Return Engagements (Book One) PART 17… in which I tell Michael the truth

The week Michael was with me in Las Vegas was a return to my youth, a happy, healthy return to my youth, and to Michael’s as well. We were two boys from Rogers Park in a terrific playground.

Picking up from Part 16, in which I prepared for the Kennedy assassination.

The week Michael was with me in Las Vegas was a return to my youth, a happy, healthy return to my youth, and to Michael’s as well. We were two boys from Rogers Park in a terrific playground.

We watched a Rat Pack show and I told him what would happen to these guys in the future. We went to see a Streisand matinee. We worked at photography while playing records on my stereo system, which was a new and very high-tech thing in 1963. We scoured newsstands for oddball publications. In short, we played. All day, every day.

The nights, however, were more adult. We went through Michael’s diaries while listening to classical music and sipping watered-down brandy.

Doreen had died in 1933, leaving Mike and a teenaged Mike Jr. behind. But they did at least have each other, and it was clear from the entries that they grieved together. Michael had felt guilty about showing his grief – it was the era of “men don’t cry” and such – but in the end it was showing his feelings that allowed Mike Jr. to deal with his own, and for them both to heal, however slowly.

It was in 1936, when young Mike went off to college, that his dad slid toward despair. That and the coming of the Second World War. Mike was essentially a sensitive man and a man who was always out of step with the bulk of the world. He had been able to pass off his difference for more than a decade – between Doreen’s illness, negotiating the Depression and single-parenting, he had been nonstop busy – but now that things quieted down, he returned to facing himself.

At first, Michael was happy with his quiet time; he spent it reading and attending to what remained of his real estate business. He hadn’t gone hog wild during the Roaring Twenties, as so many had, but he had overextended himself and lost three properties.

His stocks had suffered along with everyone else’s, but he had been investing for dividends rather than escalating prices. That left him with sound companies. Their prices on the exchange had fallen badly, but they weren’t going to go bankrupt. And nearly all of them kept paying dividends, even if reduced.

Still, the real estate business didn’t require a great deal of his time, and he found himself bored. He knew better than to meddle with his property management companies, and so he began attending lectures of all sorts just to keep himself busy. And that drove him to continuous questioning of things.

Slowly, Michael began to understand the world, and what he found disturbed him.

“The more power someone has,” he wrote in his journal in late 1936, “the more they see only other holders of power. Their thoughts are in relation to very little else. Their actions, then, are addressed solely to the large and consolidated. And when their concern turns to individuals (as with Mr. Roosevelt), it is to consolidate them into something large that can be controlled and acted upon as a single unit.”

This concept was the background upon which Michael considered Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Churchill. They were addicted to the large, to consolidating the masses into tight containers they could manipulate. Everything else was invisible and insignificant.

Step by step he watched the giants fight among themselves. He saw the Germans and Soviets use the Spanish Civil War as a testing ground for their weapons. The dead were numbers, not beloved mothers, fathers, siblings and children.

“The large,” he concluded, “is inhuman.”

Then he saw Hitler and Stalin agree to divide the world between them, then to double-cross each other for advantage. He saw the Japanese go crazy attacking the Chinese, Roosevelt set up the Japanese for a confrontation, and the rest of the obvious march toward global war: giants facing off against each other as if it were a sport tournament of the grandest scale… the only scale that really mattered to such entities.

This was when Michael began drinking: Everything large was inhuman and murderous, while at the same time the small worshiped the large and gave themselves to die for the large.

There was a tavern half a mile from Mike’s apartment that played sports on the radio nearly all day and night, and that’s where he hid from the insanity. (If news flashes came over the radio, he’d go to the men’s room.) When the weather was especially cold he’d drink at home, playing the radio or records, a habit that increased until he was at the tavern less than half the time.

Mike Jr. was drafted in 1942, but mercifully he was assigned to the maintenance of radar facilities along the American and Canadian East Coast. But it kept him away from his dad all the same, and he never realized the extent of his father’s problem.

But Mike, even in our conversations in 1963, didn’t quite see it as a problem. How does one, after all, deal with universally esteemed insanity? Mike dulled himself to it and survived. It was damaging his health but also keeping his soul intact… and he stopped drinking right after VJ Day. The brandies he and I had were an unusual thing for him, and as I say, they were watered down.

* * * * *

One thing Michael did for me during his visit was get me a Nevada driver’s license. He pretended he was moving to Nevada and fudged the height and weight numbers on the license a bit. He had to surrender his Illinois license, but once back home he’d just ask for a duplicate, saying that he lost his. This sort of thing was easy to do in 1963; photos wouldn’t be used on licenses for another 12 years or more.

* * * * *

“I can tell you’re up to something, Paul.”

Not five minutes earlier I felt the question coming, and I couldn’t blame him. Were our positions reversed, I’d be saying the same thing.

“If you don’t want to tell me, I’ll try to understand, but I think it would be a mistake on your part.”

Thank God, I exclaimed to myself silently. Thank God I thought this through.

And then I laughed.

“You’re right on both counts, Mike. I had fairly well decided to tell you later today” (it was at breakfast in my suite the day before Michael was to leave), “but now seems like a good time.”

He looked pleased with himself, shifting to curiosity.

