Authors: Dan Fante
The idea for this book came from my mother,
Joyce Fante, whose love and delight for the diabolical
remained unquenchable for ninety-one years.
t was cold in the Austrian winter of 1940. For the entire month of December the temperature never rose above fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. All inmates from the thirty-two barracks were awakened at 5:15
. each morning. They would work until 7:00
. The boy was ten. Aribert Heim himself had selected him from a group of his laboring peers in the yard because of his height, apparent unusual strength, and blond hair. Dr. Heim always wore a heavily starched white smock befitting his rank and extensive education. The boy, who had been a good student until he and his parents were taken three months earlier at their flat, thought the doctor’s face casual but his eyes menacing, like those in a Charles Dickens novel he had once read. One of Dr. Heim’s chief assistants was called Oskar, a big Nazi serviceman with sandy hair and thick, wire-rimmed spectacles. Oskar would be the one selected by Dr. Heim to personally train and oversee the boy. He was a strict taskmaster. The sessions would begin at seven o’clock every morning when the first of the subjects would be brought in, and continue until lunchtime, then resume again at 2:00
., then end when the supper siren sounded or before, if the subject they were working on was now dead. Oskar’s instructions were that the boy never deviate from what he was being taught and never question an order. When the boy did make a mistake or hesitate, his punishments were immediate and painful. Years later, when he became a man and tried to erase these memories with drugs and hypnotherapy, he would relive it all, again and again, vividly. After one session with his Beverly Hills therapist, in a rage the boy, now a forty-year-old man, would terminate his treatment with his doctor by crushing the man’s head with a glass globe paperweight from a nearby desk. From the age of ten the boy would never sleep through the night. In the procedure room at Mauthausen Concentration Camp there was a long, flat oak table with belts and straps fixed to the sides and the ends. When they arrived in the morning, the subjects would be stripped of their dirty prison uniform, then strapped to the table, naked, by Oskar. The boy’s very first instruction from Oskar, who, in the beginning, only spoke to him to give orders, was to place the rag in the mouth of the subject. Over time—over the two years he would continue his work with Oskar and Dr. Heim—the boy himself would become the one to do the stripping and binding and, eventually, the other duties as well.
The boy was fed normally with the prison staff and was permitted to dine in the restricted mess hall with Dr. Heim and Oskar, the other medical personnel, and ranking soldiers. As time went by the boy would gain weight and began to fill out. He would never be permitted to speak to any German soldier other than Oskar and Dr. Heim, but his blond hair made him a favorite among the staff and jokes were often directed toward him at supper. The staff nicknamed him Corporal Jewboy with smiles and affection. Oskar’s primary assignment from Doctor Heim, who was infrequently present in the room, was to test—while inflicting injury—the pain endurance of their subjects. These procedures gave the Nazi high command insight into their soldiers’ survival ability on the field of battle, after being wounded. The procedures would often go on for hours, sometimes longer, until the subject lost consciousness and could not easily be revived, or simply died. On Corporal Jewboy’s first day Oskar called the boy to his side. “We begin now,” Oskar had barked. “Watch and learn.” He would then start with the subject’s left hand. “Watch me!” Oskar commanded. “Learn how to do it.” He would then break each finger of the subject’s left hand by sharply twisting its joint back with a thick wooden tool resembling pliers until a snapping sound could be heard. Following that, Oskar would break the wrist, then the elbow, and end with the shoulder on that side of the body. This sometimes took several hours because observing the subject’s reactions and documenting them was essential to the process. After both arms were done, the boy’s task would be to remove the straps and mouth gag. Oskar would instruct the subject that he or she would be given whiskey with water if they answered questions about their pain. Invariably, the subjects would agree, if they were still conscious. Oskar would say, “Can you move your arm?” If the subject could move the arm, he or she would be given a teaspoon or two of the whiskey and water mixture. If they were not conscious and could not be revived, Oskar would place the thick, brown canvas bag that was kept under the table over the head of the subject. The bag had one purpose: to prevent blood and brain material from soiling the table and the room. Oskar would then shoot the subject with his pistol by placing the barrel of the gun under the subject’s chin and firing twice, upward into the head. Oskar’s gun was a small-bore German automatic and only rarely would a bullet exit the subject’s skull and penetrate the canvas bag and travel into the wall of the room. The noise of the gun was loud in the room and frightening to the boy in the beginning, so Oskar would come to the habit of permitting him to cover his ears before firing his pistol. When the breaking of each appendage was complete, Oskar would make sure that appendage had been twisted a hundred eighty degrees and was facing in exactly the opposite direction from its original position.
