Archive for January, 2009

NOT THAT YOU, OR ANYONE ELSE, ASKED FOR MY REFLECTIONS ON CERTAIN EVENTS OF JANUARY 20, BUT I THINK I SPEAK FOR THOSE OF ALL POLITICAL PERSUASIONS WHEN I DESCRIBE IT AS

January 22, 2009

 

 

Quite a day.  

Personally, I thought Aretha took it a bit over the top with My Country Tis Of Thee, but Gloria will have none of that; she loved it.  We both liked the speech, in differing specifics and to different degrees; I felt that it was pretty bare knuckle stuff, short on soaring oratory, long on Here’s the deal, folks.  

Maybe he was right on the money–God knows he has been so far–and honesty…best policy…jaw jaw jaw.  But right now, soaring anything would be such a lift from the engulfing theme of declining everything…who knows, maybe sweeping optimism is just what the body politic needs.  I’d be the last to know.   

And speaking of me, a subject I’ll evidently never learn to just steer clear of, the other day I was remarking to the lovely woman who deeply regrets certain wedding vows which we exchanged, that back when I was 16, there were a number of things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, among which were: (1) a president being assassinated; (2)  a president resigning; (3) a president being impeached; (4) a black president; (5) a president with a lower IQ than Shecky, my Irish Setter.  

Okay, I’m playing somewhat fast and loose with the truth here, having never owned an Irish Setter.  And as my dear wife points out, at age 16, my speculations on the future rarely extended beyond the next party.  

Still and all, this has been an amazing run of odds-defying bits of history.  And in one lifetime, the extent of which, if those public service campaigns against excessive drinking and smoking had any legitimacy, would have ended years ago. 

All I’m saying is, numbers (2) and (4) are one-time-only occurrences, and (3) just twice in 200-plus years.  And yet, in a span of just 45 years–almost no time at all, when you get to be my age–pow pow pow pow, all of these extraordinarily unlikely events actually take place.

And I’m not even counting B-grade actor winds up serving two terms, or diabolically evil vice-president actually runs the country.

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January 11, 2009

THE BALLAD OF ME AND STEVE SKELTON AND BOB WILKERSON AND JOHN F. KENNEDY AND LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON AND, OH, I’M GUESSING SOME 80,000 PEOPLE IN THE STANDS.  AND EVERY WORD TRUE.  HONEST.

I have almost never written about events or occurences from my own past, and even then, only for money.  But I think about this particular memory every four years–and for reasons obvious and otherwise, the imminent inauguration of Pres. Obama has somehow cast it in stark relief–so I might as well finally write about it.  The “it” is one of the sweetest resume entries on my Life Experiences list.  I’m reminded of it by various things that I see regarding the security provided to presidential candidates and elects, and the way this enveloping atmosphere of safety being ensured to the citizenry increasingly feels like amber, with each of us the insect suspended, in perpetuity,within.  

Anyway, here’s the anecdote.  It’s a lengthy one, so settle in.  It occurred in the summer of 1960.  I was in high school, but, of course, not in July.  Or August.  I truly can’t remember which month it was, although it’s right there if you want to Google it.  In any case, it was the month of the Democratic National Convention, which was being held in Los Angeles, a scant 20 miles from where I lived, a proximity too inviting to resist.  

And so, I and two high school friends, Steve Skelton and Bob Wilkerson, had enjoyed some sport by driving downtown and hitting the hotel that was the absolute ground zero of the political combat zone, the Ambassador, picking up all kinds of esoteric and colorful campaign paraphernalia–I still recall in detail my treasured Symington For President poster–in the imbecilic hope that it would someday qualify as historical, or at least interesting.  

And a few days later, came the night of the nominating balloting.  It was a fairly foregone conclusion that Kennedy was the one (we were all Stevenson stiffnecks, for what it’s worth), so, with nothing better to do on a balmy summer night, we went into L.A. to crash the convention.   Which one of us did, in fact, do.  While you’re guessing: onward.  The convention was held in the L.A. Sports Arena, then home of the Lakers, and now, I believe, having been demolished.  To imagine the general entryway, envision a half-bowl, sunk into the earth, the bottom of which being the entry level.  In this case, you walked down a sloping central concrete path to the lower level of entry doors, the path being surrounded on both sides by upsloping ivy.  

There were a couple of doorshakers–LAPD slang for rent-a-cops–manning the credentials tables at the bottom of the sloping path.  That was it.  Remember, this was 1960.  Nobody had killed a president since the 19th century, to say nothing of someone as inconsequential as a presidential candidate.  Security?  That was just to keep out the riffraff and socialists. 

I don’t recall what Wilkerson did, but Steve and I, having been rejected for entry by the guards on the upper (ground) level, each went out to the far side of the ivy-covered areas, where it was nice and dark, and snuck on down to the Entry level, he on one end, me on the other.  Somehow, he got nailed, and was sent back up the incline to the Outer Limits to languish with Wilkerson.  

Somehow, on the other hand, nobody noticed me, and I got down to the lower Entrance level, still outdoors.  

There was a broad expanse of doors there, all closed and unopenable from the outside, of course, but none of them guarded.  Again, this was during the Age of Innocence.  There were a handful of other people there, outside the entry doors, politicking and variously defiling the democratic process, so I was not harshly conspicuous, but still, I was a fucking teenager for Godsake, in an area and at an event where there were no teenagers…and yet there I was, and was allowed to be.  Amazes me still. 

