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Don Paul: How I almost became 'Mr. Sweden'

This tale might be THE classic unfulfilled moment in life. It's also my daughters’ favorite story from dear old dad.

In a previous article, I recounted my presence at the shooting of Brooklyn mob head Joe Colombo.

From thugs to thunderstorms: The Don Paul Story

I had a poverty-wage gig working for WNEW Radio’s best reporter in the early 1970s, covering a plethora of exciting stories in New York from Serpico to Attica to Colombo. Every day was a new adventure, working for Jim Gash, a hard-nosed and harsh taskmaster of a boss, as his driver and assistant. Many people who worked in my usually thankless position went on to fine careers in journalism. I’m certain I’m the only meteorologist who worked for Gash.

It wasn’t until I left my position being at his side that he actually expressed some warmth and told me he would miss my hard work and dedication. Despite the pressure-packed position, I did have some days where the stories were fun. One particular day could have been the most fun of all.

On a Friday morning — the day of the week is key to my story — Gash told me I was going to really like our assignment: We were going to the Miss Universe press gathering on the roof of the NY Hilton. Fabulous fluff, at last!

So I hauled Gash’s very expensive Nagra tape recorder up to the roof, and my eyes widened: all the women, all wearing bathing suits with a sash, all chatting with one another. Someone had told me they weren’t supposed to fraternize with the press. But there was a lot of waiting-around time, and I had that recorder with my laminated NYPD Press badge. So even if I didn’t view my flunkified self as a real member of the press, I actually looked the role. Gash wandered off, and I strolled over near two contestants sitting on folding chairs who were having a friendly, laughing argument over whether it was appropriate to appear braless in public. This bralessness was a new idea in 1971. Miss Norway took the more conservative position, and Miss Sweden the more liberal viewpoint, I think.

I was quite shy with women, especially as a callow youth. Yet somehow I managed to worm my way into their discussion. Much to my surprise, I worked up the nerve to ask Miss Sweden if she might be willing to meet me for dinner around 9:30 that night. More to my surprise? She accepted.

My shift ended at 1 p.m. I had to get up Monday-Friday in my basement studio in New Jersey at 3 a.m. to get to WNEW by 5 a.m. However, in order to spend any time and have a life with my pals, I did not go to bed early Monday-Thursday. By the time Fridays rolled around, I was running on caffeine and adrenaline.

After Miss Sweden shocked me with her acceptance, I had plenty of adrenaline but no money. On my way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to get back to my apartment, I stopped at my savings bank in Times Square and probably withdrew my life savings, which surely wasn’t more than $200.

When I got home, I knew I should take a nap. For about 10 minutes, I sat on the bed wondering what we could talk about that night. Then, the yawns took over and I knew I’d better take that nap. I didn’t want to look and sound like death warmed over by 9:30. I’m guessing it was around 2:30 when I lay down and closed my eyes.

I awoke in a haze. I looked at my clock radio. It showed 11:45.

Needless to say, I broke out in a pouring sweat. Embarrassment beyond all bearing grabbed me and crushed me to the marrow. And then, a counterbalancing feeling began to slowly cool down the horrific, cataclysmic reaction of standing up Miss Sweden. It was the realization of knowing I had, in my own mind, set up a date so far beyond my imaginary reach, that this temporary horror might work out better than if I had shown up. I rationalized nonstop. Yes, I would have been stricken with cottonmouth and a fibrillating heart due to nervous anxiety. On the bus back to Manhattan, I would have been asking myself, “What are YOU doing going on a date with Miss SWEDEN? Are you nuts? Have you lost all sense of proportion?”

I went looking for a photo of Miss Sweden in 1971, which is how I found her name: Vivian Oihanen. I hope she forgives me.

After nearly 50 years, the embarrassment has mellowed. Besides, I couldn't afford the flight to Stockholm.


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