Monthly Archives: May 2008

Summer Love: Featuring Life and Times of Chantel

Heat Wave

by LIFE AND TIMES OF CHANTEL

August 2003 was a tragic month for France. A heat wave stifled the country. The temperature was in excess of 100 degrees. 100 degrees may be manageable in the US but in a country where air conditioning is a luxury, the very old and very young struggled and many lost their lives. I couldn’t predict the heatwave when I chose to vacation there after getting dumped by my boyfriend via email from England or Switzerland or somewhere. I never actually found out if he moved or if he stayed or he was dating. I just know that it wasn’t me anymore.

As hurt as I was, I still had a problem. He and I had planned a trip to Paris in the summer. As usual we would meet in an exotic location for an 8 day reunion often filled with furious and passionate love-making, more wine that any American should be allowed to drink and a lot of sight seeing. I, however, have a travel phobia.

I’ve had a travel phobia since I was a kid. I’m afraid to leave home for fear of never returning. We left many homes late at night with all of our belongings or all that we could hold packed tightly in a trunk to our next home or, no home at all. We repeated this like washing and rinsing until I was a teenager. I’m afraid that I’ll never go home again.

Then God created Xanax and Vodka.

I was determined to travel without the ex, Hervé. I was determined to travel on my own dime. Through snot and tears I booked a hotel and then a flight and waited nervously for my departure to arrive. I researched everything possible to acquaint myself with the city. I bought red shoes — Mary Janes — so that I wouldn’t look like an American while touring the most chic place on earth. I bought film for my camera, a purse that would carry everything, yet not come close to looking like a fanny pack or anything for that matter that would identify me as a stupid American tourist. I was far less concerned about getting lost, mugged or missing flights in another country. I was so much more concerned with looking stupid; this being one of the second rights to fashionista status. The first? Fashion before pain.

I met Pierric the night I arrived. I checked into my hotel. He was the clerk. He quickly asked about my status, was I staying alone, meeting friends, a lover perhaps? Unfortunately, I planned to sit in my street facing window and smoke cigarettes and drink myself into a stupor and acclimate to Paris time. I sat for a while; I watched the Tour de France revelers pass below my hotel window. After a while, I realized I was watching for Hervé. I watched for him in every man’s face, behind every windshield, in ever café window. I went downstairs and chatted with Pierric. I told him I would go for a walk and inquired if the hotel would close its doors at a certain hour. He told me he would be there all night waiting for me and recommended a local restaurant where I wouldn’t find any Americans butchering their food orders and complaining of cigarette smoke. I didn’t tell him I couldn’t read French very well, however I was sure I could read it well enough to order something edible.

I found a table for one in the crowded restaurant. I ordered a bottle of wine and an ashtray. The wait staff was confused — Americans don’t smoke or drink. This American was doing both and not talking in a loud affected accent to get my point across. It was simple. Show the pack of Marlboro’s for an ashtray and motion a big gulp glass size for wine and you get the whole bottle. The one part of French I did know was, Non Beaujolais. A moment later a menu appeared in unreadable French.

A menu in a language I did not understand, speak or read. I recognized Canard as duck, Poulet as chicken and easiest of easiest, Boeuf was beef. More importantly, I wanted to avoid ordering another unfortunate plate of Foie Gras. Hervé had tortured me endlessly with Foie Gras and oysters. I choked it down over and over again hoping to teach myself to like it or to minimally stomach it for Hervé’s sake. I drew the line at the month old stinky cheese and sardines. Foie Gras was almost palatable in comparison. On the menu were three types of duck as a first course. I had a one out of three chance of getting the correct starter. I had zero chance of getting it translated by the waiter.

I chose wrong.

I choked down the Foie Gras spread lovingly on toasted baguette slices and watched as the chef peered from the kitchen checking on my progress. I choked and nodded. I smiled the fakest smiles and was happy the French don’t believe in large portions. I knew that my stew and my desert would make up for the aftertaste of the foie gras and I could move on with my wine and my charade in again — this VERY PARISIAN restaurant. After dinner, I returned to my hotel struck up a conversation with Pierric who was waiting in the lobby for my report, which turned into the entire night in the hotel lobby drinking wine, until I was drunk and talking in our own very broken language.

