31 October, 2018

Halloween in the Hoosegow V: The Festival

[With apologies to H.P. Lovecraft]

I was far from home, and the spell of the season was upon me. In the twilight I felt it all around. And because my custodians had forced me to this old town of Bonne Terre, to my new prison, I was compelled to make the most of Halloween alone, without my compatriots in the Octoberfeast Cult. We were now scattered, and shared only the rituals of mysteries that none else alive could understand. At ERDCC, I was the only one.

The mad Arab Abdul Alhazred's forbidden Necronomicon, in the awkward Low Latin translation of Olaus Wormius that I have read only fearful excerpts from, offers means by which to summon things too hideous for sanity or consciousness, but because an old tradition compelled me, I resolved myself to strange feasting on this night.

When I added tortilla chips, nacho cheese, chicken meat, and the blasphemous motley of other ingredients to my canteen list I was half afraid. Some fear had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my surroundings, and the bleakness of my company, and the queerness of their disinterest in basic cable's spooky October movie lineup. And when I saw how much my canteen order totaled I was fully afraid, because I had never carried the entire cost of the Octoberfeast before. But I was not afraid long, for my Southern-accented cellmate had a glad response to my Halloween decorations that reassured me; and though he made remarks that he was a dumb country boy, he expressed a quaint and ancient welcome of my weird fanaticism, saying, "It sounds good. Hell, I'll throw in with you on that!"

The calendar taunted me. After Thursday's canteen pick-up I needed to wait six days before I could commence the festival. Madness threatened to consume my soul. I felt ferocious and inexplicable cravings.

When the day arrived and five o'clock struck, however, Hopper, my cellmate, stood up, glided to his footlocker in the corner, and got two containers of cheese. Then he started for the microwave. The tortuous line to that incredibly coveted appliance formed quickly. I looked out, amid hushed summonings of the nachos' oozing brown refried-bean soul, and saw Hopper's progress along that sinuous line of dinner-marchers seemed very horrible, and as I strewed the lurid shimmering shreds of chicken across the vast expanse of that unimaginable meal, the wait seemed more horrible still. I thought I heard muffled taunting: The beans are getting cold! But what frightened me most was the flaming column our cheese could become if Hopper wasn't mindful of the timer. For in all that seething combustion no warmth would lay, but only the clamminess of an unsatisfied stomach.

Presently Hopper returned with the cheese and pointed to the heap of deeply buried chips that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain wholly remember. "That's all mine?" he gasped. I nodded in response. That he did not scream and bring down upon us all the hungry legions the neighboring cells held was a wonder.

When I went delirious at eating too much unthinkably processed, preservative-laden foodstuffs, I rested. There is something on my calendar about The Pit and the Pendulum on TCM tonight. So I will watch that nerve-shattering film, and shudder doubly because Poe's tale is indeed not new to me. I have read it before, let the years conceal what they might; and I know too the mad Arab's charnel work, full of phrases I dare not quote. Abdul Alhazred writes, I will only say, a recipe for deluxe nachos that is delicious.

25 October, 2018

Voted In

I was never much of a joiner, but the moment I saw Gavel Club (an affiliate of  Toastmasters) among the available programs at ERDCC, my new digs, I had to sign up. Public speaking is neither something I'm great at nor a phobia I harbor. I don't care for mediocrity, so there's room to improve. Gavel Club seemed like just the ticket. Maybe I'd meet some intelligent people in the bargain.

At first I was wait-listed. But my first meeting, 3 October, I dove right in. When volunteers for an informal debate were called for, my hand shot up. Later, I gave a two-minute "Table Topics" speech on the assigned subject of what type of animal I'd most like to be. ("So, in conclusion, meow.") This was fun stuff — thinking on my feet, tailoring my remarks to suit a diverse audience, learning the ins and outs of meetings' structure. The longer I sat watching and listening, the more I knew this would be worth two hours of my week.

Yesterday was my third meeting as a guest, and, in accordance with the club bylaws, the "Gaveleers" voted on whether to grant me membership. The Seargeant-at-Arms led me into the hallway so everyone could talk about me behind a closed door, while the day's Toastmaster (basically an emcee) chatted with me about what ten years' membership has done for him. When I re-entered, it was to the room's applause.

My friend John laughed when I told him I'd joined. "Toastmasters is so pompous and affected," he said, "but of course you like all those rules of order. Discipline. Restraint." He wasn't wrong.

