For our six month anniversary in Paris, Dave invited me to a tiny Chinese restaurant in the 15th arrondisement of Paris, not far from his apartment and the large apartment I had rented for the family, the apartment on the eighth floor with a view of the Eiffel Tower. The apartment I was now deserting for another tiny efficiency apartment next to the Denfert Rochereau RER train station.
“So Frances flew back home? Her and the kids?”
“Yes. I found it hard to disentangle myself from my Gypsy. Frances lost patience with my efforts.” I took a bite of sweet and sour shrimp. “And your Count?”
Dave frowned, stirred his egg drop soup. “Died,” he said finally.
His words struck hard. If the French doctors couldn’t keep Dave’s rich and powerful friend from dying, how were they going to keep Dave alive?
“I’m sorry.” I noticed then how thin Dave looked, noticed the hollow in his cheeks as he chewed. But I did not ask him about his own health.
“So what was it that kept you going back to your Gypsy?” Dave asked.
“She cast a spell on me, I guess. Never met anyone like her. When I walked with her, and we passed an advertisement sign at a bus stop or on a building or on the wall of the metro, she would actually turn her head away. And warn me to do the same. ‘Don’t pay attention to their signs,’ she told me. ‘Governments, schools, churches, stores. They want to instill in one an irresistible desire for their product, their candidate, their version of the truth!’”
“So she has a thing against signs?”
“Yes. Which is difficult for me, because I love French advertising. I mean, what could be more artistic, enticing and appropriate than a naked woman?” I opened my fortune cookie, then decided not to read it. “Still, the longer I stay in Paris, the more I see signs in EVERYTHING! For example, have you ever noticed that the Eiffel Tower looks like an oil rig derrick? What does that mean, that it looks so and the only reason I am here is because of this job with an oil rig company, and since coming to Paris my heart feels like a hole’s been drilled right through it!?”
“Calm down,” he told me. “You are becoming a writer, that’s all. Becoming a writer means seeing signs in everything – making connections, looking for meaning – meaning that most of us miss. As long as you can peer below the surface, as long as you are aware of the manipulation…” We finished off our meal with a liqueur, on the house, and walked back to our lonely apartments.
While Frances was gone, my sister Cyndy came to visit from the states. Came to visit me and my older brother Steve who, coincidentally, had been assigned to work as an Air Force Attaché at the US embassy in Paris just as I came over. This was one joy I had living in Paris, sharing its wonders with friends and family that came to visit. I tried to explain to Cyndy what was going on between me and Frances, that I had broken up again with the Gypsy but Frances didn’t care. Cyndy told me she loved me and knew it would all work out.
My older brother Steve and I met rarely, as a Military Attaché is a busy person, and I was traveling more now, to do rig installs in India (where a holy man stopped in front of me at the monumental Gate of India in Bombay and, looking deep into my soul with wise black eyes, smiled and said “Isn’t life strange?”) and Singapore (where I was served the delicacy of Drunken Shrimp – the waiter brought a fishbowl with a dozen drunk happy shrimp to the table, they did somersaults and wagged their tails, gave us a real show, then the waiter set the liquor atop their water aflame, boiling the shrimp alive – they darted frantically about in the boiling water emoting, ‘Show over! Show over!’ I turned to my Singapore host and said, “Isn’t life strange?”).
One thing I remember doing with my brother Steve in Paris was attending the Paris Air Show. He in official Air Force/US Embassy capacity, me as a tourist. Talk about ironic locations! This show, in the city of light and love, struck me largely as a bomber marketplace, where the world’s military industry shows off its latest incredibly technical bombing aircraft to sell to countries to use in war. “Look how fast they fly, look how they can avoid radar and anti-aircraft guns, notice they can laser-sight for pinpoint bombing.” What a strangely fascinating horror show. The city of Light and Love welcomes Death and Destruction.
So I found myself in my third Paris apartment in six months, next to the raised RER tracks, where the trains passed by my window every few minutes from five in the morning until after midnight. I lived a miserably lonely life, initially, in that apartment. I thought about leaving, going back to the states, but I couldn’t give up on the miracle of living in Paris.
I poured my emotions into new stories for my manuscript, My Father’s Lies. And I spent each workweek looking forward to the Paris Writers group meetings, and my lessons at the Alliance Francaise. But it wasn’t enough.
I remember sitting one afternoon on a bench in the small park below my apartment, watching light and shadow play on the sidewalk at my feet as leaves rustled overhead, sitting there feeling lonely, wondering what to do, sinking. An old Frenchman, hobbling along on his cane, read my face and stopped. “Ca va pas?” he asked in a concerned voice. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Ca va, ca va,” I told him, thanking him with a nod. His question made me realize what needed to be done. I needed to go get my family. I flew to the states that week and talked Frances into coming back with me. I told her I couldn’t afford right away another large apartment, that the six of us would stay in the tiny efficiency I had moved to, until things settled down between us. She accepted my offer, and with their return to Paris my luck appeared to be changed for the better.