On my last afternoon in Paris I summoned all the courage I could muster, walked into a small café, and said, "Bonjour Madame. Je voudrais diner, s'il vous plaît." My phrasing was awkward--almost rude perhaps. But madame just smiled and escorted me to my seat. Whatever fluency is, I am far removed from it. I am told that someday I will dream in French and that will be the sign.
I tell you again that this is as far from home as I've ever been in my life. I was more afraid walking the streets of Paris than I have ever been walking through the projects. American violence, I know well. You raise your hands. You run. You curl up in a ball. You choke a man out. You stay strapped. This is a dialect of my early years. I think of that scene in The Wire where Bunny Colvin is working with group of alleged scrappers. These kids have seen the worst of West Baltimore. Then Bunny takes them to a steakhouse, where they are flummoxed by the specials, the quietness, the difference between the waitress and the hostess. The curtain fails away to reveal our hardrocks presently transformed into shook ones. On North Avenue we are kings. In Ruth's Chris we are peasants. And we know this.
So sitting there on that last afternoon, I was feeling good for the come-up. I ordered the cheeseburger and salad with sautéed potatoes on the side. The café grew crowded. A larger party came in. I was asked to move to another table. I obliged. I watched a young man and his cherie, sans neck-tie, in a beautiful navy suit. I watched a group of high school kids and thought of my son, who would have seen them here trading coffee, cigs and laughter, and thought them the pit of cool. I had a Konigsberg. Then I had another.