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19 Dec


by Daniel O’Connor


The knocking was more persistent now; a percussive accompaniment to the feverish doorbell.  The entryway camera hadn’t worked for weeks. Probably done in by a bullet; stray or otherwise. Things were getting worse each day and Jimbo had considered not answering the door anymore. He also understood that whoever was behind that fortified boundary had gone to great lengths to be there; lots of walking, some climbing, and more than a bit of slithering through rusty cuts of chain link.

He slid open the steel eye slot.

“Take three steps back, please,” urged Jimbo.

The man complied.  The visitor’s entire body was then in view, yet he could only see Jimbo’s eyeglasses, and they were quickly fogging.

“I…I was told to see you,” offered the man.  “They said you got the best stuff.”

Through the slot, the visitor could see Jimbo’s glasses come off, slip below view, and return, clear of fog.

“Who told you that?”

“A chick.  Liz.”

“Did she tell you anything else?”

“Uh, not sure,” replied the visitor, glancing around nervously.  It was a raw and overcast summer afternoon on Long Island.  The fellow had a hoodie pulled down tight, but not zippered.  A Ramones tee could be seen underneath.  He carried a bulging, tattered, cloth sack.

“Did this ‘Liz’ tell you to say anything else when you got here?”

“Listen, bro, I am scared shitless to be out here, but I need it, okay.  I fucking need it.”

The man picked at his matted beard.  Jimbo sighed, as he tried one last time, “Password. Did she give you a password?”

“Oh, oh, oh, um…the moon is up.”

“Close enough, I guess.  It’s ‘Moon is Up’.  No ‘the’.”

“Sweet.  Let me in.”

“Nice shirt you have.”


“Just for fun, can you name three Ramones songs?”

“I’m shittin’ myself out here, bro.  It’s dangerous.”

“Just three. Rattle ‘em off.”

“Fuck me.  Uh, ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’, ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”

“Hmmm. All ‘Wanna’ songs. You know any others?”

“Did they? ‘Pet Fuckin’ Sematary’ okay?”

“Just stand still for a second,” replied Jimbo, as he momentarily stepped away from the door.

A faint hum emerged from somewhere outside the door.  It grew louder as Jimbo spoke through the slot again, “What’s your name, anyway?”

“They call me Dr. Jack.  What’s that noise?”

“Are you a doctor?”

“No.  I’m also not a Jack, but that’s what they call me.  What the fuck is that noise?”

It floated down into Dr. Jack’s view; a drone, with some cylindrical device attached.

“Relax,” said Jimbo, “That’s only Dewey.  He’s just going to scan you for weapons, etcetera.  Please open that bag, too.”

“It’s just cans of SpaghettiOs.  Lots of ‘em.”

“Not gonna lie,” answered Jimbo, “I was hoping for Beefaroni.”

The drone, operated by Jimbo, outlined Dr. Jack’s body, then tipped forward, permitting its camera to peer inside the sack.

“Just move the cans around a bit, please, Dr. Jack.”

The visitor complied, so that the drone cam could capture the bottom of the bag.

“Hey, there is one can of beef ravioli,” crowed Dr. Jack.

“Ravioli? That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!”

The door opened. Dewey flew away.  Dr. Jack stepped inside.

“Horse of a different color,” he chuckled.  “Answering the door at Oz.  I get it.”

“Fantastic!” smiled Jimbo.  “I use that line a lot, and no one understands.”

Jimbo’s smile was broad, as was his living quarters.  Dr. Jack spotted the tongue.  Not the one behind his host’s smile, but the one on his shirt.  Faded red, with the matching lips.  The Rolling Stones.  Jimbo’s white hair exhibited a glow; the intensity of which often induced a double-take.

“It…it’s quiet in here.  Didn’t expect that,” said Dr. Jack, his voice echoing into the expanse behind Jimbo.

“Well, I keep it hushed by the doors and outer walls.  Interior rooms are better, and that’s where we are going.”

Jimbo led the way as his guest spoke, “I’ve been here many times,” offered Jack.

“Is that so?”

“Well, outside, I mean.  When things were happy.”

“Gotcha.  So, do you have a specific list or are you open to trying things?”

“Specific, bro.  I’m thirsty to forget about this world.”

Jimbo turned to Dr. Jack, twisted the knob on a heavy door in front of them, smiled broadly and quipped, “Let’s make it happen.”

The door opened.  There was the music, in both sound and vision.  The Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much” filled the room.  It enveloped from everywhere; not from some single-speaker, wireless, glorified coffee can that was all the rage before things turned from crap to shit, but from woofers, tweeters, and mid-range monsters that were married to thick, golden cables.

A thick sliding door began to rumble.  It moved purposefully along its track, revealing shelves of uniformly stored compact discs.

“Woah,” murmured Jack, having never seen anything like it.  “This is sick, Jimbo.”

The door continued to roll down the length of what was really too large to be called a “room”.

“That’s just the ABBA section,” replied Jimbo, as the door glided on.  “The vinyl is in a separate room.”

“Box sets?”

“Further along.  Is that what you want?”

“Yeah.  That Bowie one with the Berlin years.”

“Ahh, A New Career in a New Town.  Brilliant.  The thing is, you want an 11 disc set in exchange for some canned pasta?”

“It’s all I could…I mean, I could do some handy work for you, or if you need any plumbing done…it’s just that the box has the German and French versions of ‘Heroes’, and that’s my favorite song ever, plus the live Stage album and…”

“Your favorite song is ‘Heroes’?”

“Always has been.”

“You can have the box set.  Take good care of it, Dr. Jack.”

“Wow!  Jimbo, you rule.”

“Think nothing of it.  Feel like a drink?”

“Sure!  Maybe a Mojito?”

“Sorry. I meant like a Pepsi or Mountain Dew.”


They sat in the box set room.  Dr. Jack sipped his Pepsi as he stared at all of the rock star photos on the walls.

“Part of the deal,” said Jimbo, “is that you tell no one about me or this place.  Liz seemed to have trusted you, and I trust her completely, so please honor that.”

