I've known Brad for over two years, three months of that spent in the same cell together at least 23 hours a day. In that time I've come to consider him a good friend. But things in the cell finally reached a point where if one of didn't move there was a good chance we wouldn't be friends anymore. So I moved. Of course it was over something ultimately petty and childish, and more than a little my own fault. You see, two days ago lunch was served much later than usual. This delay and our rumbling bellies built up a vastly heightened level of anticipation for the meal and its inevitable deliciousness. At around two o'clock we were convinced the tardiness was the result of our filet mignon being cooked medium instead of medium-rare, and we were excited. And hungry. When the trays finally arrived we sat down in our respective dining areas and removed the lids in an anticipatory flourish.
Rather than the gastronomic delicacy we had been expecting, our trays were instead filled with an indefinable slop. The Washington, D.C. inmates who run the kitchen's a.m. cook shift apparently made a gravy-like soup out of flour and water with just a pinch of chicken bouillon base added for color. A few slices of boiled potatoes rose out of the soup like white-rock mesas, a smooth contrast to the jagged peaks of chicken pieces which had apparently been scraped from the floor of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise's dumpster. There was also a serving of beans and rice as a "side-dish" or whatever.
Chanting my little stress-relieving adage, "Three-two-one, one-two-three / There's nothing the matter with me," I took a deep breath and set to work on my beans and rice. Out of the corner of my eye I observed Brad in a rigid state, grotesquely scowling at the tray in his hands.
"What's up, buddy?" I asked him.
"Man, this is crazy," he said.
"No argument here."
"I wouldn't feed my dog this garbage," he said. There was a bitterness in his voice, an anguish almost.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. The beans aren't awful, though. Here's some salt 'cus they're just a little bland."
"I oughta just sling this crap all over the door."
I paused. The idea of using our cell as some sort of chicken-stew shooting gallery is utterly ridiculous. The statement was an expression of his frustration, not a literal desire. Still, out of all the things I could have said, the statement I chose was:
"You don't have a hair on your ass if you don't."
Why oh why did I say that? This is like the prison version of the triple dog dare. To heed it at all is just as childish as when a 10-year old heeds it, but challenging someone with it isn't any more mature, and I had just challenged Brad to sling his tray.
He leveled his glance at me and said, "What, you don't think I'll do it?"
I looked at him square in the eyes. I had challenged him and now he was challenging me back, in a way. What I should have and meant to say was "Yeah, I know you'll do it." But what I actually said was "You're soft if you don't."
***WHAM***, a big brown tray flies across the cell, bouncing off the door. Beans and potatoes and yellowish paste are everywhere. For a while we both try to pretend nothing happened. Brad sat calmly on his bed while I sprinkled more salt on my beans. A few minutes go by in silence, just both of us watching little pieces of chicken stream down the door and walls, trying not to notice the upturned tray which had ricocheted back to the floor between us.
Eventually Brad said, "I'm not cleaning it up."
He had probably realized that even though he hadn't backed down from my challenge, he still looked a little foolish. This declaration was only to save face by giving me a mock challenge in return. I was just as guilty as he was in this stupid incident and should have just backed down by saying I'd clean the mess and Brad would have surely insisted after all that he would clean it up. What I should have and meant to say was "Whatever, dude, I'll get it," but what I actually said was, "I'll bet you clean it up before I do."
Not long afterwards a guard came to collect the trays. By this time I had climbed back in bed and was reading my book, so Brad picked up the tray from the floor and, stepping around piles of rice and puddles of soup, handed it along with the other one to the cop, then returned to his own bunk. Neither of us spoke or in any way acknowledged the slowly drying food. Minutes passed, then hours. Dinner eventually arrived and the meal passed in awkward silence. By the time dinner trays were picked up the tension was so thick in the cell it could be cut with a knife. Brad had pissed me off, WTF was he thinking? Who throws their food? As much as Brad had made me angry, I was just as angry with myself. I'd had several opportunities to be the mature one and prevent the whole situation yet felt compelled to provoke it instead. What was worse was the fact that the longer we simmered together in our frustrations, the angrier and more resolved to "win the challenge" I became.
At some point in the late evening the nurse arrived to give me some pills. Tiptoeing around the now rock-hard, rotting food, I realized that enough was enough. We seemed to bring the immature obstinance out of each other, which was leading us down a road neither of us wanted to go down. The food everywhere was driving me crazy so I began to scrub the mess and decided the next day I would leave the cell.
At recreation the following morning it was discovered that an acquaintance of mine from general population ("the yard") was in the hole now and had an open bunk, so the move was immediately orchestrated. Everything in my new digs seems to be working out perfectly so far. All my things are organized again and I'm getting settled in to learning the idiosyncrasies of the guy I'll be spending up to 24-hours a day with. The only thing is, my new cellmate has asked me not to write about him at all, not even with an alias. I will respect his wishes, but only because I gave my word not to. Well, also a little bit because he's pretty big and could probably beat me up. So everything's cool, just a few changes in living conditions. Good celly and good spirits, what more could I ask for?