Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 2

I cracked open the door to the hallway and stuck my head out. Seeing no one, I moved quickly to the stairway and then from the 9th floor to the 1st. I emerged from the stairwell into the commercial lobby on the north end of the hotel and took a few seconds to orient myself, but I needed to keep moving; if Reynolds was to walk by he might recognize his clothes.

(Continued from part one)

I cracked open the door to the hallway and stuck my head out. Seeing no one, I moved quickly to the stairway and then from the 9th floor to the 1st. I emerged from the stairwell into the commercial lobby on the north end of the hotel and took a few seconds to orient myself, but I needed to keep moving; if Reynolds was to walk by he might recognize his clothes.

And so I took a couple of deep breaths, pulled up my collar and stepped through the doorway into a bitterly cold day. It was well below zero Fahrenheit, with harsh winds. So cold that my face hurt.

Out of raw instinct, I started running. I made it across the street, around the corner and onto Wabash Avenue, then ran as hard as I could safely (there were patches of ice and snow on the sidewalk) until I found a carry-out restaurant. I shuffled in and tried to warm up. But the people behind the counter would be asking me for my order pretty soon, and so I re-gathered my courage, curled back toward the door as slowly as I could and ran back into one of the bitter winters that engulfed Chicago between 1975 and 1983.

I made it to the next corner and into Garrett’s Popcorn, where I was able to mill about without attracting attention. After five minutes of appreciating their various caramel corns I was warm enough to consider my assault on the next block, which would take me to Marshall Field’s, a place that I knew very well… a place I could get lost in for hours. And in that race against the elements I got lucky: The wind was mostly at my back and the traffic light was with me.

I was something in-between sweating and shivering as I walked into Field’s, but I had made it intact. I headed slowly downstairs to the cafeteria for some hot coffee, taking in the displays and products. Unlike the things I saw in 1963, I precisely remembered nearly all these things. I never would have thought of them otherwise, but seeing them instantly refreshed my memories.

* * * * *

I didn’t remember the price of coffee in this era, but I knew it would be well under a dollar for a “bottomless cup.” And so I sat down at the counter in Fields’ basement and turned up the cup that was sitting in front of me.

Forty cents is what the lady charged me, saying nothing about the fact that I was the only customer without an overcoat. I asked if she had a newspaper laying around. A minute later she returned with a copy of the Sun Times. It was dated Wednesday, February 8th, 1978.

And so here I was, back in a frigid winter with no coat, all but broke, and with no clear direction. But it was most definitely an adventure, and that cheered me. I felt the coffee warming me from the inside and I found myself smiling. Even in the worst case I wasn’t going to freeze, and I knew what was about to happen in the world. I had lived through 1978 as a young adult, after all.

And so I sat, smiling at my waitress, going through three cups of coffee, feeling fully warmed, and reading a newspaper. As in 1963, I was taken with how trivial and boring current events were, once you weren’t caught up in them. The story of the day was that some US Senate hearings were being broadcast on the radio. Big whoop, as they use to say.

I started running scenarios through my mind. What I needed was room and board. My best option seemed clear: To find my old boss, Jack, then convince him to hire me for a pittance and let me sleep in the back of the shop. The Madison bus would get me to within half a block of his office, and knowing him as well as I did, I was pretty sure I could pull it off((I worked for Jack through the early 1980s and had a strong grasp of what he’d respond to.)). More than that, I had enough time to get back to Field’s if I failed. At closing time the cops would cart me away to some charity place.

But as I sat at the counter, considering how best to convince Jack and gathering my resolve to head back outside, I had one of those strange feelings… that I should go to the subway entrance at the back of Fields’ basement. In another situation I would have questioned the feeling more strenuously, but given that this one appeared in the midst of a truly otherworldly experience, I let myself follow the hunch. Beside, how much trouble could I get into, just walking across a store?

And so I thanked my waitress, left her two quarters and another few stray coins, and walked to the subway.

The closer I got, the more certain I was that something was afoot. I turned into the steep little stairway between Field’s and the subway, and there, at the base of the stairway and out of everyone’s view but mine, was a 30ish man who looked the same kind of sick as my previous companion.

“Here, take this,” he said, tossing me a plastic store bag then stepping to the first set of doors and gesturing for me to take his spot.

I glanced briefly into the bag and saw packets of money in it. Then I glanced at him… he was carrying a bright red bag, seemingly with money in it as well.

“I’m your friend’s parallel,” he said.

I thought I understood his meaning. “Parallel… you mean like husband, or mate?”

“Yes,” he said, “though things change a bit over a century or two.” Then he pointed at the bag he had given me. “There’s a note in there explaining things,” he said while hurriedly looking up the stairway. 

I nodded my understanding and appreciation, then waited for him to continue.

“I got here the same way you did and I robbed a bank for you, the one with the lion.” That made it the Harris Bank, a Chicago institution. “We don’t have time,” he said, as I heard the sound of police sirens pouring down the stairway on the other side of the doors. “You take the train out of here and I’ll get myself caught. Then I’ll die with the enforcers as they take me away. Reasonable?”

I found it hard to tell someone to die, but given that this was a time-critical situation I was able to respond with “Reasonable” almost instantly.

He walked through the doors, headed up the stairs and into a police chase. But before the doors closed he slowed for a second and said, “I wish I could have spent time with you. Now hurry.”

“Me too,” I said, hustling into the subway, where I paid my fare and jogged down to the Howard-Englewood train. Northbound.

All of Book Two on Kindle:

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* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

Return Engagements (Book Two) PART 1

My second set of extraordinary adventures was not at all what I had expected. My first adventure prepared me for them in some ways, but in other ways not at all.

Furthermore, I suspect that the engagements you’ll find recounted here will prove to be unique. My feeling is that they were intended for the sake of my development, and perhaps as test flights. The people who brought me into these adventures, after all, were no more experienced than I was. Yes, some of them are considerably more advanced than we are, but we’ve all been figuring it out as we go.

The most important thing about these adventures, in my estimation, is to gain the perspectives of advanced people. These people have imparted learning to me (which I hope I’m passing along as clearly as possible), but the crucial part of these lessons – and the part I’m certain they saw as essential – was the frame of mind that matches these lessons.

That is, they were not trying to simply give me facts, but rather to open my mind to the perspective from which these insights would be self-evident. Said different, they were not trying to cure my stupidity, but rather to help me see through a better set of assumptions about myself and the world.

Our real problem, you see, is not a lack of mental power, but a sea of obstacles that blocks our view, and thus our understanding. My advanced friend wanted to elevate me, so I could see past the thorns and brambles that gum-up so much of the thinking that occurs on this planet. That accomplished, the lessons would be utterly obvious to me and I’d find them on my own.

And so, what I’d really like from these books – for you and for myself (I read these more than you might guess, for my own edification) – is to see the world, at least partly, as my advanced friends see it. And I honestly think that has the capacity to change the world dramatically.

I am as sure as I can be that there will be more of these excursions, and I most certainly hope there will be. They are sometimes difficult for me personally, and are always intense, but they are eminently worth it.

I wish you all the best.

– PR

* * * * *

It was months following my experience of October of 2016 before I began to feel like myself. Odd and sometimes powerful feelings kept striking me: For starters, I went through bouts of feeling like it didn’t really happen… convincing bouts of “it didn’t really happen.” And then there were repeats of the “How could you be such a special person?” issue that I dealt with while I was still in 1963.

But those weren’t the big things. The big things were the attitudes of my space friends. The ways they looked at our world were different, but different in a way I couldn’t really define, which made them very strange things to wrestle with. I wish I had a better way to describe this, but I haven’t come up with anything so far. Their attitudes were simple yet foreign, if that makes any sense.

In any event, their attitudes, while seemingly comprehensible, didn’t fit very well into our present world, and that made me unsettled in a pre-verbal sort of way. (Again, if that makes any sense.)

