My father was a visual artist by training, but during the recession of the 1970s, he became an interior designer to make ends meet. He went to work for the famous New York City restauranteur Warner LeRoy. Warner lived in the celebrity-studded Dakota apartment building on the upper westside, and one of his famous neighbors was John Lennon. We lived in the projects. My father did several big jobs with Warner at lots of famous New York City restaurants, including Maxwell's Plum and Tavern on the Green.
Then, in the late 1970s, they decided to renovate Warner's Dakota apartment. It was a big, huge job. Two floors. They actually installed a staircase. The Dakota is one of the oldest buildings in Manhattan. So there were lots of surprises. The project was endless. As I recall, it took almost a year. My father was there every day and many nights. Often, I was there with him.
That's when we met John and Yoko. Over time, John would ask my Dad to do small projects for him. John and Yoko, after all, owned several units in the building -- their residence, a studio for Yoko, a storage unit of some sort, a guest quarters, and another unit or two. Needless to say, there were plenty of small projects to be done. One project that I remember my father discussing with them was the installation of a tiny "Alice in Wonderland" door -- a smaller door, cut into one of the larger main entry doors of their main apartment for the benefit of their young son Sean. It was sort of like a cat door, a cut-out that would allow Sean to come and go on his own. I also remember them hanging an enormous painting of some political figure over the mantle in the living room. (Their apartment had a real wood-burning fireplace, a rarity for New York City apartments.)
But, for the most part, I was a kid. I didn't pay that much attention to Warner, John Lennon, Yoko or what my father was up to. I ate cookies they provided and worked on memorizing the words to "Rappers Delight."
I also don't want to say too much here because I wouldn't want to invade anyone's privacy (Yoko still lives at the Dakota). Besides, this was so long ago and memories fade. I do distinctly remember, however, my father having such fond memories of John and Yoko and their young son Sean. My parents were not celebrity watchers. And he'd never really been a Beatles or John Lennon fan per se. My father was older than John and Yoko, from the generation before — Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington. He didn't have a single star in his eyes for the Beatles. It was just a job. Still, he always had nice things to say about John and Yoko when he came home at night — admiration for the way they treated people — workers, doormen, contractors, everyone as equals, despite all that fame and money.
When Lennon was killed, my father — a very strong man, orphaned as a boy, who had seen many deaths in his lifetime, including all the political assasinations of the 1960s — was quite devastated.
Then he, and everyone else who had worked in the Dakota that day, was sequestered and questioned by the police, which only made a raw emotional situation even more difficult. I can't tell you what the scene was like up at the Dakota the next day that he went into meet with police. He could barely get through the door for all the fans, candles, flowers, and security to meet with the officers.
My father was always so pleased to have had the opportunity to know John Lennon. And I feel so fortunate to have met him on occasion, even though I was too young to fully appreciate it at the time.
I live on the Upper West Side now, and I see Yoko Ono on the street on occasion. Of course, she doesn't remember me. But I smile to myself and remember the small kindnesses she and her husband showed me when I was girl. On this anniversary of his death, I wish her peace.
Jami Floyd is a broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues.