Chapter 27, Part II: John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, and the Bully Chef

In December 1980 I was living in South Florida, working at a resort hotel on an island off the Gulf Coast. I had no TV or radio in my room, so the next morning the executive chef asked me, “So, did you hear your hero died? Somebody shot him?”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“John Lennon, somebody killed him.”

“Whaaat?  You’re shittin’ me,” I said.

This particular chef disliked me intensely and was constantly trying to get under my skin, so ours was not a friendly relationship. And it would be just like him to play such a sick joke on me, or any number of the kitchen staff, come to think of it.

That week I happened to be reading Anthony Fawcett’s John Lennon: One Day at a Time, and as was my usual practice, had been reading it in a corner during my breaks.  I had also just bought Lennon’s new double-cassette album, Double Fantasy, and had been listening to it on my Sears portable cassette player (portable was a relative term—the thing was as big as a shoe box and weighed several pounds) over and over in my room in the men’s staff dorm, probably at a much louder volume than politeness would have dictated. 

So for Chef to, that particular week, make up a story about Lennon getting shot was not out of the question.

“No, really,” he said.  “Some guy was delivering him flowers and shot him dead.”

“Riiight . . .” I said, and went about my business.

After a few minutes, though, I heard the radio playing over the loudspeakers.  Chef usually didn’t let us listen to the radio except late at night after all the guests had vacated the dining room, so that was kind of weird.  The cool thing was that they were playing “Watching the Wheels,” which was one of my favorite songs off Lennon’s new album.

When the song ended, the DJ’s voice came on, but instead of his chipper pop-rock promotional tone, his voice was noticeably subdued.

“And as we all mourn the tragic loss of one of music’s greatest icons, let’s hear another song from his latest album, Double Fantasy.”

As the lyrics of “Beautiful Boy” wafted through the air, I turned to Chef, who just stood there proudly basking in his successful effort to both hurt my feelings and piss me off.

“Told you, Dillweed,” he said.  “Now get those cutlets prepped before I find someone else to do it.”

He turned his back on me and stomped off to the walk-in cooler, slamming the door with an unnecessary emphasis behind him.

My eyes filled with tears as I thought about who would do such a thing, and why.  I knew from his biography that Lennon was not always as peaceful and loving as his Love-in image had portrayed, but crap, he didn’t deserve getting killed.

At that point we still didn’t know the details, and as it turned out, it wasn’t a flower delivery guy, but a whacked-out fan who had done the deed, but it didn’t matter.  John was dead.  He was gone.  No more beautiful songs.  No more speculation of a Beatles reunion like the one that had been faked by a radio station up on Lake Winnipesaukee a couple of years before.   No more John.

I fought back tears the rest of the day, and when my shift was over, went back to my room, lit up a joint, and played Double Fantasy over and over until I drifted off to sleep.


I was nineteen and 2,000 miles from my home, friends, and family in New England, and I had never felt so alone.  Life sucked and it wasn’t fair, and this event became just one more piece of evidence to prove my conclusion.

5:45 a.m. came much sooner than I wanted, but I dragged myself down the hall and into the shower, then walked into the kitchen and fixed myself two poached eggs and a side of whole wheat toast, and was finished eating before anybody else came in.

Chef never mentioned John Lennon again, but he didn’t have to.  The miserable bastard had succeeded in his task of crushing my spirit, at least for a day or two.  But I resolved that he, nor anyone, would ever be able to do so again.

God, how I wish I was a strong enough human being for that to come true.  But more on that later . . .

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