Feb 22 2013

Rik Alpert Mattered

…that frying pan hurtling toward my head came from a good place…

Bound for an S. A, Prum riesling pairing luncheon with my dear friend Liza The Wine Chick  at RN74, I left the house Monday looking appropriately fabulous. I received a text from one of my brothers, “Rik died,” just as I saw my bus fast approaching. I sprinted to the corner, dreading looking at that message on my phone screen again. But once one the bus, I did read it again. When I put my hand to my throat, I realized that my silk Vera Wang scarf must have fallen off during my run. I thought about getting off the bus and going back; we were just a stop away. No, it was cold out. And besides, why give a shit about a scarf I hardly ever wear when Rik died? But I couldn’t let the scarf go. I phoned a neighbor to go out and retrace my steps. No luck, that scarf was gone. Why am I still thinking about the fucking scarf? I could handle thinking about my scarf being gone forever. I couldn’t handle thinking about Rik being gone forever. Focus on the scarf. For now.

1983, just shy of 25. That's him in pink. Like I said, 1983.

1983, just shy of 25. That’s him in pink. Don’t judge him. Like I said, 1983.

I met Rik at age seven, He was 4.5 years older. He played hockey with my two older brothers, and I had a crush on him. He was cute, sort-of exotic looking. I thought he looked Indian (“Native American” had not yet entered the lexicon). He paid me no special attention, none of my brothers’ cute hockey-playing friends did (and I had crushes on most of them). I was just the bratty little sister always tagging along.

As we got a little older, he was the only one of my brothers friends who didn’t join the chorus when others would tease me about a little pubescent weight gain, calling me “Thighane” (rhymes with “Diane”) and other names that do nothing for the self-esteem of a teenage girl at war with her body. In fact, Rik was pretty fucking outraged by their behavior.

Rik took me on my first motorcycle ride, an all-day one from Hoover Dam SE of Vegas to Mt. Charleston, NW of town. We watched a movie in his room and he tried to kiss me — by now Rik developed a little crush on me, probably because I was one of the few girls who accepted him as he was.  But by then, he was too much of a big brother to me to consider any shift in our relationship. But he had qualities that to this day I look for in a man.

For a while in his early twenties he sported  a green mohawk. See, Rik was punk in Las Vegas when there was no such thing  as punk in Las Vegas. And the last place on earth Rik belonged was Vegas. As he entered adulthood he became more worldly and informed than his peers. He was curious. Some of his childhood hockey friends didn’t hang out with him much after that. I don’t know if it was the mohawk, or if Rik and his outspokenness was too much for them to take.

He changed my mindset, my world outlook. Living in a time and place where the only information, entertainment, or art readily available was mainstream, top 40, he-who-has-the-biggest-microphone-is-right DJs, it was Rik who told me where to look to hear other voices, to find alternatives: Alternative music. Alternative news sources. Alternative television. Alternative food. He was my portal to other world and all that was out there.

Rik had some issues. He drank too much. I’m not sure what if any relationship he had with drugs, but he drank way too much. He also had extreme mood swings. I don’t know that he was ever diagnosed, but he was pretty much a bipolar disorder textbook case. We became roommates for a while. During that time, I had my own self-destructive ways. I was still battling an on/off again eating disorder. Rik knew, and it infuriated him. He wasn’t mad at me so much as he hated seeing me hurt myself. One day his frustration and temper got the best of him and he threw a frying pan at my head. I knew that frying pan hurtling toward my head came from a good place, but I also knew it was time to move out.

Of course we remained friends after the frying pan incident. He became roommates with Rob, who was like Rik in many ways, minus the self-destruction, emotional issues, and violent tendencies. The three of us attended — or if I’m not mistaken, organized — the first ever Amnesty International Vegas chapter meeting.

Eventually I visited a friend in San Francisco, and felt like Dorothy discovering the Emerald City. It was a city for people like me (and Rik),  where progressive thinking and diversity —  ethnic, religious, culinary, and political — ruled. I couldn’t move here fast enough.

Oddly, I could never convince Rik to visit me here, let alone make the move he said was inevitable. He was stuck in Vegas, a place that so outraged him, with it’s crudeness and vapidness. But he stayed. Maybe he needed the fight, to always be at battle with something (in this case, a town). Or maybe, more likely, Rik was simply too inert at that point to do something about the things that aggravated him in life. It was easier to rant than to change his situation.

