Monday, November 22, 2010: The 47th anniversary of one of the worst days in American history.
Regardless of what you think of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, statesman-saint or worthless playboy son-of-a-gangster, 47 years ago, the President of the United States of America, was gunned down like a punk who owed a loan-shark ten grand.
This post is about a night I put myself through in Dallas Texas in August, 1994. Everything I've ever written for Huffington Post is honest and real, but, for the first time ever, I find it necessary to state that literally every single detail, every little twist, every moment, of this Dallas story is true.
Okay, here we go.
There's a very nice, very modern, high-rise Hyatt hotel in downtown Dallas. If you get a room facing north on an upper floor, your picture window overlooks all of Dealey Plaza... a clear view from the far corner of the plaza diagonally opposite the Texas Book Depository.
In August 1994, the same week as Woodstock '94 in Saugerties, NY, I booked a Hyatt room, and flew to Dallas to hang with a few Texas radio buddies that I dealt with on a regular basis as an independent record promoter. This meant the usual huge meat meal and then beers at a bar.
At the end of the evening, I was back in my Hyatt hotel room, and hell yes, I was facing north. I was smoking a joint of B-minus stuff that someone had gifted me, staring out the window at the incomparably eerie view.
On the spur of the moment, I decided I'd go down and visit Dealey Plaza at midnight.
Ooooeee, that would be a barrel of vibes, huh!
I stubbed out the joint, I got on the elevator, left the dry cool of the Hyatt for the 90+ degree humid heat of August-in-Dallas air. I walked through the hotel parking lot, hopped a low chain fence, crossed the train tracks trestle-overpass, and started to cruise the long way around the plaza towards the infamous grassy knoll.
I strolled along Houston St. towards Elm, taking the same route Jack's limo took during the last 30 seconds of his life. If anyone can tell me how Lee Harvey Oswald was able to change the motorcade route, the day before JFK arrived, to include a 90 degree turn off Main onto Houston and a 120 degree turn off of Houston onto Elm, directly in front of the Book Depository and the grassy knoll, completely circumventing the Secret Service's strict protocol against turns greater than 45 degrees for presidential motorcades, well, I'll be happy to concede that Oswald acted alone.
Anyway, I was soon standing alone on the surprisingly small grassy knoll. Photos distort the size. It's tiny!
Looking around, I was shocked to realize that I had the entire plaza to myself. Other than the cars passing the knoll on Elm, picking up speed, heading under the trestle and onto Stemmons Freeway, I was literally the only person within sight on the few acres that are Dealey Plaza. I was now very much in a Be Here Now state of mind. I was psyched.
I stood there soaking up the permanently morbid and grievous atmosphere in a space I knew as intimately as one can from photographs.
Suddenly, I was hit with a thunderbolt realization...
For many many years, I am ashamed to admit, I had fantasized about someday stealing one of the pickets of the fence at the top of the grassy knoll -- where I believe the most destructive shooter had pulled his trigger -- and here I was, utterly alone at midnight, in Dealey Plaza, with that very fence no more than 25 feet behind me.
Have I told you lately that I'm sick!
My heart started pounding... my breath got shallow. I got the proverbial tingle.
Oh, crap... I can actually... do this!
Don't think, act!
Resolved, I casually started walking up the knoll to check out the fence.
Obviously, over the years, many other sickos had had the same idea. Most of the pickets were very clearly newer replacements. But, as I slowly walked along the fence on the knoll, I spotted a picket that was just as clearly ancient and deeply weathered. Yes, I wanted one that was there in 1963. I made note of its location in relation to the one big tree on the knoll and walked past the south end of Zapruder's cupola, behind the knoll, to the back of the fence.
It was a totally unlit parking lot and very very creepy back there. As my idea of fun, I stood in the same spot as the shooter had and looked out at Elm St. Whoa!
I suddenly viscerally felt I didn't want to be back there any longer than necessary. I had to make this little bit o' vandalism/theft happen quickly.
I found the chosen picket, and with a pretend-Zen-like determination (This will break!), reached over, took a deep breath, and with one fast hard 'n' sharp outward shove, snapped off the top of the wooden picket. Except I didn't get the top. I got about 3 frickin' feet worth with a huge 3 inch nail sticking out of it. Holy crap! I stared, dazzled and horrified, at this ungainly and greedy booty. I nervously giggled to myself. What the fuck am I gonna do with all this?!
I started quickly walking along the back of the fence towards the train trestle-overpass.
And as I walked, I realized. I was carrying a piece of wood about the size and shape of a rifle. Yikes!
As I neared the eight lines of train tracks, I became aware of a rumble and was suddenly hit by a blinding spotlight! WTF! It was a slow-moving freight train coming around a bend from the south towards me out of the dark, and as it turned and crossed in front of me, I watched my access back to the hotel disappear. Shit!