It was discovered that Corporal Jewboy was a quick learner and Dr. Heim himself considered it a benefit that he could read and write. Filling out a report during and after each procedure on the clipboard became one of Corporal Jewboy’s primary duties. Time passed until the boy was big enough and strong enough to do the cracking himself. For the first few sessions Oskar allowed his charge to start off on specially selected subjects—women and a few children, those of a smaller body type. Often, if a female subject had ample breasts, Oskar would demand that Corporal Jewboy touch her breasts before he began cracking. “Rub her tits with your hands,” Oskar would command. After this was done, Oskar would often go further: “Now stick your fingers into her! In her cunt. Deep inside.” At first the boy showed hesitation to this specific instruction, and would receive a hard backhanded slap from Oskar, but in short order his resistance to cooperation had been pacified. Over their time together Oskar and Corporal Jewboy conducted in excess of two hundred procedures. Eventually, the last third of these would be administered by Corporal Jewboy himself, with Oskar observing. His superior would sit in the only chair in the room, sipping from the bottle of whiskey.
Mauthausen camp invariably had an overpopulation problem. In the evenings, after their sessions that day, Oskar would stand outside the small three-room wooden conjoined building with the boy. They would watch as several dozen prisoners were marched to a chalk line twenty paces from a nearby barbed wire fence. The fence was electrified with lethal voltage and no one could survive contact with it. Three at a time the prisoners were given a choice: to be shot immediately or to walk the twenty paces across the chalk line into the electrified barbed wire fence. Often, many were too weak to decide, or obstinate. They would be shot immediately for not obeying the command by one of the three rifle squad members attending them. The others, usually about two-thirds of the group, would be marched three abreast, several feet apart, into the fence. The smell of burning hair and flesh would haunt Corporal Jewboy for the rest of his life. At the electrocutions Oskar would not permit the boy to look away but would often light an extra cigarette and hand it to him. The boy found that inhaling the tobacco helped reduce the stink.
Two or three times per week, before the first subject of the day was brought into the procedure room, Oskar would lower his military trousers and, on an order, the boy would then suck his cock.
ometimes I think that if everyone was dead around me I might be able to hear what my own mind is screaming.
It was ten minutes before the start of the meeting. I was sitting in the corner, at a right angle to the speaker’s podium, far enough away so I could not be noticed. The daily Point Dume (pronounced
) Malibu AA meeting has about fifty chairs. It is held in a converted grammar school classroom that once contained local ten–year-olds but now goes by the title Community Center Room 5.
The noon meetings almost always have several dozen attendees.
Most of the people who attend are locals—rich and jobless or rich and shaking one out. Some are addicts. There are also a good number of court-card alkies who, like me, were sentenced by the judge to come here for their DUIs. The swank recovery homes in Malibu bus in another dozen or so of their seventy-grand-a-month clients.
I’d met the secretary of the meeting several times before, a guy named Albert, a former alkie-dope fiend advertising guy who’d been in a few rehabs himself but now had five years of recovery and apparently considered himself to be some kind of AA guru hotshot. These days Albert is a counselor at the Dume Treatment Center, a couple of miles away in Ramirez Canyon. He wears a tie and jacket when he does his meeting secretary act.
Albert is a pretentious asshole. His fifty-year-old face reveals a recent jowl-tuck and he smiles too much with perfect capped teeth and always seems to pay particular attention to the newcomer girls half his age and never misses an opportunity to introduce himself and pass along a few worn-out snot-filled one-liners about recovery while he ogles their tits and takes down their phone number to later make what people in AA term a “support call.” Somehow Albert is less gregarious with the one or two transient, shit-in-your-pants locals and guys like me: guys trying to get through the day without drinking or blowing their brains out.
A PRETTY GIRL
in her twenties, dressed in dangly earrings and cutoff jeans and a short white top that exposes her tummy, comes walking down the aisle toward my row in the corner, holding a Styrofoam cup filled with the meeting’s free coffee. She was about to sit down in a seat in the row in front of me when she paused to get my attention.
“Hi,” she says, holding out a pretty, nail-polished hand for me to shake, “my name’s Meggie. I’ve seen you here a few times. You’re here a lot, right? Like almost every day. I saw you take a one-year birthday cake a couple of weeks ago at the Saturday night meeting.”
“JD,” I say back, shaking the hand with the red fingernails. “Yeah, I’m here a lot.”
“Congratulations on your one-year cake, JD. I mean that’s pretty amazing. It made me think that if you can do it, then I can do it too.”
“One day at a time, right?” says I, parroting a recovery puke one-liner.
“I’ll have forty-five days tomorrow, JD.”
“Hey, good for you,” my yap replies, wanting to sound positive, like I gave a rat’s ass whether Meggie drinks again or smokes more crack or has Johnny Depp’s baby, or not.
“Claude, my boyfriend, has ten days. He’s French. He’s a film composer. He’s pretty squirrely right now and he sort of refuses to get a sponsor. Hey, would you do me a favor and talk to him, JD? Claude won’t listen to me but he might listen to you.”
