À Paris (And Ads Disabled)
Romanticized summertime in Paris, and we were living fat and carefree. Easy.
We sat on comfortable chairs with big bear armrests, staring at fifty topless dancers. And I thought PawPaw was about to have a heart attack. He held his chest like Napoléon.
It was I- call me Cricket -uncle Al, aunt Stella, and paternal grandparents, sharing two bottles of champagne at the Moulin Rouge. They shared it mostly with me.
I snuck in some rum too. I sipped from a hip flask stuffed in the armpit pocket of my jacket. My head swam into the situation and overlapping waves of anticipation were mounting. The stage set.
We wore our nicest clothes. We wore our skins to the burlesque. Compared to the other voyeurs I was a clown, a rum-ragged cowboy clown in a western european rodeo. We wore fleshy Mardi Gras masks of one kind or another. Mine was American.
The Moulin Rouge was full of fine fettled people. Over-the-carnival-top pretension. So far over in fact, that those with shrunken heads had to get “drunk as a skunk”, to convince themselves they fit in. People like Pepé Le Pew with inflated personalities, collars, and purses. At even the slightest whistle they might float away and leave obscure scents purchased from the Avenue Des Champs Elysées. I needled them with my eye and popped their pomposity.
Our seats were saggy and burgundy and held the faces of old lecherous men in the fabric. The seats, as aforementioned, had bear claw armrests that would make The United States Bill of Rights second amendment fanatics comfortable.
The triple tiered platforms had tired grassy retro carpet. It fit well for a porno.
The champagne was crystal clear in a white bottle, from who-cares-where-at-least-it's-French: circa, who-gives-a-rat’s-tongue.
Suddenly chatter died down and hands found respectable laps as the stage exploded with color. Crisscrossing stage lights spiraled and shot dust particles off our filthy little meaty mitts. The lights dimmed. Then the curtain parted, and a drum roll. I drooled.
An accordion, oompahing high and whiny chords, announced les danseusées. The classic French accordion song Les Triolets, turned into an electric boggie-woogie.
A blur of bare bodies raced, stretching across the stage, doing doggie backflips, ripping stitches off that shouldn’t be spoken of. Their nudity flashing here and there so that everywhere we creaked our craning necks, pointy titivated tits possessed us. Someone in my head shouted now this is a spectacle!
We were paying voyeurs.
At one point there was an orgy of limbs on this wonderful woman, the lead dancer, la prima ballerina. She was obscured in a hydra of hands that seemed to spread and multiply from nowhere, like Jackson Pollock glitter-smattered bodies from a big backpack enveloping her.
Hercules hoofed a-stage on Pegasus. He scared the serpents away, and then the curtains came. But Hercules was cocksure. He did some ridiculous twirly thing then exited stage left.
Now, that naked Lady, a Cleopatra of the stage, was in a moving fish tank, swimming, and curling her completely clean-shaven figure amongst strangulating serpents. The tank was too cold for the snakes to bite. So Hercules was nowhere in sight.
Everyone got it, but no one got it.
It was hard to tell whether PawPaw got horny. He held that same expression. His mouth was agape, and his eyes were wide and magnified behind his inch-thick spectacles. I think it was the first time he got his magic matrimonial wish: to make my MawMaw disappear and have fifty busty babes appear here, right at the edge of his liverwurst nose.
He wrung his hands as if there was vaseline in his palms.
The audience was difficult to make out. Fortunately everyone was very proper. No one made out. Hands stayed sealed to respectable laps, as aforementioned.
We, old, young, and all in-between, probed the people’s parts. Some played seductive parts, others comedic characters, others tragic. I couldn’t quite tell the difference, besides the differences in their dress. The nudes jumped through centuries of human history, removing stitches of clothing as they removed stitches of time.
Then the prima ballerina had an icicle anaconda wrapped around her leg, nudging her pudenda. I shuddered. I thought I’d seen some sexy shit before, but this was bawdier than any whorehouse on steroids by a sailor’s bay. I imagined.
