There was this pizza place I used to go to. It was on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, a gentrifying strip if there ever was one. But it wasn’t cute or twee the way most new Brooklyn pizzerias are. Anselmo’s was old school, no nonsense. It had exposed brick, faux green marble tabletops, an overall tacky kind of charm. A close-up of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam hung off one of the walls. Like other Brooklyn pizza meccas, say Totonno’s in Coney Island or Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge, Anselmo’s relied on a coal-fire oven. For my taste it had some of the best pizza around—crust dusted in char; pliable, but not cardboardy like a “New York” slice, or limp and soupy like Neapolitan pizza; sauce hovering neatly in between tartness and sweetness. I usually took my pies with anchovies, which liquefied under the oven’s blistering heat.

Anselmo’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria, Red Hook (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)
Anselmo’s Coal-Fired Pizzeria, Red Hook (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)

Anselmo’s was my go-to spot. So I was bummed when I heard it shut down. On Dec. 23, 2009, without warning, it closed for good. The doors were padlocked, the windows spray-painted black. My favorite pizza place was gone. All that remained was an all-caps rant on its website, with the following lines at its core:

“WE ARE CLOSED…EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW WHY WE SHUT DOWN. IT WASN’T THE FOOD OR MONEY…OUR LANDLORD SWINDLED US OUT OF OUR LEASE.”

Or to be more precise, never even drafted one. The owner, in this strange, grammatically flawed post, contended that the deal for the property had been made on a handshake. No lease signed. When city health officials came by asking for one, and found that it didn’t exist, they threatened to shut Anselmo’s down. The owner said he pleaded with his landlord to draft one, but she refused, and so left with no other alternative, he shut the place down himself.

His tirade was far from over, however.

“My landlady is telling the people of Red Hook that I have been in prison and jail,” he ranted anew on the restaurant’s website a few weeks later. “She’s right. I was in prison for manufacturing explosives. It’s public record and I’m not proud of it but I got out and moved on with my life…”

Bizarrely, he also mentioned a fight he had gotten into with a “suspected child molester.” But that interested me less than a bit of moral indignation he included in passing—a tiny speck, as small as a piece of ash on a pizza crust, into the man I would come to know over the next two years.

“I’m from the country, where we trust our elders on a handshake,” he wrote. “Never in a million years I would think she would do this to me.”

Who was this man?

*    *    *

Roger Dean Fischer was born out of wedlock in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, on August 3, 1969. Ever since, his life has amounted to a series of tall tales, build-ups, washouts and comebacks that seem to repeat, as if on a loop, like a 21st-century Huck Finn. “I’m not a millionaire,” Fischer says. “I’ve done well for myself, but I make money and I lose money. I’m up and I’m down. I’m not, like, structured.”

Roger Fischer in Brooklyn, 2011 (Photo by Vinnie Rotondaro)
Roger Fischer in Brooklyn, 2011 (Photo by Vinnie Rotondaro)

Fischer stands five-foot-three and weighs 135 pounds. He has a square jaw and a stolid demeanor. His story is hard to take in all at once. He’s worked in the glow-in-the-dark paint business, the light bulb business, the online shoes business, the pizza business. As for his latest venture, he was dabbling in, of all things, the hip-hop business. Fischer’s been in jail. Twice. Once for eight and a half years and once for four. He’s donated a kidney to his wife, a Colombian immigrant who might otherwise have died. Legend has it that he once burglarized 13 houses in a single night and that he knows how to make a key out of bread.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Above all else, Roger Fischer is “a country boy,” and all roads lead back to West Virginia, where he was born and raised.

Fischer never knew his father, a man of Italian descent who ran off to Canarsie, Brooklyn, shortly after his son’s birth. Nor did he have much of a relationship with his mother, who left most of the child-rearing to his maternal Jewish grandparents. “I think I’m a lot better off for it,” he says.

As a youth, Fischer was a self-described “mean ass.” He was only 11 years old when he first flouted the law, breaking into his grade school cafeteria and stealing the clock his principal made him stare at during detention. While he was at it he also stole a TV and a VCR. His aunt ended up turning him in.

