His name was Fuzzy. His life was, too.

All he had on him was a pen, a shoe­horn and a lam­i­nated ID card with the words “Fuzz W.S. Fuzzy Shoe Shine Doc­tor.”

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY CLARENCE WIL­LIAMS

Pamela Cash hadn’t seen the man in Apart­ment 607 for nearly a month, and that wasn’t like him.

The man­ager of Cap­i­tal Plaza Apart­ments and her staff knew very lit­tle about him, only that he shined shoes, me­thod­i­cally checked that lobby se­cu­rity doors were locked, had writ­ing projects and paid his rent with money or­ders. Oh, and he had an un­usual name: Fuzz Wood Short Fuzzy.

Fuzzy had spent about a week in the hos­pi­tal in Fe­bru­ary for a her­nia op­er­a­tion, Cash re­called, and he man­aged to make it to a se­niors lun­cheon in the build­ing at the end of the month. But now it was April, and Fuzzy had been nowhere for weeks.

On April 13, she called po­lice and asked them to check his apart­ment. They found a sparse but im­mac­u­lately kept res­i­dence: neatly or­ga­nized bags and boxes of his be­long­ings; his keys; a shoe box con­tain­ing cash. What they didn’t find was him.

That’s be­cause Fuzzy, 70, had ar­rived at the city morgue two days ear­lier and was listed as a John Doe. A boater found his body float­ing un­der the stern of his craft at the Washington Ma­rina, Dock D, Slip 14.

All he had on him was a pen, a shoe­horn and a lam­i­nated ID card with the words “Fuzz W.S.

Fuzzy Shoe Shine Doc­tor.”

As author­i­ties pieced to­gether how Fuzzy died, po­lice, his clients and fam­ily be­gan piec­ing to­gether how he lived: He shined shoes at D.C. law firms for nearly 20 years, mov­ing metic­u­lously through the city dream­ing of ways to make it big as a writer.

While the Dis­trict trans­forms through an age of pros­per­ity, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and un­prece­dented se­cu­rity due to ter­ror­ism fears, there re­main peo­ple such as Fuzzy who man­age to qui­etly nav­i­gate these changes as they tra­verse the city and leave a mark on those they en­counter.

His clients re­mem­ber a kempt busi­ness­man who donned a clean, dark-blue smock and never gave his cus­tomers a set price. In­stead, he asked for “do­na­tions” based on the level of ser­vice pa­trons felt the “Shoe Shine Doc­tor” had de­liv­ered.

And while he went by Fuzzy, he was al­ways clear about one thing.

“I’m just like those Frosted Flakes: ‘Great!’ ” sev­eral peo­ple re­called him say­ing of­ten.

“It’s hard to en­vi­sion law firms and busi­nesses al­low­ing some­one like him to come in and set up shop,” said Paul Zarnowiecki, a lawyer at Or­rick who used Fuzzy’s ser­vices at the com­pany’s 15th Street NW of­fice.

He said Fuzzy will be missed not just be­cause of his an­i­mated, pas­sion­ate per­son­al­ity, but also be­cause his pres­ence rep­re­sented a sim­pler time in the city.

“They don’t make them like him any­more,” Zarnowiecki said.

Even though Fuzzy’s pres­ence was a con­stant for many, no one seems to know much about him, in­clud­ing his brother and neigh­bors. What they could piece to­gether is that each weekday, Fuzzy stepped out­side the lobby doors of his North­west Washington apart­ment build­ing and by 7 a.m. headed west on E Street, away from the view of the Capi­tol dome and bus­tle ofUnion Sta­tion and into his work­day, ac­cord­ing to staffers at his apart­ment build­ing. Like clockwork, he ar­rived at the mar­ble-tiled lob­bies of highrise build­ings across down­town.

Fuzzy was so pop­u­lar that he fol­lowed Zarnowiecki and his col­leagues from the Georgetown wa­ter­front to their newof­fices on 15th Street. Each Mon­day, as he walked through the dou­ble glass doors, the re­cep­tion­ist would send an e-mail to about 100 lawyers on the 10th, 11th and 12th floors say­ing that Fuzzy had ar­rived.

He popped his head through clients’ of­fice doors, they re- moved their shoes, and he took them to quiet spa­ces to put a fine pol­ish on their leather.

Paul Hyman, a part­ner at Hyman, Phelps & McNa­mara, sim­ply re­mem­bers that sud­denly a shoeshine man with an up­beat out­look made him­self a fix­ture at their firm.

“One day, he just kind of showed up,” Hyman re­called. “He was an en­ter­pris­ing guy, but he was never pushy about any­thing.”

He oc­ca­sion­ally men­tioned his writ­ing projects or other en­treprenurial dreams, be­cause Fuzzy was about more than shin­ing shoes.

“He was a dreamer,” said his brother, Robert Short.

When he wasn’t shin­ing shoes, Fuzzy ap­par­ently spent time writ­ing, as he tried to self-pub­lish at least two sto­ries, both seem­ingly based in the Jim Crow South of the mid-20th cen­tury, ex­pe­ri­ences prob­a­bly gar­nered through his up­bring­ing in South Carolina. He also tried to write screen­plays and wanted to start “Shoe Shine Univer­sity,” a job train­ing pro­gram for young peo­ple.