I stumbled awake the next day a little hung over but energized and excited. Excited because I was in Paris and energized because I was in Paris. I had to brave the Paris streets, the Metro and the maps all by myself. Hervé wasn’t here to buy my tickets, translate signage and talk to strangers on the street. I laid the city map on the bed; I put on finger on my hotel location and one finger on the location of the first cemetery I wanted to visit. I identified the metro stops and the lines required to get between the two. I gently folded my map in my bag so that I could reference it at any time on my trip without pulling it out completely out of my bag and proving to everyone in Paris I was an actual tourist.

Downstairs I found Pierric smiling and waiting, unaffected by the two bottles of wine.

“Would you like to come outz wiz friends this day?” I corrected him. It wouldn’t be “this day” but “this night.” After our French/English lesson, I walked into the heat.

Everyone in Paris seems more beautiful, more fashionable and more educated than I do. In the hundred degree heat the only breeze was on a moving Metro car. I watched the Parisians very carefully and wondered about each of their daily lives. I imagined much more sophisticated interactions, more glamorous jobs and wondered if I could be one of them, maybe Hervé would have stayed with me. That was the first time I thought of Hervé on this trip. I took note of it and made a tick in my journal.

One thought, let it wash away.

I found an internet café to send my friends and family a note, an account of my journey so far. They understood already that I was in the Mecca for smoking and wine, so no need to account for my hang over. They knew that I was traveling on a broken heart and a slim wallet but they were only worried for my safety and my sanity. I sat down at the keyboard and began to type. As I typed things looked incorrect on the screen. I thought it was the heat but there were z’s where there were supposed to be s’s and stupid accent marks every where else causing my curse words to look incomplete and uncursed.

“I find it difficult to explain that a broken hearted 30 year old single mother of two teenage children was just asked out on what might be a date with a French artist masquerading as a hotel desk clerk. Tre’z Chit’z Noz? Fuc’ng Frenzh keyboard.”

Pierric arrived at the hotel at 7:30 and we left immediately after the required multiple cheek kissing as is customary among those about to be carnal with one another. His friend Daphne and Gaetan (which I could never pronounce correctly) took me to a standard French pub where standard French people hung out and drank pints and smoked cigarettes. This was not a scene out of Band of Outsiders; it was more of a scene from Ireland’s greatest pubs, Book 1. The night wore on and the French grew thick, my ears became more nimble, recognizing certain words. But after three pints and a joint in the darkness of an underground club I could only mutter De rien to Pierric in slurred French and cognac breath. All Pierric could do was push me down into an even darker corner and kiss me hard then harder while my head felt like it was going to explode from the pot and the music. I made out on the couch with a French artist masquerading as a hotel desk clerk.

On the walk back to the hotel, Pierric wore his required leather jacket in the evening heat which crept up into the high 80’s. He would sweat all the time I saw him. He would always wear a white t-shirt with vintage faded 501’s. He looked like he was in a French movie, all the time. I invited Pierric up to my room knowing that I was curious to know how he was in bed and even more curious to be touched and held and released from Hervé. Hervé and I could stay in bed for days and never once would I not be ready physically ready for him. He just had to look at me and I was wet and I was ready. I knew Pierric would be passionate from the kissing and the soreness I was already feeling on my face from his unshaven cheeks.

