Joel Van Noord ~ Paris or Pittsburg

February 3, 2007

The only success I will ever know is through approximation. I have that approximation and I follow it around during the daylight. It takes me to Paris where I humor it. I then leave it where there is this Frenchman smoking and sharing a bottle of wine with me. Where the Frenchman came from is not necessarily important, he knew someone that I knew. Where this success comes from is equally not important. It knows me and it’s simple.
 
The Frenchman knows English but he hates to speak it. He’ll yammer until I miss too much and he’ll delude it to equal parts and finally he’ll delve into a complete sentence of the Kings Language as I butcher his own.
 
Already he’s inhaled through half a pack and we’ve nearly knocked off our first bottle. He’s been telling about his bike trip to China and plans to do it again. He says he’s been through Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and took a detour north to the Aral Sea. A bike trip from Paris to Beijing. He tells me the world is out of bounds for American’s. He says this in French though, and I could have missed it slightly.
 
He thinks he’s funny and he keeps saying, “Terrorism is the new yellow.” I laugh at him because this man is entertaining. He is small and has a weak chin. I’ve never used that expression before and thought it was generally useless, but this man’s chin is a small bone that cowardly retreats toward his neck. His natural disposition is a frown and his lips are gravy while his cheeks are mashed potatoes.
 
He’s a photographer and he showed me his work in a gallery just off Champs-Eylsees. The hotel they gave my brother is there too, it’s 675 a night and the pastries in the morning are light and layered and full of chocolate. Now we are just off the hill at Montmartre. It’s dark and the streets are narrow and I’ve never really been able to take Europe seriously. Not in the sense that Chicago is serious or Brooklyn or Eas’ Los or Detroit. Oak Park and Yonkers or Malibu and Grosse Pointe aren’t serious. But they are a defeated sort of non-serious that is depressing and therefore serious. Everyone in Paris, to me, seems to me to have some sort of high paying executive job or to be some successful artist or model. No one seems real in this respect.
 
The government guarantees jobs for life and Houellebecq’s characters are always insipid civil servants with cush jobs and enough money to not worry. Is it this occupation, which continues from book to book, that is the iconoclast to fundamentalism? “Give a Muslim 72 virgins in real life and what would he do?” Are the immoral things left for Heaven?
 
The inland of New Guinea is intense. There are jagged mountains and dense jungles and travel is arduous. There are alpine glaciers and the island straddles the equator. The lowlands are rainforest and populated, the Europeans landed and got out, took some samples and a native or two. For four centuries they returned and the interior didn’t bother them. They assumed it was empty jungle. It took some biologists in a plane to conclude, as they marveled at the Holland like density of the interior, that there was life there.
 
 But what sort of life was it? It was complicated. They fought without metal. There wasn’t a top-down monarch to control them. They were loose and it was like a playground.
 
 Why I mention this? It’s still the same today and inside the bowels of the Amazon there are peoples yet in contact with modernity. Do they hear planes, though, as Lima offers a discount to Rio?
 
I mention this because yesterday I donned a suit and put a cigarette in my mouth. We were three Americans, many British, French, and a few oil Kings to look after our money. Private equity is apparently where it’s at and the group had all placed large sums of money into this firm that bought struggling businesses and turned them around and offered profit sharing. This one was an eye-glass store. We went in and they sold eye-glasses and the rich men in French Cuffs wandered about with their hands behind their backs and they’d bend at the waist and look at the thick black framed glasses that are making a comeback.
 
The manager smiled and talked about the virtues of this frame or that. The employees ignored them and read romance novels.
 
I said, “Eye-glasses,” finding it funny because, what a silly thing to travel halfway across the globe to investigate. “Orange is the new yellow.” He said it doesn’t make any sense. He got it from Blue Crush, his favorite movie with the girl surfers in Hawaii and it’s an embarrassingly cute thing for him to like so much. This is likely where the Frenchman got the comparison, since he is better friends with my brother. We do, though, talk about different things. The Frenchman shares money language with my brother. With me it’s obstinately the injustice of things.
 
