Saturday, May 29, 2004

So lucky 

Holy shit, it's only nine p.m. and I'm already sunburned, I think I'm a little hungover, and I don't even care: I've just had it pointed out to me that I don't have to go to work on Monday! I'm the laughingstock for not having realized that sooner (like when I got paid early for the holiday weekend), but, in this situation, I'm quite happy being the ass. The ass has two more days off and, in all liklihood, so do you! Happy three day weekend to the rest of the working world.

Get your own burn; love, JK.


Thursday, May 27, 2004

Sans titre 

As a friend has recently returned from and another is soon to depart to France, that kooky nation has been in my thoughts quite a bit lately. Since I've been a bit sick and pretty much self-quarantined to the house, this has meant that I've gotten out all of my photo albums and pored over them, pages and pages of pungently sharp and sentimentally vague memory. I've realized again that I'm not just making it up--if I'd not gone to France in 1999, I would be a radically different person, an unpleasant and static body, today. I give France special credit for this because, during said summer Eurailing across the Continent, France was the only country where I didn't simply visit; there I attended school, rested for weeks, lodged with a host family, lived in every regard. Sorry folks, but here it comes: my weepy as hell look back five years to the most amazing country in our world.

First I need to give a bit of background. Leaving high school had been rough, as I suspect it is for most people who form a few incredibly close relationships at that age. My group was the nerdy one, but at my school the nerds weren't shunned. Well, I take that back; of course we were shunned, but we were part of an academic magnet program so we didn't mind the stigma. After all, we owned that school in a very literal respect--without the academic merits that we continuously poured in, the county would never have been able to support honorable Wilbur Mills University Studies High. As such, the teachers respected us, our teachers even liked us, and we liked them. There also must have been something in the water in the early eighties Little Rock metroplex, as I'd be willing to wager that around thirty to fifty percent of our high school was gay (or at least some variation on the theme). So, we had been academics together and we had come out together, at once bonding ourselves with these mantles and pledging allegiance to them. I felt a bit (read:unimaginably and desperately) sorry then when I sold myself out, cowering away from the high cost of a highly-merited out of state university and, after much deliberation, to attend a local state uni on a full scholarship. The only reason I'd finally caved in to my cowardice, the only reason, the straw that broke the camel's back, was that this local scholarship agreed to pay my way into a university in France for a summer term as a part of it's requirement to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language upon graduation. Having studied French and fantasized about Paris for ages, I caved in to these sensibilities. I regretted the decision every day thereafter.

Every day thereafter, that is, until I actually went abroad. Now, also keep in mind that I took the scholarship program up on this offer the summer after I began college. I left the states in mid-May of 1999, a month and a half before my nineteenth birthday. Looking back I'm a bit stunned that my parents let me do it, but they probably knew that I would have cut them (and rubbed salted lemon juice into the wounds) had they tried to hold me back... and it kept them from having to pay for my tuition. I'd saved up all of my stipend money from the previous year of college plus the little bit I'd earned working in a weak little coffee shop with the intention of stretching that cash over as many miles as possible. I left for London, going from there by way of Cambridge to Wales, leaving from Holyhead to go to Dublin, then on to Galway and the Aran Islands. Having lost track of time, and with the first day of classes fast apporaching, I hightailed it (and almost died, several times) by road and sail and rail to Paris. I popped out of the Chunnel and slid into the City of Lights on July first, 1999, the afternoon before my nineteenth birthday. On my last night as an eighteen year old, I bought three bottles of cheap wine and got two mid-twenties Dutch strangers loaded in the foyer of our hostel. I also need to add that, outside of my sister's naughty influence and a few parties with high school and college friends, I'd had no experience drinking. I enjoyed being unsupervised as I devoted myself on this trip to learning everything that I'd put off for so long. The Dutchmen also encouraged me to visit Amsterdam (as getting drunk always makes me talk about wanting a joint), yet another life-changing experience whose retelling must wait until later. Emerging sans hangover the next morning ("I love wine!"), I turned 19 in Paris. Beautiful. I met up with my other scholarship schoolmates that day, all girls, at a hotel paid for by our university: Shawn and Frances, who were essentially strangers to me, Georgia and Kathleen, both my age and as pristine as white cotton panties, Beatrice, the hushed Kenyan, Ayesha, the saucy Ghanaienne, and Olga the Ukranian, all of whom I knew from the French classes we shared in the states. As pristinely as I had imagined them, Georgia and Kathleen welcomed me (and everyone else) up to their hotel "balcony" (something of a roof-access platform with a waist-high barrier wall) to drink to my birthday and, indeed, to our collective excitement about being in Paris. We got drunk drunk dru-hunk up there, and Georgia asked me, within minutes of one another, whether or not I was gay and whether or not anal sex was pleasurable. It cracked me up, but I couldn't answer her on the second one: I was still a virgin. As everyone slowly passed out among a flurry of hugs and tears and shrieks, Shawn and Frances and I decided to go out, as the night was young, we were in Paris, and I was nine-fucking-teen!

