Hero Apomixis: Chapter One

Hero Apomixis was written during C.A. Seller’s internment in N.Y. state’s notorious maximum security Attica Correctional Facility. A callous often brutal and humorous combination of reality and madness, this novel is an examination of one man’s decent into insanity. 

By C.A. Seller
art by Dan Reece


Maybe a prisoner didn’t care. Maybe any question of guilt didn’t apply. Hero clearly saw his position as that of a prisoner in as much as the current political boundaries of description did not serve to enhance his particular argument. Which was the most overloaded line of bullshit he’d ever cook up. And yet it was true.

Hero didn’t see himself as a political prisoner. No, he was more like a hostage. All he had done was sell some heroin. Some people sold booze, some cars, others guns and others still sold lies and products full of cancer causing crap. He’d sold dope. He didn’t sell to kids, he didn’t push. In fact, he’d had a thirty dollar minimum figuring that if you didn’t have thirty dollars you probably didn’t have any business fucking with the shit in the first place. “Cozy Logic” is what he called it and from Hero’s point of view he was right.

He’d get really pissed off at every anti-drug message that crossed his path. They all had a bad habit of mixing overt lies with subtle half-truths in a most polished manner that always delivered seriously flawed information intended to scare the shit out of you. If they were having a “War On Drugs” Hero supposed that made him and the other eighty-five percent of the jokers around him prisoners of war. In his head he saw his mother’s mouth and sardonic grin. The one that said, “it’s ok when I lie because I’m right.”

Hero guessed that wasn’t so far from the truth after all: “The War On Drugs was a war on poor people,” and added to his silent speech, “poor people do two things: they fuck – ’cause it’s free and get high  ’cause they’re miserable.”

The face of his mother smiled that smile and annoyingly told him, “That’s not what it means. We’re smarter than you and if you dare to try and prove otherwise we’ll rule you by force because we can. And besides, we’re always right, or haven’t you learned that by now? Just keep your mouth shut for a change, will you Hero?”

Next he watched her entire face ripple full of fat and change into a black and white pimply rage around her mouth which stayed exactly the same: sardonic and smiling, a slash surrounded by wrinkles that were from some other memory of an old Mad Magazine paperback of 1950’s comics. She looked as if she were made of dry clay. The instructions concerning his own mouth were issued again in a shout of wind before Hero’s contemptuous eyes. Her breath was bad.

He sat motionless on the edge of his bed. He saw Dr. Menendez, the Latina psychiatrist there in Attica who’d asked him, “Mr. Hero, when was the las’ time you use drugs?”

“Last week.”

She’d put his name in for a urine test that afternoon.

He’d failed. “But I didn’t study!” he told everyone because if you knew you were being tested studying with thirty-two ounces of water usually helped you pass. Hero had even crammed with twenty-four and passed. Now he was doing thirty days keep-lock for his big mouth and that lying cunt’s new and improved interpretation of what the word “confidential ” meant. He saw her long straight black hair parted in the middle of her big head and the fat that had settled around her jowls and under her chins but luckily she was still young enough that the powder-white skin of her fuck-face held it all in place. The Dr. Menendez wore a broken pair of glasses balanced on the bridge of it’s nose like a bad caricature of someone’s granny and, “Yes! That’s it! Just like that psychiatrist at Downstate! She wore those same pince nez looking things with a string attached to them on one side, that Filipino broad.”

Dr. Montgomery, a tiny woman with a huge area between her eyes that was spookily flat. Still, she was not an unattractive woman – if you’d been locked up a while. She kept recent issues of “The Watchtower” underneath the mental health records on her desk and proselytized to the inmates who’d been sent to her office for psychiatric evaluations.

Hero, poor and perplexed by all the mental somersaults going on in his head went low. How low? Low. Solo and he heard someone ask him, “How low can you go?”

“Death-Row,” he answered, “what a brother know?”

Chills at the surface of his skin prickled and bristled all of his hairs at once like that time when he was living in the street chasing bags of dope and coke. He’d copped two bags of heroin, a stamp called “Hammer,” off the corner of Sixth Street and Avenue D and then headed for a garbage strewn lot down by C to get straight. He’d brought a quarter-water and his works but no cooker. Looking at the ground around his feet Hero picked up a wide metal bottle cap rinsed it out and squirted a few cc’s of water in it to keep the dope from blowing away. Next he warmed it up to help break down the cuts – real dope dissolved the moment it hit the water. A piece of torn cigarette filter rolled into a ball kept the needle from turning into a torturous barb while he drew the liquid up into the set.

He twisted his shirt sleeve around the bottom of his bicep and injected himself. Suddenly it was, “BLAMO!” and every single hair on Hero’s body stood straight up from way under his skin. It was frightful in that his first thought was that he’d been poisoned. A brain crushing headache ensued as his blood pressure rose. Descending seconds later, his concern focused on his primary mission. He wasn’t too dope sick, yet, but he would be real soon if he didn’t get some heroin inside himself shortly. An inspection of the cooker revealed that it had a rubber ring glued inside with which to reseal it. When he’d heated the bottom some of the rubber had dissolved and was now probably congealing somewhere in one of his kidneys. Hero’s headache developed into a blinding migraine right on the spot and, after finding a better bottle cap, he did the second bag and luckily got straight; the second shot had eradicated all the nasty results of his first attempt.

Now Hero sat in Attica eight years later trying to figure out why he got high. Was it the cry baby theory? Was dope the tit inside his veins?

“What do I twist?” he asked himself. “To yes or no, what does anyone twist to provide themselves with a key to the door of their own very special private hell with closets jam-packed full of skeletons and shelves and drawers stuffed to overflowing with excuses? What do I twist?”

He heard all the voices that had followed him throughout his life blaming him for every time he hadn’t worked well.

“Does it work?”

“No, it doesn’t work.”

Hero had come to realize, maybe a little too late – ok – maybe a lot too late, that he had always trusted morons with college degrees and Ph.D. s, and although he wasn’t usually very much smarter than they were – he was far and away more intuitive. He’d had to be or else they would have killed him with their thick  Brand-X generic kindness a long, long time ago. But it wasn’t that alone. There had been something about Hero’s rhythm and a subtle nuance as conveyed primarily by his eyes and the expressions of his face; for good or bad he would spook people with all of it, or put them at ease, but he couldn’t always control. Hero believed the eyes transmitted as well as received as in the old saying, “I saw it in his eyes.”

He laughed aloud and said, “You could smell his fear.”

He pulled up his pants and got ready for a stroll down memory lane as the tapes in his head didn’t look like, they would stop playing by themselves anytime soon. Inside his head was a tiny VCR being used by a tiny baboon with a tiny purple ass. It appeared, should anyone have seen it, that the baboon was searching for one particular tape or segment as he displayed no aversion whatsoever to patiently sit  through whatever he’d put on until it was over:

Hero-chap-1It is 1993 and Hero is walking on Fifth Avenue just north of  Washington Square Park trying to figure out how he can get a psychiatric evaluation so his parole officer won’t violate him and send him back to prison. (The evaluation had been listed as one of his “Conditions” of parole.)

At St. Vincent’s Hospital, not ten minutes earlier, he’dspoken to someone in the Out Patient Mental Health Clinic: a thin, middle-aged white woman with a bad Sandy Duncan hair-doo gone flat brittle and gray. Her faced looked to Hero like an angry albino prune with the juice of eight lemons hidden in it somewhere. She’d spoken that way, too, when she said that he could, ” … not get a psychiatric evaluation for [his] parole here.”

The methadone clinic he was on at Beth Israel couldn’t do it because of “Confidentiality laws.”

At a clinic affiliated with NYU on Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue the professionals there let him wait thirty-five minutes to tell him, “No,” in less than one. It took Hero eight years to figure out why everyone had said no: he was an ex-con and no one wanted to say he was “sane” and then be held accountable should he go berserk and kill a school bus full of nuns or something. At the time though he took all of this rejection with the seriously sour note of someone with a personality problem about to go postal.

With his back to the wall and his balls shrunken and most nearly

broken  Hero came up with an idea; well, Hero and a very

compassionate counselor at his methadone program. He would

walk into the Emergency Psychiatric Intake unit at Bellevue

and have himself admitted – which wasn’t such a spectacular

solution but it was better than getting evaluated on

Rikers Island. Hero headed over that morning and, after

being pat-frisked by two cops a security guard and through

the metal detector  he was interviewed by a young woman

with short blond hair wearing a long white lab coat

carrying an aluminum clip-board. They got off on the wrong

foot fast: Hero didn’t believe she was a doctor and she

didn’t believe he was in need of hospitalization. He suggested that she consider wearing a name tag with the word “DOCTOR”

on it or at least the initials “M. D.” or something  which

only served to aggravate the young psychiatrist more certifying,

for Hero at least, that she had some deep ego based

identity issues that seriously needed addressing.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Blondie … and you are, .. Mr. Hero?”

“Yes, that’s right.” And then the Hero’s faux pas: “You

look too young to be a doctor.”

