I first met Janet on a porch in Adams-Morgan one steamy DC night. It had been a typical summer day. Both the heat and the humidity were hovering around 100. And I’d sweated through my underwear.
Nobody in their right mind would be in Washington in July. Seriously!!! -- it’s no coincidence that the varmints in Congress scamper off for a five-week recess. Nonetheless, my graduate work chained me to the place. And as a result I stood on that porch, suffering.
It was fucking miserable.
I straightaway noticed two things about my future wife.
First, she was draped in a ratty old porch couch looking totally shitfaced. She wasn’t passed out or anything. But she was clearly at a place where her judgment might be seriously impaired. That boded well for my drought relief problem
I had been going through a lengthy slump in the sex-with-anything-but-my-hand department. I am not a predator. And I would never force an unwilling girl. I am just somebody who typically requires the help of a lot of alcohol to score. In short, I do a lot better with females if their powers of observation are reduced to a point where they don’t notice my inherent lack of savoir-faire.
In short, she was exactly what I was looking for in a woman.
Secondly, she had a big beautiful set of jugs. It might seem shallow to be attracted by her chest. But as they say, “You can’t motorboat a personality.” She also had a cute oval face, not beautiful but pleasant and really thick brown hair, which flowed down her back in waves. She had an incredibly sexy mouth with very full and sculptured lips.
I plopped down next to her. She gave me a goofy smile and a slurred, “I was hoping you would come over to talk to me.” This was something new? Most of the time when I sit down next to a pretty girl I get, “Fuck-off creep.”
I am average in every way, height, weight, and looks. And my approach to women definitely needs work. So females usually decide life is WAY too short to waste time talking to me. Having one actually say that she was HOPING that I would talk to her was a new wrinkle.
I tried on my best Prince Charming expression and said, “Do I know you?”
Damn! That wasn’t very charming!!
She said in one of those furry drunk voices that told me that she was well over the line, “I was in your cryptology class last year. Don’t you remember me?” Wow!!! any woman who takes advanced code breaking is a righteous nerd bitch.
I thought to myself, “Hey!!! I’m the ruler of that realm. Maybe that will offset some of the factors that I lack, like looks, money and sex-appeal. Not to mention some simple aspects of personal hygiene.” In fact, this drunken little nerdette might be the girl I have been searching for all of my life.
But I still didn’t remember her. So I asked her what her name was. She said, “Janet Askew.” I recalled a Janet Askew. But that chick had the same general configuration as Shamu the killer whale. And she also sported a set of bangs like she had stepped out of a 1950s Archie and Veronica comic book.
This little woman had a very trim and curvy figure with magnificent tits and was dressed like she had graduated from Choate. I looked puzzled.
She giggled drunkenly and said, “You knew me before I lost all of the weight. I had some issues after my parent’s divorce and ballooned up to where I was in your class. It took a lot of therapy and a crash diet, but I am back to my normal self now.”
I took a second look at her. She was not beautiful but she WAS incredibly sexy.
She had an open, pretty “girl-next-door” face and the aforementioned bosom. But she also had long slim legs and nice round hips in a skin tight pair of beaten out jeans. A little yellow spaghetti strap top showed perhaps four inches of prime dusky cleavage.
She was looking invitingly at me. So I decided to kiss her. Remember, we were sitting in the dark on the front porch outside a loud party. And we had been acquainted for perhaps 90 seconds at that point.
She surprised me by not slapping me, or screaming and running to the police. Instead she threw one arm around my neck plastered herself to me and opened her mouth for the hottest kiss I had ever been given. It was like she had been waiting her whole life to do that.
I don’t believe in random good fortune. But it had been a long dry spell. So I was NOT in a mood to look a proverbial gift horse in the mouth. I began to fumble with her bra in order to get my hands on one of those incredible ripe melons.
