And so one day in kindergarten we were building something with the new blocks and the teacher came into the room and said “Children, the president is dead.” And I still remember how my stomach just--dropped—and I was left kind of confused. Like—what does that mean? And I was scared—I think now the fear was based more on the dark tone of the teacher’s voice, rather than any childish anxiety about the fate of the nation.
My mom, as usual, came and took me home. The weather across West Virginia was cold and gray and damp that day. (That’s not a memory—I looked it up). Don’t remember if we talked about anything in the car. My parents were definitely not JFK fans—my mom told me years later how, following the 1960 election, she was sick to her stomach every time she saw JFK’s face. (I later came to understand this—after the 2000 election, I had a similar reaction to George W. Bush).
When I got home there was big big difference—no cartoons! TV stations in those days telecast cartoons for the after-school set. Looney Toons was my favorite, especially Bugs Bunny, but I liked Woody Woodpecker, too. But with JFK dead, there were just a bunch of solemn old people on TV talking. Man, that was terrible.
My dad came home cussing. That was actually kind of normal, but the cussing this time was about Kennedy. He’d been up in Pittsburgh for the day with some other grad students and they were driving back to Morgantown when they heard the news. My dad’s immediate response was, “Ah, the son of a bitch deserved it.” The other grad students—objected. I guess it got kind of heated.
Anyway, he got home pissed and we all sat in front of the TV for the next four or so days while my dad kept up a rude commentary. I remember at one point him saying, “They’re all acting like they expect him to jump up out of the coffin any minute!” I sat up at that—Whoa, JFK jumping up out of the coffin would have been cool!
I thought it was also cool how they wedged the boots in backwards on that horse. And Haile Selassie sure had a bunch of medals. (“Ah, he gives himself a goddamn medal every time he builds a bridge,” my dad said).
So! Fifteen years or so later and I ended up in Austin, Texas, at a bar called Raul’s. Seeing a band called The Huns. And the squirrelly lead singer got behind the mic and yelled, “Fifteen years ago a president came to this state. And YOU killed him! And WE’RE glad he’s dead!”
And--bang-bang-bang noise-noise-noise, etc….
He said he'd get us to the moon
But spent his time chasing poon
Punk rock, y’all.
And, so, anyway, about a year after that, I was down at the Deep Eddy with a girl I liked named M, and I was telling her about seeing The Huns—and “Glad He’s Dead.” We were seated sort of toward the door end of the bar, me with my back to the door. I heard behind me someone say, “You’re an asshole.”
I turned around and there was a squat older guy at the very end of the bar holding a mug of beer. He looked pissed.
“John F. Kennedy was the greatest president of all time,” the guy said.
“Oh, yeah?” I asked. “Well, my dad said the son of a bitch deserved it.”
“Well, your dad’s an asshole, too.”
“Malcolm X said the chickens came home to roost.”
“And Malcolm X is an asshole, too.”
But! Things did not escalate! Kind of surprising, right? M got the drunk guy chilled down, and the guy ended up telling M and myself his whole lugubrious stupid life story, which didn’t amount to much. Typical Silent Generation. Loved JFK. Worked hard. He’d gone to high school with Johnny Unitas. That was the high point of his life—“They’ll never be able to take that away from me.” He had Johnny Unitas—and those memories of JFK.