Women’s prison? Not as hot as the movies…

One of the wonderful things about the (quasi) anonymity of this blog is that it affords me a chance to pontificate on some of the uglier aspects of life without fretting too much about the ensuing collateral damage. At the very least, it allows me enough space to delve into subject matter that I just can’t go into with the 420 character limit imposed by facebook for status updates. I’ve dug myself into several holes along the way with facebook comments that sacrificed context for brevity. It’s pretty embarrassing when a wisecrack misfires, feathers get ruffled, and I have to go into damage control mode. Sometimes the joke bombs because it just stinks, but I’d say a lot of complications resulted from a dearth of exposition. Anyway, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Then there are times when I made a joke that was funny, and someone was just a ninny. Deconstructing a comment for a lummox who is simply hellbent on policing my thoughts and language because they don’t fall in perfect sync with their own is enraging. It’s a surefire way to get on my bad side permanently. And if some of those people managed to stumble across this blog and feel the creeping burn of shame whilst reading this, rest assured that I still think you’re a humorless douche.  WHAT THE #$%@ HAPPENED TO YOU?! YOU USED TO BE FUN!!!

…deep breaths…

Now where was I?

Oh yes! I meant to talk about women’s prison in this entry. People who know me well are already aware that I have a sister who is currently housed in the Avoyelles Parish Women’s Correctional Center. It’s not a dirty little secret, but it’s not something I feel the need to interject into conversations unless someone asks about her. If they do ask, I don’t tap dance around her situation. Then again, people who know her well were already aware of her demons. I figured it was just a matter of time before she ended up behind bars or a body bag. All things considered, I’m thankful that the law won out. A year and a half into her incarceration, she’s sober, somewhat healthy, and finally repentant for her misdeeds. For that alone, I’m thankful. As far as the social pariah status and the challenges to her sobriety that will accompany her eventual release, we’ll cross those bridges in due time.

I had little to no contact with her while she was addicted, because she was so far gone that she could not be trusted. It’s a shame that it took lockup to finally dry her out, but here we are. She started writing me while I was in Iraq last year. That led to regular correspondence between the two of us via snail mail. Out in Iraq, it meant a letter about once or twice a month. Now that I’m an hour’s drive away, we’ll write each other at least once a week. She stayed so messed up for so long that it still surprises me to read a cogent letter from her. She’s made some significant strides. And for that I’m thankful.

She’s allowed two new books and two new CDs a month. She loves to draw, so I’ll get her a new art book every month. Her letters are always chockfull of doodles and sketches. I’m genuinely impressed with her improvement, although I’m not thrilled with her enthusiasm for giving homemade tattoos to her cellmates. Nevertheless, she might inspire me to start drawing again.

I told her to just trust my judgment when it comes to the rest of my purchases. While I’m certainly willing to encourage her artistic impulses, I’m not dropping a dime on the New Age poppycock that she requested –  books about dream interpretation, astrology, alien abductions, and psychics. I’m force-feeding her a bit of culture whether she likes it or not, damn it. This month, I got her a copy of “Confederacy of Dunces” and Big Star’s first two albums. She loved them, just like I knew she would. Now we have even more stuff on which we can commiserate when I visit.

And that brings me to the topic at hand. My sister is allowed visitation every other Saturday, from 12:30 to 3:00.  I haven’t missed one since coming home for good. I’m probably going to skip this weekend’s visit for a rendezvous with my latest mercurial she-devil, who looks like a cross between a younger version of Lucinda Williams and Kaitlin Olson. I hate myself for allowing her to bewitch me so, but that’s a long story to be continued later. I’m sure I’ll embarrass myself thoroughly before it’s all said and done, but what can I do?

God, I hate myself.

Now where was I?

Oh yes! Prison! Focus, focus!

I enjoy my jailhouse visits with my sister, even though they are emotionally exhausting. I can deal with that. What I have a hard time dealing with is the fact that women’s prison is decidedly unsexy. What the hell is that about? Those damn Italian exploitation movies bamboozled me! I spent 30+ years fostering a deluded fantasy that prison babes looked like this:

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of penitentiary pets look like this.

And the ones that come up to my sister in the yard and tell her that they’d like to know me better tend to look like this.

And that is clearly unacceptable.

If Bruno Mattei wasn’t already dead, I would be on the first Italy-bound pond hopper in order to kick that spaghetti bender’s ass.

Another dream evaporated. Alas.

