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Friday, July 30, 2010

No Pennies in My Pockets

For today’s post we have a guest author: my father. In 1969 he submitted the following story to Reader’s Digest, and worked for months with an editor who wanted to publish it. Then the editor suddenly died, and the manuscript was returned to Dad. I thought you might enjoy it.

No Pennies in My Pockets

by Lt. Col. Robert E. Whaley, USAF

For twenty-three years I have not put a penny in my pocket, nor have I put on a garment without first searching the pockets for one. It’s become a habit so deeply seated that it could not possibly be broken, forgotten, or disregarded. If I am reasonably close to my car, house, or office, I hold the pennies in my hand until getting to a place where they can be put and saved. Otherwise I given them to friends, add them to tips, drop them in plant pots, or throw them away (only to sometimes have them returned by helpful strangers).

It was 1942. I was a newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, age 23, stationed at Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas. Mixed in with a whole squadron of characters whose basic philosophy was “Let’s tear up something or somebody right now” was a fearless little ex-Ohio State wrestler, Lt. Richard G. Varney (later a war hero in china, and working for the FAA last I heard). Varney and I were best friends and he was a great guy, but as a baby must have gotten an overdose of demon hormone pills; he was happiest when he could mash someone emotionally out of shape.

We had finished lunch in Tucson and was preparing for a return flight to El Paso. After I paid the check, some pennies were included with my change. As I slipped them into my pocket, Varney grabbed my arm, “Surely you aren’t going to put pennies in your pocket. Haven’t you heard that’s bad luck?” I could tell by the glint in his eye he had just then thought this up.
“Well, it is and if you put those pennies in your pocket you are in deep serious trouble. That’s a fact.”
“If I put a quarter in my pocket, I suppose the trouble will be 25 times as bad?”
“If it’s in with the pennies, yes.”
“Sounds like something you just invented. Let’s go.”
“Don’t ever say I didn’t warn you.” He walked away grinning.

Each of us got into separate C-43’s, taxied out to the runway, and took off. Just prior to breaking ground I heard a “pop” sound, but the runway was rough and I thought nothing of it. The plane flew beautifully.

Approaching Briggs I radioed for landing information, dived at the tower, gave them a buzz job, pulled up, laughed at the bitter complaints of the tower operators about smart aleck kid show-off pilots, received landing instructions, and came on in. The landing touch-down was perfect. Then it happened. There was a violent lurch to the right, and that previously beautifully behaved aircraft became a thrashing, enraged, uncontrollable monster, seemingly bent on destruction of itself and me. The spinning, twisting, bucking action with me hitting brakes, blasting throttle, and fighting controls was accompanied by sounds of crunching metal, splintering wood, and breaking glass.

I ended up off the airstrip about ten feet from our Squadron Orderly Room door. The plane was a wreck, but I was unhurt. As I climbed out of the cockpit, the Squadron Operations Officer was there glowering at me. I asked, “Is this where you wanted it parked, Sir?” He didn’t laugh. The right tire had blown on takeoff, and, as expected, Varney soon commented impishly, “You had pennies in your pocket.”

My next flight was a checkout in the B-10 (it will take an old-timer to remember that bomber), and it was an event since it marked my first venture into a big bird. I knew little about the B-10, its systems, or flying characteristics, but in those days to merely ask a question might have been taken as an indication of fear. The crew chief showed me how to start the engines and I was ready. But before I could taxi, I was signaled to hold as a young Chaplain’s assistant came running, wanting to go along. It was to be his first plane ride. The crew chief put him aboard, adjusted my passenger’s chute, hooked up the interphone, and waved us away.

The takeoff thrilled and delighted me, particularly because I had so much trouble trying to taxi the big beast I’d wondered if I could actually fly it. I could.

We climbed to the north, leveled off at 16,000 feet, and proceeded as briefed to a point forty miles out before turning inbound to begin tracking runs for the AA batteries. With no warning the left engine sputtered and quit. While I sat there doing nothing except wondering what to do, the right engine quit. That was all the engines there were. It was frighteningly quiet.

At the first indication of trouble I’d automatically turned toward El Paso and lowered the nose to maintain flying speed. The old B-10 was soaring like a buzzard. I felt we could reach the field easily and radioed them I was coming in for a dead-stick landing. The field was postage stamp size, and if I misjudged my one and only approach in the least, my plane would become a flaming coffin. The odds against me getting away with it successfully were at least fifty to one, but I didn’t know that then.

The Chaplain’s assistant, whom I had forgotten, scared me by saying suddenly and loudly into the intercom, “Lieutenant, I’m going to jump out.”
“No, no, wait. We’re all right. I’m pretty sure we can make it.”
“Do you order me not to jump?” He obviously needed to do something other than just sit there, and he wanted guidance.
“I order you to sit still and shut up.”
Soon thereafter his voice came through again, thin, quiet, and greatly calmed. “Is it all right if I pray?”
“Yes.” Annoyed at first by this disturbance, I then thought it over and called him back. “And while you’re at it, please remember to mention me.”

Either his prayers or mine (I decided to help him) were answered, for mysteriously we reached Briggs with altitude to spare, circled three-fourths of the way around it, landed nicely on the first third of the landing area (no formal runways in those days), and came to an uneventful stop well short of the boundary fence. Amid the fire trucks, crash vehicles, ambulances, and the many onlookers was, of course, Varney. “Have any pennies in your pocket?” he wanted to know (I did). At the Officer’s Club that night, the banter was relentless:

“Hey, Moe, did you ever hear about the penny-dumb pilot?”
“He crashes.”
“Every day?”
“Every day.”
“If he keeps putting pennies in his pocket, he’ll soon find out if they come from heaven.”
“Not him. He’s on a flight plan to another place.”
“The hell, you say?”
“That’s right”

A few days later Varney and I were returning at dusk in formation with two of our new A-20s; he was the lead aircraft. As we buzzed the tower, the field and ground objects were easily visible, but after we chandelled and fanned out for landing pattern spacing, I lost sight of the field. Boundary lights had not been lit, and while I could not detect the landing area edges, I could see Varney’s plane up in front of me. Therefore I merely maneuvered to touch down where he did. What I didn’t know was that he was landing long. As his A-20 neared the fence, Varney rode his brakes and managed to ground loop short of it. No chance of that for me. I went straight through the fence and out into the boondocks. Along the way I hit a six-inch steel fence post, ripped a big hole in the nose section, and generally washed out an airplane I loved. If it would have helped, I’d have cried. Varney quietly suggested, “Quit putting pennies in your pocket,” and then wisely ran.

Though not at all convinced this silly theory of “pennies in the pocket” was bad luck, I was beginning to wonder about when, where, and by what snake I had been bitten. While in this state of mind I was flying around the local pattern at Biggs in PQ-8, a single seat modified Cover Cadet with tricycle gear, equipped for radio control flying. Suddenly for no apparent reason the engine quit. I could have and should have bailed out right then, for the desert below me was patched with scrub growth and humped with eight-foot boondocks (mounds of sand). I tried to make the field, but could not. Turning into the wind at the last moment, I touched down between boondocks, wiped off both wings, but otherwise avoided hitting any solid substances during the landing roll until almost stopped. Then the nose wheel struck a clump of bear grass dead center, which stood the plane upright nose down and there it balanced. Finally, though I was rooting for a different result, it toppled over gently on its back, hopelessly encasing me in the cockpit. I was unable to move more than two or three inches in any direction. As pilots always do, though often cautioned not to, I released my seat belt without thinking or attempting to break my fall, and dropped about two inches. This resulted in one of the most surprising and severe jolts I’ve ever experienced. It was much like the jar of inadvertently stepping off a curb, except for one very noticeable difference: my neck snapped. For a moment I thought I had broken it. With all my weight resting on my head there was no way to move, turn around, or get relief. And so I remained, rolled up, upside down, in as uncomfortable and cramped position as I can imagine for three and a half hours before search aircraft spotted me. (My thoughts, actions, reactions, and behavior during that period will someday be the sole subject of a nine-thousand page book.) A ground party arrived in minutes, righted the plane, lifted me out still rolled up with knees under my chin, ignored my profane protests, pulled me straight, and put me on a stretcher.

In the circle of faces looking down on me as I lay there was Varney’s. He was serious and obviously concerned when he said, “Bob, maybe you had better quit putting pennies in your pocket.”

I agreed. While pennies could in no way imaginable influence flying, I had been involved in three major accidents and one very dangerous incident in less than a month. All my troubles had started with Varney deviling me about pennies. Something, it seemed, had to be done if I was to be around long—so I quit carrying pennies in my pockets.

It wouldn’t be right to say life became uneventful. Those days each turn of the hour hand was likely to provide exciting events, both on the ground and in the air, for the young Air Force pilot. Remember also that these were war years, but there were no accidents, incidents, or unusually close calls for me for two years.

Then it was 1944. I was a Captain, Commander of PQ Target Section, temporarily stationed in Rio Hato, Panama. Our purpose there was to simultaneously test radio-controlled aircraft in tropical salt air and run live target high altitude training missions for anti-aircraft troops. There had not been many successful missions as the heat, humidity, and salt air were lousing up aircraft servo units and electrical components considerably more than had been anticipated. I was increasingly irritable and impatient because of our poor showing.

