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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Timmy

By Arthur Longworth

Timmy`s a mess. If he were free, you`d call him developmentally-disabled and allot him a certain amount of consideration. But he`s not free, so no one does.

Timmy lives in front of the guards, in a cell no one wants because of where it`s located - the point from which guards administer the cellblock, a half dozen feet or less from Timmy 24-7. I’m not sure that Timmy even notices them. He`s in the cell by himself, which is all that he cares about because it means that he doesn`t have to clean. And. believe me, he doesn`t. I know because guards won`t search the cell. They fill out cell search paperwork as though they do, but they don’t. I heard one guard tell another, "I don`t care if the superintendent orders it. I ain`t goin` in there."

Timmy looks 13, although he`s 37. His childlike facial features and narrow, underdeveloped shoulders sit atop a midsection swollen with a thick roll of jelly-like fat. He`s frail, racked with a palsied trembling expressed most pronouncedly in his truncated hands. The shaking, I think, is induced by the handful of psychotropics he gets every day at Med-line. He smells like milk long past its expiration date, and it`s no wonder because no one here has ever seen him shower. When his hair becomes too long and matted for guards to ignore, they escort him to the barber who shaves his head. His arm is scarred, the muscle shriveled and the skin disfigured as if it were burned.

When Timmy leaves his cell, one of his pant legs is nearly always caught in his sock. His
prison-issue canvas belt is twisted around his waist and he`s missed at least one belt loop. In violation of prison standards, his dirty oversized t-shirt is untucked. He doesn`t care for the uncompromisingly cliquish atmosphere of the chowhall, so every evening there`s the comedy of him hunched over his tray, bolting down his food and hurrying off in the odd, disjointed shuffling manner in which he perambulates. On sunny days, he goes to the Yard with a clear plastic cup of freeze-dried coffee mixed so strong it`s stained the plastic dark. He sits down in the center of the Yard, away from everyone, unmoving, staring at nothing, unbothered by everything happening around him. The same spot on the Yard every time. When there`s a number of sunny days in a row, the grass becomes tamped down where he sits. He stays there until a guard`s voice crackles over the p.a. system, so loud and distorted it`s scarcely intelligible, ordering us back to our cells for count.

I don`t go near Timmy, nor let him near me. Nothing personal. It`s just that no matter how settled in routine or predictable a prisoner like Timmy seems, he`s not predictable. He might collapse into convulsions next to me - like Thomas did. Or begin babbling and lash out in a fit at imaginary figures in the corridor- like Lurch. In case you can`t tell, I`ve seen it before. Anyone who`s spent any amount of time in prison has. Sometimes l catch myself watching Timmy, both fascinated at how he has come to navigate this environment and appalled that he`s here. This isn`t a medical or mental health facility: it`s a prison. Real prison things happen here. When the Surenos and Nortenos went at it a couple months ago, Timmy walked right through the middle of them. When the tower guard opened fire. Timmy didn`t even know that he was supposed to lay belly-down on the ground. But that doesn`t happen all the time; Timmy`s okay most of the time if any circumstance in prison can be described as okay: "okay" only meaning that he is able to get by.

Occasionally, other prisoners try to make a mark of Timmy. Someone will talk him out of his dinner for a week for a shot of coffee. Or charge him ten stamped envelopes for a peanut butter sandwich when he`s hungry. I cut those deals off. I don`t tell you that because l think I deserve credit. Because I don`t. It isn`t difficult. In fact, it usually only entails letting the person know that I know. "You must be a hell of a hustler outside prison if you gotta’ come in here and do this." Other prisoners aren`t really the worst part of prison for Timmy though. Certainly not what`s the most harmful.

This is Timmy’s second trip to prison. And the consentient belief among prisoners here is that he burned down a halfway house. It`s a part of the lore that`s risen around him that even I bought into until I found out otherwise. Because it`s easier to believe the state would send someone like Timmy to prison for lighting a fire than for forgery, which is the unconscionable reason why he`s really here.

