First Chapter Rizzo's World


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Rizzo always walks his dog at eleven.  It’s a habit his first dog got him into that this new dog has unwittingly insisted on continuing and he’s too old and too much a creature of habit to resist.  So this morning, like all the other mornings past and all the mornings, he supposes, that lie ahead of him, finds him walking.  And this new dog tags along.


“You got a new dog,” Abdur says when Rizzo stops at his favorite pizza parlor for lunch.  “You really went ahead and got one.”

 “Yeah,” he nods.  “It looks that way.”

 “Does your wife know?” Abdur asks.

 “Not yet,” Rizzo says, and doesn’t say she probably won’t even notice, and certainly won’t even care.

 “She comes home soon, no?”

 “Today,” Rizzo says.

 “Today?” and Abdur grins that lopsided grin he has when whatever is said seems like a cosmic joke to him.  “I guess she will know soon enough.”

 Rizzo nods again, not wanting to prolong this conversation any longer than necessary and pays for the meatball hero with extra cheese he always gets on Monday and a meat pie for the dog and starts to go.

 “What’s his name?” Abdur asks.

 “I don’t know yet,” Rizzo says.

 “You are going to name him, are you not?”


 Abdur laughs, the dog looks up at him with his head tilted to one side, Rizzo tugs on the leash gently, and they walk on.

 Once home, Rizzo washes down the meatball hero with a glass of Pellegrino and lemon and the dog eats his meat pie to keep it in the loop.  They are both deliriously happy in the end and it’s only the clock on the wall that ruins everything by reminding him of the time of day.  It’s then he notices he has a message on his voicemail.  He doesn’t know why it is that no one calls when he is home but as soon as he steps out, messages appear on voicemail.  This is one of those unwritten laws of the universe, and it’s comforting in a way.  He speed dials voicemail and listens as his daughter’s voice says, “Don’t forget to get Mom at the airport.  And no, I’m not cutting classes, I’m already done for the day.  Call me your tonight, my morning, and be nice to Mom.  She’s been out on tour.”

 Rizzo thinks he needs a drink right about now so he tries to find a substitute but a Life Saver somehow doesn’t quite do the trick, so he pours a quick shot of Bushmills to steady his nerves.  He would like to have another but it’s raining out now and he’s driving soon and he thinks he’s getting much too old to be doing things like that so he doesn’t.  Instead he drinks his third cup of coffee this morning and eyes the clock.  He doesn’t want to leave too early because he hates waiting around airports but he also doesn’t want to be late.  Burcu expects him to be late.  He’d like to show her he’s changed in the last six months she hasn’t seen him but knows she wouldn’t believe in the permanency of the change even if he did.  Punctuality, though, would be a nice trait to possess, even at this late stage of his life, which is why he eyes the clock and does mental calculations of the Van Wyck Expressway.  And before he finishes his third cup of coffee, he has another shot of whiskey anyway.  So much for changing.

 Finally he allows 40 minutes for the drive to Kennedy and, of course, there’s an accident on the LIE and delays on the Van Wyck because of construction he didn’t expect, though he doesn’t know why he didn’t expect it since there always seems to be some highway under repair.  Anyway Burcu’s flight is already disembarked and he heads for the passenger pickup area knowing she’s probably already been through Customs which is where he sees her talking with a guy much too casually for him to be a stranger.  He has that kind of proprietary look that Rizzo’s seen before that he’s never really liked, especially when it’s directed at his wife.  But then again, Burcu isn’t exactly his wife any longer, though she isn’t exactly his ex-wife yet, either, which is, more or less, exactly the problem.  And though seeing the guy annoys him, the sight of Burcu standing there with one leg bent at the knee, one hip slightly higher than the other, in her signature white suit with vest almost takes his breath away.  It’s then he remembers just how beautiful she is and how lucky he’s been to have spent nearly half his life with her.  Suddenly he just wants to crawl inside her arms.  Instead, though, he stands next to her and says, “Sorry I’m late.”

“Are you?” she asks, and gives that indulgent smile that seems to be her favorite look where he is concerned.  “I always assume you’ll be 15 or 20 minutes behind the rest of the world so, for you, that’s on time.”

