Monday, February 7, 2022

Guest Blogger: Paul Levinson


Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; his LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up. His nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge, & Digital McLuhan have been translated into 15 languages.

Paul Levinson | Vocal

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It's Real Life | Fiction (


“That’s 'Real Life,' from the Beatles’ 1985 Come and Go LP, and I’m Pete Fornatale on WFUV’s July 4, 1996 weeklong celebration.”

Pete sighed with a mix of all kinds of deep emotions as the song played. Every time he played that song – every time he heard it – he felt like crying, and his eyes burned right now. The song was not only heart-tugging and beautiful but profoundly unsettling, and he felt that he was somehow connected to it.

The Beatles were close to breaking up. Lennon had made that clear in his long interview with Pete's colleague, disc jockey Dennis Elsas, earlier this year. McCartney had, too, in what he had said about his solo song, "My Brave Face," co-written and co-performed with Elvis Costello, the first time any Beatle had done that with a non-Beatle. But no, that was not the reason Pete felt this unspeakable sense of foreboding about the Beatles, about Lennon in particular.

Pete put another piece of vinyl on the turntable. That was still his favorite way of playing music. “Here’s one of my all-time favorites – George’s ‘All Things Must Pass’ from the Beatles' 1974 Band on the Run LP. They brought in Nicky Hopkins to play piano on that one.” Pete hoped the song might make his foreboding pass. It only made it worse.

He looked at the stained analog clock on the wall. He had just twelve minutes left to his show. Maybe he'd take a walk in the tunnels below Keating Hall. That had always cleared his mind when he'd first started walking there, when he was a student here at Fordham University in the 1960s. He'd found it cleared his mind now, too, since he'd returned to Fordham and WFUV about two years ago.


No one knew exactly when or why the tunnels had been built. Likely near the end of the 19th century, in one of Fordham's many expansions, so students could go from one building to another without getting frostbitten in winter or drenched in the spring. There was a rumor that Edgar Allan Poe had something to do with constructing them, and one of the tunnels went straight to his home up on Kingsbridge Road. Not likely, but who knew. Poe's cottage on Kingsbridge off the Grand Concourse was definitely real.

On this Tuesday after July 4, the tunnels were danker than usual, but Pete didn't mind. He was kindly disposed to the fungus or lichen or whatever it was on the walls, and the dankness was part of their charm. There were all kinds of stories about what existed or what could be done in the tunnels, ranging from ghosts to teleportation portals to Pete's favorite – he'd encountered it in a science fiction story written by a professor in the Communications Department a few years ago, about how the tunnels actually were conduits to alternate realities.

Pete felt vaguely relieved. The very thought of alternate realities made him feel better. Maybe he could get to an alternate reality where he wasn't plagued by this inchoate feeling of dread about John Lennon.

Hmm … he'd been thinking so hard, he'd walked a little further than he'd intended in the tunnels. He didn't recall seeing that thick wooden door before. There were plenty of them, here and there in the tunnels, but they were always locked. He'd once asked a maintenance guy in Keating what was behind them, and he said cleaning supplies.

This one wasn't locked. Maybe someone on the maintenance crew had left it open, accidentally or because he was in the middle of a job. Pete couldn't resist. He opened the door. All he saw in front of him was another tunnel, with no sign of cleaning supplies.


He walked through the door and in the tunnel beyond for a few minutes. He saw nothing unusual – the same mottled walls – and the occasional door bolted shut. He looked at his analog watch. He'd been in these tunnels too long, and realized he was now in danger of coming late to his appointment with the WNET people in just an hour. The meeting was important – they wanted Pete to host a retrospective on the Beach Boys, another one of his favorite groups.

He looked back on where he'd been walking. He needed to find a faster way out of here, so he could catch either Conrail or Fordham's Ram Van downtown, depending upon where he was able to exit.

He knew there was more than one exit. He'd used multiple exits ever since he'd starting walking here in the 1960s. And— ah, there was one! A different kind of door, not bolted. With any luck, there would be a steep flight of stairs upward on the other side.

And there was. He sprinted up the stairs so fast his legs hurt. He opened the door to a soft rain. It wasn't bad. He squinted and saw he was on the west end of the campus. Ok, it would be Conrail to Manhattan. He had no idea what its schedule was, but the trains ran pretty often.

