I remember 1980 was an unusually warm year. Even the month of December seemed sort of balmy. It was a Sunday afternoon like any other. I was packing up my briefcase to head off to work at Oceans New York, the tropical fish import company I owned at the time. Big shipments were due in from overseas that evening and since it was about a 45 minute drive from Port Washington to the warehouse, I liked to get rolling around 130 in the afternoon.. I had paperwork to do for US Fish & Wildlife Service and US Customs. I always checked in with my partner and my key people to make sure everything was in order. Everything was on time and the whole import process was going smoothly. I kissed my wife and my young son goodbye, and said I’d see her the next day. I knew I wasn’t getting home until 6 or 7 Monday night. This was the toughest stretch during the week…a 30+ hour marathon of saltwater and shriveled hands. A test of mental and physical acuity to which I had become accustomed. I remember thinking that it was lucky that such a large amount of valuable live fish were arriving at a moment when the weather was not as frigid as it could be.
I began my drive on the Southern State Parkway heading towards JFK Airport. I was feeling tired. The week before myself and the crew had put in well over 70 hours of hard work. The schedule we kept was grueling but I was young and strong and used to the grind. And anyway I loved my work and I was making a lot of money.
At 430am the next morning, after a night of relentless work, I crashed at my desk, sleeping in soaked sneakers and stained T-shirt. At exactly 6am the clients would be lined up at the back door waiting to gain entry to the warehouse to scoop us what goodies they could find from what had just arrived from overseas. I awoke at 530, stumbled into the shower and let the hot water bring me to my senses. The clients began streaming in and by 12 noon the Monday Morning Crush, as we used to call it was over.
I remember eating lunch and reading the New York Post. The Jets were completing a miserable season…John & Yoko had released a new album, his first in 5 years…Ronald Reagan was preparing to be the next President and there was a story about Ted Turner’s new venture CNN.
That night I remember arriving home exhausted from the day and being so mentally fried that even the cries of my colicky son couldn’t keep me awake. I watched the news and then fell off to sleep.
6am December 9th. The phone rings and wakes me from a dead sleep. It’s my sister in-law calling from her home in Stone Harbor way down south on the Jersey Shore. In my half wake state I’m confused as to why she’d be calling so early. She asks me if I had heard about what happened in New York the night before. I say no thinking maybe there was some holiday festivity that I had missed. She says someone shot John Lennon.
I sat in stunned silence for a moment and then I blurted out IS HE OK!?!?!?!?! Quietly…in hushed tones she replies that he died from gunshot wounds. I remember my first reaction was overwhelming ANGER. I yelled at her and said WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING?!?! She repeated the awful news once again and I could hear the terrible sadness in her voice. I was so crushed I wasn’t exactly sure what to say or think. I said NO WAY. HE CAN’T BE DEAD! ARE YOU SURE!??! WHO WOULD WANT TO KILL JOHN LENNON!?!?! I put on the TV news and there right before my eyes this horrifying, senseless story was being recounted over and over. I drove to the local deli and bought the newspapers as if hoping that the story was somehow a terrible mistake, that it couldn’t possibly be true.
Life went on as usual that day and the days following. My insane work schedule did not relent. I found myself crying on and off in front of (and with many of) my employees. In front of my clients. In front of my vendors. The pain of the loss was so excruciating and so deep it was as if my mother or my dearest friend had passed on.
As the days passed I continued to buy newspapers and magazines telling the grim and painful story over and over again. Each time I read through the articles I was searching, hoping that the story wasn’t true. I felt the pain for his wife, his young child, his friends. I felt the pain for ME. The more I listened to DOUBLE FANTASY the more bizarre and unreal the entire course of events seemed.
Eventually, like the whole world, I had to simply accept the mind numbing sadness.
34 years have passed in what seems like an instant but the pain of the loss remains. Oh to think what might have been…what could have been.