Pierric and I barely made it completely in my room onto the bed. Our kissing was fierce, wet and loud. The force which he kissed me was almost too much to bear. When he finally forced me onto the bed I knew that I was in for a much different experience than any before him. He liked to play rough, hard and fast. After our clothes were off, I discovered that Pierric who was no taller than 5’10 had a huge dick; enough to make me not worry as to whether or not I would have a good time. Before Pierric and I even started having sex my face was raw from the kissing and my breasts were bruised from the rough suckling. Sometime after we started thrusting against each other the twin beds that had been pushed together began to spread leaving us dangling. Pierric only grabbed me harder, he went faster and pushed me further and further into the head board. The problem with being a little drunk was that it was hard to come. The problem with being high is that it felt like it took forever. The pain from his grip was beginning to take over, I couldn’t hold my thighs steady against Pierric and finally when I thought I could go no longer, the beds finally gave way and Pierric and I hit the floor. Once I had Pierric’s undivided attention I asked him politely and in the sexiest, smokiest French possible, “plus lent mon bonbon.” Slower my sweet. That was the one and only time I have ever spoken perfect, relevant French. We were both covered and dripping in sweat giving Pierric less opportunities to get a good grip on me, which saved me from the continued beating and allowed us to finish having sex without further injury.

When I woke the next morning Pierric was on the single bed next to me waiting for me to wake. I was sore from my head to my thighs. My face was chaffed beyond recognition and my legs and arms were bruised in the shape of Pierric’s hands.

Pierric offered a little story about the events of his day — “this day.” He described how he recently purchased a flat and must meet the electrician because waiting for an electrician in France can take years of your life. He offered to meet me later at the hotel and requested that I leave messages at the front desk because his sister was staying with him and he did not want to cause her to “make a party” for his new American friend.

I let him leave and turned the story over in my head. I took my time in the bath rubbing lotion into my injuries and trying to fix the chaffed patch on my chin. That very patch would burn later that day in the one-hundred degree heat and eventually begin to look like a leprosy sore forming across the southern hemisphere of my face.

The sore on my face did not detour Pierric who dutifully showed up at seven to find me learning more French and using large quantities of Cover Girl to hide my open facial wound. He was not detoured from wearing his leather jacket with requisite uniform as we wandered the streets of the 11th Arrondisment and up and down the Canal St. Martin. Pierric inquired why I travel alone and I told him that I had children and no partner and I prefer to travel alone so I can do what I like which is hang out in cemeteries taking pictures of art. He laughed but his artistic tendencies identified with my own and we talked about art in the US and France for the remainder of our evening.

That very second was the first time I thought of Hervé all day but my skin ached for him and his French accent. I decided that I would be sleeping with Pierric for the remainder of my trip as long as he took my hints to slow down and not physically impale me with his cock.

I knew the sister at home was not his sister and this would not get him any dinner invitations or any art walks through cemeteries or Paris parks but I could use him to get through the night; like I used McDonalds earlier for a cheeseburger and orange soda to get me through another day alone during a heat wave in Paris.

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Summer Love Featuring Ainsley Drew

BY AINSLEY DREW OF FACE PLANT, JERK ETHIC AND BITCHCRAFT

The fish market I worked at the summer when I was twenty-four was nestled between a bakery and a cheese shop, on a stretch of West Village blocks associated with Sex and the City and snotty NYU students. I hated my job and only derived pleasure from interacting with neighborhood locals and setting up the display every morning in the single floor-to-ceiling window that helped to raise the temperature and the stink inside the tiny shop to new heights.

It was July. I wore light cotton dresses along with huge rubber boots to keep my feet dry. I tried not to fall asleep in the office even though I was plagued with what can only be described as a rapid descent into insomnia following night after sleepless night in my newly empty bed, next to the space where my domestic partner had snored every night for the first half of my twenties. I hadn’t had sex more than three times in the last six months prior to our bust-up. At that age, at that point, with my newly-found freedom and my now notorious sex-drive, I was basically walking around with a water-balloon between my thighs. But I couldn’t recall how to so much as check out a girl, let alone start up a conversation that would lead to me going down on her. After giving her the heave-‘ho all I had left was a bad stand-up routine about the “scales of justice” and no audience except cold slabs of marine life and four Nepalese employees who didn’t speak English. I stared out the window a lot. The heat made the eccentrics who populated the area around Washington Square Park roam the streets and move like interpretive dancers.

