On the Road Again

As much as I might think 1972 was all about me, other stuff happened too. Time Magazine, for instance, named Clifford Irving ¨Con Man of the Year¨ for faking an ¨authorized¨ biography of Howard Hughes, the insanely wealthy engineer/industrialist/film producer(Hell’s Angels)/film director/philanthropist. Some thought the reclusive Hughes was dead. Enter, stage right, author Irving. Though he had never even spoken to Hughes, he gambled the hermit would not come forward to dispute Irving’s claim. McGraw Hill, the publisher, went all in, paying Irving over $750,000. We later learned the author’s then wife (he’s had a few, so have I) deposited the money in a Swiss bank account, which she opened, disingenuously, in the name of  H. R. Hughes (Helga R. Hughes). (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2000/01/28/60II/main154661.shtml). There were skeptics, to be sure, but Irving went so far as to hoodwink that slayer of behemoths, Mike Wallace, on 60 Minutes (if not the cameramen). The show aired right after the Cowboys beat up on the Dolphins, 24-3 on January 16, 1972, in Super Bowl VI  (it was the following season that, gag, was perfect for Don Shula and Mercury Morris). 

Clifford the Con was undone when Hughes agreed to a simultaneous telephone conference with 7 reporters, denouncing the author’s fraud. Most of us believed Irving, or we were at least rooting for him in a D. B. Cooper sort of way (Cooper is the guy who hijacked a Northwest Orient Boeing 727 one day before Thanksgiving, 1971. Demanding 4 parachutes and $200,000.00 in unmarked bills, D.B. drank a bourbon whiskey (for which he offered to pay) while awaiting the ransom. Thereafter, he jumped from the plane with the money. The F.B.I. is still searching for him. It’s not looking good). www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._B._Cooper).  

During the Mike Wallace interview on 60 Minutes, our boy Clifford  told the story of meeting Howard Hughes for the first time, along with his researcher, Richard Suskind:  ¨And Hughes said, ‘I suppose you know who I am?’ Suskind said `Yes I do Mr. Hughes.’ He started to stick out his hand, then withdrew it instantly because Hughes is not very keen on shaking hands. Hughes reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag. We still disagree. I say it was a cellophane bag. Suskind says it was a paper bag. And he said to Dick Suskind, `Have a prune?´ And Suskind took a prune and said, `This is an organic prune, isn’t it?´ Hughes said, `Yes, yes. How did you know?´He said, `This is the only kind that I eat. All the rest are poison.´ And then they were off and running on a discussion of organic foods and vitamins and what not, while I stood there like a dummy.´ (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2000/01/28/60II/main154661.shtml)

How could we not have believed him? Even Irving said, `I would have believed me if I heard that.´ The devil is in the details. We stood there watching, like dummies. And why were we rooting for a guy in a black tie and black sunglasses with a black mother of pearl tie pin (old D.B.), while we glossed over the fact he passed a threatening note to the stewardess, Florence Schaffner. Florence slipped the note, unread, into her pocket, mistakenly thinking D.B. was sharing his personal phone number, whereupon D.B. politely urged her to read the note because ¨I have a bomb.¨ After skydiving out of the plane with the loot  at 8:13 p.m. (in the rain), somewhere east of Ariel, Washington, D.B. vanished. He became a legend, a guy so cool he could have been Robert Palmer in the music video of Simply Irresistible. (http://new.music.yahoo.com/videos/RobertPalmer/Simply-Irresitible–36511210). In fact, D.B. Cooper was neither the guy’s true name nor his actual alias. Rather it was the creation of a ravenous media and a voracious public. Together we created the only D.B. Cooper we have ever known.

If a simple author could have lied to us so convincingly; if we could have openly pulled for the (polite) thief who stole away with a small fortune, what were we to be at the hands of a government that might lie to us?  We would find out soon enough with Watergate, which (you guessed it) began in June, 1972 (just a month before I saw my adoption records) with the first of 2 break-ins at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Those burglaries, together with the help of John Dean and Deep Throat (okay, and Woodward and Bernstein), culminated in the resignation of President Nixon 2 years later. In October, 1972, while campaigning for reelection (he crushed George McGovern), Nixon rode north on North Avenue in New Rochelle, New York, along with his wife Pat, poking through the open moon roof of the Presidential limousine, waving to a cheering crowd. I was there, right outside Church’s Tavern (great burgers). I didn’t wave back.  (www.thewashingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate). 

Is it any wonder that ¨American Pie¨ was the number one hit for much of 1972? (www.oldies.aboutcom/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.understandingamericanpie.com). Could it be that this moment, this year, is when the bad news arrived on my doorstep? And why is all this important –  why here, now, in my story? Though I was looking for my birthmother, I was searching for myself. To understand (as fully as I could) what happened in the first two years of my life and what it meant for me, I needed to understand, to feel, the context in which it all happened. Where was I in 1946? What was Boston like? Where did I live? With whom? What was happening? What was the music, the rhythm, the beat? I wanted to hum the tune. That proved as true for the (formal) beginnings of my search, in 1972, as it did for the end, which ultimately brought me all the way back to the Boston of 1946.

Adoptees talk of fantasies. Not knowing the truth, we construct it. To some their mother was a famous actress, an adventuress, a famous person, though that rarely proves true. I knew different. I am not sure why, but I never thought of my birthmother that way. I didn’t fantasize of my life with her, at least not by 1972. I wanted the reality, whatever it was. Just tell me what happened. At least that’s what I thought I wanted. And it is against this backdrop that I began my search for my birthmother. That July I read (and loved) The Boys of Summer, a lyrical memoir written by Roger Kahn (www.rogerkahn.com). Surrounding the 1952/1953  Brooklyn Dodgers (when Kahn served as a beat writer for The New York Herald Tribune), the book is, in part, about his relationship with his father, Gordon Kahn, who died in 1953 shortly after the Dodgers lost the 1953 World Series to that other New York team. While faithfully a Red Sox fan (despite moving to New York that September), I felt a connection to Kahn’s story that I did not then understand. I do now. That year, I also went to the movies: Cabaret, The Godfather, Lady Sings the Blues. I watched The Golden Bowl on Masterpiece Theater and Colombo, Monday Night Football, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And I listened to Don McLean (American Pie), Bob Dylan (Watching the River Flow, When I Paint My Masterpiece), the Eagles (Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Witchy Woman) and, of course, Tom Rush (On the Road Again, No Regrets, Who Do You Love). I first saw Tom Rush at Club 47 on Mount Auburn Street, near Harvard Square (www.tomrush.com/club47.html). I was a high school kid pretending to be a college kid and happened on the Boston Folk Revival scene. I was hooked, all in. It helped me  hum my tune. Now, at the end of summer, 1972, I wanted to go backstage.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

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