“A hundred percent, bro.  Why would I help the scumbags to shut you down?  They took away our lives.”  Dr. Jack downed the last of his cola and crushed the can in his hand.  “But – if I may ask – are you like super wealthy or something?  I mean how…?”

“The billion dollar question,” grinned Jimbo, as he cast his gaze on the hanging photos.  Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin; dozens of others.  “I had a best friend.  Geelan.  I don’t know what’s become of him.  When this…war…began, he told his friend about me.  This friend was a record producer.  There wasn’t much that he could do on his own, but he told that guy.”  Jimbo was pointing at a photo of a legendary rock star.

“Get the fuck…”

“Yeah, and he told that guy, and that guy told that guy,” continued Jimbo, as he pointed to some of the biggest stars in musical history.

“Did you get to meet them?”

“Most of ‘em, yeah.  They came to my house – my old actual house in Oceanside – before all of this.  They saw my personal collection of maybe 25,000 CDs, asked me some questions, listened to music, drank Pepsi – just like you – and said they’d get back to me.”


“Well, look around.  They pooled their money, hired people they trusted, transformed this whole place, stocked it with untold thousands of CDs, vinyl, DVDs, Blu-rays, books.  I mean, I must have fifty copies of that Bowie box alone, but each one is precious.  Now more than ever.”

“How do you care for this whole place?  What about security?”

“I have friends who help me.  As for security?  Well, I could never hurt a fly, and I mean that literally, but there are technological measures that have been put in place to protect me, and more importantly, the physical media.  Short answer: Don’t try and harm me, Dr. Jack.”

“Never, my friend.”

“So, what are your best memories of this place, from before the country turned?”

“Man, so many,” declared Jack, “Run-DMC, Kid Rock, and Aerosmith was pretty epic.”

“I was there!” exclaimed Jimbo.

“What about No Doubt, Lit, and Black-Eyed Peas – before they had Fergie?”

“Killer,” replied Jimbo.  “The B-52’s, Go-Go’s, and Psychedelic Furs!”

“No shit?”

“Yeah.  July 21, 2000.  Amazing show.”


Two Pepsis later, and after giving Dr. Jack a homemade CD-R labeled Jimbo’s Hard-To-Find ‘80s, it was time to go.

“Be careful, Jack,” warned Jimbo, as he watched a monitor feed of his camera drone.  “Looks clear, but sometimes they come in packs – both sides.”

Jimbo opened the door, and two figures stood before them.

“Oh, fuck!” yelled Dr. Jack.

“Be cool,” said Jimbo, “these are the friends I told you about.”

Imwan and Captain Ice had arrived, crates in hand.


The Jones Beach Marine Theater opened on the south shore of New York’s Long Island in 1952.  It sat on Zach’s Bay, which led to Jones Inlet, and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  It went through numerous renovations, expansions, and name-changes over the decades.  It suffered severe damage during Hurricane Sandy, and was officially closed when music was outlawed.

The final refurbishment began under the guise of it becoming a museum, paid for by a company formed by the world’s most legendary rock stars.  No matter what its official name, no matter the year, attendees always called it the same thing: Jones Beach.  Some might just say, The Beach.

But now, in a country divided; in a nation ravaged by its second civil war, it was where Jimbo lived.  It was where he became caretaker of the music.  The fifteen thousand seats remained empty, but there behind the stage, in the bowels of the former backstage area, sitting on, and surrounded by Zach’s Bay, was the cavernous, and technologically advanced final renovation.

Tit for tat.

That’s really what started it all.  An enormous pissing match.  One side took down historical statues, the other tampered with environmental safeguards.  One took steps to minimize women’s rights, the other came to confiscate firearms.  This snowballed into the destruction of a country.  Independents were forced underground; sometimes literally.  There were only two sides, and when one was in power, they pummeled the other into the ground.  One of them removed the letter Q from the alphabet.  After the next election, it was reinstated.  Eventually, sometime after the legalization of cocaine and the criminalization of the straws used to inhale it, physical media was banned.  Two years later, music, in any form, was outlawed.  Movies and books, too.

The war began in middle America and fanned out toward both coasts.  Long Island became the final frontier.  Jimbo, and his archives, were in grave danger.  Backs up against the water.


The Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business filled the big screen in the main living area.  Jimbo guffawed at the 1931 comedy, a crossword puzzle still on his lap – completed in ink.  Evening had fallen, and Imwan and Captain Ice enjoyed their dinner over a game of Scrabble, pausing to laugh along with Jimbo while merely listening to the film they’d already seen many times.

“You know, Jimbo,” said Imwan, her dark hair sweeping across her darker shoulders, “I taught you how to repair that front door cam two weeks ago.  Are you trying to outlast me and force me to do it?”

“Not at all.  You are so much better at that stuff.  I’m all thumbs.”

“I could fix it using only thumbs,” she laughed.

“So you should!”

“Don’t get lazy on us, now.  Ice and I may not always be here to help.”

“Correct!” added Captain Ice though his split-toothed grin.

Ice and Imwan were both roughly half of Jimbo’s age, but they possessed the wonderful talents required to train and guide him.  They’d been hand-picked by the agency contracted by the rock stars.  The duo was part of the team that set the whole plan in motion.  They helped design the restructuring of the Jones Beach Amphitheater, and they continued to train Jimbo in areas of which he needed to master – quickly.

They learned much from him, as well.  They now knew infinitely more about the history of music and film than they’d ever previously imagined, and they were fast becoming crossword puzzle scholars. The determination to preserve the art in America became the food of their souls.  No one was legally permitted to enter or flee the war-torn 48 states, so though music, film, and literature continued to be the norm in most of the free world, this might be their last stand for the red, white and blue.

The problem was that there were heavily-armed opposing armies slaughtering each other, and anyone in their paths, and they were getting closer by the hour; and the only guardians left standing for popular music were Jimbo, Imwan, and Captain Ice.

“I wanna see your dad’s records, Imwan,” pleaded Ice.  “ Don’t you, Jimbo?”