 Rizzo nods, thinks it’s not the best way to start this visit but plays the stoic and lets it roll off his back.

 Meanwhile Burcu turns to her companion and says, “Ted, this is my husband, Rizzo.”

 “Ahhh,” and Ted’s eyes widen in what must be admiration or else mockery.  “It’s an honor.”

 “Ted’s an impresario,” Burcu says.

 “Is he?” Rizzo says, his eyes returning the look of awe.  “I didn’t realize there were still some around.”

 “Promoter,” Ted says.  “We’re called promoters now.  But surely you run across more than your share in your business.”

 “Every day,” Rizzo says.  “And three times on the weekend.”

 “Rizzo sees everything in triplicate on the weekend,” Burcu says.  “Don’t you, Riz?”

 “Not everything,” he says.  “I don’t see three of you.”

 “That’s because there’s only one of her,” Ted says.  “Which is how I see selling her.”

 “Selling her?” Rizzo asks, and can’t help it if an edge creeps into his voice.  “Is that what you’re doing?”

 “Trying to, anyway,” Ted says.  “But she’s not an easy sale here in the States.”

 “Ah no,” Rizzo says, his stomach tightening.  “No easy sale here.”

 And Burcu looks at him then, sensing the danger lurking beneath the tight smile, and says, “It’s just business, Riz.  He wants to back my act for a tour.”

 “A tour?” Rizzo asks.

 “Of several US cities, then later a sweep of all the major European cities as well.  A long tour, actually.”

 And then the details that he always has a hard time listening to because they only spell separation, long periods one after the numerous others.  A litany of dates, and more babble he has difficulty understanding until the goodbyes.

 And later, as both Burcu and he walk toward the parking lot, he asks in spite of knowing he shouldn’t, “So who is that guy really?”

 Burcu looks at him for a second, both quizzically and suspiciously, and says somewhat guardedly, “Just what we said he is: an impresario.”

 “Really?” he asks.

 “Yes, really,” Burcu says.  “Just what do you think he is?”

 “A new paramour, perhaps.”

 Burcu laughs.  “A paramour?  Oh Riz, I do love your choice of words.  So old- fashioned, but so you.”

 He winces, involuntarily, at the reference, more or less veiled, to his age.  Old- fashioned because he is, after all, old.  Older than her by 15 years, older than their daughter Cansu by 40.  An old-fashioned, older old man.

 “But it’s a charming trait, Riz,” Burcu says, softening the blow a bit.  “And one of the reasons we all love you so.”

 “Love me?” he says, and regrets immediately the tone.  Why, he thinks, do you always ask a question when simply keeping your mouth shut would not only be so much more appropriate but effective, too.  He knows what he should do, but always manages, somehow, to not take his own advice.

“Yes, Riz, love you,” Burcu says, her voice not able to mask her weariness of having the same conversation yet again, and so soon after her arrival.  “But not in the way you wish anymore.”

 And on that note, of regret mixed with resignation with a pinch of savoir-faire tossed in for seasoning, they endure the ride back to the house they sometimes share in silence.  And once there, Burcu notices the dog.

“And what’s this?” she asks as the dog follows her from suitcase to closet as she unpacks her bags in what is now her room while Rizzo stares at the ceiling and tries rather unsuccessfully not to drink what remains in the bottle of whiskey from this afternoon.  “You got another dog?”

“Well,” and he shrugs, “I thought maybe it was about time to replace the old one.”

“He’s been dead twenty years, Riz,” she says.

“I’m a little slow sometimes,” he says.

“In some departments anyway,” and she laughs.  She bends down and strokes the dog’s head.  “Did you name this one?”

“Not yet.”

She smiles and shakes her head. “Slow in that department, too, aren’t you?”

And as night falls, Burcu talks first to their daughter Cansu in Istanbul, the conversation switching back and forth between Turkish and English, and then in somewhat hushed tones in Turkish only to someone else.  And Rizzo, in another room in what seems like years away, finds himself wishing for the millionth time in their twenty odd year relationship that he had learned Turkish, then drifting off to what could only loosely, in a better world, be called sleep.


