Living conditions being what they are in prison, it can be an amazing learning experience in multiple and unexpected ways. Being forced to cohabitate with individuals, often with zero time apart from one another, can reveal a person’s most unique or unusual characteristics as well as their most annoying traits. I don’t honestly believe that Benji was intentionally or overtly annoying, but rather that he was just born that way and was dealing with it as best he could. Unfortunately, my more enlightened mindset didn’t make living with him much easier.
Benji already had a fairly dark complection for a black man; dark skinneded is the redundant expression commonly used. His coloring, however, was made even darker by the enormous amount of coarse black hair that seemed to cover every inch of exposed skin that wasn’t covered by his clothes. I myself am not particularly hirsute (I couldn’t grow a proper full beard until I was twenty-five years old) but I’ve seen hairy guys before in movies and locker rooms. Not that I was a great frequenter of locker rooms, but the point is that I had an awareness that some guys are hairier than others. Benji, though, seemed to be some kind of missing link or werewolf boy.
Oddly enough, his facial hair didn’t exactly grow in very robustly, just a few patchy splotches along his neck and jawline. Beyond that, however, he was absolutely covered in a coat of thick tangles. It stood tall from atop his shoulders, crept from his ears, formed one long brow below his forehead. Stepping out of the shower in just his boxers, he looked like he was wearing a damp, dark sweater on his top and leggings on the bottom. The matted hair covered by his boxers was evident through the thin cloth as well as the tufts of stiff scruff sprouting from below said boxers. It was on one of these trips from the shower back to his cell when Benji received his nickname.
Still dripping from his shower and witnessed in all his hairy glory, someone intoned a call onto the gallery that would sound only like strange nonsense to anyone who wasn’t a Star Wars fan, but which was instantly recognizable to me along with all those whom the force is strong with.
“Raaaowwrraaaoogghhr.” I may have misspelled it, but I knew a passable impersonation of Chewbacca when I heard one and was proven right when the impersonator hollered out, “Hey! Chewbacca! What’s up, man?”
Benji ignored his heckler and kept walking.
“Chewie!” The call came again, even louder this time, insistent. “Raaaowwrraaaoogghhr!!!” Benji smirked a bit but tried to hide his amusement. “C’mon, man!” was yelled at Benji as a form of encouragement, and he couldn’t help but let loose a laugh before showing off his true wookie.
Cheers and laughter erupted from all around the deck and Benji got in on the laughter as well. It wasn’t the best impersonation, more of an approximation, but he still got points for enthusiasm. Even so, we weren’t so much laughing at him as were all just laughing together. It wasn’t mean-spirited, and from that day forth Benji was known to most as Chewbacca.
While the wookie Chewbacca is Han Solo’s beloved co-pilot and companion in the Star Wars universe, as well as easily one of the coolest characters to populate said universe, I feel that there are some things which aren’t covered in the films. Certain information was left out that would be useful to know for anyone who is living with a walking carpet. Benji had a perpetually damp, musty odor which permeated him and his surroundings. It was not unlike that of a medium-sized dog. The smell wasn’t particularly strong or foul, just persistent, if not interminable.
Then there was the shedding. I was on the bottom bunk with Benji sleeping and living above me. I had to drastically revise my meal preparation and eating habits lest I chomp on a clump of fur. No amount of proactive or preventative cleansing measures on my part, however, could combat the curly castoffs from interloping all over the sheet that covered my mat as well as the floor of the cell. Every exposed surface, in fact, was susceptible to his encroaching hair. It was as if Benji’s fuzzy follicles had a mind of their own and were trying to take over, to cover the cell in its own coarse coat. I suspect that the corridors of the Millennium Falcon were probably a lot shaggier than originally depicted, and as far as I’m concerned that’s false advertising. Shame on George Lucas.
As for my own wookie experience, Benji was a good guy, but I didn’t much miss him when he moved on. Or, at least, I didn’t miss his furry remnants.