“Sure. After the meeting. Whatever.”
Then Meggie gives me her twenty-peso grin. “Thanks, JD,” she says. “You’re a real sweetie.”
Then down the aisle comes Meggie’s old man, Claude, a short, long-haired Frenchie, wearing an expensive sports jacket, jeans, and T-shirt. Malibu casual. He’s carrying his coffee cup in one hand and two big, free chocolate doughnuts in the other.
Claude plants his dapper forty-five-year-old Froggy ass in the chair next to Meggie.
Next to Claude are three girls in their twenties, all wearing baseball caps and logo T-shirts. They’re giggling and acting like morons, pointing at the nearby celebrity people and whispering. Apparently, the current gossip is that two young female Latino workers have gone missing without a trace. The girls somehow find this funny too.
After over a year off booze I am still disgusted by most people, especially the has-been actors and ex-rock stars who live nearby in their five-million-dollar châteaus above the cliff overlooking Point Dume.
I am forty-four years old, what in AA they call a retread because I have been in and out of sobriety twice over the last few years. When I meet people at an AA meeting I try to act like a concerned participant, but I’m not. It’s just that—an act. I don’t belong in Malibu and I don’t like Malibu AA. My dead father, James (Jimmy) Fiorella, wrote movies for forty years in Los Angeles as a contract screenwriter. He was a transplant from the Little Italy section of New York City and moved west to Los Angeles, trying to become a newspaper columnist. A few years later, by mistake and by accident, he got into writing screenplays. Pop’s street name as a kid in lower Manhattan was Jimmy Flowers. In Hollywood he became a script doctor, rewriting movies that had already been rewritten and further ruined. Jimmy Flowers almost never got a screen credit and didn’t want it. He hated every minute of it. He moved us here to Point Dume thirty-five years ago when the place was a desolate, windblown plateau above the Pacific Ocean. Malibu was not pronounced
in those days and dripping with glitz and two-hundred-thousand-dollar sports cars and big names. As a kid I could stand on our roof and not see another house for miles. Pop wanted to live as far away from the movie business as possible, so he picked Point Dume because no one lived there. Jimmy Fiorella had contempt for the film industry but he always cashed the large biweekly paychecks.
As it turned out, the joke was eventually on my dad because, somehow, with the passing of time, people like Barbra Streisand and Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn and Bob Dylan and Cher and Nick Nolte and Anthony Hopkins and Louis Gosset and Robert Downey Jr. and Julia Roberts and a hundred other glitzy Hollywood transplants began to build their palazzos nearby. Jimmy had never wanted to be a trendsetter. In the years before his death, as he witnessed Malibu becoming
and Point Dume becoming Point Glitz, his new dream was to cash out, sell everything, and evacuate his family to the Abruzzo mountains in central Italy. On his deathbed he held my hand and mumbled to me in Italian: “You’re a good kid, JD. I love you. You’ll figure things out someday.”
NOTHING IMPORTANT IN
my life has changed since I returned here to my mom’s house three months ago, eight years after my old man’s death. I arrived with all that I owned in three green plastic garbage bags, my mind still carving more of me up and killing more of me off every day.
My last and hopefully final shitstorm started eighteen months ago. Battling a perpetual headache, I’d gone on a three-week drunk, had a fight or two, and supposedly, underline supposedly, tried to off myself. During this time I had failed to show up at my Marina del Rey business, a high-end car rental agency that supplies the overrich population of Los Angeles with Hummers and Ferraris and Dodge Vipers by the hour and by the day. A good business too—until I blew it.
My serious drinking, and the headaches, began several years before that, after an incident in an apartment in the East Bronx when I was a detective. I killed people that day. That’s when the headaches started. The booze, as it turns out, became the only thing that ever helped control the headaches. But now I don’t have the booze, just the headaches. They’re less severe but they’re not gone.
I don’t remember much about the binge that caused me to lose my rental car business, but it resulted in my having to pay the tab—thanks to a clause in the partnership contract—by signing over ownership of my company to my two acting shit-for-brains minor partners. After I got arrested these guys called our mutual attorney and, in a conference, decided it was time to clean my clock, financially.
Knowing they had me by the short hairs, I rolled over and played dead. In the end, I sold my fifty-one percent in LA Dream Machine, the company I had started, for pennies on the dollar and came away with thirty thousand dollars for a business that should have netted me at least three hundred grand.
I hadn’t had thirty K in cash in my pocket, free and clear, in quite some time, so I decided on a road trip and ended up back in New York City, where I’d lived before coming to L.A.
Once back in Manhattan I made a few strategic and spontaneous investments—mainly hookers and cocaine and limo rides and then a suite at the Pierre Hotel—but I did show up for a visit with the ex in the Hamptons to settle up five back alimony payments.
