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Memories

Dirt Bag City!

Oklahoma’s shittiest prison, called “Big Crack,” in McAlester, was like a 3rd world back the early 1970’s. Despite all of its 2,200 inhabitants being forced to work at absurdly low wages, ($1.60/month, excluding 20% ‘savings’ for when they got out), there seemed to be an awful lot of money floating around for spending on vice. Bookies were everywhere, selling parley tickets to sports-fanatics who had no idea of the odds against winning. Everyone seemed to love the chased ball. When asked, each of these gamblers would tell me, “Oh, I’m about even, or a little ahead. Slightly less money would go to the food-thieves. I worked in the chow hall, as a cook, then as a baker. Cooks would steal the scrap meat patties and the baloney to make sandwiches which were smuggled to the cage stacks to be sold for cigarettes. I once bought a grilled cheese sandwich from a Negro who ran loose in the cat walks while we were all locked in our cages. It came, unwrapped, in a grease-spotted brown paper bag which I threw in the trash where two other captives who spat snuff and hawked phlegm. The hustler ran off to make another sandwich in the tinfoil and light bulb oven he had made. A few minutes later, he was at my cage again wanting this bag, explaining, ‘People don’t want to buy a sandwich out of my hand.” We bakers were a little more professional. We’d make too much biscuit dough, which would turn into cinnamon rolls or fruit turnovers. My preference was to make brownies, two big slabs, wrapped in clean plastic, and got me a pack of cigarettes or stamps. I’d make them and smuggle them up to the cages by the bag full. I’d give the run man a third to sell them to starving captives trapped in the tiny cages from 6pm to 6am.

Another thing that was big for alleviating the monotony and routine cruelty was dope. The prison kops could sometimes be paid to bring in weed. A good friend of mine had a kop send in a special case of paprika. Inside each of the 24 two-pound cans were two baggies of weed. He’d brag to me that he could get 70-75 toothpicks joint from each bag, and sell them for $2 each. He had a gold, one-carat diamond ring that he used for collateral. He showed me a bank statement showing $10,000. Another of his boasts was of using some of his profits to buy some of the trash speed to shoot. He used a sharpened basketball inflation needle and the bulb of an eyedropper to get the stuff in his vein. A friendly kop came by and interrupted him while he shot up. He and he kop talked for ten minutes as he hid his arm below the level of the bars, dribbling blood down on his side of the floor.

Depriving people of almost everything that are normal about being human makes many of them sick. Even sicker than people who rape their minds with dope are the prostitutes. These weak-minded and often lazy, ignorant people spread more of them too. While dopies give each other colds, cold sores, influenza and hepatitis or other curable diseases, the prostitutes and perverts spread warts, herpes, chlamydia and AIDS; diseases that have no cure, and some of which you can die from.

One of these sick perverts introduced himself to me as soon as the kops tossed me off into their slow death camp. His name was, appropriately, Dick. He and his friend, Kelly, seemed normal at first. Then it turned out that Dick was the worst type of psychopath. He described to me how he had decided to kill somebody, “Just to see what it felt like.” He tried to diminish his murder by adding, “he didn’t have any family: no one would miss him or even notice he was gone.” Someone did notice the mess that Dick left behind. They didn’t kill him for it, but only made everyone else in prison suffer him.

As to Dick being a pervert, this became clear when the Kops ran out of cages to cram people into. So they took a floor, tore out all the cages, then stuffed in four times as many sleeping racks. To trick the inmates into wanting to exist inside that cement sardine can, the kops called it an “Honor dorm.” Dick and his crew of sex maniacs were some of the first ones to move in. At night, we could see them surreptitiously adjust their sheets and blankets to make a hideout to crawl under. The nightly sodomy lasted more than six months, and then came to a thrilling conclusion during the coldest part of winter. It was freezing in that deathtrap due to an undeclared war between people who wanted to be warm and people who wanted to breathe. The cigarette smoke was thick as smog, but cracking a window caused howls of protest from the Blacks. Dick and his swap out partners had gotten away with their sexcapades for so long that they were crawling under their racks together even before the kops turned out the lights. A hobo-looking alcoholic called “Crop-ear” (A Negro had bitten it off in a fight) came over to berate me for wearing a jacket and cracking my window. He was cold, and smoking a giant, hand-rolled cigarette which mostly just smoldered in his hand. My friends cowered away from him. I took off my coat both to get ready for his attack and to offer it to him while I berated him for giving us all cancer. He hadn’t brought any friends, but he got braver as he noticed all of my friends looking away at nothing. He demanded that I shut my window. I told him to put out his cigarette. He took a menacing step forward. I reached my hand out of his sight beneath the dog pad on my rack as if I had a weapon. He stopped, but demanded I close my window again. “Close it yourself!” I sneered trying to give us both a way out. He was too scared to turn his back on me to do this; afraid I would attack with my non-existent weapon.

