“Speaking of stinking hillbillies and incompetent confidence men,” said Count Victor Justin, “there was one Yellof of my acquaintence named Little Joe, who hailed from the Crossroads of Ohio, which is perhaps the most insignificant city in the United States. He was the damndest piss-poor excuse for a fraudster I ever met, a real cross-roda clown, and believe me when I tell you I’ve met some real legends. He went by the handle of Joe Ivy, but was also known under the monicker of Lulla, or Little Joey, because, of course, he was a spiteful midget man. A square-headed layabout with big ideas about his own importance entirely incommensurate with cold, hard reality. A man completely without a conscience. A born criminal. Like most money-loving Dago shrimps, he was deluded into thinking he was a big man. But he was little more than a filthy dwarf, both inside and out. He was most notable for his perversion of the moral faculties. Now, I’m hardly a one to talk–but the uphot was that everyone he encountered knew, as if by instinct, that he was a police character, and that kind of put a crimp in his grift, since scrupulously honest people wanted nothing to do with a desperado like him, and even certain shady businessmen had the sense to stay far away from this highbinder. Which made him, in his way, something of a legend–as a bottom-feeder. He broke the heart of at least one normal-sized college girl, by making promises he never had any intention of keeping, regarding marriage. Plus, he treated her horribly. Called her insulting names, accused her of being too high-hat and stuck up. I heard all kinds of terrible stories, since I happened to have in an with one of the girl’s best friends.
“Little Joe was one for the books. He was a vagabond, a spendthrift, and a dipsomaniac, and he was filled with temperamental peculiarities. An alienist would probably say that he was a victim of a constitutional psychopathic inferiority. Or maybe he would say that he was just plain inferior. Like I said, he fancied himself a big man, and was always pushing himself forward as the life of the party and a hit on any stage–but he was as deficient in talent as he was lacking in height and incapable of morality. He wrote rotten poetry; strummed the ukulele execrably, and couldn’t blow the cornet to save his life, though he professed to be a maestro of the instrument. Maestro? My-ass-tro! In fact, he was something of a jack of all trades, and master of none. Like most midgets, the only thing he was really good at was being short. When I recently met him again, he was a three-time loser: a kleptomaniac tramp who had become an ailing con with a coal-burner of a hop habit. What makes it all the more tragic is that his father grew up around the Marsh in Monkeytown and later on was some kind of semi-professional ball player who, of course, never touched any of the hard stuff. The old man strutted around with a striped bow tie and made out like he was running for state representative, and even handed out a business card, but I don’t think anybody ever voted for him, mainly because they suspected that he was not a Calabrian, but actually a treacherous Sicilian. Anyway, Little Joe was a scrappy little Yellof, always getting into fights with Yobs who were bigger than him, which was no surprise, since everyone was bigger than him. Plus, he had no scruples at all. I once saw him steal a lousy dollar from a crazy Negro beggar.
“Anyway, me and Little Joe was in stir together for awhile. It was south of here, in Crooked Creek, a one-horse tank town where the local sheriff didn’t like our looks and threw us in the jug the minute we stepped off the train. I, of course, was impeccably attired, as always, but somehow the sheriff fixed on the midget man and just lumped me in along with him and threw us both in the pokey, just to be safe. We might both had gotten off scot free, only Little Joe has to sass the sheriff in his charmingly autodidactic way: ‘I’d enjoy to understand, Officer, why it is that you are rousting us.’ ‘I don’t like your look, Shorty,’ say the Sheriff. ‘That’s the reason why.’ So Little Joe tries to fight with the sheriff, who pistol whips him and lays an enormous gash on his cheek. Me, I just stood there. Let the lawman pistol-whip the stubby brute; it didn’t make no never mind to me. And that’s how we both ended up in the jug.
“While we were in there, just to pass the time, I ask Little Joe why it is that he was all the time so hell-bent on making things hard for himself. ‘It’s on account of where I grew up,’ says he. ‘I got kicked out of school. I got let back in, but I was two years behind everybody else. Later on, I was a janitor. A janitor don’t get a whole lot of respect, you know? I grew up in Monkeytown. Me and my Yobs were frustrated all the time. There was never nothing to do, except maybe read a book, or some damn stupid thing like that. We sat around and we had nowheres to spend our nervous energy, except on beating on each other. I took so many blows to the head that I can hardly think straight anymore. I like kids, you know? Kids don’t judge you. They don’t call you a poison midget man and other such bad names. That’s why I like kiddies. When we was kids there wasn’t nothing to do. Really. Seriously–come down to Monkeytown some time. There’s nothing to do, except maybe play stickball in the swamp, or hang out in the Onion Field. And you can’t do that every day. It’s boring. And who wants to read a book? That’s boring. And besides, you get enough of that book reading in high school. And besides, books are for sissies. The high school was next to the Onion Field. It was a dump. You didn’t learn nothing there. You don’t need no education, anyways. Not to work in no nail factory. My Dad–he basically works, comes home and goes to sleep. Nobody’s paying him to do nothing else; he does that on the side. It’s all he can do to make sure we got enough to eat and some decent clothing. But he don’t take you to a ball game or nothin’. He’s too tired, now that he’s gotten older. I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for me; I’m proud of growing up with the Yobs in Monkeytown; that’s just the way it is. That’s how I got ahold of the grift. We had nothing to do, so we decided why not make some money and rob some Yellofs. Anything is better than letting older Yobs boss you around. Plus, we wanted to earn some respect. In Monkeytown, they only way you can earn respect is by being badder than everybody else. People are always waiting to screw you in the ground; you got to screw them first. You got to get them before they get you. You have to take care of yourself, first and foremost. Sure, I’ll steal from a beggar. What’s he doing out there begging if he can’t protect himself? Sure, I’ll give some lip to the chuckleheaded country younker Sheriff. There ain’t nobody that can tell me that I ain’t every bit as good a man as they are. Even if I am a janitor. Sure, if some Yellof comes up to me with a knife, I’m going to give as good as I get. I had a lot of friends who died, so I ain’t afraid to die. So what if I use hop, and get the yen shee habit, and become a bird-cage hype? Life is too short. I’ve seen people get shot, and fall into the water and get drowned, and I’ve heard of people who were bumped off. Shot, stabbed with an ice pick, strangled with piano wire, you name it. So I don’t care. I just live for myself and for today. I’m my own man, and I go my own way. No snobby skirt is ever going to tie me down. I don’t take nothin’ too seriously, because I can die at any time.’
“To say that this heartfelt speech,” said Count Victor Justin, “had little to no effect on me would be the understatement of the year. Stupid whining Dago. Always bitching and saying that life is tough. Maybe if he had cracked open a book every once in awhile instead of snorting strange powders all the time, he maybe might yet have made something of himself. But now he’s just a crack-brained pygmy married to a gimp–and hopefully, right now he’s safe–safe in his baby’s arm!”
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HAVE YOU HEARD THE WORD?