John 8: 1-11
 

Book 13, pages 226-227


 

In Columbia, Maryland, I got to live with a white woman who had in every single respect copied a playboy millionaire's life-style.
 

She drove me around in her Jaguar, had mink furs in her wardrobe and a big fur-covered bed that I once fell out of, as it was completely round in the best Hollywood style. She reminded me of a black ghetto superfly-Cadillac type, with a wild imagined sex drive which was so evidently only an expression of something she had to live up to that it made me, at least, completely impotent. Having been in America only four months, I was still very prudish. One of the things Europeans are alienated by in America is the perpetual talk about money, power, and sex, three words used comparatively little in language and mentality in Denmark. Especially sex seems to preoccupy Americans, and their language is studded with words like "fuck."
 

One evening when I went for a walk with the woman along the lake, three cars suddenly pulled up. In the first sat some drunken people. From the next, two men with guns jumped out. I got so scared that I tried to slink away, but my friend recognized her neighbor in the first car, the composer Burt Bacharach. He was so drunk he couldn't find his way home, so we were asked to show the way and got in the car. The only one of them who was sober enough to talk began asking me questions. He seemed very young, and as I was a bit gloomy that night because of my despairing relationship with this woman, I didn't feel like answering him. Then he explained that he was Senator Tunney from California, the woman next to him was Ethel Kennedy, and the man with a glass of whisky in his hand was Ted Kennedy. That changed my mood and my friend suddenly became all enthusiasm and whispered in my ear something about how fantastic the Kennedys were and that we should stay with them. Burt Bacharach had fallen asleep, so we kept circling around the lake with the Secret Service right behind us in the worst drunk-driving spree I had been on in a long time. Ted had his shirt open and was in a sad state. Ethel looked even more miserable, and I could find no resemblance to news pictures I had seen of her. Since I'm not writing for the National Enquirer I leave out some details, but when we finally arrived at Burt Bacharach's house we stayed onto drink with them.
 

Kennedy had just introduced his national Health Insurance Plan, which would bring health care up to the level of Scandinavia. He had made shocking speeches in Congress about how the U.S.A. "trails 17 other nations in life expectancy, 15 other nations in death rates for middle-aged males, 12 others for infant mortality. If infant mortality was as low in America as it is in Sweden, 50,000 fewer American babies would have died last year." Even Europe's poorest country, Albania, had more hospital beds per capita, and the Washington Post had announced that more than two million unnecessary operations were done entirely for profit in the U.S.A., killing as many as 24,000 annually.

So I knew I was sitting with a pioneer (or even a missionary) who could save thousands of American lives if he could get his law passed. I asked him what the opposition's arguments could possibly be. He answered: "... hic... hic" Then I asked what the position of American doctors was. He answered in a bit more detail: "... mumble... hic... hic..." Then I was satisfied, With such feeble opposition, it seemed the bill would be passed. The next day, after the hangover had passed, my friend, who had flirted unsuccessfully with Ted, suddenly surprised me by muttering something very negative about him with a reference to Chappaquiddick.

The Kennedy incident has since brought me into more homes than anything else. When I am interested in staying with someone I am hitching with, I usually tell them about this and similar experiences. And the reaction is almost always the same: "Oh, so you know Kennedy? Don't you feel like coming home to stay with us to night?" Everybody wants to get closer to the Kennedys. For the Kennedys are the personification of the American trinity of money, power, and sex. Having "worked their way up" to enormous wealth, they have in addition reached the pinnacle of political power and - handsome and young - have used it to date women like Marilyn Monroe. They have reached the stars. But they have made one mistake. They have betrayed the American creed of success by - within the very limited American framework - working for the poor and the blacks. You don't get hung on the wall of every black home without having betrayed master-slave society at least to some extent. Thus, it becomes more imperative to vote against a man, not for his drinking, which is fairly accepted, but for the accidental death it caused, than to vote for a brilliant politician whose bills could save thousands of lives. Or even more sickening: to vote for a "sober, God-fearing" president responsible for killing and maiming millions of Vietnamese.

At the same time, all Americans are affected by the Kennedy mystique, so this experience helps me among both his enemies and his warmest supporters. Never have I had this demonstrated so clearly as in the last ten days by telling the same story in two widely different places. Two weeks ago I got to live with a banker in Alabama who invited me to be guest speaker at the local Lions Club, which he chaired. He wanted to shock his friends by con-fronting about 50 hard-core Wallace supporters with a long-haired "hippie." I had no idea what to say. I felt it was my duty to give my opinion as diplomatically as possible on their race policy, but as soon as I mentioned the word "black" the banker jumped up, saying that they didn't want to hear about that. Then I tried to talk about the Vietnam War by mentioning the German occupation of Denmark and the parallels to Vietnam, but they didn't want to hear that either. People sat with stiff faces and tight lips and radiated a hostility and hatred toward me which I had never felt with such force before. Then I suddenly got the idea to tell them my Kennedy experience — and the night was saved. People gave me thunderous applause and old ladies came up to me, warmly grabbed my arm, and said, "We knew Kennedy was really like that. That's what we've always said down here." And others added, "Well, now you must see why Wallace is the best man." Four different people came over and said that after my stay with the banker I was to be sure to come and stay with them. From that day the town opened up to me. It was as if a white tornado had cleansed it of the reserve and distrust I always meet in small-town Alabama. I can't help liking these people in the South. They remind me so much of the people in my village in Denmark. It is exactly the same reserve, the same skepticism and conservatism, the same sluggishness, that suddenly, when you push the right button, can change into an incredible human warmth.
A couple of days after that evening, I hitch-hiked straight to Boston. It takes only 24 hours and I make these contrast-journeys all the time in order to see things clearly. It is a real shock each time you leave the sedate, sober-minded South and come up here to wallow in cocktail parties at Cambridge with intellectuals from all over the world, famous neurologists and economists and Harvard professors and so on. They spend hours discussing the inner essence of nothingness — or so it seems when you've just arrived from the South. We often start foolish discussions where I passionately defend the South because I really love it despite its human oppression. But then yesterday something happened which took me by surprise. I was standing in a bar in Cambridge telling a half-drunk guy about my travel experiences. Suddenly he picked up his ears when I got to the Kennedy story. He listened carefully and asked one detailed question after another, as if to find out whether it was the real Kennedy. Then he took my hand and said, "That was really fantastic to hear. I'm Ted Kennedy's cousin. My name is John Fitzgerald and I live in Dedham. From now on, you're a welcome guest in our family. Do you want to come home and stay with us tonight?" He then told me that he had just received his annual check from Rose Kennedy, the clan's leader, so therefore I should just order whatever I wanted from the bar, for now we were going out to paint the town red together. I've just barely gotten over the hangover. It all seems so unbelievable to me, since it is only one week and three days ago that I told exactly the same story in Alabama — probably without changing a word — and was just as warmly received.
 

The only one in America my Kennedy experience apparently didn't make an impression on was Ted Kennedy. When I saw him at a meeting in New York this fall I went right past the bodyguards and said something like "Hey, you remember me from that night...?" But Ted just stared at me like he didn't know what I was talking about.

Letter to American friend

 

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