So you might as well go to Paris.

I mean, why wouldn’t you?The city has been, for some time now, the most visited in all the world.At least, since the Prussian Wars.Or since Disney built a park on its perimeter.Or maybe since France last won the World Cup.Either way – a very long time.

And you might as well rent a car.Preferably a breathtakingly tiny one, like Renault’s Twingo, into which you’ll have difficulty jamming your American suitcase that seemed to be the paragon of light travel back home but in this city has turned you, along with your unfortunate white socks, into what you now recognize as the blundering jackass version of an American you impersonate as a lark to close friends.

But you shoehorn your Samsonite in somehow and you pull your pants over your socks and you carefully intone the words “merci beaucoup” to the guy handing you the Twingo keys, responding in near-perfect English in a sign he’s either trying like you, or rather hoping you will please cease to try.

You don’t like “The Doors” as much as you think you do. Jim Morrison was outrageously gorgeous, I grant you. His nipples are about the most perfect things God ever created. You know that picture where he’s all Christ-like, arms outstretched, pleading to be strung up like the original man on the cross with his quintet of bursting wounds that Thursday (or Wednesday or Friday, however you do your crucifictional math) long ago? Yes, he’s a perfect specimen in many ways, but I’m fed up to the ears with people giving that ultimately maudlin and bloated old sot more credit than he deserves. That’s why we stole from him. That’s why. And we were drug addicts.

It’s different now, but back then, we’d have to jaunt over to France to get our tourist visas back in effect. These trips were often fraught with more rigmarole than art-gazing at the Louvre or posing as “The Thinker” in front of “The Thinker” or whatever it is people do in Paris. On our first train ride into the Gare du Nord, I was beset by an explosive gastro-intestinal ailment that saw my friend James and I running for what we thought was our lives down the train tracks leading out from the station into what looked like scorched earth. Where is Paris? What’s around it? If you ever discharge the contents of your bowels all over the wall of the completely foreign bathroom facilities at the Gare du Nord and have to run for your life, you’ll see what I mean. James and I sat at the train station for hours, as James was convinced that the train station was probably the best place to score hash. He had a preternatural ability to find drugs, so I trusted him. Furthermore, I couldn’t travel more than a few steps without running furiously to the WC.

“Number one or number two?” asked the large, black bathroom attendant. She had a nobility to her, even dressed as some kind of European translation of how an antebellum servant might have appeared.

“Number two,” I said sheepishly. The woman gave me a single sheet of single ply toilet paper and I entered the, faute de mieux, restroom. This restroom consisted of a vertical wall of porcelain, at the bottom of which was a small drain, giving one the idea that the French shit in impossibly small portions. I dropped my pants and tried to be quiet and discreet and French about the whole affair. Snake eyes. My bowels roared with a thunderclap and I soiled the entirety of the porcelain, managing to befoul the adjacent wall as well. Humiliating. I discarded the piece of toilet paper, hiked up my pants and walked gingerly back to where James was looking for an Algerian named Carlos who had promised to come back with a chunk of hashish.

“James, I just shit all over the place.”

“Like in the terminal? What are you saying?”

“No, I made it to the bathroom, but I exploded all over the wall.”

“Serves the French right. Where is this goddamned Algerian?”

“I didn’t wipe.”

“Solid. Don’t stand so close to me. Hey, that reminds me. What’s a Frenchman’s favorite expression?”

“I don’t know James.”

“C’mon guess.”

“I don’t know. I give up.”

“Exactly.” James laughed his laugh and I was marginally appalled at this half-assed joke. James stewed around as I sat nervously, fetidly.

“Hey look, dude. When you find Carlos the Algerian, I’ll be hovering around the bathroom, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I’ll find you.” I repeated my performance in two other bathrooms in the Gare du Nord. I went back to find James. He was gone. I had to go again. I went back to the scene of my original crime against decency and was asked again by the noble Frenchwoman, “Number one or number two?” I thought about how terrible it was that even in Europe, they stick the black people by the toilet. Have you ever seen a white bathroom attendant? I haven’t either. I ruminated on this for a moment, my liberal leanings seeping out like so much shit, I thought to give her a life-changing tip. I didn’t know what that was. I had little money. When does a tip become life-changing? You hear about it. Some waitress gets a $20,000 tip from some greasy old man and it’s off to the races, probably. Off to lose it all at the races. As I was barraged with this charge of magnanimity, a look of recognition came over the bathroom attendant’s face. Then a look of ferocity. Then this:

“Putain! Fucking American you shit all over the toilet and you don’t clean it. You shit all over like a fucking animal. You shit all over my house!” My house? That can’t be right. I felt terribly. I don’t know why I tried to speak back in French. Maybe let her know I wasn’t THE shitty, shitting American.

Mon Dieu manquez Je suis désolée, je ne sais pas comment les choses fonctionnent en France, je suis comme un idiot. Puis je vous aider à quelque chose? Tu dois croire que je ne voulais pas le faire. C’est mon estomac. Il n’y a rien de personnel à propos de cette merde. Je suis désolé!”

“Tuez-le!” she shouted, and began to run at me. Both stomach ailments and fear pulsing through me, I ran shittily away, toward a train platform that looked empty, followed by the bathroom attendant and a cadre of her fellows.

“James! James! James!” I ran screaming through the Gare du Nord. I made some distance from the angry bathroom attendant horde (to the French’s credit, all the other bathroom attendants chasing me were white, something that made me feel a little better in real-time and in retrospect). I jumped off of the platform and onto the track toward nothingness, toward away from Paris, away from the Gare du Nord. As he always did for me, James appeared by my side, running with me out into nothingness. No questions, no nothing. This time he ran with me, not away from me. He looked back to see what in the smash was happening and at the sight of a half-dozen antebellum servants shaking their fists and running toward us had divined what happened. He began to laugh and fell on the train tracks in paroxysms of joy. For, what greater joy is there than laughing at the laughable shortcomings and peccadilloes of your friends? Admit it. There is nothing more pleasing. Nothing more tender.

With Carlos the Algerian nowhere to be found, my pants soiled beyond recognition and a credit card, I insisted we take a taxi and find a hostel, somewhere we could regroup.

“We’re not taking any cocksucking taxi, T”

“I’ll pay for it, James. Come the hell on. I’m covered in shit.”

“Just walk it off, man.”

