With my uniform on I entered my dingy cell,
I’ve been given a number instead of a name.
The gray bars slammed on an old inmate and me, 
As I sat down sadly on the tiny bed frame.

He stuck out his hand saying, “I’m ‘two-one-three-five’,
Friend, what brings you here to this cold and hardened place?”
“Hey Man, I’m ‘four-nine-four-two’, I’m in for a while,"
As dread and sadness fell quickly over my face.

He said, “Pal, don’t you go gettin' so down and blue,
For I’ve got a cure for your sad disposition.”
Then he jumped to his feet and shouted, “two hundred!”
Then laughter began to roar from every direction!

Up and down the corridors, numbers were shouted;
With each shout men laughed as if insane.
Confused, but amused I asked, “Friend, what’s going on?”
He smiled at me, then said, "Friend, let me explain."

“You see, we’ve been in this hole for such a long time,
That we’ve got all of our jokes memorized; 
We don’t waste time tell’em in detail any more,
By a number they are simply identified."

“Man that’s great! Do you mind if I give it a try?”
“Go right ahead!” my cell mate gladly replied.
I yelled, “two hundred and six!” There was dead silence, 
The lack of laughter left me mystified.

I asked the old timer, as embarrassed I sat back down,
“What’s wrong, for it appears a joke teller I ain’t?"
He laughed, then gave an answer which set my mind at ease,
“Son, I guess that some can tell’em and some can’t.”

​© Loyd C. Taylor
A Number for a Name