“Of course.  When she’s ready.”

“We just risked our necks to go and get them, so I wanna see them!”

“I know,” answered Imwan.  “I just wanted to steel myself a bit.  I lost my family to this insanity.”

Captain Ice took her soft hand into his calloused and ruddy paw, “As did I, and Jimbo.  When you’re ready, we’re ready.”

Imwan stared down at the Scrabble tiles.  After a deep breath, she spoke, “Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome.  ‘Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk’.”

“Come again?” prompted Ice.  Jimbo’s grin was already broad.

Imwan’s throat tightened, “Dad’s favorite album.  Parliament.”

Jimbo walked to her side, though his attempt at comforting words might differ from those of others, “Parliament and Funkadelic – and even Bootsy’s Rubber Band – were basically identical groups releasing albums under different monikers.”

Grasping Jimbo’s hand, which sat upon her right shoulder, Imwan sniffled and looked up at her pop culture mentor.  “Who the hell uses the word ‘moniker’ in everyday speech, Jimbo?”

The laughter helped.  They were soon gathered around Imwan’s record crates.  Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown, Ohio Players, Stevie Wonder.  They weren’t preserved in thick plastic, such as the vinyl in Jimbo’s archives.  The faded covers sported ring wear and the occasional cigarette burn, some of the lps were moderately scratched, one or two of the jackets were empty – the records once held within now lost to the echoes of time.

“Sorry for their condition,” said Imwan to Jimbo.

“Are you kidding?  He obviously enjoyed the heck out of these albums.  I can see some of those scratches being caused by your mom dancing and bumping into the turntable.”

“Or falling into dad, knocking the Marlboro from his mouth onto that KC and the Sunshine Band record cover!” laughed Imwan.

“Seems it’s not so much about the records as the moments they produce,” offered Captain Ice.

“Wise words from the guy with the worst musical taste!” chuckled Imwan.

“Hey now, I’m just more of a movie guy.  Come on now, Jaws, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hunt for Red October…all so great.”

“All based on novels, brother.  You need to crack a book,” added Imwan.

“Wiseass.  Let’s see you reel in a 500 pound tuna.  Even Jimbo will soon be a better fisherm…er, fisherperson than you.”

“Not likely,” asserted Jimbo.  “My stomach turns at the mere sight of Charlie the Tuna.”

“You will adapt, Jimbo.  You must.”


They were staring at the dog-eared cover of Parliament’s “Aqua Boogie” twelve inch single when they heard it.

The door bell.

They instinctively scanned the monitors.  Broken door cam, right.  The dark of night had taken hold and they had previously decided against the use of any outside lighting, as to remain as close to invisible as possible.  Jimbo reached the door and opened the steel eye slot.  Before he could part his lips, the pair of visitors spoke in unison,

“Moon is up.”

“Uh, okay,” replied Jimbo, reaching for his flashlight.  “Can you take like three steps back and…”

“Fl-ash-light,” whispered Imwan in song, as she and Ice stood nearby, eavesdropping.

Outside, the pair – a guy and a girl – late twenties, couldn’t stand still.

“We came for some records.  Dr. Jack hooked us up.  But now we’re scared.  You hear that?”

Jimbo turned an ear toward the slot.  There was some rumbling, but nothing he could clearly identify.

“Stay calm,” he said.  “We get skirmishes out there, beyond the seats, but so far…”

“This is for real,” snapped the female, eyes wide.  “They’re killing each other out there.”  She turned to her companion, “But you just had to hear fucking Collective Soul tonight.”

“How was I to know?” he answered.

Jimbo trained the flashlight on the pair.

“I’m going to fly a small drone to scan you guys.  He’s known around here as ‘Dewey’.  It only takes a minute.  Did you bring something to trade or…”

“Please just let us in.  We brought baseball cards,” said the young woman.

“Not practical,” suggested Captain Ice from behind the door.

“Yankees?” asked Jimbo, ignoring his friend.

“Yeah.  Reggie, Thurman, Goose,” replied the nervous man, placing his arm around the girl.  “We’ve got some really mint…”

There wasn’t much sound to it – a bit of a swoosh, followed by a couple of thuds against the steel door – but, as Jimbo scrutinized their precious Yankee declaration, the heads of both visitors simply toppled off.  Clunking and rolling to the concrete below.  Sliced at the necks.  It almost looked phony, as if in some B-movie he’d seen a dozen times, but this blood was real.  The bodies collapsed onto each other, baseball cards spilling to the ground, milling with the two heads, and forming little islands in the fresh crimson pool.

Chakrams.  Two of ‘em.  Serrated discs made of brass.  Flying guillotines.

Jimbo was dizzy.

“What’s going on?” yelled Imwan, as she and Ice had no view of the outside.

“Some attack…” began Jimbo, as he spotted four or five shadowy figures approaching from the dark seating area.

“Someone’s looking out that door!” yelled one of the attackers.

“I fucking knew it,” said another.

Just as Jimbo was about to close the eye slot, the whole lot of approaching marauders promptly exploded.  The grenade came from a larger group behind them, stampeding in from the tunnels that would’ve produced excited concert-goers in days gone by.

This posse possessed more than chakrams.  Gunfire erupted, rattling off the concrete and steel structure that housed Jimbo and his crew.

As if shedding skin, Jimbo transformed from the fun-loving, crossword-playing, music-obsessed pacifist into something else.  His jaw tightened along with his resolve.  His vertigo vanished.  These crazed looters weren’t getting to the art.  He took to the far wall, opened a panel, and flipped a switch that could have been right at home on an old tube amplifier.

An enormous horn speaker arose from the top of the stage cover.  It resembled a gigantic Gramophone speaker straight out of the 19th century; all it needed was the dog beside it.  Then, it ascended too.  Maybe seven feet tall, sitting right next to the speaker.  Nipper.  White with black ears and collar.  The lights activated as well, all around the theater.  Almost like during the old concert days.

“Stay back!” ordered Jimbo, via the speaker, his voice echoing throughout the venue.  The attackers froze.  “We are peaceful,” he continued, “but we will defend ourselves to the fullest.  Turn and exit via the way you came in.”