There wasn’t much to do in Berkeley Springs, Fischer says, and even less to do five miles outside town, where he lived. Located in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle and officially known as Bath, Berkeley Springs boasts a population of just over 600. (Greater Morgan County maxes out at about 16,000.) Historically, the area was and still is best known for its warm mineral springs. It was first noted in a 1747 map by colonial surveyor Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas; and George Washington himself made occasional visits to Berkeley Springs, the country’s first spa, to “take the waters.” But the historical pedigree never translated into widespread wealth. Today, the local school system, hospitality sector and sand mining remain the town’s major industries. And, naturally, as a kid, Fischer wasn’t interested in any of them.

“I used to blow fish out of the water,” he once told me. “How do you put it? A lot of people did that around me. The telephone companies back home used to blow stumps out of the ground when there was a tree in the way for telephone poles.”

“We went to ponds,” he went on. “You’d take a gallon jug and put in the mixture [ammonium nitrate], and you put a quarter stick of dynamite—you got the long wick on it—and then you bring it to the water. If you’re too near the water you’ll lose your hearing. But the fish, they all lose their hearing. Anything in the water, their whole head, the blood comes out of it. Every one of them just starts floating up. You can eat ‘em, it doesn’t rip ‘em apart. It just blows their brains out.”

Ugaz and Fischer (Photo courtesy Carlos Ugaz)
Ugaz and Fischer (Photo courtesy Carlos Ugaz)

When Fischer wasn’t bombing ponds, he spent his early teenage years listening to rap and breakdancing with his childhood best friend, Carlos Ugaz. “We’d hang out up at school where everybody played basketball,” Ugaz recalled. “I’d bring my radio up there and we started playing that music. I don’t know how it began, but we started breakdancing up there on that basketball court.”

When he wasn’t breakdancing, he was busy breaking into places and selling pilfered junk at flea markets. This was relatively easy to do. In the 1970s, out-of-towners from Washington, D.C., began buying up land and erecting summer homes in Berkeley Springs, which sits a mere two hours from the capital. The houses often lay vacant, providing easy targets for burglars—targets that kept then-Morgan County Sheriff William Spitzer and his tiny crew of deputies exceptionally busy.

Reading through old issues of the area’s local newspaper, The Morgan Messenger, gives you a good sense of the kind of stuff Spitzer was up against. Stories about B&Es (breaking-and-entering) and burglary—“Arrest Made in School Break-In”; “Man Sentenced for Pop Machine Theft”—or occasional cases of arson—“Two Men Charged With Arson of D & D Pizza”—regularly ran on the front page.

Fischer was a prime offender. He gave Spitzer hell, and the sheriff returned the favor. “He was still in school when he started getting into mischief,” Spitzer, now 86, told me inside his dimly lit house, which sits among a series of foothills that loom over the downtown. “He’d get right off the bus and go break into some place.”

Twenty-two. That’s the number of times that Spitzer remembers busting Fischer for B&E. “He broke into 13 places in one night!” Spitzer said.

Fischer was as prodigious a thief as he was cocky. He took a measure of pride in thumbing his nose at the cops. Spitzer recalled the first time he took Fischer into custody. The sheriff cuffed him loosely and threw him in the back seat of his cruiser. “What was the point in cuffing him tight?” he thought; he’s just a kid. A few minutes later the boy hollered out to him.

“Look back here!” he said.

Both of his hands were free.

Fischer did a series of stints in the Morgan County jailhouse. The sentences usually lasted a month or so, the result of some robbery or petty crime. Nothing violent. County jail wasn’t too bad, Fischer says. Some of his fondest memories stem from his time there.

Consider this: he claims to have once made a jailhouse key. Out of wood. Using two pieces of bread.

“It was like the Andy Griffith jail,” Fischer said. “The jailer, he’s got the key to open the door and give you your food and everything. So I say to him, ‘Let me see that key for a second.’ So I took it. I had three slices of bread. I pressed it in on one of the slices. I pressed it again on the other side of another one. Then I broke off a piece of busted Plexiglas from the window and melted it down and made a frame out of it. And I sawed it down with, uh…what do you call it? Dental floss.”

Former Morgan County Sheriff William Spitzer, today, age 86 (Photo by Vinnie Rotondaro)
Former Morgan County Sheriff William Spitzer, today, age 86 (Photo by Vinnie Rotondaro)

It was hard to believe. But in my talk with Spitzer the old sheriff brought up the story himself, before I’d even mentioned it. As Spitzer remembers it, Fischer “whittled the key out of a piece of wood.”

