The Bare Necessities
I’m confused by drug testing and how they determine the results. I’ve been subjected to this invasion of my privacy on numerous occasions, always perplexed with their findings. Believe me, I’ve asked many times what the test is designed to discover. The answer is always the same. “The purpose of the test is to see if there are any drugs in your system.”
The drug test results are presented by someone with an apologetic expression, politely whispering the findings:
“I’m sorry Mr. Santiago but you failed. We found marijuana, cocaine and traces of opioids, possibly heroin or oxycodone.”
Usually this is followed by:
“Do you need help with an addiction? I can arrange an evaluation for you with a drug counselor.”
My first experience with this violation of my civil rights caught me completely off guard, and I must confess it still leaves me flummoxed to this day.
“No thanks, I don’t desire to be locked up with a bunch of head cases for three months or so. I’ve already been a passenger aboard that crazy train. Also, I don’t have the luxury to take advantage of your offer. I’m sure my parole officer will be determining my agenda for the immediate future. But let me ask you this, if I am being tested for evidence of drugs in my system, wouldn’t it be correct that if I test positive I’ve passed, not failed? Therefore I object to the results of your test under the pretense your explanation and procedures are deceptive, false and misleading. I demand my results be documented as Pass and not Failed.”
“Oooooh, Mr. Santiago you…”
“Call me Santi.”
“Are you an attorney? You’re so cute when you get all worked up, throwing words around like a Philadelphia lawyer.”
“Listen Meredith, lovely name.”
“Named after my grandmother.”
“I’m sure she is just as lovely as you.”
“She passed away six months ago. Cancer. I miss her so much, we were like sisters.”
“I felt your pain, saw it in your face the second she was mentioned. It’s difficult to express condolences and I don’t want to come off as patronizing. Although, I have experienced the deaths of loved ones myself and would like to offer a bit of advice that comforted me during those trying times.”
“Please go ahead.”
She sits on the sofa next to me in the reception area with only one other victim waiting for his results.
“Think of the wonderful moments you both shared together, the laughter, the silly expressions and the hugs, the kisses. She’d want you to embrace those memories, not to mourn her passing. I believe the smile you experience every time you think of her is the best way to pay tribute to her life.”
“Who are you, Santi? Are you some kind of spiritual healer? What a comforting and sincere way to channel my emotions. Usually people begin to express their feelings and pain they’ve experienced, making the moment about them, completely invalidating my own feelings. I’m sorry, but the last thing I want to hear is someone else’s story. Is that wrong?”
“‘No one’s pain is greater than your own.’ I’m not sure who said that quote, but it’s not mine.”
“Well it’s perfectly fitting for the subject of this conversation. Listen, I want to tell you something important. There are instructions on your client sheet to inform Randall Cunningham at the State Corrections and Parole Office of the results of your test. I’m sorry, but Mike the new guy called him already. I wasn’t supposed to tell you, but you’re such a nice guy.”
“Ya I figured as much. Don’t feel badly, you’re just doing your job. This isn’t your problem anyway, it’s my doing.”
“Hold on a minute, I’ll take care of this. I know what I can do.”
“Don’t do anything that would jeopardize your position here. Please don’t risk your job for me.”
“I’m the office manager, I’ve got it covered. Don’t worry, I can’t fire myself!”
She disappears into the back area. A short time later, two State Troopers enter the reception area. There’s no doubt in my mind who they’re here for.
One trooper covers the reception room as the other strolls to the front desk, calling out for assistance. Meredith materializes from the back and immediately engages him in conversation. I’m unable to hear, but I know what they’re discussing and I prepared myself for the consequences, which include my parole being violated and me returning to prison to serve out the rest of my sentence. I begin to question the authenticity of her grandma story, thinking it may have just been a ploy to keep me occupied until the troopers arrived.
They finish their conversation with Meredith, who points me out to the officer. He walks directly toward me as his partner reaches for his handcuffs. Meanwhile, Meredith has a huge smile on her face, giving me a thumbs up behind their backs.
“You Santiago?” the cop inquires in a John Wayne tone.
“If you’re from Publishers Clearing House or the State Lottery Office, then I’m your man.”
His partner finds a bit of humor in my response and chuckles.
“You’re a real comedian. Now I’ll ask you again and expect a serious answer, no smart mouth. You got it?”
