Don’t Go To Jail


I don’t think any of the prostitutes were above the age of 18. One girl told me she was 16. They were all black. The 16-year-old was laughing and sort of skipping around while she was talking to me.

They were waiting for the bus to return from Riker’s Island, the prison. This particular bus stop was like a bloody, inflected gash at the bottom of Queens. We were the fleas filling it. The last street at the end of the world.

This was the only stop for the bus out of Riker’s Island and it went back and forth all night. Anyone just-bailed out would get drugs from the drug dealers and whatever they could from the prostitutes.

It was a crazy poem that rhymed all night. This was their day.

I was talking to a 16-year-old girl about why she was doing this. She was wearing skin tight clothes, short shorts, a tank top that hugged her so fierce it was like part of her skin. She had small breasts and depending on how she moved, one of her nipples would peek out.

“Doing what?” she said. She couldn’t stop smiling, skipping, a tiny dance.

A guy stepped between her and me, tattoos up and down his tank-topped arms, flashed teeth filled with gold, silver, and dark red gums at me, then turned to her.

I didn’t see what he did to her although they were no more than two feet from me. I heard an “Ooomph” from her. “OOOmph!” An exhalation of air like a bullet shot out of her mouth.

She folded in half and fell to the ground. Then she got up and limped very slowly around the corner into the darkest crevice of the brutal maze we were in. I couldn’t go around the corner. It was pitch black there. And when I peeked one time later there were dark shapes just shifting around.

There was a Mini-Donuts shop at the corner. A greasy bright light with yellow walls and Indian workers looking skeptically at the customers, even me.

Construction workers were everywhere, wearing their bright orange and yellow fluorescent jackets so cars wouldn’t run them over. One of the construction guys came up to me and said, “Don’t worry. We’re the police. If you need anything, let us know.” Somehow I was under the cone of protection. I was working on a project for HBO. I wore my HBO jacket.

One time, I stood with a mother and her daughter. They were waiting for the bus to arrive. “We have to go bail out my son,” the mother said to me. What did he do, I asked. He did nothing, she said.

What had burned straight through their brains, making their eyes look like candy? If your brains had been ironed through like that would your eyes taste the same?

We all got on the bus. I sat in the back with a woman who was a cop. “I’m going to retire in a year,” she said. “I want to move to Florida and be a massage therapist.” I could believe it. She had thick arms. She could crush me in a massage. She was thick everywhere.

I went up front and sat next to the bus driver. He was bald and had a face like the back of a tack with two eyes.

“I do this every day, all night long,” he told me. “Its always the same people going back and forth. I get my pension in 10 years. The city of New York takes pretty good care of me. I ignore all the junkies but sometimes you see things on this job. I guess I’m going to do this every night for the next ten years. It ain’t so bad. They take care of me.”

We crossed over a bridge and now we were on Riker’s Island. The entire island is the prison. “Sit in the back,” the bus driver told me, “and put your cameras under the seat and put your coat over the cameras.”

There was only one stop on the island. I said goodbye to the mother and daughter and wished them luck. In my arrogance I felt I could marry the daughter and save her. She wasn’t pretty or ugly. She had a shy voice. She had plump fat all over her. She was protecting her mother.

We stopped at the only building with light coming out of it. It was the only light on the island and it blinded everyone on the bus. I watched the passengers disappear into that light, incinerating them.

Prison guards dragged a big white guy onto the bus. He couldn’t move but they dragged him on and threw him onto the front seat. “Heavy,” one of the guards said. The white guy slumped forward on his seat. He had a gut. A blue ripped t-shirt and jeans. A moustache. Bad acne on his forehead that was covered by greasy black hair.

A burn on his face and arm that looked like it could get infected. It had a red, fresh look – the burn still sparkled with different shades of dead skin.

The bus left the island. I sat next to the burn guy. “What happened to you?” He wouldn’t answer.

“Hey buddy!” the bus driver said and tried to look around to see burn guy, “Can you talk?” the burn guy wouldn’t answer. “Can you talk?” a little louder. No answer.

“Uh oh,” the bus driver said.

We got back to Long Island City. The burn guy was still slumped forward. Not talking. He didn’t get off the bus after everyone else had left. His eyes were blinking. He briefly looked at me when I asked him if he was ok. But then he went back to just looking at the floor.

“Oh f*ck,” the bus driver said. “I need some help here. I got a guy who won’t get off the bus,” he said into an intercom. “No, he’s just not moving.”

An ambulance showed up. I asked one of the guys from the ambulance what was wrong with the guy. “There’s nothing wrong with him,” he said, “and you’re in my way.”

It took about four of them to carry the guy off of the bus. They put him in the ambulance. I was standing right next to the ambulance and the burn guy was sitting up on the cot in there. The ambulance started its siren even though there was no traffic at this time and it drove off. I could see burn guy not moving and getting smaller as the ambulance drove off.

The burn guy was just going from one facility to another. 14 years later, is he now a father? Do daughters now love him?

All the prostitutes and drug dealers were now gone or busy. The gray light of morning speckled onto the dirty avenue. Nobody was even in the mini-donuts shop.

“It’s just another day. You can’t let this stuff get to you,” the bus driver told me. And he shut the door and and with a big shifting of gears and levers the bus pulled out of its stop and drove off, under the bridges and tracks that criss-crossed right above us – making sure all the cars and people from Long Island or Manhattan would always stay fifty feet higher.

Now I was by myself. I found myself missing the bus driver and even missing burn guy. But it was time for me to go back over the river and go home The sun was coming up.

Time for breakfast.

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image – gfairchild