Every once in a while — not often, but it happens — prison will get the better of me. Most of the time I’m all about the business of filling up my days in a more-or-less worthwhile and productive fashion and haven't the time or inclination to indulge in self-pity or pointless yearning, but occasionally enough factors will coincide that I'm forced, or at least strongly urged, to objectively and painfully confront the unpleasant reality of everything I’m missing. Not drugs, or sex, or booze, or even food — I've long since engineered a backup paradigm to account for the holes left by the absence of those treasured elements — but intimacy, mainly. Being around people who care about me and about whom I care, conversing about things perhaps meaningful, perhaps insignificant, but definitely completely unrelated to prison or anyone in there. Simply put, sometimes I get lonely.
Events conspired to place me in that morose condition yesterday, and I was actively seeking a way out. I decided to tum on the radio, something I rarely do when I feel like this. Not that I don't seek solace from music or that I’m not a sucker for its emotionally manipulative power, because I totally do and am, but because I figure that if I hit the classic-rock button there's about a 15% likelihood of the Eagles answering back and that's enough to take me from being merely despondent to actively suicidal. Normally I’d go to my CD collection, but I've pretty much got wired the specific emotional response to every artist and song at my disposal and none of them seemed exactly the ticket. So I decided to take a shot, spin the wheel, and see what the evil corporate tune hustlers had to offer.
Now, here's where things get unusual. Out of all possible commercial radio content, all the insipid songs, all the strident, amateurish ads, all the vapid, mindless DJ patter, what emerged was the one song — from the beginning, not the frustrating tail end — capable of commiserating with and ameliorating my mopish condition. In rank defiance of Murphy's Law and the Charlie Brown-esque tenor of my life thus far, I heard not a bombastic appeal to come on SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY to the local arena for hot monster truck action, but a cool musical hand 'pon my fevered brow in the form of Crosby, Stills et al. sweetly harmonizing through "Our House." Say what you will about the song or my susceptibility to it, it was precisely the chanson juste and it not only salvaged my day but reinvigorated an occasionally flagging lust for life. Not that the song had that much influence, but as a reminder that things do sometimes work out, it was invaluable.
There are, of course, many more opportunities for things to go wrong than right. Conventional wisdom maintains that leaving as little as possible to chance and making your own luck puts a far more positive spin on your life, because leaving things in the hands of Dame Fortune pretty much guarantees that she's going to strap on a boner facsimile and have her aggressively invasive way with you. I, like many of my ilk (drug-obsessed dreamer with vague, grandiose notions about my eventual ascension to the pinnacle of something, somewhere), have been perfectly fine with allowing the whimsical vagaries of chance to hold sway in my day-to-day, hence this exceedingly restrictive eight-year lease I can't seem to squeeze out of.
In August of 2011 I was at (very) loose ends and wandering the streets of Ukiah in a post-tweak daze after suffering the extraordinary bad luck of being ejected from Ford Street, that decision being made after I was discovered passed-out drunk in Crystal Knight's bed in the women's dorm after a failed attempt to prove to her I wasn't gay. Due to a fairly advanced case of whiskey dick, the results were inconclusive (as far as Crystal was concerned, anyway; I am securely Kinsey-nil hetero. Point seven five, tops.) and I figured to give it another shot after I got some rest, but it was just sheer bad luck that I was caught. I might still have been given a second chance had I not succumbed to the dictates of my throbbing head and told the counselor to get his fat ass out of there before I beat the bark off of him. Yet more ill fortune. I must have been born under a collapsed and dying star.
I left the program cursing and slamming doors behind me and took refuge in the soothing arms of Mother Meth, going on a sick one which was threatening to end after five days without sleep and no more money.
I was loitering at the Pear Tree retail plaza, lounging on one of those big concrete blocks and pondering my options, my brain firing randomly on its two or three remaining operational cylinders and contriving nonsensical, circular solutions to my plight when I had a brief moment of lucidity and realized it was time to shit or get off the pot. Either report to my P.O. and take my lumps or get off my ass and go make some money. I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and was digging into my pocket for a coin to assist in this momentous decision when I heard a soothing voice come in on the breeze.
