In the chill of a Central City Jail holding tank for what seemed an infinity at the time, I found that either standing or sitting down with spinal column held straight up burned up sufficient calories spent in physical activity, so that my body was warmed by the extra heat output.
The surveillance was pretty frequent, and it was increasingly furtive. The accommodation by my jailers to my ability to withstand a cold, empty room filled with indistinct sounds of traffic outside for an indefinite period took three stages.
The first was bluster. One of the jailers opened the flap on the door and asked whether I weren’t cold. He enjoyed my suffering from the cold; it gave him pleasure to witness it. Now such a statement might shock you if it were the first time such open sadism had ever been directed toward you. In my case, however, the guard who beat me at Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane came to my cell after he had beaten me and boasted how much pleasure his beating me had given him. These Portland chaps were not ready for Prime Time by comparison.
The second stage was a statement-question posed by a different guard a number of hours after the first. “We’ve reached an impasse.” A little while after that I asked for a refill on the toilet paper, which had been used up. The new length I did not use, but rewarded myself with having ordered about the folks who claimed to be doing the same to me.
I don’t know how many hours later the stage of open negotiations began. What was it that was holding up the parade, here? What did I find so objectionable? I repeated, with what emphasis I could muster, that the second question was intended solely to make non-native residents feel that they were notified they were in danger of deportation. I chose not to endorse such bullying. My interlocutor, remember now, is one of a team of three or four guards who had been looking in on me for a period of time approximating a quarter of a day, incommunicado, with my one repeated request for a phone call. I can only characterize his reaction as utter delight. He even gave an imitation of my round condemnation of bullying in passing on my response to the initiation of peer negotiation.
The third jailor appeared at the door. “The consulates of foreign nationals are notified if they are arrested in the United States.”
I pointed to the notorious case of the Mexican national given a capital sentence in Texas — “This is not Texas,” my man said — who when the Roman Catholic Pope Himself pled for commutation was executed anyway. The guard’s response was quietly eloquent; he closed the door without a word. A pause for reflection made me realize that, although of course not even a large fraction of the thousands of police jurisdictions across the United States would scrupulously notify foreign consulates, nevertheless Portland was only following standard international courtesy. It may not look fair, but the explanation held water, and the top guard knew I’d have to admit it.
So I specified, ladies and gentlemen, that it would be unnecessary for the Portland Police Bureau to notify any foreign government offices, as I was not born in any foreign country. That’s when, around 2 am, I was released to go to the Holding Tank with the rest of the arrestees whose physical booking-in had been completed, while their paperwork was processed.
The room was open to both sexes, but divided, like a Muslim mosque. The women had a section and a restroom, with a television set constantly playing in front of several rows of chairs, and the men had a section (with two restrooms). You know, your basic Rec Room of benches and teevee, only this one is populated by a somewhat more deadbeat bunch of characters than most. The movie playing on the sets was a bilingual production: some people spoke in native Spanish and others in standard American English. For that there were lots of lines of translation rolling across the bottom of the screen, four at a time, with the top one disappearing while the bottom one came up. Since I was not in the front row the captions were illegible; since many prisoners talk to relieve anxiety no one could hear the dialogue. I believe it was based on an actual historical event, the movie, only it was being given a “telenovela” treatment, with swelling music and bosoms punctuated with short male grunts and barks.
The guy to my left was one of those people who will share their stories with you, like it or not. I couldn’t make much of what he said but his feet spent the time massaging the chair seat in front of him. He had the sandals they give you (and which they gave me) in booking, but he held them in his hands, and kept his feet constantly moving over the furniture, while he spewed a torrent of words whose referents were opaque. Something about a waste of time, was all I could gather; I assented silently, inclining my head and shrugging sympathetically from time to time.
I knew from my time in federal penitentiary that the typical hard-case prisoner is more likely to be too credulous than too cynical; but the guy on the telephone to my right was calling several people, collect, to explain that he had to postpone his plans to open a school in order to deal with the non-working lights on his car. He was so well-known a scofflaw that the patrol car was parked at the end of his driveway to nab him as soon as he entered the public streets. Later the guy on the left, who fell asleep on the instant, feet held high in the air, a bit reminiscent of the Playboy Bunny epic pose, on her bum with her legs held high and feet pointed, was replaced, but by a guy who kept telling the men on the teevee screen to kill the women they were dealing with. He illustrated this advice with the gestures of holding a head in an arm-hold and hitting the face thus held with the other arm’s fist.
In front of me, the whole time I was there (and they were the only ones who were all of the time that I was, down to my release) were these two guys with the same last name, Zimmerman. One of them was talkative, but obviously he made sense, since his interlocutor was laughing and adding comments as Talkative rattled along. Talkative was black, complete with a Rastafarian hairdo; Commenter was white, with a bushy black beard.
At five o’clock or so I was released, and even given a shirt (thank you, Portland Jail property manager) to protect me from the night air. My leather slippers allowed me to walk the five miles home, across the Hawthorne Bridge and up Sandy Boulevard to 28th, then over the freeway to Weidler Street. The sun was rising before me as I walked in the cool dawn air.