Impasse.

While we menaced each other, a loud smack and a grunt of pain erupted to our right. Dirt bag Dick catapulted out from under his rack, crawling on his Belly into the tile path under his rack, crawling on his belly into the tile path between the rows of lockers. He bled from his nose as he pulled up his pants to run past us, almost knocking crop-ear flat. Right behind him was Johnny Valentine, who nowhere else to run. Dick tried to fight, and everyone guessed from their fear of him that he’d be good at it. He wasn’t: Valentine punched, kicked and threw him around like a rag doll. One of the guts who hated Dick the most shouted, “A pack of Pall mall if you bust out his teeth, Valentine!” Another bellowed encouragement: “Beat his ass!”

The fight didn’t seem to last three minutes. They both ran out of gas, wheezing like asthmatic whales, Valentine on top of a thoroughly thrashed and bleeding enemy. Somebody sneaked over and shut my window while the rest of us watched the fight. The kops never came by to mass-punish everyone. It seemed that no one told the kops, this time. People calmed down as they realized how badly you could get stomped. Valentine told Dick to move out or get killed the next time. He caught “out” two hours later. The kops never even asked about his battered face. Then it was just another night in Dirt bag city.

The Funny Side of Crime

Kenny was a very good friend of mine, but was maybe a little bit too gullible for his own good. He was a small guy, and could take a joke, too. He was good natured, and always ready to help or work. They scared him in the county jail with their endless horror stories about prison rape. He began exercising like a fanatic, all the time. When I first met him, he had huge arms and a monster puffed-up chest. He had skinny little bird legs.

We sat in the mess hall one evening with 300 other people, having just gone through a long line to get our tray of meatloaf and other stuff. I had been a cook at this prison for two years after the riot that had burned the place down. I had many gripes about what the kops at McAlester prison had tried to make us put out for everyone else to eat. One time, they tried to make me serve ground-up, spoiled, fungus-infected bacon butts in scrambled eggs. Another time, the Kops had tried to make us serve syrup that had accidentally bee contaminated with disinfectant, rather than waste the 100 rounds of sugar we had just boiled up. All my friends knew these stories, plus some of their own, so we were all wary about what the Kops gave us at ‘chow’ time. Kenny cut into his meatloaf and saw something suspicious. As a former cook, he turned to me and asked, incredulously, “Jay! What kind of shit I that” I saw a big round, deep blob of fiery red crap in his meatloaf that looked like it had tough fibers of something running through it.  I started at it a long time before finally recognising what it was.

“Aw, man! That’s disgusting!” I told him. I made an angry face and grimaced with contempt. Kenny became concerned. When he asked me what it was again, instead of answering, I got bill to look at it and continued complaining loudly, saying, “You see that, Bill whichever one of those sorry kitchen flunkies put that in there should be horse whipped!”

“Why?” asked Bill. “What is it?”

“Look at it!” I commanded both of them, then challenged their powers of observation. “You don’t see what that is?”

“Tell me what it is,” Kenny demanded. “I’ll go back up there to the serving line and throw the whole tray on them! I don’t give a damn!” Kenny promised angrily.

“That’s a big chuck of cow’s heart,” I told him. “That looks like the inside of a ventricle. See those fibers? They pull the valve shut! You can’t eat that. It’s not supposed to be in human food! That’s dog chow! They saw you coming, Kenny!”

“Oh God it is, aint it” Kenny snarled, looking like he might be getting sick. “They’re not doing this to me, by God!” Kenny got up suddenly, snatched up his tray and was heading with it toward the Kop and the serving line inmates almost before I knew it. He was hopping mad and was fully capable of getting himself locked up for what I had told him.

I couldn’t let this happen.

Fortunately, the tables and men were crowded so tightly together that I was able to call him back before he got too far in his mission.

“What?” he asked. I motioned him back asking to see his tray again, just to make sure that we were not about to do something stupid that we might regret.

