Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wish Me Luck...

I noticed it on the way to class today – it has become an unconscious, almost reflexive action…and I don’t know how. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I know how it happened, I just didn’t expect it so soon, I certainly didn’t plan for this particular twitch to once again rear its ugly head during my time here in Paris, but, alas, it has resurfaced. It’s been years since I’ve suffered from this particular affliction and I certainly feel ill-equipped to overcome this…twitch... here in a foreign country. It’s a little intimidating, but certainly could make for a rather amusing experience for all of you while traumatizing me – a small price to pay, I guess.

The affliction: walking down the street I realized that I jerk my head upward and to the right every 20 yards or so. This isn’t some neurological abnormality or anything of that sort…my hair has gotten too long and I must flip my damn bangs out of my eyes.

Stop laughing.

Seriously, I looked awesome Junior year of college with the mop on my head – I even had cornrows once…you know you’re all jealous…damn it I need a haircut. I didn’t even think about this before I left the states…this is intimidating…I know that the word for hair in French is close to the word for horse and I’m a little concerned that an innocent mare will end up being lacerated as a result of my sub par French…I could always make sure Abbey is with me…she is, after all, an ABD French Literature PhD student…no! I need to learn. I will get a haircut. By myself. I’ll look up some French vocab and if I come from la salon looking like a molting cockatoo then it will just serve as motivation for learning French and as amusement for all of you. Please wish me luck.

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Addendum to the Previous Proposal to Parisian Pedestrians

Specifically, to Rule #4: Moving one’s damn umbrella so as not to strike another pedestrian in the head (la tete) and its consequence (Your umbrella may be forcibly confiscated and thrown into the path of a moving vehicle.)

I would like to add an extra stipulation for gratuitously oversized umbrellas (gros parapluies). If your umbrella exceeds the size necessary to provide portable shelter for your person, I will join you under it. I will snuggle up uncomfortably close to you. I will sniffle. I will cough. I will clear my throat. Depending on the size of your umbrella, I may even boisterously expel a flatus or two. By and large, you large-umbrella carriers are rather slow so I have little faith in your ability to outrun me. Additionally, you appear to be inept when it comes to physically defending yourself so I have doubts that you will succeed in forcibly removing me from under your umbrella (parapluie). You will either have to throw away your umbrella and purchase a new, smaller model umbrella or come to terms with the fact that you will be sharing your large umbrella – with me – until you reach your destination. I don’t care where you are going. I daresay that enforcing this rule is more important than most of my Parisian commitments.

You may object, stating that I should not be the sole judge of the proper size of your umbrella. En Contraire, if I fit under it…it is too big. This goes for anyone else who feels up to enforcing this rule – if you fit under a stranger’s umbrella, consider it an open invitation to join them.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wait...the French DO know how to drive??

Abbey and I were on a stroll. A Screech of tires. We turned our heads. Car Crash.

[Disclaimer: Nobody was hurt in this crash – as a matter of fact, one car was virtually undamaged]

Moving on, I have spent nearly two entire months of walking alongside traffic that makes 285 in Atlanta look like a how-to video for proper driving. These people are insane. It’s like they are driving with their eyes closed and steering with their feet. Not only are the lines on the road seen as recommendations not to drive over rather than regulations but so are curbs, other cars, trees, and animals and furthermore, pedestrians here exist without an implied ontological status of “a being you should avoid hitting with your car.” But somehow I have yet to see an accident. Cue someone paying attention to a red light.

A small, red car driven by a large, French man stopped at a red light and the relatively large white car behind him screeched it’s tires coming to a halt…in the red car’s diminutive trunk. Everyone on the sidewalk was silent…making myself seem much louder as I exclaimed “Merde!”