Nonetheless, within two months or so those things had sifted themselves inside me and I was feeling normal… or at least normalish. About a month after that, I began considering the possibility of another trip to a past world. The advanced men I had met along the way, Robert and Jim, seemed to think it was an interesting experiment. Being that they were more advanced than me, it was hard to be sure they weren’t holding something back, but these were exceptionally open and honest people.

I was somewhat less sure about the lady who initiated the adventure to 1963. She was sick the whole time she was there and willingly died to escape it. And so I had to wonder about the chances of it happening again.

My other concern was whether the lady would pull me back to another virtual world but not come herself. I lost sleep imagining “solo entry” scenarios. Having been through the process once, going and returning didn’t very much concern me, but would this woman, as fine a person as she seemed to be, really understand the intricacies of plopping me down into, say, ancient Rome? Naked and with minimal Latin, I could find myself shoved into the role of a slave. Granted, my knowledge would almost certainly get back out, but who wants to be a slave for even a few days? And some Roman slaves were chained.

Such were the thoughts that ran through my mind many nights, though not on the night between April 30th and May 1st, 2018, when my next adventure began. I’m not sure what time it was, but it came as I was shifting positions in the middle of my night’s sleep. Again I felt a surge of what we used to call “the power of the spirit” and opened my eyes somewhere else.

* * * * *

It was dark, but I seemed to be in a hotel room. I was definitely laying on a made bed. There was a sliver of light from behind the curtains on the room’s lone window. Turning my eyes, then my head, I saw enough to conclude I was in a reasonable place. Everything I could see said it was a hotel in an older American city; if not Chicago, then Boston, Philly, New York or maybe Milwaukee.

The radiator in the room had told me it was a northern city. The big box of a television and the old-style telephone made it clear that I was somewhere… somewhen… between about 1975 and 1990.

Confident that I was basically okay and seeing no sign of my lady friend, I got about my business and rifled through the drawers, dressing myself in someone else’s clothes. They were too large, but they did the essential job. Quickly, however, I found myself becoming uncomfortable. With each new article of clothing, and especially as I pulled a few dollars in loose change from the top drawer and shoved it into my pocket, the damage I was doing became clearer to me. Last time we started by stealing from a big car dealership; this time it was from an individual. This was direct damage to a single person, not the muted and dispersed damage of thieving from a business.

Pulling on his shoes made things worse. There were old. This guy wasn’t terribly well off. And so I went back to the top drawer and pulled out some scraps of paper I had seen there. One of them was the hotel’s check-in receipt. It was from the Palmer House Hotel, an old Chicago hotel I knew very well. That finished locating me, at least.

The receipt said I was stealing from a Mr. Hugh Reynolds of Tomah, Wisconsin. I stepped to the writing desk and found a pad of paper and a pen. I wrote Mr. Reynolds a short note, apologizing for taking his clothes, adding that I did it only because of extreme circumstances, and promising to make it up to him. I left the note on his pillow.

As I placed the note, however, I got a view of the city, and I could see that it was deep winter. I knew there was nothing in the closet more useful that a well-worn sport coat, and so I scoured the drawers again, finding a thin sweater. Not a lot of help, but better than nothing. And so I dressed myself as quickly as I could, eager to be out of the room before Mr. Reynolds returned. 

All of Book Two on Kindle:

Book One on Kindle:

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

Return Engagements (Book One) PART 28… in which I try to understand

I was back in bed an hour after arriving and starting my notes, as 2016 caught me again. I got up a little late the next morning and spent a long time explaining the experience to my wife. She wasn’t sure what to think but encouraged me to write about it.

Picking up from Part 27, in which I returned home.

I was back in bed an hour after arriving and starting my notes, as 2016 caught me again.

I got up a little late the next morning and spent a long time explaining the experience to my wife. She wasn’t sure what to think but encouraged me to write about it. I hugged or called everyone else as circumstances permitted, then went back to my notes and wondered what would become of it all.

A few days later, before I was even settled back into 2016, I seemed to get my answer when the British voted to leave the European Union, against what seemed to be all odds.

But it wasn’t the politics of it that made me think that this was affected by my experience. Rather, it was because Brexit was an anti-establishment movement. What had happened in my alternate world wasn’t about politics, but the discrediting of a blindly worshipped status quo.

This possibility received further confirmation over the ensuing weeks, as I saw Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, surging in the Democratic Party’s presidential race, and Donald Trump, however I might characterize him, surging to the head of the Republican race. Both of these were strongly anti-status-quo candidates, and the public was clearly moving toward them.

Then of course was the election of Mr. Trump, which surprised most of the world.

As I write this in 2018 I am certain that what people called a “populist” surge (including a major Italian referendum in December of 2016) was actually an anti-establishment surge. More than that, I think it was influenced by my trip to 1963. I have no way to be certain about such a thing of course, but that’s my opinion just the same.

What remains to be seen are the long-term effects of this rejection of the status quo. That masses of people are still talking about the deep state and “draining the swamp” is, I think, some indication that it is continuing. And from my perspective, that’s a fairly good thing.

But as it was in the aftermath of the Johnson-Hoover coup, it’s crucial that this surge not spill over into hate. Politics always leans that way of course, but keeping people on the better side of it is crucial. If we stay away from that poison, beneficial changes will follow; if we pass over to hate, the changes we desire will be corrupted before they are born.

* * * * *

Beyond that, I carry the effects of the trip in myself.

After I had been back for some months I searched for Michael’s journals. Mike Jr. died years ago, but I did find his son, now an old man. (I wore a hat and tried to change my appearance so he didn’t recognize me from the Christmas dinners, but his memory seemed to be spotty. It may not have mattered anyway.) I made up a story about Mike being my grandfather’s friend and his showing me a journal as a boy. He knew nothing about the journals and guessed that they were lost when his mom passed and they sold her house.

All that remains of Michael Burroughs’ journals is what I retain in my memories.

Ashkenaz, my hangout for 1964, vanished long ago, and my Roundtable friends are long gone as well of course.

La Villita is still centered on 26th Street, and there is still a Mexican community there, but all the restaurants and stores have changed. It’s pretty far off my usual path, and I get my Mexican food in other places now.

It pains me to see people treat the Warren Report as gospel and anything else as a “conspiracy theory.” That had always bothered me (it’s an appeal to authority weaponized with ridicule), but much more so now. The arrogance of it… the willful blindness of it… I try to stay away from the subject.

As time passes, my trip through 1963, 1964 and 1965 becomes more and more just a bygone passage of my life, a lot like 1981, 1982 and 1983. I liked it, learned from it, and incorporated it into myself. Now it’s just an extra set of experiences.

I learned from my other-worldly friends of course, but it wasn’t the things they said that stuck with me. Rather, it was their attitudes, how they saw the things of this world as trivialities and the things within us as important and enduring. And while I don’t dwell on those things in any analytical sense, I feel like they’re changing me from the inside.

And perhaps that’s the way growth has to happen.

* * * * *

 (Available now on Kindle)

Return Engagements (Book One) PART 27… in which a world ends

The boy never noticed me, thank God. I don’t know how it would have affected me if he had. I sat there for several more minutes, alternately letting myself cry and seeing how well I could suppress it.

Picking up from Part 26, in which I met my young self.

The boy never noticed me, thank God. I don’t know how it would have affected me if he had. I sat there for several more minutes, alternately letting myself cry and seeing how well I could suppress it.

The truth is that my life had a lot of good things in it too, it was not overwhelmingly bad, especially compared to what others have suffered through. I was lucky in many ways.

But that didn’t change the fact that this was a well-meaning boy with oceans of potential, and that he was heading, inevitably, toward repetitive and painful sufferings… sufferings he very much did not deserve.

