The Woodstock Issue — (short fiction)
In many aspects, being the Managing Editor/CEO of a global weekly magazine is a cushy job. You get a big office overlooking Central Park, a fat paycheck with stock options, huge bonuses and direct access to the Hollywood elite, leaders of global industry and heads of state at a moment’s notice. When it’s all over, you get a retirement package that ensures you could live out your life in splendid luxury, sipping Mai-Tais by a pool in the Caribbean or exploring Europe by train, sipping Champagne in the dining car with beautiful young models or the sparkly countess of the day. You might choose to give back to industry underlings and accept speaking engagements at corporate or government functions – at twenty-five thousand a pop. There’s no limit to what someone in this fortunate situation could to do. Charles Bellamy, Managing Editor of Tome Weekly, could only think of one thing on the day before his retirement – getting back to Woodstock.
Charles started at Tome as a college intern. He was a full time student at New York University when he first graced the halls of the weekly in the spring of 1968. He spent the next fifteen months writing copy for those small classified boxes in the back of the publication. The work was mundane and well below his ability as he carved out ads for everyday products like septic tank cleaner, custom table top pads, denture repair kits, clocks, socks, and do-it-yourself wills. Very early on he showed an aptitude for journalism, but a year later he still languished in the ad corps with the rest of his peers. His journey to the managing editor chair began in that muddy alfalfa field of upstate New York, August of Sixty-Nine.
Charles sat at his desk, gingerly turning page after fragile page of the Woodstock issue; each page, every photo, every interview and every word, carefully selected and arranged to transmit the feeling and emotion of actually being there. Charles Bellamy and Paul Collins, the photographer assigned to the concert, were the only two from the magazine who actually attended the festival. Between the Tate murders in California and the steady approach of Hurricane Camille to the Gulf Coast, staff reporters were in short supply and the magazine had chosen to only send a photographer to at least get some pictures. By the time the enormity of the event unfolded, it was too late to get anyone up there. The New York State Thruway was closed and there wasn’t a helicopter to be had. It was good fortune for Tome that a young intern traveled to the show with the photographer. Charles’s journalistic instincts took over and he promoted himself to head reporter, Woodstock Division. His press pass got him everywhere and up close with the leading musicians of the era. Charles secured his career at Tome Weekly in the pages of the Woodstock edition which hit the streets to critical success that following Labor Day. And now, forty years later, his retirement would take him back to Yasgur’s Farm for the first time since.
A loud rap on the office door startled Charles and he looked up from the magazine. “Yes?” he said loudly.
“Hey, Chief,” Paul said as he walked into the cluttered office.
“Paul!” he stood, obviously pleased at seeing his old friend and former Art Director. “What brings you down here?”
“Oh, as if you don’t know,” Paul shot back. “Don’t tell me you forgot our lunch date?”
“Uh…no, I didn’t,” he pulled out his planner to confirm. “See, right there.” He pointed to the tiny screen assuming Paul had the eyes of a hawk, Lunch w/Paul – 12:30.
“You haven’t looked at your calendar today, have you?”
Charles chuckled softly. “No, I haven’t.”
Paul glanced down at the open magazine on Charles’s big mahogany desk. It was open to page fifty-three showing three different photographs he had taken on Saturday night at Woodstock. There was the iconic photo of Janis Joplin, her big round sunglasses hanging low on her nose, sipping champagne with the guitarist and songwriter from the Grateful Dead. There was the black and white photo of Bob “The Bear” Hite, of Canned Heat, sharing a smoke with Jimi Hendrix, and in the lower right corner the color photo of Suzy, the hippie girl Charles met -and fell in love with – at Woodstock. It was not the first time Paul had caught his friend sneaking peeks at his lifelong obsession.
“Well, that explains the calendar blow off,” he said, pointing at Suzy’s picture.
“You still think I am nuts, don’t you?”
He hesitated before responding. “Charles, you could have had any woman in New York but every time you got involved with someone, the minute it got serious, you did something stupid to sabotage the relationship. Do I think you are nuts?” After a short pause he pointed back to the page and finished, “Certifiable!”
Charles looked back at the photo and said, “Maybe I am, but in all the years, no woman has ever moved me like Suzy.”
Paul rolled his eyes like a mad librarian. “I’ve watched you obsess over this woman since we got back from the show – figured over the years you’d move on, especially after all that money you spent trying to find her.”
“I know,” Charles injected. “I tried to let it go several times, but kept wondering what could have been.” He walked to the window and stared down at the treetops of Central Park. “You know I think we are soulmates.”
“You know I said the same thing about a stripper in Trenton.”
