September 21, 2018

Two … Incidents

A chill wind came off the vineyards in the hills above me, making me wish I had drier clothes.  I was on a country road now in the still cold but brightening valley, hitchhiking from Karlsruhe and heading into the heart of the Lorraine.  I say “heart” not in the sense of “center” but in the sense of “romance.”  On this particular romantic mission, I had been chased (for the third time) off the Autobahn, and had spent the night before sleeping in a field.  It was late Autumn, and all I had was a light jacket between me and the elements.  Before I awoke a heavy dew had settled over me to match the dampness below.  And when I did wake up, I had never felt so damn cold.  It was exhilarating.  Even my bones felt alive, moving.  Just before dawn, as I trudged my way back to where I thought the road would be, I got temporarily lost.  But I came upon an orchard.  In the dark, I remember the sound that apple made as I bit into it, and the way the cold juice ran down my neck and dampened the collar of my tee-shirt.  As the light came up through the mist, I moved to the next tree and pulled down a pear; it occurred to me that I had never had, and will never ever have another breakfast that will taste this good.

 It would take me more time than I thought it would, but I eventually got to Kehl and crossed the Rhine into Strasburg, where I got mixed up, missed meeting some people when and where I was supposed to meet them and wound up in the restaurant of the main train station with a bottle of the most amazing wine I had ever tasted in front of me..  Almost everything had gone wrong, but it all felt so right.  I realized I was in a zone where there was no way anything wrong could happen – even “wrong” things turned out right.  I know now, but didn’t then, it’s called “youth.”

 At some point a group of glassy-eyed, boisterous, American soldiers noisily stumbled into the restaurant (they were in “civvies,” but there was no mistaking their identity).  I noticed a very old, white-bearded man, in a Tyrolean hat who was sitting by himself in a far corner of the restaurant daintily drinking a small glass of Pernod.  I noticed him because, although he was sitting by himself, he was gesticulating in a most animated way.  And then I looked, and over in the other corner of the restaurant was another not-quite-so-old man who was not only receiving these gestures but sending his own in turn.  These gestures were thoroughly, deeply “European,” a veritable arsenal of slight movements and tics and flicks of meanings gained and enhanced over generations – the cocked head, the raised eyebrows, the rolling of the eyes, the tongue pressing the cheek one way, changing meaning when pressed another way; using the forefinger to tug the lower eyelid or circler near the temple, pulling an earlobe, using a fist to screw-up the nose, etc. – but I was totally understanding what they meant.  It went something like this:  “Those are crazy people” – “No, they are Americans” – “Yes, but they are crazy” – “No, they are drunk” – “You are wrong, they are using drugs” – etc.  But to follow this extended conversation I had to swivel my focus from one side to another, back and forth, as if I were following a tennis match.  And as I followed, dizzyingly, from meaningful volley to volley, I began laughing at one of the funniest conversations I had ever “seen,” until I almost fell off of my chair.  I say “almost” because, before the “match” was over, I was escorted from the restaurant by the waiter who allowed me, in the most suave, European way, to take the rest of my second bottle of wine with me.  On the sidewalk outside I checked my watch.  It wasn’t yet 10 AM.

 Now, last Saturday morning, I was taking my wife to rendezvous with a friend and then together they would travel on to Craiova.  We were low on gas and as we came around the Gar du Nord, I asked her where we could get some.  She told me, “There, at the bottom of the hill.”  It was on the left.  We were in the middle lane, and approaching rapidly.  As I abruptly swung over into the left lane, I cut off the driver behind me, who immediately let me know I had made a mistake by the blaring of his horn, the flashing of his lights, etc.  My wife, also let me know I was in the wrong, which I totally acknowledged.  But when we stopped at the light before the turn, the driver behind pulled up beside us (in the on-coming lane!) to further express his opinion.  I felt something click inside me.  Normally (and this has happened in the past), in this kind of situation, I would start yelling back, giving the one-finger salute, or maybe even getting out of the car (I am a big guy, and you can’t tell I am just a teddy bear by looking at me).  But this time I didn’t get that feeling.  This very agitated driver was now pointing to his head and, sort of, gesturing outward from there.  I responded by putting my hands out to either side – as if to say “sorry,” or “shit happens” depending on how you take such gestures, but, anyway, acknowledging my guilt.  But this, apparently, was not enough.  He started gesturing with his hands coming on and off the wheel and sort of jumping up and down in his seat in a way that, I think, referred to my driving skills.  I noticed I was trying to repress a smile but couldn’t hold back and started giggling as I then responded in acknowledgement of the grievousness of my sin by bringing my hands up in front of me, together, as if in prayer.  This only seemed to enrage him further as he took off his glasses and now started, exaggeratingly, pointing at them and violently shaking his head… But… it was too late, … I was gone – hopelessly laughing my ass off now, recognizing not only the ridiculousness of this situation at this train station, but simultaneously remembering a sublime silliness that happened in another train station a long time ago.  But now I was an actor – with my very own “European” gestures! – instead of just being part of the audience.

 When we pulled into the gas station my wife shot me a stony glance.  She was, I am sure, thinking of the way I recklessly veered into the left lane.  But I thought of the laughing that was there instead of the anger that normally would have been.  She is, I am sure, worried that this is an early-warning signal of the oncoming symptoms that occur in the late life stages.  While I am convinced that I am – finally – beginning to recapture a vital spark of my long-lost, misspent youth.  Same evidence, different interpretations.  Ain’t life Grand? The businesses that were first to adopt the front-end website became the movers and shakers in their industries, accessing and perfecting an edge their competitors had yet to realize

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