Rapid Eye Reality -- Home of Brad Willis' writing on family life, travel adventures, and life inside the poker world

About Rapid Eye Reality
Poker Papers
Up For Poker Blog
Up For Sports Blog
PokerStars Blog

Currently reading:

2007 Reading List

Barack Obama
Devon Epps
Mt. Otis
Mental Massage
Tiffany Souers
TV News

Blogroll RER

This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from OT!S. Make your own badge here.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Of best chances redux

"We're not voting for inspirational-speaker-in-chief."
--CJ, in the comments to
Of best chances

The people who don't want Barack Obama to be President of the United States are united in their message: He has done nothing, he has proven nothing, and his inspirational kumbaya speeches are just a clever throwback to forty-some years ago. These same people will have you believe that their candidate is better suited to solve the problems of our nation because they will fight, fight, fight against the opposing party, against the terrorists, against the people who seek to destroy our way of life, moral fiber, and old ladies. Obama, they say, lacks the experience necessary to be the leader of the free world.

It's a pretty strong argument. So strong, I'm not going to spend a great deal of time trying to fight against it. It stands to reason, if I hire the most experienced babysitter to look after my kid for four hours, I should hire the most experienced person to babysit my nation for four years. Right?

Well, maybe. When I go looking for a babysitter (or, if you think I'm being too glib, extend the argument to anything for which you hire based on experience), I have a wide variety of people who have actually been babysitters before from which to choose. When I'm electing a President, the pool isn't very big. In fact, unless I want to re-conscript Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush, I've got nobody I can put in office who has the kind of experience everybody is looking for.

The simple fact is, the training ground for being a President really doesn't exist. The closest anybody comes to being prepared for the Presidency is being Vice President. I'm not saying that any of the remaining candidates aren't prepared for the job. I'm simply arguing that when it comes time to take the oath, anyone elected will be entering uncharted personal waters. That's why they have advisers, a Cabinet, and a system of checks and balances.

But, the Governors! Think about their experience. That's what Proto said in his comment. "Governors usually make better executives than senators or congress folk," he wrote. Historically, he may have an argument. I'm not goingg to fight on that. If we're to go with Governors this time, though, it's Huckabee or Romney. I do hope you'll pardon me if I discount both candidacies out of hand. I could spend a few hundred words explaining how those gents are not aligned with my way of thinking, but I think most of you know me well enough to know I ain't gonna be voting for either of them. What's more, I've known enough Governors in my day (Mel Carnahan, Kirk Fordice, Ronnie Musgrove, Jim Hodges, and Mark Sanford to name the ones with whom I spent the most time) to know that, while good men and decent leaders, they are no more qualified to run the nation than Governor George Bush was.

With experience being a non-factor in my decision, I am forced to look to policy, leadership skills, and personality. As I wrote in the previous post, no one candidate combines all three to my satisfaction. I can't imagine, unless one of my best friends decided to run for office, that I'll ever find anyone who is the perfect candidate.

And so, I look for inspiration. I look for a message that meshes with what I hope for the country. I look for someone who has vowed from the outset to do his best to unite a very divided country and work toward a greater good on which we can all agree.

CJ wrote, "We're not voting for inspirational-speaker-in-chief."

I, for one, hope to. If Obama can inspire a guy this jaded and cynical, he stands a good chance of inspiring a nation.

It may sound like a lot of feel-good, smile-on-your-brothers, hippie drivel, but I want to live in an inspired country. In inspiration, hope springs.

And in hope, there is often peace.

I'll take that any day.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of best chances

I do not talk about a lot of things with people I care about. I avoid confrontation at most times and it takes a lot to push me to the point at which I start running my mouth. Among the things I usually don't discuss: abortion, religion, and politics. I have recently, though, crossed the line and started discussing politics in places I normally would not. I guess if I can admit it to the people I care about, I can admit it to the world at large.

I want Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States.

A bit of disclosure: I have never voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate. In fact, I haven't voted in a Presidential race in years. In the 15 years I've been allowed to vote, I have never been inspired by a candidate or what he represents. Whether it is just great marketing--and I think a lot of it is--or it is the real deal, Obama offers me that kid of inspiration.

In an interview with CNN last night, Hillary Clinton made a lot of sense. She said her first days in office would be dedicated to putting together a plan to bring America's troops home fast. She would overturn a number of Bush's Executive Orders that have infringed on our civil liberties.

Maybe it's lip service. Maybe she wouldn't do any of it. Regardless, it's what I want done. The war, the bad beat on civil liberties, and the collapsing economy are among the first things I need to see fixed before I start believing our country is headed in the right direction again.

So, why, if Clinton is promising to do the things I want am I supporting her opponent? It's pretty simple: Clinton represents in word, action, and symbol everything that has made me hate politics and the process for as long as I can remember. She stands for fighting the Republicans at all costs. She believes any means is appropriate to her end. I can't look at her without thinking "gridlock." I think she probably stands for the the right things, but I don't think she stands on a foundation that will support the weight of her dreams.

Obama's biggest critics cite his inexperience in leadership as a reason to discount his candidacy. I long ago rejected this argument. We elected George Bush after he governed one of America's biggest states and had the benefit of being the son of a President. I don't think I have to re-create the laundry list of how that experience has turned out. Hillary Clinton's brief experience running for President serving as a New York Senator and America's most pitied first lady doesn't really count--at least in my mind--as the kind of background I'd put above many other people.

I will be the first to admit, the Obama marketing machine is a damned good one. The people who have spent their time working to inculcate the parallels between he and JFK are really smart. They are smart because they are speaking to my generation and the generation before mine. We are people who want change and people who have seen how change can affect a nation. If it's all one big commercial, well then I'll be the first to congratulate the ad wizards. You got me.

Obama does not represent everything I want. In fact, I'm at odds with him on several issues. Frankly, I don't care. I have either fallen victim to his marketing machine or I am duly impressed with a man who speaks about working together, getting rid of the old Red State/Blue State BS, and serving as one people to reunite a country that has spent way too long divided.

