I like to fish, for instance. And I live on a sailboat. And I write. In fact, for a good time go to: http://www.amazon.com:80/dp/B006MC1C1Q .
Many years ago I involved myself with marijuna. Then I became a federal prisoner for eight years. The smuggling stuff was way fun, but ultimately not worth it, because some of the things I saw in prison were not very nice.
So this will be my blog page. If you're bored and have no life you can read it. Maybe these words will lead you to explore some of the worlds I've lived in. I'll post a few links and you can involve yourself with weirdness and prison and sailing life and such.
How 'bout a few stories? Here is what an ex-smuggler concerns himself with when he's first incarcerated:
I had a vision.
Okay, well it’s true, I had a vision, and I don’t mean to sound dumb or puffed up with my own concerns—visions are common enough—but what can I say except to tell the truth and report that I had an idea that became a much more popular idea than I at once thought possible. My idea was to describe through personal stories the nuts and bolts and moral conundrums of being a marijuana smuggler locked up. It gave me something to do, actually, for years. It also gave me sleepless nights, which I didn’t understand for the longest time but now I do. Just google 'Gary Waid' and go to 'A Smuggler's Tales from Jails' and you'll see what I mean.
This blog is the end product of that vision, an outgrowth of my copious writings in jails and on the web, and it marks me as a man to be reckoned with in the world of startling revelations and the like. The stories here are from a collection that’s a part of me, written over a period of years in which I was incarcerated in Federal (and later Florida’s) prisons for my involvement with Marijuana.
The thing is, these places were nuts. All of them. The last one and the one before that and the one before that, back to about 1980 when I started smuggling. And when one lives in a house of nuts, if one wants to write, it’s convenient and appropriate to write mostly about the nuts, which is what I did.
It wasn’t difficult—stories were everywhere—but there were a few rules that I had to adhere to, and you should be briefed so that there are no misunderstandings later.
One rule is related to language. If characters speak one way, it wouldn’t be right for me to clean up their language just because they say a lot of colorful things that might offend. Be assured that all the nuts here speak their minds in their own words—as near as I was able to assemble them—and move about doing things in their own oddball ways.
I allowed them to say what they wanted, which brings me to the next rule of writing extremely true stories. The rule is: you can’t rethink a philosophic approach just because the original one was politically incorrect. Sadly, the gender bias will be evident sometimes and I hope Bella Abzug and Germaine Greer and their friends will forgive these despicable characters their trespasses with respect to women. Smuggling and prison just seemed to be, for the most part, male dominated ideas, with a lot of guys doing crude, woman-bashing kinds of absolutely true things. Or if not, at least speaking with the swagger of cave men for the benefit of whomever happened to be within earshot, goofing at some Caribbean fete or standing around on the prison yard. Someday, when the war on drugs is finally won and all of us are incarcerated, maybe we’ll have co-ed joints and more equitable nutcakes to copy completely true anecdotes from. Everyone will be as inoffensive as applesauce. Until then you’ll have to be insulted.
The final rule I’ve been forced to follow is the rule that allows each story to be part of a whole so as to form a larger tale, this book being only part of that tale. I didn’t re-edit each piece for redundancies, which means I repeated myself sometimes and you’ll just have to bear it. In unusually extremely absolutely true stories it’s important to convey mood. And to do that I had to be in that mood and it might have screwed up the mood if later, for the sake of cleanliness, I scraped the fuzz off each piece. Besides, you’ll get a better sense of the smuggling life and of prison life if you’re floating in the soup with me.
This blog was not meant to be a primer or some sort of tell-all, by the way. I couldn’t do that. Even my stories on the web are incident-specific and don’t impart any particular fundamental wisdom. If rotten things were done to me (and they were), I don’t pretend to know why, and in fact they don’t show up within the timeline allotted here. The shit hit the fan for me after the events of this narrative, and will no doubt be covered at some later date, or you could just snoop around on the Internet and get all the satisfaction or grief, depending on your sentiments, that you might seek.
What you will see here, I hope, is my sadness at the wasted lives and the bias of our laws and lawmakers. I can’t help that. I think elected officials in Washington are blathering fools concerned only with themselves and their money. The evidence is conclusive. Men and women with smug mouths have sold young Americans out for a song—a sort of Pan flute thing about ending drug use in America—and often times these people don’t ever have to answer for their own misdeeds. The damage done is murderous, even the collateral damage, and it’ll probably be with us for decades.
There might be a problem, I’m told, with the actual subjects of these pieces. That is, there’s an unfortunate proportion of story lines dealing with the prurient details of prison life—stuff about sex, violence, etc.—and with the more disgusting aspects of everyday hanging around. I would ask you to remember that the great feast of life was denied me and those around me. Like the most unimaginative accountant or hack, our vistas were nowhere—TV, lunch, a warm place to shit. Sometimes things got messy.
Maybe the messiness was a reflection.
One last thing.
I spent my first four years with the feds. Then, because of an internal problem having to do with bookkeeping, Janet Reno’s Justice Department made a deal with the state of Florida, and swapped 30 non-violent, 1st-time, mostly drug offenders, with 30 Marielito lifers that Florida had been threatening to release.
This blog will only be concerned with my time in the feds. And the stories weren’t written front-to-back, they were written in various jails, sitting on my bunk with a pen and a legal pad, or banging on one of the mechanical typewriters the Bureau of Prisons allowed us bad guys.
I was kept pretty busy with all the transfers—I remember at least 20 different joints—so the hurdy-gurdy timbre and the where-are-we-now aspect can be a little disconcerting. Dancing Bear indeed. Maybe later I’ll compile the Florida stories, but here you’ll read some things from the first four years, from Tallahassee Federal Correctional Institute and from Texarkana FCI. Later, when they chained me up and sent me to Stark/Raiford in Florida, my life in prison was a whole different ball game, which would be a whole new book.
In this microcosm of society, I have found passions to be more vulgar and immediate than on the outside. I have also seen kindness and empathy. The stories will reflect anger that is intense, pain that is startling, and humor overloaded with irony at the human condition.
So here we are, storyland, and it's 1994:
I’ve been practicing a sort of loose-jointed roll, side to side, outside edge of the foot rolling forward, then hard on the toe, weight to the next foot and so on. It’s my new convict ambulation, only good for the yard or chow call. The rest of the time we barely move. We’re shufflers.
I’m a prisoner now; my trial is over; I’ve been sentenced.
And prison sucks, but it’s nice to be finished with all the weighty issues and all the anguish over what to do. All that stuff is behind me. I never would have imagined that such a thing would be a relief, yet it is. It’s a relief to have survived those times when all the cops want a piece of you, when the accountability question plays over and over in your mind—what do I do?—what do I say?—why’n’chu leave me alone!
Most of my ego, thankfully, is intact, but I can now say with some authority that there’s nothing quite like pressing your knuckles into your cheeks while the judge tells you what a shit you are. Noooo!
Everything has taken a back seat to the basics now: eating, sleeping, getting along. Looking right is very important. And being clean. Who’d a thought convicts would be preoccupied with polishing things?
