Tuesday, August 31, 2004


The room is dark and four people enter the screening in the middle of the movie. Nothing too extraordinary. Probably "movie-hoping" in the cineplex. The movie is a slow and bitter-sweet description of married life, parenthood, adultery, friendship. Sometimes sarcastic but never funny to the point of laughter. Which is why the attitude of the people who just came in is so disconcerting. They're laughing out loud without any break. Laughing and talking. After a while, someone stands up and go looking for someone outside. The woman comes in and asks the late-comers to be quiet. They obey for a while but the laughing and talking resume and soon enough I found myself shouting at them "Would you please shut up?" Someone behind me says "Yeah! Right!" They go quiet for another while.
Luckily the movie is over within ten minutes of my angry outburst. The lights go on. The four people are exiting the movie theater slowly. Two adults and two adolescents. I am just in front of them The woman moves more slowly and by the time I am out, only the husband is behind me. The kids are nowhere to be seen. I turned around and in a desire to make the point again, I ask him "Was it you first time in a movie theater?" The man is taken aback and says no. I smile when I say. "I'm sorry but I thought it was the first time and you were not aware of the rules. You see, the etiquette of movie going is that no one speaks during the film. It was obvious that you didn't know so I thought it was your first time at a movie theater". I turn around and leave. I can hear the woman coming to him and asking him what happened. I can hear her indignation at the insult I just delivered with a smile. I can hear his while I am walking away.

I am in the street now and walking toward the bus stop. I can see the four about 20 meters behind me pointing at me. This is when I decide to wait for them. I stop to talk to a garage attendant, just enough time to give the man the time to catch up with me. This time he is furious and is shouting "You gave me no respect, fuck you. No respect. Why didn't you gave me no respect? Hey! fucking bitch!" I let him vent some more and tell him "Good evening to you too, sir" before bursting into a forced laugh and resuming my walk toward the bus stop. The four are now all following me. I hurry my steps a bit worried about any other confrontation with the complete family when the bus pulls in front of me. I run and get in. A man is asking the bus driver for directions. I keep looking back at them coming up. Finally the bus starts and pulls away. I feel I have just escaped a major beating. I am safe.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Petty criminal

Yesterday I volunteered to clean up the park near my place. A morning spent picking up garbage and filling plastic bags provided by the park service. I thought that it could be fun and instructive: the opportunity to explore the park in places out of the reach of the public. Sometimes, one just has to admit being wrong. Soooo wrong.
The park ranger doesn't show up so the organizer cancels the plan to enter the river. We will have to stay on the river's banks.
After the brief introduction, we all go our merry ways. Bending, picking, throwing, bending, picking, throwing. I concentrate around picnic tables. The ground is covered with bottles' caps and cigarettes' butts. Beer and coke. They are dug into the ground. Hard to get out. It's the beginning of the day. I am full of energy and enthusiasm.
After one full garbage bag, I'm ready to move on to something more fun. I team up with one of the guy there and we go exploring and cleaning the river's bank. It's smelly and I'm not sure it's all mud.
We encounter a large group of people, painting the river from all different spots. It's the monthly meeting of the area landscape painters. Mostly old people, using the same colors to draw the river and the small waterfall there. Twenty persons looking at the same spot and giving back their own version of the facts. Where, then, are the facts?
We leave the painters ("Thank you for cleaning up the trail!" - "Thank you for painting!") and get back to work on the trail and around another set of picnic tables. A family is there. Three kids playing video games, their back to the river, the parents trying to convince them that this is fun. I am picking up the garbage right next to their table. They look at me as if I were their personal servant. This is the moment the other volunteer chooses to tell me "They must think that we have had a hell of a lot of speeding tickets". He is laughing thinking about it. I don't understand. "What do you mean?". "Well, normally this kind of work is assigned to petty criminals. Speeding tickets, DUI. You know, community service." Well. No I didn't know. Vaguely taken aback, wondering why I am upset to be mistaken for a petty criminal. It does not happen that often.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Car and chocolate

