Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear - Vincent Van Gogh
by Ed Hamilton
At the party they had this watermelon that had been spiked with vodka. I ate several pieces and didn't think anything of it. You really couldn't taste the vodka at all-- though I suppose that was the point. Of course, after that, I was trashed. I had been drinking beer all along as well, and continued to do so.
I met this girl and started making out with her on the couch. She must have been a brunette, because, if she had been a blond, I think that would stick out in my memory. It sticks out in my memory that she was fat. We kissed for a while, and I managed to grope a tittie, and grab a good handful of ass, but that was about all. Suddenly, my head was swimming and I was about to be sick.
The girl may have been good looking, but it's doubtful, given the extent of my impairment. Anyway, I definitely thought so at the time, so I was pissed off at myself for being so stupid. I disengaged myself and started cursing a blue streak: "God damn that motherfucking watermelon!"
Finally the girl got sick of my shit and went upstairs to bed: it was clear I wasn't going to perform, but was just going to continue to curse until I puked or passed out. Not her idea of a good time, apparently.
But I neither puked not passed out. Instead, my head stabilized--relative to my earlier condition anyway--so I popped open another beer. Drunk as I was, I still would have been too embarrassed to visit the girl in her bedroom, so there was no reason to stick around. I swiped a twelve pack, or half of one anyway, out of the kitchen, and headed out.
To give you an idea of how drunk I was, when I left the party I wanted to do something to mark the house so I could find it again, since I intended to come back the next day. There was no chance of my remembering the address. So, what I did was, I threw my lighter in the front yard. Senseless, I know: as if no one would come by and pick it up; as if I was just going to be able to comb the neighborhood and find it; as if I would have the courage to show my face there again: as if the girl would even want anything to do with me if I did.
Worst of all, what the hell was I supposed to light my cigarettes with?
I staggered down the street chugging a beer, twelve pack swinging at my side. Now I've always had a shitty sense of direction, and when I'm drunk it's almost non-existent. At that point, not even a compass would have done me any good. As I walked along, I was feeling angry and frustrated, and it didn't help that I had no idea where I was going. Soon, I was hopelessly lost.
The houses were getting shittier and shittier, more ramshackle. At one of the houses there were some long-haired redneck guys hanging out on their front porch. They were older than me, probably in their early thirties. There were three of them, and a fat woman redneck.
They looked friendly enough, so I figured I'd ask them for directions. But in my drunken state, stumbling up into their yard, I chose an ill-advised greeting:
"Hey you guys, got any reefer?"
The men just sat there, expressionless, but the woman jumped up and screamed at me, hysterically, "No! Get out of here!
That seemed downright inhospitable. I decided to take my revenge on her by hanging out there for a while. "I wasn't even talking to you, lady," I said. Then, addressing the man nearest me, the only one with a beard, I said, "You probably got some reefer, don't you, man."
"No," he said.
"Well look, I got lots of beer here. Any of you guys want a beer?"
"No." They all shook their heads.
Sitting the twelve pack and my open beer down beside the steps, I took out a cigarette. Of course, I had no way to light it. "Anybody got a light?" I asked.
"Nobody's got a light!" the woman screeched. "There's nothing here for you, you drunk! Go away!"
I ignored her, and said, "Who the hell you guys think you're fooling? I can just look at you, with your long hair and shit, and tell you've got some reefer, and plenty of other drugs besides! Now fire up a doobie!"
The guy with the beard stood up: "Fuck off asshole. "Get lost."
"Get lost yourself," I said.
"Get out of here or I'll kick your ass!"
I never had much appreciated this kind of talk. My philosophy was, always strike first. I jumped the guy and got him in a headlock and wrenched him around to the ground.
"Kick his ass, Jimmy!" Jimmy's friends yelled.
We rolled around in the grass for a while. It was a pretty lame-ass fight, neither of us trying that hard to hurt the other. No punches were thrown.
The yard was bathed in blue, and we both jumped up and tried to act like nothing had happened. But the others were screaming at the cop to arrest me even before he got out of his car.
"Shut up!" the cop told them. Then, taking me aside, over by the squad car, he asked, "What the hell's going on here?" He was a big boy, about twenty-five.
The wrestling match had straightened me out somewhat. And the presence of cops always put me on my best behavior. I calmly related my story:
"Well, Officer, I was just walking down the street minding my own business when these people called me a sissy college boy and a fag. I know I should have just ignored them, but they kept taunting me. So I replied in kind."
"You mean you called them fags too?"
"No sir, I called them rednecks."
The cop raised an eyebrow at me. He was probably a redneck himself. "Then what happened," he asked.
"Then one of them attacked me--the guy with the beard. I'm sure glad you came along when you did."
"You haven't by any chance been drinking have you, boy?"
"Uh, two beers. About an hour ago." I had already anticipated the second part of the question, you see, having learned from experience. "Perhaps the beer impaired my judgement," I added, "Usually I would have just walked away from such provocation." I was starting to lay it on a bit thick, but luckily the cop swallowed my bull. He told me to wait by his car while he went to talk with the rednecks.
"This boy says he was just walking down the street when you boys called him a fag."
The rednecks went nuts, all of them screaming different things, all at once. It was the best reaction I could have possibly hoped for. The woman was the most shrill, and it was her voice that sounded above the others:
"He just came into our yard and asked us to sell him drugs! And then when we said we didn't have any, he just kept demanding!"
Sounded pretty farfetched, that's for sure. I had to stop myself from chuckling. Clearly, the cop didn't believe a word they said.
He came back over to me, and said, "They claim that you approached them and demanded drugs."
"Well, sir, I really didn't want to mention it, because I didn't want to get them in trouble. But that's what started the whole thing. They tried to sell me marijuana." Boy was I on a roll.
