By Skip Kaltenheuser–
Henry the K joins the eternal, as does my shame. He’s not squiring Jill St. John nor even holding hands with Hillary, who proudly claimed him as a mentor.
My guilt by association resurfaces, decades after Henry and I hung out together.
It’s 1980. Here I am at F. Scott’s, a hip, upper-crust bar in Georgetown with an art deco motif. Looks like Reagan will win the White House. Winds of change are coming, particularly at über-liberal programs such as Action (Peace Corps, VISTA, etc…), where I’m in the legal office.
Some occasion has brought my whole office, still wearing suits, to the bar for drinks. I’m with a girlfriend who makes her bread as a torch singer of Cole Porter and George Gershwin standards. She sings in a private nightclub called the Gaslight Club, where old-hand lobbyist types hang out. Rumors of deals cut during card games. The Gaslight’s Gay ’90s motif was legendary in the heyday of LBJ — dark rooms worlds from the see-me-now crowd of the brightly lit F. Scott’s.
I’m feeling no pain. Drinking rock ’em, sock ’em ice cream drinks, the sweet girlie kind that really sneak up on a man. Now I’m in the john, whistling a merry tune and thinking what a bright boy am I, ready to whiz in one of those marvelous marble stalls sticking out from the wall like angel wings, the urinal packed with ice like a weird snow cone.
As I unzip, a man slips into the stall to my right. Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger. A spry 57.
Always loathed him. I had a lady pal whose good friend was the widow of a Chilean minister under Allende. The former minister, a foe of Pinochet and an opponent of foreign investment in Chile, was blown up while driving along Washington’s Embassy Row. My friend despises all things Kissinger, who helped usher in Pinochet’s dictatorship.
A great conundrum faces me. I have a chance to symbolically avenge the widow, and so many more, and thrill my friend. All I need to do is power-wash Kissinger’s shiny black left wing tip. With any luck, collateral damage to his left ankle. Easy to act very drunk, being very drunk, and make profound apologies about the accident.
A sudden wobbling of my knees. I know that, whether or not he believes me, Kissinger can get me good. Even if Reagan wasn’t coming to town. Knows people.
But the Peace Prize, what a travesty! Pinochet, murderous jerk. Cambodia. Nixon’s secret plan to end — prolong! — the Vietnam War. Bombing as a campaign strategy. Thumbs-up to massacres in East Timor and Bangladesh, civil wars in Africa, coups in Latin America.
And I didn’t know the half of it. The wink at Argentina’s disappeared. Undermining LBJ’s Vietnam peace talks – treason! Estimates of up to four million dead from his antics. Or more, consider just the fertile ground bombs plowed for Pol Pot. Kissinger lowered the bar for what our too-clever-by-half power players figure they can get away with, sowing seeds of chaos and shattered childhoods. His endorsing pre-emption and regime change in Iraq greased our Forever Wars. How many can claim a posthumous body count? I didn’t know all his somethings wicked coming our way. But I knew enough.
My thoughts race. Is revenge really a dish best served hot? How would the office react? Who cares, I can dine out for years on being the guy who was kicked out of F. Scott’s for pissing on Kissinger’s shoe.
I hold back. Realpolitik pressure builds like a fire hydrant. I so need to pee. I so want to pee on Kissinger’s shoe. I size up the trajectory, ready my aim …
And I stall out. My chilled gaze returns to the ice in my urinal. I hear Henry grunt and zip and he’s finished. With a glance my way and a nod, he steps back. I nod too, but in shame. Does he know how close he came? Does he ever even consider the possibility? Opportunity knocks. I hesitate. Opportunity moves on. I face my moment of truth — and clutch like a Jayhawk in the Final Four. Pissing on his grave wouldn’t be the same. Anyone can, under cover of darkness.
I lived haunted by this spectre, praying for opportunity’s redemptive knock. In cheeky mood, I sometimes sent a recollection of my Kissinger summit to sponsors of his public appearances, imagining Henry’s eyes scanning the crowd, him wary in the can.
Now Kissinger no longer need heed my sporting notice: Fair warning, Henry. Wear your storm rubbers.
Skip Kaltenheuser is a lawyer & Traveling Boy writer in Washington, DC.