“Walk it off? I don’t have a sprained ankle, dickhead. I need a shower.”

“No taxis. I have an idea.”

“You’re going to dump me in the Seine? Man, I need soap!”

“No, I know where we can get some weed. Not hash, man. Trees!”

“Fuck trees, James. Can’t you smell me?”

“I don’t know. All of Paris smells like shit. People will just think you’re a dog, or stepped in dog shit. See? You just did.” I had.

“What’s the plan, dope fiend?”

“Where is that cemetery, the famous one?”

“Père Lachaise?”

“Is that where Jim Morrison is buried?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, peep this, playboy. I read in the guidebook that greasy hippies leave joints and acid and all sorts of shit on his grave. I know how you hate The Doors and I could care less.”

“Mother, I want to fuck you?”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s from ‘The End.’”

“Anyway, how far away are we from it?”

“I have no idea.”

“We’re taking the bus.” James rifled through our guide book and discovered some bus route that would allegedly deposit us at the cemetery. By some stretch of fortune, we got on the bus and made our way to the famous resting place. James was kind enough to let me borrow his bottle of “Cool Water” cologne, which I sprayed all over my pants. I now smelled like Cool Water and shit, but it was better than nothing and the bus passengers didn’t seem to mind. But then, even in France, how do you confront somebody covered in feces? Some people in the world are just left alone.

We bought a site map at the entrance off the Boulevard de Menilmontant.

“Jesus, there’s some famous dead motherfuckers up in here.”

“Yep,” I added, a little tentative about robbing Jim Morrison’s post-mortem drug cache. We walked along the southeast side of the cemetery and found Morrison’s grave. It was covered in flowers, graffiti, torn pieces of paper with Morrison-esque poems written on them; some had actual song lyrics printed on them. And, as promised, there were, in front of his bust, at least a dozen joints and sundry other items of drug paraphernalia to ostensibly keep Jim loaded during the afterlife. There was also a full handle of Jack Daniel’s, which appealed to me. Who knew how long these joints had been there? When did it last rain? Whiskey you can count on. My interest was piqued. The problem was, along with all the dead rock stars’ booty were about a half-dozen worshipers, all lathered in patchouli and the requisite Guatemalan/Tibetan neo-hippie attire, sun dresses, he-sarongs, and of course, some prick with a didgeridoo, and a retinue of confused people singing the words to ‘The Crystal Ship’ along with the bizarre tempo produced by this horrible “instrument.” The didgeridoo is, in and of itself, perfectly fine, but when put into the hands of a young American on some kind of hallucinogen sporting those nauseating white person dreadlocks is unforgivably offensive. Non-aboriginal people who play the didgeridoo are fit for nothing more than violent extinction. Also, it’s hard to run with a didgeridoo.

James and I assessed the situation. “One, two, three, four….oh, come the hell on, T. It doesn’t matter how many of them there are. You grab the Jack Daniel’s because I know you’ve been eyeing it and I’ll scoop up all the joints and whatever other shit I can fit in my hands. Then we run north.”

“Why north?”

“That just seems like something people say before a heist. Besides, we don’t have a safe house or a, uh…”

“Home base,” I ventured.

“No, something more gangster, but fuck it. Are you ready?” James asked.

“Which way is north?”

“Aw, man. Just follow me.”

“What if we get split up?”

“T, you’re acting like a bitch right now. If we get split up, we’ll meet at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, how’s that? How do you say Eiffel Tower in French?”

“Tour Eiffel.”

“Ok, then.” I knew James would be the first to make the dash toward the loot, so I tried to dart toward Morrison’s headstone first. James and I then crashed into each other violently, both of us falling on top of his grave.

“Hey, man…be peaceful!” shouted an American.

“Oye…tranquilo, colegas!” a Spaniard.

“Faites gaffe!” a Frenchwoman. Then an indecipherable squeal of admonitions, as James scooped up everything non-alcoholic and I, everything else. I got up first and ran to what I thought was north. I carried a 1.75 liter bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a few airline bottles of rum, brandy and maybe gin, which I dropped as I ran into Frederic Chopin. I wasn’t sure if I’d been followed, but by the time I reached Apollinaire, then turned toward Marcel Proust, I saw I was being chased only by a portly security guard. I guess he was on liquor patrol, but I wasn’t too worried because he looked as if he were flagging after I made a sharp right and hid next to a bush and Isadora Duncan. I figured James had been pursued by the druggies and that was okay. James was fast and agile. I imagined him driving toward the exit and toward the Tour Eiffel like Kobe Bryant driving through stoned defenders—a total mismatch. Of course, James was extremely tall—a drawback in France, and at Père Lachaise. I took a long draw from the bottle of Jack Daniel’s behind Oscar Wilde and rested for a brief moment, when I saw James playing fugitive pinball between Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein and Edith Piaf, his unmistakable big, reddish coif running back and forth in shortened bursts. I thought to advise him to run toward Molière, but in retrospect I think that may have just been the desire to be the first person to utter the phrase “Run toward Molière!” at least since the 17th century.

There had been too much violence during our stay in Spain, in Europe. I did not want James to punch a hippie and neither did I. Not to mention, there was at least one security gendarme hot on my trail. Who knows what would have happened had I shouted “Run toward Molière!” but I didn’t and instead I took my shitty pants off, rhino charged the group of hippies and whipped them with my crappy Levi’s, again and again. The young man with the didgeridoo (who was brandishing it like a primitive lightsaber) dropped it and it broke into pieces. I heard a whistle from behind us (there are always whistles going off in France) and looked at James. He, too, put his head down now that the most threatening weapon had broken (aside from my pants, which I spun around my head like a helicopter.

James and I finally made it out an entrance onto the Rue de Bagnolet. We were now both covered in filth, but at least I had abandoned my pants and now ran down the streets of Paris in sandals and boxers given to me by my mother that featured sumo wrestlers in various attack poses. We ran aimlessly, laughing, panting. We came across a Métro station, Alexandre Dumas. So many famous dead. We jumped on and headed back to what James insisted was west.

“This takes us to the Arc de Triomphe, if we take it to the end of the line” James said.

“Then let’s,” I said. I passed James the bottle of whiskey and he took a long draw.

“We have joints, too, but I’m not going to fuck with that on the Métro.” Sometimes you never know if things have gone colossally wrong, or right. We traveled along the 2 Line in grinning silence.

