Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dog Visit

Today the prison had its first of a new program with Therapy Dogs and I was fortunate enough to participate in the inmate group. This was held in the visiting room, there were sixteen inmates and nine dogs and their owners. The dogs are trained to be comfortable around a large group of strangers and with other dogs. We were all seated when the dogs came in and I fully expected the dogs to be apprehensive as they entered a new environment with strangers, but this was not the case. The well trained dogs entered the room with tails wagging and bodies contorting in anticipation.
We were seated in a circle with an empty chair between each of us. The dog handlers spread out among us and sat between us, so that each inmate was near one of the nine dogs. I hadn't seen a dog up close for fifteen years, so just seeing them in the same room was a thrill. If there hadn't been fifteen other inmates in the room I would have cried.  As it was I was barely able to hold back my tears. I had no idea I would be affected so much by the mere presence of the dogs.
One of the ladies sat next to me and introduced herself and her dog. The dog put her head on my knee so I rubbed her ears and was instantly smitten. Each handler spent ample time sitting next to the same inmate, then they shifted so we all got a new dog and person. In this manner we spent two hours visiting with all nine handlers and the nine wonderful dogs. I loved every minute of it. When I wasn't petting one of the dogs I was watching the other dogs. Every bark was a thrill, and each belly rub pure joy. It was relaxing, but also draining because it was such an exciting experience. It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.
The people were volunteers who spent many hours training their dogs as certified therapy dogs. They also have regular group training sessions with all the dogs together. They invest a lot of themselves into this. And I can't imagine it would be easy to walk into the middle of a group of maximum security inmates but they were completely relaxed when they entered and sat down with us. The dogs were awesome, but the people were pretty incredible too.  It takes a special kind of person to do what they do.
Before they left we were able to select a dog to have a photo taken with. I picked a four year old Chocolate Labrador named "Brewster." I'll share the photo with you when I get it. I am very grateful to the Warden for allowing this and to the staff who pushed for it and put it together. But most of all I appreciate the volunteers who shared the love of their dog with us. Because of all of them, today was the best day I have ever had in prison.

Friday, October 7, 2016

"A Life Wasted"

Clayton Waagner's autobiography is finally complete and available on Amazon:

With national focus on Islamic terrorism, few noticed when "Domestic Terrorist" Clayton Waagner was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List on September 21, 2001. How did a software developer become the 467th person added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List? Why did the FBI make Waagner a priority ten days after the worst terrorist attack in American history? How did he become the only person ever listed on the nation's top three Most Wanted List: FBI, U.S. Marshals, and ATF?
Clay Waagner led an interesting life. He pranked a Soviet ship and caused a Cold War incident inside the Arctic Circle. He is a licensed pilot, an artist, a husband of 40 years and the father of nine. He worked for the Christian Broadcasting Network and skippered a commercial fishing boat out of Kodiak, Alaska. He has escaped from custody five times. Criminal Science major's and convicts know his name, but few in the public do.
This is his story. 

"Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying."
George Orwell

By Orwell's standard this is an honest memoir.
Clay Waagner 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Crazy People

It should come as no surprise that some inmates are a little crazy.  Many of the more interesting moments in prison involve these less than sane fellows.  Most crazy guys have a trademark thing they do.  A common trait among the crazies is to tell outrageous lies.  Like a fifty year old guy who claims to have served in Viet Nam (we left Viet Nam in 1975, so he'd have been 9 years old then.)  Or one who claimed he was a hit man for mob boss John Gotty and a member of Al Qaida. I've met several "pilots" who couldn't answer my basic questions about an airplane cockpit. I've met six guys who lied about being on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List.  This group I enjoy because I have a book that list all the FBI Ten Most Wanted so I pull it out and say, "I'm number 467, what number are you?"  We have our share of crazy liars.
One particularly annoying fellow, whom we called the "Ground Hog Whisper" because he talked to ground hogs, and amazingly the ground hogs would stand up near him and respond.  Go figure. That guy would stand up in the chow hall then spin completely around and sit back down.  He would do this repeatedly for no reason that anyone else could see.  I figure it was a call for attention.  It could be that he was scared.  A lot of scared guys act crazy as a defense mechanism.  Those you eventually figure out because no one can maintain a lie for years on end.
One guy who wasn't faking was called "Tommy Dog."  Tommy thought he was a dog.  When some one would greet him he would respond with a bark.  When every one else would stand, Dog would sit on his haunches.  One time I was walking behind Dog going down to the gym.  There was no one else around and Dog didn't known I was behind him, yet as he walked he barked. One time I asked him, "How old were you when you knew you'd grown up to be a dog?"  He answered, "I've know since I was still a puppy."

Friday, August 26, 2016

August 25th 60th Birthday

Today is my 60th birthday.  That's supposed to be a significant birthday, but it doesn't feel special to me.  I don't feel any different.  I guess I'm surprised I made it this far, but that's only because I lived such a dangerous life.  They say "The good die young" so by inference the bad live forever. So I'm 60 years old today and going strong.  Doubt I'll live forever, but do feel like I've got more left in me.
The heart attack and quadruple bypass heart surgery six years ago was a scare, but I've been feeling good since.  Since today is Thursday I'll play soccer with the youngsters.  One of them just slapped me on the back and reminded me about the game tonight.  Said something about me being too old to remember, but wanted me out there to play.  He doesn't know today is my birthday because I keep that a secret.  No reason for it, but I don't want any one here to know.
Think I'll call Mary tonight so she can rub it in that I'm 60.  Got to let her have some fun too.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"True Detective" Book Review

Just finished reading "True Detective" by Max Allan Collins.  Though it is not listed as such, I'd go so far to call "True Detective" a story of Historical Fiction.   It's a detective story set in 1932 Chicago that accurately portrays the depth of the city government's corruption and ties to Al Capone's mob, which was being run by Frank Nitty at the time.  I'm not particularly interested in this period of time, but this book was so well written that it drew me in.  It was full of period facts, like that you could have a good meal in a decent restaurant for .15 cents, or that you could buy a four year old Ford for $40.  The author would use a period term that I didn't know without explaining it, which was a writing style I liked.
This was a rare book that I really enjoyed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Drunk Pigeons

This story goes back about twelve years ago, to the days when hooch, or prison wine was common. You never see it here any more, but back then hooch was a way of life.  It was a constant struggle with the inmates who made it to hide it from the correctional officers, who were always trying to find it. Often when they found it the officers would dump it down the nearest toilet, but on this occasion the hooch was inside a large plastic milk bag, so too much for the toilet.  This bag they took outside the block and dumped it in the grass.
The hooch was made out of assorted fruit with a considerable amount of bread to work as yeast. So when it was poured out into the grass the liquid leached into the ground, but the fermented fruit and bread rested on top of the grass.  It didn't take long for the ever present pigeons to spot the smorgasbord and land to dine.  Most of the pigeons gave up after the first bite, but a few stayed and ate more.  I was one of a group of guys who stood at the windows watching this, wondering if a pigeon could get drunk.  Turns out they can.
Of those that stayed to eat the fermented meal all but one left in less than five minutes.  I watched those that flew off carefully.  I'd once made the mistake of flying my airplane after drinking a single beer.  You can drink a beer and drive a car just fine, but as I learned then, an airplane is an entirely different matter.  Knowing I'd made a mistake I landed at the first airport I reached and stayed on the ground for eight hours, just as FAA rules dictate.  "Eight hours from bottle to throttle."  I found it interesting that all the pigeons that flew off landed immediately on the adjoining building.  As best I could tell they all stayed put.  Smart birds.
But this one pigeon liked those fermented bits.  Shortly after all the other birds had left him alone this pigeon started to walk funny.  A couple of minutes later when she leaned over to peck at a piece of fermented bread she tilted forward until her belly was on the ground but her feet were not. Even though it was funny no one laughed because we all thought the bird had died.  This was an issue because we often fed the birds, so sort of liked them.  But in less than a minute the pigeon righted itself, took a few wobbly steps and ate some more, then fell over again.  Now we were all laughing because this was hysterical.  The bird kept eating and passing out.  Each time it fell forward until only its belly was holding it up.  It never fell all the way over, which was odd, but entertaining to watch.   In response to our loud laughter it attempted to fly, which might have been the saddest thing I have ever seen a bird do.  On it's first attempt it only flapped one wing, on the next all it did was beat the ground with both wings.  After a few failed attempts to fly it gave up and ate more fermented bread.
If we'd have had this on video it would be a You Tube sensation.
We'd noticed that it was staying passed out longer each time, so we figured it wouldn't be long before it passed out long enough to sober up.  About this time someone remembered the cats. Every night about time for the 4:00 count several cats would show up under these windows because we fed them there too.  As that time drew near I went to the cop and asked if he could do something to help the pigeon.  I couldn't get out there so I had hopped the officer would help. He seemed sympathetic but couldn't leave his post do save a drunk bird.
When we were locked down for count the last I saw the pigeon she was stumbling around and looking a little better.   When I was able to return to the window after count twenty minutes later a big feral cat sat in the midst of pigeon feathers licking it's paws clean.