Timmy was sent to prison the first time on a drug charge, about ten years ago, when all the prisons in this state were overrun with people in on those kind of charges. The first time I saw him, he was buried in a stifling cell at the far end of one of the seemingly endless tiers in the Hole at the state penitentiary. The tiers are divided into chain-link segments that resemble the dog runs in a kennel. Each cell is a tiny, windowless compartment sealed with an unyielding steel door. I was locked away in Timmy`s segment, sweating it out two sealed compartments down from him, when he fell apart.

Timmy was in the Hole because the prisoners in the cell that prison administrators assigned him to had beaten him up. They didn`t want to live with him. And who can blame them? In the general population of that prison, the state shoves four prisoners into the constricted cells designed to hold two. We have to find a way to exist, literally, on top of each other; it`s too close of quarters for someone who doesn`t wash himself. Timmy spent every day silently rocking back and forth sealed inside that eell in the Hole, not making a noise. Until the day he began to kick the cell door, so loud and insistently that l felt the concussion in my cell, the reverberation passing through the concrete and steel, invading my flesh, crowding out any possibility of ignoring it. "What the fuck is wrong with you?! Shut your ass up!"

Timmy finally did shut up. He was unconscious and covered in blood when guards in latex gloves pulled him from the cell. l realized when I saw his swollen, misshapen head that he hadn`t been kicking the cell door but, rather, ramming himself head first into it.  I learned later that Timmy`s arm was so eaten up by staph (MRSA: the particularly virulent. prison-type of staph) that he almost lost it. That`s why his arm looks the way it does now. Nothing about Timmy`s experience in the Hole was okay - "not okay" meaning that it was too much for him, he was not able to deal with it.

I suppose that`s why Timmy`s in my thoughts now. You see, word is that guards took him to the Hole today while I was at work. For arguing. You can`t argue with the guards here, especially not the ones on swing shift. Everyone knows that. Everyone except, of course, Timmy.


Arthur Longworth #299180
Monroe Correctional Complex - WSR
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272
Arthur Longworth is a five-time national PEN award winner whose essays have been published by The Marshall Project, VICE News, and YES! Magazine. He is also the author of ZEK: An American Prison Story (Gabalfa Press, 2016), a work of creative nonfiction that lays bare the experience of mass incarceration from the inside. For more info., go to: ArthurLongworth.com


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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dreaming of Oxen Chapter Two

By Burl N. Corbett

To read Chapter One, click here

The Three G's

In many respects, it was still the Fifties in Little Italy. And that version of the Fifties wasn't a hell of a lot different than the Forties or even the Thirties, which except for the clothing styles and the music, could have passed for the nineteenth century. And that was OK with most of the residents, capiche? It was an insular society that, conversely, conducted much of its business on the streets. The presence of the Mafia was everywhere, but troubled no one; in fact, the blocks between Houston and Canal, the Bowery and Broadway, were the safest areas in the city. Romantic couples and voracious potheads with the late-night munchies could stroll without fear of mugging from the West Village to Chinatown, judiciously detouring to the opposite side of the street when they passed the Ravenite "Social" Club where beefy cats sporting bespoke suits and day-or-night sunglasses lurked menacingly. In a dangerous city, Little Italy was an unlikely oasis of safety. Plus, the food was great.

At the corner of Houston Street ("House-ton, not youse-ton!" Sam had corrected Sean the previous year), they waited for the light. Minuteman shapeup was on the other side of the busy four–lane highway, a crude image of a musket-toting Revolutionary War soldier painted on its front window. Underneath the caricature was the stencilled announcement, "Temporary Employment--We Pay Daily' “Sam regarded the sign and shook his head in disapproval. "Working as a human wheelbarrow isn't a hip way of making bread, man. You gotta, like, latch on to an easier gig."

Sean had been raised on a farm and thought the jobs he had worked at were fairly easy. Mostly, he shovelled piles of broken-up plaster and cement block dividing walls into steel carts, rolled them to a freight elevator, pushed them out to the sidewalk where they were dumped on the street and then reshovelled into a dump truck. When that was filled, he and the other workers filled the next one. On some jobs there was only one truck, and when it was full, Sean and the other laborers lay on their backs on top of the load, watching with a thrill the tall spires of the city scratching the deep blue back of the universe.

