Jayne Austin

Not long ago and probably not surprisingly, I found myself at the TRADER JOE’S next to the Grove. I was staring at all of the different Pumpkin Spice products and wondering which one of them I should buy? I can’t drink Pumpkin Spice coffee. Very sad. I am allergic to something in it. I CAN eat pumpkin bread, though. And pumpkin ice cream.

Just as I was about to select a little plastic box full of pumpkin muffins, a distinguished woman—probably in her mid-50s—came over. She was tall and had on an interesting sort of suit and long skirt combo. On her head was a remarkable hat. It was remarkably large. And I had to wonder if she wasn’t remarkably warm… in it.

“Do I know you?” she asked me without preamble or proper introduction. “You look somehow familiar?”

I turned to look at her more closely. There was something familiar there. But it was something from so long ago… from another life perhaps? No. Not another life. It was from another phase in this life. It was from a brief 6-month stint back in 2003… into 2004.

Her name was Jayne Austin. AUSTIN with an ‘I’.  Not THE Jane Austen… which would have been Austen with an ‘e’. And she ALSO spelled her first name with a ‘y’ in there.  JAAAYYYYne… Aust-IN. I did know her. I also knew that she had had her name legally changed back in the 1990s.

Such was her devotion to the master.

She had been a member of a small group of Jane Austen—without the ‘y’ and with an ‘e’—enthusiasts—with whom I had at one time been thick as thieves.

“I do know you,” I told her. “Huntington Gardens Reading Group.”

“Oh my goodness,” she said. “Why, KNIGHTLEY, you HAVE changed.” With a critical look, she took in my jogging pants and horrid stained t-shirt ensemble. I could see she disapproved.

Well, of course. It HAD been more than a decade. When last we met, I and the entire world was younger, a little more fashion forward, and probably had a bit more hair. In addition, at the time of our brief acquaintance, she had only seen me in two outfits—the first being a rather dapper faux Regency Era tails and tie combo—and the other being my birthday suit. As it happened, she was one of the reasons I was no longer welcome at those reading groups.

Back in the day, when I was hanging around with the extraordinary ladies of the Huntington Gardens Reading Group, Ms. Austin had been fond of calling me KNIGHTLEY, after her favorite Austen hero—from the novel ‘EMMA’.

Emma is not my favorite Austen novel. It is a collection of stories about a bored, irritating young woman who spends her time meddling in other peoples’ lives and somehow winds up not only getting away with it, but also finds happiness on her own. I’m more of a SENSE AND SENSIBILITY kind of boy. The Dashwood girls knew they were only a few steps from ruin, and they did something about it.

“Are you still a great fan of J.R.R. TOLKEIN and MURDER MYSTERY DINNER PARTIES?” Jayne asked me.

 

“Why yes, as a matter of fact, I am,” I said. My love of Tolkien needs no explanation. Anyone who knows me knows that I can tell you more about the LORD OF THE RINGS than you will ever want to know. Anyone who has seen me do standup knows I LOVE a good murder mystery dinner party.

I believe murder mystery dinner parties are the next big thing—once we clear the hurdle of this pandemic, of course. Alas, the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up with me on that one. The other thing I love is JANE AUSTEN. AUSTEN with an ‘e’, that is.

Jayne Austin leaned in conspiratorially, “And are you still buggering men?”

“As a matter of fact I am,” I said.

She laughed. “Oh KNIGHTLEY, it was good to see you again.” And with that, she turned her little cart toward the meat and cheese aisle.

“You too, Jayne,” I said, grabbing the box of pumpkin muffins. I would have handed her my card, but was certain that she would never use it. I headed for the door, and Jayne headed for the brie.

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