I was now standing on the trestle, leaning against the waist-high wall overlooking Elm, trying to figure out how the hell I was gonna get out of there. I looked up at the dark sky, and without warning, instantly seemed to feel both Jack and Jackie (who'd died only 3 weeks earlier) look down on me with disappointment and disgust and say...
"This is NOT what this was about!"
The thought came into my head unbidden and clear as a bell.
It was powerfully vivid... I could hear their voices.
I felt positively profane. What the fuck was going on?!
Just then, something made me turn back towards the train clattering by me, and in the almost pitch black dark, to my horror, I could just make out the silhouette of someone standing the wide doorway of one of the freight cars. It was a sight beyond sinister... and then... whoever he was, he suddenly jumped out of the car, and with obvious purpose, started jogging straight towards me. I went cold and just freaked! This was not happening!
I took off in a dead run, my adrenaline gushing, made it to the other side of the trestle on the far side of Dealey Plaza in less than 10 seconds. I did not dare look back as I scrambled down the embankment and straight into several big bushes covered in thorns. I was now drenched in sweat and covered with bleeding scratches and dirt. I untangled myself with the intention to run through the short Stemmons Freeway eastern tunnel under the train tracks back towards the security and air conditioning of my room.
Now, I am not a particularly superstitious person, but I've long had a thing about dead birds.
They creep me out. The Romans felt they were a very bad omen indeed.
As I entered the tunnel, I looked down, and to my utter disbelief, saw that someone had neatly lined up at least 12 dead pigeons, about 6 inches apart, all facing the same way, directly in my path. Nooooo!
I charged through the tunnel, now just totally spooked, ran through the hotel parking lot, and, at the last moment, as I was approaching the front doors to the Hyatt lobby, pictured what I must look like.
I was filthy, soaked with sweat, both arms bleeding, carrying 3 feet worth of a wooden picket fence about 500 feet from the grassy knoll. No one would ever guess where I'd got that, right. Jesus! I shoved the picket down the back of the right leg of my jeans, wiped off as much dirt and blood as I could, and then quickly stiff-walked through the Friday-night-crowded and bustling lobby into an elevator.
As soon as I got into my room, I pulled the picket out of my pants and threw it in the corner by the bathroom, just hating the thing. I went to the window and looked down at where I'd just been.
Man, I really needed to calm down.
I stared at Dealey Plaza for awhile, then turned and looked at the piece of wood leaning against the wall and suddenly... I knew... Oh... my... God... Fuck! I had to put it back. I had to go back to hot and sinister Dealey Plaza and put this picket back on the fence. HAD TO! Shit! Fuck! Fuck!
I know this next part is just plain goofy... but, suddenly, the picket seemed to have a red glow around it. And, no... I was not stoned. The reefer had been kinda beat to begin with and my buzz was completely gone by now. But, yes... I know the red glow was in my scrambled mind.
I fought the impulse to return to the knoll's fence for another 5 minutes and then realized it was hopeless.
I had The Monkey's Paw in my room.
I could not have this thing near me any longer, under any circumstances.
I had to get this malevolent piece of wood out of my life... NOW!
I cursorily cleaned up, changed my t-shirt, and slid the damned picket back down my pants, went back downstairs, walked back outside, back towards the damned picket fence.
By now, the 100+ car freight train had long past and I hustled across the tracks, down the embankment of the trestle, avoiding the thorns this time, and back to the back of the fence at the top of the grassy knoll.
The plaza was still deserted.
In the darkness, I found the gap I'd created in the fence, and with one desperate whack of my fist, smacked the picket's 3 inch nail back into the crossbar wood and then got the hell back to my hotel room as fast as I could.
I occurred to me, for the first time in my life, I was literally living a nightmare.
I took two showers and got less than three hours sleep that night. I can still feel the deep relief of getting in my rent-a-car the next morning to drive to Shreveport to visit the guys at KTUX and put many many miles between me and that Godforsaken fence.
An incredible but 1000% true postscript...
About 26 months later, in the fall of 1996, I went back to Dallas to visit the same radio pals. Again, I stayed at the Hyatt. Again, my window faced the plaza. But, that night, it was drizzling and I was suffering from indigestion. I stayed in my room.
I woke very early the next morning feeling all better. It was already a gloriously sunny day, and at about 7am I decided that, what the hell, it'll be benign in the sunshine, I've got a few minutes, I'll take a quick jog over to see Dealey Plaza again.
I walked across the train trestle, over Stemmons Freeway, and along the back of the grassy knoll fence and came to the gap where "my" picket was still missing. They had never replaced it.
For some reason, I then stood on my tiptoes and peered over, looked down, and there, laying on the knoll's grass directly in front of the fence, was the same broken three feet of picket board.
Over two years later, and no one else had taken it.
At first, I was incredulous, but then, I kind of ruefully nodded "Of course not!" to myself, and walked back to the Hyatt to catch a cab to DFW airport.
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