November 26, 2011 § 5 Comments
It was the mid-70s, and my best friend, Rose, and I were heading west on Sunset Boulevard into Tom Jonesville – for real. Ah, youth! I blush when I write about some of the wild and crazy things I did in my efforts to see if I could get Tom Jones to fall in love with me so that I could feel like a beautiful, lovable, valuable person. Yes, in my restless and youthful yearnings to find acceptance in my early 20s, my friend Rose and I were literally chasing Tom Jones’ limousine.
As mentioned in The Tom Jones Limo Chase – Part I, it truly was a different time and place. LA was much less crowded and easier to zip around in a car in the 70s. Rosie was driving our little orange Porsche like Johnny Rutherford at the Indianapolis 500, and I was helping to navigate our way through the tailwind of the big, black limousine that carried singer Tom Jones. Vroom… vroom… vroom.
We followed at a decent distance, by LA standards, into “home territory” for the singer. It was well known that Bel Air, a beautiful, non-gated community of luxurious mansions, was Jones legal residence. The taxes in the good old USA are far more livable than those of Jolly Olde England, which is why many British gazillionaires choose to make their homes here. In today’s day and age, it would be unthinkable that anyone of Tom Jones’ stature would ever live in a non-gated community at the prime of their career, yet it indicates just how easygoing and more “normal” life was in LA in the 70s. It wasn’t necessary for these superstars to hide behind golden gates; there were no big TV shows and magazines making money off of photos or videos of celebrities like there are today. The Welsh singer lived in a beautiful English Tudor home surrounded by an acre of lush greenery at a fork in the road. (Pop culture note: The home was formerly owned by Dean Martin, and then purchased from Jones by Nicholas Cage, who seems to have lost it when he fell into hard times in recent years.)
As Rose and I followed the behemoth limo, winding our way along Stone Canyon Road, it was clear that we were heading toward the Hotel Bel Air. It is a beautiful drive during the day, but rather dark at night. Rosie had her eye on the road and I had my eye on the target all the way to the driveway of Hotel Bel Air. The limo completely disappeared, but we stopped at the valet, as if we had actually planned our evening in advance and hadn’t followed Jones all the way from the Greek Theatre. I think Rosie grabbed my arm, and sort of half laughed and half whispered, “I can’t believe we’re here,” and in my effort to maintain a false pretense of cool and not reveal my nervousness and shaking body, I was speechless, nodded, and simply started walking with her toward the elegant hotel. (The Hotel Bel Air, which is set on 12 acres of gorgeous gardens, complete with a swan-filled lake, has been closed and under major renovation for the past two years, and much to the excitement of locals and travelers alike, reopened this past October.)
We surmised the most likely place Jones might show up would be the hotel bar, so we wandered into the masculine location as if we knew what we were doing, settling into a small table at the far side of the entrance. It wasn’t a packed house, as it was late and also a weeknight. The atmosphere was cozy, with a fire burning in the fireplace, even though it was summer. There we sat, sipping our Perriers with limes. Rosie and I, although of age, didn’t drink, but we gave it our all to look as though we were sophisticated, independent, young women who felt at home in bars without dates.
We made small talk and whispered about “He-Who-Is-Not-Here,” wondering if maybe he went elsewhere in the hotel. Rose and I had many ideas where he might be and discussed that, worst-case scenario, we spent a few dollars on unnecessary nonalcoholic drinks. Then, out of the corners of our eyes, we saw him. Honestly, I think my brain heard the first few bars of his TV show’s musical intro with the words of the television announcer saying, “Ladies and gentlemen… this is… Tom Jones,” and “He-Who-Was-There” walked in cocooned by a predominantly male entourage. They slowly sauntered in and settled down to a large table in the center of bar, as if they were no strangers to this calm, easy venue.
The Jones’ table was right next to our table. It is remarkable how much you can observe with peripheral vision. Along with Tom was his son, Mark Woodward, bodyguard Dave Perry, Mr. G., several other key employees, and another person I didn’t know. It was a jovial, upbeat crew, but I could only peripherally hone in on… the singer who saved me. He sat there quietly, rarely speaking, smoking a cigar – this preceded the current, very strict no-smoking laws in California. It was interesting to notice the entertainer sitting quietly, being entertained by all of the others at his table. All my hyper-focused, “Save me Tom Jones!” twenty-something, not fully developed brain could think of was that if I could somehow put out a completely irresistible vibe, “He-Who-Is-Here” might, maybe, could possibly, be suddenly, undeniably, “electrifiably” attracted to me, and with merely a look, fall madly in love with me. My prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that monitors emotions and judgment was, as Regis might say, out of control. Let’s just say scientists believe that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, and that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
So, I put out my most alluring early-20s vibe. Long legs crossed, back up straight, lean forward toward table, long blond hair half in front of shoulders and half down the back; slight smile when speaking and when not speaking, head down ever so slightly, eyes demurely looking down listening attentively to my table mate, Rosie, and never, ever looking directly at Jones or anyone at his table. There will be absolutely no ogling over or looking at or making any effort to talk to the singer who saved me. And do all of this seemingly naturally and effortlessly. Simply being in his presence and sending out the flirtation vibe was my delayed development fantasy of how I might be able to achieve my goal of getting him to fall in love with me, which, in my hypersensitive world of rejection and still an occasional bout of self-loathing, would validate me as lovable. Even though I don’t think I was very good at flirting, I kept hoping that there would be some kind of irresistible, magnetic force that would inexplicably impel Mr. Jones to believe that he cannot live without Snow White, er – scratch that image – Long Tall Sally. Remember, Tom’s nickname of Snow White was predicated on the fact that, standing up, I made him “feel like a dwarf,” and as cute as the word “dwarf” sounds with a Welsh accent, Prince Charming kind of ruined it for me.
