L.A. Affairs: It wasn’t Malibu Barbie who taught me about love. It was Gidget



It was a Saturday afternoon in January in Hollywood. I had wrapped up rating a bunch of banks for my remote job. When I hopped in my Corolla, I relished something I normally dread: driving on the 101 to get to the Westside.

It was 2022 and a special occasion. My pal, Kathy, had just turned 81, and I had just turned 37. We were celebrating a new year.

Some people talk about their neighbor’s new house paint. Kathy shares books and movies that move her and helps guide me through complications in love. Over the years, we’ve exchanged gifts like necklaces, holiday plates and ornaments. This year, I wanted to give her something with added spice. So when I happened upon a collection of erotic poems by e.e. cummings in a Malibu boutique, I bought it as a present.

Later, she sat in her living room, in front of her family members, and pulled the book from a gift wine bag. It was then that she noticed something I hadn’t: The pages included sketches of people having sex.

I blushed. Her husband, Marvin, made a suggestive joke about the poet’s last name. She laughed.

For us, friendship is easy and has been for years.

We hit it off in 2004 when I interviewed Kathy about surfers for a college assignment. She was one. A famous one. Her nickname is Gidget, and she’s the real one. Three decades before I was born in Michigan, Kathy was surfing in Malibu, inspiring a bestselling book, a movie with multiple sequels and the Sally Field TV series.

The original “Gidget” movie co-starring Sandra Dee and James Darren found me first while working three-hour shifts at a library. Instead of reshelving the VHS, I took the movie home to Big Lake Road.

Gidget, the character, reads literature, plays the cello and surfs only with dudes, wooing the hunkiest one: Moondoggie. Her love story impressed me most.

Gidget went after what she wanted. I struggled to reveal my desires in a diary. My high school years involved drying my armpits under the restroom’s hand dryers after a class presentation and dancing around the sofa at home to “Les Misérables’” “On My Own.”

Instead of dates, I went to slumber parties where we sat in a remodeled basement to watch Gidget woo Moondoggie.

The payoff was dazzling. The orchestra plays as Moondoggie places a pin on Gidget’s cardigan and the camera pans out to show the new couple strolling along a Malibu beach. Anything felt possible. Often, my pals and I would chase it with “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” and “Gidget Goes to Rome” past 2 a.m. with Jacuzzi and carrot cake intermissions.

I met the real Gidget when I was a college freshman at Pepperdine, and she was working as an ambassador of aloha at Duke’s Malibu. In a restaurant that served up fish tacos and ocean views, we talked about surfing for my assignment. We also talked about boys. Before leaving, we snapped a photo together — her in a blue velvety outfit, me in jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with a sequin pinup girl. I stood about half a foot taller than her.

I had no car and no income. To get to the restaurant, I splurged, taking a limo taxi to meet her. But I hadn’t settled on how to get home. Kathy solved it: Her colleague drove me back to campus with his dog.

Years later, after I moved back to L.A. from New York, the driver became me when we went to San Diego for a tiki festival playing her documentary. She brought sandwiches. I bought a tiki bar that now resides in my one-bedroom apartment. That wouldn’t be the last adventure.

Since then, we’ve done the hokeypokey together at multiple Oktoberfest parties. We’ve been each other’s New Year’s Eve party dates. And we’ve stayed at a dude ranch in Arizona, riding horses, swimming laps, dishing on guests and wranglers.

For many of those years — my 30s — I was living with a Maltipoo and learning how to date later than almost everyone I knew. When I felt clueless, the original Gidget — who has been married to Marvin since 1965 — served as my love expert.

It was Kathy/Gidget who advised me to mail a birthday card to an ex and include Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s “no feeling is final” line in the message. Sure, I didn’t know my former guy’s birthday (it was a short-lived romance), but she knew I regretted not trying harder. After I dated a man for nearly a decade without any commitment, Gidget met him at her home. “She won’t be in your orbit forever,” she told him then. When another boyfriend went to the desert over Memorial Day weekend with friends he made in the park, I didn’t get an invite. In between guzzling wine and crying, Kathy welcomed me over for a family party. Marvin held my hand.

Men came into and went out of my life quicker than most TV shows run — even one-off pilots. But Kathy and Marvin stayed. Once, Kathy told me: “More fun is to be had out there. Go for it.”

One summer Saturday, we went to the beach near Pacific Palisades. The sun was beaming, so we wore hats. Mine read “California Canine.” Hers read “Out and About.”

Salt found its way to my lips and sand stuck to my thighs as we opined on her jitters about a long drive to an upcoming event and made small talk about Marvin. I chatted about my next story idea and gushed about Mark — my Moondoggie — who gobbled up serious daydream real estate. She couldn’t help but inquire about our sex life. I couldn’t help but tell her everything — there was much to say as we walked past men in skimpy swim trunks and children darting in and out of the waves.

There was no orchestra playing, and I didn’t have a pin. I had used the one an ex gave me to open a bottle of poison for roaches. I wasn’t wearing a cardigan either, but I did carry Kathy’s sweater in my hand, at her insistence, in case I got cold.

This real-life surfer movie didn’t end with screen Gidget wooing her Moondoggie, but with Kathy helping me open my heart to find my own.

The author is a long-time fintech reporter and essayist who is still happily in love with her Moondoggie. She’s on Twitter: @MaryMWisniewski.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.





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