Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Drunk in Spanish

At first I thought that the man who stumbled into the bus was just a very joyful and happy man. He was singing in Spanish as he entered. Soon I realized that there was more than just happiness. There was probably alcohol. A lot of it.

He didn't even stop to pay the fare but the driver called him and he tried to play nice to her, to kiss her. She is kind of trapped on her seat but I can see her pushing him away. He blew her a kiss and still without paying his fare, he walks in and go sit next to a woman who's using crutches to walk. She is a regular on this bus. I've seen her before.

After a couple of minutes talking to her, the man gets bored and walks toward the back of the bus. He seats close to a young woman wearing a "Parenthood planning" T-shirt. She raises and comes toward me to sit.
She is a blond in her late 20's, talking on her cell phone and describing the path taken by the bus: "Now we're coming to 16th Street", "Now we're here". At the stop before mine, the guy exits the bus, still laughing, still singing, so obviously drunk.
The woman watches him as he jumps over a bench in the park. In Spanish she says to no one in particular. "Que loco!". There are some reactions around. People smiling. Her Spanish seems quite poor and heavily accented. She, though, seems to find that somehow speaking in Spanish makes it ok to talk about the guy who just left the bus. So, she keeps piling the adjectives (Que tonto!) and laughing lauder and lauder. She seems rather pleased with herself.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

No exit

Is this a new game? A new way to be cool?

I am in the subway late in the day. Seven or eight teens come on board. A couple of them go and sit behind me. The rest stays near the door. As the chime announces the imminent departure of the subway one of the kids put himself between the doors and stands there as they close on him. They squeeze him a little and then bounce back opened. A smooth voice comes over the public system and announces to "Please stay clear of the doors". The kid does not budge. The door has now closed "on him". His friends are laughing as he slowly tries to get back onto the platform. He is squeezing himself out of the doors. First his shoulders, then one arm, one leg. The subway is almost moving when he finally frees himself completely. He is laughing and gesticulating to his friends; so obviously proud of his stunt.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Mother fucker

One more image from this day saturated with impressions.
On my way back home. The guy at the bus stop who is talking to an old lady reading beside him.
I first thought that they knew each other, but then I realize that all is saying is "Mother fucker. Mother fucker". The tone changes as if he was making conversation, but the sentence stays the same.

The woman is trying very hard to concentrate on her book. She has not turned the page since I've been watching her. She is waiting desperately for the bus to come.

Finally it comes and delivers her from this torrent of insults. As it departs, I see the guy who stayed behind. He is sitting at the bus station and still spitting insults to the empty seat next to him.

So many religions, so little time (III)

I showed up today to take S. and her sister to the Air and Space Museum. There was an adult there and S. told me that she could not come. She had to work. I didn't want to insist too much, proselytizing for science instead of religion. A. has won his bet.

We talked for a while and she asked me if I believed in God. I had to tell her the truth, that no, I didn't. I saw in her face that she was hurt and pained by my answer. Her little sister ran away from the discussion that followed. I was not trying to convince S. that she was wrong. I wanted her to understand that I respected her belief and that she had to respect mine. That, in a way, I was a "religious atheist". Someone who truly and deeply believes that God does not exist. The same way there are people who believe the inverse.
The discussion that followed dealt with the meaning of life with and without God. It was a magnificent day, warm and sunny but breezy and fresh and I was there enjoying every single moment of it. Enjoying the sun like a little animal, far from God and the meaning of life...

As we were finishing the discussion, she pointed to a small poster on the board at the entrance of the booth. "Read my poem" she ordered. I did so reluctantly fearing the worst. I am surprised and saddened by what I read. Surprised because it is very good and saddened because it becomes clear as I read her words that she looks at the world with her eyes opened but refuses to acknowledge it completely. The poem is brutal with a nice and loving ending. A complete contradiction.
She asks me for my address and I gave it her after making her promise that she would not send me any of the church literature but only her own writings.

When I talked to A. about it, he is upset that she could not make it to the museum. Upset to know that she was probably not allowed to and that she resigned herself to this life. He thinks that unknowingly I have become her life line. A presence of the "outside world" that could help her breath in her cage.
I hope he is wrong. As romantic as it may seem, I don't want to be the life line of a lost young woman.

So many religions, so little time (II)

This is still from yesterday's visit to the National Mall. I just could not write it all up yesterday.

