Herbie Meets Joe Cool

If you can’t laugh at yourself, life is going to seem a whole lot longer than you’d like.

Natalie Portman

Being creative isn’t limited to what I produce on paper or canvas. With everything going on around us sometimes it’s finding ways to keep myself grounded, humble, and laughing. My favorite source for laughing often involves memories. Not the kind of memories like being the hero, or scoring the winning touchdown. Apart from the fact that those things never happened with me, I have been a confirmed non-heroic goofball most of my life. But being that goofball has proven to be a bottomless well of amusement now.

If you’re as lucky as I am you can look back at times when you thought you were soooo cool and laugh your butt off. They are easily distinguishable from actual cool times by the fact that the actual cool times still have importance to you. Feeling the interaction with Mother Ocean as you drag your fingers across the face of a shoulder high Hermosa Beach wave as your longboard glides along remains an important memory I use often. Purely cool. As it happens, the times and surroundings can be genuinely cool… but it’s just you that’s the cause of laughter. Example: 1969 (a deeply cool year), plus Herbie Mann (a very cool jazz flute artist), plus Herbie playing the extremely cool venue of UCLA Royce Hall adds up to a Fantastic evening of being very cool, right? Well…read on.

My off-and-on-again girlfriend at the time was a couple of years older than myself, lived with her parents in the wealthy Palos Verdes, and attended a very prestigious college we used to refer to as Unusually Spoiled Children. She wasn’t but it was still fun to say. I had starting really liking  jazz and one of my favorite artists, Herbie Mann, was appearing at the coolest venue UCLA  had to offer, Royce Hall. Even in my best James Bond fantasies ( me being James of course) she was out of my league but there was still a hope of winning the fair maiden. I was desperate to impress her with my coolness. I planned a very cool evening of dinner at the high end Meditterania on Restaurant Row followed by the concert and ending with coffee at the beatnik-hipster hangout Bratskellar in Westwood. I even bought new clothes and a got a haircut ( well, a trim at least) Considering I was a senior in high school and working evenings this was a supreme effort on my part. So I set out on the appointed evening dressed to the nines smelling of my best cologne and wearing my heart on my sleeve. Her Mother answered the door. She had always liked me and was very impressed with my appearance (Score!). While she hunted for her camera we quickly ducked out headed to dinner and my appointment with Coolness.

      What prompted this post was that I recently saw an old photo of my girlfriend kissing me. There I was, bigger than life. A pink scrubbed, short haired, Catholic School boy in my blazer with patches on the sleeves, wide wale corduroy pants, new Earth Shoes, and a nice burgundy turtleneck sweater. All I needed was longer hair and a pipe and I could have played the Ivy League Trust Fund Baby from a bad movie, or at least a cheesey professor’s assistant.

        When we arrived at the restaurant I sat my date in the lobby and in my best 007 mode walked to the Maitre D’s stand and advised him of my reservation. He hesitated a moment then leaned over and explained to me that the restaurant, unlike most others around there, maintained the dress code of  men having to wear ties. Ooooops. Rather than head off to another place I chose another path. I would valiantly, single-handedly resist oppression and openly protest the antiquated rule by wearing one of their “loaner ties”. I chose the nice dark one (that was already tied) and slipped it over my head defiantly tightening it over my turtleneck. It only made me look like a 12 on the Goon Meter scale of 10. From first glimpse of my fashion addition to well past ordering the food my girlfriend stifled a giggle that finally erupted into out and out laughter when, as we were leaving, I forgot to return the tie and the Maitre D’ had to call me back.

        About half way through the concert the fact that I was wearing a turtleneck, thick pants, and blazer in Southern California threatened to trigger a tsunami of sweat. To avoid that little embarrassment I removed my blazer and pulled up the sleeves on my sweater. My first indication that I might survive with any dignity in tact was that my date took my blazer and neatly folded it on her lap. It’s the little things, right? It looked a bit better for me when she wore it over her shoulders as we walked across campus to the Bratskellar. My tripping on the last step down to the door and barely avoiding a face-plant onto the floor between two tables was a brief setback, but did get some applause from the crowd… imagined or otherwise. We closed that place and the ride home was thankfully uneventful, but oddly quiet.

      As we paused to say goodnight at her front door she turned and looked into my eyes. Half of me acknowledged that she knew how that entranced me and was probably softening the blow I was about to take. The other half feared she would break out into laughter again. Even though I adored her laugh, tonight was not the best time to know it was at my expense. What she said blew both of those ideas away. She thanked me for an evening she would never forget and knew it would become a favorite family story someday. Insert inkling of hope for me here. The quiet in the car was because she was sorting through her feelings. Insert heart-in -hroat apprehension here. She said I had shown her more care and respect, more courage, and the admirable ability to laugh at myself, all rolled into a more remarkable sense of Cool than anyone she had ever known. How could she be anything but madly in love with someone who went to those lengths to impress her? And impressing her was something she said I never needed to worry about anyway. She knew very well who I was. As she gave me one of those totally Kevin melting kisses the front door opened and the flash caught the moment. We both knew it right then, but a little over a year later we were engaged.

      I donated the outfit the next day. I still have the match books I took as souvenirs all those years ago. Apart from the memory of her, the best part of the whole thing is still getting to laugh at that guy in the turtleneck. 


I bought a tie just like the one I wore at the restaurant that night and wore it to dinners at her house for years. Her family loved it. I bet they’re still laughing.

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