Hey, Death Comes to Us All: Mourning As A Circus Event

All of today there have been weeping and anguish in the media over the demise of John Kennedy, and tearful interviews with people who had no part in it, and quavering by bereaved talk-show hostesses, tremulous with sadness, and assertions by television anchors of our sense, therefore my sense, of loss. As I have listened to this mourning, this welling up of sorrow, one thought has come again and again to my mind.

Who gives a damn?

By all reports, Kennedy was a half-trained pilot flying over his head in marginal visibility at night over water with two innocent women along. For this, he probably deserved jail time. If he had done it alone, he might have passed as ballsy rather than stupid. Endangering his wife raises misjudgment to the higher plane of immoral irresponsibility.

An outpouring of grief? Why? At best, he contributed to the gene pool by withdrawing from it. At worst, he ought to be prosecuted in absentia.

Why does the country go through paroxysms of weepy Oprah-bereavement over the expiration of unlamentable nonentities? If someone died who had added anything to the world, a Churchill or a Salk or a great blues singer, or a minor blues singer, a degree of distress might be fitting. Kennedy was just another pampered brat, spoiled rich, perhaps a good husband when not drowning his wife by incompetent flying, but of no obvious concern to anyone outside his family. Why do I have to listen to it?

The Washington Post, ever an embarrassment, intones, “Across Nation, A Sense of Loss and Disbelief.” Loss of what? How many of us knew we had him? How many wanted him? What proportion of the public, prior to splashdown, could have distinguished between him and three dozen other Kennedys? What’s hard about believing in a plane crash?

I’ve been forced to listen to this effluvium because the idiot box always runs at the Washington Sailing Marina, where I supervise the Potomac in the afternoon. Over and over I’ve heard that the Kennedys were “American royalty.” Oh? If by this is meant that they were almost as sordid and inconsequential as the British royal family, I agree. Face it: As material for Jerry Springer, Prince Charles is hard to beat. But I don’t think this was the intended import.

In fact the Kennedys resemble royalty less than they do the contents of a trailer park, characters suitable for a Faulknerian novel. Joe Kennedy, a crook, bought the presidency for Jack, notorious for cheating on his wife. Bobby was an obnoxious little monster, Teddy a lush, philanderer, and drowner of secretaries, and whatisname an accused rapist. A couple of the Kennedy women, if memory serves, are best known as sots. Maybe they are your royalty. They’re not mine.

Does anyone really care outside the media? Do even the media care? I know a lot of reporters, some of them the usual apostles of moral smugness, and none of them will have shed a tear. There is a manufactured quality about the whole affair. We got the same fulsome production when what’s-his-other-Kennedy went skiing and made a tree-stop. Not good, but why do I have to hear about it for a week?

It’s morally offensive. Around Mexico City, I’ve seen girls of five years, street urchins, sorting through garbage dumps to find scraps to eat. Pretty it isn’t. They’re kids, newcomers to the world, who ought to be wearing cute dresses and playing with dolls. Instead they’re eating half-decayed slop from tin cans. Sometimes they don’t find enough, or some deviate, victim of a bad childhood, catches them alone, and they are found dead in ditches. If the Oprah people want to grieve, let them grieve about these tykes.

In a cab this morning, I heard an alpha geekess at National Public Radio hanging breathlessly on truly important details, as for example that another piece of wreckage had been found, whoopee-doo, and divers were going down in, oh eek-squeak, eighty feet of water to look for the plane.

Again, who cares? “Look! A fragment of a nacelle. We found it! That’ll make things all better.” Let an old scuba diver tell you something. When you’ve spent several days eighty feet under water, you are categorically dead. It’s not real reversible. The plane, I promise, is a total write-off. So why do we need unending coverage? Do I need to know about yet another seat cushion?

Tell you what. When my turn comes to go to the great country-and-western bar in the sky, where they two-step until a dawn that doesn’t come and the barbecue is succulent with lots of sauce and maybe some garlic, I hope my friends gather to heist a few and remember the good times. Everyone else should be spared. I want my tomb stone to say, “Here Lies Fred, Who Was Not American Royalty, And Never, Ever, Went To Hyannis Port.”

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