20 June, 2010

Cellmate Freakshow, Part Two: Ray

[In the typical two-man living arrangements prisoners are used to, there are many ways for problems to arise. Personality conflicts, clashing lifestyles, differences in levels of personal hygiene — these factors lead to an almost infinite variety of tensions. Some people are lucky enough to get a cellmate with whom they can comfortably coexist. Some aren't. This is an account — the second in a series — of one horrible cellmate I once had.]

The thick, bluish 3 tattooed  on the left side of his neck commemorated Ray's special love for NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt. Sitting on his footlocker by the door and smoking a cigarette rolled from discarded butts found on the yard, he held forth on his dream of moving to the Canadian Rockies. Into a cave.

"No thanks," I told him. "I prefer to be closer to people, to civilization."

"Well, I wouldn't be alone. I'd stop at some bar on the way, pick me up a pretty blonde chick."

"Good luck with that, Ray. I doubt too many women — even the ones willing to leave a bar with some strange guy — would settle down with him in the middle of nowhere. You watched a lot of Grizzly Adams as a kid, didn't you?"

At this, Ray twitched like a bug had flown into his eye. A flurry of ash drifted to the floor, prompting me to wonder if I'd be the one to have to sweep it up or if he'd notice it (I was; he didn't). Totally earnest, he said "Man, she'd love it. I'd have a bunch'a solar panels out there to run my big screen TV an' my stereo an' the amp for my guitar! Play some Dokken out there, man — that'd keep them bears away, boy!"

"What about food? Are you going to hunt for everything?"

"Nah, I'll have a helicopter. Every couple'a months I'll fly out for supplies."

Here was the point at which I realized I was dealing with a profoundly naive mind. Ray was deathly serious about his fantasy, and I elected to play along until I could steer the conversation in a different direction.

"It sounds like you've got this all figured out."

"Yeah," he said, grinning a fencepost smile. "Our kids — we'd have three kids, 'course, all boys — I'd give 'em all 3 tattoos on their necks on their third birthdays. We'd go out huntin' turkeys an' wild cows an' stuff. I'd teach 'em how to play the guitar. The 3 thing — that's 'cause they gotta know who Dad's hero is. We'd watch all the races together, too."

Apparently satisfied then to entertain this outlandish scenario silently, in his scruffy, narrow head, Ray took a long, contemplative drag off his second-hand smoke and stared at some spot in the middle distance. I took advantage of the break by returning to the book I'd been reading. Five minutes later, he interrupted the silence to tell me about the best shot of heroin he'd ever done. He overdosed in another cell the following week.