The Pessimist

I

Am I really pessimistic, indifferent in my writings? So the Publishers say. I thought I was a realist, although for myself I suppose I’m a misanthropist, meaning: a loner, recluse, cynic malcontent with the world, but Pessimist? I don’t get it. Well I guess I will live with it, and be unpolished for a while, the Man of Woe, that is me. The telegram said, they liked the draft, but I needed to take all the gloom out of it. That is like saying your mother passed away, and at the funeral, you’re not allowed to give her deep sympathy, or allowed to say out loud her name, or in this case for me to print the gloom of the world at hand. The Will of the world is dead! Life is a despair, the only victory in life is war. And the victim is never wrong because if you tell him so, you’re one dead duck, along with the many.

The last publisher out of forty, said I only saw misery and unrest in the world. Somehow life left scars and deep reservoirs, but I made them too deep. He said I said ‘Life was meaningless,’ I didn’t say that, I’ll have to write him back, tell him, I said, ‘The world lived as if life was meaningless,’ no I said, I think I said, ‘nothingness,’ that ‘the world took on the spell of no certain faith, an old religion of nihilism is taking place, that life has gone out of the soul.

After reading his comments it struck me, ‘when I had young eyes like the publisher, for he’s only 27-years old, and I’m 68-years old, he sees the world with young eyes, he can’t see beyond the dimness of today, us older ones no longer can. I know he mocks me as a dimwit, living in the past, but it is the present I am talking about in the book, and future: the ruin, man has caused the world, is not that the roof is falling in. I’d like to call him up and talk to him. Maybe go see him, or have him see me, convince him the world needs my book, it is like a gospel, per near, a gospel of doom! I know Mr. Christion Durant, laughs at me, and if I call him he’ll say “Mr. Solomon Salem, I had a busy morning in my office, I’m in a good humor, don’t wreck the day for me, I’m too tired to fight, we’re not going to publish your rot.”

The previous publisher, for him it was regrettable, he agreed- “… but people do not think the way I think,” to his mind anyhow. Did he take a survey? No! Did he read ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh,’ or Achebe, or ‘The Trial,’ or ‘The Castle,’ or ‘Sentimental Education’ or Virgil, or ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Moby-Dick` or ‘Metamorphoses’: no, no, no, but they all have gloominess to them. How about Faust or Voltaire? No, no, no, again gloominess. For him there is no calamity at the tip of the horizon, no nuclear clock three minutes to midnight, he lives blind in a foxhole.

When I got home last night I noticed a pile of bills on my floor, the mailman’s too lazy to put them in the mailbox, instead of the door slot, that’s for when I’m on a trip, and I haven’t taken one for six years. This mailman’s a new one, he’s older than I, or looks older, with his wrinkles on his face swaying like masts in the offing.

By the time I reached the restaurant, ‘The Chef’ off Payne Avenue and West Seventh Street, my little apartment, two rooms on York Street not far off, just a little walk, no so much an unusual place, more on the order of a greasy-spoon place, with heavy waitresses with loose aprons and bulging pouches, where white haired men eat, and hopefuls with no sympathetic view on life go. I was still feeling badly about the previous turndown of my MS, but Christion Durant was on my brain now. Yet, oddly enough, so much alike they both are. I thought everyone had a view on the chaos going on in the world, did not Aristotle say, “We are all political Animals,” and did not Pope Francis quote that quote to Mr. Donald Trump concerning the wall he wanted to narrow the gap between the overflow of Mexicans sneaking into the United States. I guess my view on it was what Confucius, said: “For a wise man should know what he knows and what he doesn’t know.”

I like them both, but I wonder if Confucius should have changed his maxim to: “A wise man should know what he knows, and not pretend to know what he doesn’t know.”

“The Regular,” I told the fat waitress, with heavy-duty varicose-veins, it’s a crying shame, her insurance policy here doesn’t pay for them to be taken care of, and evidently they don’t. Just then a man came in who lives in the bottom apartment of my four-plex building. He’s 93-years old, he said he sold furs in his younger days.