A day or so later, when we talked again, I discovered that Kassandra was having trouble with her newest live-in boyfriend. When I began to dig for answers in the conversation she finally let me know that Cedric, after a few drinks in the evening, enjoyed slapping her around a bit. So, one morning before breakfast, after an all-nighter at some downtown clubs, I motored out to the Hamptons by limo to deal with Cedric the asshole one-on-one.
That pre-oatmeal visit and the assault and B&E charge that came with it resulted in a permanent restraining order. The charges were eventually dropped, thanks to Kassandra, but I had to do a ninety-day recovery bit at the Croodmoor nuthouse.
JACK KEROUAC ONCE
wrote that “the only people for me are the mad ones . . . who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
That’s crap, but thanks, Jack. For the last few years in New York I’d tried to be one of Jack’s people. In my spare time I wrote a book of poems and, before he died, I had even worked with my dad, Jimmy Fiorella, and coauthored a couple of screenplays, but eventually I discovered the truth about Kerouac, that crap, and those people: most of them wind up in the bughouse or with a mouthful of broken teeth and a jar of Xanax. Or worse. They wind up OD’d and dead.
In therapy at my nut ward, my shrink told me that I’d been suffering from a form of PTSD (with headaches) since I killed those people as a private detective. According to him that incident is when the wheels began coming off in my life.
NOW I LIVE
with my mother and attend AA and make every effort not to punch people. The PTSD headaches are still there. The dreams too. It’s almost always the same dream with two or three different versions: No. 1: I see the wounds but the bodies have no faces. No. 2: I’m buying cigarettes or at a market somewhere and I pull a bloody hand out of my pocket instead of my wallet. In the hand is my gun. No. 3: I’m holding my gun with blood all over me. There are two dead girls there but they are smiling and talking to each other.
Mom, who is now eighty-one, and her caretaker-companion, Coco, and their half-dozen cats occupy two of the six bedrooms in the house on Cliffside Drive in Malibu. Coco is a tall, strong woman. She’s only seventy or so. She used to be Mom’s neighbor until her husband died of colon cancer. The chemo treatments and other medical expenses lasted for two years and cost the couple every dime they had—their house on Point Dume, their restaurant, everything. After her husband’s death, Coco was tits up—about to be homeless. Mom called her and made her the companion-caretaker offer and when Coco’s house foreclosed she became Mom’s full-time live-in companion.
Because Jimmy Fiorella had left a $1 million life insurance policy, Mom was now more than okay financially. She’s been obsessed with astrology for years and never fails to let me know what new-shit planetary aspects are infecting my life.
My bedroom is the small one at the other end of the house.
MY NEW AA
sponsor, Southbay Bill, says that I am what in AA they call a WILL NOT. A “will-not,” as in, “will not completely give himself to this simple program.” And in my last evaluation from my free biweekly state-supplied therapist in Santa Monica (who terminated our sessions, she said, because of my anger issues and my use of profanity), I was told that I should be back on medication, but I refuse to take any of that crap for the headaches or anything else because it doesn’t help and it makes my brain stupid. And Southbay Bill has told me that he won’t sponsor me unless I’m one hundred percent straight and off everything.
Two weeks ago I got my driver’s license back after a long suspension for my last arrest and DUI in California. My license is restricted but I am now allowed to drive to and from my AA meetings and work—except, of course, that I have no job. Old Moms gives me fifty bucks a week for gas that I put in the tank of her oil-guzzling red Honda shitbox that fires on only three cylinders and emits a cloud of black smoke everywhere it goes.
A few days ago, when I began driving again, Mom and Coco were concerned that I might get drunk again and wreck the car, and on Mom’s attorney’s advice, she signed the title of her farting old Honda over to me.
CLAUDE AND MEGGIE
are now holding hands in the row in front of me as the room continues filling up. The girls in the baseball caps are still giggling. Claude has finished gobbling down his chocolate doughnuts and is now scratching his goatee while scanning the room for the movie stars he knows. I can’t help but notice that Meggie is wearing pink thonged panties that come two inches above the top of her jeans in back as she sits in front of me. Frilly panties. Very exceptional.
A couple of minutes later face-lift Albert stands at the podium to begin the meeting. “Hi,” he says, “My name is Albert and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Albert,” the room chimes back.
The former classroom is full now. There is only one open seat in my section—the seat next to me—and here comes a tall, fiftyish-looking woman in high heels and designer workout gear down the aisle. She stops at my row. Scary-looking bitch. All yoga muscle with perfect makeup. But the wrinkled skin on her hands and the liver spots are a dead giveaway that fifty is realistically sixty-five. Maybe older. The pulled face can’t hide what she really is.