Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Three Stooges

A story by Timothy Pauley

When Tom returned to his cubicle from dinner, the line was already forming. He lived in a dorm which consisted of forty 8' x 5' living areas divided by a four foot high partition. When Tom laid down, it was like he had his own area, but he need only stand up and he could see the better part of the other thirty-nine occupants. Still it was better by a long shot from the eight man cell he'd lived in prior to his name coming up on the list for preferred housing. 

Each cubicle contained a bed, locker, small table and a wooden apparatus that held a military style footlocker on the top and had two shelves beneath. Tom was lucky enough to have a wall cube, so he had the luxury of a large window that opened inward. That was the focus of his attention now.

The first night Tom had spent in his cube, he'd discovered there were pets that came with this real estate. Around seven that evening he'd been looking out his window when a full grown raccoon climbed up on the ledge outside and sat there staring back at him. At first Tom didn't know what to do. He'd been in prison for ten years and this was the first time he'd seen an animal any larger than a mouse. But the raccoon knew what to do. When Tom hadn't produced a snack right away, the raccoon put his paws up on the window and started to beg.

It started with sandwich cookies and a near miss at disaster. Tom had pulled out a bag of cookies and opened his window. The raccoon waited for him to hold out a cookie, then snapped it out of his grip, almost taking the tip of Tom's finger with it. Tom was so startled, he didn't know what to do next. His neighbor Sam had seen what happened and advised him of the proper way to approach a raccoon. "You've got to wait 'til they reach out with their hands." Sam said. "If they lead with that snout, you'd best back off and try again." He continued. "They'll take a chunk out of you if you aren't careful."

With these few instructions, Tom was all set and the raccoons made Tom's window a regular stop. Just on the other side of his window, about eighteen inches away, was a network or rebar metal fashioned into somewhat of a grid. The network almost looked like bars actually, and formed one square foot openings. On a busy night there would be a raccoons hanging up side down and two more right beneath them, sitting on their haunches, waiting for a free meal. And Tom tried never to disappoint them.

Although there were more than three raccoons that frequented the dorm windows, eventually Tom observed that the same three made his window their first and most frequent stop. After a while he was even able to notice the different markings, scars and even personalities of these creatures. One night, when they were particularly playful, Tom decided to name them Mo, Curly, and Larry, after the three stooges.

Over the next few months, Tom tried a number of different treats. The best he could tell, the raccoons liked pretty much the same things he did. They weren't big on spicy things, but they loved sweets. Especially chocolate.

He'd found out about their love for chocolate purely by accident. It was the end of the week and his unit was scheduled to go to the store the next day. The raccoons had already polished off everything he'd bought for them the previous evening. He could have saved some, of course, but these little guys were just too entertaining. Before Tom realized it, he was grabbing the last handful of cookies. On this night, all he had was a bag of M&Ms. He'd put them in an empty plastic ice cream container and was sitting on his bunk eating away when the raccoons arrived. Mo, Curly, and Larry all showed up and the longer they waited, the more entertaining their antics became. They were truly emulating their human namesakes. It didn't take Tom long to feel so guilty he soon found himself holding the plastic container out the window.

Curly was the first to react. He reached his little hands into the container and slowly backed away to a safe distance. Seconds later Larry did the same. He was barely a step back, when Mo, hanging upside down from the rebar grid, reached his hands into the tub and grabbed a small handful. They had been almost polite and Tom was laughing to himself about that when he noticed three sets of eyes patiently staring at him again.

This time things went a bit differently. The moment the plastic container emerged from the window, Larry, the biggest of the three, had both hands elbow deep and began shoveling M&Ms in the direction of his mouth at a fevered pace. While he was doing this, Curly leaned over and tried to stick his hands in the tub only to be met with growls and bared fangs. While Curly was being warning off his neighbor, Mo, hanging above, leaned down and put his hands into the container. The instant the container moved, Larry snapped at him so quickly, he bit a small piece out of Mo's ear. 

With Mo and Curly at bay, Larry continued to scoop M&Ms in the general direction of his mouth until the container was completely empty. The other two were left to scavenge the many that had missed his mouth, which proved to be a considerable amount.

