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It was a Sunday afternoon. Some circus movie, starring Tony Curtis as an escape artist, just finished playing on TV. Using the logic that only makes sense to a six year old, I got inspired to become the next Houdini. “Dave-O, the Great” was the stage name I used in my imaginary circus of the stars. I even had an agent.

Mom had this very long laundry rope she'd use to dry the clothes. I took the rope from the pantry and wrapped it around myself and the refrigerator. This was no ordinary task. I pulled this rope around each limb individually at least twice. When the wrapping was sufficiently complex, I tied the monster knot of all knots. Twelve boy scouts and Ramese II couldn’t’ve pulled this contraption apart. (Can you see this as a bad performance art routine? REFRIGERATOR, ROPE AND A SIX YEAR OLD)

Before you ask, this was not some bondage prodigy in the making. I was inexplicably confident in my ability to squirm out of this self-imposed predicament. To make it even more challenging, I pulled the rope, sliding it around my neck, arms and waist, so that the actual knot would be placed in back of the refrigerator, out of reach. “Only the truly brave would dare walk the high wire without a net ” I thought.

As it turns out, the knot/wrapping combination was more daunting than I thought. Perhaps I should have taken this as an omen to become a terrorist. Instead, after ten long minutes of slithering in vain, I had to admit defeat. There was no way I could get out. Going directly into Plan B, I started pulling on the rope, hoping to slide the knot itself within reach of my now sweaty hands.

Do you remember those clunky 1960’s refrigerators? They had this iron grid-thing in the back. My Gordian Knot got hooked on this. There was no way for the knot to reach me! Disaster! Now I am REALLY trying to pull on this rope, only to receive rope-burn, cutting off all circulation to my extremities and choking myself (like I said, this trap was intricate.) Immediately, I when into Plan C: “MOOOOOOOMMMIE!!!”

Mom jumps out of her bedroom, expecting the house to be on fire (that would happen later; let’s save that self-incriminating gem for another time) only to see her six-year-old son tied to her fridge with this sad, pathetic look on his face. I must take this moment to give the mom-unit credit where it is due: she TRIED not to laugh. Instead, she quickly disappeared into the bathroom, presumably to look for the scissors but I now know better! After freeing me from my Freon Deathtrap, she made sure I was alright. She sang to me and dried my tears and made me promise not to do anything this stupid again. With my tender feelings now assured, she then told every relative within the 413 area code, as well as every parent in the neighborhood.


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Monday, September 4

We left Boston’s Logan Airport at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday. We arrived in Paris’Orly International Airport around 9:00 am (French time) the next day. During the long trip, it occurred to me just how huge this journey would be. After all, I’d be a foreigner who didn't speak the local language. What would I do? How would I get to all the sights, or even know which of those sights would be worth going to? How would I buy Twinkies? Luckily, some local friends gave me a list of fun things to see and do. Of course, I forgot to bring it with me. We’re off to a good start already.

Instead of packing properly -- which I had all of Sunday to do -- I hung out with my old pal, the beautiful Judy White. She’s the red-headed vixen who talked me into buying a camera to document my European Vacation. I’ve never taken photos before. It seemed that stopping whatever fun I would presumably be having, in order to use the camera, would be counterproductive to going on vacation in the first place. My freckled companion countered that by saying that her seeing a bunch of my photos would enable her -- or anyone else -- to “live your adventure vicariously.” That, and her threat to never speak to me again, was the final selling point. Besides, I’ve never even loaded film into a camera before, so who knows how the damn things will come out anyway? Computers I know. But this is the first 3 mm experience I’ve ever had (unless you count those “art” photos, taken back when I really needed the money), so good luck, I say!

Speaking of photography, I should dedicate at least one paragraph to my completely horrible passport photo. This is my first passport, so I didn’t know I’d be stuck with this damnable image for ten years. When it was just taken, I thought this was merely the ugliest photo of me ever taken. Now that a few months have passed, I’m convinced it is the ugliest photo of anyone ever taken since the first camera was built. I’m told that sucky passport photography is nothing new, but even most-traveled and passport-savvy among my crew were amused and shocked at how this image turned out.

watercolor painting

Sophie Cohen-Solal
Most men forget
to remove the watch.