“And buy a fucking tour program on the way out,” mumbled Imwan, as she steadied herself behind several computer screens.  Captain Ice had already bolted toward another section of their haven.

Outside, the raiders thought things over.  Coming to a decision, they tossed a batch of grenades toward the roof.  Nipper and his speaker were blown to pieces.

“Crap!” yelled Jimbo, as he turned to Imwan.  “Do it,” he said.

In three keystrokes, they were activated.  Distant cousins of the lasers that had scanned data within the legion of CD players that had graced Jimbo’s existence, they came to life with an ominous hum.  Crisscrossing the area between the marauders and Jimbo’s refuge – bright red beams.  The perfect spiderweb.

Again, the invaders paused.  Except for one.

“This here is full-on spoof!” he yelled, as he reached his arm out into the path of one of the beams.  He yelled even louder as that appendage was instantly sliced off, leaving both sides of the detachment smoking.  Jimbo’s drone was flying in the shadows, providing an aerial view for Imwan.

“Just hit the source lamps with grenades,” commanded one of the attackers.  “That’ll disable ‘em.”

The militia did just that, destroying some of the mechanisms, but sending others spinning, turning formally static laser cutters into uncontrollable slicing machines.  Virtual rotating machetes.  The unbridled carvers turned twenty invaders into forty fragments before losing functionality.

Jimbo and Imwan studied Dewey’s video feed.

“That was the best laser show ever,” said Jimbo.  “Except maybe for ELO at the Garden.”

“We’re out of defenses,” warned Imwan.

“I was hoping they’d retreat, but they are still coming.”

“Those explosives will do us in,” she responded.

“Imwan, we all figured this day was coming,” he cautioned, with a hand on her shoulder.

“Should I tell Ice?”

“Yes.  Immediately.”

She accessed the interior communications system.

“Captain Ice, as per Jimbo, Operation Emotional Rescue is now live.  Repeat: Emotional Rescue now!”

“Copy that,” came the reply. “You guys will need to come up here, then.  Oh, and hang on.”


Captain Ice sat at his control station.  The panoramic windows looked out onto the dark swirling waters of Zach’s Bay.  His touchscreen main station offered up the solutions he required.

Disengage.  Power up.  Forward. Lights.

Jimbo and Imwan grabbed the walls as they hurried toward Ice.  Everything rocked.

Outside, the militia fired bullets and tossed grenades as the entire venue shook.  Jaws dropped as the entire structure – from the enormous covered stage to the furthest backstage sections – detached from the seated area of the theater.  Massive telescopic push rods shoved Jimbo’s entire vessel out into the bay.  The inboard diesel engines roared.

For the most recent upgrades to the Jones Beach Amphitheater; the clandestine ones – courtesy of the rock stars – the time had come.

When Jimbo and Imwan reached the bridge, Captain Ice was scanning available functions.  He and Imwan had trained extensively for this, and Jimbo was their prized pupil.

Solar Panels.  Wind Generator.  All ready for eventual use.

The newly-launched vessel motored toward Jones Inlet, leaving their attackers back amongst 15,000 empty seats.  Jimbo, Imwan, and Captain Ice found themselves in a quiet moment, just eyeballing each other.  There was some disbelief that the moment had actually arrived.  Ice worked a control panel, and from what was once the imposing stage roof, came a rumbling.  Just forward of where the large speaker and Nipper statue had been blown apart, arose three grand and gleaming sailing masts.

Imwan sat at another section of the control center, eyes on screens.  Ice, from his seat, did a final program check on the masts.  Jimbo stood between his friends, focused on the night’s crashing waves, which were illuminated through the front windows.

“We should probably play some tunes,” he asserted, with a smirk.  He grabbed an old school remote and aimed it at a CD player.  Then, he turned to Ice.

“Captain,” he commanded, “set a course for international waters.”

Through the murky inlet it roared, toward the churning expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.  Remotely guided by Imwan, and trailing the ship by roughly the distance from home plate to the right field porch in Yankee Stadium, buzzed Dewey, gaining ground, red light blinking.

The Rolling Stones’ “Till the Next Goodbye” played as Dewey reached home base, touching down on the damp deck that was once a shimmering stage.  Below it, the newly-revealed stern brandished what Jimbo might refer to in everyday speech as the vessel’s “moniker”:


Long Island, NY


A Day in the Life; The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” turns 50.

22 May

I’d known of the Beatles for a few years.  My lovely older cousin Pat used to teach me how to dance to their music.  That began when I was four years old, and I had just lost my mom.  When I was five, Pat wanted to take me to see the band when they played at New York’s Shea Stadium.  She worked hard at it, but she was only a teenager herself and my grandma said “Patsy, the boy would be trampled!”

Of course Mama was correct, and I never got to see the Fab Four in concert.

Then, I turned six.  Things were changing; the world, the Beatles.  The boys started to look different.  My brothers, Ed and Kevin, both about a decade my senior, looked different too.  They looked more like the Beatles.

I finally owned my first full length lp.  I’d had a bunch of 45rpm singles given to me by Pat and my brothers, but owning an album was big time for me.  It was the North American release entitled, BEATLES ’65.  It was already over a year old, but it was new to me.  The three songs that opened that album weren’t in the happy-go-lucky “She Loves You” mold.

“No Reply”, “I’m a Loser”, and “Baby’s in Black”.

The titles tell the story.  That third track always reminded of how everyone had dressed at my mom’s funeral.

Then, Dad died.  It was right as I began first grade.

The Beatles stopped touring.  No one would ever see them in concert again.  They wanted to concentrate on making the best music possible, rather than just keep singing “She Loves You” to screaming fans.

As first grade came to an end, I was feeling accomplished – the way most of us do when we think we are getting “big”.  I lived with my grandma; my four older siblings resided together with our aunt.