The cold air from the Métro air conditioning felt good on my naked legs.

There are two major bookstores in the world, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Shakespeare and Co. in Paris.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true. I’m not sure how my literary career can move forward from such an honor. I could die today with bragging rights for my future in the eternal nothingness.

Let me back up…..

***

In 1994 I went to Paris. I was 24 years old. I brought all of my handwritten poetry and expected Shakespeare and Co. to be ecstatic and celebrate an unpublished poet from San Francisco. I had visions that I’d be ushered to an upstairs room and given bottled water while they read over my petit opus, my generous contribution to literature. Bottled water would switch to Absinthe and I’d get a buzz on the smells of the spirits of authors past that also graced Shakespeare and Co. with their greatness.

I had recently discovered Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Louis Ferdinand-Celine. I knew I was next on the list of these greats. My delusion was squashed when I asked about poetry readings and fumbled my papers onto the counter. I can’t exactly remember the reply of the clerk, but I remember my dreams crushed. Who are you?

Customers breathed down my neck as I picked up my papers from the counter and the few that fell to the floor.

It was 1994 and I went to Paris to stretch out my literary wings that were still soaked and unsuitable for flying even in my hometown of San Francisco. Why would Paris embrace me?

Because my last name is DuShane. I’m one of you.

I walked long hours alone in Paris, with my notepad, and a strict budget since the French Franc was strong against a weak US Dollar. I slept in a closet space of a friend of a friend in the suburb of Nanterre. It was understood as only a crash pad, during the day, I had to be out and about. With no one, going nowhere.

I tried to say hi to women, but I didn’t even get kissed. Four weeks in Paris and my lips touched no one.

…..End flashback interlude of my 20-something naivety.

***

Last week I fulfilled a dream. One of the greatest bookstores in the world actually hosted a night where I was the star. It only took 16 years from my Paris disappointment to spread my dry, literary wings in my hometown of San Francisco.

City Lights. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti.

I feel blessed and lucky. I worked hard on my novel. I wrote it in blood. While loosely based on my fucked up life growing up in a cult, I actually have to acknowledge that without that experience I couldn’t have created the characters or have written that book. My novel, endearing, funny and tragic, is a homage to the human condition. Of people standing by their belief systems and making decisions from hearts they feel are pure. Decisions that might damage themselves and others.

I was able to read at City Lights….to discuss these topics….to read and have the crowd laugh and have them in utter silence when I discussed tragedy. A woman asked me if the world would be a better place without religion. I don’t have the answer. I know some people need religion. I know some exploit religion. I know some people are truly good, whether religious or not. I’m not religious, but if I started a religion, I’d called it, Just Don’t Be A Dick.

Without flaws, our stories, our novels, would suck. Without conflict we can’t embrace our human condition. I used to think I was unique as someone who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness….while there are some things I’ve gone through that 99% of the world didn’t have to go through, I know my story isn’t so unique. Most of us are doing our best. Even the assholes. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have spewed hatred at me and personally attacked me for writing a novel that exposes situations they’d rather not have made public. One such Jehovah’s Witness tried to reason with me the only way he knew how, I know your book is true (regarding doctrine and situations), but why make it harder for us to preach?

Then I heard the same thing again. Why make it harder for us to preach?

They don’t even realize they want recruitment numbers over truth. When my book deal went through, I received vicious phone calls and emails from them. They’re human.

It hurt at the time. It still hurts a bit, but my peace is knowing they’re misguided. My peace is knowing that my novel is out there. They don’t have read it if they choose not to, but they can if they like.

……This is the part where Tony realizes he went from funny to grateful to serious to reflection.

***

….Wait, he doesn’t….

Where would American punk rock be without Reagan? Would Henry Rollins have turned into some type of Gallagher, smashing watermelons into a crowd because America actually decided not to be dicks for oil?

Let’s back up further. Would we have Louis Ferdinand-Celine if he wasn’t injured during World War I? Without Celine, could there be a Kerouac?

What? You would like to go back centuries? What if Cervantes never went to war, was never captured and had a posh life? Would we have Don Quixote?

I really don’t know any writer or humorist or comedian or artist that hasn’t suffered. I read them, I listen to them, and they speak to my soul.

I don’t have the answers. We suffer and we can sometimes laugh about it, at the absurdity of the human condition. At the flaws of ourselves.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true.

We were – what’s the name for it – a couple.  But we didn’t need to declare it.  Then a letter stamped with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services seal arrived.  Their declaration, in impressive bold type, was that Cecile’s visa terms had changed and no option of renewal would be available to her, under the circumstances.  We were to think heightened security.  Cecile would be obligated to return to her native France, having been away for a decade.

Encouraged to act the patriot, I still had the blessing of choice.  I questioned what was keeping me at my current job and whether the desk and computer I had there required my presence each morning for the years and decades to come.  I bought language tapes.  I waffled on the value of proximity to old friends.  I measured my bravado against Jean-Paul Belmondo.  I posted a classified ad for my television and my car.  I tried to cherish ice water, side dishes and wide-open spaces.  I culled my savings.  I officially declared us a couple, though not to anyone else but Cecile.  I followed her.


JC: Matt Bondurant is the author of two fine novels. His first book, The Third Translation, is the story of a soused cryptologist in the British Museum is a funny and smart romp through the streets of London, and made me think of Harry Crews writing with an English accent. His most recent novel, The Wettest County in the World, is recently out in paperback. It’s the Depression-era story of the Bondurant family, bootleggers in Franklin County, VA, as revealed through the three brothers personalities and the outsider observations of Sherwood Anderson. It’s a rugged and riveting read that I highly recommend.

Here is what Matt had to say about the books that made him a lifetime reader and writer:

Matt Bondurant: As a youngster I was heavily invested in reading. My mother took us to the library every week and I always took home a pile of books. A common babysitting method was to drop me at a bookstore, library, or even a flea market (in the bookstall) where I would while away the hours without much concern. In the 70’s and 80’s you could apparently do that kind of thing and not worry about child abductions and the like. From grades 4 to my senior year in high school I spent most of my time in school trying to conceal a book under my desk. I would bring several so I had spares when they were confiscated.

