18 October, 2011

Deep-Sixing the Double Six to Keep the Peace

There's a war on, a war seemingly without end. It is a war between the prisoners in our wing who play dominoes and the prisoners who want some peace and quiet. It is a war fiercely waged, and sometimes there are casualties.

The dominoes players have their regular table, where they congregate for epic games of "bones." There they while away the afternoons and evenings. Connoted by "epic" is both that the games are lengthy and that they sound like audio re-enactments of the Trojan and Peloponnesian wars, complete with grunts, fearsome battle cries, and the clangor of colliding shields. The players' enthusiasm for the game is amply and often expressed. Not a day passes that they neglect their precious pastime.

It's not an enthusiasm shared by everyone, of course, as some of us wing residents are wet blankets and stodgy malcontents with the zany notion that, outside of dire situations, one shouldn't shout at another from anything less than a substantial distance (and then, preferably not indoors). We don't see much point in getting wound up; it's only a game. Besides, some of us are trying to use the phone... or hear ourselves think. The slamming and the shouting — are they really called for?

Non-players address the players' racket in one of two ways: (1) they let the players' volume reach a level that can only be described as unconscionable before screaming an even louder "Hey!" and glaring pointedly; or (2) they steal one of the dominoes from the box when no one's looking. The first method only rarely has any effect. In this community populated with so many violent criminals, the passive-aggressive approach seems to be the more frequent one. Either way, the players never equate cause with effect. The sounds of battle always resume as soon as the set of dominoes is again made whole.

So, as I was seated on my usual perch at the far end of the upper tier, reading a collection of short works by Kafka and appreciating a rare mid-afternoon placidity, I wasn't surprised to learn someone had once more made off with one of the little ivory-colored tiles.

"Hey, excuse me," the lanky man — one of the players who'd journeyed far in his search, if he'd come all the way to me — said. "You seen the Big Six domino? You know where it went?"

"I wouldn't have any idea," I told him, making the eye contact crucial to avoiding his dangerous suspicion. Most of us who disapprove of the players' rudeness favor a policy of non-confrontation, whereas they tend to go strongly in the opposite direction. I was in no mood just then to face off over someone's missing game piece. Even if I was, I wouldn't tell this person from a rival camp the fate of said trinket. "Someone probably threw it away," I said, adding hopefully, "or flushed it down their toilet."

My interlocutor scowled. I'm quiet and unobtrusive, yet also self-assured — a blank slate, a cypher, an X factor. He was sizing me up. Was I telling the truth, or did I know who'd sabotaged their fun? He finally shook his head, sufficiently convinced of my ignorance. "Man, some people!" he said, then turned away in resumption of his quest.

Maybe it will turn up, maybe it won't. My own selfish hopes lie on the latter. "Some people," indeed.

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