One day, toward the end of that first school year, my big brothers came to visit.  They had a new album with them.  Ed was beginning to look a whole lot like Paul McCartney, especially the way Macca looked on that colorful new record sleeve.  We were going to experience, for the first time, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

Something seemed different as my brothers got set to play the record.  EVERYONE came into the room to listen; cousins, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Henry.  Hell, even Mama, almost 80, sat back in her chair as the needle dropped.  I, at age six, had no idea why everyone was suddenly interested in the Beatles.  I mean, Uncle Henry?  I recall he took quite the teasing as we listened to “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  He was probably just over fifty – and younger than I am now – but he laughingly took all of the “64” jabs with grace.

He took some shots about “Henry the Horse” as well.

As PEPPER played, I just wanted to get my hands on that record jacket.  It looked like it had so much; all kinds of people, lyrics, colors, and maybe even…clues.

I don’t have too many memories from when I was six years old, or younger, but oddly, most of the ones I do have revolve around the Beatles.

Rather than recount that initial playing of SGT. PEPPER via the bits and pieces of my foggy memory, I will include an excerpt from my novel, SONS OF THE POPE.  I used my actual experience to create a scene where a young special needs boy named Joey got to enjoy, with his family, the recent masterpiece by the band he loved so.  Joey had received the album as a Christmas gift, six months after its release.

“Hey, Joey,” said Kathy. “I got you something.”

She knelt beside him and took the brightly colored album

jacket out of the thin bag. The first thing Joey noticed were

the colors and the images of all the people. He recognized

W.C. Fields because Peter would always watch his movies,

but he didn’t immediately connect with anyone else—except

for the four lads in the kaleidoscopic military garb. They held

brass and wind instruments instead of guitars, and though

Joey could not read what was spelled out by the red flowers

at their feet, he knew.


Kathy helped him remove the shrink-wrap. She had

already taken off the Woolworth’s price sticker.

“Ooooh,” yelled Mary. “He’s gonna love that! We buy him

the little records, but those big ones are expensive. You

shouldn’t have done that, Kathy.”

“I know he loves the ‘Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane’

single; this album is like that.”

Joey’s grin was wide as he stared at the record cover. He

opened the gatefold and got a closer look at his favorite band

in their vivid garb.

“Let me lower the television set. Put the record on for

him,” said Mary.

As Kathy placed the record on Joey’s portable turntable,

Mary turned down the Christmas music. The yule log still

burned, though—a constant loop that reset every twenty


“He loves that music, and it’s okay ‘cause he’s always with

me and can’t do any harm to himself, but I think this music

can lead kids to bad things. You know, the drugs and all,” said


“Maybe, but it doesn’t have to. I don’t think drugs are

needed to expand the mind,” replied Kathy. “I think a needle

in the groove beats a needle in the arm any day.”

The family sat there as the recording began. They

eventually met Billy Shears and Lucy. Mama left her chair to

make some coffee, but the rest remained. They were taken

away to a color-splashed circus. Kathy flipped the record over

and they arrived in India, only to be quickly transported to a

1940s dance hall. It was at this time that Sal began thinking

of the old music that he loved so much. Mama returned in

time to hear a chicken cluck morph into a guitar pluck. The

military band that had unleashed this animal were now trying to

get it back in its cage. There came an incredible crescendo

that sounded as if all the music they’d ever heard was being

played at once. Then it stopped—but not before a thunderous

piano chord that seemed to echo into eternity. Mary wanted

to speak but wasn’t sure when to start, fearing another

explosion of sound. Peter beat her to the punch.


“These are the same fellas that sang ‘I Want to Hold Your

Hand’?” Mary asked.

“Hmmmm,” replied Joey before another could answer.

“What did ya think, Ma?” asked Mary.

“Nice boys. But I like the Italian music. I wish them luck.”

Of my real family, from the factual version of my first exposure to SGT. PEPPER, I am the only living member who was in that room on that evening in June, 1967. I dedicate this memory, with love, to all of them.

Life goes on within you and without you.

SONS OF THE POPE is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers. Also on Kindle, Nook, and Audiobook.

UPDATE: Ariana Grande’s Latest Response. One Week Later.

29 Aug




How has Ariana Grande responded to the disappointed MTV contest winners?

That is the question I have received most over the past week.  There have been a lot of questions, and I’ll try to answer them all here at once. This has actually become too big to even handle by a family without the power of a public relations army working for them.

I never imagined that our little blog post would be read by hundreds of thousands of people, in almost 200 countries, but somehow, it has.  Many of these people have asked if Ms. Grande has reached out to the fans she walked out on one week ago. These are the most popular questions:

“Has she invited everyone to re-do the meeting?”

“Has she mailed the explanation letter she talked about writing?”

“Has she tweeted any of the fans who were there?”

“Has she called anyone on the phone?”

We have waited a week to answer these questions, as we didn’t want to rush into anything, and my daughters had faith that she would maybe just make a two minute phone call, so they could all explain their side, get past the whole thing, and the girls could concentrate on buying and enjoying her new album.

Our family has been bombarded with interview requests all week – and up to this point have granted NONE.  We had no desire to make this a bigger issue. Those few who have labeled us as “fame hungry” may not realize that we wrote a post, out of frustration, on a blog that used to get maybe 3 hits a day. We didn’t follow up until now, and we didn’t sell any interview to anyone. We just wanted to speak out for fans everywhere – even those who now hate and harass us.  Treating contest winners as an annoyance is not really cool.  This was not a case of interrupting a celebrity on the street, or in a restaurant, and it was not a large scale meet and greet of hundreds of people.  It was three contest winners, with one guest each. That’s it.

Ariana has tweeted that she was saddened by the contest-winning artwork that featured a drawing of her and her departed grandfather.  We do not dispute the fact that she may well have been so affected, but this is important to note, please:

EVERYTHING in the original blog post occurred BEFORE she saw the artwork that featured her and Mr. Grande.


The “only a selfie allowed” warning.

The confiscation of any gifts intended for her, including one fan’s contest-winning CD of violin versions of Ariana songs.  That young man poured his heart into that, and traveled across the country to hand it to her.