“Let me see your spoon,” I asked. He passed it to me. I dug the nasty looking red blob out of the meatloaf and poked at it a couple of times.

“Ah!” I said. “Good thing that we checked. I’d sure be embarrassed if you went up there and cussed that kop or threw your chow on those servers.”

“Why” asked Kenny, not quite so angry or confident as he had been.

“Because,” I explained, “I think that this thing is maybe not exactly a heart valve. It may just be a little, whole stewed tomato that missed the grinder somehow.”

Kenny studied the thing closely. Bill barked out a laugh. Kenny cracked a shy smile. “Yeah, you had me going, you bastard,” he said. “I owe you one!”

Vacation from Prison

Just before I was to escape from prison, they gave me a vacation from prison. It all began when my best friend, Gary, roped me into Jaycees. He was the vice president of our prison chapter, Galaxy Jaycees. I used every excuse to get out of it. Membership cost $35.

“We’ll waive the fee for you!” he told me.

“I’m not really a guy who enjoys small talk and begging the kops to let us do something,” I replied. “I’ve never been good at selling stuff to anyone, much less to people who hate us for being branded as criminals. I’m better at just getting work done, like pulling wagons and digging ditches.”

Gary didn’t see me as I saw myself because he had gotten me an extra job with him after my primary prison job. A crew of eight of us unloaded semis of animal feed to into our storage warehouse, then we distributed feed to the chicken ranch, cattle ranch, hog ranch and dairy barn. Stacking, loading, unloading and transporting hundred pound sacks of animal chow was good, hard exercise. Then I walked a quarter mile to the school trailer and taught general education classes. Gary got me this job because people who could instruct on science, math and English are rare in a small trustee camp like ours. There were only about 600 of us altogether. Gary would not accept my assessment of myself.

“Now, I KNOW that’s bullshit,” he laughed. This was a common expression he used when dealing with me. It turned out that I may have been a little bit full of bullshit. “You can do anything that you decide to do,” he continued, “but you don’t have to sell anything to the guards. I’ll do that. All I need you to do is the same thing you’re already doing: teach programs. And vote with me. You and I will take over the whole organization.”

“Two votes aren’t enough…”

“You let me take care of this. Right now, I need you to be Internal Vice President. Only me and Starr will be higher than you, and we’ll be going places and doing things that you would never have imagined…”

Gary was a salesman. He went on to tell me how he planned to get outside sponsorship for charity marathons, which required us to get together a running team. I describe one of the events that he put together on page nine of by book Jailbreak! on www.jamesbauhaus.com. It was a wet, rainy slog around a two-mile course in which I finished fourth, just out of the money, with thirteen miles before the race was called. This in-prison event, called our “Run for Crippled Children” was so successful that a lady from school got businesses in McAlester to sponsor us by providing running shoes. Gary also had plans for us to recycle aluminium cans, sell tee shirts that advertised our upcoming marathons and programs, and attend the Lake Texoma Jaycee jamboree! I really didn’t expect that he would be able to get any of us off prison grounds for any reason, but I certainly didn’t have anything more promising to do. Besides, in the old days, trustees like us managed to get out to play football (“Cops vs. Cons”) or play chess. Those days were not completely over. Anything was possible…

Gary gave me our program pamphlets to read and put me to work immediately. They were so abstract and nebulous that they were almost useless to my practical mind. At the first meeting that I attended, I saw the guy whom I was intended to replace. He gasped and wheezed at the lecturn while reading his notes from a yellow legal pad to an attentive audience of about seventy people. The guy was plainly terrified at public speaking. When it came my turn, I couldn’t catch my breath either, but I managed to conceal my terror a bit better than he did. Teaching public speaking to others is not easy while learning it yourself, but I managed it the following week. I was giving a lecture on stock investing when we ran out of time. Before my audience would let the president get in the last word, they made him promise to let me finish my presentation the following week as the first speaker. It was gratifying to have generated such interest.

While we were building and servicing our organization, I noticed a curious thing. At the meetings, sitting in the front row, I discovered that I could, at semi-appropriate moments, induce the audience to applaud the speaker at the end of each sentence that implied good news merely by clapping any hands. This small spark would ignite everyone behind me to start clapping. I couldn’t believe that a crowd was so easily manipulated and, in testing this phenomenon, abused my power so much that the speaker, Gary, commented on it, saying, “If I can be allowed to finish…” We always had more business to conduct than time in which to accomplish it. I was embarrassed to have wasted our time studying such a trivial phenomenon and was glad to think he had not managed to track down the source of interruption to me.

