Friday, October 31, 2008

Gerard et Moi

There are only two French people in the world, me and Gerard Depardieu. I say this with a degree of certainty because every time I turn on the French channel on cable, there he is--Gerard jeune, Gerard vieux, Gerard balaise (hefty), Gerard mince come un fil (thin as a thread), Gerard en Francais, en Anglais and for all I know en Farsi.

Personally, I like Gerard. No one will mistake him for Maurice Chevalier and start singing "Sank 'eaven fur leetle gurls." He has become, somehow, so quintessentially French that the whole image of the average Frenchman has changed from the baguette-carrying, beret-wearing, and Gauloise-smoking little guy to the cro-magnon-lout-in-a-cheap-leather-jacket. I think this is a positive development.

I like Gerard as an actor, too. He mumbles like Brando, postures like Newman and has the kind of grin that made Cruise famous. Also, he's pretty wide-ranging--from Cyrano de Bergerac to Georges in Green Card.

Gerard and I share a few similarities.

He was born in France in 1948. I was born in France two years earlier.

He owns an island in the South Pacific. I own some worthless snake-infested land in South Virginia.

He speaks English. I do too, and better than he does.

He likes saucisson. I do too.

He's gained a lot of weight. So have I.

We both have large noses. I got mine from my mother. I don't know about Gerard.

We both like Johnny Haliday a lot.

So really, Gerard and me, we're almost twins.

Here's installment 53 of Wasted Miracles.
That was a possibility, he’d done a monumental amount of dope, enough to kill a whale, and the fifth of Laphroag was almost empty. There were more than half-a-dozen empty beer cans lying on the floor. Combinations like that were lethal, she’d seen a guy OD on less and he’d never woken up, just huffed and puffed a little as he changed from fleshtone to white to blue.
Mollie went to the door, opened it, made sure no one was in the hallway, went down the stairs that led to the building’s basement. There she found the exit into the alley next to the garbage bins. It was a quarter after eight in the morning, the rush hour traffic was blasting down Columbia Road. There was a bus stop three blocks away and she only had to wait five minutes. When the bus came, she got on after asking the driver if it stopped near the Dupont Circle metro. Her feet hurt, she could feel blisters forming in both her heels. Her eyes were gritty and she was lightheaded but then who wouldn’t be? It had been one hell of a productive night.
In neighborhoods where reputations are a major form of wealth, Mamadou’s name was powerful currency.
He was a black man who had undergone a tragedy so common it was viewed as almost normal by black Washingtonian families. Death, be it from a bullet, a needle or a pipe, is an accepted part of existence in the totally poor and totally black neighborhoods of the city. It rates no play in the evening news though the Nation’s Capital did earn brief international fame in the late 80’s when the self-named Chocolate City began to be called Dodge.
The neighborhoods where Mamadou earned his reputation neither knew nor cared that a few miles away lay the center of the Western world. Many residents could not have named the President of the United States, did not know where the White House was, never went to a museum, were incapable of reading the morning newspaper. The history made a few miles away at the Capitol bypassed them entirely, except when the laws passed by the nation’s elected officials closed a free health clinic, restricted the purchasing power of food stamps, took dollars away from the welfare checks. People die at home as often as in hospitals and violence is the number one killer of young men. AIDS is number two. The infant mortality rate is higher than in virtually any other city in the country, comparable to that of destitute Third World nations. The mothers--eleven, twelve, thirteen years old--also die during childbirth, their bodies, not yet fully formed and poorly nourished, cannot take the strain of a delivery. Yet a deeply instilled and mean-spirited male pride says that a boy is not a man until he has fathered a child, and so the circle endures. It’s not uncommon in Washington to find grandmothers in their late twenties.
It was in neighborhoods such as these that Mamadou had first arrived as a new but far from gullible immigrant. It was there he learned honor could be bought from the poor as easily as from the rich, and for far less.
He was driving the newest limo slowly down numbered streets in the Northeast quadrant of the city. There were many boarded-up houses and stores with here and there an oasis, a small, neatly painted two-story home festooned with bars on windows and doors and adorned with flower patches and shrubs. The temperature was in the upper 90s and the pavement shimmered. Most homes had their curtains drawn but Mamadou knew that in each and every building, eyes noted the passing of the long black car, hands reached for telephones and called neighbors.
He braked the limo to a stop in front of a cinder block and clapboard house with a tilted front porch, parked between a rusting Chevrolet and a brand new BMW. He kept the engine running, turned the air conditioning to full, lit a Gauloise and waited. Before he had finished the cigarette, his cellular phone rang.

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