The lack of banter with anyone – not even asking their names, or if they were the contest winners (as opposed to the guests).

The ordering of security to be sure all non-selfies were DELETED.

Heading off to leave after spending just seconds with each winner.


She was already walking away from her fans when my daughter Jen mustered up the courage to approach her with the artwork.  Jen and her sister Kelly had recently lost their own grandpa, and their intention was to tell Ariana that they loved her and that they felt her pain because they knew what she was going through. They wanted to say “We feel you as a person right now, not as a superstar, because we know the pain in your heart.”

They assumed Ms. Grande was aware of the artwork because it won the contest for Jen, and, as with the other young man’s violin CD, it came from a place of love. Jen wanted to give Ari the originals to keep.

The other piece of artwork featured Ariana and Iggy Azalea, and it was this drawing that Ariana was looking at when she ordered all pictures deleted. She had not seen the grandpa drawing yet.  When she did see the grandpa drawing, she walked out.  Remember, she had been on the way out already, before Jen walked up to her with the artwork. She had taken the fan selfies and was on the way out.

We believe that Ariana was affected in some way by seeing the artwork, we are not challenging that. It’s just that nobody knew it at the time, and it doesn’t really explain everything that went on before it.  The fans were treated horribly before that final few seconds.

So, to answer the above questions, there has been no contact at all from Ms. Grande to the fans in the week that followed.

We received a midweek phone call from Mr. Joseph Carozza, vice president of Ariana’s Republic record label.  The girls looked at me as if to say “We knew Ari would make this right.”

Here was the sum total of the phone call: Mr. Carozza asked me to update the blog by writing that we now understood why Ariana acted as she did – because of her being in mourning.

When I asked him why I should do that considering that everything noted in the blog occurred BEFORE she saw the drawing, he responded that this post had become a legitimate news story and that it was Ariana’s album release week, and the story was making her uncomfortable.

I told him that I was sorry for all that, but that my girls had been affected too – as they were receiving death threats.

He reiterated the notion that Ariana had wanted to contact the girls after she had walked out on them, but that MTV had no way to deliver the “letter” she talked about.

I reminded him that MTV knew exactly where the contest winners were staying for all three nights – as they had placed them in that hotel.  They also had everyone’s phone number (that’s how Mr. Carozza got it to call us in the first place), home address, email address, and quite literally – their picture IDs and social security numbers.

Perhaps the Ariana letter could have been sent over to the hotel when MTV had the VMA passes driven there two days after the meet and greet?

I suggested that maybe Ms. Grande could phone the contest winners personally, for two minutes, just to have each side make nice, put it all behind them, and I could update this blog with a happy ending saying how Ariana reached out and acted like a true star. I could then write that the girls were excited to buy the new album.

He refused.

We still waited several more days, in the hope that, within all of her promotional fan interactions, she might still call, tweet, or send a note to the original winners, as part of her weeklong album release fan experience.

Didn’t happen.

I called Mr. Carozza as a final reaching-out gesture to see if any contact might happen soon, before writing this follow up.

No, it will not.

There is a happy ending to this, though. The happiness is not with the spurned contest winners, but with the fans who have met Ariana Grande since this blog became news.  She has gone out of her way to meet many fans, with cameras rolling, surprising them at America’s Got Talent and the Today Show. Giving them VIP passes – on national television, singing happy birthday to one, hugging them all, taking Vines with them, doing repeated live chats, and telephone Q&A sessions. She also has tweeted several of them personally, and posted repeated tweets about how she loves all of her fans.

The ones who earned a meeting with her through difficult contest entries, and follow up phone interviews, have received none of that.

They have been forgotten by Ariana Grande and her huge publicity machine.

They have no voice in this world except for this tiny blog page. I’ve been asked why I wrote it to begin with – well, Ms. Grande is famous for (rightfully) defending her family when they have been wronged. I chose to do that for my daughters, and the other contest winners. It’s that simple.

But the happy ending is that, at least for now, some fans are being treated as actual human beings.

That was the point from day one.

For the few who call our family “liars” regarding all of this, I put this offer out there: Every one of us will take a public polygraph exam if Ms. Grande will agree to do the same.

Every word I have written has been the absolute truth.

We don’t have a corporate spin machine to twist the story, we don’t have the power to tell magazines and websites that we will refuse future interviews with them if they don’t slant the story our way, and we don’t have millions of fans who believe everything we say.

We just know that if we tell the true story, there will be no guilt in our hearts.

Say “Hi” – of course we’ll follow back on Twitter:

JEN: @HerNamesJen

KEL: @KellyyPatricia 

DAN (DAD): @DanOVegas 

JO (MOM): @JoanneOVegas

Meeting Ariana Grande, Then and Now.

26 Aug



“Oh, Dad – I might be able to meet Ariana Grande today!”

That’s what my 14 year-old daughter, Jen, exclaimed to me on a January day in 2011.

Both Jen and her older sister, Kelly (then 19), were such big fans of Ariana. They enjoyed her in her role as “Cat” on the Nickelodeon show “Victorious”. Thought she was so charming and funny. But what they enjoyed even more was her singing. She wasn’t a pop star back then. She was a funny and talented supporting player on a comedy show. But my daughters watched Ariana’s homemade Youtube videos of her using her beautiful voice while singing other people’s songs. They showed the videos to my wife and I, and we were naturally impressed as well. We also watched “Victorious” with our girls. We knew Ariana Grande was destined for stardom.

On that day in 2011, Ariana tweeted that she was excited that she would be visiting the Titanic exhibit at the Las Vegas Luxor hotel.  We live 20 minutes outside of Vegas, so Jen practically begged me to drive over to the Luxor and wait outside the Titanic exhibit – for however long it took – so that she might see her idol.  Kelly wouldn’t be able to come because she was already at work. Of course I said “yes”. The one rule I had was that, if we saw Ariana, we had to wait until she finished enjoying the exhibit and was ready to leave. I’m not one for intruding on anyone, celebrity or not.

