Saturday, April 11, 2015

Baby Borgia Blues : Story by Robert St. Estephe



Grownups are a bunch of cornballs, that’s what I think.

So are kids. Listen to this: All the other kids in my class where I used to go to school were five years older than me. And what do you know, I was still the kid with the top marks. I raised my hand and I said the correct answer every time, as sure as sunshine.

The other kids didn’t like me much. Especially the girls.

I was in the fifth grade even though I was still seven. The others kids were ten, mostly – some were eleven. Except one boy, Dolan. He was twelve. Dolan is what they call backward. Dolan does not like to read – but I do.

One time Dolan told on me at school – ‘cause I made fun of him in front of some boys – and got me in trouble with Miss Samuels. She’s our teacher. Dolan told her I kept a safety razor blade wrapped up in wax paper in my stocking.

It got confiscated! I do not like him, not one bit. Dolan does not even know what “confiscated” means, the big dope.

If you ask me it is a whole lot of bunk: school, I mean – if you ask my very small and humble opinion.

You know what? Grownups take the cake when it comes to being gullible. Worse than fifth graders, to tell the truth.

But other times it is ever so useful: grownups being gullible. Yessiree – believe you me.

###

Say, I haven’t told you who I am yet. So I shall tell you. –– I am the most famous girl in all of Hollywood. I was, I mean, last winter when I was all over the papers.

The newsmen made up a special name for me: “Baby Borgia.” How do you like that? I think it’s swell.

In case you don’t know, Borgia was a famous rich lady from renaissance times in Italy who poisoned a lot of people and that made her notorious so she got made a character in the opera.

My real name is Alsa Thompson. I was born in Canada in nineteen and eighteen and now I live in California. I am a seven and a half year old girl and I am notorious.

Back in February “Alsa Thompson” was a household name – printed in all the papers. Los Angeles Herald. The Times. Evening Express. The whole lot. Sometimes with pictures of me, BABY BORGIA: like I was a child star; like I was Jackie Coogan! It was swell. Oh my, it surely was.

I mean it was swell except for the time when the Evening Express printed that headline that said “BABY MANIAC.”

I did not like that. Not one bit.

You can be sure that nobody showed me the papers on purpose. The grownups were all hush hush about the publicity. But I snooped around anyway – and every time a newspaper could be found – there I was – sneaking a peek.

The papers printed my teacher Miss Samuels saying I was precocious, which means I’m quite sharp for my age.

That part made me giggle.

And they printed what all the big shot head doctors (the alienist men) said, too: and it was a whole lot of hogwash.

Extra! The Alsa Thompson Story; Her Shocking Confession, for all the world to see, telling my story and telling what the alienist men thought about it too.

Alienist men sure know how to talk up a storm when they’ve got a mess of reporters there – all ears – eating it all up. You can’t shut them up. What’s funny is all they’re really doing is scratching their heads and guessing what was made up, and what was not: both the head doctors and the newsmen too.

A bunch of cornballs.

###

Those alienist men gave me a good going-over, believe you me.

Questions, questions, questions, day-in and day-out. I never knew a body could ask so many questions.

Dr. Ernest Huntington Williams talked to me first. He is a famous alienist, that’s what the papers say. He has a funny button nose and glasses that are two big black circles. They make him look like he’s always staring at you like the face on the Maxwell House Coffee billboard on Sunset Boulevard.

He asked a whole lot of questions about Mama and Papa and school. Silly questions. After a while, though, he got down to brass tacks.

That’s when he asked why I kept poisoning people.

So I told him. And his eyes got big as saucers.

“I just liked to see them die, that’s all,” is what I said. “I guess I did it because I am so mean.”

He wrote down everything I said in a little blue notebook. Then he stopped writing and went out of the room and I thought it was going to be the the end of all the grownups fussing about and bothering me.

But it wasn’t. There was more.

The next morning Dr. Williams dragged in a some more alienist men – Dr. This and Dr. That and Dr. The Other One – and all of them scribbled in their little notebooks like a bunch of copy-cat monkeys.

All those fellows knew my story already.

They knew about the twins dying up in Canada in nineteen and twenty-three when I was five.

They knew that Mama got mad at Papa and made him go away and I had to go live in Hollywood with old sourpuss Nettie Steele who died too.

They knew I got stuck in Hollywood with Mrs. and Mrs. Platts and Lorraine and my pesky little sister Maxine.

They knew about when I went after bigmouth Lorraine Platts – she’s twelve – with my safety razor blade too:

“Mama, mama, Alsa’s got a razor. She tried to cut my wrists with it, and when I got away she tried to cut Maxine Thompson’s wrists too.”

And they knew about the ant powder I put in the canary cage and in the cat food – and the battery acid I got from the radio set and put in the peaches and in the pan of chops and in the coffee pot and in Maxine’s cough medicine.

They knew, but they still didn’t believe me.

I could tell.

###

Outside Dr. Williams’ office I saw Papa and Mama together for the first time in oh such a long time. They drove to Los Angeles from Santa Ana – both of them in one car. There they were: Mama bawling like she was Niagara Falls in a knit dress and Papa with a big frown on his face – looking mad at Officer Keller the policeman, mad at Dr. Williams, mad at Probation Officer Mrs. McCracken – mad at the whole bunch.

The fussing made me tired and Mrs. McCracken took me to another room to rest.

You know what? I put an end to the fussing, I did. All of it. I got the notion how to do it from listening to Mrs. McCracken when she started in on me again with the questions.

She kept on asking me if I was just fibbing and she told me I was in a lot of trouble and said I was going to have to talk to a lot of other grownups. That annoyed me and the lady kept it up and kept it up – “Weren’t you just fibbing about the twins and Mrs. Steele.”

