About 60 GED graduates lined up in the chapel today to rehearse for tomorrow’s annual graduation ceremony. Attending the ceremony will be members of the prison staff including counselors, unit managers, and correction officers. The warden will also be speaking at the event.
Practice went smoothly, but the afternoon was spoiled by the appearance of one skinhead recently released from the SHU. The Duke is back and now works as an orderly in the education department. I see him daily and wonder if he didn’t ask to be assigned to education knowing that I work there.
He was never very attractive to begin with, and two months of indoor confinement certainly hasn’t helped. His sallow skin is pastier, his goatee longer, and his face, emaciated from years of drug abuse, looks like an old catcher’s mitt.
There’s a guy in my unit with a similar-looking face. They call him Pinky because he’s so white he’s pink. His head nods involuntarily like a bubble head as a result of a heroine addition.
As luck would have it, Duke volunteered to help with today’s practice ceremony. He tried to engage me in small talk while he hooked up audio equipment, but I ignored him. Instead of leaving me alone, he mistook my austerity as a sign of depression and recommended I go to Psychology for medication. He was attempting to pry a broken prong from an electrical outlet at the time, and I crossed my fingers that a sudden spark might turn his skull into a pressure cooker.
After practice, he sought me out in the library.
“Hey, listen,” he said. “I need to pick your brain for a minute.”
I gave a vague nod and pretended to look for a book but the poor selection made it difficult. I picked up a copy of Glacial and Quaternary Geology and began reading the flap.
“I’ll be getting out pretty soon and have no idea what the scene’s like out there. I’ve been locked up since ’92.”
I glanced up from my book. “What do you mean? What scene?”
“You know,” he said, “the gay scene. I’m different now.”
On my second day in prison, the day he cornered me in my cell for some “lip action,” Duke told me that he use to be straight, but after 19 years of incarceration, he now prefers males, especially younger males – something about their innocence he finds appealing.
“What do you want to know?” I asked.
“Well, you have your normal gays, right? And then you have the ones with no penises and the ones who dress up. So which ones give head but don’t expect anything in return? I go to a drag queen for that, right?”
I stared at Duke as one would stare at a house plant.
“No,” I said. “Transgender people change genders, and men who dress in women’s clothing are called drag queens.”
“So what if I want someone to do things to me, but I don’t want to do things back? What is that called?”
“So let me ask you this,” he continued. “How would I go about finding a gay bar? Do I just look one up in the yellow pages?”
“People don’t use the yellow pages anymore. You Google it.”
“What do I Google?”
“And that’ll tell me where all the gay bars are?”
“And what about shaving? How does that work?”
“Shaving?” I asked. “What do you mean how does it work?”
“You know, gays like to be clean. That’s the ‘in’ thing now, right? So should I shave?”
Jesus Christ, I thought. I can just imagine Duke walking into the only gay bar in all of Arkansas, bald from head to toe, white power tattoos exposed, and asking drag queens for nookie – so long as they don’t expect anything in return.
“It’s whatever you want,” I said exasperated. “Shaved or not. It doesn’t matter.”
Just then, chow was called, and I walked away without another word.