She moaned loudly. Then she began to suck my tongue like it was something a little further down on my body. I finally got a boob in one hand and felt the nipple. I thought that she had nice tits but her nipples were extraordinary. They were substantial thick and round, almost like little Nuks. And they were growing longer as I moved my palm over them. Plus they were incredibly hot and sensitive.
I found out just HOW sensitive when I tweaked one. The shriek that she let out sounded like I was killing her. THAT brought people running.
We heard them coming. So, as half the party arrived we were just nonchalantly sitting there. Both of us were panting like hound dogs on a hot southern porch. But it was dark. And there was no actual evidence that I had been fondling her delightfully heaving bosom about 10 seconds earlier. Not seeing either of us in any form of distress; the severe blue-balls that I was suffering from were not readily apparent, the posse of would-be rescuers went thundering past us and out onto the sidewalk looking for the source of the shriek.
She looked at me. I looked at her. And we both burst out laughing.
We had been with each other for approximately fifteen minutes. But I just KNEW that I was going to marry this delightfully quirky little woman. The next night we consummated the inevitable. That was in an all-night session, which was just as sweltering as the DC weather.
We married a scant four months later and settled into a nice little apartment further out the Red Line at Shady Grove. Now I know that you probably think that it was stupid to jump into marriage that quickly. But Janet’s charms had really clouded my thought processes.
I should have suspected something if I had taken time to think about the situation. But Janet was just SO attractive and I was just THAT needy.
Our first few months together were idyllic. I couldn’t imagine a more companionable woman or a more satisfying lifestyle. She and I just clicked. We fucked a lot. But we also did every interesting thing that you could think of in a City with boundless opportunities for diversion.
Everybody thought that we were the perfect pair. Some couples hang all over each other in a drippy kind of lovey-dovey way. Janet is a very smart woman and our life was built around our mutual intelligence.
We kidded and teased each other. We handed each other plays on words like a good comedy team. And we generally shared an affectionate tongue-in-cheek view of the world. It was hard to NOT love a woman who saw the irony and humor in everything that she did.
It was almost too good to be true. And of course it was.
The first sign of things to come was when I met her dad.
We had married in a quick civil ceremony -- as is the nerd way. But she had been bugging me for several months to meet her daddy. Just to get his blessing. So, one weekend we took the Acela up to New York City.
I knew her dad lived in Manhattan. I DIDN’T know that it was overlooking Central Park in the upper 80s. It seems that daddy had made his money the old fashioned way. He had inherited it.
And as F. Scott Fitzgerald puts it, “The rich are different from you and me.”
Daddy treated me with the same scorn that the Lord of the Manor would show any raggedy peasant who his foolish daughter had just dragged home. It almost seemed like he expected me to tug on my forelock every time I addressed him.
In short, I hated him from the moment we met.
Janet also changed 180 degrees. She went from open and friendly, to snide and arrogant. It was clear that she thought the “little people” were beneath her. Being one of the little people myself, I was flabbergasted.
It was also clear that the break-up between daddy and her mother was the result of daddy’s serial philandering. And daddy didn’t try to hide it.
He clung to his right to fuck any female he met with the same fanatical certainty that Charles I must have had about the divine right of kings. Unfortunately I found out what that meant in the worst possible way.
He took us across the Park to the Carlyle for dinner. That experience was so far out of my league that I knew that he had planned it, just to show me how exalted he was.
Janet was in a tight little black dress and heels that put the goods on display. She was turning heads every place we stopped. And both she and her dad were a study in sophisticated New Yorker.
Me - not so much.
I didn’t actually do anything too embarrassing. But I was also not exactly the star of the show. Daddy kept asking me about what I did and I tried to explain about the offer that I had just gotten at Georgetown. It was an Associate Professorship to start. That isn’t normal in academe. In fact I had done very well for myself in that respect.
His response was to blow me off as a “teacher”, which I guess I was. But his tone of voice made it sound like it was something that anybody could do, which it wasn’t.
I certainly was not making the kind of money his daughter was used to. But I was on a solid trajectory for success in my chosen field.