“Hello,” he said, waves; I give him a wave back.

Mr. Christion Durant, should know evil is not blind, only hope and those like Russia, and Putin, and al-Assad in Syria, and the Islamic State, and North Korea’s head honcho, China likewise, they are all brooding over owning more of the earth.

To know them you got to know their fathers and mothers, because they get their temper from their father, and their good sense and intellect from the mother. The world lives in half-truths, like dreaming, if they put it all together, they’d have a heart attack. But what is stronger than the temper or the good sense or intellect? That is what my book is about, ‘The Will’. Why the world is falling apart. Why people put-up with living an unbearable life, a burdensome life. That’s why I live by myself, short-tempered and all, and live a challenging-like life, it takes guts to do that. Not mouth-guts, like the politicians, but gut-guts, it takes a strong Will.

I still don’t know if I should call him. I didn’t know until recently my book produced such a bad impression on him of me.

I have two sons and two daughters, seldom seen, all out of wedlock, one of the daughters has what I have, that is above ‘Will’ not so much intelligence perhaps, but the will covers that all up! Her husband just died, and she’s survived it quit well. She is not in touch with the pretense of the world. She’s not gloomy, and cynical, or suspicious. Or obsessed with fears, and evils, or fancies.

It is an effort thinking all these things out, the old man, the fur man, looking my way, smiling. Hair loose, flying to and fro, he sits under a fan, to cool his ordinary body, and life, and he laughs happily as if he told himself a joke. I’d bet he’d agree with my book to be.

I sleep with a gun under by bed, and I hate noise, it is unbearable, but those with less mental capacity, they can endure noise it doesn’t torture them, for intellectuals, it does, the knocking, hammering of neighbors, loud music, that base thumping, all torment.

I remember once my boy, one of the twins questioned me on if I had any friends? Not one single friend. A lot of acquaintances, but I’d not call them friends. Between him and them, resides infinity. And I’m immune to political protest and nationalistic fevers. What is so outrageous, so absurd, and so egotistic of this? I can sleep well, I know my prayers are heard by God.

I shall name my manuscript, ‘The Dark Side of the Riddle,’ because there is a double riddle in the book, perhaps triple. And what is a riddle but a puzzle if not a question, and mystery, a challenge for the world to find.

II

It was a struggle waking up this Saturday morning, full of sweat and bad odor; I looked out the window, and saw some joggers, and the breakfast sign on at ‘the Chef` café, up the street. I wanted to get into the shower, and not be troubled with breakfast. I wanted to call Christion Durant, tell him I got a name for the manuscript. I had to get up out of bed slowly, my head always hurts if it is too fast, I wanted a cigarette, but I had quite for 32-years, it seemed like the bitter taste would wake me better, but that was out of the question. I went and got into the shower, I do a lot of thinking in the shower sometimes.

I realized the MS attracted little attention for Christian, and his publishing house, but in my last of several letters I let him know he should publish it for humanitarian reasons. And he wrote me back, “Use it for waste paper.” But I knew he didn’t mean it. Oh, he also said, remember, “If a demon looks like a demon inside your book (somewhat… quoting Confucius, I believe, misquoting him… ), then it is a demon, but somehow you expect an angel of God to come out of it, I think either the demon or the angel needs help, and you have to iron that part out! The book is hollow, and on a collision course.”

The only thing I could tell him, and I’m not going to, but if I did I’d say: ‘Like it or not a man must be humanistic in general, and I can’t take your comments serious, perhaps I’m too alien for contemporaries, knowing what I wrote, is what mankind has turned down in place of chaos, for he knows at large, man knows at large-even if only in the unconscious, he is the fox being hunted. And who are the hunters?’

I picked up a letter the mailman left on the floor. It read from Mr. Durant, “You are deaf to your audience, because you cannot see no one applauding, can you, yet you persist in us publishing your rot? Tell me what is in your book to applaud?”

