Friday, November 7, 2008

Why signs are for suckers

I saw Aidan again last night. I know, right? But app
arently the magic words to win back my favor do exist, and those words are David Sedaris.

And so I found myself at the Village Voice Bookshop in Paris last night with front-row seats for his reading. I tried to take surreptitious pictures without a flash, but ended up with a bunch of blurry photos. Let me tell you, that guy does not stop moving.

I feel like I've been waiting my whole life to see David Sedaris live and in pe
rson (though it may be more like seven years), and while he regularly packs theaters in the U.S. for high-paying audiences (I mean, he performed in Carnegie Hall, for heaven's sake), I feel so lucky I was able to see him for free, and in such an intimate venue, right here in Paris. Though it was perhaps not entirely free; in honor of the event I bought a new camera, with all the money I don't have, after my old one stopped working just in time for me to not take my first vacation photo last week. I also bought a copy of his newest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, to have him sign. He came an hour early just to sign books, and as he slowly, agonizingly made his way over to my side of the room (as everyone was too scared of losing their hard-won seats to go to him), I tried to think of something remotely witty or entertaining to say to him. For 18€, I wanted to have my "moment," after all. Of course when the time came it was all I could do to squeak out my name. But he, being an understanding sort, and likely accustomed to helping out with this sort of "manufactured moment," piped up.

"So, Rachel," he said, "I'm sure that you're a Gemini. Tell me you're a Gemini."

"Uh," I said. I turned to Aidan for help. "How did he know?" I tittered nervously and unconvincingly. How could I tell David Sedaris, the David Sedaris, that he was wrong? How could I ruin David Sedaris's credibility in front of dozens of people? Or maybe that was the thing? Was he trying to be funny? In any case, I didn't get it.

"Aw, she's just humoring me," he said to his attentive audience.

"Yeah," I admitted.

"Well," he said, "in that case, I'm sure you like turtles."

"Um, yes!" I said. "Of course!" (Sycophant!)

And when he handed me back my book, it looked like this:

I thanked him, and sneaked a quick peek at my neighbor's book. He had signed his full name in hers, whereas he only signed his initials in mine. But then again, I did have the turtle. There was that.

Then he read, not from his book, but from an article he had written for the New Yorker, a piece he had written for submission to This American Life (and which was ultimately rejected, because, as he said, it has to be read out loud for it to make sense), and select entries from his diary. It was everything I hoped it would be. My life's dream fulfilled, afterward Aidan and I fought our way against the current of people like salmon swimming upstream (although, wouldn't it be like swimming downstream, if you're swimming against all the other salmon?), until we reached the refreshingly chilled outside air. Once again it was that magic hour, 7:45 p.m., and there were rumblings in my tummy. "So..." Aidan began, "what do you want to do?" And before I had a chance to reply he said, "I actually don't have any money on me, so I can't go out anywhere, but if you want, we can go back to my place and have tea." Tea again. Has this line actually worked for him in the past? And again, before I could answer, he asked, "So, do you work tomorrow?"
I wanted to say yes, because it seemed like he was providing me with an out, but I'm a terrible liar, so I said no. Instead what I said was this: "Actually, I don't have any food in the house, so I should really get back before the grocery store closes." Which, as an excuse, is infinitely more lame than simply, "No, sorry, I have to work tomorrow," but had the benefit of being at least partially true; I didn't have any food in the house, and I was hungry, but it was already too late to go to the grocery store, so on the truth-lie spectrum it fell right about the middle. The important thing is that I was able to half-lie convincingly, and so after a quick peck on the lips I made my exit.

I jumped on a subway train and settled in for the ride to the Gare du Nord where I would take my next train home. I wavered between which book to read, but as I had already read (or at least listened to, on audiobook) David Sedaris's new book, I pulled out the book I had brought with me, Windows on the World by Fréderic Beigbeder. A fictional minute by minute account of one man's experience on September 11, it's not exactly light reading, but though the title would indicate otherwise, it is written in French, intertwined with the odd English phrase here and there:
"it's none of your business," "she's hot," "oh my God." Every chapter starts with the time. I was on 8h40. For some reason, something made me look to my right. There was a man sitting next to me, also reading. The top of his page read 10h02. That's strange, I thought. Unlikely, but... I took a closer look. The first sentence started out, Les pirates de l'air vivaient confortablement dans les petites stations balnéaires de Floride... I flipped to 10h02 in my book: Les pirates de l'air vivaient confortablement dans les petites stations balnéaires de Floride...

No way. What else could I do? I tapped him on the arm, causing him to remove one ear bud, and said, "Excuse me, but I think we're reading the same book."

"Mais non," he replied, with typical French skepticism.

"Mais si!" I said, presenting my book for his inspection.

"But that's incroyable!" he said.

"Yes, it's vraiment bizarre!"

We stared at each other in genuine amazement and befuddlement for a few seconds. "So, how do you like it?" he finally said.

"Oh, I like it," I said. "I just started, but I like it."

