshit in Mo-town, down here it's downright suffocating. The counter-culture has consumed itself; there's only the faintest trace discernable. Your assessment of FZ's blue-collar world-view is absolutely correct. He rags on the politacally correct ideologically dogmatic left (pervasive as it is in academia, which I'm consistently running afoul of), as bad as he rips right-wing evangelist Republicans. You really should get your hands on some of the later stuff ("Broadway the Hard Way" and "You Are What You Is"). If I were you I'd tell the kid: "Shut up and eat your meatloaf." In academia Rutgers is actually considered some kind of hot shit (my brother went there), and if you can get Ben in (at in-state prices) I'd jump on it. IT REALLY DOESN'T MATTER WHERE HE GOES. But you're the dad. The book is coming along, although I haven't worked on it since the term began (papers, poems, etc.), but I'm committed to getting it done this summer, or at least in some form of "completed" by the end of the year. My Lit Theory prof is looking at the first 85 pages this week and I've gotten some pretty good feedback from some colleages. But honestly Blake, I know it'll get done, but I actually like teaching and whatever happens (if "successful") is gravy. [edit] The whole "trying-to-get-published-thing" truly sucks and I really dread having to deal with it. the book, teaching, and oh yeah-- the tortures of the medical establishment, it's getting a little crazy. But if there's any kind of good news, I'll let you know. Say hi to the kids and whomever would give a shit. I think about you."


Is this stuff pure Ricky or what?
(continued from above)

In any event, I'll let some of his (and my) friends from the old days about your blog
since it is about Ricky after all. Thanks for putting this thing up it brought back some interesting memories. LOTS more stories here - I wish I could edit my post from late last night which could have been expressed lots better.

At June 27, 2011 at 8:36 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Yeah. That's Ricky, all right. I can almost hear him talking... I REALLY appreciate your taking the time out to write this. The girl who found him and his stuff, Laura, was a classmate of ours, and perhaps Ricky's biggest fan. I can ask her about the missing pages. I will also reach out to one of his old profs, Dan, who might know.

It's funny reading what Ricky says about publishing. It sounds so much like me! Which isn't too weird, for as unique as junkies (and ex-junkies) think they are, they really are a type.

I actually considered calling this whole blog "The Ghost of Ricky Smith" because he was such a part of its being born.

And he lucky to have a friend like you. He didn't have many of those down in FLA, and I always wondered if he had any true ones left anywhere. It's nice to know he did, and that he had someone he could confine in and that he wasn't as lonely as I thought.

Be well, and stay in touch (Blake?)...


At June 27, 2011 at 2:42 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

The name is right - I don't even know why this comes up as Petronius. I don't want to over chat the blog or whatever goes for courtesies on this type of thing, but I'll add some more because it brings back lots of things that I haven't thought about in years, and you know how memories get edited - all the bad stuff just withers away.....

Yeah, Ricky had plenty of friends in West Orange - we were all in this one garden apartment complex, and other people in town, but after graduation we kind of went in different directions, but stayed in touch. Ricky was in music school at Berkley in Boston for while then came back after a year or two.

Here's an example of how clueless we were vis a vis the big "H" - I'll regret putting this on a blog but it's been 35 years or so, so the S of L has long run.

Senior year of high school, Ricky went up into the air conditioning vent of a local drug store with a pillow case, and emerged with more you know what's than a group of kids knew what to do with. He opened up the PDR in the store and wrote in big block letters, "SLA", for "Symbionese Liberation Army", which, to show you how dated this is, was the organization that kidnapped Patty Hearst, and was big in the news at the time. Ricky hid away left most of what he took, grabbed one of our friends and drove to Florida, to see the guy identified as "Lou" in the "Leaving Home." (We of course discovered his hiding place).

So two weeks later Ricky is back from Florida - he probably had to come back to school, and he does it AGAIN to some other store. We were delirious, we could not believe what we had stumbled on.

But the point of the story is this - no one touched the opiates. We didn't know what to do with any of it - and there were arcane things in old corked glass bottles, with old government stamps on top, really strange looking and Ricky bundled it all and sold it to some lucky junkie for next to nothing. Even for us it was scary.

But love is grand, and a couple of years later Sue, Ricky's first real girlfriend - he had this weird thing with women - a bit misogynistic right? - she convinced him there was something cool about it and then that was that. But, it didn't happen overnight, and really the going to New York was what did it. But, once he went to NYC he wasn't around much - as you know it's a full time job. Then he was in Florida, I guess in the mid-80's? He came up once in 1988, by then he knew he was positive for HIV, and at that time it was a death sentence - people forget that.

