13. Chicago Smelt: Mrs. Doyle’s Report

FROM THE DESK OF: Gerard K. Dirkins, Consular Officer, Consulate General of the United States, Osaka, Japan

RE: Mrs. Doyle’s Chicago Investigation

Mrs. Doyle finally turned in a report on her investigation into the birth and early life of Edward “Eddie” Trombone, conducted over a period of nearly two months in the city of Chicago, or as Mrs. Doyle refers to it in her report, “that toddlin’ town where anything goes, love comes bright and unexpected like a summer shower, and you can get good Mexican food, see erotic movies, and drink single-malt Scotch Whiskey 24 hours a day.”

I would publish the report here in its entirety, if for no other reason than to somehow try to justify the cost of this trip and the cutbacks in security we have had to make at the Osaka Consulate as a result, but the document is so hopelessly garbled as to be nearly unreadable. This is of course due to Mrs. Doyle’s typing the entire 12-page report on the tiny keyboard of her new iPhone 4 with thumbs particularly ill-suited to this delicate task, heavy sausage-like digits so calloused at their ends that Mrs. Doyle had to change the clear protective film on the iPhone screen three times before mercifully coming to the end of these dozen pages of letters and punctuation marks heaped more often than not in no readily apparent order, as if swept hurriedly from the four sides of the page to fall at the last moment within the generous margins.

So instead, I offer my brief interpretation. Please understand, though, that given the state of the original document, the process of interpreting its message was sometimes not unlike the process of divining the future using a Ouija Board. In fact, there is one section where I actually did use a Ouija Board. At any rate, here is my rendering of the facts as they were originally tapped, rapped and scraped into Mrs. Doyle’s iPhone:

Eddie Trombone was born Edward Tromboni to unwed foreign nationals Cecilia Tromboni, 19, and Svetozar P. Chabikadink, 22. Both Cecilia and Svetozar wished to become U.S. citizens despite the fact that each had a command of English found these days only among peoples who, when discovered by the western media, are usually photographed from helicopters and referred to as “lost tribes.” Their English proficiency was so low, in fact, that neither Cecilia nor Svetozar would have been able even to distinguish English from, say, Chinese. So it is perhaps not so terribly surprising that each simply assumed the foreign sounds being uttered by the other were the language of their new home, when in fact Cecilia spoke a distinctly Sicilian-flavored Italian, and Svetozar spoke a language from Eastern Europe, perhaps a Baltic state (this is where I used the Ouija Board). And given the ease with which each spoke what the other believed to be English, each furthermore assumed the other to be a native-born U.S. citizen.

While there may well have been some “spark” between these two young people at the very beginning, and it can certainly be imagined that a deeper emotional bond developed later in their relationship, it must be acknowledged that all evidence, gathered from documents and interviews with neighbors, points to the likelihood that early on Cecilia and Svetozar saw in each other, tragicomically, the opportunity to gain their much desired U.S. citizenship through marriage to one another, and in accordance with this unfortunate and extreme misreading of the situation, accelerated their courtship with increased enthusiasm and inexpensive wine.

By the time Cecilia and Svetozar finally did suss out the inconvenient fact that they were both citizens of countries not the United States, Cecilia was already showing, and, more importantly, the young couple had fallen truly in love, even going so far as to develop a pidgin of their two languages in which Cecilia’s overflowing cornucopia of gratuitously dangling vowels found homes within Svetozar’ unrelenting string of scraping and gurgling consonant clusters.

Hopelessly swept away by his love for Cecilia, and having no other prospects among the U.S. citizenship, Svetozar asked Cecilia for her hand in marriage moments after their son Edward emerged from the birth canal, raising the eyebrows of both the Cook County Hospital ER doctor and nurse, whose eyebrows did not rise easily, having for example that very morning removed a 4-pound largemouth bass from a man’s anus, exorcised the spirit of Liza Minnelli from an emotionally disturbed, disruptive University of Illinois librarian, and performed initial, police-ordered tests on a human hand found in a 2nd-floor vending machine that was normally filled exclusively with corn chips and chocolate bars. Their eyebrows rose now only because Svetozar had said, “I will cut your heart from your body and squeeze the blood from it into my mouth,” which is a literal translation of something that in Svetozar’s language sounds more like prologue to a marriage proposal and less like dialogue from Silence of the Lambs. Cecilia, having learned to rely more on Svetozar’s facial expression and body language than on his words, which she could not understand at any rate, beamed and said, “You do.”

