Breakfast With The McCarthys
(Or Europe on $5 a Day)
Describing her is not difficult. Just think that typical English fair skin not disturbed by harsh California sun, that dark black hair framing large blue eyes only the English have.
By Paul Morantz
© April, 2011
(names have been changed. At Left Linda at 15 with hat I gave her, Linda’s little brother Kevin, Isle of Wight 70’s Rock Festival, Running of bulls, my first and last Snowman Zermatt, Switz. and just short of 25–the photo I asked to always remind me how happy I was at that moment)
In the summer of l970, having finished my 2nd year of law school, I still knew I wanted to write. I had been and was a journalist dreaming of writing novels one day. I tried short stories but short stories are usually about some point of life, and that was my problem.
Even though I had lived through the 60’s and events like Kent State had happened, I knew I had lived rather a sheltered life and too much fun at USC. I did not have the type of life experiences from which one could draw characters and make revelations.
For the summer before my final law year I had planned to hitchhike through Europe, a rights of passage into manhood; a forced self reliant existence in a foreign land without parents to fall back on; to experience living with only yourself to take care of you.
At the last moment I did not want to go. I had re-united with a girlfriend, Bonnie, just before leaving and I wish I wasn’t going as I didn’t want to gamble leaving her for 3 months available to men.
But the charter flight ticket was non-refundable.
So off I went. And I assumed I was not likely to be faithful either; a new romance surely awaited . The movie Two for the Road had been very popular and was behind my decision to go in the first place. I remember being in a train writing a letter to a USC girl friend that Two for the Road had not happened yet when a girl from the University of Georgia opened the compartment door and asked with that Southern twang if there was a seat available. I said yes as I crumbled up the letter I was writing. Saying I was obviously a gentleman, her girl friend split with a European leaving the Georgia Peach in my care.
There was a girl from Ohio I met in Munich, a girl from London I met in Paris and there were the Evas, both tour guides, in Sweeden. But nothing turned to real love. No Two for the Road ever happened.
But there was an Audrey Hepburn type, a waif of an English girl named Linda McCarthy. Describing her is not difficult. Just think that typical English fair skin not disturbed by harsh California sun, that dark black hair framing large blue eyes only the English have. There was no love affair here either. At least not outwardly. We kept the appropriate distances given the fact she was just 15.
But I knew now how Elvis, at my same age, must have felt when in Friedberg, Germany he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.
The difference was after Priscilla grew up Elvis married her. I remembered those wedding photos in life Magazine. I, too, like Elvis, would later return to England in search of a grown up Linda, assured she must have evolved into something so beautiful. When I returned, I was shaken. And when back home again felt I now had a life experience from which to write about.
I put a blank page in a typewriter and typed a title– Breakfast with the McCarthy’s—intending some great fictional short story based on the experience but nothing came out but awkward paragraphs. Perhaps it was grief, but more was I had no context. What was the story’s point? And who, I thought, would care?
Now, just short of 40 years later, through the magic of a computer electronic pages and websites I have retyped the title. There may still be no point. But the memory is reserved. The following is the tale.
Ever since reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises I had dreamed one day of going to Pamplona Spain for the Running of the Bulls, a practice that involves running in front of a small group (typically a dozen) of bulls that have been let loose on a course of a sectioned-off portion of a town’s lower streets. Spanish legend has the annual event commencing during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle to sell at market, men hurried the steers by shouting and scaring. The transportation form eventually turned into a competition with men racing in front of the bulls trying to make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. Not all made it. Some were gored. Even deaths did not stop the popularity expansion and a tradition finally settled in the Pamplona yearly re-creation.
I remember arriving on July 1 at San Sebastian, a tourist beach town very near to Pamplona. Tired, I lied down on the beach by the rear stone wall using my back-pack for a pillow. As my eyes closed I heard some young kids above laughing at me and I wondered why? I found out when I awoke to the rushing 3 p.m. tide splashing against the wall with the effect of someone dumping of bucket of water on me.
