27 January 2009

Go to Paris.

“What is it that you do?” Billy asked in his East Village shop.

“Well, I’m a journalist,” I mumbled while looking around.

Billy and his wife Jane have owned their closet sized store for over 35 years. They sell traditional Indian jewelry and clothing smelling of Nag Champa incense and far off travel. There is no walkway in Billy and Jane’s shop. You enter, stand, and turn on your heels to see everything. The three of us are in the store at the same time, making it an intimate affair.

“Oh then you have to go to Paris,” Billy said. “Have you ever been to Paris?”

“I haven’t.”

“You name it—Hemingway, Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Emerson—they all spent time in Paris. You’ve heard it: Paris, New York and Rome—they’re all ‘centers’ and Paris is definitely a center. I’ve never been to Rome, but I’m sure it’s one as well,” he said.

I have been to Rome. But not to Paris. Billy and I have one destination to go before our “center” trifecta is completed.

“The sooner you look into going, the better,” he said adamantly.

“What you need to do is learn a few formalities—please, thank you, mister, misses, where is this, etc.—and you need to stay at least two weeks. You won’t pick up the language in two weeks, but that’s ok.”

Billy is speaking so direct and so confident, as if we are long-time friends and I just showed him my Air France boarding pass.

But I just met him two minutes previous and I don’t have a ticket to Paris. I have a subway ticket to Brooklyn. A trip to the City of Lights has never crossed the sane part of my mind.

But in a flash of three minutes, I already arranged in my head how I would put the plane ticket on my credit card, book hotels—or better yet, hostels in four different areas of Paris and spend 3.5 days in each area of town.

I also scripted the conversation with my parents and friends.

“I’m going to Paris,” I’d tell them.

They would get wide eyed, then squint replaying the three words I just said in their heads. They would cock their heads and their mouths would start to move but before they could ask their first question, I would interject.

“I already bought my ticket,” I would say. “And I’m going for two weeks. And don’t worry because I got work off.”

Because I did. Get work off. The conversation with my editor was part of this instant flash in the Paris pan.

“I need time off. I’m going to Paris,” I would say. “All great writers go to Paris and now it’s my time.”

And she too would question me and I would be completely evasive and get off the phone. I would tell her over the phone because I wouldn’t want the same inquisitive cocked head look followed with a big "WOW?". No exclamation. It would be a question disguised in an exclamation.

In under four minutes, had the next 3 weeks of my life planned.

I would spend copious amounts of money—or francs or euros—I didn’t have and instead of paying school loans or bills, I would be buying French cigarettes. I would lie on my back in the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower and I would watch it jump left to right as I quickly opened and closed each of my eyes.

I would go to Brentano’s, the American bookstore in Paris that American writers have visited since the late 1800s. I would go to Paris. And I would be inspired.

“...and the French women are not beautiful by American standards,” Billy said reeling me in from his green ceiling where I was levitating. “They don’t have much, but you’d never know by looking at them.”

I missed the lead into his French women speech because I was busy fondling the same silk dress for far too long and coordinating my itinerary.

“What kind of writing is it that you do?” he asked. “Short stories?”

“Not really. I write news.”

“Where can I read your writing?”

“Well, no where really—I’m currently copy writing.”

“Well I tell you what you got to do,” Billy said pointing at me. “You should look in Paris for a writing job! Have you applied to The [New York] Times?”

Surprised and a bit flattered I tell him no.

“You got to leave your contact information with The Times. Because you know why?”


“Because the ones you’d never think will call you are often the ones that do.”

He pauses, chin down and peers at me over his glasses. He raises his white eyebrows and I nod at their question. I understand he is serious.

“So what is it exactly you write?”

“I write for the arts.”

“Well!” he says in a big breath. “You absolutely have to go to Paris!”

“I guess I’m at a time in my life where doing something, like going to Paris, can be totally done,” I say. “There’s not really a better time?”

“There is no better time,” Jane says reiterating my sentence, giving it stability. I realized I said it as a question and Jane repeated it as a statement.

Standing in the entrance of Billy and Jane’s shop, I catch the sight of my breath. Listening to Billy talk about Paris had me so flushed, I failed to notice I was a sieve in an open door blocking out the freezing New York night.

“You come back and tell us how it goes,” says Billy as I turn to leave. I tell him I will.

This particular Thursday was the hardest day I’ve had since I’ve been in New York. It was a day full of let downs and work was particularly unbearable. I spent the day sulking like a child and counting down the seconds until I could be fetal position in my bed. I originally came to Billy and Jane’s hole-in-the wall to quickly buy a birthday gift for a Seattle based friend and I left feeling I made my first New York based ones.

Walking to the subway, I’m flooded with thoughts. My bed isn’t one of them. The wind whips at my face and my eyes tear at the sharpness.

When the R train arrives, I take a backward seat and pulled out a notebook and started to write. I started to write frantically. I wrote the entire 40 minute ride home to my South Brooklyn apartment. I write about Billy and Jane. I write about Barack and Michelle. I write about the guy who somehow is always in the same subway car as me.

Two weeks might not teach me the language, but what will it teach me?

I found a ticket on Icelandair for $625. I can’t stop thinking about actually purchasing it.