It’s been 51 years years now. His memory is fading. Far more than half the population wasn’t even alive when he was shot in a hotel kitchen on an early June morning in 1968. He — and millions of other people in this holy land — thought he was on his way to becoming the President of the Untied States of America. He died a bit more than 25 hours later.
We’ve been fairly fucked up ever since.
I never miss a chance to mark the anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s death. He was one of three absolutely fascinating characters from the 1960s, people whom the Ancient Greek poets would have drooled to memorialize in verse and/or drama. They were Richard M. Nixon, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Bobby Kennedy. All three were extraordinarily complex, contradictory human beings. Each contained within himself the seeds of his own destruction. Each might well have been diagnosed as clinically…, well, um, disturbed.
Two of them did good because good was in their hearts. One them did good only because good was in the land at the time, and his approval of good programs was as inevitable as a tree bending in a strong wind.
Two of them shot themselves not just in the foot, but perhaps through the heart or even the head, some bodily locale that inevitably led to their own demise. Bobby was shot by a loon.
Not that he hadn’t tried to off himself — politically, at least; morally, too — time and again when he was a younger man.
The truth is for much of Bobby Kennedy’s life, he was a jerk. He was ridiculously combative, pathologically competitive, overly sensitive, clannish, retributive, suspicious, and downright mean. The hagiographies written about him, primarily Chris Mathews’ 2017 love letter to him, notwithstanding, his life until he was 38 years old was a melange of stubborn, vengeful, manipulative, self-aggrandizing single-mindedness.
Then his brother got his brains blown out and he blamed himself — at least somewhat. Bobby Kennedy suffered what laypeople would call a nervous breakdown after John F. Kennedy was killed. His mental and emotional anguish changed him, forged him, refined him, elevated him. He became a better man, a good man. He stepped outside himself and embraced others. He started seeing black and brown people, poor people, disenfranchised people, crushed people the world over, as no different than him. He devoted his life to speaking for them and hoping — praying — to better the lives of anybody and everybody whose life was shit.
Make no mistake, the world sentences tens of millions…, hell, hundreds of millions of people to a life of shit at any given date or time. That is the human condition. The mahatmas among us do what they can to halt the ocean waves of oppression and inequity. Bobby started doing what he could in 1964, when he began emerging from his coma of grief and near madness.
That’s why Bobby Kennedy is so fascinating. He grew, psychologically and as a soul, in those four short years before he was rubbed out.
His story is a triumph.
Making America Grate
The Loved One and I took the hounds to the lake, as usual, the other day. Tuesday, I think it was. It was a gorgeous early evening, the setting sun bathing Paynetown in a golden light. The geese pecked and honked. The turkey vultures swooped and reconnoitered. A deer stopped in her tracks and watched us, warily. The clouds were high, light brush strokes. The lake rippled by a breeze.
It was, in short, a perfect moment.
A couple of guys pulled their motorboat out of the water at the ramp. They wiped it down and fastened the protective tarp over it. The they pulled away, toward the park exit road. They stopped unexpectedly a couple of hundred yards away from me and Steve the Dog. The Loved One and Sally the Dog were off, farther east, near a stand of trees.
The men were in a big white pickup truck. The guy on the passenger side opened his door and poured out the contents of what looked to be a couple of cans, beer most likely. As he closed his door, I could hear him and his pal laughing. The pickup began to move again. I turned my attention back to Steve who’d started sniffing and then trying to eat a small bird’s egg on the ground. After the pickup had gone a few feet, I heard the clatter of a couple of cans on the pavement. The truck moved along, the men’s laughter growing dimmer as it got farther away.
The Loved One verified what I’d heard. “They threw their cans out on the ground!” she said, seething. I looked closely again at the spot where the pickup had stopped for a moment and sure enough, there were cans on the ground.
To this moment, I can’t fathom what would go through the minds of a couple of guys who’d simply throw their crap out of their vehicle in a glorious spot of nature like Paynetown. Well, anywhere for that matter — a city street or a parking lot. What in the goddamned hell is a man thinking when he tosses garbage out of his car?
A detail: The man on the passenger side, I’d noticed when the two were fussing over the boat after taking it out of the water, was wearing those big baggy American flag shorts. He wasn’t wearing them ironically, I sensed, or because their was nothing else clean for him to wear that day. He wore them because he wanted the world to know he was an American and proud of it.
To him, clearly, being an American means he can do whatever in the hell he wants. Freedom, baby! America’s great and who the fuck are you to tell me what to do with my beer cans?
I guarantee he took no note of the high, brush stroke clouds, the swooping turkey vultures, or the pecking honking geese. The man’s soul is dead.
And for a brief, unapologetic moment, I wished he was too.
Today’s Big Talk is Part 2 of my interview with Phil Proctor and David Ossman, “What’s Left of the Firesign Theater.” Tune in later this afternoon at 5:30, immediately following the Daily Local News on WFHB, 91.3 FM. If you miss it, I’ll post the podcast link here tomorrow AM.
Here, BTW, is the podcast of last week’s Part 1 show with the two. And here’s the podcast of Sunday’s Firehouse Follies, “Fireheads & Tales,” featuring Proctor and Ossman, as well as sitcom veteran Gary Sandy, musician/actor Amy Walker, guitarist extraordinaire Jason Fickle, the Gospel Girlz, and scads of other funny, crooning, warbling, belting, joke-cracking performers.