NOTES FROM THE DESOTO COUNTY JAIL
MONDAY, DAY 20.
Reading is really the only way out in here. I'd read a Teen
People right now if I had one, or one of those muscle car magazines, or a
John Grisham book. I swear to god, anything but staring at the wall. So
these are the books I've been able to get my hands on so far. Some of them I
borrowed from other inmates. Those books have stars (*) next to them. The
other ones were sent to me from home. I have attempted to list them in the
order I read them. They are also graded on an academic scale:
*Spiderman: Revenge of the Sinister Six D+
The only reason this juvenile comic book rip-off didn't get an F is because
I got my kicks reading about Mary Jane in her pajamas and picturing that
actress that played her in the movie. Could have gotten a C- if there had
been a fairly X-rated sex scene between MJ and Otto Octavius AKA Dr.
Octopus. "Worst book ever!"
*Dune: House Harkonnen C
This book was good because it was over 700 pages long and it killed a lot of
time. Other than that, what may have been the literary equivalent of
watching Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine showering together to some sci-fi
fans was just another book club fantasy novel to me. Also notable is the
fact that the book was not even written by Frank Herbert.
*The Bone Collector D-
Kept me from thinking about jerking off.
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway B+
My best friend during my first few years of college was from Cuba. His
family fled the island because of Castro, according to his mother. My friend
and I shared a big house on Monroe and Madison in Memphis, across from the
Public Eye (before it burned down, of course). It was the nicest place I've
ever had. But my girlfriend wouldn't come over because I fucked the girl who
rented the house before me. So the house was tainted. Later on I developed
my very first habit in that house. And I was sick for the very first time in
that house. If I had only known what I was getting myself into. I'd still be
in that house probably.
*Ghostbusters 2 A-
By an unbelievable stroke of luck I scored this slim adaptation of the
second and last installment of the Ghostbusters legacy (not counting the
short-lived Saturday morning cartoon) from a prison ministries group from a
nearby Catholic church in Tupelo. The woman who gave me the book had some
type of bone disease that made her limp and stutter. It was the best gift
ever! And it had pictures! My favorite part is when two ghosts appear in the
courtroom and the judge goes "The Scoleri brothers! I tried them for murder
in '48 and now they want to kill me!" And Bill Murray goes "Maybe they just
want to appeal."
This book was as zany as the movie.
Where the Red Fern Grows B
This is a story about a young boy living in the Ozarks during the early
1900s. He saves his money and buys two coonhounds which become his best
friends. They hunt coons and go on adventures together and even fight a
mountain lion. The dogs' names are Old Dan and Little Ann. The boy's name is
Billy. The author conveniently skirts the issue of Billy's puberty, which I
wondered about a couple times.
I hardly noticed this book when I was a kid. But now it made me want to
hitchhike deep into the woods, chop down some trees and build a cabin, hunt
coons and play the banjo. Really.
Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut A-
Vonnegut wrote this while in the midst of a second mid-life crisis and a
terrible depression. And you can tell. Breakfast of Champions is a stew of
Vonnegut's most popular characters - Kilgore Trout, of course. And Eliot and
Mrs. Rosewater. But this book isn't as tragically romantic as Slaughterhouse
Five or Godbless You, Mrs. Rosewater. Bonus points for a crude rendering of
a vagina by the author himself on page seventy-two.
*Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator B
A sloppy, less organized sequel to the immortal Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory, this is a tale of a boy in search of a father-figure to replace his
flaccid own. The patriarch in this case is Willy Wonka, who in the previous
installment willed his beloved factory to young Charlie. In this episode the
sprightly genius savant takes Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the rest of Charlie's
immediate family on an outerspace romp in the enigmatic glass elevator, all
with dastardly results! The ragtag group of adventurers encounters the
nefarious Vermicious Knids, takes on the President of the United States in a
battle of wits (a rather bold and biting social parody for a "children's
book," if you ask me) and braves the ghastly Gnoolies in Minusland in order
to rescue Charlie's maternal grandmother who overdosed on Wonka-Vite and
lost eighty years of her life even though she was seventy-eight.
Among the highlights of the book is a solipsistic passage in which Mr. Wonka
WEEBEE WIZE UN YUBEE KUKU!