It was a fantasy scene in high relief.
My MawMaw was asleep. It was “too fantastic” for her.
My PawPaw was petrified by his own lascivious thoughts, perhaps. His spectacles were foggy.
I was floored, clapping like a fool with everyone else when this bank-robbing comedian duo came on stage and performed useless stunts. I doubt there were ever any burlesque bank-robbers, but maybe someday I’ll be proved wrong.
My Aunt and Uncle were laughing at PawPaw, but we weren’t laughing at the next act: a foppish puppeteer enwrapped in his high-paying pointless pageantry. He, Larenzo, had a puppet parrot named Tweety.
Lorenzo said "You can look, but do not touch Tweety." In the tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room.
The Parrot named Tweety was more honest than the man named Larenzo. "They kicked me out of the dressing room just for squawking," Tweety said.
"I saw you in the other dressing room."
"Oh you." The audience clapped and slapped knees.
The Puppet Parrot named Tweety was more interesting than the man named Larenzo.
Lorenzo the Popinjay and Tweety the Parrot.
My Grandparents once had a parrot named Tweety too. It died at Disney World. We left it in the orange bake of Florida, and in a varnished van without the windows rolled down. All that remained of that parrot, that pretty Parrot Tweety, which whistled The Andy Griffith theme song, was a sticky mat of almost molted feathers. Poor Tweety the Parrot.
I had to suffer in the seat next to that empty and rank birdcage full of steamy feathers. And I hated Disney World after that, but not only for that. It was as if I'd forgot to laugh.
We didn’t laugh now either.
Strange, to sit next to PawPaw, whose head lulled, and imagine him as a human parrot about to burst his breast singing “Tweety wanna crack at her, Tweety wanna crack at her.”
And the brightly feathered burlesque dancers strutted across the stage, showing us their underrumps and sparkling apple Dorothy high-heeled pumps.
Tweety fluttered above them fast, swooping low on strings, pretending to peck at their inner ears.
A woman in glittering silver spandex came on stage. It got quiet. She seemed to be portraying someone with stage fright. She bashfully looked about with pigtails, a nymphette Shirley Temple, with cherry dimples and freckles.
Immediately, with one rip, the spandex came off and she was wearing a French White Red and Blue bikini, topless. Shirley Temple was grown up. A guy up front groaned in ecstasy.
Then the can-can came.
It was what everyone waited for. Hell, it’s what everyone comes to The Moulin Rouge for, the can-can. It’s a canned Campbell Soup performance by now.
The dancers came out, arms over each other’s shoulders, and swung their spider stocking legs.
Fathers flung themselves forward, women whistled, and children were allowed to go "goo-ga."
The stagelights were so forceful I could hardly keep my eyes open, and the dancers, well, I could hardly keep my eyes up. I felt my mind leap on stage surreally, with a stupid sensuous smile stamped on my face. I floated up and over to the silky lead dancer throwing her leg out and up over and over with dizzying pace.
I was lost in her legs. She seemed to smile vertically at me.
I traveled to a sultry memory of when I was fifteen. Mallory Crenshaw. In a car. She was and would always be sixteen. At a park. Flesh. Sweat. Liquor. Midnight. Flashlight. We shake and break. And then the can-can was over. I slammed back into my seat. I felt my meat calm, and my lust waver in the serpentine areas of the upper spinal column that meets the mammalian forebrain.
Pesky conscience meeting serpentine sexuality. Survival of the sexiest.
You’ll never have her you know.
Oh what do you know?
My conscience kept telling me this was the greatest show womankind had ever made. Although, of course, it couldn’t be conceived of without loyal lascivious old men in burgundy chairs with bear arms braying, “oh baby, oh baby, J'adore toi!”
But so what?
Let us have our lusty fantasies.
