16 August 06
The Killer at the Optometrists
Two Tonys was recently transported to see an eye doctor. I asked him how it went.
“Have you ever been transported into Tucson from here?” Two Tonys asked.
“No,” I said.
“Lemmetellya about the transportation guards: they’re real negative motherfuckers. They’re probably told, ‘If you slip and fall, don’t think a prisoner won’t grab your gun and kill you.’ They’re trained to keep their distance and remain aloof. To give us what we’ve got comin’: chains, transportation, and a cup of fuckin’ water if there’s a fountain around. They’re not gonna talk about who won the ball game or where the nearest pizzeria is. They’re real shitheads.
Anyhow, I get to the doctor’s office, and there musta been twenty fuckin’ people to see him, and I’m at the bottom of the list 'cause I’m a state prisoner. I look around, and I got no one to talk to.”
“How did the other patients react to you?”
“They wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I’ve got belly chains on, ankle chains on, sittin’ between two guards packin’ Glock pistols, and they didn’t wanna look at me. So I’m lookin’ at them, studyin’ them. There musta been six old couples, and I’m figurin’ out in my brain – 'cause I’ve got nothin’ better to do. I’m gonna be stuck there for a couple of hours starin’ at them – and here’s what I see: a couple across from me about my age, probably married for forty fuckin’ years.
I see the guy in his grey knee-length shorts, his cotton shirt, his argyle socks, and his Nike-swoosh shoes. You know, presentable. A typical retired suburbanite who probably got a gold watch when he quit workin’ for the phone company or the insurance company or some other shit, where they gave him cake and donuts at the office cubicle party, and told him what a swell guy he’d been for the past twenty-five years. Runnin’ from cubicle to cubicle, sayin’ how much they were gonna miss him, till his ass hit the door.
And the guy’s just sittin’ there, lookin’ at the wall. Not sayin’ anythin’ to the old prune-faced lady sittin’ next to him, who he’s gotta be nice to, and will probably miss like hell when she dies. And she’s just sittin’ there lookin’ at the wall as well, and I said to myself, You know what? He’s doin’ time. You think this motherfucker ain’t doin’ time? He’s gonna see the doctor, and she’s gonna give him moral support after they squirt that shit in his eye – after they squirted me, I couldn’t see shit on the way home. I had to feel my way to the fuckin chow hall – and then he’s gonna go home to his nice middle-income house, with a pool in the backyard, and the grandkids, who probably live in Cincinnati, are gonna come over and visit him once a year, at Xmas. And his ol’ lady knows just how he likes his coffee in the mornin’. And they might or might not still be fuckin’ - forty years, come on now! How much can you fuck the same person for forty years? It’s gotta get old. Put me with J-Lo or Salma Hayek or Terry Hatcher of Desperate Housewives and I’m gonna get fuckin’ tired of it eventually.
Here’s the crux of my thoughts: the old guy ain’t no happier than I am. I could see it in his face. I’m goin’ back to the joint, but I’m gonna clown with the youngsters and talk a lotta shit. I’ll do a little walkin’ and exercise. I’ll enjoy my shows: American Idol, Survivor, and I watch a lotta PBS. So what if I have to get up four or five times to piss durin’ the night due to my enlarged prostrate, the old guy ain’t having as good a time as I am. He might have me on the food - he might be eatin’ Waldorf salads, and lamb cutlets with apple sauce or mint jelly, compared with my burrito mix and two tortillas. He’s got me there. But I’m goin’ the store tomorrow. I’ll get me some Milky Ways, Nutty Cones, and a couple of Sprites. I’m gonna plug up my arteries real good, but I deserve a good time every now and then. I can tell ya this much: the old guy may be eatin’better, but he ain’t laughin’ harder. He ain’t got the sense of adventure I’m havin’ 'cause anythin’ can kick off in the joint at any time, and it often does. I ain’t got it that bad. The old guy’s gotta pay the bill for his life, whereas the State’s pickin’ up my tab. That’s called PMA: a positive mental attitude, brother. Happiness is just a state of mind.”
“I agree,” I said. “It seems you’ve become an existential philosopher. But what I’m still wondering is: what were you doing at the eye doctors?”
“They squirted some shit in my eye and looked at my cataracts, to determine if he’s gonna hafta cut 'em out or not. This growin’ old business ain’t for wimps. But you know what? A lotta guys don’t make it. I’m sure you’ve heard of Achilles, the Greek warrior, a hero of the Trojan War, who got whacked by Paris who hit him in the heel with a poison arrow?”
“Yeah, Achilles killed Hector in the Iliad.”
“Well, when Achilles was in hell – Hades – Odysseus asked him in so many words: is it better to die like a hero, young, in battle, or to grow old on yer fuckin’ farm feedin’ yer goats? Achilles reply was: I’ll take the goat feedin’ or even be a slave any fuckin’ time.”
"Do not speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose to serve as the hireling of another, rather than to be lord over the dead that have perished."
—Achilles' soul to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.488
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