speaker number sixteen

this is pretty much what i’d intended to say at 20×2. i don’t think it came out quite right onstage, so i’d rather tell you how i wanted it to come out. remember, the question was who are you?

photo by megan headley“i wear a lot of jewelry. right now i’m wearing five rings, a watch, fourteen bracelets, two necklaces, eight earrings, and a nose ring.

“the only two times in recent years i’ve had to take off all my jewelry were when i had knee surgery, and when i went to jail. when i had knee surgery they put me on a gurney, wheeled me into the operating room, and anesthetized me. as the doctor was operating on me, i wasn’t really a person. i wasn’t me. i was nothing but ligaments, cartilage, bone, blood. a knee.

“when i went to jail, they took all my jewelry and put it in a little plastic bag, an evidence bag. they gave me one piece of jewelry in return: a white plastic bracelet with my ID number on it. every time the warden came into the cell, i had to stand up and say, ‘ID number 172.’

“most people will tell you that the things we put on ourselves are nothing but disguises, that our makeup and jewelry and clothes hide who we really are. why, then, when i had to remove all these things that disguise me, did i become nothing but an id number? a criminal? a patient? a body?”

here is the order of things i took off while i was talking:

my rings
my bracelets
my watch
my necklaces
my nose ring
my earrings
my shoes
my dress

at the end all i had on was a bra and a slip. then i ran off the stage. i guess i don’t know what else to say about it.

i was afraid of worms, roxanne, worms!

alison's word jumble
alison's word jumble

this is a word jumble my mother made me a few months ago. my mother is not in the general habit of making word jumbles for people, but she had the idea and some time to kill and thought it would be fun for both of us. “they’re all things about you,” she said as she handed me the puzzle and a pencil. “things you like, things you do, stuff like that.”

my guesses off to the sides in pencil were not genuine guesses. they were joke answers to make my mom laugh, although i suppose BOGGLER wouldn’t have been too far off. i didn’t figure out the one on the bottom right until a few days later, so i never wrote it in. any guesses?

while i was solving the word jumble, i thought about what it meant. sure, it was funny and challenging and a nice surprise, but what the word jumble really meant was this: all my interests and talents could be whittled down into seven words. seven words. it freaked me out. by no means was this my mother’s fault–all she did was make a word jumble for her melodramatic daughter who reads too much into everything. but seven words! seven words to describe me feels both limiting and like too many options. i’ve always wished that, instead of my varied and debatable talents, i had a singluar obsession. i wish i possessed something obvious, something that would make people say, “alison was born to play darts. humanity needs alison to play darts. if alison doesn’t become a famous and successful dart player who revolutionizes the game of darts, something is wrong with the world.”

darts, you understand, are only one example. after all, i have six other options to choose from. did you know i’m afraid of writing? i bet you didn’t know, but i’m sure you could have figured it out. i haven’t really written anything i wanted to write in about a month, and it’s not for lack of ideas. see?

  1. the next (previous?) jail story installment
  2. about the creepy guy at the state inspection place, the one with the gold tooth
  3. captions for my labor day photos
  4. how i found out i may be racist and/or classist and didn’t even know it
  5. how sorting shoes at community service made me think of garbage, nail polish, fashion, plantar warts, women in high heels, and the vastness of the universe
  6. the dream i had where i went undercover to prevent the bombing of a building and save the world (or at least the city block, anyway) from annihilation.
  7. about how, when you really think about it, my job is pretty meaningless.

anyway, i’ve done this before. “i’ve been trying so hard to make sure everything reads perfectly, sounds exactly the way i want it to. i edit the life right out of everything i write before it’s finished, before it’s even started,” i said at the time, and it’s still true nearly a year later.

the significance of the fact that “writer” isn’t one of my seven options does not escape me.

the interrogation room

here is a list of things they take away from me when i get to jail:

1 set of keys
1 wallet
1 astros game ticket stub
1 belt
1 hat
2 elastic hair bands
3 necklaces
5 rings
8 earrings
1 nose ring

i don’t want to take out my navel ring for fear it will close up, so i lie and tell the warden it won’t come out.  “that’s okay,” she says, “one of the girls in your cell will just rip it out for you.”

i take it out.  later, i will lie on the floor on my back in my parents’ living room while they kneel over my stomach, my mother holding the ring in my navel, my dad trying to bend the ring shut with pliers.  the ceiling will look the same as it did when i used to lay on the floor and watch tv all day in the summer. i had to move every few hours to keep away from the sun baking in through the windows.

the warden makes me lean forward with my hands against the wall while she pats me down, looking for guns or knives or brass knuckles or nunchucks or whatever.  not finding anything, she leads me into a holding cell.  a heavyset woman in a striped t-shirt and hospital scrub pants is already in there, sitting down against the wall.  i sit down too, a good distance away from her, wondering if she is the type of person who would rip out my navel ring.

“are you here for tickets, too?” she asks me.

“no,” i say, glad she’s not a child abuser or a bank robber or something, hoping she won’t want to talk much more.  i wonder if i should try to sleep, or if i should try to pass the time amusing myself inside my own head.  i start to do what i often do when i’m trying to stop thinking about something so i can fall asleep: i play the entire movie election in my head from start to finish.  i get to, “executive.  legislative.  judicial.  executive.  legislative.  judicial,” before the woman gets up to use the phone.

the phone.  there are three pay phones against the wall; they’re set up so that only collect calls can be made from them.  i guess the whole one-phone-call thing is a myth.  here is a list of people i know whose phones will not accept collect calls:

my parents
my parents’ other line
andy cell
ryan cell
ryan home
shaun cell
my calling card
the old 1-800 number my parents got when i went to UT

i don’t know too many phone numbers–they’re all stored away in my cell phone–and the other ones i do know belong to people i don’t ever want to call from jail.  i try all the numbers again just in case, with the same results.  how am i supposed to tell someone to come get me out of here if i can’t call anyone?

the door slides open and the warden comes in.  “come on,” she says without looking at me, and i follow her down the hall to a room with a giant computery machine where they take mugshots and fingerprints.  i sit down to wait.  while i’m waiting (mostly staring at the telephone on the desk across the room), a group of inmates files past me on their way out the door.  one of them sneers at me, grabs her crotch, and says, “aw, baby, why you cryin?”

the fingerprint man makes me stand in front of the machine while he takes my picture.  it comes up big on the screen: my messy hair, red face, wrinkled shirt.  then he has me roll my thumbs and index fingers across a scanner, and my fingerprints come up on the screen, too.  he does my fingerprints again with black ink on paper and then gives me a paper towel to wipe off the ink, but the ink doesn’t come off clean like it does at the bank.

“excuse me, sir?” i say to the fingerprint man.  “can i use that phone to call my parents? i can’t reach them from the other phones.”

“sure, darlin’,” he says.  “just dial nine to get out.”

i know he means that i can just dial nine to get out of the prison phone system, but i really wish i could just dial nine to get out of prison.  to get out of calling my parents.  to get out of my life.

after i hang up, the warden comes back and takes me to another room.  it’s a small room with a concrete waiting bench at one end and, at the other end, a glass reception window with a chair in front of it.  a woman with long black hair is sitting in the chair, using a telephone receiver to talk to the man behind the glass window.  he’s asking her about her arrest, her job, her family, her apartment.  her voice is so quiet i can’t hear her answers.  when she finishes, she gets up from the chair.  as she comes over to sit down at the waiting bench, i notice she walks with a limp.