In a few weeks I'm scheduled to deliver my first proper speech, a four- to six-minute autobiographical "icebreaker." My $3 annual dues will be paid on the first. My cellmate, Hopper, suspects that I'll be an officeholder within six months. I told him, "I don't share your confidence, but thanks for your vote."

16 October, 2018

The Ice Brigade

Desperate men do desperate things. Men in prison seem to live in desperation, make a tenuous home there, furnish it sparsely, and, on occasion, enjoy a nice, cool beverage there.

In my wing, where cell doors come open at 6:40 AM and the inhabitants are free to move about until almost 11:00, the line forms early. It runs up the center of the wing: thirty-some Coleman six-pack coolers and Rubbermaid pitchers and insulated mugs — a perfect row of multicolored plastics set on the polished concrete, in preparation for the big moment. The men whose containers these are want what’s coming.

A low-grade viciousness possesses the assembled, behind masks of bonhomie. One prisoner nonchalantly sets his cooler on the floor in front of someone else’s in the queue. Eyes everywhere watch to see who’ll be the one to call him out. The cricket in one of the shower stalls is chirring, and an alarm clock beeps from behind someone’s closed door. No one speaks.

Some of the men take up space on stools by the phones, some lounge on the stairs, others lean on the desk that stores the wing’s meager board-game collection, still more slouch at the four little tables anchored to the floor several yards away. They have their eyes closed, braving the morning for the coming scarcity; or they’re alert and indifferent to the rule against wearing headphones in the wing, and their heads nod in time with beats bumping from hidden CD players. Real subtle, guys, I think, yet none of the guards in the control module notice or care.

Then comes the double sneeze of the door’s pneumatic lock. Shouts go up — “Ice! Ice!” — and everyone’s on his feet, moving for his container. The porter wheels in an insulated brown cart the size of a newspaper box. He parks it along the front wall, then gets the hell out of the way. The throng surges forward. Boy band fans jockeying for a glimpse as their heartthrob exits the tour bus would be only slightly more avid. Feet nearly touching, they stop, assembled in a staggered line, lost in anticipation. One by one, but barely, they step up.

Each man takes his turn with the red ice scoop. Because the rolling Cambro cooler’s small, shoveling more than one container’s worth of ice from it meets with round scorn and loud derision — double-dippers have to return after the rest of the line’s shuffled away. There’s mild jostling. Surprisingly, though, no one is ever outright belligerent. The ice brigade carries off its chilly plunder without incident.

Relief! The wing’s sodas, burgers, pizza rolls, no-bake cheesecakes, chicken sandwiches, stolen kitchen food, and sundry leftover prison-burrito fixings will keep for another twelve hours. By that point the day’s second bin will be wheeled in for plundering. And the cycle continues.

04 October, 2018

A Seasonal Stew of Spooky Cinema

For the first time in sixteen years' imprisonment, October will be chockablock with shocks, thanks to my move to a new prison with a superior cable package. This Halloween aficionado and movie buff was pleased, after coming through one TV programming guide, to find so many of the suspenseful, horrific, and just plain eerie films that I love filling the weeks leading up to the thirty-first. I'm excited. Not counting the classics that'll show up all month long on the in-house movie channel — stuff like Carnival of Souls and Black Dragons — here's my must-watch list:
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • The Thing from Another World
  • Nosferatu
  • The Seventh Victim
  • The Night Digger
  • Faust
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Return of the Living Dead
  • 28 Days Later
  • The Old Dark House
  • Isle of the Dead
  • Bedlam
  • The Dead Zone
  • The Witches of Eastwick
  • Fright Night (1985)
  • White Zombie
  • Mark of the Vampire
  • Hellraiser
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (three different productions!)
  • Curse of the Cat People
  • The Bad Seed (1985)
  • Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte
  • Island of Lost Souls
  • Mad Love
  • Spirits of the Dead
  • Black Sabbath
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
There's also a PBS miniseries, The Woman in White, and my trashy FX pleasure, American Horror Story, to follow. No way could my little stash of movie snacks hold out through all of these. I wouldn’t want it to. Eating too much junk too early would spoil me on that epic junk-fest that is Octoberfeast. (Stay tuned for the fifth of my "Halloween in the Hoosegow" posts, by the way, coming in four short weeks!)