When I fell it was quick. Thump! Cracked like a nut. One minute I’m floating along in the cherry-pie clouds of no worries, next thing I know I’ve landed on my ass. From a sailing-smuggling life spent circumventing almost everything, I was plunged head-first into the muck—sailboat to no boat to run and duck, and then finally to my berth in the federal shipwreck.
I’ll say this, though; it hasn’t been dull. The implosion of my universe has developed my eye and introduced me to a new world. I was a thief of dreams, the ones that sailors and armchair-pirates have occupied themselves with for centuries. Now things have changed. I’ll marinate for a while. But it could be worse; I spent a week in South Dakota once, on the run, in the middle of February. That was worse.
Maybe I’ll get one of my nipples pierced. After all, life doesn’t just stop.
But jail? That couldn’t be right.
On the morning of August 15, 199_, the US Marshals picked me up—cuffed and chained—and carried me the fifty miles to New Orleans. For a day, until they showed up, I had been the prize goose in the Plaquemine’s Parish holding cell. The book on me said I was dangerous—going by the nom de plume Bob Carmack.
In a day or so I stood before my first judge.
“How do you plead?” he asked.
“On my knees if possible,” I said.
Six months later, after a comprehensive course learning how to act in jails across America, I received nine years for conspiracy to import marijuana.
Until then I had no idea they were that serious.
In fact I thought only bad people got nine years, and I didn’t for a minute consider myself a bad person. Undisciplined, maybe, or careless. But as far as being a tough guy, someone who needed rebuilding for nine years, well, that would be impossible to understand.
I wanted to explain to somebody how long a time that was and how unreasonable. They’d heard it before, though, because my eloquence fell on deaf ears. Jubilant deaf ears. They were very happy about the whole thing.
“How do you plead, Mr. Waid?”
“Fervently, Your Honor. With all my heart. I also grovel and beg as well as anybody and would be honored to do so if you think it would help.”
I have no tattoos. Understand, I don’t consider tattoos to be in any way indicative of anything in particular. I am just reporting the facts as they are. I don’t have tattoos or unsightly knife scars, and there isn’t one gunshot wound anywhere on me. Isn’t that something?
Actually I would consider myself normal. Nothing is oddly shaped or unusual in color or excessively large or small except maybe my feet, which are size 12EE. If I were a cook, people wouldn’t mind eating what I prepared. As a mechanic, no one would give me a second glance—I would be allowed to tinker with people’s cars. I could, in the course of things, own a dog or cat and I could chew gum and sing baritone in the choir. I smile and cry and eat and sleep and feel things in what I would consider the normal range. Some have called me “simple”, but I would say normal. I tell those people that “simple” is a “clever” disguise. When I enter a room there is no danger. Everyone is safe. And my head will not bump the doorframe, it being only the height of an average “normal” man. Any mood swings I might display will be well within the normal, simple curve. Weapons won’t be necessary.
There’s just the marijuana thing.
I wonder sometimes if the events of my life, unfolding as they have, would make a grand opera. A morality play. And I wonder if my story could’ve possibly happened the way I remember it. If I close my eyes I see the shrug of a sailor’s life. And I dream sometimes. I dream the aqua-blue of loss.
Listen . . .
What you hear is a group of friends—one of them a shrimper—laughing and talking and drinking rum. They are deciding something. They are deciding to smuggle pot into the United States. “What the hell,” said Waid the shrimper, “Let’s go for it.”
I was down at the dock mending my nets the first time I met W.E.-Bill-Babbington. I was married then, and he’d been my wife’s friend in the days when she was married to someone else. She’d told me all these Bill Babbington tales of high adventure that no one could possibly make up, so he represented a sort of legendary figure when I first beheld him, peering from within a crinkling webwork of good humor. His sailor’s eyes met mine and he extended his hand in greeting.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said. He smelled like booze. “If you like, we could have a cool one somewhere and talk.”
Bill and I went to a Tarpon Springs watering hole called the Bridge Inn that afternoon. Over many beers and rums he explained his business.
“See this?” he said, showing me and the rest of the room his giant, Miami money-clip, which was a wad of bills rolled in a rubber band.
“I love Teri—“
“Bill, you should put that away.”
“She’s like a sister to me. I want—waitress, two Heinekens and two Mont Gays—I want Teri to have plenty of this.”
“That’s great, Bill, but put that shit up. Come on, man—“
“We need a beer, Gar,” he said, and set the roll of money in the ashtray. He seemed by turns preoccupied, befuddled, spaced out. “Ooooh,” he said, and then, “Emmmmm hey! I love this waitress. See her? WAITRESS! Gar, see that money?”
“Yeah, Bill, but you ought to know that there’s some other people in here, fisher folk, who also see that money. And now they all know that I have a suicidal pal with a big roll of cash.”
He ignored my warning. “I’ve got a boat that’s the greatest boat in the world, Gar. It’s the best—waitress, four beers and a bottle of rum—hmm, it’s the best fucking boat you’ll ever see except she’s tore up.”
“Teri said you’d be the guy to help me fix her.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
Bill asked me if I would like to own half of an eighty-three foot steel shrimper in deplorable condition, docked in Haiti. There was no hesitation. I said yes and we talked and drank and gave springy coils of money to the waitress, and generally agreed to some of the oddest conditions and requirements I’d ever heard—things revolving around handshakes and indefinite timetables and “we might just blow it all off” and so on. It seemed okay, a loose little pact with a harmless old devil. There are a lot of unspeakable acts decided on is similar fashion, but this wasn’t one of them. Later that afternoon Bill began crying and hugging me.
After I got home I wondered aloud about Bill’s lack of focus.
“Did he pee in the bar?” my wife asked.
“No, the parking lot,” I replied.
She seemed to think that was a good sign.
The next year I captained my very own steel beauty around the virgins from Colombia with 18 tons of pot on board. After describing a big circle on the chart, we arrived and unloaded on the Bahama Bank into the waiting arms of highly skilled, middle-level, intermediate-route boatmen (sport fishers), who ferried the load for a time then shoveled it onto another fleet of yet smaller, faster craft. The whole thing was a great success and a rip-roaring party and I was hooked. I also learned that being a pot smuggler doesn’t carry with it all the sinister baggage and shifty-eyed sleight-of-hand the government says it does. People liked us and were happy to share in our adventures. We were admired and in some places, honored even. Marijuana didn’t seem to curl the public’s lip like cocaine did.
Back then and throughout my career, I knew my limitations and wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wasn’t comfortable with the background machinations necessary to put deals together, but as far as actually doing the boat work, few were better. I had a feel for it, an idea of what it takes to make a successful trip, and am proud that I was never actually caught loaded. With a combination of luck and foresight, from my first boat to my last, any crew I captained or was part of was never busted.
“After reviewing some of the facts, Mr. Waid, we would be interested in hearing your plea.”
“I really don’t think you would, Your Honor. I’m not ready yet to just let go. Could we wait until Friday?”
“Yes, right, Mr. Waid, but time is pretty important to us.”
“Time, Your Honor, is also my problem.
