Life at Sloane House YMCA

2006-04-20

A Young Kennedy and His Trouble

One Sunday afternoon, after finishing playing softball at Great Lawn in Central Park, I walked towards the exit at 72nd street and Park West. I was mindlessly walking, slowly. For some reason I felt people started looking at my direction with a strange look, a kind of look I never experienced before. I felt quite awkward. At first I thought something I wore caused the stare or something on my face that I wasn’t aware of caused the commotion. I quickly checked myself up and down, but soon realized people were not staring at me. They were staring at the person walking right next to me. I turned my head slightly to my right and recognized him right away – it was JF Kennedy Jr. He was wearing a sunglass with his baseball cap backwards. He just finished playing flag football with his friends and walking out of the park. When I told this encounter to my colleagues the next morning, Margaret, a city girl with her usual wit said to me: “You should have made a good use of your baseball bat. Hit him on the head and drag him to my apartment.” I knew she was a die-hard Republican through our political debate within the office. So I said to her: “I guess Junior’s charm can make a woman change her heart” Without a beat, she replied this to me: “Who said I am going to be a Democrat. Spent a night with me, I will make a Republican out of him…”

The beloved Kennedy Junior was not the story I want to tell. It was Karl Kennedy, a 19-year old kid from Ireland in the summer of 1989. Working as a Hospitality Center staff, he was 6 feet tall, with a messy, short blond hair and a boyish-looking face. I was an old-timer then when he arrived. He was a good kid, but he could not get along with Ron, our unionized cashier. Cashier’s job at Sloane House was a powerful job: they entered the check-in cards into computer system. Since this job was a union job, Hospitality staff was not allowed to touch computer keyboard. So if there were any problems with the room, residents would come to the Hospitality Center first and the Hospitality staff would have to go to cashier to check the nature of the problem. The way the cashiers protected the keyboard made you believe they were guarding a nuclear warhead launching keys. Keyboard was the symbol of power. They felt they had seniority over the international staff of Hospitality Center. Hospitality Center staff would have to wait for cashiers until they wanted to deal with the situation. It could be a while and often residents or tourists would be furiously and helplessly waiting until the cashier got up from his/her chair. It was even worse when there were more cashiers working. They would ask you to go to next cashier and next and go back to that cashier again. I understood the union cashier wanted to protect their job, I did not understand why they were mean to Hospitality staff. There were exceptions, not all of them were bad. Depending if he liked you or not, Ron would be the nicest cashier or he could make your life miserable. He was 6’5” tall, a long-legged black fellow from Brooklyn. His shear size was quite intimidating. He always worked at night shift. One night he was so irritated by a guest they started to exchange insults with each other. 2 minutes later, Ron jump over the counter started to threaten the guest. Mr. McAfee was still in his office that night. He came out and Ron backed away immediately. Mr. McAfee did not like what he saw; he called Ron to his office. I thought Ron would get fired. But McAfee didn’t fire him. Ron was very thankful for that and I noticed whenever he talked about Mr. McAfee after that incidence, he always showed his respect. Ron was a cool and loyal guy generally speaking. If he felt you respected him, you could do no wrong and he was your best ally. Otherwise, you were in big trouble.

The young Kennedy got a wrong footing with Ron. One night he got into a nasty shouting match with Roy and Roy wanted to take him out. The young Kennedy was hot-blooded too and willing to go out with Ron. Young Kennedy would not be a match for Ron. I had the responsibility to protect the young Kennedy, so I stepped in, not to help him, but to persuade Ron not doing anything foolish. Rony respected me, somewhat. He cooled down and had a talk with the young Kennedy outside the building and settled it peacefully. From that day on, the young Kennedy took me as his best friend. He would tell me everything. One day he asked me to take a walk with him. From his anxious and uneasy eyes, I sensed there was something serious he wanted to tell me. He told me he was seeing a girl and not sure how he should handle his situation: girl was a stripper working at the Show World on 42nd Street, just across Port Authority Bus Terminal. They had unsafe sex and that worried him now. He was afraid he might attract AIDS. He was fearful and had tears in his eyes. I didn’t know what to say to him, because I simply did not know much about AIDS. I just told him to find a place to get a test. I didn’t know then young Kennedy was also dangerously in love with the stripper.

One night I was woken up by the phone ring at 3:00 AM. It was the night shift manager at the front desk. She told me I needed to pick up my friend Karl Kennedy at the police station on 35th street. She told me briefly about what happened when I got down stairs: the young Kennedy came back late and was so drunk that he went to the girl's bathroom on the 10th floor, the student floor at 1:00 in the morning and he verbally abused a female student in girls's bathroom . The poor girl was so terrified she screamed for help. Floor RA called the police and police came quickly and arrested the young Kennedy. This was serious: only a handful of staff from Sloane House was allowed to go to student’s floor. These student floors were for SVA and Parson students only and the schools had signed long-term contracts with Sloane House. Mr. McAfee and Sloane House would sure have earful of complains from these schools. So I knew this was a bad situation for young Kennedy. I rushed to the police station. 35th Street police station was just a short block away from Sloane House. The police officer was very cordial with me when I told him I was there to pick up young Kennedy. I later realized the young Kennedy couldn’t possibly have had a tough time in the police station: he was a young Irish kid with a Kennedy name and got drunk. How anyone from the entire police force in New York City could have given him a hard time?

At 5:00am he emerged from the back room. Sobered and a bit embarrassed when he saw me. We went to Cheyenne Diner at the corner of 9th and 33rd Street for breakfast. He told me the story behind the story: while he was visiting his stripper girl friend, he saw she was having sex with, you guess it, another man. He was in such a rage that he lost his senses and went to Twins Pub across the street from Sloane House, drinking all night. He said he started hating every woman. At the end of the night, he came back so drunk and went to the wrong room at a wrong floor. He thought the girl's restroom was his room and wondering why a girl in his room. He started yelling at the girl and threatened to beat her. I couldn’t imagine how that poor girl felt at that moment. At the end he said whatever the police gave him to get him sober was the most disgusting thing he ever tasted. I said jokingly that I hoped this was the last time I had to pick him up from a police station over a stripper. He smiled. He was just a kid making a kid’s mistake. Turned out it was the last time. Mr. McAfee fired him right away when he heard this in the morning. He had no choice. He needed to protect Sloane House reputation and the long-term contracts from these schools. Young Kennedy got a job as a paddy at a private golf club somewhere in Pennsylvania after this. He came visit me a few times. He would tell me people at the club were lousy golf players with a bad attitude. When the summer was over, he went back to Ireland. A Kenney is always a Kenney: trouble with booze and woman.

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