Friday, July 11, 2014

John-John and me

It was the only time that we met. If you call it a "meeting." We shared the same wine. Only separately.

What the man wished would happen was that he could breeze into the Manhattan wine shop where I was shopping, make a selection, and disappear into the bright afternoon sunshine unnoticed.

And yet there I was, in the French section, a bottle of 1993 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape in hand and calculating the total price minus the case discount. John Kennedy Jr., or John-John to anybody who was alive when his father was president, wore a black wool hat, pulled halfway down his forehead. Dark aviator-style sunglasses hid his handsome eyes. Standard celebrity-in-hiding wear for cruising the city.

I knew him right away. First from around 20 feet, then 10, until he stood next to me, studying the Rhones before arriving at the very bottle that I myself had settled on.

I've never been one to intrude on celebrities' lives, and yet, in this instance, I was moved to speak.

"That getup," I whispered softly to my handsome, worldly friend. "It really work?"

John-John raised his head and turned to me. I feared for the worst. "Asshole," he might brand me for this unwanted intrusion.

I had worried needlessly. John-John placed his right index finger on the bridge of his aviators and pushed them down just enough that I could see his eyes. Then he smiled, lifted his shades back into position, grabbed a single bottle of the Beaucastel and moved on.

For 15 years or so every time I grabbed a bottle of this wine from the cellar I thought about John-John. Sometimes I saw the little boy wearing shorts and matching overcoat at his father's funeral, other times a dashing, bare-chested upper classer on a secluded beach, still others a budding magazine editor, his chosen profession before the end.

He was just shy of 3 years old when his father was assassinated in Dallas. I was twice his age and, as I said, did not know the boy a bit. Still, from the moment his image appeared on our black-and-white tv screen, on November 25, 1963 — a day that acted both as his third birthday and the funeral of his father — John Kennedy, Jr. and I were permanently joined. I am not the only one of my generation to lay claim to this affiliation. In an instant this privileged little birthday boy both saluted his father's casket to say goodbye and innocently insinuated his way inside a nation's heart.

On July 16th, 1999, John-John's plane crashed off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, ending his life and the lives of his wife Carolyn and sister-in-law Lauren. As it happens, I am on my way to the island now. It is my first visit to the place that is so closely associated with the Kennedys, and so naturally it has got me thinking about the chance encounter long ago.

Days after the plane crash in '99 I opened two of the Beaucastels for friends who had come over for dinner. I didn't tell them about how John-John and I had met over the wines. I'm not sure why I didn't, though I suspect it was to keep our moment together private. 

As he might have wanted.

1 comment:

Claudia said...

I think we all took "ownership" of John-John's upbringing. Even though we were kids. Lovely posting of something that's been seared into our souls.