How can he talk like that to me! Here is an editor who wrote at one time and could not sell, so he took a job editing books to judge them for his publisher. A judge with less applause than me. The poorest of the players! The only thing his job does is raise his ego, and rejecting my MS, was a short cut to his compensation for his absence of fame.

In other words, Christion knows my MS reads like the Torah, a doomsday Torah, but all thinking people must find seclusion, and for that reason I cannot go knocking on his door. But I’ll stop giving lectures at the University, I can survive on the revenue of my mother left me, she left me quite an investment in apartments.

III

There are a few areas, dark areas I never cared to expose. And a few days after Mr. Durant’s last letter, I’ve decided that this phase of my life, at this old age, it was time to; of course that is why I wrote the book, but Durant I doubt read it. Nonetheless as time goes by, it must be written or talked about and he is the last one I want to send my MS to. I can feel his aversion, and it has no substance, his resistance is pride. I was hardly conscious of this before, before this morning, I must have thought it in my head last night, vague as I remember. I will rename my book “The World’s Dark Soul”. A new name for an old book. I don’t want to leave home today, I want to write him a letter, or talk to him. But I don’t like eating in, too many cockroaches, rats and mice, flies and spiders, mosquitos. I’m no house clearer that’s for sure. Where is the Argentine wine?

I guess I’ll go to the bar, the “Do Drop Inn,” it’s a ways away, but I can take a bus.

Fill the glass up please!

“Why,” asked the waitress, “every time you come here you order a glass of wine, and leave one glass empty?

“A good question, not sure if you are too noisy or not, but I’ll tell you way! I’m going to fill that second glass up, whenever I come here, and not hear anyone complain about world events, and war, and the shape of girls, and gambling, and drugs, and guns, and drinking too much, and expect a change to occur by not facing the issues, they are complaining about. I see when I came in, you had a grin on your face, now you answer me why?”

“It wasn’t a grin, I’ve read several of your articles in the newspapers, and on the internet, a few in magazines, and you’re a real thinker?”

“Really! So you don’t think I have a dark soul, that I’m eccentric, write with peculiarities.”

“I didn’t say that, but what you write is always interesting.”

“Interesting. Does that mean, pretentious jargon?”

“What does that mean?”

“Conceited nonsense!”

“Oh now, you write in riddles!”

Just then the postman came in.

“Mr. Salam, I have your mail, take it here and you’ll save me the climb up your stairs.”

And he handed me a letter from the publisher, Mr. Durant, as Susie poured me my third glass of wine.

“Good or bad news,” asked Susie.

“My book just got accepted for publication!”

“You should call and thank your publisher!” said Susie.

“I have nothing to say to him, verbally. Although I shall be writing him quite soon enough, anyhow.”

IV

When I got home, it was quite late, and the phone was ringing. I answered it, it was Mr. Durant on the other end.

“Mr. Salam, I have now read your whole book complete, cover to cover as they say, and I want to know what the riddle is, the so called Chinese puzzle, its terminology seems to have blurred that area up for me. I assume you got my letter.”

“Well, it’s about time you read it, and I suppose I can try to put it in a nutshell for you, if you can take my conception of the world, with a black frankness?”

“Shoot, I mean go ahead, I’m not that closed mind.” Replied Durant.

“It’s only a 125-pages, but no time can be more favorable than now in which God sees the world in a shamefully misused way, and indeed may look the other way as He did at 9/ll. Leaders worldwide, only wish to further their own objectives over the masses, the political arena is a bullring. There is nobody to oppose them, but God Himself. These present-day leaders indeed wish to live it up, with power and greed and have special rules for them, and for us, obedient to their rules however they make them up, and they make them up at any unused moment. It is impossible that we have not adopted-or better put, approved the demon for the past 50-years to guide our societies. That truth will come quietly and modestly to the surface only to have a short lived life. Truth is no longer nobler than recognition, favoritism; they should go hand in hand. And truth today is what the people want it to be, not what it is.”

“Well, what is the riddle,” asked Mr. Durant.

