Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Fork

This is my first chapter in the Prison Chronicles Project. These short comics are based on my work at the women's prison. They are a mixture of reflexive writing, stories from the women and experiences. I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

When is enough enough?

Today I spent most of the day at a maximum security prison for men. I was part of a larger group of people including both people from the outside and inside. Prior to the meeting of our group there was a death in the "yard". A man who was born in 1945, the same year as my father died of a heart attack. He died right there in front of thousands of men. He had a life sentence so in many ways his death was a release. This kind of death, this release from suffering is difficult to digest and absorb.
A few hours after this man died we were sitting knee to knee mulling over a scenario about Malcolm "X". One man in our group told us a moving story about the day after he was arrested. He had not prayed to God in years, but felt compelled to say something to his lord. He said he couldn't ask for forgiveness or relief, but that it felt productive just to pray.

Another man in our group spoke--he was sitting next to me. He said with his eyes and words, "I used to believe in that stuff, but now... I just can't make my life make sense? How can all of this have meaning? How can it be ordained for me to spend my life rotting in this hellhole? My suffering will never end. This will never end."

When is enough enough? How many pounds of flesh is adequate when you have taken another person's life?

I can't imagine that something so terrible as prison life would never end.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How much is a car really worth?

This week I have cruised from one snowy car lot to the next trying to convince myself that I don't really need a mini-van. Most of the salesmen (yes, men) I have encountered are a bit to coiffed for my taste, a little too eager to make jokes, shake my hand, and call me repeatedly on my cell phone. I did meet one nice fellow, he was older and had three kids. No pressure and very down to earth--a rarity in the autolot world. After sitting down with him, and learning that my current car a cute little paid for Rav 4 was only worth about 3500 I nearly fell out of my chair.

The new used car I was considering is a Toyota Sienna Mini-van. No frills no AWD. It was going to cost nearly 7 times what my current car is worth. How is that possible???? Now that I have a debt-free life I just can't swallow 300 per month for a car payment over the next five years. Steve Parker, a journalist said in a post from October of last year that nearly 25 billion dollars worth of consumer auto loans are delinquent. When did a car begin to cost more than a house? My first house cost 24,000. It had a huge yard, a basement and two bedrooms. Yes it was older, yes it was in a small town, but still it was going to hold its value and remain part of the landscape for probably another 100 years if not longer. How can a car cost that much?
It costs about 2100 in unionized labor per car -that is roughly 30 hours of labor ( Dealers make about a 20% profit on each new car. I cant' imagine what car companies are making. There is some small radical ridiculous part of me that thinks we should go back to the days of horses and buggies!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Waiting on the Roof

I was sitting across from my friend who is a physician the other day listening to her talk about how busy she has been, "I have been sleeping three hours a night for nights on end." I nodded in recognition of this pattern of existence. Lately I have been running from one meeting to the next, eating my lunch in the car, dashing around like a madwoman trying to keep my obligations from swallowing my life.

Three days ago I decided that my broken car key was too much to keep up with during a busy day. I went to the hardware store, and promptly had three keys made. While waiting I found a nifty, nerdy device that has a retractable chain. One end goes on your belt, the other end has your keys. "Now this," I thought smugly,"will keep me from ever losing my keys again." Seventeen dollars later I exited the small store buoyed by the feeling of finally owning the keyring of my dreams. This is part of a larger quest to find the perfect purse,datebook, shoes, and exercise plan. I want to figure out what works best so I can stop spending time thinking about it. Genetics lie at the heart of my obsessions. My grandmother fell in love with denim shirts, SAS shoes, white bobby socks, white underwear, and denim pants with an elastic waistband. When she realized this she purchased numerous copies of each article and wore them like a uniform. She had enough SAS shoes to last the rest of her life, or so she estimated after purchasing ten pairs and storing them in her closet.

Two days ago my husband finally succeeded in getting me to put that new AAA card into my small red wallet.

One day ago I turned off my car, watched gleefully as my keys retracted into my purse, opened and automatically locked the doors and promptly slammed them shut. Of course the three keys I made, the keyring of my dreams, and the broken key, were inside my car. I was in the act of slamming the door when that moment of recognition flashed into my small brain. "I am slamming the door and locking my keys in the car." It all happened so fast.

One second after slamming the door and locking my keys in the car I realized that my small cell phone, the one that is pink so my husband won't take it accidentally to work, was in my perfect purse next to my small red wallet, and ideal keyring.

It took nearly an hour and one half for Mike's Lock and Key Service to arrive. I stood on the roof of the parking garage, felt the sun on my back and the wind in my hair. Slowly I savored a cup of coffee that I had begged from a friend's office pot. The cup even had those quaint butterfly paper handles. Looking down from my perch I watched as people went to lunch, rode their bikes, talked on the phone while walking. It was the most relaxing 90 minutes of my entire week. After I let go of the fact that I was going to do nothing in that time that would contribute to my workload including reading papers, making phone calls, or organizing assignments for the rest of the week I actually enjoyed it. No one knew where I was, I did not have to answer my phone, and I did not have to say a word to anyone.

