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The events of which I speak transpired in the year of our lord, two thousand and four, in the final week of the eleventh month, in the city of Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington isn't much of a metropolis, but the vast number of students at Indiana University certainly try to make it one. The side-effect of this is the sudden decline in the town's population during holiday breaks.

And so, during Thanksgiving week, peace reigns. That night, so long ago, the air was brisk enough to require a light jacket, but not so cold as to prohibit cycling. The hour was late, in that I had finished a long shift at the copy shop whose name I will not mention (it rhymes with "Pinkos"), and the quiet inspired me to push my bike home and relax.

On my right loomed the vast parking lot for the IU Stadium, on my left sat the houses unfortunate enough to be across the street from the stadium, and on my cell phone spoke the man who, unbeknownst to either of us, would one become known as "Best."

We'd been trading vulgar jabs, as usual, through most of the journey, until a police car whispered up behind me and continued on. Given my history, I still flinch whenever I see a representative of the law, but tonight, I tried not to show it. I don't have a firm grasp on the statutes of limitation on said history, so it was best I not draw attention to myself.

"Be cool," I told my friend.

"Why should I be cool?" he replied.

"Heat."

He laughed. "You know I'm not actually there, right?"

"Be," I repeated. "Cool."

"Okay, okay."

"Oh, shit," I muttered, because even the most law-abiding of citizens tenses up when a representative of the law flashes its lights and performs an action-movie U-turn in his or her direction, which this one just did.

It took only a second for it to occur to me that the officer in that car was not after me. It's not like I was carrying around a trunk-load of cocaine; I didn't even have a trunk. The inspiration for this act of vehicular drama must have been quite spectacular, and I was sorry I had to miss it. I mean, this town was dead.

As the cruiser sped away, reflections of its lights receded behind me... except... except they weren't actually receding. My heart leapt.

"Okay," I said, "I think something really entertaining is about to happen nearby."

"You're going to have sex with a bunch of goat farmers?"

"I've been doing that the whole time we've been on the phone," I replied as I looked over my shoulder, just in time to witness the same cruiser executing another U-turn in my direction.

This time, it took almost three whole seconds for it to occur to me that the officer in the car was not after me, even when the siren whooped that singular whoop that heralded an upcoming punishment for a traffic violation. Because that would be ridiculous--so ridiculous in fact, that the officer had to stop his car, jump out, and trot over to my side to get my attention.

"I'll have to call you back," I told my phone. "I just got pulled over."

"What?" he replied. "I thought you were walk--"

I flipped the phone closed and faced the civil servant who was only a little bit out of breath. He asked, "Do you know why I stopped you?"

There are so many things I wanted to say at this moment. The first was, "Speeding?"; the second was, "That may be the dumbest question I've been asked in some time." However, the police packed pepper-spray in this town, so I went with number three: "No."

Before he could respond, a second cruiser came up from behind, passed by, flipped on its lights, turned with even more urgency and panache than the officer who currently held my attention, and came to a screeching halt directly in front of me. The driver swung open the door and stepped out, one boot at a time. The time of night forbade the use of the mirrored sunglasses clipped to his shirt, but in his heart, he was whipping them off with cocky menace. He swaggered up to the other cop, looked me up and down, and muttered something in his ear. Officer One muttered something back, which caused Officer Two to study me more intently.

I would have been more self-conscious, were I not more clean-cut at that moment than I had been at any other point in my life--up to and including my First Communion twenty years before. This left my current state of being squarely between "What" and "The fuck"--so much so that I was completely numb to the third cruiser that whipped around the corner. The fact that its siren was already wailing and its lights were already strobing ferociously meant that someone had dispatched it. For me.

The third cop's assessment of me was much more appropriate given the situation. Frowning, he muttered to the other two, and they muttered right back.

After some intense chatter, Officer One stepped away from the group and asked me, "Do you have any idea--"

"No," I replied.

"Well," he explained, "this time of year, there is a rash of bike thefts while all the students are on vacation."

Officer Two watched my reaction before adding, "And walkin' on the side of the road like that, you look awful suspicious."

"Can we see your ID?" asked Officer One. I complied, and he took it back to his car for further scrutiny.