The hiring agency paid minimum wage and provided a dollar carfare up front for a bus or subway ride to the job site--twenty cents each way, with sixty cents left over for lunch. Workers were paid by check at the end of the day and tax deductions were taken out, although Sean hadn't received at the end of the previous year a W-2 form to file with his tax return. The checks could be cashed at a local bar for the price of a drink, presumably to cover the expense of the cashing privilege. The real reason, of course, was to tempt the worker--often a down-at-his-heels booze fighter--into drinking up his pay check at the bar, which was in cahoots with if not actually owned by Minuteman. It was a classic Big Apple hustle in which the cost of labor was ingeniously recycled in a closed system and returned to the employer two-fold: Once in the profit earned by the difference between the minimum wage paid out and the near union rates charged to the demolition companies; and twice in the hyper-inflated price of a bottle of Rheingold bought by the worker. It was a smart scam, Sean had to admit, but the second part of the equation didn't balance in his instance--one beer was plenty for him.

"Aw, it ain't bad. I get to see the city," Sean offered as an excuse.

Sam shook his head and frowned. They travelled all over the city anyway in Sean's '50 Chevy that he had brought with him in March after wintering with his parents in Pennsylvania and working at a box factory to earn travelling money.

"Well, if you dig it, then I guess it's OK," Sam grudgingly allowed. "But it isn't cool. You're working for the system. You gotta make the system work for you, like Billy does."

Billy! Sean thought. Who'd want to be like him?

They crossed Houston against the light, sidestepping traffic, and entered the beating heart of Little Italy with its corner bars and pasta restaurants and small groceries with outside fruit stands. Sean loved the old world ambience, the screaming kids underfoot, the traffic creeping slower than he walked. He thought of Billy's solitary existence in an illegal storefront on East Second Street between Avenues B and C, denned up in a beastly hovel on a godforsaken block on which a hundred thousand dreams had briefly flickered and perished.

Sam zapped across the street to examine a discarded dresser on the curb, but he hadn't forgotten Billy, not for a minute. "Dig it, man, Billy collects a welfare check every two weeks and the city pays his rent and utilities. Plus, he gets food stamps he sells for drugs or extra bread. Wow, man, now that's the kind of gig you gotta land! Then you'll have time to live, instead of slaving for a living." He assayed the pulls with a practiced eye, and then used a dime to unscrew them. "Outta sight, man! Hand cast brass! They just don't make shit like this anymore!"

As Sam harvested his treasure, and the locals watched warily, Sean considered Billy's made-in-the-shade life. Billy had once been on the "set" with many of the original Beats, but was now reduced to a burned out relic. Unlike Ginsburg or Kerouac, he had never known nor deserved any fame. Like William Burroughs, Billy had once had a junk habit--now "controlled" by methadone--and was gay; no great drawback among the hipsters, but hardly a ticket to success in the pre-Stonewall days. He lived sans shower, tub, or even electric, in a candle-lit hoorah's nest crammed and cluttered with the random detritus of his wasted life. Balding and sallow, he hunched amidst his dubious possessions, drawing pen and ink silhouettes of winter-bare trees conjured to life by his morbid imagination. One would be more likely to encounter a raccoon or an owl at a Sunday morning be-in at Tompkins Square Park than to witness him sketching plein-air on a sunny afternoon. Darkness seemed his friend.

Billy was friendly enough and always seemed glad to get company, but the gloomy ambience of his hovel and his frequent uncomfortable silences made conversation difficult. After exchanging a few laconic pleasantries, most visitors couldn't leave quickly enough. Once when Sean closed Billy's door, he saw Billy's eyes close, too, as if he were going into suspended animation until the next visitor came knocking, bearing news from a faraway land where the hobgoblin of salvation that Jack and Neal had chased ragged across the continent and never caught was waiting patiently just for him.

Sam unscrewed the last of the brass pulls and put them in his pocket. He had no conceivable use for them, or a likely buyer. They would join the existing accumulation of rubbish in his loft, a farrago of useless knickknacks, curios, odds and ends of oddball oddities, and just plain out-and-out junk he had scavenged from every alley and abandoned building in lower Manhattan. In Sam's entire loft, a space maybe twenty feet wide and thirty-five feet long, there were no dressers, cabinets, or closets, not even a table. There was a toilet and shower in the rear, and two sheetless double beds, separated by a ratty blanket hanging from the ceiling. Dirty clothes lay where they fell, or were tossed on a pile near the toilet. Periodically, when he ran out of clean or semi-clean clothes, Sam threw them in a navy surplus duffle bag, grabbed his guitar, and schlepped over to the Second Avenue all-night laundromat. But there weren’t many clothes to start, because he never wore underpants or even socks most of the year. And since he rarely worked, his tee shirts and dungarees took quite a while to reach the must-wash stage. What the hell, he reasoned; society considered him a filthy beatnik, so why fight it?