I will be voting in this year's general election. And I hope I'll be voting for Barack Obama.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The bon temps

"I don't want this to sound as morbid as it will," I said to my wife.

We were one of less than a dozen people in a bar as a long-haired country singer named Corey Michael sang on stage. We sat at the corner sipping our drinks and exhaling after two days of driving.

My wife raised her eyebrows and expected the worst. When I start getting morbid, she tends to laugh. It's a defense mechanism, I guess.

Around the corner of the bar, a guy with a sleeveless t-shirt and five o'clock shadow ordered a shot of Goldschlager, seemingly for no other reason than the bartender had a bottle. He turned up the drink and walked out alone a few minutes later.

This was the first time I'd been to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. In fact, it was the first time I'd been since 1998. I didn't know what to expect. I found that the original Tropical Isle was moved across the street in 2004, complete with a jazz funeral. I found that all the buildings looked newer than they had in the past, likely the result of a post-hurricane paint job. I discovered that Hand Grenades still taste the same, there is still a Lucky Dog vendor on most corners, and that there are still guys there who will try to run the old "I bet I can tell you where you got those shoes" con. It was, in short, a freshly painted version of the same place I'd been so many times before.

Corey was more talented than he should be, especially to have been playing in a bar on a Wednesday afternoon. The rumor had it that he had done some sort of American Idol work before moving to the Quarter to play five nights a week for $20 a set plus tips. I guess there are worse jobs. Before we left, we tossed a sizable tip in his jar and wished him well.

We would see similar stories up and down Bourbon Street. Our last stop of the night, in fact, we listened to a rather good funk band until they closed up shop. When the set was over, I felt compelled to buy the guitarist a beer. Color him unsatisfied with the gig. It was just a way to make money. The next night, he was sitting in at the House of Blues for a band I'd never heard of. That's the thing about New Orleans. Whether it was a classic rock cover band, a funk crew, or a lonely singer song writer, everybody there is better than the best bar bands of just about any city you go to.

Throughout what would prove to be a fantastic five days in southern Louisiana, I saw much and ate more--countless sausages, crawfish, gulf shrimp, a 20 oz. bone-in ribeye, shrimp and grits, gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, you name it. I had some good New Orleans coffee, which I miss when I'm not there. Hell, my buddy Uncle Ted even sweet talked a waiter at Dickie Brennan's into giving up his "Otis" name tag. It was a nearly perfect trip.

That made what I said just a few hours into it all the more strange. My wife sat at the corner of the bar, her shirt the same color as her drink. She sipped and started taking on that smile-laced glazed look that lets me know she has relaxed. No, I didn't want to make it sound as morbid as it was going to, but I didn't have much choice.

"If you ever decide to leave me and take everything that means anything to me," I said, "this is where I will probably come to drink myself to death."

She shook her head in a way only she can.

Yeah, it sounded more morbid than it should've.

Done riding
More photos from the trip on my Flickr page

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dateline: New Orleans

I couldn't get comfortable.

Something was wrong. We crossed Lake Pochatrain and my wife pointed out how bad the railraod bridge looked. I was dealing with spitting rain, bad traffic, and a bad case of tension. The city felt sterile and too new. I wanted to turn around.

Ten minutes later, we drove underground at the Royal Sonesta and found a parking spot that beat me like no other. I tried five times before giving up and moving somewhere else. This wasn't the laid back New Orleans I knew.

Finally, we walked for half an hour and reacalimated ourselves to the city we once knew as our own. When the Tropical Isle was on the wrong side of the street, I nearly suggested we go home. We learned later that it moved, complete with a New Orleans-style jazz funeral, in 2004. That made me happier than I'll be able to express right now.

I thought the city had given me up after my nine-year absence.

It only took three hours before I walked down the street with the feeling like I'd lived here for years. I've only been in town for five hours, but I'm 100% at home. As for why, that's a story for another time.

Tonight, we dine on nostalgia at NOLA. It was the place we ate when I got my first TV job. Tonight, we'll eat with the knowledge that television is long behind us. Better yet, our life is ahead uf us.

With lots to say and still lots to do, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the wax tonight. Suffice it to say, we're in New Orleans and we're home.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Deep South Run: The Live Blog

Scroll down for updates.

ANDERSON COUNTY, SC--Interstate 85, the major artery that runs from Atlanta, GA, through Upstate, South Carolina, and into to the northern reaches of the Southeast is a wet mess today. It is Mad Max dangerous, despite it running slower than it usually does. Nine years ago--back when I lived in this county, the stretch of four-lane interstate was home to the worst car wrecks I ever saw. It's not a backwoods county, but it was good ol' boy enough that I, for better or worse, ended up too close to the accident scenes. The most vivid memory is standing over a body bag as it was opened up. Inside was the top half of a human body, burned down to the bone. It was a kid on his way to college at UVA. His mom died in the same wreck, despite being in a different car. I still can't stop seeing it. It's been nearly a decade. Worse, though, I think was the girl who nearly had her head cut off by a car that crossed the center divider and went airborne. I spent a lot of time on invesitgations into why the state hadn't installed cable barriers in the too-thin medians. Eventually, after I saw more than my share of dead people, the state got its act together and installed cable or cement carriers for most of the length of this interstate in South Carolina.

Today, we denizens of Mt. Otis are on I-85 in Anderson County and headed south. My mobile work station is set up in the passenger seat, allowing me to maintin an online presence for my employers while still making tracks. It's a double-edged sword, this ease-of-working set-up. While it allows me to get some work done, it also puts the wife behind the wheel. She's a relatively safe driver, but also likes to nararrate the drive. We're seeing the same thing out the windows, but...well, we'll leave it at that. I'm tired and cranky and probably not the best traveling companion right now, either. Regardless, it's snowing now. Snowing chicken feathers, anyway. You'd have to see it to appreciate it.

Indeed, every breathing thing in the house came with is. The wife is decked out in a velour PokerStars jumpsuit. I'm in cargo pants and a two-layers of t-shirty goodness. The kid is kicked back in his car seat and watching The Incredibles. The dog, Scoop, is stoned out of her damned mind on tranquilizers. We won't be in Anderson County for long. Our journey is a week long and will take us through every state in the Deep South (unless you're one of those people who considers Florida part of the Deep South). Georgia is less on my mind than on the horizon.

