Date: March 28, 2007
Another day of work and another day along the same stretch of highway. The monotony of this existence is beginning to root itself in my restless mind. But as always, there are moments that intercede the sameness of the routine. Moments that delineate one day from another. And it is these instants that propel me in my writing.
As we were heading out this morning as always we hit the kitchen to pick up our coffee and lunch fixings. As C.O. Person sorted through the assembled fare his ire began to boil. Meat and cheese sandwiches once again! He posed the question to Paul, the cook, “Is there any butter or mayonnaise on them?”
Paul rather smugly replied, “No.”
The day was not getting off to a good start.
Back at the crummy, Mr. Person unwrapped the cellophane to inspect the sandwiches himself. In a fit of blind rage, he stormed into the main building, sandwiches in hand, leaving us there. Minutes afterward, he reemerged from the building without the sandwiches and we were off. We were all cracking up in the back of the crummy as we sped off to work. Fred piped up, “he’s going to have a heart attack!” which only spurred us onward. Once at the work site, Mr. Person conveyed to us that he went above C.O. Wight’s head and plunked the unbuttered sandwiches, without mayo, down on the desk of some white shirt who’s name escapes me. If not for Person’s indignant insistence that the lunches need improvement, I doubt that we inmates would raise such a fuss. It is jail, after all. To have our C.O. invest such emotion about it could conceivably lead us to believe we have rights beyond the reality. Lunches certainly have gone downhill in my short tenure here and every C.O. that I’ve spoken to on this matter has told me that when they were in charge of Crew #2, the lunches were a comparatively lavish affair. But this is of little consolation to us these days. Repeated attempts to address the perceived shortcomings of our midday jailhouse meals seem to have butted up against a much more immutable force. BUREAUCRACY. Somewhere within the bowels of this multi-headed beast, our calls for attention to this matter get lost without prompting nary a burp of indigestion or the discomfort of heartburn. Where the same cannot be said of our lunches.
So anyways, as we reluctantly crept upon the lunch hour, who should arrive upon the scene but Mr. Wight. Tossing a last few alder branches on the pile I was stacking, I turned to heed Mr. Person’s call for lunch. As I approached the crummy Mr. Wight, all 6’2“ 260 lbs of him, appears around the side of the crummy and declares me ‘spokesman’ of the crew. It seemed that a lunchtime discussion about the lunches was in the offing. As Mr. Person was frying up potatoes and onions (staples he brought from home out of utter resignation at our plight), Mr. Wight and I chatted. The crew idly stood by. With the occasional inciteful remark from Mr. Person wafting over from in back of Wight’s imposing frame, I listened to the Senior Correction Officer’s ability to recite the formatted responses to my questions. No doubt revealing just how he rose to such an esteemed rank. He was unflappable. He was good. He was big! He explained to me how the diet we’re given is derived from the empirical knowledge of a dietician, and standardized. ‘X’ number of this, so many millilitres of that and so forth. He even went on to say that the reason there is no mayonnaise in the sandwiches is because of the potential for it to spoil in our cooler tote. Whilst waiting out the perilously long 5 hours from being spread to being consumed, it seems. The reason for no hot-dogs or hamburgers in our tote is due to the presumption that we might not cook them properly and get ill. Salmonella. From in behind me Fred pipes up, ”Salmonella? That sounds better than what we’ve been getting!“ The tone of our summit suddenly besieged by stifled laughter and outright guffaws, Mr. Wight informed us that we need to have a certified cook in order to perform such a tricky feat. A potential trump card was thrown out in the form of Person, himself. It turns out that he IS a certified cook, but I suspect this fact was seen more as an inconvenience to Mr. Wight’s stonewalling. I was beginning to see the futility of it all. If anything, Wight’s appearance, there on the side of the highway, was meant to placate us rather than relent and forge a revised, more appetizing menu. Having to let go the lunch I decided to take up the seemingly more benign issue of our lack of coffee. His reaction was to again swaddle himself in the standardized response to any affront to the standardized wisdom of what I can only assume is one seriously gaunt dietician. We’re apparently allotted but a mere 8 oz cup of black gold per head!
Now, a person’s skin is their largest organ. Prone to all sorts of stimuli. Upon hearing Mr. Wight’s token response, the entirety of my largest organ began to constrict! We’re talking about the elixir of life now. Of which, by his view, I’d drank enough for five inmates prior to starting work and still I felt deprived. With dilated pupils and my bones creaking under pressure, I decided turnabout was fair play. It was time to humour him. Using his most eloquent recitation of the dietician’s spreadsheet as a template, I wondered aloud about the likelihood of a standardized amount of work expected from such a standardized approach to fuelling such work. “Surely Mr. Wight, you can agree that every individual has their own metabolic rate. Each person that eats the standardized diet therefore processes said diet differently.” He not only agreed but offered that his 260 pound system metabolizes much more slowly than my 145 pounds. To look at his belly, that much was evident.
“Further to my point,” I continued, “each individual possesses their own unique approach to work. But presumably, with such a standardized caloric intake, would it not follow that those who have a tendency to work at a higher rate conceivably run out of energy from the provided calories sooner than the others who don’t exhibit such qualities? If there is no standardized amount of ergs expected to be expended by each individual, would it be prudent to pace oneself in their work? The herd mentality that prevails when feeding it must also prevail in expectation of output, no?”
It seemed that he was genuinely perplexed. I said all of this with a straight face. A hint of a smirk to confirm it was purely a red herring proposition. The glint in his eye and the return of a smirk told me I hadn’t overstepped my bounds as crew spokesman. He conceded with a promise of a pound of Hawaiian coffee for tomorrow that he had sitting in his freezer at home. I had won! No changes in store for our lunches but when it came to the beloved black gold, he said that beyond his offer of a pound of premium coffee, he hadn’t a problem if Mr. Person wanted to contribute extra beans beyond his. A small but sweet victory over a three stripe corrections officer. I couldn’t help but take my little trophy and raise it on high by saying, ”seeing that you’re willing to offer us something from Hawaii, do think you could get us some pakalolo?“
”Pakalolo, what’s that?“ he said.
”You know, the crazy weed!“ I countered, replete with a cheeky little hula sway of my hips and arms for emphasis.
Standing beside one of our many roadside piles, Wight reached down, snapped a twig off a branch and deadpanned, ”Here, smoke this!“