Nothin’ Doin’

by Flynn Washburne, June 7, 2017

I am a busy man. Busy, busy, busy. Beaver, bee, one-armed paperhanger: choose your preferred symbolic figure for a chap in a condition of constant occupation. Not complaining, mind you, just saying, and in fact rather pleased to be so, given that nothing in the matter of days is currently so satisfying as rapidly completing it and moving on to the next. This goal may seem contrary to my position on the human lifespan spectrum, most folks in their mid-50s and up hollering whoa! slow down there, let's enjoy these moments while we can, while our faculties, plumbing, and internal framework are still relatively sound.

But most people aren't in prison. Taking the wide view, of course; from my perspective, everyone is in prison, but that's only because they won't allow me out among the populace even briefly to recalibrate my position vis-à-vis the universe, which if you think about it could be beneficial in the cultivation of one's weltanschauung but understandably risky in many cases.

So, being as there are no flowers to stop and smell, no precious moments to savor, no cherished intimates with whom to spend time, I wake up every day and say, set 'em up and knock 'em down. Next!

You bustling strivers out there in the big wide, you busy achievers ulcerating your stomach linings in pursuit of the American Dream, you're thinking, busy? Busy doing what, booking whammers? Getting your beans mashed (if these terms are unfamiliar to you, try Google or consult a parolee)? Fashioning shanks from toothbrushes?

Well, contrary to popular belief, prison is not all homosexual rape and puncturing people . Sure, we all enjoy it from time to time, but we do pursue other, more wholesome and salubrious diversions. I'm kidding, of course. I've never stabbed or "stabbed" anyone and do not intend ever doing so. Taking a “when in Rome” approach to prison is to become part of the machine and surrender one's humanity; my position is “when in Rome, do as the Anchorites do: lay low, keep my own counsel, and avoid conflict whenever possible, despite this last being an unnatural repression of my instinctive and deep-seated need to argue with everyone, all of the time. I will betray my own principles and take a contrary position if it'll inspire lively debate, parse every claim or statement for errors upon which to pounce, and just generally argue, as the saying goes, with a stump. Under normal circumstances, that is.

As much as people love being corrected and opposed and snarked at and argued with out in the world, prison culture on the whole takes a dim view of the practice and quickly takes corrective steps to disabuse the perpetrator of his folly.

So I minds my own business, of which there is much, to return to my original thesis. I have a full-time job, a weekly column to write, a self-directed educational program, physical fitness regimen, books to read, letters to write, and music to play. I feel that a day that passes without creating something, even something as incredibly stupid as a Yankovician ode to my word-finder entitled "My Thesaurus," sung to the tune of "My Sharona," is a day wasted.

This is in sharp contrast to my pre-prison life, in which I would often think very seriously about creating things but never actually do the work necessary to bring them to fruition, a life filled with huge blocks of unstructured time in which I would come as close as is possible to doing absolutely nothing.

One of the things I would sometimes do in the pursuit of nothing-doing is hang out in front of the Safeway in Fort Bragg, on the theory that everybody has to go to the grocery store, in a town of that size I'm bound to encounter someone I know, and of those people someone is going to have something to smoke. It's usually a practice of last resort, when I'm unable to locate anyone via normal channels, and is generally effective. If nothing else, someone will turn up with the same disposition and goals as mine and we'll find some mischief to get up to together.

One still, chill night about 11 of the clock I was so engaged, standing over by the vending machines amid a fine, gentle, barely falling mist, the sort that covers you like damp furze rather than soaking you. You hardly even know you're wet until you run a hand through your hair. Directly in front of me was a white Toyota pickup of a certain age, representative of an era prior to that marques' testosteronization of their utility vehicles. On its back was a handcrafted wooden camper with a peaked and shingled roof that so clearly exemplified “cozy,” its picture could accompany the definition in the dictionary, should they ever attempt to illustrate abstractions. Gemutlichkeit, as the Germans say. It was a trim, tidy, snug, clean and well-cared-for vehicle.