“Are you having us on, Mr. Waid?”
“No, Your Honor, I really do smell like this when I’m afraid for my life.”
There is a corner of the ocean that extends from the Florida coast, southeast to Venezuela and west to the inebriated shores of Mexico. It is stippled with islands like melon seeds in a fertile garden and is, to me, the most wonderful, colorful place to play. There is nothing in all the world like the multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-intoxicant world of the Caribbean Sea. Islands like diamonds and reefs like pearls are scattered willy-nilly within a day-or-two’s sail from each other, all for the enjoyment of every kind of escape.
I can imagine the great cataclysms—churning tectonic plates and volcanisms and such—which corrugated the bottom millions of years ago and forced these pimples of pleasure to form, aroused, like tumescent sex organs, engorged with happiness at their good fortune.
When the scalawags and tramps of the temperate zones later fell on the region with abandon, and when the sugar barons of Europe trolled the spice from the hills and left the husk of slave and savage, the husk of slave and savage built a nice life for themselves with the flotsam and jetsam which rolled in on the tides. By the time flowered shirts were invented and steel drums were tuned for the tourist trade, a lively booze-smuggling business had already turned a good profit for many, and the coves and bays and shallow bars and banks were just waiting for the next wave of entrepreneurial accountings. When beatniks and jazz musicians gave birth to hippies, which in turn begat the phenomenon of the recreational marijuana smoker in America, my unique skill, that of the boatman, became a valuable commodity, and the Caribbean was the natural highway.
It was in this theatre that I worked and lived for the smuggling years of my life. I, soon after giving up shrimpboats and big loads, became a sailor dedicated to small, hidden ballasts of marijuana. I fit easily into the sunny, blue and white days and the starry nights over silvered seas. My home was the comfortable world of the boat, the beer, the beach and the less than restrained joy of floating over top of things. When the DEA sat me down to talk years later, they told me I was responsible for nineteen separate pot trips through the Caribbean. I have no idea if that’s true. Hey, it’s not like I’m a bad person; somebody had to do it.
“Mr. Waid, surely you’ve had time to get your head together. We would like to hear your plea now.”
“Your Honor, character is a problem. I’m having trouble with all these new definitions of character. What an unholy amount of blabbermouths there are to contend with.”
“You must, we feel, accept something distasteful. But sir, it will make you a better person.”
“I’m worried, Your Honor. Will I be looked upon as honorable and forthright?”
“No, Mr. Waid. We have a common list. You will be considered common.”
“I see. But how will that make me better?”
“Better is perhaps the wrong word. It will make you more flavorful, Mr. Waid, when we eat you.”
In order to deposit marijuana into the arms of American construction workers and taxi drivers everywhere, it must be transported. Automobiles, airplanes, large ships and sturdy Mexican backs do the bulk of the work, but among the less practical, less efficient smugglers in the world are sail boaters. My friends and I might have spent all season fooling with one-, two-, four-, or six-hundred pounds of pot and been pleased as punch to do it again once we’d finished a trip and rested for a time. Grinning, always drinking, wearing our sunburns and our flip-flops, we were a mutually exclusive club of men and sometimes women who, between short bouts of catch-me-if-you-can, spent most of our time relaxing and working on our boats and deciding which island to visit next.
It wasn’t something that anyone could do, though. You had to have a sense of timing and use good judgment. There were procedures. You had to sail to Jamaica and back, for Christ sake, without all the foofaraw that honest sailors love so much.
A hundred times I heard people say, “I think I’ll jes’ g’wan‘n get me a load! Make a million bucks!” A hundred times they sneered at my job. “Shore seems easy ta me,” they’d say.
So if it was so easy, why didn’t everyone who liked pot do it?
Because aside from the physical problems, it’s a nervy business. Tons of things go wrong. And there’s jail. And of course the ocean and the boat.
Let me explain something to you that Cruising World doesn’t cover: Living on a boat that may or may not be encumbered with a few pounds of aromatic spice takes practice. Even for honest sailors who carry no cargo there are some small indelicacies, which for many prove too great a burden to endure.
Try this at home: Turn off the air-conditioner. Now, before you slip your jammies on tonight pour Karo Syrup on your head, rub some in your armpits and slather a generous dollop into your genitals. Go to bed, but get up every two to four hours for a nice pee on the floor. Do a “watch” (stare into the dark for three hours), but don’t overdo it, you’re going to need your energy. In the morning arise and have a beer as you come unglued. Eat a sandwich made with something disgusting from the third world and sprinkle hair on it. In fact, sprinkle the whole room with hair—pubic hair—and tiny bits of wet food. Mist the walls and furniture with a mixture of Morton Salt and ginger ale. And lastly, never, never bathe except in salt water. For best results this should all be done while hopping on one foot—except of course sleeping. You must sleep at a twenty-degree list in a puddle of water. To really get a feel for the sailing life you’ll do better in a small room—maybe a bathroom or closet—that allows you to batter your sailing partner repeatedly with your elbows. After several days, when you “anchor up”, go visit your neighbors and loudly proclaim in your ill-shaven, smelly, salty, drunken brogue that the day is beautiful and you couldn’t possibly feel better.
Oh, put some clothes on before you do this.
“Mr. Waid, you are taking up too much of the court’s time. May we please have that plea?”
“There’s a hell of a conceit among the ruling class in America, Your Honor. As far as making moral judgments, I mean. What, for instance, is so bad about marijuana?”
“How should I know, Mr. Waid? I will say that it’s done a lot more for you than it has for me. How would you like to be tied to this bench listening to all you sniveling cowards every day?”
“You gotta look at this thing realistically, Your Honor. Pot is a plant, after all. A plant. My dad—bless his dead old bones—smoked pot every day. He smoked in the morning and for lunch and in the afternoon and was usually all done in by dark. He was a veteran of WW2, won three Bronze Stars, later became a technician at the space center working for a company that guided missiles to the moon. He died of lung cancer at seventy-five and people said of the tragedy ‘if he’d only stopped smoking that stuff, maybe he’d still be with us.’ But I beg to differ. If my old man had never smoked pot he would have died ten years younger of Grumpy Old Man’s Disease. Seventy-five was a good age for dad to die, especially since he was allowed the pleasure of staying pleasantly fucked up all the time.”
“MR. WAID, YOUR LANGUAGE!”
“As America gets older, Your Honor, are you gonna throw all the geezers that want to smoke a bone in jail?”
“Mr. Waid, that’ll be enough of that!”
“Sorry, Your Honor.”
“Where were we . . .? Oh, the plea. Ahem, the court doesn’t care to comment on your decadence—now plead!”
“First I would like to see the evidence.”
“There is no evidence as such, Mr. Waid. What we have is testimony.”
“Ah Hah! You should be ashamed—bribing people.”
“Do you see shame on my face? Besides, they promised not to fib.”
“Did you get a receipt, Your Honor, from the snitches?”
“For the payouts.”
On one trip my partner Frank and I spent nine days in a tropical depression. Me, Frank, and four hundred pounds of marijuana on a cork of pluvious, plunging character, in a sea of laughing contradictions and plummeting inside jokes.
