la actitud discriminatoria

in spanish class we are talking about freedom and laws and censorship. each unit in the spanish textbook has a different theme, and at the start of every unit, there is a list of questions that the professor asks the class about the theme. she asks us about banned books and the spanish inquisition and civil rights and martin luther king and religion and, “¿has leído los versos satánicos de salman rushdie?” (have you read the satanic verses by salman rushdie?)

as soon as she asks that question, i know i will be the only person in the class who has read it, and i am. after all, i have another rushdie right there in my backpack. “¿alisón?” the professor says, which is not how you spell my name, but that’s how she pronounces it. she asks me what the satanic verses is about and i can’t really explain. then she asks me if i liked it.

sí, me gusta, pero no lo entiendo mucho porque no sé el koran,” i reply. (yes, i like it, but i don’t understand it much because i don’t know the koran. (in my spanish, everything takes place in the present tense, because i’m not comfortable with el pasado (or el futuro, for that matter))) the professor smiles at me and moves on to another question.

“dork,” chris mutters from the chair next to me.

“i know,” i say. and then we talk about los derechos (rights) for los homosexuales and la inclinación sexual and el heterosexualismo.

in cultural psychology class this guy does a presentation on homosexuality. he tells us that when he was seventeen he was walking down the street holding hands with his boyfriend, and a group of men jumped them, beat them with baseball bats, and stabbed them several times. i pay attention, although during most cultural psych presentations i read the next day’s assigned articles, among them an awful rush limbaugh one about prayer in schools and the limits the constitution places on congress in terms of religion.

the constitution places many limits on congress, i learn in government class. i learn, too, about constitutional amendments and about court cases in history related to civil rights: plessy v. ferguson, brown v. board of education.

i write an essay for cultural psych on an article called “white privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack,” which is about white privilege as a hidden form of el racismo (racism). after i turn it in, someone gets up to present an article on muslims and racial profiling and says, “has anyone read the satanic verses by salman rushdie?”

i don’t like when my classes relate to one another this way. it makes me feel like i’m trapped inside a bad novel, where poignant themes are hurled at me in an attempt to capture my emotions. but these stabs at symbolism are thinly-veiled; they do nothing but insult my intelligence, oversimplify my problems, and cheapen my experience. they do not fool me into thinking that “everything is connected” or “all things have a purpose” or “there are more things in heaven and earth, horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” at this point, the world is about the size of my apartment.

listen, don’t look at me that way, okay? i know i’m in the middle of telling you a story, and i’m stalling. but it’s taking all my energy to cement my face into the only two expressions it has nowadays: lost puppy dog and inscrutable, dead-eyed waitress. once i’ve got the masks on autopilot, i’ll be able to get back to you. until then, i’ll be writing a paper on intolerancia and discriminación.

selfless, cold and composed

if you miss the alison who talked too much and yelled in your ear, the one who took blurry photos and made up songs, it’s okay. she’s still around.

if you miss the alison who was comfortable at parties, who would choose the quietest person in the room, sit down next to them, and start a conversation, she’s around sometimes, too, though not very often.

if you miss the alison who danced by herself without music, who slurred a bit, stumbled a bit more, fell over and laughed sometimes because it didn’t really hurt, ask her to show you her foosball scar, or the bruise covering her right calf, or the scrape on her chin from when she hit the bottom of the pool.

if you miss the alison who spilled both the cocktail sauce in her left hand and the salsa in her right, or the one who knocked over the ashtray, look at your carpet.

if you miss the alison who didn’t remember your name even though you talked for an hour, and didn’t remember what you talked about, either, it’s best not to dwell on it.

if you miss the alison who missed her appointments and deadlines and classes, her tests and papers worse than if they hadn’t been done at all, look at last year’s grades.

if you miss the alison for whom every night was exactly the same, the alison who passed out and then slept all day until it was time to go out again if you miss the headache alison, dried-out and brittle every morning or the one who threw up the liquid contents of her stomach every night, or the one who sobbed drunkenly over issues the size of lime wedges, the size of bottlecaps, the size of ice cubes melting away, she’s gone.

a whole pair of shoes

i know for a fact that limp and i are given blankets, but i don’t remember this.  i know, too, that we are shoved into the cell, the door slamming shut behind us, but i don’t remember this, either.  all i remember is that we are pulled out of the tiny interrogation room and led down the hall, and then i am balled up half-asleep on the cement floor of a jail cell, my back to the wall.  i never, ever thought i’d be in jail.

