Reflections upon John Lennon’s death (and other deaths/tragic events)

Former Beatle and singer/songwriter John Lennon died 38 years ago today in New York City. It’s a day I’m not likely to ever forget, akin to people always remembering exactly where they were and what they were doing when other pivotal events occurred – such as the death of John F. Kennedy (which occurred before I was born), the space shuttle Challenger disaster, Princess Diana’s death, Prince’s death and the 9-11 attacks. Here’s a roundup of what I was doing on each of these pivotal days in history:

John Lennon’s death, Dec. 8, 1980:

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I went downstairs to have breakfast before school (I was going on 8) and saw that my mom was crying. I asked her what happened, she said, “A Beatle died.” I paused for a second, my weary morning mind thought “beetle,” not “Beatle.” To this day I’m still not terribly sharp when I first wake up! A few seconds later I figured out she meant “Beatle,” and I said, “Which one?” She said “John.” I really didn’t know what to say that could possibly make her feel better, but I remember saying something along the lines of “I’m sorry, Mom.” To this day whenever this day rolls around, I still think of my  mom (a huge Beatles fan) crying at the breakfast table.

Challenger Disaster, Jan. 28, 1986:

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I was almost 14 when this happened…I was in one of my eighth-grade classrooms, and it was a HUGE deal – they actually brought in an A/V cart! We watched the news footage on TV about this. We didn’t get to have A/V carts in our classrooms all the time, usually it was a treat and we got to watch a VHS movie, or maybe an educational video or something. My parents were on a trip to the Caribbean (a Club Med resort on the French protectorate Martinique) and had left me and my brother home alone to fend for ourselves (and fight over remote control supremacy, lol), they said it took them days to hear that this had happened. The biggest deal in the news coverage was about the civilian death of Christa McAuliffe.

Princess Diana’s Death, Aug. 31, 1997:

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I was working the weekend shift as a reporter at a small-town newspaper when this happened, and we were obviously watching the AP wire stories heavily so we could bring the most up-to-date story about her to press. The guy in charge of the newsroom that weekend was a prickish guy with whom I did NOT get along, which is not really relevant to the story at all! He wanted to put the paper “to bed,” so our front page story was going to report that she was injured in a car accident in Paris. But…hold the phone! The wire stories are reporting that the Princess was dead! Interestingly enough, she died at approximately 4 a.m. in Paris, which would have been about 10 p.m. in the Eastern time zone, which would have included a lot of major news markets – The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Washington Post, U.SA. Today, and The Daily Telegram, the small-town rag in which I was working. And this would have been exactly the time when newspapers would have been trying to send their weekend editions to press. Speaking of which…the presses at my newspaper were already running the story reporting that Diana had been injured, so what was prick guy to do? Why, yell “Stop the presses,” of course! Which this egotistical gent got a big charge out of doing.

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You may have heard this phrase uttered in a movie, and believe me, when it happens in real life, it is truly an exciting thing! It’s a big deal, too. Newsprint costs money, and getting a large-scale press machine going – and then stopping it – and starting it again was quite an involved process, even more so in 1997 than it is now. But it wasn’t a simple matter of just flipping a switch.  There’s a reason press operators tended to be burly guys! These are huge, factory-style machines, with lots of gears, rollers, noise, ink, and burly folks to make sure they keep doing what they are supposed to do. The only time I wandered into the press room was when I found a $20 bill on the floor and asked around to see if anyone dropped it (yes, I was really that nice back then). Nobody claimed it, so I went out and bought some ice cream that night!