The problem is that I remember so little about what I was reading or even which books. There were several powerfully affective books, such as The Hobbit or Watership Down that I lived in for a good span of time. I remember being ten years old trying to find “important” books at the library. I read Moby Dick before I was in high school but I had little idea what was going on. I was not a writer. I was a reader.

I still don’t consider myself a writer. John Updike is a writer. Margaret Atwood is a writer. Pynchon, McCarthy, Dellilo, those are writers. I’m just a dude who has written a few things. I try to write.

But there was a kind of moment when I began to contemplate the possibility of being a writer. Or, at least someone who tries to write fiction. Because in college I thought I was a poet. Oh yes, a poet. I was the guy who lured girls up to his room in the frat house to read them poems I had written, Morrissey wailing in the background, a few candles. I would sleep in the woods at night, drunk out of my mind, clutching a copy of Leaves of Grass. I memorized some Byron, hoping for that opportunity that never came. I watched firelight, sunrises, and small birds with a serious turn of mind.

Of course it was all horrible, and after messing around a few years after college I was rejected by every MFA program I applied to so I went back to school for my M.A. in literature. This was the best thing that ever happened to me and it is the reason I try to write because in graduate school I re-read all those important books and actually got something from them. And I met some serious, intelligent people who knew a lot more about books than me, and this time I actually paid attention.

The summer of my first year of graduate school I was introduced to the two writers who had more to do with my decision to try writing some things. I followed a girl I was in love with to Paris, and when I arrived she informed me that she was in love with someone else. I moped around Paris, broke and not sure what to do until her new lover, a fifty-year old Albanian art dealer, gave me something like five hundred bucks and told me to get the hell out of town (I tended to lurk about her apartment, where she worked, etc.). Before I left I bought a used copy of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and a few days later I was in San Rafael, on the Mediterranean coast, staying in the same hotel Fitzgerald stayed in when he wrote the book. I lay on that same beach and imagined Dick Diver swimming out to sea, sat in café’s at night, smoking cigarettes and watching the couples promenading with something like real loneliness. I was old enough to know what hypocrisy meant, and what genius sounded like, and that summer I began to experience the beginning of an actual objective glimpse of my true self operating in the world. I think I began to understand character. Before I left France I had read everything Fitzgerald wrote and he became and remains a central point of light in my writing constellation.

My second year of graduate school, a teacher of mine (Dr. Facknitz, James Madison University, a towering intellect, a scholar and a gentleman ), after looking over some ridiculous short story I had written, recommended that I read John Cheever. The dutiful student I was I immediately went out and read everything by Cheever, including the Journals of John Cheever, which turned out to be the single most affecting book in my life up to this point. I literally carried that book with me for a year, underlining and dog-earing and re-reading. It is the kind of book you can open at random and be guaranteed to find greatness. In my opinion there is no better prose stylist that Cheever, and all of his themes, his longings, his pains, are my own. Except the homosexual stuff. I have either adopted them, or discovered them, or made them up, it doesn’t matter. It is hard to explain the connection I have with that work. I have no need of a biographer because that book exists.

I am under no illusion that I actually write anything like either of these guys. In fact, very little I do resembles them at all, in content or style. I tend to do soft postmodern hijinks involving drugs, gritty violence, absurd situations, sprinkled with esoteric research. Lorrie Moore said in her brilliant work Self-Help that after all the introspection and speculation a writer really has no fucking idea what they are doing. Yep.

I have the Journals of John Cheever on my desk right now. Since 1996 I have had three things taped to the wall above my desk no matter where I have lived: A scrap of paper that has wait scribbled on it (I heard once that Chekov had this over his desk; it may be untrue but I don’t care – I’m still waiting), a picture of F.S. Fitzgerald, and a picture of John Cheever. They are both wearing houndstooth jackets and uncomfortable facial expressions.

These arrangements of empty chairs are what’s left of celebration, argument, meditation, sleep and revelation.  They huddle together like still animals in the cold.  From a chair beneath a plane tree, the round tracks of a cane disappear into the gravel.

The single chairs are absent of their poets, readers and afternoon philosophers.

Those side by side and face to face are absent of their lovers, their chess players, the soon to be married and the just abandoned.

The great groups of circles and strange half-moons have lost their lecturers, their students.

In 1988 I was fourteen years old, five-foot-nine, skinny, flat-chested and at least four more years away from any proper evidence of puberty. To compound all of this luminous adolescent joy I was also morbidly shy and horrifically self-conscious. In short, I was a child. A bloody tall child, but a child nonetheless.

My hair was long and brown, my eyebrows heavy, my cheeks full. I was so thin, and so tormented by my thinness, that I ate as much as I could to try and gain weight. I ate all sorts of crap. Nothing happened. I remained, despite all efforts, a wisp of skin and bones, stumbling when I ran, blown hither and thither by gusts of strong wind and glances from strangers. The sad truth is that I come from a family of stick insects, and the physique I would later be grateful for was a thing of shame and sadness in my formative years. Victimized and scorned, I was teased mercilessly about my stature by other children. My nicknames were, amongst others: Olive Oyl, Bean Pole, Stick, Twig, and, my personal favorite, Inverted, a name given to me by the boys in my neighborhood in honor of my invisible breasts. Humiliated by my non-existent chest, I covered my body as much as I could and engaged, whenever possible, in the bust-increasing exercises I read about in Judy Bloom books.

These were not my glory days.

As an only child growing up without television I sought solace in books and art. I wrote and drew and ate up words and pictures with my heart and mind and soul. Aesthetics and language nourished me. I wanted to be an architect, an artist, a writer, a filmmaker, a designer of things. I had dreams and ambitions that most parents would be proud of, at least any parents with artistic persuasions.

But then something happened, something my mother had known was going to happen for some time, something she allowed but didn’t necessarily want, something my father had dreaded and detested, and something I would never have expected.

Boom!

They came a-calling.

Model agents are a curious bunch—always on the lookout for young girls they can take on and “protect” and “nurture” while at the same time pushing them into a hyper-sexualized and shallow world where they will earn money for being blessed with good looks, without having to use their brains or their creativity, and where they will be rewarded for being a glorified clothes hanger who knows how to work a camera (and maybe, if they’re really good, a room).

These agents I speak of have eyes and instincts that can see beyond the shyness, the scrawny exterior and inverted bosom. They have minds that add the numbers, do the math, envision the war paint and see, through slitted eyes, the finished product.

