Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Catching Up With Fonzie - Crime & Punishment

"That's it?"  The Union Pacific detective asked, looking not at his suspect, but at the two-way mirror on the back wall of the interrogation room.  He knew that behind the glass, the Oklahoma City cops were shaking their heads.

"That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it, copper."  Fonzie, a six-year veteran of the grinding, often brutal hobo life, had been in trouble before.  His smile spoke of relief, as if he'd confessed everything.

He had not.  Not nearly.

His confession had covered only the petty crime committed that morning - his attempted theft of a woman's purse at Union Station.

"Buddy, we got all night.  I already told you the purse snatching ain't your biggest problem.  So, before we go any further... Arturo Hebert Fonzarillo--"

"Call me Fonzie," the hobo said smugly.

The policeman cleared his throat.  "Arturo Hebert Fonzarillo, you are hereby charged with the murders of Estelle Jane and Frank Joseph Fonzarillo.  You have the right to remain silent--"

"What??"  Fonzie slammed his handcuffed fists on the ancient wooden desk, and began to lunge from his chair, before several officers rushed into the room and encouraged him to reconsider.  "My parents?  What's wrong with you, bub?  My parents died six years ago."

"Yes - the day you disappeared, Mr. Fonzarillo," the lead interrogator said flatly.  "The day you murdered them.  Now, you pays your money and you takes your choice, see..."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"What he's trying to say, Fonzie, is you did the crime, so now you're gonna do the time.  I'd say about twenty-five to life."

Six hours later...

"You know what, coppers?"  Fonzie sighed, exhausted.  "I know I didn't kill my folks.  God knows I didn't do it, and I'm pretty sure you fellas know I didn't do it.  But, you know what?  Write up a confession, and I'll sign it.  Whatever you say - I did it.  I drowned my dear old mama in the lobster tank in our restaurant.  I knocked my pop unconscious with the pizza paddle from the kitchen, then burned him in the oven.  Done and done.  Where do I sign?"

The detectives stared at each other for a moment, then at Fonzie.  "We'll get that typed up in just a minute, Fonz.  But we been here for hours - with you proclaiming your innocence up one side and down the other.  What gives?"

The weary hobo sighed heavily.  "Like I said, God and me - we know I didn't do it.  But there ain't a judge or jury that's gonna believe me.  So, the way I see it, I already been punished to hell and back, over the past six years.  You say I'll get twenty-five to life in the clink.  About now, that sounds like a step up.  A cot, a shower, food that don't have bugs in it, vaccinations, a roof over my head and no more running - I'll take it.  Where do I sign?"


This time, I combined the STUDIO 30-PLUS prompt "he'd confessed everything" from Kirsten A. Piccini's "Man on a Mission," with the LIGHT & SHADE CHALLENGE prompt "You pays your money and you takes your choice," and the name Fonzie, from John Hodgman's list of 700 hobo names.

So.  Did he do it?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pantless, Sockless, Shoeless Buster Bareass - On Loss

In my quest to tell the stories of John Hodgman's 700 HOBOES, I have often struggled to find any useful information at all, beyond a name.  Many of these people are nothing more than ghosts.  Interviews of actual hoboes have been helpful, but short of that rare face-to-face meeting, I have found that the best window into the forgotten lives of America's legions of train-riding wanderers is found in the letters a few of them left behind.  

The following letter was found in 1949 in the woods near the Louisville and Nashville tracks, twenty-two miles southwest of Mobile, Alabama.  It was in a glass bottle, clutched in the skeletal remains of a long-dead man - presumably its author - next to a shallow grave marked only with a number of small rocks arranged on the ground in the shape of a cross.  Local authorities had the remains exhumed, and they were able to determine that it was a woman, estimated to have died at least fifteen years prior, probably in her mid-twenties and eight-to-ten weeks pregnant when she perished.  Nearly all of her bones had been broken.

My Dearest Eleanor,

I will try to be brief. I know you hate when I ramble.  I hope I needn't remind you that I view our time together as nothing short of a miracle, but in case you forgot, there it is.  I never believed in soul mates before you stumbled so drunk and pretty into my campfire.  Enough said, I'm sure.

It has been five years, but the only difference between how I feel now and how I felt when it happened is that now, I'm older and more tired.  They said time would heal me.  It hasn't.  They said I could take comfort in knowing that you and the baby are at peace.  I cannot.  And Lord knows I have tried.  They even said I would love again, the fools.  I have not.  I will not.  I cannot.  I love you, and that is all.

I tried to convince myself that it wasn't my fault, that if you couldn't hear the train over the storm, there was no way you could have heard my voice.  I don't know.  I said nothing.  I just stood there, paralyzed and stupid in my disbelief of my own eyes, and it was over.  You were gone.  Our life, ended in a horrible blink.  No, I will not forgive myself this loss.  We knew plenty of losses before this one - my pants and shoes, my watch, your scarves and the photograph of the two of us with the sideshow madam in Cincinnati.  Even the fingers I lost to frostbite were nothing.  I am empty, I am dead, I am lost.

I still wake at night and speak to you, as if you are beside me.  I dream of our baby, always a girl, and she looks just like you.  Every day, I tell you I'm sorry, over and over.  I have returned here twice a year - on your birthday, and on our anniversary, to bring you flowers that I paid for myself. 

And now I think I've cried enough, trying to reach you, and to be where you are.  There was frost all the way down near Pascagoula last night, and it feels just as cold, tonight.  I'll sit with you, sweet Eleanor, and drink all this hobo wine, and I'll pass out, and freeze right to death, right to you.  And we will be happy - you, me and the baby.  I hope you haven't met someone new, where you are.  That would be awkward.  Anyway, if that's the case, I'll have only myself to blame, for not doing this sooner.

I'm sure when they find me, they'll say, "Oh, this poor bum - he had nothing of his own," but I know better.  I'm not a bum.  I am a hobo, and I had everything.  I had you.

With all of me,

P.S. I didn't freeze to death, and I have a splitting headache.  I'll try again tonight.

This post was written in response to another Studio Thirty Plus writing prompt.  This time, the phrase (He had nothing of his own) comes from one of my own posts, last week's little ditty about Packrat Red And His Cart o' Sad Crap.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Packrat Red and his Cart o' Sad Crap

She should have seen it coming.  

Red Barrett had for eight long years endured a loveless shotgun marriage to the daughter of a Pennsylvania steel baron.  She was a domineering daddy's girl, and from day one, she made no attempt to hide her disdain for Red.  On good days, she ignored him, but often she was openly hostile.  After a few years, he had stopped fighting, quit defending himself against her insults, and no longer believed that happiness was a possibility for him.

He trudged along the streets of Allentown, surviving as best he could the soul-crushing employment his father-in-law had arranged for him.  By day, he peddled toiletries and tools from a heavy, wobbly-wheeled cart.  By night, he suffered the slings and arrows of his wretched wife.


Until the onset of the Great Depression.  It didn't ruin him; he had nothing of his own.  What it did was put stories about hoboes in the newspaper.  Before he took his melancholy out the back door, hit the road as Packrat Red and made a life of challenging but happy wandering, he left his wife a note.

"Lynnette - I don't love you.  You don't love me.  If I die tomorrow, walking free the rails to Reading, it will be a far better fate than another hour of life in this house.  You may keep the filthy cart."

It's good to be back!  This little warmup was written in response to the STUDIO 30 PLUS prompt "He took his melancholy out the back door," from Katy Brandes' ON THE CUSP OF SPRING.