When we went to leave the hotel, we were halted at the door by an amazing sight; a wide column of rollerbladers stretched the length of the street as far as lamp-lit vision would permit, literally thousands of people, making little sound loud enough to penetrate the fuzzy blanket of hissing bearings and wheels on pavement. It was so cool! We took it as a surreally good omen and, not wanting to cause a pile-up, waited until they had passed, without explanation, to cross the road laughing. We headed, naturally, to Pigalle, the seat of the red light district. We wanted to see some hairy French tits and asses, so we decided to splurge and stop in at (where else, I ask?) la Moulin Rouge, pre-Ewan MacGregor! I don't remember too much of the evening, but we got to see topless dancers in feathers, and the guy driving the white truck was singing at Shawn and Frances as this picture was taken. Hoot.

After a couple of more days exploring the city, (Becky and I went up the Eiffel Tower on the night of the Fourth and saw tiny pockets of Americans launching fireworks across the glittering cityscape, and then had a cabbie point out by swerving a little when we passed the point where Princess Di had died in a vicious accident) we all made our way to meet our host families in Orléans on the fifth of July. We were all so nervous, including the students who had been exchange students already in the U.S.--I can taste the fearful bile thinking back to that point on the train to Orléans, and I even remember thinking about how I could possibly get out of this and just skip through to the next destination on my map. When we arrived (at the actual city station, the second one...never get off at Orléans Les Aubrais!), tension mounted to an unbearable point. How would I even recognize them? Did they have a picture of me? What if they didn't come?

I finally saw an insane-looking woman in the distance flaggin her arms wildly, and focusing on her, I could see that she was mouthing my name. There they were: my incredibly amazing host family, Sandrine (who leves 80's music), Florian (who was 15 at the time and very into computers), Marie-Andre (the nurse who loved making me have fun), Philippe (the detective who made me laugh with his demonstrations of various French accents), and Sophie (the bitchy but caring half-sister who corrected my every incorrect article). Aside from the few phrases that all French know and love ("by night," "western," and "thug" are the ones I remember), they spoke no English. This picture of them was taken in their idyllic back yard, where we took virtually every meal, at my send off at the end of the program. We had chocolate cake (the remains of which Marie-Andre slipped into my backpack when I wasn't looking), and a few representatives of the favorite gastronomic tastes I'd picked up during my stay: Muscadet (sweet and cold), salade aux tomates (tomatoes, onions, and feta), and Marie-André's fit-inducing blintzes with egg. Marie-André had been very accomodating in agreeing to host me, the odd American vegetarian, but she loved the challenge of representing her cooking without relying on meat. She used me as a tool in the kitchen, planning meals around what I could eat, but always pushing the envelope and getting me to eat things for which I'd never expected to have a fondness. I'd told her that I didn't really like tomoatoes nor onions, but as long as meat or fish wasn't a component that I would certainly give it a college try. "You are going to impress yourself with the things you'll learn to love," she told me on my first day in her kitchen. I thought that was an amazingly wise thing to have said to someone, and I still tingle a bit when I remember the way thinking that thought made me feel. She then served me a salad made from only tomato and onion, and I loved it. Marie-André knows all. The average dinner would start around eight p.m. and just sort of gradually taper off as courses and drinks and coffees rolled past. It was a delightlful way to spend every day once I learned to have my homework finished before dinner.

Their home was a dreamland: a narrow rowhouse four centuries old, it had been a bakery in its original incarnation. Under the kitchen floor lay a trapdoor which led to the "wine cellar," a gigantic room carved out of the bedrock that had been used to keep flour and other perishables cool and dry throughout the year. The masons had carved their initials into the wall of the cellar before finishing the work. I was offered the pick of two rooms, one on the second floor with a street view, or the peak room at the top of the house on the fourth floor that had a view of the backyard garden. I chose the larger second floor room for a few reasons: it seemed noticeably cooler and got better breezes, was larger and taller, and if I chose to smoke I could simply toss my butts down to the street in secret without mussing up the backyard. In addition, the house was only a ten minute walk from the center of town. In this aerial photo of the city, follow the downward-pointing street made by the white-paved Pont Georges V to the intersection with an L-shaped building at the bottom of the photo. Follow at a sharp angle (going back towards the bridge) the tall part of the L to trace the length or Rue St. Marceau, our street... half an inch or so up this street is the beautiful, small Eglise St. Marceau (just a church to the French, a cathedral to me--it has a little semi-circular garden at it's rear yard). Our house is one of the row houses just beyond this church. The only picture I have of it was taken around three in the morning, drunk, on my last night in Orléans (so do understand its heaniness... the moon was absolutely crying out for me to take this photo). In this street view from my window, you can see, on the right, the Eglise St. Marceau and, peeking up in the distance on the left, the grand Cathedral of the city proper. The Loire is studded with dozens of lush, stable sandbars, which were my favorite spot for meeting up to get some sun (and, of course, for casually drinking more wine). Across the street from the house was a quaint primary school and a bakery, so, quite often, my alarm clock would be the sounds of children playing and the infinitely pleasant smell of first-morning baguettes.

