(Originally published September 15, 2016 on peterndudar.wordpress.com)
The Ghost of John Lennon
Peter N. Dudar
Kasim knew a thing or two about time, having spent most of his adult life running the clock repair shop his father opened on Ventura Boulevard. He took over the shop in ’68, during the Summer of Love, back when the hippy movement blossomed to the north in San Francisco. It was subsequently the same summer that his father Mohmod al Abdul was diagnosed with lung cancer from chain smoking Marlboros ever since he and his wife Zainab immigrated into America. Kasim had discovered The Beatles years before the doctors discovered the black spots riddling his father’s lungs, but he’d suspected something was wrong when his papa’s breathing became raspy, and then congested, leaving him doubled over his workbench as he coughed and heaved. Kasim would fold over the white cloth that nestled the cogs and springs of whatever was being fixed to keep them clean of his father’s germs, all the while patting Mohmod’s back and asking in a terrified voice, “Are you okay?”
Now, at sixty-nine years old, Kasim was once again walking in his father’s footsteps now that he’d been diagnosed. And trips like this one, what healthy senior citizens might have referred to as a vacation or a sabbatical, he considered a pilgrimage. With the repair shop sold off to some young Latino couple (who planned on turning the old store into a tanning salon), and his own wife, Noora, predeceasing him by nearly ten years, the trip was now or never. After all, how many chances did you get in life to travel to Manhattan and follow the final footsteps of John Lennon? He knew a thing or two about time, and time was now growing short.
He hadn’t counted on the TSA hassling him as he made his check-in at LAX; saying something about him purchasing a one-way ticket and wanting to know what his plans were in New York City. They claimed up and down that it had nothing to do with racial profiling or the fact that he moved funny when he walked (he could have explained that radiation and chemo had kicked the living shit out of him, but what did it matter? It was none of their goddamn business, anyway.). In the words of the young man in the starched and pressed blue uniform, “It’s all random, and I’m just doing my job. We have to keep everybodysafe.”
It hadn’t bothered him (well it had, but not enough to get angry over) that they dragged him over to a cordoned off area beside the gate and went through his suitcase as the other passengers rubbernecked. It was that they’d taken his portable CD player and the few albums he’d brought with him and scattered them carelessly across the floor. The disk on top actually made him smile. It was an album titled REVOLVER, and how funny was it that, had they been paying attention, they could have held the disk up and shouted, “See? Toldja he had a weapon!” Because that’s how America worked now. Any asshole could legally obtain and carry a gun, and way too many of them did. But if a person of color tries to go through the airport…
Kasim hated guns. In fact, he loathed them with a passion. And so did John Lennon. The one Beatle who preached that “All You Need is Love” and “Give Peace a Chance” was also the one that was shot dead outside his home in the Dakota Building on West 72ndStreet. Kasim had been repairing an old Ingersoll grandfather clock when the news came on the black-and-white television his papa had mounted above the work bench, and it felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. This had been December, 1980, long after Mohmod and Zainab were laid to rest in a dreary, overcrowded cemetery in Los Angeles. Kasim sat down on the floor and wept until Noora had to leave the front show room and see if he was okay.
When they finally let him board the Boeing 787 and take his seat, he retrieved a book from his carryon and leafed to the part about the Dakota building. That was going to be his first destination, once he got checked into his hotel and caught up on some sleep. The Dakota is the first and most historic of the upscale apartment buildings in Manhattan. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono owned several apartments in that building, and that was where his favorite Beatle had retreated to so that he could try and sober up and be a father to his second son, Sean. In the book, Yoko mentioned seeing the ghost of John Lennon on several occasions. She claimed he would sit behind that white piano he used to record his Double Fantasyalbum on, and when she entered the room, he would look up at her and tell her not to worry, that he would always be there with her.
Wouldn’t that be something? Kasim thought as the other passengers boarded and took their seats. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Lennon’s ghost…even for a second or two?