Sheriff Spitzer in 1986 (Photos by Vinnie Rotondaro)
Sheriff Spitzer in 1986 (Photos by Vinnie Rotondaro)

When the guards would retire for the evening, Fischer, then about 20, claims that he and a friend named Kenny used the key to bust out of their cell and sneak up to the third floor of the jailhouse. There, they rifled through old courthouse documents and watched TV. Though they were never caught in the act, Spitzer did eventually get a hold of the key. He confronted Fischer with it on the day of his release; called the boy into his office, quietly set the key on his desk and shook his head in frustrated disbelief.

Spitzer’s deputies took the device to an isolated area of the Morgan County jailhouse. The sheriff then put a call into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and a bomb-demolition crew was dispatched from a nearby Army base to disarm it.

At the time of the raid, Fischer says he was in Queens, New York, visiting his uncle. U.S. Marshalls tracked him down and transported him back to West Virginia, where he faced federal explosives charges.

Spitzer was never able to uncover Fischer’s motivations. To this day, Fischer won’t say what he was planning, except that he didn’t mean to harm anybody.

“He was probably just interested in seeing if he could make it,” Spitzer said. “He was always into some kind of mischief. I really wanted to see Roger Dean do well. Now, I don’t know why. He was no relative of mine. I think, maybe, because he stayed with his grandmother; maybe because he didn’t have other close friends; maybe because he didn’t have some of the things that other kids have—I always had sort of a feeling for Roger. I’ve thought before, ‘Would there have been anything I could do differently?’ And there wasn’t. You wasn’t gonna change Roger at the time. Roger had that mischief in him, and it had to come out.”

*    *    *

Fischer served nine years in federal prison, bouncing from one facility to another. The experience was the same wherever he went, he says: Lots of reading and lots of effort spent avoiding trouble. He tried as much as possible to hang out with mobsters because, as he put it, “they didn’t get into stupid shit” like pointless prison fights.

Fischer, right, with a fellow prisoner named ‘Spiro.’ (Photo courtesy Roger Fischer)
Fischer, right, with a fellow prisoner named ‘Spiro.’ (Photo courtesy Roger Fischer)

When he was released in 2000, Fischer was nearly 30 years old and Berkeley Springs was the last place he wanted to be. So he reconnected with Jack Stella—“my best friend and business partner,” as later described in Fischer’s website screed—whom he had met briefly in New York before being carted off by the cops for the explosives charge. Fischer began working for Stella’s now-defunct light bulb business, Northstar Lighting.

Stella is a stocky, Brooklyn-born Italian-American with intelligent eyes, a bit of a belly, and Popeye-like forearms. When I first talked with him, in 2010, he was starting up an online lingerie store. “Most women—excuse me for my vulgarity—but most women are embarrassed to buy that kind of stuff and vibrators in person,” he said. But back when he first met Fischer, Stella was still a light bulb and chemical man. “I liked the way he thought,” Stella said of Fischer. “He was always thinking the next step. Most people don’t think the next step.”

Things were looking up. Shortly after getting out of prison, Fischer met a 35-year-old Colombian immigrant named Maria Garcia at a party in Bayside, Queens.

Fischer and Garcia on their wedding day (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)
Fischer and Garcia on their wedding day (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)

These days, Garcia is as down-to-earth and self-composed as Fischer says she was when they first met. “I saw him far away,” Garcia told me. “But I didn’t really think nothing. We sat at the same table, blah, blah, blah. He asked me about what my favorite food was, about my country, and about school, and things like you do when you’re a little kid. And then when I was ready to go he offered to take me home, and I was like ‘No. I don’t know this guy.’”

Soon after the party, Garcia and Fischer met again while at a movie with a group of friends. They watched Hannibal, of all things. Then they linked up at another party in Bayside. This time Fischer walked Garcia back to her apartment, and asked her out on a date.

The two fell in love. At the time, Garcia was mastering her English and Fischer was busy navigating the rhythms of non-prison life. His past came up rarely, and when it did, only in fleeting moments. The two dated for just eight months before Fischer proposed. They were married shortly after, on August 21, 2001.

Fischer and Garcia in Berkeley Springs (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)
Fischer and Garcia in Berkeley Springs (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)

Fischer and Garcia had been living together in East Rutherford, New Jersey, but were looking to move to Brooklyn. On October 2nd, having made plans to go apartment hunting, they took out $2,000 in cash from the bank, just in case they decided to bite. As they were getting ready to leave, the phone rang. It was Stella. His father needed help at his restaurant in Manhattan, and he asked if Fischer and Garcia could lend a hand. They hopped in their Jeep Cherokee and drove into the city.

