Friday, September 18, 2020

A serious shortage of testosterone

I wondered how a tough prisoner kept in isolation for the past year might react if he was released and transported to a street corner on the outskirts of a major American city — say, near Lenox Square in Atlanta — without prepping from the prison bureaucrats that had kept him confined.   

So I made one up.  No name, just an incorrigible prisoner.  Here’s my take on how he might react:

You know what he would see — people going about with their faces bandaged from the bridge of their nose to their chins.  Was this another anthrax thing, like what happened after the Twin Towers, only on a bigger scale?  Was it just this city?  The air seemed okay to him.  In fact it seemed great, being outside prison walls.  He had been breathing all his life without covering his face.  Neither did his jailers cover up when they shoved food at him.  You took your chances.  That’s life.

But this!

The more he looked the more he couldn’t buy what he saw.  Some of the masks were stylish, like it was part of their regular dress.  Designer masks, for God’s sake.  They’re making a fashion statement.  

Something’s missing.  What doesn’t he know?

He checked himself.  People don’t look like him.  He looked decent enough, he thought, but his eyes gave him away.  They were hard, like his life.  Whaddya expect?  That’s how you survived in his lousy world.  His jailers had tried to humiliate him, to make him crawl, to keep his trap shut, and when that bombed they put him in the hole.  That’ll teach him.  We’re in charge here and he’s gonna believe it.  They were on top because they had the numbers, he was only one stooge.  They had been bowing all their miserable lives and now they wanted to return the favor to their captives.  He was going to learn to obey, by God.  He was going to learn to say “Yes, sir!” and mean it.  

They might as well try to reform a rock.  To him it wasn’t a choice.  It was an animal reaction — push him, he pushed back, a lot harder, until they knocked him down.  Like an animal.  He knew the odds but didn’t care.  He had fought the odds all his life.  He would smack one or two before getting laid out from some fat screw’s club.  Sure, he made it worse but so what?  They were mugs getting their kicks beating the crap out of him.  He wasn’t gonna let it go without a fight.  Even as the blows rained down, he took solace that he had it over their chicken-shit lives.  They might kill him, but it’ll be the only time he goes.  They croaked with every breath they took like the pissant cowards they were.

Turned out they couldn’t kill him, not the regular way, so they let him out, a real shock.  But something wasn’t right, seeing all these half-faces.  If he was the screaming type he would’ve screamed.  He almost did.  Was this the screws’s doing, to make him lose his mind? 

“Hey, lady,” he says to a mummified stranger who had stopped to cross the street.   “What’s with . . . y’know?” 

She glares at him.  The light changes in her favor, and she slides in with other masked wonders to cross the street.

“Hey, man,” he says to a guy about to cross, “tell me about the masks.”

He starts off without replying, so he grabs him by the arm.  The guy barks through his muffler, “It’s the latest fashion, a-hole!  What else?”  Then rips his arm loose and leaves.

That’s what he thought he said.  Couldn’t be sure.  If he had been sure he might’ve continued the conversation along different lines.  

This was mass sickness.  How could this happen?

He needed information.  He started to walk not knowing where he would find it.  He came to a CVS.  Why the hell not?  He went inside where a voice politely mumbled something about wearing a mask or leave.

He turned and saw the short young woman who had just spoken gazing at him, her face tightly wrapped.  “It’s store policy,” she said.  


“To keep us all safe.  What else?”

“Safe from what?”

“Are you serious?”

“Do I look like I’m not?  What’s going on?!  Everyone’s hiding their faces!”

She answered carefully.  “No, they’re protecting their faces.  If you’re carrying the virus you might breathe on them and infect them too, if they’re not wearing a mask.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The COVID virus!  Ever hear of that?  It’s only been in the news for six months!”

“Never heard of it.”

“Well, now you have, and it’s been real scary, and you’re going to have to leave or put on a mask.”

“What’s special about this COVID thing?”

“It’s killing people.”

“That’s what viruses do.  So why the masks?”

“The old and sick are especially vulnerable.”

“Do I look old or sick?  You don’t.  Why are you wearing a mask?”

“Because it’s store policy.  Look, I’m only doing what I’m told.  Don’t make such a fuss.”

“Don’t make a fuss, don’t make a fuss.  This is crazy.  And you know it!”

“Just leave, please.”

“Ever hear of someone getting kicked out of prison?  Naw, never happens.  Well, it happened to me.  Couldn’t figure out why, but I’m beginning to catch on.  They couldn’t kill me there, so they figured they could kill me out here, by turning my dumb ass loose without a mask.”  He laughed.  “But it ain’t working.  It’s the other way around.  You guys are killing yourselves, not me.”

Then he added:  “Get with it, kid, they’re gonna keep you masked until you put up a fight.”

“It’s store policy.  I need the job.  Now, please leave.”

He left.  No mask, just a smile.

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