I remembered all of the implications later on. But at the time I felt both inadequate and pissed. Since I could see NOTHING about the man’s OWN accomplishments to justify the lofty opinion that he had of himself.
Except, of course, the fact that he was born into the right family.
It kind of hurt that Janet didn’t defend me. But I could see that she had “daddy” issues and I loved her so I was willing to give her a pass with her father. On the other hand, it didn’t increase my confidence in her.
The other thing that bothered me was how her father treated her. It was like she was his date.
He was touching his daughter in a way that I would have called social-services about, if she was 13, not 23. And even worse, she was allowing it which was really not making me happy.
They both got sloppy drunk. I poured the two of them into a cab. And we went back across the Park to 86th street. I rode up front and the two of them were slumped in the back.
I had reached the point where I was planning a “come-to-Jesus” moment with my wife as soon as I got her alone. That was when I heard the sound of rustling and a moan from the back seat.
My eyes flew open like cartoon window shades. I stuck my head around the privacy partition and sure enough. My wife was in an intimate embrace with her father.
There was nothing explicitly sexual going on but dads don’t hug their daughters like that. Both of them were drunk and at that point she might have EVEN thought that it was me. But she had her leg thrown over his and she was molded against him in a way that was totally inappropriate.
My first instinct was to stop the cab, drag daddy out and kick his ass. But the situation was just ambiguous enough that I settled for saying in a loud voice, “We’re almost home now.”
They both startled and then looked guilty. I gave her a glare that I hope warned her what I was thinking. And she sat back in the corner of the seat. It looked like she was sulking.
As soon as we got into the bedroom I said, “What the hell did you think you were doing? Were you planning on fucking him right there? He’s your DAD you know? And this isn’t Kentucky.”
She looked guilty and said, “I wasn’t doing anything. Daddy hugs me like that all the time.”
I was beginning to get an inkling that my wife might have a screw loose. At least where her old man was concerned.
It definitely explained the total personality transplant she had undergone on Friday. She seemed to take on the coloration of the dude exactly like a chameleon would.
I said, “You DO realize that what you were doing back there was totally inappropriate between father and daughter?”
She looked at me obstinately and said, “Just because YOU don’t approve of it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. Daddy has always taken good care of me and he loves me.”
There is love and then there is “love”. But arguing wouldn’t get us any further. And we were going home in the morning. So I said, “Let’s get some sleep but I want to talk about this tomorrow.”
The next morning the woman I knew as my wife magically reappeared. Her body language, voice and her attitude had turned back around 180 degrees. It was as if she had taken off last night’s persona, like a robe, and hung it in the closet of her daddy’s guest room.
It was actually kind of eerie. We took a taxi down to Penn Station and she was her usual energetic, funny self. It was like a malevolent spirit had been exorcised from our marriage.
The night before had been odd. But I had months to build up a sense of who Janet was. And my impression was that she was a warm and intelligent human being. I knew that it was natural for an adult child to change around a parent. In fact it would have seemed odder if she had NOT lapsed back into some form of remembered behavior.
But the conduct I saw with her father was not something I condoned, or wanted to encourage. Then again, we were looking ahead with our lives not back. So I made a mental note to stay away from Templeton Askew. And that was the LAST time I was going to allow Janet and him to grab any incestuous alone-time.
Janet’s slipping from one person into a totally different personality was something that might have worried me if it had gone on any longer. But it had only been for a day and it just didn’t bother me that much.
It should have.
The next five years flew by on blissful wings.
The main feature during that period was the data compression algorithm that I came up with. Data compression underlies machine vision which has applications in everything from search engines to cruise missiles. Thus, it is the Holy Grail for us nerds.
I had been working on a superior lossless algorithm during my final days in grad school. And I perfected it two years later.
I am way too naïve to do the actual productizing. But I had a friend named Scott. He was a genius when it came to getting things to market. So he did the heavy lifting and I got a 40% share as a silent partner.