The ensuing story is, to put it bluntly, crazy. Efforts to corroborate Fischer’s claims with the police proved unsuccessful. A Freedom of Information request to access documents related to the incident was denied on the basis of a “Public Officers Law,” which stated that such records and information would endanger the life or safety of witnesses. And so it lives on as yet another piece of lore from Roger Fischer’s life.

The ensuing story is, to put it bluntly, crazy. Efforts to corroborate Fischer’s claims with the police proved unsuccessful. A Freedom of Information request to access documents related to the incident was denied on the basis of a “Public Officers Law,” which stated that such records and information would endanger the life or safety of witnesses. And so it lives on as yet another piece of lore from Roger Fischer’s life.

Here is his account of what happened:

“I’m driving,” he says, “and this van comes out of a garage and it smacks right into me. I didn’t even see him coming. He just smacks into me and knocks me into a police car. It was an unmarked car. He takes off, and I take off after him. But you’re only going as fast as six or ten miles an hour. It was Manhattan.”

Fischer inched along. A nearby police officer approached the car and knocked on the window, but he didn’t look like a cop. “He looks like a motorcycle gangster,” Fischer said. “He didn’t have no gun or nothing, no badge.”

The officer pulled out a handgun, banged on the window and ordered Fischer and Garcia to “get the fuck out of the car.” Upon striking the windshield, Fischer says, the gun went off, blowing out the driver’s side window and the front windshield.

“It happened so fast,” Fischer said. “He pistol whips me, breaks my nose. He’s a big guy. He just pulls me right up out of the car. It’s still in drive. And he starts beating me right in the face with his gun, and he don’t stop beating me.”

Garcia says she was dragged out of the car and thrown onto the pavement. Police found the $2,000 and countless boxes of light bulbs. Fischer was taken to a hospital, then to jail; he was charged with reckless endangerment and assaulting a police officer. The officer, Fischer says, claimed that Fischer was trying to wrest the gun away.

Whatever the particulars of the incident, Fischer was arrested, and evidently the light bulbs raised eyebrows. Filaments can be used as detonators for explosives, and the incident took place less than a month after 9/11. Well before then, Sheriff Spitzer told me, he had received a call from Berkeley Springs’ new sheriff, who had himself received a call from federal authorities inquiring about Fischer and his dealing in light bulbs.

Police raided Fischer and Stella’s warehouse in East Rutherford and then tore apart Fischer and Garcia’s apartment. Fischer was never charged or convicted on counts of criminal bomb-making, but his history with explosives, and the proximity to 9/11, worked heavily against him.

As Fischer tells it, he was presented with a tough choice: if he took his case to court, he would be pitting his word against a group of post-9/11 cops—where his background in explosives would likely loom in the minds of the jury—and he would face up to 25 years in prison. Or he could avoid court entirely and plea-bargain. He chose the latter. On Oct 16, 2002, Fischer pled guilty to second-degree assault and reckless endangerment in the first degree. He ended up serving another four years in prison.

Garcia was at a loss. She knew next to nothing about her husband’s criminal past. The first call she made was to Fischer’s mother. “Listen,” she said, “Who is Roger Dean Fischer?”

*    *    *

Four more years in jail. Four more years ticked off his life, bouncing from prison to prison, vegetating in jail cells, reading, thinking, waiting. Fischer was released in May 2006 and got to work piecing his life back together. But misfortune struck again, this time with Garcia. It started in August, when she became constantly lethargic. The smell of food made her feel nauseous. She lost weight. One day, she fell so ill that she had to be rushed to the hospital.

One of her kidneys was failing. She needed a transplant.

“You will have more opportunities with another woman,” Maria says she told Roger. “A healthy woman, because I don’t think you can be with me.”

“Wait a minute, Maria,” she remembers him saying. “If they cut your legs, if they cut your arms, you’re still my wife. And if I have to give you my legs, if I have to give you my arms, I’m going to do that.”

One month later, Fischer gave her his kidney.

*    *    *

By 2008, Fischer and Stella had started an online shoe company in Red Hook. For whatever reason, probably just for kicks, they had also been toying with the idea of opening up a bakery to utilize the skills of Maria Garcia’s brother, Anselmo, a baking pro. One fateful day they happened upon a broken-down property at the corner of Van Brunt and Sullivan Streets. They jumped on it. It took some persuading, but Fischer convinced the building’s owner, a lifelong Red Hook resident by the name of Susan Amendola, to let him rent the property, which by Fischer’s estimate was worth about $180,000. A deal was struck. There was no paperwork, no lease signed, Fischer claims. Just a handshake.

