Nasty Story

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Nasty Story
Up and out early without a shave, and this is a nasty story, no better for being true. Made up, it might pass as an insight into power at street level or a fable of man against the system and fighting it to a standstill. But it’s not better, not even good. I just missed getting my brains beaten out by a cop. Sundays I don’t shave. An inspiration visited me… I can’t remember how many years ago, but the inspiration set up housekeeping, and with only an exception now and then (usually the exception is a woman) I leave my face alone on Sunday. I get three benefits from not shaving. One, I don’t shave. Two, my face gets to recover from being scraped with a blade for six days in a row. Three, Monday morning I get the most wonderful shave of the week. Unshaven men who otherwise don’t look like alcolos get more notice, or provoke more alarm, now and then in Paris than in the States. The boulangère who has been seeing me for years every morning at six on the dot when I show up unkempt and unshaved still looks a bit startled if not truly frightened when I ask for my daily croissant. But really no one pays me any mind other than the occasional old-school biddies who, after all, have nothing much else to do. Not that I would have shaved this morning, no matter what the day. Restless all night, I am antsy and itching from the moment my feet land on the floor. I put the coffee on while I wash my face, get dressed, take two sips of the coffee and bolt out the door. Two blocks away, a café is, astoundingly, almost open at ten minutes before six and I extract coffee and yesterday’s tartine from the unwilling barman who dryly notes that the croissants have not yet been delivered, which is another way of saying I must have been raised in a pigsty. I get the coffee to go—ah, the French who call a paper cup a cardboard goblet—stick a napkin in my back pocket, and dunk my bread and butter in the coffee as I pound along, pointing south at first, then bearing generally west by northwest. The streets at six in the morning are empty except for an occasional forlorn bus and the street cleaners, drinking coffee and smoking, in no hurry to get to work. Paris is never an early-to-rise city, and on Sundays early seems to have something to do with getting ready to have lunch. That’s fine with me because I’m not here to look at anyone or anything, but to squeeze the restlessness out of my legs and bones and the roots of my hair. Once done with the coffee, half of it sloshed on my shoes, and the bread, whose crumbs I wear along the front of my black sweater, I pick up the pace. I’m all but running and it feels better and better as I half gallop along grand streets and undistinguished little ones, crossing four or five arrondissements as I make my fast and aimless way. As I pass the second ugliest church in Paris—and realize where I am—I turn up to my left and land, a few minutes later, in one of the prettiest parks I know, if weeping willows are pretty. Time to sit. The best calculation I can make is I’ve covered about seven kilometres in a little over an hour. Sitting is good, and my legs aren’t begging me to get up and run and dance any longer. It feels good, even if I’m a little sweaty and my hair is sticking up at odd angles and, come to think of it, a little hungry. A croissant out of the oven today, if not within the last twenty minutes, would be nice, and off I go to see if there’s a bakery open on Sunday in this la-de-da neighborhood. It’s still early, there are practically no people walking along, and the narrow street I’ve turned in to isn’t promising except for one thing. There are a couple of people standing outside what looks like a store, so maybe something is open. The two people turn out to be two men, and the store sells shoes and is closed. One of the men is a cop. The other is a drunk: his face needs a shave and his hair could use a comb or maybe a pitchfork. He and his clothes are equally dirty, his jacket covered with bits and pieces of his last meal, maybe after eating it. I’ve seen drunker people, but he’ll do. The cop is holding him by his left shoulder and keeping him—deliberately, no doubt about it—slightly off balance so that the drunk has to do the last thing he wants to do which is to reach toward the cop for help. But the cop knows this game—it’s a cop game, played everywhere—and keeps straightening then bending his arm. As he does this, the drunk’s disequilibrium changes for the worse or the slightly less bad. He’s at the cop’s mercy, and the cop is bent on humiliating him. I’ve approached the cop from the back so he is surprised when I say Why are you doing that? I stay put, making the cop turn to me. “None of your business. This enculé is drunk. Look at him. C’est un foutu boulot de merde.” Yeah, he’s a mess, but he’s still a man. You’re trying to make him feel worse than he is already. He’s scared, il va salir sa couche, comme un bébé. And that’s the point: scare the old drunk, though he may not be that old, and make him feel as helpless as a baby in diapers… which he’s going to need. The good news is that the cop is alone. French flics don’t like to fly solo, but tend to pair up. I…
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