Sometimes you get the perfect thing in spite of yourself.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

NPR three minute story

The nurse left work at five o’clock. The doors of the prison clicking behind her as the slight flush of the sunrise backlit lumps of frosted sod in the empty fields. She passed the day shift; no one spoke. Two fluorescent lights flickered a duet. She clocked out and turned her keys over to the control center. The coffee sloshed in the nurse’s empty belly, bitter fumes creeping up her throat as she burped. Her car smelled stale, like her ex-husband’s sweat. The nurse watched the heat slowly eat away at the thin layer of frost on the windshield. She was too tired to use the scraper. Her dull wipers chipped away the ice leaving a gray smear in their wake. Two small holes spread slowly across the glass above her dashboard as the defrost warmed up.
She thought about the inmate’s mouth. Sometime after 3:30 he rolled off the top bunk; supposedly fighting off a nightmare, or maybe his roommate. He knocked out one of his maxillary central incisors. Poor boy, bad luck all around. The nurse put his tooth in some saline. As the inmate rinsed his mouth she said in soothing tones, “Don’t worry, I’ll call the dentist before the end of my shift. He can swing by tomorrow and put it back, easy as you please.” She patted his back as he spit. Within twenty-four hours the gaping hole in the inmate’s gums would reject the tooth as a foreign object.
Under her aluminum carport she could see one light shining from her bedroom, the rest of the small square windows made a short black row across the front of her trailer. She sniffed and looked up at the pink sky clear and cold before unlocking her door.
She needed a hot shower. The smell of the prison, a mix of cheap tobacco, state soap, and microwave popcorn lingered on her skin. Sitting on the toilet contemplating the stubble on her kneecaps, she thought, “I should shave.” Once it got cold her motivation to engage in rituals of personal hygiene diminished. She washed her hands and stared at her teeth, the way they were married to her pink gums, planted in her skull. Her tongue played across their flat wet surfaces. It darted between the small gap on the left and then over to her crooked bicuspid. Each tooth was covered in a fine layer of gritty moss. Her bottom teeth overlapped slightly. They were yellow; brown stains bloomed between them. It was the coffee. The lonely green toothbrush was covered in a fine white film and ragged on the edges from chewing. She often contemplated her complexion while brushing, sometimes stopping to pick a pimple—drawing blood, all the while her jaws working over the bristles of her brush. The sweatshirt and flannel pajamas hung loyally on the doorknob. They smelled sour like her towel. She picked up her uniform, and rooted around in the pockets. Moving across the hall to her bedroom she sat on the edge of the unmade bed and clicked off the tiny lamp. Morning was starting to shine through the single window into the small room. She held the vial, fished from her uniform, up to the light and shook it like a snow globe. There, swirling at the bottom trailing a wisp of bloody pulp, was the inmate’s naked tooth. She put the vial on her nightstand next to the lamp. It rolled a little but stopped. The flat pillow beneath her head was musty and damp. The nurse reached for the vial once more and grinned.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dull women, clean houses, and tea

This morning I sat around drinking tea dressed for running for nearly an hour before finally dragging myself out the door. I knew it was going to be a miserable run. It takes atleast a mile before my brain will give in and quit complaining. The distance I ran was just enough to relieve my guilt but not to really enjoy the act of running.

My next chore was to make breakfast and then clean the house. Neither of which thrilled me. My sweet husband hangs around on weekend mornings like a hound dog. He looks at me with those big brown eyes and says, "What are you going to eat?" --translation, "feed me". Our breakfast was lovely and easy, nothing to complain about, really. After finishing I sat and drank more tea and thought about cleaning. Drinking tea is a wonderful way to put off doing what you don't want to do. You have to wait for the water to boil in the kettle and then of course steep and cool. To make a good cup of tea takes atleast 15 minutes. To drink it can take another ten.

Usually by Friday night my house is dreadful; dust bunnies, bits of paper, used coffee cups, toys, dirty clothes, and books were everywhere. The picking up is the worst part. There is so much stuff everywhere. The urge to simply throw everything in a large garbage bag and donate it to the closest Goodwill is overwhelming. Putting everything in its place, some place, any place really is the worst part of the chore. I actually like scrubbing--especially bathrooms. There is something gratifying about taking your paper towel or rag away from a surface and seeing it covered in hair and dust and grime.

Over the years I have decided that the act of cleaning the house requires a fine balance of action and procrastination sprinkled with needless distractions like and the New York Times. I can work in small bursts then I have to "rest" and feel sorry for myself. Usually these small breaks between tasks are topped off with coffee and pawing around on the internet or sorting through books or beads. By the end of my effort I am fooling myself by thinking, "Gee, this isn't so bad, maybe I don't need Rose to come after all!". Foolish notions of the domestically incompetent. I think my distaste for cleaning is genetic. My mother no longer cleans her house. My father has to do it so he doesn't go nuts. My grandmother passed down her kitchen plaque to me that said, "Dull women have immaculate houses." This is our bit of family gospel.

I wonder about the art of procrastination. Some people seem to perfect putting it off until the last minute driven by the adrenaline and hopelessness of it all. Others never ever procrastinate. They freeze casseroles for dinners weeks away, send birthday cards early, they even contact AAA before leaving for a trip to get one of those custom maps with the route highlighted. I wonder about those folks. Do they feel less stress? Is their life adventurous or is it like eating at Shoneys?
Next week when I am faced with a house covered in a patina of domestic filth perhaps I will regret not taking that dish down to the sink or picking up those dirty socks, but for now I think I will procrastinate some more, drink tea, and blog.