More from there in a bit...(1:00pm ET)

HART COUNTY, GA--It's 92 miles to Atlanta and I'm hoping I've accidentally been knocked unconcious before we get there. Despite being the capital of the South and one of the most--if I dare say it--cosmopolitan cities within 600 miles, it's still Atlanta, which means it sucks sideways when it concerns anything involving travel. We have timed this trip to avoid anything resembling a rush hour. Still, we will slow down to a mere crawl when we pass through around 2:30pm. I know this because it's part of Atlanta's city charter.

So, why would we do this? Why would we load the car on a Tuesday and decide to travel across four states and back in a week? Why would we do this just a couple weeks removed from a ten-day work trip in the Bahamas. Well, it's a few things, really. First, I spend a few days every Janaury in Mississippi. Usually, I'm in Tunica playing poker. This year, circumstances made it such that that poker trip isn't happening. Still, the wife's family lives there, a scant few miles from where I used to live. Our first stop (not counting the six or seven bathroom stops we're sure to make) will be Jackson, Mississippi. That is about an eight-hour drive from Mt. Otis. After that, the wife and I will head down to New Orleans and hole up in the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon St. while we wait for several friends to make it in from out of town. After that it's marriage for one of our closest friends.

That's the real reason we are navigating through a rainstorm in 33-degree temperatures. When we left the house, it was 35 degrees outside. Now, it's 33 and threatening to drop more. The only thing hot in this county is the TOPLESS, TOPLESS sign as you cross the border. The locals love that one. But, really, in an area of the country where bare knees can sometimes be seen as too titilating, a topless diner was really a stroke of genius. Pun not really intended, but I'm leaving it there anyway.

Despite working on just a few hours sleep, riding with a headache, and having to work from the passenger seat of an SUV, I'm actually really excited about making it to the Big Easy. Outside of places I've actually lived, New Orleans is top of the list in memories. From bignets at Cafe Du Monde, to the food/drink at Fat Harry's, to a big mess of crawfish on my buddy Al's back deck, New Orleans used to be the place I went when I was looking for a place that wasn't home, but welcomed me like like I was a native son every time. (1:41pm ET)

SUWANEE, GA--I can smell Atlanta.

Actually, I can smell the remains of the fast food we picked up on the way out of G-Vegas, but it's close enough. Sprawl means you can smell and feel Atanta a good 45 minutes before you get there. I sort of feel guilt for making the wive drive the first leg of this journey. If I were officially off work, I'd be driving all of it. So, now, I'm fielding instant messages and offering snide opinions that are probably ill-advised.

I should have better memories of Atlanta. I've spent many a good night there. Saw the Braves make the World Series one year. Saw the Cigar Store Indians play with the Reverend Horton Heat while simultaneiously challenging people to play pool for money and picking a fight with a dwarf in a leather jacket. Once sat around a bonfire for ebout eight hours playing guitar when it was 40 degrees outside.

Despite all that, my best memories of Atlanta have been on nights I didn't actually go there. Really, the best things about Georgia don't happen along I-85. To feel really at home in Georgia, one has to go to Athens. Or, better yet, go to Savannah and cross the bridge to Tybee Island. There you'll find a place you can call home, if even for a weekend.

I find it a little odd that I'm nostalgic for a place I've not yet left. I consider the Southeast my home and, when and if I leave, I'm gonna miss it.

All of it except Atlanta, anyway. (2:00pm)

ATLANTA, GA--Gotta find a way to distract myself from this for a few minutes. How about you meet Al?

Al was the first Jewish guy I knew--or, at least, he was the first guy I knew that I knew was Jewish. After meeting Al, I had a hard time understanding what all the hubub was about.

Al was from New Orleans, but was attending the University of Missouri when I got there. He was a year older than me, but took me under his wing quickly. With a deep New Orleans accent--the first I could really indentify as such--Al led me to my first Mardi Gras in Febraury 1993. I occasionally look back at the pictures at the 19-year-old version of me--slicked back hair, denim shirt, no wrinkles, 15 years younger and more naive than seems possible. Naive in New Orleans is better than you might think. You never expect the trouble you're about to get into, so you don't know to be wary of it.

I won't wax forever on that trip. Suffice it to say, it was a series of firsts for me. It was the frist time anyone had walked up with a paper grocery bag and dumped five pounds of crawfish in front of me. It was the first time--and certainly not the last--that I pulled the crawfish tail out with my teeth, then crushed the head between my fingers while sucking the juice into my mouth. It was the first time I saw girls randomly taking their clothes off for no good reason. It was the first time I--a guy who had never even seen illegal drugs--saw somebody fashion a pipe using nothing more than a pencil and a roll of tin foil.

Al took me back to New Orleans again after that and I owe him big for introducing me to one of my favorite places in the world. We lost touch about ten years ago. I don't know what happened to him or his other running buddies, G and Sal. Damn, but we had a good time together.

I've been to New Orleans a lot of times since then. It has never been as good as that first trip. In fact, a couple of times, it was downright bad. However, a majority of my time in one of America's greatest cities was perfect. I am having a hard time not getting overly excited about it.

It occurred to me last night, though, that this is the first time I've been married in New Orleans. My love and I have been there together before, but never as a married couple. Shouldn't be too diferent, should it? (2:20pm)

TALAPOOSA, GA--Well, Atlanta wasn't as bad as it could've been. There was only one tragic SUV rollover accident and we only slowed to 25mph twice. Now, we're back on fast highway. It's I-20 for us now all the way to Jackson. Apart from being exceedingly boring, I-20 is a very reasonable stretch of road. We pick it up in Altanta and will run it all the way across the Alabama border. From there, it's pine forests, the Talledega Speedway, a sleepy little town where--as a one-man-band TV guy--I once chased a cop killer, Birmingham, steel towns, the Mississippi border, lumber yards, and finally Jackson. On the scale of interestingness, it's way the hell away from driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, but a sight better than driving across I-70 from Missouri to Colorado. You can trust me on all three of these. No drive compares to the PCH for beauty. The only thing I've ever seen that comes close is the Blue Ridge Parkway in October. And nothing is more boring than driving across the Kanas Plains.