The good news arrived rather quickly because I wasn’t really believing that it could occur: Gary got us approval to attend the jamboree despite our sour old Captain’s objection. If anyone went, I’d expect it would be Starr and Gary, but they let me tag along too. Our kop was an amiable old guy named Pit-L„ We loaded the trunk of his kopcar with our tee shirts and he drove us to the lake. Soon as we pulled into the resort, we could hear the boats roaring. There were going to be races and a beauty contest. Everywhere was bright sunshine. The sidewalk and pavilions were full of friendly people making connections or renewing old friendships. Pitt wanted us all to stay together, but there was too much to do, too many opportunities to pursue. He was kind of old and fat, too; he didn’t get along too well with walking everywhere we needed to go. He smoked and looked diabetic. Gary and Starr quickly found a solution for us all: Pitt would give us the key to the trunk and he would stay in the air conditioned bar to eat, drink and watch sports on our dime.

Starr ran off to the boat races. It turned out that he knew some other wild-ass Indians who had a boat and a party to attend. Gary sprinted away too; he had friends and contacts to make, and there were semi-private gatherings in the rooms of the hotel. Probably forty percent of attendees were women, which was a big novelty to us, since, at this time, no women were permitted to work inside Oklahoma prisons.

We were as big a novelty to them as women and smiling faces were to us, being dressed alike and having prison numbers on our shirts. None of the people we met were prejudiced against us upon finding that we were captives; they were only surprized that we were running free and had our own chapter. Gary left me with a box of tee shirts and took an assortment of sizes for himself. I spent most of the day wandering around, taking in the sights, accosting likely prospects, telling them of our chapter and our good works, contributions and programs. Then I’d try to sell them tee shirts advertising our upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day five kilometre run. Very often, they would make a purchase. If I had managed to capture the attention of a group, they would sometimes buy two or even three. People saw who we were and wanted to help us out. By noon, I had over a hundred dollars in my pocket and only about half of my shirts left. It was exhilarating to have money again. Not even change is permitted in prison. By this time, it had begun to set hot. Hunger and thirst began to demand my attention, but instead of stopping for a real lunch, I returned to a place I’d found that held a restroom. It was a nook with a fountain, ice machine, vending machines and video games. Any scheming inmate in my place would have found a way to get alcohol or a beer, maybe even some dope, though the Jaycee crowd seemed too happy and healthy for this. I didn’t drink, but I did want to waste at least one quarter on the video games, which were completely new to me, having come out during the thirteen years that they had me rotting in prison for another person’s crime. The game was called “Pole Position”, and Indy 500 simulation that I sucked at, badly. I got into some spectacular wrecks, then thought I was getting the, hang of it until a couple of very young girls came in to play. Their heads barely cleared the dash, but they ripped around the track on one quarter longer than all five of mine. They were still at it when I bought a snickers and left to gawk and sell more tees.

The more money I made, the shorter and more efficient my sales pitch became and I began to wander closer to the lakefront. The warmups were over and everyone began gravitating toward the shore closer to the heats, which had begun taking place. Boats not much bigger than skate-boards were throwing up tremendous rooster tails as they charged toward the bouys and skidded around for another lap. The cheers from the spectators were nearly as loud as the unmuffled engines. Pit had brought the kopcar around and was watching from the closest road. I bumped into Gary at the stage that they were constructing for the beauty pageant. We talked to some of the women, businessmen, sponsors and workmen. They gave us free soft drinks and listened to our stories. Gary pointed out Starr. We went over to meet his buddies and see their boat. It was a long monster with a huge car engine exposed, all shiny with chrome and with a dazzling white, blue and metal flake paint job. I really didn’t pay too much attention to it, except to be polite and make appropriate remarks, but it was plain that they were still building it and had not yet constructed a cowling to cover the engine. Starr introduced his pals to Pitt and got his permission to go for a ride in it. They roared out of the dock at the top of the speed limit (5 mph), yipping like a war party of Apaches. Before they were far enough away, I saw them pull out a cooler and pass bright metallic cans to each of their party: Silver Bullets. Gary and I gravitated back to the beauty pageant crowd. They were about to get started. The public address system was working. The man with the microphone began drawing his own crowd and introducing the contestants. All of them wore swimsuit fashion and were very beautiful. One of the judges, I am told, was a young businesswoman named Mary Fallin, who would, 24 years later, be elected as the first female governor of Oklahoma. Gary said that we spoke with her, among others, in that crowd, for half an hour or so while they were setting up, but we met so many people that day… I can’t remember. Gary took more shirts from me.

