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A Long Way From Camelot

Vaughn Meader's JFK impersonation made him a star. Then an assassin's bullet took everything away.


"That was the last time I ever had to pack."

Meader, settled now in a drafty farmhouse in his native Maine, is 61 and graying. He wears glasses, a short beard and cowboy boots. He dreams of being a racetrack degenerate, living in a sleazy motel and measuring life's successes in furlongs, and when he wakes up depressed, he fights the demons by writing songs.

He has wandered this day from the River Cafe to the Wharf, a nearby tavern where friends look at their watches and say, "You're late, Abbott," then on to Slates for something to eat and Irish coffee, and now he is crossing Water Street on wobbly legs, holding up the cars with an outstretched hand and marveling at the golden sunset stretched across the Kennebec River.

"I want you to see this," Meader says. "Look at that ----ing sky. Beautiful. Is that America or what?"

In the small farmhouse he rents, the refrigerator is empty. Novels borrowed from the library are piled on the kitchen table. In one corner is an upright piano, tuned only yesterday, and on the wall behind it hangs a silken dove and the word "peace."

He sits down to play and suddenly the eyes are clear, the voice steady, the fingers in control, and Abbott Vaughn Meader looks out over his audience of one and with a soft smile asks: "Requests?"

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