Friday, August 28, 2009

In Search of...a personal Kennedy story

I'm realizing I've spent some time talking about the Kennedy's and Ted in particular, but after watching the second twenty-four hours of news coverage it's easy to see why. This time I was struck by how many people's lives the Senator personally touched. There was the lady whose husband died on 9/11 to whom he wrote every year, the little girl with a rare disease who lived in Russia and would die without surgery the United States could provide whose grandmother lived in Massechusetts and begged the senator to help get her out. He personally went over there and did. There was the little girl with diabetes whom he called frequently and had testify before Congress. There was our vice president who lost his wife and child and whom he called every single day to comfort and console. There is seemingly no end to the list of ordinary people who reached out for Ted's help and to whom he took it on himself to assist.

As I watched news anchors, fellow senators and regular folks tell tales of their personal encounters with Teddy, I thought to myself, "I got nothing." I never met him, wrote him, or even saw him in person. I did see John Kennedy, Jr. once on the street in Manhattan. It was on the corner of 51st and Broadway. First I glanced like you do at everyone you pass on the street, but then I stopped dead in my tracks, thinking, "Is that...?" Of course in a split second I realized it was, at which point I believe (still momentarily paralyzed) that I drooled. He was stunning. I'm not sure that this counts as an encounter as much as ogling.

I did, however, have one honest to goodness Kennedy encounter which I wrote about in my as yet unpublished book: In Search of George Stephanopoulos - A True Story of Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Short Greek Guy. And since I'm hoping that when it's out you'll buy it, here's a sample - about my Kennedy encounter.

Seeing Ghosts

Sometime in the early 90’s

Because I was born in 1965, I feel robbed of the right to claim the sixties as my own decade. I missed Camelot and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and I was only three when Bobby Kennedy was shot.

Though I have no personal recollection of these events, they shaped my life and values in an undeniable way. When I was in grade school I did book reports on them, when I was in college, term papers. The ideals the Kennedy’s set forth in their speeches are my ideals to this day, and I’m not the only one.

Even forty plus years later, we are still a nation obsessed, perhaps wrongly so, perhaps not, with a legacy that looms larger in death than in life. The highest compliment you can pay a politician even today is to liken them to a Bobby or Jack Kennedy.

I don’t know why people are so shocked and dismayed when celebrities become political activists. They’re citizens first, and it seems only natural to me that people who are passionate about their work would also be passionate about their country, their planet, and their species.

And that’s how I wound up at Sting’s cocktail party.

While I was busy handing out tapes of my songs to practically anyone who would listen (hard to believe that didn’t get me noticed right away), my friend whom I’ll call Roberta had the good sense to get a job working for Sting’s publicist.

Sting had a cause he was passionate about, and that cause was saving the rain forests. And so, thanks to Roberta, I found myself invited to this party at a private club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was a swanky place, one of those clubs that’s usually preceded by the name “Harvard,” “Yale,” or “Princeton,” and oozes quiet conservatism and old money. In other words, it was the perfect place for a bunch of tree-hugging liberals like me to gather and raise money to save the rain forests!

So there I was, roaming around with my friend Roberta, both of us dressed in quintessential cocktail attire – little black dress and terribly uncomfortable shoes with stiletto heels that could double as lethal weapons if necessary.

We sipped wine and ate hors d’oeuvres while inconspicuously milling about nodding at rock stars, talk show personalities, and politicians who looked like they felt equally uncomfortable waiting for Sting to arrive.

Roberta and I walked into the room where Sting would be making his appeal. There were round tables set up with white linen tablecloths and as everyone else began drifting into the room, Roberta and I picked a table and stood near it. I don’t know why people never sit down at these things.

When the speeches began we were all still standing and I was happy to have a place other than my aching feet to direct my attention. I was oblivious to everything and everyone around me except Sting, who had finally arrived and was speaking at the front of the room. He spoke so softly that he was barely audible, and my gaze was so transfixed on him that I hadn’t noticed anyone who had gathered at our table until the speeches were over and I turned around to find Roberta.

I know I’ve talked a lot about celebrities – seeing them, writing to them, meeting them, even wanting to date one of them. And I know I have downplayed their celebrityness. But there’s famous and then there’s FAMOUS. There’s “I think you look kind of familiar,” and then there’s “Oh my God, you are the spitting image of a man who ran for President,” someone I read about in history books who believed that we could be “a nation that spends more on books than on bombs, more on hospitals than the terrible tools of war, more on decent houses than military aircraft.” There’s famous…and then there’s Kennedy.

When I turned around to talk to Roberta I saw him next to me and gasped. Audibly. I thought I was seeing the ghost of Bobby Kennedy, but instead I was standing next to Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his wife.

There are some moments in life for which we are just splendidly unprepared, and meeting Robert Kennedy, Jr. was definitely one of them. I was more than just a wee bit embarrassed by my completely uninhibited reaction to him, particularly the loud gasping part, but I’m sure this wasn’t the first time that happened…or the last. The resemblance was astounding.

I tried to regain some composure so as not to look like the total dork that I am, but I really didn’t have to worry about that because Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his wife were among the nicest, most soft-spoken and down to earth people I have ever met and it was a non-issue immediately.

What was an issue in that evening’s discussion with them was the rain forests, children and clean air and water, and how late the hour was getting and how nice it was to meet everyone. Then we all dispersed and worked our way over toward the line of people waiting to have their individual two second audience with the Pope, I mean Sting.
So that was my personal Kennedy story. Thanks for stopping by and please tell your friends.

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