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The Music Man
by Jerry Guarino

January, 1971 (WRSU, New Brunswick) – “…and that was Light My Fire by the Doors from 1967. Coming up after the news we’ll hear from Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf. This is Joe Mariani from WRSU, New Brunswick.” Joe took off his headphones and shook out his floppy hair when the phone rang. “Hi, you found Joe.” He was used to getting requests from the dorms.

“Joe, hi. My name is Annika.”

“Hi Annika. Where are you calling from today?”

“Glassboro, near the college.”

“Glassboro? Wow, you must have a powerful receiver to get us down there. The farthest call-in I’ve ever had before has been from Asbury Park. Guess you stumbled on us by accident.”

“Not really, Joe. I’ve been listening to you for a year now, but was afraid to call before now.”

“Hey, nothing to be afraid of. This is just a college station. What can I play for you?” Joe expected a request for the Beatles; girls loved the Beatles.

“Well, it’s kind of an unusual request.” Annika’s innocent voice gave Joe a pause and he wondered how old this girl was.

“If it fits into my show, I’ll be glad to put it on. What was it you are looking for?”

“Not what” said Annika. “More of who.”

“No problem, Annika. We have all The Who albums...” Annika sighed audibly, and then interrupted Joe.

“Not The Who, Joe. Who. You actually. I was hoping we might get together.” Joe checked the timer to see how long before he had to be back on the air. Two minutes left. Suddenly this call had gone from a friendly chat to a blind date. He had to measure his response and now began to visualize his new fan.

“Well, that’s very nice of you Annika, but I don’t get down to South Jersey in the winter very often. Were you going to be up near RU?” Joe needed more information before he would commit to such a long drive for an unknown meeting.

“Umm. I’m an au pair for this rich couple and they’re gone for the weekend. I can’t leave because I have to watch the house.” Joe put together his clues. Au pair named Annika. Alone in a fancy house. Maybe she’s one of those Swedish exchange students, probably college age. If she were stuck way down in Glassboro, none of the Princeton guys would have found her.

“You know Annika. Why not? My show ends at 3 and I can probably be there by dinnertime. I don’t know the area, but I could bring a pizza from our local pub.” This was his way of gauging how intimate the date might be. But the station manager tapping on the studio window interrupted Joe, putting up 10 fingers, time before he would be back on air. “Annika, I’m going to have to put you on hold until the next song. Can you hold on?”

Annika sounded excited and sweet. “Sure Joe, I’ll wait.” Joe nodded to his manager and turned his microphone back on.

“…and that was the news. Here’s Iron Butterfly with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Ah, a seventeen minute song. Joe picked up the phone while the music played, hoping that Annika hadn’t changed her mind. “Annika, are you still there?”

“Here I am! Are you sure you can get here by dinnertime? I want to be ready.”

Annika’s enthusiasm was contagious, so Joe felt at ease with this new admirer. Just a few years earlier, he might have fumbled awkwardly on the phone. But hey, this was 1971 and the summer of love wasn’t that long ago. Besides, she called him. She reached out. “I’m sure I can be there by 6. Give me the address and directions. You sure I can’t bring anything?”

“Just bring yourself, sweetie. I’ll have something for us.”

As Joe drove down the N.J. turnpike, he had a sudden queasiness in his stomach. What if this girl was ugly, or fat, or God forbid, under age? Joe imagined himself with some gorgeous 15 year-old, who looked 22 and perhaps had planned this whole weekend with one thing in mind. Get the college DJ alone in her host family’s mansion and see how many rooms they could defile. That shocked Joe back. She’s probably at least 18. She said she was an au pair, didn’t she? Maybe she’s not an au pair at all, just some teenager home alone while her parents are away on some romantic weekend in New York City. But he could tell, right? As soon as he sees her, he’ll know. You can tell a girl’s age by the way she dresses and how she uses makeup, or at least he hoped so.

Meanwhile, Annika was preparing for Joe’s arrival. She put out candles over a linen tablecloth, then fine china and silverware. Next she arranged pillows on the couch just so and burned jasmine incense to fill the room. Her ivory colored peasant dress and colorful beads lay on her bed, next to her clogs and knee socks. Annika was meticulous in her planning. She pulled out a mix tape with the most romantic songs from The Beatles, The Association, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Righteous Brothers and The Turtles albums, icons of the late 60s, music she knew that Joe had grown up with.

Joe finally arrived at the upscale, country home in the woods. The driveway went on for a mile with no other houses in view. He could hear the sound of owls and squirrels and thought he saw a deer. A thousand stars were visible above him and the woods were illuminated by a full moon, a moon that seemed overly large tonight. This kind of privacy would be perfect for romance. Or a murder! Now realizing that he didn’t know anything about this girl, was she going to be a lover or a stalker?

Annika made a French Coq a Vin, braised chicken with mushrooms in a wine sauce, roasted potatoes and steamed asparagus. Although she grew up in Stockholm, she had spent a year in France for a couple that taught her how to cook. She figured this gourmet dish was just the ticket to melting a college man’s heart.