He was replacing his book and digging out his CD player and MAGICAL MYSTERY TOURwhen the young, portly fellow in the muscle shirt and denim shorts waddled down the aisle, stopped at his row, and frowned. Kasim could feel the suspicion radiating off this stranger, who was obviously going to be occupying the window seat beside him. Kasim offered a polite smile and stood up so that the guy could stuff himself into his seat and get situated so that the plane could taxi over to the runway and take off on time. The stranger watched him with vigilant eyes through most of the flight, particularly those moments when Kasim would pull his carryon bag out from under the seat in front of him to swap out his Beatles disks.
Give peace a chance, my ass! he found himself thinking after the umpteenth time of catching the stranger’s hateful eyes gazing on him. What the fuck happened to America once the Summer of Love ended?
Kasim al Abdul checked into the Hilton Hotel on the Avenue of the Americas and found his room on the sixth floor. The hotel was pricey and a bit more upscale than he’d have normally booked, but what the hell? This was his pilgrimage, and there was nobody back home to inherit any of the small fortune he’d amassed for himself after nearly fifty years of clock repairs. There had also been a tidy life insurance check after Noora passed away (she died in a car accident driving to an In-and-Out Burger to pick up their lunch one unseasonably hot April afternoon. Kasim cried as the police officer in the starched blue uniform told him the news, but it hadn’t been the inconsolable sobbing he’d wept when he heard the news of Mark David Chapman killing his favorite Beatle). Kasim was never one for fancy possessions or high living. He’d had friends and he’d had customers that came and went, but in the end, he discovered that the Muslim religion his parents worshipped never really measured up to the preaching of John Lennon. “Imagine no possessions,” Lennon crooned in his most popular solo song. “Yes, I think I can,” Kasim believed, and it was liberating. While the world around him fought to keep their rights and their material objects, they became slaves to them. Western culture was chock full of futile irony.
Kasim paid a visit to his bag of pharmaceuticals and doped himself up good and proper on Ambien before falling asleep that night. Lo and behold, it was one of the most peaceful slumbers he’d ever drifted into. SERGEANT PEPPER had barely reached “Fixing a Hole” when the last vestiges of consciousness floated away into a sweeping polychromatic picture show of dreams.
This is going to be the best day of my life,he thought as he passed through the Hilton’s lobby and turned toward West 72ndStreet. I haven’t felt this alive in so, so long. Not since…
Not since he said farewell to Noora. It had rained on the day of her funeral, and he could remember standing beneath the little tent the cemetery had set up over her plot. There had only been a handful of people in attendance, her friends mostly, and he could still remember them all holding him up so that he wouldn’t collapse as her casket was lowered into the dirt. At her memorial service the evening before, he’d arranged for the song “In My Life” to be played. It had been their wedding song, much to the chagrin of Noora’s parents, who wanted traditional Iraqi music rather than anything Western sounding. This had been just after Paul McCartney officially announced that the Beatles were through and that he’d formed a new solo act with Wings. The announcement had been a bitter blow to him, even though he knew the Beatles weren’t getting along at all anymore. The animosity between John, Paul, George, and Ringo had been legendary. John was accusing Paul of writing “grandmother songs”. The other Beatles were tired of Yoko showing up and interfering with the dynamics of the group. George was already over the hippy movement the band was spiraling into. Ringo was refusing to play. They were no longer a band. They were now strangers moving in different directions.
Of course there was animosity, Kasim thought. The Summer of Love came and went. America was still in Vietnam and the world was in chaos. By the time the Summer of ’69 came around, The Beatles were pretty much done. There would be no appearance at Woodstock or farewell tour. Only a short-lived stint on a rooftop in London in January of 1969 that would become the basis for LET IT BE. John and Yoko would have their famous bed-in in March of 69, and then he’d fall into his “lost weekends” with Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon and Alice Cooper.
Kasim stopped along the way for a bagel with lox and some coffee. His hunger had returned, and he found himself savoring every bite. It stunned him to realize how many meals he’d eaten over the course of a lifetime where he never even bothered to notice how delicious something tasted. It seemed like he spent his meals just stuffing his face without thought as the music swirled around him. Now the flavors came bursting through; the smoky flavor of salmon and the salt and crushed onions of the bagel. There was a television dangling from a gantry in the far corner of the bagel shop, and on it came the report of another suicide bombing in Iraq, with ISIS claiming responsibility for the dozen or so lives taken. And from the tables around him came the bluster of white American citizens denouncing those heathen Muslims and their extremist religion. Hearing their comments reminded Kasim of the man back on his flight, who refused to lower his gaze of suspicion the whole time they were in the air. He could sense fear and hatred radiating off the people around him, and decided to take the rest of his breakfast to go. Kasim exited the shop quietly and made his way toward Broadway, which he would follow right up the west side until he reached West 72nd.
He had the book about the Dakota Building in his back pocket, and he fished it out and skimmed on, reading about the famous celebrities who lived in the building at one time or another; Leonard Bernstein, Boris Karloff, Gilda Radner, Jack Palance, Judy Garland. Hollywood stars, musicians, artists, showmen. All a dying breed of opulence and fortune as life in America was still changing. The middle class was shrinking. The number of impoverished was rising. People were angry and fearful, all the time. Lennon could have had all the money in the world but that didn’t stop the bullet that took his life as his Japanese spouse watched in terror. Wasn’t that a line from the end of ABBEY ROAD? The one about the love you take with you in the end? Mohmod and Zainab al Abdul were loved when Kasim saw them buried. The same with Noora. He’d loved her deeply, and missed her every day she was gone.
Who would love him once the cancer finished spreading through his body and claimed him? Ever since his beloved wife passed, he’d remained alone.
Kasim pushed the book back into his rear pocked and moved along. He was so close to his destination. This pilgrimage he embarked on was moving him both physically and emotionally. It felt like everything he knew about life was wrong, misinterpreted, and after nearly seventy years on the planet, it was all finally making sense.
Kasim veered off Broadway onto Central Park West. The traffic was much crazier than anything he’d seen in Los Angeles, but that was okay. It seemed like there were crowds at every intersection, collecting together in clusters just to help him cross safely. He tried to make eye contact with the people around him, but it seemed as if they avoided it. It felt taboo, and in those moments he did try to establish some kind of connection with any of them, they dropped their head down to the heels of the people in front of them and soldiered on. He wondered if they’d have done the same if John and Yoko were passing by. Would they smile in delight and try to make his acquaintance? Would they even recognize his presence? Would they…
The man with the Bushmaster AR-15 hustled out of the copse of trees along Terrace Drive, by the intersection of Park Street and West 72nd. There was a collective gasp as the group of New Yorkers Kasim was crossing the street with suddenly parted, allowing the man in the green army jacket and faded jeans to push forward, his hands slinging the weapon from his back and into the crook of his right shoulder. His eyes narrowed into slits as if the sun was burning them, and his mouth was pulled into a ferocious triumphant grin. Before Kasim could even fathom what was happening, the man drew a bead on his torso and squeezed the trigger. Kasim was still standing as the first three bullets ripped through his belly. He was toppling backward into a hot dog vendor’s cart as the next few rounds ripped through his lungs and shoulders. People were screaming all around him as the gunman moved closer, yelled “Fuck you and fuck Allah!” and pulled the trigger again.
As Kasim’s body toppled to the ground and his final breath hissed from his ruined lungs and out his mouth, he saw the silhouette of the Dakota Building resting peacefully across the street. The light above him grew brighter, and he felt his spirit beginning to rise out of his corpse.
Another figure approached, floating swiftly across the street as the frightened citizens fled off in every direction. The gunman sat down quietly on the curb with his weapon cradled in his arms. The man was slowly rocking back and forth, laughing and crying at the same time as the line of police cars pushed past the traffic up and down Park Street.
The ghost of John Lennon stopped abruptly at the dead man’s side, held out his hands, and lifted Kasim up to his feet again.
“You have nothing to worry about, my friend,” the ghost whispered to him, its eyes sparkled with calm and eternal acceptance. “We will always be here.”
The two phantoms floated off past the screaming onlookers and the gunman who was being cuffed and tossed unceremoniously into the back of one of the police cars. They passed quietly through the gates to Central Park and into Strawberry Fields forever.
It was just another day in America.