Svetozar and Cecilia were married two and a half months later, and by all accounts lived happily ever after, which unfortunately was only about three months, and here is where I lost a great deal of time trying to grasp what Mrs. Doyle meant by a smelting accident, believing this to have something to do with the steel mills in the Chicago area.

In fact, the smelting accident that tragically claimed the lives of both Cecilia and Svetozar, as well as that of 62-year-old Chicago resident Hideo Hatanaka, had, like Chicago since about 1999, nothing whatsoever to do with steel production. It referred instead to the fish known as smelt, more specifically “freshwater smelt,” or Osmerus mordax, member of the Osmeridae family of small fish and subject of a 1953 Chicago Fisheries educational film produced in conjunction with the House Un-American Activities Committee titled “Smelt: Final Line of Defense?”

Osmerus mordax (archive by Kikuchi)

Smelting is an activity popular among Chicagoans during early spring, or as it is known in Chicago, winter, when those hardy residents who have not perished from the heavy snows and frigid cold of January and February, make one final attempt to kill themselves before the deadline for filing federal income taxes. They do this by going down to Lake Michigan in the evening, turning their faces toward the howling winds sweeping across the dark frozen water, dropping tattered fishing nets from the concrete shoreline, and drinking cold Old Style beer until they die or pass out. Or both, reversely.

Later, sometimes hours sometimes days, the net is hauled in, either by the “fisherman” who dropped it, a curious homeless person, or the city coroner. The few finger-length fish that have not evolved to the point where they would have learned to avoid tangled, poorly-placed nets that smell like garages and motor oil are removed and tossed back into the water, which at that time of year has already begun to develop the layer of dead, bloated fish familiar prelude to spring in Chicago, or they are given to lakefront restaurants that bread and deep fry these little inedible morsels and place them before bar patrons as a sort of decoration to be thrown unceremoniously into the garbage after the patron has stumbled into the purple-black night or fallen asleep on the bar, thus bringing to wondrous full circle the complex and intricate dance that exists between the life cycle of the common smelt and the culturally institutionalized alcoholism endemic to the city of Chicago.

But I am digressing a bit from the substance of Mrs. Doyle’s report, perhaps purposely so, just to release my eyes for a moment from the knotted sentences, occasional meaningless, random strings of letters, and surprisingly frequent tangential expositions by Mrs. Doyle on everything from polygamy to global warming.

Back to the smelt, to the nets used to catch them, and specifically to that abandoned net that the Tromboni/Chabikadink family came across one sunny afternoon in the middle of smelting season. The lines from this net were tied around a large oil drum filled with the ashes of fires made by Chicagoans during “early spring” so that they might have something to watch while contracting hypothermia and pneumonia. Svetozar, always the optimist, saw in this abandoned net the opening by God of a window, that same supernatural being having just closed a door two days previous when Svetozar was fired from a position he thought was high school crossing guard but was actually lookout for a heroin dealer. He was fired, and later nearly beaten to death by his employer, for waving enthusiastically at each patrol car that passed the high school.

But his luck had certainly changed now, he thought, with this net full of fish that could be cleaned, salted and kept in the pantry to tide the family over until he could get a proper job, perhaps as a lookout for a heroin dealer, which was what he did back home. Svetozar grabbed the lines leading to the net and pulled. Something in the net pulled back harder. Cecilia put infant Eddie on a Park District bench and joined her husband, grabbing him around the waist. The stubborn net pulled back still harder and drops of water leapt from the taut rope. At that very moment, Hideo Hatanaka, a 62-year-old resident of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, happened by on his way home from an early morning of catching mildly toxic lake perch. He pushed up against a Park District bench the shopping cart that he used to carry his fishing rods, collapsible stool, bucket of fish, and small paper bag containing his wallet, two empty Coca Cola cans and an unlicensed 22 caliber pistol, and he ran to Cecilia’s and Svetozar’s aid.

