Wednesday, August 2, 2017

IN ABSENCE OF AMNESIA - Chapter 3 by Peter Nolan Smith

Bernard was waiting at Charles De Gaulle Aeroport. He arranged a week’s stay at a hotel in Paris' old Jewish Quarter. Opening night was that evening. He had been tapped to be the club’s DJ. The Rex was under an old cinema along the Grand Boulevard. The magazine held high hopes for the subterranean space to serve as a European crossroad for politics, fashion, and the arts.

“Why you want an American at the door?” I asked the publisher.

“It amuses me.”

“Like a Jerry Lewis movie.”

“Maybe, but you will piss off the Parisians.” Jean-Francoise offered this explanation and then added, “That will be funny.”

His sense of humor depended on my ignorance and by midnight hundreds of Parisians were gathered before the club. Their faces said that they were someone. I could figure out who.

“Do you know who I am?” asked a well-dressed man with wavy hair.

“Not a clue.”

The crowd jeered the man. I later learned he was the minister of culture.

I chose women by their looks and men if they had a good smile. The cashier spoke little English. If anyone famous stood too long before the ropes, she would hiss and point them out. I easily recognized Françoise Hardy from her years as the ‘Yeh-Yeh’ girl.

“Welcome to the Rex.”

I gave the singer of PREMIERE BONHEUR DU JOUR a good table to watch the Senegalese band on stage. Her cigar-smoking husband’s career spanned decades and he viewed my dismissive treatment of him as a sign of disrespect.

“You know who I am?”

Jacques Dutronc had a big hit with MOI ET MOI ET MOI. I knew him. He was married to Francoise Hardy.

”You’re no Serge Gainsbourg,” I replied and Jean-Francoise toasted my riposte with champagne. I could do no wrong, except to myself.

Every noon I waited by the famed Cathedral, as tourists and pilgrims flocked through the saint-encrusted doors. The souvenir sellers glanced at Lisa’s picture and shook their heads with a blasé shrug. She had lied about coming to Paris.

The hotel had no TV. There was no need. My room overlooked two gangs’ fight for control of Rue Des Ecouffes. I learned their names and took no sides. Neither was strong enough to win or lose more than an uneasy truce. When they got older, it would be a different story, but for now they were still kids and life was a game of bloody noses and hurt feelings.

Breakfast was an espresso and croissant at the closest café and lunch was its plat du jour. My dinner companions were gangsters, models and intellectuals at the ethnic bistros dotting the narrow streets of Les Halles. Models on the cover of Elle, dancers at the Moulin Rouge, twins from Blois, and a German countess opened their homes, apartments, and hotel rooms. Lisa’s face blurred during the kisses, caresses, thrusts, and seconds-long exhilaration of ejaculation, yet her ghost was stronger than my ability to forget.

For diversion I viewed obscure films at the tiny cinemas in St. Germain and books stolen from WH Smith store opposite the Tuilieries. I found Maxie Laing’s RUNNING, VS Naipul’s AMONGST THE BELIEVERS, George Stein’s THE LAST PORTAGE OF AH, and scores of other novels and non-fiction books I devoured to kill the minutes, hours, and days. Some were unreadable. I attempted ULYSSES tens of times. It became a door stopper.

Paris was a city for walking. My favorite ambulation was to pass through the Church St. Gervais, cross the Pont Louis Philippe to the Ile St. Louis, drink a beer at the Brassiere du Ile, and strolled over to Notre-Dame. The crippled trinket seller hadn’t forgotten my original quest and greeted my passage with amusement. “Ou tu vas?”

I told him my route and he wished me well.

Steal a book at WH Shakespeare, traversed the Seine on the Pont Neuf and ended up at the Palais Royale for a lunch at Dave’s, whose Chinese spare ribs were the best in town. These journeys brought me to the various gates of Paris and I soon knew the city better than a taxi driver. In truth eyes filled with gloom saw little of Paris. The African quarters offered no magic potions. The heroin along the Rue de la Quest was defeated by my phantom. I was killing time and my purgatory changed locations with the closure of the Rex in the summer.

Without a job I returned to New York. The city was alien after Paris. People were in a panicked hurry and the food was bland, except for pizza. At my apartment I shuffled through my mail. Mostly bills and no letters from Lisa.

Her vacant apartment remained in her name, indicating she might return some day. I didn’t have the luxury to wait. Two cops from 9th Precinct warned Internal Affairs sought my appearance before a Grand Jury. Neither had news of Vadim. No one had seen Lisa.

A nightclub in Germany offered a manager’s position and I told my parents I was going to Hamburg. My brothers and sisters thought it a great opportunity to see more of Europe. They had no idea that this trip wasn’t the Grand Tour.

The club on Eppendorfer Weg fronted for the Reeperbahn’s most notorious pimp. Nigger Cali paid a generous salary. I bought a car and rented a penthouse apartment. The lakeside vista was the ideal bedroom vista for an affair with a blonde lingerie model from an aristocratic family. Hilke’s weakness was roulette and mine was confusing lust with love.

