The 22 November was the 57th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. It’s a date I almost always mark with some kind of reflection. Four years ago I marked it as I drove from Albuquerque to Farmington, New Mexico.
It had been a cold, overcast Thanksgiving, the roads eerily quiet across the huge volcanic contours of the Jemez Mountains. I’d failed to find Los Alamos but did come across the Rio Grande, at this stage in its journey just a broad trickle over ochre-tinted mesa, then made it to Farmington about two hours after dark. This year, I find myself punching out paeans to the dead president in a depressing little newbuild on a sterile housing estate in Chorley where, it would appear, I’ve ended up.
It wasn’t meant to be this way.
We can all say that, of course. We all have our slide rules with which to calculate the exponential nature of our loss, the proud rising curve of our failure, the impressive surface area of our disappointment. We’ve even got formulae, crudely scribbled out with a blunt pencil on the back of a fag packet, that demonstrate our thwarted entitlement in the precise terms of cold algebraic logic. Change the value here, say ‘x’, and you were bound to get (y-z) over Pi.
What did you expect? You knew full well. It’s not like nobody warned you.
Version 1: Oswald alone killed JFK with three incredibly well-aimed shots from a bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano from his sniper’s perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
In this version, I’m still on the road in the USA, looking for clues, sifting the evidence. I’m balancing a delicate fistful of jellied brain and sharp skull shards as I retrace the president’s route from Love Field to Dealey Plaza.
Texas is cold in November if the sun stays hidden. You can’t buy whisky in a liquor store on a Sunday. In the little town of Bowie they have a plaque commemorating the state’s first bank robbery. The gold was never recovered. Some say it’s still buried somewhere out by the Red River, but I’ll never find it, not here, not back in the badlands of South Lancashire between a dank, mossy rock and a flinty hard place which, if not of my own choosing, then at least is my own stupid fault. Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed in one place…
Who really killed JRK?
Version 2: person or persons unknown assassinated Kennedy, quite likely from multiple vantage-points, including the infamous Grassy Knoll. Circumstantial evidence – and there is a great deal of this stuff – points to a far-fetched yet utterly believable conspiracy by members of the Giancomo-Trafficante Chicago/Florida mafia ‘Outfit’ circles, rogue (or possibly not-so-rogue) elements of the CIA and even, given Hoover’s hatred of the Kennedys, the FBI.
In this version… well, with this version I’m stuck here, I’m afraid, tethered to the mast as the Sirens of Gillibrand shriek out their appalling cacophony, a scabby libretto of rage and disgust set to a broke-kneed rhythm based on the number of fights you can start in a pub over the number of cubic litres of Bacardi Breezer regurgitated then swallowed back down again in a single evening, last orders being at 11. The kids’ toys are broken, scattered over thin grass in the back yards, piled up in cupboards. The recycling bin is always full.
Version 3: well, in this version, it doesn’t so much matter who shot Kennedy as what happened at the precise point of death. I had a silver Kennedy dollar in 1984-5. I’d picked it up somewhere in Michigan, noticed its smooth, pocket-worn lustre, assumed it would be lucky, then kept it with me for nearly a year. As you do. I’d had few enough talismans in my life, I thought. It was about time I got one that was worth its runic salt. Sacrificed Jesus-JFK would do. I knew he was no saint, but I didn’t know for sure that he wasn’t a God.
As bets go, it was worth the hedging. Because… because this: because who is to say, really, all things considered, particularly when you figure that I was born almost exactly nine months after that fateful day in Dallas, that at the very moment when Kennedy’s light went out, when the brain’s last neurons fluttered half-heartedly across the last, fading synapse, that something – I don’t know, shall we call it spirit, soul, animus? – passed from his troubled, traumatised cranium into my own rather more foetal version many thousands of miles away in an obscure ex-mining town in the north of England?
Who’s to say that that is definitely not the case? That it didn’t in fact happen? Who can put their hand on their heart and declare with absolute certitude that that, rather than being ridiculous guff, isn’t actually what-
But the luck didn’t hold. No, I am not Lord Hamlet, nor was meant to be. I am not even the miraculous reincarnation of John F Kennedy. And I gave the coin away in a reckless, probably drunken moment in a dark bar in a small town in south-western France, possibly severing the mystico-umbilical link, had there ever been one (increasingly unlikely, I think), between myself – time’s dupe, idiot, fool, no-mark and Oswaldian patsy – with the assassinated president.
So I tap out my own ‘Taps’ on this less than musical keyboard.
In 1984 I stood in front of the eternal flame that burns on Kennedy’s grave at Arlington. It was the same week that the IRA blew up the Brighton hotel and just a few weeks before Ronald Reagan wiped out Walter Mondale with 49 well-aimed electoral college bullets to his fat Democrat heart.
Mondale just slid to the floor like a St Valentine’s Day Massacre victim and was never heard from again. No one has a Walter Mondale dollar. No one would bother, should he motorcade his way around a major city, to put a literal bullet or three in Walter Mondale’s brainpan. No one spreads rumours about Walt the M and Madonna.
Unlike Jacky, and Lee, and even Jack Ruby, who each daily re-enact their parts in the Great American Tragedy, which is also the Great American Murder Mystery (because, let’s face it, whodunnit?), Mondale was a bit player in a third-rate B-movie. As far as I’m concerned, and I’ve no idea how far that actually is, now not being the reincarnation of anything in particular, and certainly not JFK, Mondale is so lost to history that he might as well be sucking up his tepid morning pap in a Chorley care home.
I might nip round later. Compare notes.