Decades later, I’m still embroiled in the argument. It was the summer of 1968. My best pal Phil Lanier, future country/western singer Joey Canyon and I went to the beach. Tagging along was our noble companion, Julius, goofy even for a Great Dane. More like four Great Danes in one body. We were frolicking on the Malibu sand, throwing the football, when lightning crackled from a cloudless sky. Three teenage boys froze into interpretative dance poses. Several clicks south was the most celestially beautiful huzza-huzza hubba-hubba Goddess of Sand and Salt Water shin-deep in the surf, a tanned poem lost in thought as bathing beauties are wont to be, shielding her eyes, staring at the western horizon.
She was — The Jungle Woman.
I imagine wherever she went, soft island drums pounded. Women hissed. Men swooned. Even indoors, a soft trade wind would be constantly tussling her heinie-length, curly, strawberry blonde hair. From behind a curtain, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, directed by Rodgers and Hammerstein, softly crooned her theme: “Bali Hi — lalalalalalala-lahhhh…”
Dear Julius? Today a saint in Doggie Heaven. Lanier? Joey Canyon? Me? We’re now a combined 210 years old.
A half-century later — the three of us cannot agree on the events of that day. What was the color of The Jungle Woman’s hair? Who hurled that fateful sporting good at her? (Joey falsely claims HE did.) What was she wearing?
My recollection? The Jungle Woman had tan legs ascending all the way to Orion and was gently poured into 0.00003 ounces of a GREEN plaid bikini with all sorts of curves left over. Lanier? The Alzheimer’s Sufferer? He’s adamant TJW’s ensemble was a snug day-glow ORANGE one-piece. Brunette, not blonde, not tall, closer to Phil’s hood ornament height. Canyon swears Jungle was more Mediterranean, sporting impish short black ringlets and looking like an I’ll-Stab-You-In-The-Eye sweaty teenage version of Gina Lollobrigida in a swarthy peasant dress, “… snugly tucked between silky thighs.”*
*(Kidding; YELLOW two-piece…)
So. Lunkhead teens we, we forged a plan, which involved Rock/Paper/Scissors. One would throw the football 50 yards down the coast toward Miss Jungle. One would just stand there, drooling and looking like an idiot. The Chosen One? HE’D get to race down the wet sand. At the absolute last micro-second, HE’D get to knock away the errant pass. HE’D get to check if Miss JW’s OK, introduce himself, converse, giggle, make circles in the sand with a big toe, possibly his, get her phone number, date, wed, have children, live happily ever after, yada-yada.
Julius was to play a vital role in our scam.
Sweet dumbbell dogs the size of school buses are an absolute must for meeting girls at the beach. Dogs and babies make dandy ice breakers.
Had we married, what would I’ve affectionately called my bride, for short? Junggie?
But, alas. Sigh. The Fates plotted against me.
That Mutant Lanier cheated somehow, winning our Rock/Paper/Scissors lottery. Lanier was the lucky wide receiver who would save The Jungle Woman from Certain Death & The Errant Throw. All 2-foot-1-Billy-Barty of him.
I clearly recall yelling — “HIKE!!!”
Phil shot out like Crest from a frozen toothpaste tube on a Minnesota winter morning. Barnking (Julius had a speech disorder and couldn’t actually pronounce, “bark”), Julius gave chase. I drop back, throwing a perfect spiral toward Venice, laser-locked onto Malibu 10’s head. Like Rasputin’s Mini Me, Lanier cantered madcap, parallel to the Pacific, with 3,000 pounds of dog entangling him. Plodding, Lanier made a Herculean effort to reach the maiden, then heroically lunged to bat away the deadly incoming orb I had so perfectly thrown.
I can still see the seagull wings, flapping in slow motion in the warm sun, a small child intently sculpting his sand castle, the incredible blueness of sky and sea.
Outstretched hands the size of mouse feet, Lanier was tardy. Giant headline?
Right Smack Dab In Her Damn Temple!!
Sub-sub-hed? Three Words:
Vedge. Tuh. Buhl.
Beautiful Jungle. She crumpled into a fetal ball like Joe Biden without cue cards at a Fox News press conference.
Joey and I sprint to the rescue, as did half of coastal California. The Jungle Woman, who rightfully should have been my First-&-Only-Wife, collapsed sputtering into the surf. Waves crash over her. Bottoms of her feet undignifiedly pointed skyward. The tide sucked her toward Hawaii. She’s spitting up shell fish, Shell Oil, seaweed and salt water. Where sultry violet eyes once pouted were runny mascara and two throbbing X’s.
In bold-face, 48-point Helvetica.
Insult to injury? Julius and his walnut-sized brain now thinks this is some new fun Beach/Dog Activity and starts, all 1.5 tons of him, frolicking about her, barnking, cascading tidal waves onto the rescue attempts.
Gone was the carefree illusion of the pensive Sports Illustrated swimsuit goddess, pondering deep thoughts like, “Can pelicans fly to heaven?” Poor thing. She now looked like a wet, traumatized chihuahua drunkenly climbing out of a washing machine after six minutes on spin. Even Lanier wasn’t gauche enough to ask her Zodiac sign, college major, favorite Beatle, telephone number or, “How many brain cells am I holding up?”
Friends and rescuers helped the bronze deity to her feet. Save for not being able to pronounce consonants, she was fine. Phil, Joey and even Julius nonchalantly whistled while slowly moonwalking toward Newhall. They nodded for me to join them before personal injury attorneys arrived.
You sometimes wonder. Had Phil knocked that football away in time, would he have wed a much taller trophy babe, dizzyingly too good for him? Or, given Jungle mouth-to-mouth, married her out of guilt, had nine kids in a 50-year loveless marriage to a woman bound for life in a wheelchair, yard-thick neck brace and plastic lampshade doggie collar?
Know what truly makes me sad?
Lost a really good football that day, too…
John Boston is an award-winning local writer. And quarterback.