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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Name:
Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Day 4, Queues, the Hooker, and Having The Floor

As the lovely British girl was saying...

“When a British person sees a queue, he automatically thinks, ‘gee, there must be something interesting over there. Got to get in the queue!’ and they do. That’s why British love traffic, yasee, because it’s one giant queue.”

I tell Angie and Nima and Paul and Justin and the Brazilians that I’m forming a queue. Nima tells me she’s not going anywhere, she’s too tired. The Brits are staying in. Paul and Justin are going to do whatever Nima does. My stomach is turning; I almost feel a personal insult. What caused all this to change so quickly?

Twenty minutes later I turn to Angie. “Well, do you want to go somewhere? You need to eat, don’t you?”

She looks at the floor. “I guess I’m just going to follow the crowd. But don’t let that stop you, by all means!”

I’m not going to. I have two nights left in Paris and I’m going to do something fun with both of them.

I leave my camera in the safe-deposit box and grab another metro map. I make sure I have my tickets and that my cash is all in the money-belt thing. I go out the door, and I can’t help but turn to see if anyone came out behind me, or if anyone even looked. It’s starting to get cold and I put my jacket on.

Down Felix Faure, I plan to go see Notre Dame and the other buildings lit up like they say they all are at night. I have less than two hours before the metro stops running, so I’d better make my choice fast.

Wait, I don’t have my camera. And Nima and some others said they’d like to see these things at night, and if we do the bike tour tomorrow night we’ll see them anyway. I think I’ll do something else.

Well, I guess I could go see the Moulin Rouge. That’s probably something special. I take the Métro to Place de Clichy. I’ve been there before, so it should be easy to find everything again.

Wrong.

I get up to street level, and there’s that Times Square feeling again, but it’s not lit up like I expected. The buildings are dark and the street isn’t very crowded. I see a very skinny man in skin-tight black jeans walking chewing-gum style up the street, carrying a large duffel bag. He’s got one hand out to the side, palm down, and he swings it in exaggerated arcs with each step. Okay, that’s probably what I should have expected. Keep walking and hope he doesn’t turn around.

I duck in a doorway at a peep show entrance, without going behind the curtain. I check the map, hoping this is the last time I have to do it. The Moulin is just up and to the right, but I can’t see it. I come out from the doorway, and see the entrance not twenty feet away. I don’t know what’s wrong with my eyes tonight.

I cross Clichy to get a better look. It’s red, sure enough. The blades are spinning, and I contemplate the concept of a windmill for a few seconds before moving on. I decide to walk up Clichy a bit, I guess because I’m feeling a bit adventurous. I pass r. Pigalle, and I’m about to cross Clichy again to get to the metro, when--

Note: I’ve told this story several times to several people, and I think it always changes a little bit. I do that because it’s a bit involved, and I usually don’t want to spend many words or minutes on it. What follows is the definitive version, the one that actually happened, as best I can remember.

“Hey, buddy!”

It’s a man’s voice. I don’t look.

“Do you like girls?”

I look. Why did I look?

“Do you speak English?”

“Yeah.”

Why the fuck did I say that?

“Come check out my club, called Frou-Frou. It’s just down there.”

I look down the street (appropriately enough, it’s Pigalle) to see a little black sign hanging from an eave, with “Frou-Frou” in pink neon.

“No,” I say. “I have to go meet some friends.”

“Come on, it will just take a few minutes. Quality, good, nice girls for you. Frou-Frou.”

I think about my mother and about my wife and about Nima and about all the nice people in the world who would wonder just what the hell I’m doing down here.

“No!” I say, a bit more forcefully than I intended.

“Oh, I see. You don’t like girls. Men, then?”

“NO!” I say, far more forcefully than I intend. “I really need to get going, because I need to meet some friends.” I start walking, ignoring him and not paying attention to my direction. He keeps talking, but stays on his corner.

I turn right, on to r. Frochot, and see more peep shows and restaurants. I notice that the restaurants seem blindingly normal even though they have names like “le resto sex” and “Horny Toad’s”. I turn right again, hoping to at least run the gauntlet and see this famous r. Pigalle. I’ll at least be able to say I’ve done that, possibly the only American ever to walk here and not get laid. I pass the Frou-Frou, its double glass-door entrance blacked out with what looks like garbage bags. I cross to the other side, hoping to avoid the barker, but I see him again before I even reach the intersection.

“Did you not find them?”

I can’t think of anything. I freeze up. I think about George Costanza, The Great Liar. What would Costanza do?

“Nope, didn’t find them.”

“Come on, sir. You like girls, you can go in and go out and still have time to get back to your wife at the hotel. The metros run until 2 tonight.”

Well that last part is bullshit. I know for a fact they don't run past about 11:30. But suddenly a part of me kinda wants to see what a French strip club is like. While I’m in Paris, of all places, maybe I should see something racy. Why not? If it’s anything like America I should be able to get in and out for less than 20E and still get to mentally evaluate the talent they keep in these places. Listen to me. Being snubbed by people I barely know has turned me into an asshole.

He walks me through the doors. I should remember that he pulls the doors open from the outside, but I don’t.

The bar is about as big as a hotel bathroom, with the bar on the left and two small tables on the right. Large men sit at the tables, and a large man sits by the door. A young woman approaches me. She’s dark-skinned and dark-haired, and sounds like she’s from north Africa. Her lips form a natural pout, and I suspect that is what men notice first. She speaks French to me, telling me her name is Algerienne or Tunisienne. I can’t hear very well with lousy techno music in the background. I’ll call her Algerienne.