It appears now, as well, that we no longer have to worry about the weather. The sun is coming out and the temperature is up to 41 degrees. I figure we'll hit Jackson by 7pm CT. That's not too bad.

As the pine trees plow by, or we by them, I find myself thinking about the worst thing I ever saw in New Orleans. I'd just left the Tropical Isle on Toulouse and ended up in the midde of a massive street brawl. It was Mardi Gras 1994 and it was so crowded that any fight between two people was going to turn into a riot. I was happy to escape with no blood on me. I turned the corner onto Bourbon and walked a block or two up. I didn't have to worry about toppling over due to intoxication. The last few days before Fat Tuesday meant the streets were filled to capacity. Like always, I followed the crowd's cheers and gaze. Nearly everyone on the block was looking up at one balcony. That usually means there's a girl taking her clothes off. I stopped and looked up...just in time to see a guy climb up on a balcony rail and scream "Woooooooooooo-hooooooooooooooo!" And then, completely against his will, and in line with how gravity usually works, the guy fell off the second story balcony and to the ground. I don't know how the crowd hushed quick enough for us to hear the guy hit the ground, but it did. If you've heard the old saying about a sack of potatoes...well, that was what it sounded like.

The guy was alive when the dragged him by me. His eyes were open anyway.

For the first time ever or since, I sobered up immediately. You just don't see something like that every day.

I walked a couple more blocks down when a girl ran full-chest into me.

"I'll kiss you for those beads," she said, pointing to one of the 100 strands I had around my neck.

I shrugged. "Okay."

"But," she said, "No tongue. I don't want to get AIDS."

I shrugged again. "Okay."

And then the girl stuck her tongue in my mouth anyway. (3:15pm ET)

TALLADEGA NATIONAL FOREST, AL--What sucks about Alabama is...well, that's just the start of the joke I'm not prepared to tell. Alabama gets a bad rap. I think it's guilt by association, what with it being so close to Mississippi and all. Alabama is actually a really pretty state. It would, however, be a lot prettier if it managed to keep its roadsides free of litter. We're now doing 75mph through the Talladega Natonional Forest, specifically, just crossing the border into Calhoun County and we're seeing a lot more trash than one should see. Here in just a bit, I'm going to take over the wheel and barrel as fast as is safe toward Jackson. The quicker I get there, the quicker I make it to Louisiana.

The previous entry here paints New Orleans with a rather ugly brushstroke. It's not always that way. Mardi Gras, I assume especially in the days before Hurricane Katrina, is an insane time in the French Quarter. It's no place for a kid and it's not really a place for anybody over 40. It's easy to get hurt. The rest of the time, though New Orleans is a place where one can lose himself temporarily or permanently, and do so quite happily. If you ever go, here's your must-do list:

  • See the Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Have a sandwich with extra debris at Mothers
  • Have bignets at Cafe du Monde
  • Drink at least one hand grenade at the Tropical Isle
  • Watch people sing karaoke at Cat's Meow
  • Have real New Orlean's BBQ shrimp
  • Eat oysters
  • Have a poboy
  • Go for a wash and drink at Checkpoint Charlies

    Bonus points:

  • Spend an hour in Oz
  • Spend 15 minutes in The Dungeon
  • Spend half an hour in a Bourbon Street strip club

    Sadly, I'm already regretting how little time I'm spending in New Orleans on this trip. I'm also already a little hungover from the bachelor party I'm attending...on Thursday. 2:41pm CT

    EMBRY, AL--I don't get motion sickness. While that's not entirely true and a few guys who were on a North Sea ferry with me in 1997 might have a couple of stories, I don't get motion sickness. I've ridden in cars, trucks, planes, trains, boats, helicopters, and, verily, blimps and I've never thrown up.

    Right now, that could change.

    Alabama's road contractors decided to see if they could come up with a notion that overstepped failure. You know that motorboat sound you make if someone does the chop suey massage on your back? That was the noise we made for five miles while trying to talk. I feel like hell.

    The road leading to Pell City and Birmingham has finally smoothed out, but I've lost my desire to look at a computer screen for a while. I'm going to fight for the steering wheel. If I succeed, I suspect the wife will take over the live blogging duties over at In Search of Walden. Note: Walden is most certainly NOT in Alabama. If she decides she'd rather listen to more 80s music, you'll hear from us again on the other side. Later, all.(3:05pm CT)


  • Monday, January 21, 2008

    Prosecutors set to unveil evidence in Devon Epps case

    It's been nearly three months since Greenville County's top lawman said what most people already suspected:

    "Amanda Smith is responsible for the death of her son."

    With those words, Sheriff Steve Loftis prepared the community for what is sure to be an exceptionally long and drawn-out legal battle. The process begins this week.

    Wednesday, Solicitor Bob Ariail and his team of prosecutors will go before Greenville County's top magistrate, Diane Cagle, and lay out the evidence against Amanda Smith. Or, in reality, Ariail will lay out just enough evidence to convince Cagle to bind the case over for trial.

    It is, in short, more ceremony than battle. I have watched more preliminary hearings than I can even remember, a majority of them in front of Cagle. Never has there ever been a question whether a case of this magnitude would go to trial. It's just gotta be done.

    The reality of this week's proceedings is that the public will get its first taste of Amanda Smith, defendant. We will also get a chance to hear the basic outline of Ariail's case.

    I always loved prelims because they were usually short, but chocked full of information. I had been looking forward to this one for two months. Alas, this hearing is happening on a day I'm going to be on the road. I cannot cancel this trip and will have to rely on the good folks at Greenville Online to get my fix.

    Ariail, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to announce whether he intends to seek the death penalty against Smith. I would still bet he does not, but Ariail has surprised me before. Regardless, the trial itself is probably still a good year away.