The show’s story made no sense whatsoever. But so what? It wasn’t meant to. We didn’t care. It was a showcase for glistening men and women, dancing to ecstatic electronic decibels. It was a hard-on. It hurt your intellect. But so what? It was meant to be a below-the-belt affair. And I loved every torching minute. My heart was afire. My legs moving erratically as we left our seats.
On our way out we passed the red rope again.
Before being let into the burlesque, brought behind butlers as Very Important Commoners to our booth, we’d been behind a red rope. It separated us from everyone else, except two women. For some reason we were special too, because MawMaw was in a wheelchair.
One of the ladies was an Englishwoman, about to be married. She chatted up a Chinese woman, who spoke English as choppy as the English Channel.
She, the Englishwoman, was saying what an asshole her fiancé was. The Chinese woman smiled, “yes,” like she knew, but she hadn’t a clue.
It was a strange scene: The Moulin Rouge. Where lust is well loved.
My MawMaw had her cane and kept pointing to poodle people with it, disapprovingly.
My Aunt and Uncle bought some posters for fifty bucks and proudly fluttered them about like flags for the Nation of Fornication.
PawPaw watched the ticket handler woman with the bunny rabbit tail. She moved her mouth like a little hare smelling a flower when she spoke.
And I overheard the conversation between a British Bride and a Chinese listener with slightly better than broken English.
The Englishwoman said sometimes she hated her soon-to-be husband. He’d gone off for his bachelor party instead of joining her at the burlesque. She was in her wedding dress, all dolled up with streaky white, cake-like make-up.
"I could kill him."
The Chinese woman said, “Oh, hmmhmm sometime, you know.” But she didn’t know. Neither of them knew. She, the one to be wedded, would marry the lug, for lust, for love. Who knows? She surely didn’t. Maybe she would kill her husband someday, somehow, probably never knowing how but being thankful all the same.
They'd booked their wedding bed, and soon their deathbed, fifty years in advance.
Later I thought about marrying every angel woman or seductress on that stage. Just to get my kicks. I’m sure I can if I put my peepers to it, a can-can up the ass. I imagined strolling casually backstage in a dandy candy-striped suit. The Ladies seeming so homely and human under the harsh haloing mirror lights.
“Git out off aur dresseeng room!”
“Qu’est il fait ici?”
“Who let im inz?”
And frilly flamingos with high heels would surround me. And my last glimpse of life would be lovely.
Afterwards we went outside and I hailed a cab.
It was nigh midnight.
There was a devil on a circular stage in the middle of the roundabout concourse with paper flames shooting up out of loud air vents. He pointed his trident at passerby. He seemed upset about something. I wondered if the devil's suit was stuffy.
We got into a cab.
When we entered, Lolita ya-ya was playing.
“Where’d you get this song?” I asked the Frenchman taxicab driver. I knew it from Stanley Kubrick’s film Lolita, an adaptation of the book by Vlad Nabokov.
“Ma girlfran is American. She make me this.”
“I like it. J’aime.”
“Bien.” He asked me if I spoke French in French.
“Oui, un peu.”
“You play music si tu veux.”
I let the song play. "You like James Manson?" I asked.
"Neveer heard auf hem."
My grandparents slept in the backseat. We traveled through tight Parisian Rues, passing late night onlookers that looked like drunk raccoons, heading up cramped stairwells, shouting “bon nuit mon amis.”
The moon was out. Romance was in the air. But you couldn't see it there because of all the neon nightlight pollution.
When we arrived at my grandparent’s hotel, The Rue de Grenelle Hotel Mercure, there was some confusion as to how much we should tip the taxicab driver. My PawPaw ended up tipping him twice the customary amount.
The taxicab driver said “J’adore Americans.” He shook his fistful of Euros.
“Thanks man,” I said, shaking his cash-free hand, “me aussi.”
