There's Nothing Like a Kennedy

by Jack Curtin

        Another Kennedy died last night.

        It's about time. This is the first one in almost a year.

        Of course, it isn't like we've had to broadcast blank air. The last month alone we've had two princesses, a major movie star, a professional athlete and one putative saint. A drowning, an OD and a shooting, only one natural death in the group. Not a bad stretch at all.

        But there's nothing quite like a Kennedy.

        The guys in programming are ecstatic, of course. With the death coming mid-week, we'll have a weekend funeral and boffo ratings. Plus, this guy was twice married, which means two widows and two sets of kids. He wasn't really famous, not a politician or anything, but he was a Kennedy. That means we get to tell every little secret of his life for the next two or three days. You couldn't program this one better if you tried.

        The folks upstairs aren't exactly thrilled that I can't work the beginning of the coverage, but it's not like they can complain, given the situation. I just told my assistant producer, Debbie, to go with the flow. Though I'd never admit this to the network guys, just about anybody could handle this one. It's really just a matter of being there and turning on the cameras. The most difficult part of the whole thing will be getting our cameramen and on-site people out to the boondocks where the guy died.

        The on-air talent will carry the load as far as the words go. On this side of the camera, we tend to think that they're just nothing but pretty faces, but there's more to the job than that and our folks are the best in the business. They're really good at letting their emotions show while pretending to be objective reporters. That's the secret to keeping an audience, especially when you're clever enough to know exactly what emotion folks want.

        As for the pictures, those are pretty obvious. The flowers and poems and gifts have already started piling up at the end of the driveway of the Iowa farm where this guy hid out. We can spend as many hours as we need building up to the Weekend Event just by continuing to show all that stuff and focusing in on whoever arrives next to add a tribute. People never seem to get tired of it. And there's already a crowd standing around, even out there in the middle of nowhere, so there will always be a tear-stained face for a good close-up to break the monotony.

        Anyway, I'll be back by the time we get to the real Money Shots, just as soon as I take care of my personal business.

        Today's the day we bury our son.

        It's not going to be easy. Meg isn't speaking to me. She hasn't said a word in two days, not since the blowup we had when we found out about Johnny. She actually blames me for what happened, even though I was halfway across the country when he died and Johnny and I haven't spoken a word to one another since the day he stomped out of the house, screaming that I was a "sadistic bastard" and a "ghoul." Meg said pretty much the same things the other night, except I think she substituted "insensitive" for "sadistic." In a way, it was almost like she was channeling Johnny so he could tell me how much he hated me one more time.

        Dammit, I make a very nice living for this family doing what I do, and I never remember either my wife or my son turning down a meal or the roof over our heads no matter how often they bitched about my work. I'm the top producer of Mourning Events at the number one network in the country and that's one of the most important jobs in the business these days. Some might argue that the people over in the Celebrity Division are more important, because their job is to build up and keep track of the famous or near-famous people whose ultimate moment we'll broadcast to the world.

        But I say they're just foreplay.

        We're the big bang.

        The ride to the cemetery was excruciating. Meg wouldn't even look at me. Johnny long ago rejected religion of any sort ("My own father is living proof that there can't be a God," he once told me), so there was no church service. And he died in an isolated cabin out in Montana, so it's not like he'll have any friends to mourn him here on Long Island.

        It was the mail carrier who found him, worried because Johnny hadn't been down to his mailbox for several days. He just got sick and died, as far as we know. Meg didn't want an autopsy and, in Montana, they don't insist on that sort of thing. Since he'd been dead a while before the body was discovered, this was a closed casket situation all the way. "I never even got to see my son to say goodbye," was one of the last things Meg yelled at me. Myself, I thought we'd said goodbye a long time ago.

        All in all, then, it wasn't a very impressive funeral. A few of our friends were waiting at the grave site when we arrived and that was nice for Meg. There weren't as many of them as you might expect, but that was understandable. A lot of people would stay home for the next few days, watching television.

        After the coffin had been lowered into the ground, everybody surrounded Meg to offer support. They were more her friends than mine, when you got right down to it. Most of my friends were at work today. Aside from the standard murmured condolences, nobody seemed any more interested than Meg had been in talking to me. Which was fine with me. As I waited, I began wondering whether it would be too soon to go back to work tonight.

        During the ceremony, I'd noticed a frail, stooped older man in a gray suit who had been standing just to the rear of the gathering and now I saw he was still there. I didn't recognize him but something impelled me to walk over and offer him my hand.

        "I'm very sorry for your loss," he said in a soft voice.

        I nodded. "Did you know Johnny?"

        "Oh, no, no, I didn't." He seemed embarrassed. "I was just driving by and I saw the gathering and, well, I just needed something like this, a moment to reflect. I hope I'm not intruding."

        I assured him he wasn't and we stood there in silence for a bit. "Sometimes one needs to mourn," he said after a while. "And mourning is something best done with dignity and in private." With that, he turned and walked away.

        It was his voice, his mannerisms and maybe what he said at the end that made me pull my handheld computer from my pocket and check the database. By God, there he was: Robert John Kennedy IV, half-brother of the deceased whose life and times were even now being recounted over and over for an enthralled nation.

        I watched him disappear over the hillside. He was an old man, not long for this world. I smiled. I knew I'd see him again.

Copyright 1999 Jack Curtin

Return to Opening Page