If Ariana were to tweet something like that today, there would likely be hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans waiting for her.  On that day, before she was a superstar, there was only Jen.

Jennifer O’Connor was an “Arianator” before it was even a term.

We waited on a bench near the Titanic exit for hours. I read a book while Jen kept her eyes on the gift shop.

“Oh gosh. There she is,” said Jen. She was actually shaking.

We watched from a distance as Ariana, her mom, and one or two other folks paid for their purchases and began to exit. First Ariana stopped to slip on a hoodie she bought in the shop. Then they moved toward the exit. Ariana spotted Jen smiling at her. Jen didn’t have to say anything.

“Hi,” smiled Ari, “Do you want a picture?”

“Yes, please. I’m such a fan of yours. I saw your tweet and hoped I could come down and meet you.”

“Aww, that’s so cool,” replied Ariana, “What’s your name? Check out my new hoodie! Do you like it?”

They chatted for a minute or two, and then posed for a photo. Ari threw up a peace sign. I took the picture.

“Can we do that again, please?” asked Ariana, “I think I probably looked terrible in that one.”

Of course I re-took the photo. Ariana never asked to see or approve of either picture. Jen deleted the first one, without being asked to do so. She did it out of common respect. As they said their goodbyes, Ariana hugged Jen, and Mrs. Joan Grande actually thanked us for coming to meet her daughter. It was a wonderful experience, and Jen has told the world about it for years.  Ariana Grande was one of the nicest celebrities we have ever encountered – and between originally living in New York, then Vegas, and our frequent trips to L.A., we have come across a lot of them.

Flash forward to August, 2014. Ariana is a superstar. But surely she is still the same sweet girl where it matters most – in her heart. Maybe, maybe not.


That’s how the contest was advertised.  Contestants had to produce some art and say why they loved Ariana so much.  They also had to follow and hashtag MTV, VH1, and Pepsi, label it as #ArianaNOW, and a few other things.

Jen spent days working on artwork of Ariana, wrote why she loved her, and amazingly, became a finalist. She was then interviewed via phone by an MTV rep for the second stage of the competition, and a few days later was announced as one of the two MTV winners (there was another winner through VH1). All winners were permitted to bring a guest to L.A., so naturally Jen chose her older sister (another Arianator).

The winners were placed at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood. They were told to get to the L.A. Forum in Inglewood for a 5 PM meeting with Ariana. They had to provide their own transportation. Jen and Kel arranged for a taxi to take them. They know that Los Angeles traffic is horrific so they left extra early from the hotel so that they wouldn’t miss the event that they were so excited for. Jen brought her winning artwork because she wanted to give it to her idol. She also wanted to remind Ariana of their prior meeting by the Titanic exhibit, when it was just Jen, Ariana, and that cute hoodie.

Jen and Kel got to the Forum early, as traffic wasn’t as bad as they had been warned. They were not allowed inside, or even permitted to wait in the safety of the parking lot. Fair enough – though probably not hospitable or decent, it was never promised that they’d be let in early. At least they knew they wouldn’t be late, and miss the chance to “hang” with Ari.

Turns out, they were never permitted in the building at all.  An MTV staff member in a big tent said “You can’t stay here. I don’t know where you can go, but it can’t be on the property. Also, this neighborhood is unsafe so be careful out there.”  At some point later, they were allowed into the parking lot, where all the winners and guests stayed, being shuffled from table to table as more “important” people appeared.  They waited till around 7:30, outdoors, for the meeting with Ariana. They were all hungry and cold, and despite a huge party barbeque going on in the tent beside their benches, they were offered nothing but a bottle of water the entire time.  Still, no problem – that’s life sometimes.  Some folks care, some don’t.

Here’s where it gets shady:

Jen and the other MTV winner (a young man of 16 who traveled across the entire country for this meeting) were interviewed on camera by MTV to be broadcast at a later date. Before the camera rolled they were told they would be asked what it was like meeting Ariana, and they had to PRETEND that they had already had said meeting – even though the interview was taped BEFORE Ariana ever appeared. They were told what to say, almost word for word. I know Jen feared that if she refused to do this, she would not meet Ariana (though she was not told that).

That, my friends, is known as a RED FLAG.

After the bogus interview, Ariana was set to appear. First, she did an on-camera interview. We don’t know what it was about, but I’m wondering if she also faked that the meeting had already taken place.  She then approached her fans without a smile – just an icy look as she toyed with her hair.  She was surrounded by 8 to 10 assistants.  Ariana stood by, with a blank stare, as the rules came fast and furiously from a staffer:

“You are not to present Ariana with any type of gift or anything. Give them to security and they will get them to her. You can take a selfie with her, but nothing else.”

Remember, these are not kids who interrupted Ariana during dinner at a restaurant, they are pre-screened contest winners who poured their hearts into their winning entries. The 16 year old boy had recorded a CD of beautiful violin cover versions of Ariana songs. It won the contest for him, and he wanted to present it to her.

It was taken away by security.

Ariana Grande, the superstar, then walked toward her three contest-winning fans.

She spent perhaps 15 seconds with each of them. That is not an exaggeration. They took an approved photo with her and that was it. No small talk. No banter. No “I can pretend I care a slight bit for you because you support me, you tweeted about me and my projects thousands of times, you buy my music, and you traveled so far, while paying for your own taxis, three days of meals, new outfits to meet me in, and federal and state taxes on this prize. Let me hear the one sentence you’ve always dreamed about telling me.”

Nothing. That was it. Don’t be fooled by the sweet smile in the photos below.  Ariana gave that grin for each picture, but then it was gone again. She never bothered to even ask anyone their name. She didn’t inquire as to who the contest winners were, as opposed to their guests, or what they created to win the right to meet her. Shocked by all this, Jen, whom Ari had been so kind to in 2011, walked up and said “Ari, here’s a photo we took together in Vegas at the Titanic…”

Ms. Grande glanced at the photo on Jen’s phone and said, “Let’s redo that picture.” She said nothing else, so Jen retook the photo. No peace sign from Ari this time.  Then Jen took out one of the drawings that won the contest for her.  Kelly snapped a photo of her smiling little sister giving Ariana the drawing.

