Street Scene In Paris

[Paris is a city of light and charm.]

It was our first day in the City of Light. Getting there involved subjecting ourselves to a subtle form of modern torture.  We were taking a “red-eye” from JFK to Paris.  We flew American Airlines because we’re addicted to air miles.  I won’t tell you how many miles I’ve accrued, but I will say that I earned every one of them.  My intent is not to dis American Airlines in this blog, but I can’t help but convey how long and endless and really awful the flight was. The food was fine, considering it was airline fare. But, for a trans-Atlantic flight, most everything was woefully below par.  The screens for the in-flight movie were not viewable unless one wanted to combine eye-strain with minor neck injuries.

At the end of the nearly seven hour flight, I thought I needed a massage on 22nd Street. My legs hurt, my back hurt and there was not enough leg room to raise a knee to tie a shoe lace or stretch a muscle in the lumbar region.

But, I digress.

After a two-hour taxi ride to our hotel near St. Sulpice, I was ready for one thing. A two-hour nap. After a three-hour nap, we pulled ourselves together and headed to see some places we loved in the Latin Quarter. I wanted to climb to the bell towers of Notre Dame, but the line (in a blazing sun) put me off.

I can’t take the heat and the direct sun.  I’m Irish.

So, we headed over to Shakespeare & Company Bookstore, which is a must stop for me.  I love the place.  But, I didn’t need another book to carry on our journey, so I opted for a beer instead.

And this is where the story begins.

It was a street full of foot traffic.

[It all took place on a busy street, just like this.]

We chose to sit facing the street just off the Rue St Michel. It’s busy and touristy.  As we sat in the shade, I noticed there was a homeless man sleeping on a foam pad surrounded by a few pieces of luggage.  I can’t say he was truly homeless, but I noticed all the signs.  We sat for forty minutes, reluctant to go back to the hotel and too tired to explore much more of the Latin Quarter.

I watched the man who slept.  He was in the middle of a busy sidewalk.

Another line of thought came to me.  I had heard of the deranged people who drove trucks into crowds and even went on stabbing rampaged.  I wondered about the SWAT patrols and where they were hiding out.  Then I spotted three well protected (but not heavily armed) police wander by.

A few minutes later, three more SWAT members (two female and one male) approached the sleeping guy on the sidewalk in front of me.

I was prepared for violence that would later be seen on YouTube.  They prodded the guy to determine if he was alive, dead, drunk, stoned or flying on some other drug.  I was prepared to not like what I was about to see.

Instead, the three officers, finally roused the man and got him to his feet.  I was sure they were going to cart him away…

But, they helped him walk to a spot by a street lamp.  Out of the way of the amount of foot traffic.  They dragged his belongings to his side.  He lay back and fell asleep.

The officers walked away.  No hassles.  No arrests.  No clubbing.

I wondered about the man’s life and what brought him to this busy sidewalk.  Then I felt grateful that he was in Paris, where no one used clubs or made him vanish into the bright light of the afternoon.

And all this happened within sight of this:


[Notre Dame Cathedral]


After The Party


I wasn’t that hungry to begin with.

Blame it on the oppressive heat and humidity in the city that evening.  Blame it on the seven block walk to our favorite Ramen place on 28th Street.  Or, best of all, blame it on the viral bronchial whatever I pick up in late June.  I just didn’t feel like eating, but we went anyway.  I coughed all the way to dinner and all the way back.  I coughed at night, all through the day and in the morning…especially in the morning.  I’m coughing as I write this.

I felt like I was burning up with a fever, but the thermometer kept reporting I was hovering around 98.2.  That’s a raging fever in my book, for me.  My “normal” body temperature is 97.7.

Funny thing, our thermometer.  I ordered it to reveal my real fever…I yelled and cursed the little plastic thing into telling the truth.

“Please,” I begged, “justify my misery.”

We walked back to our hotel after I forced half a bowl of Japanese Pork Fried Rice.  As we approached Herald Square, we encountered a thousand partiers filling the small wedge of a park in front of JCP and Macy’s.  We had to cross the street.  To me it seemed all the sweating young women and men were wearing some kind of green glowing headbands and waving radioactive plastic wands.

I thought I was having an LSD flashback, until I remembered that I never took LSD.

Mariam said: “Oh, so New York and so good to be young.”

I said: “I want to go home and lay down.”

[I just turned 68, you know.  All those “chicks” who bothered to glance my way probably had that nagging, guilty feeling that they should make that call to grandpa they’ve been putting off.]

I made a few moves on my ongoing Scrabble games and I tried to read the book I had hauled along.  Buy I couldn’t keep my eye lids open.  I took a hit from my bottle of Robitussin and fell immediately fell asleep.  Mariam had to turn my reading light off.

Then, for the second morning, I woke gagging and coughing.  I was coughing up phlegm that had the color of certain appetizers you get at most Mexican restaurants.  It alarmed me to think that something so vulgar could reside inside my body…especially so near my mouth.

It was 5:16 am.  I was determined that my hacking and gagging was not going to keep Mariam from sleeping in a little that morning.

I got dressed.  I was going over to Herald Square and find a bench and read (and cough) and not disturb my wife.  She was awake, of course, and begged me not to go because she said it was not a safe thing to do.  I pulled back the shade and looked down to Broadway.  People were moving about.  Getting Starbucks.  Buying the Times.  Going to work.

I told her I would leave my iPhone on and that I’d be “right down there”.  I was gone before she could say anymore.

When I got to Herald Square, I found the park where I planned to find the shade and quiet to read, was gated and locked for the night.  I walked over to the public space in front of Macy’s Main entrance.  Here is where the Rockettes kicked their legs on Thanksgiving.  This is where the parade ended.  This was where Matt Lauer sits and describes the floats of Mickey Mouse and Bart Simpson.  This is where the high school marching bands would do their last rendition of “New York, New York”.  This was the culmination of a year of fund-raising at Council Bluffs, Iowa.  These kids would never forget their day in the parade.

But, I digress.

All the partying Yuppies were gone.  They had left the streets littered with the leftovers of their fun and were now fast asleep in shared apartments in Chelsea, Astoria or Bay Ridge.

I found a small metal table and chair in the shade of the rising sun.  It was going to be as hot as hades that day.  I looked around and then opened my book.  I read a few lines.  I closed the book and looked around again.

My focus had changed.  I was not seeing empty cans on the pavement.  I was seeing the real leftovers of the night.  The place was littered with sleeping people.  The homeless had pulled the cheap metal chairs together and were sleeping the light sleep that requires you to be aware of any danger…

A woman was bent over a table.  Who was she?  There was a big guy taking up three chairs.  Was he a father?

I looked at a family of tourists strolling past Macy’s, the parent’s intent on keeping the children from seeing the sleeping homeless.  I thought of the glamour and styles and perfumes and jewelry that were just beyond the plate-glass window.

Soon, the crews would arrive to hose down the streets and make the place sparkle for the tourists.  The police have already poked at a few of the sleepers.  Where would they go?

I sat for two hours until I felt Mariam had rested before I walked back to the hotel.

I had an air-conditioned room and a clean bed to nap on.

The people I left behind had no place to relieve themselves.

When I watch the next Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…I’ll be thankful, you can be sure of that.  The images of those lost and forgotten people will stay with me for a very long time.