Eighty days after Bobby Kennedy kissed me he was killed. I don’t know why it happened — either the kiss, or the killing. Each time, he was caught up in the joy of the moment. Both times, he got whisked away.
As happenstance had it, Kennedy was frolicking with friends in the back seat of an inconspicuous car crawling down Fifth Avenue when he spotted me — a young, vibrant, redheaded Breck-replica in a Kelly green, worsted wool coat, weaving through revelers lining Fifth Avenue for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
I was pugnacious. The flock in front of the 666 building was so sardined, it turned my two-minute sprint to the Primeburger into a twenty-minute tussle.
Hearing the crowds crescendo as a car of paraders slowed to a stop behind me, I poised myself to push through an advancing pocket of people.
Suddenly, someone grabbed my elbow and pivoted me into his arms, gently tilting my chin upwards before planting a quick kiss. His thicket of hair reflected like flax in the midday sun veiling two hazel, sleep stripped eyes conferring a dilatory blink – not unlike that of a tomcat purring thanks.
Then, just as instantaneously, he was hustled back to his locus in that long procession trekking towards his untoward future.
“You’re never going to guess what happened to me,” I nudged my friend, Marion, during the elevator ride up to our offices at Fuller & Smith & Ross the next morning. “Bobby Kennedy kissed me.”
“Ohmigod, you gotta be kidding!” Marion gasped. “What’d’ya do?”
“Do? What could I do? I was stunned. That’s all.”
“Did anyone see?”
“Well, yes. I guess. How could they not?”
“I mean, anyone here. Because it might not set well. Him being in the running now and all.”
That hadn’t occurred to me. “It was just a kiss,” I dismissed.
“Yeah,” Marion nodded. “But Bobby Kennedy for cripes sake. Who gets kissed by a Kennedy?”
“Who doesn’t?” I scoffed.
Fuller & Smith & Ross is an advertising agency footnoted in history. As Manager of Purchasing & In-House Printing I’d been privy to a confidential meeting detailing departmental procedures for handling the 21 million dollar account we’d secured two months earlier. My first assignment was to have business cards engraved for our new client. The inscription: Richard Nixon, 577 Chestnut Ridge Road, Wood Cliff Lake, New Jersey 07675.
Upon completion and delivery to his Park Avenue address, Nixon graciously sent me an autographed card. Seeing his inked signature on that ivory colored Bristol board proved pretty heady stuff to me — a small town transplant and political novitiate.
I was young, eager, and altruistic back then; a cookie cutter copy of that last generation of Americans who hadn’t a true clue as to what went on inside our nation’s governing bodies or outside our autonomous lives.
So, while I excelled at my job of vetting vendors, overseeing offset runs, getting offices decorated, equipment updated, carpets cleaned, prototypes printed, supplies stocked, and locks on doors changed whenever a colleague left — it wasn’t until I was entrusted with the billing of telephone lines linked to a network of chameleon operatives that I started to sink with the sinking-in.
“Cause and effect, people,” was the daily drill. “Never has so much money been amassed to elect a candidate. Our targeted buyouts of principal advertising airtime will efficaciously shut the Democrats out. Cause and effect.”
Try to remember, or imagine: In 1968, PBS was still in the proposal stage, there were just three major networks, prime time was essentially over by 10 p.m., a 30 second spot in the top rated markets cost about ten grand, and a million dollars was an unimaginable sum to most. But 21 million? That was whew!
By day, Nixon commandeered Town Hall meetings answering random questions in primary states while being filmed at three angles — front, back, and side. By night, our media technicians removed audio from side and back-shot tapes, replacing it with Nixon voiceovers of perfected responses. These were the videos offered to the media for viewing and airing. This was the foundation for creating many of the 15, 30, 45 and 60-second spots and news feeds.
Apparently, audience participants were so elated at seeing themselves on television that they failed to notice Nixon’s edited answers. At least, I heard no rumors of suspicion outside the office. I saw no evidence of complaint.
But within our ranks, long hours involving similar scenarios (and the disillusionment such capers caused) was taking its toll.
Perhaps that’s why Kennedy’s assassination registered as an amplified aghast to us. Because, by the time he announced his candidacy, we’d already been entrenched in a predetermined campaign victory for 10 weeks, believing everyone working on the inside of both political parties concurred from the get-go. Our jobs seemed only a matter of proper execution.
