Friday, November 21, 2003


By Wayne Robins

Herricks Senior High School, 22 November 1963. Seventh period class is Spanish language lab. I'm about to put the headphones on at my console when the phlegmatic tones of Lloyd "Skids" Sanford, assistant principal, comes across the loudspeaker. "An event has occurred that may have a profound impact on all of our lives."

In the pause, I've got it figured out. The Russians have wiped out Washington with the A-bomb, and our Air Force is on its way to retaliate in Moscow. Or we've decided on a preemptive strike on Soviet missile installations, but there's some question whether our own missile defense system will be able to deflect all of the attacking planes on their way to bomb us, on Long Island, where major defense and military equipment factories by Grumman, Republic and others have supported the baby boom.

No such luck. "President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas. His condition appears to be grave. Please leave school and return home promptly and pray for our president and our country."

I fumble with my locker. What I really want to do is to get a read on my fellow ninth graders and my new school, which I've attended for only two months. A scabby-faced, diddlybop girl who looks more greasy than greaser giggles and says, "I'm glad he's dead." Otherwise, there's really no reaction. Everyone sort of zombie-like, absorbing unreal echoes of lockers being quietly closed rather than slammed, as if making a deposit in our memory banks because we knew we'd remember every muscle twitch 40 years from now.

Home is two blocks away. I look for someone to share the news with, but the still suburban streets are utterly silent and deserted. Even the leaves refuse to rustle. My mother's at home. The TV's on. The radio's on. "Is he dead?" "Yes."

A few hours later, my prankster buddies from Franklin Square, the comfortable working class town from which we had just moved to this isolated new development, called on the phone. Danny Auerman and Marc Payne are on different extensions at Danny's house. First word out of Danny's mouth, is, "Why'd you do it, Wayne?" The suggestion had plausibility: I was a very angry young man with a sick sense of humor. But I had deniability: I was in language lab in New Hyde Park, L.I. when it happened. I couldn't imagine this even as theory.

My brother David and I were tossing a football in front of the house when Jack Ruby killed Oswald inside the Dallas police station. Our parents called us in to watch the replay. In a family that yelled often but rarely conversed, there was just the silence, the disbelief. I sensed then what I still believe to be true: Oswald was the patsy.

--Wayne Robins

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