Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

We in Miss Caldwell’s first grade class at Leila P. Cowart Elementary School in Dallas were in a frenzy of excitement—the PRESIDENT was in our town!  Being in the then-working-class, solidly Democratic area of Oak Cliff, we were all big JFK fans (especially Jackie).  Our Dads all liked “Jack”, and our Moms all wanted to BE Jackie—they all had the pillbox hats, the Chanel (or Chanel knockoff) suits, the Balenciaga frocks, the heels, gloves, etc. 

The Kennedys had been in Houston the day before, then flew to Ft. Worth, spent the night, and were up for a breakfast meeting early, then flew to Dallas.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that they flew from Ft. Worth to Dallas—the Turnpike was the only “freeway” between the two, and it cost the astronomical sum of $4.75 THEN ($36.25 in 2013 $).  We all wanted to go see them, but in my case, my Dad couldn’t get off work and my Mother was still recuperating from surgery, so there was nobody in my house to take me.  It was going to be a big crowd, so many of the Moms didn’t want to brave them without their husbands, and the husbands had to work.  That was the era….

So we were sitting there in class when our Principal came over the loudspeaker.  This was unnerving in a variety of ways.  First, it was the middle of the morning.  That never happened.  Second, and more alarmingly, he was crying (trying not to do so).  That REALLY never happened, because men didn’t cry publicly then, AT ALL.  He told us the President had been shot, school was closed, and we were all to go home.  THAT was a shocker—school letting out in the middle of the day!?!  Then it got worse!  Our pretty young teacher (she was probably 24 or 25, fresh out of TCU), put her head down on her desk and sobbed.  She had brunette hair in a Jackie Kennedy “flip”, and cats-eye glasses, and always wore pretty clothes.  She was a cheerful person and we all loved her.  For her to react like this, just after Mr. Pennington (Principal) had cried, and school out—wowsers.

Normally, Mother either walked or drove me to school.  There was a busy road I had to cross, and even though there was a crossing guard, Mother wasn’t taking any chances.  She had lost my older sister, and she wasn’t losing another child.

Well, today, not only was Mother NOT there, neither was the crossing guard!  I made it across that busy street and walked home.  When I got there, more weirdness:  Mother and Grannie were sitting on the sofa, both crying, both with hands at their mouths, glued to the set.  We watched that TV for the next 3 days, a black and white Philco; the color Philco on which Dad had splurged was in the shop and this was their “loaner”.

My Dad knew the Detective in the white “LBJ” hat looking so surprised when Oswald was shot in the famous picture; I forget the man’s name.  He, too, lived in Oak Cliff and I think he and Dad were on the same bowling league.  Dad intimated that he had many thoughts he did NOT put down in his book, out of outright fear.


I was too young then to appreciate all the subtle ramifications of the assassination.  Big John Connally, the Texas Governor, had been shot as well; I liked Big John.  I liked President Kennedy too.  Of course, his death meant that Lyndon Johnson of Texas ascended to the Presidency, and it was cool to have the news talk about “The Texas White House” all the time.

Growing up, I did, in fact, hear people refer to Dallas as “The City of Hate”, and I couldn’t fathom why.  WE didn’t kill him!  All of MY friends and relatives were big fans!  (It took J. R. Ewing to change Dallas’s image, literally).


I’ve now been fascinated with the story for 50 years, have seen all the documentaries; read the actual Warren Commission Report (what a pack of lies that is…); heard all the conspiracy theories, thought of a few myself.  I’ve seen the autopsy pictures (they’re on the internet).  I’ve spent quality time in the “sniper’s perch” at the former Texas School Book Depository.  I’ve also (since 1963) learned how to shoot both a handgun and a rifle.  I’m actually a pretty good shot (though far from a sharpshooter). 

My conclusions:

  1. I don’t know who killed Jack Kennedy.
  2. I know the “Magic Bullet” is a work of fiction.
  3. I know Lee Harvey Oswald was a trained sharpshooter, and I know how to shoot a gun, and I cannot fathom why Oswald would pass up a straight, clear, dead-on headshot from short range (as the car came crawling down Houston St.) for a much more difficult angled shot while the car was moving away and picking up speed.  Lee Oswald MAY have shot at Jack Kennedy—but he didn’t kill him.  YOU’LL NEVER CONVINCE ME THAT LEE HARVEY OSWALD KILLED JACK KENNEDY.  It just didn’t happen.
  4. I just revisited the infamous “grassy knoll” earlier this year.  Many reported shots from there.  It was a perfect place for a concealed sniper to take shots.
  5. Oliver Stone makes great fictional movies.
  6. I’ve been to the Texas School Book Depository; the “Grassy Knoll”, the Ford Museum in Detroit (where sits the infamous “bubbletop” limousine, though it was stripped to the rails after 11/22/63 and re-built).  I’ve been to the Kennedy Library in Boston.  I’ve sat in the “Kennedy Seat” at Ye Olde Oyster House.  I can show you where Jack Ruby’s nightclub was (it’s now all yuppified and that building was torn down decades ago), and I can show you the exit from the –then- Dallas County Jail (now boarded up) wherefrom they were going to take Oswald when Ruby shot him.  I STILL don’t know who killed him or why, and I never will.  The government has the information, I’m convinced.  They’ll never let it go.  Does that mean the government itself did it?  Maybe.  Or maybe it was the Cubans.  Or the Russians.  Or the Martians….