Sure, Bobby Kennedy added glamour and excitement to the illusion being painted for an impressionable public. Sensational headlines and endless editorials promised he could change things. And would.
But factuality was, by the time Kennedy won the California primary, every projection we’d been made privy to in January had confirmed itself by June. Ad copy, speeches, rebuttals, and press releases were written and delivered verbatim, leading a nation of primary voters to the polls and persuading them to push the Republican button. We knew if the Democrats had been wealthier in ’68, only the names would have changed to protect the process.
THE ABOVE EXCERPT IS FROM:
Seriously, Mom, you didn’t know?
by Marguerite Quantaine © Copyright 2019
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Did you have a brush with history that remains vivid in your memory? What are your feelings about the assassination of Robert Kennedy?
Please share your thoughts, here, by selecting REPLY. I’m all eyes and heart.
(This freshly edited, updated essay was first published in The Antiquarian Magazine © 1985, More © 1995, and in Venus Magazine © 2011 by Marguerite Quantaine © 1985, 1995, 2011 & 2013.)
Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
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Such wonderful life experiences!
Bittersweet, Mercedes, but yes.
I so enjoyed reading about your memories and thank you, sincerely, for including them with mine. Our generation is the last witness to this history. Seems surreal how that could be, yes?
okay, Marguerite, here I go..I promised I’d tell this story.
Forty five years ago and some days, I was in Denver, CO. at a friend’s house, celebrating Bobby’s victory and my birthday (6/6/68). We were part of the “advance team” and on our way to Chicago in an old VW bus, loaded with paper flyers for Kennedy. I saw a hand come over a back gate, grasping for the lock, and a shocked friend came into the little garden, yelling, “They shot him”…remember this was long before cell phones and the internet…. All eight of us froze…until someone jumped for the house phone and called the only number we had. No one answered. Finally, one of us thought to turn on the TV and to this day, I can’t remember if they said he was dead. All I remember is grabbing my 13 month old daughter and running upstairs to pack. And crying, lots of crying. We spent the rest of the day, driving across Kansas, all of us in tears, still headed for Chicago because we couldn’t reach anyone and had to rely on the spotty radio in that old bus. That is how we found out that he was dead. That awful radio in that awful bus. Spent the night in Lawrence, KS, with more friends, watching the television coverage of his murder. After JFK, I never thought I’d live through anything worse, and then King, and finally, Bobby. All I could think of was what he had said that rainy night, announcing MLK’s death…the “drop by drop” speech by Aesculus…awful stuff, those years
The conversations were terrible those years. Felt as if we’d lost our country, but all these years later, I look at the current Congress and feel as if we knew nothing then. And how the ghosts of Jack, Bobby and Martin have to be haunting all of us.
Great essay – and what an amazing piece of fiction it would make – but, I show my bias for fiction here
As is so often the case, Sally, the truth is stranger than fiction. And I must admit, it once behooved me to understand why anyone would write anything but non-fiction since the stories of people’s true lives are both endless and endlessly entertaining. But I’ve come to the realization that, in order to make things believable, we must fabricate. That, in itself, is strange, but true.
Isn’t it ever odd how time and events attach and entangle us Michelle? I have a ticket to Lyndon B. Johnson speaking at the University of Michigan circa 1965ish. (I think I must still have the ticket because I don’t recall attending or why I was awarded the ticket.) Truth be told, I remained a registered Republican-voting-as-an-Independent until 1994ish. Then a registered Independent. Finally a Hillary Democrat.
What an experience Marguerite! As usual, your incredible style of storytelling draws us into the scene. I could picture everything vividly.
My two Moms & Dad were very involved in politics & Democratic Party. My first Mom & Dad met at a fundraising event. My second Mom was a Johnson girl. She & my father were at a fundraising dinner event when they received a call to meet me at a hospital. I was in Girl Scout camp and got stung by a couple of bees. Since I’m allergic to them, I had to go to the hospital. We were deeply affected by his assassination and I felt bad they didn’t get to hear him speak the night of the dinner.
How special he picked you out of everyone on the street to plant a kiss and seed in your heart.
I neglectful to say initially that Robert Kennedy was at the dinner event.
You know, Jen, I hadn’t figured on this as being ancient (and to some extent, unknown) history when I wrote the piece, nor that our esteem for political figures had deteriorated to such an extent that we’d become immune to what once was. So, I guess the maxim is true: You live and learn. (The key word there being – live.)