The door pulls, saved because they were old and made from brass (the opposite of "new" and "plastic") would be carelessly tossed under the bed or placed on his archetypal beatnik bookshelf made from planks and bricks "appropriated" from a job site. Eventually they'd end up on the floor where they'd be stepped on, cursed at, and kicked against the wall to swell the mounting scree of rubbish and forgotten pack rat treasures dragged home by the head pack rat, Sam, the undisputed pooh-bah of urban gleaners. Despite the clutter, however, there was nary a cockroach and only an occasional mouse. Neither Sam nor the Bonners cooked or even brought home take-out. They ate at seedy diners and cheap Chinese restaurants off the tourist track. Actually, they ate damn little--there were no fat beatniks.

Sam delivered an in-depth exposition on the differences between brass and bronze as they walked, expounding upon the ratios of copper and tin that each required. Before Sam could drag him into a copper mine, they arrived at Canal Street, the cross town artery between the Holland Tunnel and the Manhattan Bridge. Chinatown began at Canal Street, and except for the tourists it was as exotic as Shanghai and as crime free as Little Italy. It was ruled by the "Tong," who preferred anonymity--no macho posturing outside "social clubs" for them.

The various businesses along Canal were a capitalistic interface between cultures, New York City in the raw. Not only did everything have a price, it was negotiable. Jaywalking on Canal was tantamount to Russian roulette, so they waited for the light and crossed safely with the herd. With an alert eye for bargains, they nosed in and out of the numerous second, third, and fourth-hand junk shops that were strung along Canal like cheap beads in a tawdry necklace. They worked the shops methodically, quickly scanning the stacks of hardback books for first edition novels by famous authors. Sam rooted through crates of machinery parts, hankering to discover the lost sprocket of satori or perhaps the skeleton key to the secrets of the pyramids, all the while scoping out the clothing racks for any cute hippie chicks seeking sartorial enlightenment in one of Granny's old cocktail dresses. But they had no luck; they kept bringing in dry holes; no bonanza today--so sorry!--and were ready to hit their favorite dim sum shop for a coffee and a few tau shu baos when Sean hit paydirt.

"Hey, check this out! The perfect dope stash!" He held up a round wooden canister with a matching lid. It resembled a fat, pine lipstick case.

Sam opened it, closed it, and counted how many were in the box. He asked the old Jewish owner watching them carefully from his stool how much they cost.

"A quarter apiece," he replied.

There were sixteen containers in the box, and Sam examined each one, frowning when he spotted imaginary defects. "Some of these are cracked," he bluffed.

The man shrugged. "Don't buy them, then," he advised.

"A quarter's too much," Sam decided. "I’ll give you two bucks for the lot."

With a sigh, the man got off his stool and shuffled over to the bin. Counting the tubes, he mentally weighed the canisters against an imaginary poke of gold. "Three bucks, and I might make enough for carfare home."

Sam stifled a laugh. A twenty-cent subway token would take you to the outermost borders of the city, beyond which the maps warned of monsters. The owner probably lived in the second-floor apartment and gouged his other tenants sufficiently to provide a comfortable living. The junk store was nothing more than an old man's hobby, a distraction that kept his mind off his impending demise.

 "Two-fifty, and I'll even take the bad ones, too," Sam pronounced, giving the old coot one of his penetrating stares.

"Oy vey!" he exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "Two-seventy-five, and that's final! Another step closer to the poorhouse I go!"

They pooled their change and handed it over. The old man counted it out, muttering in Yiddish, and handed them a crumpled paper bag. "Bag them yourselves," he said. "Me, I'm mourning my loss."

On the way home, Sean asked Sam why he'd bought so many.

Sam grinned. "How many would you have bought?"

