Saturday, January 29, 2011

Calais n'est pas fermé!

The next day, I woke up before The Student and Pascale, and was thus treated to one of those incredibly awkward times in life that either drive one to reflect upon their own life, or hate others.
You probably know the horror that arrives when you wake up before anyone else in someone else's house. You’re sitting there on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, wondering why you woke up at six in the morning, since you’ve never done that before, and there’s no reason on God’s green Earth that you should be doing that now. You're wondering when your hosts are going to wake up, and wondering if their floor is one of those that’s overly sensitive and will creak at a decibel level equal to that of a Mastodon concert. To make matters worse: you really, really have to piss and you didn’t think to ask where the bathroom was the night before—because you were drinking with your hosts and didn’t want to break the seal or seem like a weirdo.
This was all my fault. I claimed the bunk and it was far from silent. Every time I turned, it would creak and squeak. Getting down sounded like a symphony of car wrecks, which would surely wake up The Student, who was snoring like a chainsaw down on the floor, if not Pascale, who was also snoring away on her mattress. And so, I lay there, looking at the ceiling, concentrating on dry, dry deserts and not roaring rivers when, suddenly, The Student bolted upright with a cry of “Fuck no!” bolted out of his sleeping bag, and ran out the door, down the hall to the toilet, and proceeded to make his own cacaphonous symphony of puking.
Pascale groaned and so did I. I didn’t want to spend my time pissing in someone’s puke. There’s something fundamentally dirty about that, something that seems like it deserves a section in Leviticus. “Thou shalt not relieve thineself in someone’s vomit.”

After a while, when everyone had cleaned themselves up and was properly caffeinated, Pascale broke the news that we’d be going to Calais with someone named Andy.
I’d apparently met the guy the night before, but hadn’t remembered. I shrugged and said, “Whatever.” The Student, however, was pretty excited. Andy was one of the people he’d known from a couple of years ago, and got along with pretty well—I don’t think he’d gotten on anyone’s bad side except for a German guy who had engaged in some alpha struggle with The Student. He was vague about the details, which told me that there was a girl involved.
At any rate, I was up for it, since I needed a break from wandering around Lille and stumbling across cathedrals and horse butcheries. 
So we waited around for Andy and his friend for an hour, and when they arrived, there was much rejoicing. Any was a tall guy with dark skin, curly hair, and--not to seem, ah, well, like myself--a Heeb nose. His friend was taller, but otherwise looked pretty similar, except he was wearing a hat. The rejoicing was followed by discussion about what, exactly, to bring on our excursion. Eventually, it was decided that, fuck it, we’d get coffee and food there. So we piled into Andy’s car, drove, and, several minutes later on the highway, hit traffic and sat idling for a couple of hours until driving off into a series of other roads leading to Calais.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good Ole Jewish Guilt

We passed the Chabad car, and realized that it was parked outside of the synagogue. I nodded, made a mental note to come back before I left and take a picture for my Jew Hunt[1], and that would be enough. However, for The Student, it wasn’t. The Student shouted, “No! Damn it! I didn’t go to Yom Kippur services!” Then he dropped to his knees on the ground.
“Erm,” I said. “Yes, me neither.”
He turned to me with a burning look in his eyes. It was not rage, or anger, it was intensity and guilt. It was the look of Batman without the baggage. The Student, I gathered, was turning into Super Jew. “We are in The Book of Death.”
Pascale looked between the two of us with a concerned look.
“We’re not in The Book of Death,” I said.
He nodded. “We are.”
“No,” I said. I shook my head for emphasis. “You’re an atheist. You don’t believe in The Book of Death because you do not believe in God.”
The Student looked between me and the synagogue and then bolted to the synagogue. The entrance had heavy iron doors with a bolt across them, which, in turn, was behind a shuttered iron gate.
The Student ran—slid might be more accurate—up to the iron gate, pounded on it and yelled, “Succors! Aidez-moi pour succors! Sanctuary! I need to do some belated repenting!” Then he lost his footing and slid down the staircase, laughing and crying simultaneously.
“Perhaps,” I thought to myself, “there’s something about iron gates that makes him flip out. Magnetism or something like that.”
