My last couple of weeks in the program coincided with Ms. Wyatt going on vacation. We all dearly missed her sexiness, but the class received a different gift: Head Counselor Norm Carver as the substitute teacher. Short and stocky, he would be perfectly cast as the crazy older brother of Breaking Bad actor Dean Norris. We’d heard great stories about Carver’s wackiness from his students in the classroom next door. Now we got to live them.
On his first day, a lesson topic was written in large letters on top of the whiteboard: Generational Addiction Patterns. He began with a rhetorical question: “How did you come upon the thought process that put you here (in prison)?” Ignite engines − we have lift-off.
The first generation analyzed were “The Veterans,” born between 1920 and 1945. According to Carver, spouses stayed together no matter what back then, and citizens would’ve been ashamed to accept government assistance had it been available. He also professed Germany invaded Ireland and Japan took the U.S. by surprise in the Pacific since we were busy fighting in Europe at the time − with Italy on our side. The War ended when the U.S. dropped the bomb on Japan’s “largest city.” Not Tokyo, but Hiroshima.
I began taking detailed notes of this flurry of inaccurate non-sequiturs, far afield from rehabilitation talk. Carver noticed, and gave me a wink of approval. He subsequently glanced at me several times following points he seemed particularly proud of.
Next were the Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). As Carver understood it, this period saw Henry Ford present the Model-T to the masses, women entered the workforce and caused a divorce epidemic, and everyone tried to keep up with the Joneses. Marriage licenses in Vegas included divorce applications on the back, and California was the center of the LSD scourge. Carver explained that families ate dinner together during this era, whether the siblings got along or not.
I intervened at this point, assuming a class discussion was underway. This clearly annoyed Carver, but he humored me.
“I thought LSD didn’t really kick in until the Summer of Love in ‘69?”
“Yes, that’s true as well,” allowed Carver. “Despite what you may think, I’m not all-knowing.”
I assumed he was kidding and chuckled, which peeved him further. No humorist, I’d bet he thinks self-deprecation means pooping one’s pants. I struggled into “listen-only” mode. This lecture was not to be sidetracked. Even the usual interrupters in the class lay low, sensing they’d be steamrolled by Carver should they pipe up.
Next up for analysis was my wheelhouse, Generation X (1965–1980). Carver explained this was when couples began cohabitating without bothering to marry. “But, if these sinners lived together long enough a common law marriage could result,” he explained.
As usual, the relevance of this fact went unexplained. It did, however, lead to another touchy subject: mixed relationships. Carver lamented that whites will be a minority by 2050, as mixed-race individuals will exceed fifty percent of the US population. “Mixed marriages will take over, but you won’t tell any difference anyway,” the instructor said, shaking his head.
Carver claimed Generation X’s science scores in the US rank twentieth in the world. This, of course, explained why a former inmate pupil of his sustained injuries in a crystal meth-cooking explosion.
“I told him to drop his drawers, right there in class, ‘cuz I didn’t believe him,” Carver said. “He did, and the son-of-a-bitch had scars you wouldn’t believe. And one of his calves was completely gone.”
Following the meth lab explosion, the guy’s dog − a regular modern-day Lassie − alerted distant neighbors, saving his master’s life. I dearly wished to point out that the concussive blast drew attention just fine, but I laid low.
“I used to work in illegal manufacturing myself, although it was a lot less risky,” Carver admitted. “When I was a kid I moved bottles of the family hooch from the still to the log pile, using an old flour sack.” The class learned this was a better option for the small lad since a heavier “toe sack” could’ve caused a stumble, breaking the bottles.
Equally relevant to generational addiction patterns were − you guessed it − female reproduction issues. Carver noted with alarm that “girls these days can menstruate as early as age nine,” and he knew of a twelve-year-old who “already has nice titties and a pretty butt.”
The counselor drew an hourglass figure on the whiteboard for clarification, complete with nipples on the boobies (mercifully, no pubes or vagina). He claimed the daughter of an acquaintance required abortion to avoid giving birth, otherwise “her hips would split her apart.” His point being − I have no fucking idea.
