People, meaning adults, were always telling me about my bad attitude. Robin and I heard so much about this, as a matter of fact, that we had a favorite cartoon character we used to decorate our fast and furious notes back and forth to each other during school hours when we were supposed to be paying attention to our studies. We named this creature our Negative Attitude, also known as our Shitty Attitude. He was a mean little thing, with a head of hair that obscured not only his face but most of his little roundish body except for his feet which were firmly fitted on the back of a skateboard, for speeding off and slipping through other's expectations and the trap of The Shoulds.
I wanted to be just like my Negative Attitude, just like my Dad, just like Mr. Laughlin. I wanted to look down on others, or at least askance, and stay safely uninvolved. I wanted to slide, to skate by, to slip through, going my own little way, without the restrictions and demands insisted upon by society.
Robin and I had our own little rallying cry, like Duck's ass, "Screw society" we said. "Screw shitty old Reno High School,” we sang. "Screw the guys with the crew cuts,” meaning anyone who wore a suit, no matter how they actually wore their hair. "Screw Motherhood,” we hollered, even though Robin worked hard to be a good parent to her little bastard child, the Bean-butt, who was growing by leaps and bounds and bombing around in her little walker, screaming down the hallway as fast as her fat little feet could propel her, looked quite a bit like a prototype for the Negative Attitude minus the hair.
The best thing about my negative attitude, I thought, was that I didn’t have to sit in my room getting fatter and fatter. I stayed high and cool and hardly ever felt that gnawing hunger. Numb was good. I dropped 20 pounds in two months on the Who Gives A Fuck Flying Blind Diet.
Our negative attitude, we figured, was nothing to be ashamed of, in fact we felt quite proud of our disdain for all things sacred and profound. Reno High School was the screwiest place of all, we were sure. RHS, we told each other, stands for Retards, Hopelessly Screwed.
"Screw meaningful,” we muttered in English class when our teacher, a wizened up old spinster named Miss Bulmer, whose arthritis so deformed her fingers and wrists we shrunk and shuddered when she put her hands on our shoulders, found meaning in every word, sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter of every book ever written by our old friend Charles Dickens. "Screw little Effie, too,” we mouthed at each other from across the room. When we said "screw" it didn't necessarily have to do with sex, with screwing, it had to do with forming attachments, with finding importance in anything. The Beatles summed it up perfectly when they said, "They'll screw you up if they can't screw you down." Saying, "Screw it" was our only defense. We knew we were screwed, if we didn't keep our attitudes. We would end up being just like all these other idiots.
I got busted, natch. I came home from school one day and there were a couple of crew cuts in suits in the living room with Mom who had a big time worried look on her face. "Oh, great, the end of another perfect day!" I knew as soon as I saw them. I didn't even think of trying to run. Mom was close to tears and it didn't help any that these two Suits went right into the classic good-cop, bad-cop stand-up comic routine. "We could haul ya right off to jail, you know?" one stated menacingly. "Oh, come on now, we don't want to do that, really we don't,” the other knew his cues.
"Yeah, let's just take her downtown and book her,” the first one said with a tight threatening scowl. Mom was watching this cartoon like it was for real. Oh, jeez, just what I need. Mom's buying into the whole scene.
"We don't want to ruin your future,” the cat playing the good guy suggested. Oh fuck, I thought, he's from the government, he's here to HELP me. I sat down with my arms crossed against my chest and practiced the Buddha stare. "You're messing around with things that could kill ya, you know?" he said, dripping fake sympathy.
"Nah, she don't care, you're wasting your breath,” his buddy interjected. I was pretty much speechless here, not because I didn't know what to say. I could play the tough Screw You con or the scared shitless kid, either way, but why? "C'mon, boys, cut to the chase." I silently prompted. The worst of it so far as I could see was Mom wringing her hands and giving me the "Oh, what's to become of you now?" eyes. She hadn't read the script. She never knew she was gonna be called on to play this part. She looked exactly like a stage hand that's been thrust center stage with no warning and told to hit her marks and speak up, play to the back of the room. Oh, poor Mom, I thought.
So, we did the hand cuffs thing and the trip downtown and the 3rd degree. "What do you want?" I kept asking, knowing at some point we were gonna get to a bottom line here. I knew I was a little fish. They knew I was a little fish. So, what were we doing with the shark bait?
"We could book you for sales and possession, you know?"
"Possession of what?" I asked, knowing full well that, for once, I was clean. I had sold the last of my stash that very afternoon. "You guys got nothing, shit, nada. I smoke a little pot once in a while. Who doesn't? I am no kind of criminal, though. You think ya stumbled onto a narcotics ring here, or something?"
"We know you sell and we know who ya buy from and we're gonna give you a chance to come clean and stay out of trouble, young lady. If ya have any sense, you'll cut the crap and start talking,” Mr. Rough Tough Bad Guy spat, lighting a cigarette.
"Give me a cigarette,” I said, stalling for time and sorta digging this crazy new twist. Just think, I had planned on coming home and doing my Algebra tonight!
Mr. Nice Guy pushed a pack of cigarettes across the desk. Viceroys. Oh, fuck, it figures. I lit one. I took a drag. Yuck. This is not good. "Tell ya what I know," I began. "You think I'm gonna roll over on my connection. Not a chance. Ya think I'm scared of you, but I'm not scared. Ya want to arrest me. Arrest me. I want a lawyer. My connections are my friends. Ya got my Mom frightened out of her wits. She probably thinks I'm a heroin addict at this point. She doesn't know shit. My connections are my family, my people. This is shit, get it? Shit. I smoke pot and I sell a little and I'm nothing. There's a cop in The City that sells more pot than I've ever seen. If ya want to walk on someone, go walk on him." This last really was shit, pure bullshit, but boy ya should have seen their eyes light up. BINGO. Then they both really got serious, both talking at once.
"Who?" one wanted to know.
"What's his name?" the other jumped in. "What's he look like?"
I just started laughing. "He looks just like you, except littler. They call him The Man,” I added, mysteriously, then just lost it, laughing like a hyena.
"She's fulla shit,” the Bad Guy said. And, I was. But, they hauled me off to Wittenburg, anyway, and held me for six weeks, no charges, no lawyer, no rights, no nothing. Turns out ya don't have rights, if ya have potential. And, now I had yet another concerned female in my life, a probation officer, named Kathy Lore. Oh, heaven help me, another Kathy. Of course.
Big surprise. Here I am back in Wittenburg Juvenile Detention Center. But, at least I'm not hauled in on a petty-ass shoplifting charge, or worse, curfew violation or truancy which were the big crimes of the century in Reno at the time. The fact that I had no charges and was being pressured by The Suits to give up my connections gave me a lot of weight in the eyes of my fellow internees, who thought I must be some kinda big whoop in the drug world.
The facts were somewhat less dramatic, however. My major connection was via Randy. The Jail Bait handle still stuck, no matter how hard I tried to make out like a woman of the world. I was a tiny teen, metaphorically speaking, with a bad attitude, not a bad-ass dope fiend. If I ratted off my connections, who the hell was gonna get me high?
Jimmy Jones, by this time nick-named Voracious due to his appetite and aptitude, was my second major drug contact, and I would rather roll over on my Mom than him. What the hell. I believed he WOULD be a millionaire before he was through. He could think of more ways to make and spend money in one afternoon than I could in a whole month of Sundays. I looked up to him like a brother, like what I would have always wanted for a brother. He was cool, even more laid back than me and had a much more negative attitude. I thought he was terrific. Besides being a source, he was a buddy, white trash with attitude.
All in all, this was kinda exciting and actually beat the hell out of Algebra. My Honor's Lit teacher sent me my school work and my old biology teacher even came down to visit me which was really a hoot. He had tears in his eyes, for Christ's sake, pleading with me to do the right thing and get out of this now before I not only ruined my life but killed my poor dear Mom. "She's absolutely sick over this, you know?" Yeah, man, I know. She told me so every visiting day. And, I felt awful, honest, for exactly as long as I had to sit there and watch her sad face and listen to her torrents of worried words. "Oh, what's going to happen to you?" she wanted to know. And, I had to admit that I didn't know. No one would tell me. Being saved from your own folly is real shooting in the dark stuff. I just knew I was gonna lose a toe, if not my whole foot. I knew for a fact that they were gonna get no names from me, even if I had to sit in Good Shepherd till I turned a hundred and twenty-one.
Meanwhile, I was learning lots of interesting stuff, like how to hot-wire a car and that the girls gave blow jobs in the mop-closet to some of the boys which I thought was gross but funny, ya have to admit. "With the mops in there? How wildly romantic." It struck me that these kids were dumb and again I wondered, "What am I doing in here with these losers?" Most of the girls had some kind of jailhouse romance going on with one of the pimply-faced, mossy-toothed baby hoods over in the boy's tank and expended enormous energy getting notes or messages back and forth.