You should go rob a bank.
"What? Who said that?" I checked either shoulder, but neither imp nor cherub was whispering in my ear.
Seriously. You could totally get away with it.
"Do you realize how much time I'd be risking?"
Fed time. You can do that shit standing on your head. But you're not going to get caught.
"You make a strong point. Tell me more."
Write a note, act like you're conducting a normal bank transaction. Pocket the dough, haul ass out of there.
"On a bicycle?"
Fear is nature's own nitrous booster. Are you going to be a pussy all your life?
"Alright, look, whoever you are (I was beginning to suspect I was talking to myself). I'm no pussy, I just feel like I should think this through a little."
What's to think? You need money. The bank is where the money is. Bing, bang. Get 'er done.
"Tell you what. If I make this Red Bull can into yonder trash can, it's on. If I miss, I turn myself in."
That seems like a perfectly reasonable way to determine the course of the rest of your life.
I tossed up the can in an end-over-end lazy arc and felt a wave of relief when it drifted wide left, but it hit the pillar and ricocheted in.
The gods have spoken. Good luck
"Wait, aren't you going to help me?" No response. I was on my own. Well, a deal's a deal. I'm no welsher. I crossed the street to the little bank on Perkins and got a deposit slip on which to write my note, but there were no other customers in there and the staff was giving me the fish-eye. I patted my pockets as if I’d forgotten something and got the hell out of there. I really felt like I could use some assistance and tried to call back the helpful voice, but it was nowhere to be found. What's the use of having a fragmented personality if it's not going to pitch in and help me over the rough spots? He got me into this, after all.
I visited several more banks and managed to find something wrong with each until I got to the Bank of America, which seemed to fill the bill. It was moderately busy and the teller's windows were sufficiently distant from one another that I felt confident of enough privacy to prevent a panic. I went over to the desk to compose my note. It took a good 20 minutes and what emerged was a rambling, verbose, barely coherent pronunciamento containing several cryptic metaphors, some veiled threats and a demand for an oddly specific sum ($2,417). I thought it a fine piece of work and reflected for a moment on the cops realizing later what an uncommonly literate bandit they had on their hands and how they'd probably assign a special task force to conduct a genteel and mannerly investigation. I got into line and heard a familiar voice in my ear. Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all.
"Now you tell me!" I hissed.
Tell you what, how about we leave it up to chance. There's three tellers working. Only if the lady in the middle is free when you get up there is it a go. Deal?
She called me over with a big smile and as I took that first step toward my destiny, I experienced a feeling a lot like stepping off the edge of a cliff. Once I committed to this path there was no going back, and there was liable to be some major damage when I hit bottom.
I gave the teller a cheery "Good morning" and passed her my little masterpiece. Her manner passed from pleasant and helpful to utterly confused as she frowned at my note. "I don't understand," she said.
"Just start counting out bills, one by one, until you reach that figure. If you start with hundreds, it'll go quicker and nobody has to get hurt. Understand now?"
She complied without a word, and oddly enough, I made it out of the bank without incident. I hopped on my bike and covered the distance from there to Gobbi and Oak in about twenty seconds. I was "successful" for the nonce, but considering I'd done nothing to disguise myself, left handprints all over the counter, and had a face well-known to local law enforcement, I knew I was on borrowed time. Not to mention that the moment a reward was mentioned any one of my "friends" would give me up in a heartbeat.
I had placed myself — or rather, Fate, Bad Luck, and Chance had placed me — in an untenable situation and I was none too pleased with how they'd done that to me. It's almost enough to get a fella to stop relying on the fickle whims of fortune and start taking charge of his own path. Leaving things up to chance is fine for unprotected sex (spin the big wheel of STDs) or drug-combination bingo (Ketamine + MDMA+ oxycodone equals… paralysis!). That's only life you're gambling, and risking it is a time-honored American tradition. Freedom, though, and the inalienable right of banks to go about their daily business without wacked-out tweakers bent on self-destruction coming in making unauthorized withdrawals — those are things to which I might want to apply logic and good sense, not to mention moral considerations. You live, you learn.