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Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

Bobby Kennedy’s Impact: An Excerpt from The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn     

     In March of 1968, Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency. His announcement sparked hope among many youths who faced the military draft, Vietnam War, campus protests, conflict with parents…and other societal issues that prompted raging tension that spread across generations, races, and politics.  Following is a scene from my novel, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn, where three young people hint at the issues, conflicts, hopes, and fears of that era.

       I drove the Camaro back to Katie's house with Erica riding next to me. From the back seat, Katie ordered the radio turned up to nearly full blast. Janice Joplin was singing about Bobby McGee (“That’s my Family Song!” Katie shouted) and Erica surprised me with a hair-flying Joplin impersonation, changing the lyrics from “Bobby McGee” to “Katie McGee,” so I chimed in with my best Bob Dylan voice.

     "Holy shit! It’s Joplin and Dylan!” Katie said. "What an act you two could put together!"

     When I found myself quickly imagining what it would be like to be in a band and on the road with Erica, I knew my mind was hopelessly working overtime.

     "Do you do any other impressions?" Erica asked.

     "Let’s see… how about Bobby Kennedy?" I asked.

     "Oh, I just love him," Erica said. It was the same simple, sincere tone she had used in talking about the Beatles' song "In My Life."

     I jabbed my right forefinger in the air and said in my best nasal stammer, "I would just like to shay...uh...that if you feel...uh...that way about him, then it's...uh...worth it for me to…uh…try to impersonate him."

     "Not bad, not bad at all!" Katie said. “It’s like RFK is here in the car with us, isn’t it E?”

     Erica made a mock squeal and shouted, “Bobbyyyy!” Then she quickly turned serious and said, "I think Kennedy has character, something that makes you believe in him, and he seems so empathetic to people less fortunate than he is…which is practically everyone, of course.  But my parents sure don't think much of him."

     "Oh, my parents can't stand him either," Katie said. "Dad says, 'Bobby Kennedy's a shanty Irishman born under a shamrock.’ I try to stay out of it myself, but I like what Kennedy says about Vietnam. It's a shitty mess there, I don't know if anyone can really stop what's going on."

     "Or anyone could stop it," Erica said flatly.

     "Maybe, but not soon enough," Katie said. "Not before Brian gets there."

     They exchanged a few more thoughts about their fears and their anger, and I turned off the radio as they spoke so I could listen more closely. When they stopped talking, Katie hummed to herself, Erica looked out at the black New Jersey night, and I drove, thinking about the words of two high school girls—two girls I barely knew, but two girls who clearly had thought about the war, its impact, the politicians leading our country—speaking personally, passionately, and I found myself considering, probably for the first time ever, how anonymous soldiers are to the people who are not fighting, to the people safe and secure in college classrooms, eating at burger joints, driving around in Austin-Healeys, sitting on fire escapes, and how blank the faces are that cross the TV screen—until you see the face of someone you know and love preparing to leave his home and family to go into battle for them and for millions of people he will never know.