I'm finally going to get back my car. I've been going around without one since the accident but today is the day I close the chapter. My new used car is ready and I have to pick it up from the shop. I arrive there shortly before 7 PM. The garage shop is closed but the night guard is there, managing the gas pumps. I ask him about the mechanic who took care of the car. "Is Brahim here?" "No he left a while ago", he says. I am disappointed. I was hoping to see him and talk to him a bit. "He still had to get something done before class start". "What classes does he take?"
"Economics, Political science, History". I am impressed. Brahim works a full time job and takes classes in addition. "Yeah. He wants to get ahead", says the man. "He came here not knowing a word of English. Fresh from Paris. He even got fired because he could not talk to the customers but he is so good they hire him back". I smile. The fact that he speak French is one of the reasons I am so faithful to him. He is very good, very honest and I can understand the repairs that he does. What else can one ask?
We're singing the praises of Brahim and I told the guard a story.
About a year and a half year ago, he had worked on my previous car and for a reason that I now forgot, I lost my temper at him, told him that he was robbing me blind. Brahim was calm and just smiled at me the whole time. I left still raging and it was only once I got home that I realized that I had been unfair to him. He had not ripped me off, he had done exactly what I had asked him to do. I had been unfair and wrong twice. I went and bought a box of chocolate that I brought in the next day. I apologized profusely and told him that I hoped that he would be able to forget and forgive my horrible behavior. Again he was just smiling, calm when he told me "Don't worry about it. I am happy that you recognized your mistake and came back. If every costumer that yells at me for no reason was coming back with a box of chocolate, I'd be able to open a chocolate shop".
The guard has listened to the story and he now shakes his head. "A year and a half ago? That's when he got fired...."

Friday, August 27, 2004

Southern accent

I was on my way to a dinner at a friend's place. It's quite close but it's too hot to walk and I don't want to arrive drenched at his place. So I go to the bus station. Two old black ladies are discussing, plastic groceries bags in front of them. They are sitting on the bus stop bench. I interrupt the conversation. "Excuse me, have you been waiting long?" I want to know if I'm going to have to wait five, ten or twenty minutes. The one with the large hat smile. "I ain't waiting for no bus". The accent is music to my ears. I would like nothing more than keeping her talking. I keep asking her questions on the different buses and realize that she is happy to grant me my wish of continuing to talk. "You have that bus that arrives over there. But that's not the one you want. We are just sitting here. Not waiting, just resting. It's too hot to be inside." I agree. She announces. "Your bus should be coming in shortly." It almost sounds like a decree. There is really nothing to argue about. It shall come to pass. A prophecy borne by long hours spent discussing with her silent friend, sitting at the bus stop when it's too hot outside

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Displaced empathy

I've just bought about 10 books in a favorite but out of the way bookstore of mine. One man in the back (Mark Crispin Miller, author of "Cruel and Unusual") was going on and on about how Bush is the evil personified and blaming what he called the "republican war machine" and their relentless attacks on Clinton. It does not even occur to him that he is doing precisely the same thing. I love partisan politics.

I board the bus home in a great mood. I don't even mind waiting for about 15 minutes for the bus to show up. One stop before mine is a bizarre stop tucked out of the main road, on a restricted bus line. Apparently the driver didn't see that people were waiting there, or maybe he could not get the bus into the lane, separated from the main road by small plastic reflective poles, the net result is that he stops the bus on the main road, about 5 meters away from the stop. The bus is now blocking the cars behind us which are passing on the right, straight through the bus line. The bus doors are opened and I see the driver is discussing with two people waiting at the stop. One, a black guy about 50 years old, is in a wheelchair, with a kid sleeping on his lap. The other one, a woman a bit younger, is standing right by him. Somehow they are not moving toward the bus. I feel sorry for them both. Stranded and incapable to board the bus, so close and yet so far for the guy in the wheelchair.
The driver is apologizing. It is not clear what he is telling them but it is clear that he is trying to solve the problem as quickly as possible. They argue for a moment without anyone in the bus knowing what's going on. Then the driver lowers the bus and extend a small ramp. Apparently the man in the wheel chair could maneuver his way toward the bus. The woman is holding the child. All is well.
As soon as the man is onboard, he starts to insult the driver loudly. "Fucking bonehead, fucking bus driver". It's disconcerting and totally uncalled for. The driver has done all what he could do to correct his initial mistake. He does not lose his calm and says "I didn't see you". More insults. Relentlessly. I am standing up as my stop is coming up. Still more insults, more fuck, more ass, more everything. My good mood is disappearing fast. "Enough insults now. We heard you already". Boy! Was that a mistake!
"What's your problem? Mind your own business! Get your sorry ass out of the bus!" the woman screams at me. The child is still sleeping in her arms. I wonder for how much longer. I smile as indeed I am getting out of this bus anyway. "Please could you be at least polite?" Another salvo of screams. The stop is here, the doors opened. People coming on-board are taken aback. "What's happening? " asks a plump woman in her 50's. She is wearing a flowery dress, violets and white design. I shrug. "Someone is having a bad day". When I am in the street, I can still hear the screams of the couple after me "Fuck you bitch! Fuck you!" I make sure they can't see which house I enter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Starbucks experience