PANTZ FORLDUN IFNO SUSPENDA!
WEEBEE STRONGA YUBEE WEEKA!
VERI RISKI YU PROVOKA!
KATIKATI MOONS UN STARS
FANFANISHA VENUS MARS!"
TUESDAY DAY 28
I received a second set of books a few days ago. This time a couple from
Rachel and a couple from my beloved mother who has made an effort to
communicate with me in this fucking asylum. I am really not sure why I'm
doing these book reports or for whom. But I am bored and this allows me to
entertain myself. Anyway, here are more, graded and annotated as usual:
VALIS - Phillip K. Dick B+
Earth to Phil?
The Trial - Franz Kafka A-
There's a reason Kafka wanted his stuff burned after he died. All in all,
though, this book was worth the patience. If you thought The Metamorphosis
was opaque, this book is like eating a shoe. German isn't easily translated
into English, anyway, so my congrats to the editor. The publisher wanted to
sell Kafka's last, unfinished work as a story of terror. But I kept finding
these surreal moments where I wondered just what the old Czech was up to. I
mean, I pictured Kafka in his tiny room in Prague, shivering and typing away
as he snickered drunkenly to himself. At one point Josef K. picks up the
judge's lawbook while the courtroom is empty and leafs through it, only to
find nudie pictures in it. A couple chapters later K. opens a door to a
broom closet in his office and finds his two assistants with their pants
down, being flogged by a guy dressed in black leather. And the Nazis thought
a story about turning into a bug was weird.
The bulk of the story, though, is about Josef K. getting caught up in a
system that won't let him go free, figuratively or literally, no matter if
he's innocent or guilty. In fact, Kafka doesn't even detail the crime K. may
or may not have committed. Its irrelavent, really. But, its sickening to
know that things haven't really changed, whether its in 20th century,
pre-war Eastern Europe, or 21st century America. I kept finding gross
comparisons to K.'s situation and mine, so we became kindred spirits. I
really learned to love this guy. He had a chance for happiness, you know.
And since you're probably not going to read this book anyway, I'll go ahead
and tell you that at the end two men in dark coats and hats drag K. quietly
across town into an empty lot and plunge a butcher knife into his heart,
turning it twice and letting him die.
The Brethren - John Grisham F+
I don't owe myself any excuses for reading this book. I was bored, OK? And
the cover looked so cool, kind of a courthouse, lawyer sort of theme. And I
imagined the main character being played by, I don't know, Tom Cruise. Or
the guy who played Robin in the Batman movies.
Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris A-
You mean David Sedaris is gay?
Ironweed - William Kennedy A+
At one point reading this book I trailed off into a daydream while reading
and missed some part of the story, only to return my focus while Kennedy is
talking about Helen's death. And I frantically tried to find the place I had
left off to find out if it really happened. It did, and I was fucking
crushed. How could he have done that? Poor Francis had been through so much
shit and was trying to take care of Helen. But he had a responsibility to
his family. And the book WAS about redemption, too. So he had to go back to
them and make amends. I mean, he couldn't watch over Helen constantly. He
even left a few bucks for her. And she didn't have to hide that money from
him, or yell at him the night before, or steal that record. I know Francis
loved her and she really did love him. Why didn't she go to her brother's
place to get help? God, did she know she was going to die that day? In that
old halfway house in her room, listening to that record? Franics DID try to
help her, putting her in that car that night and sleeping out in the weeds
by himself. But she didn't want his help. Jesus. This book will tear you
P.S. I heard Tom Waits is in the movie.
FRIDAY, DAY 24.
Since my second or third day a little Mexican man has been
sleeping in the bunk below me. His name is Marco and he is from Vera Cruz,
Mexico. He was arrested at a Wal-Mart for stealing two Sony Discmans (Now
there's two companies you shouldn't fuck with, if you know what I mean).
Marco doesn't have a large family or a cliche-ridden story, although he is
illegal. For awhile I was the only person who talked to him. Without
condescending to him, anyway. One asshole insisted on referring to him as
"Hey Mexican people!" in such an arrogant way that I eventually asked Marco
how to say "asshole" in Spanish. He didn't understand so we settled on
"motherfucker" in English. This became his new all-purpose mantra. Most of
the other inmates thought they could better communicate with Marco if they
spoke to him in English, but with a MEXICAN ACCENT. This was more than
annoying, having a room full of fucking Ricky Ricardos.
