Penthouse Retrospective

by John Green Originally Published: July, 1983

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

This was going to be difficult.

“Remember when John was in Florida and you kept giving me information from the cards about what he was feeling and where he was so I could always find him?”

I nodded. Guessing which motel your client ’s husband is holed up in that day is a neat trick. I was rather proud of our success. Yoko would collect the names of every likely motel in the area and then we would read cards on each one of them in succession to see where John was most likely to be. Our success rate had been good, which was important, because a call to the wrong place asking for John Lennon could easily start undesirable rumors as to why he was there and with whom. As pleased as I had been at our success, however, I was unsure as to why Yoko was referring to it now. She explained.

“Well, he asked me how I could always find him, because he thought I was having him followed and I wasn’t, you know. So I told him that it was my new psychic, because he likes psychics too, and he asked what your name was and I told him and he said, ’You know, if we ever get back together again I want you to get rid of that psychic.’ So now we ’re back together and I told him I did get rid of you, you know so now I can’t tell him who you are, so you’re Charlie Swan. That’s what I told him, see?”

“I’m Charlie?”

“Yes, you have to do it. I told him, you see? No, promise! I’ll get him now.” So saying, she launched herself from the sofa. Pausing briefly, she turned to warn me, “Remember, you’re Charlie Swan, Charlie,” and then she was gone.

She was gone only a few minutes. When she returned she was leading John like a prize Holstein-Frisian. There he was, John Lennon, somehow larger than life. There were the famous little round glasses, bent nose, and tight smile. Less expected was the curious visual impact he made: he radiated.

“Hello, Charles,” he chimed as he stuck out his hand in his best hail-fellow manner.

We clasped hands while Yoko smiled on with motherly pride. Looking straight at me, she asked, “Would you like to come to the kitchen for some coffee, John?”

Then she sucked in her breath a little to underscore her error.

“John?” whooped John. “You call ol’ Charles here John, Yoko? He’s not John, I am! He’s Charles. Aren’t you, Charles?”

“So I’m told.”

We silently made the mile-long trek to the kitchen, where John and I drew up chairs. Yoko got the coffee. No one spoke.

I was more than a little nervous. This was, of course, John Lennon, megacelebrity, and I was going to read his future with seventy-eight little pieces of cardboard the tarot deck.

“This is John ’s reading,” I said. Yoko knew spectators weren ’t allowed in tarot readings. “Perhaps you ’d excuse us?” It wasn ’t really a question.

“It ’s all right, John,” Yoko insisted. “I know what you are going to ask about: being poisoned.”

This had the effect of suddenly reminding John that he was supposedly poisoned, and that his previously buoyant demeanor was perhaps not quite the best impression to convey under the circumstances. He promptly slumped in his chair, trying to look pale, with the identifiably sickly expression of a man who had been off with his girlfriend May Pang for a year and was wise enough on his return not to appear too happy too soon. All was not forgiven.

“It’s all right, John,” pressed Yoko. “You can ask anything. We don’t have any secrets, do we?”

“Okay,” he answered. By now, he looked genuinely ill.

I shuffled the cards and laid each with care in its proper position. The result looked something like a cross between a stained-glass window and the molecular structure of a compound salt. “You’ll have to give me a minute to read this,” I said to John. “They’re not in English.”

“We think John’s been poisoned,” volunteered Yoko.

I squirmed and twitched in deliberation, following the map of cards. “Well,” I said, heaving a sigh and dragging lengthily on my cigarette for effect. “You haven’t been poisoned.”

Yoko, used to more elaborate answers, wanted more. “What else does it say? We think she put it in John’s tea.”

A compelling view from a unique perspective on a rock music icon and the absurdities that surround him.

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