Late in the summer of 1963 I returned, by way of a side trip to Mexico City,
to New Orleans from California -- where I had been staying
with my parents since early May of that year.

Unbeknownst to me, Lee Harvey Oswald was in New Orleans at the time of my arrival, and would soon depart for Mexico City, where I had just spent one or two weeks.

Yesterday Slim had made the usual suggestion about visiting Brother-in-law and we sped through what was then remote, rural Louisiana country in the car Slim had arranged to borrow from Gary.

In those days besides the brewery across the field, only an immense steel bridge that arched over the river and over which cars moved in slow, eerie silent procession signaled civilization's designs.

Note 44

Standing at Brother-in-law's front door in the gravel parking space that comprised his front yard, I had an unobstructed view of the majestic bridge that by this time was so much associated in my mind with the discussions of Nazism that went on inside the house.

After we entered and took our seats, he provided the usual weak coffee. Lighting his briar pipe, he stood and walked up and down in thought in front of his chair.

Looking at me, gesturing with his hand for emphasis, he said, "Kerry, do you believe in vengeance?" His motion was one of almost lunging in my direction and pointing at the floor with the final word. Today he was excited.

"Yes! I have just read The Count of Monte Cristo, and it has just occurred to me recently that revenge is one of the great, ignored motivations. In economics we talk about quota systems and profit systems, but only in literature do we deal with vengeance as a motive for human action."

By this time Brother-in-law had again crossed the room and was sitting on the very edge of the sofa next to Slim. "Well, you know, Kerry, many of the men who participated in the Bay of Pigs were left stranded on the beach in Cuba with no air support by John F. Kennedy."

"Yes. I've heard about that."

"They are very angry."

"I don't blame them."

"Do you think they deserve to be avenged7"

"Yes I do."

"Are you aware that Albert Einstein wound up saying he wished he had become a plumber instead of a great scientist -- because the government does not permit brilliant men to live in freedom? Because they've got access to classified information, they are treated as slaves. I don't think that's fair, do you, Kerry?"

"Certainly not. A society that persecutes genius is like a plant that tries to slay its own root stem."

"You know, there are others, besides Einstein who -- to this very day -- are being treated just as he was. I'm thinking, for example, of German scientists such as Werner von Braun. Watched over everywhere they go; never given any freedom."

"What a horrible way to have to live!"

"I think something should be done about it. Don't you, Kerry?"

"Yes, of course."

"Kerry, remember the Reichstag fire? You know, that's how the Nazis took over Germany. They created an emergency and then blamed it on the Communists so they could clamp down. They accused VanderLubbe of burning the Reichstag and said he was a Communist agent. Because most people believed them, the Fascists were able to rule Germany for all that time."

"Yeah, the Reichstag was their government record building, wasn't it?" I said so as not to seem ignorant.

"Kerry? What if VanderLubbe had had a friend who realized he was innocent? Think of what would have happened! If that friend had come forward and exposed the truth, then Germany would have been spared all those years of suffering under the Nazis." Brother-in-law seemed inappropriately excited about such an academic speculation.

I didn't know what to say.

"Kerry, you know, you aren't going to be able to trust Time Magazine."

"A professor at the University of Southern California used to say that Life is a magazine for people who can't read, and Time is a magazine for people who can't think," I commented in agreement.

Note 45

At moments like this it was typical of me to make what seemed to me like quite relevant contributions, such as, "You know, there was something in The National Observer that I read once and have been thinking about ever since," speaking of Fascism. "Why do we discriminate against people we think are inferior, and protect people we know are inferior?" I was feeling brave enough to risk an argument. "Like the mentally retarded."

"Hitler did not protect the mentally retarded," Brother-in-law said curtly. "He exterminated them."

"But in this country we discriminate against Negroes and yet we call homes for the mentally retarded schools for 'exceptional children.'"

"I haven't got anything against niggers -- as long as they stay in their place. There is a nigger at work I like. He knows his place."

"There was a time," I said, "when the use of the word 'nigger' used to make me so mad I would shake, when I first got to New Orleans. But I've been in the South long enough now to see that there really are some people who should be called niggers."

I was thinking of precisely the blacks that Brother-in-law said he liked -- guys who stood wringing their hats in both hands and mumbling "yazzuh" when you asked them for directions. I didn't say that, though. I was ready to drop the subject.

"Now a nigger who does not know his place is Martin Luther King."

Note 46

"I like Martin Luther King," I said to Brother-in-law. "To feel like I felt that night in the park when Ola and I went to see him, to feel that way all the time, takes great courage. I kept thinking about how somebody could throw a bomb at us."

Having said that much, I was quick to abandon the courage of my convictions by adding, "I didn't like that C.O.R.E. worker, though. That white Yankee college student stood there looking at those Negroes like he thought he was their good shepherd or something. I think there is racism in an attitude like that. And the argument I got in with Ola afterwards! Was she ever irrational! I expected her to at least understand Ayn Rand's principles. But she just kept whining like a wishy-washy liberal."

Brother-in-law nodded in warm approval.

I relaxed -- feeling safe again.




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