The Joy Menu #50: Shreds
Guys do stupid things. A lot of energy in young guys. A lot of stupidity. And then there were some regular guys like me.
Actually, that’s a pretty catchy title: “70 Days Behind Bars.”
Because 70 days isn’t a lot, but you can pack a lot into it.
There was a lot packed into it, in a way. A lot of experience.
It could be a book. Should I spend the next year writing it? A novel?
Each page would be exactly the same; or almost the same but with some other bullshit. Because it’s not that long, yet a lot happened. A lot of boredom, but also a lot of shit.
A lot, actually. A lot of characters. A lot of weird people. A lot of violence; a lot of rapes. (There were no women there.)
I remember one vividly: they raped a little Yemenite guy. They ripped him up so bad they had to take him out in an ambulance.
I just saw them taking him out. They took him in an ambulance at night and he didn’t come back, the poor kid. He was a kid, you know? A little guy.
The Yemenites were smaller, delicate people. He was just a little guy.
No, I didn't see it, but I saw other things.
There were two cells, back-to-back. Two horse stables. One with 70 guys in it, and on the other side of the wall (which was about 3 feet thick), another with 70 more guys.
It was an old British police station.
One cell was inside the courtyard, and the other one was outside, in a bigger courtyard.
Actually, there were more than 70 because there were three beds per bunk — and there were about 40 bunks — so there must have been about 120, 140 guys in each.
And then there were the Druzim, the Druze, who were basically Christian Arabs. They mostly did reconnaissance. They had their own cell, because they were crazy.
I mean, they had the run of the prison; they would wear hairnets when they slept so their hair wouldn’t get messed up at night. They were fucking weird dudes.
70 days was maximum for that prison. It was a short term jail for short sentences. Long sentences went to Tel Aviv.
Kele Shesh. Jail number six. That’s what it was called.
Nice view though — it had a nice view of the ocean. Beautiful.
Not from the cell though; this was later. When I got a special assignment.
Later, when I got an assignment, I would walk the grounds spraying for flies, and I could go on the roof and see it.
But they were all kids, man, just kids. You know? Didn’t like being in the army or being pushed around. Were missing their girlfriends, especially if they were pregnant; or their mother was sick and they wouldn’t let them go out because they would say that they were lying, so they’d just go anyway.
I guess that’s why I got the job; because I wasn’t a kid. And there were a lot of flies.
There were horses in the building for 30-40 years; you can’t really ever get that out.
There was so much trash, there were trash bins everywhere; you had a lot of people, and there were trash bins all around the site. You had the building and the acres around that.
So they gave me a can with a spray thing, like a pressure can, and I sprayed all day long. Went around spraying the trash containers, going around the kitchen keeping the flies down.
That’s how I spent my day. Boring, but lots of shit. I cleaned the base, basically.
And this was a privilege. I could go to the kitchen and get tea and coco and see the ocean. Which was beautiful.
On the roof, there was a second level for the officers. I could go because I was their slave guy.
They knew I was a prisoner because of my uniform. We all wore the same uniform, and the officers had their usual military dress.
Once a week they would bring a truckload of clean uniforms and everyone would run to get one that fit. You’d throw your old one away, and grab a new one — right there, toss it aside and change. Hope you’re quick and that it fits.
I used to go around the banana plantations all along the water and spray. For flies and mosquitos. We were about 50 miles from Haifa toward Tel Aviv.
Maybe a thousand feet from the ocean. I could see the waves breaking. Beautiful. Beautiful area.
They were rough guys. Fucking rough dudes.
The kid, he was in bad shape. Bad shape.
Disobeying orders, AWOL, fighting, doing stupid things. Throwing things, hitting things, breaking things in the cafeteria. That’s how they mostly ended up there. Mostly they were still doing their three years.
Guys do stupid things. A lot of energy in young guys. A lot of stupidity.
And then there were some regular guys like me.
But they didn’t fuck with me. I had a big beard, and I had massive arms. They called me “Father Beard.” Abba Zaken. I was a little older. Most of them were 19, 20, and I was 22.
Remember, I left a year later for the states — in ‘73.
I was about six months out. But I was big. I did a lot of gardening. I worked in the gardens.
They’d look at me and say, “Woah, how’d you get those arms?”
I was South African; I was a foreigner. We’d be standing there, you know how it is, and they’d look at me and say, “Hey, let’s see your arms!” If you can imagine.
Hard to believe, but I had a reputation.
And my beard was really big. If you were a reservist they didn’t make you shave it off. You couldn’t grow one, but if you had one.
I used to stick cigarettes in, smuggle them in from the officers’ area. And that makes you special, too. It’s not hard to curry favor; not elite minds in those places.
The bunks were three high and the top was this close to the roof, like 12 inches, ten inches. Less than 12 inches. Since there’d been horses there for so long, they were full of fleas — thousands and thousands.
If you looked into the cracks in the walls you’d see they were teeming with fleas.
There’d been horses there for nearly fifty years. You can’t get that out. Guys were getting sick from the bites. At one point they came in and they DDT’d us.
I slept on that top bunk. The new guys would get the top bunk; a kind of seniority, I guess. It’d be hard to get down to pee at night.
And we all pissed into a big trough that sat in the middle of the cell. Overflowing with piss. Imagine.
God forbid you had to shit at night; you’d have to do it in front of 140 other guys. Right there.
Imagine the smell. Think about that.
This week, my father’s words.
Onward toward creative joy,