Nobody Told Me
“Okay guys, over this way,” the photographers said.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr followed the directions of the crowd as they asked for front-on shots. John tried not to give them exactly what they wanted, looking over their heads and bare trees to the buildings rising above Central Park. He wondered if George Harrison’s getting sick might not have been a bad way to play getting out of this; “Sorry, Bri, I got what ‘es got and can’t be their plaything today.”
“Christ, they’re loving it,” said Paul, as he played to the cameras. “We could give ‘em funny faces and they’d run it in all the papers.”
“Maybe show ‘em our arses,” John said through gritted teeth.
“In this cold?” Ringo asked, his smile also pasted hard on his face.
“You with me if it warms up any, Ritchie?” John asked.
“I’ll box you both if I hear a jingling belt buckle,” said Paul.
“Now that would give ‘em a picture,” said John, while waving to the shutterbugs.
Paul just turned on the charm and played to the cameras some more. If he was keyed up about finally getting to America, John couldn’t see it. When he’d heard that the telly show they were doing tomorrow for Ed Sullivan was going to be seen by maybe fifty million people, John tried not to let his guts come out. It was a lot to think about, to have an audience bigger than the population of your country…
“Is George going to make the show tomorrow?” one of the press asked.
“You can ask him when he shows up,” said Ringo.
John wasn’t sure; the last time he saw George back at the Plaza Hotel, he was looking very ill. John joked about getting the pitch pots ready, but deep down he had this nagging feeling that America was about to go up in flames around him, that the last few years’ worth of work and toil were to end in a whimper.
John looked over across Central Park, to the dark, fortress-like structure over the trees behind him.
“Ah, that thing there?” Paul noticed him looking. “Like an old castle in a comic book.”
“Any idea who lives there?” Ringo asked.
“Maybe we should just take a look,” John said, as he started to walk away from the photo op.
John expected Paul to just grab him by the sleeve and tell him not to be daft. He thought at least that Brian Epstein was going to send Mal Evans over to herd him back. The sound of photographers and fans screaming that a Beatle was loose should have arisen…
But it was quiet as John headed west. There was no sound as he headed off. He decided not to run; somehow, that seemed off, as though running would make him more likely to be caught. Just keep moving, calmly, and maybe no one would notice anything.
And the further off he walked, the more he thought he was getting away with something. No Paul, no Mal, no American press. He’d thought for sure from what he’d been told by everyone that he’d have no chance to just take a walk alone, and here he was, walking through New York unmolested.
Which should have been enough of a surprise in and of itself. The fact that as he kept shuffling away, the grass was sprouting added to the mystery. Every few steps, there were bigger and brighter patches of green. A little ways on, it got so warm that John opened his coat and hung it off his shoulders.
When he looked up at the sun, it seemed brighter, more intense. It took him a moment to realize what else was wrong, that the big black building with white trim off to his left with a ‘G + W’ logo on the side surely wasn’t there when they’d gone into the park earlier.
John kept walking, wondering what else had changed. About the only constant was the Gothic building before him that he and Paul had noticed. Now not only the grass, but the crowds he was passing were getting thicker, some of the people a bit less well-dressed; he’d heard American birds were pretty free, but the way some of them were dressed in tight-fitting tee shirts and short shorts, even with the summer heat, still seemed a bit off to John --
-- but not as off as the man who was sitting on the ground a few paces ahead, who turned around and looked at him. His face was very familiar; a little thinner though, and the hairline was receding a little, but otherwise it was the same one he’d seen in the mirror this morning…
“There you are,” he said to John. “Yer late.”
“Can’t take a joke, son? I remember better when the sense of humor was a lot faster on the draw.”
“Cor,” said John. “You’re me, aren’t you?”
“And I am you and we are all together… Oh, don’t knock yourself out over that one, that’s not for a bit.”
“So what am I doing here? Where are we?”
“This --” said the older John, smoothing some of the patchy dirt for the younger John to sit on, “-- this is going to be yer front yard, son. That building over there, that’s where we live.”
“I left England?”
The older John nodded.
“For that old dump?” the younger John said with a smile. “Never did get ‘round to fixing her, did we?”
“Ah,” said the older John, “she’s a fine old lady, the Dakota. You’d be surprised what she’s like after a coat of white paint.”
“So why am I ‘ere, then? Don’t tell me there’s some hoary plot or something from one of Paul’s comic books rising up.”
“Nope. Nothing at all like that.”
