Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Never Would Have Imagined It

It was a typical December morning in New Jersey. Cold, but not brutally so. The snows of winter had not yet begun to fall. I was in the restaurant business and usually rolled into work around 8 in the morning. The two young women who were my breakfast crew would see me pull into the parking lot and start making my breakfast. Margie Taylor and Erica Daniel. It was their decision to make me anything they liked. Sometimes eggs with bacon, sometimes waffles. We opened at 6 in the morning and it was always a pleasure for them to surprise me each morning. At least, the weekday girls. The weekend crew, well, let's just say I made my own breakfast. Such is life when you own your own business and work seven days a week. Margie and Erica were a dream team. Not only were they best friends, they worked well together and increased my breakfast trade twofold from when I took over the establishment. And when I took over, my old boss told me I could pick any two girls from his place to take with me. Any two. I chose them. I think he always resented that I took his best ones. Best looking, too. My typical work week consisted of somewhere between 80-90 hours. Once in a while, my friend, Stewart, would come and work for me so I could take some time off to maintain my sanity. I liked to drive into New York and go to Sardi's for drinks and Little Italy for dinner. That was my escape, my release. Sometimes, I took the girls who worked for me, other times, I took my girlfriend. Sometimes both.

This particular Monday started out like any other day. Who would have known how tragically it would end? It was routine. We had our breakfast, lunch and dinner crowds. Most customers were loyal regulars and we always maintained a friendly banter. New customers were always greeted with open arms and a sincere hello. I had three shifts that worked every day. I was there for all three. I closed at 10:00. Some nights, I stayed open to 11. Of course, there was still a lot of cleaning up to do, so sometimes I didn't leave until 11:30 or so. That was the case this night.

I couldn't wait to get out, to get home and shower off the grease and raw onion smells of the day. After so many years in this business, you kind of become oblivious to what you smell like, but I knew I still did. Kind of like a hot dog. With chili. And cheese. I would shower at night and then again in the morning. I never felt comfortable without my morning shower.

On the way home, sometimes I'd listen to cassette tapes of Pink Floyd or some other band. "The Wall" was one of my favorites. On this night, I had a New York or Philadelphia radio station on and a Beatles song was playing. I always loved the Beatles, but, this must have been one of those songs that wasn't on my personal best seller list. I mean, the Beatles had hundreds of hits. How could I possibly love every one of them? I switched stations. Another Beatles song. I went to a different station. More Beatles. What's this? I sensed that something was wrong. I felt this inner tingling of apprehension, that something terrible had happened and a certain panic was beginning to overwhelm me. Wherever I went on the dial, it was nothing but the Beatles. Beatles. Beatles. Beatles. Before long, an announcer stated the gut wrenching news that John Lennon was dead, gunned down by a crazed assassin in front of his home in the city. I felt this lump go down my throat and into my stomach, which began to churn. They were my favorite group and John Lennon was the best. I grew up with them, from their early rise in 1964 with their performances at Shea Stadium and the Ed Sullivan Show to their subsequent breakup as a band in 1969. I followed each and every one of them throughout their solo careers. They were Fab. I had recently purchased John and Yoko's latest release, "Double Fantasy" and loved every one of his songs. I wasn't crazy about Yoko's. I played it religiously since its debut. He had been a house husband for so long, it was about time he came out with something new. He was like a world leader to me - an icon - not in a religious sense, but, because of his unselfish love and faith in humanity and how much he preached for world peace. I believed in his message. I was sick.

I pulled into my driveway and walked into the house, stripping off my clothes. I stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at my numb and emotionless face. How could this be? It wasn't true. The world had just lost a friend. I jumped into the shower as memories swirled about my head. All speculation and wishful thinking of a Beatles reunion was washing down the drain with the sweat of my workday. I knew it wasn't me who caused his death, but, I felt weak and guilty. And hurt. Guilty about how we as humans could do such a thing. Hurt because I had lost a mentor. I was too weak and dazed to cry. I hoped that by the time I dried myself off, it would have been just a bad dream. Was it just a dream? Realization sunk in when I woke up the next morning.

It was 25 years ago today when Howard Cosell told the nation of his death during "Monday Night Football." The beast that slew the beauty of John Lennon's mind could not harm the dream. It never should have stopped for him at #9. It will never stop for me until my last breath. We can still imagine. We can still dream and that's a beautiful thing.

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