The Man in the Bathtub, December 1, 1940

He was born and raised in a little town just outside of Licata, Sicily. By the time he was 18, the young man was accepted into university in Tunisia, a far more scholastically advanced place than the Sicily of the early 1900s.

Upon graduating, he decided to do what many young Italians chose to do, and he emigrated to the United States. He married a pretty young Neapolitan girl that he met in New York City, and they settled down to raise a family. She could only bear one child, a son, in 1915.

Her husband could not get his Tunisian university degree to count for anything here, so he found whatever work he could. They even saved and opened a small neighborhood candy store on Ave. S in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.  The depression hit, and the business failed.

Their son, a gifted student, had just been accepted at Brooklyn College, a very difficult school to get into at that time. By the end of his second semester, he had to drop out and seek employment to help the family. They all worked: mother in a factory, the son as a messenger and dad secured a skilled job as a machinist. Yet, the pay was low for all concerned, and many nights they would eat broccoli rabe sandwiches for dinner.

The 1930s was a rough time for all who labored…. Or sought work. The ranks of the unemployed were so great that companies would pay as little as possible to their employees. The smell of strife filled the factories and warehouses and offices throughout NYC. Strikes were as common as a rain shower. Many picket lines became battlegrounds as violent as the trench warfare of the first world war. The police and the hired thugs took few prisoners…. And the strikers gave back as good as they got. Tough times.

The Sicilian went out on strike with his CO workers, and he battled on those picket lines with his powerfully built body. One day, during a vicious exchange with the police and hired goons, the Sicilian was arrested for assault. He called home to his wife: “I need to make bail!” She didn’t have the money in their savings drawer to get him out. So she and her son went throughout the neighborhood begging for any sort of handout to get her husband, the only man she ever loved, back home to her. Finally, after a day of humbling and humiliating pleas, she raised the money. Her husband was free…. For now. When he returned to his job at the machine shop, the foreman told him the bad news: You’re fired, and you will never work in this trade again. You’re blacklisted!

By late 1940, the Sicilian had spent three years doing odd jobs for lousy per diem pay. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to get on Home Relief (welfare) and the waiting list was very long. His wife and son were working full time to keep them in their apartment. He became more and more despondent each day.

On December 1, 1940 , bitter cold and cloudy, the wife had just returned home from a long shift of factory work. She was tired, and her legs were so rubbery from standing for ten hours. She needed a nice warm bath to take the chill out of her, and perhaps cheer up her tired face.

As she opened the bathroom door, she could sense something was not right. The shower curtains were pushed outside of the tub. When she walked closer, she saw what no human being should have to see. The gun had fallen outside the tub. He had made sure that no blood would spill onto the bathroom floor. He was always so neat that way.

My grandfather, Pietro Farruggio, was dead!

Philip A Farruggio is regular columnist on itstheempirestupid website. He is the son and grandson of Brooklyn NYC longshoremen and a graduate of Brooklyn College, class of 1974. Since the 2000 election debacle Philip has written over 500 columns on the Military Industrial Empire and other facets of life in an upside down America. He is also host of the It’s the Empire… Stupid radio show, co produced by Chuck Gregory. Philip can be reached at Read other articles by Philip.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 2nd, 2010 at 8:02am #

    glad, phillip did not theorize; he just kind of spoke. no, i am not gonna pigeonhole it except to note that it was in english.
    very clear english and not one theory! what more cld one ask for?
    but just for the sake of diversity, phillip, do put dwn one theory in ur next piece.
    but in english that my small head cld also understand.
    remember, not all of us big-headed! tnx

  2. E.R. Bills said on December 2nd, 2010 at 3:40pm #

    no disrespect intended and I enjoyed this piece, but the man in the bathtub conjures up Marat–as in La Mort de Marat (circa 1793).

  3. Angie Tibbs said on December 2nd, 2010 at 10:51pm #

    I think Phillip told us the story of his grandfather as a reminder that if the current problems with unemployment, home foreclosures, poverty, etc. continue, the hardships of the thirties and early forties won’t be unfamiliar in the future.