Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

The Lonely Wanderer

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

The Lonely Wanderer

Article excerpt

Guys disappear in Asia. This is a sentence Diana Elliott of the State Department's Philippines Desk of the Citizens Emergency Center offered on the telephone.

It is a kind of death sentence I first heard in 1990 in northern Thailand about a traveler or expatriate or exile, take your pick, who had failed to return from a motorcycle trip to the region where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar converge and form what is known as the Golden Triangle, a center of opium trafficking in Southeast Asia. Guys disappear in Asia. Which means, specifically, that white American men for one reason or another abandon all connection to family and home and country. Or they get killed. For one reason or another.

For what reason, Diana Elliott wanted to know, was this person in the Philippines?

The only employment I knew Bruce Oliver had for sure was buying and distributing cocaine for a brief period in Dare County, North Carolina. This was verifiable because he was arrested, along with his girlfriend.

According to the trial record, the "Defendant met co-defendant in January or February 1983 when he entered the County to sell some of his property there." Supposedly "in the area on business," Bruce had been staying "in the guest room" of the woman identified at trial as "co-defendant"-but known within the family, that is to say outside of the judicial process, as "his girlfriend"-for three months when police officers, having obtained a warrant, "entered the home" at 2:15 in the morning. Upon entering, they were rewarded with the sight of Bruce Oliver running down the hallway with a plate of cocaine in his hand. waiter-style, I imagine, with his long brown hair streaming behind him. "Defendant threw the plate in the air, it landed on a bed, and a white powdery substance-later identified as cocaine-fell on the bed." The officers then found a dream inventory of evidence: a set of Hause triple beam scales, a weighing plate, two small measuring cups, a sifter, a plastic straw, a razor blade, business records, and, of course, numerous baggies of cocaine.

None of the seized items belonged to Bruce Oliver, although his fingerprints turned up on the plate, the scales, and both an outside corner and an inside corner of a plastic bag. In the defendant's defense, he was "surprised and shocked at the presence of drugs and drug paraphernalia at [the] co-defendant's home." He had not seen any of these items prior to being awakened in the middle of the night of the arrest, at which point, "out of curiosity he examined some of the items in the home, but did not bag, package, or repackage any of the substances." No drugs were found on his person, or in his clothing, or in his car. Bruce Oliver testified that "he does not use drugs." Bruce Oliver testified that, at the moment when officers "entered the home," the co-defendant was "picking things up off the counter and she went down the hallway and I was sitting there watching TV. I'm a guest in her home and at that point I had stood up and there were two plates on the end of the counter, and I picked them up and I walked down the hallway."

The girlfriend's story happened to conflict with this version of events. And it is difficult to piece together a convincing narrative of the defendant waking up around two a.m. on an April morning, for no particular reason, watching television, happening to notice for the first time the presence of drugs and drug paraphernalia, and then picking up the scales and baggies to examine them as if he had never seen such things before. It is difficult to imagine where he was headed with that plate. The bathroom? The officers do not mention in the trial transcript what it was exactly that caused Bruce Oliver to toss the plate in the air.

The court sentenced Bruce Oliver to two years for possession of cocaine and to three years for possession with intent to manufacture, sell, and deliver the same cocaine. He should have hired a better lawyer, was a judgment heard frequently in 1983. …

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