Too bad he didn't write about growing up, it would have been fun to see his take on it. But, in the 80's and 90's I think Ricky was for the most part alone - I don't have a clue what he did from 1990 to 2000 - I don't know anyone who heard from him during that time.

I read some of the work on your site, and you have had some interesting experiences.....moving around a bit. Unfortunately, as Ricky mentioned enough times and what you probably already know is that the itch never quite goes away entirely but you keep it in check as best as you can - what else you gonna do right? And time does make that part of it easier.

By the way, I saw the recommended books - you may want to try "Requiem for a Dream" - the movie wasn't that great, the book good though. If the subject is uncomfortable, same author, "Last Exit to Brooklyn." "Anubis Gates" if you want some fun.

Thanks again for doing this -

At June 27, 2011 at 3:16 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

Jeeez - I'm gonna fill this up, but I found two more notes from Rick -

REALLY good is Nelson Algren ("Man with the Golden Arm" & "A Walk on the Wild Side"). I'm just finishing up "Wild Side" now. Of course I could be wrong, but I think Algren is really the man when it comes to writing humanity to its down 'n dirtiest. He's also the most lyrical prose writer I've ever read, sort of like an urban Flannery O'Connor who's not affraid to rhyme or go "a little purple" (I'm sure you've heard that literary term). I've been curious about "Ringalevio" for a while. (I mentioned the game-- not the book-- in my first book; I know why he used that title.) I think that even though I haven't read it (I will), subconsciously, I think I'm somehow measuring my first effort against it, only from what I recall you telling me about it years ago (I know, that sounds crazy). Okay, speaking of junkie literature, and since I brought it up, and since you read so much, I'll attach that one. It's only 312 pages, so I hope it goes through. I got a complimentary "not at this time..." from one agent and haven't heard anything yet from a couple of others. I wrote it when I was an undergrad, and my supervising professor (who's been published a dozen or so times) thought it was good enough (with revisions) to send out and even gave me a few agents (which believe me, they don't normally do), but I'm thinking about a rewrite. I'm not completely sure about it. Although right now I'd really like to focus on Rona. Really, you don't have to read it all, or any of it at all for that matter (I'm sure you've got at least as much to read as I), but I'd be curious to know what you think if you get through the first few pages. I could use an "outside" opinion. But only if you can spare the time; I know what it's like to have people spring manuscripts on you. It's rude, really, is basically what we're taught in "Approaching an Agent 101." I'll try to remember Tim Powers. Emmitt Grogan... But don't forget: While you have had (comparatively) quite a head start, I'm still working my way through the canon. During the breaks I usually stack up a half-dozen or so on the coffee table and try to knock them off one by one, but the list only grows. "Like cockroaches they are, all these books..." (See? I have no life.) Selby's other book "Last Exit to Brooklyn" is next, sitting on the table (I'm not sure if I read it years ago; I did see the film). Got a new job today (hooray, whoopie!) at Broward CC, teaching 3 prep courses (4 is considered full-time), and which incidentally, are no more--and probably less-- work than comp classes. I think I lucked out: 3 classes in a row, every Tues & Thur. Then at night I have 3 of my own to nail this term (Ben Jonson, Myth & Archtypes, and another fucking workshop), so I think I'm going to be pretty busy soon, like in 2 weeks. In fact, I have to go and start preparing some syllabi & so forth. Academia is so weird... Stay in touch. Have a glance at the attachment. No hurry. And your honest opinion if it sucks (and stop reading it). I can take it. Not insane...

At June 27, 2011 at 3:19 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

and the last one -


It was downright cathartic, for me anyway. I hope we can stay in touch and
>do it again sometime. The whole way home I kept thinking to myself, "Jeez,
>all my friends' kids are so'd they do it?" Very
>impressive, Blake. Please give my regards (as I'm sure you already have) to
>your mother & sister for me (Elliott too), and especially thank your mom for
>me for those final words (that was really great, quite a finale). I'm a
>little busy right now, trying to line up classes to teach & register for
>some myself & so on... And I need to make one more revision (and many more
>to come) of what I'm doing so far, so I can have some of it looked at by the
>dept in the fall, so give me a couple of weeks and I'll send you what I
>have. I'd truly appreciate your opinion/input. And of course, thanks for the
>ancient Roman artifact and the free lagal advice! I forgot to ask you: Do
>you remember that book "Ringalevio"? Who wrote it? If you can, try to round
>up Charlie's (& Patty's) phone number for me (or e-mail?). "Hey
>guys...remeber the coup!"