I was in Starbucks ordering tea and some cookies. I usually don't go there: it's too expensive for what it is. But the movie was starting late, I wanted to read the paper before then. So Starbucks it was. "May I help you?" the woman is asking me with a bored air. I ordered tea- extra large cup with only one bag -- but I can't decide on the cookies. Brownie/Madeleine/Chocolate covered Graham. All look alike and not very good. I alternate between the three and the cashier is losing patience very quickly. There is no one else beside me in the shop and seeing her becoming all nervous about my indecision triggers some more reluctance to chose. I pay for a small package containing 3 madeleines. Another costumer is now here and as I get my tea and the madeleines, I realize that they are not fresh and hard as rock (Madeleines are soft biscuits). Three small staled and old cookies for $2. I change my mind again. I'd like a brownie. Maybe it will be a little fresher. The woman is beside herself now. She is looking at me as if I had just asked her to sacrifice her first born. She takes the brownie, throw it in a bag and hands it to me with no words but many, many sights. I smile and tell her to relax. She does not seem to hear or care. There is no refund. Just an exchange of bags. Plastic against paper. I go sit next to the windows with my paper opened and the tea getting cold already. The brownie is not worth the calories, nor the money. Maybe I should have ordered the Chocolate covered Graham.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Minding my own business

I was coming out of a German movie which was playing to a sold out audience at the Goethe Institute. I'm hurrying to catch the bus when I noticed a couple putting money in a parking meter. Tourists, I think, who don't know that past 6:30 PM parking in the street is free. So I tell them. Just like that. I just go up to them and tell them that they don't need to put any money in the meter. The two look at me puzzled and amazed. They are young and they just point to the small print on the meter which says "from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM". They do need to put money in. I've messed up. But how to admit it? So I tell them, "Yes, of course but you can only put less than an hour's worth of coins. " Silent. Again this look, mixing question and amazement. I leave them quickly, thinking , like they do, that I should have mind my own business. As soon as I turn the corner of the street, I see two women pouring over a street map. I want to atone for my first mistake so I ask them if they need help. They don't really because they have the map but I confirm their conclusion: they need to walk north to reach their hotel. I've done nothing for them really and we all know that when we part but I feel already much better.

It's a quiet bus that comes finally. No one but two other guys. One is an old man wearing a torn T-shirt and too large pants for him. He comes up to me and asks for the section of the paper I just finished. I'm not sure if that's the section he likes or if it just because that was the one available. I gave it to him and ask if he is interested by the rest. "Sure", he says, "Anything".
I read with a new sense of urgency: I need to give him the rest of the paper before one of us gets out. I finish the metro section, the style and then hand him the sport's. A large smile on his face. "That's the one", he says, "I'm following the Olympics".
A phone rings in someone's pocket. A guy answers and we all hear him say "I'm in the bus and it's really noisy. Wait. I am just exiting the bus and I'm telling everyone that I am leaving the bus". I look up with a smile. The old man reading the sport section is also laughing. We both look at the guy as he gets out of the bus. I'm almost done with the main section.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Photo --- Sunday (III)

I left the bar and hoped on a bus. It's late and I'm tired. The bus is totally empty. I feel like I have a private limo driving me home. After a couple of stops, one guy gets in. He has a large backpack and in his way of dealing with the bus driver he is clearly a tourist. He looks Japanese and is wearing an MIT T-shirt. The third person to board is a homeless guy. He is wearing a long blue T-shirt that goes down to his knees. He is putting some money in the machine but the driver seems unhappy with him. It becomes clear that he does not have enough money. He goes up to the guy and asks. The young fellow's head gets back a bit and he makes a no sign without saying a word. I am next on the list and gets my wallet out, hand the guy twenty five cents and see him going back to the driver and paying. He passes me on the way to the back of the bus. The stench is horrendous. The tourist smiles at me "You're very nice" . I smile back "Thank you". We keep going. The bus is filling up. At one of the stop, the young tourist asks around "Have we passed already 18th and Columbia?". I raise my head. "Not yet. I'll let you know when we do". He is obviously nervous to miss his stop, grabs his pack and comes sit next to me. "Thank you. It's my first time in Washington." "Where are you from?" I asks. For once, I'm the one from here. "New Zealand". I can hear the accent now. The opening of the vowels, the slowing down of the speech. We talk as the bus keeps going. "One more stop" I tell him, "you're getting off at the next stop". As he thanking me, he gets a camera out of his pocket and holding it at arms length, points it toward us. Him and me seating next to each other on a city bus. There a red light flashing, a small flash and the photo is taken. He is showing me the result. I'm there, a puzzled face to the camera. "Thank you again. You've been so nice, I wanted a picture of you". He raises up and leaves. I'm still a bit stunned by the scene. I smile thinking of his collection of pictures. I am now in the photo album of a New Zealander that I helped on the streets of the city.

