By mid-afternoon, Dealey Plaza is actually kind of quiet. Quiet, that is, until an errant postal van inadvertently rear-ends a gawking tourist's car right on the corner of Main and Houston. This is directly below Oswald's famed sixth floor window and the sound of crunching metal and the subsequent sight of flashing patrol car lights are all it takes to get the assembled conspiracy buffs going all over again. On November 22, even a routine traffic accident can become part of a diabolical conspiracy. Small groups of visitors momentarily drop their discussions about bullet trajectories and the identity of the mysterious second gunman to consider the possibility that the postal van might have caused this accident on purpose. I hear one man say that things like this go on all the time because the government is in bed with the insurance companies to drive up people's auto insurance rates. Another man says the police probably won't even give the driver of the postal van a ticket. "They're all in this together," he tells me. Nobody even mentions the fact that the driver of the other vehicle might actually be at fault for stopping in the middle of a busy street to take a picture of the nearby Texas School Book Depository building.
November 22 is a national holiday for conspiracy buffs. They return to this hallowed ground in downtown Dallas year after year, assembling in small groups on the grassy knoll to listen to an eclectic assortment of experts explain, often with the help of crude hand-made posters and graphic aids, why Castro, the CIA, the Russians, the Mafia and the Dallas Police Department were using Lee Harvey Oswald for their own nefarious purposes. Every year local news crews interview a dwindling pool of eyewitnesses who are convinced they saw a second gunman or heard additional shots from a nearby railroad overpass. Rumors continue to surface that Kennedy's body was secretly switched with someone else's before it left Parkland Hospital. Or that Jack Ruby was hired by the 'real' conspirators to kill Oswald before he talked. That's the beauty of conspiracy theories. In the absence of facts, they all seem plausible. Everyone wandering around Dealey Plaza with their camcorders and souvenir commemorative JKF magazines has their own pet theory. I've got a few ideas myself. A cursory glance at the sidewalks filled with street vendors provides me with at least one good reason why the controversy about what actually happened here still continues after all these years.
Practically everything in my field of vision, from the School Book Depository entrance to the Western boundries of the grassy knoll is for sale. For only twenty dollars, you can retrace the entire parade route riding in an exact replica of the Kennedy presidential limousine, while someone else buys a ticket to the lavishly restored sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository to observe your progress through the same window Oswald allegedly used to fire the fatal shots. There are innumerable brochures and pamphlets you can purchase from enterprising fanny pack entrepreneurs wandering around the Plaza, all purporting to explain for a small price what 'really' happened. It goes without saying that you can also purchase film for your camera, commemorative T-shirts, hot dogs, soft pretzels, fresh juice and assorted post cards to send to friends who missed the whole thing.
I'm certain that many apparently simple events are indeed complex conspiracies. But it's hard not to be a bit cynical. When unresolved conspiracy theories are perpetuated for over thirty years, it usually has a lot more to do with selling things than with the underlying conspiracy itself. Scratch a good conspiracy theory and you'll usually find a lucrative book deal.
It's not just the Kennedy assassination either. The same general premise holds true for intriguing theories about alien abductions, crop circles, Bigfoot and fluoridating the country's water supply. Recently I heard about this UFO convention that was being held at a local hotel. What the hell, I was curious. I decided to see if I could get in. After paying a dubious looking woman at the door twenty-five dollars, I joined a culturally diverse group of housewives, bikers, senior citizens, new age zealots and Perot volunteers listening to what was being billed as 'the world's leading authorities on extra terrestrial phenomena.' It didn't take long to notice that for every person speaking in the front of the room, there was a corresponding book for sale on a big table in the back of the room.
So, are alien encounters shamelessly fabricated to sell books? Or are the authors of these books really some sort of latter-day Paul Reveres, writing to warn the us of the otherworldly strangers in our midst? It all depends on what you want to believe. If you want to believe that there is a huge flying saucer base cleverly hidden under a mountaintop in Puerto Rico, there are books that 'prove' it exists. If you want to believe that the CIA orchestrated JFK's assassination in 1963, there are books that build a case for that as well. These books are usually liberally illustrated with official top-secret government documents that have every other word crossed out with a heavy black felt-tip marker.
How anyone can draw any conclusions from a document with 80% of the words crossed out is beyond me. But then I have never been much of a true believer. You can go to church in a synagogue, a mosque, a cathedral or a poorly lit Radison hotel conference room full of UFO buffs. You can even go to church on the grassy slopes below the Texas School Book Depository building. It all just depends on how you want to be saved and what you are being saved from.
If life weren't full of unexplained events and sinister conspiracies, we would have to invent them. Life is a long uneventful highway, punctuated by a few frightening hairpin turns at odd intervals. Conspiracies and unsolved mysteries give us something to think about when the scenery outside is nothing but sage and tumbleweeds. Perhaps the conspiracies are true. Maybe the remains of an alien spacecraft really are being hidden in an unmarked Dayton, Ohio aircraft hanger. Maybe someone else is really buried under the eternal flame at Arlington Cemetary. I doubt it though. When most people can't keep a secret for ten minutes, it's a real stretch to think they could keep their mouth shut for thirty years.
Personally, I think there is a simple answer to all this. Ross Perot is really the leader of an alien advance team that moved to Dallas from the Altair system in the early fifties to lay the groundwork for a series of events that led up to November 22, 1963. These aliens used mind control on succeptable individuals like Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby in an effort to destroy America's faith in their policical systems and create a constituency for a third political party run by the aliens themselves. This Reform Party operated in total secrecy for years, quietly hiring filmmakers like Steven Spielberg to give the public an ocassional preview of what is in store for them in the near future. Of course, it's all out in the open now, except for the fact that Siegfried and Roy were never really gay magicians. They are hetrosexual aliens, married to a pod of females disguised as white tigers. Alien kingpin, Steve Wynne is still grooming them to assume control of the country during a spectacular New Year's Eve show at the Mirage in 1999.
I can hardly wait. The less than satisfactory explanations in Dealey Plaza are starting to get on my nerves.