"Yes, this author," he said, "I haven't read anything else by him, but he's...and well," he flipped to another page, listing the author's other works, and pointed to one, "this one's supposed to be really good too."

"Yes, I like it because the language is fairly easy, it's good for me."

"Yes, how he mixes English with French..."

"Exactly! I love that."

"So, what do you do?" he asked.

"I'm an English assistant," I said.

"Oh, I'm taking English classes, for my job," he said. "It's good because we have lots of teachers from different places with all different accents: Indian, British, American..."

"Which accent is your favorite?" I asked him, shamelessly angling for a compliment.

"Irish is easiest to understand," he said, and I realized I had never actually told him I was American.

"That's funny," I said, "because sometimes we have a lot of trouble understanding Irish people, when their accents are really strong."

"And you're from...?"

"The U.S.," I said.

"And what do you do?" he asked.

"Er, I'm an English assistant?" I said.

"Yes, but, what does that involve?"

"Oh," I said. "Well, I'm in a high school and a middle school, and I'm basically there to provide authenticity, I guess. I'm not supposed to teach, exactly, just try to get them to talk and use what they know. I just play games with them, really."

It was about this time that I realized that I was enjoying myself more than I ever had enjoyed myself in a Métro car, that I could get used to looking at this face that was inches from my own, that I wanted this conversation to go on and on, and also that my stop was rapidly approaching. I started gathering my things. "The next one's me," I mentioned.

"Oh, where are we?" he asked. "Ah, Gare du Nord. I'm Porte de Clichy," he said. And halfway between one stop and the next, I realized, and perhaps he did too, that it was now too late. Even if that awkward question was broached, there would be no time for scrambling for cell phones, for grasping for pens and scraps of paper that are never to be found when they are needed. The futility of the situation hit me as the seconds ticked down and the train inched to a stop.

"Well," I said, "it was very nice to meet you, and so strange, as well, and, well..."

"Yes!" he said. "It was so nice talking to you, and..."

"Well, good night," I said, and we shared one last look, still that half-dazed look of wonder and bewilderment, as if we still weren't sure exactly what had just happened. "Good night," he said, but his sentence was still unfinished, even as I left the train, the weight of everything unsaid hanging in the air between us as I walked away. I made my way to my next train through crowds of people, but there were no footsteps behind me, and suddenly I felt my body become unbearably heavy, crushed by missed opportunity and bitter, bitter disappointment. I dragged my feet as my mind cried out: This was not supposed to happen this way!!! I have seen the movies, and it doesn't end like this!!! And I know what you're thinking, because I have been thinking it myself: I should have given him my phone number, I should have pretended my stop was elsewhere, I should have asked him if he wanted to get together to discuss the book over a coffee after we had both finished. But ultimately, I know that I did everything I could. Even just initiating a conversation with him in the first place was a huge undertaking for me. My face flushed immediately red and likely stayed that way for the duration of our conversation, my tongue tripped over words and I lapsed immediately into my very worst, most American accent. And then I smiled, and I looked him in the eye, and I blushed some more. I did everything I could, and it still wasn't enough. And yes, he very well might have gone home to his girlfriend, but the truth is, I will never know.

And now I am sick to death of signs: if a bird shitting on your head on a first date, or finally meeting someone you were supposed to meet in Boston on the other side of the world, or reading exactly the same book as the person next to you on the Métro aren't signs, then nothing is. After a lifetime of never having a meet-cute story, I suddenly am finding myself with enough meet-cute stories to fill a book, or at least a novella. But what I quickly realized about the meet-cute story is that the meeting is not actually the most important part. If the meet-cute is the icing, the cake is everything that comes after. And without that, without the after, all you have is a gloppy bowl of icing, and it's sweet enough to make you vomit. If there is a god, I've decided, he has a twisted sense of humor. It's like presenting a five-course meal to a starving person, and then yanking it away again at the very last second. But for some reason, instead of learning, the starving person falls for it every single time, thinking, maybe this time it's for real...

And so I came home, made dinner, and drank the remaining inch and a half of wine remaining in the bottle from our Obama celebration the other night. Then my roommate (who shall hereafter be known as Fred, because The Mediterranean is a silly nickname) came home, and upon hearing of my "depression," offered to go out to buy another bottle of wine, which he very kindly did. And we stayed up until 2:30 in the morning drinking and talking, and for some reason I ended up letting him read my blog, because he had already seen me typing on it, and he had already remarked upon the title, Diary of Why. ("I find it perfect," he said). The only thing stopping him from reading it anyway was my go-ahead, because he is an honorable sort, and said he wouldn't unless I said it was ok. And so, due in no small part to the half a bottle of wine I had consumed, I'm sure, I figured I might as well get it over with. "Ok," I said, "you can read it."