I drifted away. The box I carried was getting towards empty. A little more effort and I could discard it, my work done. Neither Gary nor Starr asked for the money I’d collected. All this freedom was making me want to escape sooner rather than later. The money would be nice, and this trip had brought me 100 miles closer to where I was headed: Dallas, Texas. That was a cool 100 miles that I wouldn’t have to hike through the bush and the mosquitoes, except Gary had asked me not to. I’d told no one of my escape plans, yet everyone seemed to assume that I would. It was certain that I would not provide the kops with a reason to shut down our organization. It actually angered me that Gary would think so, but I never let on: he had to look out for us too. The way the kops worked, one guy could be their excuse to screw everyone out of everything we had worked for. He took my word that I wouldn’t, and that was the end of it.

As it turned out, it probably would not have been much worse if I had gone ahead and escaped from the lake. They sent a guy out looking for me. He told me that there was an emergency. I was to run back to the kopcar immediately. I was right in the middle of a sale when he found me. He wanted me to leave before my new friend could get the money out of her purse, so I knew it was seriously bad. Halfway there, I saw the ambulance guys pull up. Two paramedics jumped out and rushed to attend a figure lying on the grass near the shore. Further back, the white, blue and metal flake monster boat burbled quietly in the water, its crew at its gunnels, staring with concern at the figure on the grass.

It was Starr, lying on his stomach, groaning softly. His back was bare. There wasn’t much blood, but what could be seen was worse. A two-inch thick flap of back muscle had been ripped loose just to the left of his spine. Gary had found a towel to use for compression on it while the medics went through their routines. Ten minutes later, they were loading him up for transport to the hospital. It was going to take about thirty stitches to sew up those tears, at least.

“How the Hell did that happen?”

“They hit the gas; he got thrown into the fan blades.”

“Shi-i-it!” I understood that drinking had to have been involved for anyone to sit in the middle of the back seat, where all that machinery whirled around so furiously. Of course, the boat had been crowded…

Soon as the ambulance left, we packed up. Pitt had been drinking too, and elected Gary to drive the kopcar while he slept in back, where it was caged and the doors had no handles. It was nice, sitting up front, riding like a human being, with dignity. I’d have to duck down whenever we saw a cop, and they would call us on the radio when they came at us, but Gary was wearing Pitts kophat and would wave. That was enough, apparently. None of them doubled back to see why Gary wouldn’t do any radio chatting with them.

We didn’t hurry. Gary pulled into a Sonic for our last meal. Mine was just a fat, juicy cheeseburger, fries, onion rings and a malt, but it was the best food I’d had in 13 years!

We stopped again just outside of McAlester and woke Pitt. He drove us the rest of the way back to prison. The next day, we faced the interrogators, one by one. The main one was security major Tyler. When he couldn’t shake out the truth, his boss, Lovelace, came to screw with us. He couldn’t break us either, nor could his stealthy, curious minions with their sly, innocuous questions. None of them could get to the truth because our story was so simple. No matter what information they pretended to know; no matter what threat they pulled out, no matter what lie they told us about what they heard anyone say, our story was the same: we were all four in that boat when Starr got injured.

Pitt didn’t get fired, and we didn’t get immediately prohibited from having a Jaycee chapter. We got to fight the pigs over it for many more months before they finally managed to take it away from us. I wasn’t there for its final demise. The following spring, I escaped. I uncovered the killer for the dirty shits who had lied me into prison, and exposed their corruption, and returned to clear my name. Pitt was just retiring when I got back.

Oklahoma Dreaming

If you ain’t got no brain, you can’t get bored! -James Bauhaus

When they throw people into their prisons to rot until they decide to open the gate again, most of the victims simply waste our time playing repetitious games. We slap cards or dominoes and tell each other grand stories about how great we are and how rich and loved we once were. We watch the same thing on TV, and mindlessly shake and jerk to endless repeats of top-40 tunes. For every one of us who crack a book and tries to better ourselves, there are scores who merely crawl up into their fart sacks and lay there daydreaming of past events in our lives.

