He spent nine months in solitary, he told his parents, and during his entire captivity he almost never saw the sun.
So when former hostage Michael Metrinko, 34, called home this morning from the military hospital at Wiesbaden, West Germany, he described a simple pleasure of which he had long been deprived.
"I haven't seen daylight for so long," he said, "and i'm really enjoying looking at trees and sunlight."
The news that Metrinko was all right despite his ordeal came in a phone call to the home of his parents, Harry and Alice Metrinko, at 2:30 a.m. His father answered the phone, and turned it over to his mother and got on an extension. Then, along with assorted uncles they listened for 45 minutes as Metrinko, an embassy political officer, told them what it was like to be free again.
"Happy Birthday, Dad," were Metrinko's first words to his father, who turned 70 on Monday.
During his 14 1/2 months as a hostage, Metrinko told his parents, he was confined in three different prisons, lost 40 pounds and kept his sanity by planning ways to refurbish the family home in this "Queen City" north of Scranton.
While in solitary over a period that covered all but his last five months of confinement, Metrinko said he jogged in place and paced back and forth across the five-step wide cell for exercise.
"I said, 'How were you treated?'" Harry Metrinko reported. "He said, 'I wouldn't want to say the words I'd like to.'"
At the end, the hostages were told only to pack a few belongings for another change in their location and during the trip to the airport -- Metrinko rode in a car with blackened windows while others were in buses -- they were kept ignorant of their imminent freedom.
"Yesterday was the first time he had seen his colleagues," Harry Metrinko said. "Many he didn't recognize because of the change of their appearance."
The former hostage himself also looked different, sporting a new beard and a few new gray hairs in addition to having lost weight.
His mother asked why he had remained in the background as the freed Americans deplaned in Algeria and West Germany. "He said, 'I didn't want anyone to see how I was dressed. My pants were torn,'" Alice Metrinko said. "He said, 'Mom, my shirt and trousers were all falling off me,'" his father added.
Besides talking to his mother and father, who live in a second-floor apartment over Harry Metrinko's bar, the former hostage also spoke briefly to a local television reporter who remained outside the house after the Metrinkos had shooed the press away. The reporter, Mary Ellen Keating, of WDAU-TV, said Metrinko had described a Christmas filming of the hostages in which he appeared. He said he called his captors "liars and bums" but his words were not broadcast to the world.
"He talked in a regular normal voice, the way he always talked," his father said. "That made us feel very happy."
Although the family wrote regularly, Michael Metrinko said he received only one letter from them. It included a newspaper clipping with a photograph of his parents with then-secretary of state Edmund D. Muskie last fall.
"He said, 'You got fat," his mother said. "I said it was the clothes on me."
Not only was he denied letters from home but also news of world events, he said. He learned of the shah's death only accidentally, from the back of a sports page given him. He said if his captors knew what was on the other side of the sheet, he wouldn't have seen it.
"He didn't lose hope, but he did say he didn't know if they'd ever get out of there," his father said.
After his solitary confinement, Metrinko said, he had first one roommate -- Lt. Col. David M. Roeder, the deputy Air Force attache -- and then two others his parents did not identify.
Throughout his confinement, Michael Metrinko told his parents, he thought about fixing up the old family house. "Does the kitchen need a painting, Dad?" he said. "He said he'd start right in on that," his father said.
As for his son's future, Harry Metrinko said, "He's definitely going to stay in the State Department. He loves it."
After calling home, Michael Metrinko also phoned his brothers, Peter, an Interstate Commerce Commission attorney, and Gregory, an Anne Arundel County, Md., school administrator.
After hosting a dozen or so reporters and cameramen for the last several days, the Metrinkos tried hard to resume their normal routine today.
"Harry, let's go, you got to fix the [washer]," his wife said at one point.
"Okay, go on and get your tea," her husband said.
"I want the washer fixed, Metrinko," she persisted. "I need a plumber, not a news reporter."