    I remain disappointed I can't be in court on Wednesday. If any of you good e-mail buddies hear anything before I do, shoot me a note.

    Previous Coverage:

    Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death
    Devon Epps, Amanda Smith and the difficulties of reporting crime news
    Devon Epps: Scene of the Crime?
    Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print
    Devon Epps: Waiting
    Devon Epps: Pictures
    The Missing Memorial Page
    On Being Devon Epps' Mom
    Amanda Smith arrested in death of son Devon Epps

    Labels: , ,

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    Gary Michael Hilton and Jason Knapp

    The arrest of Gary Michael Hilton for the alleged murder of Georgia hiker Meredith Emerson should not have brought back any memories for me. However, now that investigators are connecting Hilton to the murder of North Carolina hiker Irene Bryant and the disappearance of her husband John, people are starting to use words "serial killer." The talk only gets more pointed when investigators continue to list Hilton as the primary suspect in the death of Cheryl Dunlap in Florida.

    If you draw a line from northeast Georgia where Emerson died to Transylvania County, NC where the Irene Bryant died, you are going to cross a place called Table Rock in Pickens County, South Carolina. Though it's not yet being reported in the national press, investigators in Pickens County are doing preliminary work to see if Hilton might have had any role in the disappearance of Jason Knapp in 1998.

    Knapp, at the time a student at Clemson University, was a model student and member of the Air Force ROTC. He disappeared in April 1998. Investigators found Knapp's car, a Chevy Beretta, at Table Rock State Park. Table Rock is a popular hiking and outdoor area in Upstate South Carolina. It has a number of interconnected trails, a couple of which reach to the top of Table Rock.

    Despite massive search parties and an exhaustive investigation, no one ever found Knapp or his remains. Everyone has been left to assume he either fell off one of a bluff or, worse, ran into a drifter the likes of Gary Hilton. It's impossible to say. From the perspective of a clumsy writer who has hiked the Table Rock summit, it would be very easy to fall. If one were alone, there would be no calling for help, especially in 1998 when cell phones were a little less common.

    Still, because of Knapp's disappearance and several unsolved murders and disappearances around the same time, investigators in Pickens and Oconee Counties (the two counties on either side of Clemson University) have never let go of the idea that Knapp might have been the victim of a killer. To wit:

  • In 1992, Norsaadah Husain was stabbed in a Cleamson-area laundry, kidnapped, killed, and later dumped in a forest within a half-hour's drive of Table Rock. No one ever found in the killer.

  • Brooke Holsonback was found murdered in Lake Hartwell near Clemson University in February 1997. Though the case has focused largely on two of her male schoolmates, the case remains unsolved.

  • Sheila Carver disappeared in June 1998 from the same area and was never found.

  • Add to that Knapp's disappearance in April 1998 and you have...what? Well, you have a bunch of cases in a two-county area that remain cold 10-15 years later. Because each of the cases is so dissimilar, investigators long ago gave up on the idea they are connected by anything other that geographic area. These same stories and memories pop up every time there is a high-profile case in the area, like when Tiffany Souers was murdered in her Clemson-area apartment in the summer of 2006.

    This year will be the ten-year anniversary of Jason Knapp's disappearance and presumed death. I know this because I spent many a year thinking about the case and dealing with its primary investigators. What's more, I spent more than a little time with Knapp's mother, Deborah Boogher.

    Deborah was a mother in much the same way I suspect mine would be if I fell off the face of the planet. Though she lived hundreds of miles away, Knapp's mother made regular trips to South Carolina to check in on the investigation and conduct a few of her own. One cold March morning, I joined her and a psychic on a trip to Table Rock State Park. My late partner and friend Chris, a photographer, and I spent the better part of a day on the trails around Table Rock. Never much of a supernatural guy myself, I had a hard time getting into the spirit of things. Still, I couldn't help but be touched by how desperate Deborah had become. She was willing to try anything if it meant finding her son.

    At the time, I wrote:

    Boogher stood in the middle of the parking lot waiting for the psychic to begin. "I know people think it is crazy but I've been to other psychics over the years," she explained, "They've all basically told me that Jason has died, but they've also told me they can't find him because they are not what they call an investigative psychic."

    Cheri Mancuso, a short woman with a shock of dyed-red hair, bills herself as an investigative psychic. "We don't know what to call me. There aren't too many people that really do what I do," Mancuso said.

    The psychic stood quietly for a moment, her eyes closed, hands wrapped around a picture of Jason Knapp. She explained that if she started to move, the group should follow. Mancuso explained that she had a vision about Knapp a full year before she met Boogher. She said she saw the letters J and A and prophesied that she would soon learn of a missing college student. She later interpreted the J and A to be the first two letters of Jason's name. Mancuso said she had more visions later. She said she saw Jason's car parked next to an old, red pickup truck. She said she saw two girls driving a convertible around in the Table Rock parking lot.

    She said she believed someone was hunting Knapp and that Knapp was scared. "I saw him huffing and puffing and he was out of breath," she told the group. "I felt him just running and running and running and finally I just felt him collapse. Somewhere, Jason lies on a trail."

    It was a desperate day that ended and resulted with no resolution. The Gary Hilton case will likely result in the same, because, if everyone is being honest with himself, the connection is tenuous at best. There exists an almost ten-year span between the recent deaths and Knapp's disappearance. All of Hilton's alleged victims or suspected victims have either been women or, in the case of John Bryant, in the company of a woman. Furthermore, the trails at Table Rock are rather self contained and not a vital part of a larger trail system.

    Still, when hope and time are all investigators and a mother have, Hilton is the closest thing anyone has had to a suspect in years.

    And it never hurts to look.

    *Hilton photo courtesy CNN


    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Tom Cruise Scientology Indoctrination Video transcript

    The following is a transcript of the Tom Cruise Scientology Indoctrination Video that circulated on You Tube and various blogs this week. Reports say the Church of Scientology issued takedown orders to sites that chose to broadcast the video. For the sake of posterity (and as a cure for an hour of boredom), I threw on my Bose headphones and transcribed the video as seen HERE. While I have done my best to reproduce the video in its entirety, I'm sure I've missed a few "you know"s and, likely, some Scientology phrases I simply don't understand. The following is offered without bias or comment.