“OK, it says here that you’re bi-polar?”

“Yes. ”

“So what’s happening?”

“My parole officer is going to put me back in prison if

I don’t get a psychiatric evaluation. I tried .. etc., etc … ”

“Well, after talking to you, I don’t think you’re bi-polar

at all. No, I think you’re just a criminal with an impulse

problem. ”

Now the bitch had not only said, “No,” she’d done it with

a personal attack – smooth, baby – real smooth.

“So if I were to lean over and try to strangle the shit.

out of you, would you say that was a calculated exercise

of my related underlying psychosis – or – just merely my

impulsive criminal behavior?” Hero asked her with such conviction that she had him strapped to the chair in which

he sat, one made especially for just such occasions. He

spent two days in that chair waiting for a bed to open upstairs.

“Yup!” he would exclaim – half-drunk – one day in Tompkins

Square Park. “Yup! That’s how they treat you when you’re

crazy, they strap your ass into a big wooden chair like

an electric chair  sort of surrounded by a dozen other poor

crazy bastards strapped in the same as you and then they

feed you all baloney samiches and soggy fuckin’ cookies

for a few days. By the time they finally do get you upstairs,

you’re certified crazy ’cause the busted-ass ward looks

like the fuckin’ Waldorf Astoria! An’ those chairs,

they did have wheels on’em but, shit, whatta’ya supposed

to do? Play fuckin’ smash-up derby with the fuckin’ crackheads?

But I’ll tell you, you’re in that motherfucker –

baby – you ain’t goin’ nowhere till they say so!”


When Hero arrived on the twenty-first floor, still strapped

in nice and tight for the elevator ride he didn’t think

Bellvue was so bad except for the lack of cigarettes and

he quickly got on the inside track of those: they were passed

under a Fire Exit door along with drugs and condoms by

the friends and families of the mentally ill. He was blown

away by all the nurses who were Asian, mostly tiny Filipino

women. A vast brood of evil slit-eyed bitches carrying hypodermic needles full of brain sucking drugs. They put him

in a two-man room with a very tall, very black Hatian lunatic

who kept pointing at his tattoos and yelling in English

(with a horrendous patios accent>, “DRA-GON!” and, “HOMOSEX-U-AL!” over and over again until a black nurse who spoke the patois came in and calmed Frenchy’s psychotic ass down. Hero requested that he be moved out of the room and was.


The next day he met with a psychiatrist for a six minute

interview that resulted in three different prescriptions:

one of them was lithium As for the other two, a big blue

pill and a clear syrupy liquid he was given an hour before

bedtime, he never learned their names but was willing to

bet that the pill was an anti-depressant and the liquid

either Melaril or Senaquon or some other equally handy anti psychotic used as a sleeping

potion. After a week of being cooped up with all the

other crazy people Hero began to bitch and whine. (They

were his copyrighted trademarks during this particular period

in his life.) He wrote to the psychiatrist  telling

him that he didn’t want to keep taking the pills or the

icky tasting liquid anymore only the 80 mgs. of methadone

he’d been taking before he came to Bellevue. So the meds

were stopped the next day and when Hero saw Dr. Poohbahski,

the Head Shrinker ’round about them parts, he wanted to

talk to him. Poohbahski, a casually dressed Jewish preppy

in his late fifties who wore cowboy boots and sported a

close clipped salt and pepper beard that was very much in

fashion at that time, was thinking that from a certain angle just

over his left shoulder, he truly did resemble the

Marlboro Man. Hero meant no harm and only wished to ask

the good doctor a question or two about the medications

he’d been given but when he approached Poohbahski exploded

yelling, “I don’t want to talk to you! You wrote me a nasty

letter! I’m very sensitive!” And then he turned around on

the spot and started walking in long rapid strides away

from Hero who now exploded with indignation and utter disbelief at the doctor’s behavior and from a different angle

someone might even have mistaken it all for a scene out

of a movie like some weird dark comedy or something, maybe.

Poohbahski was immediately followed off the ward by his

staff of Junior Poohbahski-ites to continue on with the

morning rounds. In the meantime a couple of burly Jamaican

orderlies with thick Jamaican accents had come up behind

Hero while he’d been busy screaming at Poohbahski’s back

and not for all of his pleading, whining, whinnying or wailing

would they succumb and right away he was put in a straightjacket.

Once fitted and strapped up all nice and tight, the orderlies

took Hero to the rubber-room and locked him inside.

Immediately his nose crinkled at the smell of urine, lots

of it – fresh and stale, in puddles on the floor and in

dry patches in the corners where it had stained as it evaporated.

Against a wall there was a piss soaked foam-rubber mat

which was the only other thing in the room besides himself.

A very thick double paned window with chicken wire inside

it looked out into the nurses station. Easily 3 feet by 3  feet it made Hero feel as though he were naked before the nurses – who

for the most part ignored him – and he became sicker about

everything when he watched them there on the other side.

They had to know what that room smelled like. They had to.

After a little while  Hero got very agitated about not

being let out but to no amount of crying, kicking and screaming

would they capitulate. Instead, when they finally did

let him out after an hour and a half, they took him to

a room where they strapped the sleeves of his straitjacket  to

the rails of a gurney, and then tied his feet to the frame making

him a neat crucifix just prior to rolling him up on his

side and giving him an injection that put him out for the

next four hours. As Hero whimpered at the injustice of the

whole thing, and just how fucked-up what they were doing

to him was, a nice black woman came into the room and told

him that he should calm down and that he would be going

home soon. She was very soothing and used the words “baby”

and “honey” in a lot of her sentences. Hero trusted her.

After being freed the next morning a tiny Asian nurse

with thick, thick lenses in her glasses called to Hero and

said, “Mr. Hero! Guess what?”

Hero didn’t trust them and knew they didn’t like him either

so her smile must’ve meant that he was leaving.

“What? I’m going home tomorrow?”

“No,” she said flatly, “the day after.”

He began to cry and when the nurse asked him why he told  her, “Because nothing you people do makes any sense.”

He couldn’t sleep that night and figured it was his nerves.

He was heading out there with no money, no place to sleep

(never mind live) and no clothing save what he’d walked

into Bellevue with – no nothing. He’d called his parole

officer and was clear of that asshole for now although the

next night, his last in Bellevue, Hero couldn’t sleep again.

He was experiencing terrible anxiety. He got out of bed,

left his room, and headed up the corridor for a drink of

water from the fountain and then headed back to bed but

once under the covers he still couldn’t get to sleep and

got up again. Back in the hall he began pacing up and down

much to the annoyance of the high strung moonlighting

forty-something-else Jamaican orderly on duty who promptly

put him in the stinking, stale, piss filled rubberroom

until the nurses came on duty the following morning.

Hero had never felt as helpless as he did that night,

not even in prison.

“For surely I must be mad,” he thought, “because no matter

how hard I try and communicate with any of these people

all they do is become very hostile, freak-out on me and

punish me!”


He tried to think in the blue-florescent ammonia stench

of the rubber-room and developed a crippling migraine for

his efforts. A few hours later the Asian nurses began

arriving and shared with the orderly as he related his annoyance

at Hero as he was such a well known trouble maker to all of them by now. Hero thought that they’d been treating

him like the gangly orphaned child of a dead distant cousin.

The nurses let him out with the most patronizing and icy

unhappy with “you again?” attitude  obviously glad to be

seeing the last of Mr. Hero in those next two hours before

his release. Hero knew he hadn’t done anything wrong at

all yet was happy and grateful anyway just to have been

let out of the rubber room and on his way out of Bellevue.

Once on the street he headed downtown and put a few dollars

together for a room on The Bowery and something to eat.

He felt spaced out and guessed it was the two nights without

sleep and all the upset and sudden changes he’d experienced.

That evening, after Hero laid down on the dirty mattress

in his $10.00 a night  room, he noticed  that same

creeping anxiety he’d had in the hospital. It wouldn’t let

sleep come and not only that but he had the strangest desire

to walk and so, after a cigarette, that’s exactly what he

did. Not only did Hero walk that entire night  but he walked

for the next five nights and days, too, and that was all

he did do. He walked. He was wired. Food didn’t taste right

– everything tasted like wallpaper paste and it didn’t matter

what he ate because it all tasted the same. By the third

day he grew afraid. It had never been his custom to stay

awake more than two days in a row even when he was dealing

cocaine. Hero knew his limits and always tried to respect

them. At his methadone clinic they suggested that his inability

to sleep was due to his having stopped shooting

that garbage coke he’d been copping in the street which

at that time was more like badly labed speed and full of

God knew what bullshit chemical cuts. Hero thought that

maybe it was all the legal drugs the Poohbahski-ites had

given him and on the morning of the fourth day he returned

to Bellevue where he was referred back to the Emergency

Psychiatric Intake unit. This time he spoke with a young

male psychiatrist who offered to admit him right away.

Next he tried the emergency rooms at both Beth Israel

Medical Center and St. Vincent’s Hospital. At St. Vincent’s

a doctor gave Hero a small handful of Benedryl that he took

all at once the minute he was out the door but it didn’t

do much more than give him heartburn.


