An American Werewolf in Utah: Just Pee
Processing is the most magical place in the Salt Lake County Metro Jail. It is the mouth of the corrections system. Once you’ve arrived in processing the system gets to gnaw on you for a bit before deciding to either spit you back out on to the streets, or swallow you into its concrete belly. First-time offenders and hardened criminals sit next to each other, their backs pressed against the cold walls of a depression in the center of processing, aptly referred to as “the pit”. Some lady who couldn’t afford to pay for her car insurance anymore is getting eyeballed by rapists and murderers while she waits for a chance at the phone. Though it’s evident that the majority of these delinquents aren’t bright enough to keep their asses out of jail, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid the salvo of legal advice they insist on offering you. Processing is the greatest equalizer I’ve ever encountered. Nothing really matters. Not your charges, your lifestyle, your clothes, your schedule and, especially, not your opinion. In processing, everyone is the same. Everyone is an interim attorney with a bladder too small to keep them away from the donut-shaped, STD bingo card they call the communal toilet. Like I said: “magical”.
Not so long ago, I was a frequent visitor to processing. For some time, I allowed these visits to effectively ruin my life. While the wheels of justice might turn slowly, the wheels of acting like a victim are virtually stagnant. Had I never realized what a sniveling drag I’d become, I might’ve never looked back on those times to appreciate how ridiculous they often were. With thanks to the few people who still bothered to associate with me, I eventually did realize that my attitude wasn’t winning me any awards. That awareness, sadly, was far more difficult to come by than the many rides I received to the county jail.
At least one of those rides was a mandate from the city of Midvale. I lived there during a wretched period of my life (no offense to Midvale) with my two dogs, Cletus and Chowdapuff. We shared a basement studio in a family-oriented apartment community.
I had given up on driving a few years prior to getting the apartment. If I, or anyone else, for that matter, neglected to register their vehicle, they could get pulled over by the cops. Unfortunately, due to my local notoriety I was even more likely to get pulled over if I did register my vehicle. Worse still, the information provided on the registration form would serve to update the authorities regarding my whereabouts. So when my well-meaning mother offered to help me purchase a car as a step toward “getting back on my feet”, I registered it to her address. It may sound paranoid — and it most certainly is — but my anxiety was the symptom of a very real problem. Namely, being me. I’d been me long enough to know what I could get away with, which amounted to very little. At the time I had tens of thousands of dollars in warrants out for my arrest. The charges were all so old I could only guess at what they were originally for. At one point I ended up paying sixteen-hundred dollars and spending thirty days in jail for not wearing my seatbelt. I was me, and, as far as the law was concerned, the punishment fit the crime.
So it makes no sense — unless you’re an addict — that on a night I had some money in my pocket, I elected to take the ’88 Bronco to the liquor store instead of catching the train and then walking the two-mile round trip, as I normally would. My reasoning, I suppose, was that it was getting late, I was out of booze and in real danger of sobering up. Such a fate horrified me to no end. A horror that also had roots in reality, as my body had become so adapted to intoxication that I was primed for a withdrawal-induced stroke, seizure or heart-attack, were I to suddenly deprive it.
Miraculously, I made it to the liquor store and back without incident. Upon seeing the brown bag in my hand as I entered the apartment, my dogs insisted that I freshen their water and feed them before things took a turn for the negligent. They knew the routine all too well. After fulfilling their request I grabbed a plastic cup that could withstand the force of a grown man falling on it (unplanned durability tests had proven this theory) and poured myself a rum and Coke that rivaled a head injury.
I gagged down the first big swig, turned on some Morrissey and reached for my smokes. The box was empty. No more cigarettes. This was easily the worst thing that could’ve happened to me. I started checking other pockets, opening drawers, scattering papers, only pausing to glare accusingly at my dogs. When I was satisfied that they hadn’t smoked the last of my menthols, I resigned to take another trip.
Bolstered by my earlier success, I sneered at the thought of walking a few blocks to the smoke shop and hopped back into the Bronco. I was getting cocky and in a matter of seconds the price of that arrogance appeared in my rearview mirror. As if from a wormhole or some secret police portal, a squad car materialized behind me. I had looked both ways before pulling out of the complex and there wasn’t a cop in sight. But now wasn’t the time to panic. If I could just act normal, obey the rules of traffic, there would be no reason for this cop to pull me over. As the 7-11 drew near I signaled my intentions and pulled into the parking lot. I made it. Safe. So why had the cop pulled in behind me? Should I get out and continue playing normal? Was he looking at his little computer? Why would he do that? I was being so normal.
Who was I kidding? I picked up my cell phone and called my mom. “Hey mom. I’m about to get arrested again. Can you take care of the dogs while I’m away?” She could. She always did. As I hung up with her the red and blue lights came on.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” I wanted to point out that I had pulled over about five minutes ago, allowing him the time to run me through his computer, but I knew the drill. I also knew why he had decided to flip his lights on or, “pull me over” as he put it. “Is it because I’m me, officer?” He was visibly relieved to find that he wasn’t going to have to explain it to me. “Well, yeah. So, you know you’re going to jail tonight?” His tone dressed his words as more of a statement than a question. What could I say? “Yep.”