They used India ink or match black to tattoo the names of the current object of their affections into their skin, digging into the flesh with needles smuggled back from our happy home-maker sessions which passed for education at Wittenburg, during which we were taught how to patch and repair our used uniforms, boy's and girl's, naturally, which certainly furthered my belief that this was nowhere, man. The boys, meanwhile, got to learn how to gap sparkplugs and time engines, tasks that left me cold but could have been of more practical use as I had already had plenty of experience in the sewing and ironing departments and had decided that it wasn't my bag.
Oh, yes, and we got to cook, if we were very good and didn't make faces at staff or get caught with contraband which was anything other than the uniforms on our backs. Even books were only given to us for the hour we were allowed to read each evening, a real punishment to me. My sisters in crime couldn't muddle through anything much more complicated than Hair-do magazines (which I called "hair-don't") and simply couldn't understand when I forced staff to let me have my copy of Moby Dick during TV time. After all, I WAS on the college track. And I was not above using my potential if it meant being able to read rather than listen to the girls bicker over the Movie of the Week. I am sure I never could have waded through that book if it weren't for lock down. But, thanks to my crime, I had nothing but time.
Screw Stew With Glue Dumplings
Wittenburg, like other institutions funded by the state of Nevada at the time, participated in the USDA food commodities program which meant that the larder there was chock full of generic number ten cans stuffed full of a mystery meat product labeled Pork or Beef or Chicken but which all tasted the same: salt and fat. The corpulent cheerful cook, who couldn't, loved to play around with this gelatinous stuff and prepare meals that looked, honest, like nothing other than dog food. It is my heartfelt belief that it would be better to put criminals in camps in the wilderness where they would eat only what they could grow or kill than to force them to lay around on their lazy asses and allow them to eat meals prepared by the hands of indifferent staff from the left-over food products of our artificially maintained agricultural industry. But, let me fall down off my soap box now and share this recipe, as best I can.
Flip a coin. Heads, its pork; tails, its beef. If it stands on edge, go for chicken. Open that can, or two if the tanks are full, and dump into your largest soup pot. Ditto a can marked potatoes and another marked peas and carrots. Get this up to a boil fast, its all been cooked long enough already and isn't gonna hold up to prolonged heat. Take a couple of cups of biscuit mix and add in enough water to make a paste. Drop this by large spoonfuls onto the top of the stuff in the stew pot. Cover quick and turn down the heat. No fair peeking, now. This is gonna be gluey enough without slowing down the process by checking on the progress. Those dumplings are going to swell alarmingly as are your little charges if they eat like this more than a day or two. Slop into bowls and serve with bottles of tomato sauce product for added flavor. There ya got yr four basic food groups: fat, salt, sugar and bile. What more could the little bastards want?
Make 'em say grace, too. Remember, we're building future leaders here. Many inmates have had spiritual awakenings when faced with another meal like this. Canned peach product makes a tasty dessert and can go right into the morning oatmeal if there is any left over. Bon appitit!
Yes, I gained about forty pounds during my six week vacation at Wittenburg, going in at 170 and coming out at 210, the first time I had broken the 200 pound mark, no great accomplishment from my point of view. Being fat is difficult enough but getting fatter on commodity foods is really a drag. Between having no books and watching my poor body get visibly bigger every day, I was beginning to think I might die in protective custody. My PO was a real burden, so cheery and inspirational, I thought I might puke every afternoon when she would call me into her little office. I smoked up all of her cigarettes. Parliments. Shit, it just keeps getting worse and worse. She kept asking me the same thing Mom wanted to know. "What are we going to do with you?" Honest, lady, I hadn't a clue. Taking me out and shooting me probably would have been better. I refused to view my actions as being criminal behavior. I insisted that smoking pot was a victimless crime. If I am hurting myself, so what? I sure as hell didn't see what I was doing as hurting anyone else.
I hadn't seen any welfare mothers trade their food stamps for dope yet. Nor had I heard the dope man laughing about making some fourteen year old girl roll over and let him fuck her up the ass for a fix. I hadn't watched the look on my own daughter's face when I told her we can't afford designer tennis shoes, knowing full well I spent that same amount the night before to get high, or try to get high. I had a lot of yets, yet. "The only crime here is that I am being held without charges and have never even been allowed to talk to a lawyer. I am the only victim I can see in this picture and I can't see why you're making a big fucking deal out of this whole thing? What is it, like job security. Ya herd us in here and treat us like criminals so you'll be able to earn a living, or something?"
