A St. Patrick’s Day Love Story

ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY IN 1983, on one of those picture postcard Southern California afternoons when you’d rather be at the beach, I drove out of the underground parking garage of my West Hollywood apartment building at a personal crossroads. The sun and the beach tugged at my heart. I wanted to head my convertible to the white sand of the Santa Monica beachfront, but instread I began my drive to the proud but decaying historic vestige of the William Randolph Hearst newspaper empire in Los Angeles, the Herald Examiner, on the seedy end of Broadway downtown.

My column for the next day was due in a couple of hours, and my thoughts were jumbled with an idea about how when you come to the West Coast it’s as if you’ve come to the end of your world –– and for many of us it becomes a second chance to make of your life not what you may have been going to be but instread whatever you have in yourself to become.

I hadn’t counted on what happened next. Driving on Kings Road half a block from home, I pulled up at a red light at Santa Monica Boulevard. In the next moments, my life was forever changed.

I looked out my car’s passenger window and there, waiting to cross Santa Monica, was a striking young who could have been mistaken for a young Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy whose old man –– John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III –– had once said was “the most beautiful daughter a man ever had.”

And here was her spitting image of another generation, exuding all that same confidence and brightness of the original. She wore a light gold sweater, wheat-colored jeans, glittery gold high heels, and, most notable of all, an Irish green bowler hat.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. And today marks the 40thth anniversary of our meeting. We would be married the following year, and we will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary in June. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

And if you believe in love at first sight, as I do, you also know that it often begins one-sided. So, yes, it took a lot of convincing, endless praying, and countless votive candles. Thankfully, there also were no stalking laws to speak of at that time. Besides, what’s that fabulous line from the 2009 romantic comedy I Love You Beth Cooper? “It’s not stalking when you love her.”

That’s how crazy and love-stricken I was immediately.

Instead of turning onto Santa Monica and head for downtown, I drove my car into the parking lot of the Mayfair Market at the corner, and from there I watched as she crossed the street and entered a large busy dry cleaners known for its celebrity clientele and the hundreds of autographed photographs of famous movie and TV stars that adorned its walls.

She turned out to be a fashion model who had just moved here looking for a career change, very likely waiting to be discovered in Hollywood, though I don’t imagine she ever had any idea it would be by me.

I quickly drove back home, made some clean shirts look dirty, and headed to the cleaners. I found myself in a long line of customers with numbered tickets waiting for theirs to be called. Thankfully, the cleaners had laid out a buffet table with an array of St. Patrick’s Day cookies and punch. I didn’t have to be invited, and it only took eating 16 cookies and drinking four servings of punch to get to the front of the line.

But when my number was finally called, the counter person who would have waited on me was a young man who could have passed for a future Brad Pitt. So I let a young a woman behind me in line go ahead. I continued to wait in line and allowed two other people to go ahead before I could hand my dirty laundry over the woman of my dreams that I had come here to meet.

Suddenly, though, I lost my nerve. I just couldn’t think of anything to say. Or maybe I was just staring too hard at her beautiful hazel eyes, her gorgeous ivory skin, and the dark hair partially hidden under her green bowler. She also wore a small Virgin Mary medallion attached to a fine gold chain. Ah, she was Roman Catholic. My mom’s prayers had finally been answered, I’m sure.

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Jacqueline Kennedy?” Was that too ridiculous of a line to use? Of course.

I also noticed that she wore an employee name tag that said, “My name’s Renee – I’m new, but I’m trying.” And, for whatever reason, I just blurted out, “Your last name wouldn’t happen to be Crotta, would it?”

What a dud of a pickup line, I know. But it was real.

“No, it’s LaSalle,” she said. Her face seemed to ask me to explain.

“It’s just that you look like you could be the younger sister of a writer I work with,” I said. “Her name is Carol Crotta.”

Actually, they didn’t really look much alike, they each concluded when they later happened to meet. By then, though, Carol Crotta had become such an integral part of how we met that she came to our wedding.

But that afternoon I remember leaving and wondering if I had blown my chance. So, I stopped at the nearest florist and had a dozen red roses and a corny note delivered to the woman I’d just met, along with my business card. Yep, when all else failed, I resorted to something Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane might have done, sending a business card from my two-bit William Randolph Hearst newspaper.

Well, it turned out to have been my lucky day. Of course, it was. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and wouldn’t you know it? She’s part Irish.

Blarney. Mo Ghrá. Thu.