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"What is this?" I asked through a silver microphone bolted into the glass.

"That's a check. The jail takes the cash in your pocket and issues you a check," a voice, oddly disembodied and electronic, came back to me from the speaker.

I skipped the What the fuck for? questions because the look on the woman's face told me she was in no mood. I just took my check from the metal slot and turned around.

Another officer had me sign papers, put my gas-station flip-flops back on, and walked me down a concrete corridor. The other inmates were jealously peeping out of their porthole windows. I was robbing their freedom by walking out right in front of their faces.

"Hey, where's my phone?" I asked the guard.

"It's in the envelope," she replied dryly. A question asked and answered one thousand times before.

"Have a good night, sir," the voice behind me droned just before the CLANK of the giant metal door.

I flipped open my phone to read "3:42 a.m." and then, just as quickly, "Battery Low, Shutting Off."

"Super," I said out loud, finding my voice a little disturbing to hear. I've got my check (!), a dead phone, and I'm in flip-flops in the middle of downtown.

A short walk revealed an all-night gas station with an ATM and a pay phone. I folded up the eight sheets of pink, yellow, and white copies of the booking slip, ticket, and summons. I crammed them into my pocket and crumpled myself into a cab.

I sank into the couch and turned on the cold light of the TV. They should program television at 4:00 a.m. for people who just got out of jail. TV for addicts, security guards, garbage men, and recently freed jailbirds, I thought while watching a crappy infomercial. The ratings would beat the crap out of that stinkin' Bedazzled.

I killed the box and sat there in silence. There's an empty space in a room when the electronics are off. And your feet, up on the coffee table, take up that black hole, and you can sit in the half-light of morning and think about the big things.

WHAT I WILL AND WON'T WATCH THIS WEEK

Thursday, December 30 Pinky y Cerebro

XEWT 12, 2:30 p.m.

Defying my own good judgement I'm going to see if they've translated that infectious opening song. If you see a big, tattooed, dumbass wandering O.B. and singing, "Pinky y Cerebro, sí, Pinky y Cerebro. Uno es un genio el otro insano. Sí, Pinky y Cerebro," you'll know what happened.

King of the Hill Marathon FX 68, 7:00 p.m. till 10:30 p.m.

Clean your house. It's a shithole and there are people coming over for New Year's Eve. Turn on the King of the Hill marathon. Take a break between vacuuming and mopping. Call your friends and make sure everything is set for tomorrow night.

Friday, December 31 Dick Clark's Primetime

New Year's Rockin' Eve 2005 ABC 10, 10:00 p.m.

This New Year's Eve I'll count out loud, "3, 2, 1," and watch the pill drop into my mouth. Dick Clark's Primetime New Year's Rockin' Eve 2005 is hard enough to say, let alone when it's hosted by Regis Philbin and I'm being hosted by Dow Chemicals.

Saturday, January 1, 2005 Lord of the Rings

Box Set on DVD

Last year on New Year's Day I went to see Return of the King with some friends in Galway, Ireland. Sitting in a warm dark theater and watching bright flashy things really hit the spot after having exposed myself to serious brain trauma the night before. This year, with those same chemicals coursing through my system and making me sterile, I'll watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD -- 12 hours of elves, hobbits, and wizards. Ahhh, progress.

Sunday, January 2 Coyote Ugly (2000)

USA 2, 6:30 p.m.

If you're going to spend Sunday dividing your time between throwing up and cleaning, you're going to need something simple and stupid on the tube. I, for one, will not be fit for the mental gymnastics required of television poker until at least January 10. Tyra Banks stomping around in cowboy boots and a bra will be just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, January 3 Real World/Road Rules Challenge

MTV 30, 9:00 p.m.

This is still on? To pretend that teenagers hopped up on hormones and dangling from bungee cords is relevant entertainment is an affront. Let's encourage all the CJs, Briannas, and Desirees to cover up their bellybutton rings and contribute to society. To the dozens of people who still watch this tripe, I say, "Stop!"

Gandhi (1982) BRAVO 42, 3:00 p.m.

Gandhi, you are the only one. With your patience and perseverance, you are the only person on Earth who could watch, for four hours, an old robed man squat in the desert. Am I going to hell for not wanting to see this masterpiece?

Tuesday, January 4 Navy SEALs (1990)

A&E 41, 2:30 p.m.

Endowed with magical powers, a U.S. Navy SEAL -- played by Charlie Sheen -- jumps off of the Coronado Bridge from the back of a moving Jeep. A feat recreated several times each year by the depressed with a far, far different outcome. This happens in the first half-hour, and whatever is in the rest of the movie is not important.

Victoria's Secret Angels Undercover VH1 46, 3:00 p.m.

Well, hello. How on Earth did I miss this? Since dragging women out of bars on a Tuesday is pretty difficult. Plus, I could never, ever see any of these women in their underwear in real life, so I'll settle for getting affection via electronic tube.

Wednesday, January 5 Plastic Surgery: Before and After

DHC 73, 9:00 p.m.

Taking ordinary, ugly people and making them into worthwhile human beings. Because if you look pretty, you are good. Where else can you hear the term "new nipples" several times in a 15-minute period?

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