Pizza and talks -- Sunday (II)

After the game, I don't want to go home directly so I ask my cousin to drop me in Chinatown. It's also on their way home. I am walking aimlessly vaguely walking toward a movie theater, a bus station, a metro stop. No goal really. Just strolling. I see this restaurant which I remember from the advertisement in the movie theater. It's a new place. Opened maybe six or seven months ago. A pizza place. I don't want to eat pizza, and don't want to haul a pizza home. I'm not sure why I enter but I find myself inside asking if they do take out or if I could get pizza dough, or un-cooked pizza to go. The guy at the entrance directs me toward the bar. "Yes you can" he says "Just ask Mike for an under-cooked pizza to go". I get to the bar. "Are you Mike?" A young guy, all smile, a small diamond in his nose looks at me. "Am I under arrest?" "No" I smile "but I'd like to get a pizza under-cooked to go". He looks at me and says "It will take more time than a regular cooked pizza". I am totally puzzled. "How is that possible? You are cooking it less, so how can it take more time??" I'm not sure I understand the answer that follows. I hear "flash cooking", "checking" and have not the slightest idea of what he is talking about. I node and ask for an iced tea. I grab a bar stool to wait for that long under-cooked pizza. I get my book out and start to read. I've not read one sentence when I hear. "Don't you know that reading is forbidden in a bar?" I look up. There is a guy in his thirties. Wearing an American flag T-shirt. A crew cut. He is looking at Mike as he speaks. Mike looks at me, smiles and says "Yup. No book reading in my bar". I laugh, close the book and look at both of them. The American flag guy is having a drink with an old man whom I heard speak in a foreign accent when I arrived. He loses no time in asking me where I am from. Paris. And what do I think about American politics, American life, compared to France (ah! That question again!). The conversation begins and quickly becomes political. How difficult it is to answer when nothing is black and white. Bush is not the big, black wolf and Kerry is not a knight in the shining armor. But yes the environment would be better off without Bush and Europe happier with Kerry. Nothing is simple. As soon as we start discussing politics, Mike turns away and says "My rule number 1: Never talk politics with costumers". I ask "Well, at least tell us where you're from". "Ethiopia via Italy" He was born in Ethiopia, spent time in Cairo and moved to Rome when he was a kid. I am even more curious to hear his opinion but he walks away.
A guy with a Hard-rock cafe T-shirt now joins the discussion. Soon enough, everybody is properly introduced. The guy with the crew cut is Rob, a pilot for a commercial airline, Pavel comes from Finland. He is in town for an electrical engineering conference. He arrived two days ago and is still jet-lagged. Kevin works at the Hard Rock Cafe but is a regular here. The topic is on American foreign policy, American education, American society and in general, all things American. Rob is clearly a republican, Kevin a democrat and Pavel a foreigner with the European views of the US. I am defending the US but without forgiving them from their shortcomings. We are talking and exchanging opinions. The discussion is friendly but direct.
I call Mike. "You can cook this pizza after all. I'll probably eat it here". He smiles.

When I left two hours later, we had shared the pizza, Mike had joined us for some more talks, offered us chocolate chips cookies and some cocktails of his own making. I didn't drink much of it but told Mike I'd be back to this place. Another smile. "You'll always be welcome".

White couple --- Sunday (I)

Sometimes the day is just filled with stories. This was such a day.
It started out with a trip to my cousin's place in an out-of the way neighborhood. He and his wife moved there about a year ago. It's the first time I'm getting there by subway. I usually drive. The plan is to have brunch and then make our way to the baseball stadium in Baltimore. All sounds perfect except that I realize once on route that I have forgotten my notebook with their address in it. There is no time to come back home but I figure that I will find their house pretty easily as I should remember it from my previous visits.
The thing is: I don't.
Once there all the houses look similar and I am going back and forth on the block trying to jostle my memory. "I can't remember that window", "There was no turf on the stairs", "Their porch does not have any statue". It's hopeless and I figure that I should just ask on the street. Maybe they'll recognize the names.
I knock on one door. An old black woman comes slowly. She is walking with a cane and is wearing what looks like a night gown from a shiny fabric. "I am looking for the house of Curt and Jody E.?" I ask. I'm describing them as a white young couple.
The woman looks at me puzzled "There are no whites living in this street. At least none that I know of." She turns back to her living room. There are newspapers on the floor. I hear the TV.
I thank her and call another woman that I spot walking toward her car with two teenagers (her sons?). Same question. This time I mention race in the first sentence "I am looking for the house of a young white couple. Do you know where they live?" No hesitation. She points to a white door. I thank her and get there, look though the window door and realize that this isn't it: all is modern, posh, very urban. Definitely not there. I go back to the woman and tell her than I don't recognize the place. "Does the man drive a motorcycle?" she asks. "Not that I know". "So it's not him" she says, "this one is always on a bike". She leaves. I have to try again. From the first house on the street, I am knocking on every door. I learn that there are only two white couples on the block. I know that they have cats, that one of the guys drives a motorcycle, that one couple moved in really recently, that the other has been working on their house a lot. The house with the white door or the one with the green turf on the porch. Neither of them is that of my cousin. It's funny to be told bits and pieces of the lives of perfect strangers. Still no trace of my cousin's house. I am at a total loss until one man comes out with a phone book. I look up the address. It was the other block. My cousin is reading the paper outside, enjoying the warm weather on his porch.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Fat cops