At June 27, 2011 at 5:34 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Fascinating stuff, my man. Fascinating. (I am going to forward this link to one of Ricky's old profs, who may be able to help you find out about those rewrites...)

At June 27, 2011 at 10:57 PM , OpenID Laura said...

I fell in love with Ricky my first term in gradschool, for we entered the MFA program at the same time. As Joe put it, Ricky was the asshole in the corner of every class and seated at the bar at every poetry reading. He was Brillo, rubbing you raw with his perception of how fucked up the world is, and then convincing you that if you thought contrary, you were fucked up as well.

My first class in gradschool was with Ricky, Dan Wakefield’s NY in the 1950s. Ricky sat alone at the far left of the room in Hawaiian shirt, tight acid washed Wranglers, and tan moccasins due to the peripheral neuropathy he developed from taking the HIV meds. He was the embodiment of agitation, seeking to be the hemorrhoid of the class. I remember Ricky saying on our first day discussing Catch in the Rye, “I hated this book now just as much as I hated it the other 7 times I was forced to read it.” That was Ricky, so at 22 years old, my concentration in grad school aside from writing was to figure this cat out.

I always loved Catcher in the Rye. And what I figure out is that I liked Holden Caulfield for the same reasons I liked Ricky, which transversally seemed as if Ricky hated Holden for the same reasons why Ricky hated himself. Ricky and Holden were one in the same. Both were troubled characters who manifested complete apathy toward the world and their own future within the world, unable to connect with other people often not wanting to try to connect; they experienced a death of a loved one, which attributed to their emotional states; they were extremely judgmental criticizing everything and everybody - boring people, people with clear insecurities were either “phony” (Holden) or “motherfuckers” (Ricky). Both Ricky and Holden had issues in respect to love. Holden was disillusioned by casual sex, while Ricky remained abstinent for over 20 years, because he thought he was too much of a “bio hazard” to seek an intimate relationship. Ultimately, Ricky wanted to be loved and accepted, that in fear, he deliberately got under your skin at the forefront, so he couldn’t lose affection he never initially had. He had lived a life of rejection from family, friends, and even society due to contracting GRID, which was renamed HIV/AIDS shortly after he contracted it.

With our birthdays only a few days a part, he was twice my age the day I found him dead. We were complete opposites in life. I was a girl with a strong family background, never used drugs, believed in God. He loved Zappa. We had nothing in common, but this is what brought us closer. I wanted to get him, and he deep down inside wanted to be gotten. I desired to understand what addition was, what it was like to be dying physically of an incurable disease and emotionally from the prolonged emptiness he endured in regards to relationships.

Unbeknown to me and him, The ghost of Ricky Smith still haunts me, and this goes far beyond the image I still see of his body seated at the edge of his bed slumped slightly forward as if writing at his desk the moment he expired, or the smell of rot and loneliness that permeated his condo that Sunday morning. My short lived, two-year relationship with Ricky is really what has shaped my life. Ricky Smith taught me compassion, empathy, love, a desire to understand the human condition and the importance of daily human connection.

At June 27, 2011 at 11:00 PM , OpenID Laura said...


Ironically, I have that fulltime job at Broward College – South Campus that he had so wished for upon graduating FIU. I married my first love, something Ricky wished he could have done. My passion for teaching is aligned with Ricky’s pedagogy, for he tutored me in how to be a great teacher. Why I write stems from the same vein Ricky mainlined his late night writing-binges, the need to make a story known.

I’ve long-believed that Ricky’s story needs to be told. Some of Ricky’s things have made several moves with me over the years, from apartment to apartment to house. After Ricky receive a posthumous MFA degree at the commencement ceremony he was supposed to march beside me in, I sent photocopies of his work to Ricky’s stepfather Richard and to Ricky’s mentor Dan Wakefield. I hoped back then we’d be able to move forward in getting both of Ricky’s stories publish posthumously. I’ve since lost touch with stepdad Richard, but the last time we spoke several years back, he still hadn’t been able to bring himself to read any of it.

I’d love to reach out again to Richard and Ricky’s sister Jessica to see if we can get it going again, now that some time has lapsed. Does anyone know where to find them?

It’s ironic that you sparked this conversation, Blake, for I’ve been in deep reflection over the past few months of my relationship with Ricky. I think now is the time to get things going with his manuscripts; it’s the least I can do for someone whom I am indebted to so much.