After the visit of the Twelve Tribes and the promise to come back today to take a bunch of kids to the Air and Space Museum, A. and I were stopped by two teenagers standing by a large display on the meat industry and its cruelty to animals. With no intended irony, a large picture of Pamela Anderson exhorts people passing by to consider the pain and suffering inflicted on chicken. Kids flocks to the video only to discover that it could qualify as a R-rated film. Shocking images of cows being killed. Blood splattered everywhere. We start speaking to a young kid wearing a sticker that says "I am not a nugget!" He is from Austria and speaks English without the smallest hint of an accent. I would have sworn that he was an American kid from the suburbs. He has been here for about 2 years, studying in Boston and spending his summer handing out PETA's brochures at the entrance of the Museum of Natural History. He is intense in his speech but avoids a preaching tone. He is telling us about his cooking abilities and the way he changed his father's diet and cured him of all the diseases that his family had. A miraculous recovery!

We leave with a booklet of vegetarian recipes and I just have the time to stash in my bag before we arrive at yet another festival going on in town: A national BBQ competition. A. insists that we go in to sample some of the stuff. I'm happy to go and talk to people but I know I won't touch any of the meat they just cooked.
As it turns out, the day is almost over for the contestants. Lining on the north side of the street, they are all cleaning up or shooting the breeze around beer and food. We stop at one stand that says "New York". Two guys sitting on beach seats, looking at people strolling by. One of the guy is wearing a T-shirt so dirty with grease and blood (?) that it takes me sometimes to decipher the BBQ place it advertises.
I start asking questions, forcing my French accent to let them know that it is OK for me not to know. They are very gracious and answer all the questions, laughing at my complete ignorance of the matter, looking at each other before starting an answer. I must say that even the concept of a competition for BBQ seems weird. What is there to judge?? It's not like there is a recipe involved! I mean, you throw the meat on the barbie and end of story! The two can't believe their ears. The guy with the dirty T-shirt is looking at me with a sorry look. A. is trying to convince them to give him some samples and even though it is against the rules (people in the festival only get their food from accredited vendors who sells the standard street fares), I can see that they would have done it if it was not for the fact that they are done for the day. The meat is cooking and will cook all night before the end of the competition tomorrow.
I enquire about the logistics. They will stay up, guarding their stand, taking turn to sleep in the camper parked nearby. It seems to be part of the fun. Drinking and talking among friends while keeping an eye on their competition. The judges will come tomorrow to taste their work and recompense their devotion. Only the true believers will be saved. Vegetarians will fry in Hell.

A. and I leave the BBQ festival to head out to a nice restaurant but we are both diverted by music coming out from the park in front.
As soon as we arrived though the music has stopped and as we make our way through the crowd, someone starts to speak. We are surrounded by kids, most of them wearing yellow T-shirts marked "Camp Love". The man on stage is talking about the homeless they helped in this park. The group came with a shower bus, a barber shop, clothes and food. I notice now that mixed with the kids in the crowd are 30 or so men standing. The preacher instructs the kids to go and talk to someone they don't know. A. and I. are soon surrounded and bombarded with questions. I realize that some kids think that we are homeless too. They come from a small town in Ohio. They have never seen a homeless person. It does not occur to them that going around in short and T-shirt, sun glasses, a bike and a back pack is not the common face of homelessness. I see the disappointment in their face when I told them that I actually have a place to go back to tonight. They are still happy to be here. Happy to travel, to be with friends. Religion seems far away. After about 10 minutes of chatting, the man comes back on stage and asks everybody to bow and pray to Jesus. The young kid who was, a second ago, laughing suddenly becomes serious and whispers with a sense of urgency as he bows "We have to pray!" The prayer is simple, filled with reference to the infinite kindness of the Lord and the promise of eternity. And then comes the song. A nice pop song about the goodness of God, whose chorus sends the kids screaming "I believe he is good!"
The music is coming from a boom box but the woman and the man on stage sure know how to bring up the heat. In no time the children are jumping and clapping, singing all the while "for generations and generations".
They know all the words to the song and they are still clapping when the music stops. I can't help thinking that this is why they come. Nothing to do with religion or anything else.
It's clean up time and time for us to go. As we make our way out, A. goes up to one young man wearing one of the yellow T-shirts. He wants to return the bible that was given to him by one of the person in the crowd because otherwise, as he says with his characteristic frankness, he will throw it out.
The young guy does not want to take it back. He is arguing that we should give it to someone in the street or even read it ourselves. The discussion probably started from there. A reference to the Jehovah Witnesses and the young man just took off in his criticism. There is no stopping him. He is clearly totally certain of not only the value of his faith but the worthlessness of the others. I can see that there is no arguing but A. does not let go. He jumps at a statement made that there is evidence of Jesus resurrection. "Show me the evidence" he keeps saying to the guy who is reciting lines that he has obviously used before. "So Jesus is crucified and the apostles are pissed saying "Man! You promised so many things and now you're dead dude!".
More than anything else, I think it's the use of pop-culture language, and the argument peppered by "Man!" and "Dude!" that infuriates A. Later, he will quote that sentence back to me, half laughing about how the guy seemed to think that it would convince everybody because it was spoken in "Man and Dude"...
It is very clear early on that the young guy has already crossed the line between a seeker and a believer. There is no more convincing to do. He has his own world view and there is no discussion possible. A. is trying to make him accept the view of Jehovah Witnesses, at least respect it as "as legitimate as your own" but I know it's a lost battle. Among all the religious people we met today, each with their own battle, he is the only one not even willing to accept that there is another side to the story.
We leave shortly after his boss (supervisor?) comes to ask him to keep an eye on the children, to make sure that there is no "one on one" with the homeless. The contrast between their professed love for these guys and the ways they act, unapologetically suspicious toward them, said more to me about the group than all their songs and dances. I still kept their bible. I'd be curious to read it.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