The free weekly in town devoted its front page to fat cops. I know, I found that weird too but apparently it's a huge problem (pun intended). Cops that can't outrun criminals. Not too good for fighting crimes.
So I am walking in the streets, coming back from an evening with friends when I see these two cops on bikes. They are fit and lean, with big calf from their long rides in this hilly town.
They just coming out of a store and are mounting their bikes slowly, talking to each other. I hear them commenting on the article in that paper. Fat cops. They seem to be laughing, shaking their heads over the subject. I wonder how their boss looks like.

Friday, August 20, 2004


This morning on my way to a meeting. I am enjoying the cold AC in the bus as the air outside is getting unbearable even that early. Suddenly the bus stops. The driver says something that I can't understand and everybody starts getting out. There are women with kids and strollers, some old people painfully making their way out of the bus. I'm not quite sure what's happening and as I follow people out from the back door, I am greeted by the hot and humid air that I had just escaped.
I walk up to the front door of the bus. There is a small line there. People are trying to get in and are told by the driver that they can't. One of the young guys there asks for a transfer. A piece of paper that will allow him to travel for free for at least two hours on any of the bus lines, sometimes even more: drivers are seldom willing to argue for an hour or so...
I see at his grin that he didn't have a ticket in the first place. He is clutching his transfer, happy to have beaten the system, if only for a dollar and twenty five cents.
I ask the driver. "What's happening?". "The bus is broken," she says "the "turn off the engine" light came up, so that's what I am doing."
I ask for a transfer to be able to board the bus coming right behind. She looks at me suspiciously "You were not in my bus before! ". Her bus not mine. I protest "Yes I was, I boarded about 4 stations before." A proof of my sincerity. I am trying to recall any facts from my boarding the bus 5 minutes before. Was there any thing that could help her remember me? "I could not get the dollar bill in the machine" I say, recalling the only small story I had when I entered. She hands me the paper but by the way she is looking at me, I can tell that she does not believe me. She thinks I am a cheater. And feeling her disapproving eyes on me, I feel that I must have done it.
It didn't matter at the end. The other driver was accepting everybody in without checking.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Do I know you?

I am walking down to the movie theater. After a day fixing my car, I've decided to stay a pedestrian, walking and enjoying the streets and the people.
I notice him because he looks so much like a foreigner. I'm not sure why. He has long, straight blond hair with a slightly outdated cut. He is wearing shorts, a T-shirt and leathers sandals. He has a back pack and walks likes he knows where he is going. Nothing specially foreign but something in him says that he is not from there.
I see him coming toward me and then turn right in the street where I am turning left. He is slightly ahead of me and crosses the road, walking down on the other, quieter sidewalk.
At the bottom of the hill, I see him turning right and crossing the road back to my sidewalk and disappear as he keeps walking. By the time I arrive at the crossroad, he is gone. I keep walking toward the movie theater and make my way to the ticket booth inside. It's a cafe and a cinema with only one line for both drinks and movies. "The movie is in theater 2". I hear the cashier and recognize the guy with the back pack. Funny. We were both going to the same place, each hurrying for fear of being late. I must have make a gesture of recognition. Something that startled him. He looks at me with the look of someone searching his memory. "Do I know you?" his face is saying silently. I say nothing, just staring back blankly.

28 minutes.

Today was reserved for automobile paperwork. A day spent at the DMV mostly. About 5 hours total. I first got temp tags, then went to bring my car for inspection and then went back for the permanent tags. I could have waiting another month with the temporary tags but I wanted to get over with this nightmare. Done. Fini.