I would describe life in a tropical depression as being like a headache. It’s irritating, it’s continuous, and the peaks and valleys soon even out in an all-encompassing, impotent feeling of victimization. When you’re tired as hell of the weather, pleading for a little relief, it won’t go home. Which is a perfect example of what I was talking about a couple pages ago, so when you see a storm on the Weather Channel, and the satellite picture shows a monster swirl of clouds and discomfort, remember there’s a sailor in there somewhere who’s really upset.
Inside a large circular movement of air and moisture, the seas fetch and chop, winds howl, shift, gust, fall away then rebuild to begin again, and water pours into every crack in the living room. A crevice becomes a crevasse and a drip is a trout stream.
As soon as we had the sails set for one speed and direction, the wind would shift, a giant roil of rain cloud would descend, and our plans would shatter and scatter like the breaking seas. Before long Frank and I became undignified, and by the second day we had developed an uncomfortable problem. The wheeze of our toilet apparatus galloping up and down in the bow allowed for a discharge into the closed cabin of a particularly nasty stench. Soon we could only live topsides in our yellow rubber uniforms. For you uninitiated, it was like living in a sauna while dressed in wax paper.
On the third day it got worse. With the constant rain, the ever-shifting wind and the gravity-shattering high seas, I naturally was forced to keep the cabin tightly sealed. Soon it became a beaker of infusioning, trufflous life down below. Peering into the dank recess, you could imagine a sweating, salty ferment, glistening with lively germs. I saw, in my mind’s eye, a monster growing and feeding on body hairs and skin peelings and all the other revolting detritus of two filthy evacuees. Within hours green tongues of otherworldly dimension grew on every surface like penicillin on soggy bread. Putrefaction was attacking the interior of our coconut.
On the fourth day we gave up actual civilized living. Only for beer did we brave the hole, as lumps of things rolled around down there and eventually burst to feed the slime-crud. What once might have been a bunch of bananas or a bag of onions became just another black, blivitous hairball poised to foul the bilge or the bunks. My sailboat, like a leavened loaf of dough, was heating up and rising.
What, you might ask, were we doing in such a storm?
Well, if we had been honest sailors we would have found shelter as quickly as possible (Port Royal was less than two days away). But as happens in the pot business, our paint wasn’t dry, our caulk wasn’t set, and our paperwork left little room for suspicious Jamaican officials to ad lib. We had cleared customs in Montego Bay for the Dominican Republic. On the way around the west end of the island I took a little dip into Negril Bay and loaded up the produce, then set sail due south and then southeast as we escaped land. When the weather hit we were in limbo in the south Caribbean, heading into ten-to-fifteen foot seas and thirty knot winds with croaker sacks of marijuana scattered below in three- and five-pound bales and no option but to go on. I remember the Jamaican Defense Force trying to board us that next night as we were still bravely trying to make headway on a southeast tack. They finally had to give up after an hour of wet work trying to launch their rubber dink. It wasn’t the first time that foul weather had saved me. Frank was beside himself.
“Shit,” he said. And then, “Shit,” he said it again.
By the end of a week we had changed course for Mexico and were well on our way. Unfortunately, so was the storm. This is when the carefree life on the sea becomes more tedious. The beer had run out and we were forced to drink warm, watered rum. Our green skin was peeling off in waterlogged pills and the lumped and knurled features of our faces had taken a ghastly pallor. Frank, all slimy and eyes askew, looked like a yellowed scrimshaw of Queequeg after his leap into the head of the whale. He wondered aloud if there might be a story for Cruising World in all of this:
“What’cha think, Gar, a little piece about saltwater sores?”
I will admit that people routinely do this crap for nothing. But not, in my experience, for long. First the wife jumps ship and sues for divorce. Then the cat runs away into the woods, the children sabotage the liquor supply and the captain is left with a hollow ruin.
On the other hand, just one little trip through this seventh level of the inferno and he’ll write a bestseller and go on the lecture circuit. People will use his tips.
I’ve got a tip for you: When leaning your ass over the lee rail to shit because the crapper doesn’t work, don’t get your balls tangled in the sheet line.
“Okay, Waid, I must have your plea now.”
“I have seen, Your Honor, that lofty principals and high-minded rhetoric live best in thin air. Down here in the muck most of those ideals have cut and run. A plea now would be ugly.”
“You should have heard the testimony of those who came before you, Mr. Waid. We own them as we will own you.”
“Could I plead irreconcilable differences?”
“How about something in Latin? I plead Habeas Corpus Nolo Contendere. Or maybe Ipso-Facto-Corpus-Christi-Marcus-Aurelius-Caesar-Tweezer.”
“You’ll find a certain lack of kindness among your new masters, Mr. Waid. Your calisthenics are annoying.”
An old partner of mine with the buffettous name Buddy Bear used to get seasick.
“Arghhhh . . .,” he would say. “Rrrruuuuuua . . .,” he would add. “Harrroouuuu . . . ,” might be his distinctive comment.
I felt bad for Buddy—I really did. And he ruined his clothes leaning out over the gunwale vomiting and bellowing like a zoo animal.
We had just left the comfortably hospitable island of Cozumel, Mexico, to begin our final leg through the Yucatan Passage and so home to Florida. For two weeks we had indulged ourselves in south-of-the-border excess.
There is a word that describes our state. The word is crapulous. The dictionary says we were sick from gluttony, excessive intemperance, and way too much dancing in the back alley of life. Luckily I wasn’t prone to puking. Too bad about Buddy, though.
“Rrrruuuuhaa . . .”
He was soon out of ammo and his shelling took on a more hollow tone, from the core of his digestive tract, below the tympanic cavity and past the various valves and sinusoidal chambers, through the chutes and flues where clear-yellow bile added acidic gargle and glissando to his agonized twee
“Bear up,” I said (ha-ha).
“Unnnhhh . . .” he replied.
“What a mess,” I observed.
How about some irony? Would you like some irony?
On his Jimmy Buffett T-shirt there lived a long, buttery dribble discoloring the artwork and exposing the lie printed on the front, which said:
I like mine with lettuce and tomato,
Heinz 57 and french fried potato . . .
“Huuua-Huuua-Huuua . . .”
The featured silkscreen—a giant cheeseburger—was now absolutely useless as any kind of incentive to eat.
Time passed and Buddy remained seriously sick. By the end of the second day the smell of vomit clung to everything he touched. It was like sailing in a bubble of sea-turtle breath. He had given up the cockpit, preferring the confines of the cabin as a more comfortable place to die, and soon the telltale tracks of his stomach distress coursed down the cab insole like a yellow stripe on life's highway. The weather had remained awful, so of course it was wet.
That is to say, it was soggy, damp, smelly, sticky, hot, musty, and irritating in the way that a dull toothache can be irritating, or like riding in a convertible with the top stuck open as your driver follows a chicken truck in the rain. There was, as in the trip with Frank, not one dry thing. Try to think of something; I guarantee it was wet and smelled like a cadaver.