On day five he was sitting in the living room of an apartment

that a friend had hired him to scrape and paint in

exchange for letting Hero crash there when he seriously

began to space out. A copy of The Sunday New York Times

with three big stories on the front page captivated his

attention for almost an entire 24 hours. The first was about

the Hubble Space Telescope and the repairs which were being

made to its lens even as Hero was reading about it and

without too much effort at all he was there, floating in

orbit with the astrophysicist who would be performing the

delicate regrinding of the telescope’s mirror. Hero stared

at the front page picture of Hubble without blinking until

he felt confident that the work was finished and then headed

back for earth early.

The second big story was the death by shooting of Pablo

Escobar. A photograph accompanied this story, also, showing

the dead Escobar’s body where it had fallen lying face down

next to that of one of his bodyguards who had also been

shot and was lying face down. The article reported that

the people of several large villages and towns throughout

Colombia were mourning en masse for the man many called

the greatest philanthropist  the nation had ever known. After

all, who else had ever offered to pay Colombia’s national


The third big story was about two, fourteen year old girls

on Long Island who, after much physical and philosophical

preparation, had jumped together in front of an LIRR commuter

train that had been traveling easily in excess of 85 miles

per hour. They’d left notebooks filled with their ideas

and observations on life and suicide. One quote read, “Bye,

catching a train.”

Hero was as enamored by their deaths as he was by the

act itself and he sat there for hours at a time, there in

the empty apartment, meditating on the picture of the

tree underneath which their notebooks were found. The photograph had been taken at night with a sterile flash that

added a spooky dark shadow to the bark. Hero stared at the picture and began to believe that these two girls – these two

intelligent girls – who had developed a bent nihilistic

philosophy based on a tangent of intellect, as young people

will sometimes do, were there with him in the room in the

ether only a foot or so above his head. He was struck by

the harsh tragedy of their deaths and felt that somehow

the act performed, and the severity of the very method of

their deaths, had left them lingering forever now in a separate

time just microseconds after the train had hit them.

Everything afterwards was part of a “here,” and “now”

in which he saw a great silver, black and steel juggernaut

barreling down on them with incredible speed and force over

wheel worn polished rails. A static electric field took

shape barely a fraction of a second before the train’s impact

ended their lives and destroyed all but the most minute

traces that they had ever been there to begin with. He read

that their parents were devastated and his heart went out

to them. He could “see” the two girls in limbo, there with

him, and as he sensed them in his otherworld dimension of

sleeplessness and ire. Hero thought about madness and what

it meant to go insane – all throughout those six days during

which he did not sleep and every day, and especially

at night, he would walk. He walked over a hundred miles

in nothing but circles and it was on that sixth day,

while he was walking around Tompkins Square Park, that

he ran into Stanley; a slow, middle-aged schizophrenic who’d spent at least one decade of his life in some state run mental

hospital and now spent his time watching television or lazing in the park under familiar shade trees drinking coffee and chain

smoking Lucky Strikes. Hero thought that Stanley looked

a lot like a cartoon because of the one lone tooth that

stuck up out of his goober-gums mouth and just everything

in his entire catalog of mannerisms reminded him of a dirty

Baby Huey type character only with a three day old beard

and a cigarette permanently hanging off his bottom lip.

Hero told Stanley all about how he couldn’t sleep and Stanley

told Hero, in his slow Huey way of speaking, that he should

try warm milk saying, “Da’ nurwse used t’a’ giv’it ta’ me

in da’ hospitle, right – before – bed. It always made me

sleepy.” And then he repeated this twice more, more for

his own benefit than Hero’s.

Hero was desperate. He bought five 10 mg. Valiums in the

park and drank an extra 80mg. bottle of methadone followed

by a nice big glass of warm milk. He only spit-up just a

little bit; though once everything kicked in he went off

to have a word or two with the previously ever elusive

Sandman. Hero slept for about ten hours, got up to take

a piss, and then went back to sleep for another seven more.

Slowly but surely he got back to “normal.” All that trouble

for parole and in less than a month he was right back on

Rikers Island with a parole violation anyway.


Seven years later Hero woke up in this his latest cold

cell on a dull Saturday morning. He gargled, brushed his teeth

and gargled some more. Brushed his curly shoulder-length

hair and splashed some water on his face to evict that crusty

shmutz that everyone politely called “sleep ” from his eyes.

He rolled a cigarette and smoked half while listening to

NPR news until his gate cracked to let him out so he could

head up to the front of the gallery for his 450mg. tablet

of  time released lithium and then head back and

locked  his gate behind him. He washed the dishes from the

night before: one large  heavy plastic bowl with a lid

whose underside doubled as a cutting board; three plastic

spoons; a plastic fork and a plastic knife. The kind of

flatware you normally threw away after using once at a picnic

or backyard barbecue. Two of the “spoons” had come with

the four slices of state-bread that accompanied every meal

in a wax bread-bag on top of the hard plastic feed-up trays

that would be delivered to his cell three times a day

while he was on keep lock. Those spoons were very special,

too. Those spoons had very short tines on the ends of them

and yet they were only tines in that they were meant to

be tines only they were much too short to do anything more

than pick up a very cold macaroni noodle. Hero called it

a “spork .” Not the marriage of a spoon and fork. No, to

Hero this glass was but half-full and a spork was neither

a spoon nor a fork because a spork was practically useless

as a replacement for either. He didn’t know why anyone would

bother to cut a zigzag edge an eighth of an inch deep in

three places at the end of what had previously been a perfectly

good plastic spoon. When you tried to eat cold cereal

the milk always ran right through the tines.

“Who thinks this shit up?” Hero wondered.

Dishes done, he tackled his six cup hot-pot with the spaghetti

sauce baked onto its bottom. That was the gravy (Irish

for “sauce”) from the night before. He’d eaten with Q and

Jughead, his neighbors and other white guys. Color lines

were observed by just about everyone in prison except the

homo s, the Christians and the Rapo’s, none of whom counted

anyway. There were the gangs and quasi-religious organizations

which were also gangs with names like: Latin Kings; Fruit

Of Islam; Nuetas; La Familia; The Brotherhood; Five Percenters;

Muslims; Rastafarians; Bloods; Crips; Gangsta’ Disciples;

Aryan Brotherhood; Italian Brotherhood; Irish Brotherhood;

Rat Hunters; Ballbreakers; the half-a-dozen or so outlaw

biker cliques and the usual loose associations  based on geographical origin such as block, housing project, borough

and city. Everyone else were considered Neutrals. Hero was

a neutral with a lower case “n” and still a charter member

of a loose (as in “loose screw”) Irish run crew that held

down two tables in the A-block yard. (Short, metal picnic

tables lined the yard walls on two sides and you couldn’t

just sit down because you saw a table, a crew “held”

that table “down.”)

Crews were good in that there’s strength in numbers and

bad in that large groups tended to breed a lot of politicians

and gossips – not to mention those individuals who will

do things on the strength of the crew that they normally

wouldn’t have done on their own like not paying their debts

off on time or selling poor quality drugs. This was how

wars got started and Hero had more than a couple of horror

stories, beefs that had drawn everyone in all because of

one dude and usually over nothing but his own grimy behavior.

When something like that went down Hero always wanted to

ask questions. After all if he was going to get hurt or

possibly even killed over someone else’s bullshit he thought

he had a right to know why. Fifteen years earlier he’d found

out the hard way that what was “right” had nothing to

do with what was going on. When he’d asked questions he

was considered “suspect ” a word that had branded him.

Suspected of what? You name it. Cowardice, usually. Never-mind right and wrong and evidence all that counted around here

was politics and propaganda. Hero learned that he didn’t

always command the kind of respect required to be entitled

to ask questions and not be looked at for it like he was

some sort of traitor from under cork-brained slit-eyed

gazes and paranoid sidelong stares. He’d learned that he

wasn’t supposed to second guess the stronger guys in

a crew that was more often than not being run by retards

anyway. If they told him, “”that’s how it is,” then, that’s

how it was. It didn’t count for much either. In fact most

of the time it didn’t mean jackshit. To ask questions was

like calling one of them a liar and heaven help you if he

was because then he really made a stink.

“You callin’ me a liar, Hero?”

“No, what I’m sayin’ is that you don’t remember the conversation

the way it went down I’m not callin’ you no liar,

Red. ”

“You sure? ‘Cause it sounds to me like you are. Doesn’t

it sound that way to you guys? Whatta’ you think, Jug?”

“Sounds that way to me, Red.”

“You know what? We’ll leave this for later, Hero, but

you should be more careful wit’ ya’ mouth, know what I mean?”

“Yeah, Red, I know what ya’ mean.” Oh, yeah, sure you’re

right. Dirty bastards.

“Good, ’cause I like ya’, I know Jug likes ya’, right

fella’s? Everybody likes Hero? Right? We know you can’t

help it if you’re Jewish, it’s not your fault, ya’ little

Hebe’ fuck, you, c’mere.”

