Other than that, Mrs. Oswald, how did you enjoy Minsk?

From the mixed-up files of Mr. Lee Harvey Oswald; plus a sad story about a bull who fatefully lost his way on the road to Pamplona, and a touching Wittgensteinian lesson about backing up our work on the computer.


Douglas Cruickshank
June 24, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Seems everybody's got their piroshki in a twist over the Russian government's recent release of documents related to the John F. Kennedy assassination. The collection reportedly includes a letter Lee Harvey Oswald wrote to the Soviets when seeking asylum in 1959 and, according to the Washington Post, "material gathered about Oswald by the Soviet authorities while he lived in Minsk." Now, there may well be some explosive nuggets of truth in these documents, but Ill place my rubles elsewhere. Thanks.

A couple years back, while I was delirious with some kind of flu gawdawfulness, a friend brought me Norman Mailer's "Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery," which turned out to be the perfect reading matter while touring delirium, because brain-fever fantasizing was the book's required accessory. Reading "Oswald" was addictive -- just like staring at knotholes on the ceiling.

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In researching the book, Mailer was given extraordinary access by the Russians to all manner of information (though not, presumably, that which has recently been released), including secret surveillance recordings made of Marina and Lee's conversations in their apartment. Fascinating? Not quite. More like the Bickersons on borscht by way of Beckett. The star-crossed couple dragged one another through numberless wee set-tos, utterly uncompelling in their dullness and focused on issues like Lee's helping with the housework (he was no dreamboat in that regard, comradettes) and, if memory serves, a run-in over the old in 'n' outski (apparently no dreamboat in that regard either -- wotasurprizski).

Oswald comes off as a dreary depressobag and a poor speller to boot. Poor Marina comes off as, well, a confused young woman stuck in the middle of Russia with someone who was either a megalomaniac homicidal loser or history's biggest patsy. In Oswald's single-page, handwritten letter that the Russkies just shipped to President Clinton, LHO, requesting asylum, tells the "Surprem Soviet of the USSR" that "I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves," and yet a search of Salon personnel files reveals no record of Oswald ever having been employed here.

Meanwhile, last week, four New York City police officers opened fire on a bull that, Reuters reports, "escaped from a club where a Father's Day rodeo had been planned and ran through the streets of Long Island City in Queens." Fine work -- definitely sounds like a death-penalty offense to me. Can't wait for the next New York City marathon. New York Police Department spokeswoman LeeAnn Tracy-Ader said that the four officers involved in the incident were treated for trauma and the bull was dumped in a landfill on Staten Island. There was no explanation for a plumber's helper left behind at the scene.

About the same time Ferdinand's blood was being spilled in a Queens parking lot, Jacksonville, Fla., police Lt. Steve Farley asked Richard Hayes, owner of the New to You consignment shop, to cover up a little minx in his charge known as Trixie. "It was a suggestion. It wasn't an order or a threat. It was primarily a way we might avoid some traffic accidents," Farley explained.

Good citizen Hayes saw to it that the curvaceous, shameless (and may I say deliciously firm) Trixie better covered her bountiful equipment, but only under protest: "If it was a thong or a real skimpy French bikini, I wouldn't let her wear it. But this is a real good-size, two-piece bathing suit and she is covered. You see more at the beach," Hayes said. Unfortunately, Trixie, being a mannequin, doesn't get to the beach much.

The biggest crime stories for the week came from across le grande pond, reported by our friends at the Times of London. First we have the case of Darren Machon, 22, the very industrious, makin'-up-for-lost-time car thief. In Brigend, South Wales, Machon, a recent jail releasee, made the most of his first 90 days of freedom by committing 75 new offenses, including the theft of 28 cars. "He stole the first of more than 300,000 pounds worth of cars less than a week after his release," said the Times article. Machon "favored Vauxhalls and helped himself to nine Cavaliers, six Astras, four Carltons, two Novas and a Belmont. His haul also included an Austin Maestro, Ford Escort, Fiesta, Orion, Sierra and a lone BMW."

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For his part, busy Mr. Machon is now back in custody and I think he deserves a tip of the cap from each and every one of us. "He has now resolved never to go back to a life of crime," his lawyer says, which I for one find highly commendable.

Finally, proving that only wimps back up, a certain bunch of Cambridge University smarty-pants scholars -- 15 of them, cataloging and studying the work of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein -- kinda outsmarted themselves. The group has spent the last decade compiling "two massive volumes" of the great Austrian philosopher's works -- all on computer disks. The bummer is that when burglars last week broke in and stole the group's CD writer and laptop, they also made off with the disks -- none of which had been backed up. The Times reports that Wittgenstein's entire opus "has yet to be assembled in one place" and another group at the University of Bergen is working on a similar project. In an act of profound wisdom, that group, described by the Times as "Norwegian academics," quickly, prudently, made copies of their research, which, again (like Mr. Machon's resolution) I find commendable -- ever so.

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Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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