Fischer building Anselmo’s (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)
Fischer building Anselmo’s (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)

Fischer went to work renovating the building. He gutted the inside and knocked out the floor. In the process, he discovered an old grimy coal shoot, leftover from some previous incarnation of the space that no one I spoke with seems to recall. “Should I cover it? Should I cement it?” he asked himself.

He called Stella.

“Coal?” he recalled Stella saying. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah.”

“Roger,” Stella said, “I need to get with the architect, because if there’s a coal brick oven, forget about the bakery. We’re not doing a bakery. We’re doing a pizzeria.”

And so Anselmo’s was born. Fischer invested all the money he had and borrowed extra cash to finish renovations. He and Stella hired Anselmo Garcia, Maria’s brother, as the head chef, and the restaurant’s namesake. For her own part, Maria worked as a waitress and cashier. In late March 2009, the pizzeria opened up to a small splash in the New York pizza blogosphere.

It was the coal oven that gave the place its edge. Coal ovens are outlawed in New York City for environmental reasons, but they can be grandfathered in, as was the case at Anselmo’s.

Fischer working the dough at Anselmo’s (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)
Fischer working the dough at Anselmo’s (Photo courtesy Maria Fischer)

“You know who really helped us figure it out?” he went on, in what at first seemed like cock-and-bull but turned out to be true. “Patsy Grimaldi.”

The Patsy Grimaldi, 80-year-old ex-owner of Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn’s most famous pizzeria, who himself confirmed the following story.

“He came by to check our place out,” Fischer said. “He said our pizza was great, but the crust wasn’t that good. He said, ‘You know, if you don’t mind, I don’t want to disrespect you,’ but he went and he took salt. Table salt. And he threw it in my oven. He says, ‘Watch, now have your guy sweep it up.’ So I got the pizza guy to sweep it up. And he said, ‘Now put your pizza in.’ It came out perfect. We had a problem with the heat. You know, it was going up to 1,100 degrees sometimes. That’s pizza in—one, two, three, four—by the time you get to 50 it’s done. Too fast. Way too fast.”

“The salt cools the bottom down,” Fischer said. “It evens out the heat. It kept it at 800 to 950 degrees. Salt. We never would have known that without Grimaldi.”

At the time, Fischer claims he had a genial relationship with Amendola, the pizzeria’s landlord. I never was able to get her side of the story. I tried repeat visits to her home, phone calls, handwritten letters, appeals to friends and random Facebook messages to people in the borough with her last name, but I never got a response. For what it’s worth, Red Hook residents described her as an older, squeaky-voiced character with a forceful personality, occasionally explosive temper, and preference for cold hard cash when dealing with tenants.

Fischer said that his business relationship with Amendola began to fall apart toward the end of 2009, when New York City officials came to inspect Anselmo’s. They asked for a Certificate of Occupancy, which in turn required a lease; ironically, in the muddled netherland of city restaurant regulation, neither a C.O. nor a lease is required to obtain a Food Service Establishment permit—or, for that matter, to start a pizzeria. Still, restaurateurs may be fined or even shut down by the Health Department for not having them.

Fischer told me that he and Stella pleaded with Amendola for a lease, but she refused, saying such a document was never part of the deal.

The two parties came to loggerheads. When Fischer stopped paying his rent, the feud escalated. They badmouthed each other, he said, and shot each other the evil eye when they met on the street.

Ultimately, Fischer wasn’t able to jump the legal hurdle he faced from the city, or the stonewall he says Amendola had erected between the two of them. When the Health Department came back a second time, inspectors threatened to shut the business down and charge a $40,000 fine. Anselmo’s was doomed. On Dec. 23, Fischer closed it himself.

“I got so many phone calls I had to change my number,” Fischer said of the public reaction to the closing. “I got so many emails I had to buy extra bandwidth. So I just got tired and I put the story up there on the website and it cut down on my emails 1,000 percent.”

“Now everybody knows.”

*    *    *

It was a few months later, in early 2010, that Fischer first related his saga to me over cups of bad coffee inside a bakery in Bay Ridge, where he was living at the time. I had tracked him down after reading the tirades he left on Anselmo’s website and we talked for hours.