Now Hero knew how it felt to be someone else’s dog and

it wasn’t very nice. Twisted and convoluted to mischievous

ends, crews, especially white crews, could get very stupid

and very violent very quickly. And all this was only the

tip of the iceberg that he had sailed around everyday

for the last twenty-two months. Its tip was nothing more

than a small frozen buoy in an otherwise  empty, freezing

cold sea full of choppy waves and flash thunder storms.

Under the surface the iceberg was humongous and extremely

slow moving often changing course so that he could never

safely anticipate where it might go. Hero saw where the

troublemakers had tied themselves to the top of this great

block of black frozen water with long lengths of ripped

and braided state sheets with which they swung themselves

out over the waves stirring up shit and then returned in

overlapping elliptical orbits that were drawn smaller and

smaller as they searched their immediate areas without ever

missing any opportunity to do some kind of dirt. A lot of

them were nothing more than patronizing politicians after

the fashion of Boss Tweed and other less well known working

class bullies only dumber. Some were real deviants. Sick

vicious men and killers, un-redeamable killers. Prejudiced and

Opinionated. These Hero called, “Shitbags.” Once they’d

graduated they were, “Scumbags.” He’d discovered these perfect

names, quite by accident, almost fifteen years ago

while he was doing his first bid for attempted robbery.

Some friendly white dudes he’d been hanging around with

had set him up to catch a beat down inside the yard recreation

shack. It was delivered by some scumbag who breathed to

create trouble. And the reason? He was too friendly with a nigger.

Sometimes Hero thought Jughead was a scumbag. He’d seen a

few of his shitbag moves and felt more than a little uncomfortable when he’d tried to pull one of them on him. Hero

had his share of dirt hidden under the carpet, mostly sneak-thieving rapos’ lockers but that was years ago while he

was doing his second bid for attempted burglary. No, what

Hero saw when he looked at Jughead was a 6’2″, 215 LB.

psychopath who’d shake down another white guy hanging out

on the spot (the tables) just as soon as the opportunity

presented itself .. like being late paying a drug debt.


Dewey the dude, who reminded Hero of a rusty old jalopy,

owed Dre, who was a black associate of Jughead’s, for three

bags of junk he’d got off Dre that Dre was moving for someone

else. (In prison, or anywhere else for that matter,

this was one of the worst ways to conduct business: way

too many hands.) By the time Jughead was half done with

Dewey he had him paying two-and-a-half times what the original

bill had been. (Dewey went soft early on – that’s how that

happened.) The moment Jug told Dewey that Dre’d told him

that the money hadn’t arrived (street to street via U.S.

Mail) he’d started getting real shaky all of a sudden like

and that, as they say, was all she wrote. That and a lot

of jailhouse game.

Hero knew that anytime you copped drugs in the joint it

could easily end in a beef where someone – particularly

himself – might end up dead, badly hurt or scarred. (At

that time facial scars were almost de rigueur for NYSDOCS

convicts.) Hero went over the rise and fall of Dewey the

Dope’s demise while he waited for his breakfast feed-up

tray to be delivered.

“Let me see now, Dewey took the dope from Dre that Dre

had got from his man over in C-block. Par for the course,

Dopey Dewey had fourteen days to get the money to the address

Dre had given him. But of course the only letter that never

gets where it’s going on time – if at all – is the one with

your nut in it. Droopy Loopy got nervous but wouldn’t send

another money order so Jughead began to lean on him. Jug

took Henny Penny’s watch, a $2.98 plastic piece of shit,

but the principle of that event set a very bad precedent

for Doobie Dipstick who was now perceived as being, “ass.”

By the time it was all over Dumpy was in Protective Custody

(PC, punk city or the polo club) and Hero saw Jughead in

a whole new light and it wasn’t a very bright light either.

“Scumbag,” Hero said. Jughead had tried playing some simple

intimidation games with him when they’d first met a few

months ago and got nothing for his trouble except verbally

abused ..


“BUZZ! BUZZ!” This was the signal heard throughout the

jail that everyone was to lock-in because somewhere there

were prisoners fighting. Three buzzes meant prisoners were

fighting with the hacks. Other times he’d heard a paradiddle

made with a nightstick against the floor, another signal

that the C.O.’s used as an alarm. Word came down the gallery

that someone had been stabbed when the gates were cracked

upstairs for chow and that could mean only one thing to

Hero: it meant that his feed-up tray would be late this

morning. He did the math: “Someone gets stabbed and my coffee

arrives colder than usual. Don’t these scumbags have any

consideration for anyone but themselves? Probably some wannabe fat-mouthing on his gate,” he supposed, “for no other

reason than that he has a hole in his face and doesn’t know

what else to do with it.”

“Now will you look at that?” Johnny DiGocomo had said

to him last year as he stood next to some moron and pointed

at his mouth. “What a waste! Somebody went and ruined a

perfectly good asshole by putting teeth in it!”

He thought DiGocomo was a scumbag, which in fact he

was, but the guy sure knew some pretty good jokes. Even

an idiot can be dangerous, Hero thought – especially an idiot.

Some miserable frustrated young moron was going on about

some retarded shit or other not far enough down the gallery

from Hero’s cell and it carried him back to  a very sunny

day when he was fourteen years old and this arrogant black

kid with a Gumby haircut, blotchy ash-brown skin and lips

like a Ubangi headhunter was standing in his way. It was

Hero’s second day in Hawthorne Cedar Knolls: residential

pick. The Ubangi spoke:

“Do you know who I am?! I’m a Five Percenter! I could

kill you!”

Hero spun off and ran upstairs to his room leaving the

obnoxious headhunter with the bad skin standing there by

himself. From his window he could see the other kid and

began killing him nineteen different ways to Sunday before

he’d had a chance to draw his next bad breath. Hero was

clearly shaken and only now saw how his father had surely

delivered on his promise to, ” … fix your wagon .. ,” alright.

“No more free lunch!” the old bastard had kept telling

the then thirteen year old Hero as if he actually expected

him to go out and get a fulltime fucking job or something.

Now he felt helpless and alone and afraid and scared and

angry and afraid of his own angry desire to cut the Ubangi

kid a new smile and then his father although not necessarily

in that order. That arrogant bastard’s face had stayed with

him for as long as he could remember and then some. The

impression had been burned branded and seared deep into

his brain along with the stench of a week old cow’s carcass

so that his oral and nasal passages were invaded by the

odor and a foul taste that wouldn’t leave his mouth for a week and a half every time some nasty mealy mouthed creep gave Hero any shit and it would kick that awful taste right back up

although over the years he’d either learned to control the

taste of his fear or had grown so calloused that it didn’t

matter anymore.

Hero turned on his radio and put his headphones over his

ears to kill any bad his head had inside of it – feeling

a little weepy – but things were as they had always been,

more or less.

“More or less what?” he snapped back letting go tiny tears

while his radio played. Hero didn’t think he felt sorry

for himself. No, what Hero felt was sorry for everyone which,

he knew full well, was also probably a big waste of time.

He began thinking about music as language. The Torah said

He thought it odd how strangely and easily he could relate that to The Big Bang; Tibetan Buddhism; Quantum Physics; The Music of  The Spheres and The Kabala, of course. Oh, and The Bwiti.

“Can’t forget The Bwiti,” Hero said with a bit of cheer,

albeit to no one but himself. The Bwiti were members, alive

and dead, of a religious system from Gabon, Africa which

used “Eboga,” the root bark of the  plant Tabernathe eboga, in their rituals  and initiation ceremonies. Hero had eaten eboga in its refined form after being processed in a lab. The Gabonese

Fang Bwiti, one of the  tribes of Bwiti, ate the

bark of the eboga root itself.

The labbed alkoloid was called “Ibogaine and could be used to detox a heroin addict in three days without many of the usual tortures of withdrawal. It was also used to

treat cocaine addiction. Hero had taken Ibogaine

to kick dope and  after experiencing the quick detoxification

and intense visions he became a firm proponent of it.

When Hero “processed ” it was really only a half-assed

attempt to shake a “dealer’s habit” of 3 grams of heroin

a day, IV. Although he relapsed three days later

Hero always maintained that the Ibogaine had worked – it

was he who hadn’t. He’d seen the Bwiti, “The Village of the

Dead”, and intuited that most of his ideas about the Universe,

and especially his place in it, had been correct. “We are

awareness,” he’d said, “coming from and returning to awareness.”

And that was just the beginning. From his earliest

memories, Hero imagined that beings watched him from

someplace beyond this one through quantum pinholes that

connected the two. He believed that he had come from

there and was here to witness and be judged before returning

one day. Alone there Hero learned that what he expected

of the people in his life – like his parents, siblings,

the other children and his teachers – was not at all along

the lines of what they expected from him. It was this skewed

philosophy that created no end to his grief and desperate

suffering. Overnight the world became a huge haunted swamp

full of partially submerged specters in flesh, the

hard palm of his father’s open hand accelerating the illusion

of the man’s previously familiar face now turning to stone

and then to animated indifference so that it occupied, in

the split seconds interlude, Hero’s entire field of vision.

