Juanita and I were never meant to be. But everyone’s got to start somewhere. And for me, it was a punctilious pixie in a hip-hugging black vinyl miniskirt, white vinyl belt, and puffy-sleeved orange blouse, topped by a short, sharply off-axis, but firmly on-trend haircut. The Twiggy of East End Avenue—if that It Girl, Swinging London’s “Face of 1966,” had been extremely short and profoundly methodical. If Juanita never expressed a shred of affection, she was reliably polite. And we certainly overlapped in our pop fascinations (at a time when I thought pop the only fascination there could possibly be). I picked up my favorite jacket—a gray-green tweedy thing, four buttons high, with a slanted extra side pocket—on Carnaby Street during a family excursion to Blighty in 1966. And my go-to shirt—as both a 12-year-old rhythm guitarist in the school’s only rock band and as a 400-year-old bloviator on rock podcasts—has always been John Lennon-inspired polka-dot. On paper, Juanita and I were not a bad match.
Which is why I invited her to the Beatles.
Juanita was my first girlfriend. It had nothing to do with love or, practically speaking, sex. It had everything to do with status. This was eighth grade. Though you might be happy to spend most of your time with the boys (even inviting them to trail you on dates with Juanita), there had to be a girl in there somewhere. I didn’t bother to think of her as someone I might get to know or have fun with—a person, in other words. Which is maybe why I found her so boring. But for a boy who thought football was even more boring than his girlfriend, she was a solemn duty. Juanita proved I could get a girl (whatever “get” meant—not “fuck,” that’s for sure, not in any eighth grade I knew, but it wasn’t even “make out with” or “feel up,” unless you were Nick Fontaine, who, unfiltered cig dancing across peach-fuzzed lips, would regale us with tales of what he did to the prematurely magnificent Maria Mendoza, and she to him). Above all, Juanita proved to my peers that I wasn’t gay (unlike, it would turn out, Nick Fontaine).
On paper, Juanita and I were not a bad match. Which is why I invited her to the Beatles.
Amid the potholes of memory lane, the jarring notion arrives that I inherited Juanita from Bobby Murphy, my slobby, goofy, 6-foot-4 (in eighth grade) best friend. The main piece of evidence is that Juanita, like most of his girls—like most of the girls I got from Murph (because I didn’t know how to “get” them at all, and he did, kinda)— was under five feet. The pattern is crystalline in retrospect: Big Murph liked ’em shrimpy. So, based on my inadequacies and Murphy’s proclivities, I’d have to guess that tiny Juanita was another of the giant’s castoffs, just like the two girlfriends who followed.
I wasn’t expecting any quid pro quo for inviting Juanita to the Beatles. I was too chicken, maybe too nice, and, at 13, still too Catholic. I knew it was a good invitation. Best ever, maybe. And I was certainly horny, every second of every fevered day. But I’d learned to address that issue solo, by tearing out a picture from the burlesque ads in the back of the New York Post and forswearing the sacrament of confession. I never imagined the serious possibility of a real live girl. Certainly not one as polite as Juanita. Anyway, the catechism was unequivocal: Girls don’t like sex.
We arrived at Shea Stadium in a boxy green Chrysler Imperial with a big plastic shamrock on the grill, piloted by a former Air Force flier named Arthur Link, driver, bodyguard, and omertà-silent confidant for my friend Sean’s father. Thirty years older than Sean’s mom, his pop was a hard-drinking, up-from-nothing, pathologically proud son of Eire—every bar of soap in the family’s sprawling, mostly green apartment the ineradicably fragrant Irish Spring. He was also a member in good standing of that powerful, if unofficial, confederation of Paddy machers and municipal corrupters dubbed the Irish Mafia. It was him that got us tickets. Actually, they weren’t tickets. They were seats—but strictly unofficial. A security guard immediately recognized whatever Irish high sign Arthur flashed (which may have been the honorary NYPD badge I’d seen him flash in past encounters with minor authority, or just an Irish-green sawbuck) and led us to an elevator and then the door of an empty press box above first base, where he pulled out a ring of keys.
It’s true. Mostly you couldn’t hear them over the screams. But that was hardly the point. It was the Beatles. The Fab Four. J, P, G & R. Totally alive and utterly electric and here—with us, the hungry, mortal horde—in the flesh. Juanita didn’t scream. Didn’t hardly seem excited. Sean’s date, the affable Barb O’Brien, seemed a bit more jazzed—not screaming, but genuinely smiling from time to time—even though, based on costuming, she was definitely odd man out. No match for Juanita, let alone her own velvet-clad date. Sean, born and raised in New York City, played it cool about the momentous occasion unspooling beneath the blinding stadium lights. But for me the balmy August eve that began as a breathless dream promptly tumbled into panting nightmare: the high point of your life, of your entire life, rushing, flying, crashing, into the past, within minutes as fundamentally inaccessible as the Beatles in the armored car that carried them back out of Shea. Still, born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, desperate to fit in, I tried to act like Sean—all the time sweating that my companions would hear the screaming inside (and the crying).
Me in gray-green tweed. Sean in purple. The Fabs in military-style suits of brownish-beige. The security guard in navy. Barb sporting six shades of bland, and Juanita absolutely graphic in—what else?—designer vinyl.
That’s how it all started for me. And, you could argue, how I ended up, eight years after the press box, caviling and clowning in the pages of America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine. Not to mention, 50 years after that (speaking of long and winding roads), here again.