There was a little boy who had started smoking cigarettes regularly in front of my shop over the course of one week. He leered at me in a way that was half-adorable, half-creepy as I arranged the rainbow trout and soft shell crabs on a bed of ice in the window. I wondered why the Catholic school down the block would let their summer school students smoke, or why this boy didn’t seem to care, cocking his eyebrow as he’d swagger in front of the store, unbuttoning the top button of his short sleeve button down shirt, tapping his Camel Lights against his thigh. One day he sauntered inside and leaned over the counter, close enough that I could smell the Winterfresh gum on his cigarette breath.

“I’m Liz. I have lupus. I work down the block. You should hang out with me. Now.”

That night, after work, I had my first orgasm since the World Series of the previous year. On my back in my hallway, keys still stuck in the lock-barrel, sweat and the smell of dead fish rendering me the olfactory equivalent of a Renee Zellweger movie, I had this strange tomboy literally rip a skirt off of me. Liz, who was not so much a schoolboy as a female version of every guy I wanted but couldn’t have during puberty, gave my the best oral sex of my life up until that point. It was pretty awesome. It finally made me sleep; Liz sprawled out next to me, sweating until half of the bed was soaked, one of the symptoms of her disease. She didn’t snore.

That joke about a lesbian second date involving a U-Haul is only funny because it is true. Ten days later Liz, three days worth of her clothes, her ashtray, and a carton of unfinished cottage cheese were still taking up residence in my studio apartment. Her wardrobe mingled in my laundry, she insisted on putting half-finished bottles of beer in my fridge, and the feeling of wet bed sheets — either made damp by my fluids or hers — was starting to get to me. I needed my space and I needed it now. After four years of hearing someone breathe, blink, and chew I wanted a little, just a little, time to myself. And I was starting to think that the Prednisone she took for her lupus was making her crazy. I wouldn’t let her smoke pot in my house and was grounds enough for a three-hour long tantrum. She’d start crying at a bar and run out into the warm, thick New York air sobbing, grab me by the shoulders to spout some inane and melodramatic dialog that made a Lifetime made-for-TV movie seem like an episode of Nova.

All I wanted was conventional dating with a lot of naked Twister. Liz, however, wanted a typical dyke union where you rush into things unknowingly, drop the “l” bomb way too fast, and then inevitably crash and burn in an ugly pile of Kleenex, Ani DiFranco albums, and Tofutti Cutie wrappers. And the guilt of breaking the heart of someone with a chronic condition seemed like grounds for a soap opera.

When I gently approached her as she reclined on the couch, hand behind her belt-buckle, and asked if maybe, maybe, tonight would be the night she’d retreat back to her five-person share in Hell’s Kitchen, she leapt up, grabbed my face between her hands and hollered, “Babe, what we have is for real!” Her hand was up my skirt before I could even locate a grocery bag in which to put her stuff.

I wanted so badly to believe that the sex could at least last until autumn, that my tolerance for someone so unstable, so entirely batshit insane, would endure. But no. I caught her smoking a joint in my apartment (with my doorman) on a late Friday afternoon after being dispatched from the fish market following another failure of our air conditioning system. I threw her out, used her office’s proximity as motivation to quit my job, and went on to become a vegan.

I learned that a New York summer, fish, and serious unions in your early twenties, all usually fade into something that reeks.

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Summer Love: Featuring Jess Under Construction

BY JESS UNDER CONSTRUCTION

A few weeks before we packed all of our belongings into the backseat of an aging, blue VW Rabbit and drove the 2500 miles from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Portland, Oregon, my soon-to-be mother-in-law sat my soon-to-be husband, Chris, down, looked him in the eye, and told him, “If you marry Jess and move to Oregon you will be making the biggest mistake of your life.”

Chris told me about the comment later that day. We knew his parents were not thrilled about his plans, but no one had flatly told him that he SHOULDN’T pledge his life to me and move west. But there it was. At the time, it felt like a slap across the face. I see it now for what it was–a warning, which could have been said to either of us, that we were too young to know ourselves, much less know the immense sacrifice required during the life of a marriage. How could we possibly make it work—especially half a continent away from the support of our families? Jesus, we didn’t even have jobs. Obviously, his mother could see, we did not fathom what it takes to pay the bills and sustain a relationship. Why were we investing in each other and not everything we’d worked for in college: our careers?