"Where do you live?" the cop asked.
"Over on Aylsford avenue," I said.
"Well, you run on home now. I'll take care of these people."
But then I made my misstep: "Uh, just one thing, could you point me in the right direction?"
"I've become a little bit disoriented by this whole ordeal. Could you just give me directions back to my house?"
The cop grabbed my arm, whipped me around, and slammed me against the hood of his car, then slapped the cuffs on me. All very smoothly and professionally: he was good at his job.
They threw me in a cell with about twenty or thirty other prisoners. It was grimy, painted piss yellow, and the walls graffitied. The toilet was a metal job without a seat. It was filled almost to overflowing with toilet paper and shit, and the stench filled the cell.
Two of the walls were lined with benches, but all the seats were taken. Plenty of people were standing: nobody dared sit on the nasty floor. By this point I was tired, and wanted to rest, and I still had a strong mean streak running through me. There was some guy stretched out with his feet up on the bench, taking more than his share of space. I grabbed his feet and slung them violently off the bench. The rest of him almost tumbled off too.
Then I plopped down on the bench.
This treatment didn't sit well with the man. Once he'd recovered from the shock, he screamed in my face, "Motherfucker! What the hell is your problem?!"
"You were taking my seat," I said.
"You'd better get your ass out of that seat in about two seconds!"
Then he smacked me good across the face--not a punch, a smack, open handed. I jumped him and got him in a headlock, wrestling him to the floor. This technique seemed to be working pretty well that night. Same scenario as before, only instead of grass we rolled around on the filthy jail floor. Eventually I pinned the guy, and sat on his chest, holding him down by the shoulders. "There," I said, "I got you."
"What are you going to do with me now that you got me?" he sneered.
Well, he was asking for it. I pummelled his face with my fist.
Three cops came in and broke up the fight. They didn't seem too concerned, and I got the feeling that this was an everyday occurrence. They threatened to throw us all in the drunk tank-- everyone in the whole cell--if we didn't settle down. I didn't see how the drunk tank could be too much worse than the cell we were in--but the other prisoners assured me that it was.
For some reason, beating this guy up made me quite popular with the other inmates. Some huge old guy, with tattoos and big sagging arms, came and put his arm around me: "I like you, boy," he said.
I don't know if this was some sort of come on, or what. I never got the chance to find out. A cop called my name, and when I got up to the bars he handed me a form to sign. Like a fool, I tried to read the damn thing.
"Don't read it, sign it!" the cop said, predictably enough.
"But what is it?" I asked.
The cop snatched the paper back from me, called me a stupid asshole, and walked away. Soon after that another cop came and got me. I was finger printed and led to a small room where I was commanded to strip down. There was some shriveled old bum in there with me, his skin yellow and wrinkled. "I'm glad you taught that asshole a lesson," the bum said, as we stood there naked. "I hate his goddamn guts."
"Yeah, well, he deserved it," I said.
To kill time while I hung out naked, I went up to the counter and looked around. There was a comic book sitting out on the counter. It was titled Helga: The Girl Who Loved The S.S., and there were swastikas all over the damn thing. Helga was a buxom blond babe: on the cover she was shown leading a parade of Nazis, holding aloft a Nazi flag. I picked the book up and thumbed through it. I'd never seen anything so fucked up in my life. In fact, the only way I could take it was as some sort of a joke. So I laughed my ass off. "Where the hell did you get this?" I asked the cop behind the counter.
"Oh, it's from our library," the cop said. He was laughing too.
"You must have one hell of a library."
"You better believe it."
But once I considered the matter, I began to wonder: why had they sat the book there, in plain view of everyone who came through? To intimidate Jews and minorities? Perhaps that was just their ordinary reading material and they didn't think anything of it, didn't imagine anyone could find it offensive, or else simply didn't care.
After that, some pig looked up my asshole. What a job. I hope it was dirty enough for him. Maybe he had a small flashlight that he held in his teeth, or maybe I just saw that in a movie. But it seems reasonable: I imagine my asshole to be a pretty dark place.
They put me in the overnight lockup, a large room with rows of bunk beds. Since I was one of the first in the door, I managed to get a top bunk, which seemed reasonably safe. I was worried that that guy I had fought would come and slit my throat as I slept. In fact, I sort of worried that I wouldn't be able to get to sleep at all. But I needn't have been, I was so drunk that I went out like a light. There were no mattresses; I slept face down on cold steel.
I awoke early, even before dawn. Most everybody else was up too. The lights had never gone out.
Nobody had slit my throat, I noticed with some relief.
I saw a cop walking by and went up to the bars. "Please let me make a phone call," I said. "I have to be in class at nine this morning."
"Bah, ha ha!" the cop burst out laughing. "It's Saturday, you idiot!"
"Yes sir, I know that. I have a class on Saturdays."
"Bah, ha, ha! You lying sack of shit!" he said as he walked away.
They didn't let me out until that evening. I had felt fine in the morning--maybe still a bit drunk. But as the hours wore on, the hangover and the depression set in. Nothing much happened. Some people played cards--maybe they were used to jail--but most weren't up for it. We talked at first, but once everybody had told what they were in for, there really wasn't that much more to say. So we just sat around and waited: defeated, powerless, at the mercy of the state.
That's what I associate most with jail: the monotony, the boredom, the depression. Yeah, that and the goddamn Nazi book.
Ed writes: I am a freelance writer living in NYC. My fiction has appeared in "Exquisite Corpse," "The Lumpen," and (upcoming) "Gazebo," as well as various on-line zines including: "Pif," "Roar," "Automat," "Anthem," "Blood Alley," and "Doomed to Obscurity."