Funny angle for a shot from the School Book Depository, when you had a straight-on close-up headshot while the motorcade was on Houston St.—but a PERFECT shot from the top of the “Grassy Knoll”, which includes a decorative concrete wall with slots and lots of bushes….



Why is this one man’s death still resonating across half a century now?  Romantic, tragic, mysterious; all these, of course.

The butterfly effect theory is that if a butterfly flaps its wings, somewhere around the world a hurricane forms.

The Kennedy Assassination was like that.  It had many more far-reaching effects than I can ennumerate, but: 

  • Lyndon would never have become President.  Kennedy actually was weak on Civil Rights (BOBBY was the one who was passionate about civil rights; Jack liked the idea, but wasn’t going to rock the boat too much).  Lyndon was going to HAVE Civil Rights legislation, and with the help of Sam Rayburn in the House and many of his old Senate cronies including Everett Dirksen, a Republican, he was able to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 pushed through.  That changed the world.
  • Would Jack have prosecuted the Vietnam War?  It was his advisor, Robert McNamara, one of the “brain trust” guys, who pushed it.  Rumor has it that Kennedy had on his desk an order to withdraw the “advisors” from Vietnam when he left for Texas.  Vietnam tore this country apart (and we lost, that “Peace with Honor” shit is just that…shit).  It also reinforced the precedent of US military intervention in the affairs of other countries without a declaration of war by Congress.  This has led to all kinds of adventures:  Grenada, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Africa, and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.  “Afghanistan—where Empires go to die”.
  • Ike warned us of the “Military Industrial Complex”.  I can tell you that this is absolutely true.  The tail does wag the dog, and continues to do so.  Is the best offense a good defense?  Absolutely!  Do we need a strong military?  Damn right.  What the military-industrial complex does, though, is crafty:  all these little wars are test-runs for some new tech they want to try out in “real-time”.  Where I get bent is that they use the lives of our US Military Personnel as just one more pawn on the board---“so we waste a few, so what?”  Each and every Military life is of more value to me than all the military-industrial complex taken together.  You don’t waste their lives.  If we need to defend our country—that’s what they signed up for.  Test some new system in the jungle in Africa, killing a few grunts/soldiers along the way?  FUCK YOU, find some other way to test.
  • Jack Kennedy was no friend to the Military-Industrial complex, so how would that have turned out?

There have been, in my experience (and that of my parents), three events that changed the world forever.  Everyone then alive remembers exactly where they were, what they were doing, even what they were wearing.  It’s frozen in time; crystallized; preserved in amber for all their lives.  There was the time before—and the time after.  The world was noticeably, markedly different on either side of the event.  In fact, one only need refer to the dates:

  • December 7, 1941
  • November 22, 1963
  • September 11, 2001

Because my generation’s world was turned on its end while we were children/teenagers, it affected us all our lives.  Two cohorts—the “hippies” who were the first part of the Baby Boomers and the “Me” generation that was the second –my- half.  The hippies were in high school and college; they’re the ones who rioted and protested and otherwise acted out (and might not have, had Kennedy lived).  We kids were terrified by everything that went on—the Cuban Missile Crisis (we were literally told we might die—as 5 and 6 year olds—and what the missiles would sound/look like, and that if we never saw our parents again, this is what to do.  Heavy stuff for a kid, scarred us), then the THREE political assassinations of people who appeared to be “ours”, who spoke to “us”:  Jack Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  All great men, all talking the same basic talk, all mowed down.  Hmmmm.  Vietnam was a quagmire our government mired us in.  Hmmmm.  “You’re going to die in a bright flash of nuclear fire.”  Hmmmm. 

Those things shaped us as people.  As a result, many of my generation developed political views that directly or indirectly grew out of those events.  Because we were in charge, running the thing, from 1992 to 2008 (Obama is a leading-edge Gen-X’er), many of the decisions we made (look at the administrations of Clinton and Bush closely) derived directly from these experiences.  The consequences of these decisions will be felt for the rest of our lives.  Our generation has polarized (strict liberal and strict conservative; see Congress, US), and will remain so.  It will remain up to the younger generations to try to fix the damage we’ve caused.  We are who we are because of the times in which we were raised.

The world continues to resonate because this man was shot.

Rest in Peace, Jack.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Emotional Roller-Coaster Week

As I have said before in this blog, when I was a kid, we lived at various postings in Texas while Dad pursued his career (he would say, “made a living”) at various places in Texas.  We spent every bit of vacation possible in Malvern, Arkansas, Mother and Dad’s (and my) hometown. 

scan0166_edited-1While Grannie (Mother’s mother, who lived with us) spent her time over at her other daughter’s (2 blocks down the street), we stayed with Dad’s parents on Sullenberger.  Granny (Dad’s mother) had her house fixed “just-so”; she had (after 4 kids and the grinding poverty of the Great Depression) finally gotten nice stuff in a nice house.  She had “set-outs” everywhere (breakables) and antique furniture.