Most of the class seemed oblivious to the absurdity of the lesson and took it at face value, which made not laughing even harder. A guy next to me somehow appeared bored, and knocked out workbook exercises instead of listening. Then again, he may have been silently protesting an earlier Carver reference to “colored-only water fountains” in the fifties, apropos of nothing.
I alternated between exchanging baffled glances with buddies who knew better, taking notes, and feeling like I’d entered a David Lynch movie. I noticed my reflection in the whiteboard and questioned reality. As if I’d smoked weed minutes earlier and THC had kicked in hard.
My dissociation faded just in time to comprehend Carver’s take on Generation Y (1981–2000). He cited the Columbine shootings as “the event that changed the world forever, along with 9/11, because we all remember where we were when that went down.”
Carver professed 9/11 was triggered by a ninety-three cent box cutter converted into a bomb. “And even worse, terrorists are even more creative these days. They have bombs surgically implanted in their bodies!”
The class learned that the United States lacks Australia’s security because there they mandate a second customs line if you admit to carrying antipsychotic medication, as Carver once did. Additionally, the U.S. has never won a war below the 38th parallel, “even though we had laser-guided bombs that could hit a three-foot square from one hundred miles” in Vietnam.
I had to grab my wrist to keep my hand from going up on that one.
According to Carver, America’s breakdown means “China is going to wipe us out and there’s nothing we can do about it.” He lowered his head for a few beats before continuing.
“We are literally running out of gas, and solar panels won’t help because they’re manufactured in China, for godsakes!” Now he appeared ready to cry.
“We had a great run, but empires fall about every three-hundred years, so we’re forty years overdue.”
As if things could turn darker, for no apparent reason Carver claimed to own “a long rap sheet,” but admitted he’d never done time.
A bold classmate piped up upon hearing this: “So you sayin’ you was a snitch?”
Carver took a step back. The temper I suspected was just below his surface erupted.
“Define snitching”, he yelled, reddening. “Is it snitching if you tell them you didn’t do something?”
“Depends if you beat the heat by naming names or not,” came the cool reply.
Snickering arose, along with veiled calls of “Sniiitch!” and “Narc!”
“You weren’t there, I was!” Carver sputtered. “And I can promise you as clear as I’m standing here that I never ratted anyone out.”
“Then you was the pole-eece even back then.”
Carver closed in on his questioner, spittle flying. “If I was a rat, why would I help inmates now?”
“Maybe you feel guilty enough.”
Had a judge been present, a gavel would’ve been abused. Order needed restoring amid whoops and laughter. A rat was on the ropes.
Carver turned his back and slowly returned to the front of the room. He shakily gestured toward the whiteboard and the end of the generational timeline he’d written. He tried to steer back to the point of the lecture, such as it was, and abruptly checked his watch. Luckily for him, the class had entered overtime.
“We’ll pick this up tomorrow,” he said, through a clenched jaw.
Carver moved to the corner opposite the door as the class rushed out into a day full of joyously re-hashing the instructor’s disgrace.
My remaining lessons with Carver retained a similarly aimless but entertaining vein. For fun, a few classmates and I asked questions that sent him off on tangents. We made bets on this game, with bonuses paid if he ranted about China. Carver’s Generational Addiction Patterns lesson never returned or was clarified. Perhaps his accidental mission as a counselor was mystical — to provide unintentional comedy for beleaguered prisoners like me.
While I rip on Carver, he did save me from living without air conditioning in August for a couple of weeks. My term in the rehab class was ending, so a transfer back to Southern loomed. To buy more time I praised Carver’s wisdom and begged for a couple more weeks to learn at his feet.
He seemed surprised at this request but smiled widely. “You know, it’s not often someone appreciates what I’m accomplishing here. Especially an inmate.”
I attended his class over two more weeks, but none nearly as entertaining as that first one. Cool air in the barracks on those hot summer nights helped me get over it, though. Favorable trade-offs such as this are rare inside penitentiary gates.