Jeffrey Meranto, Phoenix AZ

Early Retirement – My Best Worst Day, part 4

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                                                                   The Ride . .

No one can prepare themselves for incarceration, ( although I surely tried! ). The one thing I learned before going in was, “Keep your mouth shut, don’t ‘see anything,’ do your own time, and your ride won’t be too bad” These were words that were given to me by a ex-con whom I met at some seedy bar prior to going to prison. The “Ride,” he was talking about was the sentence that The Judge was shortly to impose.

Doing time, being imprisoned was somewhat like a surreal carnival complete with rides, unusual food, and a group of individuals who could easily staff any Ol’ Time Carnival Sideshow. . or Pirate Ship.

Nearly 3 years had gone by since I first “went down,” that is to say, I had been in prison almost 3 years. I was a porter inside my cell block swinging a mop back and forth up and down the cell block with the other porter, ‘Joe Taco.’

“Dirty dogs, the dirty dogs,” exclaimed Joe, “can you believe it? They gave me Cancer. The bastards.”

‘Joe Taco’ got his name from his business. Joe owned hundreds of Taco Trucks and Taco Stands from New York to Los Angeles.

Every year since he’d been in prison either the I.R.S. or The Immigration Dept. , or both, would come to visit Joe and try to get him implicated in new charges. To everyone, especially Joe, this was absurd since Joe was doing ‘all day’ meaning he had a life sentence without the possibility of parole. But still the Government Agents would come and threaten him. Mostly trying to implicate his family in wrong doing since his was a family owned and operated business with Joe making all the big decisions from inside.

He’d been in prison for 19 years, had 3 Heart Attacks, one minor Stroke, and now Cancer. Joe attributed all of this to the stress caused by the continued ongoing investigations he went through for 19 years.

“Can you believe it? And honest Jeff, I’m tellin’ the truth. . ” said Joe, ” They’re killing me with all this stress. And me Jeff, you’re lookin’ at a man who is doin’ time for somethin’ he didn’t do.”

I met lots of guys who said similar things to me about they’re incarcerated for something they didn’t do but, when Joe said this to me I could tell he was being truthful.

Over 25 years before Joe owned several Taco Trucks in New York some local toughs were forcing most of the vendors to pay for protection. Joe refused and according to him one of his trucks got torched. So a few short days afterwards 4 or 5 of the ‘tough guys’ were found shot to death. The best suspect for the murders was Joe.

Not that Joe talked much about what he was in for, he didn’t. Mostly he’d just say something like, “Look how they treat me, and I’m a guy who’s in for somethin’ he didn’t do.”

The I.R.S. would come after him because his business dealt mostly in cash. Immigration came after him because he employed  a lot of people who might not be in the Country Legally.

“I’m tellin’ you what Jeff. I ain’t gonna do it no more. Gonna go for early retirement and cheat these pricks outta a few years. That’s what I’m gonna do.”

What Joe was saying was he refused all treatment for his Cancer and was going to die, Intentionally. Thereby cheating The Government from taking the rest of his life a day at a time. “Early Retirement”

Weeks went by and Joe’s health failed rapidly. I’m not sure if his Cancer was super aggressive or if Joe just willed himself to die.

The last time I saw Joe he was being wheeled out of the cell block on a gurney. I was sweeping the bottom tier and as they pushed Joe past me he grabbed hold of my arm and motioned me to bend close so I could hear him.

“Tell everyone Jeff, tell everyone I’m in for something I didn’t do.” His voice barely a whisper.

“I will Joe, I will.”

“Tell ’em I didn’t wipe the prints off the gun I used to kill those pricks with Jeff. That’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t wipe the prints off the gun.” His smile wide and peaceful as they pushed him away.

So for the years I spent in prison, I met at least one man who truly was in prison for something he didn’t do.