One morning after we had been up until three o’clock the night before getting ten target aircraft ready, I was awakened to be told that none would function satisfactorily. In a state of sleepy fury, I grabbed a flying suit and stormed to the field. Our test pilot tried to explain various malfunctions to me as I climbed into the seat of the questionable PQ-14 for a quick trip around the field before we launched it without a pilot. I radioed the CQ-7 (target control aircraft) that I was ready, and down the runway we both went, with them following and controlling my aircraft. Just after becoming airborne my plane went into a left climbing turn, and I yelled for them to straighten me out; they replied that their control was negative. My disgust was positive, but grimly I disengaged the remote control unit and took over flying manually. Hmm. The controls remained locked in position, nor would the override spring work. I almost ruptured myself trying to move them. Bailing out was the only answer, except that for the first time in my military career I’d gotten into a cockpit without a chute.

I was calm, wide awake, and interested. In analyzing the situation I noted the plane would climb with full power, and descend with power off, but the bank to the left remained unchanged and unchangeable. Looking down I saw that by chopping the throttled and lowering the landing gear I would hit short of mid-field. That was obviously as good as things would get, so down I came in a left hand diving approach. Timing was critical. If power was applied too soon, I ‘d either zoom by without touching the ground or carry too far down field and go into the jungle; if applied too late, I would hit the ground in a dive position. The tendency would be to break the descent too soon, so I steeled myself to wait. I did wait, and judged things pretty well. The plane slammed into the ground hard, hitting the left gear. The wings broke off; the engine broke off; the rear fuselage broke off; the cockpit, with me inside, rolled, bounced, careened, and slid a thousand feet down the field. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I wasn’t even bruised. Debris was quickly cleared away, and another plane with a different pilot was checked and launched on the mission.

Back in my office I suddenly wished that Varney was around. He couldn’t say I caused this one because of pennies in my pocket. But then I noticed the flying suit I’d hurriedly pulled on was not mine. Feeling around in the many zippered pockets, I found, as somehow I was sure I would, a penny.

Whether from that or as normal reaction to the crash, my knees gave way and I collapsed on the office floor. Almost two hours had gone by since my wild ride ended. A check at the hospital revealed I was sane, sober, and perfectly healthy. I changed that sober condition in short order.

Viewed from any angle this had to be something other than coincidence. Previously I might have been willing to believe power of suggestion affected my subconscious and caused difficulties, but now what possible explanation could account for the unusual mishaps which occurred only when I had pennies in my pocket, whether I knew about them or not? Neither was there any identifiable relation of associates, time, geography, suggestion, mission, or experience. What diabolical thing was happening to me and no one else—and why?

Since 1944 there’ve been no pennies in my pockets. I have flown over half the earth’s surface, dropped bombs, fired guns, photographed, refueled century-series fighters in flight, been fired at with rockets, cannon, and machine guns, made below minimum instrument landings, penetrated thunderstorms, run missions through typhoons, and circled five thousand feet above the detonation of an atomic bomb my crew and I had dropped (at Bikini atoll during tests in the 1950s). I have not even scratched a plane, merely experiencing the normal moments of panic and infrequent periods of stark terror which typically dot the life of every career pilot.

I’ve never met a person who seriously regarded any of this as more than interesting or a laughing matter—until, that is, they get ready to take a flight with me. Then they invariably seek assurance (sometimes pretending it’s all in fun) that I’ll not be carrying pennies. None really believe it would matter, yet somehow are unwilling to participate in any further experimentation. I feel basically the same. What would happen if I began putting pennies in my pockets after all these years?

No one will ever know.

Dad himself later wrote me: “The unpardonable mistake I made was ever giving this penny theory a single thought. I should not have conducted tests on an evident negative, or been angered at nothing, or dwelled upon a penny-associated analysis of happenings. I addicted myself with repeated injections of psychological poison. The mind has awesome power, and if one chooses to be ridiculously irrational, the subconscious is often mischievous enough to accommodate whatever incongruity can be conjured up. My accidents were all naturally caused and technically understandable, but I tangled my reasoning and blundered into a mental mix-up.” I blithely suggested he start carrying pennies again, but he shied away from the possibility. “Let’s let that particular ill-tempered imaginary tiger sleep through eternity,” he replied.
Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Deathbed Test

Have a big decision to make? Take a job, start or terminate a relationship, move to another state or even a new country, do something that might make an enemy, or, worse, be illegal?  How should we make major choices which might be life altering? 

