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The Ballad of Jemmy and Strawberry

The plane had landed in San Diego and heíd been staying at a hotel downtown for a few days. The reporters were swarming; how long had it been since Paul McCartney had been in California---or San Diego, for that matter?

It had been quite a while and Paul was glad to breathe in the warm sea air and look upon the calm, untroubled blue of the Pacific.

When he had first arrived, heíd done the round of press conferences and photo shoots and after that had gone around the city with some friends. He was able to walk on the pier and then on the beach the next morning, but the reporters and fans were so many in number that he was soon confined to his room, having to content himself on seeing San Diego from a hotel window.

A few days after arriving, he was still stuck in the room and he was getting bored. People moved in and out of his room and it was always noisy; the fans down below were making a ruckus reminiscent of Beatlemania. The papers were awed by this reception of the 58 year old and Paul found his face on the cover of People, the Union Tribune, Entertainment WeeklyÖone only had to name a magazine or newspaper and each would carry, if not a cover story, some mention of his maniacal stay in San Diego. "Címon, Paul, youíve got some more conferences," his press agent would say to him nearly every morning. Paul would nod, thankful for even just this little bit of freedom from that hotel room.

But on his fourth day of residing there, he made sure that he had a battered guitar case with a guitar and extra clothes in it when he was called.

He was promoting his new album and also answering questions about Lindaís projects, still on-going, and whatever Beatles questions the reporters had. He felt that heíd done good enough a job talking about everything (especially about the album) and when there was a break in the press conference, he slipped away, discreetly, to the conference hall restroom, taking the battered guitar case that he had hidden under the table.

"Paul, youíve got to be out in five minutes," someone on his staff said, noticing his exit. "Thereíre some papers for you to see before you go back to the conference."

"Sure, yeah," Paul replied, smiling and turned the corner.

Once in the restroom, he hurriedly got into a stall and opened the guitar case. In it, beside the guitar, were the clothes he had packed earlier; they were raggedy and worn. There was also a muddy-looking bandanna and scratched aviatorís glasses. He changed quickly and then went to the sink to see his disguise. He looked like a poor, broken veteran from some long-forgotten war and the faded patches on his tattered once-green military jacket declaring "love" and "peace" did not detract from his appearance in the least.

There was a row of plants on the restroom windowsill and he reached up and took a small pinch of soil and, mixing it with water from the sink, smeared it on his face. He rinsed his fingers, looking at himself in the mirror. Perfect.

He folded what he had originally been wearing and tucked them under his guitar and locked the case. Whistling, he left the menís room and ran headlong into men with black shirts where SECURITY blazoned forth in big, white letters.

"íey, who let this bum in íere?" growled the man immediately in front of Paul.

Paul pretended to be afraid and shrank, touching his guitar case feebly and gesturing to the conference hall.

"Sorry, man, Paulie donít give autographs," said another man with a deep, rumbling voice. "Especially to bums like you. Go on, get out."

Paul was laughing inside and their reference to him ("Paulie") tickled him. He offered a weak smile and turned to go when suddenly he was grabbed by the collar of his jacket and pitched out onto the street.

"What the hellís going on, you guys?" he heard as the doors swung shut behind him. "Pay attention; no fans or bums allowed in here!"

Paul stood up and laughed out loud, dusting himself off. He tried hailing a taxi, but no one would pull over for the likes of him. He grinned, thinking, Iíve got everyone fooled! He eventually boarded a bus bound for Balboa Park and the bus driver said, "I donít want any trouble from you, dude. Man in here yesterday looked jusí like you, caused some trouble. Got yer fare?"

Paul deposited the coins into the slot as an answer and smiled amicably.

"You know, for a bum youíve got a nice smile," the bus driver said, smiling back. "Now get on back there and be quiet."

Paul nodded and said nothing, not wanting his accent to give him away, and moved to a seat by the window. He looked out, enjoying the scenic route that the bus had taken, which started after cutting across Downtown and joining up with the southbound 15 after what was now Qualcomm Stadium. He relaxed and was glad to be on this little trip from his life.

The bus pulled to a stop a little after the long steps that went up into the "front" of the park and when Paul stepped onto the sidewalk, he saw the famous fountain spraying high and he could hear music. He went up the steps and strolled past the fountain and into the courtyard and saw a long tapestry-like advertisement for Whales inside the Space Museum. He thought that might be interesting and went in, his money already in his hand. The ticket lady tried not to look at him but took his ticket anyway and the man who opened the door to the theatre whispered to Paul, "I was there, too, back in í67."

