August 1957 was a great year for me.
Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day,” was the biggest Top 40 hit as Gordon McLendon publicized newly-formatted station KILT-AM by putting D.J. Don Keyes on top of an old oil derrick on the hill at Gulfgate Mall to try to break a former flagpole sitter record.
And I saw, in person and for moments not more than 15 feet from me, not just a pretty blonde, but a pretty blonde in the first bikini I had ever seen anywhere other than Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Magazine.
That summer, Kirwin High School coach Aubrey Baker was the lifeguard at the Galveston Country Club, and I was his assistant. In my mind, I was primarily there to look at the teenage girls, not to save lives.
So on this particular day — it was a Friday, I’m absolutely sure of that — my little portable radio and most of those around the pool were tuned to KILT, and all of us were listening to Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ new hit, “That’ll Be the Day.” It was kind of like stereo even though, for all practical purposes, stereo records and broadcasts were not yet available.
A few minutes before, and during the update of how Keyes’ lunch was being delivered to him by Sonny Look’s, Eddie Simmen had strolled in. He said hello to Coach Baker, then to me, then others on his path to where he had chosen to sit.
He picked a lounge chair on the north side of the pool near the diving boards. Then he put his Pall Mall package, Zippo and huge Motorola radio on the sidewalk just a smidgen to his left.
He tuned it to the classical music station, bared his chest, smoothed on some of his baby oil-iodine pseudo-tanning mixture, then opened his book, Ayn Rand’s just-published “Atlas Shrugged,” and began to read.
Red-jacketed Noble came to his side, carrying a bar tray and served Eddie his regular gin and tonic. Eddie signed the tab, took a sip, then took out a Pall Mall, packed it against his watch crystal, lit it with his Zippo, then settled back to read while the sun added a coat onto his tan.
About then, Stanley and his new wife, Lynn, came strolling up.
“Oh my God! She’s got on a bikini!” I all but yelled at Coach Baker. I’ll guarantee you the only girls either of us had ever seen in a bikini were Playboy Magazine pictures.
In fact, I had tried to see Bridget Bardot in hers, but I couldn’t bluff my way in to see “And God Created Woman.”
Meanwhile, Lynn’s focus was totally on Eddie. She acknowledged no one. No waves across the pool, no smiles or hellos to Coach Baker or me. She was totally focused on taking the shortest distance to see Eddie.
When she got to Eddie’s lounge chair, she bent over and kissed him, then they kibitzed a bit, then she had Stanley pull up two lounge chairs so they could be next to Eddie.
Coach Baker said to me, “Oh my lord! Eddie knows her!”
It was at that moment that Eddie replaced Hugh Hefner as my “I wanna be like him” hero. All the while, “That’ll Be the Day,” continued to play over and over, and over again on KILT, each time reinforcing its lyrical subtle paradox to me.
Eddie Simmen was recently murdered in Puebla, Mexico, where he had spent his career as a scholar, professor and writer.
Bill Cherry is the author of “Bill Cherry’s Galveston Memories.”