Drink, Grovel, Fuck: King of Sleep
Editor’s Note: this is Part 2 of Drink, Grovel, Fuck: Paris. Read part one here.
I woke up in the late afternoon on a different planet, a hangover reality where I am the kind of person who engages the services of prostitutes. Such a person was pathetic, revolting, and wholly unacceptable, and as such rejected by my consciousness. A new, separate human — a garbage man stitched together from shame and depravity — sat shivering at the kitchen counter, sipping flat Perrier water, staring at the obscene yellow pile of medical-grade condoms and dental dams near the couch. This Garbage Man (GM) had agreed to recompense a hooker at 8:00 p.m. He didn’t dare blow her off, for fear of a gator-toothed pimp showing up at his door to rob him of his bankcards, computer, phone, and passport.
GM retrieved 200 euros from an ATM and stuffed the cash inside an envelope he taped together from a piece of computer paper. Every eye followed GM as he stalked to the rendezvous at 8:00 PM sharp. The escort was not in evidence. GM waited for twenty minutes, chain-smoking, feeling every bit the clandestine cartoon pervert in a trench coat.
Every man milling about the square was a pimp waiting to strike.
Every idling car a chariot to the underworld where GM would be beaten, robbed, ransomed.
She didn’t show. GM bought two bottles of wine out of the birthday fund and posited that maybe it wasn’t really prostitution if he didn’t actually pay for it. He drank the wine and knew that it was the same. He hoped the prostitute would not be punished, that she wasn’t too scared herself to show up and take the money. He finished the second bottle and wondered if he’d have the guts to punish himself by publishing the story on the travel blog.
Flashbacks to the assignation and waves of self-horror assailed GM at regular intervals in the days to follow. To avoid confronting himself he took to sleeping for 12–14 hours a night, filling his waking hours with end-days commentary on the US debt ceiling showdown, and washing down Ambiens with two bottles of wine while binge-watching Homeland on sleazy Euro streaming sites. During this period every footstep on the stairs and voice in the hallway sent GM into a panic and forced him to hide behind the kitchen island until the noises were gone.
Eventually an aching sense that he was wasting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by squatting in his apartment pushed GM back out into Paris, where it rained steadily every day. Most of his activity amounted to aimless wandering to avoid thinking, and the development a strong facial tick to cinch off memory. What couldn’t be ignored was the new layer of numbness on his hands, covering his ring and pinky fingers down through his palms; something got fucked up in his neck that night with the prostitute and might well never get better. His body was going to keep degrading along with his soul.
When obligated by his legs to rest, GM stopped at brasseries where he threw himself into reading Marx. Passages leap out of the communist swirl, accusing GM personally:
“a sly, haggling, deceitful, greedy, mercenary, rebellious, heart- and soul-less cheapjack — extorting, pimping, servile, smooth, flattering, fleecing, dried-up twister without honor, principles, substance, or anything else”
Everywhere he looked Parisians were canoodling, the old and the young, the old with the young. Not regular kissing and patting, but deep romantic engagement, locked eyes, the loose limbs and body consanguinities of passion, luxurious ass cupping. These public displays of love raise the procreative volume, create feedback: Sexual harassment is rampant. Cat-calling, path-blocking, bike stopping, face plunging. Even the panhandlers are sensual, snatching GM’s wrists when he tries to sidestep any additional debased human contact, sending his heart racing. These constant reminders of his own hideousness sent GM toward Notre Dame, with a semi-conscious desire to cleanse even just a part of his soiled spirit. He discovered bleachers set up in front of the cathedral for tiered spectation and a 20-minute line. Inside Notre Dame, GM drooped as he watched tourists swarm an active service and photograph a confession through a transparent partition.
He paid four euros to gander at some treasures. He left the church emptier than before.
Moments of tainted beauty disturbed GM like heart palpitations before slipping back into the gray rhythm of Paris: the Eiffel Tower swallowed by clouds, no longer an ugly rust pile, but a derrick pumping out the sadness of the world; a derelict park on the outside of the peripherique like a level from Myst; Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait, which feels to GM like a mirror of his own insanity; a stunningly ill-conceived and partially abandoned utopian tower project; a lurid painting of naked woman that creates the first libidinous stir since the brown-out assignation.
His second week was drawing to a close, and GM hadn’t really done anything exceptional, so on Friday he crawled out of his Ambien-wine haze earlier than usually to take the train to Versailles. The chateau was a hive of tourists unlike anything GM had ever seen. A shoulder-to-shoulder crush carried him along, robbed him of will, transformed him into a fellow locust. Cameras, phones, iPads jutted out like antennae, recording everything, anything. Wall fixtures, dusty divans, paintings of horses’ assholes, blank walls, velvet ropes, models of the building being inhabited, exit signs, gift stands, all consumed, all ravaged for specks of authenticity. Marx screamed out to GM through the communal essence: Commodification of spirit! Estrangement of essence! Objectification of the conscience! Utter abasement as the final stage of capitalism! The arc of history! Universal prostitution!
GM found himself deposited in the garden, his inner squalor finally breaching his mental fortifications. He took off into the sprawl of nature, through giant hedges, around acres of canals, and suddenly found himself utterly alone, lost among orderly avenues of old-growth trees, a blanketed pastoral peace that broke his inner silence.
When did I become such an abominable drunk?