Friday, November 22, 2013


            I'm writing this on Friday, November 22, 2013. Today people of a certain age are remembering what they were doing 50 years ago. We attribute a certain kind of importance to specific measures of time.
            My personal experience of JFK involves a November, but it was 1962. I don’t remember the day of the week or whether I had to skip school to execute my plan.
            I was living in Minneapolis, and the president was in town. I decided that I wanted to see his motorcade drive down Park Avenue. I needed to see the president.
This was not the first or the last shameful impulse I brought into our right-wing, evangelical Republican home—meaning I wasn’t free to talk much about my intentions. (“The pope’s running the country now. THE POPE’S RUNNING THE COUNTRY!”  Bang went the fist on the table.  Nixon, Nixon, he's our man/Kennedy goes in the garbage can.)
            I told my mother I was going out. I hopped on my red single speed bicycle with 26-inch tires, and headed toward Park Avenue. It was the longest bike trip I’d ever taken. I wended my way further and further through unfamiliar urban neighborhoods. I remember it being chilly with a familiar bone-deep loneliness.
The avenue was already lined with people when I arrived. I jockeyed my way to the front and stood with my bike at my side, gripping the handlebars. I’m not sure how long we waited on the wide, empty one-way street with our necks craned to look down the road. Expectation and excitement filled the air.
            Finally we saw distant motion and heard the faint rumble of approaching motorcycles under the increasing swell of cheers. A couple other cars came first carrying assorted dignitaries who weren’t the least bit important just now. And then…there he was…passing a few feet in front of me…sitting on the back of the rear seat of his limo…young and strong and in control…confident and out in the open…the famous tousled hair over the square face, the droopy eyelids, the compelling smile, the visible humor, the easy shift of the body that he’d shown in press conferences on TV, the simple wave. It was fast and it was powerful and he was with us and then he was gone.
The crowd quickly dispersed. I climbed on my bicycle. As I made the long ride home I enjoyed my familiar solitude and I tried to absorb the experience—the anticipation and then a flurry of activity that only lasted a couple of minutes at most…or was it two and a half years?
He was real…and then he was gone…