Every two weeks we drove my BMW south to drop off Cali’s earnings from the ErosCenter at a Geneva bank. The trips were far from romantic since Hilke gambled the nights at various Spielhalles along the route, but looked a little like Lisa. Any blonde model would in the right light.

My younger sister visited Germany to investigate a US Army Colonel for embezzlement. A fellow Justice Department employee had passed on a report about my involvement at the Continental. She left for America convinced that I was a spy and Hilke was my KGB informant.

The truth was more disheartening and in December Nigger Cali presented a bill itemizing six months of sex. Everyone in Hamburg was on his payroll. Hilke was no exception. My BMW keys bought 24 hours and I wisely used the grace period to escape to Paris.

The south-bound train pulled out of the Bahnhof at midnight. Sleep was interrupted by stops throughout Germany and the Low countries. The morning dawned as a joyless mist. We were entering Paris. The gray dome of Sacre-Coeur threatened from the height of Montmartre. No one greeted me at the station. I took a taxi to the Marais. The old lady at the hotel had my room. As she set out a breakfast of coffee and a baguette, I called Bernard.

“Where are you?” Bernard sounded happy to hear my voice.

“Paris.” I couldn’t tell for how long. The 5000 Deutschmarks from Hamburg would last about two months.

“I quit my job and now spin records at the Bains-Douches. They need a doorman. You have papers.”

“Papers? Sure.”

My work papers were forged on the only color copier in France. The owner of the Bains-Douches deigned to not examine the document. Americans consider the French rude, arrogant, and chauvinistic, especially Paris waiters in July, when every other French person is on vacation, but the froggies were offering me a place to live and I was grateful for their hospitality.

Women were easy late at night. The nameless sex offered little succor. Heroin better soothed the beast gnawing my soul and no one noticed my losing weight, although the loss of appetite extended to more than food and winter passed into spring without a woman’s savage touch.

April brought the expected dreary rains followed by May’s warm winds swimming across the Mediterranean from Africa. My addiction was only skin-deep and kicking dope not as bad as listening to John Lennon’s COLD TURKEY.

Sherri and Che arrived to film S&M videos in Versailles. Frenchmen at the club greeted them with an adoration reserved for pagan idols. After the club closed for the night, Sherri, Che, and I ate at a transvestite African bar. More for the show than the food.

News from the Pacific Coast was good. Her bird was happy in the Van Nuys studio. She had won the best actress award at the Las Vegas Adult Film convention. The IRS had settled her delinquent tax bill for a fraction of the bill. LA was smiling faces.

New York was another story. My cousin reported that Jimmy Fats the bagman had been murdered to keep his mouth shut. Arthur had escaped an assassination attempt and my subleasee had called to say that I had been subpoenaed by a Grand Jury.

“You should stay out of New York for a couple more months.”

“More like a year.” Che was eyeing a Brazilian TV and Sherri seemed a little hurt by her lover’s distraction. She had been ignoring her own advice. “You can come live in LA.”

“What would I do in LA? Be a porno actor?”

”Lights, camera, action.” Che mouthed an obscene gesture to the TV. “You could be a star. The audience would identify with your type.”

“Me?” I was 30 and ten pounds overweight.

“The wankers don’t go to gym.” Sherri explained without any malice.

Palm trees and porno was a tempting offer, however I said, “Men in porno films are strictly extras. Better I stay here.”

“At least the girls are cute here.” Sherri commented, as Che went to the bathroom. The TV followed her inside and my cousin’s lips narrowed to a flat line. “You stop judging women by your lust-o-meter?”

“For the most part.” I wasn’t having any sex. “I can’t get Lisa out of my head. I wish someone would smack me on the head, so I could forget.”

“I could hit you with my high heel.” Che’s mischief had ignited Sherri’s sadist streak.

“I don’t want to suffer brain damage.” Her heels were stilettos and I downed my vodka. “At least not permanently.”

“Nothing’s permanent in this world.” Sherri stared at the bathroom’s closed door.

“All we are, are dust on the wind.”

“I hate Kansas, except in the WIZARD OF OZ. If only I could click my heels and make everything right.”

“Maybe you will one day. Until then you’ll have to be satisfied with men licking them.”

“Women too and I know just the one.” Sherri strode to the bathroom. She stepped inside and I could have joined them, except four was more than a crowd in such a small room. I left for the Marais with hopes of sleeping the day away till dusk. At noon old lady from the hotel desk rang to inform that I had guests.

Sherri and Che had an off-day and were in need of a guide. I dragged them over to the Louvre Museum for my special tour.

“Twenty minutes and then lunch at the Café de Pais.”

Most tourists sought to see the Mona Lisa and the more distant galleries were devoid of humanity.

“Best to let the paintings look at you.” I kept them moving through the long galleries.

“Same as being up on stage at a strip club.” Che pranced forward with hands cupped over her eyes. “Peek-a-boo.”