Our first contract was with Raytheon.
Almost immediately, the targeting system for their TERCOM/DSMAC Block IV cruise missiles got a lot more capable and my bank account got inconceivably larger.
I’m a nerd. I don’t care about money. And I don’t know anything about finance. So I had Scott take care of all of that for me. And I never discussed our fiscal situation with Janet.
In my mind it would have sounded self-congratulatory. And nerds don’t brag about how much they make. World of Warcraft Conquest Points definitely! But money - NEVER! It would sound too much like the dick measuring that went on among Janet’s yuppie friends.
I just went along in life like nothing had changed. Later on I was very glad that I had done that.
The money was a blessing only in that it gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with the rest of my life. I liked teaching. So I kept my faculty position. But I DID buy a place in Georgetown. I paid cash.
Janet didn’t seem to notice. I think she thought that I had mortgaged myself to the hilt. The only real change was that it was now an easy walk to campus.
Janet herself had undergone a HUGE transformation. The 23 year old I had met on that hot night in Adams-Morgan was now a 28 year old with a sense of style that I could only dream of.
Most of our life together was still bantering and interesting observations. But she increasingly took on a gravitas that was marked by assumed superiority and social refinement. She had also developed into a really beautiful woman.
She had been cute and coltishly sexy when I first met her. But as she got into her late twenties her face got more refined and her body filled out. She always had gorgeous tits. And those remained meaty and proud. But now her hips and ass were to die for, round full and muscular. She was a truly spectacular looking person.
She never asked about money. It was just always there for her. Accordingly, she had adopted all of the rich-bitch dress, grooming and fashion tricks that differentiated between pretty and stunning.
In effect she was now miles out of my league on the social scale.
Unfortunately for me I am not that refined, or sophisticated. And I never will be. I live mostly in my head. And I have never had any desire to be socially prominent. My world is head down and virtual. It might be isolated. But I am really only happy there.
The good news was that my abilities and interests underwrote Janet’s life style. The bad news was that we began to go other directions. We might have been perfect together once. But we were different people now. And as time passed we begin to function in entirely different spheres.
Janet was a black tie Kennedy Center kind of gal. My idea of a great night out was sitting at Blues Alley. She liked the ambience at the Verizon Center. I liked the peace and quiet of our sailboat on the Potomac.
I think that you can see where this is going and it inexorably went there.
Most of the time we had a free and easy life. But it was obvious that we were no longer quite as intimately connected. At least in the way that we were in the beginning. It showed in the occasional strained conversations and the huge qualitative drop-off in our sex life.
But I have to admit that I didn’t see the torpedo coming until it actually hit.
I was aware of the fact that I was severely lacking in the sociability department. And I knew that there were going to have to be some changes. But that was as far as I had thought it through On the other hand, Janet had already taken it all the way home. Or perhaps the proper term is, “All the way out the door.”
I came back from class one bright sunny morning in May. The DC weather was in that narrow window when the term “delightful” best describes it. I dropped my laptop bag on the table in the entrance hall. I walked into the living room whistling cheerily to myself. And I stopped dead, stunned by what I saw.
Janet was sitting nervously on the couch. She was holding the hand of a tall, very good looking guy. Templeton Askew himself was lounging on the couch facing them. Every flashing red light, klaxon and alarm bell went off in my head. Whatever was about to happen was going to be bad.
Janet looked at me sadly and uttered the five little words that no husband wants to hear, “Jake, we need to talk.”
I gawked at her. She looked anxious. Templeton was smirking. And who the fuck was the other guy? Was he her lawyer?
Actually, he WAS Janet’s lawyer.
But he was also her lover.
She said, “Jake, this hurts me a lot. But you need to know that I am leaving you. I could have just disappeared. But I value the time we had together and I wanted to give you the courtesy of telling you directly.”
Holy Shit!!! I sank down into the nearest chair.
