Sunday, April 17, 2022

'The Lost of New York,' a novel by John Rigney, Jr. - how a hidden manuscript became a novel 70 years later

 


Hidden away for more than half a century, my late uncle’s novel,

The Lost of New York,  is finally a book (May 6, 2022).

So, why did I task myself with the arduous process of converting a faded stack of chapters into an actual book? Mostly because it fascinated me. I also felt a sense of familial loyalty, seeing as my late uncle, John “Butch” Rigney, Jr., preceded me as the first writer in the family, albeit unpublished. His hand-typed writing made its way across country –twice– before being published. The gritty and sad urban tale, set in early 1960s Bronx, New York, may be unfinished, but is a captivating time capsule.

It’s also a revealing roman a clef of Butch’s own life, cut too short in 1967.

 from the novel’s Introduction:

John “Butch” Rigney wanted to be a writer.

Stories remain amusing about his young life, growing up with a brother, Maureen, and brother, Kevin. His two sometimes abusive often drunk parents, helped him become what his sister called “a throw-away kid. Nobody ever gave him a chance, helped him out.”

John "Butch" Rigney, Jr.

As a youth, Butch went in and out of a series of reform schools for stealing, and jumping in a river from the Teufelberg Bridge, named after the Dutch Devil’s Mountain.

His brother was also a petty thief,
robbing a neighborhood diner.

In the early 1960s, Butch also served in the Air Force, possibly as a bargain for another jail sentence. He was stationed in Anchorage, and got out with an honorable discharge

A letter was sent to his mother –Mrs. John M. Rigney- mistakenly presumed to be his wife, of a package of papers that were left at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

The early writings of Rigney are dated 1963. These “papers” may have been his early drafts of short stories (not in this edition), perhaps the letter and scant scribbled notes. A few of the short stories are signed D.Cno. with J.M. Rigney as the mailing name.

Back in New York, Butch took writing classes, hand-wrote pages of multi-syllabic words as practice. He continued writing what became the unfinished Bugs in a Jar, the content of which is this edition. Some of those chapter are dated 1967, so it can be assumed that this work was his final. Another less complete work includes chapters for The Damned Deceived. An impressive novella-length short story, “Flat-Leavers” will be in the second edition.


How Butch managed to stay alive and work, his social interactions with fellow parolees, and the desperate needy romances of the women in his life, are captured in muted colors, and –between the self-taught grammatical limitations– often poignant lyricism.

By the mid-1960s then married, his sister Maureen took Butch to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, where a well-known speaker dared anyone who wanted to have a drink that he would give them two dollars. Butch responded to the offer a bit too enthusiastically, and was asked to leave.

His sister managed to attend the High School of Performing Arts, and soon escaped the impoverished ennui of Rigney’s world, with a marriage and move to Ohio, where she and my father raised our family.

While nearly every other family member visited us, and we them in the following decades, Butch remained a mystery. Rigney wanted to be a published writer. He had even sent one work to a literary agency, but it was returned by American Authors Inc. of Madison Avenue. Did he continue writing, give up, or did the reality of his life overtake any ambition? Or was it simply his addictions to alcohol, heroin and other drugs that took over?

The entire box of original pages was allegedly with Butch at his Bailey Place home when he died, of an overdose, with two ladies of the evening at his bedside, on December 6, 1967.

John "Butch" Rigney
leaves reform school

The manuscripts and letters were shipped to my parent’s house after they attended his funeral. The box of his writing remained there for decades, in a yellow plastic box. My curiosity, and penchant for annual cleaning and sorting of our home’s treasure trove of memorabilia and toys in our attic, led me to the box full of hand-typed pages held together by rusty paper clips, stained, with letters, and a few rent receipts for 3422 Bailey Place, The Bronx, 63, New York.

I couldn’t see which chapter went with which story, or if any of it made any sense, but it fascinated me before I was even a published writer. In 2005, I shipped them to my apartment in San Francisco. A few years later, they were sorted, scanned, converted to text, and edited mostly for punctuation and grammar, while retaining Butch’s unique self-taught literary style. The sad tone of desperation pervades the characters of Rigney’s stories, each intertwined with a needy sorrow and a na├»ve glimmer of hope.