“I must answer with hypocritical humility, and first I’ll give you an example, then the maxim, if you don’t mine. Would you build a library underground next to a neighbor’s garden and not expect him to water it, thus, not waterproofing your library, which should be a must. Should it not? (Durant didn’t answer, as if waiting for the punch line) I’ll answer it for you, no you would not. If you did, you’d be a dumb head, or drumhead for someone to beat there drum sticks on. Now for the second part, ‘Out of darkness comes light,’ evidently you did not see that. In our world today of over seven-billion, we all speak not as if the other guy or gal doesn’t exist, we act as we are separated from our one united human race, as being the only one that counts in the human race. God hates indifference.”

Asked the publisher “What does this light say about all of this?”

“To accept the external world as real, and don’t put your worse foot forward. Attack materialism, and nihilism. The most vital part of the light is God. Stop trying to explain God as matter, because we only see things as matter through the mind. There is a door, there is God, and there is a key, and he has it in his palm, it is to the entrance of the external world. Check out the Book of Isaiah. The crust of the earth, is much like the crust of the mind, there is much underneath it. Actually, here is where the vital resources resides.

“Are you aware, the ‘Will’ is stronger than the guide, if you are its master?”

“Now what does that mean,” asked Durant, “I read something on that in the book!”

“It means just what it means, that if the world cannot find a reason to stop the chaos, it is obvious they have found reasons and enough reasons, because they want it. Sometimes logic is useless, and useless knowledge becomes a form of income. This is the sum of my riddle, and of course the end, being the ‘Will’ or third part of the riddle, to do what has to be done, the world does not have the Will.”

“You didn’t answer your answer complete?” exclaimed the publisher, “We’ll publish your book, but to be frank I think the stupidest men in the world get their foxy words to have multi meanings, and our Board thought your book held some value, because of that.”

“Let me explain, once and for all Mr. Durant: Character resides in the ‘Will,’ not intellect, and this ‘Will,’ has eight wings: ambition, demand, determination, resolve, motivation, backbone, longing, hope against hope (God), and this is what the world lacks, Will!”

V

Said Mr. Durant, “I did like your last chapter in the book, may I read it to you?”

“If you must,” I told him, although I wrote it, and knew what it said, but how can you refuse or argue with the man who just said, ‘I’ll publish the darn book!’ as if he was unwilling, and the Board of Directors made him do so.

“Okay,” said Mr. Durant, “last chapter: ‘War, Effect and Will’ goes on to say, ‘… there is a power within us, in all living things, and this power rises in every living thing: plants, planets, animals, men, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. It is the Will, at work, its determination to survive, the instinct to carry on, and that demands balance, geometry, without it the universe and man would produce only chaos, and have ended long ago. So God constructed one and all to be guided by this, or meet its end; that is to say, if it is entirely without this.

‘Will and intellect, put together, says, the elephant will not cross the weak bridge; it foresees the effect. The world today is the elephant without Will or intellect, it is crossing the bridge, at its own peril. Without regard for anybody or anything. The Will, is not there. Perhaps I can say, there is only the intellect at work, it maybe so, that man sees the fall but knows he’ll be dead by the time its impact hits him. So why not allow it, dead is dead to him; out of sight, out of mind. So he allows the fall by apathetic reasoning.

‘The Will, is of course, the power to live, want to live, the man above, knows he has lived his maximum, of life, so indifference sets in, he only cares how dear life is to him, not all living things. So in silence he bides his time.

‘Culture to him has less value than an ounce of copper or zinc. Even the living toads found in limestone share in the eternal enemy called death. And do not mistreat their environment, they understand reproduction.

‘The Will, is independent of knowledge. In a way it works blindly. For a person with a strong will, it is life sustaining. A low background means nothing to him or her. He or she will make it. All the organs inside this person will follow the Will. And forgo knowledge, he knows the Will is the principle form which all living things proceed; s/he knows because they know. They may not know why the moon circles the earth and the earth circles the sun, and the nine planets in their orbit, circle the solar system, and that the universe moves as does, and the galaxy’s, inside the universe, move, and what a supernova is, or the forces of gravity at the edges of a black hole have to pull those old suns into its breadbasket, but Will tells them, they don’t have to know. God balanced it all out for them.

