“Hey, Newman, how long has it been since you’ve gone outside?” Curtis asked me as I was at the microwave, cooking my famous Thai Pasta Bowl (carrots, celery, ramen, peanut butter, soy sauce, cilantro, and sriracha sauce).
I had to think about my answer, which should automatically tell you (and me and everyone else) that it’s been too long. “Um, I actually went out about 10 days ago with Burghart,” I said meekly, hoping this would be an acceptable answer.
“Wanna go out with me at 12?” Curtis asked. Sure, I’d go, as long as it wasn’t snowing. (The weather channel said it was supposed to snow today around Orofino.) So I hurried to finish my Thai food, not even taking the time to wipe the excess peanut butter off my plastic spork, then I quickly put my shoes on and grabbed my denim coat. (It was issued to me over two years ago, and I believe this is the first time I’ve ever actually worn it. It’s nice and warm!)
Let’s back up a bit. Curtis is an interesting character. For a month or two, he was my bunkmate, when I was living in a 12-man open dorm. Some of the other inmates referred to him as the “Bridge Critter” because he stayed up all night, slept all day, and was a bit of a pack-rat. The guy keeps everything — old pieces of fruit, chiquita stickers off bananas, empty microwave popcorn bags, and so forth. He also had a collection of about three months’ worth of newspapers stacked at the edge of his bed. Being below him, I always worried they’d fall off in the middle of the night and land on my face. You could tell by the way he lived that he had probably been homeless on more than one occasion. He never washed his sheets, not once while we were bunkmates, and you could smell his dirty blankets from afar. Even though he couldn’t find time to change his bedding, he never missed a day of worship in the chapel. (When I say “the chapel” what I mean is the small little room, adjacent to the hallway in the basement, with a piano in the corner and an old shuffleboard game painted on the floor. If you’re looking for pews or stained glass windows, this isn’t the chapel for you.)
Aside from all that, Curtis has always been a nice enough guy. He has an unusual sense of humor, which I happen to get…most of the time. And aside from his smelly sheets, he’s been a decent and respectful guy.
We got outside, and Curtis asked, “So, what do you feel like talking about?”
“Hmm…we could talk about all the idiots on our unit. That’s usually what I talk about when I come outside. Good gossip,” I said.
“Nah. That’s too negative. And besides, it would take all day. We couldn’t really cover it all in an hour,” Curtis replied. “I have two possible topics we can discuss. One, I have a really interesting gyrocopter story, if you’re familiar with gyrocopters and you like flying. Or two, I was thinking we could talk about church, and your involvement with Jesus Christ. I like you and I don’t want to see you burn in hell for all of eternity.”
In the past, this would have made me uncomfortble, perhaps even upset or angry. But I told myself, at that very instant, that this is going to give me some great material for my next blog. So I very smoothly and politely replied, “In that case, let’s talk about the gyrocopter.” And without missing a beat, Curtis proceeded to tell his story.
We walked several miles around the track, and I thought that this might be a nice weekly feature for InmateBlogger. Each week, I could take a walk outside with an inmate who I rarely, if ever, speak to. We could talk for an hour, and I could learn new and interesting things from him, which I could share with you. (My ex brother-in-law, Jack, once pitched the idea of a documentary TV series called “Dinner for your Story,” where he would take a homeless person out to a nice dinner and interview them about their life and about how they ended up where they are. I always liked the idea, and loved the name.). Of course, I’m not going to share anything private or anything they wouldn’t want me to share. But maybe each week I’d learn about a new and unique topic…like a gyrocopter. This would also give me incentive to get outside and burn some calories. It’s just an idea…we’ll see how it goes.
According to Curtis, the gyrocopter was first shown in a 1967 James Bond movie. Forgive my lack of technical expertise to properly describe this unique flying machine, but in layman’s terms, it’s like a very small and inexpensive experimental helicopter. Most are one-seaters. Some can hold two people, but those can be less desirable because the two-seat versions require a pilot license, while the one-seaters do not. A fully functioning gyrocopter only costs about $6,000, and one with all the bells and whistles might be in the $12,000 range. Again, this is all according to Curtis. It holds approximately 5 gallons of fuel, cruises at roughly 60 miles per hour, and gets 60 miles to the gallon. As Curtis described it, after doing some quick math in his head, “It’s a flying machine that only costs $3 an hour.”
I was intrigued. It sounds dangerous, and I’d be terrified to fly in one, but I have to admit, the way he described it, it sounded pretty cool. He had such passion for these machines. As he spoke, his eyes lit up, his voice was animated. And since the alternate topic had to do with my propensity to burn in hell, I was happy to be discussing gyrocopters as I burned a few hundred calories, instead.
Roughly ten years ago, Curtis had the opportunity to purchase a gyrocopter for $6,000. This particular machine had been built by the same guy who built the original machine for the James Bond film in the 1960s.
But Curtis passed on buying it. For one, he only had $16,000 in his bank account. Two, it was only a one-seater, and he wanted to be able to bring a friend on each flight (for reasons I’ll explain soon).
Years later, in his prison cell, Curtis saw a Gyrocopter show on the History Channel. He saw a similar model to the one he almost purchased. His wheels started spinning. He was a welder, by trade, and thought of a way to weld the seats so that two people could squeeze in. Each could have one foot in the cockpit, one on each pedal, and one foot dangling out the side, somehow. He was going to add snowboards or skis to the bottom, to enable the gyrocopter to land on water or snow. He was going to add an extra fuel tank, and a metal detector on the bottom, so he could fly low and record all of the hits of possible treasures, and then re-visit those latitude and longitude coordinates at a later date, and do a more thorough search for riches. He told me someone once used this technique and found a meteorite worth over a million dollars.
Curtis also saw a 23-pound inflatable canoe in a catalog. He insisted that we bring it on each trip. The gyrocopter’s weight limit is 600 pounds. I promised I’d lose 40 pounds to make sure we were safe on our flight.
Curtis’s plan is to order 500 business cards for $5. Then, he’ll disperse his cards at RV shows, gun shows, airports, hotels with business travelers, and so on. He wants to give professional tours, for $100 an hour, flying people over the countryside, perhaps, or to campgrounds in remote wooded areas. Since his clientele would be wealthy, and able to afford this high hourly rate, he hopes to be able to befriend them and then benefit from their wealth. He proffered that one of his customers might have some really expensive cars in his garage (that he never drives) and he might offer to sell them to his new friend, Curtis, for pennies on the dollar. Others might have expensive furniture or appliances they no longer want or need. Curtis, now that he has established a rapport with his customers, could receive so many goodies, absolutely free.
In addition, if he drops a customer off for an overnight camping trip, he plans on flying his gyrocopter to the river and panning for gold, to supplement his hourly income.
Finally — what’s the point of flying customers around if you can’t save them? He wants to teach each customer how to accept Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior. His main goal in life is to help people, to save people.
My thought, as we walked, was that if you’re hoping for repeat business, perhaps preaching the Bible isn’t your best marketing tactic. But I just smiled and told him it sounds like a perfect plan. I praised him for wanting to do something he loved while helping others. All we need to worry about now, I said, is getting out of prison so that we can again go out and do some of the things we used to love. He agreed, saying that with enough prayer, he is confident he will be released early.
“Let’s GO! Movement!” the guard yelled. And just like that, it was time to go back inside. I was both relieved and disappointed. Curtis and I had traveled in circles around the track, but in our minds we crossed over lakes, mountains and streams. We struck gold, went canoeing, and discovered a meteorite. I lost weight. We flew 300 miles on a single tank of gas And we were back in less than an hour.
Categories: Stephen Newman