“So how’d you know I’d be here, then?”
“Remember who you’re talking to, you sod. I was you fourteen years ago.”
“Ah. That makes sense, in a way.”
“So when it happened to me, and I was talking with me the way you are now, I was also confused. And a bit nervous.”
John wanted to deny to John that he was nervous, but he remembered who he was talking to. “Right,” said the younger John, “bet you know what I’m feeling.”
“Big case of the nerves. We never could go on out in front of everyone just like that.”
“So why am I here talking to you? Like I need a pep talk, or some such?”
“I gave up asking why years ago. I found it easier to just sit back and accept it all. You do too much rushing around yourself, you go nowhere.”
“But if I just sit around and do nothing, I don’t get anywhere.”
“Aye, but we did, so I can.” The older John took in a deep breath of air.
“So how’d we do? Did the group go somewhere? And how’d we come to live in ‘Merica, then?”
“That’s a long story. Has lots of convoluted decisions we made, includes a few fights, a lovely artist and a nasty president up to his member in it; it’s a bit boring to tell again.”
“And that’s all you’re going to tell me, then?”
“That’s all I said when I asked it, too.” The older John gave a smirk.
“All right, then. So what can you tell me?”
“Who said we needed to talk? Maybe it’s just a minute where you get to catch your breath before going back into the eye of the storm.”
“And you tortured you when you were me too, eh?”
The older John smiled. “That’s why I just accept things.”
“Right,” the younger John said, getting into it fully by loosening his tie and kicking off his shoes. With great violence he closed his eyes and lay down to catch the summer sun. “There,” he said, with his eyes still closed, “I think I’m fucking relaxed enough.”
“Oh, you’ll know when it’s time.”
For a few very long minutes the two just sat there in the sun, saying nothing. The first opportunity to say something seemed to come a lot later when the younger John’s ears picked up a snatch of a tune on someone’s boom box as they went past on their roller disco skates. “Was that Macca?” the younger John asked.
“Yeah,” said the older one. “It’s called ‘With a Little Luck.’ Much like our life.”
“When did we record it?”
“We didn’t. He did.”
“That sod! When did he leave the band?”
“Oh, not for a while yet, but by then it was just as well. The Beatles had pretty well run their course. We always knew it would, and when it happened, well, that was that.”
“So when did it -- but you’re not going to tell me that, are you? I just know you’re not.”
“Now you’re getting with the beat.”
“We stayed friends, at least?”
“After a fashion. There was some bad blood there, but it wasn’t like one of us would sit out front the other’s house waiting to pounce on them.”
“But we did all right, then? We couldn’t have bollixed up that bad if you’re living here now.”
“Well, that’s the thing of it,” said the older John. “It’s not the big decisions you have to make in your life, it’s the worry as you do it, that’s what makes it so tough.”
“So that’s the game, then? I have some big decision coming, and you’re here to help me make the right choice?”
“Look son, I’ll lay it on you: You do have a big decision ahead of you. In fact, you have more than one big decision. You’re going to have at least fourteen years worth of big decisions to make. And me advice is: Don’t sweat it.”
John looked at John with growing frustration. “And that’s it?”
John smiled at John. “That’s it. You’ve got to take no more time than necessary to think about it, then do it, and after that go on to the next thing.”
The older John got up and with his hands caught a flying yellow ball. “That’s a good one, Sean. Come on, catch it for Daddy.”
The younger John turned around to look at this son he was going to have fourteen years from now, but as he turned all he could see was virgin snow. The chill was rushing into him, especially the crisp snow crunching through his socks between his toes. John quickly got dressed and headed east, back to where Paul and Ringo were.
He came up right behind Paul and sang a brief verse, “With a little luck…”
“Eh?” said Paul, with a brief glance.
“You’ll never guess where I was.”
“Right behind me the whole time.”
“How do you know I didn’t run off and leave you two here alone?”
“Ah, yer daft. Look at that crowd around us, John.”
John looked; the crowd around them had not been in the spot he’d trod through seconds before.
“Oh, not you too,” said Ringo. “I don’t want you going sick on us, John, the way you’re looking off.”John just blew through his teeth and went back to performing for the press.
James Ryan isn't worried at all, really; he's just stocking up the bomb shelter out back because he "is in desperate need of a hobby".... His work has appeared online at both Rational Magic and Pyramid, and in print in Dragon, Lacunae, the Urbanite, The Dream Zone, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.
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