Got a call from N.N. — our Notorious Neighbor — who is in jail. Why he is in jail — especially why he’s still in jail — is a long twisted story that I won’t go into here, but you’ve probably caught snippets of it off the media, which presents a different account of it than he does (he recently started his own blog).
This is the first phone call I’ve ever received from jail. At one point he said, “Hold on a second,” and there was a click, and then music started playing. I thought, indignant, That bastard just put me on hold. Then his assistant — who’s passed a few touch-base messages between us over the last months — came on the line, and said something about how N.N. gets cut off every fifteen minutes due to his ‘card’ (I haven’t dealt with a telephone card since I spent a year in Japan, which was slightly over ten years ago, so I’d forgotten). Then N.N.’s voice crackled through the line again, apologizing profusely: “I’m standing in the hallway on this payphone.”
He talked a bit about the Burning Man Festival asking if I went (he knows I’ve gone several times before and have seen it get bigger and bigger every year). “There are still all these people in here who got busted on drug charges at Burning Man, either there or coming back. Also the guy who burned the Man early. He’s still in here.” (Edited to add: N.N. might have actually said, “He also came through here,” since the dude who burned the man early got out on bail a day or so after landing in jail, as a commentator quickly reminded me. So either N.N. was bullshitting me, which is not so impossible, or in my desire to make a neat little narrative out of a long rambling aimless conversation I misquoted him. I suspect the latter.)
“Good. That guy really pissed me off.”
He laughed. “I met him.”
“I bet he was thrilled. Now his claim to fame is not only did he burn the Man, but that he met you.”
“Hah.” He snorted. “And my claim to fame is that I met him.”
Then he said: “I have tattoos up both sides of my arms now. They go all the way up.”
“Cool! I can’t wait to see them!”
“You didn’t really believe that, did you? Did you actually believe that?”
“I should have known you wouldn’t be so tacky* as to get jailhouse tats.”
Among other things, he told me what he was reading — satirical essays, political nonfiction. “Send me your book Dark Angel,” he said. “I’m in a cell now. I’ll finally read it.” I didn’t bother to tell him that once again he’d gotten the title wrong, threatening instead to send him “the new one” as well.
*One of the things about him that would surprise people who only know him through the media — chances are you know who he is, and you either want to be him, or see him drawn and quartered — is that he has impeccable taste. Which doesn’t necessary get reflected in the business that made him what he is, but these kinds of contradictions make him interesting to me. He is also one of the most generous hosts out there. When friends and I went to visit him in another country once, he had a local band waiting in the sunken open-air living room to serenade us hello. Try not to be charmed by that. (And no, we were not a group of single females — some of us were men, and almost all of us were married. He just likes to pull off stuff like that.)