Big House Pranks

Any time you put a thousand men of different backgrounds together into a small area for an extended period of time you end up with a lot of funny stories.  I can't use guys real names so I'll make up names to make the story flow better and I won't bother with trying to assign a time frame to it as that won't matter to the story itself.  What will matter is that these stories will give you a little insight into what prison life is like.

Ken was large black guy with limited cranial ability.  Meaning he was fat and not too bright.  But he was a nice guy and everyone liked him.  I liked him.  A good example of Ken's personality is that one day I saw him staring at this new guy, but not saying anything.  The new guy was a young white fellow who wore his paints low on his hips, braided his hair and talked like an inner city black guy. The new guy didn't know Ken so when he realized Ken was staring at him he became offended and in a confrontational way said, "What!"  Not realizing the new guy was irritated, Ken said exactly what was on his mind.  Ken couldn't figure the new guy out so he said, "What is you?"  Everyone laughed and the situation was defused.
At the time I made fudge which I sold for an income.  I didn't make much, but my fudge was so good it was in high demand.  I also experimented with making candy and other sweets, so Ken was used to seeing me with something good to eat and he wasn't shy about asking for some. One day in the art room a guy found an old case of Crayola crayons.  There were thousands of them, but as no one used crayons I accepted a 24 pack to use as a joke.  I used a razor to cut the tips off which gave me 24 multi-colored bits that looked like candy.  I went around the room offering this "candy" to guys but they weren't going for it.
I was about to give up on my prank when Ken came into the room.  I acted like I was eating something, which pulled him in.  "What you eatn," he asked.  I had my hand open so he could see the multi-colored "candy" which is what his eyes were focused on.  "Candy," I said.  "Want some?"  He held out his big hand so I dumped them all into his hand.  Ken immediately popped half the crayons into his mouth.  I'm not very good at keeping a straight face so I just walked off, laughing as I went.  I left the art room and went back to the block, soon forgetting about the event.
I saw Ken later that day and he said, "Very funny.  You got me."  So we shared a good laugh and the rest of the night guys were laughing about it.  All in good humor.
The next day Ken walked up to me with a pair of scissors and a sheet and said, "You ready?"  I said, "Sure." then sat down and let him cut my hair. Ken was my barber, not the best we had but he was cheap and I wasn't that particular about my hair.  Nor did I pay attention to when my hair got long, so Ken would let me know when I needed a cut, which I always appreciated.  So this was a normal event for us that I didn't give a second thought.  As was my habit I kept telling him to hurry up as he cut my hair and as was his habit he ignored me and took his time.  When he was done I thanked him, complained about how slow he was and paid him.  The first guy I passed after the hair cut looked at me funny.  The next guy laughed.  This caused me to find a mirror. Ken had given me a creatively horrible hair cut.  He'd gotten even with me and somehow done it with a straight face.  Every time guys told that story, which they did often, I was the dummy.
Such is life in the Big House.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Soccer Day

Before the game I heard one regular player say that he wasn't going to play because it was too hot. The guy saying this is a Haitian, so I said, "Really, its too hot for a Haitian.  I've never been to Haiti, but I've been to Florida so I know it's hot in Florida.  Cuba's south of Florida and I hear it's pretty hot there too.  But Haiti is even further south so it has to be hot there.  So how can Pennsylvania be too hot for a Haitian?"  The guy hung his head and said something about his back hurting so I mentioned that I was sixty years old and I was going out, which was all it took to get him to change his mind and agree to play.  One thing about these Latin American men, its easy to play the "macho man card" on them.
The prison I am in is a "Special Management Unit", which means they keep guys who have done bad things locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.  The prison has a small "Cadre" of high security prisoners who are here to do our time as oppose to being here for punishment, so we are only locked down at night.  Which is why I am able to play soccer and softball and able to go to the art room.  This is good for us in that the fewer convicts the fewer problems.  The down side is that we often don't have enough guys to play organized sports.  So when a few guys decide not to play soccer there is a good chance the game will be canceled due to lack of players.  This is why I had to play the macho man card to get the Haitian to play.
I recently learned that a soccer field is actually called a pitch.  Odd but that's the name.  So the Haitian manned up and came out so we had a full team.  Good game.  One of the Jamaicans pulled a first and played barefoot.  The pitch is good grass, but the problem with going barefoot is that everyone else wears cleats.  It turned out to be a smart move as he moved faster than ever before and every opponent he encountered was aware of his bare feet so were careful around him. He had a great game.  I asked why he played barefoot and he said that's how he played growing up in Jamaica. It was an interesting lesson.  I played goalie the entire game, which I was fine with do to the heat. Soccer is a great workout for me.
Today I made arrangements to start playing racquetball regularly with my buddy, the former soldier.   Without softball all the exercise I get is the two days of soccer and feel like I can handle more. Racquetball is a fast game with just the right amount of movement that I get a good workout but don't have to push to exhaustion.  I could walk the track or even jog, but I know I won't keep that up.  A competitive sport is a different matter.  That I will do and push myself, so I'm looking forward to playing racquetball twice a week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Emotional Dad

I can be emotional.  It is rare that this side of me manifest, but it did tonight while talking to Hope. Her and Joshua were home from the hospital and doing fine.  I was always a mess when Mary had our babies but I tried to hide it to put on a strong front for her.  I didn't fool her.  I try to put on a brave front with my daughters, and that works most of the time because I am not there with them.  But with Hope on the phone tonight I failed and she saw how soft I really am.
We have a bank of four telephones in the cell block, all lined up ten inches apart against the wall in the busiest part of the block.  There is little privacy when on the phone.  So it's not considered "manly" to cry on the phone, yet that is what I did while talking to Hope.  Of course when I started crying she did too, which didn't help.  I couldn't help it.  It was a combination of going from worried to relieved and just how happy I was for Hope and how proud I was of her.  It was all too much for me so I couldn't help myself.
Some tough guy I am.
I am in awe of women.  The process of having a baby amazes me and puts me in awe of the women who do it.  It is such a painfully horrible ordeal, yet women from the beginning of time have had babies.  They didn't use to have a choice in the matter, but today they do.  A woman can avoid getting pregnant, and even if she does she can avoid having a baby.  Yet women everywhere choose to have babies.  Just like the women who came before them, modern women choose to endure the worry and pain and they choose to devote themselves to the care of that little one for many years.  Every person alive on this planet is here because of the strength and courage of a woman.  I am in awe of the strength and courage of women.  And I am exceedingly proud of my wife and our five daughters for the courage they displayed when they brought life into this world.
I going to stop here before I start crying in the computer room.  Guys are already beginning to talk. Lord help if they figured out what I was all mushy over.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Wild Life

The United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg is an interesting place for wild life.  Like all such places we have a healthy population of pigeons, but we also have regular visits from a couple of hawks.  The hawks are interesting to watch but they make life rough on the pigeons.  We also have as a regular a very large snow owl, which is a beautiful bird.  There are a number of smaller birds to be found, the largest population of which is the starling.  We also have the occasional lost goose and duck that will drop in for a few days.  As a bird lover I enjoy watching them.

On the ground the most prevalent animals are wild cats.  We also have a healthy population of ground hogs that live on the grounds and fairly regular visits by a skunk or two.  I do not exaggerate when I say these cats are wild.  Lewisburg was built in the 1930's so it has an interesting building.  The design provides the cats places to hide and breed.  And breed they do. I've watched generations of cats come and go.  The staff use live traps to capture them, but there are so many of them that I bet every barn within fifty miles of here is protected by a feral Big House Cat.
Despite the age and size of this place the rarest sighting are the things you don't want to see, like rats, mice, and cock roaches.  I've never seen a rat here.  I've only seen a few mice, and that was rare.  I've seen exactly two roaches here.  I know they work hard to keep the pest out, but I am always surprised at how well they succeed.

