Dear Gene,

I got up and drove all the way down to the Circle K because I hate the Ampm which is just up the street. The beer prices at the Ampm are out of control and there’s always drug addicts in the parking lot and they’ve got the beer coolers locked because of theft and you’ve got to yell “OPEN NUMBER FOUR PLEASE” and then wait like a desperate loser. I’d never been to this Circle K before and as it turns out they had their beer locked up, too; we’re all in the same neighborhood, we’re all in the same boat it seems. The two cashiers were arguing about some Netflix series and they were vehemently opposed. One was a dyke with purple hair and one was a feminine guy with a wispy beard. The dyke opened the beer room without saying anything to me, which was the best way, and I appreciated it.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written and I hope you’re still alive and this letter finds you. I’m not sure how many years you’ve got left, but I think it’s three if my math is correct. It’s been so long since I’ve written a letter I almost forgot how. People don’t write letters now; it’s just not done. People watch Netflix and argue online. That’s about it. And work. Some people work. Losers mostly.

My wife and I spent five years in Mexico and I think that might be the highlight of my life, I feel it’s probably downhill from here. I’ll be 53 in a week. We came back to Arizona a few months ago because my wife has to renew her green card and for that we need to be living in the States. We rented an apartment for $1,050 a month. He had to add that 50 bucks on there. This is three times higher than it was five years ago. Everything is more expensive and that’s not just the old man in me saying so. We still have our little house in Mexico and to think of it is my little shining light that makes me happy. I miss the beach. Often when I went to the beach, I thought of you and how you went to St. Pete’s beach and made your little paintings. I never made any paintings when I went to the beach. I just walked and swam and sat around and breathed the nice air off the Sea of Cortez. Watched the señoritas in their shorts and T-shirts and long black hair that got even blacker when wet. And the old tourists, like me, walking their dogs and acting smug and satisfied. But they weren’t so bad, most of them anyway.

My nephew and his family live in Puerto Peñasco where our house is and they take care of things for us. They stop in at our house and water the trees and make sure no one’s broken the windows. They send us photos which makes our hearts ache a bit, especially photos of our neighbor’s dog Chucho who comes over and wonders where I am. Chucho was my best friend in Mexico, my little buddy, my little cinnamon compadre. My neighbor found him abandoned in the dump and took him home, but he was always over at our place. I fed him better. He used to follow me in my car when I went to the store to get beer and sometimes I would open the door and he’d jump in and sit in the passenger seat with his head out the window. One time he followed me when I went to the dentist and had a couple teeth pulled. When I came out, he was still there sitting by the car just waiting. The loyalty and love of some dogs will just break your heart. Then we had to leave and of course he didn’t understand. When my nephew and his family go over to water the trees, there’s Chucho sitting in front waiting for me to come back. Makes me want to cry.

Hopefully we will go back to Mexico someday. In a couple years if all goes well, which it probably won’t. Getting my wife’s green card renewed wasn’t the only reason we came back. We also needed money. We had to go back to work, back to the grind, back to reality. My wife went back to work at McDonald’s where she worked before. She makes $14 an hour. I could not go back to driving cabs because Uber killed off the cab business and I don’t want to drive for Uber; it’s a ripoff. You make a few bucks for a few years and then you need to buy a new car for 20 grand. Plus, gas is through the roof. Everything is through the roof. I already mentioned that. Everything was so simple and cheap in Mexico. Still, cheap isn’t free. I’ve got a rich aunt who will die one day and leave me some money. She’s 80 years old and smokes three packs a day but is still healthy as a horse. Nobody can understand it; she’s eaten nothing but bologna sandwiches for 50 years. Still, she’s got to die someday, that’s fairly certain. Her husband was an engineer who died young and left her all this money. He was a genius, that guy. An artist who made beautiful furniture and metallic bowls and glass sculptures. Dead and gone at age 52, which is how old I am now. It’s not like I want my aunt to die, but I could sure use some of that money. She doesn’t need it. She smokes generic cigarettes and though bologna is more expensive then it used to be, it’s still affordable.

