Where Were You?

By Jeffrey Page

I was between jobs, living in a furnished room in Queens. And I was desperate. I was 22, out of work, and waiting for a decision by The New York Post on my application for a job as a copy boy. They took their time at The Post.

So I phoned a man I’m calling Mr. Kaplan because I don’t remember his name. He had hired me several months before at a place called the Retailers Commercial Agency, a credit-investigating house. If you applied for certain credit cards or charge accounts, your application likely came through RCA, where a group of snarly discontents (like me and others spinning our wheels before starting careers) would check your references.

Are you really working for the XYZ Corp.? Have you really worked there for two years? Are you really pulling in $150 a week? It was a dreadful job.

They didn’t exactly fire me. Rather they strongly suggested I look elsewhere for work because at RCA I was slow. Some of my work mates could check 8 or 12 applications per hour. I did two or three, mostly because I liked talking to strangers on the phone about anything except the application before me.

Mr. Kaplan picked up his phone. I said hello and went into a plea for my job back. I even told him I wouldn’t be there long, just long enough for something to come along on one of the city’s papers. I thought I was being honest; friends told me I was being stupid.

“How can you call at a time like this? Turn on your television. It’s the president, you idiot!” Mr. Kaplan yelled, and hung up. I turned on the radio and heard references to places and things that soon would become part of the language: “Love Field,” “School Book Depository,” “Grassy Knoll,” “Triple Underpass,” “Dealey Plaza.”

Soon there would be more news and more new references: “Oswald,” “Tippit,” “Ruby.”

Ultimately there was “succession.”

I had planned to take the subway to see my mother in Rego Park about borrowing some money and having lunch; I was flat broke. Now, with people in the street displaying various expressions of grief – women with one hand over their mouths, men with jaws set and hands in fists – I broke into a trot to Hillside Avenue to pick up the train.

She opened the door and stood there, not moving, one hand over her mouth, the other clutching a hanky. It might have been the only time I ever saw her cry. We sat in front of the television and took in the event that, in my lifetime, would be matched only by 9/11. A president, an assassin, and a cop in one; thousands in the other.

Over the last 50 years, he has been shown to be just a man, one possessing the faults and virtues of a million others. But in the early Sixties he was a fresh breeze. He had a quick wit, a shock of hair, an engaging smile. Of course, he nearly ended civilization over missiles in Cuba. He inherited Vietnam from Ike. Maybe he would have continued our role in that miserable war. Then again, maybe he would have ended it. He saved us from Nixon in 1960, and would have done the same against Goldwater in 1964, if only there had been a 1964 for him and for us.

My mother made egg sandwiches on pumpernickel and a fresh pot of coffee, her staples. The phone kept ringing: my father, my brother, her sisters, some friends, all making those essential calls at times of catastrophe.

I stayed for the weekend, for the oath, for the blood stained suit, for the murderer of the murderer, for the nighttime landing of the plane in Washington and the new president saying “I will do my best; that is all I can do.” I stayed and saw the little kid in the blue coat saluting his dad. I don’t remember if my mother cried. I know I did.

I stayed and began the countdown of anniversaries. Once it was a year later; soon it will be 50 years later.

9 Responses to “Where Were You?”

  1. Verne M. Bell Says:

    Well done, Jeffery Page!

    Yes, It was the first of a long line of events that made me later realize that the optimism of the first half of the 20th century was coming to an end.

  2. Bob Garrett Says:

    As it happens, on that very day I was, in fact, a recently-hired copy boy at the New York Post. That’s back when Dolly Schiff ran things from her penthouse perch, working through great editors like Paul Sann, Stan Opotowsky and Johnny Bott. The city room buzzed with writers whose names were (and still are) internationally known. But in that dusty, noisy, smoke-filled, dingy, but totally vibrant spot near the Hudson River, when the Bulletins from Texas started spitting out of the teletypes — and then that Flash transmission when Kennedy was pronounced dead — everybody wanted to be, well, anywhere else. Even from the most hardened seen-it-all-before journalists, many tears flowed. For we lowly copy boys, it became a long season of sharpening pencils, instantly obeying every shouted summons, and fetching a million cups of coffee for reporters pounding their ancient typewriters both day and night. None of us, whether top boss or lowly servant, had the time (or the energy) to properly mourn the loss. We could do that only in brief patches, between editions (12 per day), or during quick trips to the bathroom. Now, 50 years later, I still find it impossible to feel an appropriate emotional state. On that day, for sure, you really didn’t want to be there.

  3. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    getting ready at the hairdressers for a friend’s prom. we were so innocent but that day changed us all.

