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John Updike

I WAS SITTING in the dental offices, in Brookline, of Dr. Frank Eich, who was working on some crowns for my sadly eroded teeth, when the soothing "easy listening" music on the radio was interrupted, around noon as I recall, with a bulletin stating that shots have been heard in the vicinity of the presidential cavalcade in Dallas.

The music resumed, only to be interrupted a few minutes later by word that President Kennedy had been hit. Within the hour, without benefit of any more easy listening, we were informed that he had been hit in the head, rushed to the hospital, and pronounced dead.Doctor Eich and I were shocked, but our appointment dutifully continued. My reaction, if memory serves, was that this was a pretty stupid country where a handsome, brash, witty, and gallant young president could be exterminated like a rat at the dump. Before present revelations as to his ill health and reckless sexual behavior, we -- Democrats, at least -- thought of JFK as an exemplary politician, who after the long reigns of Truman and Eisenhower was returning government to the relatively young; he felt, when I was in my 30s, like one of us. He had brought us through the Cuban missile crisis still intact; his domestic intentions all seemed good.

In retropect there has been much speculation as to whether he would have eased us out of Vietnam with a persuasive grace Lyndon Johnson could not muster, but at the time, our involvement still seemed minor. It was the smiling young executive's abrupt death (at the hands, it turned out, of a pathetic left-wing drifter, not a Texas neo-fascist as one instinctively first thought) that struck in the throat. I left the Brookline office, stepping into a bright and strangely still fall day, conscious of my new crowns and of the fact that weird and terrible things can happen in a land that would never seem as safe, secure, and righteous again.

John Updike is the author of more than 50 books.

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