Questions I’ve been asked repeatedly over the last month or so. My standard reply is “Hey, it feels right, won’t get in the way of the novels, might even help,” and a host of canned responses each as overflowing with utter bullshit as the others.
The reason it’s now is this – I had a bad experience a few months ago that whipped up an earlier, much worse experience and the two combined and lingered and festered long enough and strong enough for me to settle on exorcism as the only viable cure.
Over the first five months or so this year I worked for and with a local attorney. We were supposed to be forming a company, I did hours of research, made presentations, set up blogs, ran myself ragged – he was steadfast in his commitment to the project in all regards except scope, compensation, focus, equity, operating capital, contracts (written and verbal), and, well, you get the idea.
He changed my compensation at least six times over two months. I didn’t fight any of it. He went from paying a livable monthly stipend to asking me to research, compile, and write up all state and federal law, court decisions, and pending legislative acts regarding our area of expertise, continue to write a weekly blog, and finish drafting a game-changing complaint on the promise of “getting a piece of the company once it’s up, running, and turning a profit.”
Fool me a few hundred times, shame on . . .
I stopped where I was, submitted a final bill of less than a thousand bucks, asked him to come by my office with a check and I’d release the pounds of paperwork I had amassed.
He came by, screamed loud enough to stop work in the offices above and below mine, threatened me with arrest, undefined ruin, demanded I comply, stood over me, stuck a hoary finger in my face while yelling “do it, do it,” . . .
He did this for well over thirty minutes. To me. Survivor of seven prison fights and uncountable face to face confrontations. Me. The last guy anyone in ten prisons in five states would stick a finger at for the simple reason I was somewhat renown for turning the finger point into an eminently satisfying, wonderfully painful wrist lock in less than a heartbeat.
My antagonist stood all of 5’4″, was pretty much out of breath just from screaming. In his diatribe he eviscerated swathes of the professional rules of conduct and was crossing the border into various and sundry misdemeanors.
All of which I, of course, knew. Intellectually.
Which did me no good whatever.
Because I caved. Completely. Spent the next two hours signing over the blog, Dropbox, Evernote, etc. accounts, showing him how to use them. Then I carried the 20 pounds or so of paperwork down to his $90,000 car. His back was hurting.
Flashback about six years to FMC Devens, a kitchen supervisor/CO named, somehow appropriately, Goleiber, and an industrial sized mixing bowl of mashed potatoes. Not real mashed potatoes – those would have required, well, potatoes – but sand-like white granules from fifty pound sacks marked ‘for institutional use only’ that turned into a fair approximation of kindergarten paste with enough water and/or prison grade 1% milk (mammal source unknown).
We – the cooks – tried everything to make the mashed potatoes close to palatable – heavy dosages of salt, pepper, garlic (powdered), butter (WWII surplus), everything except – perhaps – Soylent Green.
One day I came up with the idea of dumping paprika into the mixing bowls. Just like that, out of the blue. At the least – the very least – the stuff wouldn’t glow so much in the dark with an orange patina.
The plan was enthusiastically embraced by everyone including the CO ‘working’ with us (this primarily involved sitting in an office surfing porn sites and yelling “Yo, don’t steal nottin’,” every fifteen minutes or so).
Butter and a few containers of paprika and a healthy dose of other things I don’t (or don’t want to) remember and we achieved previously unattainable heights of prison mashed potato edibility.
But they were dull orange. And no one had cleared that particular culinary desecration with the number two kitchen supervisor – Goleiber. He had been hiding in his office, none of us even knew he was there, none of us knew he was in charge that day, least of all the CO.
A problem as Goleiber was (probably still is) a psycho pure and simple. I had run ins with him before – yeah, they’re in the memoir – each disturbing in their own right, as had anyone who had ever come within twenty feet of him, inmate and staff alike.
He was about two inches shorter than me, sixty pounds heavier – most of it in his gut and face – had a tuft of hair on the crown of his head with the sides shaved in some mutant neo-nazi, faux military cut that while arresting in a totally creepy way did nothing to take the focus off his eyes.
His eyes. Tiny, black, unblinking dead things that caught and reflected light only from the lower end of the spectrum – basically the reds.
Perhaps this explains why the sight of paprika laced mashed potatoes sent him into a frenzy. As the man’s resting state was rage, frenzy may be an understatement.
He burst out of the kitchen into the cafeteria where we were hanging out pleased with ourselves. He grabbed our CO by the arm, dragged him to a steaming container of potatoes percolating on the serving line and yelled, “Who?”
It took the CO less than a second to point at me – the survival instincts of federal employees are well honed. Goleiber pivoted and plodded to where I was until a moment earlier standing nonchalantly. Right up to me. Nose to nose. Then he started yelling.
My first thought, really, “Pledge Pin?”
That made me smile – blood to a shark for this guy, he ratcheted it up. I looked over his shoulder, the CO was in frozen awe, two of my three fellow cooks were stricken, petrified; the third, my roommate, was watching in complete and utter fascination, his look obvious and open, clearly wondering – in a sort of professional, curious way – if I was going to snap and head butt the fucker across the bridge of his nose.
Which I considered for much longer than was healthy. There are only one or two things a bully understands, neither of them can be meted out by an inmate against a staff member under any circumstances despite the mental health – or lack thereof – of said staff member.
So, I took it, didn’t even wipe his thankfully non-venomous spittle off my face until he stomped back to his lair, probably to get off on the sado-macho-nazi-bondage, baby- chick stomping, vintage war wound websites he undoubtedly subscribed to.
This is a little something about prison and its lingering effect that John Oliver, Orange is the New Black, and all the rest just can’t really cover. Which is fine, because my litigator friend – who knew the Goleiber story and used it – has taken care of all that.
I needed to get to the point where I could write straight, true, and pissed off and he did that for me by for reminding me what it all felt like while reinforcing the fact that it all applies to the real world.
Plus, writing it beats having a pair of priests sprinkling holy water over me.