CAN YOU REMEMBER THAT?

Sometimes Brother-in-law spoke as if he had in mind a very definite plan that would come to fruition at a set date and that I would have to recall certain items of information in order to survive.

"Kerry, keep in mind that the Communists will try to make you a martyr for their cause."

I would assure him I maintained no illusions about the Communist doctrine of the ends justifying the means. I had read for myself the words of the Third International.

Then at other times he would say with a smirk: "You know, Kerry, if you walk down the street talking to yourself in public, people are going to think you are crazy."

Obviously. What a strange thing to say! "Of course," I would agree. "I think people who walk the streets talking to themselves are crazy. Who the hell wouldn't?" And then I would begin belaboring my pet peeve: "There are more people in New Orleans who act crazy in precisely that way than anywhere else I've ever been. Then they've got the nerve to call California 'the land of fruits and nuts.'"

Brother-in-law would then look disappointed or annoyed, as if I had missed some kind of point.

Again, the subject would shift for no reason I could discern.

Upon one occasion he said, "Thirteen years from now will be the American Bicentennial. Kerry, I want to give this country a Christmas present!" He sounded angry.

"And I think the Communist Party ought to be legal, just like any other political party."

"Yes, " I staunchly agreed. "J. Edgar Hoover says that outlawing Communism only drives it underground and makes it harder to deal with."

"And I think there ought to be places where sadistic people and psychopaths can go, designated national parks or something, where they can fight one another to the death if they want."

"A place for people like me," he added as Slim laughed, as if the two of them were sharing a secret joke.

Such legalized dueling seemed logical, considering the alternatives these dangerous characters might otherwise have in mind.

In the long run, the most disquieting thing about Brother-in-law was his implacable cheerfulness in the presence of the most heart-rending topics of discussion.

"Kerry," he said one day, "why is it that people are apathetic to mass murder and yet not to the murder of one person?"

"I don't know! I've been going crazy about that one ever since the Katanga massacre. Had it been an axe murder, it would be making front page news for weeks or months afterwards."

Gary looked so amused about it, rather pleased. "Yeah, we double-crossed Tshombe's faction and they were the ones who supported the United States. It wasn't even in our national self-interest to support the Congolese!"

As nationalistic as I was in my Ayn Rand days, that was hardly the traumatic message of women being hoisted on bamboo poles crammed into their vaginas, little boys and girls being burned alive in piles of wood by a United Nations police force.

I agreed with Brother-in-law's point also, though, as far as it went. It was alienating that no cruelty seemed to disturb him.

One day he compared himself to a character in Romain Gary's novel, The Roots of Heaven -- a sociopathic gun-runner who was content to live in the world as it is and exploit its misery. "But perhaps there is some way we could work together," he added, after being kind enough to observe that I wasn't that way.

"Tell me, Kerry, would you be afraid to go to jail?"

"In a revolutionary situation," I said, "jail can be just another station house on the way to political power. That's something else a Romain Gary character says. I've read about Mahatma Gandhi's imprisonments and of how he made a yoga discipline of them, and I could also do that. Sometimes that's how I handled being in the Marine Corps."

"Kerry, there are some people called Scientologists who want to create a society based on human sacrifice. Did you realize that?"

"Slim has mentioned them. That's L. Ron Hubbard's new religion, isn't it? But he didn't say they were into human sacrifice."

"Well, they are. And it would be a good idea for you to keep that in mind. You might be in a position to keep them from taking over someday."

Then there was the time he talked at length about Frederick Demara -- a Canadian con artist who had passed himself off as a doctor and performed successful brain surgery. "He sounds like a pretty smart man. Wouldn't you say so?"

I contributed to what seemed like an exchange of trivia at this point by saying: "They say that con men generally try to establish that there is some larceny in the hearts of their prospective victims before they bilk them."

Slim and Gary looked at me and nodded, a slight smile playing on Slim's lips, a twinkle in Brother-in-law's eyes, as if that were a much more relevant statement than I realized.

"Kerry. What do you think about the idea of building a secret society that uses the methods of Communism to fight Communism?"

We both expressed sympathy from time to time for the John Birch Society, though neither of us agreed completely with its politics. In those days, however, the mass media -- particularly the Liberals -were misrepresenting the Birchers as para-military subversives. With encouragement from the White House, the media were attacking all extreme political positions. Rhetoric labeling intellectual minorities as dangerous, simply for being out of the "mainstream," regardless of their positions on violence, seemed itself both dangerous and irresponsible. That was one of the chief reasons I hated John F. Kennedy as much as I did: I valued dissent; he considered it unpatriotic.

"Kerry, you aren't the kind of person who is likely to give up and commit suicide in a difficult situation, are you?"

"You'll never meet anyone less inclined to suicide than me," I retorted. For at that age I had not thought much about my own thinking, riddled with contradictions as it was. I was attracted to every possible sort of dangerous adventure. Quite literally, I did not expect to be alive thirteen years in the future, when Brother-in-law's political timetable was supposed to activate his revolution.

Yet nothing seemed sicker to me than deliberately taking sleeping pills, for example -- a depressingly popular activity among Quarterites. As a good Objectivist, I despised with Ayn Rand all that was "anti-life."

Yet as an aspiring soldier of fortune and globe trotter, I felt only contempt for pedestrian and plodding individuals who did not agree with me that life was to be measured "not by its length, but by its intensity." How much you could cram into your lifespan was what counted, not how long you endured. To me the first only was living; simple contentment with nothing more than survival was merely existing. Secure in the feeling I was preaching to the converted, I explained my philosophy of life to Brother-in-law here very often.

"Kerry, how would you like to be placed in danger every day of your life?"

"Great! I'd love it!"