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In the newsroom it was a pretty white-collar affair – not uncommon to see men wearing dress shirts/ties, women also dressed “business casual.” Oh how I loved casual Fridays! It was a completely different scene altogether in the more blue collar press area! We had people whose job it was to stuff inserts into newspapers (we called them “stuffers”), and apparently they looked upon the “newsroom” folks as “college-educated elitist snobs.” Yes, there was some class warfare! I generally tried to avoid using the lunchroom when all of the “stuffers” were taking their breaks! It wasn’t that I disliked them, they just had this way of making you feel like an outsider. It was at this job that I quickly learned to never, ever mistreat a secretary! They are the gatekeepers – treat them well, and they’ll be sure to hook you up with information, favors, etc. Do not talk down or look down to a secretary! They tend to be the eyes and ears of their boss.

I was affected a bit more by Diana’s death than I was the previous two tragedies, probably  because I was 25. I felt almost like I had grown up with her! I remember seeing the royal wedding on TV (even then I thought trains on wedding dresses were silly). Diana always seemed to do whatever the hell she wanted when it came to fashion, for good or for bad… but when she put on an outfit – not matter how quirky or outlandish – the world seemed to pay attention!

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Diana donning “Wellie” boots, which apparently ignited a women’s footwear fashion frenzy which still continues today.

I’ve never been a super avid follower of the royal family, but there were plenty of things about Diana that I admired. She was flawed and wore her flaws on her sleeve – eating disorders, troubles with her marriage, emotional problems, etc. She hung out with rock stars. She had a sense of humor. She didn’t shirk from hugging children and others with AIDS. She didn’t act like she looked down on anyone. I think even to this day Princess Kate still lives in Diana’s shadow. I don’t think she will ever measure up to the allure of Princess Diana, whom if she were a D&D character would have a charisma of about 20.

9-11 Attacks, Sept. 11, 2001:

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I was working at a different newspaper when this happened, but was on a day off from work, so I was home. My husband called me from work that morning: “Heb, turn on the TV.” And then I saw the news coverage of one plane – then a second plane – crashing into the World Trade Center towers. “Holy f—ing dog sh– on a stick.” That is exactly what I said. And except when reflecting upon this incident, I have never uttered this profane sentence since then!  My husband was able to leave work early that day, because he worked in a high-rise building and there were obviously some concerns about the building being attacked. Later that evening my husband and I went to a friend’s house to have some beer and watch the news coverage on TV.

In the weeks that followed, I remembered writing some stories about people who had ties to 9-11 victims, covered some cheesy school events involving schoolkids in assemblies singing “America the Beautiful” among other patriotic songs (gag). Sales of patriotic-inspired apparel at the store in which I worked part-time were through the roof. People who still own their American flag T-shirts might trot them out for the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, or something. I tried putting together a red, white and blue outfit last Fourth of July and was hard-pressed to come up with anything better than this…

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Other people look good in the color red, but I definitely do not. My coloring is all wrong – it washes me right out! To get around this fashion dilemma on July 4, 2017; I found a blue and white T-shirt and a pair of red Adidas shorts with white stripes on the sides – and paint on the ass from a home project years ago!

Prince’s death, April 21, 2016:

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I was home when this happened, and was right in the middle of a message thread on Facebook with a friend with whom my husband and I had planned a camping trip, so we were going over the details of the trip, what to bring, etc. Then, being the multi-tasker that I am, I read that Prince died. And that showed up in the message thread. “F—, I just read that Prince died.” I guess profanity is a natural response for me when it comes to death! The person with whom I was messaging said that he’d just read that too. This was a big deal to me – I was pretty into Prince starting from when I was a “tween” and had just outgrown Michael Jackson. I loved the “Purple Rain” album, saw the movie when it was released, and recorded some of his songs from the radio (some of them, like “Erotic City,” were quite overtly raunchy, though “Little Red Corvette” was raunchy in more of a thinly-veiled way). I even saw Prince live on a school night in 1984! I still joke about that one with my mom..

I mourned his death in quite a poignant way. I went to the basement, where I have a decent audio setup (CD player, receiver, speakers, etc. – old school, but it works…), turned out the lights and listened to the entire Purple Rain album.

So what were all of you doing when these historic things occurred?

 

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