On the third day, finally feeling better, Buddy began to rethink his position on death as a possible remedy. He decided to take a turn at the wheel. By way of greeting, I opened a can of Hormel Corned Beef Hash, and with the aroma tried again to kill my partner.
Altogether we spent seven days sailing from Cozumel to Charlotte Harbor on the west coast of Florida, and although Buddy recovered after the first three days and could laugh and joke later when his vocal chords recovered enough to do more than hiss, if you were to suggest that his paycheck was easily made, he would tell you that every dime was earned, every nickel bled on, every penny suffered.
Would you like another tip?
Tip: Hang a drinking cup from a string around your waist to have something in which to store your genitals. That way your filthy scrotal sac won’t stick to your thighs and become a problem for the tool drawer.
“Mr. Waid, have you finished consulting your sources. I really would like to get on with this thing. It’s getting ridiculous.”
“Your Honor, I’m bothered by something.”
“How’d I know you were going to say that?”
“I used to have a crewman whom I thought was a pretty good guy. Now he’s working for the DEA and actively setting people up. He’s been an integral part of the government’s little schemes. What does he gain by doing this?”
“He’s learned his lesson, Mr. Waid. He wants to become an honorable, productive member of society. That and we cut him a good deal.”
“I really don’t think that’s right.”
“You obviously have no morals. Your sentence will reflect your lack of courage.”
“But I’ll admit to everything. Anything you need to know about me is yours for the asking.”
“You’re two years too late for that. We know what you’re about. We know it all. The only thing you can do is rat out someone we haven’t found yet, or plead, Waid.”
“I can cry.”
My partner on many trips to Jamaica was a little ex-surfer named Jeff. He had a staggering sense of the absurd and no small amount of balls, which during bad weather would assert themselves swinging fore and aft, side to side and up and down with the motion of our out-of-control boat. The absolute worst mess I’ve ever been in was with Jeff, or Tick, as he was known. Nearing the end of an eighteen-day marathon of self-flagellation, we found ourselves in the middle of a violent storm off the western tip of Cuba in the Yucatan Passage. Waves were as high as tall buildings, crashing over the boat in protest at our nerve and causing near panic among the crew (me). Tick kept asking what I thought.
“WHADDAYA THINK, WAID?” he would scream over the howl of the wind in the rigging and the crack of the sails ripping apart.
“WELL,” I hollered at least once, “I’VE SEEN WORSE!”
And on we would go, plunging into the froth, the auxiliary engine oscillating wildly every time the boat came out of the water, and then quieting to a gentle diesel murmur amidst the anarchy as we re-entered the froth. Why we didn’t slow the engine and relax and shorten the sails was because it was Tick’s boat and he was damn tired of the ocean, and desperate for a hamburger and a beer. Sailing two-handed without self-steering was work, and we had been in big hairy seas for most of the trip. Now on our last stretch we had fuel to burn and time to make up and to hell with the weather.
As dusk was falling on our second night in the tempest, it was my turn to watch the wheel. The seas by now were at the height of their power and truly awesome to behold. I asked Tick if we might be pushing things a little, pointing so high (heading into the teeth of the storm), with our engine turning as hard as it could and the seas steadily building and shortening against the northeast current of the Gulf stream.
“JUST BE CAREFUL!” he said, and I assured him that I would watch out for falling satellites and such but as far as the ocean was concerned, there was no way to know what was in store.
Ten minutes later, with the feel of an elevator dropping out from under us, we came out of the water in our so far most spectacular leap, and landed—Wham Crash Bang—into the momentary calm that sometimes follows an overlarge breaker. Trees being felled in the forest come to mind. Tick was thrown out of his berth and came up on deck sputtering mad.
“I’LL TAKE THE WHEEL, WAID!” he shouted, trying not to call me names. A few minutes later, as I snuggled into a damp corner of the bed feeling like a tea bag, we enjoyed another Olympian explosion of energy, which heeled us over enough on re-entry so that our keel lost its grip and we slipped sideways down the back of the wave into the foaming seas. This time, though, we broke. Our boat, had it been a boxer, would have suffered if not a TKO, at least a nasty nosebleed.
As we lay off the wind with the engine idling, our little vessel sounded like a broken Maytag washing a load of wounded gulls, squeaking and pinging and sloshing and rubbing to the wallow in the trough. We checked for structural damage and found that our hull had separated from the cabin sole and its related reinforcing supports. Or—for those of you who need a more lubberly description—we parted the skin from the guts.
When we got underway again, this time in a more prudent fashion, thoughts of a cheeseburger and a beer by Tuesday were gone and a more sedate pace through the watery firmament pleased us no end. Once again the ocean, as a big distillery of basic ideas, had reduced its trespassers to respectful humility.
“WHADDAYA THINK, WAID?” asked Tick.
“YOU SHOULD BE MORE CAREFUL!” I answered, checking the sky for satellites.
Tip: While Yachting, never allow fear to spoil a boffo, bang-up good time. Letting it all hang out at sea will reward you with great, zany memories should you survive.
Oh lord, Mr. Waid. Can’t you please give this court a proper plea?”
“Absolutely, Your Honor. I’ve decided to do what’s right. What would be the best thing to say? Your wish is my command. In fact, I’ll do more than just plea if it will help. Anything, Your Honor. Maybe there’s something you’d like me to suck? Or I could bend over this chair here . . .”
Judge (to bailiff): “Get him out of here.”
Although the pot season in Jamaica coincided with the heavy weather time of year, it didn’t mean that every trip was hell. Often we had beautiful conditions and sometimes all the things which make for an easy trip would come together and bless us. On those occasions the Coast Guard would not see us, of if they did, a boarding party of reasonably generous guys (or dummies) would only inconvenience us for a short while. Understand, the journey of roughly eighteen hundred miles was only burdened with contraband from the day we left Jamaica until home. The great bulk of the trip was simply poking along in a perfectly legal pose.
Just to get to Jamaica was an adventure. I would leave the States from Palm Beach Inlet and travel through the Bahamas in a kind of processional minuet of stately anchorages and drunken barrooms, through tourist girls and native fleshpots, past Bahamian sunsets and broiled lobsters, to touch down after a month or so in the sin and song capital of the western hemisphere. During the winter months Montego Bay Yacht Club was the place to be if your desire was to hang out with a crowd of your brethren in the smuggling business. In fact, anywhere on the north coast large enough to be a port of entry was usually swimming with pot porters of every type. No one, however, admitted to anything but sloth and excess when confronted with an uncomfortable question.
Just a bunch of guys on vacation.
It must have been exasperating for the DEA Special Agents to suck beer for hours with a likely suspect, only to have him fall off the dock in a drunken pirouette at the crucial moment of disclosure. All the bartenders knew who the narcs were anyway and kept us informed. Narcs never tip.
The constant flow of beer, rum, pot, and in the early days coke, bespoke a lack of temperance among the sailors and their retinues, as you can imagine. But we couldn’t be distinguished from legal cruisers for that failure. It’s something to do with the nature of trip taking, I think, which makes it impossible to stay sober upon completion of a sail or a part of a sail or a journey of some type or a taxi ride or even a little walk. Rarely have I ever met a boatman of any kind—fisherman, delivery crew, sailor of tanker or tug—that didn’t drink heavily or enjoy other, less legitimate stool softeners as they made way through the Caribbean.
