Four months 18 summers ago in France

Beach opposite Les Batteries, Collioure

Beach opposite Les Batteries, Collioure

In the fall of ’97 I announced I would be leaving my job at Starbucks that December, moving home to Pennsylvania for a few months and then on to southern France, to live in a condo on the beach a few towns up from the Spanish border.

We had a party in January at my mom’s house in the country and overnight it snowed; in the morning her epileptic dog went missing through the Invisible Fence and left no prints, I fell face first into a creek looking for the body, broke my glasses, taped them, was growing my first beard and had a job interview the next day as a night attendant at the university library, looked a bit like a serial killer who was all over the news, and after I read the rejection letter someone typed on a real typewriter and mailed to me, and meant it when they said good luck, I typed a poem on the back of it and saved it with a box of photos in my closet.

I got a job as a temp pushing a Rubbermaid cart with stacks of dot matrix printouts for CSRs who sat at their phones all day placing orders from the stacks I handed them which they retyped into their computers — sat and killed time waiting for the mail to come because it needed sorted, sat the rest of the day with an assistant working as her assistant, sketched her once from the back when she wasn’t looking to illustrate the difference in scale between the size of her head and the computer monitor which was much larger, almost menacing, more lifelike, her neck growing a lump from leaning into the screen and sitting all day like that.

I framed the sketch and placed it alongside a plant when I returned from France and got rehired into Starbucks and stayed there for 16 years — put the sketch in a box with my things when I left, buried the box in a corner of a loft in our three-car garage with some photos, trophies, awards.

And I kept a journal that summer in the south of France where I listed each day what we ate and drank and who we saw, and not once did I think about whether or not I needed a visa to stay there or a job — I did construction for a couple Canadians but didn’t have any skills so they just let me knock down walls and in exchange we had long lunches with free food and wine that often turned into dinner — and there were days walking from one village to the next along a path overlooking the Mediterranean the sky was a blue I’d never seen before and the sea had so much salt you could float on it forever — and yet, I knew somehow it wasn’t right, it didn’t seem real, I hadn’t earned it — and so I moved back to Seattle to live with my friends Mike and Kim in their basement a few weeks, found an apartment on Pill Hill close enough I could walk to work, built a loft for my futon high enough my cat who was peeing blood couldn’t reach it, still trying to meet someone, to just settle down.

And I fell asleep facedown that first Christmas with some English friends after a bar called Vito’s, my glasses bent in the morning, and moved out the following spring to a bungalow with a wrap-around porch and an alley cat who had lips like Kevin Spacey, probably a witch, the one who finally took down my cat Pokey, buried now in a parking patch on Latona.

When we got back from the UK last week and started going through the DVDs in mom’s library, we watched one with Philip Seymour Hoffman where he plays a DJ on a pirate radio boat in the North Sea, 1966, and a monologue he has toward the end where he’s saying this may be the best it’s ever going to be, this time in our lives right now — and it’s true then because you don’t realize it’s true, you don’t have to, it’s maybe better you didn’t, and that’s what makes it the best, the not knowing part.

 

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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24 Responses to Four months 18 summers ago in France

  1. “An alley cat who had lips like Kevin Spacey.” Thanks. That’s gonna haunt me for a long long time.

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  2. ksbeth says:

    i loved him, and that scene and that movie, and it’s so true –

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  3. Nice. I love your writing and journey.

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  4. daveply says:

    We saw Hoffman’s Pirate Radio movie not long after he died; it made that monologue a bit more poignant.

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  5. Do you still have that sketch or was it devoured by time? So…waitaminute…are you back in the States? And what about the South of France? Do I sense some regret that you left? In The Sting Paul Newman said, “Regret is for suckers,” but I don’t buy that. If you don’t have any regrets, it means you didn’t experience true love.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Hi Mark — yes, I still have the sketch, drawn at Air Products and Chemicals outside of Allentown, PA, their headquarters. Sorry, I’m jumping around a bit in time and space and that’s confusing. This post is from the ’97-99 timeframe. I don’t have any regrets from that time but it’s complicated: have you ever thought perhaps the best time of your life happened and you weren’t aware of it, at the time? I don’t believe that’s the case with me, but I thought I’d play with that theme some, linking it to that scene from the film we just watched. I had more in there I took out, trying to do too much in a small space on the Internet. I like the idea of that though, perhaps it’s the best time of one’s life because you’re not aware of it at the time. It was like that for me, some of those days in France, and too little of it I can remember. It gets preserved with that stain we keep out in the garage in a pile of paint cans that makes everything look good, seals it in. Man, it’s raining like hell here now in Germany. How does it rain, in hell? I’ll let you know if they let me keep my WP account.

