Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Color Orange

I am the last person you would expect to pose as an expert on relationships. My track record in this department is, well, not good.
Even so, I do believe I have some valid observations on this topic. Even a bad singer knows the lyrics, after all.
So, I'll make this observation on one of the "stages of relationships'' that is often neglected.
Somewhere between casual dating and a committed relationship is a stage I call "Clothing Commitment.''
Couples usually reach this stage after a few months of dating and it is a milestone that should not be ignored. Clothing Commitment is the stage in which the female descends upon the male's bedroom closet and decides which clothing the male is permitted to wear.
Women do this because they love us and it pains them to see us walking around looking like a "winter'' when every female in the universe knows that we are actually a "fall.'' Men do not know this. At least heterosexual men do not know this.
I have reached this point several times. And one time is particularly memorable because of the significance it would hold a couple of years later. The relationship did not last, but the memory of that "closet do-over'' did.
I had been dating this lady for a couple of months when she decided to make "the next step'' in our relationships by going through my closet. So I sat on my bed as she rifled through my stuff. She quickly assembled my wardrobe into three piles: Clothes I could keep and, presumably, wear with confidence; clothes that should be given to the Salvation Army; and clothes that were too unspeakably tacky to be given even to the indigent.
She would hold up each garment, render her judgment and then ask me if I agreed with the verdict, I suppose to give me the illusion of having a real say in the matter.
I grudgingly agreed with most of her pronouncements. On occasion, I'd put up a fight because the garment in question had some sort of sentimental value - say, a shirt my kids gave me one Christmas, for example.
Sometimes she would acquiesce to my protest, moving the garment to the "OK'' pile with sort of a pained expression on her face. Most times, though, my feeble argument would be dismissed and it would be "Goodbye, pants!''
Then, she emerged from the closet with an orange polo shirt. Her expression announced the verdict before she even spoke.
"But I just bought that!'' I whined. "I've only worn it a couple of times!''
She just shook her head, then spoke in a tone that dripping with solemn candor:
"You must promise me to never, ever wear orange,'' she said, as if my entire future relied upon it.
"Uh...OK,' I said, a little startled at the gravity of her plea.
At the time, it did not seem like a difficult vow to keep.
Now, we move forward a couple of years, to a precise date, in fact: April 5, 2007.
For the month prior, my wardrobe has consisted of the black-and-white striped pants and shirt of a prisoner in the Maricopa County Jail System.
But on that April morning, I stood in a room at Alhambra Jail in Phoenix with about 25 other men who were being transferred to state prisons. We stood there naked as a Trusty entered the room with big boxes. Inside the boxes were our new state prison uniforms: white boxer shorts with the acronoym "ADC'' (Arizona Department of Corrections) stenciled on them. Orange pants. Orange T-shirts. Orange canvass slippers.
I began to laugh, for I suddenly remembered the words of my old girl friend: "Promise me that you will never, ever wear orange.''
The other inmates stared at me, wondering why I was laughing. When you are standing around in room full of naked men, being noticed is not a good thing.
So off I went to Florence West prison, home to roughly 500 men wearing orange pants, orange T-shirts and orange canvass shoes.
Early in the morning, when a voice announced on the P.A. system: "The yard is open,'' you would see the men spill out into the exercise yard. It reminded me of some sort of Disney animation - 500 traffic cones come to life.
"Gee,'' I remember saying to one of my fellow inmates on one of my first days at Florence West, "I guess every day is Halloween here, huh?''
As I mentioned earlier, at Maricopa County Jail inmates are attired in those ridiculous black-and-white striped uniforms, almost as though we were extras in some old James Cagney prison movie. I am pretty sure inmates are dressed this way as a form of humiliation. It did not produce those feelings in me, though. I sort of got caught up in the idea of playing a Humphrey Bogart role in some old movie. I often had to resist the urge to turn to a fellow inmate and whisper, "Psst! Me and Whitey are going over the wall at midnight!'' So thanks, Sheriff Joe, for permitting me to "escape'' into fantasy.
But there is nothing romantic about wearing orange, although you understand the reasoning behind it. Orange is highly visible. Hunters wear orange so that other hunters will be able to distinguish them from the prey they are seeking to shoot holes into. This is important in, say, the event of an escape attempt. You can spot a guy in orange from a great distance, believe me.
So, for 84 days, I broke my vow to my old girl friend and wore orange every day. I trust she will understand.
But now that I am a free man, I am back to a life without the color orange. And content.
Who knows? Someday I may even be able to walk into Home Depot.

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