Jours 205-211: Take this week off and spend it France, acting like the French.

Sunday, July 24, through Saturday, July 30.

The Book had several things for me to do while in France: fight in public, sit in a café all day, sunbathe topless (no problem!), smoke three packs of Gauloises, take a lover, and protest violently against the government. I did not do these things in order, but I attempted all of them.

The first day, I sat at a café, drinking espressos, scribbling away in a notebook, flipping desultorily through Being and Nothingness, and smoking my way through a pack of Gauloises (just one pack, the first day: I planned to work my way up to three by the end of the week). It was a good day, and I felt like I’d accomplished something, even though I really hadn’t.

About three in the afternoon, a man sat down at my table. No worries, I thought: this could be interesting. I made eye contact with him — briefly — as he sat down, gave him a little head nod of greeting, and went back to my Sartre, my coffee, and my cigarettes. After a moment, I felt his eyes on me, and looked up. He was staring at me: an intense, unsettling stare. Unsure of what to do, I offered him a cigarette: he made no response, and continued to stare. I hailed the waiter, and ordered my tablemate an espresso. When it came, he calmly picked it up, and — staring at me all the while — threw it forcefully at the couple at the table next to us. Then he stood up, and calmly walked away.

I was stunned, immobile, unsure if that had actually just happened.

I was brought back to myself by a young man yelling in my ear — obscenities, I assume, but it was all in French, and I don’t speak French. I’m sorry, I said, but I don’t speak French, and I didn’t throw that espresso at you. The man kept yelling, and soon I was yelling too, trying to make myself heard and understood. It didn’t work, of course, and soon the two of us moved beyond words: he pushed, I took a swing, and then: a blur, a scuffle, bodies colliding, then red, and then darkness.

I came back to myself in my hotel, lying naked on my bed, bruised and bloody in places, but I felt worse than I looked. I grunted, sat up, and saw her — the woman from the café. I tensed, which hurt, and so winced. We looked at each other, but said nothing.

She had a bottle of something on the table in front of her, and two glasses. She poured the glasses — a deep amber liquid — lit two Gauloises, and walked over to the bed. She handed me a glass and a cigarette, and sat down next to me…

I woke up late the next morning with the worst headache of my life, and she was gone.

Somehow I made it through the morning and into the afternoon, but I don’t really want to talk about it. I spent the first part of the afternoon — once I felt like a human being again — sitting in a café, drinking espressos, smoking cigarettes, and taking stock of my situation. Sit in a café, fight in public, and take a lover — three tasks down! And I was halfway through my second pack of the day! Nothing like a hangover to make one want to smoke, I guess.

I finished my espresso, bought another pack of Gauloises, and set off in search of a topless beach.

I found one, sort of, somewhere along the Seine — the Paris-Plages, a series of temporary beaches erected during the summer. All sorts of folk were there, but none of the women were topless: apparently it’s not allowed. This made me angry, much angrier than it should have, and before I really knew what I was doing, I’d taken off all my clothes, thrown them into the river, and was shouting anti-government and pro-breast slogans, sprinkled liberally with obscenities.

I think I’d hoped that the people of Paris would rise up, cast off the shackles of their clothes, and join me in a new, naked utopia — but it didn’t happen, obviously. People stared; a few laughed, some took pictures. One dude handed me a bottle of wine at some point. Then the police showed up, and arrested me.

I spent the remainder of my vacation in jail. I was escorted to the airport on Saturday morning, and allowed to board my flight back to the States; I was not, however, allowed to return to my hotel room, and so came home empty-handed, dressed in the jumpsuit I’d been issued when I’d been booked and processed.

I had plenty of time to smoke in jail, though — I went through four packs a day while I was on the inside. Game, set, and motherfucking match, Book. What else you got?

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Day 204: Be completely serious.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, July 23.

I am always serious. I am, as they say, all business.

That is a thing that they say, people, and they say it with good reason.

Once upon a time, children, I went on a road trip, from north Texas to Idaho. I went with two friends — whose names won’t be mentioned — and we drove straight through, without stopping, in three-hour shifts. It was a good time, after a certain fashion.

