Libra

November 24, 2010


Libra (Part One)

Much of America heard about the death of John Lennon from Howard Cosell during Monday Night Football or from Tom Brokaw on the Today Show the next morning. I was a 13-year-old delivering the NY Daily News.

I remember the news death of John Lennon and the week following it extremely well considering all the things I’ve forgotten over the years.

One cold and early Tuesday morning, early in December, 1980, I was delivering the Daily News for my neighbor Ralph who couldn’t deliver his “paper route” that morning. (Yes, back then we still had young people delivering newspapers at 5 in the morning!)

Riding my bicycle and throwing the folded, bagged and rubber-banded papers to the doorsteps, most of the fifty or so papers I had to deliver were in garden apartment complexes on a fairly busy road called Liberty Street.

As always, when I filled in for these morning deliveries, I took notice of the cover story as I was bagging the papers: “John Lennon Slain Here; ex-Beatle shot.”
I knew the name Lennon because a month or two earlier, around the time of my birthday in late September (Lennon was a Libra, like myself, you see). I had received a bunch of “hand-me-downs” from an older cousin. My cousin was also a huge Elvis and Beatles fan and had sent a few Elvis and Beatles 45’s along with the sweaters and corduroys whose hem would have to be let down.

Having just turned thirteen years old, I had certainly heard of The Beatles. At that age though, my previous exposure was only through promotion for things like ‘Beatlemania’ on Broadway and the promotion of the cheesy Sergeant Pepper film with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton.

Listening to the records from my cousin during the month of October and November was my real introduction to the band. It was also how I immediately knew the “Lennon” to which the headline was referring because most of the songs had the familiar “Lennon-McCartney” songwriting credit below them of course. I had also watched the film “Help” (or was it “A Hard Days Night”?) when it was aired on one of the local channels sometime that Fall.

So as little as I really knew about the man, I knew that this was simply very sad news.

I was not so young that I didn’t know that people kill for all sorts of bad reasons. After all, a few summers earlier all of the neighborhood kids were fascinated with the ‘Son of Sam’ murders. But this was different. The ‘Sam’ killings were the random efforts of a psychotic. This was the targeted killing of a well-known husband and father who, from what I was reading, was simply on his way home from work.

While the story was in the back of my mind the entire morning at school, it hadn’t really pre-occupied me. It was the typical Tuesday eighth grade experience, including the (dreadful) daily reading from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer which our teacher, Miss Rotini, would read for about twenty minutes every day before lunch.

That Tuesday was different though, because before she dismissed us for lunch, Miss Rotini, a 60-something year old, unapproachable but entirely adequate (for what I knew back then) teacher gave us a warning. “You’re going to go home later and hear news about a man who lived a life of doing drugs and not following the rules,” she said. “He questioned the good people who lead this country, but don’t let them fool you –there’s a phrase ‘what goes around comes around’ and sometimes you pay a price for not following the rules.” She said nothing more or less and most of the kids didn’t even know who she was talking about because she didn’t allow him the dignity of even mentioning his name.

Immediately, I wondered – had I misread the newspaper? Had he overdosed on drugs or been killed trying to overthrow the government? During the short walk home for lunch, I wondered the whole time how I could have misunderstood that morning’s newspaper.

Of course I hadn’t misunderstood and I realized that shortly after as I heard more about what had happened and learned more about the life of the man.

And by presenting the story to me this way, my teacher taught me an early lesson. That was to always question, at least in my own mind, the information I was being given. Later, i learned that this rule was especially relevant if it came from the people who are the elected leaders of this country.

Imagine that.

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