 The next morning Burcu is up and out early.  Rizzo, on the other hand and in another room down the hall, lies awake wishing he were still asleep.  The phone ringing, however, finally rouses him and though he just stares in its direction without answering it, the phone ringing does serve its purpose and before his voicemail takes over, he gets up, lets the dog out for a quick pee in the backyard, and makes a pot of coffee.  After his second cup, he stands under the shower for what seems like hours but is only maybe twenty minutes trying to wash away the sadness he feels settling in.  Afterwards, with a real drink in his hand, he looks out the window to the street beyond hoping to see something to inspire him.  Nothing goes by.

 The dog, meanwhile, nudges his arm and he knows, without needing any more encouragement, what his duty is:  to go for their walk.  But first he tends to the water bowl, his dry cereal, a Milk Bone treat.  Then, to the dog’s relief, he picks up the leash and they’re off.

 Lunch again, a sausage and peppers hero for him, the usual meat pie for the dog, and Gatorade to help replenish deficient vitamins and minerals from all that drinking.  Life the way he knows it now.  He walks past Burcu’s room and wonders why she keeps the door closed, what secrets she’s hiding from him, what it is she thinks he shouldn’t know.  It pains him, this closed door, a symbol of what they’ve become, what they are no longer, what does not exist anymore.

 The phone rings again and he stands listening to it.  He counts the four rings until voicemail kicks in, a recorded message somewhere out there in the electronic world, substituting for him and waiting for him to retrieve it sometime later.  And with that knowledge, of another message safely tucked away, he pockets his keys and is off for the day.


 Jake’s at noon.  The usual cluster of people on the make, on the mend, trading information about jobs, gossip, musicians, singers, actors mixing with A&R men, would be producers, agents, wannabe players, and journalists, all hungry for the same thing: a score.  And Rizzo, a regular, joins the fray somewhat reluctantly but with a place of honor in the back: his own booth, where he finds his childhood friend and colleague Peter slumped at the table, his eyes devouring trade papers propped up on his journal in front of him, absently stroking his head as if to make certain there is still hair there, his eyes moving rapidly line by line behind tinted reading glasses.  Rizzo sits, barely making a ripple in Peter’s consciousness, so he watches his old friend in bemused silence until Peter looks up and sees him.

 “Ah,” Peter goes.  “You’re here.”

 “And where else would I be at lunchtime on a work day?”

 “In front of your PC in the office doing your feverish one finger typing of a hot column while Harvey leans over your shoulder panting in your ears.”

 “I think I’d rather be here drinking with you.”

 “Of course you would,” Peter says, removing his reading glasses and folding them neatly into their carrying case.  “But that’s not where you should be.”

 “I didn’t say should,” Rizzo corrects him.  “I said would.”

 “Did you?”

 “I did.”

 “Ah,” Peter goes.  “How did I miss that?  And with these remarkable ears of mine?”

 “I don’t know,” Rizzo says.  “They must be slipping.”

 “Hmmmm,” Peter goes.  “Getting old does have its toll.”

 “Speak for yourself, partner.  I refuse to acknowledge age.”

 “An ageless wonder, are you?”

“In print anyway.”

 “And for a journalist, what better place to be ageless.”

 Jake comes by then, that dark, Irish brooding, his mouth set in a perpetual frown, as if having just tasted something most foul.  He wipes his hands on the towel he keeps dangling from his belt and says, “The usual, I suppose.”

 Rizzo looks at him the same way he’s been looking at him for over 30 years of patronage and says, “Have I ever asked for anything else?”

 “You had wine there for a while,” Jake says, “back in the seventies.  And there was that period of White Russians.”

 “Those were for a certain woman who once, in another lifetime long, long ago, accompanied me, and who, for reasons we need not delve into, shall remain nameless,” Rizzo says.  “But I, personally, have never asked for anything other than good old Irish whiskey.”

 “You had rum once,” Jake says.  “Mount Gay with a twist of lime,”

 “It must have been summer,” Rizzo says, “and I was in love.”