Which brings me to school. The first day of my education in the French system caused me to experience what I can best describe as a total mental collapse--well, to nearly experience one. The perpetually smiling professors would emerge from behind their stern facades the moment you let them know that you were truly in distress. I was placed, for one solid day, in the highest level of instruction. I was the only American, while most others were lawyers or other twentysomething European professionals who'd already spent some time living or working in France. Holy shit, the tension of the setting alone made me close up so much that when the instructor would give me an especially impenetrable prompt in the imperfect subjunctive, I would simply nod "no" in response.
She seemed to understand, and after pleading my case, she and another instructor put me in one level lower, in a group where I knew a couple of people, and where an occasionnal stammer was to be expected. Regardless, English (or any language other than French) was strictly banned from our classrooms. From there I picked up French at a speed that suggested one merely need eat baguettes and drink wine and feel the suffusion of francais throughout one's body. I loved it. For our last week of classes, we got to use a modest wing of a local chateau to house our coursework. Now, when I say modest, I only mean that architectural ornamentation was kept at a mid nineteenth-century minimum; on the grounds, however, no expense had been spared, as evidenced in this view from my classroom study table. Moving courses to this place during the last week of classes was a brilliant administrative move (and incredibly nice, I might add); by the last week we were all operating at peak performance, but perhaps stagnating a bit, both in interest and ability, because the university's summer term had ended and left the campus a dull, empty place. Arriving here, we all got a massive jolt of inspiration again (the grounds were something of a parc floral, and occasionally we would have recitations or other meetings outside amid piles of fragrant flowers, distant calling swans, and the sounds of wind through the pines combined with the tumbling water of fountains). Some of our rooms had honest to goodness historic documents on the walls in simple frames (check me out with the "Go, Europe" book in hand). Carl, the Swedish lawyer who wished to work in France, Craig, the Spencerian scholar who now works as a ranch hand, and I were the only three students to have chosen to enlist in the creative writing course... at the chateau, we came together to edit our slim volume of original poetry, fiction, drama, and essay with the help of our hilarious instructor and Samira, our student aide. On our first day we wrote a five-page play called "Love and Chopsticks" about immigrant love on airplanes, an amazing task if you ask me (god bless our instructors). Madame Barazar, the most hard-assed (read: best) professor at the university, showed us on the last day of class just how much she had enjoyed being with us. If you read the board carefully, you can see that she's instructing us using exemplar sentences that (we gradually realized) were character descriptions of us, her five students. My segment began "Il est vegetarien..."