I have no idea what was on my face but my soon to be ex-father-in-law looked delighted.
She was leaving me? Where did THAT come from? I probably looked like the proverbial fish out of water. I babbled, “You’re leaving me? Why? What did I do? What will happen to me?
She dialed up the phony concern and said, “You’ll be fine. I know it. You’re a strong person. It’s just that Burton and I have found each other again and we can’t be apart.”
Templeton said, with disdain dripping off his every word, “Janet and Burton were childhood sweethearts. He is the right person for her. Janet understands that they never should have parted.”
Daddy added in his disdainful manner, “Burton didn’t really cheat on her. He was just sowing his wild oats. He is ready to settle down now and Janet has consented to be his wife.”
I said pitifully, “But she’s MY wife.”
Damn!!! Would you just LISTEN to me?!!! I sounded like a sniveling little wussy. It was just fucking embarrassing.
The raw humiliation and the conceit in daddy’s self-important, patronizing voice pushed me over the edge. I didn’t know I had it in me. But Bruce Banner probably didn’t think so either.
I just “Hulked” out on them. Suddenly, all I could think was, “SMASH PUNY HUMANS!!!”
I turned to daddy and making no attempt to control the anger in my voice I said, “I am going to rip off your fucking head and shit down your neck if you open your mouth one more time; you arrogant cocksucker.”
He started to open his mouth. I began to rise from my chair. He could see the genuine homicide in my eyes. He made a zipping gesture across his lip. Point-game-and match to Jake Barnes.
I turned to the faithless-slut-formerly-known-as-my-wife and said, “Are you telling me that this piece of shit is your childhood sweetie and that you are leaving me for him? How long have you been fucking him?”
The aforementioned piece of shit said in a highly affronted tone of voice, “Now look here old boy.”
I turned toward him and said, “Where I come from you and I should be punching each other up right this second. So unless you want to adjourn to the parking lot I suggest that you stay out of it. This is between me and my soon to be ex-wife.”
He just sat there looking disgusted.
I turned to her and said, “Okay you deceitful whore. The floor is yours. How long has this been going on and what do you propose to do next?”
Janet looked taken aback and really angry. She hadn’t expected this.
She said, “Daddy has not felt that you were the right person for me since our trip to New York. He has been urging me to give Burton another chance. Burton came all the way down here to escort me to the Washington National Opera last November. It was the one that you were too bored to attend.”
I remembered that. She had thrown a black tie party in a suite that I bought for her at the Jefferson. I was expecting a blow-up when I told her that I didn’t want to go. She came home the following day and was as sweet and loving as she had ever been.
I said, “So you have been fucking this guy for six months then?”
She looked pained and said scornfully, “Such degrading language Jake. It doesn’t speak well for you.
Then she added condescendingly, “But to answer your question, Burton and I have been a couple since that evening. I’m surprised you hadn’t heard about it since we have not made a secret about our relationship. But then again, you don’t travel in our circles.”
She turned toward the Dickhead and took his hand lovingly. She said, “We want to make it permanent now and I need you to release me so I can marry the person I should have been with in the first place. I am sure you understand that it is over between us. I love you but I have not been in-love with you for some time”
I looked at the deceitful bitch and her duplicitous father. Then I turned my attention to Shithead. I said, “So you want to marry her knowing what kind of adulterous slut she is?”
He spluttered, “Now look here. You can’t talk about Janet that way.”
I said, “How should I talk about her? I gave her all the devotion I had in me. I gave her the money to let her make-believe that she was a society doyen. I never as much as looked at another woman. All I expected was to raise kids with her and die in her arms.”
I added with disgust, “As a reward, she has been fucking another man for the past half year and probably her dad on the side.”
Both of them exploded. I looked at them with murder in my eye. They both shut up.
They didn’t deny it either.
I looked at her asshole lover and he was turning beet red.
I said gently to the room, no anger in my voice, “This is what you all really want?”