Officer Two folded his arms. "That really yours?"

"Yes, it is."

"Prove it."

This was a challenge, inasmuch as there was no registration I could pull out of my glove compartment, inasmuch as I had no glove compartment. And yet, somehow, a clear thought jumped into my head just as Officer One returned, license in hand. "If I unlocked this chain," I asked, "would that do it?"

Officer One frowned at Officer Three while Officer Two unfolded his arms so he could fold them again. "Sure," Officer One replied with a shrug.

It took only a moment for them to witness my demonstration, return my ID, thank me for my cooperation, and drive off. The blue and red flashing from their roofs gradually faded into the amber of the streetlights above my head. That night, I learned very important lesson: if I ever want to steal a bicycle in Bloomington, Indiana, I should bring my own lock and chain.

i_17bingo: (Default)

What I am about to tell you is absolutely true. I have changed only the names of those involved. The events depicted occurred in the Year of Our Lord 2011, during the month of April. But the road that led me here had been paved six months earlier, in the lobby of a hair salon.

"That's an awesome jacket!" the receptionist said as she carried my battered, vintage, leather pea coat to the closet. "Where'd you get it?"

"A place on Broadway and Houston in New York City," I told her. As I waited for my designated appointment time to roll around, I poured myself a cup of coffee and added, "What was really cool was that I walked in the door to buy a black blazer like all the men in New York are required to wear, but the guy at the register wouldn't sell it to me. He told me to go with brown, and even picked out a shape that matched with my body."

"Those places are really cool," she agreed. "You know the one down the street called 'An American in Paris'?" I shook my head. She prodded, "Just down the street?" I shook my head again. She asked, "An American in Paris?" I shrugged.

"Anyways," she continued on, regardless, "they're a high-end boutique, so you don't really get to pick anything out for yourself. I went in there for a dress, and the woman who owns it--she's French..."

"Imagine that."

"... and you tell her a ballpark of what you're looking for, and she finds exactly what you need. Only for girls, though."

"That sounds really nice," I said sincerely. I love women's clothes. Part of that is my artist's sensibility; I love color, shape, personality, and the mixture of all three. Yes, you can find these in the men's department--and yes, the artist in me appreciates the smooth, masculine subtlety therein. However, men's fashion is missing one important detail: women. I just love looking at women. It's biological.

And so, the following spring, I pointed to a gentle, hand-painted, pastel sign and said to my walking companion, "We should go here."

My friend Noel had never been to the DC area before. In fact, she had never been to an East Coast metropolis before. She had recently finished an undergraduate education at both a liberal arts college near her hometown and a university in western Europe. The sirens of her future are singing to her of riches, knowledge, love, and more if she would just follow them. She wants to follow her own damned song, though, and so she has taken a week to clear her head, consider her options, and goof around in the sandbox of our nation's capital.

And if there's one thing I love to do, it's goof around. And, as I said, if there's another thing I love, it's shopping.

"Let's do it," she said with a smile and a nod.

Since that day, we've told and retold the tale, trying to ascertain what exactly went wrong. Noel believes we should have left well enough alone when she pushed on the door, only to find that it wouldn't budge.

I told her, "The sign says to..."

She shoved again.

"... to knock," I continued, "and they'll..."

With a click, a deadbolt slid open. She frowned, shrugged, and ducked inside; I did the same.

Soft sunlight drifted in from the street through enormous display windows, illuminating row upon row of dazzling, yet somehow muted dresses, coats, and suits. The overall space was minimal, but somehow everything fit together without feeling remotely crammed. The shop, like the sign, was kind and inviting. We soaked it all in with a sigh and set immediately to investigating.

Noel's style tended toward vintage and soft, and as soon as we found a dress that matched these criteria, as well as her personal palette, she pinched the skirt and pulled it away from its companions for closer inspection. Her pose at that moment matched that of a simple cartoon figure in a bright orange sign that suddenly barked at me from the corner of my eye. The sign announced that Noel was committing a cardinal sin.

"Um," I started to tell her.

Now, I've had plenty of time to meditate carefully on the events that occurred next, yet I still cannot comprehend them. The corner we occupied had boxed us in, surrounding us with two floor-to-ceiling windows and the row of clothing. That left the entrance.