Soaking wet I went to find a room. Earlier in Madrid I found to my surprise that I could speak with the Spanish people. I had taken Spanish at U.S.C. but found understanding Mexican-Americans difficult. Apparently we were taught Castilian Spanish and I in Spain I could understand everyone. For a while, as I was tan with dark hair, I could convince a few I lived there. I even convinced some American girls I was a local when they asked for directions, speaking only in Spanish and denying I spoke English. So in getting a room I tried to pass myself off as Spanish.
It was at the hotel while drying off on the stairway that I met her. A little 15-year-old girl with her even younger brother. It was like in the back of my head I heard that Roberta Flack song, The First Time ever I saw your face… She said hello to me and when she realized I was American she was excited to talk to me. And so we talked. Then I was introduced to her Mum and Dad. Mum’s English pronunciation of my name sounded more like “Pool” than “Paul” and I loved it. I loved the whole family.
The McCarthy’s were from England, but Dad was in the RAF and they were stationed in Munich. They had come to San Sebastian for vacation.
Hitchhiking and Eur-rail pass through Europe was tiring. The rule was soon as you felt comfortable anywhere it was time to move on because your time was limited, school started in the fall. But I always loved the beach and San Sebastian was a vacation from the vacation. I was comfortable but still stayed, sitting on the beach with Linda and her brother Kevin hanging with me, Linda asking every question a 15-year-old girl could about life in big cities and America. In the evenings I would have dinner with the family.
Prearranged, an old college roommate showed up and when he found me he immediately wanted to go hunt for women. I told him I had all my life to do that back in California and here I wanted to spend time with Europeans. I told him I was content to spend my time with the McCarthy’s. And as I said that I probably concealed from him and myself that it was also true that I was captivated by this young girl with the large blue eyes and in accent that was like good music when spoken. And I could tell that our friendship meant a lot to her. I don’t remember her leaving my side. On the beach she would wear my Scottish hat I had bought in Edinborough. I took a photo of her wearing it with a Kodak Instamatic as well as one of her brother in his play military helmet.
I wish I could remember more. I am limited to substance more than detail. Basically I played the big brother role not ever letting her know how badly I wished she was older or I was just 16.
And then it was time to leave for Pamplona and the call of the bulls. We exchanged addresses and vowed to stay in contact. Friends for life, we said.
A group of us Americans had celebrated 4th of July at a hotel restaurant in San Sebastian and made enough noise getting drunk to be thought of by the Europeans as Ugly Americans. But I have to say, as great as the Fourth of July is, it does not compare to the week-long Festival of San Fermin that starts July 6 and goes through July 14 in Pamplona – Navarra, Spain.
I have never been to the Mardi Gras but I can’t believe you could top San Fermin. The town comes to a halt and everyone parties for a week. Everyone had fur-covered wine bags strapped over their shoulders, the custom being to extend drinks from the bags to strangers as you crossed each others paths. Americans were more than welcome to participate in the celebration and we dawned the uniform white outfits with red scarfs. At night festival professionals lit the sky with firework shows that make our fourth of July sky lighting shows seem tame.
Maybe the best way to describe it is that the least thing going on seemed to be the Running of the Bulls.
I found a camp site along a river to roll my bag. All the Americans were there. I met up with Keith who had befriended me when I arrived in London from LAX scared that I would now be alone in a strange land. Worst, when I had asked a Bobbie for directions to a youth hostel the policeman balled me out for saying, “Excuse me,” instead of “Please.”
The hostile was listed in Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day,” first published in 1957 and all backpacking student Americans carried the most recent edition.
Keith was my age and from a dental school in Iowa — we were two of a kind. Everyone assumed we were lifetime best friends, not two strangers who saw self in the other. But the difference was that Keith had hitchhiked America and South America while I was a tender foot. Some girls we met had taken off to pick strawberries in Edinborough and then called to ask us to come get them. He took me under his wings as we hitchhiked towards Edinborough. We camped in parks, cleaned up in park bathrooms and sometimes we were invited into homes by English wanting to discuss the Vietnam war and American politics. But when hitchhiking became difficult it was decided we would split and appear safer singular thinking we would meet up at our destination.