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My grandparents are nuts

My grandparents are nuts.

No really, it’s okay if we throw that pejorative around. They’re so crazy at this juncture that they won’t mind. They really won’t. And if they’re not going to take offense, I certainly don’t give a crap about ruffling anyone else’s feathers (and if you are a self-righteous ninny, hit the “back” or “x” tab already).

My grandmother has suffered from Alzheimer’s for years. It’s been hellish for everyone who’s witnessed her decline. If you want to watch the mind’s bulwarks come undone like so many layers of an onion, just sit back and watch an Alzheimer’s patient. The occasional bouts of forgetfulness eventually gave way to the dramatic flightiness of a schoolgirl, which in turn yielded to the mercurial mood swings of a small child. I knew it was getting bad when she attacked Mom, who was taking trash out to the curb. She was convinced Mom was a burglar. And then…the old gal’s doors and windows to the outside world slammed shut, one by one. Before I left the country last year, I’d still get the occasional flicker of recognition out of her. She’d smile, tell me that she loved me, and then she was gone again. These days, there’s nothing. Those 30 to 60 second intervals of lucidity are gone forever. She just sits there now, like a sad wax sculpture.

My grandfather started his own slow trek towards senility a few years ago. While his dementia wasn’t nearly as pronounced as my grandmother’s, you knew that conversations could only last 20 to 30 minutes before his internal “reset” switch tripped and you had to start all over again. His temper (which wasn’t the greatest during the best of days) became an exposed livewire. If you treaded lightly and kept the conversation far, far away from my grandmother’s health or their crumbling finances, you were okay.  I hoped we’d get a few more years of coherence out of the old codger before nature finally took its course and shuffled him off this mortal coil. I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t stick around so long that he wound up with the functionality of an eggplant.

Well, that wasn’t in the cards. He took a nasty fall this weekend, which shattered his hip and scrambled whatever was left of his brains. The chemical cocktails employed to alleviate his pain probably delivered the coup de grace. He hallucinates. His speech is incomprehensible. He’ll recognize us one minute and show no signs of acknowledgment the next. He is incapable of feeding himself. He can no longer drink or swallow. Like my grandmother, he is wholly dependent on his caretakers. He is an invalid at this point, and I foresee little – if any – improvement.

When I’m thrust into these types of situations, my natural tendency is to seek out the funny and weird things around me, lest I wallow in the misery around me. The old man unknowingly contributed a few of those moments over the past few days. We keep hoping that he’ll remember how to swallow fluid, but every time you put a straw in his mouth all he does is blow bubbles. The last time I attempted that today, he shot me a brief look today that I could ONLY construe as “look kid, we BOTH know this ain’t happening. Now knock it off.” It made me smile for a second while I put his cup away.

The funniest and weirdest moment came this morning. My brother and I sat in the room, made small talk, and reassured my grandfather whenever he started screaming incomprehensibly.

“I wonder what it’s like inside his head right now,” I wondered out loud.

“What are you talking about?” my brother asked.

“I wish I could crawl inside his head for just two minutes and see what he’s thinking about. Are there any coherent thoughts up there? If so, is it just the rest of his body that failed him? Or is his mind gone, like we think it is? And if it is, what is THAT like? Wouldn’t you like to know what that’s like, if only for a few seconds? Maybe we could understand some of this craziness.”

“You’re a damn weirdo,” he muttered.

At that very moment, we looked over at my grandfather. He was staring at the ceiling and making facial contortions like a brook trout. Every time he puckered his lips, he emitted a low braying sound that went something like this:

“Mawromp. Mawromp. Mawromp. Mawromp.”

This went on for 20 seconds or so. My brother and I could only laugh, because it was too damn early in the morning to start crying.

We’re putting both of my grandparents in a nursing home this week. They’ll be together for whatever time is left. I don’t know how much longer either one of them will even be able to recognize the other, or if they’ll even be able to emote that acknowledgment.  In my heart of hearts, I wish they could share this Irving Berlin song one last time.

“I Can’t Remember lyrics”
[Verse:]
I met you, I remember
But try as I may
I can’t seem to remember the time or the day
I met you, I remember
That’s all I can say
Was it August or September or April or May?

[Refrain:]
I can’t remember the first time we met
Was it cloudy or beautiful?

I can’t remember the first words I spoke
Did I say you were beautiful?

Was it Sunday? Was it Monday?
Were you dressed in gray or blue?

I can’t remember
For all I remember is you