"I don't know. One for me and maybe a couple for you and Mark." 

"See? That proves my point! You're not thinking like a hipster yet. I would've bought fifty, if he had that many and I had the bread." He smiled at the thought and gave Sean a huge wink.

"Ah, I dig it now! You're going to resell them!"

"Fucking aye, man! We'll slap a coat of stain on them and sell them to the headshops for a buck-fifty and make ten bucks apiece. That's what I mean by making your living the hip way."

"I dunno," Sean said, doubtfully, "shouldn't we lay some on our friends for free?" 

Sam shook his Harpo Marx-coiffed head in slow disbelief. "No, NO, NO, man! That's the hippie way, not the hip way! First, you make a good score, and then you lay a few on your friends. In fact, after we unload these, we’ll try to find some more and up the price, see what the market will bear. That's what they call 'hip capitalism'."

"Shit!" Sean protested. "That's no different than what the squares do." 

Sam laughed at Sean's naiveté. "You gotta stop believing that horseshit you read in The East Village Other, man. The difference is that the squares spend their profits on paying rent and car insurance and color TV's. Hipsters spend theirs on grass and guitars and other groovy shit—the Three G's, man!" He chuckled at his wit. "Hey, dig it, man! I just coined a phrase!"

Sean laughed, and they continued home. At the hardware store at the corner of the Bowery and Bleecker, Sean bought a half-pint can of walnut stain with almost his last thirty-nine cents and Sam shoplifted a small paintbrush. Back at Sam's loft, the radio was still playing "The Ballad of the Green Berets," so they listened instead to a Top 40 station while they stained brown the outsides of the "pocket stashes," as hip entrepreneur Sam had labelled their "hot" commodity. The rest of the day and evening they watched the stain dry while smoking up some dynamite Panama Red that one of Sam's come-an-go chicks had foolishly left behind. Around nine or ten, as Mozart's Piano Concerto #21 played on the classical station, they passed out. Sean had to get up early for the 6 a.m. shape-up at Minutemen's, but Sam could sleep in--he only worked hip hours.

To be continued...

Burl N. Corbett HZ6518
SCI Albion
10745 Route 18
Albion, PA 16475-0002

Born 6/9/47 in Reading, PA.  Raised on a 123-acre sheep farm only three crow miles from John Updike´s famous sandstone farmhouse of “Pigeon Feathers,” The Centaur, and Of the Farm.  Graduated from Daniel Boone High School in 1965.  Ran away to Greenwich Village to become a beatnik in 1966 with only a Martin guitar and the clothes on my back.  Lived among the counterculture for 3 years, returning disillusioned to PA for good in 1968.  Worked on a mink farm; poured steel in a foundry; chased the sun as a cross-country pipeliner; drove the big rigs, baby!; picked tomatoes with migrant workers; tended bar on the old skid row Bowery; worked as a reporter, columnist, and photographer for two Southeastern Pennsylvania newspapers; drove beer truck (hic!); was a “HEY, CULLIGAN MAN!”; learned how to plaster, stucco, and lay stone; published both fiction and nonfiction in several nationally distributed magazines and literary quarterlies; got married and raised four children; got divorced and fell into the bottle; and came to prison at the age of 60 with no previous criminal offenses other than a 25 year-old DUI. The “crime”? Self-defense in my own house without financial means to hire a decent lawyer.  Since becoming the “guest” of the state in 2007, I have won four PEN Prison Writing Awards (two first and two honorable mentions); the first and only prize of $500 in the 2013 Eaton Literary Agency short fiction contest; written a children/young adult book, Coon Tales, recently published by Xlibris; a novel of the 1967 “Summer of Love,” Dreaming of Oxen; a magic realism novel, A Redneck Ragnorak, and many short stories and memoirs.  My first novel, A Haven from Violence, is available at Xlibris.com or Amazon.com.