Charles snickered, “I remember her.”
He looked down at the street and motioned for Paul to join him at the window. “Step over here, I want to show you something.”
Paul looked down at the street. “What am I looking for?”
“There,” Charles pointed to the street and the tan rooftop of a new motor home. “The brown top.”
“That’s not a bus, my friend. That’s my new home for the next couple of years, starting with the big forty year celebration up at the Woodstock site this weekend.”
Paul studied his friend with a look that begged the question, Have you gone mad? “You don’t really think she is going to be there, do you?
Charles sighed, “No, I don’t, but we did make a pact to meet on the fortieth anniversary. She turns sixty on Sunday.”
“You remember her birthday?”
“I remember everything.”
“You obviously didn’t smoke enough pot while you were there.”
“I didn’t smoke any while I was there,” Charles replied. “I was working.”
“So were a few thousand other people stoned out of their gourds, including me.”
“Yeah, but you were a better photographer stoned.”
Paul stepped back to the desk and flipped though a couple more pages of the magazine and asked, “Did you ever wonder what your career would have been like without the success of the Woodstock issue?”
“Many times,” he replied. “Oh, and by the way, I didn’t forget lunch. I had something brought in for us. It’s waiting downstairs in the motor home.”
“Well, let’s go. I’m starved!”
It took all of two minutes to take the elevator down to ground level and the short walk out onto the plaza. When they turned the corner and approached the RV, Paul stopped in his tracks, grabbed Charles by the arm and asked, “Are you nuts?”
He laughed and replied, “Certifiable.”
Three issues ago, the managing editor put together a WOODSTOCK REVISITED issue to commemorate the fortieth anniversary. His contribution had been an editorial titled: Have You Seen This Girl? The picture used in the article was the same Suzy photo from the original issue. The gist of the story was how a young Charles Bellamy had gone to Woodstock, met rock stars and spiritual leaders and a girl named Suzy. He wrote about how the weekend ended, both of them laying on a muddy blanket in a damp field. And then Monday morning after Hendrix played the Star Spangled Banner on that white Stratocaster, how bits and pieces of the crowd just started walking away. It was all surreal in ways that special mileposts in time seem to be. He was forever changed by the music, the moment, and the girl. A clone of the Hendrix Stratocaster hung on his office wall.
“So, what do you think?” Charles asked.
Paul stood there, a hand shielding the sun reflected off the glass windows of the cross street tower. The graphics on the side of the RV mimicked the editorial from the Woodstock Revisited edition. A black and white photo of Suzy completely covered the side of the camper in a gray shade that contrasted the earth tones of the camper’s paint scheme. A banner ran nearly the full length of the vehicle read: Have You Seen This Girl?
“I assume you did both sides,” Paul quipped.
“Of course!” Charles beamed. “If she’s there, I don’t want her to miss it.”
“Are you really expecting her to be there?”
“Forty years later after two days in the mud?” Charles paused. “Of course not. But what a story it would make if she was.”
“Yep,” Paul, staring back up at Suzy’s photo, replied. “…definitely certifiable.”
Charles gave his friend the tour of his new cross country home. It was fitted with all the technology and comforts a man of his stature could ask for. They sat at the table and ate roast beef sandwiches and sipped sparkling water as old friends and colleagues dropped by with well wishes and parting gifts during the course of the afternoon.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” Charles asked as he shook Paul’s outstretched hand.
“I’d love to, you know, but the grandkids are coming over to water ski this weekend.” Paul leaned over and quietly added, “Besides, if this woman shows up, I’d just be in the way.”
Charles watched as Paul walked across the plaza and signaled a yellow cab. His old friend waved back as the Taxi whisked him away to Grand Central Station. He spent the rest of the day finishing his office packing chores. A dozen boxes containing the mementoes of his editorial career lined the back wall. The Fender Strat and the Woodstock Issue poster were set aside to carry down. He already had wall space in the RV reserved for those reminders.
He stood at the door and looked at the desk where he had captained the magazine for the last fifteen years. Monday would see a new CEO in the big chair and Charles Bellamy many miles distant. He turned off the light and walked away.
* * *
The fortieth anniversary concert went off without a hitch. The sold-out crowd of fifteen thousand was a handful compared to the half-million who crushed the pastures of Max Yasqur’s farm in the summer of `69. Charles Bellamy was a visible participant from the moment the show opened. His generous contribution to the Arts Center and the reunion committee did not go unnoticed or unrewarded. He was busy rubbing shoulders with classic rock stars, festival organizers, and everybody asking the same question, “Have you found her yet?”
