Tom in the Tombs


We called our old buddy Tom to catch up. He wasn’t in a very good mood, as he had been arrested for shoplifting.

“Where was this?” we asked.

“Trader Joe’s,” he said. “They got me going out the door. I was like, okay, you got me. I thought about making a run for it, but I have this sort of code of honor about it. And I wasn’t stealing anything big, just a couple of little things. The guys at Trader Joe’s told me they caught a guy with over a hundred dollars worth of food. Like a rack of lamb. How do you shoplift a rack of lamb? It’s like sneaking out with a plasma screen TV!”

“So did you get a ticket, or –“

“No, I went to the Tombs. I was there last night and most of today.”

“Well, I guess they knew about the other time –“

“Yeah, I was sitting there like last time, twiddling my thumbs, and they put it through the system and they said I had to go to the Tombs.”

“Huh. So, what was that like?”

“I mean I thought they’d give me whatchamacallit, a desk appearance ticket, but they said no, you have to go to the Tombs. They took my prints again, too. I don’t know why. I mean, what, did I mutate?”

“How did you get there?”

“Well, they put me in the car, you know, with the handcuffs, which I didn’t enjoy at all. ‘Cause the handcuffs are very uncomfortable. And the back seat is very narrow, and I had to sit up. My feet kept getting stuck under the seat.”

“What are the Tombs like?”

“Well, like Kafka’s labyrinth. Actually it’s not so bad. They’re air-conditioned, they’re pretty clean.”

“I mean what do the cells look like? What, do they have flocked wallpaper, or –“

“No, it’s cinder block. It’s all cinder block, you know. Metal benches.”

“Did you have a cellmate?”

“No, it’s a whole bunch of guys, there were like 30 guys. And they were in for all kinds of little things, like nothing bad. Lot of pot-smoking. Most of them were black or Hispanic, lot of Dominicans. Must have been the Parade. One guy, he was arrested Saturday, he said he’d been there all weekend. And he was really starting to bug out. They told him look, we’re not taking you to the station because that would take too much time, we’ll go straight to the Tombs so you’ll be out quicker. So he thought okay, but then they got him in here and, you know, nothing happened. And he kept asking them, he was very polite, but nobody knew anything.”

“What was he in for?”

“He was caught smoking a blunt and he was on parole. He tried to get rid of it, he tried to flip it but he didn’t throw it far enough so they called him over. He was a nice guy, very smart, you know, had a family. He spoke Spanish and English, very smart.”

“Did –“

“Oh, and the food was terrible. You think hospital food is bad? You don’t want to eat this shit. For breakfast you get Rice Krispies and some milk, that’s not too bad, but for lunch you get a peanut butter sandwich, and I don’t know what kind of bread it was but it had this really foul taste. And the peanut butter, it was like diarrhea. But just like a schmear of it. I didn’t eat the dinner, it was I don’t know, a cheese sandwich maybe. I figured, I’m in Chinatown, when I get out I’ll go to Central Buffet.”

“Huh. Well –“

“But they lost some of my stuff. Like when they went through my bag, — you know they let you keep your belt, and your keys, all that, but they took my Village Voice and some papers and tissues out of the bag. I said do I get that back? They said no, and I said why not, and they said because they had to itemize it, and I guess they don’t want to itemize, like, tissues and papers.”

“So you saw the judge and –“

“Yeah. I was worried that, you know, because it’s my second offense that I would get like three days of whatchamacallit, that thing — ooh, my mind is just gone — like Boy George.”

“Boy George… community service?”

“Yeah, community service. But I only got one day of community service, and that’s not so bad. So I’m supposed to go down like next week and do some cleaning or something. I hope this time I get to do some work outside. Maybe clean a park, or the streets. Last time they had us mopping up, and they kept telling us to hurry, and I said look, do you want it fast or do you want it good, and they said they wanted it fast. I guess that explains what a mess the City’s in.”