I sent the old folks to bed and went to the corner café, which was closing. The stools were upside down on the tables. I knew the proprietors so they gave me a corner seat outside, provided I accept that there was in fact a closing time. This apparently was something most Americans don't understand. I understood quite well. It was whenever they wanted to close. So I ordered a cappuccino and smoked a Lucky Strike. Then another.
I watched midnight walkers exit the metro. I waited for the café to close.
Cute Parisian girls passed by from late-night jobs or clubs. They saw me and I smiled. One, I thought, smiled because she liked me and my Indiana Jones hat, but she wanted to borrow a lighter.
I lost that lighter. It was a Dallas Cowboys lighter.
Then two girls sat down next to me, and I listened to their conversation. I think they noticed my eavesdropping and dropped the conversation. They spoke something that sounded Scandinavian. I had no idea what they said, but I loved the way they said it.
I think I kinda creeped them out with my coppish smoke a cigarette in a curled hand under a wide hat look. Or maybe it was because the bartender was giving them a grimace.
They left, leering overshoulder. I smiled. They whispered as they walked, like cats.
Next to me was a group of German husbands and wives speaking boisterously. They were enjoying their evening tremendously. They ordered one more round. They were many rounds deep. They boomed with laughter so the whole Rue could rue them. Germans.
I was tired.
Next to them, at another table, was a gay English couple arguing about misplaced room keys, a lost wedding ring, and sleeping with someone, outside of their marriage, at a club. It was too much for any one human to handle hearing. It was difficult to determine which thing, a key, a ring, or love, was the most important, misplaced thing.
The Germans got up. They left beers unfinished, which I hope is not customary in their country. It isn’t in mine. But they were irritated, and justifiably so.
The gay Englishmen bickered, and one nearly flipped the table over. “That is yer fooking problem baby. You neva fooking lissssen mate.”
I could hardly blame the man for not listening. I laughed.
The last German couple to leave shot a stare over at their table. as if to say, yah, and you never talk. Bitte. They laughed in loud scoffs. It proved their point. The English couple scowled as The Germans walked away, whispering, like cats.
“This is why yoouur mother lykes me betta.”
Merde, I thought, that’s some heavy shit.
“You shouldn’t’a said that mate.” Tears of outrage from the bigger of the boys.
The Garcon came out and bid them leave. They were irritating his customers: me. He showed his hand to the street under a clean white cloth draped over his forearm. “You zee how everyvun iz leaving?” He asked them as they argued. The Germans were long gone.
Yeah man, cuz you said it was closing time.
“Monsieur? Monsieur?” The Garcon snapped his fingers my way. I tried to ignore him. I dropped my cigarette and picked it up, just to prolong ignoring the encounter. I prayed the polis would soon get involved somehow in that split second.
“Excusé moi Monsieur, I needs to ask you.”
Merde. “Umm. Okay.”
“Ver theez gentlemen bozering you? Hmm? Oui?”
I felt like I was on trial. I looked at the English couple. They were about four inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me. I shrugged my shoulders. The answer was yes, but they didn’t bother me enough to bother them about it.
"I don't know."
"Tu ne sais pas?"
If anything it was entertaining.
"No, not really," which wasn't absolutely true.
The Garcon seemed peeved. He scoffed saucily at my response, and then turned vociferously to the two big English brutes. “Ve ah closed. Tu allé!”
One of the gay guys said “whateva, fuck this mayte, I’m neva fookin coomin back ere agayne.” And they left. They stomped away, hands clasped together, hips swinging, looking ready to go to bed or a bar fight, like two troublesome Tomcats.
The Garcon inadvertently and successfully brought the brutes back together by distracting them from their wedded woes. Now he was focused on me.
I was the last customer. The Garcon gave me my check and at the same time asked me to move my feet off the chair, "your pieds monsieur, s'il vous plait." This was the politest way to ask me to leave. So I did.
It was late, nearly two in the morning. The cappuccino would keep me up for another hour. So I decided to walk the long mile from my small hotel on the Rue de Grenelle to the Eiffel Tower.
