License to Drift Off

June 28, 2016 | Nathan powell

Nate explores three “occupations” at Auburn:  making license plates, battling roaches, and “drifting off.”

I am working at my Industry job — making license plates — how cliché, right? Rolls of pumpkin orange EMPIRE Blue vinyl unroll onto long winding strips of aluminum. Then ka thunkata, thunkata, they get sliced into the License Plates that go onto your cars. There is a pause while we wait for a new roll. I don’t remember dozing off (who does?), but I do remember waking up. The first thing I see is the last plate I caught. This plate has the town and county of the courthouse where I was convicted — and the numbers printed onto it are exactly the same numbers that identify me to the Department of Corrections.

This is not normal. So now I’m in a weird, hyper-alert state. Tommy comes in fresh from a parole hearing; he’s going home! It’s funny how guys who have been down for a while seem to become more real when they are about to go home. The faint dullness that leeches at them year after year just fades away. So now Tommy’s got this shine to him — shit’s getting real — and his buddies are huddled around him, basking in the glow.

I go over to see my friend, T, who doesn’t look like he slept at all. “What happened, T?” I ask him. “Roaches,” he says.

T has a lot of front line experience battling cockroaches. Our Auburn roaches ain’t shit, according to T. Mexican roaches are sly; they can stick their necks out for risk assessment, he tells me. Puerto Rican roaches are smarter and stronger. “They make eye contact,” T says. “They know when you’re gonna swing.”


So T can’t get to this roach, but he knows it’s somewhere in his locker, so he boils water and pours it into the cracks.   A bunch of roaches come out when the hot water drenches their tiny cubbyholes. “Ahhh.”

At some point T falls asleep. He has this dream of a white Keffiyeh. Now this is the first and only time that T tells me one of his dreams. A white Keffiyeh. There is black writing around the Keffiyeh, but he can’t figure it out, so T starts pulling the black script off of the Keffiyeh trying to decipher it. As he’s unraveling these mysterious letters he hears this “phht, phht, phht.” That’s when he wakes up and his hot pot has boiled the water away and it’s starting to burn up, “phht phht.” He douses it and a cloud of smoke and steam rises.

For some reason I feel this dream very strongly. I can almost taste the burnt fog in T’s cell.