The Mystery of Blame It On Rio or, Night of the Living Potheads

The 80s were a harrowing time. The threat of nuclear war. The threat of having to repeat an entire school year because you thought your shell shocked geometry teacher’s pedagogical method was, in a word, lacking.

Ok. That last one was a lie. Well, to be more accurate, the latter half was. When I was fourteen years old I didn’t know what “pedagogical” meant. I did nearly flunk my geometry class. And my teacher was rumored to be shell shocked.

Then there was the ever-looming threat of library fines where I spent almost as much time as I did at school. That part about frequenting the public library? That was true, though I kept that a secret from my friends. They weren’t readers, by and large, not even Tolkien whose books, at that time, were still popular among potheads like us.

One Saturday night there were no parties to attend, no one out in the woods with beer or Boone’s Farm. Someone said, “let’s go to the movies.” What? I thought. Walk there? Just then our friend Mike showed up in his 1979 Chevy Impala. He was a junior. We were freshmen. Four of us climbed inside. One friend produced a joint. We smoked the whole thing. Then Mike took out a joint twice as large as the first. By the time we got to the movie theater, we were all potted up.

The trouble began when someone confused Blame It On Rio with Cat People, Michelle Johnson for Natassja Kinski.

Someone said Natassja Kinski got naked in Cat People. Another friend reminded us that she was European. “Natassja is European, man,” he said. “German. And you know what they say about German chicks.” None of us did. We’d never been east of Wildwood, NJ.

Mike was the only one old enough to get into an R-rated movie. The lady in the ticket booth made us so paranoid we just pointed to the Blame It on Rio movie poster without reading the title when she demanded to know what movie we wanted tickets for.

She asked me, “When were you born, young man?”

I said, “seventeen years ago.”

My friends found that hysterical. I didn’t mean to be funny. I had visions of the police showing up and ultimately getting pimped out in prison just because I lied about getting into Blame It On Rio. Somehow, we got tickets anyway.

There may have been a trip to the snack bar before going into the theater proper. All I remembered of Blame It On Rio was Michael Caine’s giant eyeglasses. Then, suddenly, the movie was over.

In school on Monday one of my friends remarked, “I still can’t remember anything about that movie.”

There was good reason. On the night of the living potheads, the five of us had walked into the theater for the last fifteen minutes of the movie. By the time I figured out the mystery of memory loss with regard to Blame It On Rio, the 80s, a harrowing time indeed, were long over.

Rejoice for the Dead: Some Thoughts On My New Release

My latest novel Rejoice for the Dead is now available at Amazon and online retailers.

A little about this novel:


A few months after Bobby O’Malley joins the army to pay for his college education, he learns that his father is dying. O’Malley returns home to see his father one last time and bury him. Afterward, he is forced to put off his mourning, so he can continue his new role as an infantry soldier. In 1985, during a decade of excess, that role means mostly falling in with the wrong people and drinking to dull the pain of loss. Along the way, O’Malley makes some friends, falls in love with a married woman, and learns a secret about his father that changes his life.

A review excerpt:

“…well-written, semi-autographical book by Richard J. O’Brien, Rejoice for the Dead leads you to places that a non-military person may not know or understand. The loneliness, depression, and less than ideal training conditions described are an interesting look into a soldier’s life…” Green Gables Book Reviews

About the book:

Rejoice for the Dead was born decades ago under a different title with an integral part missing. I was twenty-three years old, maybe twenty-four, when I wrote the draft that would eventually become lost (read: thrown out by someone). Despite whatever may have passed between the purging party and me, it was, in retrospect, the best thing that happened to that version since I was not removed long enough from the events that shaped it.

What’s a writer to do when a manuscript is lost? I don’t know about anyone else, but I rewrote much of it from memory. Rejoice for the Dead turned out to be semi-autobiographical. About the only similar traits I hold in common with the protagonist Bobby O’Malley are these: I had to join the army to pay for college, my father died about six months after I enlisted, and I actually worked at Joe’s News Shop in Runnemede, NJ. One of the regular customers Bobby meets in the novel is nicknamed The Countess Vampirella. She, like her real-life inspiration, regularly purchases Penthouse Letters and other assorted porn mags, which, in 1980s suburbia, was not something any other woman did while I worked at the shop. Read my book to find out more about The Countess Vampirella and other assorted characters…

As far as other similarities go with my protagonist, they no doubt exist, to be sure, much in the same Bukowski was forever linked to Henry Chinaski and Salinger Holden Caulfield. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Bobby my alter ego, but I am quite fond of him.

Where Bobby’s story is concerned, I struggled for years with whether or not a story that takes place in Camden County New Jersey was even worth telling. As I got older I learned through reading and writing that every place is just as peculiar, odd, and heartbreaking as the next. Every place can be just as rewarding too. A story shines not on its location but in its telling. But now I digress.

As I finished writing Rejoice for the Dead I realized that Bobby’s story had more to it. One book spawned a prequel and that prequel begat another. When I finished, It became apparent that rather than a trilogy I had written one large novel that cashed in for a total of 320,000 words…and it isn’t over. Look for The Last Days of Iggy Scanlon (my Fairview section of Camden novel that covers one fateful summer when Bobby was just out of the fourth grade) and Dark Accidents of Strange Identity (which tells of Bobby and his family’s move to the suburbs…extra karmic points if you tell me where the title of this one came from). Awhile back I signed a contract with Between the Lines Publishing to publish all three.

For me, writing semi-autobiographical fiction proved harder than anything I’ve done so far. It’s also been cathartic.

Rejoice for the Dead will be available for sale at Amazon on November 16 (other online retailers soon to follow). You can preorder today. I would be forever grateful. And my indie publisher would be too.

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