Authors note: Dreaming of Oxen is a 52-chapter, 556-page tour de force in search of a literary agent or an independent publisher willing to disregard my present circumstances and focus instead upon my art.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

S#!t Happens

By Michael Lidel

Flying. That's what riding the bus felt like. Sailing over the cars and the people below the rise of the bus windows gave me power.  I rode the clouds in my mind toward the sun, unafraid that my wings might melt. The possibilities were endless, the horizons of hope vivid in the theater of my mind. My mother's reaction gave me the sense that things just might be all right, and yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that trouble was imminent. I couldn't put my finger on it, so I figured I'd take full advantage of my momentary reprieve from the drama at home and having to live up to my mother's expectation that I be excellent in at least one thing as long as it was speaking, reading, and writing what she called "proper English". With my fifty-cent all day bus pass in hand, and the few dollars I'd pilfered from my mother's purse, I was off to explore the world, and the bus was my spaceship.

l sat in back because the kids in my neighborhood said that was where all the fun happened. On this particular Tuesday, nothing much was afoot. There was the normal assortment of oddballs - the crazy guy wearing a WWII pilot hat calling to his invisible friend to come back, the old lady with one knee-high stocking rolled loosely around her ankle, and me. The intrepid space hero looking for his next adventure.

Being on my own again was fun. I was the middle child in an extremely large family, and time alone came at a premium. l don't mean the kind of alone that came from being the runt of the litter, or the kind derived from being left out of something because somehow you got lost in the shuffle of bodies that filled the household.  I mean the kind of alone that allowed you to be yourself, free and comfortable. I used this time to catch my breath, and to see what I could see.

More times than not, my curiosity led to an ass whipping. My mother was a general at corporal punishment. I had no filter or governor when it came to, as my mother put it, putting my nose where it didn't belong, or as I choose to call it, my investigative proclivities. I was as likely to conduct an experiment in the back yard that might or might not get me killed as I was to explore trash I was supposed to empty, looking for a bit of hidden treasure. Such activities invariably lead to one of my mother's commands to "Go out there, and get me a switch! And it better not be one of those little ones, either!"

There were so many things to see in the world.  People on the bus, for example. I imagined everybody had thoughts orbiting around their heads like little word bubbles in the funny pages. You could tell by the tilt of their heads or hunch of their shoulders. From my vantage point, I imagined their sadness or excitement or their anger. Even the advertisements overhead showed me things. One mentioned that “a few good men" were needed in something called the Marine Corps. Another was concerned with the planning of parenthood, and still another advertised that a cigarette should taste good. It was all so interesting to me.

I was most interested in spending a little time at the Seattle Center. I wanted to see the Space Needle, my favorite structure in the city. It reminded me of an alien craft settling onto terra firma for the first time. I wasn't allowed to board the ship, mainly because I was a runt unaccompanied by a parent, but also because I never had enough money to justify the trip. The powers that be frowned on little black boys riding the structure up and down for the mere fun of it.

The "7 Rainier" took me from the Rainier Vista projects to its 3rd Avenue stop downtown where I'd transfer to the "Queen Anne" which would drop me off at the gate of the Center. I spent a lot of this time staring out of one window or another, watching the people and buildings rushing by like so many stars lost behind the Starship Enterprise as it blasted up to warp factor five. I'd sometimes catch a glimpse of a friend, venturing a wave and a smile before leaving him behind as I headed out into the universe.

The landscape and architecture always caught my attention; the buildings especially. Like kaleidoscopic mountains changing height, shape and color with every passing second. The sensation was breathtaking and disconcerting; the rise and fall sometimes created a seasick feeling that was exhilarating. I could tell by the change in architecture as we moved north that the bus was getting closer to the Seattle Center.  Skyscrapers and departments stores turned into industrial sprawl aspiring toward a gentrified presence. The streets, though busy, were less crowded, giving the illusion they'd be rolled up when the clock struck a certain hour. Each time I passed this section of the city I felt a little less alive because it had nothingness written all over it.

Thankfully, the triple domes of the Science Fair raised their majestic faces, greeting my entrance into the land of possibilities. All the negatives chasing humanity in Seattle were left outside the gates of this magic place. 

The air was filled with the scents of cotton candy, popcorn, hotdogs, and caramel cross matched with the perfumes of summer, all conspiring to kidnap the senses for a moment's fun under the sun. I entered and moved through the crowd, living its pleasures vicariously, knowing I could only afford a small portion of it myself. I bumped the hips of mothers shepherding children toward concession stands, brushed past boyfriends anxious to impress their girlfriends at one of the many arcade games in hopes of winning a prize they could exchange for a kiss later.