It was this filled against a backdrop of flat, beige latex

paint in a corner of the room where three lines, one of

walls and two of ceiling, met high above a similarly painted

door frame. The door frame that was to become Exhibit A

in one of the over ten-thousand doorways he would pass through

trying to escape the bigger man who bird-dogged his spirit

from even the grave. A spirit crushed by fear and shame;

hurt and frustrated by hypocritical answers that took him

in circles that always led back to himself.  Back to Hero

and his childhood cowardice. He found the combination grotesque and although tears of self-pity had sort of subsided –

the damage was done – Hero’s programming was set for self-destruct so expertly that only heroin seemed to sooth him

and even then not for very long. A habit, he’d learned,

becomes a reason for living. So long as he had to get up

and go get dope everyday (or get sick), he was still alive.

Well, after a fashion, anyway. Task. Reward. (and) Punishment.

All done and spoken for. But even a dope habit tended to

get boring.

It was as if nothing ever fit. “Nothing?” No, nothing

ever seemed to click in Hero’s life. To see himself in the

mirror, never understanding what it was other people saw,

always looking up from underneath. Hero thought that maybe

he was being a little too self-indulgent, a bit too abstract;

ambiguous even?

“Aaah! ”

Everything looked pretty simple to Hero. Was he so wrong,

he asked himself, to grow frustrated at the next person’s

mental foot dragging? Wasn’t it they who weren’t up to

snuff and slowing his progress? Hero knew he saw things

a lot differently than other people and often to his quick

demise in the hands of those with the cruelest intentions

who would crush his balls beneath the heels of their shoes

while arguing about who got to go next. The teachers; the

bullies; his mother; his father; his sister (oh, yes, his

sister); the man in the soda shop who yelled at him and

chased him out when he stood there too long trying to decide

which candy bar to buy with the change from his father’s

afternoon newspaper; the psychiatrists who told his father

whatever he wanted to hear and lied to Hero – who started

lying back and was in the end caught, drawn, and figuratively

quartered. It had gone on and on and on and on while he’d

scarred up inside like the leathery walls of a busted old

whore’s cunt. Always trying to fit in where he didn’t. Not

anywhere – not ever. That’s just the way it was. No harder,

or easier, than the billions of other people who hadn’t

but it was his. Hero’s stone to push and drag for his entire

life. That was maturity. Embracing loneliness like it was

a sure friend, tried and true. Dependable. Known.

“Pain,” he said aloud this cold September morning in Attica

when he remembered how his mother would not

give him a set of keys to the apartment when she started

back at college after three children, the oldest of

which was her daughter: the witch, followed by her first

son the schizophrenic (at the time everyone thought it was

just a very bad case of colitis) and lastly, Hero. Their

ages were twenty-two (going on eight-and-a-half); sixteen

(going into outer space); and twelve, respectively. Hero’d

spent half the school year sitting in the hallway with his

back against their door waiting for his mother to come home.

(By then both his brother and sister were hospitalized,

making guest appearances only on holidays.) During the 2

hours that he would spend in the hallway each afternoon,

many of the neighbors returning from their shopping and

jobs would see him sprawled there on the shiny floor of

the co-op they’d worked so hard to get into specifically

to avoid this type of thing. They began to ask him questions

and only then did his mother relent and give him a set of

house keys, more to save her from any further embarrassment

than anything else. Throughout her life Hero’s mother displayed

an incredibly fucked up set of values so batty that

she even admitted they were, “pretty screwy,” but this was

only on that one occasion which didn’t count for much anyway

as any self-reflection of her behavior was always met with

a small grin and an even smaller laugh. Hero came to believe

that this was the result of her having been sent to boarding

school at the age of six, living through The Depression,

and then being married to his father for over twenty-five

years. Looking back, he saw her strange annoyed anguish

at having to give him those keys. It was as if she expected

him to fuck up and wouldn’t be satisfied otherwise. He

never burned any houses down or tried to stuff the cat into

the sofa or anything like that and that’s what troubled

him so much when he learned that he’d been a “mistake” and

held that new information up, along with all those old tragic

sketches, for a better look see under this brighter light.

A re-examination of his life with those fucking strangers.

“Well, Hero, those certainly are a lot of ‘mixed signals’

you’re getting,” which was this psychiatrist’s polite way

of saying, “Look, kid, your parents are a couple of anal retentive,

anti-social psychopaths and pathological liars

to boot. You’re the third and only unplanned child. I’ll

be frank with you, kid, I don’t know what you expected

but I need the hundred and twenty bucks your overpaid father

is giving me to pump you for info that’ll match his paranoid

delusions of your various plots to kill him. That’s what

this 45 minute hour is all about, see? So just go with the

flow, ok?”

But eventually, Hero did fuck up. His parents had gone

away for the summer, to their house in the country, leaving

a fourteen year old Hero all by himself. When Dad came home

for his monthly check up on son Hero he was speechless.

This time he’d come home a week early. (This was no coincidence either. Hero Sr. believed with all his heart and

soul that, “If you’re paranoid, you’re probably right,”

even though he didn’t have a clue as to who Robert Anton

Wilson was.) Hero had fucked up so bad, so big time, that

it was a miracle his old man didn’t kill him dead. The boy

had stuck his foot so deep into his father’s psyche that

the older man never fully forgave him. Hero had gotten laid

on his parents’ bed and the lovely blond virgin, Luba, had

bled on the sheets and into the mattress. Hero, ever the

young devil-may-care Playboy, hadn’t bothered to flip the mattress or clean up the apartment which looked as if there had been a major party there – which in fact there had. To aggravate

matters further, if that was possible, Hero’d developed

a taste for wearing women’s clothing. When his father found

his panty hose, high heels and bras laying out in full view,

he threw every last bit of it into the incinerator and then

commenced to pounding Hero into a soft pulp on the kitchen

floor. As a result of this, and the subsequent beatings he

suffered no doubt as some new form of sex therapy his

father, the associate professor of sociology and licensed

therapist could have patented calling it the “Repression/

Failure and Emotional Crippling Technique” or maybe just

“SOCKO-Therapy” for short – Hero became a frustrated “freak”

(please note lower case “f”) full of confusion and self-loathing.

Years later he speculated that his father’s anger

was most probably piqued by finding his bed smelling better

than it ever had when he’d been in it. To Hero, that particular

beating was the crowning summation of years of beatings

for things he did and things he did not. He chuckled  remembering how his mother had once yelled at his father as the

man was giving him an extra good throttling, “Shelly!,”

she’d cried, but her tone was born more of an annoyed request

riddled with deadly indifference for both his father

and he rather than out of any maternal concern.

If Hero’s father got angry or upset with him he beat

him up always appearing, because he surely was, to be

barely able to hold back his rage and heartfelt wanton desire

to murder the boy  he privatly referred to as, “the third

mouth.” If Hero’s mother got angry or upset with him his

father beat, throttled and terrorized him and if Hero’s

mother got angry or upset with his father it was all over.

Hero tried but couldn’t  remember one time that his mother

had comforted him after one of those beatings. If his mother

became even mildly agitated with either of Hero’s siblings

he caught the flak from his father just as soon as his mother

was out of earshot  usually in the form of hissed threats

and growled blood oaths of reprisal for blame placed, and

misplaced, whether he’d had anything to do with it or not.

Once, his mother stabbed his father in the hand with a fork

and then tore up the driveway of their summer home as she

pulled out, leaving the then nine year old Hero all alone

with the madman. He hid under the house until she came back.

(Not that she was very inclined to protect him anyway, but

the old man was less inclined to hurt him when she was around.)

“Ah, yes,” Hero would joke, imitating W.C. Fields, “I

was born an accidental child to accidental parents, more

a bundle of sticks than any bundle of joy. And, why, yes,

I  born with a silver spoon in my mouth, does it still

show? A little later on in life, when I started to grow

and get hungrier, my father tried to shove it straight down

my fucking throat.”

And throughout Hero’s life his cold, gray, mummified

pumice stone of a mother – with a razor blade for a tongue

and galvanized roofing nails for teeth – with stale urine

pumping through her constricted little veins – could always

be counted on to flip on him given any good opportunity

that she could find. After all, wasn’t it because of him

that she’d been torn asunder by that terrible blunder of

thunder working two and three jobs, eating scrambled eggs

for his suppers and then heading back out to social work?

“Social work,” Hero once said, “sounds like a description

for experienced partying, or some such bullshit. Social

Work? I’ve heard of a social disease, but I ain’t never

heard  of no Social Work!”

Twenty-two years later, Hero thought about beautiful Luba,

his first love and that Summer of Fists. (He was a big-boy

by then, no more spankings for him.) Luba was so sweet and

smart and he could never shut-up when he was around her.

Even her mother had commented on it. When his father said

that he was going to send him away to Hawthorne, Luba

told  Hero not to let them send him away and that it would

change him for the worse, to find a way out of going, to

run away if he had to. She was very adamant about this.

