An unexpectedly cool weekend
Yes, it was totally vanilla. But cool nonetheless.
I’ve already mentioned a time or two that John lives in a very small, bucolic town just east of Pasadena. Seriously, the area of the town proper is so small, there are no street signals, just stop signs. He lives up in the canyons against the San Gabriel Mountains, and many of the “canyonites” tend to be around the same demographic — read: middle-aged and rather Bohemian. His sister fits that description perfectly, with her little market/restaurant, her long hair in a graying braid and her refusal to have a microwave oven in her restaurant, because she thinks the radiation is dangerous. (She thinks hair dye is toxic, too.)
So, a couple of weeks ago, when she told us a local author was having a book signing in her market, I paid little attention. She said he’d been a poet or something in the 60s and hung around with a lot of the “beat” crowd, and I confess, I rolled my eyes. Oh, brother, I thought. Some overgrown hippie who fancied himself a poet and an artist. I’m not big on poetry to begin with, but I’ve seen enough of it to know one thing for certain: for every beautiful piece that exists, there are about 100 pieces of badly written, pretentious crap.
Yesterday was the day of the book signing, and the tiny market was crowded, but John and I were able to grab a table. John said, “Shall we buy a book?” I made a face. “Just because the author is here? Nahh. We don’t even know if it’s any good.” I had my newspaper, my crossword puzzle and sandwich, and was prepared to essentially tolerate the reading.
In a few minutes, a thin, slightly stooped older man with a full head of gray hair stood up. In a quiet, unassuming voice, he introduced himself as Dan Richter and began to tell about himself and his life. I more or less tuned out when he said he’d been a poet and a mime (a mime?? Who does that, really?), but then my ears perked when he said he’d worked with director Stanley Kubrick and had played Moonwatcher the man-ape in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I’ve never seen that movie, but Kubrick was huge. He then went on to mention hanging out with other writers of the day, such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. He was also a photographer and shot a lot of wonderful pictures, did album cover art and other stuff. OK, whatever. So the guy had a reasonably interesting career/life, I guess. Still, I was itching to do my puzzle.
Then he said, in a very matter-of-fact tone, almost as an afterthought: “And from 1969 to 1973, I worked for and lived with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.”
I forgot about my puzzle. And my sandwich. I just stared at him.
You all know how much I love the Beatles, and that John was my favorite of the four. Granted, I’m not a fan of Yoko Ono, the artist. Her singing (if you can call it that) was reminiscent of feral cats in heat, and I thought her art was the aforementioned pretentious crap. But I respect her as a woman, and feel nothing but the deepest empathy for the senseless and devastating loss she had to endure.
Dan went on to read small excerpts from his book, including some pretty wild John and Yoko stories. He spoke very candidly about the drugs and the various addictions of that time period, including his own to heroin. Then he asked if we had any questions.
One person asked what Ginsberg was like. Another asked what it was like working with Stanley Kubrick. But I had a different sort of question in mind. And it took me several minutes to get up the nerve to ask it, but I finally raised my hand.
“I hope this isn’t too personal,” I hesitated. Dan smiled at me. “Go ahead.”
I took a deep breath. “Where were you… 32 years ago today?” December 8, 1980. The day John Lennon was shot and killed.
He looked temporarily taken aback, and took his own deep breath. “Wow… that IS personal,” he said, and I felt awful, thinking I’d gone too far. But then he rallied and began to speak, and talked for about 10 minutes straight about John, the man, and how horrible it had been when he died. He shared little insider stories and fun tidbits. To my embarrassment, my eyes filled up and then welled over, tears running down my face. I tried to be subtle about it, ducking my head, dabbing at my eyes discreetly with my napkin. But he saw. And he addressed that whole portion looking directly at me. John reached across the table and took my hand.
When his talk was through and people were lining up, John grinned at me. “Want a book now?” Oh, hell, yes. Especially since the book (The Dream is Over) was published in England and isn’t available here (yet, anyway), although you can order it from Amazon UK.
We bought two copies; one for John, one for me. I watched as he signed the books of the people ahead of us. It appeared he was writing the same thing on each one: “To [their name]: All the best, Dan.” Sure enough, he signed John’s copy: “To John: All the best, Dan.” Then it was my turn. I apologized for being so personal, and he patted my hand. “You were quite moved; I saw you.” I said yes, I was a huge fan. Huge.
He picked up his Sharpie. “To Erica: All the best.” He paused, and then wrote another sentence before he signed his name. When he handed it back to me, I looked inside to see what he’d written.
“I loved him too.”
Damn. There went the waterworks again.
Is the book any good? Is it well written? I don’t know yet, and really, I don’t even care. The experience was so special. John really got into it with me. “Let’s celebrate! Let’s go out somewhere special!” So we went to one of our favorite restaurants last night and splurged on a wonderful dinner.
You can read more about The Dream is Over, and Dan Richter, here.
My back is feeling better, but is still a bit tender. So maybe it’s just as well that tomorrow’s scene with Mr. D has been postponed until Tuesday. No worries; I have work to do tomorrow anyway.
Hope everyone had a nice weekend! 🙂