I saw the Zapruder film for the first time in 1993 when I was 8 years old. My grandfather built computers that went to the moon and he was the first person I knew who had a CD-ROM drive. And on one of those CDs was a copy of the Zapruder film. He had the internet before everyone else, but this was when CD-ROMs were the Holycrons of all knowledge. Between all the discs Grandpa had at that time, the only video files were clips from classic movies and grainy 8mm footage of the President getting his head blown off. So I watched the climax of Our Man Godfrey and the Zapruder film over and over again.
I had played so much Doom that JFK was just another guy getting blown away on the computer screen. The Kennedy assassassination wasn’t something I lived through, it wasn’t even something I saw on TV. It was something stored on a CD.
In school the books said Oswald shot him. On TV it sounded like there was a conspiracy. The Men Who Killed Kennedy runs amok on cable. The narrator has a British accent so everything in it must be true. There’s a deaf guy who says he saw a second shooter but no one believed him. I do. Beverly Oliver sings the national anthem in front of the camera. I have no idea that twenty years later she would block me on something called Facebook for telling her John McCain is not a communist.
The X-Files says it was the Cigarette Smoking man, that ubiquitous everyman of the men in black with the slightly-veiled Vancouver drawl, crouched in the storm drain below Dealey. Quantum Leap cries it’s Oswald, as Bakula barrels back in time to that fateful Friday after the rain cleared and the bubble top popped off. Red Dwarf’s hot take is that Jack Kennedy used a time machine and killed himself.
Teachers didn’t say much about the Kennedy assassination in school. It was like they knew the jury was still out on the thing and didn’t want to be wrong when the beans finally got spilled. But we waited and waited and nothing shook loose. So the ideas got crazier and crazier until it was some twisted game of Clue. Who killed Kennedy? It was Castro in the drawing room with an exploding cigar. The CIA in the foyer with a heart attack gun. The Mob in the garage with a pair of pliers and Marilyn Monroe’s medicine cabinet.
Late in the 20th century Oliver Stone’s two-tape masterpiece JFK ends up in my VCR and the case is closed. The President was murdered by a squad of gay dudes from New Orleans on the CIA payroll. It was like Unsolved Mysteries on steroids. It was so gripping it had to be true. Years later I would be able to identify shot-by-shot what was actual archival footage and what was Stone’s, but at that time it was so well-stitched together that the seams were invisible.
Like most teenagers, I was a negatron, a contrarian. Anything accepted by society was unacceptable to me. My parents were kids when Kennedy was clipped, true orphans of Camelot. My mom told me that the day he was murdered it was like her own father died (I always wondered how my grandfather felt about that bullshit). The prevailing opinion was that Kennedy was a great man and a great President, taken before his time. Things would have been different if he hadn’t been killed. The nation lost its innocence. Blah blah blah, as if the people who nuked Hiroshoma were innocent.
By this point it was accepted as common knowledge that Kennedy was a legendary skirt-chaser, but this was the Clinton era, a time where I heard my own grandmother whisper in hushed tones “what’s the big deal? It was just a blow job.” Back then, liberals were the tireless defenders of sexual predators and pathological pussyhounds. And the country had become so Reaganized that Kennedy did seem liberal compared to every President since, including that non-inhaling, saxophone playing, dont-ask-dont-telling redneck fatass with the wife who hated him. In Irish pubs JFK’s picture hung next to Jesus. In history classes his picture hung next to Martin Luther King.
America still loved John Kennedy. My hot take was therefore thus: “Fuck Kennedy. He was an asshole. He was a bad President and a worse husband. The only reason people like him is because he’s dead.” The assassination doesn’t mean anything to me because I don’t understand how much Kennedy meant to so many people. I’ve never loved a politician as much as people loved JFK. Then Barack Obama told me yes I could. He told me to have hope. He told me things would change.
I knew Barack Obama would be President the night he lost the New Hampshire primary, waving wistfully to Signed, Sealed, Delivered as the eyes of the world narrowed on this one man. I felt a feeling I’d never had before. My parents said it was how they felt about JFK. Panic struck. I hear the immortal words of Bill Hicks.
Only the good die young.
If I feel the same way about Obama that my mom felt about JFK then someone out there feels the same way about Obama that Lee Harvey Oswald felt about JFK.
I see Bobby Kennedy wading through an ocean of love until the water is poisoned by blood.
Jesse Jackson points to the sky in anguish.
“Where’d that kid learn to shoot, the Russian Army?”
Ronald Reagan: wounded.
Obama is good. He is young. He will die. I must learn everything there is to know about who killed JFK and why. I must be prepared for those dark forces to strike again. I must know their faces.Detouring to the dearly departed Logos books enroute to my pool boy shift at the Dream Inn, I b-line for history, and chance upon a battered, blue tome entitled High Treason by Robert Groden. The sun spills into the sea when I arrive at the pool deck with Groden’s book. I kick my feet up on the edge of the cabana hutch and crack open the book. A few paragraphs in, my eyes widen in disbelief. Normal citizens had yet to be exposed to an endless slog of conspiracy theories on a daily basis. I hadn’t yet trained myself to question everything I heard and read. But by the time the sun had set over the Pacific and the book was closed I would never truly believe anything ever again.
To be continued in Orphans of Camelot by Lee Sanger Goldin, coming 2023