The trick—one of them, anyway—to staying sane in prison and not lapsing into despair is having something to look forward to. The big one, of course, is one's parole date, and, not to be insensitive to any lifers who might be reading this, it's what keeps us getting up in the morning. However remote it may be, it’s continually beckoning on the horizon, a distant ship gradually resolving from an indeterminate speck to the instrument of our deliverance from this isle of despond. Of course, the closer it gets, the crazier it makes you, and the curse of the "double-digit midget" (99 days or less) is that the date hijacks your mind entire, rendering you unable to take what simple pleasures you were formerly able to squeeze from this joyless environment. Therefore, it is recommended that you not focus on the release date and instead look to more immediate, attainable, and regular events to anticipate. The quarterly canteen package is a good one—it's like Christmas four times a year.
Biweekly visits to the commissary also put some zing into the month. Movie day creams the Twinkles of some inmates, and if you like superhero extravaganzas, Nicholas Sparks melodramas, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, then you live for Fridays. Me, not so much. I do look forward to Friday, but it's for the fish lunch. I do realize it's not actually fish, and may not even be food, but it's breaded and served with tartar sauce and that's good enough for me. I suspect it's something in the excelsior family.
On a daily basis, there is, of course, mail call. Our link to the outside world and every weekday the possibility of an affirmation that somebody out there loves and is thinking of us. Now, I used to be one mail-gettin' sonofabitch. Every single day I received thick, bestickered-and-lip-printed envelopes stuffed with paeans of adoration, prurient fantasies, and money orders, until one day she did some very basic math, calculated the lopsided benefit distribution of our relationship, and decided to apply her affections, energies and finances in a more immediately rewarding direction. I tried to convince her that I was worth the wait, but I don't think I even believed it.
Now, I get birthday and holiday cards from Mom, a couple of random newsletters, a magazine or two, and the AVA. It is a telling aspect of my personality that whenever I receive an envelope stamped with the return address of the AVA, I get an intense feeling of dread and cannot even open it until I have thoroughly steeled myself. I know exactly what is inside, to wit: Dear Flynn: we've indulged you quite long enough, and if you want to continue to pretend to be a writer, please do it elsewhere. Kindly curtail your puerile submissions or face action from our crack team of legal experts. We never liked you and only allowed you space as penance for our multitude of sins, as required by Zwinglian orthodoxy. Or something like that, exposing me for the fraud I suspect myself to be in my less confident moments.
So far, my fears have been for naught and it's usually been The Major writing to tell me of something interesting on the online (unavailable to me) version of the paper, as he did this week to inform me of a dialogue taking place relating to a recent column of mine featuring a couple of past Albionian characters, Ruth Weiss and Paul Blake, and introducing me to a DJ called Marco McClean who has apparently been reading my work on the air. I don't know who this McClean character is, but his perspicacity, taste, and judgment lead me to visualize a tall, well-favored gentleman with long, elegant fingers and acutely refined senses of theology and geometry. For making me a multimedia phenomenon, and for your praise, sir, I salute you.
Marco is correct, I never shot at Ruth or Paul, the shotgun blasts in question were purely ceremonial. I in fact have nothing but fond memories of the both of them, and was saddened to hear of Paul's demise. And yes, if he lived anywhere near H Road he probably did hear me firing off a round or two, or banging on my guitar with the Marshall cranked up to 11, or perhaps running screaming through the pygmy with the meth monsters in hot imaginary pursuit.
Shortly after making my acquaintance, Paul dragooned me into driving him, Ruth, and a pile of his art to the city for an event benefiting the Matt Gonzalez mayoral campaign. Things went slightly awry as I was humping the canvasses upstairs and left the doors of the San Francisco City/County Building propped open (well after business hours), prompting security to detain and search me. A quantity of marijuana and some unidentified pills were discovered, and Supervisor Gonzales had to personally vouch for my acceptable presence in the building. All in all, though, it was a good experience as we sold a couple of paintings and I got to meet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. On the way home I got a DUI in Cloverdale, and when we got back to Albion Ruth informed Paul that he wasn't allowed to play with me anymore. I was bummed—I enjoyed Paul's company and his fey pomposity—but I figured I could eventually charm my way back into their good graces, or maybe sometime they'd need something heavy moved.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Paul had a pattern of going off his meds and embarking on dangerous, self-destructive missions, like showing up at the Tip-Top Bar in Fort Bragg in drag and asking the local boys to dance. Predictably, he'd get thumped and carted off to jail, which was probably his intent all along. One afternoon he called me and asked if I'd go on an adventure with him. "Try and stop me," I said. I was about to hang up when ruth came on the line. "Please don't let him drive and don't leave the ridge, okay?" she implored.
