The Kevlar dictator

Bullets can't touch him. He's impervious to poison. And bombs -- Ha! He laughs at your bombs!

Published July 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Let's see, does the Guinness Book of World Records have a category for most inept assassins?

As you may have heard, over the last 40 years or so, someone or group has been attempting to, uh, remove Fidel Castro in most unseemly fashion -- "terminate with extreme prejudice," as they say, albeit with little success. Who or whatever it is can't be faulted on diligence: They've tried and tried, employing no less than 637 different schemes, according to a suit filed earlier this year by the Cuban government. But the dictator simply will not go gentle into that good night. The often-innovative methods for attempting to do in El Comandante, it's charged, have included "poisoning a chocolate milkshake" and putting "lethal powder in a scuba diving suit."

Say what you will about his politics, but you can't deny that if the Cubans' count is even close to correct, Fidel es un hombre muy macho! The suit, filed in Havana by what the Associated Press calls "organizations connected to the [Cuban] government," claims that while the U.S. government has failed to negatively impact Castro's health (or even the length of his speeches, which have been known to ramble on for as much as eight long 'n' winding hours), the Yanks' alleged campaign to end it all for his Olive Drabness has caused the deaths of "3,478 Cubans and permanent physical damage to more than 2,000 others in a variety of acts ranging from the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to a string of bombings at Havana hotels in 1997." Not to mention a dengue fever epidemic, which killed 158, that Havana claims was the doing of the American government.

Yet all attempts have failed! Good grief. What kind of wimpoid henchmen are we breeding here in the States? This makes Rasputin and Bluebeard, neither of whom was a cakewalk to kill, seem like pantywaists by comparison to the apparently immortal Fidel. The suit, hearings for which are taking place now, asks for $181 billion in damages. For some peculiar reason, the United States has chosen not to comment.

In happier news, the Web site of the purple artist formerly known as "I Want to Boogie Your Woogie Till Your Back Don't Have a Bone Just as Soon as I Finish my Milk Duds" reports that Symbol Dude "and his woman were questioned and released after apparently being discovered making love in a public cinema in Chanhassen, Minnesota. No charges were filed, becuz they had rented the theater out after hours and it couldn't b considered a crime as they were alone at the time." Reports that the movie that got the two all hot and bothered was "Muppets From Space" are unconfirmed.

Moving forward, if you've got even more time on your hands than a purple paisley horndog on a Mountain Dew bender, and an insatiable desire for all things gangsterly no matter how banal, stop by the Smoking Gun, where you can now peruse the floor plans (fer gawd's sake) of three New York mob social clubs. The Smokesters offer crude sketches rendered by artistically challenged FBI agents that depict the layouts of the wise guys' clubhouses, "from the stark minimalism of a Mulberry Street hangout to the shabby chic of Vincent 'Chin' Gigante's Triangle Social Club." The sketch of Gigante's hangout is the most appealing as it seems to have been done without benefit of a straightedge, or even a steady hand, and thus conveys the emotion of the artist with great immediacy and zest.

If you have no interest in Mafia floor plans, perhaps revisionist history as it relates to 19th century cannibals can help fill your leisure hours. A recent APBNews report suggests that famed Colorado cannibal Alferd Packer, who was convicted in 1883 of dining on five men he was guiding through the San Juan Mountains, was really a sweetheart, a cuddlebug, a "cupcake." For a "killer and cannibal," the report states, "he wasn't a bad guy. He liked children. Never even ate one." He even built Victorian dollhouses. The article quotes David Bailey, the historical curator of the Museum of Western Colorado, as saying that Packer was "a nice guy" who fell victim to sensationalism and bad press. (I dunno -- when a fella's brunched on five of his pals, sensationalism is rather a relative concept.)

Anyway, Bailey claims that Packer didn't kill the men. He merely, as the APBNews piece puts it, "carved heaping helpings of flesh from the corpses" after another in the party whacked 'em with a hatchet. Some party. Needless to say, there are others -- many others -- who disagree with Bailey. Regardless of where the truth may lie, and whether it's served with potatoes, rice or mixed vegetables, Packer's story has kept imaginations satiated for more than a century. The cafeteria at the University of Colorado in Boulder is named after the hungry he-man, one of the "South Park" boys has reportedly written a feature-film musical about Packer's Epicurean exploits, and the late folk singer Phil Ochs once wrote a song about him:

And they trusted him too long

For his character was weak

And his appetite was strong

They called him a murderer, a cannibal, a thief

It just doesn't pay to eat anything but government-inspected beef.

Bon appetit!

By Douglas Cruickshank

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

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