Over the years, he grew bloated from the beer; gone were the chiseled features, replaced by a weathered face. His hair grew wild and gray, and he  had a beard. He looked like  Jerry Garcia, after being out at sea for a year. The only place for which he would leave his tiny cluttered apartment was a local “British Pub” within walking distance, resplendent with video poker games at the bar and waitresses best described as Hooters Girls in Leiderhosen (remember, we’re in Vegas). We stayed in touch via email, until it became difficult to stay in touch with Rik. Correction: it became annoying.

With the internet, Rik had at his fingertips access to way too much information. Lots of information he thought you must read and act upon. He also had way too much free time to find all this information. After a while, I’d just hit delete. I know I wasn’t the only one.

He moved to Ruth, Nevada, as small a town as it gets. He got as far from society as he could afford to go. He sounded happy (very relatively speaking) the last few times I spoke to him. I sent him an email in November 2012, a simple “Still out there?” No reply.

Back to that text my brother sent. It  said Rik died on December 16, 2010. Rik’s been dead over two years and none of us knew. Sadly, none of us were surprised. He had a drinking-related brush with death @ 5 or 8 years ago, I honestly have no sense of time right now when it comes to Rik. I found the online announcement, which supplied only date and place of death. I was disgusted — yes, disgusted — to learn that there was no obituary for him. His parents died years ago. He’d long been estranged from his siblings. They weren’t even mentioned, nor was the son he learned he had fathered six years after the child was born. He died alone.

So now, I will write his obituary. Here’s my tribute to Richard L. Alpert; July 8, 1959 – December 16, 2010; Ruth, Nevada

Rik was the smartest guy in the room. He was also the most passionate, and outspoken, and annoying guy in the room. He could really be a pain in the ass. But it always came from a good place, and that was just Rik. He was a great, loyal friend.

Rik stood for fairness and freedom, compassion and kindness – yes kindness. Despite the bitter rage with which he spoke about (or to) those he believed were in the wrong, or mocking those who stood for things he abhorred, Rik was the kindest soul. He was not the most tolerant soul. He had no use for ignorance or hypocrisy, betrayal, or greed. He had high moral standards when it came to how the world should be and how people should treat all living beings and the planet. Perhaps too high, for he was constantly infuriated that governments, employers, leaders and lovers could behave so badly. Eventually he got away from it all and moved to to the fringe of society. And now, he’s free of all the pain and suffering he found so unacceptable in the world; as well as his own.

Rik Alpert left a strong impression on everyone who ever met him. You couldn’t love him without sometimes wishing you could shut him up. But you always came back to loving him. He was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in. He’ll never know how much he mattered in this world, not just to me.

Here’s a song/band/album Rik introduced me to. It’s still in my top 5:

Thank you, Rik. For raising my standards. For having my back. For introducing me to The Young Ones and Big Audio Dynamite and Love And Rockets and The Utne Reader and Mother Jones and hot and sour soup and long motorcycle rides in the desert Amnesty International and Rob (the afore-mentioned roommate). When I phoned Rob to tell him, I lost it a little. When I told him that Rik shaped me more than any other person (besides my parents), Rob said if he were here he’d give me a hug. Which made me sad because I’ll bet that at the end, Rik had no one to hug. And it kills me that that is permanent.

In his honor, I share here another of my all-time favorite songs that Rik turned me on to. I listen to it when I know I need to get out of my own head. You can thank me with a comment.

Sometimes, people rock. Thank you anonymous neighbor, for your well-timed random act of kindness.

Sometimes, people rock. Thank you anonymous neighbor, for your well-timed random act of kindness.

I want to share some good news before signing off. When I came home from that luncheon, I got my dog Picard and went for a walk. Because at that time I was still was mourning the loss of my scarf rather than Rik, I walked to the bus stop… where I found my scarf, tied at eye-level to the bus stop pole, blowing in the wind! I almost got hit by a car running toward it, so happy was I for this one act of random kindness from a total stranger at a time when I so desperately needed something good.

Rik Alpert, you fucking mattered! You fucking rocked!