“What!? You want me to say ‘please’? I ain’t finna beg you for a damn milk!” Chuckie was a harmless but annoying loudmouth with a big gut and short stature. He was generally little more than an obnoxious nuisance, but in this instance he had managed to grow legitimately intimidating as the fiery ire in his eyes seemed sincere and significant. It wasn’t until this exact moment that I was confronted by the curious concept that the practice of saying “please” was a controversial one.
I have never taken an etiquette class or been formally schooled in the proper manners and protocols for given situations. I have, however, been instilled with a certain amount of sense and courtesy. Unfortunately, neither of those traits is particularly common in prison. Having been raised to mine my P’s and Q’s, I found it bizarre to be taken to task for my upbringing wherein I was taught to say “please” along with all manner of general politeness. Apparently, this was very far removed from the vast majority of the men I was forced to cohabitate with.
Wrenched from slumber only to crowd around the chow table for an early morning breakfast, all eyes were still cemented shut with sleep, and general surly crabbiness was at peak levels. I was staring dazedly at the small circles of dry pancakes that no amount of syrup could penetrate. The gears of my brain were grinding ponderously as I pondered over the puddle of cold grits, wondering what exactly grits were because they’d never been a staple of my childhood, so I had never really encountered them before my stint behind prison walls. Into my reverie, Chuckie butted his unwelcome presence.
“Gimme your milk.” I’d been locked up long enough at this point to know that that’s just how people ask for things, but on this particular occasion, I didn’t feel much like just letting the impolite nature of his words and tone go ignored. Truth be told, I had no intention whatsoever of drinking my milk as I believed it to be the main culprit behind my recent horribly explosive and odorous flatulence. However, Chuckie hadn’t so much asked for it as he had demanded I give it to him, and I didn’t much appreciate it. I uttered the two words that suddenly turned the dull and subdued morning into something far more volatile and exciting.
“I ain’t finna beg you for a damn milk!” Chuckie looked like he wanted to throttle me. The fact that his build was similar to that of a Rubbermaid garbage can, or maybe a fire hydrant, made him somewhat less than terrifying, but there was a determined set to his jaw and legitimate rage shining in his eyes. Despite this reality, apparently it was too early for discretion on my part, and I didn’t like being yelled at.
“Beg?” I said, cramming as much incredulity and outrage into that one word as I could possibly manage. “Beg!?” I repeated, raising my volume a half dozen notches past normal, and somehow finding a way to sound even more outraged. “Who said you had to beg? How the hell am I asking you to beg?”
“My daddy told me that a real grown man don’t beg no man, and please is the same as begging.” I couldn’t help but be both surprised and impressed that Chuckie actually managed to sound like an adult human being while referring to his father as “daddy.” I also couldn’t help but wonder what kind of an idiot believes a simple “please” to be tantamount to begging, but I didn’t voice my feelings.
Instead I pressed the issue. “How is ‘please’ begging?”
“Because it is,” Chuckie declared definitively. With logic like that it was hard to argue with him, but I tried nonetheless.
“No, it’s not. I’m not saying for you to beg. I’m just saying that you can have some manners and ask me for my milk instead of demanding I give it to you.”
“I’m not gonna beg like some little bitch!” Chuckie yelled. He wasn’t more than an inch from me, chest puffed out and trying to intimidate.
“I’m just saying it’s rude.” I didn’t have anything more to say, but he stood there expectantly like I did. Eventually, it dawned on him that I wasn’t going to speak, so he did.
“So what’s up with that milk?” I looked up at him like he had a dozen heads sprouting from his neck. I snatched the small carton of milk from my tray, opened it, and drained it in two long gulps causing Chuckie to cuss and me and return to his seat.
I suppose I proved my point and learned an invaluable lesson about some of the differences between cultures, but only at a cost. Later that morning, I lay on my rack in the fetal position, farting violently, sporadically, and indiscriminately while caressing my bloated belly as cramps tore through my middle. That day, milk did not do my body good.