After a few minutes of The Student crying in the fetal position and the light contact of snow upon snow and cobblestone in the street, I walked over, helped him up, and we headed back to Pascale’s place in relative silence.
Around the time when we hit the broad avenues and not the sidestreets, and saw a bunch of students staggering around, clutching each other for sheer, drunken life, I asked Pascale, “Did The Student do this a lot a couple years ago?”
“He did spend a lot of time staring at a girl’s window and listening to the love songs.”
“He was a bit, ah, what is how you say?”
“Yes,” she said.
“You could also tack on ‘slightly disturbed’ and you’d be a bit accurate.”
“Kebab,” said The Student.
“Yeah, we’ll get some kebabs,” I said.
We walked over to one of the many take-away kebab shops on the avenue. Pascale ordered cheesy chips (that aid and succor of drunken students everywhere), I ordered my usual soak-through-Styrofoam-greasy doner meat and chips, and The Student had a massive kebab. As we took the food away, walked down the avenue, and ate, The Student said, “Narrator, do you think HaShem will forgive me?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. He’s kind of bi-polar.”
“You should say ‘yes,’” said Pascale.
I shrugged again. “It’s a momentary relapse into Judaism. It’ll pass by the morning.”
We walked.

[1] Let me explain. This was something I did in every city I visited. I’d drag whoever had let me stay at there place that week around the city and march them around until we found Hasidic Jews. At which point, in celebration, we’d go into a store, buy a bottle of Manischewitz and a loaf of challa bread, leave, and go drink.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Journalism Party

A few hours later, Pascale, The Student, and I were back out on the streets of Lille. (The hours in between the story-now and the last time we met were filled with me shouting obscenities at my laptop due to my inability to write more than a sentence of my Ranting in Literature essay—I’d chosen the topic about Upton Sinclair’s Oil! being the first modern novel-length rant—and The Student, in turn, telling me to shut up as he was trying to read a difficult passage of the original language version of La Morte D’Arthur. For fun. So, really, you don’t want to hear about that.)
Pascale was talking about a friend of hers who came into France as a refugee from Afghanistan and was having trouble adjusting to the culture. “He talked to me about a girl he met and said she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and he’d been following her around, watching her.”
“The fuck?” I asked.
“Weird, yes, but wait. Then, he says to me that he wants to marry her, and wonders how to approach her father. I told him that he should just talk to her about it. He said that he couldn’t do that since he hadn’t talked to her or her family before.”
“So he’d been following her around. Stalking her,” said The Student.”
“The fuck?” asked The Student.
“So then I ask him about her, and he says, ‘She is fourteen.’”
“Fuck!” The Student and I said in chorus.
“Yes,” Pascale said, “exactly. And then I told him that this was illegal, and he said he didn’t understand.” Pascale then went “Pfft” and shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
I nodded. Good as a reaction as any, I thought.
“Oooo!” said The Student, pointing ahead of us.
I looked ahead and saw a small car, Ford Fiesta type, with a giant menorah on it, lit up with seven candles on the top, and the French equivalent of “Chabad Lubavitchers” on a placard on top of it. “Hey, we’ve stumbled upon a Jewish place!” I said. “Happy Chanukah, Student.”
“You too, my friend. Let’s get schloshed.”
“What does this mean? Sloshed?”
“No,” I said, “schloshed.”
She tried four more times, but she couldn’t get the hang of it.
I waved it off. “No biggy. It means drunk.”
“Ah, yes. There will be a lot of drinks there. You’ll like it, and I’ll introduce you to friends.”
“Sounds good,” said The Student.”
We turned a couple of corners and walked up to a building that could have easily been a church. We walked up the steps, into the lobby which, thank God, actually had heating going through it, and Pascale checked us into the party, which had not yet begun.
Imagine, if you will, a hallway in a public high school. The walls are decked out with announcements on several different colors of paper, the tile floors are stained, and the doors to different classrooms are discolored and the windows are fogged-over from various kinds of schmutz. The only difference between this hallway and the high school in your head is that everything is in French.