Paul had never seen anything like this round, ceiling screen where everything looked completely real. There was a short film about stars and he looked up into the screen, feeling as though he were outside looking up at the night sky.

After that, he walked through the Natural History Museum and then to the Botanical Gardens. He settled himself on the southern edge of the pond in front of the Gardens, the edge right up against the street coming from the courtyard, and with his last bit of change, bought a popsicle from a vendor. After finishing, he walked around the outside Theatre and played his guitar, marveling at how it amplified and echoed back at him from the sculpted walls.

He leaned against a pillar and played "Calico Skies", singing along:

It was written that I would love you
from the moment I opened my eyes
and the morning when I first saw you
gave me life under calico skies."

He walked as he played, leaving the case against the pillar. As he turned in the direction of the stage of the outside Theatre, he saw a young girl, about sixteen, he guessed, dancing and then stopping to make some announcement to an imaginary audience---the chairs were empty and the only person in close vicinity was Paul himself. She was acting and he caught some lines from Cyrano de Begerac. He then heard her say, in a thick Scouse accent,

"Eh, fella, you want to try pulling the other one, itís got a full set of bells hanging off it...Yíwhat?...I know your sort, two cokes and a packet of cheese and onion crisps and suddenly itís love and weíre stopping in an empty shop doorway. Yer just after me body and yícanít have there!"

Paul laughed and wondered what those lines were fromÖthey sounded very familiarÖ

He recommenced playing "Calico Skies" and the girl looked toward him, dancing again, but singing along! Paul was stunned that someone so young would know that songÖeven if was only a few years oldÖShe approached him from the side of the stage that connected to the pathway he was on and then she stopped and stared at him.

Oh no, Iíve been recognizedÖPaul thought with an inward grimace.

"Jemmy!" the girl cried.

Paul breathed a sigh of relief. She thinks Iím someone else!

"Jemmy, James dear, itís so lovely to see you!" she exclaimed in a very actress-y tone, coming to hug him, guitar and all.

Well, sheís got the first name right.

"How are you, luv?" she said in what he knew was her real accent; an American one through and through.

"Oh, just fineÖwhat are those lines from?" Paul replied, trying to sound American as well and was surprised when she cuffed him lightly on the head.

"Stop trying to sound American," she said. "You know it doesnít work. I like your real accent anyway; youíd be a fool to lose itÖabout those linesÖare you trying to pull my leg?"

He grinned at her and looked her straight in the eye, saying, "Something like that."

"Go on, pretend you donít know those lines," the girl replied with a wicked smile. He said nothing in reply so she dropped the subject, albeit with a roll of her large brown eyes. "So whyíre you dressed up, hím?" she asked, taking his guitar and laying it in his case.

"OhÖon a call," he said vaguely, hoping that she was a working actress and would buy it.

"I thought so," she said with a smile. "Congratulations! How longís it been since our play together? A week? A busy man you be, matey!"

"Yeah, quite so."

"Lissa!" came a distant call.

The girl, obviously named Lissa, made a face and then kissed his dirty cheek. "Take care, old man," she said with a cheeky wink. "Iíll see you soon, Jem dear!"

She ran off in direction of the call.

Bemused, he picked up his case and began to walk towards the courtyard. After twenty minutesí slow walking he got there and seated himself under a tree by a stream rushing on the cement under him and opened his case and began to play for his dinner.

A group was playing at the opposite stream and he could see the girl Lissa dancing along to the music. She turned and saw him and promptly went over to him and took the guitar from him and set it again in his case. She grabbed his hand and pulled him out there with her and made him dance.

He enjoyed himself and was liking this weird, friendly girl more by the second. He twirled her and she did a backwards-somersault over his head and soon a crowd had gathered to see the pair and the musicians played louder and faster.

"Címon, James!" she yelled at him when he showed signs of tiring. "Whereís that youthful bounce?" He grinned at her and caught her in his arms, swinging her into the air.

Coins fell at their feet but they danced on, oblivious. Paul got brave enough to take off his glasses and tossed them to the side and kept swinging his new-found friend around. There was no gasp from the audience so he was assured he hadnít been recognized. There was no twinge of recognition in Lissaís face either; she was still grinning at him and laughing and even when their faces were inches apart he saw nothing, not even far back in her eyes.

The musicians ended their set and took a break and the crowd clapped and dispersed and Lissa gathered all the change and gave it to the musicians and then took her place at Paulís side. She caught his hand in hers and tapped her feet, doing a little mock dance. Paul laughed; and his stomach chose this moment to growl loudly.

"Hungry?" Lissa said with an understanding smile. "Címon; I know just the place." She kept his hand and led him to where her family was sitting, on the grass by the fountain.

