Fourteen Days In The Hole – The View from Solitary.6
The morning sun in Miami Beach was hot, Cool Hand Luke work gang hot. I was into the metaphor so I asked the woman driving the Uber to the Con Air hangar to soap up and slap herself up against the windshield. There was a big tip in it for her. Told her I was going upstate for a bid. She wasn’t into it and forced me out of the car at gunpoint. Forgot about the Stand Your Ground and Open Carry laws in Florida. She screamed something to me in Spanish about my plummeting passenger rating but I didn’t care. I was going away. For a long time.
I had missed the Con Air shuttle at this point. The sirens indicated that the heat, the real heat, not The Miami Heat, were already looking for me. So I pulled my gunny sack up to the outdoor check-in at the very aptly named Southwest Terminal. The screw at the counter gave me a baleful look, “This bag is overweight, son. It’s $75 or you can buy a Southwest duffel for $25 and take the weight out because you get two bags for free.” The complexity of the math escaped me but I tossed some crumpled sawbucks at the man and booked a flight to Buffalo via Baltimore. Whatever the Con Air DC 3 lacked in noise dampening, it was better than the flying meatpacking district that is Southwest.
My only other option was to fly straight into Canada and have authorities slap on the manacles and dump me into a ratty hotel room for three days. On my dime. No thank-you. I’ll serve my sentence at the facility of my choice.
Security was as tight as were the quarters on the Baltimore leg. The beatings up and down the aisle were ladled out to anyone not wearing a mask and/or not wearing it properly, irrespective of the fact that given the legroom, many cultures would consider you and your seatmate betrothed after that many hours with that much physical contact. The guy next to me wasn’t a talker but at 300 pounds, his body odor spoke volumes and with his left arm securely under my throat, there wasn’t much to say. Or could say with my airways compromised. I managed to suck some air off a hole in the hose on his portable CPAP machine.
There was a stop and an equipment change in Baltimore, an airport with amenities that recall the visiting area at the California State Penitentiary at Lompoc. I had the screws release my shackles so I could hunker down with a tuna maki, seaweed salad and miso soup in the cafeteria, served up by a lifer who was pretty good with a Ginzu. Maybe too good. And I was down another double sawbuck for my trouble. We chained in for the leg to Buffalo and before you know it I was at the luggage carousel with my mule, a guy named Tim who would take me across the border. I jimmied a cart free without paying the finski and we headed to the parking lot where Tim’s getaway vehicle was waiting – a late model Lincoln MK something. Black on black. Yeah.
A few minutes later we were at Checkpoint Charlie or, as the authorities call it, The Peace Bridge. Timmer briefed me on what I was supposed to say to get across the line into Canada. It’s like he knew the bulls at the border. I had heard stories. Border agents asking that the vehicle be turned off. Scary. And I needed every ounce of smarts as it turned out. The agent played it cool. He had a ponytail and facial hair. Sort of the ‘woke gamer’ look which is hard to find. But the questions came hot and fast, “Where you been?” “What you got?” “What are you in for?” A box of Partagas Numero Cinco Edition Speciale is what I had on me. The stogies would come in handy in the prison barter economy. Yeah, I was paying the price for four months in South Florida. Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.
He read me the Riot Act or maybe it was my Miranda Rights or maybe it was some government order about my sentence that I had to acknowledge verbally when he was done. As he waved us on, somebody in a hazmat suit tossed me a couple of testing kids and one of those knowing looks as if to say, “Via con dios muchacho.” Where I was going few men returned. How do you test for a broken spirit?
I hadn’t had a fix in hours and I was starting to get scratchy. I asked Timmy to help me out but he was not forthcoming. I begged, I grovelled and I cried. Finally he relented and he drove to a dark, squat building with a window on the drivers’ side. I looked at the woman there – young, energetic but weathered as one is in her line of work. I simply said, “Latte, grande, oat milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon.” Bought Tim a set up for himself and a croissant – served cold – and off we went.
The dank grey pallor of the country matched my mood. Rain spat at the car like grist from Wilf Brimley’s mouth when he talked and ate granola at the same time. Finally we pulled in front of the big house, a brutal structure that went back to the middle of the last century. Tim left me at the door with my bags and what was left of the latte. You don’t know loneliness until you’ve hit the elevator button to nowhere. I got off on the sixth floor and was led to my cell. As the door slammed behind me, I knew that it would be a long time before it would open again. The layout looked vaguely familiar although the fish tank was a mess and the place wasn’t cleaned from the last inmate, a guy they say looked a lot like me. But without the tan.
Stumbled around in a haze of hay fever that hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes I’m all about climate change but this was sudden. And I was paying for it. The fridge was empty save for a rotting jar of apricots. And some pickles that were well past sour. There were a few ounces of Woodford’s Double Oaked laying in the liquor cabinet and I grabbed the bottle and slumped in a bale of laundry that included several flashy golf ensembles. I took a deep swig off the Woodford’s to wash down a couple of hits of Reactine and put Spotify in drive with Johnny C. singing Folsom Prison Blues. Felt like Marty Sheen in that hotel room in Apocalypse Now waiting to go up river. I looked at the Reactine pack and the batch had expired in 2017. Yeah, we are all past our fresh date. Not sure I can take much more of this.
A noise from the adjoining cell woke me from a fitful night on the shabbiness that was my ratty bedroll. Thirty years ago, prison chic was the new minimalism in style. Not so much anymore when you’re drinking cold coffee and getting an understanding of the gestalt behind the music of Mississippi John Hurt. Not sure the fish are going to make it under my care. WiFi is iffy. The pantry is three Starbucks instapackets and a can of baked beans. Not sure I am going to make it. Did I already say that? Color is starting to fade at a rate that means I will be matching the locals for ashy when I get out. Harold Ballard looked better coming out of chader than he did going in. How do I get that? Instead I have daily emails from the warden harrassing me with the same haunting question, “Do you feel feverish or have trouble breathing?” I wish.
Newspaper shows up. News is not good. Ever. Former video vixen Tawny Kitaen died I read. How many cons lived on Whitesnake videos during their time? Kind of like Tim Robbins and Rita Hayworth in Shawshank Prison. I should steal some civvies, tunnel out of here, rob a bank and buy me an Eldorado convertible. Feeling that feeling when reality is starting to reveal the hard truths about life. Why am I here? Where did I go wrong? Just a poor slob who jumped bail in January and was holed up with the Seminoles in the Everglades for four months. Who was going to miss me? Apparently everybody, enough for an extradition. The phone rang. Robo harassment with the same haunting questions – What is your birth date? Is anyone staying with you in your cell? Right, closest thing to a conjugal visit here is an old Playboy the last tennant on Death Row left behind. Feature spread is Pammy pushing 50 at the Mansion. I’ll take it.
Starting to workout. Determined to get a prison bod by the end of the term. You know, cut. Googled prison workouts and came up with a killer ab series designed by a serial killer. So he had the time to perfect it and I’m into it. BTW, why don’t serial killers take requests? For entertainment, I have some old Betty Boop VHS tapes. I guess I am going to have another Tim Robbins reference and write a never ending stream of letters to the authorities asking them to upgrade the prisoner’s home video library. I could use a copy of Brubaker. The frog in the tank is starting to look good. The shakes have set in because I am Jonesing for one of those Picante tequila things I got hooked on at the Soho Beach House while I was on the lam. Looking at a Trainspottingesque cold turkey. I can cut it.
My motorcycle shows up after being trucked up from Florida. It’s actually a scooter but I fantasize about doing a Steve McQueen from The Great Escape and going straight up Evel Knievel over the barbed wire. Get caught jumping quarantine and you’re looking at LWAP. So I settle for driving around the garage at 2 a.m. If you don’t know what LWAP means, you’ve never been married.