 

 

Jeffrey Meranto – My Best Worst Day part 1

Jeffrey Meranto Slipping Into Darkness

It’s odd how a person’s mind functions under stress. As I was placed “Under Arrest” and the Agent told me, “Mr Meranto you are under arrest for narcotics violations,” I didn’t think of my family, I didn’t think of the possibility of years, even a lifetime in prison, I didn’t wonder about what they were saying, or the fact that DEA Agents were swarming into my business like so many uninvited ants invading a picnic, I thought about our cat.

My wife and I had gone down to an animal shelter looking to buy a puppy and we walked away with a mangy old cat. She was secluded in a small cage away from the other animals due to a horrid case of ringworm that made her appear like something come back from the dead. Seeing her all alone and defeated in her small cage we knew she would never be adopted so we asked about her. We were told that her ringworm was “aggressive” and that she had not responded to treatment. Long story short she was slated to be “put down.”

7 months of salves, ointments, emollients, balms, creams, lotions, and dips. 7 months of scratches and bites. 7 months of plastic then rubber then finally leather gloves. 7 months of searching under beds, chairs, cupboards and cabinets to find her so we could continue her treatments. 7 months of playing “Mad Scientists” and she was finally free of her mangy coat.

And I sat with my hands cuffed behind my back watching the DEA thanking God that our cat was healed from ringworm.

Meranto – Jeffrey

Processed Into The System

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Jeffrey Meranto Mugshot

The events that follow an arrest are to be best thought of as being written by some far away Russian Novelist. The only thing missing was the sound of the wind blowing across the snowy steppes as I was placed inside a van that had no windows only steel mesh where the glass should have been.

Hours of waiting, being moved from holding cells to interrogation rooms then on again to the same cells only on a different level then back to the same interrogation rooms rearranged and repainted each time but, the same none the less even though they were in different buildings. Always the same cell always the same room just in different locations.

As I was being marched towards the camera for my “booking” picture I caught a glimpse of my reflection and I was 10 years old again. We had gathered for some family event. Well fed and eager to be away from each other we scrunched together so some balding Uncle could take a Family photo. My Mother in a moment of madness attempted to tame my wild hair.

“MOM!” I exclaimed loudly, as she was using the one sure cure-all that all Mothers use for everything from cleaning a smudged face, to putting the shine back on your Sunday School Shoes, or, as was in my case, to slick down some cowlick – Saliva. My Mother had spit in her hand and was applying it with vigor to my head.

Satisfied and looking at my hair she gave the nod that all was in order. Click. One month later when our copy of the photo had arrived my Mom said, “Oh Jeffrey.” My hair had a mind of its own and while I might behave for fear of having my Mom tell my Dad, my hair had no such inclination and the picture proved it. There I was my head sprouting horns left, right, and center. The photo was framed and set on the mantel and for years I had to look at it with my many sets of wet horns.

As I stood there in the jail having my picture taken I remembered that old family picture and thought to myself, “This one’s going to look even worse.” And I think I was right.

We all have bad days. We all have worse days. From the time of my arrest until after my release from prison I view as one day, ” The Worst Day” of my life. Time stopped. I woke up, went to work, and got arrested. I went to sleep that night in a jail cell trying to determine how old it was by peeling away the successive layers of paint. Year one white, years  following yellow, beige, grey, black, and blue. Years later I wake up in a hotel room with green and gold drapes after being released from prison . . next day the alarm rings – stretch then yawn. Day two.

The Meet ( Jeffrey Meranto meets “The Man” )

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Jeff Meranto’s Inner Self

Offhandedly, without a thought, I had mentioned to the bartender that I could get Marijuana. Rather like telling someone at grade school that you had a sure-fire way of cheating on any test for any subject and since it was well known that at best your own test scores were middle of the road you thought nothing more of it as you sat down in the cafeteria to eat whatever it was school cafeterias fed to young boys with vivid imaginings and raging hormones (saltpeter, I believe was the rumor in my day).

Spoken, then forgotten like your overdue homework, gone like your previous summer vacation, lost like your school team’s last outting on the field.