* * * * *

After the children had passed, I pulled myself up from the steps and walked away. I headed away from the places where these kids would be going to play, making my way over the landfill that was being turned into a park, and distracted myself by taking a good look at it with adult eyes. Parts of it I remembered and parts I didn’t.

The stream of tears down my face started slowing, and being quite alone as I trudged over a sloppy terrain, I let them flow. It got me to the end of the process somewhat faster.

Soon enough I arrived at the turnaround just off Kedzie Avenue and waited for the next bus. By the time it arrived my face was dry, and though I’m sure I looked troubled, the driver said nothing. I paid my fare and sat toward the back.

I must have stayed at the water fountain at the train station, drinking, for a full two minutes. Then I went back downtown, changed my outfit in Marshall Field’s basement, and went back home as Gabriel Ruis.

About halfway through that night I woke up crying, again seeing the boy’s face… my face… and feeling him being hurt again.

* * * * *

I was able to see nearly all my family members during my year as Gabriel Ruis. Seeing my mom made my cry too, though not as badly. I was only about half certain as to what she was feeling.

The third time I saw her, at a grocery store, I felt well enough to have a small and pleasant conversation with her over the peaches and plums. It was odd to be much older than her (I addressed her as “young lady”), but again I found that I respected my mother, and that’s a very healthful thing.

As it happened, my childhood impressions of my family members turned out to be almost entirely correct. The people I remembered as nice, were in fact nice; those I had reservations about, I still had reservations about. What was interesting was to see more depth in them, as I did in the case of both of my grandfathers.

And so I spent 1965, mainly as Gabriel Ruis, and one or two days per week as myself, making the acquaintance of people who had been important to me in one way or another.

The one exception to this came when I drove with two friends from Ryerson to the Ali-Liston rematch in Maine. At lunch one day, I found several of them talking about the fight – there had been a lot of drama over it, which is why it ended up in such an out-of-the-way place – and I convinced them that it was the only chance ordinary working guys like us would have to see a heavyweight championship fight. And so we took a few days off, drove to Maine, and bought tickets.

When the Ali-Liston fight finally began (it was the last fight of the night), I wandered toward ringside with a Coke in my hand, as if I were returning to my seat. I was in a great position to see the “phantom punch” that ended the fight. And my verdict upon it was clear: It was a legitimate knock-down; a sharp long-range hook, from outside the off-balance Liston’s field of view. (Seeing it coming makes a big difference when getting hit. So does being off balance.)

But the punch was certainly not enough to keep Liston on the canvas for 10 seconds. Being there in person, it was screamingly obvious that he stayed down on purpose. Why he took the dive is an open question, but Liston took a dive.

* * * * *

On New Year’s Eve 1965, I had dinner with a family on the first floor of my apartment building. I brought three different desserts and we had a very nice evening, with the kids going to bed (though mostly not asleep) and the adults talking till well after midnight. It was one of the more pleasant evenings of the adventure, though I’m sure part of that was simply the knowledge that I’d be home soon.

Another interesting experience came a couple of days later as I took one of my usual buses back to work at Ryerson.

Just a few days left, I thought, looking out the window.

And then I remembered an old story about an evangelist, Dwight Moody, I think. He was old, retired and planting trees in his garden.

A reporter found him and asked, “Reverend Moody, if you knew Jesus was coming back in an hour, what would you do?”

“If he comes back in an hour, he’ll find me planting my trees,” he replied.

And that’s really how I felt. At any given moment on any given day, this world I was living in would vanish from existence. And the truth is that there was nothing better I could be doing than my seemingly mundane work.

* * * * *

Being that I knew it was close, I began keeping track of the days. And that world – that galaxy – ended on the afternoon of January 19, 1966.

It was one of my days off, and I was sitting in a small Mexican restaurant on 26th Street, enjoying a late lunch and reading The Source, by James Michener. I was underlining a passage that I found interesting and then found myself in bed. I blinked my eyes a few times and was surprised to find myself tired… exactly as if I had been awakened at 2 AM from a deep sleep.

Within a minute or so my body caught up with me and I was wide awake. I rolled over, hugged my wife, and then got up. She was surprised I was getting up, asked if I was okay, then rolled over and went back to sleep.

I walked to my office and started making notes about the past two and a half years.

* * * * *

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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 26… in which I meet myself

I stayed home Friday and Saturday. Part of it was lying low in case someone had somehow tracked me, and part of it was simply to unwind. I read the first half of another John le Carré novel I had picked up. It wasn’t as good as The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, but it was entertaining.

Picking up from Part 25, in which I told the truth and lived.

I stayed home Friday and Saturday. Part of it was lying low in case someone had somehow tracked me, and part of it was simply to unwind. I read the first half of another John le Carré novel I had picked up. It wasn’t as good as The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, but it was entertaining.

I also let my moustache come back right away. The more camouflage the better and that was the plan when I shaved it anyway.

On Sunday I woke up needing two things: some time spent in spiritual thoughts and some time with family. Taken together, that meant going to church. And so I did.

I ignored the doctrinal things and the various sacraments, but I enjoyed the atmosphere of several hundred people reaching out to their creator, however imperfectly and even impurely. They could think their thoughts and I could think mine. If I didn’t feel like standing and kneeling with everyone else, I simply sat in a prayer-like position… like a lot of old folks in the church.

I loved watching the families come in. These were poor working people with their children, outwardly ignorant by my 2016 standards, but training their children in the ways of respect. It warmed me to see the children learn to extend their hands to others and to greet them. These parents were, whether they understood it or not, instilling civilization in their children, and it had a deep beauty to it.

In one way this made me miss home, but in another, it gave me a taste of what I was missing. And as I looked around the church I could see the faces of my own friends and family members in theirs.

In a very real way, that church healed me. Or rather, the people in it healed me. The truth is that a part of me wasn’t really opposed to being shot dead on my way out of that news conference. It would have gotten me back home.

But I had found the fix, a temporary replacement for my real family, whom I still wouldn’t see for a year. Now I needed to be Gabriel Ruis well enough to create close relationships with families… not just good people, but families with children.

* * * * *

The noose closed quickly around Johnson and Hoover. Within a week a dozen past associates were spilling what they knew and four congressmen went on record as having been blackmailed by Hoover.

Half a dozen people were being deposed in Austin about Mac Wallace walking away from a murder conviction. The effort stood upon shaky legal grounds due to statutes of limitations, but the information was being made public all the same.

The week after that, Johnson resigned the presidency, citing health concerns. A week after that so did Hoover. But the resignations only sped things up. More or less everyone in the country – in the literate world – knew that they had cooperated to kill John Kennedy and to cover it up afterward. Now public attention concerned who else was involved and how deep it all went.

Moreover the entire Warren Commission was disgraced… powerfully disgraced… as in store clerks refusing to serve them. At least four of them committed suicide that I knew of. It felt rather Roman in that way.

After another few weeks, stories of Johnson’s disgusting behavior were being published in adult magazines. No general circulation magazine could print this stuff without offending a large portion of their readers. Even Playboy wouldn’t print some of it. Photos of Hoover and Tolson followed.

Johnson ended up in a psychiatric hospital, and Hoover killed himself with sleeping pills.

No one mourned them save for their disappointed partners in domination. And then, one by one, a string of politicians and intelligence bosses were either indicted, exposed by newspapers, or died unexpectedly. Faith in leaders crashed.

I debated writing a few letters, informing reporters about MK-Ultra and the Tuskegee Study, but I decided it was better to let people find their own ways to them.

The general level of anger was still on the verge of spiking. There was some violence – the house of an implicated oil magnate was burned down – but it thankfully hadn’t passed from a few scattered cases to anything broader.

Still, it was clear that “more fuel to the fire” was not a good idea. I let it go.

