[John Winston lives in Paris]
John Winston lives in Paris, France, and has been an employee of Papetti’s Table Ready Eggs since the company was founded in the early 1960s. His job involves selling Papetti products to the markets and restaurants of the city’s 18th arrondissement, which includes Montmarte and Moulin Rouge. As you might imagine, he sees some pretty idiosyncratic characters during his weekly vendor run! Still, as a lifelong manic-depressive, Winston not only appreciates but is cheered by the eccentric lives he sees unfolding as he walks the warren of streets surrounding Sacre Coeur. Their strangenesses make him feel less alone. It helps, too, that James Paul, an unemployed friend, often joins him on his runs to keep things light. John and James are nearly identical in appearance, which tends to unnerve the store-owners they deal with but gives the two of them no end of amusement. In fact, their eerie resemblance is much more of a problem than either man will admit: children often run from them like piglets who’ve not yet been gunbroken; birds fly off in a panic when they approach. John tries to ignore the effect he and James have on those they pass, but sometimes it depresses him so much he goes home and cries for an hour or more.
On one particular day, a Tuesday, John is sitting on a cornflake-colored park bench waiting for James to arrive so the two can visit a restaurant on the southern edge of the arrondissement. James drives a lime-colored van (a 1988 Renault), which John has been urging him for years to trade in. Thoughts of this particular disagreement fly from John’s head when James arrives and John sees that his friend’s physical appearance has changed dramatically in the three weeks since he saw him last. James’s face looks longer than it ever has, a fact James is unable to explain and which pains John because the two men now look almost nothing alike. “What the hell, James?” says John. “I needed a change, John,” says James. “Mother said you and I look like twin walruses. I don’t want to look like a walrus, John. I just don’t.” John bites his tongue, lest he tell his old friend where he can stick it and the two have a bad day together.
As James is driving them down Rue de Mont Cenis, the two men see a line of policemen sitting on a stone wall. This in itself wouldn’t be so surprising, but the young gendarmes look so positively giddy that John is compelled to speculate (not unreasonably, if you could see them!) that the whole lot are tripping on acid. Then, just like that, one of their walkies squawks and the whole gaggle runs down an alley toward Rue des Saules. “Well, that was a mindfuck,” says John. James agrees. What John doesn’t tell James is that he expects he’ll cry about the encounter later. Why? Who knows. John is a manic-depressive, as previously noted.
As they approach the Saint-Vincent Cemetery, James finally asks John, “What’s with the Target t-shirt, man?” (James means here a tee with the Target logo on it, not a tee bought at Target. John has better fashion sense than that; he’s a bit of a hipster, is John.) John is about to answer when the Renault screeches to a halt. James, long-faced moron that he is, has just hit a dog. The two men scramble from the van and kneel above the poor creature, a border collie mix by the look of him. He’s not dead, but soon will be; John notes, with evident distress, that the unfortunate little mongrel will die with that disgusting yellow crust dogs get all over both eyes. As the mutt expires, John pulls the crust from his closing eyes. It seems a kindness. He wipes his hand on his pant leg as a crowd begins to gather around them: a woman from the local fish market; a stripper from one of the peepshows in the Moulin Rouge, thoughtfully dressed as a nun; an effeminate little boy (likely the fishmonger’s son) whose pants hang dangerously, even inappropriately low from his narrow hips. (Why is John watching his hips so intently?)
Once their run is
complete, the two men retire to John’s garden apartment, where John has reproduced an English garden in miniature. (His uncle was a Yorkshireman.) It’s a
cloudy day, but some sunshine’s due later on. James is grouchy about both the
dog (which was his fault) and the weather (which is not). John points out, not
particularly helpfully, that the two men can get a tan even if the sun doesn’t
come out—he read it in a National Geographic article. “Bollocks,” says James,
lighting a cigarette. “Well, I know this much, James,” says John. “That shit will kill you.” “Experts
schmexperts,” says James, coughing. “Drive around the arrondissement, John, and
you’ll see smokers on every street corner, joking around, smiling like pigs in
shit, laughing at you for being such a judgmental prude.”
John will cry about this insult later; for the nonce, and to hide his upset, he unrolls a copy of the city paper. “A woman plans on climbing the Eiffel Tower,” he tells James. “She’s got a weird name,” he adds. James grunts noncomittally. John continues reading. “The zoo’s got a new penguin,” he says, after a moment. “They say he can sing like a Hare Krishna.” “‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’” replies James, somewhat distantly. “Oh, enough with the Victorian shit already,” says John. “No one likes Victorian shit. You should have seen the way they kicked Poe around in the papers when they published his Collected Poems. A nutter, they called him.”
“What the hell did you say?” demands James. He flicks his cigarette into the bushes and turns on John menacingly. “What the fuck did you just say?”
I said, James, that you should’ve seen how they kicked that cocksucker Poe from one end of London to another. Said he looked like a walrus. Did he? Do I? Do you? Are you and I, taken together, just a single man? Is it only that I favor your voice above all the others?
A long pause, then.
“Hit it,” says James. —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42luHhrsNhg