And then there’s whores.
Ahem . . .
Along with enjoying the natural irrigation of abusive substances, there came a less public but equally industrious challenge. As one very young floozy in a flour sack said to me: “Jamaican poosey de best in de warld!” And almost daily an entire regiment of seasoned white boys set out to embellish the legends of local specialists in town. We called it “going to the library” and a note of explanation is in order.
When the English ran much of the world they decided that corners and stop signs were too arbitrary for the uncivilized, so in many places installed what they called roundabouts—circular drives in which cars can blend with the flow of traffic without stopping. The largest roundabout in Mo-Bay was a park, fronted on one side by the waters of the bay and on the other, by the beginnings of the hill on which runs the high road through town. As you approach in your car, you will be ducted naturally into the circular flow of traffic and, depending where you want to go, will choose a lane and make your turn either into town, up the hill and east, or along the waterfront, where the shoppers and hawkers and tourist tomfooleries take place. This roundabout is known as the library because, in point of fact, that’s where the library is. It’s also where the whores congregate.
Ah, yes. The whores. Like a blanket of wooly comfort. A movable nunnery of bejeweled organ donors that would not take no for an answer.
A system was in place. The girls would cover the playing field like a well-coached hockey team, allowing normal traffic to pass through, waiting for the proper moment to strike. When a rental car full of white guys entered the arena, all hell broke loose.
“BLOOOOOW JAAAAAB!” would echo the cry, and the game would commence.
It was not a walk in the park, so to speak. Skating into the breach in full regalia, the whoopee ladies would force the car to an indelicate stop and quickly envelop the machine with tits and ass. No technique was outlawed, no encumbrance of clothing too difficult to overcome as they went about their fornicant rituals. Just sitting here writing this makes me horney.
“Hey white bwoy wit ya beeg dick,” would lie my lover. “Me swalla ya cum!” Then she'd throttle my insipid, uninspired little prick.
“Ooooh, a beeg one,” I could hear from Frank’s new wife. “Ya mek me hot!” she’d moo.
In the back seat Tick was invisible under the bangles and baubles and corn rows of noisy lust: “Me gonna fuck dis bwoy! Him want soom nice big poosy I bet!”
And each of us in turn had this to say: “Mmmmppfhh . . .” because our faces were hard aground betwixt the swinging biscuits of rural, farm-fed Jamaican fauna.
In the days before AIDS became such a grinding policy arbiter, I was never surprised at the sight of some schmuck getting his tool sharpened in the practically-public, wonderfully scenic, library roundabout park.
“Mr. Waid, I will not tolerate another display of disrespect. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Honor. I would like to apologize. I had an episode.”
“I think so. Possibly caused by caffeine—or a sinister drug in my morning mush.”
“Really, Mr. Waid, this court will not hear insanity pleas so if you’re angling for something on that order you’d be well advised to forget it and get on with the program.”
“Program? Click—Sssshhtuk—wait! I’M PICKING UP A TRANSMISSION!”
“Oooooooweeeee—YOU DARE DEFY MEEE? YOU DARE—click—HEY, FEEL THE POWER OF MY TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD!”
“—Bailiff, get him out of—“
“WHY IS THIS CLOWN ATTACKING ME?”
“Get him out of here and clean him up.”
“WHERE IS MY ROBE? WHERE IS MY SCEPTER? I DEMAND TO SEE THE WIZARD! . . . I’LL JUMP! SO HELP ME I’LL JUMP!”
“Make him take a bath.”
“BLYXIL IS MY NAME AND I COME TO WARN EARTH . . .”
“And get someone to mop up the floor.”
Sometimes we brought girls down to the boats. One or another of the sailors would decide to have a party at the yacht club and would dispatch whoever was least drunk to the library for some available treats. They were acts of lust coupled with theater, admissions of human frailty which we fools were all guilty of, except for one or two who refused to admit to weakness. Tom Tippur was one of those, insisting on props and put-ons as his smoke screen to legitimize his libido. He claimed to be a photographer and always brought out his fancy equipment to encourage the fiction that he wasn’t a randy white ape like the rest of us. He was an “artist”.
One night I heard a commotion on his boat and decided to investigate. When I climbed on and went below, the garish lighting momentarily confused me. But when I looked towards all the squealing, I beheld a spectacle not easily forgotten. Up in the bow there were four naked girls on the triangular V-birth, stacked one atop the other like a big chocolate layer cake. And Tom was in the middle of the scene directing traffic. The giggling part of the squeeze harp was pointed for’ard , faces in the anchor locker, and the girls had spread their legs aft, to port and starboard, which quite naturally meant that the stacked sandwich of glistening genitalia displayed itself proudly for the camera lens and the klieg lights set up in the companion way.
The entire quailing, jiggling machine was pre-planned by Tom of course, and I could see that he was well satisfied with the ensemble as a whole. “Quick, Waid, take my picture,” he said from his pose in the crotch of the V-berth and directly below the mountainous pile of curls and lips and inner thighs. It looked like he was wearing a hat of unclipped hedges and little pink noses. “I’m gonna call it ‘Little Man In Boat!’” he cried.
I bent to the task, focusing and framing and generally fooling around with the camera for the best shot. When I was finished, what displayed itself for the viewfinder was this: Tom’s smiling, drunken face and atop that an asshole, followed by a pussy and another asshole with a pussy on top of that. Here, the eroginai were reversed and another pussy was available under its own asshole, which was just below a final combination of pussy and asshole. From the topmost purple sphincter there protruded a fine, big, smoking spliff.
Maybe I should go over that again. We have Tom, asshole, pussy, asshole, pussy, pussy, asshole, pussy, asshole, giant joint. Did I leave anything out?
At the end of the photo session each girl received, in addition to her pay, a promise of a free copy of the fictional magazine Tom was such a big, fancy photographer for. He assured all the models that their generous qualities would be abundantly displayed for all of America to adore. “Star quality pudenda,” was how he put it. “Feature material.”
“How are you feeling today, Mr. Waid?”
“Much better, Your Honor. May I apologize for my unruly outbursts? I feel awful about all that—and the soiling in my drawers thing. I don’t know what to say.”
“You really don’t get it, do you Mr. Waid? I am going to send you to a storage facility for a long, long time. How you grovel and spoon may have a bearing on just how long. For your own sake you must pretend to see the honor in your government and the criminality within you, and I insist that you indulge me by acting contrite and repentant. Marijuana, whether it be good or bad, is illegal and carries a stiff penalty. The federal government doesn’t need palpable proof. No corpus delecti or any of that. All we need is testimony. Now act your age and crawl like I know you’re capable of.”
What might be criminal in much of the world, in the Caribbean would be considered naughty. I will tell a brief story.
