To this day, Mount Vernon, New York, remains a political cesspool. A once-beautiful city, my hometown, now a standard bearer of social and urban blight. Except for some small pockets of town, the place is virtually uninhabitable.
Naturally, as with most parts of the country that have died, the murderous culprits are always the politicians. While the damage began in Mount Vernon years ago, the final nails in the coffin were hammered more recently by such scumbag Mayors as Ronald Blackwood and Ernest Davis. The latter left office for a while and then was inexplicably brought back for more destruction. How incredibly stupid is the voting population in that once-magnificent gotham?
Yep, back when, my family had the right idea. They ignored politics, working under the tried-and-true adage that all of them were crooks.
That said, as a youngster, I did listen to the opinions and views around my family. I was trying to reason it all for myself. And, believe me, my household was a cornucopia of political viewpoints.
My mother didn't really care, unless a candidate was particularly good looking. If, however, the guy running was a troll, Mom simply re-buried her nose into Photoplay Magazine and paid attention to more important matters. Like whether Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were going to last as husband and wife.
My father was a little bit more astute, but, although he was registered as a Republican and tended to always vote that way, he liked to announce regularly that "all politicians stink." He used to remind us all the time that his "former boss," General Douglas MacArthur, should have been elected President and, frankly, the country had gone downhill ever since. Thanks, Dad.
My grandfather kept quiet. When he read the Daily News while seated at the kitchen table downstairs, he went through the newspaper from back to front. And almost always concentrated on the funny pages, which he would read to me Fiorello LaGuardia-style. Every time there was a power failure in the house, Grandpa would use that occasion to utter one of his rare political rants.
Yes, deep down inside, Grandpa was awaiting the arrival of Russia on our shores and believed it was imminent. Obviously, the first stage of attack, according to Grandpa, would be a takeover of Con Edison Electric.
Meanwhile, there was one person in our house who had some political opinions and displayed no shyness in voicing them.
I could listen to her musings on current events for hours. In retrospect, none of them made any sense. Except maybe to her. And her most favorite target for her disdain was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"His wife lived in a suitcase and was having a good time on vacation using the poor peoples' money."
"He could walk better than they said."
"He wasn't in the coffin when they buried him. Instead, they put in all the papers that proved he sold us out to the Japs."
Got the picture? There was no love lost.
Meanwhile, she thought Harry Truman was "fresh." President Eisenhower was a nice man but too old to be President. And John F. Kennedy? She'd sneer with one word.
My grandmother actually thought Kennedy was trying to convert the entire country to the Roman Catholic Church. And, of course, she had a story to back it up. She loved to tell it over and over and over.
One of her cousins was a housekeeper and she happened to have a Polish last name. Well, year before, she got a job working for the Kennedy clan when they lived in Bronxville. But, one day, when Grandma's cousin was allegedly talking about going to church in front of matriarch Rose Kennedy, she mentioned trying a new Lutheran church. According to Grandma, Mama Rose went nuts.
"But you have a Polish last name. You're not Catholic?"
When Grandma's cousin shook her head, the story ends with Rose firing her from her job. That tale carried through with my grandmother for years. And it would always be punctuated with...
"Those damn Kennedys."
Grandma could never say the name "Kennedy" without using the word "damn" before it.
So, amidst all this political rhetoric in my home, what's a kid to think?
I had no views, per se.
And then I saw this advertisement in Mount Vernon's newspaper, The Daily Argus.
Wow! Gee, nobody important ever came to Mount Vernon. And just ten blocks from my house. Oh, sure, the local movie theaters had featured special appearances by the likes of Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and the Three Stooges. And, heck, Claude Kirschner and Clowny from the WOR kiddie show were there for the grand opening of the bank down the block. But, this was Robert Kennedy.
I had seen him on television a lot. Walking behind his brother's coffin. So I had a clear image of who he was and that he was important.
I wanted to go. First stop: my mother.
"Go ahead. I think he once went out on a date with Marilyn Monroe."
Years later, I knew what "go out on a date" was synonymous with when it came to Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. But, on this day, Mom was giving me clearance to go. At that time of our lives, kids could easily walk around town unescorted and not worry about being kidnapped or worse.
My father worked nights, so his input was not sought. Grandpa? A shrug and back to the adventures of Moon Mullins.
But, naturally, Grandma had something to say.
"What the hell you wanna go see that bum for?"
Well, it is exciting. And other kids are going to see him. He might be President one day.
"And be lying up on that hill next to his brother."
I should have written down Grandma's prediction. Meanwhile, she rambled on.
"Only Catholics would go stand out in the cold and see him."
Well, the day itself wasn't that cold. It was autumn but still a little warm. And the crowds choked traffic around City Hall Plaza. I was there with a few friends, but the throng separated us early on. There definitely was an electricity as everybody awaited the arrival of Robert Kennedy.
I looked to the sky. There were men standing up on the roofs of all the buildings around the area. They were all holding rifles. Oh, no, I thought. I looked closer. They were all police.
I remember very little about what Kennedy say to the assembled mass that day. He was already looking toward a White House run. But, I didn't really care. I was just happy that somebody out there remembered us poor souls living in Mount Vernon, New York.
After the speech, Kennedy made his way into the crowd to shake hands. Mine was one of them. A fleeting moment with American history. I ran home with excitement, feet barely hitting the pavement. As I burst through the back door into Grandma's kitchen, I couldn't contain my euphoria. I had shaken hands with Robert F. Kennedy.
Grandma was unimpressed.
"He didn't give you anything Catholic, did he?"
Dinner last night: Hunan beef at Hunan Cafe.