29 January, 2010


Ghosts of my fingers linger on the faux glass a moment, then fade. I smile at the chill. The temperature outside is low, but not yet hat-worthy. Good thing; I don't care for hats. Besides, after the week I've had, the wind on my scalp will soothe my overheated gray matter.

I have had cellmates criticize my weather-assessment method. With the Weather Channel just a couple of button-presses away, they think a glance outside and a touch of the cell's tall Lexan window is insufficient. Given the circumstances, it's silly to want to know the current dew point and three-day forecast. Few here own a truly warm coat. There are those, few and far between, who have been locked up since the days when you could order parkas and windbreakers and such. Even so, everyone settles for dressing in a sorry approximation of adequacy for the weather. A tactile check presents me with my binary options: hat/no hat, coat/no coat. It's not quantum mechanics. There aren't even scarves or earmuffs available to complicate the equation.

The charcoal fleece jacket I slide over my shoulders is mainly a symbolic thing — a gesture offering the illusion of choice. At least I can say its pockets are useful. In one I stow my CD player, in the other a couple of discs. My plan for this morning's chilly recreation period involves laying claim to one of the concrete picnic tables at the south end of the yard and watching hawks reel on their thermals for a couple of hours. If the sky offers no hawks, I can always turn my idle observations to the hunched shoulders of shivering loners as they rush along the boulevard. Someone is always en route to somewhere warm, indoors. Comical. As a person who enjoys temperatures below 50°, I am in a minority here, where they revel in the sweltering miasma of summer. The usual frenetic crowds will be absent today, my solitude guaranteed.

There's a piercing beep. From outside the cell comes the indistinct voice on the speaker calling, "Rec!" Everything announced over the speakers here sounds like the trombone-speak of adults on the Peanuts cartoons. It always has. Not even years of daily practice have helped me, nor anyone else, discern what is being said. Intuition and guesswork (and a little luck) lead me and five die-hard handball players toward the door. By the look of things, everyone else is sleeping late.

On the yard, I cross the grass and find the spot I'd been hoping for. I take my seat backward, elbows on the tabletop behind me. It's the sleepers' loss; the morning is a crisp and beautiful one. And with my music to drown out the distant hollow popping of a handball, it feels like it's all mine.

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Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.