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Category: Boy Meets Girl

In Le Havre

In Le Havre

In Le Havre. Young man, dismount this train!
And so he did, and wandered a while, along a wide and boring road with houses a few businesses a few trucks several cars a person or so passing him every so often on the sidewalk.
But then he got closer to the sea, to the city center and the sun shone.
Concrete steps, a wide yellow boardwalk. A woman with too much make-up serving bar in a strange room with a cement floor, lots of space, and a couple tables huddled around a small wooden (brass trimmed) bar in the center of the room up against one wall. Oui, oui, and she–in a long red sleevless dress and a white feather boa, motions for you to follow. She is fifties and old-looking, with black mascara, red lipstick and face powder caked over and her small, button-eyed, slip-nosed wrinkled face. Her small-featured face poked out beneath curling hair that hung slightly askance with difficult-to-believe volume. She’d smiled when you first entered and said something in French to her comrades–all about her age, mostly men in brown suits with or without the tweed jacket and old-fashioned tweed cabbie hats. They all also smiled at me, waved me Salut, let me go on up with her around the winding carpeted, in some spots unsteady, steps, to see a tiny bedroom down hall from a tiny bathroom. Reasonably priced, probably safe, unless there was a fire. And so I was set; threw my stuff down, squeaked down the steps behind her, once again simultaneously greeted and parted from her customer/friends, who nodded jovially, raising a thick hand or full glass. The room was strangely dark and basement-like, but it was on the ground floor, and soon I was back on the street, with money in my pocket and dinner in my heart.

Looking at the Sky

Looking at the Sky

I remember him well, a young man draped over a metal tube bench, looking up as the sunlight dappled through the lightly scurried leaves of the some flame-spreading maple. The green underbellies twisting oh so slightly as they glowed in the sunlight. He wore some kind of T-shirt shorts and black suede ankle-high walking boots with flat rubber soles and he propped his crew-cut head atop on the metal tube arm on one end of the bench, while twisting his body into the crook between benchseat and bench back. An uncomfortable pose, and it didn’t last long. Listening to a best of Credence Clearwater playing on the discman he’d brought with him from his hometown across the sea and through a thousand miles, over plains, across rivers, through forests and towns, over mountains and lakes, cities, and all. He was a young American in early summer in Heidelberg, resting on on a cobblestone plaza in the old part of the university.

The new part of the university is a ways out of the downtown, and as ugly as Bauhaus. But the old part is beautiful old buildings woven into a beautiful medieval town. This building in particular, which had to do maybe with law and/or philosophy, looks charmingly eternal. Red brick at the corners; over each of two front doors, a red-stone arch flanked by small red-stone columns half disappeared into the facade, which is the whitest white; and three stories of a dozen plus red-stone trimmed windows. And the roof a most remarkable undulating barn, covered in black scales, shot through with little portholes aimed straight ahead by what look like extremely sawed-off cannons, and topped off with a black rectangular clock tower, itself completed with a similar looking roof that quickly gives way to a patinated globe-topped staff.

This young man, muscled by youth and tanned by the sun, felt the rustle of the gentle breeze, felt the light fill the air and splash all objects. He saw the brightness of the leaves and the light blue of the cloudless sky. He’d purchased this CD, which now explained that it ain’t no fortunate son, underling the point with it’s folksy rocknrolling,at a flea market in Le Havre.

Have you ever been to Le Havre? It is the favorite destination for overwrought, overleisured young English-speakers exchanging a year away at the University of Heidelberg, and who now–late-May, two-thirds through the second semester of smoking, drinking, goofing off in German, freewriting, and taking a few courses–have, due to a confusing incident itself founded upon a great and still relatively un-self-perceived distance between their minds and their feelings, realized that they must kill their English-speaking self, which–they ramblingly reason–would best be accomplished with a trip to Le Havre in which they continue speaking to themselves nonstop, but for these five days only in their now passable German or their French, which they’ve studied now for one and a half semesters.

But have you ever been there? To Le Havre?

Birthday in Barcelona

Birthday in Barcelona

No one remembers the details of his 21st birthday. There was a tall, plank-thin, tube-limbed, big-eyed, laughing sweet blond guy there. Also a shortish, sturdily curvy, always-tan (with or without the sun’s help), eagerly thoughtful girl with dark brown kinky hair. He’d known them both for some time, but never really talked to the girl. She was more the other guy’s friend. Anyway, there they were. But who remembers what happened or what it looked like?

