The Barbershop Diaries, Issue 23: The Lottery, Part 4

"The most powerful tool in hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." -- Steve Biko, prior to 9/12/1977

One never knows the depth of intimacy possible in human experience until they have drunk to full from the lake of utter aloneness. 

“You get you some of that soap and clean off.  I’ll be back in five minutes to take you to your cell.”  The older deputy’s routine was to turn and walk off, which is precisely what he did.

To my cell.  To my new home. 

Soaping and bathing under the watchful eye of disinterested, uniformed observers behind thickened glass – standing alone, fully naked, vulnerable and looked down upon – I will be prepared for a life-long romance.  The first shower is taken alone for security and to heighten a sense of estrangement from the outside world so important to maintaining both physical and psychological control over another human being.  They could have used one-way glass to insulate us from an obvious sense of being put on display in a human zoo, but our comfort was never of concern to them.  Their concern was to coerce our surrender and to guarantee the irrelevance of our continued compliance.  When gathered together by two or more, there are no innocents.  Not-guilty is only a legal pleading, a formality.  The problem of housing and maintaining a population of human beings of suspicious disposition or motivation remains.  Housing one innocent does nothing to ensure security if any of those who remain are among those of which we are ashamed.

The walk back to my new cell was in handcuffs.  The Walk of Shame in full view of the innocent and those presumed to be so.  But I saw nothing of innocence in any of the faces I walked by on my way to my new address.  What I saw were teeth, sweat, rage and eyes that could read graffiti on the opposite side wall right through me as I passed – another inmate, another opaque and gelatinous collection of near-bile on its way to a cell that features an ultimate destination.

A glorious commode.

My gratitude for running water and a place to flush far away the anxious gravity of my situation was quickly replaced by a tug back towards my new cell door.  “Hold still a minute and I’ll get these off ya’.  You’d have a helluva time wiping your ass with these on.”  The old guard chortled to himself as he removed my handcuffs and released me into my cage.  “We’ve already had supper for the day.  You’re gonna have to wait ‘til breakfast at 4:30AM, sharp.  You wake up or you don’t eat, y’hear?”

I shook my head that I understood, still stoned in disbelief that I belonged in such a place at such a time.  Thanksgiving Day?  For the crime of curiosity?  Treated, classed and enclosed in a dungeon with murderers and thieves without a charge, an accusation or the right to confront my accusers.   Or maybe they did charge me and I just can’t remember.

“Yer last name Olson,” the guard had asked me at intake, a smirk of accusation running across his face.  “O-L-S-O-N?”  I nodded a, “yes,” and it was confirmed.  Right there on a piece of paper in front of him, printed via computer.  “Olson” comma “Unknown.”   My lucky day.

But I can’t quit doubting myself or shake off this profound sense of shame, this sense that I don’t belong on the planet and it has finally been revealed to everyone.  I have nothing left to hide  from anyone anymore.  I truly am naked and my deep, dark secret is no longer deep and no longer a secret.  Now everyone knows why I tried to so hard to be seen as a decent, caring human being; it was all just an act, it was all just a charade.  One big production designed to keep them coming through my front door, keep them distracted, while I ushered the ones I couldn’t stand right out the back and out of sight.  The feet of most of them never had time to touch down long enough to dirty my floor before I sent them on their way.  I told them that there was a party out back meant just for them, assured them I would join them soon, and I sent them on their way.

So now they’ve all come back around to the front of the house, en masse, and decided to confront me and my deceitful ways.  No, I really don’t like most of you.  I mean you no harm, but if we spend a lot of time together, I already know things will not end well.  I will piss you off and not care, or you will piss me off and pretend that you do; in any event, I’d rather we not even attempt to kid ourselves that we have the stuff from which utopias are made.  I can barely stand to be with myself, let alone stranded in an endless series of pregnant pauses, miscues and murmurs in the mud that end with you feeling like I think you’re stupid and you thinking that I’m arrogant.  Neither is entirely true, but you’re too frightened by the sudden awareness of our conjoint nakedness to relax and begin the process of really trying to communicate meaningfully.  You will resort to bringing out clubs, sticks, knives and threats on my life, and I will redouble my resolve to frame the problem as one of education.  No matter how patient I am, you will not stop until, once again, power is about raw physicality and the psychopathology to use it ruthlessly – your strength and my perceived weakness – and I live to regret ever trying to make peace with you.  I am a freak, just like you; the profoundly important difference is that I am aware of that fact and the painful process of awakening that that awareness entails.  I cannot ask you to follow me and I was foolish to try.  Better that I go now, in peace, than bother you further with my annoying presence.

“You look like you could use a smoke, chief,” came a voice from around the wall.

I started, looking for a mirror or camera.  “Who’s that?  Who are you?”

“I’m the voice of Christmas Past, dude,” he began with a chuckle.

“What the hell do you want,” I shot back, shivering from a cold sweat.

“Like I said, you look like you could use a smoke.”

“How can you see me, where are you,” I added, nervously looking about my cell.

“It’s a joke.  Relax.  I’m around the corner.  The one you don’t get to see.”

“Oh,” I offered back in surprise.  “I don’t smoke.”

“That’s a joke, too, Einstein.  None of us can get anything past these guards.  Somebody tried to smuggle in some cigarettes in his wife’s snatch and they caught them both.  Now he’s in solitary.  Don’t know what happened to his wife.”

“Ridiculous.”  Who is this guy?

“Welcome to Stalag 13.  Colonel Klinck usually pops in for a visit about twice a week to make sure we’re staying humble.”

“When do we get to make a phone call?”  When can I get my lawyer involved?

“Phone call,” he laughed.  “No one out there knows we’re in here.  This is it, Kemo Sabe.  Total Information Awareness.  We’re lucky they let us live.”

My chest tightened.  I rubbed my palms on my jumpsuit.

“Everyone in here has seen something they shouldn’t have.  So now we’re in isolation and being kept in the dark until anything we have to say doesn’t mean anything to anyone, anymore/”

“What the fuck,” I said, under my breath.  “I haven’t seen anything,” I pleaded.

“Then you’ll probably be in here for a good, long while, Kemo Sabe.”

“Terrific.  Happy Thanksgiving.” 

“It’s Thanksgiving?  Jesus, I thought it might be Halloween – maybe!  Thanksgiving?  I’ve been in here since before last Easter!”

“And you haven’t spoken to anyone outside since then?”

“Not a soul.  You’re the first person in that cell for weeks.”

“You don’t sound too bad off for a guy that’s been in lockdown for a long time.”

“Are you kidding me?  I talk and mumble myself to sleep every night.”

“Sleep.  That sounds like relief.”  And with that I ignored my anxiety long enough to let the heaviness inside the walls take me down as  my next door neighbor continued to buzz and whisper words I could no longer comprehend or care to.  […to be continued…]


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