“What do you want to drink?”

“Nothing.”

“No, really. What can I get you?”

“Do you have water?” I can be such a cheapskate.

She looks at me, then at the lady behind the bar. The lady behind the bar is much better looking, very thin and French. Her black hair is plastered to her head in a bun.
She pulls some water for me.

“Ten Euros.”

Well, that’s cover charge, I guess. I hand her the money. Algerienne takes my hand and leads me through a black curtain to another room about the same size. On my right and left as I enter are two rows of small tables, and men seated in each chair behind them. In the back right corner is a stage no bigger than a phone booth. The fireman’s pole just doesn’t seem practical, but it’s the only thing in this building that looks clean. The back left corner is another black curtain, and light shines from underneath it.

Algerienne sits down next to me in a chair. Her red one-piece dress looks like exactly the thing I’ve seen at the Yellow Rose in Austin. Probably two pieces of cheap material stitched up each side and bought off the stripper rack. Maybe I should ask her if it comes from a place called “the Stripper’s Rack”. That’s funny. Wait, she’s talking.

“The show will begin in a few minutes. Now, would you like to buy me a drink?”

I look around. Every man in this club has gray hair, and most are wearing horn-rimmed glasses. Their coats are high quality and they look well-groomed. It’s not exactly seedy, but something about it isn’t right. They look very comfortable in this place, and I stick out, well, like I’d stick out at the RNC convention. They look a bit like Mafia, but what would Mafia be doing at a place like this?

“Well?” she asks.

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to offer me a drink?”

“Sure,” I look at the stage again. “What are you drinking?”

“That depends. What would you like to buy me?”

There aren’t any other girls around here. I guess Algie here is going to be putting on the show herself, unless the others are getting ready backstage. I miss the DJ guy, calling out the girls to the main stage and running down the list of strip-club clichés.

“Well, I don’t know. Do you like wine?”

“I like champagne. Would you like to buy me a glass of champagne?”

“Sure. What does that cost?”

“Fifty Euros.”

I look her in the eyes for the first time. Her eyes have a transparent quality that only comes with colored contacts. She has a half-smile, and she’s looking at me deeply, like I hold the key to her future.

“That’s got to me some high-quality champagne.”

“It’s for the show.”

“Well, what kind of show is that?”

“It’s, you know, a strip-tease. I dance for you, and zenamassageandzen I drink my drink. I love champagne.”

I can barely hear in this place, I barely understood any of that. “Hmm, well I don’t have fifty Euros. You can be sure of that. I have about fifteen after the ten I paid for this water.”

“Haven’t you been in a place like this before?”

I look around. Pathetic men, a small stage with a pole. Sure, it’s a bit small. “Sure, I’ve been places like this.”

She furrows her eyebrows. “I can drop for you, I can go to thirty Euros. Dance, drink, zenamassage.”

What was that last word? I don’t want to speak English, I’ll just let it go.

I make a big show of looking at my watch. “I have about twenty minutes until the metros stop running and I have to be back, otherwise I’m locked out.”

She stands up without a word and charges the black curtain. I follow quickly and meet the skinny French woman at the curtain.

“Sit down,” she says. “I want to talk to you. Finish your drink.”

I look back at the water. It’s very far away.

I keep walking to the front room.

She goes behind the bar and produces a laminated piece of paper. A menu.

Champagne 50E
Cognac 120E
Hennessey 150E
Combination 500E

Click!

I switch to English. “I’ve got to go.”

I turn around. Algie is already on to the next customer. The French woman grabs my elbow and pulls me toward the curtain. She speaks English too.

“You’re going to finish your drink. I want to talk to you. Two minutes.”

“No, I’ve got to go, you’ve got your ten bucks and you didn’t even have to give me alcohol. I’m getting the hell out of here.”

She tightens her grip. “Look, you get dance, you get massage,” she lets go of my elbow to open the curtain.

I take four quick steps toward the exit. The large men don’t move. I expect to hear a voice bark some command from behind me. I pull the door. Shit! Locked! I expect my life to pass before my eyes, but it doesn’t. I’m going to die. I pull on the door again.

The man behind the bar makes a pushing motion and starts to laugh at me.

I push the door and the fresh air of Pigalle hits me in the face. I practically run to Clichy.
A very beautiful girl comes up to me as I walk past. She’s wearing all black, a sweatsuit and windbreaker, and her blonde hair is tucked under a baseball cap. When she opens her mouth I know she’s American.

“Do you like girls?”

“I’ve got to get to a metro station,” I feel nearly drunk. "They close soon.”

“Come check out my club, called Frou-Frou. It’s just down there.”

I don’t know why, but I turn my head and look.

“I just came from there,” I said. She takes a step back and looks me up and down. “I didn’t like it that much.”

“Oh, I--I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. You didn’t, what was wrong with it?”

“I’ve got to go.”

I make it to Felix Faure before the metros stop running. I’ve been gone less than two hours, and I’ve got the story of a lifetime. How do I tell it? Will they appreciate it? It’s a good enough story, but something seems to be missing...

I arrive at the hostel and to my delight, people notice that I’ve been gone.

“Wheredya go, mate?” Paul asks.

“I just had to turn down a hooker, and I’m pissed because I had to use English to do it!”

Heads turn. I guess I have the floor again.

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