4: Further Conversation with Lee in 1962
I Am a Patsy! by George de Mohrenschildt
At the time we knew Lee, nothing could be further from our minds that he might become such a historical figure. His visits were very frequent — sometimes he would come for a short time, sometimes he would spend the whole evening with us. Some bribes [sic] of our semi–bantering, semi–serious repartees remain in my memory.
“You are an extremely sincere person, Lee,” I told him. “You do not lie even to yourself. Most of the people I know are the opposite of you. They put up a front, they confuse, they deceive, they lie even when thinking.”
“I guess it’s dangerous to be that way. I know I make a lot of enemies. But what the hell,” he acknowledged, “my position is that I am afraid of a very few things in life. I am not cautious. I am not,” he smiled, “a turkey which lives only to become fat.” And he showed me his non existing belly. He was becoming very thin.
“Lee, your way of life is so un–American, it scares me to think what may become of you.”
“It is true,” Lee said, “I am probably committing a sin in not being interested in possessions or money. When a rich man dies, he is loaded with his possessions like a prisoner with chains. I will die free, death will be easy for me.”
“Stop talking about death, you are only 22. If you want to talk about gruesome subjects, let me tell you this joke: a usurer is on his deathbed. A priest gives him a crucifix to kiss and to confess his sins. And the usurer blabbers: ‘I cannot loan you much money for it’”.
“Regarding your attitude on money and possessions,” I said, “I couldn’t agree more with you. You would rather do something unusual than drive a Cadillac. I am the same way.”
“Life for me,” continued Lee, “is like a hungry crocodile. I’d better defend myself. I have to defend myself against the stupidity of this world. It is enormous! Life must be the work of a perfect idiot. Or maybe the stupidity, like breaking of the atom, is self–perpetuating?”
“Not too bad for a 22 years old American proletarian and a high–school dropout,” I thought. “Lee, you have a very original mind.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I do not often hear the compliments. But let me tell you more why I despise the money–loving middle–class. Such people are simply stupid, not serious, they are curiously attracted by crooks and adventurers. And so you hear how often they are sheared of their wool, like sheep, by various financial schemers.”
“Diderot,” I said, “thinks very much like you. You have nothing, I have very little now, so a real friendship is possible between us. We are sincere with each other.”
“Another thing Diderot said,” I continued, “he was very happy being poor and living in a shack. When he achieved opulence and found a nice apartment in Paris, he knew he was going to die …”
“The philosophers talk but you did it,” said Lee enviously. “This trip of yours, what a freedom! 3,600 miles on foot on tough trails of Latin America. This demanded a complete change in life — willingly, suddenly, for this you needed an extraordinary moral audacity.”
“This time I want to thank you, Lee. But do not exaggerate; this was an act of desperation rather than audacity, after the death of my only son. Finally this trip was very satisfying to Jeanne and to me.”
And so we chatted in an open and friendly manner and I must of [sic] Lee. “My opinion of this guy changes completely and frequently, which happens only with people who are close and important to me. I usually judge the others superficially and label them once and for all.”
The Oswalds and Alex de Mohrenschildt
But now I should explain the reasons why I had introduced the Oswalds to my daughter Alex and to her husband. They were about the same age. Gary was a scatter–brained, simple–minded but pleasant young man and as most of his financial schemes failed, he had plenty of time on his hands. His fondest ambition consisted of becoming rapidly another Clint Murchison or H.L. Hunt, and that was hard to achieve. Frankly I hoped that my daughter and her husband Gary would acquire some of the world–wide interests that Lee certainly possessed. His serious approach to life contrasted sharply with the foolish flippancy of Gary’s; I also hoped that Marina would teach my daughter some interesting facts about Russia. When these two were together that they were somehow able to communicate, as my daughter was and is an excellent linguist.