 “I can’t speak to the love part,” Jake says.  “But it was the summer of ‘82, I believe.”

 “Hot, was it?”  Peter asks.


 “I might have had rum, too, then, I suppose,” he says.

 “You drink anything that comes in a bottle and has an alcohol content over fifty percent,” Jake says.  “My one piece of heaven right now is you’ve cut down because you’re in love again.”

“Ah, but less business for you,” Peter says.

 “Since neither one of you pays,” Jake scowls, “it’s a moot point.”

 “We have a tab,” Peter says.

 “And we pay something toward it every month,” Rizzo joins in.

 “Yes, but the tab grows faster than your payments,” and Jake sighs.  “My biggest regret, besides my three marriages, was giving you guys a tab.”

 “You shouldn’t regret the marriages,” Peter says.  “Especially number two.”

 “Maria,” Rizzo says.

 And then they both break into a verse from West Side Story and Jake endures as best he can.  “Finished?” he asks finally.  “Because I do have paying customers to attend to.”

 Both Peter and Rizzo watch him leave with that air of the suffering victim about him.  Rizzo turns to Peter then and says, “He’s abnormally surly for a Monday.”

 “I guess we didn’t pay enough on the tab this past month,” Peter says.  “How much did you pay anyway?”

 “I didn’t pay anything.  It was your turn.”

 “No,” Peter says, his head shaking as he speaks.  “This month is me.  Last month was you.”

 “No,” Rizzo says.  “I’m this month.”

 “Impossible,” Peter says.  “I paid in July, you were August, I’m September.”

 “No, I paid July,” Rizzo says.

 “We both paid July?”  Peter asks.

 “Hmmmm,” Rizzo goes.  “It would appear so, and no one paid August.”  They look at each other for a long second and then he adds, “No wonder he’s in a foul mood.”

 “However,” Peter says, “since there was a double payment in July, that really covers August, so he shouldn’t be upset.  We actually, though by accident, of course, paid August early.”

 “You’re right,” Rizzo agrees.  “He should be grateful, not petulant.”


 “So there’s absolutely no reason for us to feel the slightest tinge of guilt.”

 “Right again.”

 “We should, in fact, congratulate ourselves on our ability to not only stay abreast of our obligations but to be ahead.”

 “Right once more.”

 “Let’s drink to that, shall we?”

 “We shall,” Peter says, “as soon as he brings the drinks.”

 And on that note, Jake appears with two whiskeys.  “The tab, gentlemen.”

 “To the tab,” Peter says and raises his glass.

 “The tab,” Rizzo echoes and clinks Peter’s glass.

 They drink and then bask in the glow of a world they know to be, at least here in this bar they consider a second home, comforting.  And while in that mood, Rizzo feels lulled enough to broach uncertainty.

 “Burcu’s back,” he says in as nonchalant a manner as he can muster, though Peter, of course, has known him long enough not to be fooled.

 “Oh?” he replies, his eyebrow raised.  “As in back in the country? And back in town?”

 “Yes,” Rizzo says.  “And staying at the house.”

 “Ah,” he goes.  “Cozy, that.”

 “Yes,” Rizzo nods.  “The modern couple.”

 “And how is she?” he asks.

 “She looks great, as usual,” Rizzo says.  “And, as usual, there’s nothing to say to one another.”

 And he looks off then at nothing in particular and nothing in particular looks back.  The sadness, though, that always seems to hover just out of reach, gets a little closer.  He’ll need more whiskey to help keep it at bay so Jake coming by with a second round is like the Seventh Calvary to the rescue.  “Harvey’s on the phone again for you,” he says somewhat gruffly.


“I forgot to mention he’s been calling all morning,” and then somewhat wearily, “I’m not good at being a stand-in for voicemail.”

“You could have told me,” Peter says.  “I remember things.”

“One would never know it from the way you pay your bills,” Jake says.  “Anyway,” and he looks back at Rizzo, “he says it’s very important.”

“It’s always important to Harvey,” Rizzo sighs.

