"Merry Christmas, boys," said the Spartanburg County officer as he closed the cell door gently, but it still made an oppressive sound that echoed up and down the concrete hallway for what seemed like ten minutes. The disoriented man looked around and finally sat down between me and the unconscious old drunk. I watched the new guy from the corner of my eye, not wanting to make eye contact because you never know what kind of nut you'll end up sharing a cell with and he looked pretty messed up.
The man and I looked at the floor for a few minutes, not wishing to break the silence imposed by the deputy. Suddenly the old drunk snorted and turned over, and we looked at each other accidentally, and finally the man said, "Got a smoke?"
I said no and pointed to the lightly stenciled sign on the institutional grey wall of the cell that read "NO SMOKING, NO SPITTING," which was hardly visible behind the shadow of a chair.
"I always thought that cigarettes were like money in prison," he said.
"This ain't prison, friend, this is just the county lockup. Are you in here on a DUI?"
"Well, that's kind of a long story."
"I got lots of time right now. My name's George, and I'm in here for armed robbery," I said. Actually, I was in here for bilking some old folks out of a couple of grand with a bogus roofing company, but in this place you need to make people think you're a little dangerous so they leave you alone.
"The name's Brian," he said, "and the whole thing started with an emergency chicken."
"An emergency what?"
I forgot all about when I saw the big display of pineapple upside-down cakes
"Well, I was on my way home from workin' at the Texaco when my wife asked me to pick up some things at the grocery store, milk, potatoes, mayonnaise, bread and some emergency chicken, which I forgot all about when I saw the big display of pineapple upside-down cakes. You see, we like to keep a few pounds of boneless chicken around for emergencies, for when we run out of anything else to eat, and the night before had been one of those times. So, I forgot all about that chicken and came home with one of those cakes instead."
"Guess that's understandable," I said.
"My wife didn't really notice owing to the fact that she was hard at work making more of her famous potato salad, and she desperately needed the potatoes and mayonnaise I was bringing. She tore into the sack of potatoes, hardly even looking at the amazing cake I had brought her. You see, she had this fantastic recipe for potato salad and she was trying to get into the potato salad business kind of the sly way."
"The sly way?"
"She worked over at the Pizza Hut by Highway 26, just outside of Roebuck, and, uh, have you ever eaten at a Pizza Hut?"
"Sure, stuff always gives me awful gas, but I've eaten there a couple of times."
"Well, around here lots of folks don't like foreign food like that, so I just wanted to check. Anyway, at the salad bar they have, they usually have like vegetables, lettuce, Caesar salad, pasta salad and some toppings. Dot, my wife, was the assistant manager and she started bringing her own potato salad in to put on the salad bar during lunchtime when Mr. Hendrickson, who's the manager, wasn't around. That place has real strict rules about people bringing outside foods in. Everything they sell has to come from the PepsiCo distributor, so my wife was sneaking it in so she wouldn't get in no trouble.
"So I come home with a few sacks of red bliss potatoes, a big bulk jar of Hellmann's mayonnaise, and a couple of other things for her, and since people have really been digging into the potato salad, she's making a big batch to take with her for the next day. She's figuring that she can start telling people about how she's making the potato salad herself and they'll all want to buy some to take home, especially for the holidays and all, so she can sell it right to the customers herself and make a nice profit."
"Well, she's so busy with making all this potato salad that she doesn't notice that the chicken isn't there. The next day, which was Sunday, was my day off. I'm watching ESPN and drinking a beer on the couch when the phone rings. It's our daughter Jamie, who's going to college up in Charlotte. She's going on about this new boyfriend she really likes and how he's rich and good looking and all, so she says that he's giving her a ride home for Christmas break and that we should make something nice for dinner because they're going to be at our house in a few hours. Well, Sunday is usually KFC night for us because we like to relax a little and not cook or anything, so of course we didn't have anything to make for dinner. When Dot gets home from work, she's all runnin' around in an uproar because I forgot the chicken and nothing is open around here at this time on a Sunday, and she's got nothing to make so she does the only thing she can."
she even goes as far as putting the last can of Spam into it too
"She makes the other great potato recipe she knows, for potatoes au gratin, you know, with cheese, which she makes with Cheez Whiz instead of Velveeta like the recipe calls for, and she even goes as far as putting the last can of Spam into it too. So they show up and my wife pulls out this great looking casserole and the guy says he's lactose intolerant. By now my wife's about ready to kill me for not finding this out before, Jamie bursts into tears, and the guy is trying to be polite and eat nothing but the lima bean side dish. I run out and get a bucket of Colonel's Original Recipe to try and make everyone happy and when I get back, Mr. Right's driven off in his Camaro, my daughter's locked herself in the bathroom threatening suicide, and Dot is screaming because she doesn't have any more potatoes to make the potato salad for the big Monday lunch buffet."
"So, I calmed my daughter down, and finally got her to come out of the bathroom by pointing out that it wasn't her fault, and that she can probably find someone better who won't get so mad about something so dumb. I told my wife that she ought to try making her potato salad with sweet potatoes instead of regular ones, because we still had plenty of those. 'I guess I have no choice,' she said, and spends the next hour working on that with Jamie's help, and finally she's got a big batch of this stuff all ready, but they're both afraid to taste it so they give me a spoonful."
We were both startled when the drunk old man suddenly sat up and looked around in a daze. He turned to me and opened his mouth to speak, but his eyes rolled back and he slumped over again.
"How was it with the sweet potatoes?" I asked Brian.
"Uh, unusual is probably the best word for it. I knew they would be really mad at me if I told them that it was terrible, so I told Dot that it was pretty good. So the next day she brings it to work and puts it in the salad bar at Pizza Hut. Well, the customers aren't as kind as I am and they start complaining. Of course, this is the one day that Mr. Hendrickson comes in early and gets all these complaints, and he finds out about this potato salad she's been bringing in, and of course he fires her on the spot, which took a lot of nerve since it was three days before Christmas and all. By this time, she's so furious with me that she don't even come home. I get a phone call from her sister here in Spartanburg who says she's never going to talk to me again on account of how I lied to her about how the stuff tasted, not to mention forgetting the emergency chicken, and that she's filing for divorce."
"Sorry to hear that," I said.
"Well, so, I call everyone in Dot's family to try to get her to come back to me, and they all hang up on me, then I drove over to her sister's house, and they called the police to get me off the property."
"Is that how you got in here?"
"No, they were pretty polite and just told me to leave peacefully, so I did. I drove to the first bar I found and drank a lot of beer and tequila. I started getting pretty loud and talking about that Mr. Hendrickson and what a low down son-of-a-bee he was for firing my wife like that. I guess they finally kicked me out, and then I started to drive home. Now, I was pretty out of it at this point, and I wasn't really thinking or seeing too clear. I saw that Mr. Hendrickson standing by the side of the road. I just wanted to put a little scare into him so I drove towards him but he didn't move out of my way. Next thing I know, I hit him, and he just stood there looking at me. Then I realized that it was really a concrete post that had been decorated to look like one of Santa's elves-- you see, Mr. Hendrickson is a real short fellow. I think I passed out and the next thing I know this cop is shining a flashlight in my face and knocking on my window, and that's how I ended up here. They're not sure if they should charge me with reckless driving, attempted vehicular manslaughter or just make it a DUI. Luckily the pole wasn't damaged so I won't have to pay any damages other than my own car."
"That's a terrible story," I said.
The old man suddenly shuddered, started blinking and sat up. He turned his bleary eyes to me and said, "Lissen, George. . . you did a really shitty job fixing our roof."