On this fragrant spring night, I would cruise out of Hollywood with my beneficent hostess, Joanna Bonnano. Only days before, she had shucked her forbiddingly sophisticated aura and accidentally invited me to be the “extra girl” at Peter Lawford’s. Forgetting that I was, extra, second or even last choice, I moved to ingratiate myself by insisting that I was practically part of her boyfriend’s family.
You see, I grew up watching the Thin Man on the TV next door… with my neighbors, the Kennedy’s. Having boned up on how to chat with anybody I really looked forward to this sharing this tid bit and especially with the “cute guys,” the gangster’s daughter promised. We would ride out to Palm Springs in a limo for the gala.
Becoming the “extra girl” brought me instant goodies. Not only would I get to talk with the Thin Man, himself, and become a member of Joanna’s posse but this this twenty year old was moving into the most desirable territory: Clubbing..
Since I first moved into the classy Sunset Villas, I had been puzzling about these New Yorkers, who, in their mid-twenties were cool and wise-ass…more strange, they seemed older than our local adults. When this playful pack was not sleeping it off, they effused urbane good humor. The group was more than just interesting. They were exotic; almost a species apart from the Los Angeles kids I knew.
Like any other beach bunny, the women carefully displayed themselves in slinky bikinis but these babes wore full face makeup… all day. Compared to the sunny surfers, the guys were inordinately swarthy. But, their extreme animation made up for that. And, unlike the locals, rumpled, flannel clad boys, these stylish fellows donned snazzy sunglasses and pushed tiny gangster hats way back on their skulls. This was one sexy herd of insiders goofing on something very intimate and heavily accented.
Their jokes and flashy innuendos were way beyond me even though I basked just a few feet away from them. I was too intimidated and drowning in my own malignant pathos to dare to engage this pantheon.
Being disinherited and perennially plump made me self conscious. I had turned dark and inward, becoming an outsider, everywhere. My steep of isolation was both claustrophobic and, somehow, comforting. I had retreated into a thick glass egg for several years by the time Myra came looking for me.
Wow, had she changed — out-growing her pigtails and maturing into an utterly gorgeous and cool, Nordic beauty. Her kindness in seeking me out was my first touch of home since my father died. She found me at this ratty single room occupancy that I shared with impoverished veterans. But, without my knowing it, she had smoothed the way for me to rent a couch in the swanky apartment that she shared with Jane, another North Shore kid.
The move to Harrat Park had the unintended benefit of airlifting me from this narrow and dire existence. I was living by drawing down my savings. That did not matter to her; Myra had always been the studious one and I the spoiled brat. She wanted to work and easily found a job nearby and we resumed our “quest for adventure.” Nights, we would dine on green apples and walk along the Strip. On the weekends, she would join me in the chaise lounge idyll. And, whenever she did the New York males spoke up. They urged her to put down her book and sit just a little nearer to them. She was absolutely not interested. She rejected them the same way that she had declined the lead in Mod Squad. She was only here until her fiancée got out of the Army in September.
It must have been dead obvious to everyone looking on, that it was Myra that the Kingpin’s daughter wanted to recruit for this evening. When my graceful friend predictably declined, for some reason, Joanna turned to me. I was still adrift in my misery so I was all the more surprised to hear myself accept.
Later, Myra would laugh about Joanna’s real intentions, speculating on why she had passed over the fancier women and settled for me. Myra expressed some astonishment at the generous sartorial expenditures Joanna made to transform me into acceptable.
Joanna was a hysterical Pygmalion fluffing up this dumpy, forlorn hippy chick and she reported on the details, poolside. So, it was after all my self-conscious days that I got incidentally included in their banter. I could never have insinuated myself without this opening. It had been plenty for me to anonymously eavesdrop on last night’s poker game or listen to who had an audition with whom. But, now that Joanna sort of championed me and they batted around tales of our shopping sprees, I did more than speculated about the night to come. I loved these people.
At last the big night arrived and we stood on the curb readied for our ride. Joanna studied me and seemed to smile—cold comfort. There I was all dressed like righteous trust fund stuff and coifed beyond recognition. I endured tiny spikes of nerves telling Myra and Jane goodbye and was almost impaled by the time the chauffeur ceremoniously swung open the limousine door revealing our companions –two old guys. (Saggy , even) That brace of antiques pair sat still as mummies unflattering awash in the pale mustard dome light. From the dove grey upholstery, they radiated nothing more than waxy and cadaverous. Right then, it looked like the outfit and my hair-do were the only good things coming to me on this night.
Joanna deftly vaulted over some hand luggage snagging a tight but solo seat opposite them. She, then, tucked her limbs into the foot-well. I could do nothing except dumbly duck into the Lincoln behind her. Her choice of position meant that I would have to stuff myself in between the living dead. In the wretched moments after the chauffer smoothed the stretch onto Sunset Boulevard, I realized that I could not stay fetal for the whole trip. I kept my feet together squeezed on the hump because there was no way to just casually spread out. Eventually, I slid one freshly Gucci–ed foot off the drive shaft in search of vacant floor space next to Ron. He was fixated on Joanna’ but turned to address my surreptitious scrunching.
“Hi, I’m Ron,”
he hollered to be heard over his “miracle ear.” He yelled again over a rising blast from Dodger stadium while arching his arm towards the older man with yellow-grey teeth and matching hair.
“…and, this handsome lad is ‘Goulie.’”
“Robert Gould Morris, Esq.,” the older one intoned sort of bowing. A bump pitched him a bit forward and unhinged a sullen plank of hair. His smile suddenly broadened belying the chill of his handshake. Oh, The Dodgers had scored. His beam was about that…. and not associated with any welcome. So, with the Homerun, his preoccupied grip melted away.
He had looked right at me but bellowed, “Naing NaingNaing .”
“Naing.Naing.Naing, Goooo-lee!” cheered Ron. “I guess that you’ll be shitin’ in tall cotton if this is ‘nother no-hitter for Drysdale, huh?”
“ Naing.Naing.Naing!,” the desiccated lawyer echoed affirmatively.
Neither my fresh Jay Sebring’s haircut, nor the crushed velvet wrap-around coat trimmed with coffee colored ostrich put me at my ease …but, oddly, the game did. At least, the fans resounding through the back speakers muffled any necessity for further small talk. We might as well have been in the bleachers instead of motoring away from sundown, heading across the cooling desert towards that star studded gala at Peter Lawford’s. My thrill was moderate and I remained profoundly uneasy with these strangeold men.
Maybe these two old coots were not friends of Mr. Lawford? Or, a worse maybe, Joanna wasn’t really Peter’s girlfriend but some kind of hooker. Was that what ”extra girl” really meant? Did Joanna get me dolled up to do some kind of forensic blowjob? Where was my shell when I needed it?