Shithead was looking thoughtful. Daddy was looking outraged and Janet was looking grim. Janet said with anger in her voice, “It’s what we ALL want Jake. You need to let me go. I have already moved all of my things to Burton’s place and when I leave here I am never coming back.
She added, “I don’t want anything from you. Just a quick divorce. Burton is much richer than you are. So I don’t need anything except your blessing.”
I looked at her truly incredulous. The stupid bitch really expected me to smile and say, “Right then!!! Well have a great life.”
Seriously??!!! I had no idea how somebody could BE that naive.
I looked them sincerely in the eye and said, “I hope that you ALL catch AIDS and rot in hell.”
There was a collective gasp.
At that, I got up and stalked out of the place. I had to go somewhere, or I would have killed each and every one of them.
I am normally NOT an impulsive kind of person. I work things out in my head. So I walked along the C&O towpath to Key Park trying to cool down. I plopped myself on a bench and watched the planes drone low over Roslyn toward DCA. It was a beautiful day and my mind was churning furiously.
I don’t know how other people react to personal betrayal. But I was numb. I recognized treachery when I saw it. I just didn’t know how to feel about it. There was not a lot of pain. Maybe I didn’t love her as much as I thought. Nevertheless, there was an empty place in my soul now. It was like all of the certainty had drained out of me.
I was not going to shed a tear for the traitorous slut. Maybe it’s because I don’t consider hand-wringing over a lost love to be very manly. She had obviously not been who I thought she was and she had made her choice. So be it.
Her leaving didn’t affect the rest of my life. In fact, in some ways there would be no substantive change at all. Except the cancer of a cheating wife would be cut out of it. I was still young and I was richer than I ever imagined.
It was fortunate that Janet and her father had so much contempt for me that they never thought to look into my financial affairs. Bad assumption in the information age. Take Bill Gates for instance.
I knew two things for sure. First and most important, I would never trust another human being. Against my better judgement I had unqualifiedly handed my heart to Janet and look what that had gotten me.
So cross women off the list of mistakes I will not make in the future.
Second, I had to get away from this place.
Thanks to my little algorithm I could do anything I wanted in life. And the last thing I needed was a reminder of how shitty my existence had just become. My life was pointless anyhow. So I might as well have a little fun in the meantime.
I was trudging back to the RER-B stop at the Gare de La Plaine. St Denis, has been described as Detroit with couscous. Looking around at the dilapidated buildings I could see why.
Twenty minutes earlier I had been standing at the opening of one of the third tier access tunnels at the Stade de France. From that vantage point I could view 80,000 or so of my fellow human beings.
What the French call football bores me. But then again I wasn’t there to watch it. I had taken the RER all the way out to St Denis to try to gauge where I was in my recovery. It was an attitude check so to speak.
Some people go to church. Some people sit cross legged on a mountain-top and drone “Ommmmm”. I go to sports venues to evaluate my standing in the great scheme of things. I like big-picture perspective when I am trying to understand where I fit in. And there is nothing better than a stadium full of people to get useful insight about your situation vis-à-vis life.
I had been tinkering with my prospects since the divorce, trying to find the right path. I know it sounds silly for a person as rich as I was to be confused about directions. But I was totally alienated from humanity in general.
In effect I had gone feral.
Betrayal will do that to you. You just don’t trust anybody. It was like I was standing out in the cold watching a party going on. Without the slightest idea of how to join the happy folks inside.
I had no clue about the steps I needed to take to begin acting like a normal person again. Drifting was not an option. So I knew I had to decide sooner than later. Or time would force a decision on me.
The entire spectrum of humanity was on display down below. I looked along the tiers of excited fans. Every one of those people had hopes and aspirations. And more touchingly every one of them doubtless thought that they mattered.
I looked at the backs of the heads in the countless number of rows in front of me, all I could see was a mass of hair. There was variation in color and length. But, none of the owners stood out. They were little indistinguishable pelts in a roiling sea of fur. Sort of like a pack of lemmings.
