words

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.

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