I stopped at a hotdog vendor's stand, taking in the scent of mustard, meat and ketchup. The vendor, a fat, sweaty-looking character with a stain-spattered apron, looked down at me across the counter top with an eyebrow raised quizzically.

“Ya want l should give ya the 'two for fifty cent' special?" he asked.

"Sure!" I exclaimed.

The thought of a deal that would let me keep money in my pocket made me smile, but my earlier sense of impending doom returned, looming forward. I thought about it for a second or two, and then accepted his offering after placing the two quarters in his sweaty palm.

"Enjoy" he said, turning toward his next customer.

I dispatched the hotdogs quickly, as was the habit I'd learned trying to survive around my brothers and sisters, not caring in the least that ketchup and mustard created a collage of stains my messiness had masterminded. Hotdogs with all the trimmings were a treat for me given that condiments were a luxury back then. The meat was a bit gamy, but l ignored it as I licked mustard off my fingers, and then proceeded to wipe my face with the sleeve of my shirt.

With my stomach partially satisfied, I went in search of an affordable diversion. I liked the bumper cars and shooting the air rifles, but stayed away from the scary rides like the Wild Mouse, a roller coaster ride that jerked and dipped every which way. I settled on the Moon Walk, a bouncy house ride constructed out of a rubber and nylon tubing filled with air creating a trampoline-like platform.

A long line of kids waited with their parents, sometimes hanging out in groups of two or three. I walked between them, approaching the booth to buy my ticket. I tasted hotdog residue at the back of my throat. A bit of a rumble created strange warmth in my belly; a sensation quickly forgotten in my expanding enthusiasm.

Finally, I was allowed to enter. The interior of the ride was spacious, exhilarating, and frightening. Kids jostled each other as they bounced helter skelter over the expanse of the cloud-like ride. I crawled in and tried to stand on my feet, but was defeated by my lack of balance. I tried again and stood wobbly legged, lifting one and then the other until I gained my equilibrium. The noise level – screams, laughter, squeaky rubber, increased my excitement, sending energy surging through my limbs. I bounced on my heels, six or seven inches high and then a foot or two. The thrill of momentary flight was electric, so I tried to bounce higher and higher. No one minded landing on their butts because of the soft material catching their landings. I enjoyed myself immensely until my belly began to bubble, causing me to clench the muscles against the pressure building up. A familiar sense of foreboding flashed across my mind. The sensation expanded inside me, roiling like the tumult caused by a pot of boiling water. I surreptitiously released a small cloud of methane into the air of the bouncy house, hoping no one would notice I was the culprit. Releasing gas didn't affect the bubbling in my guts. In fact, it made things worse. I panicked because the muscles of my nether region refused to contract.  Doom was imminent.

I tried to move myself toward the exit, but I was tossed to and fro by the momentum of the other kids jostling about. l was bounced first in one direction and then in the other in my haste to depart. My haste was for naught. In the midst of all those kids, my bowels evacuated. What was inside flowed outside. There was no fanfare, no trumpets, and no "timber!" It was simply there, on the insides of my legs, sliding into my socks - last night's dinner, this morning's breakfast propelled by those damnable special hotdogs.

I hurriedly left the ride, and the laughter of the children behind, trailing a most foul odor. Surrounded by strangers, I left with the thought that I had to make it all the way across town in order to get home. The entire crowd gave me a wide berth. I slunk toward the Center's exits, my crab-like gait attracting more unwanted attention. A group of older kids noticed the smell surrounding me, calling out insults l gave little attention to in my rush to get past them. My sole focus was to get home. I was mortified. l tried to shrink into myself but I couldn't hide from the embarrassment, and the eyes following my every step. Of course more people looked around, wondering where the unpleasant aroma was coming from.

The "Queen Anne" arrived on its return trip downtown and began boarding people. Most of the people were constituents of that part of the city – white, well dressed, middle class people. I slipped in at the rear of the line, quickly showed my pass to the bus driver, and then made my way to the back of the bus. No sooner had we gotten under way than complaints started about the smell.

"Wow! What is that smell?!"

I looked up toward the driver wondering what his reaction would be. Of course, I hadn't been identified yet, but it was just a matter of time.

