“You are a Flower Child,” Mr. A. would repeat firmly. “You were just born 20 years too late.”
As strongly as I resisted this, I also knew that there was no one and nothing about my own generation that spoke to me, nothing I really connected with, besides New Wave and the Second British Invasion. (To my mind, we should never have broken away from English rule, if music was any kind of stick to gauge things by. I’d take The Blow Monkeys over Beastie Boys, Howard Jones over Huey Lewis, and George Michael over Michael Jackson any day. )
Whether or not he knew it at the time, music was my mother tongue. And that’s how he weaseled his way in. That is when everything started to shatter--when Mr. A. gave me that cassette.
“Do you know the Beatles?” he asked me one day when I wandered into his lunchtime backgammon club. Even though I had no intention of playing the game, I had no one else to hang out with at lunch, so it was either intrude on Mme. S., my French teacher, yet again, or go into his room and pretend to watch the school’s biggest nerds slide black and white checkers around on a board.
“The Beatles?” I said, thrilled to have an actual conversation with someone, a real back-and-forth exchange of words and ideas that made it feel like I had a purpose for being somewhere.
“Sure,” I continued. “They were like The Monkees, only British.”
“The… the… Monkees?!?” Mr. A. sputtered, his face turning the same shade of red as his bushy mustache and the wavy hair that brushed his shoulders.
I could tell I had given him an incredibly wrong answer, something he was not used to getting from me in Calculus class.
“The Beatles were light years ahead of The Monkees, in terms of songwriting. The Monkees were actors,” he practically spat, “two of whom barely even knew how to play their instruments when the show began--”
“Okay, okay,” I said, almost laughing at the order of outrage this had sparked, this passionate proof he was offering to convince me. Out of deference, I tried to force the corners of my mouth to stay down. I wanted him to think I was taking this as seriously as he was. “The Beatles," I continued. "They did that cartoon about the Yellow Submarine.”
This I knew because it was one of the few films the local library owned. They trotted it out every year to serve as entertainment at the end-of-the-summer-reading-program celebration. Most of what I remembered about it was that it was full of colors and energetic songs, but, if it had any real storyline, it was not one that my younger self could follow.
“Yellow Submarine,” Mr. A. repeated. I could tell that he was trying to size up my seriousness, to consider whether it measured up to being worthy enough to receive what he wanted to impart.
But his flush was slowly fading. His neck began to blend in once again with the puka beads that hung around it which were always visible in the v-opening of his Hawaiian shirt (on this day it was the orange one with white hibiscus flowers). “Alright,” he finally said. “But do you know about John Lennon’s solo work?”
“John Lennon,” I said, ever the dutiful student. “He was the one who married that Japanese lady and sang about peace. Sometimes naked. And was shot.” I recited all the facts I knew, hoping this would put me back into his good graces.
“Yes,” he said, but the extra nasally tone in his voice told me he still wasn’t totally happy with my answer. “I’m going to make you a tape,” he said. “I’ll have it for you tomorrow.”
And, sure enough, he did. The minute I got home from school the next day, I popped the tape into the player and sat under my headphones on the living room loveseat. A gong, or church chime, rang in my ears and then right into... the pain.