Chapter Thirteen: “Rat House”

RITCHIE

Ritchie was five feet six inches tall. He also had scoliosis of the spine that made him appear even smaller and hunched over. He called it a hunchback, but it wasn’t that so much as a definite curvature of the spine. He would introduce himself as “Ritchie the Hunchback”. Despite this alteration of his appearance he was always chipper and bright and I hated him for it. The only time he snarled was when he was singing, but that was an act. He didn’t have an iota of anger in him, unless it was hidden deep down under some repressed resentment toward a world that dealt him a crappy hand.

A crooked back left him without girlfriends except those that were fascinated with his appearance. He was good on stage, act or no, because he had a mutated charisma. It was a gimmick, but that’s what we needed.

Despite his scoliosis and bad skin and general unhealthy aspect he was chipper and bright, as I said. He was proud of his accomplishments, one of which was being the crossword puzzle champion of Seattle. I found this hard to believe so I would throw out words to test his vocabulary. He would always get them right. Soon Clark, with a larger vocabulary than mine, started testing Ritchie;  he was good, he got them all right. I decided not to challenge him at Scrabble.

Ritchie was on some kind of government disability, so he always had money in his pocket. He was also a wheeler-dealer, getting people together and taking a cut. That’s how we met him. He came to buy a red 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible that Howard had for sale. He was going to turn around and sell it to someone else. The next day he came back on foot complaining that the car had broken down on him. Turns out he ran over a curb and put a hole in the oil pan so all the oil leaked out and his engine seized up. Howard looked at the damage and offered to repair it if Ritchie bought a replacement engine. Bill, Buzz and Howard towed the car to a spot in our front yard and there it sat for six months because Ritchie didn’t have enough money to buy an engine.

Ritchie would use Howard to get around. Howard had a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass station wagon that he was particularly fond of. To me it was another piece of shit car cluttering up our yard, but to him it was freedom incarnate. So, he would take Ritchie to the supermarket or the movies. Yes, they went to the movies together like they were dating. It was a strong friendship. I guess their astrological signs commingled perfectly. Because of this friendship Ritchie became One Hand Clapping’s singer.

During practice Eugene was singing our songs. Clark had been in bands in high school and Eugene had been in a short-lived band in Seattle called Black Triangles…a hard core band that he played guitar in. Ritchie came by, as he often did, to visit Howard and his car (he liked to sit in it even though it was disabled). After hearing Eugene sing a few songs he offered to sing, Eugene did not have a strong voice. Surprisingly, Ritchie was good. He put everything he had into his performance, even at practice. I had to give him credit for his abilities. Although I disliked him, he was a distinctive performer.

Ritchie didn’t criticize Howard for his affection for astrology and the metaphysical. He let Howard make decisions about his life based on advice gleaned from Eugene and the daily horoscope in the newspaper. Ritchie himself did not subscribe to astrology or metaphysics, preferring to live in a more physical world, one where money did mean something like a car, a house, a wife, or a decent meal. He didn’t believe in astral projection, divination, or destiny. Ritchie was a pragmatist. He preferred a world that he could see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.

One Hand Clapping was a means to an end for him, but a fun means nonetheless. Ritchie enjoyed performing, and if there was a financial reward from his performance, all the better. It was cause and effect, which Ritchie, Clark and I could understand, as opposed to the more ethereal conjunctions of Eugene and Howard. Play a gig, get thirty dollars. Don’t play a gig, don’t get thirty dollars. It made sense. It wasn’t “take a walk around your neighborhood, find a sack of cash”. It wasn’t random. Now, I know a lot of people believe in chaos theory and the randomness of things; I’m not one of those people. I believe in the laws of physics and that these laws are immutable, that the more we learn about these laws the more we’re able to accomplish in the physical world. I don’t believe we are just here with no purpose or meaning, I do believe you have to find that purpose or meaning and that’s your life’s goal.

 

 

Ritchie, despite his size and appearance, never stopped trying to make girls. He pursued them with tenacity. Sometimes he succeeded, but mostly he failed. The women who did find him attractive, or at least tolerable, were interesting specimens themselves, damaged from an abusive father or husband, finally free of the abuse only to be courted by a small man with a curvature of the spine. He did treat these women well, spending what money he had to keep them happy, always buying them gifts or taking them out to dinner.

What he lacked in grace he made up for with elegance. He was an attentive boyfriend, not like the other losers they were accustomed to. He kept dating these women until their natural desire to escape caught up with them and they’d dump him. No matter how nice he treated them, they always left for what they believed were greener pastures. I did feel for him when they left him.

Ritchie lived in Federal Way. He came up to South Park every day. Howard would drive down and get him and drive him back. Ritchie started looking around for a place in South Park. I figured he should move in with Buzz and Bill. He could sleep on the couch with the dog.

Ritchie was a wheeler-dealer, but he never seemed to get the big score. What that big score would be is anybody’s guess. I’d only seen his abilities as to finding us cheap or free gear and buying a car that he ruined within 24 hours. I’d hate to see what happened with a really big deal, if it would go to shit the minute it was realized. There would be some horrendous reaction to the completion of the deal causing heartbreak and harm to all involved. I prayed I wasn’t involved. I didn’t want Ritchie to help with the recording or the record, just in case this was the deal that caused the backlash.

Aside from his need to hustle he oozed a smarminess that was difficult to handle at times. It was worse than insincerity, it had a greasy, viscous quality to it, like the motor oil that had dripped out of the Galaxie’s oil pan. His appearance added to this feeling of being played the mark with every interaction with Ritchie. I was plenty defensive when I dealt with him, it was an irrational fear, I had nothing of value to take. Maybe I didn’t want to feel sorry for him and that’s why I kept him at arm’s length. Again, I admired his ability to be a front man, the gear he got us, and I did feel sorry for his romantic disasters, but overall I didn’t trust him.

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