Ken Kesey

FROM The Demon Box by Ken Kesey

I check in at the SM County facilities dressed in my usual leather jacket, striped pants and shoes, silver whistle hanging around my neck. They allow you to wear street business up at camp. The bulls here at County Slam hate the policy. Lt. Gerder looks up from his typewriter sees my outfit and his already stone-cold face freezes even harder.

“All right, Deboree. Give me everything.”

“Everything?” Usually they let the Honor Camp prisoners check through, trust them to give up their watches, pocketknives, etc.

“Everything. We don’t want you blowing your whistle at midnight.”

“Make me out a complete property slip, then.”

He gives me an unwavering stare through the mesh as he takes a triplicate form from a waiting stack and rolls it into the typewriter.

“One whistle,” I say, pulling the chain over my head. “With a silver crucifix soldered to the side.”

He doesn’t type.

“One blues harp, E flat.”

He continues to look at me over the keys.

“Come on, Gerder; you want everything, I want a property slip for everything — whistles, harps, and all.”

We both know what I’m really worried about are my two Honor Camp notebooks.

“You just slide everything into the trough,” he says. “In fact, I want you out of that Davy Crockett costume, Jackoff. Peel it.”

He comes out of the cage while I take off the fringed jacket Behema made me from the hide we skinned off the cow elk Houlihan ran over coming down off Seven Devils Pass that All Souls’ Eve with the brakes gone and the headlights blown.

“Stuff it in the trough. Now, hands on the wall feet on the line. Spread ’em.” He gives the inside of my ankle a kick. “Deputy Rhack, back me while I examine this prisoner.”

They frisk me. The whole shot, flashlight and all. Taking sunglasses, handkerchief, fingernail clippers, ballpoint pens and everything. My two notebooks are wrapped in the big farewell card Fastinaux drew for me on butcher paper. Gerder rips it off and stuffs it in the wastebasket. He tosses the notebooks on top of the other stuff.

“I get a property slip for this stuff, Gerder. That’s the law.”

“While you’re in my tanks,” Lt. Gerder lets me know, “you go by my law.”

No malice in his voice. No anger. Just information.

“Okay then” — I take my two notebooks out of the trough and hold them up — “witness these.” Showing them to Deputy Rhack and the rest of the men waiting in the receiving room. “Everybody? Two notebooks.”

Then hand them to Gerder. He carries them around into his cage and sets them next to his typewriter. He hammers at the keys, ignoring the roomful of rancor across the counter from him. Rhack isn’t so cool; a lot of these guys will be back up at camp with him for many months yet, where he’s a guard without a gun. First he tries to oil us all with a wink, then he turns to me, smiling his sincerest man-to-man smile.

“So, Devlin. . . you think you got a book outta these six months with us?”

“I think so.”

“How do you think it’ll come out; in weekly installments in the Chronicle?”

“I hope not.” Bonehead move, giving those three pages of notes to that Sunday supplement reporter — pulled my own covers. “It should make a book on its own.”

“You’ll have to change a lot, I’ll bet. . . like the names.”

“I’ll bet a carton I don’t. Sergeant Rhack? Lieutenant Gerder? Where can you come up with better names than those?”

Before Rhack can think up an answer Gerder jerks the papers out and slides them under the mesh. “Sign all three, Deputy.”

Rhack has to use one of the pens from my pile. When Gerder gets the signed forms back he scoops all the little stuff out of the trough into a pasteboard property box with a numbered lid. He puts my wadded jacket on top.

“Okay, Deboree.” He swivels to the panel of remote switches. “Zip up your pants and step to the gate.”

“What about my notebooks?”

“You’ll find stationery in Detain. Next.”

Rhack hands me my ballpoint as I pass, and Gerder’s right: there is paper in D Tank. Sixo is still here, too, after coming down for his kickout more than a week ago. In blues now instead of the flashy slacks and sportjacket, but still trying to keep up the cocky front, combing his greasy pomp, talking tough: “Good deal! The pussy wagon has arrived.”

One by one the other guys that rode down on Rhack’s shuttle show up. Gerder has had to give them each the same treatment, taking cigarettes, paperbacks, everything.

“Sorry about that,” I tell them.

“Steer clear of Deboree,” Sixo advises them. “He’s a heat magnet.”

Just then keys jangle. “Deboree! Duggs is here to see you.”

Door slides open. I follow the turnkey down the row of cells to a room with a desk. Probation Officer Duggs is sitting behind it. My two notebooks are on the desk beside my rapsheets. Duggs looks up from the records.

“I see you made it without getting any more Bad Time tacked on,” Duggs says.

“I was good.”

Duggs closes the folder. “Think anybody’ll be here for you at midnight?”

“One of my family, probably.”

“Down all the way from Oregon?”

“I hope so.”

“Some family.” He looks at me: caseworker look, conditioned sincere. Sympathetic. “Sorry about the report on your father.”


“That’s why Judge Rilling waived that Bad Time, you know?”

“I know.”

He lectures me awhile on the evils of blah blah blah. I let him run out his string. Finally he stands up, comes round the desk, sticks out his hand. “Okay, Short-timer. But don’t miss the ten-thirty hearing Monday morning if you want to get released to an Oregon PO.”

“I’ll be here.”

“I’ll walk you back.”

On the walk back to D Tank he asks what about this Jail Book; when will it be coming out? When it’s over, I tell him. When might that be? When it stops happening. Will this talk tonight be in it? Yes. . . tonight, Monday morning, last week — everything will be in it.

“Deboree!” Sixo calls through the bars. “Put this in your fucking book: a guy — me — a guy shuns his comrades, plays pinochle five months with the motherfucking brass up there — five and a half months! When he musters down, one of those bulls misses a pack of Winstons and calls down and asks, ‘What brand of cigarettes did Sixo check in with? Winstons? Slap a hold on him!’ I mean is that cold or what, man? Is that a ballbusting bitch? But, what the fuck; Sixo will survive,” he crows. “Angelo Sixo is Sir Vivor!”

Some dudes can snivel so it sounds like they’re crowing.

They lock me in and Duggs leaves. Sixo sits back down. He’s doing Double Time, on hold like this — Now Time along with Street-to-come Time. You can even be made to serve Triple Time, which adds on Street-gone-by Time and that is called Guilt. A man waiting for his kickout is on what’s called Short Time. Short Time is known for being Hard Time. Lots of Short-timers go nuts or fuck up or try a run. Short is often harder than Long.

The best is Straight Time. That’s what the notebooks are about.

More guys check in. Weekenders. D-Tankers. Some Blood hollers from the shadows, “Mercy, Deputy Dawg. . . we done already got motherfuckers wall to wall. . .”

Drunk tank full to overflowing
Motherfuckers wall to wall
Coming twice as fast as going
Time gets big; tank gets small.

Dominoes slap on the table
Bloods play bones in tank next door
Bust a bone, if you be able
Red Death stick it good some more.

Three days past my kickout time
Ask to phone; don’t get the juice —
Crime times crime just equals more crime
Cut the motherfuckers loose.

Will I make the Christmas kickout?
Will commissary come today?
Will they take my blood for Good Time
Or just take my guts away?

Some snitch found my homemade outfit!
They’ve staked a bull up at the still!
They’ve scoped the pot plants we were sprouting
At the bottom of the hill.

They punched my button, pulled my covers
Blew my cool, ruint my ruse
They’ve rehabilitated this boy
Cut this motherfucker loose.

The fish that nibbles on the wishing
Let him off his heavy rod
The gowned gavel-bangers fishing
Cut them loose from playing God.

Back off Johnson, back off peacefreaks
From vendettas, from Vietnam
Cut loose the squares, cut loose the hippies
Cut loose the dove, cut loose the bomb.

You, the finger on the trigger
You, the hand that weaves the noose
You hold the blade of brutal freedom —
Cut all the motherfuckers loose.

Eleven forty they take me out give me my clothes, whistle and harp put me in this room with a bench and one other Short-timer, gray-pated mahogany-hued old dude of sixty years or so.

“Oh, am I one Ready Freddy. Am I ever!”


Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 10:58 PM  Leave a Comment  
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