“Let’s finish our breakfast” (we were sitting at a small kitchen-type table) “and then we’ll move to the couches and I’ll explain.”

He agreed and we were soon seated at right angles to each other. Again I was so glad that I had thought it through.

“You ready for this?” I asked with a smile.

“I think so,” he said, “and doubly so if you’re smiling.”

“Okay… then let’s start with this: What we’re in now is a pocket of time. In two years, maybe two and a half… I don’t know precisely… I’ll go back to my time and you’ll forget I was ever here.”

I paused to let him digest the statement.

“But you’ll remember me?”

“I will, Mike.”

“And there’s nothing you can do so that I’ll remember this too?”

“There isn’t, I’m sorry. But the exercise is important, because if you and I improve the world in any way, we’ll be improving the future.”

Mike became silent for a while, then looked at me and asked, “Are you going to write about this?”

At first I wasn’t sure what to say. It had crossed my mind, but I hadn’t decided.

“You said you’re a writer back in 2016, right?” I nodded my head. “Then write about this… write about me.”

There was no way I could turn down such a request.

“I shall,” I replied.

“Fine, then,” he said as if it were a monumental conclusion. “I’ll help you any way I can. What are we doing?”

* * * * *

For the rest of that day I told Michael about everything from Jackie Kennedy showing up in October with Aristotle Onassis on his yacht to the Kennedy assassination, the theories about it, Jack Ruby, the ineptitude of the Warren Report, the murder of Dorothy Kilgallen, and so on.

And he wasn’t surprised in the slightest that societal attitudes changed in the wake of it all. All the more so when I added the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. He strongly agreed that solving the mystery of “Who killed JFK?” was important.

We debated at some length on the wisdom of Michael coming to Dallas to help, but in the end we decided to wait and see how his blood pressure was doing in November. Dealing with the assassination, and especially getting out of Dallas afterward, was going to be stressful, and that might not be the best thing for him. But he was very definitely going to get started on office space for developing and reproducing the images we got from Dallas.

I got Mike to the airport the next day on schedule but just barely. We had talked late into the night and very nearly overslept. Walking back to the car afterward, I felt like a tired boy going home after playing a hard game at the park with his friends.

May we all encounter that feeling regularly.

* * * * *

The nearly three months leading up to the assassination in Dallas are mostly a blur to me now. I kept up my daily schedule nearly the whole time, but everything else was a storm of details.

I made a long checklist and went through the items one by one. I did all my groundwork in Dallas (which took, by far, the most of my time). I arranged for a suite at the Adolphus for the month of November and paid for it in advance. I had all my camera equipment shipped there by November first. And I wracked my memory day after day to create lists of relevant facts I was “sure about,” “almost sure about,” or only “partly sure about.” It came to 24 pages in all.

On October 31, Halloween, I checked out of the Sands, crawled into my car, and headed to Dallas. The drive was uneventful and I arrived November 2.

The next day I did another walk through the County Records building (definitely my number one spot), tested my lock picking skills, and verified all my points of egress.

That night I made my way over to the Carousel Club, and went in for a drink. I’d never been in an old burlesque joint before, and as expected, I didn’t care for the atmosphere. But I did familiarize myself with it – the layout of the offices and bathrooms, the ways in and out, and so on – and I found some good vantage points across the street in front.

What I really wanted were pictures of Oswald and Ruby together. One of my little entertainments over the past decade or two has been the Kennedy assassination. I’ve never taken it too seriously, but it’s a great mystery.

 And so I read books on the subject as time allowed and became convinced that the official story was false. The real smoking gun in it all was the Warren Report itself and especially the work that Harold Weisberg and Sylvia Meagher did tearing it apart.

And then there was Dorothy Kilgallen, ace reporter of her time and the only person to interview Jack Ruby… an interview she never talked about in public. But Kilgallen wrote quite a lot about the assassination and was doggedly determined to break the story… until she died under some very odd circumstances (well clothed, sitting upright in her bed, of a drug overdose). Dorothy’s file on the assassination was missing, of course. And whose best friend died unexpectedly the next day… perhaps the only other person who knew the details of her investigation.

Anyway, there were scattered reports of Ruby and Oswald meeting at the Carousel, and so I hoped to get a photo of them.

A day or two after that I scouted the Texas Theater in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas. (I remembered only that it was “Oak-something” but clarified it quickly enough.) That’s where the police officer was shot and killed, and not, I thought, by Oswald. The shooting was about 45 minutes after Kennedy was shot, but it turned out not to be the easiest route to get there, and probably harder in the aftermath of such a public murder.

I did, however, decide that I could get there on a bicycle easily and quickly enough, so I made plans for that. If Jim and Robert showed up for the event, we could make that work. If they didn’t make it, I’d have to give that up, since it would take me time to gather up all the cameras and film, then safely get out and away from the County Records building.

I found a store where I could buy a gold coin (they weren’t as easily available then as now). I bought some clothes for Jim and Robert, but I didn’t want to put their target into place until a few days before the event. If I were they, I wouldn’t want to spend too much time in the Earth environment.

Michael and I corresponded the whole time, but we decided against his coming to Dallas. His pressure still wasn’t great. But he had set up a nice darkroom and would be waiting for me after the assassination.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)