Never expecting any response other than perhaps,  “Then why are your grades so low, are you keeping your ‘secret’ secret from yourself?!?”  And actually wanting no response at all, speaking simply to fill some imagined void that seemed to exist. Moving forward like a lone graffiti vandal towards a freshly painted surface with nothing to add other than J ♥ L. ( With “L” never being the wiser.)

Yet my bartender didn’t know that I had barely made it through finals at school and mistaking me for a scholar he had spread the word, “Jeff Meranto can get great marijuana at rock bottom prices.”  And having played the part of Carnival Barker he dutifully brought over to my table an interested party.

His body was like a solid mass of iron that had been formed by years of being beaten upon by ball pein hammers. His face was marred from hardships. Not hardships suffered from hunger nor concern of what turmoil some tomorrow might bring his way. Marred by hardhips that he had inflicted upon others.

“Jeffs?” he said by way of introduction extending his hand towards me, “callmeJoes. . SoYousegotsomeProductIhears.”

He spoke with the rapid staccato of a New York City jackhammer words punched together and shot out in short controlled bursts.

My mind tried to pry apart his sentence and find meaning. . product? Product? I was a businessman. I sold Jet Skis. Did he want to buy a Jet Ski?

“Err, umm . . well I got some fantastic prices on some top of the line Jet Skis. .”

“Jeffs. . Skippy here tells me youse got Product” his thumb punching back towards the bartender who’s name until that moment was something other than ‘Skippy’.

“Oh, . . OH Marijuana You want to buy some Marijuana!” The sound of my voice boomed over the music.

“Jeffs, WhatsAmatterYouse? YouseCrazy?” his finger to his lips like an exclamation mark signaling me to lower my voice as he looked left to right seeking some intruder listening to our conversation.

As he said “Whats A Matter Youse” my thoughts looked for safety. I went back to being a boy watching cartoons on the television, The Rocky & Bullwinkle show with Bullwinkle wearing a ‘What’s A Matter U’ jersy. Only this wasn’t Bullwinkle this was Boris Badenov in the flesh, bigger than life, pumped up on steroids.

“Jeffs. . youse got Product or NO. Swhat I’m askin’ ”

It was about this time that fear and the desire to survive took over my mind as well as my mouth. He wanted 100 Kilos, “Rightaways.”

I tried to squirm away, “I have to make a call. I don’t know. . I gotta call my guy.”

“SoCalls.” All smiles, “ThisIcanUnderStands. YouseGottaCallYouseGuy. ButUnderstandsDisJeffs. .UgottaCallsYouseGuy. He’sYouseGUY. Jeffs. I’m The Man” His eyes were nailed to mine as he said again, “I’m The Man, godit’?”

As he leaned close to me the ‘It’ that I actually had was the taste of the smell of a truly bad cigar. ‘Joes’ forever had the snub of a cigar in his mouth even as he sipped his drink and now it was an inch or less from my face. I could taste how rank it smelled this led to an overwhelming feeling of nausea on my part. Slowly again he said, “I’m The Man.”

I had it, or got it. Or so I thought at the time.

FEAR AND TREMBLING

You’ve heard the phrase, “Fear and Trembling.” These are twin siblings. Fear and Trembling’s parents are Stupidity and Greed.

In my life, Fear and Trembling never before had listened to their parents preferring the relative comfort of having just nearly enough. If only the twins had stayed the path – placed fingers properly in their ears, ever so tightly, and stopped the voices of their parents sweetly singing, “More Than Enough Jeffrey, More Than Enough.”

I would like to plead that I was forced into action by fear for the safety of my family and myself. While I did have a sincere fear of crossing ‘Joes’ this fear was assuaged by my desire for cash. The thought that I could actually get arrested never entered my mind.

So with fear and trembling I set off to call my guy the College Student. He who had come into my life waving cash for Jet Skis and equipment. And had left me with promises of easy money. Promises that I will tell you more about the next time we meet.