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  6. rossmurray1 says:

    I’m wondering where a woodcut print is. It was made for me by a co-worker named Owen who was with me in the production department of a suburban weekly newspaper called (yes) The Suburban. He made it as a parting gift for me, along with a mixed tape, which I still have somewhere (Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, etc.). The print is a guy with a goofy grin on his face, someone on his last day of work, Owen said. He was a funny, smart guy, too smart for the job (so was I, I told myself), and we would have become good friends if I’d stayed working there. I can’t remember his last name so I can’t even track him down. He had a ponytail because it was 1991.

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    • rossmurray1 says:

      My comment is awaiting moderation because I accidentally unfollowed you.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I had that same ponytail and mix tape! I didn’t know that was a 91 thing. I guess it seemed time to go hippy again, or for the first time, for some of us. Owen is a good name, he sounds like a good friend. Nice you still have the tape somewhere. It’s more important to have it to hold than listen to it somehow. Yes, I put a block on comments but think it’s time to remove it now, so friends like you don’t accidentally unfollow me — but that’s not the reason it was in moderation, I think I just got spooked by people wishing Jesus on me, because they’re probably right. I am empty inside. Can you hear the sound when the stone drops? It’s a long way down.

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      • rossmurray1 says:

        I was wrong. He didn’t give me the mix tape, he loaned it and I copied it. I found it — some serious eighties goth. Tones on Tail, Sad Lovers & Giants, March Violets. Some Smiths on there too.
        – signed, Jesus

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  7. alesiablogs says:

    so happy to read your journey as others have said. I decided to share photography for a bit on my blog as folks were saying keep writing. I am privately, but who knows when I can release myself back on the blog! Photos I do not mind for now….Your writing on the other hand I absolutely love.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Hi Alesia – it’s good you’re keeping the blog thing going I think. It’s not uncommon for people to fall out of it, to tire of it or think they need a break. I’ve done that a couple times myself. Thanks for the kind words and hope you keep at yours; glad we’re still in touch. Bill

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  8. walt walker says:

    Ah, there’s nothing there you needed to earn. What did the French do to earn it? I was over there twice, with no reason to come back, and for some reason, I came back. Twice. Now I’m totally back. Even got some things I didn’t earn. I’d be happy to give them up. They’re not mine anyway. I’d rather be where it’s better. Still contemplating that thing you mentioned, wondering if it might be swingable. Sorry, this post reminds me of going back to AMC after having quit AMC to go to Europe. I quit AMC three days after going back, that was good. But then I took another job I quit five years later to go back to Europe for an even longer time, then I came back to the same Job. Or rather, came back to the States and fell back into the Job. You better not do that, man. I will fly up there to Seattle and kick your pants in. You must break the cycle.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Your story sounds familiar to mine; I think there’s something there — why we come back, think we need to earn it, don’t know why. Thanks for the well-meaning words here, they stick. I hope you can swing it, let me know — and there will always be another time, let’s believe that. Bill

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  9. weissblut says:

    The boat that rocked. That’s the movie. Another one I watched recently about the time that goes away – with PSH as well, fighting against the impermanence of things – is Synecdoche New York. Weird, haunting. Like haunting are the memories of times past, as we struggle to keep them, while the feeling of Toskà – as the Russians say – awaits for us in the present.
    These are the good old days.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      What an interesting comment — thank you. I have only heard of the word Tosca as the name of an Austrian music project, spun-off either Kruder or Dorfmeister, but looked up the word, and found it’s one of several that are “indescribable in the English language,” and read an effort by Nabokov to do so, and now I’m fascinated. Maybe I can go to the doctor and tell her I have Tosca, and ask for relief. Or if it’s really Tosca, I can’t go anywhere — with no help going further inside myself, either. Thank you for the insights, I’m hoping we can exchange more over time, in the good old days of the present and all the lies of the past and future we tell ourselves to stay sane. Ha! – Bill

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