Friday, November 22, 2013
I was in Parkman Jr. High School in Woodland Hills, California. It was around 11:15, a Friday just like today. I was in science class half-asleep as usual. I started to hear people murmur in the hallways. I just caught fragments of their conversations, but phrases like “he’s been shot!” kept recurring. And there was urgency in their voices. At first I was confused. Was this a school incident they were talking about?
The teacher excused himself and went into the hall to find out what the commotion was all about. He re-entered a moment later clearly shaken. He held up his hands in anticipation of an uproar, assumed a calm demeanor, and told us that there were rumors (and he stressed the word rumors) that President Kennedy had been shot. I was beyond stunned. This seemed absolutely unfathomable to me.
He tried to resume his class lecture but like everyone in the room, was completely distracted. Somehow the characteristics of unicellular and multicellular life didn't seem that important right then. Eventually he just stopped and said let’s all sit tight and wait for reports.
A few minutes later someone came over the p.a. system to confirm that the president had been shot. At the time, no one knew his status.
The next period was lunch. They now piped in a radio broadcast over the p.a. system. We all sat at the lunch tables completely numb. The only sounds were some people sobbing.
When the announcement was made that Kennedy was dead there was a loud shriek and audible gasp. Now the floodgates opened and everyone was crying. I’m getting misty just writing this.
I seem to recall they cancelled the rest of the school day. I rode my bike home. It was odd to be out of school at 1:00 in the afternoon.
My mother was home when I arrived, glued to the TV. She too had been crying. For the next four days all anybody did was watch the television coverage. Did restaurants close? Did movie theaters close? I have no idea. Like most people, I never left the house.
In LA we had seven television channels. 2,4,and 7 were the networks and 5,9,11, and 13 were independents. All the independents just took the coverage from one of the networks. So everywhere you turned it was the same thing. Radio was either news coverage or somber music. As some readers reminded me, NFL games were played that weekend and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said in retrospect it was the worst decision he ever made. (Thanks to my readers for that update.)
We were pretty much a CBS family so watched Walter Cronkite anchor the coverage. He was uncharacteristically not wearing a jacket. I seem to recall Frank McGee shouldering most of the NBC load. I have no memory of ABC’s coverage. We never watched ABC news. From time to time I would switch around, hoping one of the other channels had an update. Needless to say, there were no commercials or promos.
It was four days of unrelenting sadness. Watching the same clips and hearing the same reports over and over. And then on Sunday, the insanity of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot and killed by Jack Ruby live on camera. This was almost surreal. You just couldn’t wrap your mind around these shocking events.
Monday morning was the funeral. And halfway through it I had had enough. I went to my room, closed the door, and started playing my 45 records. I just needed to hear music. I just needed relief. The songs sounded so good. “He’s a Rebel.” “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” “The Locomotion.” I felt a little guilty. Through my closed door I could still faintly hear the funeral broadcast in the other room. And here I was playing, “Surfin’ USA.”
School resumed the next day. Network shows began returning. KFWB went back to playing rock n’ roll although somewhat subdued for the first few days. We would all remain in a haze for several months, brought out of it by the Beatles in early ’64.
That’s my account? Where were you (if indeed there even was a “you” then)? Friday Questions will follow later in the day. Check back for them.
What I find interesting is that this year all the networks are making a big deal of the event because it’s the 50th anniversary. And on some other years it’s hardly mentioned at all. For those of us who lived through it, those events and that date is forever etched in our minds. We always remember. And always will.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM