By: Andrew Chinich
Shrimp, my Shrimp. How she came to be called Shrimp wasn’t nearly as interesting as the tale I wove of how she came by the name. I would tell all that enquired that she was Jean Shrimpton’s daughter, child of David Bailey the great photographer. All of which had absolutely no truth to it. But there you go.
Her real name was Jane. Jane Brown. Plain Jane. Born and raised in Devon, four hours from downtown London. When she was nearly five, her older sister began calling her Shrimp simply because she was taller than her.
But the official word on the street was she was Shrimp. And as I was working with Bailey in London at the time, my tale came with a bit of credibility. It was so much sexier than the truth of how she came to be called Shrimp. Simply everyone called her Shrimp. I doubt very much that anyone knew that she was Jane, plain Jane.
I’m still not clear why it took years of friendship, three years to be exact, to suddenly and inexplicably realize that I had fallen in love with her. And oddly, strangely, madly, the same feeling began afflicting her. How is that even possible? It was if a hypnotist snapped his fingers on the count of three, and we both fell under his spell, into a strange and alien world. She now looked different to me, sounded different, acted different, laughed and smiled as if I had never seen this woman before.
We were working late, at Shepperton Studios. She was the Producer for the production company and I the Producer for the Agency. We had worked together many times before and we had nothing but a friendly and professional relationship. We finally wrapped and Shrimp and I sat off to the side of the stage keeping clear of the Grips and Gaffers. And then at almost two am on a cold, damp, ill-lit sound stage, we looked at each other and we saw two different people staring back at us, two strangers. And it shocked us.
Is there a scientific name for this phenomenon? Is there a label that can be attached to this cosmic mystery? What poison was injected into both of us at exactly the same moment to suddenly realize the same exact thing at the same exact time?
Had we eaten the same bad food?
Nothing happened. The moment came and went. But we both knew something had indeed happened, and it wasn’t good. We were both married. Well, we were both unhappily married, which was even worse because the cliché of having an affair under those circumstances ran high. But you must believe me here. The thought never even crossed my mind, not once. That’s not who I was. I’m just not that guy.
This love, this crustacean love, was not that kind of love. It was a rope with a fire lit on both ends, Shrimp and I holding on for dear life somewhere in the middle. A mixture of quicksand and cement. A plastic explosive under the plate warmer on the room service cart.
This was the mad love; the let’s-carry-droplets of each other’s blood in a locket around our necks kind of love.
It got to the point where I was jealous and miserable that she was sleeping in the same bed with her husband.
An affair would have been good, sensible. It would have been normal under the circumstances. Two consenting unhappily married adults screwing a few times and moving on.
Why exactly was I was so desperately in love with this girl? I wasn’t even sure why. I remember a rainy afternoon, Shrimp stopping to get petrol, me slung low in the passenger seat trying not be seen, acting like an escaped convict, and watching her as she slowly walked back to the car looking at me, a sly and crooked smile tucked under her raincoat hoody.
Hook, line, and sinker.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We didn’t talk about it. Not for quite a while. In fact, we did our best to ignore it. It would pass.
We both took a proverbial deep breath and moved on with our lives, tried not to look back. We were in impossible situations, an ocean separating us, our lives ensconced with spouses and family and jobs and friends.
But it didn’t work.
My sole mission in life became focused on getting back to London. I had to see her, I had to tell her. I had literally no idea what her reaction would be. Or what could be done about it anyway. She might be repulsed. She might be angry. There was a very good chance that once I told her the truth, she would never see me again. But I had to let her know.
The opportunity came, a job produced and shot in London was being discussed. The Agency turned to me as I had the most experience shooting in London. I put in a great performance, worthy of Sir Laurence Olivier, and reluctantly agreed. You see, I was already a desperate man.
I left a message and let Shrimp know I was coming. I was becoming deceptive in my ways and actions. Guilt is a venomous snake and the poison had already begun to infiltrate my thinking. I only left messages for Shrimp at her office. A criminal in the making, that’s me.
In those days, I was able to stay at the Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge, a relic, with a vast breakfast room that looked out onto Rotten Row, where you could eat scones and clotted cream while watching the Queen’s Guards stomping by like ghosts through the early morning fog.
I remember that morning. Billy Joel was eating an English Breakfast a few tables down in the big empty room, looking at me, wondering who I was. No one Billy, trust me.
I walked out of the hotel, made a right past Harrods and up Sloane Street and began my journey to Chelsea. Shrimp and I had agreed to meet at a bistro on The Kings Road. I was on a mission. I had to tell her.
We found a table in the back and immediately were set upon by an annoyed waiter looming over us. Shrimp ordered (in French!) for both of us: brown toast and pressed coffee. Funny that I still remember her chastising me for not using slabs of butter, pointing out my neurotic American cholesterol concerns. “What’s the point if you’re not heaping butter on the toast?” she said to me, smiling. I later lovingly came to refer to this endearing culinary breakfast delight as, of course, Shrimp toast.
We talked about everything other than what I was desperate to talk about. The job, the families, Oasis and Blur. Time sped up and an hour had come and gone.
She grabbed the check, paid it, and we left. We walked for a few minutes up the Kings Road in silence. I was suffering inside. I grabbed her elbow and stopped her, and she turned to me.
“Yes?” she asked suddenly concerned.
“Shrimp, I have something to tell you”. People were walking around us as we stood facing each other in the middle of the side walk. Classic Truffaut.
“Oh dear, this sounds serious”.
“Here’s the thing”, I said.
“Here’s the thing”, she repeated dreamily mimicking my bad American accent. “Well?” she asked.
“There’s no good way to say this”.
“I guess then you’ll just have to say it badly”.
Something’s happened. I can’t stop… I can’t stop thinking…” Deep breath. “about you. I can’t stop wanting to be with you”. I couldn’t even look at her. Terror gripped me.
She pulled me back up against a shop window, out of the pedestrian traffic swirling around.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve fallen in love with you”, I said.
“You idiot. Me too”.
“You too?” I asked incredulously.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me into her, kissing me, quickly, then letting go.
“We can never be seen like this. Ever. I live here. This is a small town”, she said frightened.
I could only stare at her.
“Let’s just go back to the hotel and talk through this”, she said.
And with that we turned in the opposite direction and headed back towards Knightsbridge, keeping our distance from each other.
But everything had changed.
Needless to say, we didn’t talk much. We made love. And laughed. Ordered a large spread from room service and ate on the bed. And that’s how it started.
But we were doomed. You see, we had no way to sustain the logistics and emotional burden we inflicted on each other.
And when it did end, a year later, we weren’t sitting together semi-naked on a hotel bed eating vegan delights. I was in New York. She was in London. By then, we had come close to nearly ruining our lives, and dragging everyone down with us. Collateral damage. I had fallen badly for Shrimp. But it was Mad Love. There were mitigating circumstances to be sure, but aren’t there always when you fall in love? This girl, this Jane Brown, who may or may not have been Jean Shrimpton’s daughter.
But this is the end of my tale, no need to go on for pages and pages, about how I flew to a ski resort in Switzerland desperate just to spend a night with her. Or how I drove through a blinding snow storm up a mountain to a town in France where she was working, to eat fondue with her one afternoon. No need to subject you or myself to any more embarrassments or distressing exploits in the name of love.
All in all, I think when you get down to it, up, down, sideways, and cross-eyed, we are all as different as fingerprints, snow-flakes swirling in the wind. We’re all different, yet completely alike, all searching for the same thing, the basic common denominator that ultimately makes it all add up.
I mean in the end, we all eat the same bad food, just at different times.