"I can arrange for that to happen -- if that's what you want." A hint of warning colored his tone of voice.

"That's exactly what I want. Life means nothing except when it is seen in contrast to its background of oblivion. That's the message I got out of that Tennessee Williams play they made into a movie -- the most recent one, Suddenly, Last Summer. Death is the face of God -- the only God there is: absolute nothingness."

Slim said, "Kerry wants to live fast, die young -- and leave a beautiful corpse. That isn't my philosophy, but I can understand how he feels."

"That's right."

Occasionally, I would share short-story or novel ideas with Slim and Brother-in-law. One of them was for a story called Apex: God of the North, about a great iceberg with a computer operations center concealed within it, secretly controlling all history from its submerged location close to the North Pole.

I was also contemplating a sequel titled AnaPex: God of the South. Gary seemed mildly entertained by these notions. At least he didn't dismiss them as unwelcome digressions.

And Slim was so interested in my writing projects that sometimes he would ask me for my notes when I was through with them, with the flattering words, "Someday you'll be a famous writer and they'll be worth something."

At times I even suspected Slim of swiping notes from me -- although it was difficult to imagine a motive for going to that extreme. Since I tend to be absent-minded about my personal effects, I usually wound up depreciating the latter suspicion as routine paranoia.

Note 26

Brother-in-law seemed attracted to any idea that smacked of clandestine administration. Once he said: "Hitler was a clown. He never should have gone public. He should have lived as an ordinary citizen, ruling from behind the scenes."

Another example of how Brother-in-law paid attention to ideas that fascinated me occurred when he once warned: "There will come a time in your life when one of your friends will begin to behave exactly like Francisco d'Anconia in Atlas Shrugged -- inexplicably seeming to abandon ideals both of you shared. Can you keep that in mind? His motives will be similar to Francisco's in Ayn Rand's novel -- infiltrating the opposition."

I assured him that I could, although in fact I was not endeavoring to remember anything this weird, repetitive man said. Slim could think Brother-in-law was brilliant and competent if he wanted; I was certain the man was just a bullshitter, though possibly a dangerous one.

"And if there was a Nazi takeover in this country, a fascist takeover, don't you think it would be better just to torment one man -- instead of a whole minority, like the Jews?"

"Yes, but how much would this one man be tormented?"

Slim chuckled.

Brother-in-law smirked and said, "Not very much," waving his hand in a depreciating gesture.

Sometimes Brother-in-law could appear competent enough to give me pause. Briefly, I would worry that I was underestimating him. An isolated visual memory sticks in my mind of Gary standing next to his car in sunglasses, chewing the stem of his pipe, looking like a most efficient Nazi general. In that instant he seemed to be contemplating me as if I represented to him a valuable prize -- someone who would be useful in his plans.

Once he asked me what I thought of creating numerous factional conspiracies, consisting of secret societies, small countries and so forth, like pieces of a puzzle -- then, at an appointed time, drawing them together in a powerful organization large enough to conquer the world. I think one of the examples he mentioned was Poland. In any case, references to Poland were frequent in his talks with me -- the Polish Corridor in World War II, Hitler's contempt for the Poles, etc. Brother-in-law seemed to mention Poland as often as he spoke of Germany.

All in all, he seemed as conscious of Europe as of the United States, mentioning often the poem about Flanders Field, for instance, and the sinking of the Titanic. Once, in fact, he posed the theory that the Titanic was wrecked deliberately in order to get rid of some important person or other.

Contemporary European affairs were also much in his mind. We shared an admiration for a French rabble-rouser who was at that time stirring up a revolt among small shop keepers in Paris with the slogan, "Hang the tax collectors!"

Perhaps that explained why his opposition to Communism was more qualified than that of the average American anti-Communist patriot of that day.

"Kerry, do you agree with the Marxist-Leninist theory of historical responsibility -- that people should be held responsible for the results of their actions, regardless of their intentions?"

"Yes," I barked. "Nothing is truer than the saying that the highway to hell is paved with good intentions. If nearly half the world is not to continue starving to death, then ethics has to be geared to what will actually change the present situation. What will work, what will feed people has to be the standard of morality -- not what seems fair in the eyes of spoiled intellectuals who've never been outside the United States. Like the poet Robinson Jeffers says, this country has a national introversion complex. So does Japan. Neither country really believes the outside world exists. People watch a newsreel or read something in the papers, but subconsciously it is only entertainment to them."

That Brother-in-law just loved to hear me talk like this was evident from the look in his eyes. "And these Liberal professors, these intellectuals you speak of -- did you ever notice how they talk? They say, 'I feel' this and 'I feel' that. Not, 'I think' -- but, 'I feel.' I believe that's what's wrong with them, don't you? They don't think, they feel. Don't you agree that reason should prevail over emotion at all times?"

"Yes -- that's just what Ayn Rand says."

That this alleged Nazi's politics were riddled with contradictions was something I found puzzling, but not very interesting. In my all-American way, I figured he was just some kind of nut.

Humanity's actions were replete with examples of illogical behavior. Ayn Rand said that the only free will consisted of the decision either to think or not to think. To me it was obvious that most people thought only when immediate, everyday problems confronted them. When it came to philosophy and politics, faith and wishful thinking took over. Nothing else could explain to me why, for example, there were so many otherwise intelligent people who believed in God.

That I was often as contradictory as he was, never dawned on me. I would sit there asserting that when there is a contradiction in anyone's thinking, they ought to check their premises. Then, unconsciously, I would answer a question by contradicting something else I had just said. Not only was I an author simply humoring this man in order to gather background material for a book, I was also young and brash. Rationality appealed to me as much because Ayn Rand's novel romanticized it as for any other reason.

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CONFESSION TO CONSPIRACY TO ASSASSINATE JFK

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