Absent from this gala was the mind-altering LSD so prevalent at the original event. The faint smell of marijuana would occasionally peek out from a hidden user, not in your face like the Summer of Love. The Saturday celebration was unmarred by the heavy rain of forty years past. Blue skies and music was the order of the day.
Throughout the day, people would drop by carrying their own ragged Woodstock issue and ask Charles to sign the cover or just to shake his hand and thank him for keeping the dream alive. He would sign and talk, and all the time scan the crowd, from one face to the next, hoping for a glimpse of the homecoming he sought. He wondered if he would even recognize her so many years later, but nothing. By the time the show ended, there had been no glimpse and no reunion with Suzy.
* * *
The Sunday morning sun crested above the lush green hills of Bethel, announcing a new day’s arrival. The parking area was still packed with RVs and campers of all shapes and sizes, many residents still recovering from the overnight revelry and waiting for a respite in the traffic. Charles sat under the awning, sipped coffee and tapped on a keyboard with his collected thoughts about the anniversary concert and the generational shift spanning forty years. His retirement officially underway, he filled in the pages of his journal with the memories of the event and the reunion that never happened.
He was startled by the sound of rustling gravel behind him and as he was about to look back, a female voice begged, “Please don’t turn around.”
His heart jumped as he connected the voice to that Monday morning departure so many years ago. His mouth dried and his pulse quickened. He forced out the question, “Suzy?”
“That’s a good place to start,” she replied. “My name is not Suzy.”
“I figured that out when I couldn’t find anything about you over the years. I didn’t know where to start.”
“My name is Helen – Helen McAllister.”
“I know that name.”
“You should,” she replied. “Your magazine panned my last book.”
Charles thought back to the book reviews he had read over the years and focused on one in particular. “I remember. It was a book about Holistic Healing; seems like it was quite the diversion from your successful works of fiction.”
“Of course I do,” he quickly replied. “There may be a dozen or so pieces in every issue from a multitude of writers, but at the end of the day, my name was on the hook for the content.”
Helen didn’t respond. She sat there, looking at the back of his head, thinking back to the last time they spoke in that muddy field. Charles started to stand and she stopped him saying, “Give me a minute before you turn around. I need you to hear what I have to say and I would never be able to say it if you were looking at me.”
Charles straightened, picked up his cup and said, “Okay, but make it quick. Don’t make me wait like this.”
“You know, I’ve followed your career since we parted. I watched you rise to the top of your profession and always wondering how I could fit into your life. I carried your memory through two failed marriages and the loss of my child in a car accident. I tried to forget you because I knew in my heart that our worlds were miles apart. And then this…”
Charles heard the rusting of paper and the pain in her voice.
“… this editorial you did a few weeks back with the headline, Have you seen this girl? And I start to think, maybe there is something. Then I get here and watch you from the crowd, glad-handing the talent and working the stage like a corporate schmoozer and my heart sinks again because I know it could never be.”
“Helen,” Charles started.
“Wait, let me finish,” she stopped him cold. “I need you to know that I am afraid and I don’t understand why, forty years later, you are chasing me like your high school prom date.”
He chuckled at the comparison. “Because, through the years, you are the only woman to ever move me like the high school prom date.”
After a pause she reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. He placed his hand on hers, touched it, amazed at her apparent strength. “Can I turn around now?” he asked.
“Okay, but let me back away.”
Charles stood and turned around to face the object of his obsession. He smiled as their eyes met. Her hair was as straight as that last time he saw her, albeit a lot whiter. Her blue eyes sparkled and her fair skin shone with a mature softness. The tie-dyed shirts of her youth had given away to a pastel blouse and maroon vest. Her white hair was tied back with a rainbow colored scarf. The morning sun glinted sharply off the steel framework of her wheelchair.
Charles took in the scene and quickly processed the situation. Without skipping a beat, he asked, “The accident you mentioned?”
“Yes,” she replied, her eyes looking down at her knees. “I’ve been in this chair ever since.”
She looked up and drew the line in the sand. “If this changes the way you feel, tell me now and I’ll be on my way.”
In the excitement of Helen’s appearance Charles hadn’t noticed the small crowd gathered along the perimeter of his campsite. An eerie silence engulfed the scene. Without missing a beat, he leaned over and gave Helen a deep kiss. He grabbed her arm, put it around his neck, and quickly lifted her into his arms and walked towards the open camper door. He whispered in her ear, “You know… you were my Woodstock issue.”
A loud cheer erupted from the crowd. Charles turned back and asked, “What’s a guy got to do to get a little privacy around here?’
A man in the crowd shouted, “Who needs privacy? This is Woodstock, man!”
~ T H E E N D ~