It was a smooth arrest. The officer even found a pack of smokes under my seat, which he allowed me to get booked with. Things were moving along comfortably for both of us, and then my bladder chimed in. It was one of those urinary emergencies that hit you all at once. Impossible to ignore. I asked the officer if he’d allow me to use the 7-11 restroom before we headed off to jail and I was promptly denied. That would generally be the end of the discussion, but this wasn’t something I could let go. “Please, sir. You can even stand in there with me. I just really need to pee.” He remained unmoved. “You’ll be able to use the toilet in processing.” Although there was some truth in what he said, processing, as the name implies, is a process; the first hour of which I would spend chained to a concrete bench. This wasn’t a piss I could hold for an hour or so. Arguing, however, would only delay things further.
Every bump and sharp turn on the way to the jail felt like a punch in the gut. The worst part was that this cop had no idea what a hero I was for not peeing on his seats. Would that be considered vandalism? I wondered. Luckily he wasn’t the chatty type. I believe that some cops only arrest people to have a captive audience. They become talk show hosts, preachers or comedians at the click of the handcuffs. “Do you have any kids? Would you care to tell me how you got here tonight? So, the president is in some pretty hot water. Have you heard about this?” The answer is invariably “No”. But even the exertion needed to vocalize that one syllable would’ve been too much for me to handle. My focused breathing regimen was the only thing keeping me dry.
The walk from the cruiser to the bench offered a slight relief. Once my cuffs were secured to the bench though, it felt more like a tease. As the police and corrections officers got down to making things move slowly I took in my surroundings. On the bench directly across from me was a saggy Mexican guy. He was naked, save for a striking pair of women’s cheetah-print briefs and a spit hood. The mucus-peppered hood told me he’d been a spirited prisoner at some point, but at the moment he looked dead. It appeared that Lars Ulrich, from Metallica was occupying the bench to my left. I’m still not convinced that it wasn’t him, but nothing about Lars being arrested was in the news.
Much like the Metallica drummer, this guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I’d barely had the chance to begin squirming when he started up with the questions. “What’d they get you for?” I smirked in response, hoping he’d assume I was a foreigner who didn’t understand him. “You gonna be here for a while?” I couldn’t take it anymore. “I’ve got to piss so bad I can taste it.” Without missing a beat the rocker replied, “You should just do it, dude.” His expression was very supportive. I knew he was right. There was no avoiding it. So with Mr. Ulrich’s blessing, I pissed my pants.
For the next forty minutes I sat there marinating in a puddle of my own urine. Strangely, I didn’t feel too bad about it. Lars got a chuckle out of it, the saggy naked guy continued to look dead, and I experienced a relief powerful enough to override any guilt I had about losing decorum. I was in jail, after all. My lack of civility was like a feather in their cap.
The saggy naked guy audibly seconded my opinion from between his cheetah-covered cheeks as I considered how the expression, “A feather in your cap”, has always troubled me. That Yankee Doodle song started the confusion. When Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni, I was forced to get real about our forefathers. Only people on acid do shit like that. The song was originally sung by the British as an insult to the unsophisticated colonials. Still, we embraced the ditty and shouted it back at them with patriotic fervor. That tells me our ancestors were, at the very least, terrifying drunks. Even more disturbing to me is Frosty the Snowman. It has to be one of the saddest songs ever written. I like to think I’m rather manly, but I can’t hear that song without crying. Frosty lives his whole, short-ass life understanding that he could melt to death at any moment, yet his only concern is for the amusement and prolonged ignorance of those weather-resistant children. Frosty was a fucking saint, people. Sitting in pee was likely as close as I’d ever get to feeling like I was melting and, although I wouldn’t be doing any laughing, playing or running here and there any time soon, I’d live. Frosty was dead.
With that in mind, a tiny twinge of regret crept up on me as an officer frisked me before sending me to the pit. Thankfully he was wearing gloves and apparently accustomed to dealing with worse. The entire staff seemed unfazed by my peed pants. I suppose they get that sort of thing a lot. A few of my fellow detainees were clearly disgusted, but they were too late. I had fully accepted my situation.
I had my mug shot taken in my peed pants, got my TB shot while wearing my peed pants, sat through pre-trial in the peed pants, sparked up conversations with less-observant prisoners in my peed pants. Until the moment I was called to shower and dress into my red quarantine garb, I was rockin’ those peed pants.
After serving ten days, my time for release had arrived. By that time I had forgotten about my peed pants.
When you enter the shower at the end of processing, a creepy officer watches you undress through a small window, through which you eventually hand him your clothes. The officer stuffs your clothes into a mesh bag, along with the rest of your personal effects, then places the bag into a cubby-hole until you’re released. That’s it. There is no laundry service.
So when I stepped into a changing room before being released and handed the officer at the little window my number, he returned with a mesh bag containing items that had been soaking in my urine for ten days. That was a monster piss. Everything was saturated. The changing room immediately smelled like a kennel. But what could I do? It was time to get the hell out of there, and my desire to smoke a damp menthol was bigger than my pride.
After getting dressed I used the pay phone to call my mom for a ride. She was so happy to hear that I’d been released, it simply didn’t seem right to tell her that I smelled like a ripe litter box. That poor woman had been putting up with my shit for years. Why not my pee?
Standing there at the curb trying desperately to light a moist cigarette, I figured I was definitely charming enough that the stench wouldn’t matter. It was time to hurry on my way. So I waved goodbye, saying “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again someday.”
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