"No problem. Tell him I'm ready when he is," I said.
Paul showed up a little while later, eyes glittering in a way I thought boded well for the potential of the evening. In one hand, he held a 1.75 liter bottle of Jose Cuervo, and in the other, a pair of leather pants. "Drink this," he said, poking the opposite item at me, "and put these on." I didn't know what he had in mind, but apparently leather pants were a crucial part of his vision, and I am nothing if not game. In my view, Art is Art, and should the artist forsake traditional media and take a more unconventional approach to realizing his vision, viz., me, the paint and Albion the canvas, who am I to obstruct the process?
I put the pants on and they fit like an extremely sexy glove. I don't know if you've ever worn leather trousers, but as transformative apparel goes, I'd put them right up there with Cinderella's ball gown. Donning them, one begins to get a sense of Jim Morrison's incredible swagger. I strutted back and forth across the room a few times, slugging on the tequila as Paul clapped. "Bravo!" he shouted.
We got into Paul's eccentrically decorated (sand and seashells glued to the hood) Volvo and I fired her up. "Where to?" I asked.
"Middle Ridge. The Glaser residence."
We shot up the ridge road like a raped ape and when we got to Sherry's, Paul retrieved a carton of eggs from a box on the back seat. "Keep it running," he said. His first three shots went wide, short, and backwards, respectively, but he found his range at egg number 4 and hit the front door squarely. With a gleeful shout and renewed confidence, he fired the rest of the carton, scoring 6 out of 8 and nailing two windows. Sherry came out in a knee-length T-shirt and mules. "Paul Blake! I'm calling the sheriff! I'm calling ruth!" she screamed.
"Witch! Harridan! Philistine!" Paul screeched. He pulled down his pants and shot her a moon. I reached over and opened the passenger door. "Let's go, buddy. We're done here," I said.
We found a quiet place up the ridge to wait out the possibility of the sheriffs and drank tequila while Paul reveled in his attack. "Did you see that! Pow! Pow! Pow! Shoulda saved one for her, the bitch." From there we toured a number of properties in the area, apparently everyone who'd ever offended, defied, or criticized Paul, or otherwise run afoul of his fairly stringent ideas about how he was to be treated. We spun donuts in yards, let the air out of several tires, stole a split-rail fence piece by piece, creepy-crawled the tweakers in the A-frame, tossing pebbles at the windows and causing a frenzy of activity inside, and freed a couple of horses.
It was getting on to the wee hours and we were both as drunk as lords when Paul said, "I hate to make things uncomfortable for you since you live on his property, but Rick Redfern banned me from his hot tub for peeing in it. I must take my revenge."
"You know what? Fuck Rick Redfern and everybody who looks like him. Let's do this," I said.
Incidentally, Dr. Rick was a forgiving and benevolent landlord and an all-around good guy, but I was just getting into the spirit of the thing.
We headed down H Road and I shut off the motor and allowed our momentum to silently carry us to Dr. Rick's barn. Paul grabbed a milk crate full of spray paint from the back of the car. "What shall we paint?" he asked.
"Well, duh," I said. "Penis!" It worked both as a symbol of rebellion and a sly reference to the hot-tub incident.
"Excellent idea. You do the balls."
I did, and a nobler set was ne'er laid to canvas than that splendid pair. They were as big as melons and fancifully variegated in metallic tones. Paul's johnson was a magnificent thing, triumphantly veiny and proudly upthrust like a revolutionary fist. We stepped back to observe our work. "Awesome," I said.
Paul was blinking back tears. "It's beautiful," he whispered reverently.
I signed the barn door with my nom de punk, Ray Venge, and suggested Paul also contrive an alias.
"What shall I call myself? I know!" he shouted, signing 'Dick Bastard' with an elaborate flourish.
The pseudonyms proved pointless as the entire ridge was abuzz the following morning with reports of our antics. I took the rap for the painting and spent the day scrubbing it off while Paul made apologies and a few financial reparations. Ruth was impressed with my sacrifice and invited me over for dinner that night.
I suspect that door would be worth a pretty penny now that Paul's no longer with us. Dr. Rick'd probably regret having ordered its removal had he not also joined the choir invisible. I presume Brett inherited Paul’s belongings, and if anyone could use a painting of a giant tumescent penis with enormous metallic testicles so lifelike you could almost hear them clanging, it's that dude.