Column: Paris, WeHo and My Love Story

Hanging out at French Impressionist artist Claude Monet’s home and garden at Giverny outside Paris. 

MY TWO FAVORITE SPOTS IN THE world are Paris any time of the day but especially at night and the corner of North Kings Road and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood on St. Patrick’s Day.

Everyone understands Paris. But an undistinguished corner on Santa Monica without even a Starbucks for an espresso nearby? My wife can answer that.

One early afternoon in 1983, I had just left my home on Kings Road heading to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner where I was a columnist, when I pulled up at a red light at the corner of the old Mayflower Market to make a right turn on Santa Monica. In the next moments, my life would be forever changed.

I looked out my car’s passenger window and there, waiting to cross Santa Monica, was someone who could have been mistaken for a young Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy whose old man — John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier III — had once said that she 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, as I said. St. Patty’s day last month marked the 38th anniversary of our meeting. We were married the following year, and we will celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary in June.

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 also no stalking laws to speak of at that time. Besides, what’s that great 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. I pulled my car into the Mayfair parking lot and from there watched as she crossed the street and entered Holloway 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 young fashion model from Michigan 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 crowd of customers holding take-a-number tickets and waiting for their turn. 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 took eating only 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 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 Leo’s Florist nearby 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 half Irish. Blarney. Mo Ghrá. Thu.

That’s my West Hollywood story. We all have one. It’s my way of introducing myself to old friends and new ones through Send me yours.

© 2021 Tony Castro

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