Saturday, September 5, 2015

I Made Susan P— Laugh

At least two of the most beautiful young women on earth attended OWJHS with me in the early 1960s. One was Marilyn Monroe Jr. The day she enrolled at OWJHS, a strange, eerie stillness came over the customarily raucous campus. I discovered later that it was because all my male classmates, and not a few of the male teachers, were dumbstruck by the sight of her. But my own strong preference — to whatever extent the wallfloweriest dweeb on campus was entitled to one — was for OWJHS’s own version of Elizabeth Taylor, Susan P—.

I never summoned the nerve to actually speak to her (neither she nor MMJr. was in any of my classes), but that didn’t stop from lusting after her from afar with the ferocity only a shy 14-year-old boy can muster.  I hadn’t much to offer other than my genius (joking, you see — paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, you see). She lived around 200 yards from me in Playa del Rey. I drew her cartoons in the style of Rick Griffin, later a noted creator of psychedelic dance posters, and mailed them anonymously, hoping, I guess, that she’d love them enough to track me down and invite me to elope with her, or at least have wild, passionate sex. No dice. She was already riding around in the cherry 1956 Chevies of sophisticated older men — Westchester High School boys with drivers licenses.

We went on to WHS, I for only one semester before I transferred to Santa Monica High School, where, in my first year, there was no one who could hold a candle to Susan P—. (The next year, Brigitte Bardot Jr. turned up, but not even she could make me forget Susan.)

I went on to actually speak to girls, and to have relationships with a fair number of women, five of them long-term. In candor, during my fairly extended Warren Beatty period, when women seemed to find me very presentable, it never even occurred to me to try to track down Susan P—, whom I now know to have gotten married, and not to have wandered far from the neck of the woods in which we both spent our childhoods. 

In the 21st century, she became very ill. At first, her doctor at UCLA thought she had ALS (which, incidentally, my highly esteemed former de facto brother-in-law was wrongly thought to have too).  But then the Mayo Clinic told her that all she had was spinal muscular atrophy. Which, according to a mutual former classmate, has been killing her slowly for months.

I so wanted to meet her. I thought it might amuse her to know how hopelessly smitten I’d been all those years ago. I wanted to ask her what it had been like to be the universal object of desire she used to be. I wanted to hear about her adulthood, and about her gorgeous daughter. I wanted to read to her and try to take her mind off the pain. But she wasn’t seeing anyone. Maybe she was too self-conscious about having become skeletal and weak. Maybe the pain was too great. I got no closer to her than exchanging a couple of Facebook messages. She told me one time that I’d made her laugh. I, the little dweeb no one even knew was there, had made Susan P— laugh. 

And now she’s gone, she who inspired the most fervent fantasizing of my mid-teens. I feel very old.


  1. This is all you could do in this lifetime You made her laugh. You had the interest to contact her, and to see how she was. That counts for something. You got in contact with her and even though she didn't want to see anyone, that counts too. Sometimes you just can't help or change anything and it fucking sucks.
    I think there is a lesson here for us, maybe more so for women... When we are very ill, and feel no one would ever want to see us... we feel we are sparing the other person the horrors of having to look upon us and of being in proximity to our illness. It is very difficult to realize, in those times that when we turn others away, we are turning away the gift the other wants to give. Love, connection, and to maybe make us laugh again.

  2. So nicely written.
    And something that many (at least I) can relate to.

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