Well he didn’t and it did.

And now? Forty-something girls (and a couple of guys)

later, Hero imagined love, what it felt like to be really

close with someone who knew you and loved you. Too much

of what he saw people calling love didn’t remind him of

any love he ever imagined. Hero didn’t love his car, like

the people in some dumb commercial cried, jumping for joy

as though they’d just discovered they were capable of shitting

gold nuggets. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been in love.

“Shitty ol’ love,” he whispered to the walls of his cage

and heard his stomach growling. “Couldn’t I help it?” he

asked the ceiling. He tried to catalog the great loves of

his life in order of affection and loyalty and came instantly

to the sad memory of two girls he’d had short, yet intense,

relationships with who had both died of AIDS. Now they were

Great Loves, Hero decided, bathed in the light of their suffering

deaths. One had been a celebrated poet from Chicago

and the other an artist who lived in the East Village with

her husband and their young son. He was certain that at

least one of them was very probably infected when he’d slept

with her. It was only a question of timing, luck and Death.

He’d learned about their passing shortly after finishing

up a twenty-one month bid for attempted burglary. Some catty-cutey,

a friend of the Artist’s, had run into him in the park.

“Hey, Hero, remember Peggy? You used to fuck her.”

“Yeah, why?”

“She’s dead. She died of AIDS.”

And the word “AIDS” fell between them much in the same

way it did everywhere, whether in conversation or print:

like a 16LB. sledgehammer on a beautiful, ripe juicy grape.

“All those girls,” Hero thought about the others a little

overwhelmed by the sex of it all. He felt good about having

had so many women, as overrated as it was.

“Go ‘head wit yo’ bad natr’l sef’, He’ro!” and then he

laughed at his memory of a black girl named Donna who’d

told a twenty-four year old Hero, “You know, Hero,

for a whiteboy you can fuck,” and then she’d sucked his


Donna was Black Rock n’ Roll for the late Edge-Metal

80’s. She wore her hair long and relaxed and her skin was

super-dark brown and very heavy under Hero’s tongue. She

had voluptuous tits with upturned nipples. He liked her

big sexy lips and sweet pink below coarse black pubic hair.

One night Hero and Donna fucked at her apartment on East 12th

street and he stole her wake-up bag and broke out before

she got up the next morning. He smiled remembering how she

not only forgave his scuttle-butt-junky-thieving-ass but

even told him, “What the fuck? I mean, you’re a junky, right?”

in some now all but forgotten dialect of Valley Speak. Two

or three years later, while in police custody and awaiting

arraignment inside the Manhattan Criminal Courts building,

someone called his name in a voice that sounded like

wine to him. Extremely dope sick and on his way to Rikers

Island, Hero looked up to see where this sweet sound had

come from in that dungeon full of cold, stale, nicotine

stagnant air and dirty misery and there was Donna, last

in a line of six women all handcuffed at the left

wrist and connected by a long chain. Quickly, she told him

that she’d been charged with hijacking a truck or some

such dumb ass shit, but it couldn’t have been much dumber than

Hero’s reason for being there which, thankfully, there wasn’t

enough time to tell. Hero liked Donna a lot. He wondered what

ever happened to that cool black girl? Sweet, sexy and tolerant,

Donna had big dreams of becoming a big star.


Hero was hungry and experienced a very weird voice inside

his head that began, “combo’ -nation steaks! hey, you thar’,

hey, Boy! Now I don’t wanna’ git’ ugly so don’t be pullin’

out yer’ pecker an’ pissin’ in mah’ stream o’ consciousness;

got it? – get it? – good. Y’all git’ queer, ya’ hear?”

Hero felt like he was sitting in a hammock and walking

on closed-cell foam rubber  like he was standing on a dock

that moved almost imperceptibly with every wave

and ripple no matter how small they were. He’d felt this

way for the last week only going to the doctor in Attica

was like playing Russian Roulette with a semi-automatic.

“It’ll have to be killing me before I give these bastards

the satisfaction!” That’s what Wild Bill had told Hero back

in his last jail, Groveland. He liked Bill and even missed

the big bearded man. Bill had been around and was very likely

the only other person in Groveland, besides himself, who

knew who Pete Seeger was. He drifted over to his “Stupid

Mistakes” file and recounted how he been thrown out of Groveland six months earlier: he’d placed the loose blade from

a disposable razor inside a container of dental floss knowing

full well that this was not a safe hiding place for

  1. When it was found during a routine search, six C.O.s

escorted him out of the dorm and into the C-block sergeants’

office where some junior jerk-off clown of a sergeant with

a comically short military mustache tried desperately to

scare him.

Hero’s only solid recollection of the entire interrogation

was that if that jerk off sergeant had attempted to trim

his mustache any thinner than it already was it would have

ceased to exist. He didn’t hear a fucking thing that man

said, he just kept watching that teen’sy, eansy line of facial

hair moving up and down and up and down as though he were

actually paying attention. Hero caught 90 days in the Box

and a one-way ticket to Attica but he liked Attica, sort

of, well, compared to Groveland anyway. He’d hated “Groovyland” as it was commonly referred to because of all the

free movement, its tennis court and two lane bowling alley.

Hated it there for certain. “Probably better off this way.”

He liked the privacy of his cell. Groveland was a medium

security facility full of dormitories with cubicles, or

cubes, in them made of metal dividers four feet high so

that everyone could look right into everyone else’s cube.

It drove Hero crazy with paranoid rage whenever someone’d

looked in his cube. In a max, like Attica, that was a challenge;

in Groveland, it was the status quo.

“Real crab shit,” he’d always say. Most mediums were teeming

with wanna’be “gangsta’s” who didn’t have two thin

dimes to rub together  but they had razors and wouldn’t

think twice about using them so long as their victims weren’t

looking. This was retardedly dubbed “Razor Tag” after the

children’s  game where in one “tags” someone else and then

runs. Real tough guys went “Gun to Gun” with shanks or bangers.

None of that pussy-ass razor tag shit for them. Prison

had its codes, rules that men had lived by for centuries.

They were definitions of behavior that allowed men in inhuman

situations to retain, no matter what, some degree of their

humanity. It was the more animal side of this nature that

kept Hero’s focus in prison on a very even keel, a realistic

admission that the gates were locked and he wasn’t leaving

until the Police opened them, not barring any extraordinary

events. To remain whole, human.

“You could be right all. day around here. Nobody gives

a fuck!” was a better motto than,

“If you don’t like it – don’t come to jail!” any day.

The complications of these hard facts, combined with

all the bullshit politics the scumbags perpetrated, made

for some very hectic waking nightmares that had ruined reputations, got some guys hurt and other guys dead. Then,

to top it all off, there were the punishments the police

had for you from a bullshit ticket (Misbehavior Report),

to outside charges in the local county court where everybody

was either related to half the C.O.s in the jail or grade

school pals suddenly reunited in this great and noble cause:

to nail your ass no matter how many laws they had to bend

or break to do it. Hero’d seen guys indicted six months

after the alleged crime and offered a cop-out which once

refused usually resulted in a dismissal. That meant the D.A.’s

office had charged a Grand Jury, prepared an indictment,

and then chose, for some mysterious reason, not to take the

case to trial. That was enough right there to one day get

someone’s ass in a real tight sling. It wasn’t Kosher, no

sir. Inmates, though, usually weren’t too concerned with

more than the cop-out, and the D.A.’s office worked from

the premise that they were already guilty and, as such,

weren’t deserving of the full protection of the law anyway.

Now where the jail might give a guy box time the court

could give him a whole new bid to start only after the one

he was doing was over. Donald Nash, The CBS Killer, was

doing something like twenty years in the Box along with

another life sentence on top of the four or five he had,

Seems that while Nash was working in the mess hall at Auburn,

some jerk off scumbag started fucking with him. Now Nash, who

was an old-timer, at least sixty and not used to taking

any shit from anyone, took eight utility razor blades

– the big ones – and after pulling out the metal edge of

one of those 12″ wooden school rulers, he installed them

instead. Then, at some opportune moment, he wacked the

guy dead in his neck almost decapitating the motherfucker.

Nash would die in the Box.

That reminded Hero of another fucked-up aspect of the

Penitentiary. If a guy had a heart attack in his cell how

would anyone know? The hacks were supposed to walk the gallery once every fifteen minutes. “Yeah, right!” he’d said when

he heard that one. He figured that if he were to drop dead

in his cell they would have probably realized it just about

the time rigor mortise had started to set in and then only

because he wasn’t standing up for the count.

Poor old Nash. He’d caught another life bid, 25 to Life.

When the judge gave him a 1 to 3 for the weapon rumor

has it that he threw a major fit insulted by the judge’s

lack of appreciation for the lethal complexity of the device.

