20 August, 2010

Cellmate Freakshow, Part Five: Tracy

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

I was nervous at first, knowing Tracy was going to be my new cellmate, because there was no telling how Hitman was going to feel about a stranger moving in with his baby. Was he going to be jealous? Might he use Tracy to try roping me into his stable of boys? That didn't strike me as Hitman's style, but I couldn't be sure. The walk to Tracy's cell, pulling a cartful of my property, was an anxious one.

Everyone knew he was Hitman's boy. The two of them practically worked together arm-in-arm in the kitchen, they mirrored each other's steps when they walked the yard, and from time to time they shared a cell. It wasn't merely guilt by association: Tracy shaved his legs, arms, back, and who knows what else (I certainly don't want to), and Hitman's reputation for borderline exploitative same-sex arrangements was evidence enough. There was little room for argument. Still, Tracy felt the need to repeatedly declare, "I ain't no fag; I know I'm a man," without any provocation. That he thought he was closeted was fine with me. As long as his ego was on the line, I could be confident no funny business was going to take place.

The worst part about living with him was the interrupted sleep. Five days a week I was awakened at 6:30 AM by a noxious bout of concussive diarrhea. As though from multiple blasts of mustard gas canisters, my nose burned and blistered, my eyes withered to dried peas in their sockets. And after the initial explosions: smoke, heady perfume-stink, as the scented oil with which he doused a forty-watt light bulb became steamy clouds. I covered my head with my blanket, even folded it double over my nose, but couldn't keep from crying.

Whenever he wasn't around, the passive-aggressive form my revenge took was to call him Squirty. My friends, agonized by my continual complaints, knew him by no other name. The inmates of my acquaintance soon started calling him that, too. It's surprising the nickname never got back to him, considering the number of people in on the secret. Even my girlfriend at the time asked if she could mail him an anonymous card advising he lay off the laxatives. (I said no.) Poor Squirty seemed incapable of having a private life. We were all too happy to air his dirty laundry for him.

Actually, there was giggling even when he hung up clean laundry. One afternoon I entered the cell, after work, and was confronted by a row, suspended on coat hangers from our makeshift clothesline, of pink jock straps like plucked naked birds. I knew he'd smuggled cherry Kool-Aid back from the kitchen that morning; I'd seen the powder in a jar by the door.

"I can't believe I did that," he said by way of greeting.

"Did what?"

"Man, I thought I was putting laundry soap in there, and it was that Kool-Aid shit I brought in. I was so tired I didn't even notice. Now they're all jacked-up." He paused, looked at me. "At least nobody else is gonna see them."

I thought, Everyone's going to hear about them, though. Those who had suffered my tales of Squirty's early-morning olfactory insurrections were unanimously relieved that I had new material.

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