In honor of Memorial Day I planned to write about how wonderful this year’s celebration will be compared to 2020. But recently a terrific comedic actor, Charles Grodin, passed away and I wanted to pay my respects. I still love his iconic movie “The Heartbreak Kid.” On his Miami Beach honeymoon, Lenny, played by Grodin, falls madly in love with Kelly, played by Cybill Shepherd, a gorgeous Midwestern college student on holiday.
In our case my wife and I honeymooned in Hawaii, staying in an ocean view condo on Kauai, the “Garden Island.” One fateful day, however, I spent three hours on a secluded beach body surfing and swapping life stories with a world-famous movie star. (What could go wrong?)
That morning my wife was spending the day shopping at a gift shop featuring indigenous Hawaiian art so she encouraged me to go to a nearby beach renowned for its white sand and surf. In our rental car she dropped me off, we kissed goodbye until dinner where we had a reservation at a restaurant renowned for its seafood and romantic ambiance.
I brought a script I was re-writing in case I had a brainstorm between waves. After spotting coral reefs to avoid I body surfed for two exhilarating hours and then walked back to the condo for lunch. But when I returned there was suddenly a rock on my script as if to hold it down in case of wind. I was confused because I hadn’t seen a soul all day but I ignored it and dived into the crystal clear aquamarine water for body surfing round two.
Fifteen minutes later a tall, tanned and toned woman in a striped bikini looking to be in mid-30’s was walking in the water headed directly toward me with what I assumed were her two handsome young lovers. Politely, she asked if there was coral around because as a teenager she had gotten tiny scars from the often dangerous and sharp reefs.
A bit intimidated by her stunning beauty (okay, more than a bit) I assured her it was safe where we were. She thanked me, adding “Where are my manners? I’m Ali,” as she shook my hand.
“I’m Jack” I replied, feigning nonchalance but excitedly realizing I was talking to “Love Story” Ali MacGraw! Ali then suggested to the two young men, (actually her son and his friend) it would be okay if they went down the beach after which they immediately took off.
“Wanna ride some waves?” Ali asked. As if she wasn’t gorgeous, she was also a pretty fearless body surfer. (It turns out, she’s a pretty fearless woman.) After thirty minutes we took a break and walked to my towel and, oddly enough, hers was almost next to mine.
Drying off, Ali volunteered she had put the rock on my script and confessed she enjoyed what she had read of it, asking “Have we ever worked together?” (If so, it would have been in my dreams.)
For the next few hours Ali and I alternated body surfing, sunbathing and her remarkably candid chat. She described her difficult childhood with an occasionally violent and bigoted father, her modeling, acting and three failed marriages, two with Robert Evans and one with Steve McQueen.
As we talked it seemed very cathartic for her and it was definitely fascinating to me. A year later I read in her autobiography “Moving Pictures,” that this Hawaii vacation had been a planned spiritual reassessment of her career, fame and money, and a focus on her purpose in life.
Maybe she was so open because I was a total stranger she would never see again. An articulate Wellesley College graduate, at one point she commented, “You and I talk the same language.” It sounds weird but we actually did.
At another point she showed me her coral scars that were on her inner thigh and I felt like Grodin’s lecherous Lenny. She also pointed out her magnificent condo on a volcanic rock bluff directly over the water, I thought possibly hinting did I want to see the inside. Not sure what to do, I simply said, “It’s beautiful.”
When her son and his friend returned, Ali thanked me profusely for the fun day and how I made her laugh which was music to my ears. We didn’t exchange numbers which, as I was on my honeymoon, left me relieved but also a tad disappointed. As she walked off down the beach, though probably risky, I decided to tell my wife, who loved many of my stories, about my “afternoon with Ali.” To find out her reaction check here in two weeks.
To Charles Grodin, R.I.P. And to you, dear reader, given what we’ve all been through this past year, may you have the best Memorial Day ever.
To appreciate Charles Grodin’s humor, go to YouTube and search “Grodin and Carson” and “Grodin vs Letterman.” Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.