ALICE ON A FRIDAY NIGHT
A Novel of Addictions and Dreams
DOWN THE HOLE
My hands trembled. My heart pounded even worse. Blue lights. Another rush of fake politeness. Police politeness while they cuffed my trembling hands, politely stuffed my pounding heart into a patrol car. Next, a fluorescent-lit room packed with other hands in cuffs. Hands of all colors. Trembling and episodic, like a dream, and not a pleasant one
A Friday night in jail.
Being arrested is the greatest attraction in the land symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. And boy, did I have it coming!
With pool season over, Chris and I decided to indulge in a road trip before leaving the country – half of the East Coast, all the way down to the Magic City. It was a crazy week. I did things I’m not proud of, things I’d never thought of doing in my own country. Maybe because back home they didn’t feel so forbidden. All those signs really turned on my inner rebel. I came to understand the miscreant immigrants; all of a sudden it was utterly important to demonstrate that I could do anything I wanted, how no one in the world could stop me. I danced down countless streets, climbed all kinds of fences, skinny-dipped in the ocean (Chris loved that), skinny-dipped in every fountain I came across at night (Chris hated that), and couldn’t care less about people watching.
I think there’s a special and very mischievous spirit that brings together like-minded people on the road. Throughout our trip we met other misfits who added spice to our journey.
Smooth black guys smoking pot in front of a gas station on our way to an old mansion tour. They stared us down at first but then offered us some. Chris, stoned as fuck, got bitten by an alligator on the grounds of the mansion. The reptile seemed “very friendly” and he thought it was a brilliant idea to pet it despite the plethora of big signs warning that the alligators might attack if disturbed.
Champagne. Sex on the grass. An illicit sunrise viewed from a park after some Asian kids showed us where to sneak in. Even simple stuff felt like an adventure because someone had bothered to specify it was illegal.
Of course the first thing we did when we arrived in the Magic City was go to the famous beach. We couldn’t afford any of the restaurants, hotels, art galleries or designer shops, but we could afford the palms and the sand. Chris bought alcohol, plastic cocktail glasses and paper parasols from a cheap store and started mixing tequila sunrises right there on the crowded shore. A typical Chris-thing. He was such a bore most of the time, all serious, wholesome and strict, but every now and then his cool side would show up, and when it did, he really was something.
Chris’s bartending caught the attention of a group of gorgeous, well-tanned girls who asked if they could join us. Obviously, they needed a break from the usual rich guys because they spent the whole afternoon at our plastic mini-party, dying of laughter, and eventually they invited us for a night out. We were filthy because we weren’t spending money on hotels during our road trip. Whenever Chris got too tired to drive, he’d park the rental car in the nearest rest area and we’d sleep there. Meaning that, for the last many days, we’d brushed our teeth and hastily washed whatever parts of our bodies we could in rest-area public bathrooms. On the other hand, we couldn’t miss nightclubbing in the Magic City. Who’d do that? Heartily accepting the invitation, we showed up for our rendezvous with the girls in our best wrinkled clothes, after having a bath and a shave in a public restroom at the beach. No one cared. Everyone thought we were hilarious and we did our best to dance and chat with people from as many countries as possible. They were so nice, I loved them all. I felt like a part of the world, and the world was cozy and safe. One of my best nights ever.
“So that’s what you do. You’re a girl who likes getting into fountains and trouble.”
“Don’t you like getting into fountains and trouble?”
“Sure. That’s why I spoke to you in the first place.”
And then came shoplifting. It all started with Sister Chelsea.
Movie junkies that Chris and I were, we thought we’d visit some filming locations on our way back from the Magic. It was the climax of our episodes of binge-sneaking behind janitors’ backs and fence climbing. We even managed to get into a high school building because of a show we’d watched when we were teenagers. There was a famous cheerleading routine in the show. Upon seeing a group of cheerleaders rehearsing in the real school, I took out my phone to shoot a video. They asked me what I was doing. I explained I was a fan of the show and all of a sudden, everyone became overly enthusiastic about showing off in front of the camera. At some point I realized my lousy pronunciation must’ve had them thinking that I was auditioning them for a new season or something. We hurried out before getting in trouble.