    Here is a quick glossary to help you through the transcript:

    KSW: Keeping Scientology Working

    SP: Suppressive Person

    Org: Presumbly synoymous with Sea Org, as described on the Scientology web site as "religious order for the Scientology religion and is composed of the most dedicated Scientologists in the world—individuals who have dedicated their lives to the service of their religion"

    David Miscavige: Chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center (RTC), a non-profit organization formed in 1982 to preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion. (From Scientology web site)

    Out-Ethics: The opposite of Scientology's version of Ethics, the main tool used in practice of Scientology.

    LRH: L. Ron Hubbard, Founder of Church of Scientology

    Tech: A form of written instruction/courses provided to Scientology followers

    IAS: International Association of Scientologists, the official membership organization of Scientology


    Announcer: Tom Cruise on Tom Cruise Scientologist

    Cruise: I think it’s a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist and it is something that you have to earn, and…because a Scientologist does. He, or she has the ability to create new and better realities and improve conditions. Uh, being a Scientologist, you look at somebody and you know absolutely that you can help them. (cut)

    So, for me, it really is KSW, and it’s just like, it’s something that, uh, I don’t mince words with that. You know, with anything (unintelligible), but that policy to me has really has gone , boy, there’s a time I went through and I said, “You know what…” When I read it, I just went (noise that sounds like poof), “This is it. That’s exactly it.” (cut)

    Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it’s not like anyone else. As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you’re the only one that can really help. (cut)

    That’s…that’s what drives me, is that I know we have an opportunity, and uh, to really help for the first time effectively change people’s lives, and uh, I’m dedicated to that. I’m gonna, I’m absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that. (cut)

    Org are there to help, okay, but we as (unintelligible) the public, we have a responsibility. It’s not just the Orgs, it’s not just David Miscavige, you know, it’s not just me. It’s you, it’s everyone out there, kinds re-reading KSW and looking at what needs to be done and saying, “Okay! Am I going to do it or am I not going to do it?” Period. Am I going to look at that guy or am I too afraid because I have my own out-ethics, put in someone else’s ethics. That’s all it comes down to. (cut)

    And I won’t hesitate to put ethics in someone else, because I put it ruthlessly in myself. And I think that I…uh…I respect that, you know, in others. And, you know, I’m there to help, and we’re here to help, and my opinion is is that, look, either you’re on board or you’re not on board. Okay, it’s just, if you’re on board, you’re on board just like the rest of us. Period. (cut)

    We are the authorities in getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind. We are the authorities on improving conditions. Criminals, we can rehabilitate criminals. Way to happiness, we can bring peace and unite cultures, uh, that once you know these tools and you know that they work, it’s not good enough that I’m just (doing okay?)

    Traveling around the world and meeting the people that I’ve met. Talking with these leaders in various fields, they want help, and they are depending on people who know, and who can be effective and do it, and that’s us, that is our responsibility to do that. (cut)

    It is the time now. Now is the time, okay? It is, being a Scientologist, people are turning to you, so you better know it. You better know it, and if you don’t, you know, go (sound deleted, appears to be “fucking”) learn it. (Laughs) You know? But don’t pretend you know it and, or whatever. It’s like, we’re here to help. (cut)

    If you’re a Scientologist, you see life, you see things the way that they are. In all its glory, you know, all of its complexity. Uh, the more you know as a Scientologist, you don’t become overwhelmed by it. (cut)

    (Laughs) And uh, they said, “So, have you been an SP” (big laugh) I looked at them and I thought, “What a beautiful thing,” because maybe one day it will be like that, you know? You know what I’m saying. Maybe one day it will be that “Wow, SP, they just read about those in the history books.” You know? (cut)

    I just got through that tech, and it’s literally…it’s not how to run from an SP. It’s (acronym of some sort), how to shatter suppression, confront and shatter suppression. You apply it, and it’s like, boom. (cut)

    Because, they don’t come up to be and do that. They don’t do it to me. Not to my face, or anywhere in my vicinity where they feel they can confronted, you know. They just don’t do it. (cut)

    I wish the world was a different place. I’d like to go on vacation and go and romp and play and just do that. You know what I mean? I mean, that’s what I want it to be. That’s how, there’s times I want to do that but I can’t because I know. I know. So, you know I have to do something about it. It’s not, you know you can sit here wish it was different and then you look at it and you go “Okay, this is it.” You know, I have to do something, don’t I? I have to do it, because I can’t live with myself if I don’t. That really is it. (cut)

    I don’t care if someone thinks it’s hard or easy. You’re either helping and contributing everything you can or you’re not, okay? Because I’m carrying my load, okay? And as much as I’m carrying, I still feel like I have to do more. Alright? There is still a thing of, let’s go. (cut)

    You can just see the look in their eyes, you know the ones that are doing it and you know the spectators, the ones who are going, “Well, it’s easy for you” or “What am I doing” and it’s just, that thing is, I’ve canceled that in my area (laughs). It’s like, man, you’re either in or you’re out. That’s spectatorism, and it’s something that we have no time for right now. (cut)

    So, it’s our responsibility to educate, create the new reality. We have that responsibility to say, “Hey, this is the way it should be done, because we do it this way and people are actually getting better.” (cut)

    And let’s get it done. Let’s really get it done. Have enough love, compassion, and toughness that you’re going to do it and, uh, do it right. (cut)

    And I have to tell you something. I really, it is, it’s rough and tumble. It’s wild and wooly. It’s a blast. It’s a blast. It really is fun, because damn it there is nothing better than going out there and fighting the fight and suddenly you see things are better. (cut)

    I want to know that I’ve can everything I could everyday and I think about those people out there who depending on us. And I think about that. And it does make me feel like, (laughs) we’ve got more work. I need more help. Get those spectators—you’re in the playing field or out of the arena. (Laughs) You know, really, that’s how I feel about it. (cut)

    I do what I can and I do it the way I do everything (laughs). There’s nothing part of the way for me (laughs).

