The Night I Met Paul McCartney!
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
In 1981, I’m 18 years old, visiting friends in Stade, Germany along the Elbe River. One night, a young German friend insists that I climb into a small European car packed with his German buddies.
As he whizzes down curvy, unfamiliar roads, the occupants ignore me, chattering wildly as they lean appropriately around every sharp corner.
They all appear slightly drunk; the smell of alcohol is thick.
Something has them freaking out, but I don’t speak German, and they don’t speak English. It’s dark, I can barely move, and I’m terrified.
I feel like hours have passed by the time we arrive at a German pub that sits regally in the middle of a line of old German buildings, all attached — quaint and reeking of history. Perhaps fear violated my sense of time because it’s still early in the evening.
My compatriots drag me from the car into the pub. I notice immediately that something is deadly wrong. Although the pub is packed, it is the most silent room I’ve ever been in. You can hear a pin drop.
Likewise, my friends are suddenly sober and stone-faced. Men and women sitting at booths and tables pick their teeth and turn to look at us.
Then, a fat woman with blonde braids curled on top of her head, wiping her hands continuously with a towel, waddles out from the back.
When she speaks to our group in thick German, her voice is low and angry. My friend and his buddies bow their heads in some shame unknown to me.
Then, my friend points to me, and everyone turns to stare. When I hear him say the word “American,” I long to run.
The woman’s hands go to her hips, towel dangling. She rolls her eyes toward the sky.
Finally, the fat woman looks straight at me and shakes her head with a fierce frown. She walks to me, stopping only when her nose is an inch from mine.
In broken English and smelling like pastries, the fat proprietress spits out, “No speak. No speak. Sit. No speak,” wagging her finger at me like my grandmother’s switch from days of yore.
Our group makes its way to seats by the front door, sitting at tables that are dark, thick, and older than my parents. I fight to sit beside my German friend.
When he finally looks at me, he notices that my face is covered in fear, and I’m visibly shaking. He protectively lays his arm across the top of my chair and smiles at me reassuringly.
Looking around for the fat woman, I presume, my German friend lowers his head to whisper in my ear using his best English.
I quickly come to understand that one of the Beatles will arrive soon to have dinner in the back room and stay the night. According to my friend, this particular member of the Beatles has privately frequented the pub since the fat woman was a girl. It seems that the singer relies on the pub as a sanctuary from his whirlwind of a life. This is HUGE news, an emotional lightning bolt, because John Lennon had been assassinated just a few months prior. The entire world was still grieving.
Furthermore, I learn that the owner (the fat woman) is my friend’s cousin, and until eight years ago, she adored the Beatles with all her heart.
It was then, in her slender youth and in the midst of a Beatles frenzy, that a handsome young man strummed his guitar and serenaded her with the romantic and beautiful “Bluebird.” Her heart melted, and they soon married.
Sadly, before their one year anniversary, the scoundrel husband artfully stole everything she and her family owned, leaving only the old pub because he couldn’t seem to get his claws into it. Predictably, he ran away with another woman.
After this, the fat woman came to despise the Beatles. With the passing of her parents, she channeled every ounce of her rage onto the band, wrongfully blaming them for all the heartbreak she had ever experienced.
In spite of the sad story, my friend explains that tonight is our opportunity to see one of the Beatles, live and in-person. However, the fat woman has forbidden anyone in the pub to acknowledge his presence.
Before I know what’s happening, the pub door swings open and several gentlemen enter. Behind them is Paul McCartney in a black suit, sporting shaggy hair.
There are plenty more people around and behind him, but I do not take notice of any of them. I can’t take my eyes off McCartney.
He brushes past me, so close that I can touch his jacket, but I don’t dare. The only sound from the entourage are their padded footsteps — not a single spectator in the pub moves a muscle.
The fat woman leans lazily against the bar top as she waits for McCartney’s group to make its way toward her. She isn’t smiling, and her face says it all: She couldn’t care less about the presence of her new guest. In fact, her mouth is pursed tightly together in annoyance as she examines her nails like they are the most exciting thing in the room.
Maybe it’s because of her senseless hatred for someone who has absolutely nothing to do with her plight. Maybe it’s because it has been only seconds since I learned that I will be in the presence of one of the Beatles. Maybe it’s because McCartney is so damned handsome. Maybe it’s because the fat woman told me not to.
All I know is that, before I can stop myself, my right foot shoves the huge wooden chair back so hard that it screeches against the floor, and I stand bolt upright. Feeling like another person and not like myself at all, I can hear my own voice call out in its perfect American accent:
“Mr. McCartney, please let us know if you need anything. We’re more than happy to help, and we do hope that you enjoy your stay with us.”
I sound like I work there.
Paul McCartney stops in his tracks, his back still turned to me. The fat woman looks as if she will murder me. So does every other person in the pub.
There is a pause in the rotation of the earth. I can’t believe what I’ve done.
McCartney and the fat woman exchange a few quick words, and then he continues on his way, never once looking back.
When the last one of them finally enters the back room, my friends grab me, and we run for our lives out of the pub.
I never return there, for I decide I want to stay alive.
A few years later, my German friend called to tell me that he needed to get something off his chest. Apparently, it had been bothering him so that he couldn’t sleep at night.
According to his account, about a week after McCartney’s visit to the pub that night so long ago, the fat woman called my friend, asking him to meet her there for lunch. He assumed that he was going to receive a stern and uncomfortable lecture for the fiasco that was no one’s fault but my own.
Instead, the fat woman explained that when McCartney was readying to leave the next morning after eating a light breakfast, he handed the fat woman a package with instructions that the contents make their way to me.
Inside that package was a pristine album (which one, I have no idea). On the inside cover, McCartney had written the following in pen:
“To the American girl who had the courage to welcome me. Cheers. Paul McCartney”
For a moment, I was beyond excited and almost dropped the phone. I figured the fat woman had kept it all these years out of vengeance for my outburst. My mind began to create elaborate plans about how I could get my hands on it.
Alas, my German friend dashed my dreams when he next informed me that, after showing him the album’s inscription, and before he could do anything about it, the fat woman unceremoniously flung it into the roaring fire she’d made in the pub’s big, stone fireplace.
They both watched it burn in silence.
How do you say “Bitch” in German?
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