"What's...olive-complexioned?" he asked. "What's...twinkly-eyed?" Oh lord. Kill me now. And so, if my posts from now on are light on mentions of the general chaotic disorder of the household, or of the relative twinkliness of my roommate's eyes, well, that's why. And though I hate to censor myself, for a place to live near Paris and (their tendency to leave dirty dishes in the sink aside) the two best roommates anyone could ask for, well, it's worth it. I may have a bowl of frosting with no cake, but as long as I have wine, and roommates to come home to who tease me about my search for "signs" and laugh at my inadvertent grammatical errors, I think everything will be ok, after all.


  1. I adore David Sedaris and love that you got to meet him. Have you read his previous books? I've read all of them (and thought them all terrific and hilarious) but found this latest one lacking some "je ne sais quoi."

  2. I've read all of his other books. I need to read his new one again, or for the first time, rather, because listening to it on audiobook is such a different experience than reading it, and I know there's a lot I missed.

  3. But wait!!! It's not the end of the story! I know it isn't!!!
    Next time you see him on the Metro, and I'm SURE you will, GIVE HIM YOUR FLIPPING NUMBER!!! I can't think of a guy I've dated in my life that I haven't made the first move on.

  4. I think my friend was behind you in line last night, she told me pretty much the exact same story today except from her point of view!

    Also, I think you are friends with my friend Anna - what a small world!

  5. Sam - That is crazy! I think internet makes the world smaller. Before Facebook and blogs etc., I never knew when one of my friends was independently friends with someone else I knew. I will be sure to mention it to Anna the next time I see her. :)

  6. Um, he could have gotten off with you. He didn't and I think it's for the best. You have bigger fish to fry!

  7. I agree with JLL. When a French guy is interested in you, believe me, he will make that move! Even by doing the craziest things like leaving his side of the Métro platform to come to your side just to ask you to go out with him and hopping on the train with you until you agree. Or he'll stop his car in the middle of a large busy street and jump out to ask you to have a drink with him and he couldn't care less that cars are honking at him for blocking traffic...etc. Since he didn't ask you for your number or get off the train with you, could you have been perhaps imagining more?

  8. Lynn- You are right. Clearly I am overly optimistic and bursting with misplaced self-confidence.

    Ha! Sorry, but I don't think you know me at all. :)

  9. No, you're right, I don't know you at all, but after spending more than half my life in Paris and having lived with and dated more Frenchmen than I care to mention....and proposed to by four gorgeous French guys, 3 that are exes and I'm still living with the 4th one.... I think I know Frenchmen!

    Now if you ask why if they were so great did they become exes....I'm one of those women who never wanted to get married. (Maybe that's why they proposed! Lol.!) I didn't mind living with them, and then eventually I wanted to move on to other things, other places, other experiences. I have remained good friends with my exes, however, and as I said, I'm still living with the fourth one.

    I'm sorry to be so blunt, and I hope you don't think I'm being mean because that wasn't my intention. I just wanted you to know that most French guys will make that move and if he doesn't, then he's just not that into you. Don't take my word for it, ask several of them and see what they say!

    Then again, you may be right; he could be one of those rare ones that wanted to make that move and just didn't know how!

  10. I don't know, I think there are more and more (young) French guys out there who are really shy and who don't have the self-confidence of their older predecessors.

  11. Ksam, I thought about what you said and I decided to ask my significant other what he thought because he use to be relatively shy when he was young and we also asked his nephew who is a cute young French guy in his 20's who is also somewhat shy. It's very interesting the perspective that they gave me on the situation, because there were things they said that I hadn't even thought of.

    1. Because DofW initiated the conversation and they spoke for quite awhile, both of them said that even though they were shy, that in itself would have given them enough courage to ask her for her phone # or set a rendez-vous to meet again if they were interested.

    2. When DofW said she was an English assistant and he said he was taking English classes for his job, both of them said it was a perfect opportunity for him to say, "Oh, maybe you can give me English lessons?" or "Maybe you can teach me English?" Both said, if he didn't take that opportunity, it was more than likely because he wasn't interested.

    3. When DofW says there was "...everything unsaid hanging in the air", both said that perhaps it was an uncomfortable feeling because he knew she was waiting for him to make a move, and he also knew he wasn't going to, so that could have made things awkward and could have mislead her into believing there was something more.

    4. Both agree that they think he wasn't interested....OR!....(And this is a big "OR"!) Both say DofW could have interpreted all the signs correctly, but he just wasn't available, so regardless of all the opportunities that he had, he didn't make a move.

  12. Yes! I've got it! NOT INTERESTED!

    Thank goodness I have the internet here to put me in my place.

  13. Lynn, no offense, but just STOP. Maybe he wasn't interested, or he had a girlfriend, or maybe he really was just shy - none of us will never know, so what's the point of rehashing this perfectly lovely rencontre into a bloody, meaningless pulp? It's like you've tarnished this really sweet encounter she had and given it a bad name.

  14. Sorry! Delete my comments and I won't post again! What can I say....

  15. I think you’re being too hard on Lynn. Comments are for leaving your opinion, not for always agreeing with the writer. Otherwise, why have them?

  16. Yes, how dare you deny us our right to be condescending asses! *sigh*