"This is James, Mommy and Daddy; remember him?" she said and Paul smiled at how she addressed her parents. "Iíve got my license with me so weíre going to get something to eat."

Her parents nodded and smiled at Paul and returned to conversation.

"Lissa, I---"

"Youíre a vegetarian. I know."

Paul raised an eyebrow.

"And donít pretend youíre worrying about your car either; I know you didnít come here in it. So sit down and shut up." She grinned to show that she was only joking.

Paul chuckled and wondered about the similarities between Jem and himself. It was getting quite odd.

Lissa had not led him wrong; they came to a fast food restaurant that served vegetarian foods as well. They ordered something to go and when they got back in the car, Lissa popped in a Wings CD, Back to the Egg, and played "Daytime Nighttime Suffering".

"Well, címon, Jemmy," she said. "Sing along; you know the words!"

Paul made a face at her.

She surprised him by laughing and saying, "I know youíre shy, but itís just me."

He looked at her sharply when she said this and then patted her shoulder. "I know, luv, I know."

"So sing then! I know you sound just like Paul McCartney and Iíd like to hear you. Youíre even better than him, you know that?"

Paul grinned and smothered a laugh and sang along and saw her relax at the sound of his voice.

"I told you!" she said when the song ended. "You sound like him, exactly." Her voice drifted off a bit and she kept her eyes on the road and said nothing else.

Paul wondered at that but had no wish to pry. Had he, as Paul McCartney, done something to her? She was old enough to have attended his world tours in the early í90s. Had he insulted her? Her family?

They pulled into the parking lot and ate their lunches on the grass outside and chatted, she having recovered from her momentary silence. "Talk to me, Jem. Whatís been going on?"

"I got a contract to make an album," he began and looked at her to see her reaction. It was completely congratulatory. He went on and told her about it, avoiding the album and song titles, having a feeling sheíd know and he liked this "Jem and Lissa" relationship the way it was.

"Thatís great!" she said enthusiastically when he finished. "Are you gonna put a little side note on it? ĎA special hello to Strawberryí?"

He cocked his head at her quizzically.

"Youíve forgotten me old nickname!" she exclaimed in a put-on British accent. She pouted. "Everyone used to tell me I was just like one, too; sweet on the outside and sweet and special on the inside. And you called me that all the time!"

"Get on, Lissa luv! I was just teasing! Of course I remember my little Strawberry!"

He was lying through his teeth, but he achieved his purpose---she was beaming. And it wasnít such a lie anyway; he didnít disagree with that description at all. He even had more to add to it.

"All right, then," she said, apparently satisfied. "So what now?"

"I donít know," Paul replied, leaning on his right hand and throwing his left hand over his left knee. "Why donít we---"

"Play in the fountain!" Lissa exclaimed and yanked him up. "Címon; youíve finished?"

Paul nodded and looked on amusedly while Lissa kicked off her shoes and rolled up her flared jeans. She began to skip in direction of the famous Balboa Park fountain when she suddenly stopped and turned to face Paul. "You cominí?"

"Yeah, yeah, let me justÖ" Paul took off his shoes and rolled up his tattered pants. He was quite pale underneath his clothes, a definite contrast to this bouncy golden-tanned sixteen-year-old.

She smiled and said, "You be after a bit oí tanniní, yessir! A day without sunscreen on a beach will roast ye well!" She cackled and took his hand when he approached her.

Upon reaching the fountain, she darted a furtive glance around to make sure "they" werenít watching and then hopped in nimbly. She began whistling and he heard snatches of "Good Day Sunshine". He stood there and threw his head back, laughing that he was in company of such a fan.

"What?" she asked him with a sunny grin on her face. "Iíve got a song for every occasion, remember?"

"Yeah, that you do," he said with a short laugh and then joined her. The cold (though dirty) water felt good to his hot, sticky feet that had been encased in battered military boots the whole day.

He bent over to massage his feet and reflected, Iím getting too old for this sort of thing! when a sudden splash! erupted right next to his ear and he felt the water running down his face and dampening his clothes.

"Mmff!" he spluttered, wiping the water from his face and then thrust his hands into the water and made an upward motion completely drenching the laughing girl in front of him.

She made a shocked sound and then laughed again.

So it went on; laughing and splashing and then finally drying off, only to be splashed again.

Paul noted the sun slipping in the sky and knew that sunset in California, because it was summer, was about 8:30...judging from its position, it was already 6:30. He had quite enjoyed this vacation from being himself but now, he knew, it was time to get back. It made him sad as well because he had really liked being in Lissaís company. It was nice to be normal in the face of strangers, he mused and aroused himself from his reverie to ask Lissa, "Luv, do you think you could take me Downtown?"

