If prison has taught me anything — and it damn well better have, representing at this point about 23% of my life thus far, a significantly longer period than that of my formal education — it's how to deal with boredom. And when I say boredom, I'm talking about the condition of being either devoid of stimuli or sufficiently inured enough to what stimuli is available that it no longer stimulates. I don't mean being actively bored, that is, having someone being boring at you, which is not the same thing at all. That is an act of aggression and my years in prison have actually made me less able to deal with it. If I ever could, I can no longer feign interest when someone launches into a long, pointless, rambling story full of superfluous detail and extraneous exposition that inevitably concludes with a payoff so feeble that I just want to scream, STOP, you tedious, droning, blatherskite, and listen to yourself? I don't need to know the full names of people I don't know and will never meet! I don't need the personal history of every ancillary character in your agonizingly dreary tale! Stop veering off into parts unknown! Give me a beginning, a middle, and an end, and for cripe's sake MAKE IT INTERESTING! But you can't say that, because it would be mean. Instead, I redirect the conversation or excuse myself on some pretext when I hear, "Oh man, this one time…" or "Dude, did I ever tell you…?" or the absolute worst and most positive indicator that I am about to be bored to literal death, "I had the weirdest dream last night."
No, that kind of torture — and it is, because you are held prisoner, either literally (in a class, or barber chair, or cell, or briefing, or AA meeting, or whatever) or by your own politeness — you never get used to.
But if you're talking about being plunked down into a locked room with four bare walls and nothing at all in the way of distractions— that I can deal with. I have years of experience in creating diversions and recreational activities out of thin air or, at most, the barest and most simple accessories.
For instance, while a guest at the Mendocino County Jail and spending a month in a solitary cell I created the fun and exciting game of Dodge-The-Cup. A brief aside: for those who have not enjoyed the hospitality of the good folks up Low Gap way, MCJ is to municipal corrections what Greece is to financial responsibility; that is, they haven't really got the knack of it. They're definitely running something over there but it's utterly unlike any other jail I've ever been in, and I assure you I've sampled a goodly number. If it weren't for the occasional glimpses of His Imperial Radiance, Sheriff Tom Allman, I doubt it'd even be worth the trip.
Anyhow, there I was in a solitary cell for some damn reason which escapes me just now, probably my chronic knuckleheadedness. I was burning down the days in the usual fashion: reading (when I could get my hands on a complete book), singing, pacing, having conversations with myself in different accents, reciting memorized poems ("Ode to Stephen Dowling Bats," "Jabberwocky," "The Walrus and the Carpenter"), recounting old Simpsons episodes, telling myself jokes (I'd heard most of them already), and dancing. One day I dropped my hard plastic cup and noticed that it bounced off the concrete floor on a random spinning trajectory at roughly twice the velocity it left my hand with, apparently using stored energy like a Super-Ball. After a few exploratory tosses at the walls and floor I ascertained that, also Super-Ball-like, its path on rebound was impossible to predict. Thus was Dodge-The-Cup born.
The rules are simple: Stand in the middle of the cell, fire the cup as hard as you can at the wall or floor and try not to get hit. Actually, you can't avoid getting hit; the real point is not getting hit in the face. Therefore, my strategy was to fling the cup, cover my head and cringe, presenting the smallest possible target. Points were scored for number of bounces and successful dodges. I whiled away many exciting hours at this game and spent a few pleasant ones in the infirmary when the cup got the better of me and landed me on the DL.
It's not really all that challenging to amuse yourself in solitary confinement. I've got way too much interesting stuff stored in my brain to ever be bored in such a situation. There are, however, circumstances of boredom in which your brain is your enemy and efforts at diversion must be dynamic, thorough, and able to take you completely out of the moment lest you drive yourself crazy with obsessive thought.
Tom Petty said it best when he sang, "The waiting is the hardest part." Actually, what he sang was, "The way-aya-tin' is the haaardest part." (Interestingly enough, Tom later [or earlier] contradicted himself when he said "Coming down is the hardest thing," these two situations being the unpleasant bookends of a pleasant drug experience).