And there was a DJ stand and a rack of show lights, and a set of sincerely high-quality speakers set up along the walls, and the Christmas lights all around the edges of the walls.
Oh, and the collapsable table draped in a red tablecloth covered in five kinds of liquor and a few kinds of snacks.
But, other than that, it was like a high school hallway.
While I stood in awe of the actual, high-quality Scotch (single malt at a party – God I love journalism students), Pascale pulled a friend of hers over and introduced her to The Student. I didn’t notice, as I was still thinking about who would bring something not in a plastic bottle to a party.
Then, when I felt my hair being ruffled, I reacted in my normal way: I shouted, “Please don’t attack me!” and jumped in the opposite direction, in this case, into the table, knocking off the bottle of Scotch. In a rare display of the reflexes I hadn’t used since I played baseball when I was a kid, I ducked down, caught the bottle and put it back. Then, for good measure, I cleared my throat and looked at my attacker.
She was wearing a red sweater, had short brown hair, brown eyes, and had a great smile. “Guh,” I said. I shook my head. “Yo. I’m The Narrator.”
She looked between me and The Student, “The Narrator and The Student. Relatives?”
“No, thank God,” The Student and I said in chorus.
I pointed at The Student and shouted, “Jinx, you owe me a Coke!”
He sighed and shook his head. Pascale asked what that meant and The Student explained.
Jessica, for that was her name, held out her hand and introduced herself. In a rare occurrence, I did not go “guh” at her, but actually held a conversation.
The four of us, after The Student finished explaining the intricacies of American middle school humor and puns, grabbed some drinks and went on a brief tour of the school. There was a kitchen in there, which I found odd since none of the schools I’d been to had kitchens available for students—but then again, English Lit was never one of those disciplines that required students to pull all-nighters. Inside the kitchen were a few people smoking and reclining, talking rapid-fire. 
Other than that, it was a basic school-ish building with halls, restrooms, and classrooms. After the brief tour, we walked back into the bit of the hallway with the DJ booth and the lights and whatnot and saw that some more people had arrived. Pascale introduced us to them as well, and The Student and I engaged in some serious self-deprecation at the the expense of the South.
(One thing I’ve noticed: If you’ve lived in the South for a while, and don’t necessarily share the stereotypical beliefs of the region—which, if you’re travelling abroad, you probably don’t—then you can make some quick friends by joking about it. The vast majority of people have a perception of the South based on Deliverance, and you can make a distinction between the film and the reality, and still be funny. Such as: “No, people in Nashville won’t sodomize you if you make eye contact; however, they will if you say bad things about Garth Brooks.”)
Soon after that, the music started, and I was treated to the most bizarre array of dancing I’ve ever seen. They were even whiter than my AEPi frat brothers. The dancing on the floor—which accompanied everything from gangsta rap to ska—ranged from the hopping thing you see at teenage punk concerts (Pascale and The Student), jazz swing (Jessica in her own amazing little world), headbanging (a group of guys over in the corner), club dancing (led by a girl who’d chosen to drape herself in Christmas lights), and then my own spastic movements of the arms and legs that I considered dancing. In short, everyone was having a good time, even me, and I never have a good time dancing.
For example: the Greeks back in Woolf went clubbing as if it were their job. Thursdays through Sundays around ten at night, they’d descend upon Canterbury in five or six six-person cabs and go out for overpriced drinks in crowded basement bars across the city and stay until three AM, then complain that everything closed so early in England. It was mind-boggling to me, a person who would go out to a house party and fall asleep on a random couch around one in the morning. I went out with them a couple of times, a couple of them tried to teach me how to dance, I’d give up and hang around the bar and glare at people who fulfilled my requirements of “douchebag.”
 And so we drank, we danced, I fell in further “guh” over Jessica. (The state of guh can last anywhere from three minutes to three days, but generally not longer than that, and will, by and large, never result in my taking any action to form any relationship whatsoever with the girl—mainly because I’ve been rendered borderline retarded.) At one point, I may have started regurgitating John Donne poems, mangled beyond any comprehension to an English Lit student, much less a French journalism student, but I’m not entirely sure. The night gets blurry around the time when The Student and I formed an air guitar duo when the DJ (which, I should say by now, was actually a massive iTunes library that people just went up to and requested songs) played a string of Queen songs off of one of the greatest hits albums.