He walked quickly past Duane Library towards the train station. He loved that old library, with its winding steps to shelves over-crowded with books. He heard a train in the distance and quickened his pace. It was definitely coming from the north. It would be close, but he was good at catching an arriving train. He knew he could pay onboard. He dashed past the ticket booth, nearly collided with an elderly woman, and apologized over his shoulder. He rushed down the stairs to the tracks, just as the train came into the station. He walked through the open doors and smiled. He always enjoyed these last-minute boardings. He sat on one of the worn cloth seats and awaited the conductor.

A woman soon approached in a tight uniform and a book of tickets.

"Grand Central Terminal," he told her.

She nodded. "Five dollars," she said.

Pete gave her a five-dollar bill, and she reciprocated with a ticket stub.

As she walked away, Pete noticed that it said "Metro North" on the back of her uniform. He hadn't seen that before. It usually just said "Conrail."


The train arrived at Grand Central about 20 minutes later. A group of buskers caught his ear and eye. Three young women were singing "Yes It Is." It was one of Pete's most beloved Beatles' songs.

He looked at his watch. He'd made good time on the train and had a few minutes to spare. He took another five-dollar bill from his wallet and placed it in the open guitar case, which already had plenty of bills and coins.

The women finished the song with the word "true" in lovely lilting harmony. "Thank you," the lead singer, a woman with long black hair, said to him. The other two were blonde. The three reminded Pete of the Bangles.

"You were wonderful," Pete said. "Do you do requests?"

The lead singer nodded.

"How about 'Real Life'"? Pete asked.

The woman scrunched her face. "You mean 'Real Love'? I think I read in Rolling Stone that 'Real Life' was the original name of the song."

Pete shook his head and laughed. He'd read every issue of Rolling Stone, and had never seen any article or review or interview that said that. He certainly didn't want to insult these singers and tell them he was Pete Fornatale and he no doubt knew much more than they did about the Beatles. "Ok, could you play me that song?"

The women nodded and began singing. It was beautiful – exactly the same as "Real Life," except they were singing "Real Love."

"Thank you," he said, when they were finished, and impulsively reached in his wallet. All he had was a ten-dollar bill and a twenty-dollar bill. He put the ten in the open guitar case with a flourish. "You deserve it," he said.

"Isn't that President Reagan?" one of the women asked.

Pete nodded.

"When did they change the guy on the money?" one of the other women asked. "Alexander Hamilton's on my ten-dollar bills."

Pete didn't know what to say. He looked at his watch. If he stayed here much longer, he'd be late for his appointment. He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and called one of the WNET people he was supposed to meet. The phone rang and rang with no answer, and no voicemail. He put the phone back in his pocket. He didn't really care about the pictures on the money. He cared about NET. But he cared most about the Beatles. "Can you tell me all you know about that song?" he asked, gently.

The women looked at each other. The first one he had talked to looked up at him and considered. "You gave us $5 of real money. Even if the $10 isn't real, I guess your $5 is worth a few minutes of conversation."

"Thank you," Pete said. "When did you last hear that song?"

"I saw the video on MTV the other night," one of the women said. "Very moving."

"I don't think I've seen that," Pete said. "What did you find moving about it?"

"I mean, you know, with Lennon and all, it was very emotional," she said.

"Yeah," Pete said, "John always has a voice that pulls at your heart."

"And seeing him come back to life on that video, on this song, was really something," one of the other women, who hadn't spoken before, said, with something like tears in her eyes.

Pete opened his mouth to say something but stopped. This was getting crazier by the minute.

"What do you mean 'come back to life'?" he asked, slowly. Had something happened to John Lennon that he somehow hadn't heard about? Impossible!

All three women looked at him, with expressions from suspicious to amazed. "You know he was assassinated in 1980, right?" the woman with long black hair finally asked him, in a husky voice.

No, I don't, Pete thought. "Look, I— thank you. You have a lot of talent. Apologies for the interruption." He opened his wallet for the twenty, but thought the better of it. He might need it for other things. He reached in his pocket and found two quarters. "Thanks," he said again, and put them in the guitar case. They had George Washington on them. "They're real, right?"

All three women nodded.

"Thanks," Pete said again and hurried away.

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