[Disclaimer: while, at that point I was unaware that nobody was hurt, I stand by the fact that while “Merde” in the exclamatory may not have been a caring, pastoral response it was, by no means, inappropriate]

Abbey and I joined the group of pedestrian onlookers as the man in the red car emerged and assessed the…absolute lack of damage to his vehicle. I don’t care what anyone says, I saw that man grin when he looked at the hood of the other car folded in half without a headlight left unexploded. The other driver emerged unscathed and began yelling and questioning why in God’s plush earth this mad man in front of him had dared to…obey a posted light. Now, my French is still a little spotty, but it’s getting better, so here is what I gathered from eavesdropping into their dialogue:

Driver of Red Car: Hey, you got glass everywhere…make sure it doesn’t scratch my unscratched car – look at how nice and unscratched my back bumper is!

Driver of White Car: You can’t be my fellow countryman.

Driver of Red Car: I am French, why would you think I am not?

Driver of White Car: You know exactly why not.

Driver of Red Car: You seem upset.

Driver of White Car: Traitor.

Driver of Red Car slightly tilts his head with a befuddled look

Driver of White Car: All French people know that you never, ever, ever stop at a red light you buffoon, you drive up on the sidewalk, throw things, honk your horn, scream out the window – these pedestrians might be AMERICAN! We can’t have them thinking we know how to drive and just choose not to, they have to fear us or else they’ll start crossing at crosswalks when the light tells them they can, they’ll assume that they have the right of way, it might even lead to them thinking they should rent cars and obey the rules and drive at a safe pace and distance from the car in front of them, forcing us to do the same. Then, they’ll tell all their American friends how nice it is to take a leisurely drive in Paris and then they’ll buy cars, but then they’ll bring over their giant trucks and minivans and use all of our gas, then import more, then they’ll stay, and then…YOU FOOL, our terrible driving is the only thing keeping us from becoming the 51st star on their flag!

Driver of Red Car: I apologize, I assume full responsibility for this, here is a large sum of cash. Good day, sir.

Like I said, my French is improving, but definitely not fluent so there may be some minor translation issues in the above rendering of their conversation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Strategy trumps Neonshirts

My blood was boiling. I can't stand those people. It isn’t nice to dislike people you've never met, it’s not nice to think mean things, it’s inappropriate to wish ill…but I’ve never claimed to be that nice of a person. I was standing at the crosswalk near the Centre Commercial at Place D’Italie when I looked up and saw them. With their orange shirts. Their fliers. Their “cause.” Their clipboards. That’s what I get for encouraging philanthropy. These people are what happens when overly extroverted phone solicitors mate with ticks and fleas and give in to their insatiable need to thrust themselves into the lives of others in person. They stand in public places and talk to you about something in French. What cause are they fighting for? A worthy one, no doubt, but I have no idea. I’m told that they don’t want money, they just want to spread awareness. Of what? I assume that it varies based on what color neon shirt the overzealous young men and women are wearing but I don’t know. I don’t speak French [Abbey says I need to add the word "yet"].

I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no. The fact that I don’t understand a single syllable of their plea does absolutely nothing to dissuade them from standing in my way speaking gibberish. I step to the right. They are there. I step to the left. They are there. I shove them out of the way. They give me a hug. There are usually about 10-15 of them on a small stretch of sidewalk so if I manage to elude one, I still have 4-8 of the remaining unoccupied, flier pushing, neon-shirt-clad, overly-peppy, smiling, well-intentioned…did I say well-intentioned? I’m giving them too much credit – I’ve never understood a word any of these people have shouted. For all I know they could be selling baby seal slippers, they could be petitioning on behalf of child labor, or they could just be trying to convince me that I should don a neon shirt and annoy people alongside them…maybe that is their entire cause…neon shirts and annoying innocent pedestrians.

Don’t be fooled by my simplistic portrayal of these clipboard-toating weenies. They have an answer for everything I try to do or say to avoid them. They meet my “I’m just a stupid tourist who doesn’t speak French” look (which, by the way, I have absolutely perfected) by replying “I…Speak…also…English…aussi” Caught you, frenchie, “aussi” is French, you don’t speak English, you are a liar, get out of my way. But they don’t get out of my way, they keep doing to English what I do French except I only do so when forces beyond my control necessitate my entering into French dialogue with a stranger…or my wife is refusing to speak to me in English to “help” me “learn.” They meet an aggressive look by getting even cheerier – maybe they want me to strike them. This could be another purpose of their gathering – if I strike someone in America, odds are I will end up paying them a healthy sum of money (that’s what student loans are for, right?). Maybe it’s the same here. If you ignore them they get louder, if you zig and zag they chase you down. Your only hope of avoiding them is to run inside the nearest building and pray to whatever you believe in that the neonshirts will go away. That was your only hope. Until I figured it out.

As noted in a previous post there is an overabundance of pedestrians in Paris – pedestrians are literally everywhere. Did I say pedestrians? Until today they were pedestrians. Henceforth they shall be known as “sacrifices to the neonshirts.” I stood there at the crosswalk and realized that there were more pedestrians than neonshirts. If I could maneuver through the upcoming block in a manner that would create a series of situations in which there were at least one sacrifice between myself and the neonshirt, the neonshirt would pounce upon the closer prey. Like every single one of my brainstorms ever, this worked to perfection. The sacrifices had no idea that I was walking right behind them to their immediate back/left and that I had made eye contact with a neonshirt (this is neonshirtese for “ooh! Ooh! Bother me!!”). As the neonshirt approached I swiftly moved to the sacrifice’s right side thus positioning this poor soul between myself and the neonshirt. The person was stopped and bothered.

Tommy – 1
Neonshirts – 0
Sacrifices to Neonshirts – -1

I then looked ahead to see that there were two neonshirts heading in my direction. I looked to my left – no one. I looked to my right – no one. I looked behind me…BAM woman and husband. I bent down to “tie my shoe” and in one swift motion I stood up, made eye contact with the two neonshirts, was passed by the woman on the right, and the man on the left. I had spatially divided the couple so as to necessitate the attention of both neonshirts and I giggled as I walked by the poor sacrifices.

Tommy – 3
Neonshirts – still 0
Sacrifices to Neonshirts – -3

It seemed as though all the other neonshirts were preoccupied with men and women I had just moments earlier traversed avenue D’Italie with. Our ranks were depleted. I was the lone survivor. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief a neonshirt appeared from around the corner, apparently acting as the last line of defense. I made eye contact. The “I’m lost” look didn’t work. The “I’m angry” looked failed as well. The outlook was bleak. From behind the redshirt appeared a beacon of hope – an oblivious sacrifice to the neonshirt. I looked unsuspecting victim at first puzzled and then elated. My eyes widened and I acted as though I was witnessing something truly spectacular just over the right shoulder of the approaching neonshirt. The neonshirt looked over his right shoulder. I leapt by his left shoulder as he cornered the poor sacrifice I had thrown to the neonshirts. Victory.

Final Count:
Tommy – 4
Neonshirts – 0
Sacrifices to Neonshirts – -4

Can I get a "booyah!"?

thanks for reading

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Paul is a Liar

It has come to my attention that it is a partial duty of mine as a member of what is known as “the blogosphere” to recommend websites and other blogs of my friends to those of you, my readers, who may not know my friends, frequent the same web sites, or have as much spare time on your hands. Enter Paul.

I have a friend named Paul. While Paul and I are by no means the closest of friends, in college we did attend many of the same social functions, donated money to the same semesterly slush fund, and wore t-shirts that had the same letters on them creating an unbreakable fraternal bond. Paul is a retired pizza delivery guy and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what he does now. What I am sure of is that he is a dirty, dirty liar.

Paul has started a blog entitled: “The Running Jerks.” Yes there are two people listed as authors of that blog. Yes there are two names in the site address. But don’t be fooled. You see, Paul – as stated previously – is a liar.