Well, Mrs. Lore was none too pleased with my negative attitude, with or without skate board. But, she really didn't know what to do with me, either. I was an admitted drug user but they hadn't caught me in the act, so there really wasn't a whole hell of a lot she could do. The ultimate upshot was she put me on probation for the duration, until I turned eighteen, "After which," she was adamant to remind me, ceaselessly, "You will be an adult and if charges are pressed against you, you will have a real criminal record and ruin your chances of ever being able to make anything of yourself." Hadn't she ever read The Birdman of Alcatraz, for crying out loud? Maybe I was supposed to go to prison. Maybe that's where my destiny lay. I just couldn't take any of this as cerealy as she wanted.
I had a ten point probation plan which was hysterically funny. My favorite was number four which stated, "You are not to be in any public area, including sidewalks and street corners, alone or in a group, espousing your personal philosophy,” which really cracked me up. Doesn't this basically violate the Bill of Rights? I signed the damn document because I knew that I was gonna stay in Wittenburg until I did and I was getting fatter than Moby Dick and was running out of things to read. School attendance was a mandatory tenet of my probation, as was refraining from drinking or using any other illegal substances. Also, I was required to go see a shrink, for which my poor Mom had to pay, for a psychological evaluation, which is when I found out that I was a borderline personality with sociopathic tendencies. Imagine that? And here I had been worried about having NO personality and homosexual tendencies. I admit that I fed the shrink a line of bullshit a mile long but he was doing the same to me, all terribly concerned about me not living up to my freaking potential.
My return to Reno High was a revelation. Robin passed me a note. "I told Zell you were back and he replied, 'Oh, really? Back from where? I didn't notice that she was gone.' Doesn't that make you feel important?" I told Voracious that he better cool it. "Those assholes don't scare me. I'm careful. Besides, I DO have a lawyer, dip-shit." See? I told ya he was my buddy.
Going home wasn't much better. Mom "thank god"ed all over the place. Jay-bird just gave me the cold fish eye that said "I bet they catch ya good next time." Mosie was real distressed, "I cried almost every night you were gone,” she told me, on the verge of tears again. Oh, cripes, I hated it when she would go all serious and get that little-Mama worry look.
We crept into winter, life went on. I was careful to make sure I avoided public places like sidewalks and street corners while I was violating all the other rules of my probation and my attitude got worse and worser till I really don't know why Mom didn't just toss me out on my ear. I was just as nasty as I possibly could be to my probation officer who continued to dangle jail-time and ruination over my head as if someday I was gonna straighten up and give a fuck. But, that was pretty much out of the question at this point. I didn't have some boys name tattooed across my knuckles but I had been marked nonetheless, "For life!" I thought, dramatically. I knew for a fact, now, that whatever I did with my time here on Earth, at least part of it was gonna be spent in lock-down situations. I accepted this as readily as I accepted the obvious fact that I was gonna cause my Mom and little sister pain and tears. It was because they cared, I knew, but this just redoubled my determination never to get caught in the trap of caring about anything. So long as I had dope and someone with a quick wit to share banter back and forth, between tokes, I was gonna be OK.
All hell was breaking loose in the United States of Amerika. The Viet Nam conflict was heating up as were the protests against it here on the home front. The Free Speech movement was a happening thing down in Berserkley and campuses were being flat closed down, left and right, by administrations that disapproved of students demanding a voice in their educations, or anything else for that matter. Hippie was born, died and buried, in the pages of Time and within the screens of television sets in every home across the nation. Timothy Leary had just hit the West Coast and the Electric Koolaid Acid Tests were reverberating through the drug underground from coast to coast and all points in between. Tune in, turn on, drop out. It was exactly the prescription a generation had waited to hear, painfully pregnant with too much of everything except something to believe in passionately. Believe nothing you hear, only half of what you see, trust no one over thirty and doubt all authority. More than ever, I began to feel that life was going on, out there, without me, stuck in here, in that horrible dinky trailer and in the narrow halls of Reno High School. I couldn't stand the itch this gave me, a hunger not for food, not for sex, not for love or safety, not for recognition or achievement. I itched to get out. Itchy feet, I had heard about it all my life, but never experienced anything like this, never. I itched to get. Gotta get. Gotta get.
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