It can’t be “ancient” if happened *just* before I was born (haha!); Nixon was still president by then. And no, I don’t think you caused Kennedy to be on time for his assassination. Being a Kennedy, he’d have probably stopped to kiss some other young beauty if you’d had other plans that day.
Wow. This is such a great story. Since RFK’s assassination happened before I was born, I don’t feel that personal connection with him as an historical figure. It’s sad, though, because I wonder how much more good he could’ve done for the country had he lived to run for President.
I’ve met lots of local politicians (including the infamous Anthony Weiner) but none of them tried to kiss me (or show me their junk). 😉
What a gifted writer you are Marguerite ! Thanks for sharing this incredible memory .
The world is watching us and you are proof of that my friend. I’m glad for that.
“Eighty days after Bobby Kennedy kissed me he was killed. I don’t know why it happened — either the kiss, or the killing. Each time, he was caught up in the joy of the moment. Both times, he got whisked away.”
… amazing! Your words draw me in and I feel what you write and see what you see. I’m in awe of your talent. Thank you for sharing. I always look forward to your posts.
Readers like you make writers like me value readers like you, encouraging us to strive hard and long in order to not disappoint. Thanks for that. It means a lot.
Marguerite, as an avid follower of anything to do with the Kennedy clan, I found this so interesting. How lucky you are that you were actually kissed by Bobby Kennedy! I would have settled for a hand shake or a pat on the back! I can remember where I was when both JFK and Bobby were killed – I was devastated at the time. My mother was still alive when JFK was assassinated and I remember hearing a choked sob escape her lips as she tried so hard not to show any feelings for a ‘news broadcast’ from USA in front of my father who despised all things American. Later, my mother and I hugged in the garden and she tried to comfort me by saying ‘it was meant to be and we will all find out the reasons one day’….no comfort at all really. Thanks for the story of your encounter with Bobby which created a wonderful memory for you…no doubt it WAS meant to be!! Hugs. Jo. xx
My father hated the Kennedys, too, with a passion I never understood. Maybe it was because I was born in the town where the Republican Party was founded. I grew up three blocks from where their first convention was held. Being Republican in my hometown was a birthright. Registering Republican was a right of passage.
When JFK was assassinated, I was a senior in high school. Televisions were rolled into classrooms for students to witness what was happening while it happened. I remember feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me and thought I would have to hide my feelings because people would be celebrating his death.
But no one did. Not in my presence anyhow.
Your enjoyment is truly my pleasure, Kieran. What more could a writer hope for than that? Thanks.
Definitely history, Marguerite. I really enjoy how you open up a corner in your heart and allow us, the reader, to glance in. Your blogs do that so powerfully. Thanks for sharing, my dear friend.
Thanks Layce. I appreciate your enthusiasm. But since it’s true, for now it will remain an essay. I do reserve the right to borrow bits of it for inclusion in my novel however. That could happen. (Maybe even has.)
You know this is a short story, right? This is a fabulous short story that you should submit somewhere. Soon.
Oh, I just saw it was already published. But you could flesh it out some more, fictionalize some and voila! new short story.
Love that you’ve come to my rescue Mary Anne. Thanks for that. But, truly, my friend meant no harm. She was wonderful woman, mentor, and nudge who said (first) what others asked, also, over the years. It seemed like a natural question, especially during that era when pot was popular and consciousness was being raised. I do believe you’re right about the end of innocence though. Too many assassinations over too short a period of time and Vietnam to boot. So, with or without Marion saying so, that thought would have crossed my mind.
It was certainly the end of MY innocence!
You weren’t alone in that, Mary Gay. Mine, too.
I don’t have a brush with destiny to impart. The only thing I can say is that your friend was no friend to place that seed of doubt in your mind. A million things happened to put him in that kitchen and to put a gun in Sirhan’s hands and I don’t think your kiss was part of it.
I would prefer to look at it as a superstitious Irish Catholic seeing a beautiful redhead in a Kelley Green coat ant thinking that it was impossible to pass up kissing such a vision during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Maybe he would have been attacked and killed sooner had he not kissed you that day. We’ll never know.
I do know that his murder was the end of the beginning of a loss of trust for a generation. Things seemed to go downhill fast after that.
I’m glad Mr. Schulz kept Nixon from using Snoopy. I wouldn’t want that association made to my favorite beagle. But gee, I’d love to see that poster appraised on Antiques Roadshow.
Thanks for another great piece. For just a moment it took me back to that summer.