I would not recommend prison to anyone. It's pretty much a bad deal all around: degrading, dehumanizing, violent and cheerless. It's peopled in the main by mean, stupid sociopaths and staffed by insensate thugs. It's boring at best and hellish at worst and even when you are having fun you wish you were somewhere else.
And don't go expecting to meet any wise old Shawshank-y mentors to dispense sage nuggets and guide you on your journey. All the oldsters are bitter, cranky old coots who either committed a crime heinous enough to get them locked up permanently, or are too stupid to get the message after the first few lessons. Either way, not someone you want to take advice from.
The food is terrible, the accommodations cramped and uncomfortable, and the people purporting to be women are in fact not. So to reiterate: Prison bad, freedom good.
Those of you fortunate enough to have never dipped a toe in the penal system will never know the singular joy, the absolute pure unalloyed ecstasy of getting out. Imagine a world where every sight every color, every person, every sound, every object is a thing of beauty and wonder to which you joyfully attend in awe and admiration where rote quotidian tasks become fresh and fascinating and the simplest sensations induce euphoric thrills. Never mind your for-real pleasures like having sex or cracking a beer; feeling coins rippling through your fingers as you put your hands in your pockets. Having pockets to put your hands into. Sitting on a cushioned chair; riding in a car, saying "good morning," or "nice day," and really meaning it. It's seeing the world through fresh new eyes for the gift that it is, being a conscious and aware interface between the world and your brain and reveling in it. It's like achieving enlightenment without all that tedious meditation and right-thinking.
It doesn't last of course. Within days or hours depending on the individual the veil drops and you once again require flashing lights and a supersaturated 500-hue color palette in 1200 pixel per square inch high definition to even elicit a disinterested "meh," but until then you get to experience a rare and wonderful thing — a genuine appreciation for life and living it.
* * *
So there I was in the spring of 2006 in the midst of this heady spell, just enjoying and appreciating the hell out of everything. I had taken the bus up from San Luis Obispo after a short stint at the California Men's Colony, which sounds less like a prison than a gay man's art enclave, but is in fact the former. I was walking around Ukiah touching things, smiling at people, and soaking it all in. I had arrived too late to catch the last bus back to Fort Bragg so I got a room at the Von — no palace, but I felt like the Sheik of Araby laying on that big bed, eating potato chips and watching HBO.
In the morning — the resplendent, luminous morning wherein every avian chirp and trill thrilled my very core — I went to check in at Parole. That odious chore completed, I pondered the intervening six hours until the Coaster (MTA bus) arrived and decided to reward myself with a little of the old rit-da-dit-da-doo.
As it turns out, I did make that three o'clock bus — but not until three days later.
As sprees go, it was a fairly minor tear; no significant deaths, most of Ukiah's permanent structures remained standing and the fabric of space-time was barely stretched. No big whoop. I strolled up to the bus stop outside the Jamba Juice and commenced waiting for the chariot to spirit me home.
Normally, I'm not one to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But there is a lesser-known after effect of chronic extended amphetamine use that manifests prior to the exhaustion, depression and paranoia. It's hard to describe, but it is characterized by a sort of goofily clever affability. It was in this condition that I began chatting with the other person awaiting transport, an Hispanic girl apparently middle-to-high school age. (I can't tell how old kids are anymore.) She possessed of a challenge that necessitated some sort of complex framework around her left leg. It became almost immediately apparent that she was a spirited, funny and intelligent young person and within minutes we were chopping it up like old homies and having a grand time. The bus arrived and we continued our conversation aboard. Turns out she's headed to Point Arena to do a little partying with her cousins. She told me funny stories about her family and friends and school. I told her about the losers I met in prison and my crazy girlfriend waiting for me back in Fort Bragg who may or may not let me in when I arrive. We were cracking each other up and I had maybe the best time I've ever had on a bus.
A couple of stops after we'd boarded, we picked up this woman, a stringy, rawboned type with an aggressively dyed Seussian mop of bright orange hair. Her teeth were occasional and variegated and she had enormous fake breasts barely constrained by a tiny denim vest. She sat down a few rows up from us and mostly escaped our notice as we laughed and jawed and, until she heaved a particularly ponderous sigh and glared pointedly and extensively in our direction. My young friend and I looked quizzically at each other, shrugged and continued our conversation.
The next time I looked forward she was turned around with her chin resting on the seat back, staring daggers at us. I gave her a big smile — remember, I was in Happy Fun Mode. "I'm sorry, were we being too loud?," I said. She didn't say a word, just kept staring, flicking her cavernous lamps back and forth between myself and my friend. This effectively shut us up for the moment and I began fiddling around in my backpack to distract myself from that murderous glare.
Eventually she turned back around and we resumed our conversation, albeit at a considerably moderated pitch. There were occasional grumbles and sharp exhalations from the Dragon Lady, but at least she was looking out the window.
At one point we both laughed long and loud at something I had said, and after we stopped, this stentorian, accusatory voice nagged through the bus: "I guess some people just think they are better than everybody else!" The bus driver glanced up into his rear view and chuckled nervously. "All right now," he said.
I decided the best course was to ignore her. So I made a dismissive gesture to my traveling companion in witchy-poo's direction and continued talking. As I recall, we were discussing a new movie I really wanted to see — Borat. My friend cast her eyes toward our tormentor and said in a very creditable Kazakh accent: "My sister! Second-best prostitute in all Kazakhstan!"
That was it. I was laughing so hard I was not making any noise. I bent double and tried to catch my breath. When I finally composed myself I sat up and she said again in Borat, "High-five?," holding up her palm. I again convulsed trying desperately and futilely to rein in the hilarity for fear of offending the harpy. Before long I laughed myself out. "No more, please," I said.
Then Lucretia McEvil said in a booming, companionable tone as if addressing a group of friends, "I ain't afraid to whup on no god-damn cripple, you know. I did it before and I'll do it again. I'm just sayin'!"
I realized something had to be done. "Driver?," I said, making a what-the-hell gesture with my hands. He gave me a nod and a be-patient signal. Clearly not the first time this route has had 5150 issues. The bus made a brief rest stop in Navarro and the driver took the geech aside to read her the riot act while we went inside the store for a soda. "You should totally ask her out," my friend said.
"Totally. I'd love to get murdered in my sleep," I said.
The rest of the ride passed uneventfully and when we got to the junction of Highway 128 and Highway 1 it was time for me to get off and transferr to the Fort Bragg bus while the Coaster went on south to Point Arena. I bid my new friend a fond farewell and exited the bus, and of course Hagatha was right behind me. I looked at the bus pulling away and saw a hugely grinning face in the window. We waved at each other, me ruefully, her gleefully — until I realized I had my back to a dangerously unstable individual and there was no one else around. I spun to see her smiling at me.
"Here's what's going to happen," she said and proceeded to outline a plan to excavate my cranium via sexual means. Gulp. "Sounds great," I said, frantically planning my escape.
Tooling toward Fort Bragg, the insistent crone explained to me our plans. We were to get off the bus at Safeway where her car was parked and proceed thusly to Westport where she was going to "rock my world" and also "make me see God." I really was not up for seeing God as I had probably had a lot to answer for after the previous three days and if anything I wanted the world to stop rocking or at most to rock me gently to sleep. I tried to tell her so but she was very persuasive apparently. Anyhow, I found myself heading northward shortly, I presume of my own free will, but still feeling shanghaied and definitely dreading my fate.
We drove way up to the top of the hill on the east side of the highway and parked outside a small trailer about 50 yards from a house. "Go on in there. I'll be back in a minute," she said, and drove off toward the main residence. I went inside the musty smelling trailer and sat down. Rodents and/or insects scrabbled about inside the walls and mold was freely fructifying on the walls and furniture. I shivered and remembered how sex had always had such pleasant associations for me, and now it is going to be ruined forever and heretofore known as The Bad Thing.
She came in bearing a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of Kessler's. "Thought you might be hungry," she said. "Listen, if he comes out here waving a gun around and talking shit, just ignore him, he ain't about to do nothin'. Big pussy."
I jumped up. "What? He? Gun? Who, what the f…? What's going on?," I spluttered.
"My husband," she said exasperatedly as if I should have known that a gun-toting husband was part and parcel of this increasingly bizarre escapade. "But I tole you he ain't gone do shit. Now get in that bed."
"Okay, look," I said, raising my hands in a calming gesture. "It was nice meeting you and all, but I think I've got to go. I should already be home. You take it easy, all right?" I moved toward the door and she picked up a large knife from the counter. "You get in that god damn bed and take your pants off or I'll kill you myself," she snarled menacingly.
Great, I thought. This is to be my fate? This is what I get for always treating women with respect, for being an attentive and generous lover and always considering their needs first? I'm about to be raped and murdered in a moldy trailer by a Westport succubus?
"All right, all right," I said. "Can I have a drink and some food first?"
"Go on ahead," she said, indicating with the knife point. The Cheetos scratched and tore at my dry mouth and throat and gave me added impetus for what I was about to do. I picked up and upended that bottle of cheap whiskey, trying rapidly to guess at the line between unconsciousness and fatal alcohol poisoning. I got to a point I felt comfortable with and set the bottle down. "All right, then, yup, argle guuh…" I said, and a fog came over me and I knew no more.
* * *
I awoke late the next morning with a thick head and zero knowledge of where I was and how I got there. I looked around and there she was, dressed in a long T-shirt, smoking a cigarette and bobbing a cross leg up and down impatiently. "All right!," she said, setting down her smoke and stepping out of her skivvies. "It's go time!" She advanced on me with a lupine leer on her face and I resigned myself to my fate. "Do you have a condom?" I asked her.
"Cundum? What are you, some kind of faggot?," she sneered. It certainly seemed like a wonderfully safe and comforting alternative to the current situation.
Just then the door opened and I suffered several heart attacks as I leapt to my feet to face what I imagined to be the bloody denouement of this whole sorry chain of events. It was not Hubby, though, but a boy of about eight or nine, obviously drunk, holding a Mickey's 40 and wearing a diaper under a Guns 'N Roses T-shirt. "Gimme a god damn cigarette, Mama," he said. He looked at me and winked, did a little hip-swivel. "All right," he said.
"Not now, baby. Mama's about to get her freak on," she said.
"Nah, nah, hey, come on, kid needs a cigarette. What kinda mother are you, huh?," I babbled, reaching for my pack.
I tossed the kid a Marlboro, pushed him toward his mother, kicked the door open, hit the ground running and didn't stop until I hit the Westport Store. I got a cup of coffee and made some phone calls and two hours later I was listening to my harmlessly crazy girlfriend explain to me why she spray-painted the TV screen.
There's no place like home.