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  • They say everything can be replaced
    Yet every distance is not near
    So I remember every face
    Of every man who put me here

    I see my light come shining
    From the west unto the east
    Any day now, any day now
    I shall be released

    They say every man needs protection
    They say every man must fall
    Yet I swear I see my reflection
    Some place so high above this wall

    I see my light come shining
    From the west unto the east
    Any day now, any day now
    I shall be released

    Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
    Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
    All day long I hear him shout so loud
    Crying out that he was framed

    I see my light come shining
    From the west unto the east
    Any day now, any day now
    I shall be released

    By Bob Dylan
    I was sitting all alone in a jail cell. I remember thinking to myself, “this is so much different from the other times I’ve been in jail."

    I remembered that time in P.G. County, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland - they had me crammed in that holding cell with about 30 other criminals. You could barely find a spot to squat on your haunches, and it was so smokey, and sketchy, and awful.
  • I’d been sober three years, at that point, but they’d pulled me over on Route 50, driving my Toyota Corolla, on the way home from an N.A. meeting, with a newcomer named Nancy in the back, and my buddy Billy riding shotgun – we were the Blues Brothers, Billy was Elwood and I was Jake – always on some damned mission from God. But suddenly, it had all gotten real, and I was busted, for about the 10th time, for driving without a license or registration.

    I had a stack of tickets from Pennsylvania totalling well over a thousand bucks. My situation up there had grown so intolerable, I’d fled south to Billy’s basement in Lanham, where I laid low, trying to gain some traction in the real world, while I hid out in N.A. meetings.

    Billy and I were both writers, and we had kind of created this magical, mythical world, between us, that we’d both come to believe was reality. But, it wasn’t, not really.

    Reality had just whacked me upside the head, unceremoniously and unforgivingly, when that Maryland cop had grunted, “We do things differently heah in P.G. County, boy. Come with me – yer gwoin der jail, boy.”

    “But officer, my friend can’t drive – see that wheelchair in the back? He has muscular dystrophy. Can I at least drive him home?”

    “What ‘bout Sally there in the back – cain’t she drive? Ya’all got a license, Honey?”

    She’d driven Billy (Elwood) home that night, in my car – a newcomer! I was supposed to be this legendary writer with three years clean – a big deal in those days – and here I was being hauled off to jail, right there. Busted my bubble, big time.

    So humiliating, being crowded in that holding cell with all of those common criminals, but even more humiliating, realizing that I belonged there. I’d been living on the fringes of the law, dodging the lawman at every turn, definitely not living life on life’s terms. Our version of reality was not squaring with the real world. I was a criminal, and now, I was busted.
  • But, this was different. I was sitting in this cell, all by myself. How did I get here? What did I do? I couldn’t remember.

    "Oh shit!" I thought – "did I get drunk, and go into a blackout, and do something terrible?" It’d been nearly 40 years since I’ve had a drink – Jimmy Carter’s first year in office, 3 weeks after Elvis died on the shitter, I drained that bottle of Jack I’d purloined from Dad’s liquor cabinet, the night my brother Ken came out to me at the Philadelphia Gay Coffeehouse, then took me out to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with his gay buddies, and I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Captain Jack damn near did the job that night, and in a way, I did die that night. The old me died. I never drank again after that. That was my sad farewell to Jack. We parted on very shakey terms. We never spoke again.

    But no, it couldn’t be that. I wasn’t hungover, didn’t have that fuzzy feeling all around my eyes and my brain that I knew so well, even after 40 years, I woulda recognized that.

    So, how did I get here, in this lonely cell, I continued to wonder?

    I remembered the two days I spent in the Felon Tank, down in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Went through 2 packs of Marlboros in less than an hour, trying to buy my safety, realizing quickly once I was out of smokes, I was screwed, and probably would be – screwed, by one of those lecherous, dangerous looking characters who hawked me like vultures, just waiting for me to doze off, so I stayed awake, watching, on my last nerve. I’d finally jumped into a game of Spades at one of the tables, and taken on the meanest, nastiest looking dude in the whole block, slamming my cards down on that table, calling him out for cheating, sure I had just signed my own death warrant but staring that mother fucker down like I had big, old brass ones down there, when I knew, I was lucky if I had ping pong balls, but I didn’t waver, and in that moment, I’d put it all on the line, I’d gone “all in” on that game of cards, and it saved my life. That hardened, scary looking dude had stared back at me for the longest ten seconds of my entire life, then let out a chilling cackle, shaking his head, and sneering “Sheeeit, dis cat’s crazier ‘n’ I am, motherfuckin’ skinny white boy gots game, cum ‘ere man, less play, I woan cheat na moah, heh-heh-heh.” After that, no one fucked with me.
  • It slowly came back... there was a trial. I’d been convicted. I’d been sentenced to die. I was on death row. That’s why I had a cell all to myself. This was some serious shit! I’d just had my last meal – Crawfish Etoufee, chocolate cream pie with mounds of whipped cream, coffee with chicoree, Nawlins- style. The priest, Father Fred, had given me last rites. It all came back.

    There was a sentence – what was it? Oh yeah, now I remembered. The judge – a young one, but very judicious, very high on his pedestal, kind of mysterious, musta been the most intelligent judge I’d ever been in front of, yet, somehow, he’d felt compelled to lay a ridiculous sentence on my head, a terminal one, death by isolation. The date March 1 loomed in my mind, that was the day the deed was to be done.

    What was the charge again? I tried to remember, scoured my memory banks, what did I do, how did I get here? Oh yeah, now it came back.

    “Only 10 stories a day. You failed to generate more interest in Cowbird. You even stopped posting stories every day yourself. You’ve rendered yourself irrelevant. Guilty! Death by electrocution. Now, get outta here. I have better things to occupy my judicial time with. Next!”

    Just then, the phone, that I hadn’t noticed until that very moment, in the corner of the cell, rang. It was the line from the governor’s office. They were just getting ready to lead me out of my cell, and down the long walk to the electric chair. The jailer picked up the phone, and all I heard was, “Hello? Governor Kempner? Burt, is that you? A stay? Hold on….”

    Just then, I woke up.
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