Chapter 14: I become famous
I'm down with the black market, it's happened, I've joined the shady characters and their shady deals. I've been collecting money for my friend Sarah, is the thing, because she went back to England in December and arranged for her last paycheque to go into the bank account of her firend and co-worker, Clément, so that he may transfer the money to her and she may have a safety deposit for the apartment she is trying to rent. She found that no money had come her way by January and she called Clément to figure out the problem -- the problem, as it happens, turned out to be that Clément, that prince among men, had spent her money, all 900 euros of it, and she was now what is technically called "dans la merde."
After much panic and many frantic phone calls, it was decided that Clément would give me the money in installments so that he wouldn't spend it. We've been meeting up from time to time, whenever he has some euros to hand over. He never shows up with the promised amount -- I guess he's what you might call "unreliable" -- and everything became tricky when he arranged a meeting and then went a.w.o.l., so Sarah gave him long-distance hell (when he finally answered his phone) and threatened to get some of their co-workers to get the money from him. I spent our next meeting listening to his sob story: apparently Clément is at once hurt and outraged by Sarah's harsh words. In fact, if she keeps saying mean things about him, he won't give her any more money at all, so there. No one's ever accused him of being dishonest before, you see, and he doesn't like it. (The obvious question is whether or not he's ever stolen 900 euros and then steadily lied for two months before, but I bit my tongue; we must pacify this petulant child, as the end goal is for Sarah to get her not-insignificant paycheque.)
It's a pretty trashy situation and was made worse by our last meeting spot: I was coming home from that walleye rehearsal (for the "experimental" play) on the tram and would walk home from la Place Guillotière, so we agreed to meet there. When I got to the place itself, though, I remembered that it's full of men who stand around and sell any number of things, mostly hashish. I hung around for long enough that they thought I was buying and they kept wandering past me, mumbling "cinq euros... cinq euros..." I didn't like being so much in the thick of things and found a spot by a wall, but this made me seem like I was on the scene. By the time two guys had leaned against the wall beside me and asked if I was selling, I began to worry about my reputation.
Clément finally showed up and I tried to steer him away from la Guillotière so he wouldn't be handing me 300 euros in cash in the middle of the police-monitored black market, but he was too quick (read: too stupid) for me and our transaction was quite public. I was sure an undercover cop was going to jump out and find a big bag of coke in Clément's jacket (how else did he spend 900 euros in two weeks with nothing to show for it? and how else could he have become so stupid?) and I would be spending the night in jail until Sarah's job confirmed to the police that they'd transferred her pay to his account and that I was just a nice English assistant who sometimes hung around the drug market. Surprisingly, that didn't happen; I just took the money and left. (I'll sell the rest of my coke next time...)
I guess my part of the story isn't so interesting, but I wanted to tell you about this crazy Clément. Can you believe he spent her money? And is offended that she's angry about it and doesn't quite turst him anymore? Who IS this guy?!
As for laundromats, mine is a big jerk. On Friday I lugged a big heavy bag -- including sheets, towels and a comforter -- up the street and tried to push open the door, only to discover that the laundromat has completely shut down. The machines are gone, the floor is torn up, there is no trace of anything to do with laundry. And no notice! Absolutely no warning! In the space of a week, you're on your own.
I found another place but it's far and in a seedy area and kind of dirty; you don't want to sit around and wait for your laundry. There was this busybody man doing his load at the same time as mine and he went on and on about the corrupt police, and this one time they did this, and this other time they did that, but he sure told them, and next time he'll be the one throwing "un cocktail molotov" into their cars. (The home-made bombs that were the star feature of the riots last fall.) I tend to look at people when they're talking to me, nodding here and there, maybe frowning thoughtfully. This time I tried a new strategy and just stared straight ahead, slouched on the bench; it didn't stop him from talking to me (from ranting at me) but at least I didn't have to participate. Note to self: non-communication is the way to go.
I went through a faze of thinking I recognized people everywhere I went, whether celebrities, Mississauga neighbours or my father, and I thought it was over. Then I saw Steve Werber in the subway station: I vaguely knew him in high school, mostly as an unpleasant character, and I was so sure it was him, so surprised and -- for some reason -- so pleased that I yelled "Steve WERBER??!!?" (I really yelled it), whacked him on the arm and then immediatly realized that it was not Steve Werber. He stood frozen, unsure of what to do, and I made a weird sound in my throat. Then we both got on the subway and stood silently beside each other until I got off four stops later and we gave each other a good-bye nod, which struck me as impossibly funny.
As for school: on Tuesday I took the bus in the opposite direction from usual because my tutoring lesson had been moved. As I waited at the bus stop I wandered over to a dry spot by the wall and read the graffiti written there, mostly "Charcot bites" and "I [heart] J.B.," the usual. Then: "Katrine, l'assistante d'anglais, je la baiserais bien." (Roughly, "I'd bang her.")
What to do? My bus came before I could go tell someone at school, so it will have to wait -- but how many of my students have seen it? How hideous is that, dirty graffiti about me at the bus stop?! And it was spelled correctly (other than my name), conditional tense and everything, so it wasn't a completely stupid student. I am outraged.
So that's the wrong kind of celebrity, but a few weeks ago I had a brush with a nice kind: my very funny Scottish colleague invited Franck and me to dinner and made a whole youth scene out of it, with her kids, her god-daughter, her son's girlfriend and the girlfriend's sister and mother. It was a really nice evening anyway, friendly and warm with good food and funny people, but my highlight came right at the beginning: the girlfriend's sister and mom arrived together and the mom, Valérie, is particularly boisterous and slightly manic, red cheeks and everything. I suspect she might be the kind of person who wants to get on your good side, which largely accounts for the compliment she paid me, but never mind that. I had my hair in braids and my bangs were hanging out on their own, possibly Friends-style, and would you like to know who she said I looked like? Jennifer Aniston, that's who. Jennifer Aniston! It's completely untrue! But I love it! I suppose that I vaguely have her colouring, and that night I had the same bangs, but I clearly look nothing like the girl and Valérie must have been trying to buy my friendship. Well let me tell you, sold! To the lady with the keen eye and the infallible judgment! So now Afrique-c'est-chic calls me Jennifer and I flutter my eyelashes a lot. A few evenings after the dinner we saw a commercial for a Jennifer Aniston night on tv ("Along Came Polly," the one where she has a black eye and "Leprechaun") and though we didn't watch it, we thought it was very significant indeed.
Suffice it to say, between the drug deals, the smutty bus stop messages and my uncanny likeness to my friend Jennifer Aniston, I think I am making my mark here in Lyon. The world is my oyster.