So at first I am waiting in a small room with about 20 people waiting. The woman who announce the numbers has a strong voice and she is very cheerful. Quite the opposite of what I expected. I am not the only one to notice. One man leaves with a "You're just a dream to deal with, ma'am" as he is exiting the room. Another woman has been waiting there for at least 1 hour (I had been there about half an hour when I overheard her mentioning that she had been already there 30 minutes in her discussion with the clerks). It's a question of insurance. She can't prove she has any, her agent was supposed to fax the paper to the DMV but obviously someone is not doing what they are supposed to do because the fax has not come yet. I hear her discuss the problem over her cell-phone. She too does not lose her temper with the DMV employee but keep thanking her for her patience. The DMV employee, a plump woman in her 40's, thanks her by calling her by her first name. "Don't worry about it, Andrea, we'll just wait until they fax the paperwork". Her colleague is puzzled. She is right now processing the tags for an Andrea. The other woman laughs. "We have two Andreas today". Indeed, the young woman next to me raises and goes to pick up her tags. I wonder how the woman keeps track of all the names of people in this room. Everybody looks at each other. There is joy in the room.

After the car inspection, I am back at the DMV. This time in a large room with about 100 people and TVs showing the news. Olympics games coverage. I forgot a pen and asks a woman sitting right next to the entrance. Instead of answering me, she asks me "Did you ask at the counter?" which strikes me as odd. This is a yes or no question. She either has or has not a pen that I could borrow. What's with the Spanish Inquisition?
I turned to a woman sitting next to her and the answer comes right back "huh,huh. I have a pen alright, but you seat right next to me". The air on the first woman's face tells me that this is the reason of her question. She nodes saying "Yes. I too lost so many pens that people borrowed!".
I almost laugh and tells the second woman that it will be my pleasure to sit next to her. I fill the form and give her back the pen.
We start to speak and she says that she has been waiting since lunch time. She was here this morning, forgot something and had to come back. It's now well into siesta time and I wonder if this is not what the clerks have indeed been doing.
My estimated waiting time is 28 minutes. I get a book out and shut myself from the world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

It was not supposed to be that way

My friend A. is a musician and going to a movie theater with him can be a surreal experience. While we are sitting down, ready to enjoy the show, he will become restless if the sound is not perfect. I've seen him getting out of shows because the acoustic was flawed, the surround sound was not working, the bass part of the bandwidth was cut, or any combination of the above. Most of the time I can't hear any problem at all. It sounds fine to me. One time I thought it was a sort of test. To see if I would agree to an imaginary problem. "It sounds fine to me" I tell him as he is explaining that a whole range of the sound track is missing. "You may not notice it like this but you would know if you could hear as it is supposed to sound", he answers.
I was thinking of this tonight when I started watching a movie in a packed theater downtown. The projectionist messed up and the curtains are still half-closed. Part of the movie is visible through the cloth. To cap it all, the projector is a bit off alignment and the top of everybody's head is missing. A bizarre sight at first but which becomes unbearable because it is so noticeable. I get out to call someone and get back inside but quickly realize that no one will come to fix it. The problem is here to stay. The movie is ruined.
I take my bag and leave, followed by a woman who is visibly upset. She screams to the ticket screener about fixing the fucking movie screen and the fucking curtains. I just want a refund. I can come back for the movie. When I leave to walk up to the box office, I hear her screams about the fucking theater and how it's fucking easy to just open the curtains on the side.
I am the only one to have left the screening and get more than a refund. I get two passes for a future show. I can't understand how anyone would watch a movie "unframed" and on a screen covered on both side by black cloth. Surely, they would know if they could see how it is supposed to look.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Moment of truth

I've received a letter from the young woman I met on the Mall in June. The one with whom I had a long conversation about God. The one who belongs to the Twelve Tribes. I described our conversation in a previous post. Her note wants to be a "keep in touch" card, to remind me of her, but her words are calls for air. Just like I'd felt when I talked to her in June. I'm not sure what I should do. I don't know if I'll have the courage and the strength to help her out of her universe. What if I was wrong?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Blue Parrot

Back from a visit to a friend and his family. They were in town for the weekend. A nice way to connect again with people I had not seen in a long time. I am still thinking of our lives, the way we lost touch without ever realizing it really when I notice a blue spot moving. A huge blue something a bit ahead of me. Then I realized that I was looking at a bird. A large blue parrot on the shoulder of a man, strolling up the large avenue. No one seems to notice or pay any attention to him. He is here, walking peacefully with a blue giant gripping a white shirt.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Kerry! Kerry!

