Vlorbik's Diner

son of owen's cooking show

JAWOPPA

Posted by vlorbik on August 15, 2009

when the student is ready
the teacher will appear
and so one of the halfdozen
weekenders in the cohort
i checked in with for *my*
first weekend “in county”
was eager to share what he’d
picked up so far on his own
earlier stays; it was helpful.
ordinary man-among-men bar-room
etiquette as i understand it
calls for a certain skeptical
distance to be maintained
in groups of strangers;
anyhow i just treated this
one guy like pretty much
everybody else was treating him…
the safest thing as part of a herd
is to stay somewhere in the middle…

but i kept maybe a little better eye
on this fella than on most of the others
as we were put through various
strippings off of street identity:
waiting around in a big room handcuffed,
in a much smaller room still dressed
(we were fed here; the process was
behind schedule for this group that day),
another for a change into uniform,
and so on… picking up a mattress pad
and a sheet… on to “the tank” itself.
this was one of g-d knows how many;
i didn’t get much of a feeling for
the scale of the thing. at a guess
it was designed for twelve and there
were twenty of us; something like that.

anyhow, the story about this guy
i’d picked for my temporary mentor?
somehow he’d made it a point to be
first into the tank and pick a spot
to put down his pad: his base of
operations for the rest of the weekend.

and *i*’d made it a point to be close behind.
but it didn’t do me a whole lot of good on that
particular day. i could see why he’d *chosen*
his spot, and in fact got the corresponding
spot in the *next* weekend’s tank
(but couldn’t keep it; another story).
there just wasn’t another much like it
for me to imitate this guy with.

there’s a “dayroom” with a bunch of tables
and the tv; most of the weekenders are on
the floor in the dayroom by now; i’m back
in what i think of as the main part of the tank,
where all the “racks”–bunkbed style metal frames–are.
the men staying week-round… on sentences of
up to 90 days if i remember correct rumors
correctly… of course each had their own
rack. those inclined to “do their own time”
(as i’ve heard it said *outside* the walls)
just pretty much stay on their rack at all
but mealtimes and calls of nature. likewise
for those whose pads were on the floor of course.

anyhow, i’d followed my leader into the “main” room
but failed to secure floorspace there: there are
very few good spots, which is why most of the
weekenders were up in the dayroom. so.

i’m sort of “what about here?”
and getting perfectly good reasons
why not and in a perfectly civil way.
but i’ve drifted away from the middle
of the herd and naturally a predator
comes in for the kill: he’ll let me
use *this rack here*… a top bunk
near the back looking suspiciously
like public property to my eyes…
if i give him tomorrow’s donuts.

and this is a pretty sensitive
god-damn transaction i find myself
in the midst of. could be if i
start trading away my rights
the minute i first show up
i’ll have marked myself as
*easy* prey. so i say
(something to the effect of)
“hey. i can’t just jump in
and start making deals with
anyone without knowing the
*rules* of how things are
supposed to be done in here;
nothing against you personally
of course.” and sure enough…
dammit… now i’m marked.
the tension is one notch higher
and people are paying attention
and one guy mocks me for
“…this guy says he doesn’t know
the rules of the tank…”;
now i have to somehow back down
from *that*… and on and on it goes,
this thing of ours.

nobody got hurt and the s.o.b.
never got my donuts and i slept
two nights in the rack in question
(and it produced some really ugly
bruises on my fat old man legs
getting *out* of it… hey, it’s jail).
so this isn’t one of those
“some awful thing taught me
such-and-such valuable lesson” deals.

i just keep coming back to
that jailhouse poet’s phrase:
“the rules of the tank”.

coming soon to a social analysis
near you. or rather, maybe not.
now that it’s out of my system.

publish the notes.

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2 Responses to “JAWOPPA”

  1. Jonathan said

    One weekend at a time.

    And “publish the notes?” I think you already started.

  2. blag said

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/texas_studies_in_literature_and_language/v050/50.3.franklin.html
    h. bruce franklin on the american prison system
    (ht: pseudopodium).

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