It was fun. I remember a boy in a window in a small town saying hello as I walked by and his reacting when he heard my voice. He had never met in American and his family had me up for lunch. When I arrived in Edinborough I was shocked by the beauty of the castles so clear from Prince Steet, but I couldn’t find Keith or the girls. I went north to Lockness thinking how much Kodak would pay me if I was lucky enough to photograph Nessie with an Instamatic Camera. I camped out on an Androssan beach and there saw my first ever Border Collie and fell in love with the breed. The night winds were too cold even for my down sleeping bag. I slept like a bum on the concrete inside a park latrine which became less enjoyable when a tourist bus male occupants entered late at night to relieve themselves.
From Androssan I took a hydro-boat to Ireland which was different shade of green. Dublin then was so poor women with fake babies begged on the street and you couldn’t put your backpack down without six or seven kids pouncing on it. I purchased one of those white wooly Irish sweaters and from there flew to Paris.
After came Madrid and seeing a bullfight, then San Sebastian. Now I found Keith again in the Pamplona park. We ran to each other—like one of those slow motion commercials of that era in fields of flowers—and hugged each other.
He looked at me and said I was no longer a tender foot and we reacted to the other like lifelong friends. As I said, most who met us thought we were. I remember that night a Spanish girl asking me to tell the American boy, neither could speak the others language, that she would meet him after dinner at the tree. I was tempted to tell the boy she said go away and appear myself but I didn’t do it. I liked being the interpreter and seeing his smile when I told him what she said.
As to the running with the bulls I chose to watch one day first so I could plan my route but from what I saw I decided no way. The bulls just ran blindly but sometimes the runners panicked and would push someone into the bull to save themselves. And if you tried to pull yourself out over the side fences people pushed you back in. But Keith ran and I have a photo of him afterwards standing very proud.
When we left the town Keith and I vowed to be eternal friends. ButI never saw him again.
I went to Munich and drank beer. I visited Dachau on a fittingly cold and damp day. After ending the tour at the the Holocaust museum I didn’t smile for days. It had been 25 years but World War II was still evident. Bombed buildings were still under construction and finding german relatives I saw closeness in the jews I had never observed in any people in the States.
Then I surprised the McCarthy’s by showing up at their home.
Linda and I went for a long walk. She told me she had a boyfriend but that things were kind of strange. She said he lived with his mom who still had a swastika banner on her wall. She asked me if she should have sex with him, showing clearly the difference of the times from today (who would ask?). I told her that was a personal decision only she could make but that it might be smart if she waited till she was 18 to make it, applying California law so to speak. But truth was I didn’t want her to do it.
When it came time to part I gave her my hat she had worn in San Sebastian. The only kiss goodbye could be on the cheek.
I went to Italy and through a friend stayed at the former home of Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469 –1527) and fell in love with art of Michelangelo. In Rome I was photographed by tourists while brunching on Machiavelli’s old patio and in the Coliseum doing the thumb downs thing. We lunched on the ancient patio and tourists took photos of us eating as viewing the villa was recommended in Frommer’s book as part of how to enjoy the trip on $5 a day. From there I ferried to Greece and eventually lived in a cave on Mikonos Island which had probably more small white churches than people. I made my way to Switzerland where I traded my Instamatic up for a Minolta 35 mm camera along with wide angle and telephoto lenses.
In Stockholm I had adventures with 2 tour guides both named Eva who showed me around and another American I met up with who was a photographer. I asked him to use my Minolta and take a photo of me that every time I looked at it I would remember how happy I was that day. He succeeded. I also had fun shooting pictures at Sunday flea market. Everyone, it seemed was blonde.