This morning on my way back from the market. I was walking on a usually quiet street that slopes down to my place. I first heard a loud voice of a man talking with the tone of someone telling a fairy tale to a child: "And then the woman asks 'Can I be part of the parade?' ". I am fully expecting to see a young kid hidden somewhere as I get closer. The voice is getting louder and I realize that the guy is speaking in a microphone linked to an invisible cell phone. There is no kid and he is talking about the demand of a woman during a Kerry campaign stop. Talking is not quite the term though. Shouting, hollering, broadcasting would be more like it. If the person on the phone is anywhere within a 100 miles radius, there is really no need for the phone. I hear "YES SO I TELL HER THAT I'LL SEE WHAT I CAN DO TO GET HER ON STAGE WITH KERRY AND SHE ASKS FOR ALL HER FAMILY TO BE THERE WITH HER AS WELL. SO I TALKED TO THE PEOPLE THERE AND WE GOT HER ON STAGE IN AREA A. WE MADE IT HAPPEN, MAN"
Nobody in the neighborhood now could ignore this point. If anyone wants to get on stage with Kerry. Talk to him. He'll make it happen. Like in a fairy tale.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Le désespoir de la vieille

Two days ago as I was walking home, I passed a family coming from the grocery shop. Two kids, about 8 or 10 year old carrying heavy bags with a proud look on their faces. The parents were a couple of meters behind. The mother pushing a stroller filled with bags, the father carrying some heavy boxes. A toddler, a small girl wearing a blue dress, is gripping the stroller by their sides. She looks at me, suddenly appearing on the street. I smile and ask her "How come you're not carrying anything?" The tone is soft but the kid is terrified. She tries to back away from me, turns around, trips and falls on her face. She screams and her mother scoops her up and takes her in her arms.
I realize too late that I was wearing my sun glasses. Without eyes, no wonder that she screamed. I took them off and smile but to no avail. She looks at me without fear now that she is in her mother's arms but her face reflects all too clearly that she would like nothing more than see me disappear as fast as I appeared.
I apologize to the mother who has kept silent for the whole episode. She smiles. There's no harm done.

Only today I remembered this small poem in prose from Baudelaire.
"et nous faisons horreur aux petits enfants que nous voulons aimer!"
"and we inspire disgust to the little children we want to love!"

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The rose

It's dark and my street is deserted as I am walking back home. There are two shapes almost immobile a bit down the road. Hard to tell who they are, genders, age, nothing. As I get closer, I can see it's a couple. Two teenagers talking without looking at each other. The girl is holding a rose. She punctuates what she says with a motion of the rose. I see the flower going up and down. The guy is smiling. The two get quiet when I pass them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Doing fine

Coming back from work, I pass the homeless shelter on my street. The doors open and I recognize Will walking out. Will, the man I used to buy my newspaper from, on my drive to work before my switch to a metro-bus commute.
I call his name. He does not recall mine but recognize me immediately. "How have you been? I've not seen you since such a long time!" I tell him about the accident and he is immediately concerned. "It was nothing serious", I want to reassure him, "but how are you?" He smiles a toothless smile. "I'm doing fine. I have jobs all over the neighborhood. Cutting grass and stuff." He is pointing in all directions. Showing me where he has been working. "I too have grass" I tell him " Even weeds. Nasty stuff. How do I get in touch with you?".
"Ask David. Over there." He is showing me one of the houses on the street. "He is my best friend. He'll know where to reach me".
We part after some more small talks. I should contact him before the end of the month. He probably needs the money sooner than that....

Saturday, August 07, 2004

You've been cheated

Today was like spring more than summer: a sunny day, crisp air and not a hint of humidity. I went for a short bike ride. The town, 4 or 5 miles down the river is bustling with people. About 100 meters from where I parked my bike, there is an Irish festival. People singing and enjoying food, and music. Some kilts (I thought only Scots wear kilts ?), a lot of beer and some politics as well. One one side of the music stage is a large booth handing out "Kerry-Edwards" stickers. One the other side, a bit closer to the water, there is a table and a couple of people handing out flyers for "Lisa Marie Cheney". I'm curious about the name so I ask one of the volunteers. "Is she related to Vice-President Cheney?" The woman smiles. "No, she is not. But she is a republican." "I don't care, " I tell her "I am a foreigner. I can't vote."
The standard conversation ensues. France, US, politics, welfare state and capitalism. She seems very surprised that, as a French, I do not hate the US. It's funny that my telling that "I like it here" and that "not all French hate the US" is enough to make her smile, open up and welcome me into her world. She tells me that I "should absolutely meet Raphael!" the owner of "Traditions de France" a furniture shop on the main street. I should go there now and tell him that I was sent there by Laura. Laura from the armoire. Laura from "Laura and David", her husband that I should also meet. We're there, two strangers one minute, hugging each others the next, as she says goodbye and sends me on my way to the French store. I feel a sudden obligation to visit it although I have no intention of buying any furniture today.

I leave her and stroll among strangers in this celebration of Irish culture. People are following the singer on stage, one guy wearing a T-shirt too small for him is enthralled by the song. He is clapping and singing, his face red from the sun and the excitement.

