I’m sitting in the airport lounge at Orly, waiting for a plane down to Nice, on my way to the Cannes Film Festival because I have a song in a movie that’s premiering there. This is a long-anticipated trip to the French Riviera for a week of glamour and glitter and the languid turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. I'm expecting endless parties, shots and yachts and Bain de Soleil-covered Euro-trash slime with expense accounts, their pockets full of designer drugs.
The only problem is, I’m a basket case, a complete and total wreck. I’ve just been cruelly abandoned by my Swiss lover in Paris, left in a tiny Eight Arrondissement hotel room with a broken shower and I can’t stop crying. In my thoughts, I feel as though there’s been an attempt on my life, so I’m now referring to my horribly sadistic now-ex lover as The Assassin.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, on the plane I’m seated next to a woman with a squalling toddler who won’t stop screaming and throwing spit-covered cookies the entire way, no matter how many times she slaps him and yells, “ARRETE!” I’m feeling like screaming out loud myself, chain smoking in the lav and popping what little crumbs of Xanas I can find left in the bottom of my make-up bag.
The only good part of this situation is that I am meeting Steve, the film’s director, and even thought I don’t know him that well, we had an instant rapport—more like a psychic bond. He can make me laugh, and we both have the exact same taste in men. Steve’s waiting for me with the rest of the cast in Juan-Les-Pins
When we land, I have the option of taking a cab for $96.00 American dollars, or a bus for , like six bucks. I opt for the bus due to finances. The bus makes God-knows-how many stops on the way to Juan_Les Pins, and isn’t air conditioned. Needless to say, the crying hasn’t abated. Finally the bus dumps me and my suitcase off in the middle of the town square nowhere near the hotel so of course it’s ninety degrees at four in the afternoon and I have a hoof it.
By the time I finally get to the hotel drenched in sweat, the crying has stopped, having been replaced by a growing rage, a by-the-book classic case of Hell has no fury like a woman scorned. A mere twenty minutes ago, I’d been contemplating suicide, but now I’m having a miraculous epiphany similar to what Helen Keller must have experienced at the pump when Annie Sullivan spelled out the sign language for “water” into her hand.
It dawns upon me: what I need is another cock in me as soon as possible to erase any trace of my beastly beloved Assassin. I mean, if one can’t get laid on the fuckin’ French Riviera, one must really be a loser, baby! With game resignation, I steel myself for what is sure to become a one-woman slutfest, “Debbie Does Cannes”! If I can’t get a tumble or two during the Festival, there’ll be plenty of time for suicide later!
The hotel is sumptuous, a converted old villa surrounded by wildly colorful exotic gardens, and my room has a view of the water with a massive yacht on the horizon. A good omen, I think, as is the huge bathtub with a working shower. I run a bath, guzzle a couple of cocktails from the mini-bar, lick up the Xanax dust from the bottom of my pill box, and relax on the gigantic soft bed, a cool washcloth over my tear –swollen eyes, the sea breeze from the open French doors gently caressing my body. With utmost care, I apply super-vixen make-up and select a skintight, midriff-baring royal blue crushed velvet dress with a hip-level slit up one side, earrings that would put any chandelier to shame, fishnets, and disgustingly high platforms. I feel like Brigitte Bardot on a lost weekend and get down to dinner just when everyone is being seated.
We have our own private dining room with a full staff of tuxedoed waiters just for us hovering anxiously, pulling out the chairs for each woman present. There are freshly cut, sky-high bouquets of flowers everywhere—the room is redolent with their heady fragrance. The place settings feature nine million forks, fine china plates stacked on top of each other and way too many wine glasses and goblets for a crowd of Americans. On top of the floral notes in the air is the tantalizing aroma of Provencal cuisine. Taking it all in, I’m now a ringer for Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:
“A girl like I could get used to this!”
In fact, I’m feeling so good, all thoughts of murderous revenge on The Assassin have temporarily been banished from my head. I’m actually participating in small talk, able to put aside my obsessive, pathetic psycho-drama and be the scintillating dinner conversationalist I was pre-Paris. Steve is being brilliant, sarcastic and witty, and as the encyclopedia-sized, calligraphed menu finds its way into my hands, I’m not even forcing myself to laugh at what he’s asking for “dangerous” vin rouge.
When I look up to see the wine stewards’ reaction (when, if ever, is expensive wine referred to by a diner as dangerous?) I’m momentarily stunned. Isn’t a sommelier supposed to look like a French version of W.C. Fields, a fat, balding old man with a Dali-esque mustache under a gin (or perhaps vin rouge) blossom nose?
Well, this one didn’t. Mais non!
This sommelier couldn’t have been a day over twenty-four and, to be perfectly frank, adorable can’t begin to describe him! He has a shiny midnight pompadour more elegant than hoody, a swarthy sun-kissed complexion, slanting liquid black eyes, dazzling white teeth, and excruciating cheekbones. His lips are full and it’s clear he’s amused at Steve’s comment, trying unsuccessfully to maintain decorum and not let his mischievous smirk show.