“I am Santiago, officer, how may I help you?”
“Guess you dodged a bullet today. Randall thought for sure you’d drop dirty and he’d violate your parole. Send your sorry ass back to the joint.”
“Tell Randall I’m sorry to disappoint him. It’s a comfort to know that he’s pulling for me to complete my parole and make it on the outside.”
“Ya, well you keep your nose clean and don’t give us a reason to have to meet again. You got it, convict?”
I couldn’t find a reason to piss the prick off anymore than I already had, so I politely bid him and his partner a good afternoon. Unable to resist one last comment, I tell them, “You be careful out there.”
They walk out the door, completely ignoring me as Meredith returns, laughing as she slaps my ass with her clipboard.
“We pulled one over on those troopers, didn’t we?” she giggles. I’m half expecting her to break into a cheerleading routine with all of her jumping around.
“Meredith, I honestly have no words to express my appreciation. I am so grateful for you covering my ass like that. There’s no way I can ever repay you for your help. What did you do?”
“I told them there was a mistake. The new guy read the results incorrectly and you actually tested negative.”
“So you mean I passed the test.”
“Okay you stubborn ass. Yes, you passed and we found no illegal drugs in your system.”
“You are an absolute angel without wings. A Goddess!”
I grab her to give her a hug and kiss on the cheek, but she pulls me in close and plants a kiss on my lips, leaving me wanting more.
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that at all!”
“You can start paying me back by taking me out to dinner tonight. That is of course if you’re not already spoken for. A guy like you probably has a girlfriend, huh?”
“As a matter of fact, I was recently given my walking papers by that supposed girlfriend. Seems my checkered past clashed with her pastel future.”
“So what then, you’re nursing a broken heart?”
“I’m not feeling that way at all. I would be delighted to have your company this evening. I’d enjoy spending time with someone other than my temporary roommate. It’s a date.”
“Wonderful, I’ve got a roommate too. She’s the drug counselor I mentioned earlier. Did you drive here?”
“No, I haven’t been certified to reinstate my license.”
“That’s okay, I can drive. I’m getting ready to close up. Do you mind waiting a half hour or so?”
“That’ll be fine, I’ve got to wait for my buddy Johnny anyway. He’s coming to pick me up, and like all Colombians, including most Central Americans as well, he has no concept of time.”
“Great, we’re on the same page. Although I’m a little disappointed you’re not grieving over your breakup.”
“Why would that be?”
“They say the best way to get over a woman is to get under another one.”
“Actually now that you mention it, I’m feeling devastated and could use some pampering. And I’d like a chance for us to get to know each other better before taking that step.”
“How sweet of you to say that. It was just a joke, maybe. And I already know more about you than you’re aware of. I’ll be back in a jiff.”
What have I done to deserve this good fortune, cosmic manna? Days like this are so rare I can’t recall the last time an occurrence of this magnitude took place. The gods are smiling down on me and with such adulation. I’ve got a date with an adorable, incredibly stunning woman, who has a great sense of humor, is compassionate and kind hearted on top of it. I dodged more than a bullet today, I dodged a hand grenade due to her quick thinking. I’m still astonished by her altruistic and humanitarian manner. People don’t usually do these kind of things for guys like me. In fact, I was sure she’d set me up, Santiago getting duped like a mark at Three-card Monte, or Bonneteau as it was called in New Orleans. I had to ask myself, why was a treasure like Meredith not in a relationship, living with someone or married?
Another pebble in my mind’s shoe, making me uncomfortable, is that she knows I’m an ex-con and hasn’t asked why I was incarcerated. Most women are on the heel toe express with their backsides turned to you at just the mention of the word ‘prison’. I could be a pedophile, a rapist or a serial killer. And here she is, willfully going on a date with a guy she has no idea who he is or any clue to his character. And what in the hell was that comment, ‘I know more about you than you’re aware of’?
I’m starting to go to my crazy place. There’s something amiss, and I’m not sure I want to find out what it might turn out to be.
What am I going to do now? I’ve already committed myself to an evening with her, and now that I think about it, I don’t know shit about her. She could be the fucking psychopath for all I know, and she’s setting me up for the kill. Maybe she does have a boyfriend, and they work as a team murdering unsuspecting ex-cons like me. Some type of sick vendetta, taking revenge on them for the crimes they committed.