I met what seems to be an infinite number of hilarious, friendly, touching, complex people that summer. I got to know Shawn very well that summer, as we were the only two students who actually lived in the city. We would have dinner at each other's hosts' homes (on her birthday, her host mom made us a home-made apple tart from her backyard apple tree), walk each other home from the bar, and, eventually, travel from Amsterdam to Rome with one another. When I lost my virginity on that trip, in Florence no less, Shawn was the first to give me a high-five and, shirieking her pride to the crowd, bought me a post-coital celebration beer. When we got back to the states, she would get my underage ass into the bar where she worked. In this picture of her, I'm capturing her twirling with fabulousness, our photographic theme of the summer, under the arcade in the old part of the city while waiting for the bus. Speaking of twirling, I also got to know Frances very well there. Frances is a dancer and ballerina, and I always liked having her around to give me a batte-de-jambe at the drop of a hat. She also went with us from Amsterdam to Rome. Motoko was a Japanese girl who had been studying in Reading, England, so her accent was a bit British. I think she may be certifiably insane (the dress she's wearing in this picture was the only garment I ever saw her wear), but she laughed with me about getting a fabric ass-burn from my pants while riding horses and she would always go with me to the disco. Tobias was a quiet German boy. I once asked him to translate Rammstein song lyrics for me and, after I recited a full song in purely phonetic German, we became fast friends. He drank pastis, ate oysters, and would go bulimic for a week if he thought he would be too heavy to qualify for Judo ("YOO-doh") competitions. He gave me his copy of the Chemical Brothers' then-unreleased-in-America "Surrender" (and he finally did something about that hair). I've already mentioned Swedish lawyer Carl, but he was an absolute gem. Aside from being almost excited about meeting a gay American (is this difficult in Sweden? who knew?), he also did a terrific impression of the Swedish chef, taught me about currants and other frou-frou Euro fruit, and absolutely loved Abba (which is hilarious when you're almost seven feet tall and shriek like a girl when the disco would play "S.O.S."). He also taught me the Swedish hick accent. I owe him the most, however, for having struck up a close relationship with Kathleen, giving me pregnancy-taunting rights (I loved bringing her condoms and softly pleading with her in French to play safe). Our favorite bar, le Key West, had hilarious bartenders, Franck et Pierre. Pierre, the (married) 'tender in the middle, was the first man to ever get his tongue in my mouth (I sneaked behind the bar and put Madonna's "Immaculate Collection" on the sound system, sending him into a drunk, horny trance) in front of a bunch of people who didn't know I was gay, provoking great moans and oohs and ahhs to embarrass me. After I got all embarrassed, but still laughing and decidedly turned on, he informed me that this was the nice way of outing people, and that his interest wasn't just superficial. You rock, dude. There were skads of American girls who I aimed to corrupt with my homosexual flair, but it turned out that they'd all ended up coming to France because of nascent urges to be bad--when one of our instructors offered to fly us over Orléans in his tiny Cessna, these three and I came along excitedly; while waiting (at the pilot's bar!) for the instructor to bring his plane around, they skimmed vodkoranges (orangina and vodka cocktails) from leering, drunken pilots for us. The girls in general in our class were pretty ass kicking. Here they are during and after performing some good old fashioned French slapstick for our host families (the theme: a murderous parrot tricks a plumber into repetively abandoning his projects, cluminating in the eventual bludgeoning, somehow, of its' old lady owner). Quite a few of the students in our program were the middle-aged wives of Japanese chemists who had been hired by the Dior perfume lab in the city (which was beautifully juxtaposed with a gigantic messy flea market), so indeed some of my favorite people memories are of getting sloshed at our frequent bar room socials. They would usually be the first to comply when I issued a demand to have a picture of everyone's asses or a simple, tasteful group photo of everyone hunting for boogers.

It was a tremendous time, and I'm glad that even after five years I seem to still have at hand and at heart easy access to all the tactile, sensual, and emotional moments I cherish. Detail may fail, but impression is forever.


This infection, whatever it may be, is incredibly stubborn. While the worst of it (in magnitude) has passed, I think the bulk of it (in sheer volume, of course) is still coming. I maintain my passionate dislike for any mucous that makes itself known on the outside of my body, or, for that matter, the overly abundant sort that drains into my throat.

Mucous aside, I'm in a sparkly mood. Yesterday I received a confusing email from the admissions director at the George Washington University School of Public Health. In tone and vocabulary, it generally seemed to be welcoming me to their institution. But, alas, I'm still uncertain because of the use of one key word: rather than alerting me that I'd been admitted to the school, she let me know, with congratulations, that I had been omitted to GWU. The two words aren't exactly homophonic, but I can hear a closeness when I speak them aloud. Maybe she has an inept transcriptionist. Maybe she just types while talking (I do so myself quite often) and her hands inscribed what they heard. Maybe I just didn't get in. We shall see--I expect something a little more formal by the weekend.

On the premise that I did get in to GWU, I'd like to put out a call to everyone: if you had to choose between two cities (whose academic institutions were, for the purpose of this exercise, equally attractive), New Orleans and Washington, D.C., in which would you choose to live? Hopefully you smartasses know better than giving me a skimpy response. I want reasons, justifications, volumes on what elements of these cities led to your decision. In asking you guys, I'm hoping to think of some solid reasons that would never have occurred to me until after I'd already made up my mind (and I hate it when that happens). Everything is on the block and nothing is shocking, so have at.


Monday, May 24, 2004

Doctor Dollar 

Healthcare in the absence of health insurance is an absolute joke. After five days of escalating symptoms, a two-day 102 degree fever, and a brother who's had the same symptoms since fucking Mother's Day, this is the brilliant and sage medical advice I get today:

"Might be a virus. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and let me know if you don't get better. Here's some decongestant."

Ah, the wisdom of medical school, I can see, is far above the woes of the healthcare industry.


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