The Great Plotnik

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Imminent Unknown

November 22 is one of those dates that when someone The Great Plotnik's age sees it, he goes: Oh. Wait. Something important happened today.

Forty seven years ago? Dallas, Texas? That's right. Plotnik had just walked up for lunch to the house where he lived a few blocks from the Berkeley campus, and everybody was crowding around the black and white TV listening to Walter Cronkite. At first, the thought was the president would survive the shooting, but the next announcement was that he was dead.

What a sense of dread we had. Before Obama's election there hadn't been another president who filled young people with so much hope. JFK did. In retrospect, you study Kennedy's presidency and you see an opportunist rich kid who was in it for the fame more than anything else, and who appointed the very people to power who brought us Vietnam.

But we didn't know any of that on November 22, 1963. We thought the world had ended. The man Kennedy hated, and whom he defeated for the nomination, Lyndon Johnson, took over the presidency and though he racheted Vietnam up to suicidal levels, he also passed Civil Rights legislation that has guided our country since that day. Who knew?

We were terrified. No, numb. Plotnik and his friends went to a movie in Oakland that night. We stood in the ticket line and nobody was saying a word. Can you imagine a silent movie ticket line? It was like, until we get into that theater and they turn out the lights, we are afraid to even think.

Plotnik didn't feel that way again until 9-11. And the feeling was immediately familiar to him. Never think that anything sears you as permanently as fear of the imminent unknown.


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