‘Chaos, the unbalanced world among man, causes war. If man is not at peace with his neighbor, it is a cause for war, and the end of peace. In the 21st Century war means the end of our species; we will be sent back to the Stone Age, by duped politicians. We have seen recently in 100-years: WWI, 8-million people died. WWII, 80-million people died. Three wars in Israel. Two wars in Iraq. Two wars in Asia, the Koreas, and Vietnam, 3-million lives taken (the war I was in), and war in Afghanistan, and the war in Libya, and now in Syria, that has taken in four years, and 250,000 lives. At any given time, per near 25% of the world is at war. Russia has had three wars in the last decade; and Africa is become a war zone. Russia has even hinted they’d use nuclear arms if need be with Ukraine. North Korea boast of the H-bomb, and says it can target America, South Korea, and Japan. Iran has a working nuclear plant, convincing Obama it is for peaceful reasons when they have the 5th largest oil reserves in the world, who he thinks he’s kidding, when we all know they have sworn to eradicate Israel with it, as has Hamas, who leads the Palestinians.

‘The impulse for war among some nations is as strong as the impulse to have sex. We’ve allowed certain individuals-like leaves on an evil tree-to grow wild, unaccountable to the world order, Obama being the worse of the guardians of the world, since America is the so called watchdog. This allowance, will castrate the world, if we do not cut down the tree of evil, or at least, deaden those harmful leaves, before it ends our species.”‘

#5087/2-21 & 22-2016 / Copyright © 2/2016 by Dennis L. Siluk, Dr. H.c.

Willis Newton Interview – 1979

Willis Newton was the longest living Texas outlaw who robbed more than 80 banks and trains. He and his outlaw gang robbed more than Jessie James, the Daltons, and all of the rest of the Old West outlaws-combined. Their biggest haul occurred in 1924 when they robbed a train outside of Rondout, Illinois-getting away with $3,000,000. They still hold the record for the biggest train robbery in U.S. history.

In 1979, I interviewed Willis Newton at his home in Uvalde, Texas. A few months later the outlaw died at age 90.

When I stepped up and knocked on Willis Newton’s door there was no response. After a minute I heard a raspy growl, “It’s open. Come on in.”

Stepping inside the rundown clapboard house with the unkempt yard, I saw a small, withered looking old man glaring at me from his rocking chair. “What the hell do you want?”

“Mr. Newton, I am the guy that called you yesterday and wanted to ask you some questions.”

“I ain’t talking to no one about my life. I’m going to sell that to Hollywood for a bunch of money.”

I knew then that doing an interview with the old outlaw was going to be a tough nut to crack. As best I could, I reminded him of our phone conversation on the previous day when I asked him to provide me with some details on how to rob a bank or a train. I told him I was writing a paperback novel (which was true) and that I needed some help in portraying a factual description of how the robberies took place (which was also true). After a few moments of consideration, he gestured to a chair in the small living room and agreed to answer “just a few questions.”

In contrast to the chilly weather outside, it was hot and stuffy in his cluttered living room-being heated by a small gas wall heater. I quickly unloaded my tape recorder and after a brief conversation with Willis, handed him the microphone. I asked him how to stage a bank hold up and what was involved in robbing a train. Then like turning on a wind-up toy, Willis essentially started telling me his life’s story. From time to time, I managed to get in additional questions but for the most part he rattled off the well-practiced accounts of his life in machine gun fashion-rationalizing everything he had done, blaming others for his imprisonments, and repeatedly claiming that he had only stolen from “other thieves.”

I had no idea what to expect when I stepped into his little house that day but what I encountered was the quintessence of the criminal mind. Everything he had done was justified by outside forces, “Nobody ever give me nothing. All I ever got was hell!” As I listened in rapt attention, he sat center stage speaking in a high-pitched raspy voice, pontificating on an assortment of subjects of his choosing. Lacing his speech with large quantities of profanities, vulgarities and racial slurs, Willis was quite articulate in telling his stories – a master of fractured grammar. At times he would slip into mythological story telling mode where he would talk of killing rabbits and camping out while on the run from lawmen. Then with a little prodding he would return to the basic facts of his story.

In the process, he told me how he was raised as a child and how he was first arrested for a crime “that they knowed I didn’t do.” He went into detail about his first bank holdup, how he “greased” a safe with nitroglycerine, robbed trains, and evaded the lawmen that came after him. Willis described the Texas bank robberies in Boerne, San Marcos, New Braunfels, and Hondo (two in one night). He also related the double bank robbery in Spencer, Indiana and proceeded to give accounts of bank robberies in a multitude of other states.

Eventually he recounted the events of the Toronto Bank Clearing House robbery in 1923 and finally the great train robbery outside of Rondout, Illinois, where he and his brothers got away with $3,000,000 in cash, jewelry, and bonds. He went into great detail about the beatings he and his brothers took from the Chicago police when they were later captured. As he told the story his face reddened and his voice rose to a pitched screech until he had to pause to catch his breath. Then lowering his voice he described how he managed to negotiate a crafty deal with a postal inspector for reduced prison sentences for himself and his brothers by revealing where the loot was hidden.

He told about his prison years at Leavenworth and his illegal businesses he ran in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after he got out of prison in 1929. He complained bitterly about being sent back to prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, for a bank robbery “they knowed I didn’t do,” in Medford.

After returning to Uvalde, Texas, following his release from prison, Willis swore that he “never had no trouble with the law after that.” When I asked him about his elderly brother’s botched bank robbery in Rowena, Texas, in 1968, he exploded, “They tried to get me as the get-away driver but hell, I was in Laredo, over 400 miles away! I had 12 witnesses that said I was there the night old Doc and R.C. got caught.”

At the end of the interview, I asked him to comment on the Rondout loot buried in Texas by his brother, Jess. He said he knew where it was buried-just not exactly where because “Jess was whiskey-drunk when he hid it.” Looking at the frail aged man dressed in a frayed union suit and a pair of stained pants, Willis did not appear to have any loot left from any of his robberies; although, locally it was rumored that from time to time he would spend money that appeared to have been printed during the ’20s or ’30s.

Finally, I turned off the tape recorder and thanked him for helping me with the details I needed for my paperback Western. Returning to my car, my mind was awhirl with the stories I had just heard. The thought of writing a book on the old outlaw had never crossed my mind and I was very sincere in telling him I was a fiction writer and not a biographer. But what a story he told!

The following week I put the cassette tapes in a safety deposit box thinking the information might be useful for a future writing project. A few years later, I transcribed the tapes, added my notes and filed the interview away. Then while working on another book I came across the interview file and knew I had to write his story-but the complete story, not just what Willis had told me in the interview. As I found out this was a much bigger project than I had anticipated. I tracked down several hundred newspaper and magazine articles on Willis and his brothers, court records and police reports. Then, where I could, I interviewed the few remaining people who actually knew and had first-hand knowledge of Willis Newton.

Along the way, I unearthed some startling evidence that dispelled the myth that Willis and his brothers had never killed anyone in the commission of their numerous crimes. This is the first time that this fact has been brought to light.

When I had finished the research, I knew I could write his story. With some minor editing, culling some of the blatant racial references and over abundances of profanities, I tried to keep his words to me intact. I do not espouse demeaning racial terms regarding any ethnicity of people-whether it is the Irish, Jewish, Hispanic, African, Italian, or other deprecated populaces.

In a few instances, I had to restructure his accounts for clarity. He spoke in a rapid fire jailhouse prose using a wide range of criminal jargon that sometimes was difficult to follow. Wherever possible I strove to retain his colorful phraseology, using the common expressions of the day.