My least favorite time here is winter, when it always seems a new litter of cats shows up. Inevitably a kitten or two will make her way from the basement where she was born into the weight room and art room.  The kittens will enter these spaces at night when no one is there then be surprised when men rush in the next day.  Every year these kittens climb up into the exposed pipes and there they stay. The real problem with this, at least for us, is that heating pipes are up there and before the day is over one of those cute little kittens will pee on that hot pipe.  You have to experience this smell to appreciate it.
The ground hogs dig their holes on the opposite side of fences were inmates roam.  Some how they understand they are safer there.  I have no doubt that we have guys here that would eat them if caught.  Some guys feed apples to the ground hogs.  We used to have a guy called "the Ground Hog Whisper" because of how he'd trained a few of the young ones.  Skunks roam much like the cats do. It's not uncommon to see a skunk eating its dinner where the cats dine, but it is clear that the skunk is the alpha.  The cats give them a wide birth.
Pigeons are everywhere.  There is a window ledge on an inner court yard where every year a single pigeon pair will set up a nest and lay two eggs.  This is an interesting spot in that every time I go anywhere out of the cell block I pass this spot.  Because I am able to walk up to the glass without disturbing the birds I am able to watch the baby birds from a foot away.  Every year I enjoy watching the birds grow and fly away from there.
Until arriving here I had never witnessed how pigeons flock and fly together for protection when a predator arrives.  I see it here often and am always fascinated by the spectacle.
We also have the occasional small flock of geese or duck land on the yard.  We once had two ducks that spent several days in a large puddle left by a heavy rain.  I thought those ducks were going to end up in the microwave as two Vietnamese guys were pretty serious about catching them.  I think the ducks got away, but I was never really sure.
For years I had heard guys talking about a giant white owl roaming our grounds but I had begun to discount this.  Most of the guys here are from the city so know nothing about things like owls. Then one night I saw the fellow myself.  It was early morning and I couldn't sleep so I was pacing my cell. At one point I looked up and out the window and there was the owl.  He was on the roof of the next cell block over, but so large as to seem anything but real.  It was most definitely a snow owl.  I'd seen snow owls before, but never one half this large.  My window is set high on the cell wall so I stood on my chair to get a better look.  The instant my face appeared in the window the big owl spotted me and put its big eyes on me.  Not wanting it to fly away I stood still.  It watched me for a minute then continued its careful search of the ground thirty feet below for something to eat.  I watched it for five minutes until something drew the big bird's attention.  It's body went tight, then it leaned forward and seemed to fall off the roof, then it's wings caught air and it flew with fluid grace.  Its prey was below me so I couldn't see what it had killed.  I watched for some time for it to fly off the ground but I never saw it leave.
That snow owl was the most beautiful bird I have ever seen.  He was also the most lethal looking flying predator I have ever seen.  That was five years ago and I look for him every night now, but haven't seen him since.

Grandson & Snickers

I'm a grandpa!  Again.  Our 15th grandchild was born last night.  Joshua was 8 pounds and 11 ounces. Mary was there with Hope through the labor and birth.  I talked to Mary and Hope at the hospital and heard Joshua express his displeasure over something.  Baby's perfect.  Hope is tired but good, son-in-law Scott seems to have survived the ordeal as well.  I'm relieved to hear that everyone is okay.  I usually worry when one of my kids is having a baby, but more so this time than normal.  I am sure it was because it was Hope having the baby.  I have seen her on visits as a woman, but in my mind she will always be "my little girl."

Mary has a Delta flight home in two days, so hopefully the airline will have its computer squared away by then.
Smoking has been prohibited in federal prison since 2004, so I couldn't get cigars.  For this reason I started a tradition twelve years ago with Snickers Bar.  No, I didn't smoke the Snickers Bar, I ate it. Also part of the tradition I got two Snickers Bars and gave one to a friend as payment for having to listen while I bragged about my latest grandson.  I'm quite the braggart when it comes to my children and grandchildren so it seems only fair I bribe my friends with a candy bar.  My friends put up with me because...well, other than the candy bar I'm not sure why but they put up with me.
Soccer tonight.  I'm feeling healthy and ready for a good romp.  Life is good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

August 8, 2016 Commissary Day

Monday is commissary day.  The commissary provides a critical function in prison life.  While it is true that they provide us with every thing we must have, they don't give us everything we need. For example, at no charge they do provide three meals a day, meals that are reasonably nutritious and not horrible, underwear, socks, t-shirts, pants and shirts, and even boots that seem designed to hurt your feet.  They give us bedding and bath towels.  And once a week they give use two rolls of toilet paper, a bar of plain soap, a single blade disposable razor, and a small tube of horrible tooth paste.  In theory a guy could live just fine on what they provide for free.  But in application it doesn't work that way.
The gap between basic need and small comfort is filled by the commissary.  The stuff in the commissary is limited and tightly regulated by security protocol.  We can "shop" at the commissary once a week and in that time we can spend up to $360.00, which is the monthly "spending limit."  I never spend nearly that much, but some guys do.  I wont itemize all the things at the store, but to give you a general idea they have canned soda by the case, potato chips in large bags, microwave popcorn, instant coffee, tea bags, and  Gatorade.  They have numerous hot sauces and seasoning, cheese, oatmeal, honey, peanut butter and nuts.  Cookies and candy bars of different varieties.  Tuna, Sardines, Mackerel, pepperoni, sausage, and pizza kits.  Various instant soups, pop tarts, and bagels. There are Bic pens, pads of paper, photo albums and typewriter ribbons, an assortment of vitamins and fitness bars.
They also sell portable radios, book lights and batteries to run them.  They sell an MP3 player (only one brand), Skullcandy ear buds and Skullcandy headphones.  They sell all kinds of over-the counter medicines, soap, shampoo, hair gel, and even "Ponytailers" which I use because I haven't cut my hair in three years.  They sell expensive Gillette Sensor 3 razor blades, which is why I have a beard. Timberland socks, boxer shorts, t-shirts, sweat pants and sweat shirts.  And the things that everyone must have, a Timex Ironman watch and sneakers.  And of course there's postage stamps and a copy card to use the copy machine.  And last but not least, ice cream by the pint.
In the cell block we have an ice machine and microwaves, which  are both used in conjunction with what we buy from the commissary.  If you can afford it you can eat pretty good out of the commissary.  You can also get fat off all the junk food, but that's true anywhere.
Everyone has to have a job and all jobs come with a pay check.  My job pays $28 a month, some are as high as $95 here.  Other federal prisons have industry jobs where a guy can earn as much as $300 a month.  But most guys have to make due with low paying jobs and are dependent on money they receive from family and friends on the street.  There are a few guys in prison who have a lot of money put back that they draw on, but they are rare.  Most guys are broke, like me, so are dependent on a combination of prison wage and outside support.
 All in all it is a system that works reasonably well.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August 7, 2016

Today is Cody's 27th birthday.  I always call my children on their birthday, but today I have to settle for an email Happy Birthday.  Cody's in LSU's Law School, but is studying the first semester of his third year at a law school in Buenos Aries Argentina.  For the few months he's down there he didn't set up a local phone to save money.  He did the same last summer when he studied law in Lyons, France.  Cody paid for his undergraduate school by doing time in the Army National Guard, but has had to foot the bill for Law School himself.  He started off with a good scholarship, but has handled the rest through hard work.  It's pretty impressive what he's managed to accomplish without any help from me.  As you can imagine, I'm pretty proud of him. So I don't mind that I can't call him on his birthday.
Received an email from Cody yesterday.  He said Buenos Aries is strange to him because it's a large city and he's never lived in a large city.  Plus everyone there speaks a foreign language. Actually, he said he speaks a foreign language and not Spanish like everyone else.  Plans to learn Spanish while he's there.  I nearly suggested it would have been wise to learn the language before going to school in a Spanish speaking country, but held my tongue.  What do I know about law school.  He didn't learn French before studying in France but that worked out so I am sure this will too.  Cody is a competent man who always figures things out.
Cody also mentioned that travel around South America was more difficult and more expensive than travel in Europe.  I found that comment interesting.  He figured the difference was due to South America's larger land mass.  Perhaps, but I suspect South America lacks Europe's modern transportation infrastructure.  I've never been to either continent so I don't really know.
Soccer today.  Knee still hurts but I stayed in goal and took it as easy.  Well, mostly.  It was a good game and no one was hurt.  Win win!  After soccer I took a shower then watched a little TV to recover.   For TV we have standard cable plus a few HBO channels.  Bureau of Prison policy prevent us from watching "R" rated movies so that eliminates most of the good movies.  A good example is that Friday night "Charlie Wilson's War" was on.  None of had seen it so we were all eager to watch it.  We had our microwave pop corn (bought in the commissary) ready and everything, then when the movie was set to start the parental block kicked in.  We had heard it was PG-13, but turns out is was rated "R".  You have no idea how frustrating it is not to have internet access so you can check something as simple as a movie rating.  Saturday night's movie was "Charlie Brown" which we could watch but opted not to.  Watched Big Bang Theory, which I really like, and the Olympics.
Friday night I finished the Brad Meltzer book and am now reading "The First Hostage" by Joel C. Rosenberg.   Interesting book, the premise intrigues me.  It's about a sitting US President being kidnapped by ISIS while attending a peace conference in Jordan.  The main character is a New York Times reporter.  It's an improbable scenario, but the author pulls it off.  I've read another of Rosenberg's books, "The Twelfth Imam" and liked it too.  Hopefully we have many more of his books in the library because I like the way he writes.  Smart, creative, and well written.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

