(Originally written in April, 2012)
Hanging out in Paris with Jim is like stomping through a Parisian Smurf village destroying centuries-old mushroom houses with a rolling keg of beer.
The French are all running around in their scarves and tight pants, sipping wine and coffee out of pinky cups. They pack themselves like cigarettes next to each other on unstable wicker chairs atop broken cobblestone, surrounded by doll-house sized café tables in a cloud of righteous nicotine talking of the ills of America.
Then here comes Jimmy, our American ambassador, choosing a seat in front, blocking their people-watching view and ordering the largest beer the menu offers with a side of cheeseburger and fries. He looks like an NFL football player in full uniform attending a 4-year-old girl’s tea party.
At one sidewalk café, Jim took his precarious seat as a group of silently reflective French men gave each other knowing glances, smiling wryly as the waiter quickly approached him.
“No Monsieur,” said the waiter frantically pointing and motioning Jim to move his chair so as not to block the aisle.
I looked at Jim silently wide-eyed at the spectacle we seemed to be causing. He looked back at me with his signature arms-up, shoulder-shrug laugh, “What?”
It’s the French that are odd, not him. “They’re douche bags.”
Jim makes good use of French words. Instead of saying “Merci bou coup,” which means ‘thank you very much,’ he likes to say “Merci buckets.” An area near our hotel was called “Place du Clichy,” pronounced with a smooth ‘pl-ahs doo clee-shee’ French roll of the tongue. Jim prefers the Midwest pronunciation with an almost country twang, “Place duh clitch-ee.”
Jimmy is Irish, from Long Island and gets a heavier New York accent with each passing beer. He gets all of his worldly information from Howard Stern and stands about the size of three stick-figure Frenchmen squeezed into one pair of their metro-sexual tight pants. French men are a total different breed from guys like Jimmy.
On our last day in Paris, freezing rain poured down with a wind chill factor cold enough to sting your eyes. As the fashionable and prepared Parisians scurried around with their matching umbrellas, rain boots, scarves and stylish trench coats, Jimmy insisted on remaining the only person with exposed arms in the entire city.
“I forgot to pack a jacket,” he says to my disbelief that he can tolerate this cold. “So what.”
Instead of buying a sweatshirt – or a scarf – his idea of warming up was to duck into a market for three tall boys, because drinking ice cold beer without a jacket in the freezing rain would be a nice distraction.
Jim works hard and he’s a great Director of Photography. But when it comes to playing hard, you must be a skilled and strategic drinker to keep up with his impressive consumption capabilities. It’s like running a beer marathon. The average beer runner begins to fatigue and eventually ends up outside of a bar called Rock and Roll Circus, sitting on a curb holding her head in her hands (uh-hum). Where as Jimmy just keeps running, never reaching the finish line – because there isn’t one.
“He looks American,” says Marie, pronounced ‘mah-ree’ in a lovely French accent. She is our Parisian Gaffer’s young and beautiful French girlfriend and comments on Jim as we all belly up to a bar for drinks on our last evening there.
According to Arthur, the best-dressed tie and vest-wearing Gaffer you’ll ever work with, Jim is unmistakably American because he is “zo tall and wide.”
It turns out I am unmistakably American because I am zo loud. At the same bar, a scarved French man leaned over to tell me with a sour face, “jou must low-aire your voice,” while continuing to lecture me on what is considered rude in France.
We are quite the pair, big and loud and constantly explaining that we are not a couple while showing pictures of our spouses and children.
I have to admit, it is a bit strange that I’ve spent more time with Jim in Europe over the past several years, when neither of us have spent much there with our own spouses.
“I wish David was here,” I say out of nowhere as Jim and I stand on the crowded steps of Sacre Coeur, one of Paris’s most famous churches atop Montmartre with sweeping views of the city. Just then the street performer set up on the middle of the steps with his guitar, amp and microphone starts to play Pink Floyd’s, “Wish You Were Here.” No joke.
Jimmy pops open two street Heinekens as we stand amazed at the coincidence.
I’m bored. This is the seventh time I’ve been to Paris, each time not being able to enjoy the travel experience because of being mind-numbingly tired and working to the bone.
“I want something memorable to happen,” I blurt out.
Something memorable like wearing hip-waders crawling down a manhole to explore the abandoned underground passageways of the catacombs.
Jimmy shoots me his one eyebrow up expression as he responds to my boredom without hesitation, already starting to crack himself up.
“Let’s kill someone.” I nearly fall down a grassy knoll hysterical. How gay Paris is with Jim.