Christmas In Tinsel TownCarmen Ruggero
It was days before Christmas, and Tinsel Town sparkled with flagrant extravagance. I liked the festive look---oblivious to the lacking spirit, I liked the looks of it. Hey! I was full of self-assurance, and determined to succeed I walked a straight line between performances---untouched by the presence, or absence of Christmas spirit. Not that I didn't believe in God, I just didn't get sidetracked.
This December, our comedy ensemble booked a special holiday performance at Lampoc State Penitentiary. Ten of us, sandwiched in a van, made the lengthy trip from Los Angeles, thinking this just another gig---nothing to it.
We arrived on schedule, and my heart came to a sudden stop as the heavy steel gate closed behind us with a bang. Inside, we followed instructions to empty all contents from our purses and pockets. Our possessions secured, and after being searched, we continued.
"What an adventure" I thought, with my usual knack for sarcasm.
Two armed guards accompanied us through long sterile corridors, permeated by the stench of industrial disinfectants, among occasional rodent sightings on the way. I had a crawly feeling on the back of my neck, and my quick sarcastic wit rapidly vanished, as the grim reality of life behind bars became evident. Several more gates slammed behind us before reaching the auditorium; with each, I felt the impact of incarceration.
We were shown into a small room where we met some of the men. Totally unprepared for this, and desperately needing the protection of the fourth wall, I had a hard time making eye contact. Suddenly, I found myself face to face with people who in my thoughts never had a face, or a name, and the shock of their cumbersome presence was paralyzing.
There was a long laden silence in the room that cried for interruption, but out of that silence, a voice of despair screaming for compassion, found its way into my heart. With hardened, hallow eyes, their faces taut, they waited for us like gray shadows, and I saw before me a resemblance of human life; flesh, robbed of its essence. Finally, someone spoke: "Thanks so much for coming, I'm Bob." A guard's watchful eye shifted in his direction.
In the true spirit of performance, the show went on. We gave them a glimpse of life, forty-five minutes of laughter, and left. However, the once faceless, nameless statistics, now had identities I couldn't forget. Tinsel Town's exuberance, somewhat relieved my heaviness. "It looks like a vision of purgatory on the way back from hell!" I was happy to know that my sarcasm had survived the day.
Exhausted, I flopped down on the couch, and closed my eyes to rest for a while, and memories of that day unfolded in fluid outpour. My thoughts burst in countless directions, and finally, brought it all home. Always sure of myself, I knew, without a question, exactly where I was going, but today the straight line I walked for so long, suddenly made a left turn, and showed me the absence of spirit.
Copyright ©2001 Carmen Ruggero. All Rights Reserved.
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