Right afterward, Chris drove to a house we’d seen in the same show. It was locked, but the garage door was open and there she was, bathed in dusty sunlight: Sister Chelsea, with her big smile, big tits, big everything. An adorable nurse sex doll. It struck me immediately that she’d make the best souvenir to take home from Signland. I didn’t think it was stealing – after all, the house didn’t seem to belong to a particular person, but to a film studio. So off we drove, the big box with Sister Chelsea seated comfortably in the backseat. I fell in love with the thrill.
A couple of towns later, we went to a shiny mall to do some clothes shopping. It was the first time I noticed the camera signs.
They were everywhere. Before that, I’d never felt like shoplifting, but suddenly I wanted to rise to the challenge. And just like that, for a slinky luxurious belt, a pair of new earrings and a loud beep at the exit of the store that sold them, we were brought in. Chris too because I had him carry the luxurious belt for me. I realize now how pathetic it all was. But don’t the most adrenaline-packed memories go back exactly to the moments when we do stupid things?
We had exceeded the rule of $100, so they took us straight to the precinct.
“Your bail is $1,000, ma’am,” a female officer at a desk behind thick glass told me. “Will someone be coming to pay it for you?”
“I’m not a citizen of the country and I don’t know anyone here.”
“You’ll have to wait in custody until your trial then.”
“I have money in my bank account! There must be an ATM here?”
“No, ma’am, there’s no ATM here.”
“Can’t someone escort me to the nearest ATM so I can withdraw the money?”
“No, ma’am, I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“Can’t you just go and withdraw the money for me?”
“No, ma’am, I’m afraid that’s not possible. Someone has to come and pay it for you.”
I swallowed my pride and called the Puerto Rican from the pool. He was bound to come to our rescue, he was always so eager to help.
“Sorry, Alice, I don’t really want to get involved in this…”
He hung up. Same with Jamal. I went back to the officer behind the thick glass.
“No one is coming for me but I have the money in my bank account. Surely I’m not the first one to be in this situation. What do people usually do?”
“Normally, they call a bail bondsman, but…”
“A bail what?”
“A bail bondsman, ma’am. A person you hire to come and get you out for a certain additional fee. Bail bondsmen don’t work with foreigners though.”
Pity. I was intrigued to see what someone in this line of work looked like.
“So what should I do then?” I asked in the end.
“Well, ma’am, just stay put and wait until Monday. Your trial will prolly be set for Monday, you being a foreigner an’ all. Then you can go.”
A cop in the Balkans would never be this polite. Considering I was a first-time offender, they’d just call me “a pain in the ass” and let me go. Anyway, I was far from the Balkans, and I was kindly given the privilege to enjoy an all-inclusive weekend in jail.
They took my mugshot. Profile. Full face. Made me strip down to my thong and gave me some rough pajamas that felt like wearing cardboard. Finally, I was escorted to a cell.
A keycard door. Then a second, and a third one. High ceilings, really high. Long corridors. A fifth keycard door. I hated high ceilings! Seventh door, bars… Long corridors weren’t my thing either. Tenth door. There it was, the cell I was supposed to stay in.
Well, my mind didn’t stay there for too long. When you’re surrounded by narrow ugliness, all you want to do is sleep for eternity. I was down, that is, so down that I spent all day Saturday in Dreamland. There was no reason to wake up. From time to time I heard the sounds of prison around me: my cellmate snoring, then getting up to pee (at least that’s what I thought at first), and then the plop of something landing in the toilet bowl next to our bunk. She went to eat too. I wanted none of it – no prison food and definitely no plopping it down that toilet. I was fine in Dreamland.