“I’ve been thinking about why you’re not with anyone now.” Sherri also averted her eyes from the paintings, as if the men on the tableaus were peeking toms.

"Why?"

“What are you’re favorite movies? CASABLANCA, THE APARTMENT, AND THE WIZARD OF OZ. Only one of them has a happy ending.”

“Jack Lemmon ends up with Shirley MacLaine in THE APARTMENT.”

“Only for that last scene. The rest of the movie he is in mourning like a dog without a bone. You’re the same with Lisa.”

“THE WIZARD OF OZ has a happy ending.”

“Dorothy goes home with her dog.”

“Man’s best friend. Not a happy ending to any boy-meets-girl story.”

“So I’m not so good at boy-gets-girl. Maybe I better change my top three movies then.”

“All my movies have happy endings.”

Sherri skipped away to join Che and they held hands like schoolgirls playing hooky. The eroticism of David's oriental harem paintings stopped them in their tracks and the girls were dying to get to their hotel.

“One more painting.”

At the Mona Lisa Sherri stood with her back to Da Vinci’s masterpiece. “I can imagine she is staring at me.”

“Cheap tart.” Che ruffled her red curls and the male tourists focused on the living rather than the dead. The women wandered to a hermaphrodite statue. Neither could keep their hands off the marble skin. Their wanton fondling stalled the guards from calling a halt to the free show. They exited from the museum laughing and disappeared into a Versailles-bound taxi.

They reincarnated Sodom in the nightclub every night of their visit. Women sought their secrets and the two actresses conducted re-education camps in the dark corners. Che used me for the show-and-tell.

“Sherri’s cousin is the best I had.”

“The best?” Her devotees cooed with unbridled curiosity.

“A man takes 2.8 seconds to cum and a woman 3.8 seconds,” Che announced with a professorial exactitude. “While he’ll never be as good as a woman, he’s certainly better than most men.”

It was nice of her to lie.

We held a bon-voyage dinner at the transvestite restaurant. The place was packed with prostitutes, porno actresses, pimps, and bikers. Morality had been put on hold for everyone, but me, and Che dug into the grave.

“You miss anything about the States?”

“Friends, family, and pizza.” Two dominatrix salaciously beckoned with whips. I waved them off.

“Nothing else?”

“He misses that skinny blonde from Buffalo,” Sherri groaned and Che smiled with a satisfied savoring of my agony.

“Someone said she was in Ibiza.”

“Then I’ll put that on my list of places to avoid.”

My strong face was a bluff and as soon as they left town, I flew to that island. My visit turned up no clues and in Paris I burned her photos. Flames consumed them in less than a minute.

If I couldn’t be lovers with a woman then being a friend was the next best thing and I put this to the test when a cover girl model with a duplex on Ile St. Louis needed a caretaker for her Scottish terrier. The South African liked drinking, flirting, and being a bitch. The order jumbled up according to the time of day.

Every week Brigitte travelled to distant fashion shoots and spent weekends at her husband’s villa in Cap D’Antibes. She said I didn’t need to pay any rent. “Take care of Angus, that’s all.”

I had no trouble with that task. Angus was a good drinking partner, but resisting Brigitte was more difficult. Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin shot the nude body that exited every morning from the bathroom with her singing from the hallway mirror.

“No peeking.”

“I only believe in staring."

The tension excluded a platonic relationship, even though we slept in separate beds. I must have meant something to her. At parties she pretended to be my girlfriend. At the club Brigitte waited to make sure every woman left with any man other than me and few females dared to brave her jealousy.

“You’re everything I want in a man.” She cooed after a long dinner at La Coupole. “Faithful, funny, and smart. Too bad we live together, then again if we had sex, you and I wouldn’t be friends anymore.”

I was tired of being a friend and had to show my feelings. Brigitte modeled for a designer on Rue St. Honore. One night what I couldn’t say sober, I wrote drunk on the wall opposite the atelier. The words were big and I was so drunk that I never saw the gendarme until bumping into him. He was drunk too. “Qu’est ce-que tu fais?”

“I’m writing a poem.”

“Poem?”

His truncheon swung over my head and I fled his shouts, “Arrete, arrête.”

When Brigitte returned from work the next afternoon, she joked how the poetry police had almost arrested some fool for defacing the British Embassy.

“Maybe they will sentence him to life for bad meter.”

She was familiar with my handwriting from letters. Her ridicule was sharp. A glutton for abuse I didn’t move out.

Brigitte's husband suspected the worst and she told the ex-legionnaire that I was gay. The lie worked for a year, for her real beau was a French painter. I had written and article about his painting group. Philippe was good-looking and talented. Brigitte met him at the Bains. They went home that first night.

Brigitte declared she loved him and tried to prove this with her lovemaking, although the diabolical moaning from the bedroom was better suited to a porno set. I had to get out of the apartment and told the old lady at the Marais Hotel to ready my old room. It was almost home.

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