I shook my head and trudged back down the steps. Still no answers there.
Behind me the whole place erupted in cheers as somebody did something epically heroic, which would be replaced by ANOTHER epically heroic feat the following week.
I sighed. At least I had confirmed what I had come to learn. Inconsequentiality is the human condition.
I took the Métro de Paris back to the FDR stop, at the Arc de Triomphe. Then I walked back to the hotel.
I was living at the Hotel California over in the 8th Arronddisement.
Look that place up. It’s real. I wondered if the French even GOT the irony of the lyrics to the old Eagles song, “You can check out anytime, but you can never leave.”
My place of residence couldn’t BE more fitting.
I had been living in Paris for the past four months. Ever since the divorce had become final.
I had to be anywhere but DC. So I asked for an unpaid leave of absence to get my shit together. Not surprisingly, the folks at Georgetown were more than happy to grant it to me. My teaching had really sucked for the past semester.
Meanwhile, the deceitful bitch had become prominent in the DC social scene. I guess her separation from me marked a “coming out” of sorts. The handsome couple looked nauseatingly happy and very much in love.
But the smiling pictures of Janet and Shithead, in the society pages of the Post, were really fucking up my morning bowl of Cheerios. She looked as arrogant as he was. Janet was clearly somebody who could absorb and mimic the personality of whoever she was standing next to.
Her betrayal was difficult to accept. But she was also a total psychopath. I believe the shrinks call it a “dissociative disorder.” I had first seen it when she had morphed into an entirely different person during our visit to her father in New York. I had just not “gotten” it then.
Whoever was occupying her head at the time probably didn’t know that the others existed. That was why she was able to utterly fool me for so long. But, she was undoubtedly two, or perhaps three totally separate and distinct personalities.
The Janet personality, which I suspect was her core self, was just as unpretentious and warm as the other ones were cold, calculating, cruel and arrogant. The root cause of the various people living in her attic doubtless traced back to some shattering event in her formative years.
Daddy definitely triggered the switch. So he was no doubt the pervert in her life.
In fact, I was really hoping that she was still porking dear old dad. That would certainly mess up hubby’s petit dejeuner some fine morning. Or maybe Shithead was the kind who liked to watch. He seemed like THAT kind of simpering little bitch. Maybe that was why Daddy approved of him so much.
Whatever the case, the situation with Janet had unquestionably put me off women for the rest of my life. As I was sitting there I mumbled to myself, “I should turn in my man card”. I not only couldn’t get it up now. I didn’t even lust after them in the abstract.
I hear you asking, “What was a totally disillusioned and cynical nerd doing in a place like Paris?” I mean I’m not exactly sophisticated, or worldly.
The answer was “unfamiliarity.”
The thing with Janet had destroyed all of my inevitabilities and I needed a reset. At least, if I ever wanted to get back in the game of life.
Up to the point where my whore of an ex-wife dropped a nuclear device over my future plans I had been on a path that was probably set in the third grade. I would do well in school. I would find a good job. I would marry a nurturing and faithful woman. And we would raise 1.86 kids and die in each other’s arms
That didn’t work out so well - now did it?
So, I was back to the drawing board for a do-over. And I didn’t want to reconstitute myself in any setting that was even remotely related to my old life. Hence, I consciously chose to NOT live with the Brits. It would be too familiar there. And I wanted no carry-over issues.
I wanted it to get as far away as possible from the life that I knew. And Paris is pretty alien place for a guy whose idea of “foreign” is a trip to Comic-Con.
But in the words of Hemingway, Paris is also a movable feast and frankly my relocation was getting the job done. In every passing day my old life was sliding further and further out of my memory. And my confidence was starting to come back.
I would have normally met Robert Cohn down the Rue de Berri at Le Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysees. We could watch the world go by over our Pastis and Le goûter. But it was raining hard.