Somewhere in western Montana or southeastern Idaho, we stopped at a gas station. Inside the gas station, there was a casino — a small one, obviously. My friends wanted to play the slots; I said no, and not just no but hell no. It was, for the record, sometime after midnight.

That was the first strike, as it were. Our stay in Idaho — we were there to check out Diedrich Manufacturing, makers of fine coffee roasters, because we were in our early twenties and going through our let’s open a coffeeshop phase — I say, our stay was uneventful. Enjoyable, even.

On the way home, though, somewhere in the middle of the country — it all looks the same after you’ve driven through it enough — we pulled off the highway and into some field for some reason that is still unknown to me. I was asleep at the time, in the backseat, and woke up to find us in the middle of a goddamn field, with a goddamn horse nibbling on the hood of the car.

Apparently, I said Why are we in a field, and why are there horses?!

Since then, well, everyone has known that I’m all business. Always.


Day 172: No sleep day.

I love sleep. It’s not my Most Favorite Thing, but it’s certainly in my top ten of Favorite Things.

There was a brief, glorious period of time, when Elanor was very small and still slept a lot, during which I would come home from working the opening shift at Starbucks and nap from 2:30 or so until 6:00, and then get up, have some dinner, spend some time with my wife, and go to bed around midnight (and then get up at four the next morning and do it all again). It seems glorious in retrospect, anyway.

I don’t get to sleep as much as I’d like to, but that comes with being a parent. And I’m not a morning person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not up earlier than I want to be most days. Frustratingly, at least for me, all those years working the early shift at Starbucks — getting up at 4:00 or 4:15, getting to work at 4:45 or 5:00 — trained me to think that I ought to have a fair amount done by 8:00, and by 11:00 the workday was close to being over. These days, I’m usually still on my first espresso at 8:00, and not really running at full capacity until 10:00 or so — which works out alright, but it also means I always feel like I’ve gotten far less done on a given day than I ought to have gotten done, and so I always feel behind schedule. I usually am behind schedule, in an objective sense, which doesn’t help with feeling behind schedule…

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just trying to say that I’m no stranger to no sleep.

I have a fair amount of reading to do over the summer, and I haven’t done much of it thus far: it’s time for me to get serious, though, now that I’ve frittered away a month, and so today’s task is conveniently placed for me. I’m going to stay up — probably not all night, but later than is good for me — and get some reading done.

I will probably fall asleep on the couch at some point, wake up some time later, attempt to continue reading, give up, and go to bed: that is, at least, the pattern I established last semester. I’m not as young as I used to be, and my body often reminds me of that fact.

I’ll post a running commentary on twitter, though it probably won’t get rolling until after eleven, and it’ll be after midnight before I start posting ridiculous, delirium-induced nonsense, so it might make sense to just check it tomorrow morning. Until then, I leave you with this:


Day 162: Make prolonged eye contact with everyone you meet.

I made this more fun by not saying anything.

Most of the people I tried this with just refused to play: they’d studiously avoid my gaze once they figured out that I was some sort of silent, stare-y nutjob. That was no fun, though I did get thrown out of a grocery store after staring down a checker.

I needed a challenge, a worthy opponent, and I was at a loss. I thought about going to bar, but attempting to stare down a drunken stranger on a Saturday night sounded like a plan that would not end well for me.

Then, I remembered: Day 100. The eight-dollar bill. The barista who never laughs.

The staring.

I went back. I was fortunate: there was no line, and my nemesis was working the front register. She’s not actually my nemesis, you understand: I just said that for effect. I’m sure she’s nice, aside from the not-laughing. Besides, my nemesis is my doppelgänger, “William Wilson“-style, except I drink instead of gambling.

Anyway. I walked up to the counter. She said hello, asked what she could get me, waited. I stared. She stared. I stared. She —— well, you get the picture.

We attracted a small crowd — the other baristas, mostly, who started handing us shots of espresso, and we downed them while still staring at one another, and then there were more shots, and soon I felt like we were Marion and that bald Nepalese dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I wasn’t sure which of the two I was.