After the Evas took me out for my 25th birthday I went further north and at Hamlet’s castle had lunch with a German doctor with a beautiful wife and kids. Out of the conversation he shocked me when he proudly referenced his days in the Nazi army, pointing out a window at a river accessing the ocean and telling me how “our” army had held this strategic position. Norway came next and I slept in a beautiful park in Denmark before returning to England where I stayed at the home of Louise, a mixed English/Arab daughter of a doctor, that I had met in France and called me ignorant for not speaking francais.
The last adventure was the Isle of Wight rock festival but Louise’s father would not let her go with me.
The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival was held between 26 and 31 August 1970 at East Afton Farm an area on the western side of the Isle of Wight. It is widely acknowledged as the largest musical event of its time, greater than the attendance at Woodstock which occurred one year earlier. The Guinness Book of Records estimated that over 600,000 people attended, 6 times the island’s population.
Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, The Doors, The Who, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson and Free took the stand, but the turning point emotionally happened Saturday when Tiny Tim drove the crowd crazy with Tip toe through the Tulips and There will always be an England.
There were no bathrooms set up so a giant trench was dug. People just went along side and squatted while anyone could watch. I decided not to go for five days and ate very little.
I didn’t go inside the concert area much but stayed with some British I met who invited me to share their tent. We were high on a hillside looking down but as the prevailing wind blew the music our way we were just fine. My new mates tried to get me to do mescaline and I almost did but decided not to experiment when they said they didn’t know the seller. That was as close as I would ever come.
They did convince me to try skinny dipping in the ocean down the other side of the hill. When they asked why I kept my hands cupped in front in the water, I replied, “Shssh…blow fish.”
I ended up with a girl friend—one of the British tent group I joined– and when we departed I promised through her to send them all photos that I had taken with my new Minolta.
When I returned to Los Angeles my Mom met me at the airport and announced my father had a stroke, our poodle was hit by a car, my grandma died and the draftboard changed my status to 1A despite my reserve status. And the girl I had been afraid to leave was there but only to greet another guy getting off the airplane.
I wanted to go back. The draft board it turned out was angry over a letter I wrote to it. During the protests over the Kent State Shootings before I left for Europe a pretty co-ed got me to turn in a letter to the draftboard to a student booth set up on campus. The idea was to keep the board busy responding to letters so it wouldn’t have time to draft anyone.
When the Board asked me to bring proof that I had been in the reserves I asked why they were hassling. They said it was about the letter I wrote which I had forgotten. I asked that they read it to me. Apparently I wrote, “Dear draft board, I am having a hard time figuring out what number I am in the draft lottery. I can’t remember my birthday but I’m in Aquarius.”
I laughed and asked the agency if they didn’t think that was funny. The woman said no. “But I am really a Leo,” I said.
After receiving photos from Ilse of Wight, Cathy wrote me asking for some extra ones which I sent. She would write me for three years asking when I was coming back. I politely replied to to her letters, but the ones I look forward to receiving were not from her but from the little girl, 15 when I last saw her. Linda’s letters I saved. Her letters I re read.
It was after my father died and after I left the Public Defender’s office that Linda turned 18. And she wrote me she was engaged to be married.
In my 28 years I had never fought for a girl, had never said take me not him. And without any warning to the McCarthy’s, or arguably even myself, I had a friend, Rebecca Sanborn (See Pink Justice—Escape from Div. 40), take my border collie Cresta and then I boarded a plane for London.
I had written Cathy I was coming but not the McCarthy’s. I first went first to Essex’s to pay Cathy a visit. Her Mom invited me in and gave me milk and cookies while I waited for her daughter to come home from work. Eventually a stranger entered saying “so you arrived… I was is writing you today to see if you had left” and showed me the letter. I recognized the typewriter ribbon and the signature. “You wrote this?” I asked. She said of course. I decided to act like nothing was unusual until I figured this thing out. I didn’t know this person named Cathy at all.