So many religions, so little time (I)

Today was filled with meetings of religious people. Different religions but the same fervor and eagerness to be loved.

It started with a visit to the National Mall. There was music, food and people everywhere. I was going around and noticed a smaller exhibit a bit further down the road toward the Capitol so I biked down there. The first thing I see is a brochure with "For Christians only" written on the cover. This took me aback. After the festival of diversity I had just left, this sentence rubbed me the wrong way. I suddenly felt the urge to start discussing with someone there. I stopped by an apple press near a small stage filled with children singing and playing instruments. All on stage was dressed a bit like Amish without the hats: long dresses for the girls, plain pants for the boys who all wear their hair a bit long and in stylish pony tails. They are all blond or light brown. The seem healthy and happy.
The man at the apple press starts to talk to me. I ask him about the group, the children, the all exhibition. It includes about 25-30 stands complete with a big cafe and a theater. There are potter stands, shoe making and weaving exhibitions. They are part of a religious group called "The Twelve Tribes". The way he describes the group to me, it sounds like a hippy community from the 60's with Jesus instead of pot. He laughs at my description, telling me that indeed he went from communities to communities but that all of them collapsed because they were all lacking the "glue" that Jesus brings them.
We talk for a long time. On children education "we homeschool them because we want to control the input they get" and their way of life. A simple life, building, learning trades, growing fruits and vegetables or working in an "outside" job (his wife is a nurse). I thank him and strolled though the campground, talking with a couple more people. They all seem at peace with themselves, thoroughly happy. In a surprising way, I envy their serenity.

I stop at the apothecary stand. It is full of dried herbs and plants and I very much would like to talk to the person in charge. There is a black woman sitting in the shade and I ask her "Are you the botanist? Are you part of this community?" She gives me a look that says "Are you out of your mind? Are you blind or just completely clueless?" and replies laughing in almost a whisper not to be heard by anyone around "I don't think they have my kind of people in their group. I asked and they say they have, but I don't see any". I laugh and tells her "Well, if it can be of any help to you, they don't have my kind of people either!" We're both laughing and starts talking about many different things. She is waiting for her friend (sister?) to finish with the woman in charge of the place, an older woman with long silver hair and the aura of the Mother-Hen.

We talk about religion, racism, herbs and medicine. When the friend finishes and they're ready to leave, the Mother-Hen asks me if they are my friends. "Now we are" I say laughing. Both of them leave and I start my conversation with the botanist.

As I am talking to her, I spot my friend A. strolling by. He is also enjoying a walk among the Twelve Tribes and has talked to some of its members. He joins the discussion and very quickly asks "So? Are you people all really nice or are only the nice people in your group allowed to come here?" He speaks completely seriously, as if he was asking about how to join the community, nothing bretrays his utter irony. The woman is clearly torn between her impulse to answer the provocation and the desire to keep presenting us her nice and happy face. She smiles for a minute and then says "You'll have to come to see for yourself" and in a minute we are invited to join them at their campground outside the city where they're staying during the festival.

