By Robert Tashbook
I've always wanted to be a travel writer, staying in exclusive resorts, eating meals fit for a king. An ad in a writing magazine finally provided my big break. They wanted neophyte travel writers seeking to get into this exciting business. The only requirement was to visit an appropriate location and write a review. They would select the best one and offer the writer a contract.
Luckily for me, I was currently at a fine establishment -- part of a national chain with over 100 locations -- offering both lodging and dining. Hopefully then, this review will launch me on my new career.
Security seems to be the watchword at this resort. The burnished aluminum security bars on the tinted windows are more for show, but the twenty-four hour armed guard at the front, the multiple razor-wire topped fences, and the roving patrols really drove the point home. Unfortunately, when I learned most of the fifty-foot tall perimeter guard posts were unmanned, I began to doubt that the advertised "500,000 volt electric fence" was strong enough to do more than roast marshmallows.
The hospitality exceeded my expectations. Upon arrival, several hosts and hostesses showed up and walked me through the check-in process, even teaching me what seemed to be the local dance -- called the "naked Macarena" -- and provided me with some clothes in the indigenous style. I even received a personal escort to my assigned bungalow!
The bungalows were actually collections of sixty-four different rooms clustered around a common area with televisions, high-stakes poker, grooming and workout area, and as I noticed in the laundry room, even a place for prizefights! (I wondered if they followed the Queensberry Rules?)
Entering my assigned room, I was struck by the Spartan accommodations, the small size of the room, the narrow, grey-steel bunk beds, and most awkwardly, a roommate. (I guess I should have been tipped off by the lack of a "single supplement" surcharge, but it was still a shock.) The heavily tattooed resident grunted something about me taking the top bunk and then he went back to what he was working on. Later, he told me he had to do "twenty" here. I replied that twenty days seemed like a long stay in a place like this. He said, "No, twenty years." I fell off the bunk in shock.
When I regained consciousness, I decided to make my bed since the maid service was mysteriously absent. It is a misnomer to call that super-thin piece of foam a mattress. When I wrapped the twin-sized cotton sheets -- with a thread count that was barely in the double digits -- around my sad excuse for a mattress, they made two complete circuits, emphasizing its emaciation.
Although there was no enforced "lights out" -- to go with their apparent "summer camp" motif — they did lock the room doors just before 10 PM. (At least there was a sink and toilet crowded into the tiny room.) Perhaps, fearing that their hospitality was not to the guests' satisfaction, we were all required to stand up and be counted a few minutes later -- perhaps to make sure no one was still roasting marshmallows on the so-called "electric fence".
The next day, my roommate informed me that I had slept through both breakfast as well as a group of our fellow guests who had been loudly chanting to the latest "rap" on a cable television channel that was popular here. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I prepared to visit the showers -- which were arranged in front of the common area, ostensibly so guests would put on a show in competition with the PG-13 rated fare on the TV's.
After showering, I used the handy, yet finger-sized, fluorescent orange razor to clean up a bit and then ran a flexible plastic comb through my hair before changing back into the native outfit that I had been issued the day before. Soon, a roar of "CHOW!" went up from the guests in the common area. Like hungry animals at feeding time, there was a stampede out the door and down the long path to the building holding the dining facility.
As I entered the dining area, I was forced to stand in a long line -- not unlike that at popular Disney attractions -- although it did move rapidly, without disruption or commotion. My hopes for superior cuisine were raised when I saw that meals were being rationed via an electronic card scanning system, but alas the meal was simply adequate.
The utensils themselves were non-traditional. There was a standard cafeteria-style brown plastic cup -- instead of a small tin cup that could be noisily raked across bars or loudly banged to bring attention to a patron's grievances. The plastic trays did not appear sturdy enough to significantly dent the skull of a fellow diner -- unlike the old metal ones -- and the only utensil was a fluorescent orange "spork" (combining the worst of both spoon and fork). The lack of traditional metal silverware -- able to be fashioned into implements of offense (and defense) -- was quite evident.
As I proffered my tray to the gentleman dispensing the food -- who was neither large nor named "Bubba" (as is traditional at an establishment like this one) -- I was disheartened to be able to recognize all of the foods on the tray. None were the anticipated "slop" and although the portions were not generous, they appeared to meet minimum nutritional standards.
While consuming my meal, there was no "entertainment" in the form of food fights, predatory assaults, or even mutinous rioting. Perhaps this was due to the lack of armed staff patrolling the dining room or maybe this was because there didn't seem to be any "dirty screws" that would be potential victims of flying trays of slop. (Then again, as mentioned earlier, there wasn't even any "slop" to throw.)
Disappointed with the lack of "action" during the meal, and finding the food to be tolerable but not superior, I deposited my used plastic utensils into the dish-room receptacle and exited the facility. Finally, I received some of the "experience" that I had hoped for earlier.
After passing through a body scanner -- that sadly failed to show my naked body to all passersby -- a staff member decided to grope me more intimately and fully than any TSA airport screening. After all, a meal is not truly complete until someone from law enforcement has fondled your most intimate areas.
After reading this lukewarm review of his resort, the man in charge retorted, "Well, you should have thought about that before you came to prison!"
-- Editor's Note: This remarkable piece of fiction was written by Robert Tashbook, a student in Christopher Zoukis' Writing and Publishing class at Petersburg FCI.