Saturday, April 6, 2019

Remembering Paula. Aching With the Memory

My first live-together adult relationship ran aground, and I left Laurel Canyon for the Sunset Strip — specifically, for a 12-story apartment building right across from The Comedy Store and the infamous Continental Riot (nee Hyatt) House, from whose upper floors rock stars had taken to hurling television sets and virgins to appease the gods. My building was popular with prostitutes and drug dealers. I’d no interest in either. It was Paula who stole my heart, and took my fantasies captive. 

She looked like an Eric Stanton, Gene Bilbrew, or even Bill Ward drawing come to life. With her bouffant hair and dagger-toed high heels, she was of another time, that during which I, making collections for my paper route, would look over the shoulders of my bachelor subscribers, see their walls covered with pinups of bouffant-haired beauties and others in lingerie, and think, “One day I shall live among such images myself!”

I had no way of knowing for sure, but I’d have bet that Paula wore gartered stockings, and not pantyhose. It was the mid-1970s, but for Paula it would never cease to be 1962.

A year during which I had nearly come out of my skin with sexual yearning. Several of the sexiest young women in human history were my classmates at Orville Wright Junior High School, and my DNA was forever screaming at me, “Reproduce, Johnny, for God’s sake, boy!” But I was the prisoner of my own shyness, and Sue Pursell, for instance, had no inkling that I existed.

Looking as though she’d just stepped off the cover of one of the girlie magazines and adult paperback books that taunted me — they and I both knew the guy at the cash register would yell, “This ain’t a library, kid!” if I touched them — at the liquor store on Pershing and Manchester in which I would buy myself a snack after getting off the school bus each afternoon, Paula reawakened all those feelings, not least that of hopeless inadequacy. My fervently personable new girlfriend always greeted her delightedly in the elevator, but Paula and I never spoke, and I never found out if it was hauteur (be still, my beating heart!) Paula exuded, or shyness. I always assumed the former, and that, if I confessed what was in my heart, she would snicker cruelly, as Stanton’s and Bilbrew’s women did, so bewitchingly, and say, “You really must be kidding, sonny.”

And it wasn’t as though she wasn’t spoken for — by Jergen, who was German, and who obviously considered himself a playboy, as witness his white loafers without socks, and slicked-back hair and skinny man’s pot belly. He referred to the apartment he and Paula shared as “my joint.” I suspect he thought doing so made him sound gangsterish, or maybe he was anticipating Spike Lee. Paula seemed to worship him. He seemed to have no conception of how I envied him.

I thought of inviting her to see The Hollies at The Roxy with me, but was terrified of What Others Might Think. Paula, after all, was unimaginably ancient, probably in her waning forties, and I not yet 29. What would people say? I was doing my best in those days to be mistaken for a rock star, and succeeding a fair amount of the time, and Paula couldn’t have been less rock and roll. I had my reputation to think of!

I kick myself.