My menu fell—by accident?—from my hands onto the table and knocked a couple of forks onto the marble floor with a loud clatter, which happily focused the wine steward’s attention on little old moi. Steve immediately shot me a knowing glance which no one at the table caught, but which the wine steward didn’t miss. Thus begins a three-way flirtation, a ballet of veiled glances, raised eyebrows, lightning-quick smiles and half-French, half-English double entendres, which lasts for the duration of the dinner.
Halfway through the third course, I get out a cigarette and, just as I expected, the wine steward is, at the speed of light, holding a flaming match before me. Like a 1940’s movie star, I steady his hand with mine, and gazing into his eyes, slowly French (how utterly apropos!) inhale.
Man, what’d ya do to rate that? asks Steve’s sister, the star of the film, sounding vaguely annoyed.
“I’ve been lighting my own smokes all night!”
Steve beams approval from across the table, then gets out his own cigarette, to see if he warrants the same kind of service. Happily, he does.
After dinner, stuffed to the gills and more than a little tipsy due to the endless variety of wines Steve just happened to order, we repair to the hotel’s bar to drink more. As luck would have it, our gorgeous sommelier is our server there, too. In between bringing little wire baskets housing bottles of finely aged wines for Steve’s approval, we speculate upon the sexual orientation of our mutual crush, exclaim over how dashing he looks in his tux and crisp, starched’n’spotless white calf-length apron, and make good-natured bets on who can pick him up first.
Much to the amusement of the film’s entourage who’ve by now picked up on our hijinks, this goes on for three nights of us sitting in the bar, giggling like maniacal sex-crazed teens, flirting and being flirted with shamelessly. Midway through the third night, I’m just impatient -and drunk- enough to make my move.
“Encore de vin rouge, Mademoiselle?” asks the sommelier, his eyes intent upon mine, one eyebrow raised in a question I’m surely not imagining.
“Oui merci, Monieur,” I reply, breathlessly, daintily holding my empty glass to be filled, the very picture of Finishing School Etiquette. Then, momentarily abandoning my pidgin French and turning into Ms. Hyde, lapsing into the All-American hoarse whisper of a john soliciting a hooker, I say,
“So… what’re you doing later?”
Steve practically chokes on his vin rouge, while Mssr. Sommelier’s eyes open wide, and he whispers back,
“I am off… eh…at eleven, but… eh… we must meet in the park across the street.”
Fortuitously, it’s 10:30, so Steve and I finish our wine and to go lurk in the shadows, under a eucalyptus tree shrouded in fog for our Liason Dangeruese. Presently the wine steward appears in his street clothes—Euro-Trash Au Go-Go—and we walk to a nearby tiki bar called Pam-Pam.
Seated on rattan chairs with Hawaiian print pillows, our conversation nearly drowned by the incessant techno pounding from the speakers,we order Perrier menthes because we’re too drunk to ingest any more liquor. We grill our conquest, discover that his name is Gregory, he’s been working at the hotel for only a few days, has two tattoos, and is straight. With that last detail revealed, Steve gracefully bows out, with a You Win shrug. Greg and I hang out for awhile, conversing mostly in pantomime, halfway due to the techno, but mainly because neither of us is too adept at each other’s native tongue. We leave the bar and walk along the beach, then go back to his car so he can drive me to the hotel.
By now, the ocean fog has become thick and murky, I’m wearing Greg’s jacket over my slinky dress to ward off the chill. It’s so damp that the windshield of his car is covered in condensation, and he can’t get the motor started. We sit inside the car as he tries over and over to fire the engine, the whole time muttering “Aaaah, merde!” under his breath.
To me, the car sounds suspiciously like my own back home when the weather is wet. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I’d called AAA because my car wouldn’t start, and when the tow-truck arrived, the driver told me to turn my key in the ignition, and whacked my distributor cap sharply with a wrench, which started the car immediately. Just inebriated enough to think I could save the day by employing this technique, I rummage in Greg’s back seat and discover a kid’s wooden baseball bat. Grabbing the bat, I get out and open the hood.
“Try starting it now,” I instruct,, miming a key turning in the ignition, and as he does, I wallop the distributor cap as hard as I can. A shower of sparks worthy of Bastille Day sprays up from the engine, and the car starts immediately. Amazed, Greg jumps from the car.
“Incredible!” he says. “How… eh… how you do this?”
Tottering on my red patent leather heels and hefting the bat like a crazed cross between Babe Ruth and Mamie Van Doren, I yell victoriously,
“I’M FROM AMERICA, BABY!”
We head off to my hotel, and just inside the heavy iron gates, he stops the car and we engage in what is known in archaic American slang as “parking.” Greg gently traces the contour of my jaw line, caresses my hair, and then draws my face towards him in the first genuine French kiss I’ve ever had. His technique is so good, it’s all I can do not to burst into rousing rendition of “The Marsaillez,” or at the very least, “Frere Jacques.”
After a few more breathless moments, he asks if I’d like to go back to his place, and although tempted, I realize that even though The Assassin didn’t kill me, I’ve been severely maimed. Perhaps I’m not anymore quite the harlot I’ve always thought I was, maybe I should think this thing through, sort out my feelings before leaping into bed with yet another years younger Euro-trash Don Juan. All emotions aside, my experience tells me that waiting always makes thing hotter. WE make a date for the next evening.