August 6, 2016

Today's kind of slow.  Had planned to play softball but it was changed to football, which I've decided to pass on because of my knee.  This surprised everyone as I usually play everything, but as I said, that 60th birthday later this month is a solid reminder of my age.  I plan to play soccer tomorrow, but prison football is a bit too rough on my old body.  Now that I've admitted that I feel better about it. Not!
Responding to that first post Rebecca told me she found the story about hamburger day and condiments fascinating.  She said she had no idea that's how it was.  When I was surprised that she didn't know any of this she reminded me that I never told her anything about prison.  In fourteen years of visits, thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls I never told her about life inside.  She says that most people are curious, so to fill in the gap when I have nothing else to talk about I'll talk about prison life.
Guess I'll start with how I communicate with everyone.  We have telephones on the cell-block.  I can make a call out but no one can call me.  I can only call people on my phone list, but I can change or update that list as often as I want on a contact file that I access through the computer (more on that soon).  When I make a call the person on the other end hears a recorded message saying it is a call from a federal prison, then gives my name in my recorded voice.  The person I call has several options, one of which is to have their number removed from my list, the other is to accept the call. That done we can talk for up to 15 minutes.  In fourteen minutes it warns us that a minute is left, then at fifteen disconnects.  I can make a maximum of 300 minutes of phone calls a month, but they increase it to 400 for December only.  The call doesn't cost the person I am calling, but I pay .21 cents per minute.  So a 15 minute phone call to anywhere in the United States cost me $3.15, a three minute call cost .63 cents.  Unless something is going on where I have to make a lot of calls, I rarely reach the 300 minute maximum.  I would like to call that much, but the cost is a limiting factor.
We also have email.  This is relativity new in the federal system, I think we've had it for six years. Like the phone call, a receiving part has to agree to getting an email from me before I can send it. There is a sign up procedure.  I send a request to a person's email account and then they have to do a one time sign up.  Once that is done then we can email each other.  It's not really email in the classical sense because the person on the street has to go to a web site to send or receive an email from me. They can get a notice sent to their phone that a message is waiting, but they have to go to the web site and sign in to read it and respond.  Not what you are used to, but my family and I are thankful to have it.  Also like the phone calls, there is no cost to those on the street, but I have to pay ,05 cents a minute so type or read an email.  I can log on to the email system for up to 60 minutes at a time, so a full hour of email time cost me $3.00.  Cheaper than a fifteen minute phone call, but it too adds up fast.  There is no limit to how many email minutes I use as long as I can pay the price.

And of course there is the U.S. Mail.  I can send and receive letters to and from anyone with normal postage.  I can receive books as long as they come from a book store (even on-line book stores like Amazon) or from the publisher.  Same goes for magazines and newspapers.  I can get them all with a subscription.  I used have a subscription to Wired, Plane & Pilot, and Flying, but they have expired. Yes, Rebecca, that was a hint.
I also have an MP3 player, with music I can purchase and download through a closed system that is accessed through the same computer I get my email on.  That computer gives me access to an internal bulletin board, legal research, prescription refills, my contact list (which is how I add someone to my phone and email) and my commissary account information, which allows me to see who sent me money and how much I have left.
We don't have access to the internet in any form.  No web sites, not anything like that.  In the works are a Skype type video system so I can see and be seen when on the phone, but I hear that is expensive.  And it seems in the near future we'll be able to purchase an eReader with eBooks and subscriptions also available.  This one makes sense to me because in prison they encourage you to read, but because of other physical concerns limit the number of books you can possess.  An eReader seems like a perfect match for prison life.  As an avid reader I like this idea a great deal.
That sums up our communications stuff.  Will explain visits and other stuff another time.  If I run out of things to talk about I can always fall back on the "personalities" of my peers.  I can't give anyone's name, but you'll find some of these guys interesting.  I certainly do.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

August 5, 2016

Friday's are usually a slow day for me.  Lunch is always fish that is only tolerable with hot sauce, but today's was a new breaded fish that was pretty good.  No organized sports today.  Normally on Friday I go outside and walk for exercise, but it's hot and gloomy outside, plus I'm still nursing my knee, so I'm taking it easy.  Working on the later parts of "A Life Wasted" and reading.
I called my youngest daughter this afternoon.  Hope is 23, married two years and most significantly pregnant with her first child.  She's very pregnant in that the baby is due any day now.  I caught her coming out of her doctor's office so we talked about the visit.  Her doctor "weighed" the baby, which I didn't know they could do.  Some type of new medical technology I've not heard of.  The baby weighs 8 pounds and 13 ounces: nearly 9 pounds.  Hope is a bit apprehensive, as all moms are with their first child.  She is pleased her mom will be there with her.  If I were having a baby I'd want Mary there too.  I am sure she'd enjoy that reversal of roles.
So grandchild #15 due any day now.  With our nine children and our previous fourteen grandchildren, this child will be the 24th baby born as a result of our marriage.  Okay, it's wrong for me to take credit for the grandchildren, but you get my point.  Three of our sons have yet to have children, which I am sure they will have, so more grandchildren will follow.  My guess is we'll have ten more grandchildren.  Twenty-five grandchildren has a nice ring to it.  Give Mary and I something to brag about in the retirement home.
I mentioned reading.  The only good thing about prison is that it gives me plenty of time to read.  If I were home Mary would have me doing chores all day, but here I get to lay around and read.  Mary gets mad at me when I call this my "retirement" and promises to abuse me when I get home, which I don't doubt.   So for now I take advantage of the situation and read all I can.
I like to read fiction, but I also read newspapers and magazines.  I read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, every day (a guy in my cell block gets it and lets me read it).  I read an assortment of magazines.  I like Wired and Fast Company, but my favorite are flying magazine. When either "Flying" or "Plane & Pilot" arrive, the officer giving out the mail says, "Waagner, your porn is in."That always turns heads because we can't get porn.  All things aviation really are porn for me.  All those lovely planes that I'll never get to fly are a thing of my fantasies.  In my defense I do more than look at the pictures, I read every word of every article in every flying magazine.  I even read the ads.Can't help myself.  I'm addicted.  I love everything about aviation.
I average four fiction books a week.  Today I am reading Brad Meltzer's latest book, "The House of Secrets."  I've read ten of Brad Meltzer's previous books and they are all solid reads.  Same with this one.  Good read.  I'm also reading Seth Godin's inspiring business book, "The Icarus Deception". This is the second time I've read this book and I figure there will be a third.  Seth Godin is a smart fellow and his books have such deep meaning that it takes me a few reads to learn all I can from them.

Friday, August 5, 2016

August 4, 2016 Soccer Day

Soccer day.  I play soccer every Thursday.  Sunday too, but this is Thursday.  We have a large recreation yard with multiple hand ball and racquet ball courts, a basketball court, a tennis court, a botchy ball court, a softball field, a weight pit and a grass soccer field that doubles as a football field in the fall.  The first twelve years I was here I didn't play any organized team sports.  After experiencing a heart attack followed by a quadruple open-heart surgery five years ago everyone figured I'd take it easy.  I thought so too, until two years ago. At 58 years old I started playing softball for the first time.

I only played because an injured player had to leave the game.  There was no one to replace him so I filled in.  To ensure I didn't have to move around too much they put me on first base.  It didn't hurt that I am 6'1" tall as a first baseman needs to be able to reach wild throws.  To my surprise I was pretty good on first base.  Turned out that I have a natural ability to track a fast moving ball and catch it.  It is still strange to me because I rarely see the incoming ball, but I always catch it. Even the wild ones.  The second surprise is that I can hit the ball well and far, which is fortunate because I don't run fast.
So after that first softball game I was a regular.  We play twice a week and I am always picked in the top four, which is impressive since I'm the oldest player.  This success led me to play soccer. They made me the goalie as it requires less running.  I was good at this too.  I have fast hands and make a decent goalie.  I've played both soccer and softball every game in those two years and loved every minute of it.  I even played football last year, every game.  This wasn't so smart though as last year I injured my left ring finger so bad that it requires surgery.  It's bad enough now that I have trouble getting my hand in a softball glove.
So it's soccer day.  I'll be 60 years old this month so I really shouldn't be playing soccer with the kids.The next oldest guy on the field is 43, so I'm the grandpa out there.  Federal prisons have an interesting cross section on nationalities, but no place is this more evident than on the soccer field. For the 38% of my readers who are from the United States I'll point out that while soccer isn't that big in this country, its huge in the rest of the world.  I never played soccer as a kid, but almost everyone I play with here grew up playing the game.  Of the regular players on my field there are several Mexican nationals, several Puerto Ricans, two Dominicans, two Jamaicans, a Haitian, a Panamanian, a Colombian, an El Salvadorian, an Antiguan, a Lebanese, an American Indian and a hand full of Americans, one of which is a real live Wyoming cowboy.  It's a rather interesting mix.
During the game I'll hear a great deal of Spanish, some French and every now and then Arabic from the Lebanese as that is his first language.  The play is always fast and furious.  The non-American players are always hot tempered during the game, screaming at each other with a little cussing, some of which I even understand.  To those who soccer is a national sport it is not a game to be taken lightly.  At first I was put off by all the game level vitriol, but it didn't take me long to realize it was part of the game for them.  Soccer is a game of war to these guys.  After the game all the screaming and cussing is forgotten and we were all friends again.  It is not uncommon to see guys apologize to one another over something said or done after the game. During the game there are no apologizes and no one is your friend.
At first I didn't understand this aspect of the game.  Once I figured out that it was a cultural thing I did just fine.  I haven't learned to cuss in Spanish, French, or Arabic, but do just fine in English. Prison soccer is great fun.  I have a feeling it's just like a neighborhood soccer game in Latin America, the Caribbean or the Middle East.  Good hard fun.  A real man's game.
Last Thursday I hyper extended my knee kicking a high placed soccer ball.  I would have had trouble playing on Sunday but didn't get the chance since my son's showed up for a visit . Tuesday was softball, but for the first time in two years I didn't play.  I skipped soccer today too. I don't walk with a limp today, but still need to give the knee time to heal.  Not playing is a real show of maturity for me.  I feel pretty smug about this.  Mary would be surprised.  She'd think there's hope for me.  I'll be 60 later this month, and that looming date gives me pause.  If I were smart I'd stop playing.  Of course I'm not that smart so I'll be out on the soccer field again Sunday.  Playing hurts, but I like it too much to stop.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

August 3, 2016 Hamburger Day

Today was hamburger day.  Something to count on every Wednesday.  Thirteen years ago Thursday was hamburger day.  At that point Thursday had been hamburger day in the federal prison system for several decades.  I remember well when they changed hamburger day to Wednesday because my buddy, who'd been down for twenty-nine years was extremely upset over the change.  I said, "Wednesday or Thursday, what difference does it make?"  Well, it made a difference to him, which he expressed to me in his usual colorful way.  This was an early lesson for me.  Prisoners need a consistent pattern in life.  Change that pattern in the slightest way and it upsets things.

So back to hamburger day.  I like hamburger day.  The hamburger's aren't that bad.  Well, they're not great either.  The secret to hamburger day, as is the case with most prison food, is condiments.  On hamburger day I carry ketchup, mayonnaise, and jalapeno peppers.  If I have the time I saute jalapenos and fresh garlic in olive oil, which I cook in the microwave, then bring all that to the chow hall.  Get it right and that hamburger is a treat.  I like hamburger day, so I usually bring all the fixings and have a good hamburger.  Bring the right condiments and the food's not too bad most of the time.

Tonight is beef taco, which will require lots of garlic and hot sauce.

I have to purchase those condiments, which I get through the prison commissary.  Commissary day is Monday, so I'll tell you more about that on Monday.
Of note in the outside world today is that President Obama signed more than 200 Commutation orders (like a pardon but only dealing with the sentence, not the conviction).  Two of the guys to receive a serious time reduction from the President today are guys I know from here.  One of them I know real well.  The time cut will mean he has two more years to go, but after serving twenty-three years he's pretty excited about it.  The guy is sixty-seven years old and as harmless as a man can be.  The President got it right in giving him a break.

Daily Blogging

For awhile now Rebecca has asked me to write general stuff every day so she can share it with you guys.  I resisted this because I didn't think anyone would be interested in this because my days are fairly routine and my thoughts are, well, they're my thoughts and I rarely want to share them.  A couple of events have served to change my mind on this.

Last Sunday I had a visit from two sons, Luke and Colt.  During the visit I shared an idea I had for an App/Web site with them.  Before I even started explaining it they were both extremely interested.  It was kind of funny because before I went into any details Colt asked Luke to go to the vending machines to get us some food and drinks.  Luke knew what his brother was up to and refused.  Colt had tried to send his older brother on an errand so he could hear about my idea alone.  I was pleased that both son's placed value in my idea before knowing what it was.  So you know, they both liked the idea and are now working on who is going to do it.  I'm encouraging them to do it together.  Should be interesting to see how that works out.  They'd be upset if I shared this "great idea" for an app with everyone, but I will tell you about it after they have launched it.

The other thing that convinced me was a user comment from SeanMark6.  A week or so ago I had responded to a WattPad comment he had made to Rebecca on my autobiography, "A Life Wasted." In it he made positive comments on the candid way I write and mentioned that he was writing a Journal. I gave him a rather wordy response and encouraged him to continue writing.  He answered with the below, which really touched me.  So if I make a mess out of this we can thank SeanMark6 as his kind words convinced me to do it:

Wow! Is all I can say - what an honor to receive such deep, even personal words from 'Dad' - I am reeling... I am so very grateful for the insight; and the time you have taken to share with me. Mostly I will treasure these words forever from CW... I'm not sure how to address him respectfully... Thank You - regarding the writing... I am moving house soon...but will make every effort to write...and publish soon... now the inspiration is really blossoming... I almost feel I owe it you....aargh...the pressure... Stay Wonderful My Dear - and blessings to the big guy...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pay Back

On one of my many business trips I'd stopped at a grocery store somewhere for lunch.  This was during my rare period of trying to eat healthy, so I went into the store to buy fruit and vegetables rather than fast food. When leaving the store an elegantly dressed woman walked towards her car about sixty feet in front of me. Before she reached her car four young guys pulled into the parking lot in a nice 60's vintage convertible muscle car.  Rather than use the doors all four jumped out of the car, whooping and shouting as they walked towards the store.  They were animated about something.   When they reached this woman they circled her like a pack of hungry wolves.  She turned to ward one off and I saw she was about forty and very pretty.
Being the white knight my wife expects me to be I jogged to catch up to the woman and chase away her tormentors.  The guys saw me coming and backed off leaving the woman alone, then walked past me into the store.  The woman never realized my part in what had happened, only that the guys had left her alone.
Before the four disappeared into the store they shouted a parting insult at her, which she ignored with a great deal of class.

I sat in my car and drank deep from a cold bottle of Gatorade I'd just bought.  While I drank I looked at the beautiful muscle car.  I was still upset with the guys over their behavior, so an idea formed.  I drank a great deal of Gatorade while I drove, and I drove a lot.  Since I was always in the car alone I had developed the habit of relieving myself in the empty Gatorade bottle so I wouldn't have to stop so often.  To prevent me from drinking from the wrong bottle, I always laid those "dirty" bottles in the back floorboard behind the passenger seat.  I looked back there and saw two such quart bottles.  One was from earlier in the day, but the other was a day old.  I knew from a bad experience that the day old one really stank.

Thinking about the way those guys had treated that woman I grabbed both bottles and walked over to that beautiful classic car.  I poured the first quart bottle of urine on the driver's seat.  The second, which I knew was the day old one when I removed the lid, I poured on the drivers seat back.  Meaning the place where the driver would place his back when he sat in the car.

I went back to my car and settled in to wait.  After a minute I realized I was parked too close to the deed, so I moved my car over a few rows.  They returned five minutes later.  To my surprise they were still talking inappropriately about the woman, and they were talking so loud I could hear them clearly.  For some reason they were fixated on her.  When they reached their car they got in the same way they got out, by jumping over the side without using the doors.  The driver landed in his seat, made a move to put the key in the ignition then stopped.  He leaned forward then jumped back out of the car ripping his shirt off, followed by his paints.  He started screaming, "That bitch," which he repeated over and over until it changed to, "That stinking bitch."  What what really made me lose it was when he said, "She squatted in my seat and peed." It had not occurred to me that the guy would think the woman did this.  The image of that elegant woman peeing on his seat sent me into hysterical laughter.  I had to lay across the seats so they wouldn't see me laughing.

Not sure it this story does the event justice, but it was hilarious.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Embarrassing Moment #3

I was in Pittsburgh attempting to sell an executive recruiter my PAM software.  After the demo the two partners took me to their private club for lunch.  Both were combat drinkers and regulars so their drinks were delivered to the table before we were seated.  The waiter asked for my drink order so I asked for my usual, an ice tea.  In the south when you ask for tea you'd get sweet tea on ice.  Iced sweet tea is what a southerner means when he orders tea, but I'd eaten in enough northern restaurants to realize they never had sweet tea, so I didn't embarrass myself asking for it.  Lance and I had nearly been thrown out of a Toronto restaurant over this very issue.  I didn't like adding sugar to ice tea because it never fully dissolved, but up north a southern boy had to make due.

There wasn't any sugar on the table so I opted to try it first, just in case I'd misjudged the place and they actually served proper ice tea.  Plus I'd been talking a great deal trying to close the sale so I was thirsty.  I took a big gulp from the large glass.  It wasn't at all what I expected, enough so that my mouth rejected the liquid.  I spit the "tea" out with such force that it hit my potential customer across the table.  "What in the hell is that," I said far too loud for the subdued private club.  "That's the most disgusting taste I ever experienced."  That's true, and by that time I'd eaten both dog and muskrat, but I was smart enough to keep this fact to myself.  The waiter appeared.  "What kind of drink is that," I asked.  "It's not iced tea, that's for damn sure."  The waiter apologized and said, "It's Long Island Ice Tea, sir."  I'd never had iced tea on Long Island so I said as much.  "But I've had iced tea in Canada and in Ohio and it didn't taste any thing like that."

The waiter was too embarrassed to explain so my potential customer rescued him.  He explained to me that Long Island Ice Tea was a strong mixed drink.  Sticking to my obvious country heritage I ordered a hamburger and coke, making sure I specified Coke Cola with no booze.  As embarrassing as it had been for all of us, the guy still bought my software.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on Healthcare

I've spoken with other Brits about America's health care system so I understand your concerns and appreciate your compassionate concerns.  However, the time I describe when the Cleveland Clinic's Rainbow Children's Hospital gave us trouble is the only time we had a problem getting medical treatment for our son.  I'm not sure why this particular hospital administrator gave us trouble, but she was the only one to ever do so.  During his life time Clay had five major open heart surgeries dozens of medical procedures, and more emergency room visits that became short recovery stays than we can remember, yet we only had trouble with not having medical insurance once, and that was resolved with a little media pressure.
The other factor is that those five surgeries were at two of the top hospitals in the world.  The reason we didn't go to another hospital after being rejected by Cleveland Clinic is because they were the only one in the world who could perform the rare and difficult surgery he required.  When Clay needed a third surgery the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota was the best place so that's were we took him.  There had only been a limited number of surgeries of the type Clay needed and the surgeon at Mayo Clinic had performed all but two to them.  Mayo Clinic accepted Clay as a patient without insurance and even without a doctor's referral.  We just showed up and asked to see one of the world's most renowned surgeons and they let us in.

