Relaxing the other night, watching some documentaries about Russian prisons, I found myself being grateful. Grateful the optical mouse worked on my bed sheets. So I didn’t have to sit up at the desk to click. That’s such a pain in the ass.
A Russian prisoner is being walked to a cell by four guards and a dog. He’s handcuffed behind his back. His legs are shackled. He has a black cloth bag over his head. And they have him walking bent over at the waist. At a right angle. The don’t fuck around at The Black Dolphin. That’s the name of this particular prison. The White Swan is another. But that one is not as luxurious as the New Age spa this prisoner is enjoying.
“Come, be pampered in blissful sybaritic abandon. The Black Dolphin, privately nestled between the jet-set playground cities of Novokuybyshevsk, Samara, and Ufa.”
The prisoners are forced to spend the day standing in silence. Standing. With a Russian head on their necks, one that makes them think Russian thoughts. Keep that part in mind. What a mental and emotional bludgeoning that in itself would be. What vast endless steppes of melancholy confront that average traveler. Now throw him into the worst place in Russia (which has a pretty decent collection) and see what kind of misery you can conjure.
These boys distill a potent brew alright. And I know a thing about moon-shining a mental nightmare. But they when they tap into that still, the sorrow just fucking flows. I always say a Russian with a guitar is good for at least two suicides during any picnic. So when the camera shows two of their prisoners standing in a cell, I always try to picture what’s going through their heads. What the interior landscape looks like in there. How those seconds would tick-tock by.
Time that must really crawl when you’re eagerly awaiting a delicious bowl of cabbage water. Not to mention the fifteen minutes of luxuriating on the sinful comfort of a wooden stool. Precious minutes. Oh yeah. That part totally rocks. All that… getting to sit. While eating water.
Best fifteen minutes of the day. For sure.
It’s brutal fare. And I need to see this. A little reality-check. To get more gratitudinal. Which is an important tool in my sobriety toolbox that I hardly open.
I reach up for my can of Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale. I have to sit up to get at it. If I put the can on the floor, I always kick it over. So I have to set it on top of the dresser. I’d prefer to just be able to turnstile my arm out at the elbow and have one in reach. But alas, life is exceeding cruel.
I guess, if I dragged in something like a TV tray I could set up a little temporary nightstand, but I refuse. You start using a TV tray as an end-table and it’s over. You’ve officially quit the race. Start picking out battery-heated booties from the Harriet Carter catalog and await your death. It’s coming on swift wings.
I’ll keep having to reach up a little. It’s good for me. Good for the obliques.
Now there’s some dude showing off his tattoos. A sullen, nicotine-stained woodcarving of The Eternal Mope, he’s pointing out what each piece of creepy Russian iconography means. The church domes each represent a full conviction served. It looks like he’s got pretty crowded Kremlin on his chest. The black cat a burglar. A beetle means pickpocket. Stars on his knees mean he will not kneel before any authority. Cool. Spider web denotes drug addiction. A light bulb means he worked in a Uranium mine. Sorrowful Madonnas. Orthodox crosses. Church bells. Ships. Barbed wire rosaries. Dice. Diamonds. Skulls. Angels.
All of it signifying something sad, bad, or both. Laid out there. Bared naked. For all to see. Every one of your underworld merit badges. On proud display.
Think of all the talking it would save. Instead of trying to catch up a new friend with endless stories. I could take off my clothes and just rotate like a rotisserie chicken a few times and they’d be up to speed. Need to refer to a time in my life, just lift my shirt and point. Let them read the codex.
Okay, now I want some tragic Russian prison tattoos. I want my own illustrated history tattooed in flesh. I want to be a living billboard of bummer.
But only if I could design my own. A bear drinking bees instead of honey from a hive. An onion dripping juice into a bloodshot eye. A babushka mother wringing her hands. A stack of poker chips on each shoulder. A rabbit plowing a field. A skull head hand-cuffed to a chainsaw. A bullet going through a screen door. A pair of black Converse with wings. A wizard bong. X’s on my eyelids. A Mexican peso on my palm. A monkey stealing a peach. Well, one monkey stealing three peaches total.