But most of his life re­mained so pri­vate that he left be­hind clues but no an­swers — not even re­ally ex­plain­ing his ec­cen­tric name change— for fam­ily, neigh­bors, po­lice and the clients who loved him.

“Ini­tially, ev­ery­one was hop­ing that it was a mis­take,” said Jeffrey K. Shapiro, another part­ner at Hyman, Phelps & McNa­mara.

“It’s sad that he’s not com­ing back,” Shapiro said.“We’d like to know what hap­pened even­tu­ally.”

A history that’s a mys­tery

For his sur­vivors, so much of Fuzzy’s trav­els re­mains, well, fuzzy.

Lit­tle seems to be known about his work and life history in the 1980s and 1990s. He changed his name in 1970 to James Valen­tine and then again in 1990 to Fuzz Wood Short Fuzzy, but no one seems to know pre­cisely why.

What is known is that he was born Woody Short at a Bal­ti­more hos­pi­tal in the 1940s, Robert Short said. As he grew, so did his hair, a thick, curly mane that caused his mother and fam­ily to call him “Fuzzy­Wuzzy,” his brother re­calls, and he sus­pects that’s the ge­n­e­sis of his name.

Dur­ing grade school, the fam­ily moved to Cheraw, S.C., where they lived with their mother and grand­mother in a small, seg­re­gated city about 80 miles from the state capi­tol.

Robert Short can re­call no se­ri­ous racial an­i­mos­ity from those days; how­ever, they seem­ingly left a mark on his brother, as Fuzzy’s later fic­tional writ­ings would in­di­cate.

Some of his writ­ings in­volve black char­ac­ters an­gry at white so­ci­ety, but when he ex­plains his mo­ti­va­tions, Fuzzy ex­presses a broader sense of hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism.

“My rea­son for writ­ing is be­cause I deeply be­lieve that the type of sto­ries I am aware of can be a great con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety,” he writes in the pref­ace to one book. “If I hadn’t be­come con­cerned about all mankind and the world’s prob­lems, I don’t be­lieve that the idea of writ­ing would have en­tered my mind.”

The broth­ers first parted ways in 1959, when the el­der Robert headed north to the Washington area.

They re­united in Washington dur­ing the tu­mult of the late 1960s, when they lived to­gether for about a year. AlthoughWoody Short mostly stayed home watch­ing tele­vi­sion and didn’t drink or even curse, he had big plans.

“He wanted to be a writer all his life,” Robert Short said. “He wanted to write for the movies and all that.”

By 1972, the younger brother moved out on his own, and Robert Short mar­ried and moved to a home in the Mary­land sub­urbs, where ini­tially his brother vis­ited. But soon, the pair drifted into their own lives, and by the late 1970s, his brother sim­ply stopped vis­it­ing.

No fight oc­curred. No an­gry words were ex­changed. He sim­ply dis­ap­peared into the city for decades.

Then one day this spring, D.C. po­lice de­tec­tives knocked on Robert Short’s door.

Fuzzy’s fi­nal days

An enig­matic life ended with a mys­te­ri­ous death.

For nearly 10 years, Fuzzy awoke in a stu­dio apart­ment at the Cap­i­tal Plaza build­ing, at 35 E St. NW. Each night, he re­turned to the same space, which was fur­nished with a sim­ple bed, ta­ble and chair.

“He was here 10 years, and that apart­ment never needed paint­ing,” said Jasper Jones, the build­ing su­per­vi­sor.

He had no phone and no for­mal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or clear con­nec­tion to the gov­ern­ment.

About a month be­fore his dis­ap­pear­ance, build­ing man­ager Cash said, Fuzzy had a se­ri­ous med­i­cal is­sue in Vir­ginia. For days, she tried to help him set up doc­tor’s vis­its, but she dis­cov­ered that he had no real form of gov­ern­ment iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, no Medi­care card, just a So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber.

“The only thing he had was his Fuzzy shoeshine ID,” Cash said.

On Feb. 17, he com­plained of lower ab­dom­i­nal pain. Cash called an am­bu­lance, and he spent about a week at Howard Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal for a her­nia op­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to Cash and po­lice records.

Af­ter he was re­leased, Fuzzy of­fered few de­tails about his con­di­tion. Soon af­ter at­tend­ing the se­niors lun­cheon Feb. 26, he vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared.

In the man­ager’s of­fice, there was con­tact in­for­ma­tion for Robert Short in Forestville. Cash showed po­lice build­ing se­cu­rity records that showed he last ac­cessed the build­ing Sun­day, March 15, at 4:09 p.m. The med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice still has not de­ter­mined the cause of death.

“I hated it be­cause I couldn’t say good­bye to him,” Robert Short said. “He was a big part of me. I loved him dearly.

“It hurt me. Hurt me to death.”

CLARENCE WIL­LIAMS/THE WASHINGTON POST

ABOVE: The shoeshine kit that Fuz­zWood Short Fuzzy car­ried to down­town law firms for nearly 20 years. His body was found at the Wash­ing­tonMa­rina in April. RIGHT: An un­dated photo of Fuzzy.

FAM­ILY PHOTO

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.