There was only one TV in the huber cell. The programming was determined rather democratically. There was a strong contingent in favor of professional wrestling, so the cell tuned in without fail for Monday Night Raw, WWE Main Event and, oh yes, Friday Night Smackdown. I worked second shift, so I missed the wrestling.
During the week, I was subjected to television for a couple hours during the day before work. The only people left in the cell at this time were drug offenders who would rather sit in jail than get jobs. They watched MTV. Thusly, I was introduced to a spunky, young lass in a plaid mini-skirt imploring, “Hit me baby one more time”. I remember watching these grown men in striped jumpsuits, with shaved heads and swastika tattoos, standing in front of the TV, bopping their heads to the infectious beat and thinking, “good God, I know very little about this world indeed.”
I usually kept my nose in a book and stayed out of the TV fight. Only once did I argue for a show – The Simpsons on Sunday night. I got a couple of stoner kids on my side and we managed to get FOX turned on at seven. After one segment, a middle-aged tough guy named Dave sauntered up to the set and turned it off. “I’m not watching fucking cartoons with you babies,” he announced. Word was Dave was in for writing bad checks, but he always struck me as a woman-beater.
Sundays were mandatory inside. Nobody got out for work, childcare, or appointments of any kind. Your only hope to see the sun on its own day was to suck dick on the jailers and get picked to wash cop cars. Sundays were for NASCAR. You could maybe talk the boys out of one night of wrestling, if there was a Victoria’s Secret runway show or something, but the race on Sunday was fucking holy.
Now I was in for six months on a sort of misunderstanding. I didn’t understand that it was not a 19 year-old’s right to drink a gallon of peppermint schnapps and destroy half the town. One of my hooligan buddies – let’s call him Garth – got a three-month sentence for the same spree and it overlapped with mine. We happened to be in over the second weekend in April. If you don’t know, you don’t care. Masters weekend, bucko.
Garth made the initial motion. “I didn’t get to watch a single fucking second of the tournament; I’m at least going to see the leaders play the back nine on Sunday!” Dave and the boys just crossed their arms and smiled. The thought of turning off the race in favor of a fucking golf tournament was laughable. But as it got later in the day, Garth started to get edgy; it seemed he was bordering on a fit. They started letting him switch the channel when the race was on a commercial break. But as things at Augusta National started to get tense, Garth began to linger longer and longer on CBS. “Just wait, just wait. Tiger’s got a birdie putt. This is huge!” I ventured to cautiously voice my agreement.
I think the tide really turned in our favor when our man, Blain unexpectedly joined our cause. Blain was one of the stubble-headed swastika’d fellows I mentioned above. He had lived for a while in Cabrini–Green with a girl friend. He liked black girls. They liked him, he explained matter-of-factly, because black guys won’t go down – he would. Blain had a crazy look in his eyes.
Blain started getting in to the gentleman’s game, asking Garth to explain what was going on, screwing up his crazy eyes in intense concentration. “Turn the race back on!” came the inevitable chorus. “Fuck you, I’m sick of watching fucking cars drive around in a circle,” Blain shot back fatefully. “I want to see who wins the Masters!”
My friend Garth had a bit of P.T. Barnum in him. He jumped up on the cafeteria-style table and started whipping up golf fervor. “Look at this fucking bunker shot Mickelson’s got! He can’t even see the flag. He’s nine feet in a hole! He needs this up and down to stay one off the lead!” “Look at Norman; he’s shaking like a ninety-year-old woman over this putt. He’s shaking like he’s got Parkinson’s!”
Pretty soon, even wife-beater Dave was standing in front of the TV set, glued to the golf action. As the last group hit their approaches on 18, the whole cell was hooting and hollering like Dale Earnhardt was about to take the checkered flag at Daytona. When Tiger Woods drained a 40-footer to win the green jacket, Garth and I leaped into each other’s arms. It was like McMurphy got his World Series game and Nurse Ratched was vanquished forever. Euphoria.
Or so my memory goes. When I looked up the 1999 Masters, I found that, in fact, Jose Maria Olazabal won by two strokes over Davis Love III. Sans drama. Tiger Woods finished tied for 18th. But after all, that’s why we write fiction, isn’t it? One of the reasons, anyway. When life gives you Jose Maria Olazabal, art intervenes.
To health and better memories.