Click. Whir. Click.

The photographer who shot my mother’s loft for a spread in Vogue Living requested to take a picture of me as I skulked in the corner in my ill-fitting, unflattering, blue-and-white checked school uniform, with ink stains on my fingertips, a snarl upon my youthful lips, and daggers in my diamond-eyes.

A vicious little virgin was I.

She took the photo and, when she left, took it with her, changing my life in an instant in ways I will never be able to digest without feeling a cocktail of conflicting emotions.

Tick-tock.

The phone rang.

Will you come down and see us?

My mother, reticent but loving, conversed with me as she would an adult. Her first mistake.

In a matter of hours we were sitting in an agency. This was nothing very new to my mother. As a designer and semi-retired fashion icon herself, she was clued in to the scene. But, as a disciplinarian, she was a tad… elastic. Either that or I was an uncontrollable hellion, given an inch and greedily taking a hundred miles.

Conversations were had. Things discussed and mulled over. The nice people who wanted to represent me were comfortable with the restrictions my mother placed on the arrangement.

I could only work on weekends, in Melbourne, and only, only, ONLY if it was a high-profile or high paying job. Considering that the majority of all modeling/fashion industry work in Australia stemmed out of Sydney this seemed like a perfectly tight arrangement. Enough to keep me quarantined while also allowing me to feel special—something a gangly girl in the art department with a funny, foreign accent had a hard time feeling in a school full of righteous upper-middle-class bitches with a knack for cruelty.

Unfortunately for my mother (and my ego), something else happened that changed the course of our lives.

I booked a job.

Two days after that first meeting we got the call.

Vogue magazine was flying their entire crew down from Sydney to work with me on an eight-page editorial. Over the weekend.

BAM.

Poor Mum.

I was off and posing, and nothing in my world would ever be the same again. Over the next few years my grades would suffer, my ego would soar, my belligerence double. By 15, I would be living in Tokyo alone over the holidays; by 16, in Paris and Milan. I would leave school. I would be hit on by vile cretins, assuming me to be stupid or willing to advance my career with sexual favors. I would be punished with no work when I didn’t play the game. I would see strange things, do even stranger things and sometimes even do strangers. I would meet wonderful people and terrible assholes. I would make lots of money and spend it all. I would look like a young girl but live like a woman while I behaved like a princess and partied like a devil. I would move on and on, traveling for the better part of twelve years, never finding a home but always seeking one. Eventually I would find it in America in the least likely of places. But that’s another story. At this point my life was still a vague, uncertain, exciting future, and I was just a kid with dreams. And, two months later, when my first editorial in Vogue hit the stands, I looked like a prepubescent, innocent, wide-eyed virgin-child caught playing dress-ups in her mother’s most expensive evening gowns and stiletto-heeled shoes.

It’s an ugly reality that those pictures appeared in a magazine targeted towards 35-to-40-year-old women, and higher. This magazine became one of my regular clients and frequently used me to sell clothes, style and a physical ideal to middle-aged women more than twice my age. Even as a kid I thought this was weird and somehow inappropriate. I didn’t understand it but nor did I question it, and I still willingly danced with and followed the piper, for he played a most enticing and seductive tune.

It’s a strange, strange world, and we’re in it.

The first I gave you was Farewell, My Only One by Antoine Audouard, a novel written in French, translated into English and shipped across the ocean where I found it on a shelf in the mountains. I lay it in my suitcase and took it back to France where I put it in your hands.

People are always asking me for directions.

My body language must exude confidence. Or maybe it’s my face: steel-eyed determination successfully masking utter cluelessness. Then again, maybe not, because a blind office worker once asked me to guide him to his building from Grand Central Station.

Really. I kid you not.

Two previous generations of my family hail from New York and my sister was born in Brooklyn Heights. My brother and I were the only two schmucks born in Florida (and not even Miami!).


I did something this morning that I swore I would never do:

I picked up a steaming pile of dog shit—with my hand.

Dog owners do it all the time, and I assume it’s no big deal to them. They carry around their extra plastic bags from Target and Stop & Shop, and when their dogs take a crap, they stick their hands in a baggie, lightly grasp the turds, turn the bag inside out, and tie it shut at the top. Done. No shit on the street, no shit in your hands. Everything contained neatly in plastic.

But I’m not a dog owner. And the idea of touching a hot crap while it still holds the body’s heat disgusts me—even if there is a layer (or two) of plastic separating skin from excrement.

Before any pet owners jump on me, let me say: I see the need for this, and I support it wholeheartedly. Out here in Boston, where green space is limited and houses lack the spacious yards that I grew up with in Minnesota, the hand-bag-crap grasping is a necessity. Unless you want shit everywhere on every sidewalk, you’ve gotta do it. (When I went to Paris several years ago, I never saw Parisians chasing their puppies with plastic bags, so turds littered the sidewalks like confetti after Mardi Gras. It was repulsive.)

But I don’t own a dog. So I wasn’t planning on doing it.

Where I grew up, in a farming community 45 miles west of Minneapolis, my dog shit in your yard and your dog shit in my yard, and we called it even. Or, more often, my dog shit in her outdoor enclosure, and I took care of it later: hours later or days later. When I picked up the poo, I did it with a shovel; there was never any risk of physical contact.

This week, I’m dog-sitting for my sister and her partner, who are vacationing in Sanibel Island. It was 70 degrees and sunny there this morning. Here in Dorchester, it was 30 degrees: cold enough for shit to steam when it comes out.

They have four dogs. Four dogs make a lot of steaming hot crap.

Before my sister left, she asked me to pick up dog shit once a day or once every other day. “There are baggies under the kitchen counter, and you just reach inside, grab the poo through the plastic, and jooooooop!” she said, retracting her hand fast to illustrate.

That’s what she thinks.

I eyed the snow shovel on her pack porch. Yes, I will pick up Luca, Lily, Sweetie Pie, and Ginger’s crap. But, no, I will not do it with my hands.

The first day out in her yard on crap duty, I spent 15 minutes chasing turds with a shovel. It was like a frustrating game of hockey. Every time I thought I had a log ready for bagging, it would roll back off of the shovel onto the grass. Chase, roll, repeat. Quickly, I changed my strategy: instead of shoveling willy-nilly at the turds and futilely chasing them across the grass, I would scoop uphill or into a stationary object, like a fence, to keep the hardened logs from rolling away.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the turds just smashed all over the shovel, making a second mess for me to clean up.

I gave up and went inside.

This morning, after letting two days pass, I wielded the shovel again. I engaged in chase, roll, repeat with two piles of hardened turds. But then I came square against a mustardy-brown pile of hot, steaming crap, fresh out of Lily’s Chow Chow ass.

This would make a dastardly mess of the snow shovel. Then I would have to clean it off with paper towels—increasing the hand-poop proximity.

I exhaled, defeated.

Stuck my hand inside of two bags.

And gingerly retracted the poop claw.

I swear the dogs were laughing at me.

PARIS, FR –

“If you are lucky enough to have visited Paris as a not-so-young person, then
wherever you go for the rest of your life, even if it’s Palatka, Florida; Shangba, China; or Flint, Michigan (okay, maybe not Flint), it stays with you, for Paris is a portable snack — but like the best snack ever: a crepe jambon et fromage on a cold day, for instance.” – JL Stankus

Montmartre

We left the windows open at night so the room was cold in the morning and the cold was good.

Viewday_2

We woke to the municipal workers watering the trees in the square at Place Emile-Goudeau below us. I went to the window and saw one of them as he watched a young woman washing the big window of the pâtisserie on the corner.

She wore the Converse “Chucks” that were the rage, tight dark hip-hugger jeans and a bright pink blouse that rose up as she stretched, her olive skin winking at him. This was Montmartre waking up.

PARIS, FRANCE-

I leave humbled.

Humble. It’s a word I never understood as a child. A word I don’t think I ever really understood until very recently. It’s a word, like bitter, that needs to be lived before it can truly be understood.

Although I’d lived in Paris before this experience, I came here with a very naive and cocky attitude.

Gargoyle

I thought nothing could touch me. I’m an American, I told myself. If the au pair thing doesn’t work out I’ll be able to find other work teaching English. After all, I’m qualified. I have a degree in an English subject and I’m certified to teach English as a foreign language. There will be no problems.

Plus, I know this family, I told myself. They’d never screw me over. I worked for them before. The youngest son was a pain back then, but four years has passed. I’m sure he’s grown out of his brattiness. Plus, how can I pass this job up? They’re offering me an apartment, a car, and 800 euros a month in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. I’ll have enough extra time that I can even continue writing if I want to!

I was wrong about all of it. Every one of my assumptions was wrong. And not only have I not had much time to write, I haven’t been able to write because I’m so bitter and hateful I would have ended up sounding like one of those people I’ve always wanted to strangle: “France wouldn’t be so bad if they’d get rid of all the French people.”

Really, that isn’t a fair statement. It’s not ALL French people I hate. It’s only two French people whom I utterly and fully despise. Yet, somehow every time I find myself being slighted now, I think, or scream, “Fucking French!” And then I have to remind myself again that not all French people are the devil incarnate. It’s not their fault I came here thinking, “I’m American, nothing bad can happen to me.”

Um, but you’re still a foreigner here. And without a visa to be here. That makes you an illegal alien. In America we don’t treat our illegal aliens any differently. In fact, I’d say we treat them much worse, but maybe that’s me being hyper-critical of Americans.

Farmworker

Basically, let me break it down for you:

Because I knew this French family from my stay here in 2003, and had worked for them before, I trusted them. Therefore, I accepted a job from them based on their word alone. I didn’t ever get a contract or actually anything in writing.

Because I didn’t get anything in writing, they have cheated me, and continue to cheat me, at every opportunity, starting with having never gotten me a work visa so I am automatically unqualified to get any other job regardless of my “qualifications.” Trust me, I know, I’ve tried to find other work. And despite getting calls back from every single place within less than 24 hours, I’ve never been offered a job because the second the visa question comes up they say, “Oh, well, thank you for your time.”

In addition to not getting me my work visa, they have cut 200 euros a month off my salary and added 25 hours per week to my agreed upon hours. They did this from the very beginning and without telling me. I just got my first paycheck and it was missing 200 euros. Up until then I hadn’t complained about the hours because I felt I didn’t have a right. I felt like I’d accepted this job so I have to do what they ask me to do. Plus, I’ve heard of far worse situations from other au pairs, so I figured I was lucky.

I did ask my boss about the discrepancy though. She said, “I don’t remember ever offering you that much money. And the hours will even out. We’ll balance it out so it works for both of us.”

Despite several conversations since then and a number of promises from her, nothing has changed.

Oh, oh, and I’m not working as an au pair. I’m working as a personal assistant. I see the children maybe 10 hours of my 45-hour work week. The rest of my time is spent grocery shopping, going to the post office, making her coffee, picking up laundry, making photocopies, and anything else my boss can dream up. My life is essentially the life of the girl from “The Devil Wears Prada,” only I don’t get the free designer clothes to make up for my psycho boss’ attitude.

So I’m giving up. After only seven months of what was supposed to be at least two years abroad, Tony and I are going back to California. I made one last attempt to get my boss to understand my point of view and she said to me, “You act as though we’re exploiting you here.” Um, yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say.

On to bigger and better things. And I sincerely hope that one day I can return to Paris and love it like I used to. Maybe I’ll come back here with Tony in a few years and we’ll laugh about the time we tried to live here without visas. And I’ll say, “God, do you remember that devil child and his crazy mom? I wonder how they’re doing,” and I might really mean it.

Montmartre5

PARIS, FRANCE-

I was pulled over by the French police today.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it happened.

Every time I see the police here I actually physically cringe because I’m so afraid of them.

But this morning I didn’t see them. I didn’t know they were there.

I also didn’t know I’d done anything wrong.

Frenchpolice

I had just gone through a yellow light, only to go about one car length to the next yellow light where I stopped.

Yes, there were two stop lights one after the other. About 10 meters (yards) apart, if that.

So I’m sitting here at the light when I see a cop walking toward me.

My stomach sinks. I begin replaying the last scene in my head. Was the light red? Did I forget to signal? Was I driving too fast? What’s he doing?

Oh no! He’s knocking on my window.

He doesn’t even wait for me to finish unrolling my window before he demands that I pull over across the street.

“OK,” I say.

But I continue to wait at the red light because I have to do a u-turn to pull over to the spot he’s pointing to.

“You ran a red light back there. Did you see all the other cars stop? Why did you keep going?” he asks me (in French of course).

“Oh. I didn’t realize it was red. I thought it was a yellow light.”

Yellowlight

“Are you trying to be smart with me?! If you’re going to get smart with me I can be a real asshole! Is that what you want?”

“Erm. No. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult.”

“Well, why are you driving if you don’t know your colors. If you can’t tell the difference between green and red you shouldn’t be driving. Now pull over across the street.”

“I am. I mean, I’m going to. I’m just waiting for the light. Oh, there it is.”

So I pull over across the street where he had indicated. And at this point I have absolutely no idea what I said to upset him so much. My hands are shaking and my eyes are tearing up.

Once I’m pulled over he starts in on me again.

“Garbly, garble, blah, blah, garble, the bus … récoule.”

“What? I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult but I really don’t understand.”

“Garb-ly, gar-ble, BLAH, BLAH, GAR-BLE, THE BUS … RE-COULE!” he says it slower and louder, as though I’m in some kind of comedy show where they’re making fun of people who do this. Saying it louder does not help me to know what the words mean, it just scares me.

Now I’m really crying. I have no idea what he’s asking me to do. I pulled over where he asked me to. I don’t see a bus in my rearview mirror.

I am parked in a bus stop area though, so maybe he wants me to back up? Yes. Let’s try that.

I begin backing up and I say, “Like this?”

OUI!

He instructs me to continue backing up. When I finally am told to stop, he asks me for my license and registration, which I give him.

The registration cards here are in fancy little plastic blue billfolds and I didn’t know I needed to take it out for him.

He throws it back through the window and demands that I take it out of the plastic, which I do, hands shaking.

Everything I do seems to only make this situation worse. I know I’m not trying to be difficult, but for some reason he’s convinced that I am.

Traffictree

He looks at my license and asks me where I’m from.

I look at him confused. Did he really just ask me where I’m from? Or did I hear him wrong? Because it says right on my license in all caps: CALIFORNIA.

“Erm.”

Again, with the slow loud talking, he asks me where I’m from.

“California, is that it?!” he asks.

Oui. Je viens de Californie.

At this point a second officer comes and I think I’m saved. He must be here to translate for me.

The first cop turns his back to me and speaks in the direction of the translator cop.

Il faut faire attention ici,” he says.

Il faut vraiment faire attention ici,” translator cop repeats.

Il y a des piétons partout ici, et les véhicules d’urgences aussi.”

And again translator cop repeats IN FRENCH.

Trafficlight

At this point I’m really beginning to feel as though I’m on candid camera or something.

This looks like a comic sketch.

It goes on for several minutes: The first cop lecturing me, and the second cop repeating the lecture word for word, translating it from French into … French … as though hearing it twice will suddenly make me understand French better.

The imaginary bus I left space for should drive up right about now and hit both of them. Or maybe someone will come running down the street with pies for me to shove in their faces.

Are they going to break into song and dance next? I wonder.

“Is this really happening right now?” I’m thinking, when suddenly something translator cop says catches my attention.

Meme si le feu est orange il faut arrêter.

LIGHT BULB! Ah, so the first cop thought I was being smart because I called it a yellow light. Well, how was I supposed to know it was called an orange light here? Aren’t orange and yellow pretty much the same anyway?

“Sorry officer. I didn’t realize I had to stop for orange lights as well,” I say through my tears.

“Well, driving in Paris isn’t like driving in Provence. There you may be able to do that, but here it’s much more dangerous,” says translator cop, who is the only one talking anymore.

The first cop hands me back my papers and license.

Then translator cop smiles and says, “This isn’t the United States. We aren’t as severe as the police in the U.S., are we?”

In my head I say, “Well, in all the times I’ve been pulled over at home I’ve never been yelled at by a police officer, nor have I cried.”

But I say, “Erm. I don’t know.”

“No, we’re not so bad,” he says.

And then they take a few steps back from my car and begin pointedly ignoring me.

What is going on here? Does this mean I get to go?

“Can I go then?” I ask.

“Go ahead.” they say. “Just make a left at the next street and a left at the following light and you’ll end up back where you were headed.”

“OK. Thanks.”

I wipe away my tears and begin slowly driving away, unsure whether they’d suddenly change their minds and begin running madcap after my car, holding onto the bumper as I drag them behind me.

P.S. I looked for the word “recouler” in the dictionary when I got home and it wasn’t in there. I guess it means “to roll back” but I can’t be certain. I do know it doesn’t mean, literally translated, “to back up,” nor does it mean “to move in reverse.”

PARIS, FRANCE-

California is fairly notorious for having really aggressive drivers and a lot of traffic.

But after three weeks of driving in Paris I have to say, Californians are sissy drivers by comparison.

Our problem: We’re too law-abiding.

It’s not so much a problem really. I rather enjoyed the comparably chaos-free driving I experienced in California. There weren’t horns honking at 6 a.m., waking up the entire neighborhood because a moving van is double-parked in the middle of an already barely wide enough one way street.

You never have to worry that if you go down a street you’ll find it blocked and be forced to drive in reverse down the entire length of the street and look for another route to your desired destination.

But in Paris these things happen more often than anyone would believe.

Emergency lights here are not used for real emergencies. They’re used instead as the “Hi, I know I’m not supposed to park here, but I’m going to anyway so please don’t give me a ticket” lights.

I asked a French friend about all the cars double parked on the streets, telling them that it’s illegal in the U.S. to double park like that because it causes too many traffic problems. Not only that, but it blocks in whoever you’re parked next to.

She said it’s illegal here too, just nobody cares. And, when getting my official Paris driving lessons, I was instructed to double park if I can’t find other parking.

So, what I guess I’m saying is that the French, or at least Parisians, don’t take Traffic Laws to heart really. They look at them more as a kind of loose guideline, only to be followed in exemplary driving conditions, or when they aren’t in a hurry.

To illustrate, here’s a diagram of the street in front of the school I have to go to each day:

Diagram

A. The no parking sign.
B. The “We’re serious, don’t park here or we’ll tow you sign.”
C. The car illegally parked in front of the no parking sign, with emergency lights on of course.
D. My car, also illegally parked with emergency lights flashing.
E. The guy who parked legally and paid for parking, but is now blocked in by cars C and D.
F. A school bus parked in the middle of the street, now blocking all oncoming traffic, because the whole row of cars in front of me have parked illegally in front of the school.