I’m sure kids rampaging (with muddy feet) through her pristine house gave her hives, and I’m sure she was glad when it was time for us to go so she could get back to normal.


But, in a never-varying routine, as we’d make final preparations and start loading ourselves into the car, she’d start crying.  She and Gramp would stand in the carport, on the steps, and she’d boo-hoo into a white linen handkerchief while we drove away, looking not unlike the Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath”, station wagon packed, kids, dogs, Grannie, etc.  I’m sure she cried on and off the rest of the day while she cleaned and tried to “re-set” her house.

I always thought it a bit silly; I mean, come on, we’ll be back shortly!  And we’ll be getting muddy and running through the house and playing the stereo too loud and getting called down—again--

But…she cried.


Matt came to see me for a week!  He had planned to stay longer, but it worked out that he needed to go home on Monday, so Monday morning, I drove him out to Bush Intercontinental Airport and put him on a plane.  We hugged several times in the airport, and he turned to get in the TSA line and I turned to walk out (old superstition:  never look back, and never watch them all the way out of sight). 

I bawled all the way to the car and all the way home.  The house was so empty when I got home; his smile and sunny presence lights up any room he’s in. 

So now I know how you felt, Granny.



Work has been rough this week, so there’s certainly that---welcome back to my stressy life. 


Finally, my dear friend Paul Williams “membered” me in a Baylor Gay Former Student organization on facebook.  I glanced through it; I’ll remain a member of it but I think I’ll hide the updates.  Reading through it brought back all the hurt and trauma I suffered as a student there.  Princeton’s Review listed it as the 12th most unfriendly college/university in the nation for gay individuals (right up there with University of Dallas (the private catholic institution), Texas A&M, and Auburn). 

Just this week, the student body President vetoed legislation that would make life easier for “homo-sexual” students (really?  REALLY?  It would break your fingers to type LGBT?), saying that “homo-sexual” students were basically in the same boat with child-molesters, rapists, and mentally-ill individuals. 

While I applaud the group’s goal of trying to get the university to demonize us a little less, I don’t really know why that’s a good idea.  Those people hate us.  Hate.  Us.  They’re not “Christians” in any sense of the word, at least not the way I thought Christians were supposed to behave.  Let them live in their own evil little land, spewing hate, and spend efforts instead to get gay students to consider going to college in a more open-minded atmosphere, where they can openly socialize (walking down the street holding hands at Baylor is a “Homo-sexual act”, punishable by expulsion; I’m sure they’d prefer “execution”).  Young gay people:  go to a school where you can meet other gay people, have friends, maybe meet a boyfriend or girlfriend!  Where you can have real dates, instead of furtive middle-of-the-night meetings for quick sex under the Chi Omega bridge, then dying of fear that someone might see you.

  Sigma Delta Phia

^^^Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside—You have no idea how miserable I was when this picture was made….  I had had a “date” 3 days before.  The “date” consisted of meeting this guy at Denny’s.  We couldn’t talk about anything a normal “date” conversation might cover, because someone in one of the surrounding booths might have heard and turned us in.  We both lived in dorms with roommates.  We wound up walking down the creek and, um, the rest of that story you can figure out.  Point is, we couldn’t have a normal “date” because, had we, say, held hands at Denny’s, that would have been presumption of homo-sexuality and we’d have been expelled—AND told how our souls were going to burn in hell….  And people wonder why I don’t believe this rot any more…. Meanwhile, all our little straight friends were doing the horizontal mambo any way they wanted, any time they wanted.  They’d have been cautioned, had fingers shaken at them, etc, IF caught IN THE ACT ITSELF.  Otherwise, perfectly ok for them to be all over each other in public….

If you’re gay at Baylor (or one of the other hate-filled Christian schools, or Texas redneck establishments like Texas A&M), TRANSFER.  That’s one of the two real regrets I have In my life; I wanted to transfer, decided people would think I was a “quitter”.  I should have done it.  If you discover you’re gay WHILE at Baylor et al, find another school.  Don’t waste a minute of your life on misery.


So what’s the point of this blog?  Emotional roller-coaster for me this week—love and sunshine with Matt (who’s going through some things himself, but generously shares his light, his laughter, and his smile with everyone he meets), pang at his departure, stress at work, then re-living all this Baylor crap. 

Not to mention the condition of the Arkansas football team (we’re going to have to give Bielema time to build his system), the Dallas Cowboys (no relief as long as Jerruh has Romo), and the Texans (what a bomb-out)


It’s not all bad.

Nathan called me yesterday.  He’s my adopted “son”.  We had a great conversation about not much, just visiting, but it made me feel soooo good to see his name on the caller-id.

I decided to go see Dad this weekend.  Dad is pushing 90.  If Matt’s visit gave me that much love (and for the prurient, there’s nothing going there other than friendship), and Nathan’s call picked me up so much, maybe mine do the same for Dad. 

So, ending on a high note.

Next blog will be some of the pictures Matt and I took while he was here.  He’s an enormously talented photographer; I loved his photos.  Next time, happy thoughts!