Staggering through the lobby, high on mixture of liquor and lust, I have to wake up the night clerk to get the key to my room. It’s not until I’m about to brush my teeth that I notice the reason why the clerk gave me such a strange glance: there’s crimson lipstick smeared all over my face and chin. “Coquette the Clown,” I say to the mirror, right before passing out.
Word travels fast—over petit dejeuner, everyone involved in the movie is snickering, elbow nudging, and grilling me for details. Apparently, I’m the only one of the entire lot of us getting any Cote D’Azure action. Even Steve’s mom, a perky mother hen with a Pixie-cut, shakes her head and comments upon how cute Greg is. Now, it’s almost like I’d have to follow this thought even if I didn’t want to. The think is, I do want to, and right now, I’m kicking myself for not having cast caution to the wind last night.
My rationalizations—as if I need them—are many: Greg is tres jolie, The Assassin can go to hell. I will definitely not get attached to Greg and will probably never see him again after this week, The Assassin can go to hell. I will undoubtedly be merely the first in a long line of summer flings for Greg, so his feeling won’t be hurt, The Assassin can go to hell. I’m on vacation, goddamit, and it’s de r in the South Of France, it’s de rigeur to give into whims like this… The Assassin can go to hell. I’m not getting any younger—or richer, for that matter—and there is, therefore, a limited window of time when tryst like this will still be available for me to take advantage of, The Assassin can go to hell. In fact, The Assassin can eat shit and die before going to hell, and I’ll be wearing a skimpy bikini with lots of clunky jewelry, high hells, Jackie O. sunglasses, my shoulder blades itching from the angel wings about to sprout therefrom. There will be a Cartier halo over my head, and I’ll be sipping a champagne cocktail while cheering loudly as The Assassin fuckin’ fries for his transgressions against me.
I cannot wait until tonight!
Greg and I meet in the same place but immediately take off for his place in Golfe Juan. He lives right on the water, the marina in front of his building is a veritable forest of sailboat masts. His apartment, in a quaint old house, is furnished in bare bones, simple bachelor pad accoutrements: heavy carved ‘70s furniture, a few pieces more modern and nondescript, a smallish collection of CDs, mostly techno and reggae, many books on wine. Not too many clothes in the closet, nothing interesting in the medicine chest. He immediately fires up a huge spliff, puts on some music, and begins opening wines for me to sample, telling me about his recently completed thesus on the vineyards of France.
We engage in a bit more small talk, smoke a little more hash, and taste more wine before settling onto the couch, which, in my state, has me singing the chorus LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” in my head. “Voulez-vous chouche avec moi, ce soir?”
I hold my disposable camera up and snap a photo of us looking stoned and beatific, and he finishes seducing me, not a difficult task at this point. Fondling me and whispering in French, we move to the bedroom, have a great little romp in the pitch darkness, and fall asleep.
I wake up with sunlight streaming into the bedroom, no sheets left on the bed. Greg grabs me from behind and asks in a husky, sleepy voice, “Ca va?”
“Oui, ca va bien, merci!” I answer, running through pretty much the entire extent of my French vocabulary.
“How about you, are you okay?” I ask, twisting around to look at him.
He grimaces, and simultaneously lighting a cigarette and slipping on his shades groans insolently, “I hate to speak English in the morning!”
Far from being an off-putting remark tome, I consider this the sublime epitome of Euro-trashiness, and have to conceal my delight at his heartfelt statement.
“Oh, me, too!” I assure him in perfect English, amending it to “Moi aussi!”
Casting me a baleful glance, he begins to get ready for work, offering me the first use of the shower in a gentlemanly way.
Back at my hotel, everyone is eager for details, which I’m far too much of a lady to give out, although I do tell them about Greg’s fabulous early morning comment, which results in the entire cast and crew groaning over breakfast everyday, “I hate to speak English in the morning!”
We see each other a couple of more times before I leave, and it’s fun—a perfect little vacation romance. The morning after I arrive home, I hear French being spoken on my answering machine, and pick up, amazed he’s calling me, especially so soon.
It turns out to be The Assassin- God only knows why- and with satisfaction I inform him that the only reason I answered was because I thought he was Someone Else. Later that day, I get my photos back and send Greg a copy of the one I took of us on the couch, along with a first-grade/primary-reading-level note about what a good time I’d had with him.
The Assassin continues calling, and even thought I’m ignoring his many contrite messages, one day I pick up the phone without screening and we have an illuminating conversation. I can’t fight the fact that I’m still desperately, ridiculously in love with him, and a few weeks later, we have a glorious face-to-face reconciliation. As for Greg, naturally, I never heard from him. Our little rendezvous was mutually beneficial, lots of fun, and I’m endlessly grateful to him for helping restore my injured self-esteem. Not only that, I have to point out that he made me realize a profound fact of my own life: I, too, hate to speak English—or any other language for that matter—in the morning.
The story you’ve just read is from my book Escape From Houdini Mountain. Purchase it on paperback or Kindle here: