how I came to be in prison

by dm gillis

There was this guy I was letting sleep on my couch. He was eating me out of house and home. Which was a real drag because I’d lost my job at the 7-Eleven for stealing Slurpees and lottery tickets.

Now I was looking at the ATM keypad for the button I needed. The one that said: anything that’s left. It wasn’t there. I needed the same button on my life. There wasn’t one there, either.

My chequing account was nearly empty, anyway. What was there would be eclipsed by banking service charges soon enough. I had dimes in my pocket, and an old man with a walker wheezing behind me. I pulled my card from the slot and split.

Hunger is a planet orbiting itself. It’s its own moon and sun. And it’s pale in the sky. No one can see it, who isn’t looking for it. And its inhabitants can only see the grim surface, and feel its core burn in their bellies.

I was a new life, recently born to the hunger planet. I’d never seen it in the sky. I’d never looked. And I‘d never be a good citizen. I know I’d steal a rocket ship and escape its gravity, like a scene out of a Spielberg flick.

But first I had to dump the metaphor, and get concrete.

I sat down on the sidewalk and put an empty Starbucks cup in front of me. It was a Grande. I figured a Venti was pushing it. I didn’t want to seem greedy.

They didn’t call this begging anymore, which made me happy. Now it was called panhandling. That made it sound like a vocation, that you got a student loan to learn. It sounded like Florida or part of Alaska. Two places that looked mighty handsome on a map, all green and bumpy. I could live with that.

The first person to drop coins into the cup was a four year old. Her mother had given her the change and sent her over. I guess it was a lesson in charity. Either that or mom was too scared of me to do it herself. Better the kid got jumped by the bum, than her. She probably had a yoga class she couldn’t miss later on.

The second person was an old broad, hooked up to an oxygen tank she carried on a dolly behind her. She gave me a buck and started telling me about a day in 1962 when she wore a bikini to the beach and met Wayne Newton, who felt her up later that night in his hotel room. Then she lit a cigarette and blew smoke out of her nose past the oxygen tube nose piece. She forgot who she was after that, and just walked away.

The third person was a guy in a suit who gave me a quarter, and acted like he was the IMF bailing out Somalia. He asked me if I’d heard of Jesus, and I said I was letting Him sleep on my couch and that I couldn’t leave beer in the fridge because He drank it all.

The suit guy seemed a little upset hearing this. So, he called me a dirty blasphemer, and said that I deserved my poverty and would burn in hell because that’s the Christian way.

And I said, “Okay, I’ll tell Jesus to go over and sleep on your couch.”

And he said, “Fine, I’d be blessed to have Jesus sleep on my couch.”

And I said, “You better hide your beer.”

And he said, “I’ve had just about enough of you.”

And I said, “Then why don’t you go tell some Buddhist he’s going to hell, and leave me alone.”

And that’s when he kicked me.

So, I got up and slapped him one in the face. And he started yelling that I’d assaulted him. So, I pushed him out into traffic, just as the downtown bus was rolling by. And bammo! He was a stain on the grill of the ol’ number five. But I guess he went to heaven. I hope he hides his beer from you know Who.

Then there was the ambulance and the fire department and two cops named Ray and Natalie, who looked real nice together, and I told them so. Anyway, they cuffed me and took me in. And the psychiatrist said I wasn’t nuts, just a little stupid. So, they sent me to prison.

That’s how I got here.

Jesus comes to visit now and then, but he’s about the only one. He says he’s staying at a Motel 6 now, out on the highway, with the ice machine just outside of his room. I could tell you more about that, but it’s time for ceramics class.

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