later, i wake up and we are lined up and categorized.  some people are released, others are sent to county, others, like me, are staying put.  a few of the women don’t speak english.  “what’s your ID number?” the warden barks at these women, who stare at her.  “your number!  your nombre!”

nombre means name, not number.  it’s a simple mistake i made once with the spanish-speaking busgirl at work, who laughed good-naturedly and corrected me.  i like the fact that she giggles when i mess something up; i imagine that when i speak spanish i sound intoxicated, or like i’m talking in my sleep.  she just looked confused, though, when i meant to say “this is my pen,” and instead said “es el boligrafo de mi” (it is the pen of my).  from the busgirl i have also learned the spanish words for vomit, burp, vampire, hermaphrodite, and “do you want my little man?” (quieres mi chiqualin?), but those are not useful in jail, and i am way too scared to tell the warden about how number is actually n?mero.

“stay awake!” she yells at all of us who are left in the cell after the others have been led away.  “they’re going to clean in here in a minute!”  limp and i, caped in our blankets, sit together at one of the picnic tables.  trying hard not to make eye contact, i glance around at the other women.  i am the only person in here (and there are about twenty of us) wearing a whole pair of shoes.  everyone else has shoes without laces, socks without shoes, or clear plastic gloves stretched over bare feet.  my grey velcro tennis shoes have apparently been deemed harmless.

two of the glove-footed girls, who appear to be in their late teens, sit down across from us.  they’ve come in together and are, without a doubt, the prettiest girls in here.  one of them may be the prettiest girl i’ve ever seen in person.  her perfect skin, long dark hair, and model figure make her look out of place among the other rumpled, dirty inmates.  “what are you here for?” limp asks the two girls.

“soliciting,” one of them says.

“what’s soliciting?” limp asks.  i am horrified.  how can she not know what soliciting is?  what are these girls going to say to her?  what would i say if i were a prostitute and someone asked me that?  well, i’m glad you asked.  you see, i have sex with strangers for money.  sometimes they come over to me and ask for it, and sometimes i go to them and offer.  that’s why they call it soliciting; it’s just like when people come to your house and try to sell you makeup or girl scout cookies or vaccum cleaner attachments, but with sex instead of that other stuff.

the two girls don’t answer.  i guess they’re barefoot because their high heeled shoes have been taken away.

a few minutes later the inmate workers come in to clean, and we are taken into the cell next door.  the cell next door is much more crowded than ours, and louder.  the benches are packed with people, the walls are lined with sleeping lumps.  most of the women are wearing prison uniforms.  a few people are singing, a few are dancing, nearly everyone is yelling.  my group is locked into one of the inner cells here.

for the first time, we have access to bunks and mattresses.  i grab a mattress immediately and claim a spot on the floor.  limp sits down next to me.  the two prostitutes share a bunk.

i want to sleep, but i worry that since it’s so loud in here i won’t be able to hear them call my name.  they’re going to call my name, right?  but if i don’t fall asleep, i’ll have to watch every minute, every second pass by on my warped internal clock.  i figure by now it must be four a.m., or noon, or seven p.m. and three weeks.

the two prostitutes have climbed down from their bunk and are talking through the bars to someone they know in the outer cell.  “did they get all of us?” the blonde one says.

“yeah.  me, y’all, stacy, sheryl, everyone,” says the outside girl.  “i think we were set up.”

the dark-haired one laughs.  “i bet it was the hotel,” she says.  “the people at the desk kept glaring at us.”

“did you call someone to come get you?” says the blonde.

“yeah, he’s going to bond me out whenever i get processed,” the outside girl says.

“it’s funny,” says the brunette.  “i met a guy in the lobby of the hotel, and told him i’d meet him upstairs in his room in fifteen minutes.  then i got arrested.  i wonder if he’s still waiting.”

scantily clad, wrapped in blankets and goose-pimpled from the cold, all three girls begin to giggle.  it almost makes me wish i were a prostitute, so i could get arrested with a friend and not feel quite so alone in here.  except if i did that, i’d have cafeteria-lady plastic gloves stuck to my bare feet.  also, i’d have to be a prostitute.

it looks like limp has been listening to their conversation, too.  “did you hear them?” i whisper, nodding my head in their direction.  she nods.  “that’s soliciting.”

“ohhhhh,” she says.

marie later informs everyone that the prostitutes just got here from las vegas, and were arrested right off the bat.  there is much discussion about why a group (a ring?) of hookers would move to texas from a place where their profession is legal.  the dark-haired girl, marie says, saved up all her money for eight months to get breast implants.

to look at her, i would never have known.