As we were ready to leave, I see two kids standing by themselves. I go to talk to them. Kids won't give us the "party line". They'll tell us the real deal. And so they do. It turns out that one of the kid is actually not really a kid. She is 19 years old, leaving in Boston in a community house belonging to the group. Her family and others members of the tribe, for a total of 20 people under one roof.
She admits that it is hard sometimes. "We are all different people" she says. She says that she was not sure that she wanted to stay in the community, but she made that choice and is happy with it. "We have love and that's what really counts". She works as a Emergency Medical Technician and she loves the work. Does she minds all the questions from people (including us)? No, she says smiling. She does not, although she recalls a conversation with someone who wanted to convince her to go to college. That it was the only way to advance, to get somewhere. I feel she resented the arrogance more than the message of this person. His or her certitude that they had the right to walk up to this young woman and lecture her about a better way to live her life.

I ask her about her impressions of the city. She has not seen much. On a whim, I suggest that she should go to the Air and Space museum just across the street. She hesitates and I volunteer to take her with her younger sister who has been silent all the time. I see both faces lighten up in anticipation. Yes! They would very much like that. OK then it's a deal. I will come back tomorrow.
A. suggests that they spread the word and ask any of the other kids if they'd like to come. We'll make a complete "outing" out of this. The two girls are all for it.

We are walking out after another tour of the compound when I'm stopped by one of the adults. She is French and I enjoy very much speaking in my mother tongue. She invites me to come to her play the next day and I mention that I will be back for the "field trip" to the museum and that I will stopped afterwards if I can. She was not aware of the trip and I'm not sure she likes the idea. I suddenly realize that I am a stranger, literally off the street and that I am offering to take the children to a Museum of science. They try to shield their kids from the bad influences of the modern world and here I am offering to show them the wonders of space. She does not say anything but I suspect a long discussion between the elders tonight at the campground.

We leave shortly after that. A. is sure that they won't allow me to take the kids to the Museum. I bet that they will, but that some adults will tag along. It's ok by me. Even adults can appreciate the beauty of the Universe.

Friday, June 25, 2004


The soccer game is over and France lost. I'm still in the bar, waiting for the rain to stop, saddened by the result and the way we lost.
I get outside to escape the Greek supporters who are still shouting their joy. There's no room under the canopy but I find a spot against the bar's window to avoid the water dripping. A tall black guy is also standing there. He moves to let me squeeze by him. I'm now checking movies schedule and hear him laughing out loud for no apparent reason. I ask him why and he points to another guy, speaking and singing on the phone. A skinny black guy with a white sleeveless T-shirt and a beige opened shirt on top. Baggy jeans and flashy sneakers. "That's ...!" Who? The name I hear sounds like "John Davis!" I don't know. I don't recognize him at all and I've never heard the name before. Apparently he is famous. And after telling me this, he turns to the star and asks him "So, what is that, an audition?".
"John Davis" whispers "Hold on a sec" into the phone, turns around a bit and replies, half laughingly, "No, I've already got the part, Man! I've already got the part..."
I try in vain to recall if I've seen him in some movies, some productions, somewhere. Back checking the movies schedule. "What time is it?" I ask my neighbor. He takes his eyes off the movie star to look at his watch, and announces solemnly that he needs time to compute it. Then after 5 long seconds comes "It is 5 PM". I am curious. What is there to compute? "I'm on Nairobi time" he explains showing me his watch indicating noon or midnight,"I just arrive this morning". Nairobi? Kenya?. Yes, he laughs. So what are you checking in this paper? Movies schedule. What sort of movies? Anything really. Documentaries, old movies, new movies. It does not matter. It seems though that, trapped him by the rain, I won't make it on time to any movie...
We talk for a while about a documentary about Clinton, I am curious to see. He shrugs as if it was old news but says nothing. As the rain stops and someone from the bar comes out to tell us not to lean on the front window, he turns around and say bye to the actor. The exchange is quick but friendly as if the two knew each others already. He is gone before I can say anything.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The silence of the lambs

A little girl enters the subway followed by her mother. She is about 4 years old, wearing a flowery dress and white polished shoes. She rushes in and her mother has to call her back "Maria! Aqui." She is pointing to the seat next to the door. She needs the space to put her stroller where a baby is sleeping. The stroller is loaded with plastic grocery bags. The girl says nothing and comes back to sit next to the window. She is smiling and looking out to the suburbs passing by.
I lose myself in my newspaper only to hear the mother shouting at the girl. I'm not quite sure what happened but she is now hitting her. Nothing seriously violent but enough to make the child cry. She is crying loudly and I hear that in her cries, the child is calling the very person who is hitting her."Mama! Mama!". Then suddenly the cries stop.
The child is looking at her mother in complete silence. No cries, no tears. Just silence and her eyes still looking out through the window. I catch myself wishing she was still crying, shouting the unfairness of her treatment to all. One does not expect resignation from a 4 years old child.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A good deal

This morning around 6:30. I'm on my way to buy the paper at the 7/11, which, despite its name, is opened 24 hours. I'm not usually up this early but I have a work appointment at a place 4 hour away. A colleague is supposed to pick me up in half an hour. I have all the time to get the paper before he arrives.