And Tom, you are so right. The way-aya-tin' is the hardest part. Waiting for drugs is the worst. It always takes literally forever and it's even longer when the errand extends outside the county, as it did one day when I cooled my heels in Albion waiting for a delivery from Yuba City.
Albion is dull by design, and that's fine. Most of the folks there, with a few notable exceptions, live lives of quietly complacent rusticity. It's quiet. Too quiet. I found myself going half nuts trying to find ways to divert myself as I waited, unwilling to leave the ridge or the phone for too long lest I miss the delivery. Nothing I tried held my interest for very long. I tried to construct a prosthesis for my one-eyed, three-legged cat, Mrs. Stellington, out of Barbie parts and a shoelace, but she just lay down and wouldn't even try to walk on it. I didn't bother to try inserting the sucked-down Jolly Rancher I thought would make a very fetching glass eye.
It was then I conceived the notion of the Albion Time Trials. The idea was to visualize an errand, imagine the shortest possible time it might take to complete it, and then get in the car and try to beat that time. First heat: Drive to the market, buy a beer, avoid the amorous advances of the Kessler-sotted clerk, chug the beer, and make it back to H Road in… 5 minutes flat.
As you know, on Albion Ridge Road one's speed is limited only by Einsteinian relativity restrictions. My main concern was meeting one of the many locals who view "side of the road" distinctions as fluid and purely a matter of personal choice. I lit out in a shower of dirt and gravel and skidded onto the blacktop. I stomped on it and quickly got it up to 85, negotiating the dips and turns like Juan Manuel Fangio. Woo-hoo! 90mph. I narrowly missed the Primary Purpose van on its way home.
When I hit the parking lot I slammed on the E-brake, slid to a stop, and checked my time. Well under two minutes. Excellent. I ran into the store and grabbed a Newkie. Luckily, I'd made this purchase before and thoughtfully brought the exact change. I ran to the counter and tossed the $2.39 down.
"What's your hurry, handsome?" slurred the clerk.
"No time, gotta go," I said. I slammed that brown ale in about 4 seconds and charged back homeward. The way home being uphill and my whip being a well-seasoned 4-banger riceburning relic, I wasn't able to attain the speeds I'd hit coming down but I had her fully wrapped and zipping up the ridge quite sprightly. My focus was intense and I straightened out the turns as if I were laser-guided. I hit H Road sideways in a perfectly executed cop stop and blasted into the driveway. 4 minutes 46 seconds! Success! I made my way through the cheering throng (Mrs. Stellington, dragging the apparatus I'd contrived for her around by her tail) and did a victory dance in the yard.
Heat Two: Drive to Middle Ridge, do a donut outside Sherry Glaser's house, yell, "Women are and always will be second-class citizens!" at the house, get out of there before she came out and cast a spell on me, and make it back in, let's say three point five minutos. No problemo. I blasted up the ridge like a scalded cat and cranked up the radio. "Don't Stop Believin'," by Journey. Damn right. I will not stop believin', Steve. I hit Middle Ridge seconds later and sped toward Sherry's house, but before I could execute my bold maneuver, I saw something that chilled my blood. Outside her house, a nude Sherry Glaser and several members of her coven were prancing around a large steaming cauldron, tossing in herbs as they chanted an arcane litany of evil. Gagged and bound to a tree near them was an unfortunate gentleman who I feared was to be the final ingredient in their diabolical stew. He looked at me with pleading eyes. "Help me," the eyes silently begged. I shrugged and gave him an apologetic look, as if to say, Sorry, I'm doing a time trial here. I drove by the sordid scene at a crawl as the crones turned to look at me. I smiled weakly. "Womyn power," I said.
Once I got clear of the witches I hauled ass out of there, trying desperately to make up time. I hit H Road at a terrifying rate and slid to a stop. Four minutes and ten seconds. Dammit all. Oh, well. Right after I pulled into the driveway Big-B Chisel-Chin showed up with my dope and I would be bored no more.
So, campers, the next time you feel bored don't be afraid to indulge your inner demented child and endanger the lives of yourself and random strangers, because if it gets you out of your own head, it's okay, and remember: if you're bored, then you're boring.