Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Plenty of People Who Could Have Found Me Disgusting

I have this photo of me for European transport in which I'm wearing a very thick wool sweater. And goddamned handsome. A very heavy boat-necked wool sweater. I'll find it for you.

In 1984 I set out on a grand European tour. The English part recounted. But what happened was that I got to Paris in late June and just stopped touring.

There was this one day -- I won't tell you what I did the night before -- where I had to go to a Gare to book my ticket south, and I showed up at the station and just didn't do it. It was going to make me too sad.

I was always not doing things in Paris. I was not going to museums and not contacting people whose numbers I'd been given and not finding restaurants where I was supposed to meet people for lunch. I guess that constitutes irresponsibility.

But there was so much going on in my head. I couldn't believe how beautiful -- you know what, never mind, I can't tell you what I felt. Just that I felt more.

I took a hovercraft over and then a train into Gare du Nord, and then (no notion how I would have known this: Fodor's?) queued up to get a hotel assignment. In French, naturellement, the brusque lady asked, "Right or Left Bank?" In 1984, no self-respecting fellow would ever have said anything but Left.

What's remarkable is that she sent me to the best place I could have imagined! It should, by reason, have been a bad place. But the Hotel de Nevers Luxembourg changed my life. For two months, I lived on the sixth floor (cinqieme etage), after the oriental carpet runner ran out, up two flights of linoleum stairs, nobody above me (recipe for the rest of my apartment life), and there was a sink in my room with a sign above it that said something to the effect of: Do not do laundry! (C'est interdit.) I did laundry in that sink every other day.

When I arrived in Paris it was sunny. And, because I'm like this, I went for a little walk, six or eight hours, from the edge of the Fifth up to the Eiffel Tower, and then over to the Sixteenth (where I ended up living for awhile) and down the other side. It is doubtful that I've ever been happier in my life. I didn't stop for a drink or a bite to eat; I just walked.

Eventually back to the Nevers, which, by the way, cost $7 a day. There was a WC on every floor, but only one salle de bain in the building, and you had to pay for that.  So I took A shower A week. I went to the pool every day, so I don't think that anyone found me disgusting. And there were plenty of people who could have found me disgusting.

(This is a boy I vaguely remember.)

There was a café next door on the rue  where I had two crèmes every morning and smoked cigarettes and wrote in my journal.  Don't judge me. The Luxembourg part of the equation was a block away, and... just bury me in the Luxembourg Gardens. I have never been in love with a place like the Luxembourg Gardens. A bit later, I discovered the most gorgeous painting I ever saw (fuck the Louvre).

So what I did, Georgetown graduate, big scholar (I paid attention in three classes -- why was I so bad at school?), was learn the town. I know it better than any place I ever knew. You could blindfold me. You shouldn't, but I could still get you to the Opera.

That's a good line.

Back then, I always got lost. But being lost in Paris is winning. One time I tried to meet my girlfriend
Agnès who worked at Galleries Lafayette... and never found the café. It was a particularly sultry day and I was particularly hungover, but still expected to find her and the sandwich. That's when you sing this:


Agnès was from Velizy, which is near Versailles, and her mother eventually did my laundry (properly, not in the sink, although French people didn't have dryers). The missed lunch date may or may not have delayed my laundry by a day.

I was just an ass, but I had a good time.

My day would be like this: Wake up, drink a lot of coffee, go to the pool.  (Not so many museums.)  The pool, which no longer exists, was the Piscine Deligny.  (I have a very good French accent, better than yours.)  I would walk over to the pool around noon -- that walk through the Sixth is the best walk in this world. The pool was on a barge in the Seine. I took everything for granted then. If I wanted to see a Monet, I could. (No.) Or.... just tan on a barge in the Seine.(Yes.) From the Deligny, you looked up at those beautiful white/off-white French apartment buildings with orange awnings.

There was this song (there were so many good songs that summer!) by Isabelle Adjani called Pull Marine. There is hopefully a pun here but my French ends short of it. Pull means sweater. It's a very bad song.

What was good that summer is anything by Tina Turner and (apologies) Girls Just Want to Have Fun and You Take My Self Control by the amazing Laura Branigan and -- most important -- It's My Life.

It's My Life defines Paris in 1984.

Eventually, deciding to be productive, I took a class at Alliance Francais. (Later, as a slightly more serious person, I used to take classes at Alliance Francais in New York. With broadcasters. At one point I got kind of good at French.)

My Alliance class in Paris was filled with a motley crew of tourists like me, none of us from the same country. We had an outing in the Luxembourg Gardens, and the thing to know about the Luxembourg Gardens, my resting place, is that they have these impossibly lovely little cultivated mini-gardens that will break your heart. And we all sat in one -- I could take you there -- and talked French. In the midst of it, this Spanish guy, a real card, stole my wallet to be funny. I had no idea he'd even touched me. Precursor to this other not-funny guy who thought about pushing me into the Seine but settled for stealing all my francs from Olivier's apartment, which... Separate post coming about living chez Odile and then chez Olivier. (All French people, truly, having left Paris for Aout.)

I couldn't tell a good French joke to save my life. Or take a decent shower. Or judge a pony club competition -- I forgot to tell you about the pony club. Agnès and her younger sister were horsey, I guess, and took me and my American Friend Brian to Fontainebleau one rainy weekend for the pony club competition. We stayed in a vacant dorm -- can't explain it -- straight out of Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. Brian and I so hated the dorm that we went out in the pouring rain and put up a pup tent. I don't know why there was a pup tent, but Brian was backpacking through Europe.