We finish our bottle and leave. I want to go to an Irish pub and he looks at me disgusted. He says he hates the English, says they all want to be Beat Poets, and how would I know about that? I follow him, though, and we walk the narrow streets and he takes me to a Greek/French restaurant and we drink another bottle and he smokes more and I’m waiting but he’s not doing anything but drinking and smoking and I’m wondering where the girls are and looking at my watch wandering if my brother is going to want to come out after his dinner meetings.
 
“You are all so impatient.” He says but I have to go. We wander and I’m leading now but there is nowhere to go. The apartment buildings are high and dense and there is the occasional store below selling convenience items. We walk up the hill to the Sacre Coeur and it’s quieter and they’re singing Latin inside and outside there are woman kneeling in front of empty bowls. It takes me a moment to figure out they’re begging and they’re Middle Eastern with scarves and Euros in the bowls. They lower their heads to the pavement and do not move. I picture this in the Alps. A beer sauntering past and snapping the neck like a grape.
 
I look to the Frenchman and he doesn’t really acknowledge this. I peak my head in the double set of doors and my eyes go to the ceiling until someone puts his face into mine and tells me in French that I cannot come in, the service has already begun. No additional worshippers.
 
So we leave. I tell the Frenchman the Louvre is the cat’s meow and Versailles looks like Disney’s interpretation of it. I tell him the façade looks authentic enough but the inside is specious and meretricious. He listens to me and doesn’t say much. He’s fumbling with a cigarette and lighting it. This was something I would not have normally said, a critique like that, it seems to be influenced by him. We walk and it’s like Paris is a holding pen. I am uncertain. I tried to make things happen. It seems things don’t happen.
 
Which aligns with what happens next. We left Paris and took a train south. We went into Spain and stayed with a French teacher in Valencia that my brother had known. We hopped to Morocco and declined to smoke hashish. We couldn’t stay as long as I wanted because there were no waves for my brother to surf and I didn’t have enough money or connections. We did fish, though, in the Atlantic just north of the border with Spain and caught nothing with jigs and sinkers, unfortunately.
 
*
 
The Iberian Peninsula disappears and I close my eyes, open them and watch three movies where the quality is a metaphor for life: high production quality but lacking in an essential realism or true diversity of options. It is strangely strangling to watch these films and when we land there is a full handshake and a long embrace because there, in that person, is the closest thing I will ever have. He shares the most of my genes and he knows the most of my secrets. Which is why he’ll wink and smile as he travels west to where I’ll meet him later with the sun and palm.
 
I go north and a skip west. I land in Pittsburg and shake the hand of a friend who I once pushed through a plate glass window from ebullience for him. The glass fell on me and as I got stitches he picked up a nurse of Palestinian descent.
 
We drink and eat and he has roommates and a job and I remember to file for unemployment and we drink more. He remembers we’re late and he wants to show me this thing his roommates do.
 
We get there and the room is charged with a bizarre sexuality. The room is a touch mainstream of goth and it’s obvious they have day jobs in cubicles. Someone’s Something-or-Other Sideshow is what these kids are calling it and when my attention if finally averted to the main attraction I sort of laugh out this mini-vomit. We quickly abscond from the location and I have a weak stomach for this thing and there he is, the Sideshow Hero, dangling from the ceiling. Large Halibut hooks dredged through his back and why is he up there?
 
What is this for? It’s like he had an idea that something was wrong but no idea of anyway to ameliorate this. Inadvertently making the entire thing that much more absurd. He’s motionless and hanging and it’s been three hours and apparently he’s got many more minutes to go. Just himself up there with hooks and his skin pulled back away from the bone, his feet above our heads and idiocy, plain and simple.
 
There’s no reason to stay and we walk out. My friend and I. This scene was his gift to me and I shake my head. I call my brother and I tell my friend I should get a passport stamp for Pittsburg. Hollywood answers and he’s back with his lady friend. He’s not entertained by the hooks in the back and as I tell him the story I find it all uncontrollably hilarious and maybe this afterward was a gift from the Sideshow Hero inside. Laughter brings tears and the tears drip and I collapse the phone and look to my friend. It’s starting to snow and I’m tired. He acknowledges this and we leave. There are libraries of movies at his house and we watch one. I stay until I call the state again for unemployment. Then I fly west.

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