Friday, April 15, 2011
This past week, I had to be in Newport to take care of some business at the courthouse. The courthouse in Newport is like any bitty little Southern town--they are old, usually the largest and grandest building and occupy the central block. There are almost always colorful characters hanging about--especially in Newport, where the jail is close by. They still dress the prisoners in black and white horizontal stripes--and they put them to work cleaning up or doing whatever work around the place needs to be done.
There seem to always be stories about trouble with the guards vs. prisoners, prisoners escaping (but not going anywhere in particular), and the prisoners often are just wandering around unescorted. It used to make me nervous going into the courthouse because of this. Most of the guards vs. prisoners stories have to do with guards sleeping with inmates (at least, for some reason those are the ones I remember most--it's consensual female guard on male prisoner, usually) or guards slipping/selling "contraband"--like drugs--to inmates. The guards vs. prisoners thing seems more on the chummy side than any real animosity. Everyone is related to each other.
It's Tuesday, so the courthouse is very busy. The South American has accompanied me and we are seated on some benches waiting. There are gangs of people and there's a big line. They recently put in metal detectors to make sure no one brings guns into the courtroom. I'm guessing something either happened recently or they reacted to some other shooting. It's not like we don't have shootings in Newport--but for some reason--they've just decided to do this. I amuse myself by observing the people in the line. No one is dressed for court.. You can spot the attorneys easily. They have that oiliness about them--a sort of slickness and level of grooming not observed by anyone else.
I'm transfixed by this young woman. I struggle with where I know her. She's beautiful, though unconventionally and perhaps, tragically so. Her skin is dewy, creamy and delicate--but showing the beginnings of decay--just the cusp and suggestion of it. She must be all of twenty-two. Her eyes have a red tinge on the inside of her eyelashes--that pink part between the lash and the white of the eyes. She has no makeup and when she smiles, she is gentle and sly--and completely missing all of her front teeth. I place her; know where I met her. She is Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The South American says, loud enough for everyone to hear and apropos of completely nothing (I think), "I did not expect to see a man's ass here." He says it with the slight accent he uses with me, nearly imperceptible on the ears of Americans. They just know he "ain't from around here".
"Excuse me?" I say, thinking I must have misheard. The South American is a very straight man--very secure in his straightness, but still, not the sort to go about admiring other men's asses. It must be a particularly exceptional ass for him to comment, so I scan the line of people waiting as the cops run them through the metal detector. He doesn't say anything more.
It only takes a moment for me to spot the man in question. I do so when he turns around. You see, from the front, he's a normal overweight middle aged man, the sort we often see hanging out at gas stations, truck stops and greasy diners. From the front, his beer belly hangs over the ledge of his Levis obscuring what he mistakenly thinks is his waistline. He is being scanned by the policeman with the beeping wand.
When this man turns around, his ass is in full, resplendent nakedness. This is no timid plumber's cleavage. Nor is it a muscular, slim-hipped gangsta ass crack with taut skin twitching like a walking horse. No, this is a full-out, refrigerator white, moon of an ass--the back of his pants caught somewhere barely centimeters from the horizontal gluteal crease.
Justice Potter Stewart described his threshold test for pornography in 1964 as "I know it when I see it." I always thought that was a cop-out--until this past Tuesday. This display of man-ass flesh crossed the line, I say. There's this point where showing ass crack is funny but still not obscene. This was way beyond, "pants on the ground."
What was so astounding was the utter nonchalance of the cops and everyone there. I swear to God, if the South American and I hadn't started laughing hysterically, I don't think anyone would have cracked a smile. You'd think one of those cops would have said, "Hey Bubba, how 'bout pullin' dem pants up". Or something.
What has been seen cannot be unseen.