I found a lighter lying in the gutter, so I smoked another cigarette on the way.
For Life’s little, Lucky moments, light a Lucky Strike!
There were still tourists at the bars. They shouted and jostled and drank outside at tables with cold hors d’oeuvres. I was mostly sober, besides being half sleepy and jittery.
Paris that night was a wet dream. It began to rain. Everyone lusts for Paris in the rain. My cigarette burnt out as I passed a bum. He looked like he wanted to ask me for a light, but knew it would do no good now.
He seemed very sad. I thought about his sex-life. I wondered whether it was sad, or if it existed at all in reality.
Nipples and breasts and penises and locks of hair and condoms and ash trays littered on the streets, and buttocks like sailboats swept in dark rivulets off trash-heaped curbs. Gutters full of dildos. Perhaps that was his world. Perhaps he was a poet. Who knows? He surely didn't.
SEX. It’s all around us. None of this city would be here without the beauty of breeding. Ugly bumpers that say I Love Paris produced this resplendent cityscape. After all, what was the Eiffel Tower fashioned after?
Gentle Men and Women won’t admit it.
Gentile Hommes et Femmes, Votre Attention! S'il Vous Plait.
Without copulation, our cities can't be built!
I walked through the luscious landscape of The Champ de Mars. The Eiffel Tower was alit and so was the Cité de L’Architecture et du Patrimione across The Seine with the carousel and candy stands.
Smells of the Cité. Sop them into your skin like a sponge.
People party outside in Paris. There is so much to sortie for. To fight for, to go out for, to party for. Sortie is a great word, with multiple meanings that meet at LIVE BON. Bon Appétit!
Couples with picnic baskets and wine were prostrated on the knoll before the gigantic steel nub known as the Pride de Paris. They rolled in the grass. They looked like a painting, something by Edgar Degas, bums and beauties, ready to pounce forth from the frame. Smoke some cigarettes. Such lovely stenches.
Along my walk a bum asked me for a smoke, and so did some homeless beat kids who moments before were making out. I played the part of clueless tourist. Really, I must've seemed like some pretentious Parisian. Too proud to stop and talk.
I heard someone playing a guitar poorly. He was a slinky statue standing amidst twenty people. No one paid him. No one paid him any mind. His crowd was quickly reduced to five, just his friends.
He took off the guitar, reinstated his cabbie hat and sulked, staring at the Eiffel Tower, his muse, and the amused audience, leaving him.
So I decided to approach these young wine drunkards and ask for the guitar. I couldn’t play much better, but since they were French they figured that as an American I had folksy musical ability.
I had enough.
“Howdy, mind if I strum on that there music box?”
“Si tu veux.” If you want.
He handed it to me.
The six of us sat in silence as I strummed something out. “This is a little ditty I heard from an old black blues man in Marlin Texas back in oh! say, the turn uh the century.”
They pretended to care and understand. They shook their hands and heads as I began.
I played John Henry. But I changed the story to talk about his hammer.
John Henry: The Best Sexer This Side Of The Mississip.
Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, the French men and women around me had no idea what it was I was singing. Nor can I reproduce it here, due to publishing constraints. I told em it were a classic American folk song, and I'm tellin you too. They believed me.
They offered me more wine. I got drunk. I blacked out before the brilliant lights of the Eiffel Tower.
Night turned to morning.
This wonderful girl with twilight lips was asking me as I awoke, “Tay-has?” She had a big red bow in her hair and was wearing a black dress that caved into the curves of her.
I'd told her where I was from in my sleep. I'd seen her in a dream through red drapes.
“Téjas,” I told her, “a city called Dalliance.”
“You like it very mooch?”
“I like Paris better.”
I liked her better, as she nudged me and snuggled up. A wool blanket warmed our feet. She smiled that slender, silver smile. Our feet touched. We drank more vin from the vine.
She spoke English swell. She’d heard my song and decided it was strange. I wanted to get strange with her.
