Fred Fink got off the “Hound,” wandered out of the bus station, and climbed a tree. He didn’t know it then, and probably never realized it afterwards, but his perch placed him at the 100th Meridian and Cozad, Nebraska. On the American continent, Fink had arrived at the precise point where east meets west.
Climbing trees was not a crime in Cozad, but since Fred did not come down, he eventually drew the attention of a police officer. Since he had not gone very high, the police officer was able to tug him down after the officer became convinced that Fred’s incessant chanting meant one of two things. Fred was either a Buddhist or Fred was crazy. Betting that it was more probable than not that Fred was crazy rather than being a tree-climbing Buddhist who chanted incessantly, the police officer put Fred into his cruiser and drove him the 15 miles to the county seat, Lexington. There, the cop dropped Fred off at the Sheriff’s office.
I learned the foregoing from the police officer after I had been appointed to represent Fred before the Dawson County Mental Health Board. I also learned from Big John, the Sheriff, that after they had rifled through his wallet they were able to determine that Fred was a patient at a mental hospital in California. Big John called the institution and learned that Fred had been given a pass to go to a baseball game, but never returned. Under California law, since Fred was not overtly dangerous to himself or others, just crazy when not on his medication, the mental institution did not want him back.
I interviewed Fred at the jail. Since they didn’t have suitable facilities for nuts, they put Fred into a cell where unused mattresses were stored. I suppose that was the closet thing Big John had to a padded cell. Fred was not doing very well. He chanted, really mumbled, quit a bit. Through his haze, and from the stuff I saw from the contents of his wallet, I was able to learn that Fred was from New York City. Fred had a brother there.
The Board quickly voted to let Fred go. The Board was frugal and saw no need to put him at the Regional Center on the County’s dime if the California nut house didn’t think he was Jack the Ripper. By the time Fred was let go, I had talked to the California mental institution and wrangled a prescription for his medications.
I took the script to a pharmacist friend who, upon reading it, proclaimed, “This would zonk a horse.” As I remember, the drug was Thorazine. That amazing and powerful drug has been described as the single greatest advance in psychiatric care. Since Fred had not been off his meds for very long, he began to get better very quickly after he started his regimen again. Not good, you understand, just better. For example, the chanting stopped.
Meanwhile, Fred lived at our home. I remember taking him home to meet my wife and our two little girls. When Fred got out of the car in our driveway, Fred’s pants fell down. Big John had taken his belt and he had forgotten to give it back to Fred. For a day or so, Fred kept his pants up with some rope from my garage until I was able to get him a belt with a cowboy buckle. He seemed to like that.
While I tried to figure out what to do with Fred, Fred lived with us and slept on the couch in our front room. Most of the time, Fred just paced back and forth, not saying much. The girls were fascinated with Fred’s pacing–I have no idea why. Sometimes, the girls would ask Fred a question, and sometimes he would respond. At meal time, Fred would eat quietly but try to respond to questions. After a few days, his responses became more coherent.
It turned out the Fred was pretty smart. He knew he had a problem. He did not like how the Thorazine made him feel, so, when he thought he was no longer loony, he would stop taking the drugs. Fred also knew he was good with numbers and money. Back in New York, he had his own bank account where had saved a little money. However, Fred was never able to explain how or why he had gotten to California.
I contacted Fred’s brother, who was definitely not happy to hear from Fred. Nonetheless, he agreed that if I could get Fred to New York City, the brother would look after him. Somehow, and I don’t remember how, we were able to put together enough money to buy Fred a plane ticket from Omaha to New York City. After a call to a minister friend, arrangements were made to have someone meet Fred in Chicago where he would change planes to New York.
Sometime later, Fred left our lives. I remember the day Fred said his adieus. As he walked out of our home and to my car for the 225 mile drive to Omaha and the plane, he gave each of the little girls a fifty cent piece. They were thrilled. Marne and Lisa waved and said, “Bye, Fred!”
Fred got to New York City. For several years thereafter, Fred would call me every so often. He was doing pretty well. He was selling gold and silver by phone. I could hear the chatter in the background, and it was clear that this was one of those “boiler room” operations where if you called enough schmucks in an eight-hour period you could make a little money. I always suspected that Fred’s brother ran the operation. After a bit, Fred’s calls stopped coming.
Time passed. Fred and his fifty cent pieces faded into a distant memory.
I distinctly remember, however, that the County paid me fifty bucks, the standard fee for such things. All in all, it was fair pay.