UNITED STATES—Even as the memory of the Christmas feast and the goat pit-barbecued in the driveway warmly lingered, I got new lessons in human nature, or at least a lesson in the nature of one human, named Mac Murphy, in the aftermath of his arrest for the stolen street signs.
I took Mac at his word that he hadn’t done it. Mac was a good guy: he’d given me my major wall artwork–a Budweiser poster with a busty model reclined on a race car. I drank his beer and listened to Mac’s stereo. Of course he didn’t pry off and abscond with the signs from La Brea and Hollywood Boulevard that adorned the walls in his room, they’d been left in the closet by the room’s previous occupant. He was innocent of the crime alleged when the cops paid an unexpected visit on Christmas.
The next morning Mac called collect. He admitted he had stolen the signs, but that wasn’t what he was going to tell the judge. I cringed, afraid the jailhouse phone might be tapped. It didn’t sit right having first denied it to the police and then coming clean to me. I would have preferred knowing less and remained pure in my conviction that Mac had been wronged. As it was, the judge didn’t buy Mac’s story. And Mac became the first person I ever visited in County.
I took a bus downtown and got off between Chinatown and the 101 freeway, a rainy cold afternoon. Mr. Wylie, the owner of the house, gave me a special delivery for Mac: in an envelope containing a five-dollar bill and the owner slipped a note, “Don’t spend it all in one place.”
I waited with children and mothers and homies in a waiting room that seemed too small for the huge tower of convicts that soars above the freeway. So easily mistaken for an office building, if you pass on the 101, but after my visit to Mac I would never make that mistake. We spoke, we commiserated. Afterward, when the brief time was up, our palms pressed to the bullet-proof Plexiglas, scratched by gang stigmata. It was a close gesture, my eyes got a little wet and I said goodbye and went down the ramp and into the rainy night to rejoin the world of the free.
I felt sorry for Mac and glad to be able to sleep in my fake wood-paneled room, lulled to sleep by the sound of freeway cars, an endless stream not 90 yards from my window. Mac was listening to the howls and jeers of the incarcerated. For him it would be a few more weeks before freedom, when he would return cleansed and rejuvenated after working off his punishment on the sheriffs’ honor ranch and he was met by a warm homecoming in that menagerie of Estrella Avenue that felt a bit more like home with Mac’s return.
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of the comic collection “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon.