The Dakota. It’s not simply a brown building. On the northeast corner of 72nd and Central Park West, it stands like a fortress. It has the soothing color of earth. Near the entrance to the park, a hot dog vendor sells an abundance of meat and buns. Multicolored balloons hang from a tree. A guy with muscular legs skates south, paying no mind to the clots of people. It’s the beginning of spring.
In 1980, Mark David Chapman stood here with a gun and waited for John Lennon. He watched as Lennon and Yoko Ono pulled up in a car, and then shot the ex-Beatle.
A double-decker tour bus glides past the building. The tourists turn their heads toward the Dakota. One lone guard stands in front of the driveway. He wears a black uniform, police style cap, and lets his hands hang at his sides.
Some have claimed that houses are metaphors for the mind; each of the rooms like partitions we erect to protect ourselves.
“I’m sure the large part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book,” Mark Chapman said to the police. “The small part of me must be the Devil.”
He had bought The Catcher in the Rye the morning of the shooting.
Mark Chapman worked as a camp counselor.
He helped Vietnamese refugees.
He attempted suicide, and was later hired by the hospital for his ability to cheer people up.
On the other side of the park, north of 72nd Street, is another fortress. The architecture is unremarkable. A blue awning covers the sidewalk with the name of the hospital emblazoned in white. There are two wards for the emotionally infirm.
On the door to one of the wards is a sign scrawled in red: No cell phone use inside.
Elderly men and women in gowns line the sides of the day room. A blind woman screams, “I want to go to my room!” She tries to stand up. A staff person tells her to sit down because she may fall. “I want to go to my room,” she says again. The staff person tells her lunch will begin soon. She sits and mumbles to a man next to her. He is snoring.
“I won 8 million dollars,” Virgil says. He has anger in his eyes. He had put his gown on backward, exposing his stomach. He mumbles and laughs to himself. “You told me you received your PhD from the University of Wisconsin? What do you have to say about that?” He claims to have been visited by his dead mother. A man sits next to Virgil. “This is my father,” he says. The man smiles and says nothing.
Someone screams in the adjacent room. “My name is Virgil and my counselor is here!” he screams.
Virgil has been at the hospital for more than three months with no end in sight to his psychosis.
After several minutes of incoherent mumbling, he says, “Death is a dream.”
“To dream about death can have many meanings,” a psychologist once said. “Jung believed there is a personal and collective meaning. There was a patient that dreamt of being confronted by two cannibal apes in the front yard of his childhood home. One was male and one female. He felt he was in imminent danger. Anima and Animus? Some archetypal self?”
Back on the Westside, the guard in front of the Dakota is blowing a whistle. He waves his gloved hand. Three young tourists rush toward the driveway. One of them is armed with a camera. A yellow cab screeches in front of the building. It has begun to rain. A woman emerges from the driveway holding an umbrella. She scans the streetæher head swiveling back and forthæand slowly approaches the taxi.
The three tourists snap pictures of whatever lies beyond the threshold. If you want to ask John Lennon death, you can. The John Lennon Artificial Intelligence Project claims to have programmed a computer with his words. After giving him your name, you may ask him a question. “John? What do you think about death?”
“Fuckin hell.. It doesn’t matter what I think about death,” John will say. “Live your own life, man. Wouldn’t you rather talk about peace or Revolution or something or how Jesus is more popular than Elvis or something?”