Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Do lost souls sometimes stay marooned inside a limbo of their own construction, forever haunting gates of former glory? Devising a spiritual escape route that inevitably coils back only to the hollow basement of one's own mendacious spirit must be a futile enterprise for the most valiant of ghosts, but for a fragile ghoul one can only imagine the frustration that must accumulate, as grungy, useless moss nevertheless accumulates atop the most obstinate stone.

Such were my thoughts while running past the melodramatically militaresque gates of Atsugi Naval Base not ten minutes from my apartment, the same base that launched Gary Powers over Russia decades ago, a crash landing that landed him in the Soviet Union and America itself into a new, more suspicious era. That fact alone would be enough to guarantee a certain degree of historical infamy for Atsugi base; the addition of one Lee Harvey Oswald to its illustrious alumni only adds to the absurd historical resonance that blandly spews forth from its gates like lazy heat waves on Florida tarmac.

Oswald. The name itself haunts me. The place itself reminds me. For here was the very spot where young, troubled Lee served while in the U.S. military, before defecting to Russia, before coming back home to plot and plan and stew and fail at almost everything he tried, succeeding only in the ultimate success that would give him any cold comfort, the murder of the president.

And myself, only minutes away on foot! To encounter the roots of one's obsession is surely a fortuitous and dangerous endeavour. For years as an adolescent I was entangled within the sticky web which is the Kennedy assassination and all its attendant lore, convinced that it was a mammoth, intricate plot conceived at the highest levels of the American government. (Such grand schemes are especially attractive to the adolescent mind, who is foiled at every turn, whether it be by the combination to his locker or the forgotten bus ticket gloating on his dresser at home!) In recent years, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that it was Oswald, alone. (My conclusion helped in no small part by Vincent Bugliosi's brilliant book Reclaiming History.) Cool summer nights in the basement of our house by the lake are intermingled with me crashed on the couch, reading long into the night about Oswald and his sad, mysteriously vacant life -- the life of a ghost long before he became one himself.

For I feel Oswald's presence as I run by Atsugi's base.

Fifty years have come and gone since Oswald last stepped through those gates. The Cold War has frozen and fizzled and faded. A new era of terror has enveloped us this past decade.

And yet those gates remain.

Hardly daunting, one must admit. The entrance to Atsugi could very well be that of a modern-day theme park. I half expect Chevy Chase and his motley clan to pull up front in a vintage Volkswagon sedan and embark on the vacation of a lifetime, 'Wally World in the Far East'. Japanese and American flags crisscross themselves in a half-hearted, insincere embrace. Families wander in and out, bored kids chewing gum while their heavy mothers pull down their tank-tops to cover their fleshy bulges that just won't fit. At one point in time, John Wayne himself, the Duke of all dukes, visited the troops here for a morale-boosting session, chowing down for a little r and r and rah-rah-rah; a photo even exists of the fabled movie star eating lunch in the cafeteria with the men in green while a young man stands distant in the doorway. Oswald himself, leaching onto history (albeit of a celluoid kind), for the first but not the last time.

On a sunny spring Sunday afternoon there is nothing remotely sinister about an American military base in suburban Yokohama, and I yet I feel a chill each and every week. I do not know where we go when we die, and I suspect that Oswald's spirit, if such a thing exists, long ago ventured into other, less hospitable realms.

And yet I cannot be certain. For once he tread these very same streets that I so casually jog upon. He was known to have a Japanese girlfriend at the time of his enlistment, her identity a secrete still. I wonder if she lives here still, a woman of seventy, holding onto a secret that is her own, dark treasure. The wrinkled, old lady I casually run past could very well be the former mistress of the assassin of John F.Kennedy, and I almost wince while writing these words, so powerful are their black impact. A life well lived with a family raised true is all well and good, but to have been the concubine of a president's murderer!

For such reasons I am sometimes certain that Oswald haunts these parts. Who is to say that we do not become that which we once were, or reside in that place where we once thrived? For here it was where Oswald put his plans in motion, saving money for his Russian odyssey, studying the language, envisioning the future life he would lead, that of a great man doing noble deeds. If our soul endures past the point of physical decay, and is too craven or barren to be allowed admittance to a higher, gentler realm, then to our past it must return, if not literally, then at least to the physical plain where we once stood tall.

I cannot be sure, and I will not be adamant, but there must be dark winter nights at the gates of Atsugi when the chill of the December air mixes with the cold fury of Oswald's roaming spectre. A physical frission from a spiritual brush. He is bound to this place by his own dark rage. Always a bold, brash, insecure soul, I imagine his ghostlike self is of a similar mold, convinced that another glory lies somewhere in his future, but forever locked into a redundant orbit. Doomed to haunt tangible gates from his past that once led to only the future and now refuse to open to even his past.