I've been to Dallas at least six times and I have never yet convinced a local to take me to the Book Depository museum. The closest I've come is to have Bob Trammell, local poet, drive me past it. There is some kind of grim cement grotto that commemorates the JFK assassination; it sits in a park across the street from the Depository. As we drove past, several tourist families were wandering around bewildered, not sure what to do. "That's the thing," Bob told me, as he turned off on the very next street, "about the Sixth Floor Museum. Nobody knows what to do when they get there. They've come all this way and they aren't sure what for." He added: "I was born in Dallas and lived here most of my life and I haven't been there yet."
He had a point there, or several, actually. Being a tourist is a sad thing. You go to places the natives won't have anything to do with, and you're supposed to have an experience. The JFK assassination was one of the most horrific moments in this nation's history. How exactly do you want to remember it? What's in that museum? How is one supposed to feel? What do you point out to the kids? Is it a history lesson? An artist friend of his, Bob told me, used to drop handfuls of used shell casings from the sixth floor, for tourists to find. That gave them something to do, but I don't think that it was very nice. Artists!
The tourists themselves, at least the ones I was able to glimpse as we whizzed past, looked like tourists the world over. I'd seen the same people in New Orleans the day before. And in Venice last year. There are only 100 tourists actually. They just use some kind of simultaneous transporters that put them at the scene all over the world at the same time. I was a tourist once for a whole lifetime: all I did was get in and out of the transporter room. I was being punished for something. When I died, they gave me back my freedom. I now avoid all main attractions where I live, because only tourists go there.
Instead of tourist spots, Bob goes to obscure restaurants, takes his kid to the neighborhood park, and brings his friends to a private club owned by a local gourmand, philosopher and eccentric named James Leake. This place, named after the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne, sits rather unobtrusively in a row of mansions. You have to know where it is or you'd never notice it. Inside, an extraordinary bonhomie reigns. The proprietor, whose self-published book is stacked on the piano, has known everyone who ever came through Dallas. The mementos are on the wall, in photographic and pictorial form. The library stacks mostly translations of Leake's totemic philosopher. There are paintings everywhere that feature, in a gently self-mocking way, Jim Leake himself, impersonating sometimes his historical idol. The club's profits are dedicated to artistic enterprises, because the man himself is quite rich and has invested wisely. He tells me that the reason he founded the establishment was "a lack of conversation in Dallas." Seems reasonable to me. The place reminds me of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, which started out as a refuge for cranky writers and then turned into an exclusive millionaire's club. Bohemians caught loitering in front of it are usually removed by security. There were at least two bohemians at the Montaigne Club, if Bob and I can be so brazen, and there were no tourists.