PEOPLE WHO MUST GO

Once Slim was hospitalized for tuberculosis for a couple of weeks
and I went to visit him. In good spirits, he told me Brother-in-law
had also been there to see him recently.

"And look at what he gave me," he said, "a list of '101 People Who Must Go.'"

At the top were the usual minority groups despised by most bigots and following them were the generally deficient -- the nearsighted, the deaf, the insane, etc. -- and then much more absurd classifications began to appear.

"People with bald heads," I read aloud. "People without bald heads."

"Yeah, ha-he-he-heh-heh, I like it. I like it."

I supplied an obligatory chuckle, feeling slightly relieved at this evidence of humor in Brother-in-law's view of his own professed notions.

I felt much the same way when one day at his house Brother-in-law told the story of an argument at the brewery with a man I think was named Herb. Like me, Brother-in-law's working associates liked the new District Attorney, Jim Garrison.

Along with John and Robert Kennedy and Pope John XXIII and Martin Luther King, Garrison was among the people Brother-in-law didn't like. Although I did not agree with the laws against vice, Jim Garrison's crackdowns on Bourbon Street strip joints seemed to me an honest enforcement of law, and I felt that was unusual in New Orleans, where the open tolerance of political corruption distressed me.

"So I was telling them how much I hated Garrison and they were defending the clown. Then all of a sudden Herb says to me, 'Just exactly what is it about Garrison that you don't like, Gary?' So I thought for a minute, and then I said, 'I'll tell you what is: he wears a vest.' Herb cracked up. Ha-haha-ha-ha-haha!"

On the other hand was a story about the brewery first told me by Slim. "Brother-in-law decided to quit his job the other day. So he went into the brewery in the morning and walked up behind this guy he worked with that he never did like -- and kicked him in the back of the head with both feet. Then he went into the office and said, 'I quit.' Ha-ha! He's got a mean streak in him."

How it was possible to kick someone in the back of the head with both feet was a question I didn't ask. I just answered, "Yeah, I figured he could be mean."

Not long afterwards, at his house, Brother-in-law told a more elaborate version of the same story. I believe the man was standing on one of the runways over the vats and Brother-in-law was on a raised platform behind him. Or maybe Gary knew judo -- I forget. In any case, the same element of capricious cruelty was present. Characteristically, Brother-in-law was cheerfully boastful about it.

On one or two other occasions Slim mentioned Brother-in-law in his absence, a topic I did not enjoy discussing unless absolutely necessary. Gary was such an unpleasant individual and Slim's admiration of him seemed so inappropriate that I usually became irritated.

"You had better remember his name, Kerry," Slim said one dull afternoon as we were sitting alone together in his room. "Pretty soon he is going to become a very important man."

"I doubt that very much," I muttered sullenly.

"I'm telling you something," he said paternalistically. "That man is going to be important, and you had best keep his name in mind. You might have cause to want to call on him for favors or something. His name is Kirstein. K-i-r-s-t-e-i-n. Remember that. Kirstein -- like in curse."

"Yeah. He's a curse, all right."

"And he is also about to become very important, very powerful. K-i-r-s-t-e-i-n, Kerry -- Gary Kirstein."

"Yeah, sure."

Then there was the time Slim was with a bunch of us gathered around a table in the Bourbon House and he said, in connection with something or other, "Like Brother-in-law! You should get to know him better, Kerry. Has that man ever got some kind of mind!" Slim shook his fingers as if they had just touched a hot stove. "Man, that sonofagun is smart!"

"He reminds me of a biology professor we had at the University of Southern California who used to giggle when he told us how to dissect frogs," I objected. "I think he's a drag."

"Yeah, well," Slim replied. That was his expression for indicating that, although he hadn't changed his mind, he didn't see any reason to keep arguing.

Brother-in-law claimed he didn't like people with beards, yet he usually laughed when he said that.

Once at his house I defended the Bohemians who populated the French Quarter. "They are much more interesting than the people Al Thompson calls 'the conformists.'"

"Yeah," said Gary, "many of the early Nazis were coffeehouse Bohemians. It ain't that I don't like them; it's just that they ain't heavy enough. You know what I mean? I'd like to see a fierce quality among them - nothing like the mass murder of the National Socialists -- but some hardness, the willingness to kill somebody every now and then."

Note 47

We could at least agree that much of the art produced in the French Quarter was decadent so, again, I would seek to avoid an outright quarrel by stressing an area of common opinion.

"Show me an artist who distorts the human body in his paintings, and I will show you a man who hates people," I would say, echoing the words of Walt, an Ayn Rand student from New York I had met in the Quarter.

There were also people that Brother-in-law seemed to like as much as he detested many others. One of them was Charles A. Lindbergh. Not only did he mention him in admiration, he also kept bringing up the kidnapping of Lindbergh's son.

We both liked William F. Buckley, Jr., publisher of The National Review.

Why he hated Pope John XXIII was unclear to me. I considered him both charming and witty. From the viewpoint of Southern rightists, Pope John was disliked for excommunicating some segregationists who also happened to be Catholic, prominent citizens of New Orleans among them. So I figured it was probably somehow related to that.

At least once, Brother-in-law asked me what I thought of Dr. Land, inventor of the Land-Polaroid camera. I liked him. Brother-in-law seemed pleased.

Note 48

Somebody Brother-in-law didn't like, as might be expected, was Mahatma Gandhi. "You know, during his fasts, he used to chew a weed that contained a drug that numbs hunger pangs."

Since Gandhi was remembered for his altruism, and since Ayn Rand rejected altruist morality as destructive, I welcomed this information. "He was also very harsh on his own family," I added. "Gandhi was dictatorial toward his wife and he drove one of his sons to alcoholism."

Both Brother-in-law and I felt enormous contempt for Bertrand Russell.

"'Better Red than dead,' he says," I complained. "Ayn Rand says that is not the choice. She says, 'Better see the Reds dead.'"

"Yes!" His agreement seemed genuine and enthusiastic.

"Bertrand Russell also says, 'Nothing is certain except that nothing is certain.' What rot! What a confession about his own mind! Thinking he could escape the ambiguities of language, he devised symbolic logic -- and when he found his system didn't work as he hoped it would, rather than admitting he failed, he blamed logic!"

Besides Brother-in-law and maybe Slim, among my own friends in New Orleans, only one was a racist: Carlos Castillo, owner of a Mexican restaurant at the corner of Exchange Place, across from the courthouse, in the building that housed The Fencing Master just previous to my arrival in town.

Jessica and I used to eat at Castillo's Mexican Restaurant and we soon found the proprietor to be stimulating, well-read and enterprising. Able to hold forth on any theme for hours, Carlos would shake a kitchen knife in the air and pontificate in a convincing way with a mixture of facts and barnyard observations in flowery Latin rhetoric.

A firm believer in anything "nat-ur-al" (pronounced by him as if it were three distinct words), including barefoot and pregnant women, separation according to race, and free market economics, Carlos both maddened and delighted me.

In that respect he seemed much like Brother-in-law . Once I took Gary and Slim to Castillo's with the expectation they would probably hit it off.

Sure enough, Brother-in-law and Carlos swapped racist jokes over coffee for about a quarter of an hour that night and seemed to be getting along famously.

After we departed, I asked Brother-in-law what he thought of Carlos.

"I don't like him," he answered.

"Why?"

"He's a Mexican."

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CONFESSION TO CONSPIRACY TO ASSASSINATE JFK

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