This phenomenon is particularly evident in states where the politicians have learned that their graft and corruption goals are more easily accomplished by maintaining a dumbed-down electorate. You can detect such states by observing how their legislators starve schools and feed their prisons. Inside the sterile environments of these prisons, I observe many of the state’s products and have written extensively about it in my “Bred for Crime:” series on my netsite, jamesbauhaus.com. Most recently, in “Brother!” (Page 54 of my book “More Bread, Less Circus”), I describe a person who daydreams almost constantly. When he does rouse for necessary functions such as to be fed and to defecate, he tends to watch me, same as any animal’s eyes are attracted to movement. Also, he tends to do what I do; inconsequential acts such as stretching by hanging from the doorjam, apeing a very abbreviated form of my exercise routine. He even decided to mark on the wall because he saw me do it, even though he has no eraser or intention of repairing the damage. He is like a dog that pisses where he detects other dogs have pissed. It is his instinctual drive to obtain validation.

Psychologists have proved that spouses of disparate intellect tend to shed their differences. To put it crassly, the smart ones get stupid and the stupid ones get smarter. This same phenomenon occurs in prisons among persons forced to share toilet-sized cages, except more so. I try not to be dragged down by Oklahoma’s newest crop of weeds, but it was inevitable. My curiosity at what possible benefit may be obtained by lying in a nearly comatose state for hours led me to try it myself, briefly…

It was a sunny day, at a rural home we inhabited as kids. There was a huge, shady tree with a rope swing, a hay barn down a short path across a field, Shetland horses, dairy cows and a pond full of catfish. Across the loop of a driveway was the home of our landlord and her extended family; a sour-looking old half-sister of my father’s. His half-brothers ran the dairy and complained about us kids. All of them seemed to take turns staring at us out of their big picture window. They had one dog; a German Shepard named “Bullet” who was king of a pack of strays that numbered about half a dozen members year round. We never knew where they came from, but supposed that they were dumped by their owners. All of them were males. None of them got fed except Bullet. We would play with them, and pull fat clusters of ticks off of their ears. It seemed that they kept fairly healthy by catching rabbits. None of them were malnourished or starving, but they were always hungry. One even managed to snag a loaf of bread as I carried grocery sacks from the car to the house. I shrugged and said, “That bird dog got it.” My mother made me chase down the dog and get it back. Money must have been pretty tight for us to eat after the dog, I thought, but he had really only despoiled the middle few slices. The main occupation of these dogs was to chase cars, particularly the slower ones pulling into or out of our parking lot. (The place had been a beer joint for a time.) The highway excited them too. After a car or truck sped out of the driveway and eluded them on the highway, the pack of them would chase the much faster traffic here. About once a month, one of them would get himself killed doing this, but never Bullet. The old lady in the picture window would notice and come and get me to bury the corpse in our garden. If I wasn’t handy, she would drag it to a place where she could pile limbs and sticks on it to burn it. Each time one of the pack managed to get himself killed, it would only be a few days before a replacement would show up to fill the gap.

Another of their primary pastimes was to notice no one around and sneak around back to tump over our trash cans, which they dug through for edible garbage and strung all over the yard. It was my job to prevent this from occurring and to clean the stuff up when it did. These dogs were either very clever or I was a bit lax in my duty, but one day I got some very welcome help from my little sister. She had noticed one of the newer members of the pack nosing around the barrel, trying to get in or push it over despite my crudely erected defense to this tactic.

Instead of chasing it away herself, which always resulted in a renewed assault later, she came to get me. I got my B-B gun, and together we sneaked to the bedroom window facing the barrels and eased the screen off. While leveling the gun at the unsuspecting pooch who was about to learn a quick lesson, my sister got squeamish. “Don’t shoot him!” she said. “You’ll kill him!”

“This is just a B-B gun,” I explained. She already knew this, so I added, “He’s ‘way over there: at that far away, it won’t even break his skin.” It was a good hundred feet of distance.

“No,” she insisted, but with some doubt. “You’ll hurt him.”

“This won’t hurt him very badly; just a bruise,” I assured her. She still objected, so I added, “I’ll bounce it off the trashcan first, and he’ll only feel the ricochet. How’s that? He’ll be fine.”