None of the witnesses interviewed later actually saw the three go into the water. They were simply there one moment, and gone the next. Eddie was placed by the police in the shopping cart next to the bucket of fish, and rolled to the Lakeview Police Station. Police threw some ice on the fish, disposed of the soft drink cans, divided up the fishing gear, catalogued the pistol, and searched Hideo’s wallet. Because Eddie was found in such close proximity to the shopping cart with Hideo’s belongings, and because everyone looks a little Japanese if you think about it long enough, it was assumed Eddie was somehow related to Hideo. After a thorough search, the police could find no relatives of Hideo with whom they might deposit Eddie and the fish, and because this thorough search took so long, the now weary officers were in no mood for the lengthy paperwork required in cases where children are left in shopping carts, and instead decided to just keep the fish and leave Eddie outside the apartment of someone in the next precinct who “looked Oriental.”

Upon finding Eddie in the hallway outside his apartment, Vlad Kayakov took the child to the Department of Family and Children Services. An official intake was recorded, dated, and stamped, and it is here that the trail grows cold. Mrs. Doyle did attempt to track down Mr. Kayakov from the information in the DFCS report, and she even tried to contact police officers who were on duty that day at the Lakeview Police Station, but too many years had passed.

Mrs. Doyle ends the report by declaring it “still open and pending,” but I believe she is simply trying to get another free trip to Chicago. There seems to be little point in continuing the investigation, though it is of course hoped that some of the information already collected by Mrs. Doyle may eventually help crack the Eddie Trombone Case. If for no other reason than to have my staff abandon this tomfoolery and return to the work for which they were originally hired.

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5 Responses to 13. Chicago Smelt: Mrs. Doyle’s Report

  1. S. Trumpet says:

    I knew Hatanaka. I didn’t work with Hatanaka and believe me, Mr. Gerard K. Dirkins, the so-called Consulate General of the United States, Osaka, Japan, you are no Hatanaka. Perhaps you missed, in his sparsely decorated shopping cart, the small notebook he showed me once that cataloged all the abandoned fishing nets being hauled in by multi-national aliens that he assisted and who did not have months-old babies resting on park benches. In this notebook, which you have ‘conveniently’ overlooked, the names of Cecilia Tromboni and Svetozar P. Chabikadink do not appear. An unlikely event? I think not. A government cover-up to protect their pocketbooks and iPhones? Perhaps. The only question is: Where is Hatanaka’s notebook?


  2. staff says:

    Were du u get offf, withh this talk uf cuvverups. Youu got yur nerrve, Mr.. STrumpettt.
    -L. Doyle (sent from my iPhone)


  3. S. Trumpet says:

    Even now the cover-up continues. I only asked a simple question: Where is Hatanaka’s notebook? and the so-called L. Doyle (if that’s your real name) avoided giving The People an honest answer.


  4. staff says:

    S. Trumpet,

    Mrs. Doyle is at the moment nursing an extremely painful cramp she has developed in her right thumb while tapping onto her iPhone screen a furious, expletive-rich reply to your recent comment. I step in here, sir, to set a few things straight. Firstly, let there be no misunderstanding, I have always been in favor of a well-run coverup. There are, in my opinion, some things the American public just shouldn’t know. Truth be told, I personally think the public should be kept in the dark completely. Literally. Large tents with vents but no windows. No electricity. Just row upon row of some sort of heavy iron contraption used to make widgets or ball bearings or something like that.
    -Gerard K. Dirkins, Consular Officer


  5. S. Trumpet says:

    Ex-employees of the so-called Mr. Dirkins may line up for the Kool-aid – Incrediberry is especially good this time of year, especially when mixed with Mad Dog 20-20, hmmm um good. But for those who can handle the Truth about Eddie Trombone’s parents can go to Hatanaka’s Notebook. But be warned: What you see and hear may change your life. Plus, there are no refreshing beverages, sorry about that, Chief.


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