He told me about a recent visit he made to Berkeley Springs, and about seeing old friends. “They miss me, but I don’t miss it,” he said. “You can’t make it there. To have fun there you get in trouble. Now, the kids that I knew, their kids, they’re doing the same thing. Trouble, jail, fighting, burglary, screwing up people’s cars.”

“Back and forth, back and forth,” he said. “Back and forth, back and forth.”

Fischer talked about moving on, getting back into business. And for a while there, he did. At the time, he was starting up the online shoe business in Staten Island with Stella and working to get a hip-hop label off the ground. Fischer and I got together on several occasions. We’d shoot the shit, and each time we did I learned something new, something incredible about him. There were moments when I couldn’t bring myself to believe the stories he told, like when he claimed to have befriended the rapper Flavor Flav during one of his stints in jail. But there were other times when I was able to corroborate his claims, and I was amazed. There was something about Fischer that kept me coming back for more.

Maybe it was his determination. “He likes to be on the air,” Garcia said of him. “And I’m trying to be on the ground. Sometimes I think, ‘He’s crazy.’ But he goes forward.”

Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that, no matter how hard I tried to fathom him, he remained an enigma. “How would I explain Roger?” said Stella. “One word: complicated. And I say it in a good way.”

As sphinx-like as Fischer could be, I really liked him. I came to root for Roger Fischer. I wanted to see him succeed. Hell, I was even willing to help him succeed.

But I couldn’t, because he vanished. In a flash, as quick as Anselmo’s had shut down, Fischer stopped returning my calls, stopped answering emails and texts. A post on his Facebook page suggested he was in Miami with his wife, and from there the trail went cold. Nothing.

I sat on my suspicions a while before heading out to Red Hook in September 2011 to look for clues. Anselmo’s was still sitting vacant, like a dead memory. One of its windows was smashed in. Nearby, I met an old friend of Fischer’s—a hairdresser. We got to talking. Rumor had it, she said, that Fischer was back in jail.

Anselmo’s today (Photos By Luke Rafferty)
Anselmo’s today (Photos By Luke Rafferty)

I rushed home, pulled out my computer and typed “Roger Fischer” into Google. Nothing came up. I typed in a third word: “robbery.” Articles from NBC New York and the Staten Island Advance appeared. “Burglar busted for string of robberies in which he stole cash, food, lottery tickets and more” ran one headline, in the New York Daily News. That article went on:

Anselmo's today
Anselmo’s today

“A Staten Island man was busted for a string of burglaries during a three-month spree across the borough, police said Tuesday.

Roger Fischer, 41, broke into at least 10 different stores since Feb. 4, stealing cash, food, lottery tickets, Metrocards and a cash register, police said.

The bespectacled bandit entered each store, usually a deli or gas station, by a window or breaking through a side wall, cops said.”

Surveillance video allegedly shows Roger Fischer robbing a store on Staten Island.

Surveillance video allegedly shows Roger Fischer robbing a store on Staten Island.
Surveillance video allegedly shows Roger Fischer robbing a store on Staten Island.

I couldn’t believe it, or could I? Three weeks later I found myself on a bus to Rikers Island. After hours of security checks, I entered  a visitor’s room. There, among a sea of convicts and their loved ones, sat Roger Fischer. He was dressed in a grey jumpsuit.

“Hey, Vinnie,” he said.

“Hey, Roger.”

We talked for a while. He told me about the food and how bad it was, about how he missed his daily slice. “You can’t get good pizza in here,” he said.

We talked about the charges he faced. He claimed he didn’t do it. “I didn’t rob those stores,” he said. “They’ve got nothing on me.”

“Roger,” I said. “Do you remember the time you talked about being up and down, and up and down?”

“I do,” he said. “I’m up and I’m down, and now I’m down, and it’s all my fault. It’s always my fault.”

A strange sort of sadness fell over me as the guards called time on our meeting—a disconnected feeling that somehow felt liquid, as if splashes of it were washing over me. We stood up and shook each other’s hands. I stepped into a regimented line to exit the room. When the door swung open, I bade Fischer farewell with an outstretched arm and an open palm. He nodded his head and flashed a quick smile. Then cast his eyes toward the ground.

He was down, yet again. I just hoped he’d get back up.

*    *    *

Roger Fischer has been in jail for over a year, and is currently awaiting a trial date.

Vinnie Rotondaro is Editor at Large at Narratively. He lives and writes in Brooklyn.