Joe pulled his jeep up to the carriage house. He saw a small light from the second floor window. He walked to the main house, rang the doorbell and waited anxiously to see if his prediction and fantasy was correct, if this was going to be an awkward, embarrassing moment or something even worse. “Just let her be 18” he said to himself. The door opened slowly with Annika peeking from behind, only her face showing. She
was lovely and smiled immediately.

“Hi Joe” as she emerged from behind the door. Joe was pleasantly surprised to see a 5’9” beauty, looking like a flower child with her beads and long, blond hair. He could smell the jasmine in the air and heard Beatles music playing softly; ironically it was Norwegian Wood.

“Annika, so nice to meet you.” He had just one more concern, her age. But before he could say anything else, Annika gave him a warm hug, much longer than would be appropriate for a first meeting. Maybe the summer of love was delayed in Europe. Joe didn’t want to be the first one to let go, so he waited for her to reply.

“Thanks for trusting me. I didn’t know whether you were really going to make the trip” as she let go of the hug and resumed eye contact. She took his hand and led him inside. Joe saw the dining room, exquisitely laid out like something from a gourmet magazine. Then he smelled the dinner, aromatic wine and mushroom sauce blending with the incense. Joe felt the warmth of a fire from the sunken living room nearby. Annika motioned him to sit down and resumed the conversation.

“You’re just like I hoped.” She set a napkin on Joe’s lap, hugged him from behind and let out another audible sigh, then brought dinner to the table.

“You are more than I imagined,” said Joe, trying to maintain his cool while he was melting inside. “In fact, this seems like some kind of wonderful dream.” Sitting with his back to the fire, the light sparkled into Annika’s eyes.

“Just wait until you taste my cooking before you put me on a pedestal” as she sat down to eat. “But I think we will have something dreamlike later on.”

Joe was grateful for the long tablecloth in front of him. If this was a dream, he hoped he wouldn’t wake up any time soon. “Are you sure we’re alone for the night?”

Annika smiled. “We have the whole weekend.” She brushed her hair with her hand. “The Danielsson’s are in Martha’s Vineyard until Monday, celebrating their anniversary. We have some celebrating too. Our first date!”

Annika slid her hand over to Joe, and then leaned over to kiss him. The next hour passed quickly as time will when one is enamored. Annika took Joe by the hand and led him to the couch. The warmth and light from the fire encouraged their intentions. Annika pulled a quilt over them and they started to bond. Before long, she was unbuttoning Joe’s shirt and abandoning her dress.

Joe took Annika to the family bedroom, matching her passion, as they left their clothing in a trail. Too bad this lovely Scandinavian lived so far away from campus as he could see this turning into a great relationship. “Joe, take me” she said in that unmistakable accent. Joe followed her directions explicitly. Then as they were both about to meet in unison, there was a terrifying shriek from the bedroom window.

“Argh…..” screamed Annika as Joe’s body faded from passion. It was like something from a teenage horror movie. Joe had no idea what the sound was, but Annika seemed to understand what creature made such a sound.

“I know how to get away from this.” Annika bounced up, took two robes from the master bathroom and took Joe to the carriage house, then up the stairs to her room. Posters of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles accented a tie dyed cloth forming a canopy over her queen size bed; now this looked more like a coed’s home. She put her mix tape into the boom box, turned to Joe and gave him a long, unmistakable kiss.
“Where were we lover?” Joe and Annika were under the covers, exploring each other.

“This is like some kind of dream Annika. But I have to know, how did you know you would like me?” Annika paused a moment from her embrace and whispered in his ear.

“I saw your picture in last year’s yearbook, from the radio station page.” Now that seemed a little unlikely. Joe wondered why she would have a yearbook from a college so far away, but she quickly explained. “My cousin Sven plays for the football team.”

“Oh, ok.” This seemed a little less like stalking now and more like an infatuation. But her expertise in the bedroom seemed unlike any schoolgirl crush. Joe had to know how old she was, but what could he ask in the midst of lovemaking that wouldn’t put a halt to the proceeding. “Annika?”

“Yes, dear?” Annika continued her voyage around Joe’s body. Joe reconsidered his question.

“Nothing. We can talk later.” The moonlight shone from the window across from her bed. Silhouettes of trees and birds pierced the dark blue sky, like a sharper image of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The odor of incense and wine was now replaced by Annika’s perfume, a scent Joe didn’t recognize, nothing the Jersey college girls would use; it was obviously expensive, probably a gift. This only heightened his ecstasy with the blonde angel who fell from Heaven. Joe forgot all about her age.

“Oh, Joe,” said Annika as she wrapped herself around the college DJ. Her sighs turned to moaning and soon they were both beyond the possibility of stopping.

“Annika, you are amazing. Hold on.” But then, a loud thud hit the window outside. Staring in at the couple was a large bird. As it turned, the moonlight revealed a bright red comb on the bird’s head. It was a rooster!

Annika shrieked and a twice-exasperated Joe cursed the flightless bird. “How did that get here?” Then the mix tape segued to Light My Fire. The demon floated into the night, crossing in front of the oversized moon, further convincing Joe that this had all been a dream. After all, roosters can’t fly.