I once had something upwards of a dozen shots of espresso over the course of an eight-hour shift, more than half of them during the last hour. I felt okay afterward, maybe a little shaky, and I wanted to nap and couldn’t, but it wasn’t really that bad. We got to nine shots, my nemesis and I, and I felt great, and she started looking queasy. We got to ten, then eleven, and then——

Well, she vomited. In a projectile manner. On me, obviously, because I was across the counter from her.

Vomit is never pleasant, but some sorts are more not-pleasant than others. You’ve all had to deal with vomit, so I won’t elaborate. Too-much-espresso vomit is, I think, the worst vomit there is, because it still smells like espresso, and espresso is a good smell, and vomit is not a good smell — so there’s some conflict going on, olfactorily speaking. Plus there’s vomit.

I managed to hold my ground, mostly out of shock, but it must have looked good: I mean, this woman just vomited on me, and I’m still staring her down. I don’t look down at my vomit-covered shirt and pants, I don’t recoil in disgust, I just keep staring. She starts crying, runs to the back room. Not the first time I’ve made someone cry in a Starbucks.

Everyone else just stared at me. I think someone offered me a towel, but I’m not sure. I made eye contact with each and every one of them — prolonged eye contact, of course — and then walked out.

I drove about a half-mile down the road, stopped the car, got out, stripped my clothes off, and set them on fire.

It was the only way to be sure.


Day 160: Avoid all mirrors.

There is a full-length mirror on the wall of our bedroom; I walked past it, on my way to the kitchen, eyes averted, looking at the bookshelves that line the opposite wall.

In the kitchen, I made myself an espresso, a piece of toast, another espresso.

I sat in thought for several long minutes, though mostly I thought about whether I should have a third espresso. I decided against it, not having a good reason to over-caffeinate myself so early in the day. I heard the dogs at the back door — which, due to the odd layout of our house, is in our bedroom — and got up to go let them in. I passed the mirror, but forgot to avert my eyes.

I realized my mistake, and a fraction of a second later noticed something unsettling: I wasn’t in the mirror.

I stopped, and looked directly at it, at the place where my reflection should have been. I wasn’t there. I stepped closer, so close I was practically touching the mirror, and all I could see was the books behind me: Neuromancer,  Jude the Obscure, The Unconsoled.

I took a step back, then another, and stopped. I stood there for an indefinite amount of time, in shock, unable to look away from the thing I wasn’t seeing.

The dogs kept barking, more and more insistently. I could hardly hear them.

My wife walked past, shot me a what-the-fuck-are-you-doing look, let the dogs in, and started walking back to wherever it was she’d come from. I stopped her. Look at the mirror, I said. “What am I looking at?” she asked, in an exasperated tone. What aren’t you looking at, is the question, I said. My wife paused, looked at me like I was an idiot, and walked away, shaking her head.

I watched her walk away, looked at the mirror a last time, and went into the back yard.

I spent the morning out there, pacing aimlessly and occasionally frantically, muttering to myself, running into things. Sometime around noon I came inside, hot, feverish, sweaty, stinking, anxious. I came inside a few steps, but stopped before I got to the mirror. It wasn’t voluntary, exactly, but I couldn’t make myself go any further into the house. I didn’t want to go any further into the house. I just stood there, swaying slightly, still muttering to myself.

My beard itched. I reached up to scratch it. Holy mother of God, I thought, what the fuck has happened to my beard?! It had gone from (mostly) neatly trimmed to Tom-Hanks-at-the-end-of-Castaway while I was outside. I completely lost my shit at this point, and ran, panicked, into my bathroom, thinking about nothing but shaving off whatever ungodly abomination was on my face. I had forgotten about not having a reflection until I rounded the corner, and didn’t see myself in the mirror.

The full weight, the gravity and the horror, of my situation came crashing down on me; I knew, then, that I was lost. I am standing there still.

I have no reflection, and I must shave.


Day 125: Take your horoscope seriously today.

The first thing to do, obviously, was locate my horoscope.

I had no idea how to do this. I started by googling “libra horoscope,” which returned something like six million results. Among the top ten, though, were astrology.com and tarot.com – which seemed, if not reputable, at least the sort of thing I needed.