Within a few minutes of finishing off the last M&M, all three of them began acting strange. For the next hour, these three raccoons put on quite a show. They tussled with each other, ran up and down the bars outside the window, and Curly even tried to crawl in the window. Soon it occurred to Tom that the small amount of caffeine in the chocolate was having a profound effect on these little creatures. In short, they were wired.

Over the next couple of weeks, Tom tested this theory. When given the choice between chocolate and anything else, the raccoons would always choose the chocolate. And every time they were offered chocolate, they reacted the same as they had the first night, shoveling it in their little mouths as fast as their hands could grab it. Finally Tom reached the conclusion that the raccoons would probably sit there and eat chocolate until they fell over dead, if he kept offering it.
While this research project had been entertaining, particularly when observing his raccoons bouncing off the walls while they were wired on caffeine, Tom decided he had to cut them off. He really loved these creatures and couldn't help but conclude that chocolate was probably harming them. As long as there was a meal waiting for them, the raccoons would continue to show up every night, so they'd just have to get by with a bit more healthy fare, but this too had some interesting consequences.

Tom had a powerlifting competition to prepare for. A team of lifters came into the prison from the free world every six months. On Friday the participants would weigh in and the competition was on Saturday.

Any competition with weight classes encourages participants to compete in the lightest weight class they possibly can. It was a common practice for lifters to dehydrate up to ten percent of their body weight the day of the weigh in, so they could make weight for the lightest class possible.

In Tom's case, that meant sweating off ten pounds. On Thursday, Tom paid a guy to smuggle a small bag of prunes out of the kitchen. That evening he ate as many as he could stand so that he could clean out is system and perhaps drop a few extra pounds. As he was sitting on his bed choking down these prunes, Curly appeared at the window.

There were seven prunes left in the bag, and Tom couldn't stand to eat another. Then the thought occurred to him that his little friend might like them so he began hand them to the little guy one at a time. The first one required an examination. Apparently Curly had never seen a prune before. After a brief check, he finally put it in his mouth and began chewing.

Raccoons really like sweets. The prune fit that bill nicely and he sat there and devoured one after the other until they were gone. A couple handfuls of crackers completed the spread and Tom's little friend waddled away about fifteen minutes later with a full belly.

The next morning, Tom was up early and spent the next ten minutes on the toilet. The prunes had done their job and he was a couple pounds closer to making weight for that afternoon's weigh in. An hour later and he was on his way to work.

Tom worked in the warehouse. The entrance of the warehouse was similar to an open carport, open to the elements but with a corrugated metal roof. The roof was supported by a wooden frame and on one of the corners, Curly had carved out a nest for himself and normally spent the daylight hours snoozing away in his perch. Whenever Tom arrived for work, he'd always look up to see his little friend settling in for his daytime nap.

On this occasion, Tom saw evidence that Curly was home long before he got close enough to see up under the roof. There was a network of sprinkler pipes on the wall for the fire protection system. That was typically how Curly got up to the rafters, was by climbing the sprinkler pipes. On this morning, however, when Tom was still a good ways off, he could see what looked like mud sprayed on the wall for about ten feet, until it disappeared under the roof. As he got closer, it became apparent that it was not mud at all and it was right on and next to the vertical pipe. By the time Tom realized what it was, he was close enough to look up and see Curly. The little raccoon was wide awake and leering back at him as if to say, "You bastard!"

The best Tom could tell, the prunes had worked on Curly, too. Raccoons have a great many more facial expressions than most people might think. Over the past several months, Tom had become familiar with many of them, but the look Curly was giving him this morning was completely new. Apparently the exertion Curly had expended to climb up the pipe had caused a chain reaction in his intestines and Tom could see a new spray begin about every two feet. When he finally walked in the door, Tom was laughing. His boss greeted him with a half friendly outburst about the damn raccoon crapping all over the wall. If he only knew....

In spite of the prune episode, Mo, Larry, and Curly continued to visit Tom every evening like clockwork. Tom's best guess was that he spent about a quarter of his paycheck feeding them, but it was worth it. They were the coolest pets a guy could ask for.