Stop it Santiago, you’re really freaking yourself out. Come back now, don’t go there.
“Hey Meredith, I’m going to wait outside for my buddy. What about this old guy here? He fell asleep on the couch. Is he waiting for his results?”
“No Santiago, he’s the night security guard. He’ll be fine.”
“Okay, I’ll be outside.”
It’s hotter than a Finnish sauna out there, forcing me to question my decision to leave the air-conditioned office. It’s going on five thirty already, and the sun still looks as though it has reached its zenith, stalled in the sky while doling out as much burn as possible before quitting time.
I take cover under a Palo Verde tree, which doesn’t provide much shade at all, sitting in the grass beneath it.
Moments later, I immediately recognize the stinging sensation which has suddenly begun to afflict my legs and lower back. Fucking fire ants, fire ants, attacking me without mercy!
I leap to me feet, frantically brushing myself with my hands. I pull my shirt off over my head without even unbuttoning it, screaming in pain as I attempt to shake the ants out. Looking down where I’d sat was a mound of dirt just crawling with ants, all of the little bastards on the attack. They stared up at me, daring me to come closer and make another attempt to invade their territory.
My screams finally capture the attention of the employees inside the clinic. They just stare at me jumping around from the doorway. Not one of the spectators come forward to offer their assistance.
“Fire ants! Fire ants!” I scream.
Shortly after, the awakened security guard walks out with a bucket of water.
“Got into the ants did ya? Those lil’ buggers can do a lot of damage in a short time. Where’d they get’cha at?”
“Pretty much everywhere, but my legs, feet, and crotch is where they concentrated their assault. My back as well and a few of the first wave made it up to my neck.”
“You talk like an educated feller. You’re not from around these parts are ya?”
“Listen I’d really like to talk with you, but unless you’ve got some other purpose for that bucket of water, could you pour it over me and get these fucking ants off of me!?”
“I’ll do your back and legs, but you’ll have to take care of your crotch yourself.”
Meredith then appears, running towards me with a fire extinguisher in her hands. The security guard pours hot water down my back and my legs, bringing instant relief from the ants’ onslaught.
“Santiago, close your eyes and hold your breath!” Meredith screams as she sprays me with white chemical powder.
You probably won’t believe me when I tell you this tidbit of information, but it’s the first time I’ve ever been sprayed with a fire extinguisher. Honest to god truth.
“Do you know if this will even work?” I manage to squeak.
“Shut up until I’m done. You don’t want to be breathing this stuff into your lungs.”
“Hey that’s enough, that shit is really cold!” I scream. “Stop, I’m freezing and I don’t feel any ants on me!”
I’m covered in white by this point, looking like Casper the Ghost. Meanwhile, the flame retardant has mixed with the water covering my body, and the heat from the sun is causing it to harden like plaster of Paris.
It is then I hear the strangest thing, making this scene more surreal than anything a movie director could ever come up with. A soundtrack gradually becomes audible, growing louder as the music draws nearer. No, I’m sorry, the song wasn’t White Christmas or Frosty the Snowman. Rather, it was the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s off to work we go. It ain’t no trick to get rich quick. Hi Ho.”
I’d bought a tape for my daughter at the swap meet last week, a collection of songs from Disney movies. And for some reason, Johnny has become fascinated with the songs, playing it every time we’re in the car together.
Johnny comes running over in a frenzy, calling out to me. “Bigotes, Bigotes, how you catch on fire!? You okay? You need hospital?”
“No J.R., I think I’m okay right now. I got into a nest of fire ants and they attacked me.”
“I saw Mar-a-Death Heavy Metal lady with fire finisher and thought you are on fire.”
“No Mr. Rico, I only used it to kill the ants that were biting him all over his body. The chemical inside freezes and kills them.”
I begin peeling off the hardened dust in large strips and the security guard lends a hand, humming Hi Ho to himself the whole time.
Some of the other clinic staff begin to leave, saying goodbye to Meredith and giggling as they pass.
“What the fuck is going on here?” I as Johnny. “How do you know Meredith? And what did you call her, Megadeath Heavy Metal Lady?”