So astrology.com gave me this: “Your inner self needs to make itself heard. That could mean anything from a quick call to your shrink to an epic session with your journal, but you need to do it soon. Your good energy is perfect for expression.”

…and tarot.com gave me this: “You may be thinking about pursuing a new course of study that isn’t related to your career. Even if you have many choices before you, it’s logistically impossible to follow more than one path. Thankfully, the Moon’s harmonious trine to Saturn in your sign today can give you the clarity you need in order to make the smartest decision. After considering all your options, trust your intuition, pick your direction and get going.”

I wanted a third opinion, so I consulted the horoscope printed in my local newspaper (although I looked it up online, because who still gets their news in hardcopy?): “Stick to your objectives and complete what’s required of you. Make positive changes that will enhance your relationship with someone who can make a difference to your life personally and financially. Love is highlighted.”

Part of the reason I’ve never taken horoscopes seriously – aside from the ‘total bullshit’ part – is that they always seem to be about doing something: career this, education that, relationship the other thing. Doing things is not my thing, though: or, well, doing productive, responsible things is not my thing. If my horoscope always told me to have an extra espresso in the morning, and a glass or three of wine with lunch, and to take a nap at my desk, and to read a good book instead of working – well, then, I’d be all over that shit.

But that’s not what they say. Horoscopes are written for people who want to feel like they’re doing something productive or important – not for people who are actually doing something productive or important, because those people don’t have time to screw around with the sort of insipid bullshit that horoscopes are made out of – and I’m neither productive nor someone who wants to be productive, so I have no use for the things.

Anyway.

What I got from my horoscopes for today – listen to your inner self, “trust your intuition,” “stick to your objectives” – was this: “do whatever the fuck you want.” That’s what I do anyway, mostly. Today it involved going to Six Flags with Elanor, and shaming her into riding the roller coasters she didn’t want to ride, because I’m the best dad ever.

I only had to pry her off a guardrail and forcibly put her onto a coaster once, and nobody called security. It was a good day.


Day 120: Don’t spend any money today.

This was somewhat difficult.

I’ve certainly spent enough money this week – $600 to replace the hot water heater, $250 to fix the brakes on Lorna’s car – money that I had set aside to spend on other things. On the other hand, to employ a tired cliché—— no, sorry, let’s start this sentence over: Contrariwise, I had work to do on one of my seminar papers, the final push to get the thing written so I can have Lorna make sure it doesn’t suck proofread it tomorrow.

To do this sort of writing, I require lots of coffee and an environment that isn’t my house – which usually means Starbucks, because there isn’t a decent local place around here, except one just opened, but I haven’t been yet, and I don’t want my first visit to be a marathon-writing-session visit, because I need to know what to expect—— anyway, the point is, I went to Starbucks to write. The problem is obvious: when the people at Starbucks give you coffee, they expect money in return.

Fortunately, my dear friend Ike provides me on occasion with magical, postcard-like things exchangeable at Starbucks for coffee: they work like money, but they’re not money. I only had one left, which got me an iced Venti six-shot 1-pump-of-white-mocha whole milk no-whip cinnamon dolce latte (we’ve been over this recently), which got me through a few hours of writing. I needed more coffee, though, and going home to make coffee there would have meant no more writing.

So I constructed a wormhole loophole.

I keep loose change in my car. Not much, because the compartment the change goes in isn’t that big, and there’s also two lighters, a pocket-knife, a cigar cutter, a book of matches, a pipe tool, a pair of foam earplugs, a small bulldog clip, and a lone Skandia shelf peg in there – but there was more than I thought. It bought me a doppio and a scone, even, and there was much rejoicing.

I justified the construction of this loophole by telling myself that the coinage in my car didn’t really count as money. It’s legal tender, obviously, exchangeable for goods and services, but it exists for me in a nebulous realm unrelated to my bank account and the occasional bits of folding money that pass through my hands. I put it there, of course, but I will myself to forget how it gets there: must have something to do with the fact that every time I pay cash for something, the total is an even dollar amount…

…this post hasn’t been particularly funny or entertaining, has it? No, not really. Probably the summing up is all any of you really need to read:

TL;DR: I bought coffee with car change, because car change isn’t real money.