As already mentioned, the flight proved to be pretty long and exhausting. Although the graceful Sophie Cohen-Solal-soon-to-be-Gordonized was my pal, I traveled with the groom’s entourage. The cast of characters: Michael (the groom, God help him) Gordon, as well as his brother William and sister Lisa, his parents Peggy and Walter, and his long-time buddies Tom and Walter Carr. Good pal Shohei would join us later on Thursday. The flight from Boston to New York’s JFK was pretty short and we had an hour to kill before heading to France. While still at Logan, we saw the New England Patriots’ come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns, so airport entertainment was not an issue. At JFK, we were stuck between a bar and a Burger King, both of which would close at 7:00 pm. It was 6:30 pm when we arrived. You know, the help gets pretty serious about going home on time. Since we didn’t make up our minds to eat until 7:59:30, this proved to be an issue. We’re lucky to have gotten out alive.

So there we were, on this big-ass plane, heading to Paris. For some reason, we tacitly agreed to avoid talking for most of the trip. In fact, I actually managed to sleep for almost half of the 7-hour flight. This would play a major role in my inability to match my sleeping patterns to Paris time.

watercolor painting

Michael Gordon
We call it “Das Boot.”

We all took the Metro to Sophie’s parents’ house. One thing that instantly struck me was the electronics. Sophie bought our Metro tickets through this machine that took her ATM card. This vending system was much more interactive and advanced that any transit system I’ve ever seen. Unlike the one in San Francisco, this one even works! Her father later showed me an on-line service that gives him access to local train schedules, ticket fares, shopping centers and more. The computer geek within me made a thankfully-brief appearance and was utterly amazed.

While traveling along the Metro, I noticed a couple of things. Being in a land where every single word -- both printed and spoken-- is in another language can make mere existence into a surreal experience. As far as direct contact with any native who wasn’t bilingual, we were at the communicative level of 2-year-olds. Where were all those convenient translator devices we saw on Star Trek? To say the least, asking for street directions was bound to be an adventure. Anyway, I now have a new-found appreciation for what foreign pals of mine went through when they entered the United States.

The buildings also caught my attention. Since most of the tracks between Orly and Paris are at least 40 feet above the Parisian suburbs, I could look, through the round-cornered windows of the train, down upon the rooftops. They were a collection of shapes, textures and sizes that I’ve seen in photographs,but never in this context. The buildings, roofs, pipes, chimneys, drains and tiles absolutely drew in all my attention.

The only similar experience I’ve ever had was when I first came to Boston at 17 years old.

It was 1980, my first year at Massachusetts College of Art. I was staying with family in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, which at the time was the last stop on the transit system’s Orange Line. The track was elevated high above Washington Street, between Essex Street and Dudley. In September of that year, my daily commute offered a bird’s eye view of all the tenements, gas stations and record stores. The view was so fascinating that I stared with all my intensity. Every fiber of my being tried to soak in all the details; memorizing every nuance, all the shapes, pipes, skylights, laundry lines and billboards. It seemed like a giant Lego village. Getting any artistic feelings from this new toy seemed like stealing. I ran straight from the station to my Aunt Linda’s house, frantically drawing as much detail as possible before my short-term memory would cause my precious mental snapshots to vanish. These trances would sometimes last for hours. The next morning, on the way back to school, I’d bring my sketches with me to compare them to the actual cityscape. This process went on until Christmas.

For Paris, I didn’t bother; looking was enough.

By the time Sophie and her parents got the tired, smelly, rag-tag lot of us into their home, we’d been up and on-the-road for 19 hours. My plan would have been for us to catch a quick shower and nap, then do the social thing later in the evening. But nooooo ... both parents decided -- no doubt based on their vast experience in international traveling -- that we should all try to stay awake until 10 pm to battle the jet-lag. 12 hours later. So there we all were, staring into space in the Cohen-Solal living room. There were more than a few pockets of silence. We must have come off as boorish Americans, but the truth is we were simply pooped. After comparing notes with the others later, I know now that any one of us could have fallen asleep the instant we thought we could get away with it.

