American Culture

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Nut Case” by Samuel Vargo

Nut Case. That’s what we call him.

It fits. He’s crazy. And dangerous.

Don’t get too close to Nut Case, you can hear him ticking – clicking down to another big explosion. And you certainly don’t want to be near him when it occurs.

Nut Case carries a handgun, some small-caliber thingamajig that he keeps in his pocket. It’s a concealed weapon; I guess that’s the “legal” name for it, but actually, its only function is to put holes through people. And even though it’s a small caliber, don’t think it can’t kill someone. It’s ready made for fatalities, alright. Yep, that gun is very well concealed on his person. I don’t know if I actually consider Nut Case a person, though, since I see him more as a monster – but that’s the legal name for the way he carries that gun – `on his person’.

Nut Case always wears these goofy baggy pants with big deep pockets. I think he wears them so nobody can see the gun tucked away in his trousers. Yeah, those big balloon pants are something else, almost comical. They are made of printed fabric like floral arrangements, cartoon characters, and kiddie themes like the a-b-c’s, bright balloons, and smiling puppy and kitten faces. It sure looks like Nut Case is wearing pajamas, but we all know why he wears the big baggies – so he can carry that weapon around with him. He thinks nobody will notice it if he wears those ridiculous pantaloons. But everyone who lives around here knows that the gun is always with Nut Case – well within arm’s length.

I swear the guy doesn’t even have a pair of denim jeans. All he wears is those brightly colored, saggy distends which make him look even more obese than he is – and his screaming fashion statement gets him plenty of notice. I think he’d make a spectacle of himself in an insane asylum or at a ‘Rainbow Power’ parade. But I guess he offsets the pants by wearing dark hoodies with things like skull and crossbones or swastikas on them, or Harley-Davidson tee shirts (he doesn’t even own a motorcycle – he’s on the city bus route), or tees and sweatshirts from professional and college sports teams.

Nut Case says he’s got a Concealed Weapons Permit to carry the gun. We know he spent some time in prison and this means he’s a convicted felon. Felons aren’t allowed to carry guns around, let alone be entitled to having a Concealed Weapons Permit. So it’s Nut Case himself who gave himself a license to conceal and carry that thing, not the government. I’m sure if he’s ever arrested again and the cops find that little lead-spitter in his pocket, they’ll really give Nut Case a good going over.

Nobody would choose to associate, let alone befriend, Nut Case – even if he didn’t carry that gun around everywhere he goes. But the handgun makes him a walking werewolf. Who in the hell wants to have bullets fired at them? And who wants to talk to a guy who’s about as savage as a wolverine?

One day I was talking to some of the guys in the neighborhood. We were down at one of the local bars, Zanzibar Zoo, and we were discussing Nut Case. Of course, it was all negative. We decided to see if we could find some little anything `nice’ to say about the guy. Anything at all – like: he has a nice smile sometimes, or at least he probably doesn’t smoke meth, or what handsome eyelashes he has! After two or three more beers and no ideas, we just moved on to another topic. Nothin’ doin’. I think the new topic was baseball, but it’s been a while back and I can’t say for sure. But I know this happened last summer and about all we talk about in the summertime is baseball. Oh, at times we talk about girls, but most of the girls we know from the neighborhood are hardly girls. They’re more akin to old nags put out to pasture.

*****

Jimmy Scarsetti told me that one time he got into an argument with Nut Case about a baseball game and Nut Case pulled the .38 pistol out of his pocket and began waving it around. Imagine that, Nut Case went anger-atomic over a disagreement about a baseball game! And you wonder why he’s got the nickname Nut Case?!  Yeah, Jimmy said the thing had some green light that beamed from it, like a laser ray. Jimmy says the stream of light shoots out so Nut Case can just point and shoot. Wherever the beam lands, if Nut Case goes ahead and pulls the trigger, the bullet will fly out from the gun and hit the spot. Bulls-eye.

Nut Case has the disposition of an angry dog. No, actually, he’s more like a dog with rabies.  He’s always snapping and snarling about something or other. Particularly when he doesn’t have enough opiates swimming around in his veins.  It’s hard to believe that you can talk to him about a baseball game, as Jimmy did, and then end up being accosted and threatened with a loaded handgun. If you talk to Nut Case about Jesus, flowers and sunshine, somehow the conversation may turn deadly.