“Why don’t you get a cell phone?” Jake says.  “Everyone else has one.”

Rizzo winces.  Whenever talk comes round to the subject of cell phones, he begins to get depressed.  It’s hard enough, he reasons, to try to maintain a sense of privacy in this world and cell phones, to him, are just another device chipping away at that notion.

“I don’t know,” Rizzo says.  “It probably has something to do with all the fine print on those agreements you have to sign.”

“There are phone plans for people like you,” Jake says.  “Very temporary plans with a minimal commitment of a month.  Even you,” he says trying his best not to sound too sarcastic, “can handle a month’s commitment.”

“And then,” Rizzo says, still trying to ward off, what is for him, evil spirits, “you have to carry it around with you, in a holster like a gun, on your belt or in your pocket.  They become like appendages.”

“That’s the point of it,” Jake says.  “That’s why they’re called mobile phones.”

“Rizzo prefers being invisible,” Peter says.  “He likes to melt into his environment unobserved.”

“There are other descriptions for his behavior,” Jake says, “but I’m too busy right now to get into it.”  Then back to Rizzo, “Just go pick up the bar phone and talk to Harvey.”

Harvey, of course, in all the years they’ve been working for him, four decades and counting, has always, and stressing the word always, made important, urgent phone calls to them, especially to Rizzo, usually because he was dangerously close to missing a deadline and Harvey was frantic he’d have to run the magazine without his column.  This happens a lot when Rizzo is doing a series, some exposé say, of some corruption lurking somewhere in the city, or one of his cultural pieces where he’s rhapsodizing so long and so passionately about something or someone that people feel the need to go out and buy a CD or see a show or buy a ticket.  But Harvey’s constant nagging about deadlines drove Rizzo several years ago to write what he calls his “think” pieces, which he keeps in reserve for those times he misses a deadline.  This has greatly reduced the number of panic calls so Rizzo knows it’s not a deadline Harvey’s calling about now.  And thus, he is in no hurry to hear whatever hot idea Harvey’s got for him to consider as a possible column.  But he is the boss, so one can’t avoid him forever.

“Harvey,” Rizzo says into the receiver, “what’s up?”

“Cemal’s dead,” Harvey blurts out.  “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning.  Some kind of shooting in Turkey.”

Rizzo is stunned.  His mouth opens wanting to respond but there are no words in his brain to handle this.  Just a vacuum, a void.

“You there, Riz?” Harvey asks, breathless.  “Riz?”

Cemal.  Dead.  The two words do not go together in his book.  Like antonyms, they only exist in opposition to each other. There is no way Rizzo can make sense of what’s been said.

“Riz?” Harvey says, his voice desperate.  “You hear me?  Cemal’s dead.”

Rizzo makes some sound, he thinks, that shows he’s still here on the end of the phone line and Harvey continues with facts, information, or what passes for information, some hazy, half coherent listing of names, a time, some stretch of highway, Istanbul, bullet holes, and he listens because it’s all he can do, as he stands frozen by the bar at Jake’s.

“You get this?” Harvey asks.  “You hear me?”

And Rizzo nods, mumbles something, looks off to the far end of the bar where Frank from Sony is nodding back his way, and someone else he sort of remembers is tipping a glass in his direction.  This world he stands in, his world, his everyday world of familiar faces and routine business and people he loves and some he hates, and most he tolerates, all mill about doing the things they always do, this world is suddenly tilted to the side and the only thing keeping him from sliding off is the edge of the bar he is leaning against.  Harvey’s still talking and Rizzo hears something about a plane ticket, a flight number, a hotel he’s supposed to be staying in, and he can only nod some more, hand the phone to Jake who looks somewhat bewildered by his side, and says, “Take this down, will you, please.”

And Rizzo walks on fairly unsteady legs back down the length of the bar to his back booth and fumbles as he sits.

“Are you okay?” Peter asks.  “Riz? You okay?”

“The phone,” he says.  “Talk to Harvey.  Cemal…” Rizzo says and then loses any words he might have had.  He just slumps forward, his face in his hands, and tries, not very successfully, not to cry.




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