UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION 02/2004
I'm in Paris.
On a desperate whim. An alternative to my suffocation. The constricting snake of suburbia was choking me. I needed out. What better out than Paris?
French girls will be all over me. All over my European cocktail. One part French. One part Italian. Two parts Norwegian. A sprinkle of genius writer.
Yeah, they’ll dig me for I am from San Francisco…well a suburb there of, but it doesn’t matter when you’re 5,000 miles from home.
Burlingame. 15 minutes south of San Francisco. There’s no connection for me in Burlingame. I don’t have an SUV and there’s no type of Starbuck’s coffee I identify with.
I scurried over to France to loosen the noose of boredom around my neck and woo women.
What’s your name?
Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?
Bon jour, je suis Tony.
Vous ete café por moi?
Pardon, parlay vous anglais?
Can I buy you a drink?
I don’t think it’s a good idea.
And on it goes.
Rejection drives me to drinking. Drunk in Paris. Romantique?
My French Grandfather was drunk a lot. He’d black out. Arthur DuShane. His blood was French. His soul was empty. He’d get in fights he’d never remember. Come home bloody. He wasn’t a tough guy…just an angry drunk who blacked out.
I never black out. I get drunk and stay fully aware and guilt ridden as the room spins around me. Must be the Norwegian side of my European Cocktail. Grandpa Tor, Tor Dagsland. My Norwegian liver keeping me alert while my head sways back and forth. Thanks grandpa Tor…..thanks for not turning the lights out.
The niggers are taking our jobs, my fresh off the boat Norwegian grandfather would tell me. The "niggers" had more claim of America than Tor ever had. Tor would speak English and you still couldn’t understand him through that thick Scandinavian accent.
He always wanted me to join the Sons of Norway. It’s OK if you’re only ½ Norwegian, he’d tell me. I could care less. I thought all Norwegians were drunk racists who worked on boats.
My aunt, Tor’s daughter, married a Mexican. Oh, the rage. The fury. Her kids, my cousins, look more Mexican than Norwegian, but we share the same Norwegian blood. I wonder if they can black out from too much alcohol. I’m not sure if he offered them the Sons of Norway deal. I wish I were ½ Mexican. I wish I were ½ black. It would’ve fucked up my grandfather more than he already was. I always wanted to fall in love with a black girl, bring her to grandpa's and watch his Norwegian mouth hit the floor.
My mom used to bring us to grandpa Tor's house in South San Francisco. It always smelled like pickled fish. It was always cold. The furniture was Ikea looking. Purchased in the 70's or 60's.
Sometimes it would smell of steamed potatoes. There was a sword hanging from his fireplace that I would stare at for hours. He'd come back from the kitchen and light another cigarette. And I was scared. Scared of that Norwegian giant who chain smoked between his stories of working on ships. That nicotine saturated Viking who used too much cabbage in his cooking.
I was a polite child and he took advantage of that. He mistook my smiling nodding façade as interest in his tales of fights with shipmates and nazi occupation in Norway.
And we mistook him. His stories were masks of guilt. His hatred of others was self loathing. His alcoholism numbed the pain of being him. Of being Tor.I didn't understand what he was really saying:
I want forgiveness. I want acceptance. I want my grandchildren to understand me. I want them to think well of me after I die.
I still don't understand how he actually thought an 11 year old boy would be interested in Nazi occupation and pickled fish stories.
Looking back I understand there was more to his words. Much more than even he knew.
What's REALLY being said?
What's really being felt by the person speaking?
Can I take you for a drink at the next stop, I ask the pretty French girl getting off at the same Metro stop as myself.
I don't think so.
I know what she really means. I'm prepared to continue asking until I get the truth.
The truth about her loneliness. The truth about her resentments.
I'm prepared to continue my pursuit until we can embrace and understand each other without