Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hump Day

So, I haven't "written" anything in a very long time. I've actually had a pretty good week so far.

It should be noted that I spent the entirety of last week trapped inside my house with one sick child and one child itching to get out. Oh, and my brain. I was trapped inside my house with that, too. It wasn't very much fun.

But on Monday, I went back to work and had completely forgotten that I had agreed to chaperon a fieldtrip to a prison! Aside from the hassle of getting together subplans and rearranging meetings, I was pretty excited. I mean, I might have felt like a prisoner last week, but I was about to meet real detainees, and the prospect thrilled me. So, on the bus we went. Fortunately, a coworker who had chaperoned the trip the previous year informed me that the prison would not be feeding us so I wolfed down a Dunkin' Donuts triple chocolate muffin and a coconut coffee (cream, one sugar) before we left. (Seriously, wouldn't you think they would have a culinary arts program inside a prison?! What are these people supposed to do upon their release?) The bus ride was the typical noisy riot, but upon arriving at the prison, and the entrance of one of the guards, Mr. Santiago, the 43 students (all of whom are 17 or 18) became entirely mute. He was a hardass; he told us we would be yelled at (teachers included) and to just get used to it because that's the way things are done in (fuckmeintheass) prisons. So, off the bus we went. I was (appointed) first to lead the charge and I was so nervous that, sure enough, I got yelled at by the security officer, whose job it was to scan our coats and metal detect us. I had forgotten to take off my dangly earrings. "For Christ's sake!" he yelled. "I know he just told you to take those off on the bus! Don't you people listen?!" My students thought this was very funny -- until it was their turn, and the confiscated cell phones, studded belts and hair scrunchies all went into the bin marked "retards from ** High School." Yeah, who's laughing now?! Assholes.
We were then taken into a confined area, told about the bulletproof glass, the weaponry onhand should all hell break loose, and the thickness of the walls. They were nervous. I had calmed down considerably since Major ----- (a 6'3" 62 year old man of steel, but also a hardass) told the other chaperon and I to take it easy and consider it a personal day -- the kids wouldn't be giving us any trouble today. So we went into yet another confined area (the prisoners' visiting room), were shown flashcards of all the canines (some of whom apparently only speak Dutch or German), and were allowed to ask questions, which, not surprisingly, all of us were too afraid to ask until we got yelled at about that, too. So the questions came and then, suddenly, we were divided into two groups. While one group sat through more forced reversed questioning, the other (mine) was taken into the cell block. On the way, we had to pass between buildings well guarded by the Dutch and German speaking dogs and their handlers. They barked incessantly. One looked like Satan's own hound. According to the flashcard, that was Argos. That cracked me up.

We went up into a "tower" that was made completely of bullet-proof, mirrored glass. We looked at the prisoners. It was like being in a zoo. Although we were assured they could not see us, we were later told by the prisoners who would speak to us that they knew we were there because they could hear us. I was mesmerized. There were puny guys, big guys, white guys, Hispanic guys, old guys, black guys, braided guys, glasses-wearing guys, middle-aged guys, kids, and lonely guys. There were two televisions on in the "common area." One had on a Hispanic channel, the other the Discovery channel. (On Sundays, the third TV has sports apparently; a risk, as it can cause fights.) They seemed bored. Some would wander in and out of their cells or chat with the guards, while others lounged in the Naugahyde chairs. Those in orange were awaiting trial; the tan-clad were serving time. Their shoes were exceedingly white. We were then taken back to the visitor area while group two went into the "hold." As we waited, the guard in charge of us confessed that he thought Major --- was a hardass, that his approach was more mild. We tried to ask questions, but in the face of his pussiness, we didn't really feel the pressure to do so. Say what you want about hardasses; they get what they want.
Finally, the "prisoners" (OMG!!!) came in to scare our suburban teens "straight." I have to say, it worked -- on them and "us" (the two thirtysomething chaperones). Here it is, two days later, and I still can't stop thinking about them. Do you know what? It turns out you can make just one bad decision and you can land your ass in prison. Fuck. And do you know what else? If you go to prison, your mommy is the only one who will go visit you (if she's still alive, that is, because you haven't killed her by putting your sorry self in prison). No shit. All five of them confirmed it.

They spoke to us for over two hours, sharing the darkest and most intimate moments of their lives as we looked upon them in horror. Apparently this was some sort of privilege for them. I just felt bad -- for them, because their lives seemed irretrieveable fucked up; and for us, almost out of shame (even though this is, by far, the best learning experience our students have on any field trip in their young lives -- and that includes Plimoth Plantation). Our stomachs rumbled (and then convulsed when they sent around the lunch tray to show us what a prisoner gets to eat every day -- two slices of slimey bologna (the kind with chunks of peppercorn in them), four slices of bread, two cookies, a packet of mustard and an apple). As we sat and listened to them, I wondered what they were thinking of our gorgeous 18 year old female students, and when we shook their hands, I wondered how it felt for them to be able to touch a female (which they can't even do during visitor hours if anyone shows up to visit them). Did they want us to pat them on the back or maybe rub their triceps as we shook their hands? I found myself wanting to do that.

And then we left. That was it. They went back to their cells, we got on the bus and went to Burger King. Then it was back on the bus. We belched our self-satisfied Dr. Pepper indigestion all the way home to our safe little suburb by-the-sea.

