The Night I Was Brian Jones

I inherited a jewelry box from my mother.  It’s a Greek design made of olive green cardboard with a white frieze around the top, decorated with men and women wearing togas.  In the top and middle drawers are earrings, carefully sorted in plastic trays that once held Whitman’s Chocolates.  Inspired by the lines, angles and “modern art” of the time, my mother made these earrings from beads she’d collected.

In the third drawer of this jewelry box is her father’s square-faced Bulova watch, a pair of broken eyeglasses, miscellaneous removable dental bridges, and broken cufflinks.  It is in this drawer that the blue glass guitar pick is stashed.  A guitar pick shaped like most picks but made of thick clear turquoise glass, far too thick to pick a single guitar string at a time.

But jewelry boxes hold strange objects women covet.  Small items filled with memories in need of safekeeping.

It is especially significant that this guitar pick once belonged to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.  Brian picked it up off the stage where it was thrown during a concert.  This was a time when fans who adored their musical heroes would pelt them with money and various other projectiles, the way an adolescent boy sometimes hits or throws things at a girl he likes.

I must have been only five years old at the time.  I still had the wavy platinum blonde hair that my Aunt Rose used as an excuse to nickname me Marilyn.  And I had puffy circles around my eyes that never seemed to go away.

My father had schlepped my two brothers and me from New Jersey into Manhattan, to a hotel on Central Park South.  I remember mayhem, police, and screaming fans, as I stood not three feet tall in a crowded elevator.

The door to Brian’s room opened just a tiny crack until he recognized my dad.  Brian’s blonde hair was also like Marilyn’s, and he too had puffy circles around his eyes.  We piled into his room; three kids and my dad, who was forever shuffling papers and carrying his yellow legal pad and a black felt tip pen very popular at the time.

My dad and Brian sat on the bed, and the three of us kids sat around a small table next to the window, overlooking Central Park.  The windows were open and there was a brisk chill in the air.  We gazed down at the action we’d just waded through, with throngs of girls assembled in the streets and behind barricades.  It was hard to understand what they were doing, just hanging around on a cold night. What were they were yelling about?  What did they want?  We peered out the window with an endless sense of amazement.  From our view on an upper floor of the hotel, they looked like ants.

My dad was now lying on his side, pen in hand, taking notes after smoking with Brian using the discreet little pipe my mom had made.  The telltale smell of sweet smoke wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow of curiosity on my brothers or me. This ritual had become so commonplace in our family that we thought it went on in all homes with all grownups.  Brian joked as he sifted through a pile of coins and trinkets he’d scooped up off the stage.  That’s when he handed my dad the blue glass guitar pick.

I peered out the window just a little further and looked down at the colorful menagerie of mostly teenaged girls lining the streets below.

“Look it’s Brian Jones!” I heard a voice yell upwards, followed by screaming.  I rotated my head to look up toward the roof, and then to each side, to see if any heads were hanging from windows other than mine.  I saw no one else.  Then I turned to see if my dad and Brian were as I’d left them seconds before.  I poked my head outside again, and this time heard more vigorous shrieks.

“Throw something down from your room!” came the cries.

I looked at my brothers who’d also heard the pleas from below, shrugged my shoulders and gazed at the unopened packets of sugar lying on the table.  I grabbed one of the packets and, without thinking, hurled it out of the window.

The ants ran for the sugar packet.  I tossed another one.  They broke thru the police barriers to grab it.  I was having a great time doling out rations of Brian’s sugar supply, watching antics which even to me looked absurdly childlike.  I wondered why this sugar would be of such great value to the crowd below but kept tossing until I’d exhausted the entire supply.  Spotting a few salt and pepper packets that resembed tiny oval suppositories, I tossed them out the window, too.

The girls on the street kept yelling for more.  But we’d run out of non- dangerous items to toss.  If we’d been in an expensive hotel nowadays, there might’ve only been salt and pepper in crystal shakers, or sugar in fine china.  We started to forage through Brian’s room looking for other “disposable” items.  Sensing our agitation, my father raised his voice…

“Come on you kids.  Cut it out.”

We were supposed to be on our best behavior.

Were we ten stories up?  Twenty?  Maybe even in the penthouse suites?  The girls on the street seemed microscopic.  I was a kid from New Jersey who lived in a ranch style house.  It felt as if we were on top of the Empire State Building.  But this was simply a case of mistaken identity.  As I said before, Brian did have those same puffy circles around his eyes, and that same platinum blonde hair, and of course, we were in his room.

So I will keep this blue glass guitar pick tucked in my mother’s old jewelry box.  I will keep it hidden and safe, and it will forever remind me of the handful of fifty to sixty-year-old women out there somewhere.  Women who have secretly kept packets of salt, pepper, and sugar in their jewelry boxes, to remember the night when Brian Jones threw them down from his room.