Back to the Magic by Brian O’Donnell

     ‘Knock it off back there,” I screamed as my feet were lifted from the ground.  “Stop pushing!” My body was twisted and set within the crowd as if snap-frozen in glacier ice.  Dozens of people, winched and torqued in unnatural angles, crept as one inexorable mass towards brick and metal, light and glass.

     February had been staked by falling ice daggers and slashed by sidewinder blizzards. Snow drifted higher than living room windows, and the college town on the Maine coast nearly disappeared.  When a John Sebastian concert was announced, the lemmings sprang from dens to rush the cliff, the Morrell Gymnasium.

     I wore the winter armor of God: a faux-fur fringed snorkel coat and thought I was ready.  Other early concert arrivers were stamping their feet and blowing breath plumes, some decorated with hashish.  The bludgeoning cold soon pillaged our clothing – wool, feather, fur, it mattered not – and spilled our warmth, like blood, into the keening wind.

     A stampede of shivering students, hundreds lathered with beer suds, hustled the quad and collided into us in line.  The crowd surged towards the building, and we in front were crushed against brick and industrial doors. People struggled to inflate their lungs; a silent groan filled the space of a last breath.  

     One door opened eliciting a powerful rush.  The door’s top hinge snapped to full extension, hesitated, then blew past its tolerance and shattered the top of the door frame, sounding like gunshot.  The heavy metal door twisted like a gruesome forearm fracture and tore away from the frame. People tumbled into the gym foyer, one atop the next, rolling away from the entrance.  

     Many faces were etched with concern when John Sebastian came on stage.  Standing alone in front of his fellowship of various stringed instruments he said, “My, is it the cold that makes you quiet?  Helps you cope?”

     Tuning his autoharp, he said, “Maybe I can help.”   And he began to sing.

     “You didn’t have to be so nice. I would have liked you anyway”

     I closed my eyes.

     Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful were tie-dye wearing troubadours in the mid-1960s. They reigned with Ali and Koufax, The Beatles and Stones.  For us coming of age at that time, Lovin’ Spoonful music became a lodestone of innocence; hearing it years later in a college gym – a time machine back to the magic.

     I opened one eye.  I was pressed against a wall in Jackie Williams’ home.  Ten other boys, pals everyone, all frozen in place, silent, watched girls in early bud whisper and float, blush and giggle just beyond earshot.  It was my first Junior High party. I thought I was ready; I wore a dickie.

     Dickies raged in my school in the era between Adam West’s Batman and the Tet Offensive.  Take a turtleneck jersey, generously amputate both arms at the shoulder and any fabric below the nipple line, front and back.  You are left with a high wrapped collar attached to two flaps: one shielding your heart, the other bib had your back, as if Hoss Cartwright was your personal bodyguard.  My dickie was black magic. In my room, before the mirror, it whispered to me of kingship.

     “What a Day for a Daydream.  What a day for a daydreaming boy.”

     I dreamed of Patty, my CFA – Crush From Afar.  I frowned when she mispronounced “scallops” with a long “a,” but love was patient.  She had Carolina blue eyes and dimples like dug wells. I rollicked in the roiling boil of unrequited love; the pain was ecstatic, dark.  I loved her passionately from long distance, say, Aquarius, but was struck dumb when she entered the room.

     “Do you believe in magic in a young girl’s heart, how the music can free her whenever it starts?”

     At the kitchen table, surrounded by Brian and the Innocents, Alan of the deep cracking voice was making out with Linda.  They were coiled and steaming like a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. We tried to ignore the sucking sounds, but who gives up box seats at Gomorrah?

     Terrance, who had lip hair, went in a bedroom with Denise, who had knockers.  Upon resurrection, he walked by me and whispered to Alan, “She’s got falsies.”

     I was stunned; he must have felt her up.  “Whoah,” I said to myself. “I am in the wrong place on the eve of destruction.”  I hardly managed undisclosed love separated by light years. The only curves I barely handled in this world were stitched in baseball cowhide.

     I tugged on the dickie for, you know, security and moved slowly, coolly, towards the front door.  As I slinked through the shadow of a lava lamp, a frozen hand grabbed my wrist and poured liquid nitrogen, like embalming fluid, into my arteries.  It was Suzie, who had been passing me increasingly personal notes in class. I wanted her like a case of nitrogen narcosis on Sea Hunt.  

     “Where are you going?  It’s time for ‘Spin the Bottle,’ Brian.  Come on, everyone.”

     “Hot town, summer in the city.  Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.”

     The hormone bubblers spilled into the living room and were absorbed into the deep brown shag rug.  Suzie sat me beside her in the circle, across from Patti. I stared at the empty green-toned bottle in the center, a poisoned shard of ice, and had a stroke.  Someone droned on about rules, but I was too busy keeping my bowels indoors to listen.

     Suzie put my hand on the bottle.  “Spin it, Brian. Hurry up.”

     “There are so many changes and tears you must hide.  Did you ever have to finally decide?”

     My dickie was soaked in sweat.  Where the hell was Hoss Cartwright?   

     I spun the bottle.

     “A younger girl keeps rollin’ ‘cross my mind.”

     It landed on Mary, a sneering reed of a girl with the tongue of an asp.  She studied me as I paddled over the rug to her. She licked her full red lips.  They were smeared with glitter. I steadied myself placing both hands on her shoulders and tilted my head to the right.  I gently moved my lips towards her. She closed her eyes. I hesitated a moment, then planted a kiss firmly on her chin, missing her puckered, shimmering lips by a good skosh and a half.

     Mary’s eyes snapped open as I leaned away.

     She went off like a cherry bomb.  “OK, Einstein, look-it here. You see these?  These are lips. You kiss them, not the chin…”  

     “And now, a quarter of my life is almost gone.  I think I’ve come to see myself at last.”