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Sothern Exposure

My First Time in the Drunk Tank

I remember a bottle of Bacardi rum, going to a party, stripping naked, following my stiff wiener, and chasing girls around.

by Scot Sothern
Sep 23 2014, 8:00pm

I’m sixteen and my eyes are closed. I’m flat on my back. I’m spinning and spinning and I’m gonna vomit and I roll to my side and open my eyes to find myself on a cold jailhouse floor. It’s my first time, and I’m not sure how I got here.

I remember a bottle of Bacardi rum. I kind of remember going to a party, stripping naked, and following my stiff wiener around. I remember a girl who gave my wiener an affectionate squeeze. I had my dad’s big Oldsmobile convertible and I wish I could remember when I last saw it. I retch and it doubles me up and an old jailbird, his back to the bars, yells: "Hey boy, don't you go puking all over the floor!"

I heave a dry one and crawl on my knees to the crapper but it’s so fucking gross that I turn back, start swallowing, and sit with my head between my legs. The jailbird sits on a metal bunk and stinks like a container of butts and empties. He tells me I’m here because I drank too much. I tell him, "Yeah, no shit."

There are five of us in the drunk tank. Two black guys have staked out a corner; they lean against the bars and smoke unfiltered Kool’s. They don’t look at me and I don’t look at them. I figure my pop will be down to bail me out and he’ll be more confused than angry. He doesn’t get teenage rebellion and our ideas of fun are night and day.

Once I get used to the jailbird’s stench, he’s not a bad guy. He tells me he used to be a cowboy and one time he owned a Cadillac. He says he went overseas in World War II and saw a guy get shot in the head. He tells me one time he saw a woman fuck a German Shepherd. I tell him, "Yeah, me too, in a movie in the back room of the motorcycle shop." He has tobacco in a pouch and rolling papers and teaches me how to roll a smoke. I roll joints this way for the rest of my life. The police don’t process me into the system and release me when my pop shows up at 9 AM. I get off with a stern warning. Nobody cares except the cop who arrested me. He tells me next time he’s gonna kick my ass.

A couple of months later my parents are out of town and my ex-girlfriend, Suzy, comes over to get my framed 8x10 portrait of her, for her new boyfriend. We make out for a while and I drink four or five cans of Country Club Malt Liquor. Afterward I put an open can between my legs and drive over to pick up my current girlfriend, Nancy. I’m driving my 1954 Volkswagen, a three-speed with a tiny back window and no gas gauge. I rear-end a Buick at the busiest intersection in town and it fucks up the front end of the VW but doesn’t leave a scratch on the Buick. I attempt a getaway in my wounded Bug, but the same cop as before shows up and we tussle and I end up handcuffed in the back of the squadcar.

True to his word, in the parking lot at the police station, the cop kicks me hard in the ass and then laughs when I take a tumble. This cop has a reputation for hanging around teenage hangouts chasing assholes like me. Back in the jailhouse, little has changed—a couple of black guys and a couple of old white guys, a toilet that’s too gross to shit in, and thick clouds of body order. Melancholy mumbles echo through the cages and then I hear my best friend Spike yelling, "Fuckin yay, lock me up, you fucking hillbillies." A couple of cops open the cell door and push Spike inside. Spike is laughing and way drunker than I am. He tells me he came here with Nancy when they heard I got arrested. He tells me he came down to break me out. I tell him, "Great, what’s the plan?"

This time I’m booked, finger-printed and photographed, full face and profile. I go to court a couple of weeks later and bring in two witnesses: Suzy and Nancy. Suzy says she was with me minutes prior to my arrest, and Nancy says she saw me at the police station right after. They both say I was sober and upright as a boy scout. When I get my turn in the chair, I can hardly hold in a giggle when I swear on a bible; nothing but the truth. I tell the judge the cop is a lying bully who likes to pick on teenagers. When the cop sits on the stand, he says of the night in question that I was drunk and out-of-control, a danger to myself and others—a repeat offender. The judge, who hunts quail with my pop, can’t decide, so he drops the case. Nancy and I go park in the woods in her Mustang, take the blanket from the backseat, and fuck in the afternoon sun. 

The officer is unhappy with the verdict. He tells me he’s gonna kick my ass a hell of a whole lot harder next time and that I’m not gonna get away with any more shit. Occasionally, he lies in wait at the end of my street in his cruiser with his lights off. One night on my motorcycle I blast past him going about 60 and flick a lit cigarette at his windshield. I keep going, off the road through a field and a string of backyards. There is no way he can catch me. The following year, I leave town for groovier climes and nearly 50 years later he’s either very old or very dead.

Scot's first book, Lowlife, was released in 2011, and his memoir, Curb Service, is out now. You can find more information on his website.