Since I’ve been here I’ve double parked nearly every day, I’ve blocked intersections regularly, I’ve purposely driven the wrong way down a one-way street, and I’ve driven in reverse down an entire street after the moving van guy told me he’d be there for at least another half an hour and had no intention of moving.

I’ve also seen quite a few accidents involving cars and motorcycles. Because if cars have no traffic laws, motorcycles really don’t have any traffic laws here.

I think another part of the problem is the lack of dividing lines. There are lines right at the stop light to kind of divide up the traffic, but they disappear as you begin driving up the road. This means people are left to decide whether they want to have two lanes or three. And they will make their own lane whether you like it or not.

They will also park dangerously close to your car, so that you’re stuck in a reverse-forward-reverse-forward mess for about fifteen minutes trying to get out of the space.

Look_at_how_close_they_park

I don’t know how they do it. It’s almost as though Parisian cars are an extension of the driver. Somehow they’re able to park as close as possible to anything without actually hitting it. I don’t think I’ll ever master this though. I’m constantly driving in circles looking for a larger parking space.

I was looking forward to continuing my car-free lifestyle here in Paris, but I’m getting used to the idea of driving here now. It’s unfortunate because I feel like it takes away from my experience of the city. Suddenly Paris doesn’t seem quite so huge. And I’m learning my way around much quicker than I did before.

But one thing to be said about it is that driving makes me feel more at home here. It’s making Paris familiar in a way it never was before. I have a routine of taking the children to school and picking them up from school everyday, which includes a dangerous trek through the Charles de Gaulle Etoile, famous for car accidents and having L’Arc de Triomphe at its center. But this week I went through it without even holding my breath or saying, “We made it,” to the boys afterward.

I haven’t decided whether I’m glad or disappointed about this development. It’s growing on me though.

My name is Rebecca Schiffman.  This summer I spent a month in Paris.  In the third week, my Zagat.com subscription was due to expire and I wrote down the names of all the restaurants I still wanted to try.  The first was Le Petit Marché.  One night, after seeing The Simpsons Movie (in English) at The Forum des Halles, I walked over to Rue de Béarn and found a well-lit, very small and very packed restaurant.  The host saw me and yelled pityingly “Vous êtes toute seule!” and  seated me at a small two-person table practically connected to the next table where a young couple sat.  The host said to them “She’s alone.  She’s American.”

While trying to decipher the menu and assess what I could afford, I interrupted the couple to ask if the restaurant accepted credit cards (yes) and from there they began enthusiastically recommending certain dishes.  They had eaten there several times in the past few weeks.  We got into a long conversation that lasted through their aperitifs and I was very pleased to meet these friendly and intelligent strangers.

I didn’t mention that I had come to Paris with my boyfriend (it was a very serious relationship) and that after the first week, a very tense and depressing week, we broke up and parted ways.  This day I was in an open and eerie mood, still feeling high from The Simpsons.

Eventually I learned the couple’s names: Brad (Listi) and Kari.  They told me about their wedding plans and about Brad’s book and Kari showing LeBron James around New York.  I probably told them that I’m from New York, 25, still living with my parents, went to Cooper Union, have a painting studio, am a singer-songwriter, and write a zine about The Upper East Side, where I live, called The U.E.S. Journal.

Brad and Kari also told me about The Nervous Breakdown and at one point I jokingly said (I was nervous it would be imposing and awkward) that maybe I would submit something.  To my relief they both responded enthusiastically.  The plan was for me to check out the website and e-mail the contact there with links to my work.  A few weeks later, back in The United States, we began the process of setting me up to write for this very website.

That was one memorable evening from my summer which still reaches out into the present.  Going backwards, I want to describe the strange sensations I experienced in the hours before meeting Brad and Kari.

I am one of those people for whom The Simpsons is a very important part of life.  ‘Nough said.  I had pretty much given up hope that a movie would ever be released and I was delightfully surprised when I saw the first trailer on the Internet.  When the movie came out I had heard it wasn’t incredible- not as good as good as the South Park movie, etc…  I was determined to like it, though.

The Simpsons has gotten me through some very tough times.  During my first serious breakup I would lie half asleep watching the DVDs all day (only seasons one and two had been released), sometimes playing one episode three times in a row (Bart Gets Hit by a Car).  I could just listen with my eyes closed and remember which noises referred to which sight gags.  Alternatively, I could mute the tv and watch, remembering the dialog.  I would drift in and out of dreams where I was Homer, Marge, and Bart, and I started confusing my ex-boyfriend’s name with the name, Homer, when speaking to friends on the phone.

So now, in Paris, after another breakup, I was trying to be good to myself and have a good time.  Naturally, I took myself to see The Simpsons Movie.  It took me 30 minutes to find the theater because I was not familiar with The Forum des Halles and didn’t know that it was an underground mall.  The theater was one of the nicest I have visited- a huge screen, comfortable seats, and the rows going back at such a steep incline that it was nearly impossible for someone’s head or hair to block your view.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I won’t attempt to review it.  I barely judge The Simpsons these days.  I accept it as a reality, a part of life that cannot be questioned.  I am happy it still exists, like a beloved relative.

I found the movie strangely dark.  Much of the movie has to do with living in a dome.  If you stay through the entire credits there is a little scene with Mr. Burns and Smithers, and after the Green Day song finishes a very dramatic version of the Spider Pig song begins, maybe similar to a James Bond theme, with voices in the background warning “Look out!”.

Leaving the theater with that song in my mind, I followed everyone up an escalator that emerged onto street level in the middle of a park.  It was dark out, there were no tall buildings close by, the sky was a single matte cloud grey, and I had the feeling of coming out from underground to find myself in a dome.  I tried to trick my eyes into seeing the sky as if I were in a planetarium.  A few blocks into my journey to Le Petit Marché I passed a sign for a restaurant which read “Dome du Marais”.

It was one of those nights when the world around you seems made just for you.  I noticed objects left and right, patterns in the pavement, store names, people’s expressions.  Everything was an omen, but a good omen, and I felt that wherever I walked I would continue to find signs that made sense in the story of my life—like a foreshadowing, as if I lived in the world of a well-constructed novel.  Then I arrived at the restaurant.