“Well,” she replied doubtfully, “if you’re sure…”

This compromise accepted, I took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. The gun made its snapping sound. The B-B hit the trashcan with a loud “Tink!” Then the dog yelped in pain and surprise, flinched sideways and ran away, never to offend the trashcan gods again.

“You shot him!” my sister accused.

“You heard it tink off the trashcan first.”

“You did!”

“It’s not going to bounce off the dog and then tink on the can,” I explained. “You heard the tink before the yelp!”

She would not be convinced. Of course, we were very young, and, as with all other people, our expectations affect our observations. I expected to miss the dog entirely with this tricky shot and was excited to have succeeded in my first try in front of a witness. My sister had expected the dog to be mortally wounded and its yelp had confirmed that it had.

Remembering this small part of the past brought me a nice little chuckle and a righteous amount of mild entertainment. Nice as it was, I would not want to spend a large amount of my life rotting in prison, reliving the past, merely waiting to see if the gate would open again. In Asian countries, where prisons are not big business for the political–elite to harvest fat taxpayer-profits from, this type of wasted time requires its victims to smoke opium. To paraphrase Lenin, we might say that, in America; Prisons are the opiate of the masses.”

This is particularly true of Oklahoma, where the density of politicians and bureaucrats per capita far exceeds the national average, while the services we citizens obtain from this over-bloat of governance are far less. Our Oklahoma politicians are expert at draining taxes out of their citizens and singularly skilled at sucking the most subsidies from the federal trough. Most recently, our politicians cunningly agreed to accept federal school standards (“common core”), but only for long enough to get the money. It is their Oklahoma dream to keep their citizens as ignorant, misled and distracted as possible as they loot, pollute and exploit to the best of their ability, even to the point of ripping off the federal gov’t by repealing Common Core standards.

Getting Even

Back before all this global warming took off into high gear, we used to have real winters, not just the extended fall that we now have in Oklahoma. Every year, right around Halloween, the temperature would drop to less than forty degrees and stay there til March. It would definitely snow by December, too, and not some little dab of windblown dust-snow that melted into mud by noon. It would really snow, covering every flat surface, thick and heavy. This kind of snow made squeaking noises when you tracked through it because it was cold and dry. It was deep, too, too deep to go to school but not too deep to play in!

This is what we did as soon as we woke up. Little sister was the first to notice. She ran through the house like the town crier, shouting “It snowed! Come look at it! It’s beautiful and sparkly! And I’m going to be the first one to play in it!”

The whole house shook with the slamming of the door behind her. The younger of us raced to get dressed and join her. My older two brothers and sister were a little less enthusiastic, but they were coming. Outside in the freezing cold, the dog ran in gleeful circles around us. We ornery boys scooped and flung snow at each other that was too cold and dry to pack into real snowballs. The spray of powder melted on our laughing faces. We tricked our younger siblings into standing beneath snow-laden boughs, then kicked the tree so it would unload on their heads, just as our older brothers had done to us. Then they ran off to find someone whom they could trick this way. We played hide and seek. We tracked each other through the neighborhood. The girls made snow angels and snow ice cream while we boys chased and wrestled with each other and the dog. When we got too cold, we’d slog inside to stand around or sit on top of a big black iron stove that our dad had hooked up to the natural gas line in the back.

This stove was huge! Two or more of us could sit on it at once, and it would knock the chill off of us fast, so we could run back outside and play again. It was during one of these recesses that Tony, my older brother and I came in at the same time to warm up. As we plopped down on top of this stove, he happened to mention what a sissie I must be for having to come in and warm up twice as often as he. I took offense.

“Maybe you can stay out there twice as long,” I told him, “but that’s only because you’re bigger! I’m tougher than you when it comes to sitting on the heater!”

“No you’re not,” he scoffed. “I can sit here much longer than you can!”

“Then we’ll see who’s king of the heater and you’ll see that it’s me!”

Challenge taken! The game was on! I’d probably never beaten Tony at anything because he was at least four years older than me. But how hard could this be? It only involved a little discomfort, maybe a little pain. I didn’t have to be stronger, bigger or quicker; I just had to be more determined. I was very determined. He had put snow down the back of my neck, and I hadn’t got him back for it, but I hadn’t forgotten. Since he was too big, fast and smart for me to ever get any snow down his neck, this is how I would get even!

