I remember my second journey with Little Will.
If my first journey had been to a place long ago forgotten, the second voyage was to a night forever remembered.
It was 1971, I was not yet six. One night, around 9 p.m., my mother awakened me from a little boy’s slumber. “Get up,” she whispered. “You’re going to see Miss Peggy Lee.”
Now. I understand that, to most 5-year-old boys, Peggy Lee was not worth waking up for. She most certainly wasn’t worth putting on itchy, scratchy grey knickers for. But, I wasn’t like most 5-year-old boys.
To me, Peggy Lee was everything.
I identified with her. Both of us were sickly (“puny” my Dad called it). I was born without outer eyes muscles. A hypoglycemic with severe asthma who was allergic to everything from dust to fresh-cut grass. My adrenal glands only functioned when Mom injected me with sheep adrenal fluid (procured quite illegally from the back door of our neighborhood Skillern’s Pharmacy). Peggy Lee was neck-and-neck with Elizabeth Taylor in the competition for most near-death experiences. By 1971, she was unable to complete a concert without leaving the stage—at least twice—to spend a few minutes on the oxygen machine.
Mostly, though, I was mesmerized by her. The whisper of her voice. The seduction of her rhythms. The poetry of her lyrics. At 5, I certainly didn’t understand a world where the “banquet of evening is down to the bone/that moment of truth we each face all alone” but, someway, somehow I knew I was supposed to. To understand that world. To visit that world. To learn from that world.
Someway, somehow, Peggy Lee spoke to me.
And, on that particular night in 1971, she also sang to me. Literally.
No sooner had her late show started in the Venetian Room of Dallas’s Fairmont Hotel than she stopped the music.
“I understand there’s a little boy named ‘Will’ who is with us tonight,” she purred.
The house lights went up. My mother and grandmother applauded and laughed.
I think I raised my hand. The whole room applauded and laughed.
“Come here, little one,” Miss Lee said in all her cream-colored chiffon, white diamonds, blue eye shadow and platinum hair glory. “Sit up here with me.”
And I did.
Somehow, I gathered up my itchy, scratchy grey knickered-self and made my way to the stage.
Where I sat, cross-legged. Stage right. For the entire show.
On the edge of darkness. With Miss Peggy Lee.
She sang “Fever” to me. “One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round.”
And, then. Then, she wistfully sighed “I remember” and her pianist played the first notes of "Is That All There Is?"
I was no longer in the Roman-themed Venetian Room on Dallas’s North Akard Street. I no longer smelled the air, a potent “Mad Men” mix of VO and water, Benson Hedges cigarettes, Aramis cologne and Charlie perfume.
I was in Miss Peggy Lee’s world. A world that existed past the singular spotlight. Beyond the veil of chiffon that flowed from her outstretched arm. A mystical place of beckoning shadows, seductive whispers and knowing beats.
A world where “beautiful ladies in pink tights flew high above our heads”, guided by her outstretched, gently waving right hand.
A world where you fell in love “with the most wonderful boy in the world.”
A world where “I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.”
I remember that world.
As a child at five, I remember it as a world where I saw a kindred spirit.
As a man at 41, looking back with Little Will, I remember it as the night I came face to face.
With my Shadow.