So our friendship continued in broken Spanish. Every coupla days we'd
bullshit about something or another for a few minutes. Or he'd ask me
questions and I'd do my best to answer them. "Yes, Two-tray palo casa
manana," or "The guards want your underwear. What's that en espanol?
Then James moved into the bunk next to mine and an overweight guy they
christened "Fat Albert" moved in below him, next to Marco. Added to this
clique was a rather good-looking but dumb country boy (busted with two
hundred Xanax in his Ford Probe) who picked up a little Spanish while
working construction. So the four of them began a stilted dialogue - a
hybrid mix of English & Spanish phrases. It was at this time, from atop my
bunk, peering over my paperback down on the crew, that I began to learn the
finer points of the Spanish language. Phrases like "fucking faggot" and
"monkeynuts" were filed away for future use against motorists and siblings.
Sooner than expected, however, I found myself with the perfect opportunity
to use my multilinguistic skills when I spotted two guys in the shower
shaving each other. I leaned over the side of my bunk, called to Marco below
me and pointed with glee, "Pinche maricon!" A coupla nights later I picked
up on some disturbance below me and paused in my reading to catch Marco say
to Fat Albert in almost perfect English, "You remember your wife?" And when
I looked over Marco was imitating a rather energetic jerk-off, while the
rest of the tank howled.
This morning the guards warned us of another inspection. The first time this
happened a couple weeks ago we were told to line up next to our bunks (which
were to be neatly made) in an orderly fashion and to keep quiet. The ten
inmates who were sleeping on the floor were ordered to push their mats under
the other bunks in order to hide their presence, I guess. Now I don't know
who these inspectors were, where they were from or what impact they were to
have on the DeSoto County Correctional Facility. But I would think that the
prison officials would want to show any possible state representatives or
lobbyists the real conditions here, thereby demonstrating a need for more
funding to improve the situation. Maybe a little extra cash to cushion their
pockets or buy hitches for their trucks. But, on the contrary, they were
trying to hide the unsightly scabs and were actually trying to make this
bunch of heathens presentable. This week I predicted another inspection when
we were forced to scrub graffiti (written in aged toothpaste, no less) and
scum off the walls with bleached rags. The inspections confused me, needless
to say. As far as I could tell we were lining up like fucking soldiers to
impress scared-looking white people with money. I couldn't understand it.
But as the guards said, right before lunch today we were lined up next to
our bunks and sexually threatened to keep quiet until the entourage of
inspectors finished their mysterious business. At the back of the room
Marco, James and I lined up, fresh from an impromptu Spanish lesson that had
left us in hysterics. I peered out the window at the front of the room, past
the line of F-pod inmates and saw that the group of inspectors were
approaching, checking each tank in the jail. The mood reminded me of high
school study hall, right after a paper airplane lands on the teacher's desk
but no one dares laugh and fights the urge with bladder-breaking effort. As
the entourage, led by the sheriff, three turnkeys and the warden, moved on
to our tank and began unlocking the large door I heard Marco impatiently say
to James, "Everyone is jacking off," as in "This inspection is taking way
too long." But what he actually said, or meant to say was, "Everyone needs a
jacket," because our tank was so unbearably cold. I turned around, holding
back a snicker, and asked Marco "jacking off?" while gesturing with my right
hand (my good hand). Immediately James sparked to life, following my lead
with his own emphatic imitation. At this point we were "shushed." But Marco
was confused, pulling on his shirt and saying "jack off" repeatedly. As the
front door opened and the inspectors, sheriff, turnkeys and warden walked
in, I, lost in the debate, finally caught on: I pulled on my shirt and said,
"Oh, JACK-ET. We're COLD, we need JACKETS!" And Marco's puzzled face
brightened as he excitedly threw his hands down his pants and shouted out in
his broken Mexican accent, "You think I say EVERYONE JACK OFF!" The first
ten inmates in earshot began to laugh hysterically in front of our
inspectors and all hell broke loose. By the time order was restored we lost
two days worth of smoke breaks and television, leaving me time to write and
breathe fresh air for a change.
- Brendan Spenglar