After a while she got to asking about something different, like what my favorite radio songs are and other things and after that she asked me some more if maybe I was fibbing about all the mean things in the stories I told.

Eureka! That’s when I got the idea – and so I said to myself OK and I told her “Yes it was all just a made up story.”

“I didn’t really kill anybody,” I said.

And I said “No I didn’t put ground glass in the twins’ cereal bowls to kill them.”

And I said “No I didn’t put ant paste in Mrs. Steele’s grapenuts to kill her.”

All of a sudden Mrs. McCracken was happy and though she tried to hide it I could still tell. She went out and told Dr. Williams and he came to talk to me again but he didn’t act happy like Mrs. McCracken did. Well, maybe just a little. His eyebrows went up a teensy-weensy bit – but he sure did stop being so fussy with me. All of the grownups stopped being fussy – except Mama. Mama is fussy by nature.

You see, this is how it is: The grownups really just wanted to hear me say I was fibbing. That’s what they wanted. All of them. Even Mama and Papa. So guess what? They got it: what they wanted.

‘Cause they’re gullible. That’s why.

You know what? Gullible is about favorite word in all my vocabulary which is big for my age Miss Samuels says – because I’m precocious.

Don’t you think “gullible” is funny? I do. It’s made up of half of “seagull” and half of “bubble” and stuck together like gull – ubble.

Those gullible grownups: once you get the knack they are ever so easy to coax and convince. You just pay real close attention and then you figure out what they are wanting to hear and shazam, there you go, you tell ‘em – easy as pie. They roll over just like Mrs. Steele’s trained poodle.

“Gullible poodles.” Ha, isn’t that a tickler?

###

Now that it’s summertime again there’s no school – I am very pleased to say.

I live with Papa in Santa Ana now.

Every morning Papa sings a song when he shaves with his Gillette safety razor. He makes me laugh when he shows his face with white shaving cream all over.

Mama comes on the train from Los Angeles sometimes – and takes me on outings. And she’s cut out her famous sob sister routine – most of time, at least – and now she dotes on me. I like that. It is so much better than when she was hollering and crying and carrying on all the time like she did before the separation.

I like my new home – in Santa Ana. It’s spacious.

Back in February when all the ruckus started I was stuck in that bungalow house in Hollywood with Mrs. and Mrs. Platts and their bigmouth daughter, Lorraine, and their cat and their two canaries and, wouldn’t you know it, my silly little sister Maxine.

Oh my, it was like living in the monkey coop in Griffith Park, all of us kids and grownups squished together. It gave me cabin fever and when I get cabin fever I get ever so peevish.

In that bungalow house I was stir-crazy something fierce and Mrs. Platts called me a little imp and I did not like that one bit. And my sister – she was two and a half then – was a silly little thing and she cried and she whined all the live-long day. That kid sure knows how to get my goat.

I showed her, I did – Mrs. Platts, I mean. For the longest time I thought that woman was a class-A dingbat like that class-A dingbat boy Dolan. Mrs. Platts wised up after a while, all right – after Lorraine Platts told on me.

That’s when Mrs. Platts called Police Officer Kelly to the bungalow and made me go up to the Hollywood police headquarters. There are firemen and firetrucks there, not just policemen and police cars. It was fun at first – but not later. No, not one bit.

Because I’m not a grownup Police Officer Kelly stuck me with Officer Miss Brooks the police matron and that’s when all the questions started up. Then came Dr. Williams and his alinenist pals and then there was Mrs. McCracken. I thought it would never end.

But it did, I am very pleased to announce.

It ended ‘cause I said the correct answer.

And then everything changed.

All the hullabaloo was over and the newspapers printed that that I was just fibbing before and I never killed anybody and Probation Officer Mrs. McCracken told me if I behaved I could go live in Santa Ana with Papa instead of going to an institution.

And I did behave, sure as sunshine.

So now I live with Papa in Santa Ana. Santa Ana has lots of open fields with tall grass to play in – and hills with big rocks for roaming about.

I like it.

###

Guess what.

I made up the dandiest little song.

The tune is “Hard Hearted Hannah.” I bet you’ve heard it on the radio lots of times like me.

My song is called “Baby Borgia Blues” and it goes like this –

They call her hard hearted Alsa,
‘Cause she’s a real rousta’-bousta’

She’s the “It Girl” livin’ down our way
She the all-day-long carouser
Down here in Santa Ana, C-A.

She’s hard hearted Alsa,
An’ you oughta see her picture,
She’s a fine little mixture.
‘Least that’s what all the papers do say.
Come on down and you can join her
And you jump and run about all day.
‘Cause she ain’t a’gonna be a’goin’ away.

She’s hard hearted Alsa,
Such a real rousta’-bousta’
She’s the little flipper flapper
In the dandy cotton wrapper
Way on down in Santa Ana, C-A.

Do you like it?

I think it’s swell. I really do.

### END ###

Afterword:

“Baby Borgia Blues” is fiction, based on a true story. The Alsa Thompson case hit the papers on February 3, 1925 and quickly became a national story. By early March the case was considered closed, despite some lingering suspicions that Alsa might have been telling the truth about her purported deadly deeds. The quotations (Alsa and Lorraine) are taken from newspaper accounts.

Hard Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah) is a popular song with words and music by Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow (Robert Wilcox Bigelow), and Charles Bates. The song was published in June 1924. Many singers have recorded it. I recommend Margaret Young’s 1924 version (on Youtube).

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Completed: October 11, 2014
Published: April 11, 2015
By Robert St. Estephe, USA, all rights reserved.

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