Hero was doing a skid-bid. A 2½ to 5, which at that particular

moment in New York State’s political history was

about 3 years. Nobody who saw a parole board was making

it out on their first shot. Only very, very rarely. In the

preceding twenty months he had heard about nothing but

two year hits also known as getting “Deuced.” Everyone

was seeing their C.R. (Conditional Release = 2/3rd‘s of their

maximum sentence.) Thirteen years ago, when he’d done his

first bid (he was now about half-way through his third)

only fuck-ups C.R.ed. Now it was a given, thanks to good

old George – Fearless Leader and HHIC (Head Honky In Charge) – Pataki; Vice Presidential timber and consummate scumbag nonpareil. Hero laid back on his rack and to thinking –again – about how he could’ve run on his combined bails of $13,000 and split with the ten-grand cash he’d had left over.

“Could I have gone seven years (the statute of limitations

on Possession of Narcotics in the Third Degree) without

an arrest?” he wondered.

“Maybe, maybe not.”

Instead, he’d walked into court all on his own and went

to jail.

“I must’ve been high,” which in fact he was – and had

been for the entire nineteen months prior to that day. Standing

there in Manhattan Supreme Court with his fishy $10G

scumbag lawyer next to him he looked over his shoulder

and happened to see the legal aid attorney who’d handled

his first felony case back in 86′. That was the one for

the attempted robbery during which he’d somehow managed

to hide the gun while trying to get away. The cops promised

him six months in jail and five years probation if he’d

just tell them where he’d hidden it. He did and they didn’t.

The D.A. tried to give him a 2 to 6 until he cried bloody

murder and “settled” for a 1 1/2 to 4 instead. The only

things that had really changed since then was the money

Hero now had to buy a fucking lawyer, his ability to do

the time and, oh, yeah, the legal aid was balder.

Twenty months had passed since then and for all the turmoil

and distress  he still saw himself as moving forward in

a fairly smooth fashion.

“Yeah, right!” Hero barked and immediately he remembered

the female parole commissioner at one of his board appear-

ances (on his second bid there had been three) who asked

him if he had anything to say. Hero said, “Yes, I’m twenty-seven

now and I think I have an idea of where my life is

going,” and suddenly, in a room that had been as quiet as

the inside of a coffin, someone burst out laughing. That

lady really busted a gut.

After a sum total of just over seven years of incarceration,

Hero had learned something that was as plain as the

nose on his face and yet hidden, hanging directly under

it: the hard part about doing time wasn’t having so many

years to do, that that was hard went without saying; the

truly hard part about doing time was the next six seconds

which would repeat themselves over and over – a gazillion

times over – again and again and again. Passionately occupied,

or even merely kept busy, time went surprisingly quick.

Just enough of the correct distractions was all it took.

Without handball, softball, weights, jogging, cards, checkers,

chess, a job and or school, time hung like a 40lb. millstone

with a big thick rope through its center hole tied tightly

around your neck. You might grow somewhat accustomed to

it but no matter how you moved the stone would never let

you forget it was there. Hero saw men with stones tied

high around their necks – all bent over and stooped – most

near to dragging their broken backs in fact. Over half the

medication line was like that, all bent out of shape by time

and tardive dyskinesia.

That was some of what Hero had learned. He believed, correctly

Too, that any amount of time spent in prison always

had an effect on a person. There was a strange directional

element to all of it so that the more time a guy did the

farther in a certain direction he might go. He’d met guys

who were just miserable sons-of-bitchs and others, although

a lot rarer, who were the kind of guys who never had a bad

word to say about anyone. He could count those guys on one

hand and still pick his nose.

Hero recalled a dream he had when he’d first got to Groveland.

In it, he was standing on some very large broken pieces

of concrete, some almost twenty feet high. They were part

of a jagged line that grew taller and taller leading from

inside the jail right up to the edge of the double

concertina wire topped chain-link fences that surrounded

the compound. Hero climbed the great craggy rocks toward

a stand of tall pines that grew on the other side of the

highest fence. Higher and higher he went when he chanced

to look down and saw huge snakes as big as six feet in circumference slithering everywhere below him. With no option

to turn around and go back, and the top of the fence still

too high to reach, he decided he would jump except he woke

up before he could. Two days later, Hero was moved out of the

reception dorm and into what was rumored to be the worst

dorm on the compound. Full of snakes. Predominantly black,

the inmates there practiced a form of reverse discrimination

he’d never experienced in any of the twenty jails he’d done

time in. They were grimy, sometimes sneak thieving from

new white guys. They were obnoxious and overtly rude so

enthused by their own numbers were they. He spat at the

memory because over time he’d found out that alone ninety

percent of them were cowards and snitches. Hero wondered –

if there was any divine retribution – what reward could

he expect for all the times he hadn’t hurt people when they’d

surely had it coming? A voice, a familiar voice, said to

him, “Yes, there is a reward and it is this: you are born

– you live your life for perceived good or evil within their

contexts – for better and worse – and when you die, your

payoff will be that you are done with this bullshit, you’ll

move on to a new place, with new rules, which has always

been better because it is.”

“Oh,” Hero said. But he wasn’t so sure.


The sunset above the wall that surrounded Attica was unremarkable that Saturday evening and passed while Hero broiled something that was supposed to be a hamburger, a leftover from his lunchtime feed up – the six cup hot-pot spit grease and hissed loudly as it cooked, there was no temperature

control save the plugging and unplugging of its cord. Celtic

music on the radio made Hero happy – and a little sad at

the same time. He loved to daydream about all the places

he’d never seen, so much wasted time. “But I can only begin

to set things straight here in my own head.”

Hero, smart and dumb all at the same time, didn’t like

the way the world rushed and pushed and pulled him in a

thousand different directions whose paths for him had always

ended at either the welfare office, some miserable pointless

job with a ball-breaking boss and backstabbing co-workers,

the cooker or in prison. He’d once begged for change shaking

a paper coffee cup while on crutches, his lower left leg

and foot in a cast. When the cast was removed he was still

bumming change. People who knew Hero avoided him or merely

walked right on past holding their eyes unnaturally high

and straight ahead with their chins up just a tad, steeled

against the embarrassing  discomfort the pain of pending

recognition would induce as a lame, fake and phony exchange

of greetings took place. They would see the emaciated Hero

from a distance and crinkle their faces into tight focus

as if they had smelled something bad and only wished to

travel through its wafting odor as quickly as possible.

At Second Avenue and St. Mark’s Place he’d had a spot

on the bank door in the evening. A most coveted spot among

panhandlers, and rightly so, because the police rarely bothered

anyone working it and you could easily average ten

bucks an hour opening the door for customers as they walked

in to use the ATM and then again when they walked back

out. That was nine years ago. Hero had gone downhill fast

and lost everything to get there. A cheap ground floor apartment,

his girlfriends, his tools, his clothes and all

manner of possessions that he’d liked and valued and sold

for dope. All gone. Then, he’d had a paper coffee cup and

slept in the boiler room of a friend’s building only a block

from the bank.

“It was a warm, clean boiler room, too,” he said to himself

with cozy memories of that cold winter when he was eased

to sleep each night by the white noise of the boiler firing

up to make more precious heat.

He always managed to begin each day with at least two

dollars for a French toast breakfast and a cup of tea at

The Early Bird around the corner on First Avenue and Sixth

Street. Drinking government subsidized methadone and shooting

poor quality cocaine he existed but only just barely.

This went on for about a year. He was a mess.


Hero looked up to see the sun setting still but now she’d

changed into a leftover line of orange light on the horizon.

Above this the orange was brushed up lightly into fading

white like one of those orange ice-creams on a stick and

and then into a darker hazy blue and farther up into a solid

even darker blue that appeared quite deep and pure. Soothing

compared to his memories of homelessness. Hero wanted to

know how many sunsets he had left in his life. He recalled

the friend who’d used the same analogy with summers and

coming from that fellow he had to laugh and shake his

head. That dude was one of the biggest flakes held ever

known. When they’d me Hero was dealing coke and herb, not even twenty-one and freebasing in the after hours clubs like it was alright. Those early East Village days came floating up

to the top of a small pond in his mind making the surface

of the water dark and oily so he flushed the toilet and

quickly closed the lid. Besides, it was time for “Whatta’

Ya’ Know?” with Michael Feldman on PRI, one of his favorite

radio shows. It had jazz and jokes and interesting interviews

and Hero’s television was broken. Tonight  Feldman

spoke with Scottish author James Kelman. Hero laid back

on his rack and listened while studying a large fly who

was dancing about on the ceiling of his cell in great hops

and jumps – swooping in curved arcs to land again and again

on the yellow, nicotine stained roof of his cage. It was

courting a patch of frayed brown cardboard someone had glued

to the ceiling that was about an inch square and, from what

Hero could see, devoid of anything but aging brown paper.

The fly was infatuated with the patch so much that it eventually

stopped it’s dancing and took up residence on it.

Hero liked Kelman and thought he was a very good writer.

He read a very short story from one of his books about a

young man who worked in an acid factory and fell feet first

into one of the vats. Screaming so as to freeze everyone

in their tracks all over the factory, the only man to go

to the young man’s aid was his father who ran up the catwalk

over the vat with a long pole in his hands.