* * * * *

As half a dozen congressional committees were investigating the “attempted coup,” as it was by then being called, I got a job offer… and took it.

One of my neighbors, Carlos Mendoza, worked at Ryerson Steel, a big operation a few miles away. He said they needed a part-time electrician, which was the kind of work I told him I had done. I confided in him that I had no Social Security number, but he assured me that he had a number I could use.

Carlos arranged an interview between me and the boss at Ryerson. I showed up at the designated time, trying to look right, sound right, and to not go too far in impressing the man. I was more qualified than I wanted to appear.

In the end it all worked well enough, and I started working two and a half days per week reorganizing the maintenance of their many electric motors. It was a perfect job for me, and it was something Ryerson very much needed.

And so, for three weekdays and Sundays, I lived fully as Gabriel Ruis and enjoyed it. I liked being productive, I liked the camaraderie of working with others, and I liked being part of the neighborhood. I got to know the kids, the grandparents, and the shop owners. Even on my days off, I stayed in character most of the time.

But one or two days per week I went downtown, changed clothes in Marshall Field’s basement restroom, and lived a version of my 2016 life, moving between bookstores, libraries, restaurants, occasionally concert halls, even going back to the Alter Cocker’s Roundtable a couple of times. I liked that life a lot too.

* * * * *

The very hard decision during that last year was whether or not to visit members of my family. Something about it had gnawed at me ever since I looked across Rogers Park from Mike’s steps and considered seeing my mom or dad.

I went back and forth on that decision until spring, when I decided to go for it. Really, I was afraid of being disappointed by them. I didn’t want to see them – my mom especially – be venal or petty or just stupid.

But eventually I decided that I could forgive them for their shortcomings. I knew pretty well what they were, and my memories of them were not false or even very much embellished.

And so I began slowly, by stopping into my grandfather’s restaurant. Unfortunately I picked a day when he wasn’t there. But I did see my Uncle Louie, a brief encounter as he sat me at a table.

Aside from seeing him at a few family events as a boy, I never really knew Louie, though when I checked into family history many years later, it became clear that his house was a hub for all the relatives coming from the old country. I decided that I would have liked to have known him better. This particular encounter was very brief, but it was at least something, and the more I came into the restaurant the more familiar we’d become.

* * * * *

After my lunch I emerged back into the city, having nothing to do for the afternoon. And try as I might, nothing was appealing to me… except one thing. In the back of my mind was an image of my finding my almost-seven-year-old self. Not to speak to him, just to see him.

Again I got the strange feeling that I couldn’t pin down… and again I had the feeling that I should go observe the young man. And so I walked up to an elevated train platform and headed north.

I took the Ravenswood line all the way to its end to buy myself a few extra minutes, then took a Kimball-Peterson bus north, getting out on Sacramento Avenue and walking the last mile or a little more to Greenleaf Avenue, where I spent most of my childhood. (My family had moved there – about a mile from their Rogers Park townhouse – in January 1965.)

I got to Greenleaf a little before 3:00 and waited for the little school on the corner to get out at 3:15, as it always did. That was when things began to roil around inside of me.

Briefly I recalled a line from a sci-fi show about things “we’re not meant to know,” but I worked through that pretty quickly. It was just repackaged fear.

I sat on the steps of a house we almost never saw anyone come or go from. But the viewing angle from those steps wasn’t terribly good, and so I walked down the block, away from the school, then turned around and headed back just as I heard the school bell ringing and saw the first kids, the oldest of them, running away from the school.

Amazingly, I recognized most of the children coming down the street toward me. I didn’t remember most of the names, but I still knew the faces.

And then I saw myself. I was a young boy, walking alone out of the school’s south door – the one used by the lower grades – and moving slowly toward the street and its crossing guard.

The thing that riveted me to the boy and froze me in place was that I understood his facial expression in a very deep way. Seeing the subtle changes in anyone else’s face might convey meaning to me, but this was my own face, and it seemed like it broadcast what he was feeling directly into my core.

He was thinking about something, trying to understand what it meant. About that much I am certain. I watched as he diverted his attention to the crossing guard, looked at another young child nearby and then went back to his search for understanding. I started walking again, so I’d be out of his way before he got close; I wasn’t interested in a direct encounter.

Then, as I was still perhaps 30 yards away, just about to pass out of his view, two large boys came running by. They weren’t threatening in any way, but their much larger size, their speed and strength, surprised the boy and frightened him. And again, his expression conveyed everything to me. I knew that feeling… I remembered that feeling… and I began weeping.

I made my way quickly to the steps, out of his view. But I couldn’t stop crying.

I seldom cry, but when I do, I try to let myself do it rather than suppressing it. I think there’s something cleansing and healthful about it.

But this time was different. I wanted to suppress it, to avoid creating a spectacle in a sensitive situation. But while I could prevent any sort of whimpering, I couldn’t stop the tears that were streaming down my face.

In his face I saw, I knew, exactly what I had been. And unbidden, I could feel all the pains, all the disappointments, all the tragedies that would crash down upon this innocent boy… and it tore me up… to the point where I did start to whimper.

This decent boy, who would have thrived in a better world, was doomed to endless opposition. I could feel profoundly the pain he’d be feeling in the future. That face, my young face, my young self… it pulled me back into him, and it pulled out of me all the memories of that boy being hurt in his path through life.

I remembered my first encounters with malice, which shocked me and wounded me. I remembered realizing that people hated me because of my virtues, which further wounded me. I remembered all the times that people who should have loved and protected me either hurt me or encouraged others to hurt me. I saw all these things as happening to this innocent and unsuspecting child… and I wept hot tears for him.

* * * * *

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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 25… in which I survive exposure

I walked down the stairway toward chaos, which was useful. From the stairway I spotted Dorothy. And while I did my best to look like a confused businessman, I made my way almost directly toward her. I looked at my watch along the way. It was 11:59.

Picking up from Part 24, in which I prepared for my most dangerous moment.

I walked down the stairway toward chaos, which was useful. From the stairway I spotted Dorothy. And while I did my best to look like a confused businessman, I made my way almost directly toward her. I looked at my watch along the way. It was 11:59.

“Take this please.” I handed her two small reels of movie film. “And please get this started immediately.”

Then I handed my rucksack to the man with her. He nodded his agreement to hold it.

She smiled, then stepped in front of the cameras and started talking. I noticed that a young man standing near me was Joel Daley, one of the nightly newsreaders of my youth. I slid over to him and discretely handed him my last reel of film.

“And now,” I heard her say, “here is my source. He has a statement to make and will then answer your questions.”

Game time.

* * * * *

I began by telling the cameras the same thing I told the Roundtable: that I was told in advance and that I went to Dallas with a small team.

And I added, “I have done these things as a private citizen, not as an agent of the US government and certainly not as the agent of any foreign government.

“I’m here to tell you the truth of what happened. But more important than that, I am advising you not to turn dark, angry and hateful. You’ve been lied to and an innocent man, John Kennedy, has been murdered. Clearly anger is understandable. But if you dwell in it, you poison yourselves and you poison the future.

“Please understand I’m not advising you to ignore these crimes or to let anyone off the hook – clearly the men behind this are evil, and passing over their crimes would lead to disaster – but I don’t want you to become hateful. The American people should learn from this, not descend into a hate-filled mob. I encourage you to do what is right for the sake of justice, safety and posterity and not out of hate and revenge. Not because the killers deserve it, but because your children deserve that example.”

I was very pleased with that statement. I had written it beforehand of course, but I said it from the heart, not from notes.

After a pause, I asked for questions. In the face of at least a dozen half-screaming reporters, I realized that I’d have to choose, and so I started with Joel Daley, to whom I had just handed the film.

“What’s on the film?”

