29 July, 2010

Cellmate Freakshow, Part Four: Bob

[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 fourth in a series — of one horrible cellmate I once had.]

Skin gray as dishwater, suffused with the inexplicable odor of ketchup, Bob was old. His shuffling feet and septuagenarian stoop suggested he was even older. He also had fewer personal effects than anyone I've yet to know. The day he moved in, it took him no time at all to situate himself. Bible, box of tissues, nubby pencil, battery-powered alarm clock — these things turned his footlocker into a nightstand. On the desk he found a home for his pile of Jehovah's Witness magazines next to the heap of medications for blood pressure, his liver, his kidneys, his prostate, his colon. If the medication couldn't take care of him, maybe Yahweh would; Bob was covering all his bases.

The tracheotomy left him a man of few words. It's just as well. All he ever switched on his speech box for was complaining — proclamations that followed the fanfare of a pissed-off bumblebee. Bzzt! "That guy doesn't have a brain in his head." Bzzt! "Stupid son-of-a-bitches can't even count." Bzzt! "Them punks got no respect for their elders." When his batteries ran down, he settled for lots of head-shaking.

Awake! magazines were the closest he had to a pastime. Wheezing forward to pull one at random from the tower, he opened to a random page and read. Soon he clawed for his pencil and Bible and began underlining the graphite-smeared leaves of the Good Book. This occupied him for hours, day after day, for months. Besides to underline more passages, I never saw him revisit those pages. I wondered about the exercise's point, besides killing time.

When he wasn't deep in religious paraphernalia, he was staring at the floor. Or sleeping. Bob had no hobbies, no friends; he left the cell only rarely to bathe, to visit the infirmary, to eat, and to sharpen his pencil. He was depressing, but at least he didn't snore.

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