It is wonderful to be able to be a part of this discussion, Joe. It's refreshing to know Ricky's ghost is visiting other people as well. Thanks!

At June 28, 2011 at 10:15 AM , Blogger J J said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At June 28, 2011 at 10:18 AM , Blogger J J said...

Remember the coup!

At June 30, 2011 at 10:57 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

(This is from Dan Wakefield, who asked me to post for him since Blogger makes that difficult sometimes.)

Ricky Smith exploded into my consciousness when I was giving a class on "New York in the Fifties" at FIU. I had just finished giving a riff of praise for the great Miles Davis, one of my heroes, and I noticed one student was waving his arm around madly (it was a lecture class with about 74 students, but this guy was insisting on being seen and heard. I called on him, expecting a seconding of appreciation for the great trumpet player.
"Yes?" I said.
Miles Davis was a fucking phony!" he said.
That was Ricky Smith. We became friends. He had already written a terrific memoir called "Leaving Home" (some now call it a novel, well, it doesn't matter, it was a hell of a good book) about his days as a junkie in New York. He was great to have in class (never a dull moment) and to hang around with. Of the dozens of good Ricky escapade tales, my favorite took place at one of the legendary parties on Melanie Neale's (not very large) boat, named (appropriately) "Short Story." (Melanie had been the ace teaching asst in my NY in the 50s class, helping to make it one of my all-time favorite teaching times.) Ricky was all excited about a new memoir he was wriitng, and excited about a trip he was taking the next day. He was going back to new Jersey to look up a newspaper story about the time his mother shot and killed his evil stepfather.
No doubt gesturing wildly, as was his normal speaking mode, he had somehow knocked off his own glasses and they had dropped into the water. It was deep. A scuba diver at the party nobly put on goggles and dove down in hopes of retrieving the
glasses - Ricky couldn't drive without them and would be unable to make his crucial research trip!
He came up empty.
Ricky himself then dove into the water, without goggles or - (as far as I know) any diving or underwater exploration experience. We all held our breath, hoping he would come up again and not be so intent on his impossible mission that he drowned in the process of trying to completing it. And he did come up - triumphantly holding his glasses. That's how I want to remember him - coming up out of the black water, holding the pair of glasses that no one believed he'd able to find. Add this treasured moment to his legend!

Dan Wakefield

At July 3, 2011 at 5:36 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

Laura -

I just tried out that disc you sent me again, this time through a different text program, and discovered a section with what looks like 130 pages (at least, maybe alot more) of Ricky's writing - none of it from "Leaving Home" i.e. all of it from the book to be. Let me know if you want any of it, I also have photographs from the disc too, which were likewise hard to access -

At July 14, 2011 at 4:22 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

Finally had enough time to finish all 122 pages of Ricky's "Almost Fiction." It is far more powerful than "Leaving Home" - you can see that Ricky has become confident as a writer, especially in the earlier part of the work. And, best of all, it is oddly complete as well - you don't get the feeling of wanting more. If anyone wants I can try to send a copy. Here's an interesting extract:
After our Miami Beach vacation in the winter of ’63, my mother and stepfather settled into West Orange for a little domesticity. I was six, and for the next two years felt like every unwanted kid who ever existed, that I was this one man’s personal experiment in harsh treatment of children who weren’t his own. I was only allowed in two rooms of the house: my bedroom and a playroom downstairs. I felt like a neglected dog, chained up to something day and night, except when I was to be punished (for having dirty fingernails, perhaps?), which usually meant a little game of “picking up pieces,” whereas I would have to get down on my hands and knees and clean the entire carpet by hand—wall to wall. Sometimes he wouldn’t allow me to wear any clothes around the house, and sometimes he would make me “pick up pieces” naked.
He had already thrown a chair at my mother’s pregnant sister, and wrapped a telephone cord around her mother’s neck during one especially heated argument (he liked to hurl chairs). We were both his prisoners, and when I saw that Cadillac pull into the driveway every evening I’d want to run and hide, but there was nowhere for a little boy to go, so I’d just get into bed and hide my head under the covers. Although I could feel my mother’s sense of estrangement from him, she would always bring me home a rock ‘n’ roll record—usually The Beatles—and always make sure there was a radio for me to listen to next to my bed, almost as if she knew that the only real refuge any of us actually have is all in our heads.

At July 15, 2011 at 12:00 PM , Blogger Petronius said...

Goddamit Richard, when you going to post on this!

At July 16, 2011 at 9:12 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Wow. Just read this (I've been out of the country with the family [no...gasp...Internet!]). Powerful stuff. I can't even imagine...


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