On November 22 of next year, Dallas will observe The 50th. No, not Dallas' 50th. Not your 50th. THE 50th. The 50th anniversary of mm-mm. We're not supposed to say what mm-mm is.
At a media event last week to announce plans for The 50th, Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "The name is simply The 50th." A large sign behind the podium said, "The 50th."
This is a very weird city.
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OK, let's go along with it for a minute. Let's suppose you don't know yet what it's the 50th of. I will give you three clues. 1) JFK. 2) Dealey Plaza. 3) Kapowee!
Now you get it! So isn't this weird? It's like telling people they can only refer to Christmas as "The 2012th." Rawlings, normally a reasonable man, gave these reasons: "The entire country and world will be looking on Dallas this time next year, November 22, 2013, 50 years later."
OK. So they're looking on us. Now what? Rawlings said the event his committee announced at last week's deal is aimed at carefully controlling what the world will see when it looks on us:
"First let me discuss what we are going to accomplish with this event," he said. "This is an event to honor the remarkable life, legacy and leadership of President John F. Kennedy. Solely that, and nothing more."
Get it? Nothing more. My three hints I gave you? Take out the last one. There will be no mention — absolutely not one word — about the kapowee.
Rawlings went on: "Secondly, the tone is very important. We want to mark this day remembering a great president with a sense of dignity and honor."
So, to recap, we will refer to it only as The 50th. Not The 50th so-and-so. Just The 50th. No mentioning the kapowee. And only dignity and honor will be allowed.
Tell me something. Is Dallas just hell-fated forever to be the architect of its own doom? Does the city just have to walk straight into the knockout punch every time the bell rings? Is it really even possible that people don't get what they're setting themselves up for with this kind of totally crazy crap?
Dallas doesn't remember Kennedy's life. He didn't live here. We had nothing to do with his life. We had to do with his death. Even in Dallas, where euphemism is its own kind of art form, you can't euphemize kapowee. Kapowee is kapowee. That's what this is the 50th of. Being told not to say it out loud just makes us feel like we live in a loony bin.
Ah. I give up. I mean, what do I care? It'll make a great story. If I had any sense at all I would keep my mouth shut until the whole thing blows up in their faces. But you know what may be the worst part? Some of the people who have been suckered into running this thing, like Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler, chairperson of the mayor's 50th Mm-Mm Committee, are perfectly nice people with good intentions who love the city. But they persist in this uniquely Dallas failing of having no idea how the rest of the world thinks.
For example: The whole legal structure for this 50th thing is illegitimate as hell, just waiting to get shot full of holes in court. A year ago the city gave some kind of bogus backdoor permit to the Sixth Floor Museum granting it exclusive access to and control over Dealey Plaza for the entire week of The 50th.
When a group of assassination buffs and scholars called The Coalition on Political Assassination (COPA) sought a permit for a moment of silence next November 22 in Dealey Plaza, the city informed them that the Sixth Floor was already doing a moment of silence and park department employees could not schedule two moments of silence at the same time.
You know. They didn't want one moment of silence to drown out the other one. Hey! Will you guys tone it down with the silence over there? In other words, the city's own permitting policies were gruesomely deformed to grant the Sixth Floor a weeklong kibosh on everybody else who wanted access. Now the city is saying that the city itself is taking over the permit that it gave to the Sixth Floor Museum.
So how'd the city do that? Did the Sixth Floor scalp it back to them or something? And anyway, how can the city hold its own permit? It seems a bit transparent for the city to tell people who want a permit, "Oh, we only had one, and we gave it to ourselves."
It gets worse. The committee's plan calls for locking down Dealey Plaza 48 hours ahead of the anniversary. The event itself will be closed to the public, accessible only to ticket-holders. I asked the mayor how many tickets they would be handing out and to whom. He said he didn't know.
No, it gets worse than that. In what I guess is an attempt to mollify the people they are shutting out, the city will set up "Jumbotrons," to use the mayor's word, meaning big TV screens around town, so that the excluded masses may gather to watch the rich people being solemn.
Do they have no idea at all whom they are dealing with? The people they are excluding believe that the Mafia conspired with the Soviet Union and an old man in New Orleans to assassinate JFK so LBJ and the world's homeliest mistress could move into the White House and kill Marilyn Monroe. And these people are going to gather meekly at the Jumbotron and watch the rich people try to look sad?
The same day the city held its event I saw Mimi Swartz's witty and insightful piece in Texas Monthly under the headline "Can Dallas survive the assassination again?" She describes how John Judge, the head of COPA, tried to gain admission to the mayor's 50th Mmm-Mmm Committee and was told flat no. He couldn't be on it. The committee is a tight little circle of old power and money in Dallas. This was their party. He wasn't invited.
What the committee apparently did not understand was that Judge asked to be on the committee because he was going through a legal exercise preparatory to suit. I called him right after the event last week at his offices in Washington.
"We are doing what they call legally exhausting our remedies," he said. "Once our remedies are exhausted, then we have the right to go and add somebody to the picture."
That means sue.
"We certainly tried to get on their stupid committee. If this does have to go to court, I'm trying to exhaust the remedies and make clear to everybody where we're at."
Judge said his people can do it. "We have attorneys there [in Dallas]. It's a First Amendment issue, and it's a pretty clear one for parks. Public parks have pretty clear law and precedent for First Amendment questions."
And a lawsuit is probably the least of what the city has to worry about. They probably figure they have a building full of lawyers on the payroll and can home-fry a bunch of troublemaking outsiders in any Dallas court.
Yeah. But the outsiders know all that too. This isn't their first hog auction. Judge told me about another cause he's involved in. The other side held a big parade in Washington. His people were banned from marching.
So they held their placards against their chests to hide their sentiments, infiltrated the parade, then raised their placards and marched backwards into the parade disrupting the whole thing but also getting lots of on-air exposure for their placards.
"We will have to be imaginative," he said speaking of preparations for Dallas on November 22.
Many months ago when he and I spoke, he mentioned the idea of entering the storm sewers a few blocks away from Dealey Plaza and popping out at just the right moment. He's still mulling that one, but he's also thinking in terms of very large visible displays that could be staged just outside the security perimeter of the event.
And that brings us to the last piece of this grisly puzzle. Altshuler told the very small group at last week's event that a wealthy Dallas man had contributed half a million dollars for security for the event. That's one heck of a lot of scary head-crackers in helmets with big ugly visors.
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Did nobody here study the civil rights movement? Gandhi? South Africa? Oh, wait, I forgot. This is the hometown of the man who invented Shock and Awe. No, probably none of the people I'm talking about ever did study any of that stuff, so none of them understand that sending a bunch of baton-wielding, helmeted jackboots out to pepper spray and beat the shit out of American citizens trying to exercise their First Amendment rights plays straight into the other side's hands. The jackboots lose. Always.
None of it will make Dallas look good. It won't put anything behind us. In fact this will dredge up all the specters and wraiths of the past and dance them around the graveyard like corpses on puppet strings.
What does it really say, after all, this mania for control and suppression? Does it sound like an expression of grief? Since when is the hand of grief clenched in a fist? Why does grief need half a million bucks worth of security? I don't hear any grief in it, really. I hear fear and wrath.
That will be the big takeaway, the story, if somebody doesn't find a way to soften this thing up. Dallas needs to throw open the gates, throw open its arms, throw those stupid tickets in a manhole, and let everybody and his dog in for a good old messy snot-blowing cry together. But Dallas doesn't do that. That is the point that will not be missed.