Jimmy says when he got into the big verbal fricassee with Nut Case about the Pirates – Phillies game, Nut Case hadn’t had a fix for a few days. The only reason Nut Case visited Jimmy is because Jimmy’s a pharmacist. Nut Case wanted Jimmy to go to the drug store (after hours, mind you!) and get some dry hooch to ease the human floral arrangement’s tortured, aching head. But Jimmy, being the straight-shooting arrow that he is, said, No way! I’m a professional pharmacist, not a drug dealer!  Then somehow they got to talking about baseball and the fireworks just about exploded. “I mean there he was, waving that gun around and the green beam was shooting out from the barrel,” Jimmy said. “And he was all dressed up in those flower-garden clothes he wears. He was inside my living room and what was I supposed to do? Call the cops? Hit him? I told him I’d go down to the drug store and get that oxy, then I’d deliver it. I lied, of course. He put the gun away and left my house. I called the cops.”

Mandy Baker also told me Nut Case is addicted to prescription painkillers and is a script-chasing fool. Nut Case goes from doctor to doctor and is a regular at a few of the local pain clinics around town. He gets Hydrocodone and Oxycodone, boils them down somehow, and shoots the shit in his arm. Mandy says Nut Case can’t find a good vein in either arm so he injects the shit into his leg. His arms are all ratty and covered with these horrid scabs that look like they’re not healing. Sometimes you can see blood and pus oozing from Nut Case’s arms. He punched all his tickets for his arms, that’s for sure. Nut Case smokes crack and meth, too. And when he can’t get scripts, he buys heroin. He’d probably even smoke or shoot asbestos and Agent Orange if he could get a jolt.

Mandy is Nut Case’s old girlfriend. I guess this torrid affair lasted all of eight days. Mandy was sort of out-of-doors at the time, but she said Nut Case is such a whacko that she opted to return to her life of homelessness rather than live with him. Mandy said Nut Case lives a barebones existence and doesn’t even have a TV. To entertain himself, Nut Case throws kitchen knives at a piece of plywood he’s got propped up in his living room. After a week of this nonsense, Mandy couldn’t handle any more, so she left without even grabbing her garbage bag full of stuff. And she never returned to get it, either, and the bag contained all her belongings, even her state ID and food stamp cards. Mandy told us sometimes Nut Case would clip a picture of Barack Obama out of the newspaper and throw the knives at it. A couple other times, Nut Case had a picture of George W. Bush pinned to the plywood. And get this – he even clipped out a photo of one of those Kardashian girls and was throwing knives at it, too. And you wonder why everyone in the neighborhood calls him Nut Case?

Another lady who knows Nut Case is his former landlady, some eighty-sum-year-old spinster by the name of Gertrude Hoosendorfer. I see her once in a while down at the bread store or at the supermarket. She told me once that she had to evict Nut Case because his apartment was so filthy and stinking that neighbors always complained to her about the stench and the bugs that came as a result of his tenancy.

“He’s like a pig, but at least a pig has a few scruples. Pigs don’t go spastic, throw knives, and carry guns around,” Gertrude said.

“I noticed how bad he smells. I thought it was something in the air where I saw him, but after talking to him several dozen times over the years, and with the stink all around each time, I knew it was him and not something in the air,” I said.

“Yes Richard Benjamin certainly is a filthy, stinking man. If stink came with dollar signs attached, Mister Benjamin would be a millionaire.”

I just shook my head in agreement.

“I was very upset about the roaches. But when some of the neighbors complained of a brown recluse spider infestation, I had to evict Mister Benjamin,” Old Lady Hoosendorfer said.

That’s his real name, by the way, Richard Benjamin. A typical opiate junkie, he’s as pale as a cadaver and looks twice or three times as dead as a corpse, too. And he’s as fat as a dirigible. Bloated beyond belief. Jimmy Scarsetti says it’s because of liver and kidney failure – holding too much liquid and not being able to get rid of it. Nut Case is fairly tall, too – about six-two. He looks like a leviathan to me, but I’m only five-ten and bean-pole skinny.

Someone said Nut Case even played college football at one time and was very muscular back in his teens and early twenties. Sort of like a body builder, but he got thrown off the team for smoking dope and drinking with a bunch of lowlifes. They were college radicals – 1970s spinoffs of the 1960s hippie counter-culture. Nut Case really should’ve stuck with the jocks. He always complained about wishing he’d been on the straight and narrow back in the day when he played college football, but oh well, he was young and stupid. More than anything, Nut Case said he wished he had a degree since you can’t get any kind of good job without that piece of paper with a university’s name printed on it. Unless, of course, you’re a big time drug dealer. There are a few of them living and roaming around here, too.

From what I gather, Nut Case is on Social Security Disability for head problem issues, like bi-polar disorder. He makes extra cash by working under the table at a few odd jobs here and there. Sometimes he helps a guy on the corner who runs a convenient store stock shelves.