I do know that I sobered up about the time when the three of us were in the kitchen and someone was trying to make me understand a phrase. “No, that is not it,” he said. He was shabby, looked like he should be a poet instead of a journalist, with a scruffy beard, brown sweater, and a mop for hair. He said it again.
I repeated what he said.
“Yes,” he said, clapping his hands once and then pointing at me. “Exactement!”
“What does that mean?” I asked. I’d forgotten how to ask the question in French, which, in the back of my mind, struck me as extremely ironic.
“It means ‘you’ve missed the point entirely.’”
“But. W—that’s the complete opposite of the English expression that we were talking about.” That expression, I think, was, “You hit the nail on the head.”
“Oui, exactement,” he said. “We like irony in this country.”
“We like irony in the U.S.”
“No, you like sarcasm. Different things entirely.”
I responded with the phrase he taught me.
“Oui, exactement!” he said.
I’m not entirely sure why that sobered me up. Perhaps it was because my brain had to take away energy from the portions that were having fun being wasted and divert that energy to portions that were normally reserved for figuring out crossword puzzles. At any rate, thinking about the mental gymnastics that were required to make an ironic statement while being completely sincere were enough to sober me up. Which, looking back, was a good thing. Ten minutes later, as The Student was stumbling into coat racks shouting that someone had stolen his blue coat, when it was caught on his shoes and he was dragging it around, I’d needed that sobriety to carefully dodge around him, pick up the coat and shout, semi-convincingly, “Hark!”
He turned and blinked slowly at me, as if a Neanderthal. “Whuh?”
“I have stopped the vagrant mid-stride as he absconded with thine coat!”
The Student held a fist in the air. “Woo!”
“Here,” I said, flinging it through the air. The Student caught it. “Wear it with pride, for it is a trophy of goodness and wonderment in the modern world.”
The Student, drunk beyond any reasonable standard, put the coat on backwards. It was good enough. We waited up in the lobby as Pascale made the rounds, then headed back into cold and desolate world of wintertime Lille at night.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Army of Snowmen

We walked down the drive, away from The Citadel and made it about halfway when The Student looked to the right and was off in a mad dash, camera held out in front of him.
I looked to where he was going and saw about twenty people scattered around a section of the park that had been invaded by snowmen. In a treeless, semi-hilly space there were about fifty snowmen and women in varying shapes, sizes, and stages of undress. That’s right, there were hooker snowpeople. 
The one I saw was about fifty yards away from where The Student and I stopped. He immediately bolted and treated each snowperson as if it were a model and he was making art. I wasn’t sure what possessed him to take angled pictures of everything, playing around with all of the various shutter settings on his camera and acting, generally speaking, as if he was on the verge of being the next Ansel Adams.
(I don’t say that to be mean-spirited. When we first arrived in Lille, and he started on his almost Tourette’s-like picture-taking spree, I asked him what he was going to do with all of the pictures he was taking. “Probably nothing,” he said.
“You’re not going to submit them anywhere?”
“Oh Lord, no. I’ll just upload them to my computer. Maybe use them as desktops from time to time.”
It was the most trouble I’d ever seen anyone go to in order to create a computer desktop.)
I made a beeline down the center of the field bit of the park, not because I’d seen the prostitute snowman yet, but because I wasn’t interested in staring at snowmen, and all the benches were taken up by young couples who were really, really into making out. So I walked on, made it to a part of the park filled with evergreens right next to an iced-over pond, looked to my left, and there, right next to a couple of shrubs, was a snowwoman wearing a lacy red and black bra, garters going up the bottom snowball, and matching panties. Someone had even taken the time to apply mascara and lipstick to the head of the snowprostitute, and I had to stand there for about ten minutes so my brain could thoroughly work out all of the insanity needed to think to oneself “Hey, I should make a snowprostitute,” and then, further, I needed to fully understand the dedication to one’s craft needed in order to apply mascara and lipstick to a fucking snowman.
It goes without saying that I had to sit down.
