There I was, two days in jail, inside a concrete windowless cell, POD 30, striped, slayed, starved, sleep deprived, surrounded by nine other men, with dead classic rock dying from a hidden speaker.
Yes, there I was about ready to self-combust in a conflagration of dread, depression and dishonor. The match was out, in my fingers. I merely had to sit down on the floor, sit cross-legged, close my eyes, say my goodbyes, and “Light My Fire,” the song playing at that exact funereal moment. There would be nothing left but ashes and they’d sweep them up in seconds, into the dustbin of history.
I struck the match…and then, soft! I heard her name spoken! My love! My light!
I overheard three inmates having the most articulate and animated conversation about the actress Renee Zellweger, in particular the merits of her extraordinary beauty and her impressive dramatic range. The dialogue, complete with a soliloquy, was prompted by one of the men’s ownership of a glossy magazine that featured a photographic retrospective of Zellweger’s career.
The match’s flame began to flicker.
They were passing around the magazine, pointing at pictures, and riffing on her sexiest roles: Jerry McGuire, Bridget Jones Diary, Cold Mountain; they knew them all.
I had a personal obscure favorite but kept it to myself. Hint: baseball shirt.
There was a Tarantino-like quality in the men’s dialogue. They stirred lust with profanity with high brow film criticism and dished it up staccato, with malapropos, the most gorgeous ones I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard a lot of them in Oregon Coast taverns and high school faculty meetings.
At some point, I started smiling, chuckling. How could this conversation exist? I began laughing aloud, quietly. No one noticed me. I stood up and blew out the match.
Right then, I vowed that one day I would get a tattoo of Renee Zellweger as a reminder of the sweet levity that saved my life in jail. I know exactly what movie it’s from. I might even look her up one day and show her the tattoo. She might enjoy the story.