“The film begins, Mr. Daley,” (I realized that I had no explicable way of knowing his name, but confident that would be lost in the general confusion) “with Mr. Oswald sitting in what’s called the ‘sniper’s nest,’ setting up to shoot into Houston Street. If you check the view from there, you’ll see that this was a ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ situation. It is clearly the shot that any assassin would choose.”

Pens were scribbling all across the room.

I continued, “Mr. Oswald waits for a good while and then leans back from his scope, which sends Mr. Wallace into a rage. I can’t really make out his words from the film, but perhaps an expert can.

“Then Mr. Oswald retracts the rifle altogether, prompting Mr. Wallace, a much larger man, to toss him out of the sniper’s nest bodily. Mr. Wallace is hard to see for a few seconds and Mr. Oswald disappears.

“And then Wallace returns with what looks to me like another rifle. He squats down uncomfortably in front of the window and fires off two or three shots, as the motorcade drives away down Elm Street. Then he runs out of our camera’s view. It appears to me that he tosses his rifle on top of some boxes, but again, experts may see it differently. The film continues and ends with images from the front of the Book Depository.”

I quickly pointed to someone else.

“When can we get this film?”

“Which news organization are you with?” I asked.

“NBC,” he said.

This was the moment I had been waiting for.

“Ah, your network already has the film. It was delivered to them this morning.”

That was followed by representatives of the other networks screaming.

“NBC, ABC, CBS and even WGN have all received it.”

Then I watched for the feds in the room to rush for telephones, which several did.

Today confusion is my friend.

I was going to ask for one more question when a young lady looked directly at me and said, “Who did this?”

Everyone else heard it too and instinctively stopped. Her plaintive tone of voice and sincerity were perfect.

“I can’t tell you for sure, Miss, and this is for all of you to solve, not me… but the obvious instigator is Lyndon Johnson. He had the presidency to gain and probable disgrace to avoid. Furthermore, you should know that as a human being, he is despicable. There are people all through Washington and Texas who can give you disturbing details if they care to… if they’re not too terrified… and I’ll leave them to rise to the occasion. You can start by looking into Mr. Wallace.

“And you can also look at the vaunted Mr. Hoover. How and when he came into this crime I don’t know, but he has clearly gone wild trying to kill this story. He wouldn’t do that if he didn’t have a great deal to lose. And I will also suggest that you consider why he hasn’t gone after or even acknowledged the criminal organizations Mr. Robert Kennedy has pursued. Let’s just say that Mr. Hoover has skeletons in his closet, that there are many people who know but that they also have been terrified of speaking.

“Now, one last statement, please… a request… two requests…

“First, please remember what I said about hate. It is a poison that America does not need… that the future does not need. And second, my life is in jeopardy because of this. I really have nothing else to say about the assassination, but the criminals and their friends are likely to seek revenge.

“So, please do me a favor and begin milling about vigorously, moving outside, and milling about vigorously there. Be careful not to hurt each other, but please help me get away without being kidnapped or killed. Thank you.”

* * * * *

And mill about, they did. I gave Dorothy a quick kiss on the cheek, took the bag from her friend and knelt down as if tying my shoes. Then I walked on my knees through the crowd while tossing off my jacket and tie, donning a hat and glasses and putting on a greenish nylon jacket.

In the thickest part of the crowd I stood, tossed my bag to the wall and made my way out and down the stairs to the Illinois Central station. I went immediately toward the side entry – the one only regular riders know – and caught the first train available. (All trains head south from that station.)

I had to take a circuitous route to get back to La Villita, but 90 minutes later I was ordering tacos, tostadas and horchata at a local diner. I went to my apartment, turned on the TV and pulled out some good brandy. I toasted all my friends in abstentia and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I had done the job and I had survived.


* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

Return Engagements (Book One) PART 24… in which I become Gabriel Ruis

The next day I moved all my photos out of Mike’s apartment and put them back in a safe deposit box. I also told young Mike that I’d be out of town for a few weeks. I had to be prepared for the FBI to crosscheck the likely arrival dates of Dorothy’s material to flights in and out of New York.

 Picking up from Part 23, in which I seeded the rebellion.

The next day I moved all my photos out of Mike’s apartment and put them back in a safe deposit box. I also told young Mike that I’d be out of town for a few weeks.

I had to be prepared for the FBI to crosscheck the likely arrival dates of Dorothy’s material to flights in and out of New York. That would put “Michael Burroughs” on their list. The only ID I had was the driver’s license Mike got me in Vegas, and that was the name I used for travel. And that meant a visit to Mike Jr.’s house and my present apartment were serious possibilities.

And so were the safe deposit boxes I was using. Everything was “Michael Burroughs,” and while they probably wouldn’t get to the boxes right away, there had to be supreme pressure on this. I couldn’t leave my best evidence where it could be grabbed.

And so I went to the immigrants.

In particular, I drove my car to 26th Street, to the old Mexican neighborhood called La Villita. (“Little Village” in English.) My Spanish was almost good enough to blend in, and I changed into workman’s clothes from an Army-Navy surplus store along the way.

By day’s end I had a furnished one-bedroom apartment under the name of Gabriel Ruis. I went to the local stores, loaded up on food, and spent the night there.

The next morning I headed out at the same time as the other men, playing the role of a maintenance man in the Z Frank coveralls the lady had given me my first day in 1963. It was a Saturday, but most of them were working anyway.

I walked around the neighborhood, trying to get myself into the role of an aging maintenance man. I picked up some wrenches, a tool bag and a few other things. Then I stopped at a restaurant next to my apartment building and started making friends. I did the same Sunday, blending in but stopping short of going to church.

On Monday I left with the other workmen. After we had all gone our separate directions I went to my car, found a place to change clothes and went downtown to clean out my safe deposit boxes. Then I went to the Alter Cocker Roundtable.

I agonized over what I would tell them. While it was true that their virtual world was going to blip out of existence in a year, these were real people with real feelings… and if I hurt them, that might carry over into my 2016 world.

And so I decided to tell them the truth about the news stories and my role in them.

* * * * *

“Guys,” I said, “I won’t be able to have breakfast with you anymore.”

Blank faces stared back at me.

“It’s the Kennedy assassination stuff.”

“What did you do?” Shelly asked me.

And so I told then. I said I had been informed where and when the assassination would happen, that I couldn’t tell them by whom, and that I was part of a small team that shot all the photos.

“They’re gonna kill you,” Sam said very seriously.

“That’s a possibility, Sam, and if it happens, it happens. But for now I’m a couple of steps ahead of them and I’ll try to keep it that way. But that means staying away from here… from all my usual places, I’m sorry to say.”

I gave them a full set of photos, to share as they saw fit, and to use as they saw fit. But I also advised them to be careful, that the FBI would be going crazy.

We said our final goodbyes… tearful goodbyes… and I went back to the car and drove to Mike Jr.’s office.

My conversation with him was very similar, and I apologized to him for vacating the apartment early, and especially for the possibility that the FBI would be checking him out. I offered him a set of photos, but he declined, not wanting to have anything the FBI could use against him. I also advised him to protect himself and his family if he got “the visit.”

“I’ll expect you to tell them everything you know,” I added.

Mike wished me well and thanked me for telling the world the truth, which was a touching coda to our goodbye. I liked Mike a lot.

* * * * *

The next day I “took the day off” and scouted the neighborhood for a garage space to rent. I found one a few blocks away and left my car there. It could be traced to Mike, after all. From here on I’d use the busses and trains. I was Gabriel Ruis.

And it turned out that I liked being Gabriel Ruis. I started thinking about getting a real maintenance job. I liked most of my neighbors, they came to like me, and I loved the neighborhood. More than that, I liked the immigrant mentality a lot better than the “good citizen” mentality.

* * * * *

Just after that the bombs began exploding again.