I am by no means a small man. Though my mass has decreased by about 25 percent over the past year, my shoulders are still wide enough to clog the only means of access to this particular corner. Not even vision could get past me.

And yet, with nary a gust of wind, temperature fell, Noel froze, and a crooked old crone appeared before us the tape measure around her neck flapping about. Without violence, but with extraordinary menace, she eased Noel away from the rack and spoke with a thick, Gallic accident. "You should probably read signs before you try to shop."

Both Noel and myself were prepared to offer up an apology, but that was not to be.

"This is not how you look," shopkeeper told us, pulling on the skirt like Noel and figure on the sign had done. "No!" Holding onto the dress's padded wooden hanger, she lifted it from the rack. "You look like this." With great specificity, she returned it to its proper place. "And leave three-fingers' space between articles. They get wrinkled if you don't." She repeated the offending motions. "Not like this." She lifted the hanger. "Like this."

Noel and I made eye contact with each other.

"This is not a secondhand store," the shopkeeper explained. "This is not some mass-produced cloth. "This..." Again, she tugged on the skirt. "... is very delicate fabric. When you do this..." Tug. "... You damage this very delicate fabric. Do you understand?"

She might not agree, nor might she even care; but Noel did, in fact, understand. More importantly, she wanted to escape. She believed, as did I, that conceding the crone's point would enable that. She opened her mouth to do so.

Unfortunately the question had merely been hypothetical. The woman gestured around the entirety of the shop. "This here? This is France."

Believing still that freedom meant following along, we nodded.

"You?" She pointed to Noel. "You are American."

This we could all agree on.

"That is why this store is called 'An American in Paris.'" She examined both of our faces for any sign of comprehension. Luckily I was an English major and Noel is a Fulbright scholar, so we did grasp the metaphor. "American," the crone repeated, "in Paris."

Certain that all of these basic facts had been absorbed by her audience, she advanced the lesson by combining them. "This is how an American shops." She yanked on the dress. "This is how you shop in France." She removed the dress and replaced it. "America." She tugged. "France." Finally, she concluded the lesson. "You are not in America. You are in France."

Noel and I looked at each other while the shopkeeper regarded us carefully. The concept of being an American in Paris was a tricky one, and the ability of folks like us to get it might elude us.

She pushed through me, reminding us one more time as she passed, "Not America; France."

Once we were in the clear, Noel whispered, "Think she can hear us right now?"

"I don't know what to think," I whispered back.

"Let's hang out for a little while so she doesn't think we're scared of her," she said, "and then get out of here and go someplace less traumatizing."

That place turned out to be the Holocaust Museum.

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I was in love with her for a long time.

When I was young, I thought I understood love, as we all did. We’re told, though, that this was not what love is. So we ask, what is it then? They assure us that we’ll know when we find it; they can only tell us where not to look.

We won’t find it in those sweaty, panting, gooey, sheet-clenching hours with someone in the dark. That’s just lust, they say. We won’t find it in those shared jokes and air kisses and physical intimacy that begins and ends in a hug. That’s only friendship, they say. And we definitely won’t find it in those lonely thoughts that send us plummeting in glorious freefall into daydreams. That, they say, is a crush.

A crush. The term itself diminishes and purifies the epic scale of our emotions, waving them away as a product of our youth. As our bodies stretched into the shape of the people we were fated to become, we lost control of everything--even our hearts. Placing the responsibility for our feelings into the paws of hormones frees us from them; our feelings are allowed to recede into the past, along with that haircut and the algebra.

But we really liked that haircut. That algebra class choked the life out of us for nine months. And he or she was our entire world.

They tell me that I never really loved her. I listened to them. I wanted to be free. They said that, if I ever needed convincing, all I had to do was see her again. The years she now wears will help strip off the chrome of both the present and the past, and she’ll have always been just a crush.

And then she spoke to me like she always did. She rolled her eyes and pursed her lips and giggled. And then she smiled at me.

They’re wrong. I was in love with her. Because with that smile, why wouldn’t I be?

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Jeremiah

January 2013

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