Thank God Sophie’s mom is a great cook, but an even better host! She didn’t just make a terrific meal, she presented it one course at a time. Each dish was more elaborate and involved that the last. The food was wonderful, but I think the actual act of eating somehow gave us our second wind. And Sophie’s mom seemed to relish in the role of presenter, host and savior. She made us feel so comfortable.

watercolor painting

Willy Leitt
You did WHAT to my shower?

After brunch, Sophie introduced us to the Metro, bought us week-long transit passes, showed us where and how to exchange our dollars into francs. Sophie and Mike took the rest of the entourage to the hotel to get situated. This left me alone with François, Monsieur and Madame Cohen-Solal. They were nice enough to let me sleep until Sophie could return to drop me off at my temporary residence Willy’s apartment, which is in the Belleville neighborhood (9 Rue Morand,right in between the Belleville, Parmentier and Couronnes Metro stops, the 20e arrondissement). Michael is fond of referring to the apartment (or “flat” as they say here) as “Das Boot”, because of the unique architectural design. The walls are white with thick stained-wood trim. The floorboards are wider than average and creek. Willy’s rafters have ancient-looking runes burned into them, presumably to ward off evil spirits.

This area is neat, but not as pristine as the more tourist-conducive Saint Augustin area where the hotel is. A mosque is just at the end of the block. There are a lot of Arab-looking dudes, so this must be a predominately northern-African ’hood. Having been raised in an American ghetto, and having lived in Boston’s Roxbury twice as an adult, I wondered just how safe this neighborhood was. Did I import American paranoia? Philippe later told me that this neighborhood used to be a red-light district that was full of crack dealers. From what I see tonight, quite a bit of money and a lot of spirit must have been put into rebuilding the area. There are no hoodies with beepers, no cars jacked up on cinder blocks and no winos. And I didn’t see one pregnant teenager. Belleville’s vibe doesn’t have the same unspoken, constant potential threat of danger I’m used to.

Mike and Sophie dropped me off around 9:00 pm. They split, I fed Clementine -- the cat -- and that was that.


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Sylvia Plath's novel was standard issue in art schools across America. When I was an art student, just about every brat with thrift-shop black clothes, messed-up hair and snotty attitudes had a copy of that book wherever they went. I used to heckle them for their uniform individuality.

It finally dawned on me that I spent years making fun of a book I never read. Just days after this embarrassing insight, I found an old paperback edition for two bucks. Actually reading THE BELL JAR was a pleasant surprise. Here are some random observations from a man who swears never to talk about things he doesn’t know about. Well, not until it’s time to start teaching again.


Life's a Beach: The moody
young artist.

Believe It

This is the most chilling, convincing account of a nervous breakdown I have ever read. Maybe because I knew the book’s reputation before knowing the book itself, but I expected the prose to be “expressive” and sloppy. Instead, the actual storytelling mechanics are surprisingly conservative and easily understood. Hell, it’s the most sympathy I’ve ever had for a well-off white chick with no real problems.

What the Hell is a Bell Jar?

Never hearing of this term before, I had to look it up. According to Random House, it is “a bell-shaped glass vessel or cover for protecting delicate instruments, or for holding gases in chemical experiments.” Since Ms. Plath was born in Winthrop in 1932, she probably saw a lot of bell jars. The novel was first printed in 1963.

She described her 1953 nervous breakdown by saying it was like an invisible glass dome descended upon her for no reason. Once trapped within this metaphorical barrier she could see, but not touch or be touched by the outside. “... with its stifling distortions” , the bell jar also warped her ability to perceive of reality. “To the person in the bell jar ... the world itself is the bad dream.”

From page 196-97:

“I knew I should be grateful to Mrs. Guinea, only I couldn’t feel a thing. If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat - on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air...I sank back in the grey, plush seat and closed my eyes. The air of the bell jar wadded round me and I couldn’t stir.”

More from page 227, the beginning of Chapter 18:

“All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air.”


A Bell Jar in Action: Max tries again.

I was born only a year before the book was published. The closest thing to a bell jar I ever saw was on the 1960’s sitcom GET SMART. Whenever secret agent hero Maxwell Smart thought his office was bugged by the enemy, he told his boss to use the “Cones of Silence.” Giant glass domes would come down from the ceiling and encase each man individually. Then they would try to have a conversation, but the intercom system never worked. Cracked me up every time.

A Swell Drawing Babe

The edition I found also printed some of Ms. Plath's drawings. Whenever the drawings of a famous crazy person is “discovered”, they usually suck. Sylvia’s black-and-white line drawings of simple cottage and seaport scenes were clear and crisp. She could have made it as an illustrator.

Cherry Bomb

Ms. Plath presents a most ... clinical approach to losing her virginity.


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Back in the summer of 1995, a lovely representative of AMWAY came by my apartment . Years ago a good friend of mine fell into their clutches and never come back. Once upon a time -- sophomore year 1982 -- my old buddy Mike was a really fun guy. We’d joke about how everyone else were somehow not as cool as we were. We both had mutual sour grapes about not getting into the right cliques, I suppose. After graduation, we lost touch. Fast forward to 1988, when I see Mike as a janitor at a really small graphic design outfit. Eager to reconnect, we quickly exchanged phone numbers. When he came by, I was expecting a return of the good old days. Laughs, comedic/delusional superiority over the crowd and picking up/annoying women were all I cared about, and Madman Mike was the perfect partner in crime. Or so I thought. Instead, I was in for 30 minutes of sociopathic ranting, thinly disguised as friendly chatter.

Mike: Are you happy with your life right now? Is there something you would like to have, but is financially out of your reach?

Dave: Mike, this is ME your talking to, remember?

Mike: Yeah, but just bear with me. I have to tell you about this wonderful business opportunity that changed my life. This company I work for makes these great products, and it really changed my life around. Remember how lost I was in the past?

Dave: You mean when you were fun?

Needless to say, this did not go over very well. Formerly Madman Mike left and I never saw him again. What struck me hardest was Mike’s apparent inability to break out of the shtick and tell me what's up? He and his organization wanted more than just my time. They wanted access to my very personal realm. Anyone who knows me realizes just how rare a commodity that is. I don’t just put-out for ANYONE y’know!

I later found out that AMWAY is a right-wing organization that uses its drones to raise money for a whole political agenda I want nothing to do with. If the foot soldiers were a bunch of morally bankrupt con artists who wanted to push a lot of inferior products on the unsuspecting public to make a fast buck, I would understand. The organization, however, wants its soldiers to be completely brainwashed, obedient and absolutely unable to think on their own or stray from the company line. They ain’t crooks; they be ROBOTS.

Which brings me to 1995. Kathy, a co-worker of my sister, managed to get my phone number. She called last night, wanting to share “a unique business opportunity” with me. Hmmm. Always needing a fast buck myself, I agreed to have her come over tonight. “If it doesn’t work out, she may be a babe” I thought. My darling sister Lisa was unavailable for confirmation on Kathy’s looks.

BING BONG! Kathy is no babe. In fact, I think I have discovered the Anti-Babe. “Strictly business, then” the Don Juan of Graphics thinks to himself. Good thing, too. After sitting down and refusing to drink anything I offered -- which was nothing but fruit juice or water -- the conversation went as follows:

Kathy: Are you going to be an artist for the rest of your life? Is this something that you enjoy?

Dave: Whaaa?

Kathy: Are you happy with your life right now? Is there something you would like to have, but is financially out of your reach?

Dave: Listen, you said this was a business proposal. I draw pictures for a living. Is there something specific that I can do for you?

Kathy: I am trying to tell you about the business, but I need to find out a few things about you first.

Dave (beginning to smell a rat with an AMWAY logo tattooed on its ass): You are asking personal questions that are, frankly, none of your business. I draw pictures for a living. Is there something specific that I can do for you?

Kathy (beginning to burst into tears): I’m sorry to get you all nervous.

Dave: No, you are not making me nervous. You’re annoying me; there is a difference. Hey, if you’re looking for a professional artist, I’m your man. I will listen to you all night. Can you tell me about the organization you are representing?

Kathy (still crying. What a trooper): No, I can’t. Not until I find out a few things about you.

Dave: That ain’t gonna happen.

I tried to address her obviously hurt feelings without spending all night listening to them. She refused my feeble attempts at small talk and left. Total time: 10 minutes. Was I out of line? What would YOU have done in my place? For myself, I wonder if an AMWAY-specific restraining order is possible.


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