The store is surprisingly packed. A long line of tired faces getting coffee and donuts. I grab the Washington Post and the New York Times when an offer catches my eyes: "Get the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal for only 75 cents". A good deal indeed. So here I am, waiting in line with 4 papers.

The woman behind me cannot resist asking: "Are you really going to read all these? I too read the Times and the Post, but that's more than enough!" I cannot resist explaining. Well. The Post, it's because I live around here and I want local news. The New York Times, it's because on Tuesdays they have a science section that I want to read.
I pause here to think about what to say next. Admit that I thought 75 cents was a pretty good deal for two extra newspapers? I look at the woman. One of them Bo-Bos. Without a doubt. She probably despises the Washington Times and dismisses the Wall Street Journal as too conservative.
Suddenly the desire to annoy her, to break this connection that she was making to a fellow "newspaper reader". I keep going: "The Wall Street Journal because it's a great newspaper. To the point and objective". I wait a moment before adding "and the Washington Times because it's not as bad as people think and certainly not worse than the Post".

She is taken aback but is not going to start a discussion at 6:30 AM. She watches as I grab the papers. "Enjoy your reading!" she says, "Enjoy them all".

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Almost dead

The car missed him by less than 10 cm. I saw it from the bus window as I was coming back from the movie festival. Only two feature films today. With friends for the first one but they bailed out right after. It's such a gorgeous day.

I'm on the bus, on my way home. Watching the little kid no older than three with a baseball cap on backward. The cap gives him a "though guy" look that clashes so obviously with the toddler he is.
He is sleeping with one of his arm clutching his sister. The mother is watching them both from the seat in front.

The bus stops and a guy carrying a plastic bag exits and hurries to cross the street and to catch the bus coming in the opposite direction. He is running, not paying any attention to the traffic. The yellow mini cooper has just the time to veer right to avoid colliding with him. I know from the "Oh my god!" behind me that I was not the only witness of the scene. The yellow car is gone now. The man never stopped running. I see him boarding the bus.
He could have died right here. Today. Trying to catch a bus with a plastic bag in his hand.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Jelly beans

This is the third day of the documentary film festival and the theater is packed. We find two seats next to places marked by the festival schedule spread across the seats. S. does not sit. He goes back out to grab something to drink. This is going to be my third film in a row. I am still thinking about the other two...

I see a couple walking in the aisle toward me. The woman is wearing white Capri pants and a black and white silky-looking sleeveless top. She looks dressed up. The man is in a more casual attire. Beige pants and a dark shirt. He sports a goatee and metal-rim glasses.
They grab the schedule from the seats, thank one of the guys sitting nearby and sit down.
I hear the guy asking her if she came directly from work. Yes. Her boss was specially awful today. She seems tired but happy to have escaped into this crowded movie theater. It is cold with the AC running full blast and she puts on a light sweater. "This top is nice on you", he tries. A polite but terse thank you is all he gets.
Are you hungry? He asks now. "Actually, I am starving". He seems to have been waiting for this answer and gets out of his pocket a small bag of jelly beans. A big red and yellow sign on the bag screams "20% Free". I bought it for you, he says. The thank you is not completely heartfelt.
She puts the packet on the side with a condescending smile and he grows immediately so nervous that she feels the need to justifying herself "I do like jelly beans but not now". It's said with the tone of someone who meant to say "I can't believe you asked if I was hungry if all you are ready to offer is a bag of jelly beans!"
He looks more and more like a teen on his first movie date than the adult he is. The movie is starting soon but he knows what to do. Less than 5 minutes later, I see him getting up and asking his friend "Do you want something from the concession stand?" just as S. is coming back with a tea and a beer. She nodes and orders popcorn and a soft drink. He rushes out, happy to be given a life-line after his terrible faux-pas.
I hear them opening the jelly beans bag during the movie.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Rabbits and sheep.

The rabbits were hoping around near the tracks. Probably not an unusual sight for the suburban metro station, but still nice. Better than rats.

