Nov. 22, 2013 :: That other November 22nd was a Friday also.
At 10:30 am I was in my Algebra I class at Hollywood High, up on the second floor of the Science Building – the room overlooking the quad – which was more like a courtyard then.
The ugly seventies-modern/functional octagonal student store and hash lines hadn’t been built ...it wasn’t time for that architectural style yet. If it ever was.
There were trees in tree wells. There were girls in skirts long enough that they could kneel on the hem and boys with hair not long enough to touch their collars; if one violated that dress code one was on one’s way home – or to the barber college. Zero tolerance.
It wasn’t time yet to tear down the old Classical Revival Admin building and replace it with a parking lot. It wasn’t time seed the green lawn that surrounded the school with temporary bungalows that will stand forever …or surround the campus with chain link.
It was the appointed hour for another time to slide to a close.
There was a commotion in the quad, a shout. The teacher –I can’t remember her name or anything that she taught – called down to whoever was making the noise to be quiet and go to class. They shouted back that the president had been shot. And she called back, outraged, that that wasn’t funny and to go back to class at once!
It wasn’t funny – and that commotion was the sound of the paradigm shifting.
We didn’t go back to our algebra for more than two or three minutes.
The rumor in the quad became the terrible truth. Contraband transistor radios stashed in lockers came out of hiding and were played in every classroom, in every hallway, to gatherings of horrified.
“This just in, apparently official. The President died at 1PM Central Standard Time …thirty-eight minutes ago.” I didn’t know Walter Cronkite had glasses. What else didn’t I know?
I think we got out of school early – I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter, it was an open campus and the temptation of not-school was ever-present across every street. A movie on Hollywood Boulevard. The Teddy Bear and Coffee Dans. The Teddy Bear is gone; Coffee Dans is now a McDonalds.
I had a job after school and I got there as fast as I could. I hawked newspapers at the southwest corner of Melrose and Vine (The northeast corner was the better location, but in a someday that never came I would get that spot.) I was in the newspaper biz, learning to be a pressman and a Linotype operator in school - and on that day they began to screw the lid down on that career. Normally I sold the Herald Examiner and the Mirror News in the evening – and a few but not many Hollywood Citizen News.
That day there were Extras of all three – plus an Extra of the Times - which was a morning paper. We couldn’t get the papers delivered fast enough that day, every delivery was sold out as soon as the bundle hit the street. I rode my bike up to the Citizen News and brought four bundles back – the front page was a huge black-bordered portrait of President Kennedy, the headline one word and three inches high: MURDERED.
On that day more than JFK and the poor forgotten Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit died. Long skirts and short hair died. Zero tolerance died. Selling newspapers on the street corner and newspapers themselves died.
Television was the way news was delivered from there forward. From “This just in, apparently official….”, to the shooting in the underground garage in the Dallas police station to the funeral and taps with that quavering sixth note. The grieving widow. The saluting little boy. The riderless horse. The Chopin Funeral March, almost a cartoon cliché, is brutally final when accompanied by the Irish Guards, their rifles reversed.
Newspapers were a way of telling the story. Television another. Here we are in social media.
If you are reading this online or on Facebook or prompted by a tweet it’s still the same story.
Pearl Harbor. JFK. The Twin Towers: same story: “Where were you when...?”
We really need to work on getting better material.