THE MODERATELY FED ARTIST
By AUSTIN WHITELY
“Print your name in the box under your Officer’s column. DO NOT CHECK THE BOX.”
As I start to print my name on the official Bullitt County Probation and Parole document, I notice a multitude of scribbled check marks littering the sign-in sheet. Whether simpleminded or just rebellious vagabonds, the people I share the waiting room with can’t be bothered with the tedious instructions. I used to be like that, but after garnering a rap sheet that could’ve put Amy Winehouse to shame, I finally learned how to follow directions—something the judge said I had a problem with. In the past year, I’ve replaced my bad habits with musical and artistic ambitions. Yet, as I turn to take my seat, I have to wonder, don’t all rock stars have this problem—the desire to go against the grain? To define their own rules?
Patiently seated to my right is a middle-aged woman dressed to kill, waiting to murder in her boardroom business-chic savvy suit. Probation and Parole appointments are more like guidelines—as in, sometime during business hours, you’ll be seen. Savvy suit knows the routine.
The Pepsi Cola vending machine sits in the same lonely manner a land line phone stays depressed, no longer attending to its purpose. The heavyset G-thug, pale as a ghost and more Bullitt County than me, taps nervous drumbeats on his crossed leg. An empty Gatorade bottle lays abandoned under his chair. Carbonated, sugary drinks can’t tend to the detoxification needs of a person trying to cheat the system. As any good probationer knows, a steady influx of water the day prior, red meat consumption the night before and a dose of B vitamins to tint your urine is the technique that can keep a vicious cycle circling down the drain. The gangsta adjusts his attire—shifting his throwback flat-bill, checking his Jordans, repeatedly pulling his shirt from under his gut—to keep his mind off the fact that he’s ingested enough water to flood an African village, and that his bladder feels like it’s entered into an epic duel with the other organs in his abdominal cavity for space. G-thug knows the routine.
I saw the older gentleman, who was chain smoking and pacing, at the front of the building when I entered. Dressed in bibs and boots, covered in residual hay, with dirt-stained skin, he takes a seat next to the vending machine, with a chair between him and the manicured gangsta. Probation waiting room etiquette follows the same mores as urinal selection: only take a spot directly beside someone if no other spots are vacant. The good ol’ country boy has found himself between the dull roar of refrigeration and the incessant murmurs of what sounds like an ADHD medication trial run spewing from the young Capone. The gangsta, cowered in the corner, is only daring enough to whisper his contempt for the judicial system to the farmer. The polite elder shrugs off the jaded mumbles; sensing no reprieve from the verbal onslaught and the ensuing wait time, he exits to smoke again. Country boy knows the routine.
My eyes follow him to the door, then back to the same spot on the wall I’ve burned a hole in over the years. Flyers stating how to get “Parole Compliance Credit” are spread across surface. “Get your GED and GET CONNECTED,” boasts one. The meth before-and-after PSAs serve to warn young probationers and reiterate the facts for certain repeated parolees and persistent felony offenders. Old wanted posters have stagnantly awaited removal since the first time I walked in the doors of Probation and Parole—photos of the ones who got away, mug shots of the free. A “We Hire Felons!!!” poster is reminiscent of the Uncle Sam “I WANT YOU” military recruitment ad. Take some bullets for a Private’s wages; they’ll surely pay you less for jobs other people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies.
I glance around the room. The business lady scrolls her iPhone 5, despite the sign stating, “NO PHONES.” The thug continues to chat, given the opportunity, despite the signs stating “NO TALKING.” The country boy continues to enter and exit, despite the signs stating, “REMAIN IN THE LOBBY.”
“Whitely.” The familiar voice of my probation officer commands my attention. I finish addressing my $15 money order for drug testing to “Kentucky State Treasurer.” I double-check my paperwork to ensure I have last semester’s transcripts for proof I’m a full-time student. I grab my receipt from the courthouse stating I’ve paid my monthly supervision fee off the floor.
I’m near the end of my freshman year out of rehab and my sophomore year out of the county jail. I think, This is what rock stars are made of, right? Punk rock anarchy, raging against the machine, fighting the law, Folsom Prison Blues, sex, drugs … more drugs and sex, and occasionally rock and roll. Nowhere is it mentioned that rock stars are probated or paroled and monitored into a sterile existence known as a responsible, dependable, upstanding citizen. Chaos, unpredictability, not giving a fuck what anybody thinks are all what I imagined the rock-star lifestyle to embody. Maybe extended incarceration trips followed by governmental guidance were mentioned at the end of the music magazine features or official biographies. I never read that far. I was too busy taking my shirt off and turning my amp up to 11.
Instead of laying down tracks, being chased by fast women and diluting my thoughts with as many mind-altering substances I can ingest, I report for micromanaging by my adult babysitter. Instead of taking nothing and making something out of it for the sake of originality and to forward human progression—a record for future generations to understand our time period—I fill out forms that document my hours worked, address and whether I’ve had contact with law enforcement. Instead of traveling the country to spread a message through music, I sit, yet again, in the Bullitt County Probation and Parole waiting room. I want to yell at the top of my lungs, “Don’t you know who I am? I’ma motherfuckin’ rock star!”
The door opens as the officer waits for my entry. I rise with my papers in hand and say, “Coming.” I know the routine.