When I retired from law teaching in 2004, the graduating class asked me to give a talk to them in the law school auditorium in the last week before we all left law school. My little speech was entitled “Five Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Graduating From Law School,” and this post is about one of those: the “deathbed test.” First a little introduction.

I was riding is a cab in Washington, D.C., once when some idiot driver cut us off and nearly caused an accident. I was furious (given that my possible unexpected death bothers me), but the driver was more or less nonplussed. How, I asked him, amazed, did he stay so calm when other drivers behaved like morons? He laughed and said it happens so much that if he let it upset him every time, he’d have to quit driving. “When I first started,” he elaborated, “I had the usual reactions—calling out words like ‘jerk’ and foul language, and then fuming about it all day, but I learned to stop that.” “How,” I asked, impressed. He smiled at me in the mirror. “I ask myself will this be important next year? The answer’s obvious, and I can go back to driving happily enough.”

The deathbed test is just an extension of that piece of wisdom. Suppose that you get to live a very long life and in your nineties are lying on your deathbed for two whole weeks or more. Of course you’ll have plenty of time to review your entire life, going over both the good and the bad. For some things you slap your head and say, “How could I have . . . (fill in the blank: married that jerk, agreed to work for Uncle Al, gotten drunk and thought it was okay to drive that Friday, etc.)?” For other memories you’ll laugh out loud with the pleasure of what happened. “Taking her hand at that moment was perfect!” “Leaving Columbus was the smartest thing I ever did!” “Throwing a party for myself when I turned 50 was such a great idea!” and so on.

Life is always a mystery, and its decisions are frequently gambles. But deep inside there’s almost always a feeling, one way or another, as to what is ultimately the best thing to do. I suggest that when you’re in such a pickle, you take a moment to ponder the long view. Ask yourself the deathbed question: “On that future bed, dying, thinking it all over, what will I remember about this choice? Did I think it through enough? Will I be pleased with my decision? Or will I want to go back in time and slap myself hard?”

This won’t always help, of course, but you’ll be surprised how often it does make things clearer. A little “reverse hindsight” like this allows your future self to have input into the big moments of your life.

In another blog I’ll pass on my other thoughts from that graduation lecture, particularly “How To Make Ethical Decisions,” which I drummed into my law students for decades, knowing they were about to go into the legal jungle where messy wrong choices can lead to big problems like disbarment and/or jail.

Related Posts:

“How To Make Ethical Decisions,” December 12, 2010;

“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010;

“Life's Little (But Important) Rules,” April 23, 2011;

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog”;

Friday, July 23, 2010

Buying Moonshine in the Wilds of Tennessee

I joined the Indiana University Indianapolis Law School, where I first started teaching, in January of 1970 (see “How I Became a Law Professor,” January 27, 2010). That summer two of the members of the faculty, Ronald Polston and Rodric Schoen and I (for reasons I don’t remember—this sort of thing was not in my usual repertoire, not even at age 26) decided to hike the Appalachian Trail from eastern Tennessee through the Great Smokey Mountain Park into North Carolina. I decided to keep a journal of this adventure, and the first entry (marked “Indianapolis 8/23/70, 5:40 a.m.”) simply says “If God had meant us to be awake at this hour he wouldn’t have given us daylight. Ron, our putative leader, promises me the trail will be all downhill in an uphill sort of way. What am I doing?”

We drove to Cosby, Tennessee, left Ron’s van at a small motel there, and then the hike began in earnest. At the motel the night before Ron had snored with the stutter of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner, but he assured us that this wouldn’t be the case once he was out on the trail. I was suspicious of this. Where are the people he went camping with last year? The year before? Why weren’t they with us? Perhaps I should have made a few phone calls.

We began our adventure at Pisgah National Forest at Davenport Gap, and then climbed Snowbird Mountain and proceeded for four days along a 40-some mile trail roughly paralleling the northern part of the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The backpacks each weighed over 30 pounds, but my shoulders soon explained to me that that was an error, and, in fact, mine weighed several hundred pounds. To make the journey more enjoyable, Ron decided to quit smoking (having been a three pack-a-day man for all his life). As you might guess, he only mentioned his desire for a cigarette every time we passed a leaf. Climbing was no fun, but the views were spectacular, and, for all my bitching, we had a good time and a number of mini-adventures.