First: His blog is about his quest to run a marathon. Fact: Paul doesn’t run, Paul reads comic books. Paul is the reason that the good folks who invented the Segway were able to illustrate that they did, indeed, have what is known as a target market. The only time I have ever seen Paul run is…I don’t think I have – he does, however, throw a great party and is quite adept at tossing a ping pong ball into a beverage filled Dixie cup located about 10 feet from his person.

Second: There are two names on his blog, and two people claim to be writing it. Fact: I think Paul made this “Mike” character up. He never posts and when he does it usually serves the purpose of emphasizing the arduous workouts Paul is undergoing as opposed to the inactivity of “Mike.” Being that Paul has proven himself to be a liar by claiming to be a “runner,” adding an imaginary friend to his blog is not beyond the realm of possibilities.

So why am I letting you know of this delusional liar’s quest to run a dreamed-up marathon? Well, liar or not, Paul is doing it for a good cause, encouraging his readers as I now encourage you to go to Paul’s FirstGiving page (see this blog post) and donate because, since Paul is a liar, you will probably end up getting your money back in addition to giving to charity.

While I don’t condone lying – I would never dream of using this blog to exaggerate or lie about my life’s events! – I do condone charity work which appears, for now, to be the purpose of Paul’s fictional blog.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Another Parisian Observation

While I have certainly been noticing cultural dissonances between the women and men I interact with here (by ‘interact with’ I obviously mean ‘avoid eye contact with and pray to god they don’t try to engage in a conversation with me in French’) there are many notable similarities. The most striking of these congruencies involves those who, were I able to speak the same language, might be considered my peers. These young gentlemen seem to be between 22 and 30 and yet there is a striking contrast between them and myself. I notice this phenomenon also in the States, though not to the same extent (probably because this group of young men occupy their own individual vehicles on their way to their destinations rather than stand armpit to armpit clutching the “holy crap I’m falling” rail in the middle of each metro train and, while we may have shared I-85, we shared no semblance of human interaction). As you may have guessed it, the striking difference between this group of my peers and myself is the following fact: They wear a suit to where they’re going.

I have deduced that there are three subcategories of men in their mid-twenties who wear suits in public (not counting those on their way to a funeral). Also, being that I observe their behaviors while on the metro or walking down the street, and given the fact that I happen to be an astute judge of character and a mind reader, I also have a fairly good idea of what these men are thinking as they head towards their suit-necessitating destinations.

Group #1: The “That’s right, I’m Wearing a Suit” Mid-Twenties Suit-Wearers. They are proud. They are borderline smug. Their hair is neatly quaffed and gelled. I take great joy in scuffing their shoes as I shuffle by them with my sneakers, jeans, and school purse. They see their reflection in the metro windows. They think “That’s Right, Pierre, you are wearing a suit. Look at that schmuck, with his jeans, and purse reading a book. Wow, my hair looks phenomenal. This gel works wonders. My, I must say that I am also quite clean-shaven. I look good in this suit! Flow charts. Consulting. Productivity analysis systems. I am handsome!” They are well aware that they are on the way to evolving into tomorrow’s movers and shakers and suit-wearing twenty-something hirers.

Group 2: The “I’m not Qualified to be Wearing a Suit to my Destination, but I have to, but it makes me Insecure, I Don’t Know What I’m Doing and Probably Won’t be Rising up this Company’s Organizational Chart and Keep Having to File Papers and Fetch Coffee and I Hate This Job but There’s No Other Alternative” Mid-Twenties Suit-Wearers. These are a worrying bunch. They have the same look on their face as my Basset Hound (may he Rest in Peace) had when he tried to sneak a baguette from the table while there were people in the room – almost confident that their goal is attainable but they know someone else will get it, and they don’t seem to want to go for it. The greatest thing about this group is that they are the first to say “pardon” and get out of your way on the metro. They don’t know how they ended up in a suit and they aren’t happy they got there – if they could figure out the moment their life started creeping down this path they would surely try to change something. Until then, they humbly walk through the metro, careful not to get in anyone’s way, and go somewhere to get someone’s coffee.

Group 3: The “I Don’t Get Paid Enough to Buy a Decent Suit that Fits, But One Day, I’m Going to Make It and Buy a Suit Like Pierre’s!” Mid-Twenties Suit-Wearers. They are full of all the eager optimism of someone who doesn’t realize that they actually belong in group two. But their suit pants drag four feet behind their person and they could tuck their sleeves into their socks. They believe that the massive amount of gel they used makes them look like a Pierre and they accidentally nicked themselves shaving. They are eager to get to their destination to prove to whoever they need to prove something to that they are worth every penny of a promotion – and every penny of that will be spent on a new suit appropriate to that position (and one that might actually fit). I honestly feel worse for this group than Group 2, I hope the best for them and, yes, periodically I even get out of their way in the metro or on the sidewalk. They are a pitiful bunch, but – hey, they are important enough to wear suits to work.

If you aren’t a Pierre, or in group 2, or 3, and yet you are a mid-twenties suit-wearer; consider yourself proof that most paradigms of this sort – which divide a large mass of people into a conveniently small number of categories – tend
to fall short when applied to reality: write that down.


Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Glimmer of Joy on the Metro

She hit me. The lady hit me in the back with her purse. We were at least 20 yards from the train and halfway up the staircase. The “get the h on the cart or get squished” bell was ringing. Someone much swifter would have barely made it on the train in time from here. This middle-aged, overweight French woman was not swift. And yet…she hit me with her purse as she quickly waddled by. Granted, I was walking slowly [for the record, I was on the right (droite) side of the stairwell] – for I had accepted my fate: I would be forced to take the next train. A whopping two minutes of my day would be spent standing next to the urine gutters along the wall of the metro reading a book and awaiting the next train. It happens. Then…god giggled.

Don’t get the wrong idea, she didn’t fall, she didn’t smack into the side of the metro as the doors shut, or anything else like that, she made it onto the train. One of her feet did. The door closed on her foot/back half of her body/purse and she hurriedly yanked all of her self that she could onto the train. I lost it. I fell into a chair, I pointed, I laughed, I cried. This was the culmination of 5 weeks of frustration rising from the daily ritual of being crammed on a small metro train with 463 of my stinkiest, sweatiest, cigarette-smoke-smellingest, cold-having, nose-picking, farting, sniffling, wailing-baby-toting, accordion playing, fellow Parisians. Finally, I was granted laughter amidst a typically unpleasant and aggravating environment, albeit at the expense of another.

The woman pushed. She shoved. She panicked. She flailed. The doors closed. She was in. Sigh of relief. The straps of her purse were in. Fantastic. Her purse was not. I lost all semblance of composure. Others on the train gave a condescending look at my laughter through the nearest oversized window but I didn’t, and still don’t, care. Her purse was outside the train. She was inside. I apologize to anyone who was on the train or who may be reading this who fail to see the humor in this – by worldwide standards, this is funny (the UN said so last week).

As the train took off, I saw the lady through the window desperately tugging on her purse straps. The purse was going nowhere. As the train disappeared into the tunnel, the purse struck the wall and scraped against it until it was out of the range of audibility, and probably beyond. I laughed then. I laughed the rest of the day. I’m laughing now. So much joy at the expense of another makes me wonder if I’m a bad person. I respond negatively. My amusement at this lady’s expense has no bearing on the moral quality of my person…though blogging about it may. And you may be a bad person for reading this. But for those few brief moments, I experienced joy on the metro, and the next time I am struck with a purse or crammed up against the wall of a train between a crying baby and a stinky, hairy, sweaty jogger, I will think about that poor lady tugging on her purse and chuckle…a lot.

Thanks for reading.