Sunday, May 3, 2020

House Arrest

If this were a prison movie from my boyhood Jimmy Cagney would be plotting with George Raft about making a break for it. Both were sent up the river for a stretch as lifers or maybe even the Chair. (No, not the chair!) They might crawl through the pipes or hide under the sheets and towels when the laundry truck leaves every Tuesday or maybe the priest would be found in his underwear and gagged while one of them walks out, Bible in hand.

But this is just a house arrest of indeterminant length even with good behavior. My only other reference goes back to the time I had the Grip (Grippe?), circa age eight, when Dr. Schildkraut was summoned to my bedside. I remember hoping my temperature was high enough to make it worth his while. I believe he prescribed Argyrol swabs for my throat (worthless), along with Neo-Silvol nose drops (worthless) and Compound Tincture of Benzoin in the vaporizer (also worthless but it smelled pretty good). At least leaches were no longer in style by then. I was probably quarantined for 3-4 days till my mother pronounced me fit, not to return to school yet but to take the sun and fresh air cure for one day. My mother possessed an extraordinary insight into the nature of wind. She could blame the dreaded draft for all illness and then distinguish that miasma from the curative fresh air. 

We have some eminent men and women in history with whom to share our penal servitude. Noble souls so prominent home confinement was deemed the ultimate punishment for fear of popular insurrection. In at least a couple of cases the Stay-At-Home order turned out to be a good career move. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, of Myanmar, was placed under house arrest, on and off, for twenty-one years during which time she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Upon release from her extended sentence in 2010 she was elected Head of State. However, as if to demonstrate how power corrupts she blemished her name with her indifference to the plight of up to one million Muslims in a forced exile to Bangladesh. The road to Mandalay, once known for where the flying fishes play, later became a treacherous road out of Mandalay.

Vaclav Havel was another one ordered under house arrest. The great Czechoslovakian playwright was imprisoned from 1979 to 1989 for his subversive writings. When Prague underwent their Velvet Revolution he was elected President, an office he held for twenty years. As far as I know he did not suppress dissent. In fact he released hundreds from incarceration, particularly political prisoners.

Galileo didn’t fare so well. He was remanded in his house for nine years for the heresy of not positioning this planet in the center of the universe around which the sun orbits. He would not recant nor would the sun and certainly not the mother Church. It took the Vatican another three hundred years to get around to it. They were too busy reassigning predatory priests.

Nikita Khrushchev was another one consigned to four walls at home. His sentence was seven years, enough time to become part of the furniture.  It could have been worse. He could have been sent packing in his thermal underwear to the Gulag communing with Siberian Huskies. 

All things considered house arrest is not so bad at this age. We don’t get around much anymore these days even before Corona. Slowing down and staying in place doesn’t come easily for some. Irving Berlin found it impossible to sit for long. He once lost a $50 bet that he couldn’t sit still in a chair for five minutes. I’m willing to give it a try, even to shut up for a while.


  1. Love it. Fascinating the number of political people who have years of house arrest. Shame we can't do it in our country for you know whom. Natalie

  2. Thanks. Maybe they can convert Mar-a-Lago into a prison
    and confiscate his Twitter account.

  3. Thank you, Norm, and I agree with the mar-a-lago prison scenario confiscated twitter account! That would be heavenly!