The City might be a romantic’s dream some times of the year. But it was chilly, grey and miserable that particular April day.
Robert Cohn was one of a group of English speaking ex-pats who had settled into the Paris scene. It was his way of getting out of doing anything adult and responsible in the States. We were ALL there because we were seeking something. And we moved in the same circles because of our common language.
He was another fellow who had inherited it, not made it. But he was one very tough son of a bitch nonetheless. He was taller than me by a couple of inches, handsomer than Shithead and maybe 220 pounds. He had played linebacker at Harvard. And he was every inch the alpha-dog, smart, arrogant and slightly more entitled than Louis Quinze.
For some reason he was almost stalking me. In fact, a day wouldn’t go by when he wasn’t either calling, or offering to get together. I was pretty certain it was not my good-looks and charm. He might have been attracted by the “world weariness”, which I just radiated. Or he might have some inkling of who I really was.
By that stage I was filthy rich. I know I didn’t act or dress the part of a multi-millionaire. I still settled for nerd chic, not a life-style out of La Dolce Vita. But all of us nerds are like that.
Money means absolutely nothing to us. So we don’t keep track of it. My stay at the California cost serious loot. But it was a drop in the bucket compared to how fast it was accruing. The most expensive thing I owned was the condo, which had almost doubled in paper value. But I had paid cash for it. So my only actual connection was through the present renter. And he was only making me richer.
As Cohn walked in the street door of the little bar off the lobby at the California he was channeling Ralph Lauren’s preppie collection. He moves like a big cat. Graceful is a word that comes to mind.
He is actually a really hard and dangerous fellow. But because he has always had money he can put on insouciant like he was born to illustrate the word. He was sporting a very expensive black t-shirt leather jacket combo. And his thick curly brown hair was covered by a fedora, which looked like he had liberated it from Indiana Jones,
The devil in his sparkling blue eyes gets him laid pretty-much on demand. And it was glinting at every one of the women in the bar.
He came bustling up shaking the rain off him. He said, “Where were you today. I was trying to change the venue but you weren’t picking up?”
I didn’t want to tell him that I had been in St. Denis feeling sorry for myself. I would have sounded like the pussy that I probably am. So instead I told him that I had spent the afternoon writing and I didn’t want to be disturbed. I had been doing some pieces for various Journals as an excuse for why I was in Paris. That seemed to satisfy him.
He said, “I wanted to spend the night down at Bugsy’s. Bill and Mike are meeting us there.”
Those two were both former military types. They had been soldiers with the 173rd RCT based in Italy. And they had stayed in Europe after their separation. They lived together in a dilapidated little apartment in the 18th near Montmartre.
Bill Gorton was a really steady guy. Mike Campbell had PTSD issues. The “Sky Soldiers”, as they call themselves, ran into some very serious shit during their time in Iraq and in Logar province in Afghanistan. Mike was dealing with the fall-out from that.
The rain had stopped as we emerged onto the Rue de Berri. Bugsy’s was less than a mile down the Rue du Faubourg. And it seemed pointless to take a taxi, even if you could get one of the stuck-up Parisian cabbies to stop for us.
So we just walked the fifteen minutes that it took to get down there.
Bugsy’s is a cross between an American sports bar and some French concept of 1920s Chicago. It is always packed, mainly because it has the best cheeseburgers in the universe. And it is a watering hole for Americans like Cohn and me.
The American tourists are all over at the legendary Harrys on the Rue Daunou. Given the price of a drink there and the Middle-American clientele I can’t imagine that in its modern incarnation the likes of Sinclair Lewis, or Hemingway, or even the Duke of Windsor would be caught drinking there.
Tables are normally in short supply at Bugsy’s but Bill and Mike had gotten there a lot earlier and were holding one for us. I knew that they had been there for a while because Mike was already hammered.
Nonetheless, as we shouldered our way through the crowd my attention was not focused on my two friends. Cohn and I were both checking out the person sitting next to Mike.