A beach somehow, sun sparkling on the waves and sand, the happy hoards splashing in the cool waters or basking in the warm air and on the warmer sand. Then darkness, cooler but still warm air, a bright lit bar or restaurant where they drank sangria and conversed. Who can imagine what sorts of things they said?

At that time, at the age of 21, having his birthday in Barcelona without bothering to try to call his parents (it was, to be fair, still kind of tricky and expensive to make international calls in those muggy days before widespread cellphone use). What was going on with him? I cannot tunnel back to him. I like how well his skin accepted the sun, how easily it let the summer brown it. I applaud the rippling of his muscles and the vigor of his movements. I envy the inability of alcohol or–as we’d soon find out–cigarettes to counteract his body’s certainty, it’s exquisitely solid grip on health. I flinch by what he says, and woebegone my eyes while flatten-pursing my lips when I think of the distance between his mind and the rest of him. Creaking, groaning, wobbling, jerking, like a robot trying to move like a human. Painful to watch. But a fun guy, I guess. And so funny, I’ve heard. Who can remember?

Not everything goes well. Sometimes you try to connect what is inside with the outside options and just don’t have the linking structure in place. And what then are the others to think? They stand outside your outside, within their own inside, looking through their own gauzy linking contraption into the common space where you are carrying on so awkwardly. Their wisdom sees your desperation and goes gentle on you. Their own blindness sees things differently. But neither their wisdom nor their blindness can accept a bouquet of flowers tossed hurriedly at their face.

Mr. Mann comes to town

Mr. Mann comes to town

It was a drizzly day in Heidelberg, a town with the oldest university in Germany. I believe the university was founded centuries ago–perhaps 400, or maybe more, it just depends how you look at it.

It was a drizzly October day in Heidelberg, and some 21 year old American exchange student walked down the cobblestop Haupstrasse, smoking a thin cigar. He’d be switching to cigarettes within a few weeks, but he didn’t know it yet.

It was a drizzly October afternoon in Heidelberg, and some 19 year old French exchange student waived to the American exchange student she’d met the other day when all the exchange students had toured the exercise complex.

Let them go, let them slide apart, let them go without meeting, let him just politely wave back and keep moving on, let him drift on past her pretty young face. Don’t let him notice how cute she is, how bright her face shines, how clean her face curves and how big her eyes smile.

Oop! Too late.

Mr. Mann lived next door. Well, not in October, but a little later. In October the girl from Arizona lived next door. She moved to pursue a slightly bigger room on the other hall. There were two halls, and they met at the entrance to the kitchen.

Mr. Mann, who at some point lived next door, was short and homely losing his thick brown hair on top and grown as a beard down to his concave little chest. Each night Mr. Mann comforted himself with a double-sized wine bottle. He liked to talk but had nothing to say, and his forehead was bunched up like lamp shades fashionable in the olden days.

Mr. Mann had things to say, but he was too lonely to organize his thoughts and so just bounced them off you like a fipped-up ping-pong table. Mr. Mann studied something or other, not because he wanted to become that something or other, but because he liked being a student.

At some point, this short man, perhaps early thirties and with a glossy pate, a skilled musician and able scholar, disappeared.

A pupil–a young blue-eyed man in a loose-fitting square-cut T-shirt–of Mr. Mann’s found his way up to the hallway. His blond hair plopped beautifully on his long pale head like a bowl of angel-hair spaghetti. “Do you know where he went?” No one does. The kid looks angry. Maybe he already paid for a bunch of lessons. Or maybe he’s just sick of Mr. Mann’s shit, sick of wanting to learn to play like a man who’s never learned to live. Speculation, pure speculation. The truth is that we don’t know what made that handsome, soft-featured young fellow scowl and pout up his face into some kind of angry ashtray.

Who is Mr. Mann? Why did he come to town? Why did he leave? These questions were scarcely raised. He was there, shuffling with his professorial little wine gut out front, perpetually drunk but never noticeably so. And then he was gone. The whole thing lasted a couple months. The young American exchange student knew the most about him, but no one asked him for the particulars, and in time he would forget most of what he’d learned in their few conversations. To this day, no one from that floor of an old dorm building slated for demolition come summer knows what became of Mr. Mann. I guess he died. Actually, there’s no reason to suppose that. For most 30 year olds living in the glorious West in our prosperous era, twenty years pass amiably enough and death still looms far off in the distance, a worry but still not anything approaching a certainty.

This was Mr. Mann’s chapter. Will he get so much as another sentence?