Finally we arrived at Hot Springs, North Carolina, where Ron and Rod announced we would now march back 41 miles to Cosby, Tennessee. In one of the greatest persuasive speeches of my life, I talked them into waiting there while I hitchhiked back to Cosby alone to fetch our vehicle. After some grumbling, they acquiesced, and I set off down the road, thumb out when cars passed by. This seemed like a better plan than it turned out to be. I’d forgotten how much walking (on my very sore feet) was involved in hitchhiking 40 miles along relatively deserted highways (one could sleep quite safely in the northbound lane of NC 209, though the southbound lane, the direction I was not going, was bumper-to-bumper). The sun was hot, my body ached all over, I hadn’t bathed in four days so that I emitted an interesting odor, and for some reason I had stupidly carried my backpack with me instead of leaving it with the two Rs. For over nine miles I hiked without success in thumbing a ride until a fancy sports car blew by me in a cloud of dust, only to screech to a halt a hundred yards ahead, and then slowly back up to where I stood. The driver was a handsomely dressed man in his thirties who grinned at me and said, “I wasn’t going to stop, but you should patent that look of rejection. Your shoulders slumped and all the air went out of you—it broke my heart and I just couldn’t keep going.” I climbed in and, due to the olfactory experience I immediately provided him, he probably regretted his change of mind at once. However, he gamely took me a good part of the way, before wishing me well as he deposited me at the turn in the road, not more than twenty miles from that motel in Cosby.

Having then walked less than a mile, I was pleased when an older couple in a pickup truck came rumbling slowly by me, stopped, and waved me aboard. Nice people, but they looked and sounded like Ma and Pa Kettle, and they were amused that I was a Yankee. “Lost are you?” Pa Kettle asked with a big satisfied grin. “No,” I replied, “I’m just trying to get to the motel in Cosby.” Pa nodded as if I’d agreed with him. “Always having to rescue you Yankees when you come down here and get lost in the hills.” Glad of the ride, I just smiled and thanked them both for helping me get my bearings. To my surprise, after about a mile, the truck suddenly pulled off the country road and into a little farm, where apparently the Kettles lived. “Just come in and sit awhile,” I was told. Bamboozled, and a bit alarmed, I went into their kitchen and was served a tall glass of ice tea. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I finally asked if I should resume hitchhiking. “Nah,” Pa told me. "Done resting, I guess. Let’s get going.”

Back in the truck he told me that he went to high school with the woman who owned the motel, and was quite garrulous until I innocently asked him if moonshine was made around here. He slammed on the brakes and, brow lowered, eyes squinting in suspicion, Pa snarled, “You a REVENUER??? Feeling the heat of his concern, I babbled convincingly that I was not. “What are you?” he drawled, still unconvinced. “I’m a . . ." I began, starting to say “law professor” until it occurred to me that the word “law” wouldn’t calm him down one bit, so I simply chose “teacher.” “Not a revenuer, son?” “No, sir.” He nodded to himself for a few seconds, thinking it over. Finally, he said, “Want to buy some moonshine? Just a pint? Ten bucks?”

Now there’s a question. Tell me—what would you say in this situation? “No” might offend him, and with “yes” I risked being branded a federal agent cleverly disguised as a smelly Yankee, with who knows what consequences. I gulped and managed, “I guess I’d like that.” He started the truck, turned onto a better road, but immediately stopped at a general store. Taking my money, he shooed me out, and then drove off, ordering me to stay put, saying he’d be right back. Bamboozled again, I just watched him disappear, hoping he was a man of his word; my backpack was still in the truck.

But Pa Kettle soon did reappear with the promised purchase in a paper bag. It was a clear liquid in a jar, and certainly looked real enough. Then Pa carted me to the motel, where I thanked him and he flirted with the motel owner, to whom I paid a dollar to take a quick shower [AND IT CAME TO PASS THAT I WAS CLEAN!), before driving off to fetch Ron and Rod back in North Carolina.

About a year later, having had a number of other drinks, a friend and I, timidly, tried the moonshine, worried that we’d instantly go blind or grow an extra toe or something. It tasted mildly alcoholic, nothing more. Happy as I am with my existing number of toes, that was fine with me.

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dad and the Cop Killer

Perry Johnson, though only fifteen, had a lengthy record of thefts and burglaries, and had been through the prison system a number of times when on the evening of March 25, 1972, he broke into Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School in Dallas, Texas, to raid the candy machine. This triggered a silent alarm and a young patrolman named Allen Camp responded quickly, coming upon Johnson almost immediately. Seeing how young the boy was, Officer Camp holstered his gun, and when the youngster fled, gave chase. Unfortunately the high school hall was wet from a recent janitorial scrubbing, and Camp slipped, fell, hit his head and was briefly knocked out. Johnson promptly returned, unholstered Camp’s .357 magnum revolver, and shot him in the chest as he lay on the floor, just coming to. Camp’s heart exploded, spreading blood everywhere in massive amounts. Johnson himself was soaked with it. Allen Camp, 21, had been on the force exactly one year and ten days.

