2012-06-01 / Commentary

The Toast of the Town becomes the Star of the Heavenly Ball

I’m just saying...
Julia Rogers Hook

I remember the first time I met my friend Janet Winston like it was yesterday. It was the late 1970s, and I had just landed in Hollywood. I was working as a secretary for a publishing sales company, and someone had asked me to meet them for a drink at a club on Sunset Blvd.

I walked into a room full of loud rock and roll music, the air thick with smoke and dim multi-colored lights reflecting dancers in a cluster.

Standing behind the bar was this beautiful tall voluptuous blonde with an infectious smile. She was wearing some sort of shiny aqua body suit, which I later came to know and love as spandex, and a thin glittery transparent top. She looked like a fairy of some sort and in a way, as it turned out, years later I would come to consider her my fairy god-mother.

I immediately felt awkward and out of place in my “corporate wear,” and for an instant I thought about just leaving. But Janet noticed me and came down the bar where I was shuffling my feet and darting my eyes looking for the quickest way out.

“Hi gorgeous! Welcome to V. J.’s. What can I get you?”

Gorgeous? Me? Hardly. “Umm… hello….how are you,” I mumbled.

“I’m FABulous… how are you?”

I’d never heard anyone say they were fabulous before. I hadn’t been in Hollywood more than a couple of months, and I was still pretty wet behind the ears and fresh off the farm. In my little southern town, people never said they were “fabulous.” They just said they were “fine” and moved on.

I guess while I was contemplating all this, she could see my confusion and poured me a shot of tequila and a small glass of orange juice.

“Here you go sweetie…. the first one is on the house, and I’ll have one with you.”

As the tequila burned my throat, she cleared a place for me to sit and in that instant, I fell in love. She was so beautiful, so bubbly and effervescent, it was impossible not to. Everyone fell in love with Janet, men and women alike. She had a way about her that included everyone in the room. She treated everyone the same and blessed us with her approval and affection. From the celebrities who popped by for a quick one while on break from the nearby studios to the man who cleaned the club after hours, Janet showed us all equal love and kindness.

She was bawdy and sparkling, vibrant and bouncy. She was the life of any party, and when she arrived somewhere, it meant the fun was just getting started.

Janet taught me to never blend in when I could stand out.

She was my friend, the big sister I never had, and when Janet loved you, she loved you out loud. There was never a moment of wondering if she meant it or questioning her motives. She simply “was,” and she loved life and lived it to the fullest.

That day was over 30 years ago.

Janet died May 22 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Over those three decades, Janet and I became like real sisters. We told each other our secrets and shared our dreams. She was the matron of honor when I got married, and her husband, Larry, gave me away. On the way to my wedding, Janet slipped a ring on my finger. It was a beautiful diamond ring. She whispered to me that she would always love me and be there if I needed her.

Janet loved us all, but the person she loved most was her Larry. She adored her husband, and he adored her. During her last few years, when that horrific disease had taken all but her body, hardly a day passed that Larry wasn’t there beside her. His love and devotion for her was astounding. He is indeed, a very special man.

Janet knew how special he was. She insisted on meeting every guy I ever dated because she told me she wanted me to find my own “Larry,” so I could be as happy as she was. When she met Marty, she told me I had.

At the end, I don’t know if she recognized me when I saw her on my last California trip, but I knew her. I knew who she was and who she had been. And nothing important had changed. I still loved her, and I know on some level, she still loved me. Now her spirit is free, and I’d bet you a dollar she’s trying to talk the angels into spandex robes and tequila shooters. And the stars in the heavens are shining a little brighter since she got there.

I’m just saying……

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