The Student found me a while later, still staring at the snowstitute, and said, “Ah, how lewd,” before taking a couple pictures. “Well, you ready?”
“What? We just got here. There are so many other snowmen to see.”
The Student tapped his camera. “And I’ve documented them all. Even the snowbear mauling the snowchild.” He shook his head. “Sometimes I worry about the state of humanity.”
“Personally, I think this is a good sign.”
“How so?”
I got up, dusted the snow off my jacket, and we started walking back towards the drive. “Well, think about it. In the States, especially Tennessee, what’s the general reaction to snowfall?”
“Chaos,” The Student said without any hesitation. Then he nodded, as if affirming the gut reaction put forward by his brain. “Yes. I was talking to my mother last night on Skype, and she told me about the Hell that she went through when she had to run to Kroger to pick up eggs. Apparently, she had to fight someone off a la Black Friday. Mishegas,” He finished, shaking his head.
“And yet,” I said, “take a look around you at these streets, at this park. Do you see the same madness reflected in the Frenchies’ eyes? In their actions? Nay, I think not. Instead, they go out and build snowmen, as if it’s a genetic or evolutionary reaction to seeing snow. This, my friend, is what humanity needs to strive for.”
“More being in a state of mind where it is acceptable to express glee at things that, well, inspire glee. None of this repression of the inner child malarkey we have back in the States. You want to go out and build snowmen? By God, go out and build snowmen!”
“I don’t think anyone’s keeping anyone from building snowmen, Narrator.”
“Oh, they are.”
“Who is?”
“I—” he shook his head. “Yeah, sure. Okay.”
A burst of wind hit us from the northwest and we cursed in chorus.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Citadel

“No, we’re not going in there,” said The Student.
“What? Why?” I asked.
We stood in the middle of a snowy driveway. To our right was a huge parking lot, in the middle of which a massive red and yellow circus tent was being set up, with an accompaniment of several smaller tents and some trucks idling, sending some exhaust up into the air. Off in the distance, past the parking lot and the river that ran by it, the spire of the h, with an accompaniment of several smaller tents and some trucks idling, sending some exhaust up into the air. Off in the distance, past the parking lot and the river that ran by it, the spire of the hôtel de ville shot up into the air, partly obscured by falling snow. On our other side, a large park, covered in snow, running children, and couples walking arm and arm. Behind us was a busy ring road, traffic moving around, and the other sounds of the city. In front of us was the Citadel, and a sign that made us a bit antsy. It read, in English, “Military land, no entry unless otherwise specified.”
I was of the opinion that if there wasn’t a gate, and there wasn’t a gate, then it was free entry. After all, the sign that pointed in the direction of the Citadel was brown, and that, as far as I could tell, was the sign that it was a public area of historical importance. And so, my suggestion was that we should just mosey on in and have a wander. Chances are that we wouldn’t get very in-depth on account of the whole language barrier, and neither of us was well-equipped to deal with reading different grammar as well as alien vocabulary, context clues be damned.
“We’re not traipsing into a military base,” said The Student, pulling his cap over his head and digging his hands further, somehow, into his puffy coat.
I pointed up at the top of the Citadel walls, which were a yellowy stone, and ornately carved with people that, I supposed, were to represent La République Française. “See those?” I further asked, pointing at the row of NATO flags along the walls. “Those are NATO flags, which means this is international territory in NATO’s possession. And who’s a major member of NATO? America. And what are we? Americans. We elect the government of America, thus we own this land.”
The Student furrowed his eyebrows and cocked his head forty-five degrees. “That is the most retarded logic I’ve ever heard. I mean that in the most literal sense. I once knew a person with Down’s Syndrome, and that sounds like it could have come from their mouth.”
“Or Glenn Beck’s,” I said, nodding a little bit.
“I’m glad you acknowledge that. Now, if I may state my reasoning—”
“The reasoning of a pussy,” I said.
“—then you can see where I’m coming from,” he said, moving on as if I hadn’t said anything, which, frankly, was the best course of action. “First,” he said, ticking off a finger on his black-gloved hand, “you can clearly see the man in French military fatigues standing at the top of that little archway up there, yes?”
