By Joshua Ryan
Chapter 15: Would You Recommend Our Accommodations to Others?
Actually, I was wondering if this was gonna turn out to be another P and D thing, which probably was just my confusing how hot I thought I was in my first suit of browns with what those dudes must’ve had in mind when they were doin the stuff about bossing and killing and laying out the rules for the uppity new slap. But I didn’t get a chance to find out. The back door opened and immediately the room was filled with the body of a huge black man in a slappie suit.
“You finish with thee newbie,” he said, and it was more like an announcement than a question.
“Yeh boss,” Jojo said, and for once there wasn’t that little bit of sarcasm in his voice. “Jus finish.”
“OK, I take em now,” the black man said. “Cmere boy.”
I was the boy. I came, and without saying anything else he walked out the door with me trailing behind. “I’m Churchill,” he informed me. “I’m thee barn boss.”
Huh? I had no idea what he meant, but I followed him. It was sort of like a little dog following a big dog, except that next to Boss Churchill, I wasn’t just a little dog, I was a practically nonexistent dog. Sort of made me proud to walk across the concrete with a giant like him.
Destination—one of those long narrow brown wooden buildings. Just a few windows at the top, and some funny looking wood things propped open above them, like that’s what they had instead of glass. That, and a lot of bars! And not just bars on the windows. The doorway had bars on the front of it, before you even got to the door itself. So this was gonna be my second cage for the day! When the boss unlocked the bars I felt like a big wild animal being put in the zoo. I guess the “big” was something that kind of rubbed off from the boss. If there’s anything that makes you feel important, it’s being with a huge, muscular dude. That, and needing to be locked in a cage!
So what’s inside? Around the door there was just sort of an empty space with some broken down chairs and shit scattered around, like this was the junk that got left behind when somebody moved out. But nobody’d moved out, that was for sure, because when you looked to the right you saw nothing except beds—double bunks, row after row, into the distance. It looked like they were all made up. I mean, not like at Explorers Bay, but blankets folded up on top. Pretty obvious why they called it a barn, because it was all just unpainted wood with a peaked roof way up high, and those bunks lined up underneath it. But there was one other part–if you turned to the left, you could see another room or section or whatever, with pipes running along the walls and some long steel things like, I dunno, horse troughs that you see in a western . . . .
“That the Latrine you lookin at,” the Boss said. “That where you gonna piss an shit. Over there, that where you gonna sleep.”
“Right boss.” It came really easy for me. How else could you talk to him?
The boss was quiet for a moment, like he was thinking “this one ain’t gonna cause me no trouble,” and then he went through some “barn rules,” which I liked because now I wouldn’t have to wonder about where to hang my browns at night and stuff like that. He told me to “jus follow thee rules an orders an I woan need to punish you ass.” So that was interesting, and I noticed I was gettin a little hard about that, but I didn’t want to ask him any questions because I didn’t want to come off like a smartass, the way I did before. Then he gave me a little toothbrush in a baggie and said “thee toothpaste, that’s in thee latrine, you share it,” and he opened a closet and gave me a brown blanket and a brown “mattress,” which was just sort of a thin sheet of plastic with some foam or something inside it and said that now I had my “rack kit.” “Rack” meant “bunk.”
No pillow! It was funny to think about what my mom, or the guys back in my dorm, would’ve thought about that shit, especially when the guys were always complaining about “dude! my mattress is too soft!” or “dude! I woulda done lots better on that midterm if my fuckin mattress wasn’t so hard!” Anyway, Boss Churchill said I was in rack number 37, and he led me back through the, like, jungle of bunks, and there was number 37, which was just four posts with some boards nailed up between them. Primitive! So—yeah, this is gonna be a challenge!
I plunked my mattress down on the boards and fixed up the blanket so the folds weren’t loose, and while I was doing that the boss was telling me that “thee slaps gonna be back from thee fiel’ pret’ soon, and then you gonna git you chow.” Which was probably my clue to sit on my bunk and wait for something to happen, but what the fuck, I followed the boss like a puppy, back to the place where the chairs were. I mean, maybe he’d tell me some other stuff. But right then there was some noise outside and the boss went over and unlocked the door and the bars, and in came, like, a million men in brown, and those were the slappies I was gonna live with.
Of course they saw me as soon as they got inside, and they started to comment. “Hey mon, got us a noob!” “Shit mon, they gittin uglier evry time!” “Yo boss! Can’t you send this one back, git you nother one?” “What they call you where you come from dude? Aside from Noob, that is.”
“I’m . . . they call me Joel.”
“What’s that? You say Hole?”
“I think he sayin Ho.”
And so on. I knew they were just hazing me. But I’m like, hey! I’ve got brown all around me here! It isn’t just me and Boss Churchill, or me and Jojo and Malcolm or me and Patrick and Dobie. It’s an ocean of brown and I am totally IN the ocean. I know I’m always sayin that something is SO amazing, but that was SO amazing! I didn’t care what they were saying to me, all it meant was, I’m here and I’m gonna stay. Also, at least half of them were totally hot.
Pretty clear that the Boss didn’t care what they said either, because the only thing he said, and it was about 10 minutes later, was “Awright, git in line for thee chow hall.” Then we all marched—get that! I’m marching now! in my boots!– out of the barn and down the slab to the world’s most horrible fast food place, which is the chow hall at the State Labour Program Training Station.
