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Throwback Thursday: Assassinations of the ‘60s

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Assassinations of the ‘60s, MLK, JFK, RFK

The Child is the Father of Man

Legislated hate. We’re taught by our elders early on to hate. Hate those that look different than us, hate those who have different ideas than us—that they are foes, enemies. From our earliest remembered experiences, we pick up things that resemble guns or missiles or bombs, then we play it out in make-believe, turning the make-believe into belief when we reach adulthood. Hate is stronger than love only in the various arts of war, but it seems we’re always caught up in that violent state of affairs. You think we’d get smarter as we age. But we don’t. The Child is the Father of Man.

The Ambassador

On June 5, 1968, almost two months to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, Robert F. Kennedy was senselessly gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by a Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan. 1968 was turning out to be a brutal, violent year. I remember thinking, who’s next? Another Ambassador of goodwill felled, a man for all the people—caring, empathetic, dead.

Breakdown

I heard the news of his death while I found myself stranded in Kansas. Out in the hinterlands, away from the boom-boom static of Denver. It was around 11:30 at night, hot and muggy, when my truck broke down on I-70 a mile outside the town of Hays in Western Kansas. I grabbed my pack, made sure my stash was tucked away in the secret pocket inside one of the flaps. I got out and started walking toward the exit and the flickering lights of what I perceived was a massive Holiday Inn shining like a crazy diamond in the night. The darkness closed in around me as I moved though its muddy arms smelling of steaming manure and ripening hay. I was a dead man walking, been driving straight for 12 hours. The pack felt like it had boulders stuffed inside. There weren’t many cars on the road, only huge flying insects the size of B-52s buzzing in the night heat, occasionally slamming into the side of my face. I wasn’t looking behind me, my thumb turned out in an up-side down, half-assed manner. How I thought someone would see me in the dark, I didn’t know.

My Lucky Stars

It seemed the more I walked toward the distant lights, the further the exit became. I was so tired I must have been hallucinating. I made it about a half mile down the road and was ready to throw my pack down, sit on it and take a breather when I heard a car pulling over behind me, the crunch of bits of gravel under the tires. I turned. A bright searchlight affixed to the side of the windshield went on and shone on me. I put one hand up to block the shine. My heart fell to my feet. It was a cop in a big white Ford cruiser. He got out and, after a few perfunctory questions, told me to get in. I had no other choice and climbed into the passenger seat. Put my pack on my lap and hugged it, hoping he wouldn’t smell the pot. But the car smelled of cigars.

In those days, there wasn’t a bank of electronics on the console, no laptop with instant information. No, just a CB-type of radio with a mic hanging from the side. He was a tall, thin man, not what I associated the typical looking cop looking like; not piggish, but strangely professorial. That your truck back there? He asked. I told him yes. Said, I didn’t know what was wrong with it, it just ground to a halt. I was nervous. Could feel the cold sweat running down the inside of my shirt. If he’d been a dog he would have smelled the sweat of my fear, smelled the pot in my pack. You going to the Holiday Inn? He asked. I nodded. He told me of a good garage in town. Call them in the morning, tell them I sent you. I’m Ed Begley, they know me. They’ll get on it right away. I thanked him, but didn’t dare relax. He dropped me off at the front door of the motel, saluted, then went his way. He could have easily frisked me, found my stash and run me in, but he didn’t. Even though I had hair down to my shoulders and looked and smelled like a grub ready to bury myself into a nice slab of cow dung. Don’t know why. Maybe he had a pothead son just like me. I thanked my lucky stars and got a room for the night, which turned out to be my refuge for the next three days.

The Living Grays of Death

That night I settled into my room, freezing with the air conditioning turned up high, antiseptic and country-kitsch. I threw my pack on the bed, found my stash, rolled a joint and sat on the edge of the bed. Got up, opened the window, sat back down again. I lit up and took a drag, let it out, took another, started feeling the effects, relaxed in a dozy sort of way. I leaned over and turned on the magic lantern. And there it was. Like the images had stepped though the screen and started shaking me. Ghosts of the past and ghosts of the present, all rendered in horrific overtones of black and white. Or, at least, it seemed that way to me, because the broadcast was presented in the living grays of death.

Pandemonium

RFK was lying supine and slightly twisted on the floor. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—could barely see him, so many people were swarming around his body. The camera fixed on him, the shouts, the scraping of feet, mics banging, pandemonium reigning once again, one too many times this decade, and that wasn’t counting all the death and destruction of Vietnam, the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, the White Supremist Movement, the police and the National Guard. All of us seemed locked in a violent battle.

Highjacked by Violence

When you can’t live with an idea espoused by someone else and the only way you can deal with it is to take that person’s life, or you resort to violence to achieve your own ends, then you effectively forfeit your own life. It is no longer worth the breaths you are lucky to take. You’ve descended into the terror and the agony of the way. Ideas highjacked by violence. I think about the Beatles song “Revolution” and some of the lyrics that have stuck with me:

But if you want money for people with minds that hate

All I can tell is brother you have to wait

Don’t you know its gonna to be

All right…

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

Militarism, it’s what makes Amerika go. Legislated hate is a part of the fabric of the good ol’ USA. Get a gun, shoot a gun—go ahead, aim it at another. Go ahead, have another helping of hate, it’s good for you. Goes down easily. The free love movement of the ‘60s tried to take hold and overcome the violence—it was thrust into the heart of hate, trying to unravel it. But we live in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Amerika will have none of that, thank you very much. Make Amerika great again. Put a daisy in a gun barrel.

I am still struck by these flickering images of the mayhem on TV that night. Bobby Kennedy lying supine on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel, a bus boy kneeling helplessly over him, Kennedy’s eyes staring up at us, dazed, questioning. Then, I juxtapose the image of RFK speaking in Indianapolis two months earlier about MLK’s death—just a few hours after MLK had been murdered in Memphis—with the images of MLK standing proud and tall, speaking to us in the Denver Auditorium.

I lived through those events. They were connected like a spider web of entanglement of the ‘60s, connected by the thread of violence, sprinkled with love. Yes, the ‘60s, the flowering of love and the explosion of violence. Only a fine line divides them, love and hate, both melting into the other and back out again, over and over. The world turning. The Yin Yang.

Up Next: The Democratic National Convention, 1968

 

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