In writing the Willis Newton book, I omitted most of his repeated self-justification for his actions in which he took great pains to paint himself as a gallant criminal-in the Robin Hood vein. It is true that he robbed from the rich but he gave very little to the poor. In a few of his accounts, he did describe giving the “hard money” (silver coin) to some poor and downtrodden farmer that had helped him. In addition, he repeated the idea that he never meant to harm anyone in the robberies; “all we wanted was the money.” There is no doubt that Willis Newton was shaped and stamped by the rough economic conditions of the southwest in the late 1890s and early twentieth century. Yet at the same time, there were hundreds of thousands of other people that strived to work hard and become solid citizens of their communities. It was his choice to go after the “easy money.”

In poring over hundreds of newspaper reports and magazine articles, I was struck with how much of the story varied with what Willis had told me, sometimes substantially. At the same time I found that the newspapers, in their rush to get their story out, misspelled names, got their facts wrong, under or over estimated dollar amounts of loot taken, and had a very difficult time keeping the Newton brothers’ names straight-Willis and Wylie (aka Willie or Doc) dealt them fits.

A few weeks before Willis Newton died, he was admitted to the hospital in Uvalde, Texas for tests on a multitude of physical problems. After he had been there a several days, I went by his room and visited the old outlaw. I knocked on his door and he managed a weak, “Come on in.”

When I entered his room, I saw a very emaciated version of what I had seen in March of that year. Rail thin and covered with a crimson rash on his legs, Willis cocked his head sideways and demanded, “Who are you?”

I politely reminded him that we had talked at his home earlier and that he had given me advice on robbing banks and trains. He nodded his head and stared up at the ceiling, “Yeah, I remember now.”

I told him I was sorry to see him ailing and in pain. He responded by saying, “Yeah, I’m headed to the bar ditch. The doctor says everything’s gone crazy inside of me. I know I’m a goner and wish I could kill myself but I can’t, ’cause I still got my mind. Only crazy people kill themselves but I ain’t crazy.”

Realizing that his time was about up I asked him if he had any regrets or was sorry for anything he had done in his life. He cocked his head sideways and raised his head up off of the pillow glaring at me. “Hell no,” he screeched at me. “I’d still be doing them things but my body’s done played out on me. If I was 20 years younger, I’d be running guns across the border into Mexico and bringing drugs back! Nobody’s ever give me nothing but hell and I ain’t ashamed of anything I done!”

So much for contrition and redemption.

I did not know how to respond and remained quiet. After a moment he stared at the ceiling again and added, “The only thing I’m sorry about is that $200,000 those cowards left in that bank when they got spooked. They said, ‘We’ve got $65,000 in bonds and we’re getting out before we get caught.’ Hell, we left $200,000 just sitting there on that counter. Damn shame, I told them I always wanted it all!”

The next day they moved Willis to a hospital in San Antonio where he died on August 22, 1979. Fierce and defiant to the bitter end he died the way he had lived-as an outlaw.

During my 1979 interview with Willis he went into great detail about the times he had spent in jail or prison. In describing his first prison time he said, “I was jailed for 22 months and 26 days and then sent to Rusk (prison) for two years. Every son of a bitch knowed I was innocent. They knowd I didn’t break no law!” Then over the years he spent over 20 years incarcerated in some type of penal confinement. I never got to ask him the question: was it worth it?

My guess the answer would have been a resounding, “Hell yes!”

Spending a fourth of your 90 years of life behind bars hardly seems worth it to me.

As I left Willis Newton’s hospital room for the last time I spotted his physician who was a personal friend of mine. I asked him about Willis’ condition and he confirmed what I had been told by the dying man. Then with a twinkle in his eye he asked if I wanted to see an X-ray of Willis’ spine.

Sure, I had no idea what to expect.

We went to a nearby viewing room and he slapped a film on the lighted viewing board. There was a very distinct spot located near the spinal column. “That’s a German Luger slug he’s been carrying around for about 30 years. Some old boy shot him up in Oklahoma.”

As I gazed at the image, the physician concluded by saying, “And damned if that old outlaw isn’t going to be buried with it!”