I found a job on Craigslist. They called it a “day porter,” but what it really means is garbage picker-upper. I walk around all day and clean up around shopping centers. The parking lots, around the storefronts, the garbage cans, etc. I carry a little bucket and use one of those little pickers called a Nifty Nabber, a stick with a claw on the end of it. It’s a pretty ingenious piece of engineering, I have to say. It’s hard on the wrist and I’ll probably get carpal tunnel, but I’ve learned to be ambidextrous and anyway, it’s easier than bending over all the time. 52 years old and walking 12 miles a day picking up trash thrown down by the pig people. I wear an orange shirt so as to be more visible and not get run over by a car. I look like a prisoner on work release. I don’t suppose you’ve been eligible for work release, have you? After raping that girl, I suppose not.

The homeless situation is a big deal now. It’s much worse than when you went away. I don’t know how informed you are, how much access you have to the news or the outside world. I imagine you hear enough to have an inclination. Fentanyl is a new drug that is cheap and extremely addictive and that is the hot new thing. Perhaps they smuggle it into the prison. People smoke it out of little pieces of aluminum foil. After smoking it, they nod off, generally with their head between their legs. When they wake up 30 minutes later, they wander around like zombies. Their main mission in life is to get high and make as much of a mess as they can. They dig into the garbage cans and throw all the garbage out. What they are looking for, nobody knows. Their souls, maybe. They throw the garbage out on the ground and then kick it around and sometimes sit down and play in it for a while. They sleep in it like their little nests. This is annoying to me personally because I am the one who has to clean it up. Well, I don’t HAVE TO, but it is my job and I have agreed to do it, for $15 an hour. The cops don’t care, or if they do, they are hogtied by liberal mayors or bosses who tell them that “being homeless is not a crime.” And so we watch as society crumbles. It’s really a big joke. A big joke that is not very funny.

Basically, petty crime has been decriminalized. You can pretty much do as you please and not get hassled or worry about it. Theft is encouraged. One of the stores that I clean is Target, which is a department store like Walmart. They have security guards, but they are like 19 years old and are as useless as tits on a bucket. They are essentially doormen for thieves, but they don’t even have to open the doors because the doors open automatically. They just say, “Have a good day,” as the thieves walk nonchalantly out the door with their shopping carts full of clothes, shoes, camping equipment, suitcases, toys, toothpaste, make-up, stationary, breakfast cereal, fried chicken, pudding cups, canned soup, blankets, pillows, craft supplies, you name it. Once they are outside in the parking lot, they tear into their loot. They don’t even bother to run or to hide. Fear has been abolished. Right out in the open, they strip down out of their dirty clothes and put their new one on. These homeless are some well-dressed motherfuckers. Later I pick up the hangers, tags, boxes, stuffing paper, uneaten food, and old clothes and put it all in the dumpster. Then even later those same people, or their friends, will come and throw it out of the dumpster again. This is job security. This is the wheel of life.

I’m half-drunk now and I remember one of the last letters you wrote me was to warn me about drinking too much. You were right, I know. I am weak. I bitch about the homeless drug addicts, but here I am drinking my fifth Coors Light at 8:32 in the morning, writing a letter to a convict. I don’t pretend to know. I just have a problem with people who make themselves a burden on me. I resent it. People need to learn to clean up after themselves. That’s all I’m asking. I don’t like it either; hell, I hate picking up all my beer cans, smashing them, disposing of them. I hate maintenance. I understand the desire to simply walk around and not give a shit. To say fuck all. It’s easy, it’s natural, it’s the animal nature. Sometimes my wife cleans up my beer cans, which always makes me feel a bit guilty. But hey, it’s her choice, right?