    Music: Mission Impossible

    Announcer: A Scientologist can be defined by a single question: Would you want others to achieve the knowledge you now have. In answering that question, Tom Cruise has introduced LRH technology to over one billion people on earth, and that’s only the first wave he’s unleashed. Which is why the story of Tom Cruise Scientologist has only just begun.

    Graphic: Tom Cruise, IAS, Freedom Medal of Valor, Winner

    Labels: , , ,

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    First Bar

    Pardon the moment of fiction...

    Rocky’s ass hurt.

    He realized this at irregular intervals between drinking beer in big gulps and chain smoking the cheap cigarettes he bought at the bodega on Second Street. It was his tailbone, he decided and attributed it to slipping on the kitchen floor a few months before. That’s what he got for hiring the Mick without any references. Boy sure could work the knives, though.

    “Unoriginal sons of bitches.”

    That was the old man behind the bar. He’d been serving Rocky beer for as long as either could remember. The wrinkles in Newt’s face had grown deep and in concert with his resentment for First Bar’s neighbors.

    “Second Bar?” Newt asked himself. The bar rag in his hand was soaked in stale beer and ammonia. “Sons of bitches.”

    Two months before, an enterprising young entrepreneur had happened on the idea that he could open a bar on the next block and piggyback on Newt’s history on First Street.

    “In all fairness,” Rocky said, “it really hasn’t cost you much of your customer base.”

    Newt’s lip curled up. “You know, Rock, it only takes you three beers to start sounding like a Jap again.”

    Rocky shrugged. “No offense meant, I’m sure.”

    “Fuck you, Rock.” Newt refilled Rocky’s beer and walked to the other end of the bar.

    Rocky had worked long and hard to sound like an American ever since leaving the name Hiroaki at home. But Newt was right. After a few beers, Rocky started sounding like he did before he went Anglo. America did that to people, he decided. And, really, who was he to complain? America had been good to him so far.

    Rocky turned his eyes away from First’s worn bar and down to the man at the end. He had long hair and a calm face. He drank a glass of red wine and kept quiet. In the face of Newt’s grumbling, quiet was usually better than the alternative. The man only barely turned his head when the bell over the door dinged.

    The Russian wore a ragged white t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans that hung too low over his boots. The barbed wire tattoo around his arm was as pronounced as always. When the Russian walked, it was as if he led with the tat. If Rocky hadn’t heard the story so many times, he would’ve had to count the ten barbs on the wire. Rocky had tried to seem impressed when the Russian—Yuri, if anyone cared—told him how he made the ink and cut himself with a sharpened spoon.

    “Burned the sole of my boot,” the Russian had told him, “and mixed the ashes with my own piss. Stung like hell.”

    The Russian took a seat next to Rocky and waited for Newt.

    “Who’s the long hair?” Yuri said.

    Rocky shrugged. “Newt’s allowed a new customer from time to time.”

    “Probably not cutting his hair until Kennedy rises from the dead,” Yuri muttered. He said things like that. “Fucking hippies.”

    Rocky did the math. “I think a couple of years is too long to be dead. Jack isn’t coming back.”

    “You sound like a Jap tonight,” Yuri said before turning to Newt and ordering his drink.

    Rocky let Yuri and Newt bitch at each other and allowed his thoughts wander with his eyes. The restaurants were doing well and he was still young. People still saw him as a Jap, though. No matter how successful he might become, nothing was going to change that. Supermodel for a daughter, CEO for a son, millions of bucks. No matter what happened, he would never really be Rocky. For now, his ass hurt and he wanted another beer.

    “It’s a bastardization,” Newt said. “You know how long, I’ve been here? I opened this place with my dad. We were the first bar here. It was only a fucking coincidence we were on first street.”

    “Happy coincidences,” Yuri muttered and fingered his tat.

    “And now, this son of a bitch decides he’s going to open a place on Second and call it Second Bar. A bastardization.” Newt threw his rag at the mirror behind the bar. It left a long streak as it slid down behind the bottles of booze.

    “You should have Yuri kill the guy,” Rocky said, then immediately regretted it. Despite his bigger-than-normal frame, beer still worked its way into his body too fast.

    “I’m not adding any more to this,” the Russian said, thrusting his arm in Rocky’s face. “Why don’t you do it? We can put a little thorn on that red rose on your arm.”

    Rocky wished he’d never compared ink with the Russian. “It’s not a rose. It’s a safflower.”

    “Whatever,” the Russian said, and finished his drink in a gulp. “Benihana mother fucker.”

    Newt retrieved his rag from the back wall and rinsed it off in the sink. “Should kill the son of a bitch. Really should. I mean, what’s next? Third Bar? Fiftieth Bar?”

    Rocky pointed to his glass. “Nothing stays new forever.”


    Two drunk toughs stumbled out of the bathroom in a cloud of smoke and laughter. As they walked by the bar, one stopped. His voice was louder than anything else in the room, including Pat Boone singing “Ain’t That a Shame” on the jukebox.

    “Hey, man! I’ve got one just like that!”

    Before Rocky or Newt could stop him, the kid was pulling up his sleeve and showing Yuri a barbed wire tattoo. “Got it last week, man! How long have you had yours?”

    Rocky stole a glance at Yuri and wondered how it would end. Yuri, however, didn’t move. He looked at his own face in the bar mirror and didn’t turn around. Newt managed to catch the kid’s eye and give him a look that said, “If you want to walk out of here, now would be the time.” The kid took the hint and moved.

    The three men sat in silence for the next few minutes. Newt finally broke the spell by dropping a bottle of wine. As he crouched to pick up the glass, he muttered, “Second Bar. Jesus Christ.”

    At the end of the bar, the long-hair smiled.

    “Been there, man,” he said.


    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Despite it all...

    I'll admit, my first and final post from the Bahamas was a bit bleak. It was one of those times when I should've just hit delete and waited until I got home. However, I use this blog to help me remember the high and low points in my psyche, so it remained. Thanks to all the people who e-mailed pep talks.

