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Friday, August 3, 2007

The Blade, and Di

By Patrick O’Gara
My first evening in Toledo, Ohio, as a newly arrived Blade executive, was interesting. It was November 1989, dark, cold and wet.
The paper had found, at my asking, an apartment within walking distance of the office. As is often the case with old-established newspapers in the States, it was in the heart of Downtown.
My flat was in one of a smart row of terraced houses, with electric security gates for the garages, and gentrified to the nines, but the surrounding area was well down on its luck.
Still, it was all new to me, and after unpacking I set out to explore. On the corner of the next block, 40 yards from my door, was a bar. A small neon sign proclaimed The Dooville Lounge. I like bars. I went in.
In the dim light about twenty or so customers were scattered, some at the counter, others at tables. They were not yuppies. A loud jukebox played Welcom (sic) To The Jungle, a popular dirge of the day, whose significance escaped me at that point. Nobody paid me any obvious heed.
The barmaid was imposing and sturdily built, not unlike a Steelers linebacker, and clearly not to be fucked with. I asked for a gin and tonic.
‘You Briddish?’ she asked sternly.
Yes, no denying it.
‘You know Lady Di?’ she followed up. Well, not really, but I had met her once, I ventured modestly.
‘You met Lady Di! Where?’ barked the barmaid, who I would later know as Joyce.
I could not tell a lie. ‘At a polo match, as a matter of fact,’ I said, by now aware that the conversation was taking a surreal turn.
And it was true. While I worked for Hello! magazine, my royalty-besotted Spanish bosses had sponsored such a contest at Windsor Great Park, and Charles had played. Selected employees were afterwards introduced to the pair, who appeared at that time to be on cordial, even loving, terms.
‘Holy cow! Lissen,’ Joyce shouted to the patrons. ‘This Briddish guy met Lady Di at a fuckin’ polo game!’ Grinning muggers and hookers surged around, slapping my back, shaking my hand and re-filling my glass.
I now had instant chums in Toledo and bought no more drinks that night.
Amid the tumult, an alcoholically challenged patron misheard Joyce, and for a few delirious seconds was under the impression that England’s presumptive Queen and I had met at a poker game.
So, thanks to the People’s Princess my standing in T-Town where Jeeps are built, Art Tatum was born, and the transvestite guy in Mash was so keen to get home to, was assured from the get-go…
Now all I had to do was put out a newspaper every day, Sundays included, for the next fifteen years.
Piece of piss.