At dinner that night I asked enough questions to solve the riddle. I was with Susan. Cathy was her friend. That is why she wrote for additional photos, because the ones I sent were to Susan. I got the names confused. I had been writing for 3 years to a person whom I thought was Susan but was Cathy.
I never told her. I just called her at work the next day to say I had been informed that my brother was ill and I had to return. Truth was, whether she had been Susan or not, this wasn’t the reason for the trip. I had only stopped by to say hello.
And so I began to hitchhike into the Northern England country side having only a map to guide me to an RAF base. My last ride dropped me off in front of the house. It was around 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Mum answered the door in a robe barely awake. She looked at me as if who was this stranger knocking on the door so early. I just kept looking at her and smiling until she finally threw her arms around me in disbelief.
*…………………………………………….……………………….….. *………………………………………………………..……….. *
Kevin was awake and he, too, became very excited. Dad was truly glad to see me as well. We had breakfast around the table while the princess remained asleep in her loft.
I quickly learned I had no fight to win. The engagement was off. I pretended to be sorry for Linda’s disappointment. Finally, feet appeared on the stairway and, after three years of wondering how she had physically matured; a face came into view, a face more beautiful than I could remember, so pretty it could not be masked by being only half awake. I saw those blue eyes become magnified as she realized who sat at the breakfast table.
Hours later we were walking and holding hands when arrested by the military police because we were on a runway. Dad had to come and get our release.
By evening we had kissed and by the next day Kevin said how neat it was going to be to have a Yank for a brother-in-law. I didn’t say anything but inside I agreed.
Apparently everyone did and Linda and I were sent off to Devonshire to meet Grandpa. I was warned not to try to communicate with grandma as it was pointless. Her first husband and 2 Sons had been blown up in front of her during World War II. She took a job as a live-in housemaid at Grandpa’s and then one day got into his bed. They married. But she rarely spoke to anyone I was told.
Grandpa was actually a sheepherder who had a border collie of his own and so we took off headed their way. And then as the train pulled off, Linda, looking out the window, pointed out the poor people working or loitering at the station and said how disgusting they were. She had no sympathy for the poor and was going to see to it that she would be wealthy. She spoke in a condescending tone that startled me.
She confided that after I left Europe 3 years ago she did make love with her German boyfriend. When Dad, a strong Catholic, read about it in her diary he dragged her into a car to dump her at his house but she would not give out his address. Finally he drove her back home. She broke up with the boy who then committed suicide.
I don’t remember much more about all she said but it was generally about all the material things she wanted in life. She didn’t say much about the person whom she had been engaged to but referred to him as a “boy.” She talked more about an older married dentist with whom she had had an affair with and bought her things and took her to nice places. By the time the train arrived in Devonshire the illusions had been broken along with my heart. Slowly Linda realized it. We didn’t hold hands, we didn’t kiss. For three years I had fantasized about her physical transformation from 15 to 18, the adorable curiosity of a young teen, never thinking of the how the person might otherwise alter. Somewhere in the 3 years the innocence had dissipated. I had left Tami and the Bachelor in Munich and had returned to find Scarlet O’Hara.
I loved Grandpa. Sheepherders do not generally make pets of border collies nor even have them in the house believing the same would interfere with their sheep working habits. But I ran in the Hills with the dog, thinking of my own Cresta back home, and it appears that my childish ways struck something in Grandma who was watching out a window, maybe a familiarity with an old memory of her children.
She opened up to me and one night by the fireplace told me what happened to her husband and children and I was gripped with sadness and feelings of helplessness I never had experienced. Until then World War II to me was a series of old black and white movies starring either Alan Ladd or Humphrey Bogart. I listened, and glanced at Linda, who seemed less interested, realizing that a three-year idealization had not been as expected. This was not going to be the end road of bachelorhood; this was not Linda I had given my hat, too.
When I left Devonshire grandma hugged me and grandpa gave me his shepherding hat.