I guess you could say it was a fitting eulogy-of sorts.

The Online Game Industry is an Excellent Way to Study the Economics of Fun

While scientists developed sensory-input devices to mimic the sensations of a virtual world, the games industry eschewed this hardware-based approach in favour of creating alternative realities through emotionally engaging software. “It turns out that the way humans are made, the software-based approach seems to have much more success,” writes Edward Castronova in an illuminating guide to these new synthetic worlds.

Millions of people now spend several hours a week immersed in “massively multiplayer online role-playing games” (MMORPGs). These are often Tolkienesque fantasy worlds in which players battle monsters, go on quests, and build up their virtual power and wealth. Some synthetic worlds are deliberately escapist; others are designed to be as lifelike and realistic as possible. Many have a strong libertarian bent. Sociologists and anthropologists have written about MMORPGs before, but Mr Castronova looks at the phenomenon from a new perspective: economics.

Mr Castronova’s thesis is that these synthetic worlds are increasingly inter-twined with the real world. In particular, real-world trade of in-game items, swords, gold, potions, or even whole characters is flourishing in online marketplaces such as eBay. World of Warcraft Gold, EQ2 Gold, DAOC Plat [http://www.favgames.com/daoc/daoc.php] and other game currencies have been traded in dedicated webstores for many years. This means in-game items and currency have real value. In 2002, Mr Castronova famously calculated the GNP per capita of the fictional game-world of “EverQuest” as $2,000, comparable to that of Bulgaria, and far higher than that of India or China. Furthermore, by “working” in the game to generate virtual wealth and then selling the results for real money, it is possible to generate about $3.50 per hour.

Companies in China pay thousands of people, known as “farmers”, to play MMORPGs all day, and then profit from selling the in-game goods they generate to other players for real money.

Land and other in-game property has been sold for huge sums. In some Asian countries, where MMORPGs are particularly popular, in-game thefts and cheats have led to real-world arrests and legalaction. In one case in South Korea, the police intervened when a hoard of in-game money was stolen and sold, netting the thieves $1.3m. In-game money is, in short, no less real than the dollars and pounds stored in conventional bank accounts.

Virtual economies are an integral part of synthetic worlds. The buying and selling of goods, as the game’s inhabitants go about their daily business, lends realism and vibrancy to the virtual realm. But in-game economies tend to be unusual in several ways. They are run to maximise fun, not growth or overall wellbeing. And inflation is often rampant, due to the convention that killing monsters produces a cash reward and the supply of monsters isunlimited in many games. As a result, the value of in-game currency is constantly falling and prices are constantly rising.

Mr Castronova’s analysis of the economics of fun is intriguing. Virtual-world economies are designed to make the resulting game interesting and enjoyable for their inhabitants. Many games follow a rags-to-riches storyline, for example. But how can all the players end up in the top 10%? Simple: the upwardly mobile human players need only be a subset of the world’s population. An underclass of computer-controlled “bot” citizens, meanwhile, stays poor for ever. Mr Castronova explains all this with clarity, wit and a merciful lack of academic jargon.

Some of his conclusions may sound far-fetched. In particular, he suggests that as synthetic worlds continue to grow in popularity, substantial numbers of people will choose to spend large parts of their lives immersed in them. Some players could then fall victim to what Mr Castronova calls “toxic immersion”, in which their virtual lives take precedence, to the detriment of their real-world lives.

But perhaps this is not so implausible. It is already possible to make a living by working in a virtual world, as the “farmers” demonstrate. In one survey, 20% of MMORPG players said they regarded the game world as their “real” place of residence; Earth is just where they eat and sleep. In July, a South Korean man died after a 50-hour MMORPG session. And the Chinese government has recently tried to limit the number of hours that can be spent playing MMORPGs each day.

As technology improves, players could make enough money to pay for the upkeep of their real-world bodies while they remain fully immersed in the virtual world. Mr Castronova is right when he concludes that “we should take a serious look at the game we have begun to play.”