Friday, February 12, 2010

An End to Shyness

When I was around 16, my friend Dave and I espied a couple of winsome beach bunnies sunbathing on Castle Rock Beach, between Sunset and Topanga Canyon Blvds. Neither of us wanted to look a wuss in the other’s eyes, though the word hadn’t been invented yet, and we went over together to lower the boom on them. To get their attention, we came up with the droll strategy of stepping between them and the sun. When she realized what was going on, the prettier asked why we didn’t run along and find someone nearer our own age.

The embarrassment wasn’t severe — bad enough only to keep me from trying to approach another woman cold for the next 15 years. It wasn’t that I didn’t date, or even eventually lose my virginity over and over again. Rather, it was that I was able, while sober, to choose prospective mates not from the general population, but from the much smaller population of girls and women I knew or could get myself introduced to, or who were nervy enough to do the approaching.

I finally took myself in hand the month I turned 32. I blow dried my hair, put on the boots I’d bought in actual London the autumn before, and drove myself down to Century City, in whose shopping area I knew a great many stylish and other women to while away their lunchtimes. There was, across from the big Broadway department store, a wonderful boutique called Heaven, whose stock and trade might have been described as whimsy. They had T-shirts with droll slogans, and Paper Moon greeting cards featuring the artwork of Robert Blue, among many others, and inflatable furniture, fanciful stationery, gift wrap in which the cool or stylish might conceal gifts to one another. I sauntered in, nonchalant as you please, and saw an attractive slim blonde looking at greeting cards. It’s now or never, I thought, and headed outside to wait for her. As I waited, I talked myself back out of it around 100 times. She won’t like you, a familiar inner voice said. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. Women don’t like being approached by strangers. Don’t you remember what happened that time on the beach?

At the moment I was just about to yank the rug out from under myself, I saw that she’d just finished at the cash register, and would emerge in only a moment. By God, I would throw off the yoke of inhibition I’d worn so long! My mouth felt like the Sahara. My palms thought I was on an airplane in grievous turbulence. And my heart! It was the ten loudest disco bass drums ever, combined. I was amazed that passers-by weren’t turning to gape at me, or covering their hands with their ears. And then, as she emerged, frowning at me, I was amazed to be able to force air through my larynx. “I was hoping,” I told her, “that you might like the idea of our getting acquainted.”

She went for it! She didn’t look thrilled or even flattered — I was soon to discover that she was very much more shy than even I — but murmured, “OK.” Bliss!

She turned out to be a lot younger than I, and young for her age. She lived with her mother, and worked as a receptionist at the escrow company where Mom worked. She was fresh from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and wanted, of course, to be a model or a singer! She was skinny enough for modeling. A few months later, when in London again, I bought her a pair of black leather-look stretch pants of the sort that were so popular at the time at Flipper’s Roller Disco. The proprietor of the shop warned me that only the slimmest woman would be able to get into them. They were loose on Debbee.

The first time I kissed her, it was, to paraphrase Kim Basinger’s famous reminiscence about Mickey Rourke, like putting my tongue into an ashtray. She tried later to stop smoking “for me”. She claimed she’d succeeded, and I didn’t let on that I knew. She could be heard in Santa Monica when climaxing. She was noisy during the rest of it too. As a recent refugee from the Midwest, she was of course impressed by Rodeo Drive. She’d been romantically linked before me with the Italian owner of a salon there, and shrieked his name one evening during lovemaking. “Dear diary,” I teased her afterward, “tonight she called me Cesare.” She had a cat called Sweet-Sweet. That troubled me slightly.

I had a girlfriend at the time, and had to sneak out to see her. She was heartbreakingly excited when I actually took her out, rather than just stayed in with her. I wasn’t prepared to leave my girlfriend for her, though, not even after she bought herself something special at Trashy Lingerie. I surmised that Cesare was similarly disinclined to leave his wife.

We lost touch a long time ago, after she married another 11-years-older guy, with an Italian surname that started with S, and there’s no trace of her on Facebook. I’d so enjoy knowing how her life has turned out.

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