In the spring, Tom was given the opportunity to earn some extra money working overtime. The correctional industries racket provided annual opportunities like that. All state agencies were required to purchase their office furniture from correctional industries. At the end of each fiscal year, anything left in their budget had to be spent or that agency would risk having their funding decreased the following year.

The side effect of these practices was that nearly every state agency that had money left over, would buy new office furniture every year. Even though these items were made to last ten or twenty years, agencies would order more every year and send their "old" furniture to be sold as surplus for pennies on the dollar. For prisoners, however, this was great because it provided the opportunity to log many extra hours every May and June. In Tom's little corner of the operation, that meant working from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. 

The first three nights of overtime, Tom's raccoons were sitting on his windowsill waiting for him when he arrived home from work. Tom's neighbors informed him they had been sitting there and scratching the window for over an hour each night. But once he got home, all was right and they enjoyed their usual meal. 

That all changed on Thursday evening. Officer Wansley didn't like raccoons. He particularly didn't like Tom's raccoons. Technically speaking, Tom was not supposed to be feeding them in the first place. On a normal night that would merely amount to holding off and waiting for Wansley to walk by before resuming the feeding. Wansley didn't like seeing those vermin sitting there on the window sill smacking their lips, but he had never actually witnessed Tom feeding them.

On Thursday night, Wansley go a bright idea. As he was making his rounds, he saw a raccoon sitting on Tom's window sill scratching the glass and acting like he was begging for a handout. An evil grin spread across Wansley's face as it occurred to him what he must do.

The burly officer returned to his desk, looked around to see if anyone was paying attention, then proceeded to the janitor closet. As soon as he opened the door, Wansley could see the spray bottle of window cleaner sitting there on the top shelf. He grabbed it and made his way toward Tom's cubicle.

As Wansley approached the window, the little raccoon sat back on his hind legs and held his little hands out. He didn't recognize Wansley, but a meal was a meal. Wansley reached for the latch and slowly eased the window open. He paused for a few seconds, glancing around the room one more time.

There were actually several prisoners lying on their bunks. But none of them appeared to be paying him any mind. Wansley looked back and the raccoon was now moving closer to the window, wondering what was taking so long. In a flash, Wansley raised the spray bottle and pulled the trigger three times in quick succession, emitting a steady stream of blue ammonia-laced window cleaner directly into the little creature's face. The animal let out a loud hiss and darted through the metal grid. He hit the ground running and did not stop to assess the damage until he was well clear of the building.

Wansley laughed as the raccoon dashed away. He pushed the window shut and began to walk away. As the guard took one more look around the room, he was surprised to see every eye in the room trained on him. This made Wansley very uncomfortable and he hurried away to hide the evidence.

When Tom arrived home an hour later, he was surprised to see his windowsill empty. He was certain his little friends would be waiting for him and couldn't understand why they weren't. Soon his neighbors began coming by to tell him about the spraying incident.

Tom was furious. Initially he wanted to walk right up and sock old Wansley right in the nose. Had Wansley been a real man, he probably would. But Wansley was a coward. Had Tom confronted him like that, the guard would have had him thrown in the hole for a year. No, this would require patience. 

So Tom began paying a lot more attention to Wansley. For his part, the guard was afraid to make another run at the raccoons. He knew he'd been seen and was concerned someone might tell his boss. Harming the animals was actually against the law so Wansley decided to leave well enough alone. He'd had his moment.

But Tom continued to track his every move. He figured out Wansley's routine down to the seconds. Wansley was a retired military man, so there was little deviation in his routine from one day to the next. It didn't take long to figure out an angle; Wansley was lazy and that was how Tom would get him back.

The officer's desk had a telephone. The procedure was that each time an officer got up and left the desk for any reason, they were to lock the telephone in one of the desk drawers. This was a bit of a hassle, but a necessary evil. Couldn't have prisoners getting their hands on a telephone.

But the reality was that the desk was never left unattended for long enough for anyone to make any kind of meaningful call. For this reason, Wansley had been known to forego locking the phone up when he made his routine walk through. Typically he was only away from the desk for about three minutes at a time, so what harm could it do, he thought.