The chow hall is a big room where you sit on stools next to long tables, and you’re all in brown, so that is great! but the food they give you– I wouldn’t even know what it was if the slap next to me hadn’t said, “Ummm, molasses and pork again! My favorite!” and the slap next to him hadn’t said, “I’m thinking that the lima beans are what gives it that extra something that you simply cannot get anywhere else.” So OK, I could tell that these dudes were English majors—they’re always sarcastic. But I’d never even heard of molasses before! And I hoped I’d never hear of it again! I mean, right away, the food looks so bad that you can hardly face it, and it tastes so bad that you think you’re gonna be sick. I thought I was actually gonna puke, and I almost did, and everybody saw it and laughed and some of them tried to get me to go through with it by, like, holdin food up to my face and shit!
So I knew, this is like some of those things in high school, when you’re new on the team and the other guys are always trippin you and talkin shit and so on, and you realize that the more they do it, the more they really like you. Something like that. They were all laughing sort of in a nice way. And a couple of them told me things–like, that piece a shit they give you to eat with, that’s called a spork. Another thing I’d never heard of.
If I could just deal with the food! I started by trying to pretend that it wasn’t totally horrible, but it was, and when I got back to the barracks it gave me my first experience with the latrine. Which naturally stinks, just like the food, and besides, you’ve got a ton of guys in there doin their business. But I couldn’t worry about that, I really really needed to shit, so I went lookin for the place to do it, and it was just a hole in the floor! Yeah! There was a line of holes, so you got to “choose” one of them, lol!, and you had to put your feet on each side and squat! If you wanted to piss, you did it in a trough with a million other dudes. But that was nothing compared to the shit holes. If it wasn’t for the chow I just ate, I would’ve had, like, instant constipation, just at the concept, and that cold air comin outta the hole when I pushed my shorts down and squatted as hard as I could. And wow, what a scene, with my nuts danglin over the hole . . . . But constipation was NOT an option. The shit just fell like Niagara Falls, and nobody even got to laugh at me, cuz it was all over just like that. But afterwards a couple dudes did say things like what’s the matter, faggot, can’t you take it? Meaning the food, I guess. Which I couldn’t tell if they were kidding or not.
But then I went over to the trough to piss, which was like, the reward, because now I got to look at the other dudes’ dicks that were all hosin into the trough. But soon as I fought my hardon to a standstill and got my piss over with, something started happening in my stomach and–just look what I can do NOW, guys!–I puked up the rest of my guts. Just puked in the trough. I mean, the whole thing came up. And it actually looked better than it did on the plate!
Good thing it happened right where it did—no muss, no fuss, all in the piss trough, there it goes, down the drain. Still, it stank to high heaven, and I was really embarrassed. I mean, first thing I do is go in the latrine and puke in front of everybody. But surprise! It turned out to be a popular move. All the slaps in the room began laughing and making jokes about how I was good at one thing, anyhow, and I was the best puke they’d ever seen, and one of them told another one to pay up cuz he’d been bettin on the little faggot (that’s me) to do it (puke) in record time, and I did.
So they were all ver’ happy, but I guess I was lookin pretty green. Pretty shaky. So the boss says, “You better hit the rack now, kid.” So OK, I find my way to rack number 37 and I take off my boots and put them like the other dudes are puttin their boots, and I hang my browns on the rack the way the boss said to do and I lay down in my little brown y-fronts and now it’s gettin cold despite all the bodies in the room, so I tuck myself up in my blanket and start dealing with how to sleep on those hard boards and that little thin mattress and that collar around my neck. And just when I’m doin that the boss comes over with a little short chain and a shackle, and he chains my foot to the rack! So wow! Now I’m chained up like a dog!
I didn’t know whether to ask him why, I just sorta mumbled “wha?” or something, and he said, “Keep you from wandrin,” and walked off. There were some other slaps that were already in their racks, but I couldn’t see any chains dangling off. So I guessed it was just because I was new. Although actually, it would have been better if it was because the Boss thought I was so dangerous, lol!
But actually, my first night was pretty hard. I’d been goin around, seein new stuff all day, but now I wasn’t goin anyplace, in fact there was a chain on my leg! So I just had to lay in the rack like that. I was completely tired but I wasn’t falling asleep, and it was all like, dude, you are totally out of place! Of course I was in exactly the right place, because this was the place where I signed up to be. Not that I could do anything about it anyway! But when you’re layin on a hard piece of lumber, lookin up at some windows with nothin but bars on them, and a ceiling that isn’t even painted, and you’re such a newbie that the boss has to chain your leg to the rack, and every time you move it seems like the chain clanks and somebody says “Shut the fuck up!”, and you’ve got a collar around your neck that you haven’t figured out how to lie on . . . you definitely know that you aren’t on Apple Way anymore! And you think MAYBE that was your place after all. You just weaken a little bit.
It was a good thing I got a bottom rack, so at least there wasn’t somebody right underneath me, breathing and so forth. But when there’s a hundred guys in a barracks like that, half of them are gonna be snoring and all of them are gonna smell–and you’re locked in with them and you can’t get out. So welcome to the rest of your life, Joel! And I guess I started to cry. Not loud, but I was doin it. I was just, like, pretty confused, and when I’m confused I want to go someplace to be alone, and when I can’t, maybe the next thing is that I cry.
And the dude on the next rack over was looking at me. So I thought, I’m fucked, I’m showing weakness. Which was true. So I started trying to choke it down, and I thought I did, but he said, real low, so nobody had to hear, “Ain’t so bad, man. You’ll be OK. Anybody hassles you, it’s just because you’re cute.” Then he rolled over so he didn’t have to see me crying, or so I didn’t have to see anybody seeing me crying.
Which made me cry a lot more, but I hid it. Then it was like when you’re thinking, “I’m never gonna get a good grade in this class,” or “I’m never gonna get over this cold,” or “I’m never gonna get good at free weights,” and then you do! Because I fell asleep without even knowing it.
To be continued …