Clay was examined by that surgeon that day and he spent the rest of the week going through a battery of test.  This is the same hospital that operates on billionaires, presidents and dictators from around the world. These wealthy and powerful people might have had a better room than Clay, but they couldn't have received better care.

America's health care system seems broken until you actually need it.  I would have loved to have had nationalized healthcare insurance to pay the medical bills, but I would not have traded the quality of care we received for a free service.  If all I had to go on is what I read in publications and what I see on the news, then I too would think America's health care system is broken and cruel.  If you haven't experienced it first-hand then I would expect you to think so too.  But the real-world reality is that our capitalist system of health care produces the best and most innovative medical care this world has to offer.  American law require that everyone receives medical care, but I don't believe we need laws for that to be the case.  Like medical professionals all over the world, America's doctors and nurses are compassionate and caring.  I've witnessed this too many times to believe otherwise.

America's healthcare system is the world's best because we provide an open system that encourages innovation.  Nationalized health care sounds good, but the hard truth is that when the government takes over it suppress innovation.  We have the world's best hospitals and doctors because of our capitalistic system, not despite it.  ObamaCare or any other form of nationalized health care is not the best choice for America.  I don't say this about what you have in the United Kingdom because I don't know.  I do know about ours.  If we continue down the path of nationalized health care our wonderful medical system will suffer from lack of future medical innovation and the high-quality medical care we currently enjoy will eventually deteriorate.
One final note:  Though I don't agree with the principle behind nationalizing health care, I did think it would be good for my son since for the first time in his life Clay would have medical insurance coverage.  I was wrong.  Because Clay's was a "pre-existing condition", ObamaCare didn't cover him.  Clay was the poster child for nationalized health care, yet he wasn't covered.  If it didn't cover him then the entire program is a lie.

Dads response to a comment on his Memoir about America's healthcare.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Embarrassing Moment #2

In the previous year I'd hired an experienced professional salesman to sell my software.  His name was Mike.  As part of training him to sell my software we traveled together.  I'll never forget the first time he mentioned it'd be a good time for dinner.  I agreed and pulled up to a Burger King drive thru and asked what he wanted.  Mike said, "You're kidding, right."  Well no, I wasn't kidding.  That's how I did breakfast, lunch and dinner on the road.  Mike was rather cultured and not at all the fast food kind of fellow.  He patiently explained that we'd be more productive if we took a little extra time and had a nice meal in a decent restaurant.  I pointed out a Denny's across the street and he said, "Let me drive."  I needed Mike and didn't want to scare him off before he got started so I let Mike drive.  He found a good restaurant that wasn't expensive then began educating me on how to eat good while traveling.

Mike was good at this.  He knew how to find a good local restaurant by reading their parking lot.  He would analyze the number and type of cars in their lot to decide if the food was good.  It was amazing, but he could find the best restaurants like this and he taught me how.  He also knew how to find the best restaurants in a city where there wasn't a parking lot to divine.  One afternoon in Baltimore he showed me that you could have a great lunch in a four or five star restaurant for slightly more than a pizza ordered in.  And that you could get served faster than pizza if you explained you were in a hurry and allowed the chef to serve what he had handy or fast.  I ate some great food this way, but it only worked for lunch.  Prices were much higher after five.

Armed with this new and useful skill I was anxious to show off to my younger, but more sophisticated gay brother.  We were in New York City for a UNIX convention.  Lance had never been to the Big Apple but it was my third trip so I was eager to show him how sophisticated his older country brother could be.  I drove around the area near the convention center (The Jacob Javitz Center in Manhattan) until I spotted what I thought was the perfect place.  It was Friday night so we wouldn't find the deep discounts I liked but it did look like a perfect local spot for a good meal.  Lance said we wouldn't get in without a reservation and I was in agreement until they found us a table.

I liked the place instantly.  It lacked the down home country feel I am most comfortable with, but it did have a warm feel about it.  All city, but warm and comfortable none-the-less.  After we were seated Lance looked around wide eyed, like he'd never been in a nice restaurant before.  "Nice, right," I said.  My brother nodded but said nothing.  We ordered, then ate our appetizers, made small talk about the convention, but I could tell my brother's mind was elsewhere.  I asked him if something was wrong and he assured me everything was fine.  In the middle of our meal my brother said, "Do you like the food."  I said yes.  "What about the restaurant?  Do you like it?"  I said, "It has a warm feeling.  Comfortable.  The service is great as is the food.  Of course I like it.  Admit it, out of all the restaurant in New York City I managed to find a perfect one."  Lance said,  "I admit it and I am impressed.  You found the perfect restaurant.  Have you eaten here before?"  "No," I assured him.  "I just spotted it and knew it was perfect."  Lance said, "I'm surprised you like it."  "Why," I asked.  Lance's smile filled his entire face when he said, "It's a gay restaurant.  You're the only straight guy here."  I thought he was joking, but I took a good look around.  "Damn, " I said.  "I still like the place."  Lance laughed as I tried to hide my discomfort.  "Yes sir, you can pick them big brother.  I can't wait to tell your wife."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Deadly Hack" Exert

Cautiously Luke peered through the opening into the kitchen. No one was in sight, but the kitchen had clearly been ransacked. Luke had just reminded himself to be careful when he heard the scream.  It was the unfettered terrified scream of a five-year-old girl. It was a sound that would rip the heart from any man. A sound that would convert even the greatest coward into a lion hearted warrior.
Luke ran through the open door, through the small kitchen and into the living room. The scene struck him like something from a cheap horror film. Kelly Graham was down on her knees, her face a bloodied mess. A man stood over her with a claw hammer raised, ready to strike. Luke found himself surprised by the sound of gunfire. On a purely rational level, he knew that he was the cause of the blood on the man's chest, but did not actually remember pointing and firing the AR-15. The man stood for one shocked moment then fell dead across the knelt form of Kelly Graham.
Luke did not expect there to be two of them, but a second attacker held the child in front of his chest, using her as a shield. The little girl was insufficient in mass to cover the man completely, so Luke fired a three round burst at his legs. Every bullet missed wildly, but caused the guy to drop the child and dive for cover behind the end of a couch. Operating like a video game hero, Luke fired a pair of three round burst into the couch causing the man to fall over with a scream. His body twitched violently, but appeared harmless.
With his ears ringing from the sounds of his own gunfire, Luke realized that the video game programmers hadn't managed to get that part right. The sound of automatic gunfire inside an enclosed area was more than a nuance; it was a biting part of reality, which should be added to the games. But there would be no way to add the feeling of fear that had instantly risen in his throat, nor the acidic taste of bile.
Movement caught his eye, which he realized was Kelly Graham attempting to get out from under the first man he'd shot. Luke pulled the man aside and the woman jumped up with amazing agility. She grabbed her daughter and held her tight to her breast. Oddly, Luke realized for the first time that the child was still screaming. While Kelly Graham comforted her child, Luke pulled back the window curtain and spotted four armed men running at them from across the street.
"We've got to go now!" he shouted at her.
Kelly didn't move, so Luke pulled back the curtain that she might see the men rushing toward them. "Their friends," he said, gesturing towards the man on the ground.
Kelly said nothing, but nodded understanding. Luke pointed towards the back door and she moved in that direction.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Embarrassing Moments #1

I have to preface this story with a little background.  First, I am at heart a country boy.  I don't care for big cities and I'm not into fancy things.  My idea of an upscale restaurant is Olive Garden.  This began to become a problem when my success as a software designer put me in close contact with wealthy city people.  In my memoir I tell of being embarrassed in an exclusive Miami club when I told the waitress I didn't care for their biscuits only to have her blurt out too loud, "That's not a biscuit, its a bagel."  Well I'd never seen a bagel, so how would I know.  I also need to explain I am also the oldest of three brothers and both my younger brothers are gay.  And that in 1986 I legally changed my first name to Clayton.  My name had been Roger since birth. That should set the stage well enough.

My youngest brother Lance and I had just completed a long hard week installing our software for a customer in Philadelphia.  As is the case with most software jobs, we'd had major problems and had worked through most of the previous night, so Lance and I were exhausted.  To celebrate the job's completion the customer and his top three people took Lance and I to dinner at a posh Philadelphia restaurant.   All of us were giddy from fatigue and stress, but none more than Lance and I.

A server delivered water and other fancy restaurant paraphernalia, and explained that our waiter would be with us in a moment.  As she said this our waiter, a young man who was obviously gay got our attention and mimed that he'd be right with us.  Without thinking I said something insensitive like, "Great, a fag waiter."  My gay brother knew me well enough not to be offended, or if he was offended was numb to my boorish ways. Our customers on the other hand went silent with shock.  I realized I'd stepped in it, but I'd never cared for political correctness so I doubled down.

