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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 22… in which I reorient… again

Picking up from Part 21, in which Michael died.

“The Road Trip” was mainly a disappointment. Indianapolis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Gainesville and Orlando (what there was of it) were all worse than in 2016. It was useful to see some of the places, but the places were dirtier and the people were colder, crueler, and in general darker than in 2016.

On top of that, they were far more worshipful of size: The big company was better, the big government was better, and so on. There wasn’t much reason behind their opinions. They just “knew” that bigger was inherently better. They even trusted politicians to be virtuous men.

Another depressing observation was that daily conversations were entirely the same, save for the details. Their minds were permanently focused on political uproars, most of which would be gone and forgotten a week later or a month at most.

“Same crap, different decade,” I said to myself over and over.

It was amazing that the daily political garbage had continued the whole time, while the effectiveness of the exercise was held above question… that people’s minds had been running round and round the same fruitless little track.

I knew that there were political types keeping this cycle going, but almost entirely from their own little perspectives… promoting and maintaining their own little fiefs. But I couldn’t help wondering whether there were people who understood that the populace was devoting all their energy to ephemera, entirely ignoring the structures that determined what really happened. I knew that people did this because of their interior problems (to question the structure would crack their comfortable illusions), but I had to wonder if there were people who understood this and maintained it.

I was ready to turn around and head home from Orlando, but I was so close to Cape Canaveral and the American space program that I couldn’t resist. And so I drove an hour southeast, took a nice hotel in Titusville, and got to know the NASA operation as best I could.

There were no manned launches at the time, but I got to know several of the engineers, who were the people who really mattered at NASA. I found them mainly in Cocoa Beach and switched to a motel there for a few days.

I very much enjoyed my days with the engineers (I posed as a retired electrical power engineer), and it was a turning point for me emotionally. I began working harder on my anti-homesick routine and focusing on things I could do, rather than the disappointing and the dark.

I decided to head up the East Coast. I went slowly through Daytona, St. Augustine and Jacksonville and then straight up I-95 to DC. I stayed at the Hay-Adams, bought myself two expensive suits, and started showing up at the after-hours spots frequented by Washington’s second- and third-level people… the people who actually get things done.

I stayed in DC for two weeks and found that everyone was afraid to talk about the assassination. The official line was, “We’ll wait for the Warren Commission Report,” and they held to it… until they were drunk of course. In vino veritas.

And so I changed my schedule, waking at noon, taking a nap at 6 PM, and then working my junior officials late into the night. (I always had a glass of water and always had my drinks on the rocks.)

One thing I learned was that the Kennedy family thought Johnson was behind the assassination, Bobby especially. And that made me wonder whether dropping some photos at his office might be a good idea when the time came. I wasn’t sure, but I did some recon at his office and found that I could get in and out reasonably well during normal business hours.

I’d have no problem getting an envelope to his office. And from there, a well-written note was likely to get it into his hands. What he’d actually do with such a photo was another question, but it seemed a useful idea.

I also learned that Lyndon Johnson was a despicable human being. The more I learned, the more I was certain that he absolutely could have done it. And especially so when I talked to junior people from the Justice Department about Bobby Baker, Billie Sol Estes and all the likely fallout from that set of crimes… including the fact that Johnson could face jail time over them.

More motive.

* * * * *

From there I went north to New York. I stayed at the Waldorf and tried to work my way into the news organizations. I was less successful there, but I did learn how to get stories to the right places. And I surveilled Dorothy Kilgallen several nights. She’d be my first choice for the photos and I needed to learn how to reach her.

I stayed in New York less than a week, but it was fun to see the city in the ’60s. I even went to a show on Broadway, featuring a young Peter Falk.

From there I headed back to Chicago. Being that it was February, I headed back on the more southerly route of I-70. I lost only one day due to weather and arrived back in Chicago on the 20th, making the trip a month and 10 days.

* * * * *

Back in Chicago, I quickly found myself arriving at two conclusions:

First, I was going to have fun with my time here. Yes, I had serious things to do, but the best way to do them was to have fun with then, rather than being dour. (This is something I’ve had to remind myself several times, not just in 1963.)

Second, I decided that Mike was right. The good of mankind would come from individuals, not from groups and movements. The seeds I could plant in people day by day would be my primary concern and the big things second.

Granted, this strange mission of mine required me to create as much positive change as possible within a short time… and that almost drove me to reach masses rather than one-on-one interactions… but still, I’d pay at least equal attention to individuals.

And so I poured myself into the role of a retired electrical engineer. I found that I enjoyed playing the role in Florida and decided that I’d enjoy it here too. I thought I looked a bit young for it (my appearance in 1963 was identical to that of 2016, leaving me well short of 65 years old), but I played up my years and told people that I got lucky on an investment in IBM.

And so I shifted to an early schedule. I got out of bed very early, did my anti-homesick routine, read for a while, then went to the gym at the new JCC. After a light workout I drove most days to the Ashkenaz Deli, where I developed a circle of friends. And I did have fun with them. After all my years as an outsider, I knew how to say radical things and still not create fights… or at least not many.

And not only did I enjoy our “Alter Cocker Roundtable” as we called it, but I led the guys on a couple of trips, one to Vegas and another to New York. Those of us who had money chipped in for those who didn’t, and we had fun.

* * * * *

On October 8 the Warren Commission Report arrived at Kroch & Brentano, the big Chicago bookstore. The next morning I drove downtown early and bought 10 copies. Then I drove back north and distributed them to the Alter Cocker Roundtable and told them I’d want to discuss it the following Monday. (The 9th was a Friday.)

And discuss it we did, with the Roundtable generally bouncing back and forth between cynicism (“How very convenient that a door was left open for Jack Ruby”) and authority worship (“These are important men, not common liars”).

I tried to ask questions and keep my opinions out of the way. I opened discussions of it the first day, but after that I simply waited for one of the others to bring it up… which they did perhaps two days out of three… at least for a couple of weeks. Some of them gave their copies of the report to their sons, daughters or former business partners.

It wasn’t yet my time to get into action, but it was getting close. Once the supplemental materials reached the hands of the researchers in late November, I’d have to wait another week or two, and then I could jump into action.

I had already decided that I’d structure the releases in a particular way. I wanted to get everyone’s attention with the first release, but not make it fully compelling. I wanted those people who were likely to retreat into denial to do so partly, not fully.

Then I wanted each further release to be just a bit more compelling than the one before, probably one release per week over at least a month. That would give the denial-minded a way to warm up to the truth without being blasted.

I was pretty sure that would work. It was, in any event, my best guess. And so I began preparing my batches of prints.

* * * * *

The last few weeks of waiting were hard. Compounding it was the fact that Dorothy Kilgallen had been slamming the Warren Report and exposing the bizarre details of the Ruby trial all year. It was hard to do nothing, but that seemed to be best overall, and so I stayed with it. I was certain that she wouldn’t be killed till well into 1965.

Nonetheless, by the middle of December I was ready to get started. I flew to New York, took a room at the Waldorf, and walked to the studio where they filmed What’s My Line?

And sure enough, Miss Kilgallen came out at the usual time and walked down the block. I wore a good suit and looked very respectable as I passed her and some other gentleman. (I don’t know who he was.)

“Oh, Miss Kilgallen,” I said in as nonthreatening way as possible, keeping my hands visible. “I just want to tell you that I very much appreciate your work…”

She smiled and said something gracious.

“And that I’ve seen some photos that you’d like very much to see.”

I made sure to crouch slightly, making myself seem smaller, and positioned myself so as to be vulnerable to the gentleman. Then I handed her the envelope in my left hand.

She took it, and then I backed up a step or so.

“If you’d like to see more of those, just use the word ‘dumbfounded’ in your next column. I’ll find you again… and please have a pleasant evening.”

With that, I turned and walked away.

The photo I gave her was of Oswald and Mac Wallace standing in the School Book Depository. Oswald’s face was in full view, but Wallace’s face was mostly hidden by the angle and by a window crossbar. It was perfectly clear, however, that Oswald was talking to someone in the “sniper’s nest.” What made it still better was that Oswald was holding what appeared to be a rifle.

I even included the photo’s negative in the envelope, along with a note suggesting that Dorothy have it examined by an expert. I needed her to believe me.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

 

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