"All right," she replied and helped him up from his sitting position. "Would you mind if we went for a little walk before I leave you?"

"Okay," Paul agreed. That sounds perfect. Slip right in under cover of darknessÖ

"Címon, then, James," she said and they went to find the car.

"My parents are still walking around with my brother and sister," she remarked as they got in the car. "They wonít mind."

"I hope not," Paul said sincerely and touched her hair. "Thank you for a wonderful time, Lissa. Iíll never forget it."

"Youíre welcome," she replied and turned her head slightly so that she met his eyes. "Thank you too. Iíve had quite a lovely day."

Paul smiled and reclined his seat and listened to his music of yesteryear floating on the air.

She parked by a small plaza in the heart of Downtown and they got out and began to walk. A sign for Rayís Books: Used, Old, and Rare caught Lissaís eye and she said impulsively, "Letís go in. I know youíve always liked these, Jemmy."

Paul nodded agreeably and they went in and separated; Lissa in the performing arts section and Paul looking at everything. They left together and walked down the street to the Star of India and Lissa said dreamily, "Isnít she lovely?"

"Very," Paul answered and studied how the lights from the deck made the mastsí wood shine. They went on board and walked up the way they had came and sat on the edge of a dock. Lissaís legs dangled over the side and Paul rested against the opposite dock-post. They looked out over the water that lapped gently under them and watched the sun set in a blaze of colour and glory. They talked quietly for a while and one by one, the stars began to appear in the sky.

"Look up there, James," Lissa murmured, pointing to a rather bright star. "Thatís Venus. Beautiful, isnít she?"

Paul nodded and studied the shadowy profile of his companion.

"When I was little," she said, "about five or six, my dad and I were driving through Arizona late at night and I saw this beautiful star hanging in the sky." She closed her eyes as if to picture it. "It was white and very bright and it looked exactly how artists portray the Star on the night of Jesusí birth. It had four main points and four little ones hiding in the corners the main ones made. Itís a sign of comfort to me; Iíve never forgotten it." She was silent for a few moments and then she stood up and reached for Paulís hand. "Címon, Iíve got to get you back to where youíre staying."

Her voice was serious now, much different from the laughing one heíd heard in the daylight.

They got into the car and Paul said, "Just drop me off---"

"I know where to take you, Jemmy," she said, rather quietly.

She pulled up just slightly past his hotel and said, not looking at him, "Youíd better change now. Itís dark here and I donít want you to be thrown out."

Paul stared at her but did as she said in the backseat of the car. When he came up to the passengerís side again, she took a tissue and wiped his face of the dirt heíd put on earlier as part of his disguise. She then put the car in reverse and backed up to the front entrance of the hotel and the fans that were still left were not paying attention to them.

They both got out and stood by Paulís door, Lissa not looking at him for a moment. When she did, he met her eyes and touched her hair again.

"While youíve been with me, youíve been Jemmy. But when you go back in there, youíll be Paul again," Lissa said softly, her eyes bright. "And that will be the end of it, I suppose. But thank you for being Jemmy today. Iíll never forget him, or you."

Paul understood now that sheíd known who he was the whole time but the details of that werenít important now. She turned to leave him when he suddenly grasped her arm and made her look at him.

"Do you think Iíll let you go that easily?" he asked her, his heart hurting from the truth in her words. "Iím still Jemmy, Strawberry. Iím only Paul for the cameras. But when Iím with my friends and family, Iím the Jemmy you met today. You are my friend now and I will be no one but Jemmy to you, love. Come here." He gathered her in his arms and hugged her tightly. "Thank you."

"Youíre welcome," she whispered and he knew she was crying.

"Hush, luv," he said, feeling teary himself. "Here." He pulled a pen from his suit pocket and wrote his private number on a piece of paper he never failed to have about him. She looked at him with a smile on her face and in her eyes and wrote hers for him as well. They hugged each other one last time and he brushed a kiss on her cheek. "Iíll call you as soon as I get home," he said. "Take care, Lissa."

"God bless," she replied and waved as he passed out of the shadows and through the lighted grand entrance of the hotel and became Paul once more.

But only on the outside. He was still her beloved Jemmy at heart.

Copyright 2000-2001: Lissa Michelle Supler. This is original copyrighted work and may not be reproduced in any form, by any means, without the permission of the author. Permission may be obtained by e-mail.

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Background and picture of Jemmy and Strawberry courtesy of Vic