Space cake


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My career as a guitar teacher in the Bijlmer prison lasted about two years. Every Tuesday evening I was on my way to the prison to give a one hour lesson to a group of detainees. As my predecessor Martin had told me, the level was low on average. For most, the guitar workshop was a welcome break from the dull prison routine, and a chance to talk about music. The leftist theories I espoused about the futility of the prison system were not put to the test: almost all the students were junkies. They usually served short sentences. Often, after months on the outside, I saw them back in class again. Then they mumbled “Hey man, you remember me?” or something similar. No trace of embarrassment. For these men, the prison had no sense. It had become a ritual, an annual routine.

One of the prisoners was an Englishman who stood out against the junkie majority. His was a friendly moon face. His reddish hair was hidden under a cap and he wore a moustache that ran from his mouth down to his chin. He seemed a gentle man. He kept himself in the background and tried his best to master the guitar chords. I tried to gain his confidence and when I gradually succeeded after a few weeks, he told me he was awaiting his trial. It did not look good. He was a professional assassin, he confided to me with his soft voice.

In addition to the weekly routine, the prison authorities occasionally organised evenings when the inmates of all six towers were entertained by artists. That gave me the opportunity to arrange a concert of The Dutch. I especially remember what went wrong on the way to the venue. We were guided through the empty space below the central corridor. Arriving at the entrance of the hall we waited until the door was unlocked. Which it didn’t. Time and again we heard a voice through the radio of the custodian, saying “The 38B door is NOW open!” But that appeared to be an empty promise.

(Criminology fact: detainees seem to have a preference for cell doors that open with old fashioned keys. Central locking adds to the feeling of constriction. When something goes wrong, panic breaks out. Who knows how long it takes for the electronics to start working again).

I had liked to write a tasty record of the jail concert by The Dutch, with the allure of Johnny Cash in San Quentin prison: “Bijlmer jail, I hate every inch of you”. But the truth is, I remember no more of the concert than that a young man came up to me and asked me in an Irish accent if I knew U2, from Dublin. Yes, I did, I knew them from I Will Follow. That’s them, he nodded. He had been their roadie. But you guys are far better, y’know. Like most of his cellmates, he had few teeth.

cake-lemonspace_blogpageAfter two years I decided to quit. I remembered my predecessor, who had served out cookies during his last lesson that had not contained any stimulants, much to the disappointment of the classroom. I bought a few grams of red Lebanon marihuana in the Milky Way, and on the afternoon before the last lesson I baked a mature space cake in the oven. When the sweet smell of cannabis had penetrated into every crevice of my floor, one of my college friends happened to come along. He looked at the space cake that was fuming on the kitchen counter. “Shall we …?” Before I knew it, I had cut two thick slices that were scoffed at tea. That evening I walked past the guard house with two plastic bags stuffed with spacecake. I saluted the guards and jovially pointed to the bags. “Baked a cake! It’s my last time! “Smiling, thumbs up, they opened the door to the Kalverstraat, the central corridor of the prison.

The atmosphere, that evening of my last lesson, was great. The cake was finished, and I ate a thin slice myself, just for fun. Up to now I didn’t feel any reaction from the afternoon tidbit. That seems to be how space cake works. It’s sneaking up to your brains and then the axe falls. So by the time I returned home, the THC enterend my brains as a bolt from the blue. Successively I missed a tree, a lamppost and the Weespertrekvaart channel by a hair. It’s a miracle that my guitar survived the ride. The next day, the stuff still raged through my synapses. Coincidentally, I had to work at a literary publishing house. The head of the bookkeeping department, Corrie, had quickly sensed that I was in no shape to be trusted with the monthly sales figures. Yet she let me tripping a couple of hours during work time, until the space cake had ceased its rage. Great woman.


December 30, 2015

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