Chris, an obedient only-child, ignored his parents’ warnings, closed his eyes, and jumped into the abyss that is marriage. I look at pictures from that summer—1997. We were 23. Babies. What were we thinking?

And I think of my now six-year old son, an only child as well. What if he were to graduate from college and cavalierly announce his intention to commit his life—60+ more years—to his college sweetheart. Oh, not only that, but that he was going to pack his camping gear and clothes in the back of some old beater and move five states away—just ‘cuz he and his honey thought it sounded like a sweet place to live. I’m sure my response would be, “WTF???” or maybe, “I just paid $75,000 in college tuition for you to make the biggest mistake of your life.”

When I was 23, I didn’t know the ferocious love a parent has for a child. All I knew was puppy love. That is what the summer of 1997 was all about. We sold almost everything we owned—John Cougar Mellencamp and Pink Floyd CD’s. Umbro shorts. Indian weave ponchos. The dorm room hot-plate. Everything. And it felt good. A fresh start. We weren’t scared–it was us against the world. How could it not work?

It was hot the day we left. The humidity seemed to melt the leaves on the trees. The air vibrated with mosquitoes. Driving away, we held hands and sang Indigo Girls songs. Our new dog, Milo, was curled up among our sleeping bags in the back seat.
We had no jobs waiting for us in Portland. It didn’t matter. We were armed with our freshly earned bachelor’s degrees, his in Biology and mine in English and Women’s Studies. We had that and our puppy love. We were invincible.

We arrived in Portland a week later. Stinkier, but just as happy. We pulled into the parking lot of the small apartment we were renting and unloaded our gear. It took two trips to and from the car. The next morning I went to the Thriftway up the street on SE Tacoma (it’s a New Seasons now) to buy some ramen noodles. The “Now Hiring” sign in the store seemed like, well, a sign. So, I asked for an application. The manager was surprised to find a recent college graduate was applying for a job as a cashier, but we got along well and he hired me on the spot. I practically skipped back to the apartment. I rustled Chris from the bed—which was really just our sleeping bags on the floor—and told him of my good luck. We decided to celebrate with a picnic at Sellwood Park.

Spread out on the grass above Oaks Bottom, we ate granola bars and blackberries that we picked along the way. Milo chased squirrels. Children played freeze tag. It took us about fifteen minutes before we noticed that there was no humidity and not a mosquito in sight. We snuggled and talked about how much we loved each other and our new Portland life.

The next morning I went to work at Thriftway, and Chris went to work at LaborReady, a business that assigns one-day jobs usually entailing hauling boulders, digging ditches, or some other equally brutal project. We spent that evening and most subsequent evenings crashed out at Sellwood Park imagining our future—better jobs, a house, maybe a baby. We’d lie under the towering pines, overwhelmed with the newness and endless opportunities of each day. And always, we’d notice—no humidity and no mosquitoes.

After a time, we made friends and hosted dinner parties. Our salaries provided just enough money for food and rent. When we had people over we had to borrow utensils from the neighbors because all we had were two spoons and two forks from our camping cook set. Cutlery was not a luxury we could afford. Yet, the living room/dining room was a warm, happy place where the pine-tree smelling air blew in our large windows and laughter floated back out.

I try to picture my son in 17 years. What if he lived like that? Content to live in a crappy little apartment with almost no kitchen accoutrements and even less furniture. Content to work long hours performing grueling physical labor while his partner worked the cash register at the local market. Both for minimum wage and no health insurance. Content to invest only in love…not his career. Isn’t he going to be working in the Peace Corps or starting medical school? Anything less will feel like failure—not his, but mine.

We are approaching our eleventh summer since we arrived in Portland. That was two houses, a master’s degree, and a child ago. Puppy love is now almost-middle-aged love. Milo is still hanging on. We still spend the warm months in the park—only now it’s Peninsula, not Sellwood. We still marvel at the lack of mosquitoes and humidity.

May is fast turning into June. The piney, sunny, blackberry filled days bring me right back to 1997—when my husband made the biggest mistake of his life.

May my son be so lucky.

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