The second connection between me and Whitey Bulger, the star monster of the F.B.I.’s Ten Most Wanted list, never came to light until two years ago when, after some 16 years of searching, they found him hiding out as another harmless-looking, white-bearded retiree in sunny Santa Monica, Calif.
Before that, whenever investigators or other prying inquirers came snooping around in my paranoid imagination, I was always able to tell them that the only link was his brother Billy: I knew Billy, not Whitey. Billy and I were classmates at Boston College. He hosted the rather raucous bachelor party thrown for me at a rather raucous South Boston nightclub where he worked part time as an M.C.
(This was before we were sophisticated.)
Beyond the occasional card or note, our only connection after graduation was when Billy was president of the Massachusetts State Senate and gave copies of my first novel, “Chocolate Days, Popsicle Weeks,” to some of his friends and associates as Christmas gifts. (Was Whitey, reportedly an avid reader, one of them? You’d have to ask him. Billy never says anything about his brother Whitey.)
I admit, Billy’s generosity did my book sales no harm. But unless some righteous prig wishes to see anything untoward in the gesture, our relationship remained as fond distant friends and clean as a whistle. Until, that is, the one fine June day in 2011, when a woman neighbor identified and blew the whistle on Whitey in Santa Monica.
The stool pigeon turned out to be a former Miss Iceland, whom I just happened to have used in a Noxzema shave cream commercial back in 1979. An aspiring actress, blond, emerald-eyed Anna Bjornsdotter (then just Bjorn) gave her smiling, slightly Scandinavian-accented pitch to camera while shaving a man’s face with a straight razor. It ran a lot, mostly on sports events. Richard Avedon directed, with Jack Horner on camera. I hope mentioning that doesn’t implicate them in any way.
All sheer coincidences, I know, and yet the feared interrogation tape plays incessantly in my head:
Mr. Hannibal, we have evidence that you stayed at the Ocean View motel in Santa Monica at least once a year for the past 20 years. Is that true?
Did you ever meet Whitey Bulger there?
Did you ever see him there?
At the motel?
In Santa Monica. Or anywhere.
Not that I know of.
Meaning how would I know? If he was in disguise! I could have seen him walking on the Third Street Promenade, or on the beach, and never known it!
Did you ever meet or see Ms. Bjornsdotter in Santa Monica?
Not that I know of.
Did Ms. Bjornsdotter wear a disguise?
I have no idea.
Did you see her or not?
After 20 years or more? You tell me.
Sir, will you consent to a lie detector test?
See? Once these seemingly innocent accidents begin to connect, things start getting eerily Kafkaesque. For instance:
What brought Ms. Bjornsdotter to meet Whitey Bulger’s consort?
Mutual concern for a stray cat.
And what do you write poems about for The East Hampton Star?
I’m just saying.
I’ve had similar problems with my inadvertent connections to O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake. The Juice posed for me in ads for Dingo Boots. Blake played (a great) Jimmy Hoffa in “Blood Feud,” the TV mini-series of an eponymous documentary novel that I co-authored with the screenwriter Robert Boris.
How was I to know what horrendous crimes the Hertz Guy or Little Beaver were going to be accused of years later?
And yet, still, you can’t deny. The connections, once made, no matter how tenuous, lurk there in the shadows of suspicion.
The same with H.R. Haldeman and Gomer Pyle.
Haldeman was J. Walter Thompson’s point man for a batch of commercials being shot in Hollywood for various General Foods products. I had written a script for Gomer Pyle. I must admit, there were clues in the tight-ship way the crew-cut, buttoned-down, anal-retentive ubermeister H.R. (“Call me Bob”) Haldeman ran the G.F. project. But come on, not even he could have known he’d become Nixon’s hatchet man and fall guy in the Watergate scandal!
And whodathunk that Jim Nabors would come out from behind his hillbilly facade as, among other things, a talented baritone opera singer?
As they say, life happens a day at a time because otherwise we couldn’t stand it.
With Whitey’s trial finally coming up, even more new books and movies are coming out about the brothers Bulger. The ubiquitous, voracious, nonstop cable and network pundit circuitry wears out the mute button with new and old Boston Globe authors and Hollywood film producers re-airing all the same dirty old Southie laundry yet again. This time, I think, they’re going to find me.
Maybe it’s only in my mind, but I live in constant dread of some intrepid investigative blogger, prosecutor, bounty hunter, or other insatiable vetting fact-checker, with the entire World Wide Web to scan, eventually deciding to click . . . on . . . me. Let’s see . . . Bulger, Bjorn, Simpson, Blake, Hoffa, Haldeman, Pyle, murder weapons, feral cats, Hannibal . . . and having been fed the data, the computers’ fast-morphing facial scans on the investigating geek’s screens start to resemble . . . me. I’d better shave.
Where’s that razor from the Noxzema shoot? Oh, right, I lent it to Whitey.
No! Just kidding!
Ed Hannibal’s fifth novel, “A Trace of Red,” will be reissued soon as an e-book. He lives in Springs and teaches creative writing on Wednesday nights at the Amagansett Library.