People wondered why I traveled to a remote part of Wales for a writing workshop when there were a limitless supply at home or in touristy places in the US. I could tell them I was impressed with the two teachers, I could say I was to be in Lloyd George’s home. I could say all of that, but in truth although I didn’t know it when I registered for the week living in as close to a monastic cell as I ever want to get, the real reason was to have an afternoon sitting on a window bench in the conservatory looking out in the distance at the Irish sea a house cat curled in my lap, my notebook slowly filling as my pen ran dry.
I was only in jail once, then for four hours, no charges and my biggest fear was that my parents would find out, or the cops would determine that I was only 17 and breaking the park curfew was not even a misdemeanor.
They let me go, gave me a ride back to the park, told me not to go in but I wouldn’t at 2 A.M. I assured them, I’d go home and get some slee before reporting to the University for my summer research position.
All these years later I wonder if that was possibly the cell that Joe Hill occupied once, or just what other manner of criminal I might have shared space with, hopefully someone not merely charged with violating park curfew.
We live in the cell phone age and there are hidden advantages that the young, exchanging last year’s model for this, will never fully understand until they, too, are much older.
With the push of a button, held in for five seconds, the phone will go off at night, and since no one any longer has a landline, you are assured that no one will drag you from sleep to announce they are able to extend the warranty on a car you sold two years ago, or to say that a friend or relative has died, and denying death night hours is the closest thing you can do to feel that you are in control of anything.
For three days I was
a short order cook
a change from my table duties
when the regular guy decided
that a night of drinking didn’t end
when the bar closed
and broke back in
through the rotting back door
that was always next
on the list of things to be fixed.
The owner, my boss, said he’d wait
three days for the cook
to dry out in his cell,
but my cooking made him reconsider.
Yet the customer still came, paid
Were patient, and after
the three days past,
and the old cook couldn’t make
even his nominal bail
the boss hired a new cook
and I went back to dishes
and filling coffee, and looking lovingly
at my dishwasher, my friend
for a too long too long summer
until I went back to college.
It is an admittedly odd sign of my age that I recall clearly when bathrooms were tiled mostly in monochrome, black and white, and it was a mark of quality when each tile was hexagonal, a hive of ceramic cells, impenetrable.
Now tiles are square or rectangular, come in a rainbow of colors, often intermixed to achieve looks unimaginable back in my youth, and walls a painted with any color you can imagine, not the eighteen shades of white from which my parents had the choice for our new house.
But change can be for the better, and in proof of that you need only look around and see that bathroom fixtures are mostly white, occasionally black, not sickly green or peach, and, thank the gods, no one has avocado appliance these days.