It was only a matter of brief waiting until somebody came out of the Arena, left the door swung sufficiently wide open, and I was in.  Again, remember: no guards.  Years away from that happening.  And once inside, it was just a matter of finding the inevitable door left ajar or blocked to remain open–it was a warm midsummer L.A. night, after all–for me to slip into the main hall and there, to my great glory–and to this day to my bafflement as to why I bothered or succeeded–to watch the Democratic Party nominate John F. Kennedy to seek the presidency.  

I remember that there was a circular outer walkway around the upper edge of the Arena seating, and there were heavy curtains between the walkway and the seats, don’t ask me why, and I slipped through a crack therein and sat way up, just behind the Missouri delegation and got to watch while John Fitzgerald Kennedy was nominated for the presidency of the United States.  Even now, in my dotage, I wonder who the Missouri people pissed off so badly that they wound up in, essentially, the walk-in seats.

Thus ends chapter one of my 1960 Democratic Convention Adventure.  

Comes now chapter two.  

 

A couple of days later, JFK was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech in the L.A. Coliseum.  (Historical note, and no I am not cribbing David Foster Wallace:  Up until he won the election, Kennedy was known in all newspaper headlines, space being at a premium, as Jack.  Only after he won the presidency did he ask the press corps–who idolized him as their notion of the president THEYwould be, if thus empowered–to refer to him in headlines as JFK, ala the iconic Dem FDR.  Just in case you’re actually reading this.)   

Anyway, one or two days later, I forget which, JFK was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech in the L.A. Coliseum.  Now–the Dodgers were still playing there back then, and the father of the family that lived behind us, the Wilkersons (there’s that name again), had spawned four (4) sons, and thus had to hold down two (2) jobs in order to make the nut.  

His moonlight gig was working in one of the Coliseum concession stands, on the street level more or less behind where first base would be.  The Dodgers had moved into this venue in 1958 and Bob and other Wilkersons and I had, on many many many occasions, gone to the park several hours before game time with Dad Clete, who walked us in long before any gatewatchers had arrived for work.  We had, over the seasons, become quite familiar with the place, and even some of the players.  My point is, I was thoroughly familiar with and comfortable meandering around the most iconic sports facility in the West at the time.  

On this particular (inaugural acceptance speech) day, a highschool buddy of mine, Jim Roos, whose father was the undersheriff of L.A. County and who was a certifiable borderline sociopath, went to the Coliseum several hours before the scheduled speech.  The entry gates were, of course, wide open, and there was absolutely nobody on the premises three hours ahead of time.  Kennedy was a political rock star at the time, and I have no explanation for this.  

Anyway, Jim and I went and sat in the stands behind the Dodgers dugout for awhile.  Then we grew tired of that, as it offered absolutely no challenge, given that, I swear, we were the only two human beings in the entire Coliseum.  As late as an hour pre-speech, there were still almost no bodies in the stands.  And no–repeat no–signs of anyone you would call Security.  

So we wandered down to the actual field itself and took up new seats.  In the Dodgers dugout.  Well, hell, there were no Dodgers there.  

About the time we did that, the citizenry began filling the seats, and by the time the Big Show was scheduled to take place, there was a crowd worthy of, say, a USC-Washington State game–not there in force to witness anything momentous, but attending out of a sense of loyalty.  

And then finally, here came the nominees, out through the same entryway that the players emerged from the locker rooms.  No advance honor guard, not flanked by guys in Ray-Bans and sharkskin suits, just  two open air limos with the marquee names perched therein.  In the first car, seated up on the back like the Rose Parade Queen in a convertible coming down Colorado Boulevard, was Jack Kennedy, and without even giving it a thought, Roos and I bolted out of the Dodgers dugout and over to the car and thrust out our hands to shake with the Dem nominee.  

I was struck by this at the time and still am:  he pulled back momentarily, startled, even apprehensive, not at all comfortable with this unexpected intrusion, but shook our hands…more or less.  A brief, tentative grasp, was all, really; more an acknowledgment than a greeting.  Just enough to cover his obligation to us as candidates-vis-a-vis-voter.  You have felt the touch.  

And then came the next convertible, with LBJ (just Johnson, or Lyndon, or whatsisname at that point), who was not only NOT startled or taken aback, but grabbed our hands with a kind of What The Hell Took You So Look To Get Here impatient enthusiasm and shook the very beejesus out of them.  

And then we went back to the dugout and sat down and listened to JFK’s acceptance speech, of which I have not a scintilla of memory, and why would I?  I do wonder how it was possible that nobody else showed up nearly as early as we did, or came down to the Coliseum field level (there being absolutely nobody there to stop them), or, most starkly, why nobody else ran out to shake the hand of two men they admired and even adored enough to drive from all over Hell to listen to and watch on this historic occasion.  But that’s how it went down.  

What captivates the mind, I hope, is the staggering evolution in campaign security, from None Whatsoever for any candidate in 1960–allowing even a punk highschool kid to totally infiltrate the sanctorum–to God Only Knows What combination of credentials, persuasiveness, luck and connections would be required to get within 50 yards of He Who Will Now Lead Us in the year 2009.  And in this case He Will Do said Leading with my enthusiastic, even giddy support.  But still.  I miss the days of almost no security worth the name.  But not nearly as much as I miss the days of no security worth the name being needed.