On the witness stand at Johnson’s own trial later that year he testified that this killing was his “first big offense.”

In the Texas juvenile criminal world (both inside and outside of prison) word had gotten around that if you were under seventeen you could get away with murder. Johnson was apparently testing that theory, and the Dallas District Attorney, Henry Wade, had had enough. Perry Johnson was tried as an adult, with the prosecution asking for life imprisonment (parole being possible after twenty years). This caused a stir in the local community—putting a 15 year-old away for at least twenty years?

Robert Whaley had only been at the Dallas District Attorney’s Office a little under two years at this point (he’d graduated from law school in 1970—see “Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer” March 28, 2010). Nonetheless, his talents in the courtroom led to his being one of the two prosecutors on this case. When the trial began, there was no question of the defendant’s guilt, so the arguments were all about what punishment would fit the crime. Defense counsel pushed hard on the fact of the defendant’s youth, and, while conceding that his client needed help, urged the jury (six men, six women) to sentence the boy to no more than five to ten years.

When Dad did his part of the summation to the jury much of what he said was reported verbatim in the press. “Killers come in all sizes, shapes, and sexes. Guns kill people in the hands of women and young people just as well as in the hands of anyone else.” Turning to the defendant, Dad told the jury, “Look at him! He smokes like an adult, he drinks like an adult, and he committed a crime like an adult. And he’s dangerous!” At this point Johnson snarled at Dad, who promptly used that. “Look, he even snarls like a cornered animal! Only a child? How about this child?” Dad pulled the blood-soaked policeman’s blouse from the evidence bag and held it up for the jury to see. “Officer Camp was only 21—here’s what’s left of that child!”

At this point Officer Camp’s widow ran from the courtroom, sobbing. It was a horrible moment, but Dad let it hang in the air for some time before he concluded by softly telling the jury, “If Perry Johnson kills another person in Dallas County let it be the doing of someone other than this jury.”

My mother, sister, and her husband all attended the trial, and when the jury retired Dad suggested they should go have lunch. Everyone in the building (spectators, the press, the court personnel) were startled on learning that the jury was returning immediately, and Dad’s luncheon party had to be stopped at the courthouse door and hurried back inside. If a jury comes back early, that’s almost always bad for the prosecution, so it was with great unease Dad took his seat in the courtroom. But in just 25 minutes the jury had found Johnson guilty of murder with malice, and then sentenced him to life imprisonment.

One odd thing happened thereafter. Every year at Christmas time, Perry Johnson sent my father a card. He told Dad that putting him in prison was the right thing to do, not only for Johnson himself, who couldn’t function on the outside, but because, in his words, “it saved others from more harm.” The cards continued until Dad died in 1980.

Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
"Goodbye to St. Paddy's Day," March 2, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Marijuana and Me

Yes, damn it, I know that to most everyone in authority it’s an evil weed and should be avoided. But marijuana has had its admirers. In 2737 b.c., Chinese Emperor Shennong named it as one of the “superior elixirs of immortality.” And (as Carl Sagan once said about himself), marijuana was a positive influence in my life, and this post tells you why.

I have already written about how I happened to roll the first joint I ever smoked (see “I Married a Hippy,” April 14th, 2010), and while Charleyne and I indulged off and on thereafter, our major foray into a life where the evil weed was used more or less every free evening came in 1984 when we returned to Indianapolis from a year in North Carolina (where I had been a Visiting Professor at U. of N.C. for a school year), and we moved into a new condo on the south side of the city. Our next door neighbors were a vibrant young couple we shall call John and Mary, and even though we were older and should have been stronger, they seduced us deep into the marijuana jungle (okay, it was mutual all around, but I prefer thinking I was seduced, so live with it). They were and are great people, both having a tremendous sense of humor and fun. “Mary” is a frequent reader of this blog, and, alas, that leads to some censorship here. Often joining us was another sinner and neighbor named Roy Gabriel (see “Masa Comes For Xmas,” June 19, 2010), and a wonderful time was had by all (there are pictures, but once again I don’t have the courage to post them).

How was this good for me in any way other than being fun? Because marijuana has one incredible attribute that is very useful. It forces you to concentrate on one thing at a time in great detail. It might be the hairs on the back of your hand, or, as in this case, it might be whether or not you have been lying to yourself all your life about your sexual orientation.

I had always been strongly attracted to men, but was horrified by that urge, and repressed it. There is a character in a play who late in life is asked what she thought about her son’s homosexuality when she first knew of it, and she replies, “I tried not to think about it, so I don’t know what I thought.” My reaction exactly. Growing up as I did in a homophobic society, I was as homophobic as anyone else. All the current evidence was that homos were sick, sinners, and criminals. That was certainly not the life I had planned for Douglas Whaley, who, being able to leap tall buildings in a couple of bounds or so, could surely lick this minor problem.