On the way home I felt somehow the story had great meaning but it was difficult to figure out. I had to admit I was still too, just a kid, and could not really articulate the experience. I concluded I had been silly to focus so much on how she would look at 18 and not consider the little 15 year old that innocently tagged after me would be gone.
We never communicated again, I never spoke of this until one day telling my son and for years I had thought of writing of the experience. Even if I could not put it into a context it was a catharsis I needed.
Louise herself became an English barrister and when she toured California in l972 she stayed at my Mom’s house. We took a trip to Mexico and on the way back on the border she was skin searched so she was probably glad to leave America. She watched me in the first trial I ever had. We fell out of contact.
I never heard from Keith. I tried to find him years ago on the net but google only brought up a high school reference.
When I returned home from the trip to the McCarthy’s shortly thereafter Cresta was run over by a car and died in my arms. She had been named after the street I grew up on. I got another border collie and named him Devon after Devonshire in honor of grandpa and grandma and also a form of internalizing the experience and the memory of Linda and her family– that for one moment I thought was going to become part of that family. Devon lived 17 loyal years. In l978 a picture of Devon and I appeared in the Los Angeles Times after Synanon tried to murder me by placing a rattlesnake in my mailbox.
Today, I finally found some context for the story. It was not about Linda, but me. My naivety. My own denial of the world as it is. I had never heard someone speak like Linda before, despise poor people, admit an affair with a married person who would financially benefit her or seem so possessed with escaping to a rich life. Yet in reality this was reality. I read of it, saw it in movies but had no such experiences at USC although in those days everyone assumed girls went to college basically to find husbands and some undergaduate USC co-eds always studied at the law school library. One law professor warned me that my girlfriend at a law party asked if I would be a good catch. I was naïve enough to not get the message, not even when she left me and married another student after when on the first date he flew her to dinner in San Francisco.
Decades rolled by and such views became more acceptable as they had to Linda. In the 80s I read a class was being taught to girls on how to catch a millionaire. In the 90s there would be a television show wherein girls would compete to be selected for marriage by a millionaire they did not know.
By this decade women wanting money was as acceptable as apple pie and its morality was no longer an issue. Dating sites appeared called Seeking Millionaires and others looking for sugar daddies had sites where woman could post their monthly fee for dating, sex not guaranteed. Men were paying for arm candy. By the time I would reach 50 nothing Linda said at 18 was out of place.
So what did breakfast with the McCarthy’s really mean? Linda was just growing up in the way the world was evolving. I had romanticized earlier a story a girl once told me of how her rich step dad pretended to be poor in courting her mother, not revealing his Rolls-Royce until she agreed to marry him.
I was the problem. Linda grew up in a family that lived on a military salary. She was a pretty girl who typically wanted pretty things.
She was only 18. She was not through changing and would surely change again. And maybe I could have been an influence. Certainly, I could have at least gone back to the big brother role. In the end I had silently condemned her for being no different than coming generations.
I had been proud that I had returned to fight for her, but when the real battle was exposed I retreated. I cut myself off from a family I loved and a girl I have never forgotten. A whole lifetime has since passed and I have no idea what hers was and is. How would someone track down a name as common as Linda McCarthy, probably renamed, somewhere in England?
I knew the story of the rattlesnake in the mailbox was world wide news in l978 and for years thereafter. She had to have known. I hoped she would write but she didn’t.
I never discussed with her on the train my views, argued that some people are going to end up poor and that does not mean they are bad, that if she chose me she would have to do so knowing there was no way of predicting whether I would be richer or poorer, and that I believed in till death do us apart. I was old school. I didn’t debate her. I judged her when she was still just a kid because I had not grown up either.
Whatever course her life took I wish in some fashion we had remained connected. All my life I have missed the McCarthy’s and remember that surprise Sunday breakfast in a small English air base town, the name of which I no longer recall.
I can see her as she appeared on a stairway turning to joy at the sight of me. Then she is gone. Forever.
Frommer’s book, today, 46th Edition , is entitled Europe from $85 a Day.