I am standing next to a family of five. There are two boys lying down in the grass and the parents tending a toddler next to them. The older boy is reading a book with large illustrations. I lean to take a closer look. There are guns, and firearms everywhere on the page he is reading, some nuclear device too. The boy turns the page and I see Ursula Andress in her white swimsuit. The book is a review of the James Bond movies. The boy is leafing through it with the seriousness that kids devote to illustrated books that bring them in the world of adults. I remember them vividly from my own childhood. There would be books about dinosaurs, about astronomy, about trains and planes, about the oceans and dolphins. They had some text but what would fix my imagination would be an image that I would exhaust with questions. Everything in it had to be explained. From the color to the scale to the smallest details. This kid is learning about all the episodes of James Bond. The face of Goldfinger and the color of Ursula Andress's swimming-suit.

I recall the words from a literature professor who asked his students about their readings and discovered that they had never heard of The Iliad or The Odyssey, never read Don Quixote or the Brothers Karamazov. They quoted him large amount of pop culture and sang the praise of "Star Wars" as the modern equivalent to these dusty books. He didn't argue with them. Only said "You've been cheated, you've been cheated".

I did go to see Raphael at the furniture store. Nothing that I would have bought, even if I could afford it. "Faux" old armoires and antique looking new furniture for an astronomical price. The bookshelves have leather-looking bindings to hide magazines or alcohol. Everything is fake.

Friday, August 06, 2004


He is so clearly a foreigner. He came to collect his order at the counter when his number was called. A tray with two plates and a basket of freshly baked bread.
He took the two plates and turned away. He is called back by the young guy behind the counter. "Aren't you taking the bread?". Thick accent that I cannot place easily. "No thank you, we have already too much bread on our table". Even without the accent this answer would have been enough: he is a foreigner.
I waited for my order to come in and looked for a table to sit. As soon as I sat down I recognized him as the table nearby. He is finishing a meal with his girlfriend, a blond woman who speaks with an American accent. There is still a lot of food on their table. The woman calls up one of the young cleaning woman. When she comes, it is obvious that she does not understand nor speak English. She can't be more than 15 years old. The woman asks her to bring some plastic containers to pack the leftovers. The young girl just smiles and nodes. It is clear that she does not understand what she is asked to do. The guy repeats the instructions showing the food: "Bring us some plastic containers, 3 maybe 4, so we can take this home". As he finishes the sentence, his hand goes toward hers and he pushes some money in it. It's done very smoothly, naturally as if he was used to shove money into the hands of whomever he is asking for a service. She is very surprised, looks at the cash. There is maybe 2 or 3 dollars rolled. The girl's face changes. Having not understood what was being asked from her, it seems that receiving the money made her believe that she is being asked to do something illegal or at least forbidden by her boss. Something terrible or impossible that could warrant such generosity from this customer. She now shakes her head whispering "no, no, no" with a worried look on her face. The woman laughs and tells her not to worry, that she will do it herself and ask for the containers. She raises and walks toward the counter. The girl looks at her, at her boyfriend who hasn't moved and leaves. She is still clutching the bills in her hand.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Happy rats.

I am coming back from the movie theater and it is already dark. The bus has dropped me and another passenger just in front of a small park that I have to cross if I want to take a shortcut home.
No big deal, it is really a small park and I see that no one is sleeping on one of the benches. It looks completely deserted. All is well.
I start walking and I know that the other passenger is following me. She is a blond woman with a loud cell-phone that I heard in the bus. A strong Eastern European accent. Russian maybe.
I have not gone two meters when there is a commotion in front of me and I see several dark forms crossing the path in front of me. I can't count really. I just see shadows. About 4 of them.
I look closely toward the bush where they disappeared. Rats. Clearly rats, so comfortable in this city that they just go around freely at night.
I let a "ah" of disgust and turn to the woman I know is just behind. "Rats" I say. "Rats in the park". Her reaction is inexistent. She does not even look. Neither at me nor at the rats. She just goes on walking as if she was so used to it that the real surprise would have been not seeing any.
I keep walking to get out of this park quickly. I hear her talking loudly on her cell-phone. No mention of the rats.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Crossing the road

A woman with a toddler in her left arm and giving her right hand to a 6 or 7 year old child is on the other side of the road. It is raining and we are boarding the bus which just pulled in at the bus stop. The next one is in an hour and she is missing it. She is yelling and it seems for a moment that she is going to try to cross the road despite the heavy traffic. There are six lanes and cars are speeding down on the straight stretch.
Luckily for her, one of the passengers heard her and alerts the bus driver who stops the bus. We are waiting for her. She sees the bus on the side of the road and her behavior change is striking. All sense of urgency is gone and she makes her way slowly to the bus.