"Have you ever noticed that all gay waiters are named Ricky.  What's with that?"  Again, no response, so I continued.  "He'll come over and say," then in my best gay voice I said, "Hi, my name is Ricky.  I'll be your server."  I sensed everyone was about to laugh at my great gay waiter imitation, but all went quiet when our gay waiter walked up to the table.  When the poor guy stopped, all of our eyes went to him expectantly.  I was praying, "Please be named Ricky, please."  In a gay voice nearly as good as mine our waiter said, "Hi, my name is Roger.  I'll be your waiter."

Recall that my name at the time was Roger.  There was no holding back.  Everyone at our table exploded in uncontrolled laughter.  I felt bad for poor Roger, but I couldn't control my laughter any more than everyone else.  Of course the joke was on me, but it was hilarious.  We weren't actually asked to leave, but it was clear we were no longer welcome, so we found a restaurant that didn't require a reservation.  Something more to my speed.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Love Story

A reader comment from my memoir "A Life Wasted" has caused me to rethink the structure and meaning of my life.  The comment was made after she read about my fourth escape, this one from a south Georgia chain gang, where I ran into a dangerous swamp while being shot at.  I've lead an interesting life and have many interesting stories as a result, but this particular story was one of the most dangerous adventures of my life. In a 24 hour period I was shot at on three separate occasions and spent all day and half a night in a south Georgia swamp naked except for my underwear.  I'm not sure if its an interesting story to read, but it was a memorable event for me.
After reading this story of escape, survival, and near death encounters the reader wanted to know if I made it back to Mary.  (Mary is my wife, the woman I have loved for 39 years).  My reaction was, "Really! That's what you want to know."  My reader didn't care if I heard the bullets buzzing past my head or if I had an infection from the millions of mosquito bites.  Not a question about my pain or exhaustion, or even a warm and fuzzy "how did you feel about."  No, after pouring out my heart and sharing one of the more challenging moments of my life my readers want to know if I made it back to Mary.  My response on Wattpad was a pithy, "I'll give you a spoiler for the rest of my life story--I always make it back to Mary."  That was earlier today and I haven't been able to get this exchange out of my mind.  After several hours of chewing on this it finally hit me.  Of course!  It made perfect sense that someone reading my life's story would ask such a question.  Since the moment I met her my life has been centered around Mary.  Mary's all I talk about. Anyone who even knows me casually understands I am crazy about my wife.  It makes sense that this would come through in my writing.
I've lead a hard life.  I'm a country boy.  I consider myself a man in the classical sense of the word. Nothing soft and fluffy about me.  I've never been to a play, or an opera, I don't like musicals and I don't believe man is causing global warming.  I don't like cats.  I'm not that kind of guy.  I'm the kind of guy who makes fun of those kind of guys.  So imagine my surprise when I figured out that my life's story is actually a love story.  It's a difficult concept for me to accept, but I've had to accept it because it's the truth.
Congratulations Anniemena, in a few words you've managed to threaten my manhood.  I mean really, what kind of tough guy loves only one woman his entire life?  I'm that guy, no doubt about that.  Now that I think this through, I've become an artist.  On my bucket list are several art museums.  I care about the plight of the spotted owl.  I even subscribe to "Woman's Health Magazine."  I read it for the health tips, though it is good to know what moisturizers are best.  (Just kidding about the moisturizers, they only sell Suave in the prison store, but I have had a subscription to Woman's Health for years).
Anniemena's comment helped me realize I've changed considerably.
My life isn't a classical love story, but it is the story of two people who love each other through intense trials. It's the story of a man who loves a woman totally but is clueless how to show it.  It's a story about a woman who loves a man despite his stupidity and mistakes.  A woman who holds on to that love even though everyone tells her to leave him.  Even the guys mother and brother tell her to leave him, but she hangs on to the dream she believes true.  My story is an epic tale of true love.  After the shock of learning I was writing a love story I found it pleases me.  After all is said and done, what else matters than that we have loved and were loved in returned.  I can say with confidence that I have experienced both.  I have experienced both ever day of my adult life and always will.  In that respect, I am blessed.
I still don't like cats.

You can read more from Clayton's autobiography "A Life Wasted" on Wattpad.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hitchhiking East to West

This is another story that I can't place an accurate date on.  Logically I think it had to occur in 1979 after my fourth escape, but there isn't enough time available for it to have happened then.  So I'm at a loss as to when it was.  All I'm sure of is that I was a young adult, somewhere between 18 and 21.

This story begins with my hitchhiking from the east coast to the west coast.  I went west because I'd not seen the Pacific Ocean and felt slighted.  Early in the east to west trip I was picked up by a friendly trucker.  He wasn't going too far, but when our ride ended he stopped at a truck stop then got on his CB radio looking for a west bound trucker willing to give me a ride.  A trucker came back saying he was going to Los Angeles, but said he was too tired to drive and asked if the hitchhiker could drive.  The guy helping looked at me for the answer.  I shrugged then shook my head.  He told the guy I could and that I'd meet him in ten minutes.  In those ten minutes the guy taught me to drive an eighteen wheeler.

When the guy going west said he was tired he hadn't exaggerated.  He was completely fried.  When I got into his truck he stuck his head out of the back sleeper and said, "Your turn.  Go west.  Wake me in six hours."  He pulled his head back into the sleeper and was snoring in minutes.  I crawled over into the drivers seat and studied everything.  It was similar to the truck I just received my instructions in, so I was ready to go other than the wee little issue that he'd not showed me how to start the thing.  With the guy in the back sleeping I took my time studying everything.  When I felt I knew where everything was I started the engine.  I ground the gears horribly when I tried to put it into second gear, but didn't wake the sleeping trucker, so revved the engine as I was taught and tried again.  More grinding, but it went in gear this time.  Getting out of the truck stop's parking lot was frightening, but I managed without swapping paint.  Once on Interstate 70 it was easy, fun even.  In six hours when I woke the guy up I was exhausted myself, but a competent trucker.
He dropped his load in LA.  I made forty bucks unloading the truck for him, something known as "lumping". When we parted company I felt like I'd learned a new way to travel the country and a way to make spending money while doing it.  I could have went back east with this guy except I'd traveled this far to see the Pacific Ocean, something I hadn't accomplished yet.  I asked for directions to the ocean then walked in that direction with my thumb out.  The first guy to give me a ride was trouble.  I don't recall his name or even how the conversation evolved as it did, but in no time he'd explained that he and a few guys had some stuff going on and were looking for another guy.  He wouldn't tell me what it was but did invite me to stay at their place for the night.  It was getting late so I agreed.
They had a nice rented house in an area of LA called Woodland Hills.  There were five or six guys who lived there but I only met three of them.  The house was littered with guns and drugs.  I asked again what they were into and was told they'd tell me after we partied.  There were pills, which I didn't know anything about and pot.  I was given my choice of pills.  The three guys were eating them like candy, so I took a handful, pretended to swallow them with a beer, but dropped the pills in my shirt pocket instead.  When a joint was passed around I took it and faked an inhale.  I didn't do any of the drugs because I honestly didn't want to do them ever again.  (Thinking it through, this must have been after I was married in 1977, because before that I'd have smoked the pot.)  After the three of them were thoroughly stoned I asked what they were into. This time the guy who was their leader said armed robbery.  He said they had robbed everything from banks to drug dealers.  After that revelation he pulled an automatic pistol from behind a couch cushion.  He handed me the gun and said, "Welcome to the crew.  Get some sleep because we've got a job tomorrow."
I acted like I was asleep on the couch until an hour after they'd all gone to bed.  Once they were out I left. As I was leaving I noticed a motorcycle helmet upside down on a table near the door.  Inside the helmet were a set of keys and a wallet.  I took both.  The motorcycle was a nice Harley-Davidson.  I pushed it for half a block before cranking it and riding away.  It was three in the morning when I viewed the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  I parked the bike and walked across the sand and touched the water.  I wanted to stay longer, but felt the need to be gone before those guys woke.  I threw the gun I'd been given far into the ocean then rode north to San Francisco.  I dumped the Harley there.  From there I hitchhiked all the way to the Washington border, got bored with the west, turned around and hitched south again.
The wallet I stole from the armed robber crew had a Canadian driver's licenses in it under the name Alan Grant.  It worked well since Canadian driver's licenses back then lacked a photo.  It did have a description, but Alan Grant and I were close enough to match.  It also had several hundred dollars in it, which was useful as well.
The next interesting thing that occurred on this trip was on the outskirts of Denver.  I was hitchhiking west on Interstate 70 when a pickup truck stopped.  A guy who I assumed was a rancher introduced himself as Ruben Shaw.  I introduced myself as Alan Grant, from Ontario Canada.  (Ironic that I can remember all these names but not when this happened.  I even recall the name of the town on Alan Grant's license, but can't spell it.  Something like "Repentagency").  So Ruben Shaw asked if I had a driver's license.  I produced my new Canadian one.  He says, "Perfect.  I'll give you a ride if you drive so I can get some sleep."  I agreed and asked how far to go, to which he answered, "Until it runs out of gas."  Everyone had turned cryptic on me.  So I drove east on I-70 from Denver, having no idea how far we were going.  I had noticed that the truck had Colorado plates, so it couldn't be too far.
In two hours the truck ran out of gas.  I'd already figured out that it had two gas tanks so when the first tank was empty I flipped the switch for the second gas tank and the engine caught again.  Ruben Shaw slept through the slight change in speed so I kept going.  Colorado is a huge state.  It seemed like forever until we started getting close to Kansas.  When I realized we had only a few exits left in Colorado I woke Ruben Shaw.  He looked at the exit and said, take this one.  Ruben Shaw was impressed that I'd figured out how to switch his tanks and smart enough to realize I should wake him before going into Kansas.  He acknowledged that it was luck that I woke him at his exit, but he also said there's value in luck.  So Ruben Shaw offered me a job and a place to stay.
Ruben Shaw operated the only water drilling business in a two hundred mile range and he was good at it.  As luck would have it his assistant had quit after breaking Shaw's backhoe, which was why he'd driven all night to Denver.  To get parts to fix the backhoe.  He had a shop that also served as a barn for his horses.  The place had an apartment which Ruben liked to have lived in to have someone to look after the place since his shop wasn't near his house.  I worked for him for about a month.  There wasn't a lot to do in Burlington Colorado but I worked so hard there wasn't a lot of free time.  What free time I did have I spent on Ruben's dirt bike or his wonderful horse Black Jack.  Water drilling was an experience.  The places we put in wells were so remote it made little sense to me.  The ranches out there were measured in sections.  You never asked a man how many acres he had, always how many sections.  A section is one square mile, or 640 acres.  Those ranches were all ten or more sections.  Big places with cattle scattered all over the place.  The cows needed water, which we drilled.
I liked Ruben Shaw and his wife and young son a great deal.  I hated to leave, but I had to attend to something back home so I said my goodbyes and stuck out my thumb.  In 2001 when I was on the run I was driving west and by chance stopped in Burlington Colorado for gas.  Seeing the the place brought back memories.  I asked the gas station attendant if she knew Ruben Shaw.  She said sure, he's in a couple times a week.  I explained my connection to Ruben and said, "I'm glad Ruben's still alive."  "No," she said.  "I was talking about his son.  Ruben Senior died a few years.  You've missed him."  I'd always liked and respected Ruben Shaw.  I'd not thought of him for many years, but now that I knew he had passed it was hard for me to imagine him gone.