Eventually Tom's patience paid off. There had been several occasions where he could have probably run to the desk and grabbed the phone, but even though Wansley might not have caught him, everyone in the pod would have seen. Chances of that many people keeping their mouths shut was almost zero. So Tom waited.

It was Friday evening and the Sonics were playing. That meant the television room was filled to capacity and the dorm was relatively empty. Tom was on his way to the bathroom, when Wansley got up to make his rounds. Tom couldn't believe his good fortune. The desk was only three steps out of his way and he quickly bent down and removed the cord that attaches the handset to the phone. The move took only about five seconds and Tom was again headed for the bathroom.

He hurried to the last stall and pulled the handle to flush the toilet. When the water was draining from the bowl, Tom threw the phone cord in and watched as it disappeared down the drain. He was laughing so hard it brought tears to his eyes.

Tom composed himself before heading back to his cubicle. He managed to get all the way back before Wansley appeared back at the desk. The surly guard sat back in his chair and picked up his newspaper, completely oblivious to the missing phone cord.

It took a little over thirty minutes before someone called. Wansley picked up on the second ring and said, "Cascade Hall, Wansley speaking." After brief pause, Wansley said, "Hello." He waited for a few moments, then repeated himself, only a little louder. By the third hello, Wansley's jaw was clenched and his knuckles white as he slammed down the receiver and began cursing. Less than a minute after Wansley hung up, the phone began to ring again. Still oblivious to the missing cord, Wansley was certain someone was messing with him.

Less than a minute after Wansley hung up, the phone began to ring again. This time he dispensed with the formalities. "Hello," Wansley barked into the receiver. When no answer was forthcoming, he raised his voice and half hollered, "Hello” one more time before slamming the receiver back in its cradle and unleashing a stream of profanity.

A couple minutes later, officer Slater appeared. He was there to relieve Wansley for his break. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Wansley headed for the door. He was two steps away when Slater said, "The sergeant's been trying to call you. You might want to stop by and see what he wants."

Upon hearing this information, Wansley turned and glanced at the telephone again. The look on his face when he realized the cord was missing was priceless. Tom had to bury his face in his pillow to muffle his laughter.

Now Wansley had a choice. He could fess up and take his punishment or he could just leave and hope Slater took the blame for his incompetence. Being a coward, this was really no choice at all. Wansley turned and headed for the door, double time.

When Wansley returned, Slater had barely walked out the door and Wansley began searching for the missing cord. First the trashcan, then the floor under the desk, and finally a walk around the room. The look on his face was half panic and half contempt as he looked for either the cord or a sign that someone knew. Just let someone smirk at him, and Wansley was fully prepared to blame it all on them. But nobody paid him any mind. The only one in the room who knew buried his face in a book and pretended not to notice as Wansley walked around the room nervously.

When nothing turned up, Wansley sat back down at his desk and continuously scanned the room, all the while trying to come up with some way to blame this all on someone else. By the end of his shift, Wansley still hadn't come up with a convenient victim.

Mrs. Anderson was a motherly-like figure. Everyone loved her. When she arrived to relieve Wansley, he couldn't get out of there fast enough. And he almost made it too. He was two steps from the door when Mrs. Anderson called out, "What happened to the phone cord?"

Wansley froze in his tracks. Even though he'd had three hours to come up with a response, there was really nothing he could say to make the situation any less painful. So Wansley did what any coward would do, he tried to blame it on the previous shift.

This went badly for Wansley. He spent the next two hours filing a report and explaining himself to the shift lieutenant. Wansley botched these tasks so badly that he became somewhat of a laughing stock. Of course he couldn't be fired for such a small thing, but by the next day, everyone knew and Wansley had to endure wise cracks about his incompetence from both prisoners and staff, for the next two months. Eventually he got so disgusted, he transferred to a gun tower.

For the remainder of Tom's stay there, nobody messed with Mo, Curly, and Larry. Eventually he was transferred and it was a sad day when he had to say goodbye to his little friends. For years after he left, each time Tom would think about his raccoons, in his mind he'd see that picture of Curly staring back at him the day after he ate the prunes.

Timothy Pauley 273053 A316
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777