"How old is Smurf?"
"Say that again, I had my earphones on."
"Smurf, how old is he?"
"Let me get this straight - I'm in The Zone, writing a five-page essay on how Emily Dickinson's shut-in ass can't tell a train from a horse, and you decide to ask me about Smurf?"
"OK, but before I answer that question, here's a question for you: What the hell is wrong with you?"
"You don't have to be a jerk; either answer the question or don't. You don't even know, do you?"
"Of course I know how old Smurf is. Late sixties somewhere. He may be seventy by now."
"Huh. I was just down here thinking about Smurf's gang, that's why I asked."
"Oh yea, that's right. I had forgotten about his little crew."
"What were they called again, FAG?"
"Boy, if he ever found out you said that he'd put a hit out on you. He called his group FOGG, remember? The Fuckin' Old Guys Gang."
"Yeah, that's it. And he even had that wild hand signal that was a mix between a claw and a dead fish."
"I had forgotten about that too. You know, at first I used to think he was just joking around about FOGG like I do with the Superfriends. But then I was telling him about how he needed to start paying me dues every week because Superfriends was older and larger than FOGG, which made his organization a subsidiary of my own if he wanted FOGG to be active in Terre Haute. Smurf's reaction was priceless, I'll never forget it: He narrowed those beady little eyes, gave me that half-chuckle, half-sigh of his and said to me 'I'll slap fire out of your ass if you ever suggest something like that again. FOGG pays dues to no one.' And he was dead serious!"
"Ha ha! What did you do?"
"What could I do? It's Smurf. I tried not to laugh when I apologized and offered him an extra bag of bacon from the butcher shop the next day. As soon as he heard that he was all toothless grins again and mumbling 'Yeah yeah yeah.'"
"Poppa Smurf does love his bacon."
"He did. At a borderline obsession level really. Everyone I've talked to who's been doing time with Smurf for years has told me that for as long as they've known him Smurf ate bacon like it was his last meal on earth. Remember that awful bacon we'd been getting until about a year ago, the stuff with a green stripe down every piece? Smurf loved that stuff more than anything in the world. He would have attacked his own mother for just a scrap. I'd bring out a couple of sandwich bags full of the stuff and deliver it to him at lunch twice a week. Before he'd walk out of the chow hall, he'd break down the two fat bags into six smaller bags and stuff them down his socks and in his shoes and down his pants like it was bags of heroin he was smuggling back to the cellblock. The love affair between him and bacon had been like that for decades, I guess. Then that good, real bacon came in for a few months. As soon as Smurf tasted that new stuff it was like somebody flipped a switch off inside him. After that Smurf never touched bacon again. The smell nauseated him and the appearance revolted him. Whenever bacon was served he'd stay in his cell and eat Ramen soups."
"That's crazy, I didn't know that."
"Not too many people did except me and Tiny and we only knew because he wouldn't take any more from us. Honestly, I think Smurf somehow got it into his head that, by the person ordering good bacon, he was being patronized. Like he'd been gorging himself for so many years on sub-standard swine that to be given some real stuff was a cruel joke; throwing a dog a bone. So Smurf got offended. That's just conjecture, though. Smurf's kinda weird."
"After being locked up for 40 years I'd say anybody would be weird."
"Yeah, forty years. Can you believe that? When I look at 40 years as 40 years the number seems bad enough. But when I individualize each year in my mind and count them off - one, two, three, four, ten, twenty, thirty-five, forty - the amount of time becomes an entirely different animal. I mean, think about how every one of those years had four seasons, twelve months and 365 days, from year one to year forty. That's a whole lot of days waking up to concrete and razor wire just for robbing banks."
"The Feds are messed up. You were already in the hole when he left, weren't you?"
Yes. And I was mad about it too. I heard there was a big celebration for him."
"Except for Tiny, you talked to him more than anybody. How did he feel about going home? Was he excited?"
"Man, Smurf was on serious Shawshank Redemption mode. And he wasn't shy about the fact either. If you ever asked him he'd tell you in a heartbeat that he was scared to death. Once I was over in his cell at the old man's unit to drop some cigarettes off when we got on the topic of his wife and kids and grandkids and what it would be like to see them again. It was horrible, Smurf started to cry. I thought he was sobbing because he missed them and reassured him that he'd be out there with them soon enough. Messed me up when he said that it wasn't the fact that he missed his family that hurt, but the fact that he didn't miss them. That's deep. Guess you can't miss people you don't even know. Those were a seriously unsettling ten-minutes right there, having to watch a man who's spent 40 years of his life in high-security prisons and escaped from two of them have tears dripping from his face because he's scared to go home."
"How much time do you have left again, Smitty?"
"Assuming I win my trial, about three more years."
"Yeah? That's not too bad."
"No, it isn't."
"If I don't win this appeal, I've got 17 years to go."
"When I first got here I thought Smurf was a predator."
"I know that's crazy, but that's the vibe I got from him at first."
"Ha, no, I mean what the hell is a 'predator'?"
"You know, I'm a young guy with a smooth face and never been to prison before. People always told me the stories about how I shouldn't take gifts from people and how if anyone leaves a candy bar on my pillow not to eat it because there's always a price to pay."
"So Smurf put a candy bar on your pillow?"
"No, smartass, he didn't leave a candy bar on my pillow. Look, when I first got here Smurf was still working in the barber shop..."
"And I'm up in the barber shop getting a haircut just a couple days after getting off the bus. I was still trying to figure out how things work and who's who when this weird old man who's cutting my hair starts talking about wishing he had some Viagra and LSD. I didn't even know his name. I just sit there and listen to him while he gives me a horrible haircut. When he's finally done he takes out some lotion or tonic or whatever and starts rubbing it into his hands."
"Ha ha! I see where you're going with this."
"Laugh if you want to, Smitty, but I was seriously thinking Smurf was trying to put some kind of move down on me when he starts running his hands through my hair and massaging my head."
"Everybody knows Smurf's a horrible barber. The head rubs are the best part of his haircuts, and if it wasn't for them the little bugger would have been out of business."
"I know that now, but back then the only thing I know is that in a high-security prison there was some creepy old man with 8 1/2 fingers massaging my scalp, sighing all the time he did."
"Now that you mention it, I wasn't sure what to make of Smurf at first either. He does that weirdo stuff on purpose. The first time he cut my hair he was talking about how when he goes home he's going to become a stripper and that his stage name was going to be Buck Naked. Then he starts getting hyped up by talking about his plans and all of a sudden jumps out from behind the chair and starts gyrating his hips. Then he took off his shirt and spins it around his head 'woo-hooing' while I'm sitting in the chair asking myself 'W.T.F. is going on?' When it came time for the head rub and I see Smurf in the mirror with his little pink tongue sticking out between his teeth and hear him whispering 'Yeah yeah yeah" I really start to wonder if this guy is joking or just crazy."
"I wonder what he's doing now."
"Who knows. Tiny supposedly got a letter from him about six months ago, although it didn't say much. Smurf's still on probation so he's still paranoid about violating his probation by communicating with felons."
"You would be too."
"No doubt. Hey, Brad."
"For that pack of M&Ms I gave you last night, why don't you come over here and let me massage your head, fish."
"Yeah, sure, smartass. Hey, what you need to do is have a good talk with your Samurai dude, because he's flashing his dick to me again and it's starting to piss me off."
Back row, l-r: "Smurf," "Tiny," "John the Prison Bitch," "Punching Bag"
Front: "Some really cool guy," "Rock"
(click to enlarge)
Front: "Some really cool guy," "Rock"
(click to enlarge)