On my way out, the woman in charge of the station was barking orders to a group of young Hispanics trying to figure out how much they had to pay for their trip. I approach the turnstile with the confidence of an old regular in a neighborhood bar but my ticket too get rejected for insufficient fund. I too have to go to the machine, in line behind a woman and her young boy.
The station chief is still barking and I hear myself answering to her shouts that the subway administration is ripping us off and that it is a disgrace. She switches her focus from the young guys to me. Telling me to go and complain downtown if I'm not happy. That this is the rule and that's all there is to it.
I know I won't complain downtown. She knows it too...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Amazing Grace

A little girl and her father(?) are entering the subway. The girl is about 4 years old. Long brown hair and animated eyes. Her father is a tall, lanky man with a narrow face and dark eyes. He is wearing a jacket and a tie but still look a bit disheveled. She is wearing a pink T-shirt.

They walk pass my seat and I noticed a key-ring on the seat they just walked pass. Excuse me, is this yours? It's not. He holds the keys in his hand and the little girl starts asking questions. "So the person is locked out?" "How would they get home then?".
The father answers gently but keeps looking at me and finally asks "Would you mind dropping them at the "Lost-and-found"? We're in a hurry". No, I don't mind although I am in a hurry myself. The little girl is watching me with big eyes. I've been assigned a mission by her father and she wants to know why and what it means. I hear the man explaining the details. You see, Grace, when people lose something on the subway, they go first at the office of the lost-and-found and ask for it. If someone has put it there, they will recover it. So, later when someone ask for a key-ring with a "Florida keys" plastic plates on it, they will give it to him. He is now relating another story about dinosaur bones that someone found on a train. Apparently the person in charge forgot them and without the "lost-and-found" they will have just vanished from the surface of the Earth. The little girl obviously knows the story as she completes her father's sentences on the dinosaur bones. She is still mesmerized by it. She is making the link between this plastic key holder and the dinosaur bones story. Her eyes are darting from her father to me. Always with this same admiring look. I am a super-hero. I am going to turn the keys in a the lost-and-found office. I am going to retrieve dinosaur bones.
I stand up to leave, holding the keys in my hands. Wrong stop. The father observes that this is because I am in a hurry to hand out the keys. I mixed up the stations because of my own excitement of the mission he has assigned me.
It does not take long. The little girl says it with a tiny but firm voice.
"I want to do it". The father is puzzled. "You want to do what?" "I want to bring the keys at the lost-and-found." The father is not sure of what to say. After all the built-up it would be hard to tell his daughter no.
He agrees to get out at the next station to take care of it. I tell him that he can do it at any station. That he does not have to stop here but can just take care of it when he arrives at destination. He is relieved to learn that he can do a good deeds without adding any delay to their journey.
The girl is ecstatic. She will be the super-hero, rescuing dinosaur bones. I am grateful too. I won't be late after all...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Pissing in the streets

Yesterday, walking back from the pub after the game. A victory at the last second and I was feeling jubilation, happy like an animal which has just escaped a predator attack. The man walking toward me felt another animal calling. Another urgent need. I saw him stop to pee in the flower pots in front of the ice-cream place. This is a rather large street but he makes no attempt to cover himself. He seems totally relaxed, enjoying himself. I turn to walk further away from the scene but can't resist a remark as I walk pass him. As soon as I finishe speaking, I realize that this man is quite old and that he could be sick and in need of relieving himself very frequently. I suddenly feel bad and guilty.
This is when I notice that he has just laughed at my remarks and showers me with insults. After receiving a couple of "Fuck you" and "what's your problem?", I feel less guilty and happier. Back to the initial joy.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Wave of curses

France is playing in the Euro 2004 -- that's soccer for you my friends -- and I am on my way to the only pub in town showing the game. All my mind is on the game so it takes me a little while to start noticing the two men sitting in front of me, their backs to me.
The one right in front has salt-and-pepper hair and he speaks slowly with an accent I can't recognize. His neck and his clear hair-cut are all I can see of him. He is giving advises to the young man next to him but he never looks at him or turns his head. He is looking straight away as I hear tales of a past life that is still very much a struggle.
"Waiter, that's a good job. You get the tips but there is alcohol. I don't like the alcohol". "This house is a good place. They take homeless and in-between guys. It's clean and quiet. They're not Christian or anything but they'll help you".
I get a tour of the neighborhood with a very different tour guide. He speaks briefly of past troubles. Alcohol addiction for the most part. Homelessness. He is on his way to work. From 2 PM to 11 PM, then he'll be home and tomorrow he'll go to his classes at the local university.
The young man is curious. What classes? (I am grateful of his questions as I wanted to know as well).
Art and photography. I would so much like to see some of it. A sort of snobbishness that demand that art produced by marginal be better. Authentic art. Something that we will have to learn from someone who lived in the street. The myth of the good savage transformed slightly to fit our modern society.
After saying goodbye to his companion and wishing him good luck, he exits the bus. I can see him now. He is about 40 years old, a trimmed bear and a clean shirt.

