Friday, November 23, 2012

Reflections on Jack Ruby

Depending upon who you read, Jack Ruby was a petty strip-club gangster or an important mobster-friend of Sam Giancana.







NOTE: I first wrote this in 2009 and have re-posted it every November since then.

Please limit comments to current post. Thanks.



~*~


It was November 24, 1963.

I remember that I was sitting on a footstool, my nose approximately 8 inches from my family's black-and-white TV set. If I got too close, I couldn't see anything, but I was intent on getting just as close as I could. I wanted to see it all.

It was Sunday morning, and I remember well the hubbub of the adults in the kitchen. I was the only one in the small dining room that served as our TV room. I heard the TV-news announcer say that Lee Oswald was going to be transferred in an armored vehicle. I didn't know what an armored vehicle was, but it sounded awesome. And yet... that little guy? As a six-year-old, I was surprised that such a skinny little guy could be the villain of the hour. I had expected the president's assassin to look something like Brutus, the dastardly evil man of the Popeye cartoons... or at least, he should bear some resemblance to Lex Luthor. This skinny, slight, soft-spoken fellow who calmly denied being near Dealey Plaza? Well, he was just spooky, that's all. They kept calling him a Marxist and a communist, words I didn't yet understand but knew meant that he was a bad person. (I would say the word "communist" in 1963 had the similar gravitas of the word "terrorist" in 2009.) I was enthralled by the constant TV-coverage, the switching back and forth from Dallas to Washington... to our new president, Lyndon Johnson and then back to the basement of Dallas city jail. It was as dazzling as space travel.

Middle-American culture had changed utterly and completely in only two days.

For one thing, the TV had not always been on before. You turned on the TV to watch something, and when it was over, you turned it off. Sometimes you left it on, but usually not. Among the working classes, it was not unusual for some families not to own a TV at all. There were often anti-TV holdouts in these families; cantankerous, old-school types who thought TV was all rubbish and probably unchristian. But after this weekend? This archaic viewpoint was consigned to the dustbin of history. Back in my first-grade class, I would hear about parents who had rushed out to buy a TV at long last. They simply could not bear to be left out.

The TV had been turned on, and stayed on. It was on when I got home from school, dismissed early due to the tragedy, and it was on throughout the funeral. And it stayed on forever after.

And the TV was on as they transferred Lee Oswald to the armored vehicle, or attempted to. There was much talk about security because tensions were running extremely high; there was palpable fury throughout the city of Dallas. When police had forcibly taken Oswald from the theater where they had discovered him, hostile mobs surrounded the police car, and it was said he might have been torn to pieces if the crowd had been able to get their hands on him.

Listening to all this, I was riveted. I remember peering intently as they brought him out, my nose almost right on the screen: There he is!

And then, the inevitable disappointment: such a nonthreatening little dude he was.

I peered and peered and then... bang. Oswald was down.

What?

It was so quick. If not for the firecracker-noise of the gun, I would never have known.

"They shot him!" I shouted, "They shot Oswald! They shot him!"

The adults stampeded as one entity, from the kitchen to the small dining room where I was. My mother, grandparents, some other relatives I have since forgotten... possibly my cousin Charlene.

"I SAW it!" I was shouting, "I SAW IT!"

SSSSSSSssssssshhhhhhhh! Everyone was shushing me. Had I really seen that? The adults' eyes were collectively popping. I felt pretty important for being the one to see it.

"He must be really mad about the president, huh?" I asked.

Nobody answered. They kept shushing me, as obviously-shaken news-announcers talked about what they had just witnessed.

And then, the adults were all looking at each other, that way adults did when they were thinking things that they would not share with children.

Finally, my grandfather said, in what I have come to call his Christian Science Wisdom voice: "Well, that really stinks."

My mother's eyes were wide, wide, wide.

My grandfather shook his head and said "Stinks!" again, rather emphatically. My mother nodded gravely back at him.

I didn't know what he meant then.

The TV-announcers were saying his name: Jack Ruby. The man's name was Jack Ruby.

~*~

Like millions of Americans that day, I saw a murder on live television. Because the murder was widely perceived as an act of justice, nobody worried about the ill effects on all of us children who saw it. And later, many years and decades later, when we began to doubt that what we saw was justice and instead wondered if it had been the silencing of a co-conspirator... nobody worried about the erosion of our morality and the consequential development of our cynicism.

But I trace it all back to that day, the day in the basement of the Dallas city jail.

They ask us, do you remember where you were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? But I always ask, instead: What did you think when his accused murderer was pronounced dead? Because the silencing began then, the questions asked that will forever remain unanswered. (As Norman Mailer once explained the existence of the angry kids of the 60s: They hated the authority because the authority had lied.)

My grandfather was right. It certainly did stink. And the stench covered everything.

The lies of the powerful were uncovered and exposed before us, that morning in the basement of the Dallas city jail.

Some of us never forgot.

4 comments:

JoJo said...

Pretty crazy time it was. I wasn't born yet but of course I've seen the films many times. I did, however, see Pres. Reagan shot, live on TV in 1981.

Meryl Baer said...

There are certain events that change a generation and the world forever. Kennedy's assassination and the aftermath was one.
Pearl Harbor was one.
9/11 may be another.

High Arka said...

Word!

American political assassins are always:

1) White
2) Male
3) Completely independent
4) Have nothing to do with the CIA
5) Have nothing to do with any intelligence agencies of any kind
6) Lone wackos acting by themselves
7) Did not have help from anyone else
8) Absolutely, positively did it by themselves
9) Had no help from anyone else

And then, they get shot dead before trial (old fashioned) or drugged heavily before a closed trial (new fashioned).

Oswald had to get shot on TV so that everyone could swear they saw it happen, and seeing is believing.

Now get back to shopping; Christmas is coming up! Shoo!

Zadig said...

Hey Daisy,

Sorry to have gone AWOL. Some shit went down in August that kind of turned my life upside down so I haven't been back to your blog for awhile. Hope you're doing well.

Zadig