I heard that some cons pretend to lose it and the warden lets them out for a walk. I’d prefer an inappropriate touch football game with the women’s prison across the street. Right now I’m worrying about my weight which is plummeting thanks to a steady diet of brackish tap water and some cans of Pesach friendly boiled potatoes. Salt? Not a chance. I scratch out a code on the wall, hoping Yetta in the cell across from me gets the message and brings in the beard. I need the beard. To be sure, the bearded collie down the hall named Trixie because she gets passed around from con to con who know that a walk on the street with a dog, is a forgivable offense. The screws know that a call from PETA and/or the ASPCA could be a career ender for those in the lockdown business.
Time to start doing something useful, like taking a high school equivalency test so I can post cat videos on YouTube when I make parole. Or get some prison tats, you know something like “Born Loser” on my ass. But we are past halfway and the screws haven’t yet knocked on my door. Getting incessant emails about some test I am supposed to take that involves a swab. Me no habla.
I decide to clean the cell. You do this kind of time and you accumulate more than just a couple of smuggled shivs. When I go Dead Man Walking I don’t want to leave a mess behind so I take a few feet of closet and bag it up. I take a few more feet of books and box them for pickup for the general prison population. A donation to the cause so to speak. It’s somewhat liberating although the irony in that line has to strike you as funny. Unless you are Natan Sharansky.
I pay off the screws and go outside for a walk. Come and get me coppers. At four a.m. there’s not much heat on the street so to speak. After so much time, you appreciate even the little things. The smell of dogshit, the look a skunk gives you when he’s just about to go Pepe LePew on you. Poor Pepe. Got cancelled for making out with a cat.
Cable cancelled because I’m a con. Or my Visa card expired. You see a trend here. I find an autographed copy of the Complete Dick Van Dyke Show. Cut to Rickles as Lyle Delp, hapless stick up man who gets the Alan Brady staff to put on a show in the slammer. The cast performs in prison drag. Hilarity ensues.
The Stockholm Syndrome is taking hold. Starting to buy into this shit about quarantines. Quickly trade my collection of hockey cards with another inmate for four months of cable and hit Fox News. Hard. Yeah, there’s the ticket. I’m back.
Not sure what time it really is. Is it almost over? The Warden has drycleaned my suit which is wildly out of style but it’s all I got. Last night in, somebody sends over a pizza. Ordered if off Skip The Bail, the only food delivery service for inmates. I can wait.
My cell door is open and they find me in tatters, teeth falling out, scurvy setting in, sporting two weeks of growth and I smell real bad. Think McQueen again but in Papillon. There’s some cheering from the other cells as I walk to freedom. The guards smile at me because they know I’ll be back. Once a snowbird… I get through the gates and I see Brad Pitt smoking a heater by the fence. He’s got some weird retro thing going with a flowered shirt and collar. He smiles and I say, “Ted Nugent called. He wants his shirt back.”
Yeah, I did do a quarantine and it sucked even though enforcement was non-existent. And I am fully vaccinated so it was unnecessary although you wouldn’t know if from the TV ads the Ontario PCs are still running after Trudeau has announced that the ridiculous lockdowns were ending next month. Doug Ford is still asking Trudeau to pretty much shut down all incoming air travel as a desperate dodge to avoid his own incompetence in fucking this whole thing up… John Tory has cancelled the Canadian National Exhibition for another year months before it was set to open. Asshole. Yes, I was away for the winter lockdown as I said in the last installment. As were thousands of others who were unfairly scapegoated. But what disturbed me most when I got out was the behaviour of friends and people in my building. I experienced some shaming, vaccinated people were not allowing me near their home. I see morons wearing masks on the street and in their cars. I see gallons of Kool-Aid being drunk that will stay in peoples systems longer than the vaccines. Conversations are about one thing and one thing only. I see storefront upon empty storefront. I see social fabric tearing, I see marriages failing and I hear of too many suicides. But apparently it’s more important we tear down statues of the founding fathers of this country because we know exactly what it was like to create this country when life expectancies were about half of what it is today. Yes, they should have been woke when just getting through a winter was an achievement. Is it good to be back? I’ll leave you with a Neil Diamond lyric, “LA’s fine, but it ain’t home, New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more….”