While what I always heard from Tom Jones was “Baby, here I am/ I’m a man that’s on the scene/I can give you what you want/ But you got to go home with me (“Hard to Handle” lyrics by Alvertis Isbell, Allen Jones & Otis Redding), the time was tick, tick, tick-tocking away into the wee, small hours. And the raw sexuality of “Hard to Handle” was giving way to Diana Ross’ candid “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and my heart was whispering, “I need love, love, love/ To ease my mind/ I need to find, find someone to call mine/ But mama said/ You can’t hurry love/ No, you just have to wait/ You’ve got to trust, give it time/ No matter how long it takes” (lyrics by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier & Edward Holland Jr.). Just wait?
Many years later, in his autobiographical song, “The Road,” Jones sings “I have wandered a million miles…/Felt weakness when I was strong/Held sweetness when it was wrong.” Well, there was certainly sweetness here, there, and everywhere throughout the bar; there was sweetness at Jones’ table; sweetness at my table, but maybe my sweetness was more like a sweet mess, because I was carrying on a conversation in my head, begging Tom to “Pick me! Pick me!” And that internal conversation far pre-dated Meredith’s “Pick me!” to McDreamy on “Gray’s Anatomy,” and Lorelai’s “Pick me!” to Luke on “Gilmore Girls.” While I was trying to carry on a superficial conversation with Rosie about her work, my work, the weather, and weekend activities, I was simultaneously carrying on a conversation in my head, which made me begin to realize the depths of my fanatical, yet saving attachment to the singer.
In the handsome bar of the Bel Air hotel, with the handsome singer just a few feet away from me, I sensed the first bit of truth in the situation before the Situation was even a twinkle in his mother’s eyes. “KA-CHINK, KA-CHINK, CLUNK, Clunk, clunk…ping!” That was the sound of the brakes in my brain at the bar of the Bel Air. There was Tom Jones, the man; the married man with the son nearly my age; the man with women falling all over him, from the famous and the infamous, to fans, and groupies. And there was, well, just me, inside of six-foot-two inches.
While Rosie was there enjoying herself and just having fun, I was for a while, in Tom Jonesville fantasyland in which, within a little over an hour, turned into a full blown emotional reality-check that only I knew about. What was I pursuing in secret? I remember feeling a tremendous high at the Bel Air, and then feeling foolish, with an internalized embarrassment that made me feel sick to my stomach. I recognize this as the first noticeable chink in my Tom Jones armor. The Tom Jones armor that somehow, someway protected me throughout my teens and early 20s. The goal of working to become a woman that Tom Jones would be attracted to, instead of the sensitive, anxious and, sometimes tormented young girl that seemed to identify me, actually worked to help move me forward in my life. But it was, for the first time ever, beginning to come under question. If I couldn’t make TJ love happen here, in a fairly normal milieu with no stage in sight, where on earth could I make it happen? And did I really want it to happen? Or did I just want to be loved?
This attachment to the singer, which gave me the courage to transcend my lonely, little life with this extremely tall, skinny, noticeable body that everyone – including the superstar – commented on, always seemed to work. From the first time I met Jones, I had one foot in the fan door, and one foot in the groupie door. When I wanted to be more than a fan I would become determined, but whenever I began to lean forward toward the groupie door, I became fearful and ran like the wind, or the door slammed in my face like at the Bel Air. I have been searching for a quote from Tom that I read in a British publication, but haven’t been able to find since I first read the article. Paraphrasing what Tom said, it goes something like this: Lots of women have fantasies about me, and if I really pursued [the women], it would be too much, and they would run away. Wise man, Sir Tom.
I look back and see how my story worked out as the ultimate protection for a sensitive, anxious, immature young woman who was looking for some kind of positive identity through another person’s strong, magnetic personality. When Rosie and I left the Hotel Bel Air, we left Tom and crew still winding down and enjoying the early morning hours. Rosie laughed and said, “When we’re old ladies sitting in our rocking chairs, we are going to look back at this with fun and fond memories.” What we didn’t realize was that what we considered old ladies in our twenties honestly doesn’t seem that old nearly 40 years later.
Rosie and I are not yet rockin’ rocking chairs. In fact, both of us have forged forward and changed our professions later in life. Our memories are most definitely fun and fond, and I can still picture us in that little orange Porsche racing after that big, black limo. One thing I know for sure, however, is that if I had actually understood the psychological process I was going through and the real purpose for Tom Jones in my life, I would not have felt so driven to chase… the singer who saved me.