My friend Tick and a fellow habitué—Chuck was his name—were drunk and wandering the beach at Negril, Jamaica one evening, when they came upon a native woman whom they immediately propositioned. She was not a working girl, but smelled of wood smoke and sour milk and I’ll never know just what the boys saw in this large, proud mother of at least eight kids—every one breast fed until voting age at least—but something must have stirred their loins because there they were and there she was and in the time it took to reposition the lady’s muumuu, Tick and Daisy commenced making love (I’ve decided to call her Daisy. Sue me.). Anyway, Daisy was taller than Tick. Quite a bit taller, actually, and while Tick was doing his best with what he had, he wasn’t exactly measuring up, so to speak, which meant that Daisy had to squat as she ground her hips, forcing the duo to back as they bucked. The sight was unappealing in any artistic sense so Chuck, ever vigilant and knowing in the ways of love, decided that the couple needed some privacy. Actual aloneness could not be achieved on a public beach, yet a compromise of sorts was managed, with the muumuu covering the eyes and ears and hairdos of the beast, so that their line of sight was restricted and they could concentrate on their divine union. The motion of the many-legged beach bug, now covered like a Conestoga wagon, was such that they moved steadily backwards along the dark stretch of sand, grunting the grunts and bumping the bumps of resolute calypso passion.
As any drunk knows, it’s not always easy to get a “nut” when you’re in the “bag”, and alas, poor Tick was having this problem. So much so in fact, that they spent many long moments moving steadily aft until finally, as they entered the lights of one of the beautiful, tropical resorts which line the water, Chuck found a beachy little picnic table in which to position the galloping, heaving calliope of amour.
Let us all bow our heads for a moment at the organic wonder displayed by the magic coupling. A primal scene of creation, of island spice, a diminutive Paul Bunion astride his big blue ox. Unfettered passion and unbridled lust awakening to the heat of the night in the tropic zone.
There, before two busloads of tourists from Canada, with their white legs and their rum punches in paper cups and their children in Mickey Mouse ears which they bought not four hours ago at the airport in Orlando, Florida, the hammering duo completed the dirty deed.
There was Daisy, her big butt aglow in the soft light of the tiki torches and her sow-bristled dugs swinging in rhythm and dusting the sand from the opposite seat. As she awoke to the audience around her, a tinkling laughter welled up from the nether reaches of her soul and danced in the clean night air. Ignoring the insucking of wind from the horrified throng, she turned to Chuck and said:
“You white boys wit dem small dick want poosy an’ dat’s okay, but I’m not got no damn time for ebberbody.”
“What now, Mr. Waid?”
“Now, Your Honor, I’m just a little confused by what I see and hear in the county jail. The men awaiting trial, many of them are more experienced than I and they have all these disturbing notions—“
“Like what, Mr. Waid?”
“Is it true, Your Honor, that some of our jails are built and run by private corporations? The prisoners talk about prison industries like it’s a multi-million dollar concern. Isn’t there a subtle moral problem with things like ‘cost-effective inmate populations’ and directives about quotas and contracts?”
“Is there really a ‘projected inmate worker population base’?”
“Mr. Waid, this is not relevant to—“
“The inmates tell me that the federal government is creating the punishment parameters to fit the requirements of the system. Is it your job to fill prisons in order to get the most bang for the government buck? And if there’s an economic downturn, will the punishments be relaxed? Should our lawmakers in Washington be allowed to invest in the rehabilitation process and profit by it with construction projects, say, or the soap contract for a given institution? Why do I hear money talked about so freely?”
“Mr. Waid, for someone who is at least average in intelligence, you sure are dumb. Why don’t you just—“
“And it doesn’t seem like anyone believes in rehabilitation—in my cell block, I mean. They all sound so jaded and knowing. Not just the inmates, but the hacks, too. Did you know, Your Honor, that you are allowed to buy shares in prisons and prison corporations? You can receive dividends? Senators and Congressmen, Judges and prosecutors, they can own prisons and prison service companies? You don’t see a problem in that?”
“Did you do the crime of which you are accused, Mr. Waid?”
“May I have just a little more time, Your Honor?”
“I am losing it, Mr. Waid. I can’t digest all this naivety in one lump. The world you come from must be so simple . . .”
The world I came from was so simple.
As someone with many years of experience, I will clear up some misconceptions. Not that it’s necessary for many of you, but some who have bitten into the pizza pie of Hollywood action-cum-doper, sex fiend, gun nut in the rainforest might lend an ear. Amid the exploding yachts and foreign-speaking Lotharios of the Magic Kingdom and MGM there is very little rationality.
Be advised: In all my years of pot smuggling I NEVER saw a firefight on the beaches or an ambush in the jungle. And although I’d heard dangerous scenarios from the cocaine business, pot smugglers on sailboats usually just wanted to drink rum, eat good and laugh at the world through an SPF-15 sun block. The lethal games in the drug was were scripted for someone else and played out on another stage, which meant that action serial stuff only touched my friends if they were dumb enough to sniff at the perimeter of the coke business, That type of risk, to my way of thinking, was greedy, suicidal, and altogether bad karma.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many of the most imaginative people I’ve known were involved in the pot business. We had our share of incompetents who were quickly weeded out, but over all our reservoir of practical knowledge was every bit as large as the federal government’s. During any given trip, I learned to play a part. I could wear the insouciant sleaze of the yacht crowd, discussing points of sail or how best to deal with the natives. Or if necessary, I could revert and display the
lug wrench wisdom of the fishermen in their more blue-collar craft. I could be a goof-ball cruiser photographing gulls, or I could launch into a lie about “my investigations”.
While the large ships and even shrimp boats, which plied the shipping lanes like D-cup reservoirs of contraband, were at one time the standard conveyance, in the end they proved too easy to catch. So more and more operators became civilized and joined the sailing fleet. We were a phenomenon. From careening the oily blunderbuss one year, to tippitoeing the gullwing ballerina the next, only our hairdresser knew for sure. Some truly original minds became players in the game of tag on the sea.
My life in the Caribbean was easily recognizable for what it was, though, and not at all what some folks seem to think. As a reasonably competent observer, you could make certain deductions within a short time:
You might see that I was not very ambitious, being only too happy to hang around and do almost nothing if it meant I could enjoy pleasant surroundings.
You would note that I wasn’t inclined to do a job that was complicated, dangerous, or depended on too many other people, no matter what the potential payoff. Mysteries, timed movements, secret meetings at Harry’s Bar, all were for the poet, not me.
I feel sure you would be disappointed in the money. A paycheck of five or six figures seems like a lot, but the expenses were outrageous, and I wasn’t even close to burying buckets of cash in the woods. I spent most of my money on boat toys and maintenance stuff, along with the beer and women and sunsets. Besides, you only live once.
Undoubtedly you would be alarmed at the carelessness and lack of discipline with which we went about our daily lives. It is my contention that with the hardening of the conspiracy laws, marijuana smokers and smugglers and growers are much easier to catch than other breeds because they can’t seem to get it into their heads they’re doing something wrong. It just seems so silly.
Obviously the feds don’t think smuggling marijuana is silly. And growers are really getting pounded. The prisons are full.
