My friend Glenn and I dropped by The Pirate Bully Hayes Nightclub in Pearl City one night for a couple of beers. Although I had been stationed in Hawaii for three years, I had patronized Bully Hayes only once – the previous night. I don’t know what compelled me to go to that particular club on consecutive nights; serendipity I suppose.
Bully Hayes had a decent reputation among Sailors from the base as a dance club, not that I danced much, and quite a few made it their regular club. But, looking back, Bully Hayes didn’t fit with the character of the places I normally frequented in Hawaii. I usually went to the tourist and college bars in Waikiki or the enlisted men’s club on base. If I didn’t feel like driving all the way downtown from my apartment in Makaha, I went to the club at the near-by Waianae Army Rec Center with my roommate, George or other friends. But the Army club had a drawback: as much as I enjoyed it, I was sometimes a little reluctant about going there since a local guy named ‘Lucky’ always had his eye out for me and would sit with me as long as I stayed. He was very nice and personable, but I didn’t swing his way even though I liked him personally. George and I even had Lucky over for parties or invited him along to the beach. Lucky always wore a lei at the club, and he always tried to lei me. I get good-natured grief from old friends to this day for not getting Lucky.
Whatever the impulse that led me to Bully Hayes that September night in 1985, it changed my life forever. That night I met the woman who would, two short months later, become my wife. It was love at first sight. She appeared to me the most beautiful woman I had ever set eyes upon when I saw her across the dance floor. My heart skipped two beats. Somehow I knew this would be the woman I married. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled as the corners of her mouth lifted. And her smile melted me. I just wanted to pick her up in my arms and gaze into her beautiful brown eyes. As it turned out, Jayne is the one who did the picking up that night.
I could see Jayne clearly from my table across the dance floor. I couldn’t help looking at her and took every opportunity to make eye contact. Four or five other women sat at the table with her, but I had eyes only for Jayne. However, when I finally did make eye contact with her I lost my nerve: my heart leaped into my throat and I looked away. I didn’t hold her look, I didn’t smile, didn’t mouth the words “Hey, baby,” or give her my “I’m too sexy for my shirt” leer. Instead, I pulled in my head and shoulders, sank deep into my chair, and pretended I had only looked her way to see if Pearl Harbor could be viewed through the window at her table. Once again, I had flawlessly executed my normal “picking up chicks” routine.
In this routine, I would freeze with fear that the woman with whom I had just made eye contact would walk over to talk to me. I never had the gift of small talk, particularly with women. Words abandoned me, my brain scrambled sentences into gibberish, and my sweat glands flooded my forehead with trickling beads of fear-infused sweat. I would shrink into my seat, and into myself – and hope that the woman would lose interest. However, just in case my Olympian collapse failed to turn her away, I always had well-rehearsed stand-by lines ready to toss out:
“Hello. Nice weather we’re having, huh?
“Boy, it sure is crowded in here.”
“My name is…uh…boy, it sure is hot in here!”
None of my female avoidance strategies worked this time. I couldn’t stop looking at her and she appeared determined to make me nervous. My furtive glances continued. Her direct stares never stopped. She danced a few times with other guys – and nearly crushed my heart – and looked my way from the dance floor, so I felt sure she wanted me to ask her to dance. But I didn’t ask her. Finally, I suppose Jayne had had enough of this bullshit – that’s just what she would have said. She made the first move. Glenn noticed first. He nodded his head toward Jayne and said, ”She’s standing right behind you.”
I’m sure I gulped. I know I sweated. And then I tried to disappear into my chair in the vain hope that maybe she just needed a breath of fresh air, or wanted to powder her nose. No. She came over and stood directly behind my chair. I could have been blind and I would have known she was there. She was so close I could feel her body heat. I could hear the blood coursing through her veins. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my head. I hunched my shoulders together tighter. I tried to become a cocoon with a petrified human inside. It wasn’t working. She wasn’t going anywhere. Apparently she and Glenn were working together. I knew she was pointing at me and circling her finger around her ear; I saw Glenn shrug his shoulders. Finally, when I knew I could feign imbecility no longer, I took a sip of my beer, turned casually in my chair, and said, “Hey, would you like to dance?”
I didn’t sweat. Words, real words, formed of themselves. My brain functioned properly. I held the most beautiful woman in the world in my arms and she danced with me. I really don’t know if my feet touched the ground for the rest of the night. I don’t know when I returned to earth. Before the clock struck twelve I made sure I had her number and she had mine. I didn’t kiss her beautiful red lips, ask her out, or any of the thousand other things I wanted to do. I just relished the pleasure of her presence, her smile, her warmth, her beauty, her touch. And I knew, I knew! she liked me. We’ve been married now for 29 years. I got lucky after all.
© 2014 Will Penny