Monday, September 14, 2009
My Patrick Swayze Story
It's has just been reported that actor Patrick Swayze has passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 57. We knew it was coming but it's still terribly sad. I certainly didn't know the man but enjoyed his movies like "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing" like everyone else. However, it was always his Chippendale's skit with the late Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live that endeared me to him. That, and the time I almost crashed his car.
It's around 1996 and I'm a proud member of an all-female car parking team called The Valettes. (We had pink bow ties and cummerbunds and handed out roses.) We mostly worked parties in and around LA and Hollywood. We were a novelty act and people dug it.
We were working some party up in the Hollywood Hills, when Patrick and his lovely wife, Lisa, pulled up in a powder blue antique Mercedes. This isn't long after his film, "Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar" - a film I have yet to see. (That's Patrick at left, in drag, wearing the hat. With him is Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo.)
A few of us ladies scramble for position but I win the keys and the privilege of parking his car. I get in and quickly realize two things:
1) There is cigarette ash everywhere and the ashtray is overflowing. 'Hmmmm, I didn't know he smoked,' I thought. (In fact, Patrick was a heavy smoker for years but never did so in public.)
2) I recognize almost none of the regular controls of the average car. With the exception of the speedometer and the gas gage, everything is different. I couldn't tell you the age of the car - 50s? 60s? - but it was old and he may have had it imported direct from Germany. Dunno, but the damn thing was exotic.
Anyway, I manage to figure out how to get it moving and find a safe spot for it. The night goes on and we gals park more cars. Running up and down those hills used to be such good exercise and it was always fun to witness "The Scene." (The highly-tanned George Hamilton also showed up later and he struck me as someone so very happy with his lot in life, I can't help but like him to this day. Plus, he was nice to everyone.)
Hours passed and eventually, I had to use the restroom. Evidently, they didn't have a porta potty for the "help" and I was directed into the swanky mansion to use the loo. I ended up standing in line with a few C- and D-grade actresses and scanned the room. I recognized a few faces but ended up observing Swayze and tried to picture him smoking.
He was deeply involved in a discussion with some guy about antique watches - both the man and Patrick were wearing one. Meanwhile, several women passing by attempted to throw themselves at Patrick without success. He was polite, sure, but his face said it all: 'Move on, lady. I am happily taken.'
And so, I searched for his wife, Lisa, and spotted her standing nearby. She was talking and laughing with a fellow blonde. She struck me as naturally beautiful, secure and wise - which made her a standout at the party and the entire city. Obviously, Patrick agreed. They met when they were both 19 and married when he was 23. Even standing apart, I could see they were permanently smitten.
Back outside, I resumed my duties (btw, Miatas are like having wheels on your ass, incredibly fun) and the party began winding down. Patrick and Lisa emerged, arm-in-arm, and approached me directly. "Hi! I think we're going to call it a night," he said, smiling. That was my cue.
I grabbed his keys and jogged up the hill toward his car. Once in, I remembered the cigarettes and figured he was probably anxious to light up. Heading back down the hill, I quickly realized that something wasn't right - I didn't seem to be slowing down despite my liberal use of the brake. I began to panic and the realization set in: I was going to destroy Patrick Swayze's car and would likely never park in this town again.
Cresting the hill and heading down (not yet fast but definitely gaining some speed), I could see Patrick look up, meet my terrified gaze and leap into action.
Here's the part when I can personally attest to his dancer's athleticism. That boy SPRINTED up the hill like goddamn lightning-fueled gazelle. In one swift movement, he met me halfway, swung open the driver's door and stuck his highly-toned leg in across my lap, leaving his perfectly-shaped ass inches from my face, which - looking back now - was a real highlight.
Then there was a crunch-grinding sound and the car came to a halt, within inches of another expensive celebrity car. I didn't know what to say but was getting ready to apologize profusely when Patrick said to me,
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry! Are you okay? I forgot to tell you that this car has two brakes! Oh my gosh, I can't believe I forgot to tell you! One isn't working and I was going to get it fixed today but .... ARE YOU ALRIGHT??? I'M SO SORRY!"
He then helped me out of the car, where I stood on wobbly legs. "I ... thought ... I was ... going .... to crash ... your car..."
"I KNOW! I could see your face and then I remembered! I'm so glad nothing happened. I'm so sorry. Here ya go," and then he handed me $20. Though we were not supposed to take tips - it was part of The Valettes schtick - I took it, figuring it would buy me a stiff drink later.
Lisa walked past me heading toward the car, smiling big. She didn't speak but it looked like she'd been laughing. She was even happy in a crisis, darn her. Meanwhile, I'd practically pissed myself while nearly mowing down a crowd of fancy people with a movie star's car. Good Lord.
Godspeed, Patrick. From all I can tell, you were an amazing artist, a devoted husband and one sweetheart of a guy. I wish you could have stayed longer.