It also helped that I thought women were sexy, and while I had no homosexual experiences until I was 25 (and then only one), I went to bed with a number of women. So—don’t you see—that meant I was straight. I remember walking across the campus at the University of Maryland when I was 21 and thinking, “I’ve never had a sexual experience with a man, so, ergo, I’m a heterosexual.” If that sounds stupid, it was. But the issue was so fuzzy in my mind it was just this side of blank.

In reality I have the same attitude about having sex with women that I have about bowling. It’s something that I’ve done, that I enjoyed (I once was in two leagues), that I was even good at; but if I never did it again, that would be okay. Somehow I seemed to be making “bowling” into a major part of my life.

Marijuana solved the problem. If I smoked it alone, with no one around to distract me, I could focus on the truth of my desires. What I found terrified me. I remember having a number of such sessions, each an hour or more in length, sitting in a completely dark room with no music, just rethinking my life. Things were never the same thereafter (see “The Aging Gay Activist,” March 24, 2010).

July 15th is marked on my calendar as “Pot Day” because it was that day in 2004 when I was told in stern tones by my cardiologist that my marijuana days were over (it makes the heart beat faster, the last thing I needed). So I quit, and I never thought much about it again.

But—wow—it was a great run while it lasted.
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hans and the Flag Counter

When my son and daughter-in-law announced last year that they were not planning on having children, that was (sigh) a blow. One of the strange consequences was that I started looking at my possessions, so carefully saved for decades, and wondering what to do with them. Clayton and Maria might want some minimal number of things, but I’d really been counting on passing items further down the line to descendents yet unknown. Now what? Ebay was the answer, so with little steps at first, and now a flood of activity, I’m selling off the things in my life, and having a good time doing it.

In 1976, when I moved to Columbus to come out, I began buying, and, by the end of that year, subscribing, to the award-winning gay newsmagazine, The Advocate (twice it beat out Time and Newsweek for best newsmagazine of the year). It’s published every other month, and I’ve saved all my copies through the decades; they now fill sixteen large boxes. As I became more experienced at selling items on eBay, it occurred to me that I no longer needed this collection, which was gathering dust in my attic. Surely somebody would have a worthwhile use for these historic magazines, so I put them up for auction on eBay. I warned prospective buyers that postage would be a major concern for any auction winner, but I was not prepared for what happened. The winning buyer was Hans from Ghent, Belgium!

Hans (see photo) and I began a series of emails about his purchase, with me worrying that the cost of getting the magazines to Belgium would be prohibitive. However, Hans has a major collection of gay books and other items, and he is very enthusiastic about somehow adding all those Advocates to his library. He’d lived in the United States for five years in Florida, having fond memories of that experience, is a former gay activist himself, has a M.A. in philosophy, and is studying to become a librarian while working for the international section of the Belgian railroads. His description of his gay collection is very impressive. Hans suggested using the United States Postal System’s international M-bag system for shipping books as cheaply as possible to foreign countries, so I looked into that. At first my local post office said that M-bags (originally used by missionaries to ship bibles overseas—hence, I suppose, the “M”) could not be used for magazines, but after I did a little research, I found that was untrue, and, grudgingly, my post office agreed to take Hans’s first shipment of two boxes. The amount? It was $172! Knowing the Hans did not have a great deal of discretionary income, I was dismayed.

The Koreans have a saying that “things belong to those who want them most.” That seemed to apply here, and by now I had developed a firm determination that these magazines would somehow end up with Hans in Belgium. So I wrote him and suggested the following arrangement, but to understand it you first have to know about my flag counter.

I first started this blog in mid-December, and when I did so sent out a hundred or more emails to friends and colleagues, inviting them to visit the site. It didn’t occur to me to begin keeping a record of the number who did so until a month later, when I signed up for a service called “Flag Counter.” It not only keeps a record of visitors, but identifies them by country, sporting a little flag for each nation. I don’t know how many people visited the blog in the first month, but I racked up fifty visitors almost right away, so it had to be in the hundreds. My first foreign visitor was from the U.K., the next from Iran (!), and then one from Russia. I became intrigued with getting as many flags on that counter as possible. [Should you care to keep up with the tally yourself, visit the post entitled “Flag Counter,” January 12, 2010 (click on a flag to identify the country).]