Dorothy, after what must have been intense battles with editors, ran both of the photos I gave her, front page, in the Journal-American. The San Francisco Chronicle, I found out the next day, had run both the photos I sent them. And at the same time, the journalist from Washington started a series of articles on Mac Wallace.

I could only imagine what was going on between Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover. They were just about finished and they knew it. My concern was that they’d go scorched-earth before they admitted anything. These men were sociopathic thugs.

The next day Malcolm Wallace turned up dead. Hoover and Johnson were immediately blamed, as were members of the Warren Commission. “Both Men from the 6th Floor Eliminated” read a huge banner in the Chicago Tribune the next morning.

That weekend several thousand college students, carrying “Justice for JFK” signs, protested in front of the White House. Monday morning the FBI raided half a dozen newsrooms across the country, seizing thousands of documents. That was probably the death knell for Johnson and Hoover – more or less every newspaper in the country objected vehemently – but things looked to get very ugly before they ended.

“I’m still the goddamn president of the United States,” Johnson was caught saying, “and I will crush this shit.”

Things were running off the tracks for my mission. Yes, people were seeing the mendacity of their rulers, but they were also running headlong into violence and hate. And those things would pollute 2016. I had to do something.

* * * * *

And so I went to my last-ditch plan. On January 12 (I know it was a Tuesday because the ubiquitous Chicago air raid siren went off at 10:00) I took five copies of the 16mm film and sent them to what seemed the safest hands: people who had incentives to distribute and show the film publicly. On my list were Newspapers in Toronto, Paris and Frankfurt. Also on the list were Bobby Kennedy and Barry Goldwater.

Then I took a bus to the Loop and sat in a diner, a pad of paper and pen in front of me with which to finalize my plans.

* * * * *

It’s a strange and oddly disturbing thing to seriously contemplate your death. Old people are forced into it of course, and they cope with it well enough, but for a young and/or healthy and/or optimistic person, it’s hard.

And death really was what I was facing. Even if Johnson and Hoover were booted from power, they still had lots of friends in high places, and they’d be plenty unhappy about losing their primary assets. And if the two terrors weren’t removed, I’d be their primary target.

And so I sat, sipping some tea and running one scenario after another through my mind, while simultaneously trying to imagine my feelings as a hundred-years-old and facing an inescapable death.

* * * * *

In an hour or two I had my plan. It was risky, to be sure, but it would go a long way toward turning things away from the dark places they were threatening to go. I was a bit less settled on the possibility of dying, but I was feeling well enough to function.

I sent out four identical telegrams (the text messaging of the day), to Dorothy and my journalists in San Francisco, Washington and Austin. I asked them to set up a news conference on noon Thursday, at the north entrance of the central library in Chicago. I further advised them that I’d make a public statement and that I had a powerful film.

All four would now have excellent reasons to set up the news conference.

The FBI, CIA and others were also bound to be there, but I chose the spot carefully. And once the telegrams were sent (fastest possible personal delivery), I went to the library and spent two hours verifying every possible option.

* * * * *

On Wednesday Gabriel Ruis stayed home. He… I… bought a TV and a radio and watched for news. At about noon I started hearing reports of an upcoming news conference of some importance, then in increasing detail as the day wore on. This was going to happen.

* * * * *

I slept poorly, but I did in fact sleep and called it a first victory.

I was up and showered by six. I shaved my moustache to alter my look. I stretched a bit too, expecting that running might be necessary. Then I loaded my things into a rucksack and headed out into the world dressed as Gabriel Ruis. I took the bus and the train downtown, then changed clothes. I emerged in my best suit.

At about eight o’clock I walked past the library and found it being set up. They had placed the lectern differently than I had expected, but not enough to make a serious difference. Technicians were setting up and several cops were standing around waiting for something to do. I walked to a diner a few blocks away and had a small breakfast but no coffee; I was nervous enough. I read a newspaper, learning only that “out of towners” were expected.

At 10:00 I figured the time was close enough, and so I walked in a circuit, stopping at all the major newsrooms: ABC, CBS, NBC and WGN (or at least their office at the Tribune Tower). In each case I dropped off one roll of film and asked that they get it to their news director. If at least one of them ran it before the conference, it would put confusion into the minds of whoever might be there to grab or shoot me. That would be helpful.

Then I walked into the library and up to the books on the second floor. I found a book of old sermons. They weren’t terribly good, but they led my mind into healthy areas and healthy feelings. As noon approached I was feeling faith and love; I was ready. If they shot me, so be it, but I’d act in faith regardless.

* * * * *

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Return Engagements (Book One) PART 23… in which I play the operative

I spent the next two days enjoying Manhattan. I went to the Second Avenue Deli (when it was still on 2nd Avenue), the Metropolitan Museum, and took a train to the Natural History Museum in Brooklyn. I even ran into the father of one of my 2016 friends. It was fun.

Picking up from Part 22, in which I created a new life, waited for the Warren Report, and contacted Dorothy Kilgallen.

I spent the next two days enjoying Manhattan. I went to the Second Avenue Deli (when it was still on 2nd Avenue), the Metropolitan Museum, and took a train to the Natural History Museum in Brooklyn. I even ran into the father of one of my 2016 friends. It was fun.

On the third day, Dorothy’s column in the Journal-American had “dumbfounded” in it. My notes said that she’d be heading to the TV studio in the early afternoon, and so I dressed down (pretty far down), sat on a curb, read her paper and ate a hot dog.

Soon enough she appeared. I had to hustle to reach her before she got to the door, but I managed to pull it off without drawing attention.

“Apologies for the wardrobe change, Miss Kilgallen, but you’re likely being watched, and I don’t want to be identified. Please act like I’m a beggar while I pull out another envelope for you.”

She said something about always wanting to help ex-servicemen down on their luck and handed me a dollar. I handed her an envelope with a single photo in it, showing Oswald in the sniper’s nest, rifle in hand and protruding from the window. Next to him, his face only slightly obscured, was Mac Wallace yelling.

“I expect that you’ll be ready to publish something now,” I said. “But if not, you’ll have to put a note in your column telling me why. Be obscure if you must, but I will not keep exposing myself to no end.”

I turned and left. By a roundabout course involving two cabs and a bus, I got back to the hotel, checked out and headed to LaGuardia. I made it home in time for a good night’s sleep.

* * * * *

I was again invited to Mike Jr’s home for Christmas and happily attended. I had a lovely time. I think the grandkids felt like they were touching something of their grandfather through me, and I did my best to make good on it.

At an appropriate moment I said to Michael, “So, are you ready to lease the apartment now?”

“No,” he said while shaking his head. “Give us another year?”

I had to laugh at being offered a nice apartment rent free, thinking, Where were you when I was 23?

“I can give you 1965, Mike, but I think no more… for both our sakes.”

He nodded, we shook hands on it, and went back to the festivities, in this case the singing of carols.

* * * * *

The Sunday night after Christmas, however, shook the world. Dorothy had the two photos I gave her enlarged to life size and used the images of Mac Wallace as the mystery guest on What’s My Line?

She had Oswald’s image draped on both photos and answered the questions from the panel herself. And then, when no one could guess, she unveiled Oswald and revealed Wallace as “Lee Harvey Oswald’s accomplice.”

As yet she didn’t know who Wallace was, but she promised to find out.

The next morning every major newspaper had the story. The afternoon papers had the photos, which Dorothy had sent over the newswires. Things were getting very hot, very fast. I could only hope that Mac Wallace wasn’t suicided too quickly.

Nonetheless, I kept to my daily routine. I went to the gym and then to the Alter Cocker Roundtable at Ashkenaz. The whole gang was there. And as it was most everywhere, Dorothy Kilgallen’s photos were the central topic of conversation. Several of the boys were there before me, along with two of their wives.

“So, wadda ya think?” Sam asked me as I arrived at the table.

“Damning,” I said, to which they all nodded their heads.