On Sunday I decided I’d better get up. I was incarcerated anyway, why waste the opportunity to look around, meet people, get a feel for the place. A true writer would enjoy every second of it, and that was what I made up my mind to do. I introduced myself to the woman who took a dump with such incredible ease. Kate. She was in for five years already and it wasn’t her first time. A serial credit card scammer.
“But why do you keep doing it if you always end up in prison?”
I’d always been curious about the psychology of reoffenders. Alas, I couldn’t get most of Kate’s explanation. She didn’t speak the same English as me. However, the prevalence of “they’s” over “I’s” in her story, and the heavy amount of “God’s will” made me conclude that she just didn’t want to be in the driver’s seat of her life. Maybe jailbirding was her way to deny responsibility. I didn’t want to judge though. Kate treated me fine.
“Girl, you’re definitely comin’ to lunch with me today. You ain’t eaten a thing since you got here. You gots to eat!”
I had other worries on my mind.
“It’s so cold in here…”
Despite the sticky heat outside the temperature in the prison was terribly low.
“Imagine bein’ damn cold for years! I know what it feels like, but I read the Bible and it warms me righ’ up. Out there, I couldn’t really un’erstand what the Bible was all about. Now I’m happy that I can read it! I learnt about all the terrible shit that will happen to me if I don’t believe… Terrible, terrible shit! But I believe, so I’m saved! You believe in God, Alice?”
“No,” I said without hesitation.
“Jesus!” Kate exclaimed. She might’ve even crossed herself. “I never heard anyone say they didn’t believe in God with such certainty! I pity you, girl!”
She pitied me. That was a good one. My mind was instantly flooded with images of the most religious people I’d seen. Ritual killers in movies. Latino guys at Seven Corners, their eyes ready to sin with me in every possible way. Not for the world would I believe in the same thing they believed in! Besides, I couldn’t see why I should honor a particular god if I still managed to hope, love, and do occasional good on my own without divine help. I didn’t need the Ten Commandments to realize it’s not cool to kill or covet my neighbor’s life. Strict religion is for the insane – they can kill and burn in its name, then confess, repent, restart with a clean slate.
After lunch (I didn’t touch it today either, much to the joy of the others at my table who gladly claimed it) we were allowed half an hour “in the fresh air.” This meant a small courtyard with mesh on the top and a tiny piece of sky above the mesh. One of the girls asked me why I was in prison. My eyes welled with tears.
“We don’t cry here,” a cruel-looking inmate shouted but the others gathered around me to offer comfort.
“Oh, shoplifting’s nothing. We do it all the time.”
“You tried to steal from Macy’s? Everyone knows Macy’s no place for stealin’.”
After dinner it was shower time. All the girls fiercely protected their place in line in front of the curtained alcove with the shower. The curtain didn’t fall all the way down to the floor so the wardens could see the feet of the inmate inside. I had zero desire whatsoever to try skipping the line and irritating any Amazons, so I waited humbly in the back, cradling the rag they gave us for a towel. I must’ve looked miserable as hell, because the Amazon who was first in line, the cruel-looking one from the courtyard, let me go in her place. All the girls I’d talked to gave us a look of approval: the D&D inmate who called her boyfriend every day from the prison pay phone, hoping he’d wait for her faithfully out there; the 18-year-old who’d pushed drugs at her school, who’d told me she was no lesbian or anything but she thought I was beautiful; Kate with her motherly concern. I had my official opinion now: women in jail weren’t that bad, no matter what signs their fellow countrymen labeled them with.
Before we went to bed, Kate asked me to fix her hair, still damp after the shower, into tiny braids.
“So I look all curly and nice at the hearin’ tomorrow,” she said.
She sang while I was braiding, hopeful and excited, as if she was getting ready for a job interview. She seemed a bit frightened too, maybe more from the prospect of real life than from the one of staying in prison. She had everything here: a bed with her Bible under the pillow, a full course of meals to keep her entertained from dawn to dusk, and reasons to braid her hair. I imagined Kate getting her hair fixed for her interview with God someday.