I’ll tell you why I’m writing you now. I met a guy on Facebook; he’s 72, 20 years older than me, he’s my father’s age. He’s a writer, of course. He’s pretty good. He wrote a book about a guy he knew who was a drug addict genius. Another writer. I read this book and thought of you. This guy was a genius writer but he just could not keep it together. He could not hold a job and ended up homeless and then died of a drug overdose at age 41. Allen Ginsberg liked this man’s writing, but there was just too much abuse in his past and he caved. His mother was a nut, there was sexual misconduct, etc. The key word here is “genius.” You, my friend, are a genius. You know that, you’ve always said it. A lot of people say it, it’s easy to say, but not easy to understand. In this book by my Facebook friend, he was nostalgic about the guy. I mean, you do not meet geniuses very often. I thought of you, and realized I have not written you while you are rotting in prison, and I thought, what the fuck is wrong with me? True, no mail in Mexico; that was not a lie. But I am not in Mexico anymore. I am all out of excuses. I will have to take this letter, put it on a file saver, and take it to the library and print it out. I think I still have one of your old letters with the address on it. If they have transferred you, maybe the letter will still find you.

I hope you have not gone totally mad. Do not worry about life passing you by. You will be out soon and then you’ll see. You have missed nothing important, nothing extraordinary. Your books are still on Amazon except for the new one, which was taken down for some reason. Your best one too, but I’m sure Ed Sullivan still has it on a file somewhere and it can be republished. I hope you have been writing in that cell. If you haven’t, that’s fine, too. The state of literature has been declining exponentially. Good writing is simply out of fashion. Our Rome is falling fast. Everything now is virtue signaling vomit. The Asians and the Indians and the transsexuals have taken over, and none of them can write worth a stamp. They have nothing to say except to accuse others of racism and of being bad people and how great their grandmother’s casserole was. The MFA programs are still in full force and are churning out professional writers, editors and agents galore. Everyone has a podcast, everyone is a genius, everyone is a must-read, everyone will “knock your socks off,” everyone will tell you how hard it is to be a barista or a teacher. The fiction is all cut from the same palliative template and the true-life stories are like listening to a teenager who got high for the first time. Nobody is honest because honesty will get you blacklisted. I am married to a Mexican woman but because I am honest in my writings, I am labeled a racist. If you do get out of that jail cell intact, I would recommend rebranding yourself as a transsexual. Transsexuals are the new gurus. Especially in the creative writing world. The last good friend I had on social media dumped me because his wife woke up one day and told him to call her Mike. After 20 years of marriage, she decided she was a man. I thought that was a bit odd and for that I am transphobic. Now she has had her tits sawed off and because I referred to her as “her” instead of “him,” my friend blocked me and has washed his hands of me.

Thankfully, my wife has not turned into a man. But she is getting older, as we all are, and that is one of the curses of marriage: watching someone grow older and being watched. She has been sick a lot; that old cliché about women always being sick has some truth in it. She had some kind of problem with her vagina that 20 doctors could not figure out. After a while, they told her she needed a shrink. Sex is OUT. She went on a new diet to cure herself and lost a bunch of weight and Jesus she looked so hot like she was 25 again. Some Mexican women seem to defy time, I think they have more estrogen or something, but I am not saying I am a doctor. 49 years old, not a single gray hair. But no sex for me, the dog with the meat sitting there out of reach. I suppose this sounds ridiculous to you in your situation, to hear me crying and whining. Sitting in a cell with a metal toilet and no cover. I read a Western novel once long ago and there was this rancher with a beautiful wife and she said the mountain men would walk from hundreds of miles just to look at her. She said it with sympathy and understanding for these men. Of course, she wasn’t going to fuck all of them, and they didn’t even try. They just wanted to look at her and remember and think of it.

Things are going backwards, I’m afraid. Thank God I’m not 22 anymore. I don’t mean that. Curse God I’m not 22 anymore.

I will write more if I know you received this.

Your friend,