So I told Hans to forget any payment for the collection itself, and then added that I would help him finance the postage for future shipments by absorbing $15.00 of the postage for every new flag (not each visitor) that appeared on my blog. Hans plunged into this task with vigor. Belgium’s flag appeared immediately and he also began reading selected blog entries. He posted the nicest comment to “My Heart Belonged To Andrew” [February 17, 2010], which I promptly called to the attention of Andrew’s mother and stepfather, who were much pleased by it.

Then Hans ran into a snag. While certain friends of his in France, the Netherlands, and Germany have been willing to visit (and even return to) the blog, many of his friends (he contacted over 30) were afraid to click on the blog link lest it spread a virus. He’s working on that problem now.

So that’s the story of Hans and the Flag Counter. But if you’re interested in helping us out here, I’ll also take $15.00 off of Hans’s future postage bills for every new flag that appears on the flag counter, no matter who generated it. If you have a friend in a country whose flag is not currently on the counter, and think that person might be amused (or horrified in some fascinated way) by my blog, see if you can run up a new flag on the counter and contribute to my international effort to get those sixteen heavy boxes into Hans’s collection in Belgium. We would both appreciate it.

Related post: “About This Blog,” August 23, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

“I Don’t Do Science”

Charleyne, my ex-wife, is a ballroom dancer, and at one of these events she was talking to a young man in his twenties. At some point he made an assertion that seemed obviously wrong to her, so she remarked, “All the scientific evidence is to the contrary.” His reply: “I don’t do science.” Her dry response: “Do you do gravity?”

Not do science? How does the young man think his iPhone works? Magic? It terrifies me that anyone thinks it’s all right to go through life making decisions based on nothing more than “I heard it somewhere” (it used to be “I read it somewhere,” but for too many young people those days are past). In a world of instant communication of ideas across the globe, wrong information is not only unfortunate, but can be harmful, even deadly. The idea, being deliberately spread in Africa, that condoms cause AIDS, for example, makes me want to run screaming into the front yard, tearing at my hair, adding to my neighbors’ suspicions that I’m too weird for shoes.

I’ve ranted about such things in other posts (see particularly “Superstitions,” March 21, 2010), and I’ll try not to repeat myself other than to say that all my life I’ve striven to know what is true and what is not. Is there any valid quarrel with such a goal? How I decide what’s true or not is a matter of considering the wisdom that others have gleamed through their efforts, investigations, discussions, tests, and their detailing of the history of everything we’ve done on the planet. I’m a lawyer, and I want evidence before I act. Don’t you? If there’s no evidence to guide us, well then, of course, we must make the best decision we can based on the facts we do know. But those last words are the key: based on the facts. Not based on rumor (“Obama is a Muslim”) or wishes (“A guardian angel watches over my every move”) or ridiculous theories that the slightest investigation would show to be false (“Homosexuality is caused by an overly protective mother and an absent father”).

Most people reading this will shrug their shoulders and say, “So what if people have mistaken assumptions?” The answer is that mistaken assumptions get acted upon, and can do major damage. The “Intelligent Design” theory of creation continues to demand that its conclusions be taught in the schools alongside (or instead of) evolution. What could be wrong with presenting both sides, they argue? The answer is that schools only teach what can be proven. Evolution is undoubted by anyone exploring the issue without previous bias. The evidence is simply overwhelming—see Richard Dawkins’ latest book, laying it all out in great detail, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But the constant pressure of the ID crowd leads to the dumbing-down of the elementary and high school biology curriculum. Depressingly, most science teachers avoid or give short shrift to evolution lest benighted parents protest. So the United States is producing students who know little or nothing about this important topic, and the rest of the world justly laughs at us for being controlled by these irrational forces.

I have a good friend who, alas, believes in astrology, and he should stop reading now. Any scientific investigation of astrology shows there’s nothing there (see the Wikipedia entry on “Astrology” for a discussion of the research). Ah, well, but it’s harmless, you may say. No, it’s not. Ronald Reagan used astrology to guide his presidential decisions! When I was in law school I was dating another law student, and things began to be serious. She casually mentioned that we could never marry. “Why not?” I asked, astonished. “Because you’re a Libra and I’m a (I forget what sign she said), and they should never marry because they’re incompatible.” I dropped her immediately. She was right. We were incompatible: she believed in ruling her life according to astrological charts and the idea horrified me. When I practiced law in Chicago, my very young secretary also believed in astrology, so one time I wrote a week’s worth of predictions for her (“Water will play an important part of your day” was one). She was amazed at the accuracy of my prognostications. I think of astrology the same way I think of racism or sexism or homophobia: it types people according to irrational conclusions, and that leads to the usual trouble.

Nowadays if someone asks me what my sign is, I use Barbara’s line: “Slippery When Wet.”
Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013