“Mr. Waid, you have had ample time to salve your wounds. You will, when I tell you, inform this court of your plea. You will be forthright and honest and stop this caterwauling, and you will not impugn the dignity of the court further or I will see to it that you never get out of prison. I wield tremendous power, Mr. Waid, and I will use—“
“I’m not finished! I will use the power at my disposal to destroy what’s left of your miserable, selfish, indulgent life. You speak to me of the corruption of the system, insulting me, insinuating some evil mechanism of exploitation, and you have lived your life without purpose and without dignity.”
“What have you thought about, Mr. Waid, for all those long years of masturbatory vanity? What has been—why are you crying, Mr. Waid?—what has been your reason for living? What do you do when you lie in your cell and dream of your past? Who do you talk with about your own failings and your wasted years? What is your purpose and why are you even alive? Answer!”
“I . . . I’m sorry—“
“You’re all sorry, Waid. Every one of you is sorry. I’ve had it up to my ears with all you guys coming in here saying ‘but I didn’t hurt anybody’. How the hell do you know what your actions have caused? Unless you were born and raised in a cave, Mr. Waid, you knew that what you were doing was an illegal game you chose to play. You lost! We won! Now how do you plead?”
“I . . . uh . . .”
“Mr. Waid? Are you all right, Mr. Waid?”
“Bailiff, court will recess for thirty minutes so Mr. Waid can get control of himself.”
There is a feeling only knowable to a few and not easy to describe except to those who have been there. At night on the ocean, if you are loaded with contraband, your cargo becomes your illumination and your heat. It positions you in the galaxy and delineates your passage through space and time. Other sailors, legal sailors, can’t see or feel it. The natural mindset is one of aloneness—of outlandish proportions of water and sky overwhelming their tiny vessel. Bug-like, our cruising couple fights the feeling by bashing into the porch light of their environment with toys such as radios and charts and Jimmy Buffett on the tape player.
With pot on board the feeling is just the opposite and reduces the universe to a fishbowl and you to the goldfish within. You cannot imagine being ignored. Every loose rattle or odd wave is a tell-tale and a harbinger of your ultimate exposure, and you can’t escape the feeling of being watched, of not being spotted immediately by the gargantuan powers designed to protect the world from your impudent disregard for those powers. My old crewman Frank, a combat veteran, likened the experience to his Viet Nam days. You’re convinced, in the way that pulse and breath and the feel of your skin tell you, you’re completely convinced that everyone can see you.
Many people go through life experiencing no great epiphany or colossus of meaning. They see no war or no miracle or develop no understanding of things as seen from the eye of energy that is created by catastrophe or horror or fear. Their lives have been unburdened, enjoyed without the earthquake or the firestorm, and unpolished by encapsulated revelation.
Well I have experienced at least three episodic dramas, which offered up evidence of my mortality. I have exhilarated in the adrenal rush of chases in the night. I have felt the steel of a gun barrel to my head when I was captured in Louisiana. And now, with my fall, I have seen despair.
My smuggling was never for the money or for prestige or property or ski trips in the Alps. It was a contest of nerves between the good guys (me) and those who would want to hurt me. And it had the most wonderful perks. I could live and work in a paradise and be surrounded by the addictive wax and wane of chance and the disposition of cloudless, golden latitudes. I remember back and have the most emotional sorrows for that innocence and ignorance, and that narcissistic egoism of joy.
“How do you plead, Mr. Waid?”
It’s come to this. How can it be so easily compressed into one small word? How is it possible to admit to a culpability that is designed and felt by people I don’t understand? I can’t say anything without saying too much. How do I plead? I plead with bloodless lips and startled, doe’s eyes, through a throat constricted with fear. I plead with a face in rictus, a face that echoes my heartbeat and parodies my whistling breath. I plead ignorantly of ignorance and with revelations of laziness. I plead no contest to the contest and without comfort or fluidity to this unkind quest for my soul. I plead when I wake up in the morning and when I go to sleep at night. I plead at once and throughout the weeks and months and microseconds of my ordeal. I plead into the bat-blind eyes of the monolith and into the mirrored cup of my salted, poisoned wine. I plead to the sea and the sky and to the umbilicus which I have severed and I plead to this judge for the reconfiguration of a life. I plead in fits and starts, coughing and mumbling and tripping on the words and I plead for a measure of courage that has so far been denied. I plead for humor and for proportion and for the sentience of my government and I plead, ultimately, any way you will have it.
“Mr. Waid, we are waiting.”
I feel like a child: “Aww, I don’t wanna plead. I wanna die! I want my mommy! I wanna go home!”
I feel powerless—a category of a man: “ . . . look down this column on the left until you find your number, and across the row on the top of the graph until things line up, Mr. Waid, and you’ll see that you fall squarely in the middle of this particular kind of person . . .”
I feel so tender. I might break. Handle with care, I’m a soap bubble or a brittle vial of worthless wind from another time and place . . .
I must control my emotions. How do I plead? Have I been steadily storing measures of courage against this day? Must I do this for others, for the greater good?
I’ll plead! I’ll plead in the halls of their palaces or in the spotlight on their stage. I’ll plead with an eighty-piece brass band, with flashing lights, with sirens and confetti; I’ll do it whistling and eating crackers through the lips of my dummy. I’ll signal with my ears and sign with my eyebrows. I’ll do what it takes. I’ll pee my plea into the snow bank of the federal government’s heart. Mine will be a prize-winning plea. I will not bend.
“GUILTY, YOUR HONOR! I PLEAD GUILTY! GUILTY OF THE CRIMES OF WHICH I HAVE BEEN CHARGED!”
“A wise choice, Mr. Waid. Maybe we should send out for ice cream.”
“Let’s get it on, Tiger.”
“Tiger sentences you to nine years—“
“NINE YEARS? Nine days would have done it.”
“NINE YEARS, DOG! For nine years you will shuffle and kowtow. You will carry yourself in round-shouldered respect. You will jingle and jangle in your manacles like a dancing bear and when someone addresses you with the authority of the United States Government behind them, you will answer politely. Any intemperance, any unruliness of thought will be dealt with. Good luck, Mr. Waid. I hope you make it. Bailiff, this court is adjourned.”
It’s winter in G-dorm and the old building is coping as best it can under the circumstances. The windows, steel-barred, are sweating and through the mesh of dirty wire I can see the main compound—brown now and abandoned looking during lockdown. The dorm is overheated but my hands are cold and I’m homesick. I can close my eyes and taste salt. I feel the motion. I can lie on my bunk amid the clatter and mumble of idle prisoners, and I leave this place and abandon this time:
Beneath my boat a late morning light penetrates the swell. I see milky columns of light descending and disappearing in the veridic blue of the Gulf Stream. I can look up and out and there in the distance sentinels of clouds like pillowed comforters echo the aquamarine of the bank and tint the sky with early warnings of shallow water ahead. If I squint, concentrating on the border between sea and sky, I can just make out the skin of tiny islands, gray-blue lines on blue-blue sea under aqua skies in the chromatic latitudes of the Caribbean.
Home alright, awash in the light of the tropics . . .
But only if I closed my eyes.