The competition, however, was amazing. In Fontainebleau, they had these paths through the woods and the judges (comme Agnès) had walky talkys. And our job was to hide behind trees and then communicate the results.

You can write this on my tombstone in the Luxembourg Gardens:  Obstacle Numero Trois Bien Franché
That will always make me laugh. I can't find any record of this word online, so take it with a grain of sel.
Sleep deprivation from a pup tent?

I did nothing well in Paris except be handsome and laundered.

Agnès would scratch my back in the morning and those guys were all bad news.

There was an Army radio station that had like 25 songs on heavy rotation. One went, "I could get over it, if you could get over here,"  If you can find this song I will give you a thousand dollars. Love Will Tear Us Apart and Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now were present, along with Talking Loud and Clear.  Were they trying to kill the armed forces, or get them dancing?

Agnès had a boyfriend (of course) from Munich and he came to Paris in August and drove us very badly at night. Uli in the Etoile was petrifying. But he played Talking Loud and Clear. And of course he loved me, the guy sleeping with his girlfriend... The only big surprise was that we'd come out of Le Petit Prince and his antenna would be snapped and his car keyed and I'd be upset and he and Agnès nonplussed.

He had German plates.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Euchre Uber Alles

Recently wrote about the oddity of Montrose having a jukebox on the lawn. It's actually funny to think about everything Montrose-related. Like the tadpole stuff in the water and Euchre, which seems a very random game to have adopted, Gretchen. And just the worst food! Cotton candy and popcorn and hot dogs and Coke. You would spend the entire day there eating... And then be STARVING for dinner. I have never been so hungry in my life as coming home from Montrose.

For some reason we felt it necessary to do everything. You'd driven all that way...  So, for example, I dived off the high dive. The scariest thing in the world. Obviously played tennis on all of the courts. There were courts up high, and courts down below. In the winter, for a time, they put a bubble over the upper courts. This was when tennis was booming.

My best memories, though, are lying on the lawn by the jukebox and playing cards by the baby pool with Gretchen.

Don't tell your friends about the two of us...


Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Year of the Cat

Only alluding for forty years seems like an increasingly poor strategy.

In tenth grade, when we were fourteen or fifteen, Charlie died. I was the most stoic of the bunch -- and the one who never let it go.  

Initially my mother picked me up after swim team, in "November dinnertime darkness" was how I put it. Among many things that break my heart, she said, heading up Garman hill, something like, "Charlie and his dad didn't come back." (From a fishing trip in Michigan.)  And I didn't respond well.

Through some confusion, Firestone High School let a substitute teacher announce to an English class that C was dead, and then Carolyn found me in study hall and we were by definition hysterical, racing into the teachers' parking lot crying and laughing.

There was no attempt at school counseling, and sad to say useless parents. "You just seemed to want to be left alone."

Yes, I did. I wanted you as far away from everything that mattered to me as... really, there couldn't have been anything more grave, and I wanted your hands off. You had left me alone since four or five, you'd never inquired about my cuts and bruises, you'd never done anything that parents do except love me. And I was easy. 

About Charlie: Handsome, great hair. Mom says she always thought that he was too pretty, which is funny, because I think that people thought that of me. He looked like all of us, which was slender with a big sweep of 70s brown hair and some freckles and... brown eyes? I don't remember thinking any of us were so good looking; just that all of us were better looking.

Charlie misspoke, said "I don't matter" one time, mixing up I don't care and it doesn't matter. That'll break your heart. But he also wasn't particularly nice. He picked favorites, caused rifts, reacted badly to any kind of literary overture. But always went for guys like me and Steve and Pat who were literary.

So much of what you do from 6th to 10th grade is listen to music, and Charlie learned guitar. Today I hate a good 50% of what we listened to (I can't bear Elton John or Kiss or Queen or a bunch of guitar bands I've forgotten the name of.) I resent it. I think about being downstairs in the den by Charlie's bedroom, in the Reymann's modern house... A house made of cedar, I think, with cut-your-hands rough stucco walls inside, and many levels off a siloed staircase, all on a hillside just beneath the railroad tracks, overlooking Lafayette. Belleau Wood. I could be making these words up. 

My parents were vaguely appalled by Charlie's house. (Anytime they disapproved of something it was vaguely, silently for the most part, and yet we always knew.) They thought that cars were dumb and that Akronites were ridiculously snobbish about a not particularly fancy town. They saw no reason to join a country club, not being golfers, and rightly judged the tennis courts at Montrose to be far superior to those at Fairlawn Swim and Tennis. Dad found a place to sail and Mom joined League of Women Voters. Dad took anyone who wanted to ski every single weekend.

I was fond of Charlie's house, weird as it was. There was a loft in the silo above his parents'  room that I particularly liked, where we listened to A Wizard, A True Star over and over. At  Charlie's  house, as at my house, there were rarely parents around. Were they all out dancing? At a secret parents club?

There are a bunch of songs that I associate with Charlie. One, Baby I Love Your Way, is unlistenable to me. (When they played it in Reality Bites I almost left the theater.) All of Frampton Comes Alive is off limits. Todd Rundgren, as mentioned. Daniel by Elton John -- the only tolerable Elton John song and it makes me think of Charlie and Steve Wise, who is another story.

And The Year of the Cat. It was a big radio hit but for some reason I think Charlie's sister Liz introduced it to us. It made me think about how DRAMATIC life could be, which is appealing at fourteen. Well, always appealing, until you figure out that the drama in your life is just going to always fucking hurt.