The truck was enveloped in a cone of harsh fluorescent light from a streetlamp directly above it. The mist diffused the light, creating a swirling, coruscating rainbow effect in the air and giving an opaline quality to the water glittering on the truck's surface. It was an image of startling beauty and as it sank in, I wished for someone to share it with or perhaps some way to memorialize the image until I remembered my phone. A first-gen Galaxy S, I had a vintage ­Polaroid filter set as the default and the photo that resulted was one of those marvelously happy accidents that occur when every element of a thing harmoniously coalesces. The filter softened the light and textured the darkness, giving the truck a heroic, celestial aspect. I used an editing app to crop and soften the edges and ultimately wound up with what seemed to me to be an art-quality photo. Justifiably proud of having noticed and captured the moment, and also scoring one for the occasional perks of doing absolutely nothing, I emailed the pic to myself in order to view it in larger format on the computer. It looked even grander and more archival on there, and I set the image as wallpaper on my laptop screen.

Cut to several weeks later, and I'm sitting in the Company Store writing florid oenological reviews for the Stevenswood wine newsletter. Incidentally, if you happened to peruse that pamphlet during the period late ”10-early ”11 ...— and made any purchases based on my recommendation, know that I never so much as sniffed the cork of any of those wines and could not in fact tell a hint of tannin from a floral overtone if they were clearly labeled and dancing naked in front of me. I like wine, but I've been bludgeoning my palate too long with high-proof spirits and hot sauce to differentiate between much more than “red” and “white.” If you ever suspected that all those fanciful descriptions of bewilderingly complex flavor profiles and human characteristics were so much hogwash, you were certainly right in my case.

Pamelyn Ferdin and Lassie

I wrapped up a comparison piece on Lake County Merlots, did a quick proof, emailed it out, and was about to close up shop when I sensed someone behind me. The sense I used was hearing, because she said, "Excuse me." I turned around and there was a woman standing there. She was attractive, crunchy, dressed in rustic woolens and looked, to my eye, like a grown-up Pam Ferdin, child actress and sitcom staple of the 60s and 70s and someone upon whom I crushed pretty severely back in those halcyon days.

"Hi," I said.

She responded with a tight little smile and said, "Why do you have a picture of my truck on your computer?"

Whoa. I'd developed a proprietary feeling about the image and didn't think of its subject as being someone else's property. This truck was my truck, or at least the moment in which I captured it was mine.

"Wow, that's your rig? Okay, well, funny story. Actually, no, not funny, but a story, just funny that you're here seeing it," I said, and proceeded to tell her of my loitering in the misty night and the serendipitous confluence of events and phenomena contributing to the creation of my awesome photo, finishing with, "…and it's a great shot, right?"

"It is," she agreed. "Take it off there."

I was nonplussed. "What? Why?", I said, with a sort of disbelieving chortle.

"It's a violation of my privacy," she said, apparently totally seriously.

"You were parked in a public lot!"

"I was asleep in the back."

"How could I possibly know that? And it's not a goddamn X-ray machine, it's a camera. I assure you, if I'd known you were crazy I wouldn't have taken a picture of your stupid crazy truck," I said, closing my laptop. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find somewhere saner to sit."

"You're a stalker. I'm calling the police."

"Go ahead. Make sure you specify code 5150."

I felt pretty secure in my legal position regarding the photo, but as a parolee in his usual condition of 11550 (under the influence), not so much. Plus, I'd been jailed before following the baseless accusations of a crazy woman. All things considered, though, I elected to stay and plead my case like a citizen rather than obey my natural instinct to flee.

When the officer arrived, he greeted me warmly, conducted the obligatory parole search, and listened to her fanciful tale of me following her around and taking pictures.

When it was my turn, I calmly and rationally told my side, opened up my phone and laptop for inspection, and goddamned if good sense didn't prevail. He did ask me to delete the photo to appease my accuser, and of course by way of wrapping things up he had to ask The Question."When's the last time you used, buddy?"

I threw out my hands in supplication and said, "Man, can we not make this about that, just this one time? Please? I was sitting here minding my own business, trying to work, when…" I gestured toward her with a frustrated “pphhh.” “C 'mon.”

"Alright, Washburne. You get a free one. Keep your nose clean."

Wha-a-a-at? I hadn't really expected him to go for it. Hell yeah. Persecuted for my art, vindicated and set free to continue my untutored intrusions into the wine world. In one of my common flashes of brilliance, I wondered how my bosses at Stevenswood would respond to some wine cooler reviews, and hied off to go do research.

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