As I have related this innocent and yet sardonic story many times, I am sometimes ashamed of myself.
It was a Friday, a parent/teacher conference day at my school. I was thirteen, and since students were excused from classes, my friend and I decided to play golf. I can’t for the life of me remember how we got onto one of the most private golf courses in the area, but we were walking around on this beautiful morning, hacking golf balls all over the place.
One of my many errant drives took me a fairway over, and as I passed a group of maintenance workers, I noticed them moaning in pain, huge tears streaming down their faces. They were huddled under a tree around a small transistor radio. As I got closer, I heard “President John F. Kennedy has been pronounced dead!”
I picked up my golf ball and ran back to my friend. “We need to go! Something really bad has happened. I think the President died!”
He looked at me incredulously, and we took a direct path to the course entrance.
It was common in 1963 for 13 year-olds to hitchhike (imagine that!) so within minutes we were picked up by a woman who was obviously very distressed.
“Did you guys hear the news? President Kennedy has been shot by an assassin!”
I told her what I had seen. She wanted to know where we wanted to go. We had made arrangements to be picked up later at the nearby shopping center, so she let us out right in front of the Safeway store.
As we sat on the curb, a large delivery truck pulled up, and the driver unlocked the newspaper rack and filled it with a stack of freshly printed afternoon editions of the Los Angeles Times.
“KENNEDY DEAD!” was the huge block print headline.
I walked over and put a quarter in, and then, impulsively, took out the entire stack, maybe 50 papers. “What are you doing?” my friend asked.
“We’re going to spread the word,” I replied. Then I told him to take half and go to the east entrance of the parking lot. I would go to the west end.
We simply held them up to drivers who would roll down their window and hand us a dollar. Within 30 minutes we had sold them all.
Yeah, I know, they weren’t ours to sell. I rationalize it this way; if those people had kept those newspapers, they would probably be worth a hundred times more than that today!
Though we went home that evening with a pocket full of money, I will never forget that day or the following funeral and national mourning. I lost my innocence that day in more ways than one.
When I tell this story, people often say, “ That’s sick! You capitalized on a tragedy!”
True, but I was thirteen and emotionally disturbed. The shock had damaged my ability to process the information, or to react in a rational way. I was old enough to have a sense of admiration and love for JFK. He was our President. He was energetic and inspirational. President Kennedy was special.
Plus, I witnessed the anguish and pain the entire nation was experiencing. Everyone was emotionally crushed. Then, just a few days later, most of us witnessed the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. Suddenly, we were not only sad; we were afraid.
It was a transformative moment for a whole generation. The whole country lost its innocence that day in November 1963.