“Now, that’s presuming that the photos are real, but I can hardly imagine Dorothy Kilgallen pulling that kind of theatrics with fakes.”

“She was on the radio this morning,” inserted Rose, Sam’s wife.

“Really? What did she say?”

“She said that she had the negative for one of the photos and ran it past the best photo expert in New York. He said it was authentic and unaltered.”

“Well, then,” I went on, “that seems pretty bad to me. But what do you guys think it means practically? What comes of this?”

I asked that because I wanted to gauge the real world response to this. And the Roundtable was a very experienced group of folks.

We drank coffee, ate and bounced ideas around the table for almost two hours; long enough for the lunch rush to squeeze us out.

Then, as quickly as I could, I drove home and pulled out my stationary and my notes. I wrote four letters to the most serious investigative journalists I knew of, one in LA, one in San Francisco and two in DC.

In all four letters I explained that Dorothy Kilgallen’s mystery man was Malcolm, or Mac, Wallace… that he had been working in Austin, Texas, as some kind of economist for the government, that he was convicted for killing a man named Douglas Kinzer but served no jail time due to the influence of Lyndon Johnson, and that he had recently murdered an agricultural agency official associated with the Billy Sol Estes affair.

I added that I was reciting my facts from memory, but that if they followed up on the story, I could give them further material. I signed the letters merely as “Mr. X” and used no return address. Then I drove to Milwaukee to mail them.

* * * * *

The drive back from Milwaukee was one of the brighter spots of my stay in the 1960s. I had begun pulling back the veil on what was clearly a deeply corrupt but roundly worshipped organization, and I was past halfway through my exile.

My friend had estimated that the virtual world would last 30 months back in July of ’63. December of ’64, already ending, marked 17 months. I had just a little more than a year to go.

Calling my time in the ’60s an exile is too strong of course. It was also a tremendous opportunity and one I’d take again if I could. But I love my family and I very much wanted to be back with them.

In any event, I listened to breathless analysis of my photos on the way back home, while driving past various milestones of my life, much of which took place north of Chicago. And then, as I reached Dundee Road, a beautiful snow began to fall.

I switched off the news, got off the highway and chose my favorite secondary streets. I drove the rest of the way home listening to classical music, interspersed with a couple of Beatles songs that were playing seemingly everywhere.

Once home, I poured myself a brandy, turned off all the lights and pulled back the drapes in the front room. I sat for an hour or two just watching the snow cover the park. It was lovely.

* * * * *

I had half a mind to rush back to New York and give Dorothy another batch of photos but decided that people needed time to absorb the facts and that I’d give it to them. I stayed on my retiree’s schedule.

And while the furor over the photos continued, subsiding slowly, I had a very normal week. I followed my schedule in the mornings and read a John le Carré spy novel in the afternoons. It was cold and snowy, and so for a couple days I took the bus rather than driving and enjoyed reliving the bus rides of my childhood.

On New Year’s Eve I was invited to Sam and Rose’s apartment, and we had a pleasant evening. I had to fake a few details of my life, but I didn’t really contradict myself, so they had no reason to suspect anything.

As I walked to my car afterward (we didn’t stay up till anywhere near midnight), I crossed paths with my choir teacher and friend, Hermie Goodman. This was a full eight years before I’d meet him from his perspective, but I was thrilled to see him and struck up a small conversation.

Johnson’s State of the Union address was the next Monday evening. And bad luck for him, that was the day the San Francisco Chronicle – followed by afternoon papers nationwide – identified Malcolm Wallace as the Kennedy assassination accomplice and said there were rumors tying him to Johnson.

Johnson, however, ignored the issue almost entirely, adding just one comment in a very nasty tone about “ridiculous challenges to the most esteemed panel of experts ever convened in this country.” And sadly, his remark (with lots of FBI pressure behind it) had an effect.

The next day the news outlets that were best connected to the government (The Washington Times, The New York Times, etc.) were silent about Wallace and the photos.

And so I packed up another two sets of photos and caught a flight to La Guardia. I got to the hotel late afternoon and before I went looking for Dorothy, I sent an envelope to the journalist in San Francisco. (Actually, I mailed it to his editor, with a note inside directing him to pass it along.) In the envelope were two photos: one of the shooter at the stockade fence on the grassy knoll and another of the same man slipping away down the railroad tracks.

I would give Dorothy two photos as well, both of them enlarged single frames of the 16mm film. One showed Wallace pulling Oswald out of the sniper’s nest and another one of him taking the shot that went through Kennedy’s neck.

Finding Dorothy, however, was risky. Almost certainly there would be FBI men following her 24/7, and if I had any interaction with her, I’d probably be grabbed and questioned. Something else had to be done. I figured I could probably use the mail, but I needed to be fast this time. I didn’t want the initial success of Johnson’s intimidation to harden into inertia.

And so I came up with a plan: I took a nap, woke up at midnight, made myself look shabby and tired, and walked to the Journal-American’s office.

On the way I stopped at an all-night Chinese place and ordered five dinners. I had them wrap it all up in a large bag and staple the receipt to it, like deliveries are wrapped. Then I walked the last few blocks to the newspaper office.

It was 2:00 AM when I got there, and there were no watchers in sight. I bluffed my way up to the newsroom and found it almost empty. There were a couple of people in side offices and a cleaning lady.

While no one was looking I pulled the photos out of my underwear (the best hiding place I could think of) and a $10 bill out of my pocket. Then I walked up to the cleaning lady, holding up the bag of food. She stood still, waiting to hear what I had to say.

“Look,” I said, “I need to find Ms. Kilgallen’s desk. All I want to do is leave a note for her. She’s expecting it but her bosses shouldn’t know about it.”

She looked very suspicious.

“It’ll take you 20 seconds, no one will ever know, and I’ll give you $10.”

I would have gone higher, but if you go too high people become frightened that the situation is too big for them.

She walked me to the desk. I set the food down and then slid my envelope into her top drawer. I had to play with the drawer, but I got it.

Then I turned to the woman.

“Say, ‘I told you, she’s not here.’”

She did.

“God, I hate these crank deliveries,” I said, semi-loud.

I picked up the bag, dropped the $10 onto her cart, muttered a quiet “thanks,” and took my food back with me. The guy at the information desk was talking to some woman and noticed me barely if at all. I shuffled back toward the hotel, reversing course every now and then to be sure I wasn’t followed.

Back at the hotel I ate some cashew chicken, finished my sleep, then headed back to Chicago in the morning.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)

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

“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.

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)


Return Engagements (Book One) PART 21… in which we prepare for Michael’s death

The next morning I called Mike’s doctor and discussed his case. Then I made a list of things that had to be done every day: Morning, noon and evening pills, no caffeine, no fried foods, and gentle walks every day, weather permitting. We set up my room, drove to the supermarket and back, ate lunch, and then took a nap.

Picking up from Part 20, in which I experienced segregation and agreed to stay with Michael.

The next morning I called Mike’s doctor and discussed his case. Then I made a list of things that had to be done every day: Morning, noon and evening pills, no caffeine, no fried foods, and gentle walks every day, weather permitting. We set up my room, drove to the supermarket and back, ate lunch, and then took a nap.

Then, in the afternoon, we drove to the darkroom Mike had set up for me. It was in an old building on Shermer Road in Evanston. I took an hour or so to go through everything very precisely. Only one or two things were missing.

Then we took a drive down Western Avenue to the big camera store at Devon Avenue. We picked up the items we needed and a few other things.

Enough for one day, I thought as we started driving back to the apartment, but then I realized that the best thing for Mike was not boring bed-rest but something that made him happy.

“Hey, Mike, it’s only four o’clock and the roads are clear. You wanna take a drive somewhere?”

He smiled.

