He was a writer but he had never written much, nor even read all the ‘originals’ he worked from, because it made his head bang to read much. But the good old silent days you got somebody’s plot and a smart secretary and gulped Benzedrine ‘structure’ at her six or eight hours every week. The director took care of the gags. After talkies came he always teamed up with some man who wrote dialogue. Some young man who liked to work – From “A Man in the Way”, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
If you’ve never read The Pat Hobby Stories, by F.Scott Fitzgerald you are doing yourself a disservice. Toward the end of his career, and basically his life, FSF found himself laboring on screenplays in Hollywood for MGM. Based on his movie industry experiences Fitzgerald invented the character of Pat Hobby, an alcoholic hack who’d once been “a good man for structure” during the silent ages, but who now spent most of his time hanging around the studios, picking up the occasional “polish job” for $250 a week.
Fitzgerald wrote 17 Pat Hobby stories that ran in Esquire Magazine from January 1940 to May of 1941, the last five running after his death in December of 1940. Ben Nutty, and his stories, are my tribute to FSF, and the incomparable Pat Hobby.
Justice is Served
Ben Nutty pulled up at the local courthouse. He’d recently accepted a part-time gig that required his rubbing elbows with the great unwashed in the county records department. But times could hardly be called robust since he’d been canned from his corporate communications job, and the phone had not exactly been ringing off the hook with freelance offers.
Predisposed to frugality, Ben bypassed the available metered parking directly in front of the records department, circling the adjacent parking lot in his rattling Toyota in search of a vacant, gratuitous, space. Passing through, and exiting the far end of the parking lot, he found an empty spot on a side street, and maneuvered his sputtering heap between to colossal SUV’s, the resulting dings to their chrome bumpers barely discernible even in direct sunlight.
Slinging his computer laden backpack over his shoulder, Ben began trudging the 200-yards back to the records bureau. He entered the building to discover the usual long line of “customers,” the disheveled and potentially dangerous, waiting to speak to a clerk of the court. Ben excused his way toward the back of the 8×10 room, claiming the only available piece of countertop, and wedged himself between the heating vent and a sizable, well-suited, but rather pungent gentleman, reviewing a court file.
“Good-morning,” Ben said, with forced joviality, tipping his Target® fedora.
“If you say so, pal,” the large man replied, shifting his body to give Ben the full view and scent of his nether regions. “Nice hat.”
Ben frowned and removed his hat. He went about setting up his computer and searching the plastic box on the opposite counter for the day’s civil complaints.
“Why is it so much trouble to keep files in numerical order?” Ben said to himself and the room at large, feigning disgust in hopes that the culprit is still present. He pulled the necessary files and stacked them next to his computer and began the dreary task of recording the necessary facts, names and dates.
“Ho, ho,” Ben chuckled, trying to draw the interest of his gargantuan counter-mate, “The things one sees in these employment sexual harassment lawsuits.”
Getting no response, he continued.
“Wow. I’ve never even heard of that, and I’ve been to college! Aren’t physical relations, coupled with dwarfism, considered an unnatural and illegal act in these parts? If I were the plaintiff’s attorney I’d pursue both civil and criminal actions, while tossing in a writ of habeas corpus for good measure.”
The man next to him turned and moved his considerable bulk into Ben’s personal space.
“Hey, Perry Mason, do you mind? I’m trying to work over here.”
“The name’s Ben Nutty, actually.”
“Well put a lid on it, Ben, and save your two-bit legalese for the dolls.”
With that, the man gathered up his file and moved down the counter. Ben watched his retreating girth with dismay, and turned his attention back to the heap of files.
An hour later he had a stack of complaints ready to be copied. There were only two clerks working and a line of people stretching out the door. With a sigh, Ben gathered up his files and took his place at the end of the line, resigning himself to a long wait.
“This is ridiculous,” said a flabby, heavily pierced woman several heads ahead of Ben in the queue. Her face brought to mind visions of Ben’s mama’s pincushion. “Fifteen people in line and only two windows open.”
