(Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the Taunton Sunday Gazette on May 30, 2004.) A mistake had apparently been made. Some well-meaning Kennedy staffer got my name mixed in with a list of journalistic movers and shakers, and I was invited to a clambake at the Kennedy “Compound” in Hyannis Port last week.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the Taunton Sunday Gazette on May 30, 2004.
A mistake had apparently been made.
Some well-meaning Kennedy staffer got my name mixed in with a list of journalistic movers and shakers, and I was invited to a clambake at the Kennedy “Compound” in Hyannis Port last week.
Had this staffer actually read one of my columns – say the one in which I fantasize that my cats have the power of speech – and I imagine the Senator never would have signed the form-letter invitation. He definitely did sign it, though, in blue magic marker. Under his signature, he added, “Warmest regards Frank,” or, “Wowmyads Frank.” It’s kind of hard to read, but I was touched either way.
This is no cheesy form letter, either. It’s got heart.
It begins, “Vicki and I invite you to join us at our home in Hyannis Port for a Cape Cod clambake …”
“Vicki and I …”
I had no ethical qualms about accepting the invitation. I couldn’t envision a Kennedy aide calling me up weeks later to “collect.”
“Hey, you Frank Mulligan?”
“You had the hamburger and the chicken breast at the Kennedy Compound three weeks ago?”
“And four beers?”
“It says four here.”
“Well, people kept bringing them. I didn’t want to seem impolite.”
“Listen, it’s time to return the favor. The next humor column you write in which you give your cats the power of speech we want you to have them speak disparagingly of Bush’s foreign policy. You got that, hamburger boy?”
“But I didn’t even have a bun.”
No, I couldn’t see that happening. My real concern was whether my battered 1993 Saturn, right-front-fenderless following a recent traffic accident, would make it all the way to Hyannis Port. The flashing “service engine soon” light is as expected and unremarkable as the radio.
What if I break down on the bridge? Could I borrow someone’s cell phone?
“This is Frank. I seem to have broken down here on the Sagamore Bridge. Could you or Vicki come pick me up? I’m in the dark green Saturn. The one with the missing right fender. The one that looks like something Jed Clampett might drive. You can tell you’re getting close when you hit the huge traffic tie-up I’m causing. OK?”
He is the host and everything, but I didn’t think he was going to come pick me up if I got stuck.
I thought, is this really worth it? Do I want to put myself through this ordeal just so I can mention “my dinner with Teddy at the Kennedy Compound” at every single cocktail party or social gathering involving more than one person for the next several decades when anyone mentions the Kennedys, Hyannis Port, the Compound, the Atlantic Ocean, politics, sex or religion? Do I really want that?”
Besides, it’s not as if my family doesn’t have its share of Kennedy lore. Like when young congressional candidate John F. Kennedy stood in front of my grandparents’ house on Ringgold Street in Boston and asked my grandfather to work for the campaign. Or how about my father working as a Capitol guard in Washington D.C. while attending Georgetown, and getting the chance for a brief visit with JFK.
I’m practically related to the Kennedys.
So off I went, and I made it to Hyannis despite some tense moments in the Sagamore Bridge traffic. The car very nearly overheated as I repeated every curse word extant in the English language and turned the heating system to maximum.
But I made it.
As instructed, I parked at a hotel downtown and was transported by bus a couple miles to the “Compound.” I was expecting a cross between Xanadu and MCI Cedar Junction. Instead, we were let off at a small street leading to the beach, lined with attractive yet unimposing white homes. There were no Newport-style mausoleums, left by the great pharaohs of industry. We even have some larger homes in East Taunton.
At the end of the road, my new friends Ted and Vicki greeted the guests. Vicki was a genuinely nice hostess, friendly, even a little shy.
I spoke briefly with the Senator, commenting on his two dogs frolicking nearby. They’re pure-bred Portuguese something-or-others and look like muscular black poodles. All in all, my end of the conversation was about as sophisticated as the typical byplay between Beevis and Butthead, but I muddled through.
It was an unexpectedly comfortable place to be, a place where you could envision a family being raised. People lived here. There were even tenacious sand fleas. You don’t get any more down-to-earth than that. Even a guy with no right fender could feel fairly comfortable.
Two hours later I was driving home, working on the tale I will be boring people with for the next several decades.
One disclosure – this was a not a true New England clambake as the mere presence of clam chowder does not a clambake make. The mistake was probably made by a Kennedy staffer from the Midwest.
Maybe the same one who invited me.
Frank Mulligan is an editor in GateHouse Media Service’s Raynham, Mass., office and can be reached at email@example.com.