sex and flying saucers
When people would ask Carl what he did to get locked up he always said the same thing; “Got caught”. He never told anyone the truth, afraid that it wouldn’t be as exciting as what they had conjured up in their heads upon hearing he was a convict. Sometimes he could see it in their eyes that they were running down a list of things that could get a man imprisoned for that length of time.
Those few seconds were awkward but he liked that feeling and would never break eye contact first.
The truth was he was lonely before he went inside so that part didn’t bother him as much as some people. It was always the “what ifs” that drove him crazy. What else he could have been doing. He would watch shows about being in prison and they were always violent and somewhat romantic and prison was none of those things for him. Carl wasn’t a small man and he knew that if someone had messed with him he would have to make an example of him and he had no doubt that he would have. Maybe the others sensed that and left him alone. Maybe he was just lucky. Either way, the threat of violence might have actually helped killed the time but it never really came up.
When other in mates asked him what he did to get inside he just said “got caught” in such a way as to end the conversation. His only secret that he kept the other men in prison was that he was a chronic nose picker. He didn’t think that would sit too well with the characters on the yard so he fought to keep it under control unless he was back in his cell. It helped him calm down. He was convinced that he developed the habit when he was young. The first time he remembered doing it was at a rodeo when he was no older than 6 or 7. He had been eating churros all day and his fingers must have tasted sweet or something. Funny how things like that stay with you.
He had worked in the laundry room after a few years of good behavior. It didn’t take him long to see an easy way for him to escape. He figured it must have been 2 years he sat in his cell every night and puzzled over whether to try or not. He couldn’t see any flaw in his plan but lacked confidence so at the end of the day he figured that there must have been something he missed and it wasn’t worth the risk. It was about this time that his Dad passed away.
His Mom would come and visit him fairly regularly but his Father pretty much wrote him off after hearing of his conviction. His Dad had told him long before he ran into trouble that he would run into trouble. He had hoped his Dad would come see him so he could explain but he never did. After his Dad died him Mom moved to the other side of the country so she didn’t visit after that but wrote him letters. This was one of those things that he could have been doing if he wasn’t in jail… making things right.
Before he went to jail he was pretty obsessed with sex. He would think about women almost to the point of distraction and that didn’t end when he started his 5 year stretch. He felt like a dog whose tail wagged in front. He didn’t really think that was abnormal though and it seemed like every cell was decorated with half naked women. The odd thing about him, he thought anyway (when he took the time to think about it), was that he never dreamed about sex. Ever. He dreamt about flying saucers. Not every night but a lot. He never saw aliens or actually had any interaction with the enormous spacecrafts that he saw moving over his head, he just felt the awe and terror of these UFOs floating by. When he was a kid he had nightmares about the devil who always came to him as a clean-cut man in a nice business suit. The man in the suit never actually did anything overtly evil but he just knew that the man was bad and had it in for him. Those dreams ended just after he quit high school.
A year after he was released he started to feel the bitterness of the years he lost inside those stone walls and steel bars. Finally he started to look into his escape plan to see if it would have worked. Right about the time that he was figuring out that it would have probably worked he saw on the TV that an inmate had escaped from the very same prison he had been incarcerated in. A prisoner that had worked in the laundry room. He had actually fainted dead away just like in the movies.
He had zero fear of germs. He never understood what all the fuss was about. He remembered lifting the toilet seat up at a truck stop bathroom and feeling a wetness on his fingers. He wiped it off on his pants, pissed and then went back outside and finished up his hamburger without a second thought.
After the revelation that he had spent important years wasting away when he needn’t have his life seemed to get darker. When he went on job interviews he felt like he was stepping to the plate with the count already 3-2. They wanted to know what “got caught” meant. He could never settle on a story that seemed to answer the question to their satisfaction.
There had been an Asian guy he knew in prison that had tried to give him some advice about getting out. His name had been Gook. Carl wasn’t much of a racist and was uncomfortable calling him that but the guy seemed to like it. He could never be sure if it was self-loathing, irony or whether the guy was just fucked up in the head. He had told Carl something like you can’t use up good time regretting bad time. Something to that effect anyway but Carl chose to ignore that particular advice and started to drift from place to place, convinced that his cowardice about escaping had directly led him to this lowly state.
It wasn’t exactly true that his Dad had never come to visit him inside. He had one time after Carl had traded what was left of his cigarettes for a blotter of acid. Soon after his Dad had suddenly showed up sitting on his bed across from him. Legs crossed. Silent. After awhile he leaned up as if he was going to say something then sighed and looked up at the ceiling for a bit. At this point his Dad had been dead for over a year. He had died of a heart attack or aneurism or something. Carl was glad he hadn’t suffered. Carl wanted to say something but the words wouldn’t come out and the tears kept falling down his cheeks all hot and wet. He badly wanted to pick his nose but he knew his Dad wouldn’t stand for it. Finally, after what seemed hours of silence, his Dad looked him square in the eyes and said “Son, I just want you to know…” and Carl closed his eyes and braced for what was coming next.
When he opened them his Dad was gone. He was alone again with the bars, mattress, peeling paint, sex and flying saucers, and the yellowing pictures of people he barely knew anymore taped to the wall. Alone with the hundreds of other men who were just as alone.
3 years after his parole he was working at a grocery store when he heard that the man who had escaped from the same prison that he had spent his time at was killed by police in a gunfight when they tried to apprehend him.
He wanted to feel that this news would lift off all the bad feelings he’d been having about not escaping. He waited to be released from the guilt of not being able to run to his Dad and explain. Released from his life sentence of cowardice. More than anything to start feeling like those 5 years would have made a difference had they gone any other way.
But he didn’t feel free of any of it. He just kept sliding the packages of Steak-Umms and boxes of Wheat Thins across the scanner.
He wanted to dream about sex and not fucking flying saucers!
And above all he hoped that this feeling of envying the man would pass.