We sat there, side by side. Paul, even older than Tony, waited and watched, smiling. Maybe he wanted me to win. Tony certainly didn’t want to lose to me in front of him. My sisters stayed too, one older, two younger. My little brothers wanted me to win. They’d gotten snow down their necks too. We laughed and told stories or played with the dog while warming up. Tony and I got warm much faster than they did as we hogged the heater. The warm waves surrounded us as they wafted to the ceiling. We took our coats off together. My legs were getting hot. I had only begun worrying about them, and my rump, for a few long minutes when Tony suddenly slid forward like he was getting off. I was glad that he was giving up, but not so glad that I couldn’t boast.

“See? I win! I’m king of the heater!”

“No, you’re not!” he corrected me. “I’m still sitting on it!”

He still did have the corners of both cheeks on the top of the furnace. If I’d been skilled at arguing, I would have declared victory by default. Instead, I only hastened to get my own legs out of the blasting heat from the grate. I took an equivalent position, balanced on the lip with just the minimum few square inches of bottom still in contact with the hot metal. It didn’t even occur to me that he had suddenly changed the rules. Big brothers can do this. We see them do this to us every day, and we just let them because it seems right and we, in our ignorance, know no better. We are smaller, our vote doesn’t count and it would require a concerted effort by many of us to make him get right one time. In the end, big brother knows that we will never get it together and that we are helpless against him.

In my mind, I had already beaten him, but no one else seemed to have caught the violation. Certainly no one mentioned it. I would just have to beat him again under the new rule of “lip only” sitting. And I would have to do it at a slight disadvantage, since I had cooked a bit longer and more fully, being momentarily incredulous before remembering to adjust my posterior to the new “cool legs” rule. Good as it felt to get my hams off the sizzling steel grate, my two cheeks kept up their urgent signaling to “Get off! Get off!” While they burned and charred, Tony told me something that I hadn’t thought of before making this foolhardy challenge.

He said: “You know, if you roast your butt, you’ll walk with a limp for the rest of your life. Once it cooks, it never heals. A skinny little butt like yours is probably already done.”

Since I was only in fifth grade, I didn’t know anything about psychological warfare, not even the concept. But I did listen in science class. It didn’t seem possible that you could cook your butt on something that didn’t even come close to frying pan hot. But, big brother would know better than I, since he’d been through a lot more school. They had just taught us the scientific method of reasoning things out. I used it to try and find the answer – was big brother mistaken? Or can my butt really be cooking at less than 140 degrees? While thinking hard on all the aspects of this problem, I got sidetracked and found the answer to a more practical and urgent problem. Or, at least a partial solution that would – should – allow me to either win or see if Tony’s butt would cook, leaving him with a permanent double limp. The solution was simple, so simple that Tony must be using it. How else could he stand this pain? But maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he hadn’t thought of it yet. Maybe he couldn’t use this method because his butt wasn’t skinny enough! This is what I wondered about to myself after I immediately employed this secret method that I had just thought of. Now that I knew that he could suddenly change the rules without consultation, it seemed just as fair that I could do the same. I would get even with big brother’s rule-change by initiating one of my own. I would go one better, now that I knew how things worked. I would change the rules. I would not ask permission. I would not even let my opponent know that I had changed the rules!

Surreptitiously, I raised my right butt cheek off the hot metal. This tiny little bit of clearance made a LOT of difference very quickly. My cheek cooled off so soon that in less than a minute it felt good enough to face the burner again to give left cheek a break. None of my audience seemed to notice my furtive movement or odd posture. I cycled each of my cheeks off the hot metal several times. While I did this, Tony kept telling me all about the bad things that had to be happening to a skinny little butt like mine: permanent injury, scars for life, even crutches or a wheelchair and paralysis from the waist down. He told me these things faster and louder. He got to sounding angry when I replied that none of these things were happening to me. I began to worry about them happening to him, because by now, it was pretty obvious that he hadn’t been using my method of airing out his butt cheeks one at a time. I told him, out of genuine concern, “You better get off before you hurt yourself!”

This remark made him very angry. I guessed later that it was probably because he thought that I was mocking him. In reply, he suddenly pushed me off the heater, then jumped off himself. He quickly declared himself the winner and ran outside, presumably to sit in the snow. The seat of his pants looked like it had been ironed so hard and thoroughly that it had toasted into a permanent curve of the lip of that heater. His pants had been polyester, where mine were cotton jeans. It looked like I had gotten a little more than just “even.”