No. 20: Going Up the Country

The ad for the Tanglewood Rock Festival that Harold Rothman came across one afternoon as he was taking his usual lunch break in Bryant Park looked tempting.

After four months of working the microfilm beat at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library, it was time to get away again. Sure, the visit back to Plymouth had been cool, but that was two months ago now, and Harold was fried again. One could only spend so much time proofreading Candy and Confectionary Journal without going gaga.

He was getting parents’ nerves and vice versa. In the meantime, too, there had been the excruciating ordeal of his brother’s bar mitzvah at the officers’ mess at Floyd Bennett Field, when Harold, the prince-turned-dunce of the Rothman family, had had to endure all the question about how he was doing, when he was planning on going back to college, etc. ad nauseum. Could have killed those people.

Besides, it was July. Summer. You know, as in summer. Hard to believe, man. Exactly a year before, Harold, then on first summer break, had been about to entrain to Nevada to intern with the National Park Service. But that was a million years, one very heavy acid trip, and one suspension ago. Now he was… Microfilm Man.

Put simply, it was kazoo time. Time to split. Time to get down.

Not that Rothman was particularly into that festival thing. He didn’t regret missing Woodstock. In his mind, both in terms of vibes and music, no festival could ever compare to the ’68 Newport Folk Festival. Now that was a festival. Harold smiled as he remembered how he’d lay on his sleeping bag on the next-to-last night, beneath the velvetine Rhode Island sky, listening to the dulcet tones of Joan Baez singing “Farewell Angelina.” That was the best. And then… next night… Janis and Big Brother!

Oh wow, that was so cool. Janis! Singing “Piece of My Heart.” Live! What a vision she was, shaking it up, reaching for that microphone as if she were going to strangle it. What a force! Oh man, you had to be there!

Just the thought of that long-ago concert warmed Harold as he sat there in the NYPL Microfilm Room, his torso and head wedged inside the reader, inspecting reel after reel for mistakes.

Oh, Janis.
What a concert — what a night.

Afterward, he’d walked back to his bike, only to find someone had stolen his sleeping bag. Bummer. So much for peace and love. Oh Janis, why did you have to go?

No, Rothman wasn’t really into festivals anymore, but the ad for Tanglewood did sound tempting, sort of a little Newport-in-the-country type of thing. Also very key, B.B. King was playing. B.B. King. The Man! Janis might have left the building, likewise Jimi and Jim, but B.B. was still doing it to it, and he was doing it next weekend up at Tanglewood. Oh, yeah. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Just the thought of listening to B.B. live again — for the seventh time, no less — made Rothman tap his feet.

Someone was knocking on the reader. “You okay, Rothman?” his supervisor Mr. Deane, assistant director of the microfilm division, was asking; Harold’s swaying back and forth had been noticed.

Rothman snapped out of it. End of track…

But B.B. Got to hear B.B.

So the next weekend, a happy, if weary, sandal-wearing Harold packed his harmonica and sleeping bag, just like in the old day, and boarded the bus for Stockbridge. Harold was smiling as the bus headed out of the bus terminal. A pert-looking woman in her early 30s was sitting in the next seat.

“Hello,” she said as Harold got settled.

“Hello,” Harold replied, trying to be polite. His mind happened to be on music, not sex. Besides, he wasn’t really into older women. And, if truth be told, she didn’t seem especially interested in him, either.

“You going to the festival?”

“You bet,” said Rothman.

At which he promptly fell asleep. Not long after, so did she. In fact, as often happens on long-distance bus rides, they fell asleep on each other.

“Stockbridge! Stockbridge!” the bus driver called out three hours later. Harold and his seatmate shook themselves awake.

The woman was smiling.

“Well,” she said with a wink, “as long as we’ve slept together we might as well get acquainted.” She held out her hand. “My name is Mindy. I’m staying at the Stockbridge House.”

Harold took a second look — actually his first good look — at the attractive redhead. Yeah, she was older, but hey…

“Stop by.”

“Okay.”

***

The festival was cool. The small crowd of 2 or 3,000 consisted of an interesting mix of old-time hippies and radical types. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. The last night of the festival, the night that B.B. was scheduled to play, a raging thunderstorm swept over the grounds, which was sort of problematic to the open-air affair.

But that was no problem for B.B. He just came out playing as usual, thunderstorm be damned. Most of the concertgoers had left, except for a hardy few hundred, who took cover under the tarpaulin, as B.B. continued to play. The very real risk of electrocution seemed to inspire the bluesman to play to new heights. There was lightning. There was thunder. And there was B.B., tearing up the stage. As the one man show continued, the tarpaulin clouded up with smoke. Oh, man! Just what the doctor ordered.

That night, Harold stopped by the Stockbridge House and knocked on Mindy’s door.

“So,” she smiled, “you finally decided to get better acquainted.”

Just what the doctor ordered.

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