I was fourteen at the time, enrolled at the military academy down in San Marcos. Momma was pretty much at her wits end, poor woman, and military school was a last resort, her way of trying to get me to live up to my potential. Everyone said I was a smart kid. I aced every IQ test they ever gave me, but it was the day-to-day stuff I couldnt handle. Behaving in class, keeping my mouth shut, doing my assignments. Teachers were always saying, Look, Cliff, you could be the top student in this school if youd just put your mind to it. They said discipline was what I needed, a dose of hardcore discipline, so Momma scraped up the money and shipped me off.
Thing was, that wasnt any better. Kept right on running my mouth and cutting up, but at military school, man, that had consequences. Serious consequences, which in my case meant beaucoup demerits I had to march off. I mustve marched three hundred miles on the parade ground that fall, with forty pounds of river rocks in my pack and a six-pound dummy rifle on my shoulder, around and around and around, going nowhere fast. So Im out there marching, its about three in the afternoon, and Smith Crutcher comes running out and hollers, Hey Barnes, did you hear? Hear what, I said. Ive been out here since lunch, I havent heard a damn thing. They shot the president, he said, in Dallas. Theyre saying it was a machine gun. They got LBJ and Connally, too. We might be going to war with Russia.
Well, I felt pretty bad. I thought Kennedy was a helluva good guy, a great role model for any kid, and especially one like me who, you know, lacked a father figure in his life. I lost my father at a very young age, as you might be aware. Tragic circumstances and all. A pretty sad business. So Kennedy getting shot felt sort of like that, brought up all kinds of memories and unresolved feelings, but I knew better than to stop marching. Listen, Russian paratroops could have started dropping out of the sky, MiGs strafing the parade ground and everything else, but that was nothing compared to the scorching Id get if I stopped. I had to wait till Commandant Swindell came out and dismissed me, and there wasnt any sign of him. So I kept marching.
Jock and I were at the Trade Mart that day, for the luncheon honoring the presidents visit to Dallas. It was in the Grand Courtyard, which is a huge space—Id heard there were some 2,600 in attendance, and it certainly seemed like everyone was there, so many of our friends, Jocks business partners, government officials and CEOs, just a whos who of Dallass leading citizens. Whether we personally supported the president didnt matter that day; the prevailing attitude was, Were going to give the Kennedys a real Texas welcome! We were especially determined after all the poor publicity from Ambassador Stevensons visit, the heckling and whatnot, him getting hit on the head. Things like that gave Dallas a bad name. Of course it was just a small element causing all the trouble, but theyre the ones who get the limelight, unfortunately.
Later I heard there was a disruption of some kind planned, a group of young people were going to barge into the middle of the luncheon and stage a demonstration. Well, I was horrified about that. After wed worked so hard to make sure Dallas put its best foot forward! Id seen the critical ad in the Morning News, and those handbills, the Wanted for Treason posters, theyd started showing up around town just a few days before the presidents visit. Terribly poor taste, if you ask me. You dont treat your guests that way, any guests, much less the president and first lady of the United States of America.
Of course, it never happened. The luncheon, the demonstration, none of it. We were all waiting in that huge hall with the tables set, everyone just milling around. Some people started to complain about the president being late, and how rude that was of him, to keep everyone waiting.
November 22, that was the day I lost my virginity. Well, not technically, but lets just say it was the first time I did it for love. [Laughs] Id turned sixteen a couple of weeks before, and the day after my birthday Daddy took me over to Fort Worth, to this joint out by the river called the Black Cat Club. A classy place, for a bordello. Daddy said he didnt want me worryin about certain things and it was best just to go ahead and get some experience. Daddy, he was smart that way. He knew what it took to raise a boy to be a man.
To read the rest of this story, and others from the Fall 2013 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.