“And both clerks are moving at a glacial pace,” responded an elderly gentleman.
“Typical civil service operation,” added an emaciated, scarecrow of a woman. “Chock-full of inefficiencies.”
“Seriously,” said the elderly man. “They see all of us standing here. Why don’t they open another window?”
“Not only that,” said pincushion. “Why do they need all these files? This is all public record. It should be available on-line for anyone to see. We should be able to print records from home.”
“Just another way for Uncle Sam to squeeze a dollar out of us,” added a goateed young tweeker behind Ben. Ben figured him to be fresh from the pen, and touching a hand to the wallet in his back pocket, he hugged his files to his chest and inched further ahead in the line.
“Oh, look. They’re opening a third window,” said scarecrow. But no sooner had the third window opened then one of the other windows began to close.
“It’s my lunch time,” said the woman behind the counter. And with that they were back to only two open windows. Grumbles rippled through the crowd.
“Ridiculous,” said pincushion again.
Ben cleared his throat and puffed himself up. “You know, there is a ‘COMMENT” box in the corner there,” he said, pointing to what appeared to be a wooden ballot box with a padlock on it. “Maybe we should write a complaint letter.”
“Not that it would do any good,” said the elderly man. “But at least we could voice our complaints. It’s not like we have anything else to do.”
“Exactly,” said Ben, seizing the moment and taking an 8×11 notebook from his backpack. “You’re lucky that I’m here. Communications is my ball of wax.”
The crowd stared at him slack-jawed, but Ben gave no notice, so caught up was he in the opportunity to take charge. Ben opened his notebook to a fresh page.
“OK, I think we should start with a zinger, something like ‘Dear Tyrant of the Court,’” Ben said and began scribbling.
“Don’t be absurd,” said pincushion. “And your handwriting is atrocious. No one will be able to read your chicken scratch. Let me write it,” she said, pulling the notebook from Ben’s hand.
“Hey! I’m the writer here!”
But the corpulent woman had the notebook in her pudgy grip and had already produced a pen from behind a crusty, studded ear.
“OK,” she said addressing her queue mates. “What do we want to say?”
“Well, we certainly want to indicate our displeasure with the long wait,” said the elderly man. “And perhaps express our confusion as to why there are only two windows open when clearly there are more people working back there that could be assisting.”
“Good. That’s good,” said pincushion bending to the notebook.
“What was it you said about ‘public records?’” said scarecrow. “Something about how we should be able to print the records ourselves?”
“Right. Right,” said pincushion. “These are public records. There’s no reason we should have to stand in line for an hour for something we should be able to access on-line from home.”
Ben danced around the circle of backs trying to see the letter and inject his linguistic expertise.
“Make sure to use the word ‘Nazi,’” Ben yelled from outside the circle of contributors. “It’s a strong word and shows we mean business.”
“I certainly think that charging $1.00 per copied page is outrageous,” said the goateed tweeker. “As I said, it’s just another way for Uncle Sam to bleed us.”
“Good point,” said the elderly man. “Did you get that?”
“Yup, I got it,” said pincushion.
“Did you use ‘Nazi’ yet?” added Ben.
“OK,” said pincushion. “Take a look and see what you think.” The others bent over the notebook and began reading. Ben could not see.
“Wait just a minute here. Communications is my ball of wax, and that’s MY notebook,” Ben croaked, forcing his way into the circle and making a grab for the notebook. The last thing he saw was a large, dimpled elbow rocketing towards him.
When his vision began to clear he found himself lying partway under a table, looking up at the microfiche machines. The room was empty and his notebook lay on his chest. The files he’d been holding were scattered about the floor. He sat up slowly, shaking the cobwebs from his head. On hands and knees he began gathering his files, which still needed to be copied. As he stood up, a woman sitting at the only open window looked out at him and then up at the clock on the wall.
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed for the day.” Ben saw his battered reflection appear in the glass as the window slammed shut.