  4. Tom Bisky Says:

    Jeffrey —

    I was a freshman in Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester. During Latin class, the principal’s voice came over the loudspeaker with news that Kennedy had been shot. Before long, the school dismissed us for the day — and I stayed up watching the unfolding news until the three broadcast networks signed off at midnight. What I most remember about Kennedy is how deftly he could manage a press conference. He wielded spontaneous humor defensively and offensively like no other chief executive before or since. Thanks for the memories.

    Tom Bisky

  5. Marcia Castro Says:

    I was taking care of my 3 year old son, who had measles. I turned on the little TV set in my bedroom to see if there was something he could watch. The news came on immediately about the president being rushed to a hospital. From that moment on it was impossible to do anything except watch the news. I spent my 25th birthday in my bathrobe watching the funeral and crying all day. My mother-in-law came to read to my son and distract him from the overwhelming sadness in our house. I will always believe that if President Kennedy had been able to serve for eight years he would have done great things.

  6. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Verne, Not only the optimism of 1900-1950, but that very special and concentrated form of optimism that was born in the years after World War II. I don’t mean to be flip, but I think it too took a fatal hit that day in Dallas.JP


    Bob (and fellow Post copy boy). They finally called me to start work in January of 64. I worked from 2 in the morning, a time when I was not in the newsroom but in Times Square getting the early editions of the Times and Herald-Trib, News and Mirror. I would call the desk, ask for Ben Green, and read him the Page 1 headlines.

    You worked for Bott, I worked for his nightside counterpart, George Trow, a fine man. And I remember Paul Sann (in cowboy pants, shirt, boots and Stetson) walking in every morning at the stroke of 7 with the same question day after day: “What’s the wood?”

    The story I heard was that a dayside copyboy was fired on Nov. 22 because Al Davis, the managing editor, heard about the shooting on the radio. When he went to the old telegraph room, he found a copyboy fast asleep. What a time. JP


    Jo, it changed us, but the entire nation got a little ugly that day — and hasn’t recovered.JP


    Tom. The line I recall clearest was when Kennedy traveled to France to meet with deGaulle and introduced himself to a crowd. “I’m the man who accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris.”JP


    Marcia, I think you’re right about what Kennedy might have accomplished with 8 years in office. He would have tons of political capital because I know he would have defeated Barry Goldwater big time. Maybe he would have done great things, as you say, but I wonder about Vietnam. Don’t forget, he continued the Eisenhower practice of sending “advisers.”JP

  7. Lenore Poggioli Says:

    What a flood of memories you’ve brought back. Apparently I’m the youngest one writing here since I was an innocent 11 on that day but it really was burned into my memory. I was in school and someone knocked on the classroom door, the teacher went to the door, stepped into the hall and returned a few minutes later in tears. That was startling enough because I attended Catholic school and you never saw nuns crying. But she stood crying in front of us while she began to tell us that President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas and we were being dismissed early. How frightening! How surreal walking home that day.

    The sadness and confusion continued as my family watched the events on TV, neighbors and other relatives coming and going during that long weekend and weeks later.

    It really changed my trust and view of the world. To this day I hold Jacqueline Kennedy very dear to my heart for the difficulty she went through losing two babies then watching her husband slaughtered while sitting right next to her. Yet she was able to continue on and raised two wonderful children.

    Thank you Jeff.

  8. Jeanne Versweyveld Says:

    Thanks Jeff for your insight into this most terrible, horrible, unbelievable historic day. On the ride home on the bus that day, I still remember a girl sitting in the seat behind me saying, “Good, I’m glad he’s dead!” I simply could not believe my ears. I have come to understand that her parents were staunch Republicans and she was a conduit in their beliefs and much like the atmosphere today, should anything ever terrible happen again, I think I would probably hear those words uttered by those much “wiser” than a mere school girl. For my family and I, he was a vibrant, smart and engaging president on the cusp of doing great things for America. That dream was snuffed out on that fateful day. I don’t think I will ever be convinced that Oswald acted alone and that there was not some right wing conspiracy at play. All I know is that I don’t think I will ever see that kind of promise again in my lifetime and that makes me very, very sad.

  9. Jeffrey Page Says:

    And thank you Lenore and Jeanne for your kind words. After Truman and Eisenhower, along came this dashing fellow with thick hair, a young family, a great sense of humor, and we somehow knew something had changed and would remain changed forever. But after Dallas we spent the next decades with the likes of Johnson, Nixon, Spiro Agnew, et al. I think we deserved better. Then again, maybe we got precisely what we deserved.JP

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