For those of you who do not subscribe to the Mooresville, Martinsville or Loogootee, Indiana newspapers, I am attaching a copy of the text for my column for this week.
The end of the world’s Camelot and the beginning of my own personal version
In the Fall of 1963, I was busy learning my way around the city of Indianapolis, my new home after spending the first 22 years of my life in Martin Country, Indiana. I had left the comfort zone of life in a small town in pursuit of a brown eyed city girl by the name of Susie; being aided in the move by the Democratic Party county chairman, a man named Carl, who secured a position for me working in the laboratories of the state highway department in downtown Indianapolis. My job was to test cement samples taken from construction sites for the new Interstate Highway system being built around the state. I was paid 300 dollars per month for my labors, a princely sum but still far short of the 5600 dollars that the average worker took home every year. One sore point in my salary; on my twice a month paydays, I had to deliver 2 percent of the sum to the Democratic Party headquarters in the state office building, an amount which would have kept me in cigarettes all month. The Party was unknowingly trying to help me quit sucking on the cancer sticks.
Luckily, I didn’t need a lot of money to survive. My needs were simple; rent, food, gas, cigarettes and, of course, enough cash to show Susie a good time a couple of times a week. I shared the rent for the 2 bedroom bungalow on the northeast side with 3 other guys from Southern Indiana and while it took a good portion of my check, try as I might, I don’t remember how much my share was.
My sustenance needs were taken care of by frequent visits to Susie’s family supper table and by prepared dishes my mom sent home with me after weekend visits. There were also two eating establishments which I frequented. Lunch was at the Adams Ala Carte food truck which parked right outside of the front door of the Lab and served the best Coney dogs in the world or at least, in my little part of it. Supper, when I was not at Susie’s home, was at a tiny hamburger joint a couple of blocks south of where I worked called Gay Dan’s hamburgers. The name had nothing to do with Dan’s sexual preferences, rather, I assume, the name came from the fact that he was just happy serving hamburgers.
A gallon of gas and a pack of cigarettes each cost around 25 cents. Until my move to Indianapolis, I was a Lucky Strike smoker but when I got to the city, I switched brands because of the proliferation of ‘Marlboro Man’ billboards. Even though I’d never sat astride a horse, the advertising industry had convinced me that he and I still shared many characteristics.
Finances usually got a little tight near the end of the month so hamburgers, cigarettes and gas were in short supply but this month, almost a week after payday, I still had enough money to plan on take Susie to see to see the movie ‘It’s a mad, mad world’ during the upcoming weekend. All in all, life was pretty good but then came Friday, November 22nd.
I was busily working away making concrete samples in the lab, whistling the ‘Sugar Shack’ tune along with the song on the tiny radio in the lab tuned to WIBC, wondering if the food truck was outside yet. It was an unusual day in that one of my bosses was showing some visitors from overseas around our facility. The visitors were dressed funny and I had the impression they were from one the Arab countries although that was only a guess. Having forgotten most of what I had learned about the Middle East in High School Geography class – after all, who cared about some backwards part of the world that had nothing to do with life in the United States -, I assumed they must be from Damascus or maybe Aqaba, two cities that were prominently featured in the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ movie which Susie and I had watched at the downtown Lyric theatre on our first date the previous April. The movie had been playing there for an astounding 4 months which would have been unheard at the Ritz in Loogootee, a theatre which swapped movies every couple of days.
When the word came that the food truck had arrived, I went outside, got my two Coney dogs with onion and mustard and returned to my desk to eat. I was halfway through my 2nd sandwich –which, by the way, I never finished -, humming along with the song ‘I will follow him’ when the radio suddenly went silent. After a pause, an announcer came on and said that shots had been fired at the Presidential caravan in Dallas, Texas.
A few minutes later, someone came in and escorted the visitors out of the building. We gathered around the radio waiting to find out what had happened and then, a little after 1 o’clock, the news came and the world stood still. At 1:30, the bosses came through the lab and told all of us to go home.
The next 3 days were a blur as my roommates and I, along with the rest of the world, sat quietly in front of a television screen trying to deal with the unimaginable as history was being made in front of our eyes. Only after the Funeral procession had withdrawn, the horse drawn Artillery Caisson returned to its Platoon and the Eternal Flame lit on the hillside of Arlington National Cemetery did I finally believe the unbelievable.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the Master of Camelot, my generation’s representative of the future and the most powerful man on earth,, was dead, slain by a weak chinned, 24 year old nobody.
Life – and the world- would never be the same for any of us.
There was much more I wanted to say but this column, at 975 words, was pushing the limit on my space allotment. There were other places that I ate lunch, the names of which I do not remember. There was a café in a small hotel in the southeast corner of west and Washington streets, a cafeteria in the northeast corner of Capitol and Washington and a little restaurant on West Washington across from the big silos on the east side of the White river bridge. There was also the cafeteria in the State Office Building but I didn’t like it very well.
The Lab where I worked was on West Market street. The Eiteljorg museum and the canal now occupy that area.
The house that we rented was at 4307 E. 21st street and I attended (sometimes) St. Francis DeSales Catholic church. I also wanted to talk about the places we our entertainment; the Rail Club at Sherman and Massachusetts, the Holyoke on East Washington and, of course, Al Green’s drive-in.
There was a bus stop on 21st street but I never rode the bus to work. I still had too much small town boy in me and was leery of climbing on that thing with a bunch of total strangers. Susie sort of made fun of me for my caution but 8 months later, she married me none the less after I proposed to her at the Twin-air Drive-in theatre during the showing of the movie ‘Hud’.