I looked at the Citadel entrance that the driveway led to. Sure enough, standing on top of the wall, behind the archway, underneath a French flag and over a carved woman looking off to the horizon, there stood a man in military fatigues holding an automatic weapon, a French flag stitched to his arm, and he was staring at us. I nodded.
“Does he look pleased at our continued presence here, staring at a military base?”
I shook my head.
“Does this, in turn, say to you anything akin to this being a tourist attraction?”
“Well, he’s French. They’re smarmy by nature.”
The Student glared at me.
“No,” I said.
“Second,” ticking off another gloved finger, “while you’re correct in that one sign in the center of town was brown and had ‘Citadel’ on it, every other sign in the vicinity has ‘défense d’entry’ on it, as well as ‘militaire.’ This, to me, does not make it seem as if the public is welcomed with open arms. In fact, this states that we’re approaching a military installation, while it may be NATO-based indeed, and, to my knowledge, military installations are not tourist-friendly. You know, because of the guns.”
“I don’t see what guns have anything to do with it.”
“They’re guns.”
I stared blankly at him.
“We’re in Europe. They don’t like guns over here.”
“Ah,” I said. “Yes.”
“So, that’s why we’re not going to go into The Citadel.”
As if to punctuate his logic, a truck horn sounded behind us and we dashed over to the park side of the drive. A large, covered truck drove by and entered the Citadel. I wasn’t sure, mostly because I only glanced, but in the back, I was pretty sure I saw some people in chains.
“You didn’t see people in chains,” said The Student.
“What? How do you know?”
“Because that’s absurd. This isn’t a prison, it’s a rapid defense base.”
“What? How do you know?”
He pointed to a sign to our right that, in French, stated that this was the home of a NATO rapid action group. I assumed this meant they were the fastest to scramble to action in Call of Duty, and were thus rewarded with gamerscore achievements on X-Box live, but it probably had more to do with something serious. Like a terrorist attack. Or an invasion. Once again, real life is extremely dull.
“Fine,” I said, “we won’t go into the super cool military base, but you’re a dork for not even trying.”
“Even when trying would possibly end up with being thrown in military custody.”
“That’s the best kind of trying, man.”
So we decided not to go into the Citadel, but rather, around the Citadel. See, while the interior of the star-shaped fortification was off-limits, the exterior was a park. So while you couldn’t go inside and play with guns, you could walk around the fifteen-foot walls and the moat and pretend that you were a Gaul or something and run up and punch the walls as if you were a one-man siege. I tried to do that, but The Student held me back, saying that I’d hurt my fists. Whatever.
Anyway, we walked around the perimeter of the fortress, alongside the iced-over moat, between the walls and the leafless woods in the park, and took plenty of pictures. Rather, The Student took photos of various crumbling walls around the perimeter, some monuments to World War One and Two soldiers from the region, and some winter wildlife, whereas I tried to get the attention of some black Labs who were, as far as I concerned, circling The Citadel at sixty miles an hour while their owners stood around and chatted. Other families, distinctly Labradorless, went around Citadel with plastic sleds, on which sat toddlers who stared around as if this were the pinnacle of awesome. And, as The Student knelt in the snow trying to get a good angle on the way the sunlight reflected off of the ice on a pond of the northwestern corner of the fortress, I was suddenly hit with the realization of exactly where I was.
See, this happens to me from time to time. I’ll be complaining about something going horribly wrong with the day (such as someone looking at me weird on the bus or something) and then, in a flash, I’ll realize just how stupidly lucky I am not to be in Somalia. Or, in a less jokey way of putting it, how lucky I am to not be stuck in a situation where I’m starving, homeless, or dying. And, right then, standing in France on a snowy day like I hadn’t seen since my family moved out of Ohio, in what was in all honesty an absurdly easy Master’s degree, I thought, “Holy shit, the toddlers have it right.” Then, for good measure, I said it out loud.
“What?” asked The Student, now laying down on the snow getting an extreme angle photo of a frosted-over leaf.
“The toddlers are right.”
“Yeah,” he said, clicking the shutter. “I heard you, but what are they right about?”