Sometimes you make good friends while hitchhiking.

Monday, January 25, 2016


I omitted this story from my memoir because I am unsure of when it happened and because it is such a strange story it's difficult to believe.  That said, I've been encouraged to write about all the interesting stuff. This qualifies.  Hitchhiking often brings about unusual convergences.  A normal person rarely hitchhikes and normal people rarely pick up hitchhikers.  I've covered many miles with my thumb so I have several interesting stories about hitchhiking.  I also have a few interesting stories from picking up hitchhikers.
My best guess is this happened in July of 1974, the day after I escaped from the Navy SP's at the Naval Training Center in Orlando.  I was seventeen years old.  Though unsure of the events leading up to this event, I am sure it was early in the day and I was hitchhiking on Interstate 95 North, outside of Daytona Beach Florida.  I was on the run (either from that first escape or something else) without ID, nervous about standing on the interstate with my thumb out.  This was one of those rare times when someone stopped after a few minutes.  The car was a Porsche.  I can't remember the model, but it wasn't a 911.  This one was small and boxy looking.  Both the front and rear of the car were snub-nosed.  It lacked the sleek lines Porsche is known for.  I believe the car was only produced for a few years, but I'm not sure about this.  It was a new car, so it would have been a 1973 or 1974 model.
The Porsche had South Carolina plates and was driven by a young guy, about twenty-one.  The car was new, still had it's new car smell.  We did the normal hitchhiker pickup small talk and got along fine.  He was a college student playing in Florida for a few months and was now headed to his home in Columbia South Carolina.  Columbia worked for me so he agreed to take me the entire way.  The car fascinated me, I mean I was seventeen and it was a Porsche, and a model I'd never seen nor heard of, so I asked questions.  He answered my questions but his answers lacked both detail and enthusiasm.  It didn't make me suspicious of him.  I figured he was just a rich kid who didn't think owning a new Porsche was a big deal.
After our initial chit chat died off I began to study the car.  It really was new.  Brand new.  It was more than the new car smell.  Everything else about the car indicated it hadn't been driven far.  Out of curiosity I looked at the odometer.  The car had less than 300 miles on it.  The guy said he'd been in Miami for two months. I'd also noticed a Miami car dealer's decal on the back before I got in.  I might have believed he'd bought the car in Miami a few days before going home were it not for the South Carolina plates.  With less than 300 miles this car had never been to South Carolina.
The guy was observant himself.  He saw me looking at the instrument panel then saw me doing the math in my head.  "You figured it out," he said.  "The car's stolen," I replied.  "You bothered by that," he asked. "Only if you can't drive fast if needed."  The guy laughed and relaxed.  I shared my story and he shared his. He was a college student and had went to Miami for the summer.  He was poor and went south to work a construction job with an uncle.  A week ago his old pickup truck died for good.  Without the truck he couldn't work, so decided to go home and get ready for school in the fall.  After pricing airline tickets he decided to steal the car.  He'd visited the Porsche dealer near a job site once and had noticed where they kept their keys, so that's where he went.  He added the plates from his truck and off he went.
Further down the road he devised a plan.  He really did live in Columbia so he'd rather not dump the stolen car there, so asked if I would be willing to drive it further for him.  It worked for me except I was broke. Didn't have a single coin in my pocket.  He got around this by filling the tank outside of Columbia and give me $20.  We stole a fresh set of plates so he could remove the ones registered to him. He didn't want me to know where he lived so I left him at a truck stop and drove away in the stolen Porsche.
I'm surprised I can't remember any other detail of this event.  Nine days after my escape in Orlando I turned myself in at Ft. Gordon Army base in Augusta Georgia.  I have a vague memory of asking my grandfather (Jack) to drive me to the base from his home in Aiken, South Carolina. I also have an even vaguer memory of leaving the Porsche at a bank parking lot in downtown Aiken. The more I think about it the more I think this was the case, but I'm not sure.  If so, I either I spent a week driving the Porsche around then went to my Grandparents home, or I went straight there and waited a week to turn myself in.  Whatever it was, it was the strangest thing to happen to me while hitchhiking.

You can read about more of Clayton's adventures in his autobiography "A Life Wasted." 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Third Time Drunk

The third time I got drunk was when I worked at the Pizza Hut part-time while stationed at Coast Guard search and rescue station Taylor's Island Maryland.  The event was the store's 1974 Christmas party.  The manager and I were the only guys who worked there, so the only guys at the private party.  The rest were young women, all attractive.  I'm eighteen years old so attracted to most women.  I started the party by telling everyone I didn't drink, which they thought was cute.  I stood my ground for an hour before I submitted to the pretty girl wanting me to suck salt off her hand.  Her name was Walda Kalowski.  She was twenty-two, a second grade teacher when she wasn't working at the Pizza Hut.  I ended up liking her so much I took her home to meet my mother.  This was the first time I'd licked salt off her hand and I liked it.

She passed me a shot glass and filled it with tequila.  I'd not tasted tequila before so the first shot was a shock.  I coughed and choked, sucked the lemon then licked salt off Walda's hand.  The bottle and glass passed around the circle and when it reached me again we repeated the process.  When it was my turn the third time Walda pulled her shirt back and poured salt on her neck.  This was a little too much for my rather puritan nature.  My reaction was to reach behind me and grab a twelve ounce beer glass.  This I filled with tequila.  To the cheers of my coworkers I turned the glass up.  I leaned back as I drank and was conscious of emptying the glass before I fell back into a shelf full of clean beer glasses.  I was instantly crap face drunk.
I woke the next morning in the Pizza Hut's girls restroom.  I had my arm around a toilet filled with my vomit.
My head hurt more than it ever had.  Eventually I got up and made it into the restaurant.  The doors were locked and no one else was there.  I saw my car in the parking lot but couldn't find my car keys nor the store's door key.  It was 9:30 am, which was a problem since I was suppose to be on the base for duty at 8:00.  At a search and rescue station when one guy didn't show up his opposite couldn't leave.  The guy I was suppose to relieve was going home for Christmas and anxious to get going.  I knew he was going to be upset so I started looking for my keys.  What I found was a note on the register saying that my keys were in the safe.  Even stupid drunk I knew I needed to get to the base to relieve my opposite so he could go home, so I kept trying to leave.  My coworkers knew not to let me drive, so they took my car keys and locked them in the safe.  Their logic was that once I was able to remember the safe's four position combination I should be sober enough to drive.  It was a pretty clever plan.  It was an hour before I got the safe open.  By that point I'd drank a quart of water and two cups of coffee.  I was still drunk, but able to drive back to the base.  The guy waiting for me never forgave me for being so late.
I swore I'd never drink again.  For the most part, I didn't.