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Poundstone a Molester? They've Got to Be Kidding

July 04, 2001|PATT MORRISON

So I'm in the Hallmark shop, and I'm looking around, and it hits me: They just don't have any cards that say, "Sorry to hear about your arrest."

Ba-DUM-dum.

If Hallmark made such a card, I'd have mailed it to my friend Paula Poundstone. Other times, other moments, just the idea of an arrest-sympathy greeting card would have made her laugh.

Laughter is Paula's line of work. If you didn't know it before last week, you must know it by now, what with the on-the-hour news flashes, "Stand-up comedian arrested on child molesting charges," video from news helicopters over her house, and the National Enquirer ready to pay for the story of anyone who's so much as bagged her groceries.

You can hardly expect that she's been doing much laughing since she was arrested a week ago. Really, who would? Pretty much all I've seen from her is that queasy smile you get when you're nervous and you're afraid you'll lose it and start bawling, like at a funeral.

That's what all of her friends were doing in court with her on Tuesday: laughing to keep from bawling. There we sat, in Department S in the Santa Monica courthouse, waiting for her not-guilty plea, trying, like Shakespeare, like Woody Allen, to mine that thin vein of "comic" buried somewhere in "tragicomic."

Can you believe it? This court accepts MasterCard and Visa, but not American Express? This is Santa Monica! In Santa Monica, even the winos accept American Express!

I hear she murdered Jack Lemmon.

I hear she murdered Jack Lemmon AND Carroll O'Connor.

I hear she's wanted for breaking up Julia Roberts and Benjamin Bratt.

I didn't say it was funny. I said we were trying.

There is only one way this could possibly be true: that it really, absolutely happened.

But there are so many, many ways for it not to be true. Even if I didn't know Paula, I've been in the newspaper biz long enough to know that.

Details of the four felony counts--child endangerment and lewd acts with a girl under 14--are still sealed away. Her three adopted kids and two foster kids, the latest of so many she has cared for, have been taken away. She's been ordered not to contact them--not a phone call, not a Hallmark card. I think that's been harder on her than court, or jail, or the arrest itself, the Santa Monica P.D. leaping over a wall like a SWAT team, snatching the phone out of her hand and slamming it down and saying in bad Jack Webb-speak, "It's over."

What brought this on? Who said what, about whom, and why? Spite? Someone looking for a buck? Revenge? For what?

If we learned anything from the child-molestation hysteria of the 1980s, starting right here with the McMartin Preschool case, it is that things that happen between a child and an adult--from a hug to a diaper check--can be misinterpreted. Sometimes it happens in all innocence, sometimes on purpose, by children and grown-ups alike. When that does, well, then, things can get ugly. So ugly that a while back, a Tennessee grandfather who saw a 3-year-old toddling alone along a busy road simply followed the boy, blocking traffic, until a woman picked him up. He was too afraid of being accused of committing some crime to commit a good deed.

Outside the courthouse, in the scrum of her friends and their children, Paula hugged everyone fleetingly. I almost whispered that dumb Dan Rather sign-off, "Courage," to her, but I was afraid she would laugh, and that might look bad on TV.

I've been to Paula's house perhaps a dozen times, for grown-up "ballot parties" before elections, and for kids' parties, pingpong and M&Ms and guacamole, kids shrieking in the playhouse and down the slide. The party celebrating the adoption of her third child was so big she held it at the local school, with plate-spinners and a pony ride.

That was last November. Surely the adoption would not have gone through if anything was remotely amiss. What happened in those months since, what changed, to bring this about?

I've seen Paula with the kids--some of them with problems that no one else wanted to take on, not even their own parents. If they don't have a patron saint for patience, I'd nominate Paula.

I'll bet that someone will look at her house--the toys, the games, the whole place utterly given over to her kids' needs--and twist it into the witch's gingerbread house built just to lure Hansel and Gretel.

The misanthropes say no good deed goes unpunished. If we keep clipping the wings off our better angels, I'll have to start believing it.

Patt Morrison's column appears Mondays and Wednesdays. Her e-mail address is:

patt.morrison@latimes.com

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