“Life being great, and that we’re stupendously lucky to be where we are at any given time, and not some—’”
“You kidding me?” asked The Student, standing up and brushing snow off of his coat. “You just figured this out? We’re students in a foreign university, paying less than an out-of-state student does to go to UT for one year, and we’re going to get a Master’s degree within that one year. Yeah, that’s a pretty good deal.”
I scratched the back of my head. “Well, you know, it’s just sometimes I think that it’s not.”
“Why?” he asked, looking through the pictures he’d taken.
“Well, you know,” I said, shuffling my feet in the snow. “Er, the wind.”
He looked up, cocked his eyes at me and said, “Are you retarded? I’m beginning to think you are. Like, a highly functional form of something or other. I know some people in Psych, I can ask them to diagnose you, if you want.”
I cleared my throat. I’ve always been afraid that it will turn out that I’ve got some serious things wrong with me, that, deep down inside, I’m a nutcase. There’s precedent for this in my family. One of my grandmothers had bi-polar disorder, another developed dementia, paranoia runs rampant; neuroses are expected, and the list could be endless. Once, in high school, someone asked if they could psychoanalyze me and I all but shouted, “Get thee gone from my sight.” However, since then, I’ve toned it down a bit. “No thanks,” I said.
“You sure, man?” he asked. “A couple of us are a bit worried about you.”
“Woah, like who?”
“No one,” he said, digging his hands and the camera into his coat. “I’ve said too much.” He walked away and I followed.
“No, seriously man, what’s going on behind my back?”
“Nothing. Just, you know, nothing.” He sped up.
I squinted my eyes. Paranoia was taking hold. “I’m gonna find out, you know,” I said.
“Sure,” he said.
We were now back in the park area, and I was ready to let the matter drop. For the moment. There would be a time, sometime soon, when The Student would be inconceivably drunk, and at that time, I would strike with such a barrage of questions that—“What the hell are those things?” I asked, pointing to a series of stone disks stacked on top of each other right next to a green-painted metal jungle gym.
Out came the camera, and then the rapid fire clicking. “An extension of the jungle gym?”
“What the hell kind of kid would choose stone disks over a jungle gym?”
“One that understands that playground equipment doesn’t necessarily need to conform to societal standards.” He moved closer to the disks and took another batch of pictures. “Because what is a ‘jungle gym’ but a Western European, most likely Anglo in origin, seemingly derisive moniker for a batch of twisted metal, perhaps a leftover from colonial thought – in which case, the ‘jungle gym,’ and, indeed, the entirety of the ‘playground,’ must be seen in the lens of post-colonial literature.”
I decided to let him go. He was on a roll.
He shuffled around some more and took more pictures of the disks with the jungle gym in the background as he spoke. “Thus, we must consider that all nations with ‘playgrounds,’ or, ‘exhibitions of post-colonial, Western supremacist thought,’ reflect each country’s colonial history. In the light of such thinking, does a French jungle gym portray the same thinking as an English jungle gym? Do these stone disks, in other words, call to mind a representation of French rule in, say, Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Cambodia. Are these stone disks, in fact, a representation of Angkor Wat, and thus are the French equating their past colonial power to that of a spiritual or religious deity?”
He stood, stretched, and snapped a couple final shots. “If so, they are imprinting the Occidental-centric view of the world upon their children by virtue of having these ‘jungle gyms’ in every playground.” He turned to me and nodded. “I think I’ve created a doctoral thesis, don’t you?”
I shrugged. “I think they were rolled here by Neanderthals and have stayed in this spot for centuries.”
“Yes,” he said. “Quite. Shall we head on?” He checked his watch. “I’d suggest that we get some food in town and head back to Pascale’s before the party tonight.”
“We really going to a journalism party?”
“Yes, why?”
“Because it’s going to be absurdly dull, man. Bunch of nerds hanging around, probably awkwardly, drinking soda or something.”
“Have you ever met a journalism student who wasn’t clutching a bottle of alcohol?”
I thought of The Drunkard. “No. You’re right.”
“And the Universe rights itself and continues forthwith. Speaking of, let’s head out, shall we?”
“Sure,” I said.
We walked back to the drive and walked away from The Citadel.