Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Most people dream about dancing under the lights when they're 17 or 18, a slow dance with somebody special, marking the end of their adolescence in that crazy, romantic way we all like to think of those years. I didn't get that moment until I was about to graduate from college ...
"Let’s never come back here again, because it’ll never be as much fun."
Scarlett Johansson, Lost In Translation

I met her when I was 23, during my senior year at San Diego State. We were both interning at the Newspaper Association of America convention in Coronado. Unlike other journalism groups, NAA is comprised of publishers. Meaning, these people could throw a friggin’ party.

The convention was held at the Hotel Del Coronado, the most gaudily expensive hotel in town; the one where Some Like It Hot was filmed; the one that screams Money like none other.

Myself and the other interns were there to report on the conference for the NAA’s trade magazine, Presstime. We were put up at a smaller hotel across the street, so I still couldn’t tell you what it’s like to stay inside the hotel itself. But, our rooms were paid for, as were all our meals in and out of the convention, and we got a $200 stipend to boot.

She was a senior in her early thirties at Cal State Northridge, who had come into journalism late in her life, and the oldest of the eight-person group. The age difference didn't stop her from joining the rest of us for some uneventful bar-hopping in Pacific Beach the first night. The next day, while telling our East Coast-bred supervisors about PB, she complained they didn’t play music she knew, when my mouth outraced my brain yet again.

"They played the Bee Gees," I chimed in, drawing oohs and laughter from around the room. Across from me, however, her look told me she was amused, but was going to out smart-ass me at some point.

Oddly enough, she never did. Or maybe she did. Most of the weekend I was too drunk to remember. Our drinks were on the house, too. And there were plenty of parties where we all took advantage of that.

I do remember the group stumbling back to our hotel the second night, after a few of these soirees. Late in the evening, my head was on her lap as she talked about her life, and her marriage.

Yeah, the coolest girl on the planet was married. I asked her why I couldn't meet a girl just like her. She kissed me on the forehead and called me a mensch. I remember smiling widely when she told me it's the Yiddish word for gentleman.

The convention's biggest and final party was held the next night, at an Air Force hangar. The hosts, the Copley family, who own the San Diego Union-Tribune, allegedly paid $2 million to convert the hanger into a gigantic ballroom. A rumor was going around that The Brian Setzer Orchestra was performing. A smaller, nameless orchestra was playing as the interns and I tried not to be too agog by the size of the party while sitting at our table. Then she stood and looked right at me.

"Hey Art, wanna warm up the dance floor?"

This is why every man should learn ballroom dancing. We danced the whole night, straight thru Setzer’s "surprise" concert. By the time the band played "Stray Cat Strut," halfway through the set, I had taken off my shoes and my jacket, and I didn't care if they ever came back. Under the blue lights, I thanked her for giving me the Prom Night I never had. For the best night of my life.

The convention ended two mornings after we left the dance floor. Like summer campers and interns since the beginning of time, we exchanged information and wishes of meeting up again soon, even as I couldn’t stop crying. It was the most I’d cried in a decade. But, as any camper knows, those wishes don’t often come true. And I only spoke to her a few times after that tearful morning.

I made my peace with that experience awhile back, but that line from Johansson above brought it back in my mind quicker than a shot. And it made me smile. Because if nothing else, she never did get me back. Or maybe she did. I only remember the good parts.

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