But introducing people of such different backgrounds led to unpleasant results. First of all we caused a separation between Marina and Lee. We did understand that it was not the first separation between them, but we actually caused this one. It amazed my daughter that Lee called Marina on the phone infrequently and did not express much desire to be with her. But he missed baby June. It was peculiar for a young husband but I already suspected that he was pleased being alone at YMCA and was already bored with Marina’s company. Next the personalities of Lee and of Gary clashed. Lee considered Gary a spoiled, rich American, foolish youngster, and Gary looked down at him as a supercilious, unpractical lunatic with revolutionary ideas. My daughter’s opinion of Marina was low also, she was slovenly and didn’t know anything about baby–care. Although she had obtained a degree of “registered pharmacist” in USSR.
My daughter’s opinion of Lee was low also, he was not good–looking, did not care about his appearance, neither was he inclined to make money. As for me, I regretted that Alex did not see any qualities I liked in Lee – the fact that he was socially motivated, was a dreamer and a seeker of truth. But such people was a very hard time in life and that’s why so many people considered him a failure and a loser (in quotation marks).
Maybe, had he lived longer, he would have fitted better into the scheme of American life, he would have joined the group of love–children, would have grown a beard and certainly would have been among the protesters against the was in Viet–Nam.
It was probably Marina, dissatisfied with my daughter’s attitude, who made Lee hustle and find an apartment. Very soon the Oswalds settled in their own ground–floor apartment on Elsbeth Street, in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas. It was far away from us, while we wanted them to live nearby. Probably Lee wanted to be as far away as possible from the other Russian refugees, whom he disliked. Anyway, the apartment was ten miles or more away from our place at University Park.
The de Mohrenschildts Help the Oswalds
With Lee’s job secured at Taggart’s and away from the gruesome slum in Fort Worth, Jeanne and I though the the Oswald family would be happy. Jeannne registered the baby in children’s clinic for regular check–ups and Marina was treated almost gratis in the dental clinic of the Baylor hospital. This involved long trips for Jeanne to drive back and forth but she did not mind. Staying so far away from anyone put Marina in a condition of total dependency on Lee, since she could not communicate with anyone around, we were the only source she could understand. To invite the couple for dinner, we drove back and forth, almost forty miles for a four–way trip.
Jeanne became quite close to Marina at the time, while Lee and I saw each other frequently. Soon, however, these trips became difficult for us as we both became busy in our professions, yet we wanted to continue seeing the Oswalds. One solution would be for them to buy some second–hand car but Lee did not know how to drive, nor did Marina of course. I did not doubt Lee’s word. I mention this here because later Lee’s lack of driving ability became a controversial issue. I believed him because I knew about the abject poverty of his childhood in New Orleans. In these prosperous United States, Lee’s family occupied a position at the poverty line, similar to poor Blacks and Mexican–Americans.
Due to my wife’s help, Marina’s four spoiled teeth were removed and her system was not poisoned by them any more. Baby June became healthy also.
The Russian colony collected a small amount of money for Marina and the care of the baby June. Lee did not know about it, he would not have accepted any charity, so it was done secretly. I think Jeanne handled the operation and Marina spent nights in the house while the next morning Jeanne would drive her to Baylor dental clinic or to the child care center.
An amusing incident happened on the way to Baylor, recalls my wife. We had to drive by the predominantly [sic] section of town, gaudy but cheerful Hall and Washington Streets, almost every decrepit house lodging either a night–club, strip–tease joint or a dance hall. Hookers and flashy pimps strolling along the broken payments. Suddenly Marina excitedly attracted my wife’s attention shouting in Russian to slow down. She looked at the tall, muscled, black youngster standing proudly at the corner and surveying the situation.
“Look at him! Look!” She pulled at my wife’s sleeve in a frenzy. “What a handsome man!”
Oh yes,” agreed Jeanne, “he is very handsome.”
“No, he is fantastic, fantastic!” exulted Marina.
Such an enthusiasm surprised my wife.
“He is so big and strong! What muscles he must have …”
As my wife related this incident, she observed that is was not a question of an attraction of a nordic woman to an exotic man of a dark race, but a distressing fact that a young married woman with a child would show such an uninhibited admiration for a sexy male.
I drove her myself on the same street and teased her myself about her attraction to black men. “Marina,” I guessed, “you did not see in Russia such, uninhibited, natural men.”
She laughed: “neither Russians nor American whites can compare to such beautiful men,” she said candidly. “Maybe the Cubans I met in Minsk were just as attractive.”