Savoir (comment) faire
It was un bon geste, in any case. So well did I embody the role of le pauvre américain that my dutiful gardiens français were compelled to whisk me away to this particular pièce de théâtre immersif culturel. The news flowed smoothly off of wine-daubed tongues, languid langues cooing after hours of pampered endurance : the apéritif, the plat principal, the dessert, the hours of quipping and sipping in between.
« Bon, Bra-yan ! said Marion. What will you do with your evening tomorrow ?
—Oh, I don’t think I have anything going on. I respond.
—Parfait. I thought we could all go to the meat roast.
—It is a special thing in a neighborhood not far. Paul interjects.
—It will be very pleasant for us. And for you.
—And there will be young people, too ! »
The déclaration wrinkled the air with mirth and pity. Such a prominent pairing here. C’est le pain quotidien.
And there we were. This particular fruition of local color and French identity was an annual meat roast in honor of the strapping beaux gosses of the neighborhood’s club de football. And honored they were. Pods of garçons virils conjoined and collapsed throughout the dining hall, their voices and gestures bounding with fraternité compétitive as their family members looked on in worship from the perimeter, piercing the boy’s rallying cries with songs of victory and conquest.
And there was I. Le pauvre américain. L’étranger. La curiosité. As the athlètes bounded around the hall, I was bound to the dinner table with Marion et Paul. They had been waiting all evening for me to make a move : breach one of the pods, charm them with my exotic otherness, but then assimilate. Be happy. They, bien sûr, began to see their faux pas. In no respect would I be able to impose my presence on any of these people. Not in this context. Dans aucun contexte. I have never been the face of the manifest destiny of American culture as a good to be exported. I can not inject myself into a foreign place and demand recognition and acceptance. Manon et Paul keep the light, tight-lipped conversation at the table alive, so as not to concede to the failure of their plans and of my integration. Their faces are taught with the effort of le paraître.
A name comes to mind for the Possible-Legal-Name-Change list. I have always disliked my own, and here, it exacerbates my otherness. Félix. A Félix would integrate here--would have no issue navigating droves of disinterested strangers. A Félix, by definition, must be happy. The name bounds around my skull for a while.
A DJ starts to play.
The pods of beaux gosses
Speckle the hall,
But hardly hallow it
As a dance floor.
I can not
Impose myself onto them,
Assimilate into them,
But sure as hell
Will I assert
Just how Other
To rip the spaces
Between the beats
Along the ley lines
Of the air exhaling
Chacun de mes os
The pretty boys, flummoxed and guffawing, deride the lone American weirdo who is dancing with the intention to dance. Some parrot the movements, others let flow a joke in streams of indecipherable French. The parrots, however, begin to realize how gratifying it is to move not for purpose, but for expression. The pretty boys begin to dance in earnest. They bound and swarm among themselves, their dance a bit of a scrimmage. I leave them to their task, rejoining Marion et Paul.
« Wow, look at you go! cries Marion.
—Haha, merci. Je sais comment danser! I say.
—Tu sais danser. Paul corrects with a mirthful wink.
—Ouais, c’est ça. Je sais danser. »
Marion, Paul et moi pass the rest of the night in high spirits, both emotional and alcoholic. They are more à l’aise for some reason. Less paraître, more être. Perhaps they are secretly happy that I prefer their company to those I am expected to befriend. We find a spot to drunkenly dance, just the three of us. On est vachement bourrés! We roll out of the hall and along cobbled roads through crooked corridors of le quartier, slurring Sinatra’s New York just a bit too loudly and avec un peu trop de bonheur.