What Mike wanted was a travelogue of the future. And so we drove for the next two hours, as I recounted the events of my life and tied them to what was going on in the wider world at each point. We both enjoyed it a great deal, and I probably explained more science than anything else. It was fun.

The next day we settled into a schedule: We’d do our morning things, drive to the darkroom, work carefully and slowly on our various developing processes, and then take a walk to downtown Evanston for lunch. After lunch we’d walk back, put the finishing touches on whatever we were working on that day and drive back to the apartment for a nap.

After our naps, we’d sometimes go back to the darkroom and sometimes take another drive. Sometimes a walk to the supermarket for whatever suited our fancy. The weather that December wasn’t too bad, and we were able to do one of these just about every day.

There were two days where I drove Mike to a doctor’s appointment (condition unchanged on both occasions) and another when he wasn’t feeling up to much, and I kept him either in bed or on the couch.

On those days we discussed the attitudes of my other-worldly friends as they walked off to purposely die. I think it helped Mike a lot, and while I’m not feeling death’s approach myself, it feels nice to have those experiences in the back of my mind.

* * * * *

By December 19 we had all the developing done, and with the exception of just four blurry images, we lost none. We had almost a hundred high-quality still shots, showing Oswald talking to Wallace, Oswald ready to shoot Kennedy on Houston Street with a tortured expression on his face, Wallace crouching over him as he pulled the rifle back in, Wallace tossing him away from the window, clear facial images of the shooter on the grassy knoll, clear images of his associate, images of the grassy knoll shooter from behind, the shooter escaping, his associate following him down the tracks, and a three-minute film of everything that happened at the School Book Depository.

On top of that, we had several good images of Ruby and Oswald talking and a good-enough image of the man who drove Oswald away from his meeting with Ruby.

In short, we had far more than enough material to expose the Warren Commission, Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover as the grossest of frauds.

Now, we just had to wait for the Warren Commission to issue their report and supplemental materials. That wouldn’t happen for almost another year.

* * * * *

In the days leading up to Christmas we made dozens of copies of each photo and 12 copies of the movie. We stored the negatives in a safe deposit box in downtown Chicago, saved the prints in a different safe deposit box in a different bank, and I started making up lists of reporters, newsrooms, and so on.

And then, the day before Christmas, Mike had another “event.” I came around a corner to find him slumped on the couch. I half carried him to the car and drove him to the emergency room at St. Francis, only a mile or two away.

After 20 minutes of examination, one of the doctors informed me that it was another mild heart attack but that it had passed. The damage was minimal and Michael could go home in a few hours.

I debated not calling Mike, Jr. but felt I had no choice. Once we were back to the apartment and his dad was in bed, I called young Mike and explained what had happened. He drove over to see for himself, but there was nothing else either of us could do.

I staged the following day carefully and got Mike to Christmas dinner mid-afternoon. He had been feeling weak but not so weak that he didn’t light up at the sight of his grandchildren. We all had a wonderful time, sharing stories old and new, but at about eight o’clock, Mike leaned over and said, “You should take me back now.”

I told everyone that we’d have to leave, had the grandson help me get our coats, and stepped back while the family made tearful goodbyes. No one touched the subject, but they were all concerned that this might be the last time.

As we loaded Mike into the car, young Mike, in a very touching moment, thanked me and asked me to call him if anything changed. I agreed, with a shared understanding that such a call would likely be a death report.

* * * * *

The 26th was a quiet day. Mike and I sat and talked. He told me, for a second time, all the details of his early life, of Doreen, and of World War II. I realized that he was reviewing his life, satisfying himself that it had been worth living and that he’d been true to himself.

I asked him a long series of questions about it all, and not entirely sympathetically. I didn’t want to do the equivalent of patting him on the back and saying, “It’s all okay.” This was a serious man, and he deserved a serious opinion, even of his life.

In the end of course, I could give him an opinion that was both serious and positive. He had lived an honest life. He had used his proverbial talents and had used them well, especially considering the dark conditions he faced.

Almost the entire day was taken up with these conversations. They were something less than intense, but they were nothing short of honest.

Mike slept uneasily that night (I checked on him a few times), which convinced me the end was near. He hadn’t eaten much either. Bad signs.

On the 27th, our conversations turned to death and what waits beyond. We examined several ideas and resolved to a conclusion: that while Mike couldn’t be precisely sure that a benevolent afterlife was next for him, he was very definitely fit for it and was confident of that fact.

“That,” he said, “is more than enough.”

And it was. Mike went to bed happy and never woke up again.

The next morning I awakened, half knowing that he was gone. I felt something like a void. I went to his room and found him in bed, cold. I had been worried about finding a corpse… that it would be scary after some fashion, but it wasn’t. Mike wasn’t there anymore, and this body was no longer a being. It was merely a relic… a thing.

I called for an ambulance, called Mike Jr. and called the doctor. Then I dressed myself and steeled myself for a melancholy day… which it was.

The funeral was held on the 30th, with a lunch at Mike Jr.’s house afterward. After a while, young Mike asked me into his home office, and we talked privately.

“Thank you for all you’ve done, Paul. I couldn’t have asked for better for my dad.”

I told him that it had been a pleasure. And then he surprised me by offering me his dad’s apartment indefinitely, rent free. I tried to give him a polite out, but he was clearly his father’s son and he would have none of it.

“Look, Paul, that apartment’s going to stay unrented for at least another year. That was my dad’s place for 30 years, and I’m not remotely ready to lease it out. Honestly, I’d prefer that you’d stay there.

I explained that I’d resume traveling soon… that I’d be away for weeks at a time… but that I’d take him up on his offer.

At the same time I decided that at some point I’d let him know about what I was doing about the Kennedy assassination. Not until I was already making news, but I would tell him then. He deserved to know.

* * * * *

On a cold New Year’s Eve I walked to the local tavern out of sheer boredom. I wasn’t looking for a wild night, but I would have liked a few pleasant conversations. What I got was one decent conversation, followed by a lot of waiting and a vapid TV broadcast. After a while I trudged back home through snow, wind and slush.

I was invited to Mike Jr.’s home for lunch the next day, and that was a bright spot, especially talking at length with the children, who were both college age. I stayed fairly late and went home with two bags of food. That was nice too.

Mostly, I was bored, homesick and half depressed. Given Mike’s death, sadness and a bit of depression were understandable, but underlying those were the facts that I had been away from home for a long, long time and that I could make nothing public on the Kennedy Assassination for another 11 months. I needed to let the status quo condemn itself.

I remembered Sylvia Meagher saying that she got the Warren Commission’s exhibits in a box the day before or the day after Thanksgiving in 1964. I’d have to wait for that to happen and for a suitable time thereafter.

I decided that I’d take a drive to Florida and visit all the places I knew along the way. If nothing else, it would bring me back to the first job I had set my sights on in 1963: recalibrating my memories.

The problem with my idea was that it was January. There had been two significant snowstorms in Chicago, more were expected, and the temperature wasn’t much above zero (Fahrenheit). Driving would be hazardous, at least as far south as Indianapolis.

And so I waited for a break in the weather; I’d need two or three relatively warm days for the roads to clear. But I could at least spend some time in the Loop, Downtown Chicago. The buses and trains were operating normally and I had plenty of places to see. I could have some fun with that.

And I did have fun with Chicago. I went to several of my favorite places, visited some of the museums and the grand old movie houses, and made dozens of comparisons between 1963 and 2016. I bought a small notebook at a stationery store and made so many notes that I had to pick up a second notebook.

Then came a break in the weather, and on January 10 – I remember the date because it was precisely six months after my arrival – I woke up very early and headed south. And my path out of town was a precise reversal of my route on that first 1963 morning.

I even stopped and revisited the apartment vestibule. (For just a second I was afraid to walk back in, fearing I might pop back to 2016. Too many Star Trek episodes with time portals, I guess.)

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)