"Does somebody's baby need to be changed?"

The smell was so aggressive that a number of the passengers began to gag.

“That just nasty!"

I sat quietly, looking around with the rest of the passengers, pretending innocence.

Before long, people moved, one or two at a time, toward the front of the bus, opening windows as they went. I knew I couldn't move because the smell would follow me, so I sat silently, embarrassed. When we were three or four blocks from our destination, the bus driver pulled over, shifted into neutral, and sat there for a moment. My thoughts raced, knowing he'd soon be headed in my direction. He was a large man who filled the seat he was sitting in. Would he be sympathetic and concerned, or would he be unprofessional and  disgusted, ready to belittle me when he discovered I was the culprit. My throat tightened, and I could feel water beginning to cloud my vision as tears burned. The driver got up and walked toward my solitary perch.

"Listen kid." he said. "You gotta get offa the bus. I can't have that stink botherin' the other people."

Grabbing my elbow, he escorted me, like a condemned serial killer on his last day, to the front of the bus, and then unceremoniously booted me off. As soon as my feet landed on the sidewalk, I heard applause erupt inside the bus.

Poop was smashed across my backside from having sat in it for so long, and I was still only halfway into my journey home. It was easier to navigate the downtown streets without attracting too much attention because of the scarcity of pedestrians as I crab-walked across 3rd Avenue. I walked across the street, waited for the bus driver to finish his cigarette, and then repeated the same trip on the "7 Rainier" with the same results as on the "Queen Anne". This time, however, most of the people were from my neighborhood – Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American people. Their comments, especially those of my contemporaries, were aimed at me instead of around me.

"Boy, ain't Eloise taught you no better than that?" inquired a lady who apparently knew our family.

"Dooky pants! Dooky butt!" yelled a little Korean boy sitting between parents who didn't bother to admonish him.

"Lord, hamerey! That boy's guts is rotten!" exclaimed an old lady grasping her shopping bags.

No one on this bus demanded the bus driver kick me off the bus. I was their entertainment, free entertainment, never mind the smell. Like a Triple Crown contender, they rode me for all I was worth until at last, I decided I was close enough to walk the rest of the way home.

I left the bus to the sound of, "Oooo. Lord! Thank God", "Don't go! Sit back down. You stinky little rodent!", "Let that boy go somewhere so he can change his diapers!" Laughter followed me and I dared not look back.  When the bus passed by, like spectators passing a gruesome accident, the passengers’ faces stared, glared, and laughed out the windows at me. Sending me on my way under a cloud of ridicule.

I walked the last few blocks up the hill to my house, passing a few of my friends who immediately turned their noses up when the fragrance of my messiness hit them.

"Damn, runt, what happened to you?"

"He shit his pants! Can't you smell it?"

I moved passed with my head lowered, veering around to the side of the house where I stripped naked on a patch of grass. I looked to make sure no one was watching out of the windows, and then turned the water hose on myself. Using the cold torrent of water, shivering like a puppy pooping a peach pit until I was relatively free of the grime. Then, I bent to the task of digging a hole near some bushes that guarded the boundary of our house and the one next door. I was not about to take those filthy clothes into the house, risking annihilation from my mother for defiling her air with my stench. Instead, l chose to bury them. After they were buried under freshly layered dirt, I thought l could still smell them.

I entered the house through a side window, walked over to a pile of clothes waiting to go into the washing machine, and picked a shirt and a pair of pants to put on. The door opened to expose a beam of light back dropping my mother's presence.

"Boy, what are you doing in this musty old room?" she asked, coming into the room to stand next to me.

"Nothing" l said.

"Nothing my ass." she said. "You're in here up to something."

When she noticed what I was wearing, she said. "Those are not the clothes I sent you out of this house with. Where are they and what happened to them?"

The ghost of a scent caught her attention, causing her to scrunch her nose in distaste.

"What did you do, boy, shit on yourself?"

"Yes. ma'am." l said after some deliberation.

"Well,” she said. "Shit happens."

She hesitated, her brow furrowing as if a thought had just occurred to her.

"Oh, by the way." she said. "We need to talk."

She turned and left me alone.


Michael Lidel 603414 (pictured with his beautiful wife)
WSRU
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777