Unfettered and Alive
There are two versions of this story.
We were in Paris the summer of 1976, the Bicentennial of America.
In my version there’d been a heat wave and a drought in Europe.
I guess that’s both versions.
People were going crazy and we were going crazy. We were just teenagers.
It’s important to note we were very loosely supervised. The teachers and chaperones must have had a ball.
The French citizens were unimpressed with the Bicentennial which was understandable.
And the heat wave was driving them crazy.
I worked at Wolf Den for weeks before that trip. I had to earn my spending money. I made a dollar ten an hour and I saved it all.
In Paris I kept track of every franc I spent in a little notebook.
My brothers all pitched in and bought me a camera, six rolls of film, and flash cubes.
I don’t remember how many flash cubes but I ran out and had to buy more so not very many. And they cost so much I had to skip lunch one day.
I had the new camera and some traveler’s checks and boxes of pads because we were told feminine protection was expensive there. I went with my French teacher and the chaperones and the rich kids at my school.
I was not a rich kid.
I’d say in retrospect it was a bad idea to send me on a trip to France with rich kids who didn’t like me.
I had to pay for my lunches and my souvenirs and my incidentals and all those pads.
When the captain turned off the no smoking sign a cloud rose up and hung over everyone’s heads. But I was used to being trapped in smoke-filled places.
Everybody started drinking and the cabin took on a party atmosphere.
The other girls told me to go talk to the man in the suit and ask him to get us drinks. And I did but the man said no and nobody talked to me after that.
There’s a version of this story where I ended up in an apartment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris with a grown man and we fell in love.
But before that Henry Connell sat at the back of the tour bus singing Joni Mitchell songs.
It probably doesn’t need to be said that Henry Connell was gay.
He was the only one who was nice to me. He was rich but he was nice to me.
We walked around Montmartre and I wanted to buy a painting of the Eiffel Tower for fifteen francs. At that point I still had francs to spare.
I could buy the painting and still eat lunch for the rest of the trip.
Henry Connell said, you don’t want that. He said it’s an amateurish depiction, right in front of the artist who didn’t seem to mind.
Henry Connell said it was better to have lunch at Café du Dôme with my fifteen francs than to buy a bad painting I would regret for the rest of my life.
So we ate snails and drank wine and we sang “Help Me” on the Métro back to our hotel.
In this version when I told Henry Connell a man wanted to take me to his apartment, his eyes got wide and he clapped his hands and he told me it was the perfect thing to do. He said, but make sure he uses a condom.
And I said we weren’t going to have sex.
And Henry Connell said he’d be disappointed if I didn’t. So I promised him I would.
In this version Henry Connell didn’t beg me not to go. And the man wasn’t drunk I wasn’t drunk and there weren’t two other men at the apartment when we got there.
Everybody was going crazy because of the heat and the drought and the brown grass on the Champs de Mars and the fountains that weren’t flowing. This was Paris in 1976 and nobody cared about the Bicentennial of America.
I just needed flash cubes and Henry Connell and I hadn’t had a fight and I wasn’t so hot and sweaty that I would let a man take me to a brasserie and buy me a drink.
The man saw me in Père Lachaise standing in front of Oscar Wilde’s tomb and he was struck by my beauty (the man was) and he asked if he could take me to his apartment to show me the best view in Paris.
And there weren’t two other men when we got there.
You have to understand we were very loosely supervised in Paris in 1976. My French teacher told the parents she’d take good care of their sons and daughters.
But she was going to have a good time in Paris in 1976.
There’s a version of this story that involves me and one of the chaperones being flown back to the states and twelve hours later in the car, my dad leaning over and slapping me.
It was the year of the Bicentennial. We watched the parades, the man and I, even though he didn’t care about the Bicentennial which was understandable.
In this version there wasn’t a poster of a naked woman on the bathroom door four inches from my face and I wasn’t trying to figure out how to get across the living room past the men and out the door without them noticing. In this version, the man and I watched the parades on the little television in his apartment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris in 1976. There was a heat wave and a drought and everyone was going crazy. We poured champagne. We toasted America.
about the author