Friday, December 19, 2008

Deet to the Ox


Two pairs of socks. Two pairs of underwear. Two t-shirts. That was it. All in a plastic bag. A Target plastic bag to be exact. I stood outside in the bitter cold and waited for my ride. Oh, and I said a prayer. “God, this is the end of the road. If this does not work, just go ahead and take me to my rest.”

The ride was relatively uneventful. Along the Jersey Turnpike I knew there was no turning back. I tried to make small talk with the two friends in the car but I was too distracted with what was about to happen to remember anything they might have said. Also, I was nauseas. I mean, do-you-mind-if-I throw-up-all-over-your-back-seat-for-a-while kind of nauseas.

Princeton, New Jersey may very well be the most idyllic town in all of the United States. It is, without a doubt, a Rockwell painting come to life. Students buzzing around campus, couples strolling along the historic streets, horse drawn carriages, snow kissed lawns. And the school is simply stunning. Amplified Americana.

But I was not there to see the campus or shop or take in the architecture. I was there for only one reason – to stop the pain.

We arrived at the compound and as I got out of the car I began to throw-up. My friends took me inside, the admissions nurse took my vitals, I put on a green wristband with my stats on them and, with my plastic bag in tow, the nurse and I began to walk.

I immediately noticed that every door was open with a magnetic key card. The admission nurse had one. I did not. And with every door that clicked shut behind us I understood I was traveling further and further into lockdown. Freedom was no longer mine.

Remove all your clothes, turn your socks inside out, give me your belt and shoe laces, hand me your bag and don’t make any sudden moves, he said. It was like being directed in really bad porn.

I’m gonna throw-up.

Breathe through your mouth.

No, really, I’m gonna throw-up! Is there something I can throw-up in?

You can throw-up after we are done.

Clearly, the concept of throwing-up was lost on this man.

As I stood there naked, with my inside out socks on the chair and my dignity scattered along the Jersey Turnpike, I wondered, once again, how in the world I got into such a situation. I was a broken, shoelace-less man, about to throw-up, embarrassed by the coldness of the room, if you catch my drift. This was not a part of the movie that was to be my life.

“Wing Three”, as it was called, was set up like a 70’s motel. Rooms consisted of two to three beds, three dressers, a closet and a bathroom. The lights, fluorescent, were so bright that the blind could have found their way around without assistance.

I walked into room 315 and noticed that two out of the three beds were in use. The third bed –mine – was bare. And about five feet long. I’m 6’6.

“Hey Paulie! We got a new roommate”

Jack was…how do I write this delicately?

Jack was about as subtle as a Texas blizzard in June. He had at least twenty tattoos, including one that was hammer on his forehead. He was also a barterer.

Jack had everything. Shave cream, even though it was not allowed in rooms. Razors for shaving even though they were not allowed. Dozens of colored pencils and markers, papers, magazines, books. You name it, Jack had it. All these things made me wonder how long Jack had been there and why in God’s name did he need it all.

Turns out, Jack had been there for quite a while. Even though a standard stay was a week, Jack had been there for three.

Part II here

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