“Sorry, lad,” he yelled just before he pushed the boy’s

head and shoulders under the acid. Kelman explained that

everything below that was already destroyed and how stories

like this were quite common. Hero recalled, quite vividly

too, a story from his childhood about a man who supposedly

slipped and fell into a great big wood chipper. His brother,

who could have turned the machine off when he was only in it

up to his waist, let it run instead. He didn’t think

any of these stories were true but somewhere who knew?

There was, he decided, a greater allegorical message to

Them. He just wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Dozing in the warm hazy comfort, lulled to the very edge

of sleep by the sound of Feldman’s voice and the shows

live jazz  Hero felt familiar and friendly with the entire

cast and even the audience, too – a family

by proxy with them in a place where everyone was happy,

intelligent and sane. They were his life preserver – once

a week – inside the swirling low I.Q. cesspool that he

was trying so desperately not to drown in as he went mad

treading sewage.

Paranoia was Hero’s stock and trade and when it got the

best of him he saw enemies everywhere. Even the least ques-

tionable perception of a possible threat was actual and

real sometimes. Exactly what manner of blessing he’d received

so that he hadn’t killed anyone (so far) in his thirty-five

years of breathing was surely worthy of mention.

Now, on the other hand, whereas many of the thoughts leading

to his thorough justification of such acts were all too

common to the inside of his head and, after five years of

Lithium, now up to a dose of 1350mg a day, Hero saw a rather

ugly and disconcerting picture being painted – especially

given his current address. Also, since Thursday of that

week he’d had the strange sensation that his body was moving

ever so slightly in and out of time with itself. (That was

the best description he had for it, so far, and knew that

it wasn’t a very good one either.) He likened the feeling

to that of lying in a hammock when it swung in a gentle

breeze just the littlest bit so that you hardly even noticed

  1. In too large a dose, lithium could do something similar,

but he hadn’t experienced any of the other usual side effects

that would have indicated this to be the case. Hero’s sight

had become disturbed, too: bright flashes of off white

light appeared for fractions of a second on the periphery

of his vision. Since the temperature had started to

drop a few days ago he had suffered some hypomania anyway

and knew it wasn’t all that uncommon for him to see small

sections of the floor turn wavy – the same went for other

normally flat surfaces that could develop movements within

themselves that didn’t reflect the correct depth of his

focus as they should have. It was always worse in the shadows

and in the dark, especially, but it would occur in

regular light also. Hero supposed his hypo-manic brain was

over stimulating his visual centers like a tiny electrical

storm or something. He compared the sensations to those

others called “tripping” only he’d never needed to take

anything to see these things. It wasn’t an all the time

thing, just always there in one form or another sometimes

stronger and sometimes weaker.

He worried about having too much medication in his body

and falling into lithium stupor. In his mind’s eye Hero

saw his corpse lying on the floor of his cell eyes glazed

over and beginning to gel into fly food. His head busted

wide open in a sticky drying pool of blood – a dark reflective

crimson halo. There he lay, his mouth all agape

with a long line of spittle stretching to the floor – unable

to do a fucking thing to save himself. Done in by someone

else’s laziness for a change.

It was time for bed. Hero took off his state-boots and

stuffed the cuffs of his state pants down inside the tops

of his state socks – he was warmer that way – took a piss

and struggled with the button on the wall that flushed the

toilet. (It was so hard to push that he’d noticed a callous

growing on the very bottom of his palm before he ever realized

what had caused it.) He brushed his teeth with his

state tooth brush and state toothpaste, removed his state eye glasses, crawled in between his state sheets underneath

his thin ass state blanket and fluffed up his state jacket

because he didn’t have a state pillow which were always

in artificially short supply unless you knew the right person

or had a pack of Flavors – menthol cigarettes for someone

in the state shop. Even the damn bed frame was state made.

They called it “Corcraft” for correctional crafts,

and they made everything they gave him – everything he’d need

while he was inside.

The big fly was still fucking around up on the ceiling,

and Hero figured it must’ve liked it up there where it

was warmer ’cause the view had to suck.

Three cells down there lived a creepy Rasta (he was too

old to be a Rude Boy) who called himself “General” although

Hero had never seen any troops or tanks anywhere eyen remot-

ly near him. At all hours of the day and night he would

play the worst dub Jamaica had to offer at an almost deafening

volume. It had been the source of a near beef involving

Hero, Jughead, Q and General which, without a doubt, wouldn’t

have ended until everybody was out in the A-block yard in

a full scale riot between the white boys and the Jamaicans.

Luckily, Hero’d been given a set of earplugs by someone

over in maintenance and they usually kept out enough

of the noise for him to sleep. General behaved as if there

were nothing wrong with keeping half the company awake at

night. He had a little build, a little size and a little

heart, but mostly what General had was blinding ignorance.

The music wasn’t just a territorial statement aimed at the

white boys, it was also for the cops. The music, way too

loud to possibly be enjoyable, even for General’s low-income

ass, was a control vehicle and scent marker for this space

in which he’d lived for the last eight years and would

certainly live another seven if not more. General was

doing 15 to Life and slowly but surely it was doing


Hero spent hours daydreaming about tossing a hot-pot full

of seriously boiling water mixed with baby-oil and a

generous dash of jalapeno pepper juice dead in General’s

mug piece, “just for shits an’ giggles,” he’d told Jughead

one day. General acted so proud, too, so arrogant, as if

he genuinely believed that nothing could ever happen to

his monkey ass.

With his earplugs snugly in place, Hero laid his monkey ass

down in bed and tried to ignore the fact that General

was playing his radio so fucking loud that the sound was

seeping in right past them. Some guy on a popular black

radio station was blathering on about black entertainers

in “The Industry” which, Hero knew, was short for “The Rap

Industry.” The guy pointed out that a successful rapper

named Master P was, at less than forty, worth somewhere

around $360 million. Hero ventured that it was facts like

this that convinced guys like General of how just how right

they were to behave so obnoxious, racist and arrogant all

of the time. General’s neighbor, Shahkuon (or whatever the

fuck he was calling himself that week) told General about

some black population “sasistics” he’d read. When General

heard that the number of blacks in the U.S. was on the rise;

he said, “They can’t stop us!” all matter of fact like.

That was it for Hero, the guy had such an inflated image

of himself it was pathetic.

One afternoon, while watching TV, Hero overheard him

describe Goldie Hawn as, “a white demon bitch,” in one

breath and then ask him for coffee with the next. Hero

speculated about poisoning the clown.

Prison was full of racists and every imaginable form of

prejudice was practiced with a fervor and zeal worthy of

a Born Again Christian on speed. At the very bottom of the

ladder were the pedophiles and rapists who were called

“Rapo’s.” Rapo’s were harassed and tortured at literally every

available opportunity by both cons and cops alike. Hero

didn’t think it was such a good idea though because it certainly

wasn’t going to help them stop doing whatever it

was they’d been doing that was so bad to begin with. Years

ago an old-timer told him, “Who am I to judge anyone? I

came here to do my time, not to be The Lone Fucking Ranger,

know what I mean, kid?”

Hero loved guys like that – good guys who were criminals

by profession, business, brought up in this thing. He’d

noticed they were disappearing. Everyone called these shmucky,

mush-brained kids coming in nowadays “The New Breed.”

Hero thought an old slow dog was smarter than anyone of

these young scumbags.

Up and down the ladder every stereotype was applied, and

many even aspired to, by guys who wanted to be card carrying

members of one of the lowest forms of humanity on their

way to becoming the deafest, dumbest and blindest promoters

of their own full blown, self serving, “gotta’ get mine’s” ignorance and paranoia. The very system these losers were

forever decrying as, “holding them down,” their entire lives –

in some as yet unnumbered circle of Hell – infected each

thought and motive; erasing any hint of individuality, originality or,”ha!” morality, until Hero could see nothing

but tens of thousands of young Black and Latino kids acting

out their very own rap video; each in his cell bobbing up

and down arrogantly waving his arms before his screwface

and proclaiming with Righteous pride, “I have arrived,

baby! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Their cheap headphones providing

the soundtrack to their own gang-related, gangsta’s, Four

Star Rap Video debut. They were all of them just waiting to

be discovered. In the mean time? Oh, you know, they mostly

aped each other’s images and played razor-tag, survived

as best they knew how – which wasn’t very well – and blamed

all their failures and shortcomings on white people, the

nearest of whom were usually other prisoners who, in their

turn, were just as racist and even farther removed in excuse

making from anything even remotely resembling a theory of

supremacy based in reason. Equally despised by the police,

both groups acquitted them as surprisingly good sense would

dictate. Besides, their own ranks were already rife with

informers. This was. “The New Breed ” although “Inbred”

was more like it.

“One in four,” his lawyer had told him, “are cooperating.”

Hero believed the cops hated criminals so much because they

themselves were only a half-step above them. And with the

notion that his world might hold some type of obscene order,

at least in his mind, Hero tiredly fell asleep with his

face towards the wall.

“The truth doesn’t always set you free,” he dreamt and

then of a warm kitchen full of lots of home-cooked food.