  

John “Butch” Rigney wanted to be a writer, but died thinking he never could be. The sad thing is, he already was.

 

 Order The Lost of New York (publication date May 6, 2022; paperback $16.95, ebook $8.99) from your favorite bookseller, on Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Artists fight back for Ukraine; what would you do?


When someone posted on Twitter asking how artists, specifically fiction writers, could continue to create while bad things happen in the world, the responses were numerous. While I haven't been flooded with the creative spark recently, I have done some work, and thought I'd share a few of the many things artists around the world, and in Ukraine, are doing to protest the heinous Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Via France's Observer: metal sculptors have made barricades on roads, soldered from girders. 

'Everyone is doing what they can to defend our city, our country'

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, beginning a war that, to some Ukrainians, felt improbable until the first explosions went off. The resistance effort was immediate. 

On February 25, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged citizens across the country to mobilize against Russia’s full-scale invasion. Thousands of people lined up to enlist in the military.

Meanwhile, everyday citizens were told to take up arms to defend their cities. The Ukrainian defence ministry encouraged residents of a Kyiv suburb to “make Molotov cocktails” and “destroy the occupier.”

Analysts say the Russian military may have been caught off guard by Ukraine’s strong resistance. Bodia said that everyone has become involved in the war effort.

 Journalists are also stepping beyond 'objective' lines, as The Guardian reports:


Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, burst on to the set of the live broadcast of the nightly news on Monday evening, shouting: “Stop the war. No to war.”

She also held a sign saying: “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.” It was signed in English: “Russians against the war.”

The news anchor continued to read from her teleprompter speaking louder in an attempt to drown out Ovsyannikova, but her protest could be seen and heard for several seconds before the channel switched to a recorded segment.

Ovsyannikova also released a pre-recorded video via the OVD-Info human rights group in which she expressed her shame at working for Channel One and spreading “Kremlin propaganda.”

“Regrettably, for a number of years, I worked on Channel One and worked on Kremlin propaganda, I am very ashamed of this right now. Ashamed that I was allowed to tell lies from the television screen. Ashamed that I allowed the zombification of the Russian people. We were silent in 2014 when this was just beginning. We did not go out to protest when the Kremlin poisoned [opposition leader Alexei] Navalny,” she said.

“We are just silently watching this anti-human regime. And now the whole world has turned away from us and the next 10 generations won’t be able to clean themselves from the shame of this fratricidal war.”

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Finding the Real Tulsa: chorus boys, lost and found

While we mourn the loss of some great stars of stage, TV and film,
 I’m thinking about an actor-dancer who was more forgotten than most, 

and undeservedly so.

Paul Wallace and Natalie Wood in Gypsy

2021 had some major celebrity deaths, including most prominently 

 Stephen Sondheim and Betty White, mostly because of the timing. 

Sondheim died just before a revival of his musical Company was 

hitting the stages on Broadway. And Betty White died on New Year's Eve 

at nearly 100 years old.


Another prominent death in the Broadway world was Harvey Evans

who was one of the Jets as a first replacement in the original stage production 

of West Side Story as well as the 1961 film version. By focusing on the two musicals 

that featured the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story and Gypsy

I found a loss, a surprising survivor, and another tragic death that happened long ago.


Harvey Evans recently died and was celebrated for his long career in many musicals 

including How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and a touring 

production of La Cage aux Folles, in which he played ZaZa. 

He even posed nude on the cover of After Dark magazine in a very sexy pose.


In the multiple times that I watched the original film West Side Story  

–on television as a kid, in theaters (including a 1988 screening in New York City 

where I had the pleasure of meeting director Robert Wise), and then on the 

50th anniversary DVD, I basically followed one dancer after another 

with each viewing. 


I'd be fascinated by every one of Russ Tamblyn's gymnastic tumbling moves. 

In another viewing (including three times at a Columbus repertory cinema 

while a Dance major at Ohio State University, one time bringing a few classmates), 

I would focus on the stunningly handsome Tucker Smith (Ice). 

Evans was another Crush as well, as was George Chakiris.