Yeah, it's been a good week so far. At least I'm not in prison. Yet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bev (Part II)

So, I couldn't decide which slice o' heaven to honor you with, babycakes or the most incredible use of corrugated cardboard I've ever seen. Either way, I hope your day has been fabulous and that that family of yours did something sweet to reward your own sweetness. I'm bummed that Eva beat me to it, but thanks to her, I didn't miss it entirely! In spite of our stubborn refusal to remember each other's birthdays, I hope you know that I (and all the folks here at Truepenny, Inc.) count you as the coolest friend and neighbor one could ever hope for!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Goodnight (Sinister) Moon

Eva's "Childrin R Skary" post on Wilderness of Mirrors reminded me of this Tom Waits' piece. While it could just be the natural darkness that dwells within me, I suspect it may actually be my deep-seated resentment toward (so far only) four years of reading really boring children's books that explains my love for any childhood story gone horribly wrong.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Hate This Song!


It makes me want to shoot a cowboy, steal his spurs, and carve my initials into his face with them. I hate it that much.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Because I promised myself I'd post today... I love this. I can't help it!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Even Dozen

I must stop this blogging every two weeks and be more consistent. Hopefully with almost a week left of vacation, I can do this. Scarlet Shutter's recent post on the 100-word story reminded me of NPR's contest two years ago to see who could write the best novel in 12 words. So I've been messing around with it. Here are my offerings. Any takers?

He drove all night. Rain and snow. Door locked. Long drive home.

She was born. She grew up. She had four kids. She died.

Husband, an electrician. Wife, trusted him. The house burned down. She inside.

It went off. Everything became quiet. Then, a laugh. Without a hitch.

They shouldn't have been in that graveyard at all. Serves 'em right.

She saw her future in her grandmother's eyes. She bought a pistol.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Leaving Jesus

Awhile back, I had started a story about how I became a born again Christian but somehow never got around to the part about how I became unborn. But the ends of things are almost always more difficult than their beginnings.

Before I can get to the actual events which precipitated my break up with Jesus, there are a few background details that I should provide. First, when I was 16, I started dating a non born againer; as a matter of fact, he was Catholic, which means he might as well have been the Antichrist himself. But I couldn't help it... he looked like the lead singer from the Thompson Twins and he was funny and smart and he liked old movies and black and white photography. He was also a college boy, four years my senior, attending the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, working at a soap store run by two gay guys. So now I had smoking and my Catholic boyfriend to feel guilty about. When I was 17, I applied to and was accepted at UW. You can see where this is leading. I remember my pastor expressing his concern about my move to Madison. It was the late 80's and Madison was often refered to as "Moscow on the Lakes." Like most college towns, it was exceedingly liberal. Pastor Paul put me in contact with the Assembly of God church in Madison long before I packed my bags. He told me that if anybody could go to college in Madison and remain true to God, it was me. He told me my faith was unshakeable. Boy, was he wrong.

My first month of college: I attended church faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday night. I went to my classes faithfully. I remained a virgin, faithfully (in spite of having my own apartment. Do you people realize the dedication this requires?!). But I started noticing things. Like the fact that my boyfriend's gay bosses weren't hideous perverts out to molest young boys. They were actually funny and very kind to me. And then there were the rallies held by the born againers on Library Mall; they were full of hate -- toward gays, especially, but in general for anyone who didn't believe. They used the same "Jesus is coming back" approach that had been so effective on me, but eighteen year olds don't scare as easily as eleven year olds; what had always sounded terrifying to me now sounded somehow ridiculous. And then there was Geology 101. Turns out the fossil record pretty much disproves the Bible. Oh shit. Discomfort. Denial. Doubt. That was my first month of college.

My second month of college: upheaval in the church! Factions, infighting, and eventually, a split. I didn't know enough about what was going on to make an educated choice about whom I should go with, so I picked the side that was closest to my apartment (the bus ride to church was over an hour long; now I could walk!). We had services in a woman's ranch-style house. She was tiny and shrewish and severe. She had owl figurines everywhere. I should have known then. I continued to pray and read the bible, but less frequently, and somehow when I talked to God, I felt like a lying child on the brink of discovery. It's hard to lie to God. But also during month two, my boyfriend blew his entire savings on two tickets for us to see Verdi's La Traviata. I loved opera. I bought a vintage black crepe gown and my first tube of truly red lipstick. As luck would have it, the new branch of my church was having a prayer meeting on the very same night as the opera. Choices had to be made. I chose the opera (only after countless hours of soul searching and even more time in front of the mirror in my new gown, mind you). When I called the woman to tell her I would not be attending, she asked me if one night at the opera with my boyfriend was really worth my eternal soul. I tried reasoning with her; surely God would not begrudge me this human pleasure? Oh yes He would, was the reply. My God was an unforgiving God, a God who could take me out of this world as quickly and with as little effort as that with which He brought me into it. I remember the tears stinging my eyes as I told her I would not be attending church any longer. I also remember the bile rising as I told her (with no little satisfaction) that she was the final straw in a decision I had been struggling with for over six weeks. I told her if I went to hell, it was entirely her fault for driving me away from God (okay, admittedly childish, but it felt really good to say it).

And that was it. I went to the opera that night. It was, to this day, one of the most beautiful nights of my life (and included the loss of my virginity! Yippee!). And I have never prayed since that night, nor have I looked to the bible for anything more than beautiful words. And I have never regretted this decision. I thought I would miss God. I didn't.

The meaning of "la traviata"? The woman who strayed.