“Delete those pictures, please” was all Ariana said.

“Can I just keep the one of my sister showing you the drawing?” asked Kel.

Ariana turned to her security and ordered, “Make sure she deleted those.”

Then, Ariana Grande walked away from her prize-winning fans without even saying goodbye.

That was it. That was HANG WITH ARIANA GRANDE, as the contest ads had screamed.

The MTV reps on scene seemed startled, but at a loss for what to do.

“Sometimes celebrities are like that,” was all they could muster, “So what are you guys doing for the rest of the day?”

CRYING would turn out to be the unspoken answer for most of them.

What did MTV, VH1, Pepsi, or Ariana Grande do to rectify this disaster? So far, nothing.

The weekend continued. On Sunday, the winners received passes to the MTV Video Music Awards (which was part of the prize all along). They were seated three rows from the back of the top balcony, possibly closer to the sun than the stage. I had told them to expect that, though. The fact that one of the winners was somehow awarded better seats than the others, seated among industry insiders, and given wristbands for he and his guest for free food and drink during the show is a mystery that was not specified as a prize, and was likely just another MTV oversight – along with letting all the contest winners out of the car that brought them to the show in a Sizzler parking lot several blocks from the Forum. They were told to hoof it to that same lot after the show, in their new outfits and shoes. How glamorous.

Do you think that MTV might have offered to place the winners up close in the pit in front of the stage with hundreds of radio contest winners? You know, to make up for the terrible meeting experience? Nope – they stuck ‘em up in the rafters.

Polite texts were sent to several MTV reps, and tweets to both Ariana and her mother, desperately asking for something to be done. Some type of re-do, or perhaps a meet n greet with some other, more fan-friendly, celebrity.

All were ignored.

It is understood that this was a meet n greet. Nobody expected Ariana Grande to become their best friend, or to even spend 15 minutes with the group of contest winners (though that wouldn’t seem to be an insane request), but 15 seconds each, followed by barked orders to delete photos, and an abrupt exit, doesn’t seem to really epitomize such an event either.

Jen and Kelly have encountered many celebrities, just passing on the street, that have spent more time with them than Ariana did with her contest winners.  These include Ashley Tisdale, Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSync, Brandon Flowers of the Killers, Brad Garrett, Nicolas Cage, Weird Al Yankovic, Ariana’s “Victorious” co-stars Leon Thomas and Mikey Reid, and many more. Every one of them kind and engaging.

Jen met Ari’s “Sam and Cat” co-star, Jennette McCurdy, at an event and was knocked out by how sweet she was. She asked Jen questions about herself and chatted about a variety of things. Jen tried to move along to give time to other fans, but Jennette actually called her back to talk more about her artwork.  Same with Miranda Cosgrove – a complete sweetheart.

In 2003, Jen and Kel received an opportunity to meet a superstar even more famous than Ariana Grande. They met Britney Spears. Wanna know how that went?

Britney invited our two girls into her dressing room at MTV’s TRL. She spent between 12 and 15 minutes with JUST THEM and her assistant Felicia.  Then Britney invited my wife and me to come in as well.  We all took a bunch of pictures, from any angle, while Britney chatted with the girls, looked through pics of their memorabilia, happily personally accepted a gift bag they had brought for her, answered any questions they had, gave them each a signed copy of her CD (which was released that day), and personally made sure that Jen and Kel could watch the live taping of TRL in the studio, even though they were both too young according to MTV policy.  Neither Britney, or any member of her staff, ever asked to see any of the pictures we took. In fact, her security guard remained OUTSIDE the entire time we spent with her.

That is a true superstar who loves her fans.

We did not expect Ms. Grande to be as gracious as Britney, but 15 seconds and a silent walk-off?

Jen also once won a contest to spend the afternoon with Disney star Ryan Ochoa (“iCarly”, “Pair of Kings”…) at Knotts Berry Farm. We expected that Ryan would be there for an hour, maybe two, and that would be fine.  He showed up with his dad and his brother and they stayed with Jen for EIGHT HOURS.  They wanted to stay longer but I insisted that they had done more than enough and I was actually embarrassed at their kindness.

Then they set our whole family up with front row seats to a taping of “Pair of Kings”. We met the entire cast after the show. They were all amazing and friendly.

Ryan Ochoa and his family have become our friends now. We see them whenever they are in Vegas, and sometimes when we are in L.A.

We did not expect Ms. Grande to become friends with any of the contest winners, or to spend eight hours with them, or give them any type of tickets for anything.

Some might say she was having a bad day.  But what about the day after, and the day after that? The fans were all still in Hollywood, awaiting the VMAs.  All involved knew that very well. Could Ariana have met them again? Could she have just sent them a personal tweet, or had a letter driven to the hotel?  A signed CD? Could she have sent out a general tweet about meeting some huge fans?

None of that has happened.  The contest winners have been completely ignored.

Nobody expected Ariana Grande to spend a whole hour with them, or give them her phone number, or even follow them on Twitter.

But 15 seconds and a silent walk-off?

We’re waiting to see if Ariana, her mom, MTV, VH1, or Pepsi will do anything at all to rectify the injustice done to these disappointed fans and their guests.  It’s a terrible thing to be treated that way by your idol.

They deserve something.  Maybe five minutes with a celebrity who cares.

Say “Hi” – of course we’ll follow back on Twitter:

JEN: @HerNamesJen

KEL: @KelleJansky 

DAN (DAD): @DanOVegas 

JO (MOM): @JoanneOVegas

Jen and Ariana. Titanic exhibit, Las Vegas 2011.

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Jen and Ariana. L.A. Meet n Greet. 2014

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Kelly and Ariana. L.A. Meet n Greet. 2014

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Jen and another contest winner being interviewed by MTV, BEFORE they met Ariana.

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Our entire family with Britney Spears at MTV studios, NYC, 2003.

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Jen with Ryan Ochoa at Knott’s Berry Farm, 2011.

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