After the game and the pure joy that it triggers I end up in a movie theater. There are two women sited behind me.
I hear them discussing the joys of going alone to a movie. "I would if I can't find anyone to go with me" says one of the woman. Her friend agrees. They seem happy to have found each other for this movie.
The discussion is very soon monopolized by the other woman. She is arguing that in her life, incidents, accidents and catastrophes comes by "waves", like a curse. She proceed to give examples.
There was first the money problems. Her friend quips "I always have money problems". No, not like these.
She was in Chile and lost her credit card. In the excitement afterwards, she threw about $500 in traveler checks, realizing only too late what she had done.
Then there was the skin series. She got sun burnt badly followed by a string of allergies, rashes and mosquitoes stings.
The last of the cursed series is the water series. She spilled her Evian bottle water on her desk damaging papers and power supplies. Then the next day, she put back a bottle not properly closed in her bag on her way back from the gym and she kept thinking that the water she was feeling was only the rain. As she is starting another of her stories, the previews start and she gets quiet. I will not know her latest malediction.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Vanity plates.

Out from the movie. It is still quite sunny and I am walking back to the subway enjoying an ice cream. There is a man asking for money on the sidewalk. I lower my head in an almost automatic way to avoid his gaze. I hear him ask "Who chose this color?". I raised my head and see that he is talking to the driver of a shining Beetle convertible stuck in traffic. The car is a pale blue with a hint of silver. It is a beautiful and unusual color for a car.
The driver is proud to answer "I did". She is a woman in her late thirties, early forties. There are two kids in the car with her and they too seem to enjoy the attention. The beggar is clearly impressed. "Did anyone ever tell you that you have good tastes?". I hear a laugh and a clear "Well, yes". Spoken as if it was common to be complimented on your tastes when stuck in traffic. Spoken with the ease that comes naturally to beautiful people in beautiful cars. Her license plates read "IM DCNG".

Friday, June 11, 2004

The butterfly

On my way back from a movie. Two young women exit the bus right before me. One is wearing a jean totally soaked by the rain, a skimpy T-shirt who reveals her belly button and a tattoo on her lower back. Only the top of the tattoo is visible. Wings of a butterfly hiding behind her clothes.

A toddler nearby is chewing on a stuff bear. He is almost taken the black button of its nose out. He will probably go after the eyes next.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Butt naked

In a car driving back from a meeting with 3 colleagues. The streets are grey and depressing. A Korean restaurant named "1.7 generation". I remember it from a couple of days ago when I was driving with S. He had pointed it out to me and we both wondered about the meaning of the name. Now I mused about it aloud but I am met with a polite silence. "It's probably some long and boring story" says one of my colleagues. I realize that I would be afraid to know it. Maybe it is boring after all...

On my way home, I pass a house with an open porch. There are three kids playing and enjoying both the heat and the water they're splashing around. I notice that one of the children, a little girl about 2 years old, is totally naked. She is shrieking with happiness and I hear the excitement in her high-pitch voice. There is an adult sleepily keeping an eye on the children. I say hello as I walk past them.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Only Jazz

The woman behind me in the train when the door button "Push to open" failed despite my repeated attempts. "Push it with enthusiasm", she said. Enthusiasm? Somehow it worked...

Later that day, with S. in an empty coffee shop somewhere in a rundown neighborhood. The lonely woman working there is young, wearing a low-cut pant that shows part of her beige panties. She is reading "The myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus. I feel something resembling pride. One of my favorite intellectuals, read here in a deserted coffee shop. The "Yeah Yeah Yeahs" are on full blast and she turns the volume down when we arrive.
Tea and coffee, pastries on display and on sale. She never stops talking to us and suddenly realizing this unusual volubility, she explains that there was no customer for the past several hours and she had no one to talk to.
S. and I are both happy to listen to her stories. Her work making sandwiches, the opened hours of the coffee place, the inexperience of the owners in this line of business, her reminiscence of the previous job at an art supply store ("It was not worth it, not even with the discounts"). She is happier now, she gets to play the music she wants except when the owners are around. "Then" she says shaking her head,"it's only jazz". The word is pronounced as if it was something dirty. She lowers her voice and adds "they're much older". Both S. and I nod in a conspiratorial agreement.

