Santa was about 5’3″, round, jolly in the ‘the-nicer-I-am-the easier-they-fall’ professional conman sense, perfectly bearded with a prodigious mustache that twirled up in perfect Snidely Whiplash fashion, and smart enough to turn any circumstance into a profitable venture. Any.
He graduated from Providence College about fifteen years before me, was a practicing Catholic who fully agreed with Tom Waits that “God’s away on business.”
I met him in FCI FT. Dix where he and his constant companion, ‘The Count’, were serving time together for a series of adventures that rivaled their equally famous/infamous Providence contemporary Buddy Cianci. Fifteen minutes after I met Santa I was reasonably sure it was no coincidence he was with us on the east side of Dix while Buddy was regaling inmates (and, apparently, formulating the strategy for his next political comeback) on the west side.
Santa, The Count, and I ended up teaching together at Dix where some 600-800 or so men were enrolled in ESL, GED, and Adult Ed classes. Santa and The Count merit a chapter (at least) in my prison memoir, most of it revolving around ‘The Great Honeybun Caper’ but, for now, I thought I’d share something I ran across in my notebooks while compiling the outline for 2 Soups and a Fish, or This Book Ain’t for Reading or Whatever the Hell I’m Calling the Memoir.
So, one cold, clear, New Jersey morning in February Santa regaled our morning classes with a poem he had crafted during a midnight dreary. He presented it as a paeon to the great camaraderie he found on campus, how wherever he went, he heard inmates asking each other ‘how ya’ doin’?” As a matter of fact, I think the title of said poem was “How Ya’ Doin’?”
It was maudlin (to be kind) and received with a good deal of eye-rolling and not so good natured smirks – of the ‘he’ll never see it coming” type.
Aside the fact I love good poetry, I was disturbed on two fronts. First, I had been having my classes read Yeats, Frost, Keats, and Bob Dylan for a few weeks (the GED is mostly reading comprehension, so . . .) and Santa’s poem was going to put that plan and the idea poetry was manly back weeks; Second, I recognized the poem for what it was, letting everyone know he was their friend, and they his. This was confirmed the following week with the onset of The Great Honeybun Caper and a naked attempt to take over the education department. (You had to admire Santa’s ambition).
Santa needed to be headed off at the pass. So, after a little thought, I took Santa’s rhyme scheme – such as it was – and wrote my own ‘campus’ poem on the dry board opposite Santa’s. The result:
As the rosy fingers of dawn
Poke through the iron shutters
An’ the camp prepares to meet the day,
A sayin’ carries into
My head before the day’s din begins;
I hear it first as I rummage thro’ my locker,
“Yo! Morning Mudder’fucka!”