She smuggled something from my heart. I know because the next day it was missing. And she left me with not but a kiss in exchange. I was not irate about her rates. A pack of Lucky Strikes.
The next day I awoke in Paris, sort of, somewhere.
I was nowhere near the Eiffel Tower. I was back in bed. The girl with the big red bow in her cropped blonde hair and black dress was gone, if she'd ever slept by, she'd slipped by.
Two bank-robbing comedians were on the TV blowing up a hot air balloon that crashed like my dream upon my head. I remembered the Moulin Rouge, and the rouge bow in her blonde hair.
I remembered a cab driver and five funny French men and women fumbling out and jumping a fence. It must’ve been a fun night.
I’m sure someone, somewhere, got laid.
After all, the city was still standing.
I don’t remember getting back to bed. Due to the blackout. The stars never seemed so lovely.
And so it happened that I awoke in Paris, sort of, somewhere. Chicken scribbled notes on napkin hotel stationary: Hotel rooms are never ours. Paris Paranoïa. Culture shock. The Unplugging. Stay under covers as long as possible nursing hangover with TV station in native language.
Dream a dream of blonde beauty with big rouge bow in her hair snuggling and smuggling besides me under the itchy wool blanket.
Her toes warm. Her heartbeat. Hear it. Find her. Exit room.
Towards the elevator I traveled, hoping that by some fanciful fate the four American girls I’d seen two days ago at check-in I would hear appear in the lightless hall from their lightless room and we would grope in the dark. Then feeling a human hand we’d dance wild whilst one asks "___? ___? Where are you ___?"
Instead, again, alone, I grope for the elevator button. The hall is windowless, lightless, except for the exit sign: SORTIE
No arrow or number lights to let me know the descent machine received my message. Only the sputter and jitter and clanking of the up-crawling metal box in the rusted shaft. It opens like the metallic gullet of some ancient steel beast, groggily awoken, and I willingly step in to be digested. As a dream. The sideways lips close as it shakes and lunges up then plummets. I get gummy feet as the elevator groans and lands. The doors open.
There’s a big brown armchair with bear claw armrests, and bright metropolitan magazines with collage covers, and tables pour du petit déjeuner continental, all empty at 8 am.
It's early. Early enough to be too damned early.
I love the night.
So, I go, back to bed.
But before I snuggle alone into my sheets, smuggling a thought of the girl with the big rouge bow and the black dress from my moonlit mind, I look out the window at the metro station and see the Gypsy woman.
The Gypsy woman on her ratty cushion helps tourists take tickets from the metro machines. She points. She haggles. She is bedraggled. She does not beg. She does not weep. She is hard jelly.
The Gypsy woman resembles a walrus, with whiskers and furry mittens to fight the gnawing cold.
The Gypsy woman I wrote a poem for.
She, was beautiful once?
She, still is, b'cause she lives.
She, is one of the ones,
Who isn't selling sex.
She, you cannot break.
She, you cannot vex.
She, never gives.
She, only takes,
In open ensconce.
A nunnish woman in black with bright rouge lipstick approaches and argues with her.
I hear her expectorate, "It is a shame. Abso-lute-ly shameful. Shame on you for your sham."
And Ads Disabled
- Reproductive medical content (including vaginal and penile issues and sexually transmitted diseases). Perhaps I rubbed you the wrong way.
- Content about sexuality, including losing your virginity or fetish content. Fish for Fetishes.
- Content about abortion, circumcision, genital mutilation, rape, incest, pedophilia, and molestation. Negatory, No, Never, Non, Nien, Net, Nooo, and No, don't think so.
- Content describing violent crimes, gruesome accidents, or self mutilation. Surely there's some masochism in this man's body of work. Let's excise the body.
- Lewd or profane humor, including provocative double entendre. Cleavage of meaning.
- Restrained journalistic or fine art nudity. That's a strain.
- Seemingly, sex isn't always salable.