I could also get 0.24, 0.26, 0.19, and o.o inked on my forearm–my blood alcohol level during arrests resulting in a conviction. Maybe the ones that I beat on the other arm.
“This flying mushroom on my shoulder means I’m a skilled pilot. The gnome bathing in the kitchen sink means I can handle the weird. The salt shaker on my fist means I fight dirty.”
“What does the stiletto heel through the heart mean?”
Silence. I break down in sobs. Big rolling heaves. Some renting of garments. Hair pulling. Really uncomfortable to witness. Finally, wiping away snot, I manage to blubber out, “It means nothing!” Then more sobbing. More shirt tearing. Hair pulling. Just over the top shit.
“I shouldn’t have asked. Sorry.”
That would be fun.
Actually, I always thought that if I were to really get my criminal creep on, I would like to tattoo a monocle over my eye. With the string coming down from it, like the Planter’s Peanut Man. Just to really keep ’em guessing.
“They called me ‘Professor,'” I’d tell the cashier at the drive-thru. Then drive off before getting my food. But after paying.
Ah, it’s a pipe dream. I’ll never do it. I’m just not that into advertising what a fuck up I was. Except in this blog, that goes out to the world via internet.
The tattoos would’ve actually been a better choice.
Oh well. Gotta take the bad with the bad. Which is what these lads on the telly seem to being doing…with style.
They’re marched out at six in the morning for exercises. That’s right, no cup of mocha espresso is going to wake you up like a few scorching lungfuls of Siberian frost. The interviewed guard explains that the routine is made up of light movements intended to get blood flow into the limbs. Just the thing after you’ve spent the night hung up with your arms behind your back, on a meat hook.
Just do some tootsie-tappers and wristy twirls. Under searchlights. And snow swirls.
Got to hand it to those Ruskies. They know how to suffer. Always have. I think best of all. Although Keller and my mom have been reading about North Korean prison camps. They both tell me the No-Kos can give the Russians a run. Keller said they have something there called a Three Generation Conviction. In other words, the conviction is handed down through three generations. Like a gold watch. Or alcoholism.
Pretty raw deal, but I don’t know. The Russians take anguish to an art form. I really do enjoy their mournful songs of loss and regret. Real soul-achey stuff. I just can’t picture the North Koreans being as lyrical. Maybe because they always do pep squad foot-stamp-and chant-stuff during the talent shows. Running around with banners. Spelling letters out of people. Basic totalitarian regime half-time extravaganza shit. That’s not going to translate well on the cattle car railing you off to work detail. While everybody inside is fighting over icicles.
(Soda reach. Sprinkle some trail mix on the chest to eat from. Neck kind of hurts from watching sideways. This pillow sucks.)
Okay, I don’t like this part. Seen it before. Always kills me. The dad coming to visit the son. See, the dad can’t visit too often since he doesn’t drop by Siberia that much. He can only make the long journey twice a year, to be with his son– for two hours.
The visits only reignite the flame of pain. But in this case, it’s clearly a pain endured in the name of love.
They sit huddled in a small reception room nursing a cup of tea. The son cradles some sort of beef-stick his dad gave him. He doesn’t seem to care about the nitrates or high sodium. They smile bravely. The father is holding his son’s hands. He has clearly forgiven him. You can see it by the love in his eyes. After all the fuck ups, the father still loves him. Even though it makes it all hurt more. It’s that kind of love.
(Hard swallow. Eye-ball juice forming)
Now it’s time to part. Time for Dad to catch the 5:15 back 2.300 kilometers into the city. Time to tell the mother, who will never see him again, about her son. Again and again. During long winter nights. To keep the memory of him from fading like a ghost into the forest.
They hug deeply. Both men have tears.
(Achhh! Achhhhh-hah! Ghrrach! Ahuuurrr! Fucking pollen count.)
I move the mouse and click. That’s enough of that.
I lie there for a while thinking. I want to write my dad an e-mail. Just to say “hey” and that I’m okay. And that I love him. I’m pretty sure he still loves me. After everything. More importantly, I want him to know that I do. I kind of don’t feel like getting up. Maybe tomorrow.
It won’t kill me. But not doing it might. I sit up and reach for the keyboard.