“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” ~ John Lennon
From the kitchen window of the apartment on Plum Street in Worcester, Massachusetts I could see the freight containers being loaded onto the flat cars of the trains at 3 AM. The apartment was on the third floor of a triple-decker; an old house that had been converted into six apartments. Sodium vapor lamps for security lit the scene for the loading in a haze of orange that gave it all a dreamlike appearance. The train tracks lay just beyond the apartment building next door, which was owned by the Moonies. In the wee hours of the morning the sight of the giant hydraulic contraptions, lifting containers off of trucks and onto flat cars, struck me as being symbolic of something that hovered right around the fringes of my naïve cultural sensibilities. Why I was so often awake at 3 AM, to watch the trains, was directly connected to these sensibilities, although I couldn’t explain it then, and now I can only guess. Also worth noting is that the scene looked exponentially more compelling when the hard, deep winter lay upon the city. That part was easy to understand.
I had uprooted myself from the islands, quite abruptly, and had resettled in New England. The place was alien to me and I loved it for that. Right away I saw that there were forces at work that arose from a structured way of being which was totally new to me. It was these forces that seemed to corral me into the realm of the blue collar workers. I took the first job that came along, working in the shipping department of a warehouse for The Casual Male, men’s clothing.
Because I had retained the quality of unspoken empathy, which was still a functional element of the status quo in the islands at the time (1987), I got drawn in to the blue collar mindset before I knew what was happening. I might as well have been on another planet. But the culture shock was not only bearable, it was stimulating as well. It was a comfort to be in a situation where I hadn’t the slightest idea of what was going on. The flip side of that comfort was restlessness, which often had me up in the wee hours of the morning. Up watching trains.
One other point of interest about waking at 3 AM is that in the worldview of some witches it is considered to be the time of day at which the veil between the worlds is the thinnest. The two worlds in question here are the world of waking life and the world of the Dreamtime, where the spirits and the ancestors dwell. I mention this because, in a way, my waking at that time showed an interest in bringing dreams and the waking world together in some kind of bonded interaction. I still, to this day, sometimes wake at 3 AM.
From the Italian neighborhood, where the apartment was, it was only a fifteen minute walk to town center. Most of what I needed was available in the neighborhood so I seldom walked into the heart of the city. There were three authentic Italian grocers within a minute from my front door. And even though I was a newcomer, an outsider, the closeness of that little community prevailed and the people took me in to create a safe, homey feel.
The closest movie theater was on the far side of town center, so when “Imagine: John Lennon” came out in October of 1988 I found a good reason to walk into the city. The opening was on a Friday night, after a week of hard work and the angst that went with it. That angst could always go easily into an attitude or some sort of posture, and I was definitely in the mood for that, so I dressed all in denims – shirt, jeans, and jacket – and laced up my well-used work boots for the debut. The attitude engulfed me and took over as I started into town, a “working class hero” affirming his existence by going to a movie about a man who had made a deep impression on a transplanted barefoot island hippie boy, a sort of backhanded theophanic trance. It was not John’s music that had made the deep impression. The music was simply ingrained during the course of most of a lifetime. It was John’s death that had struck deep into my heart, yet not the death so much as the magic that swirled around me at the time. John had become a true hero of mythic proportions because magical things had happened, tickling structures of meaning and emotion in me that tingle to this very day. So my mission that night, as I walked through the shadowy streets, was as sacred as it gets.
The walk took me to a circle drive, a roundabout, that curved to the right to pass around the downtown shopping mall. This path took me past the Centrum, an arena that sometimes sported hockey and sometimes concerts. Something big was going on that night at the Centrum, but I walked on by, paying little attention to the goings-on, more taken in by my passionate mission for the night. On past the little plaza area at town center I crossed the street to the theater, stopped to purchase my ticket at the kiosk, and entered, just about as proud and puffed up as a guy could be.
I found the movie to be deeply moving; a glaringly honest documentary portrayal of Lennon‘s career. The crowd was scant, especially for a Friday night. It was hard to see, but the crowd appeared to be mostly younger people. As the film went on I noticed, almost feeling embarrassed, that I was the only one singing along with the songs and tapping my feet to the music. At first this riled me some, but eventually the feeling became enfolded into my mission and the passion returned, in a vision where I was some kind of flame-bearer, there to keep a dream alive, and hopefully to carry it high into the future. It was a good vision, a noble vision.
What I did not know was that a major challenge to that vision would appear shortly, and I would come to see my vision shattered for a moment in time. Only when I came to reincorporate disparate elements of that vision would I rekindle its lovely flame. I’d already invested too much to let it pass easily from my heart. I would have to see it through, regardless of the embarrassing level of seriousness it aroused in me. For I came to feel damned near pretentious in my mission, and I cringed many more times than I could count, to even think of myself as such a serious fellow.
Leaving the theater I stepped into the cold night air with a bit of apprehension. After such an inspiring film the reality of the city streets at night held a harsh edge, an invitation to trepidation, which I took on easily. But it wasn’t long before those edgy feelings were whisked away by the sight of lights and activity in front of the Centrum. Whatever had been going on in that arena was over. People were moving thickly through the lights.
A row of various limousines of many colors was stretched along the curb. All of the people in sight were dressed in finery; tuxedos, evening gowns, fur coats, dapper hats, and any number of other outfits to mark this event as something above the pale of the street life in the city on a Friday night. Frankly, I was astonished by the sight, enchanted by the glamour I saw oozing from every feature of that tableau. And here I was in my faded denim outfit.
The contrast didn’t leave me feeling out of context, for I suddenly remembered what it is I was seeing. The show at the Centrum was a gala performance featuring Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Liza Minnelli. I’d been watching Lennon, but here was the epitome of American money and power. I must have appeared to be gawking, maybe a little slack-jawed as well. Here was an event that perfectly highlighted my plucky blue collar attitude by sheer contrast. No more fitting tribute to my imagined importance could have been presented. This was nearly surreal for me to be seeing this display of wealth and ostentation, almost as if the movie had left the screen and followed me out onto the streets of Worcester. As I stood looking across the street I felt more inspired than ever.
So with a feeling of exaltation I strutted on home upon the rhythm of work boots against the concrete sidewalks. I’d left the radio on in the apartment and as I entered I heard them singing. The Beatles. “Let it Be”. No problem. It was late Friday night and I was exhausted. I’d have the whole weekend to digest the rich sustenance of feelings: befuddlement at the incongruities, enthrallment, joyful rebelliousness, self-importance, altruistic adamancy, and other feelings, more elusive.