I live on the wrong side of the tracks, too. Yeah, if I could write a book about it all I’d be on the bestseller list. There would be so many surly strange characters on those pages that you’d need to write all their names, descriptions, along with their likes and dislikes on little index cards to keep up with them all. It’d be a case history of this rat-hole world I’ve been stuck inside for far too long. Hell, I’d most likely make Nut Case one of the main characters in my novel. Well, it wouldn’t really be a novel, now would it? After all, I’d be writing about actual people and novels are fictional. This book would be nonfiction because it’d be real.

I’d have tons of stuff to throw in such a book. Like the time Nut Case and I were waiting on the bus in the late ‘90s and some guy whizzed by and nearly hit Nut Case. So what did Nut Case do? He jumped up from his place on the bus stop bench and started chasing after the old guy, who was riding around the bus stop so slowly that I could’ve kept up with him just by walking. Anyway, Nut Case only took a few strides to catch up with the old geezer, then Nut Case flew up into the air like a linebacker trying to spear a running back. The bike and the old man flew onto the pavement between two idling buses and Nut Case started hammering away at the old man. He smacked him really hard a number of times. Why he didn’t just pull the gun from his pocket and shoot the bicycle rider? There were some cops sitting in a cruiser down the street and almost immediately, flashing lights flooded the encroaching darkness. Loud sirens blasted, invading the bus stop’s usual quietness and serenity. It took four officers to pull Nut Case off the elderly victim, who was a bloody wretched mess by this time. The cops handcuffed Nut Case, threw him in jail, and charged him with felonious assault. It even made the newspaper, which reported that the old guy was some kind of World War II hero. Yeah, the judge threw the book at Nut Case, even giving him the maximum sentence for illegally carrying a firearm, since Nut Case was already a convicted felon and had done time in the joint for get this – another case of felonious assault, kidnapping, and robbery. Oh, about a decade before the skirmish with Mr. War Hero Bicycle Rider, Nut Case beat up a bar maid, locked her away in a storage room of a tavern, and stole all the money from the bar’s cash register. Anyhow, at the time, Nut Case was charged for tackling and roughing up the old bicycle rider, the cops confiscated some pills in his pocket, which Nut Case proved that he had a prescription for, but the cops also found a few syringes, too, and no script in the world gives a person the right to crush up Oxy and Hydro, boil the shit down, and then shoot it. Of course, the judge went hard on Nut Case for these particular peculiars, too.

Nut Case was out of our lives for a good time after this. Oh, he must have been gone a good three years or so. It might have even been four years, since nobody was really counting. Actually, we thought he’d be in the joint a lot longer since the judge hit Nut Case with a seven-to-ten year sentence. Anyhow, we were happy knowing Nut Case was in the slammer down state. His squirrelly name wasn’t mentioned for so long that Nut Case was forgotten. And just when he was just about dead and buried from our lives and memories for good, he was back again. And he moved right back into the neighborhood. He rented a garage apartment from Old Man Wheeler, who repairs lawn mowers, dirt bikes, chain saws, boat propeller engines, and other oddball machines. Mr. Wheeler works out of a big garage in back of his Victorian house. Yep, Old Wheeler, being a real entrepreneur, didn’t need all the room in his big old garage so he transformed about half of it into a little studio apartment. And the old wheeler dealer threw Nut Case out after only a few months. Nut Case always complained about the noise Mr. Wheeler made whenever the old man was working on engines on the other side of the wall. Of course, old Wheeler Man took none of this bunk.

“I always felt sorry for him. I mean `Nut Case’ – what the hell kind of name is that? It’s a terrible name! But then after having him live in that little sleeping room for a while, I realized the name really fits. The fact is, I don’t see any other name for that guy – `Nut Case’ should have been printed on his birth certificate,” Clarence Wheeler told me one day when I saw him buying coffee and smokes at the little shop on the corner.

So I agreed with Mr. Wheeler and told him about the incident involving Nut Case and the pharmacist who lives two blocks over, and how Nut Case threatened the guy with the gun after the two got into an argument over a baseball game.

“I didn’t even know he had a real name until his old landlady gave it to me. I guess his name’s Tom Benjamin,” Clarence Wheeler said.

“Well, I never knew his name until you just told me it, just now,” I said, with a chuckle.

“Well as far as I’m concerned, it’s `Nut Case.’ That should be his christened name,’” Clarence said with a huff and a puff, then went on his crotchety productive way.

After Nut Case was thrown out of the garage-turned-sleeping-room, he took up residence on the corner of Fifth and Copley for a short time. Numerous people told Nut Case to take a bed at the Mission, where he’d get two hots and a cot for as long as he needed a place to stay. And he wouldn’t have to live on a street corner. But Nut Case wanted none of this – he’d have been forced to live by a few simple rules, like not causing arguments with other Mission bunkies in the wee hours, or carrying a gun, or doing whatever he wanted to do, whenever and wherever he wanted to do it.

