JFK

Stephen Trussel

Like any other American old enough, I can readily answer the once-popular ice-breaker, "What were you doing (on November 22, 1963) when you learned John F. Kennedy was shot?". But for me there is also another JFK day, some three years earlier, of much less world-wide consequence: the day I got to see him in the flesh.

It was during the final few weeks of his campaign against Nixon, and so, in fact, he was not quite president. I was a new student at Cooper Union, a well known art school in New York's Greenwich Village area, near New York University; a community solidly in JFK's camp.

Kennedy was coming to the city, and his entourage was supposed to pass through Washington Square "some time after noon". I decided to walk the few blocks over to NYU and see if he'd show up, although it meant I'd probably be late for my afternoon class. I joined the high-spirited throng milling around the park, waiting for a fleeting glance. Finally, after an hour or so, a great roar went up, and soon we could see JFK standing in the back of a white Cadillac convertible, smiling and waving to all of us. We could feel the radiance of his personality, his strength and optimism... and then he was gone. That was all. But it had been worth it.

I managed to get back to school in time for the last third of my three-hour calligraphy class. The teacher, a European master, was notorious for his severe disapproval of American art students' casual classroom behavior. He flew into an absolute rage when I entered the room two hours late, and demanded to know where I had been. I told him that I had gone "to Washington Square to see the next president of the United States," and he got even more upset, ordering me to "leave the class and never come back!". In fairness, I had been a terrible student, frequently neglecting my homework, and sometimes even falling asleep at my desk, but I left the room muttering self-righteously none the less, "Just my luck... a Nixon man!".