“I know her because…”
“Shut up, I’m not finished. And you, Heavy Metal Lady. When did you meet Mr. Rico? Now don’t talk all at once. Megadeth, I’d rather hear your explanation first so that way I may get the truth without a bunch of embellishment.”
“We met here, at the medical center,” she informs me. “Johnny was sent here by his parole officer for testing, just like you were, and he also went to counseling with my roommate Linda. She shared some things they talked about that wouldn’t violate client/therapist privilege. He is quite the storyteller, this Mr. Rico, the name he claims you gave him.”
“Bigotes, please don’t be mad at me. I tell them stories about things that happen to us when we are together. They laughed very much and always say tell more. I don’t tell of our work, don’t worry about that.”
“Goddamnit Rico, can you be any more obvious?”
“No, that part is true,” Meredith says. “He never told us, not even when we asked, but I have a pretty good idea.” She winks but I don’t acknowledge her gesture.
“Johnny my friend,” I begin, eager to change the subject. “It’s a fire-ex-ting-uisher, but ‘fire finisher’ works just as well. Also, her name is Mare-a-dith, but I think she has taken a liking to Megadeath. Isn’t that so, Heavy Metal Lady?”
“Actually no, I don’t especially care for it. But I didn’t say anything because I know it’s difficult for him to pronounce my name, so I let it slide.”
“So how did I get mixed up in this bizarre affair?”
“It’s more my fault then Johnny’s. I mentioned that I’d had to meet this Santiago he spoke of nearly every time we talked. He showed me a couple of pictures of you, and I thought you were somewhat good looking.”
“Well I know that’s bullshit, because I’m strikingly handsome. My mother told me!”
“All mothers tell their sons that. Did yours wear glasses? Anyway, whenever he told us a story, it always included his best friend Santiago. He spoke about you like you are some kind of god. You could never do anything wrong. You’re smart and look out for him. You’d never let anyone hurt him. Never have you belittled him or questioned his actions. You are the best friend anyone could ask for and you have a heart of gold. But you have a temper like a rattlesnake and you holler like a wolf!”
“Johnny embellishes quite a bit.”
“You shouldn’t invalidate his feelings for you. You’re friends like Helen Burns and Jane Eyre. There’s one thing he said, actually, that really touched my heart.”
“What touched your heart?”
“He said he learned from you what a friend should be.”
“Okay, this is enough, save it for my eulogy. Why did you use the Jane Eyre reference? How did you know I would understand what you mean?”
“Bigotes,” Johnny interjects, “please say you are not mad at me for saying the things I said. She said she wanted to meet you. So when you told me you had to go to the drug center place, I told Mere… her you were coming here today. I know you will not like to have set-up date. So we do it in secret.”
“Solo bueno, carnal (All good, my friend). Solo bueno.” I tell him. “So, now that we’ve got this all out in the open, what are we doing?”
“You go home with Johnny, shower and change your clothes, then I’ll pick you up in an hour. I think we should go to the casino for dinner. They’ve got a prime rib dinner special, and then afterwards we can play some Blackjack. How does that sound?”
“Evidently you’ve planned the evening, so I wouldn’t want to disappoint you. I took you for a vegetarian, however. Guess I got that one wrong.”
“Why, are you a vegetarian Santi?”
“A vegetarian? No, my dear. Although I do eat them. This sounds like quite the night we’ve in store. You’re amazing.”
“Not really. l just read your prisoner profile on the prison website. You communicate with mostly women. You studied Victorian novels, liked Blackjack and gambling, and you even told the reason for your incarceration, which was drug trafficking.”
“Well, you certainly did your homework!”
I put out my hand to shake hers.
“Hello, my name is Santiago. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Heavy Metal Meredith. See you in an hour or so. You have my address in your paperwork.”
I lean in and give her a kiss on the cheek.
“Okay, see you in an hour or so.”
I get into the car with Johnny for the short ride home. He doesn’t say a word. I think he may be feeling me out, checking my attitude before starting a conversation.
Eventually he hits ‘Play’ on the tape deck, and the music blares again:
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
“Hey Santi, so how was your day?” he sheepishly asks.
“Really, Johnny? Just more of the same. Why should you expect otherwise?”
I give him a playful punch in the arm. Of course he reacts as if it actually hurt.
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
“Santiago, do you know what is ‘strife’?”