*****

Nut Case got into a heck of a jam the other day and was killed by the cops. Tommy Tuesday told me all about it since he was down at the bus stop and saw the whole thing go down.  Truthfully, I knew it would happen sooner or later. You can’t carry around that much angst and anger and not have serious repercussions.

The cops didn’t want to shoot Nut Case and they even tried talking him down in that cop lingo they use. But in typical Nut Case fashion, the neighborhood psycho aimed his .38 in the cops’ direction and when they saw that beam flick on one of those blue uniforms, two of the cops shot Richard Benjamin through the heart. The gun flew up, up and away, landing on the asphalt in front of an idling bus. Luckily, Nut Case didn’t get a shot off and nobody was injured by his .38.

Before this, Nut Case was at the corner bus stop and was waiting on the Number 16 to take him out to the fringes of the city to some dollar store he likes way, way out there. There was this woman on the bench. We call her Mumblin’ Molly because she mutters, gurgles, whispers and parleys to herself. She doesn’t talk to other people. Only to herself. She’s nuts. Probably a lot nuttier than Nut Case, even, although Mublin’ Molly is placid and nonviolent. She wouldn’t hurt a cricket. Anyhow, Nut Case went up to Mumblin’ Molly and told her to move. She was just sitting on the bench, by herself, not bothering anyone. And it was an odd hour, late morning, after the big rush for bus riders to get to work or school or down to the welfare office or Social Security to do a paper shuffle. Nut Case ordered Mumblin’ Molly to move strictly out of meanness, because there was a very sparse crowd at the bus stop at the time. There were a lot of empty benches, including around the area where the Number 16 bus parks. So Molly moved to another bench. And what does Nut Case do? He follows the mumbler and waits until she has a seat. Then Nut Case tells Molly she has to move again. A cop was at the stop. They’re always there, I swear, and he saw all of this going down. The policeman walks up to Nut Case and asks what he’s doing following that scraggly bag lady around and ordering her to move from one place to another.

“I’m an American citizen and I have my rights!” Nut Case yells at the cop.

“You have your rights, sir, as long as those rights don’t infringe on another American citizen’s rights,” the officer informed him.

“You’re just jacking me up,” Nut Case replies.

“No. I’m just giving you a lesson in Constitutional Law for Dummies,” the cop says, sort of smart-alecky.

“You know what, Mr. Policeman? You’re a real fucking wise guy and I don’t like wise guys,” Nut Case snorts.

“Sir, turn around and put your hands behind your back,” the cop says.

Nut Case knew he was going to be handcuffed and taken to jail. He didn’t like this at all. No, Nut Case didn’t do jail well. He hated jail.

Well, Nut Case moves back a few steps and by this time, two more cops are at the bus stop bench where he’s standing. There’s never one cop. You most likely know this fact. So Nut Case reaches into those big, baggy, flowery pantaloons of his and grabs that little gun. All three cops draw their weapons. They all have their guns pointed at Nut Case.

“Put the gun down, mister,” says the cop that started it all.

“We’re giving you one warning and one warning only. Put that gun down, sir,” another policeman firmly orders.

“Nuthin’ doin’ pigs,” Nut Case snorts, and starts waving that gun around with that green light streaming from its barrel. And being the real flipped-out freak that Nut Case is, he points that thing at one of the cops and a green speck of light lands on the policeman’s shirt.

POW! POW! – It happened so quickly. In a matter of two seconds, Tommy Tuesday told me.

Then Nut Case is supine on the concrete slab, laying right in front of the bus stop bench. He has a big crater in his Harley-Davidson hoodie. Blood’s pumping out of it. Tommy said he swears he saw a strange rictus on Nut Case’s face just then, like Nut Case actually saw the Angel of Death swoop down and enjoyed the view. And then Mumblin’ Molly looks down at Nut Case’s corpse, sees that crazy grin on his face, and Molly starts laughing hysterically, like the crazy woman we all know her to be.

“Nut Case is dead! Nut Case is dead!” she screams, with wild crazy eyes.

Tommy Tuesday said the whole scene was so scabrous, sublime and surreal, like something right out of a Stephen King novel or a Coen Brothers movie.

Mumblin’ Molly has blood splatter all over that white summer dress she always wears. The thing’s so dirty and old it looks more ochre than white. But from now on, Molly will be wearing a red polka-dotted summer dress. And I guess from now on, I’ll have to talk about Nut Case in the past tense; since he’s dead.

 

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2 replies »

  1. Interesting piece. Some really excellent descriptions. Not sure your natrrator would have the vocabulary for scabrous, though.

  2. Thanks Otherwise. A writer can take some liberties when writing narrative fiction, but using “scabrous” was a wee bit over-the-top. Thanks for the nudge and the compliment on the description in the story.