We are in a middle of an animated discussion when she comes up to us. "Do you mind if I leave you guys alone for a moment? I need to move my car or it'll get towed." We don't mind. She leaves. We're completely alone now.
Us and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Monday, June 07, 2004

A handful of dollars.

I was driving up the road to drop the car at the rental place. Early in the morning to have enough time to get to work on time. At an intersection, as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I noticed this guy standing on the sidewalk. He made no motion to cross the street but was waving his hand as if to call a cab. He was dressed a bit shabbily and as I looked a bit more closely I realized that he was waving dollar bills tightly clenched in his fist. He was clearly delighted in doing so, waving to everyone, to every car passing by him. The light turned green and as I drove past, I kept looking at him in my rear view mirror. A tall guy with a smile filled with pride and satisfaction and waiving a handful of dollars.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Plastic or paper?

The man was in a wheelchair, his head looking down on the package of dried beans he had just filled from the bulk section of the supermarket. I was going toward him and wanted to pass between him and food display. I started with an hesitant "Excuse me sir". He looked up and I was taken aback by the hostility in his eyes. Something I had done wrong already? I stammered "I'd just like to sneak in by you" and smiled, trying to diffuse that first impression of being under attack. His eyes softened immediately and he moved himself a couple of inches. Inexplicably happy, I push my cart thanking him as I was walking by him.

I was behind him at the check-out lane when the cashier, a young woman with pink painted fingernails, shouted to someone a couple of lines away "What do I do with the food stamps?". I noticed the almost invisible slouch of his shoulders and the tilting of his head. The urge of punching her in the face overwhelmed me but I just mumbled "Paper, please" when she turned back to me.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Pony tail

It was over before I realized what had happened. I was exiting the subway as a small child, maybe 4 or 5 years old with a pony tail of long frizzy hair was running toward the entrance. I saw her coming toward me smiling and then suddenly jerking back as she winced. The adult with her (the mother??) had grabbed her by the hair and stopped her in mid-race. The child turned around, her face asking the reason of the sudden pain. There was no answer from the adult. She just looked at the child with expressionless eyes. I saw the girl smiled a tender smile as if to say "I understand" as I walked pass the two.
The whole scene took probably 5 seconds.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


The play ended and everybody was walking toward the exit. Traffic was horrendous and the police officer was trying to put some order into it. She was failing miserably. Yelling at cars, shouting orders to the pedestrians.
She quickly became the main attraction of all the people at the bus stop. One driver, confused by her orders, had stopped in the middle of the intersection. The car was just sitting there.
The police officer comes over to the car and she starts shouting. "What are you doing?" You're in the middle of the intersection! What the hell do you think you are doing? Then she puts herself squarely in front of the car and orders the driver to back up. I see the white light indicating that the car is in reverse, but it does not move. It inches backward while the police officer is getting more and more worked up, shouting louder and louder.
I hear people around me saying "Jeeeeeesus" in chorus. It sounds almost like a curse.

In the bus, there is a guy wearing a yellow shirt. I can see only his back. He is talking to a woman, clearly his girlfriend judging by how close she is standing from him, and a man wearing metal-rim glasses who is holding the playbill rolled like a crêpe.
I see a large bug on the yellow shirt. The insect is walking slowly. I'm not sure what kind it is, but it is big. I resist the temptation to warn anyone as the bug is crawling to the front of the shirt. Sure enough, within seconds the woman lets out a small cry: "You have an enormous..." a sentence left unfinished as the bespectacled man starts using the rolled playbill to hit repeatedly his friend's shoulder. All three look down after a while. Whatever it was, it is dead.
When I get up to exit the bus, I try to check the shirt for any traces of blood from the bug but there are too many people and I can't see anything. Red on yellow. Not a bad choice of colors.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Public love

The love between them was obvious. She was caressing his shaved head slowly and gently, her body hidden behind his. He was towering over her, hiding her face from my view. He was smiling broadly. She stopped her stroke and disappeared in his arms. I could hear her high pitch laughter. I saw them exit the subway and leave hands in hands.
He, in a grey suit carrying a leather briefcase and her, with a backpack as big as she was. A smiling child about six year old on her way to school with her dad.