    Despite it all, though, there were more than a few interesting things that happened while I was gone. I don't even know if I feel like writing about them. Here are just a few highlights to help me remember that, if anything, this life introduces me to some very interesting and fun people.


    The lounge is no more than a hotel bar during most weeks. This week, however, it is home to some of the most ridiculous gambling and drinking in the world. I made it my home away from home in the few hours I wasn't working. One night, I sat with my friend B.J. and several other friends. B.J. had been given an uninflated soccer ball and was trying to inflate it with his mouth. I offered him 10-1 on $50 that he couldn't blow it up enough to make it roll across the floor. He didn't take the bet...and then proceeded to blow up the ball with his mouth. In this case, I got lucky to not lose $500, while still seeing the feat performed. I'll just let you guess how he did it.


    It was going on 2am and I was standing on a balcony overlooking a harbor full of yachts that cost more than my entire neighborhood. I was talking to two guys, neither of whom are American or live on the same continent. As you might guess, the subject of obscene wealth came up. We wondered aloud how we would handle ourselves if we had enough money to buy and maintain one of the yachts. One of the guys said that his aunt and uncle had become unexpectedly very wealthy and later wished they had not.

    "If you don't mind me asking," I said, "how did they earn their money?"

    "They invented Trivial Pursuit."


    For the first time in seven days, I was sitting down for a real meal. My wife and I had been invited by a friend and his girlfriend. They were a good couple. I'd known the guy for a long time, but was just getting a chance to chat up the lady. As the conversation wound through every topic you might imagine, the subject of musical festivals and hippies came up. The girl revealed that she had spent the first five years of her life on The Farm, the nation's longest-running hippie commune. I couldn't help but be a little surprised. I might have even been an little incredulous. By the end of the night, however, I was not. By the time the wife and I were wiping the sand off our feet and changing clothes for the night, I felt better about the entire week.

    Despite it all--the long hours, thankless work, and obscene disregard for money--I get to meet and hang out with some really interesting people.

    And sometimes I think it's all worth it.

    Labels: , ,

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    Death of the Arcade

    My buddy T is one hell of a photographer. I think I've said that before.

    A few weeks ago, T invited me to join him at a video game auction a couple of minutes from my house. I didn't make it, but he did. That's the thing about T. When he wants to do something, no late night or general malaise will keep him from going.

    If you ever wonder what happens to the Ms. Pac-Man games and KISS pinball machines when they leave your local pizza parlor or arcade, this might be somewhat enlightening. Regardless, it's fun.

    Visit T's slideshow at Death of the Arcade.


    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Bahamian nightdream

    It's nearly 2am in Nassau. I'm sitting in a room full of poker players. Fifty yards away, poker's version of soccer hooligans are chanting. They're fueled by a multi-rum drink and the local beer, Kalik. Unmentionable amounts of money are sliding back and forth across green-felted tables. For the week, I have a Bahamian work permit. It prohibits me from doing anything stupid or enjoyable. So, I sit and stare.

    I realized today that I have spent a grand total of ten minutes outside in the last six days. Every one of those minutes was spent under the moon. There is no day and there is no night. It's all inside. Most people think freedom turns people wild. Not so. Structure turns me into an animal.

    I'm an animal right now.

    The worst part is, I'm an animal that can't write. Whatever visceral experiences I'm enduring right now are either so raw or so boring that they don't fit into words. It's such an odd fucking world. The only thing that's made sense in the past six days is when my phone rang late last night. The voice on the other end said, "Blue Horseshoe Loves Anacot Steel."

    It was my buddy Pauly calling. I was in the Bahamas, he was in Australia. I hadn't talked to him in a month. We spoke for 25 seconds. It made me feel better for a few minutes. Today, as I thought about it, it reminded me of another quote from the same movie.

    "The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don't want to do."

    I am in awe of the people who love me. There are more than I can count, and I struggle to understand why. There are many people who tell me to stop thinking so much about the why and spend more time just loving people back. Those people are right, but it's harder than it should be. And I don't know why.

    It occurs to me that I am probably on the edge of falling apart. I keep listening to the same song over and over.

    "Sunday, Sunday lying in the grass, laying on my back and thinking about the past, Nothing to but sit around all day, getting used to this, it's gonna be that way for a long time."

    A couple of nights ago, somebody I know here got drunk and kept repeating something over and over again. "I am worth something. I want to go home."

    That's all we want, right?

    We want to be worth something and we want to go home.

    Advertisting inquiries to:
    blackjack terminology
    New canadian casino online poker web, which is owned by 888 casino announced launching before a few months. They are focusing only on Canadians and their specific needs (e.g. payment methods etc.),so you are able to play online games such as poker comfortably in your national background.

    August 2001
    September 2001
    October 2001
    November 2001
    December 2001
    January 2002
    February 2002
    March 2002
    April 2002
    May 2002
    June 2002
    July 2002
    August 2002
    September 2002
    October 2002
    November 2002
    December 2002
    January 2003
    February 2003
    March 2003
    April 2003
    May 2003
    June 2003
    July 2003
    August 2003
    September 2003
    October 2003
    November 2003
    December 2003
    January 2004
    February 2004
    March 2004
    April 2004
    May 2004
    June 2004
    July 2004
    August 2004
    September 2004
    October 2004
    November 2004
    December 2004
    January 2005
    February 2005
    March 2005
    April 2005
    May 2005
    June 2005
    July 2005
    August 2005
    September 2005
    October 2005
    November 2005
    December 2005
    January 2006
    February 2006
    March 2006
    April 2006
    May 2006
    June 2006
    July 2006
    August 2006
    September 2006
    October 2006
    November 2006
    December 2006
    January 2007
    February 2007
    March 2007
    April 2007
    May 2007
    June 2007
    July 2007
    August 2007
    September 2007
    October 2007
    November 2007
    December 2007
    January 2008
    February 2008
    Current Posts
        Creative Commons License

    Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
    All poker stories, travelogues, food writing, parenting and marriage advice, crime stories, and other writing should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also all protected under a Creative Commons license