Kevin Tosca

Americans in Paris

                Standing in front of the Mihai Eminescu statue on the rue des Écoles, the guide just explained to the group how Eminescu and his poetry are pure Romania, despite what Vienna and Berlin did to him.
                “Thus,” the guide continued, “here I am America.” He took two enormous steps toward the café bulging with tourists. “And here,” he said, “America. And in there?”—he pointed inside the café—“America. And you see that spot way down there, past that church and next to that family of indigent Algerians? America!”
                A passerby stopped in front of the guide.
                “Question,” he said timidly, his otherwise handsome face marred by curiosity and confusion. “I’m an American, and I think I see what you’re trying to say—a riff on the old ‘No matter where you go—bam!—there you are’—but... what if I don’t want to be American? What if I don’t want to be tied to any country at all?”
                The guide, his head shaking good-naturedly, his I’ll-take-you-to-the-mountaintop eyes sparkling with camaraderie and compassion, said:
                “Don’t you see? By not wanting to be American, by dreaming you can be otherwise—be nothing!—in this world, you are pro-claiming your profound and utterly inescapable Americanness. You might as well wrap the Stars and Stripes around those shapely buttocks of yours, order up some McDonald’s after oiling your assault rifles, and do the twist. Join us, young man.”
                Just then a sage, deus ex machina style, replete with dust, smoke, and rumble, beard and robe and sandals—the works!—rose up from the ground, planted four lusty smackeroos on Eminescu’s coldstone cheeks, and declared: “Nationality fationality! Hooey hooey flim-flam!”
                Then disappeared.
                The group, with expectation and hushed suspense, stared at the American in Paris. Unflummoxed, the guide smiled.
                “American!” he shouted. “Only an American sage in the fever squeeze of a soul-sucking identity crisis could say such impossible things! Let’s raise a toast to the delusional old bastard!”
                To do so, he marched the group from the rue des Écoles to the Boulevard Saint Germain, ushered them past the overpriced shops and miniscule cinemas to the terrace of Les Deux Magots where they paid eight euros for baby beers that would’ve cost seventy cents in most any Parisian supermarket.
                Then he guided them across the river to Harry’s New York Bar where they drank exorbitantly priced Bloody Marys till they all felt like puking, piloted them to Pigalle where they did, never forgetting—not over the toilets or on the floors or sidewalks or in the rat-infested parks or the cheap beds of the hotels or the whores—how American, English, German, Australian, Brazilian, Indian, Nigerian, and Chinese they all were, how they couldn’t do a damn thing about it, how they didn’t even care.


                Sunday afternoons. Special. And on this one there’s the erotic sound of my newborn son suckling my wife’s gorgeous, gorged tit, working and slurping at it while breathing heavily through his tiny nose.
                I’m next to them in bed. Exhausted. Rereading Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, more impressed than ever by him and, now, one of his translators, Mirra Ginsburg, a remarkable woman who left a humble stamp on literature.
                My son’s eyes are wide open, a rarity. I know they don’t see like we see, not yet, but they’re moist and quick to cry, admirably so, such naked emotion. When was the last time I wept?
                His head is full of black hair that makes the passing women, usually so reticent, so straight-faced, so preternaturally Parisian, stop and smile and comment. I know he might lose this hair, but I hope his luck with les femmes will continue.
                His face is “like a pie perfectly baked.”
                Or so, in English, says my 92-year-old neighbor instead of repeating the French word as I asked her to. She still watches (and enjoys) the films of Almodóvar, Blier, but I didn’t know the word she used, and, for the life of me, can’t remember it.
                I did, however, know nature makes newborns cute. Now I’m learning why: to make us less apt to murder them when they’re screeching and inconsolable again at four a.m.
                A scientific term exists for such cuteness, a term I knew sometime before I dropped out of college, but everything I know or used to know doesn’t much matter on this and every other Sunday afternoon.
                I realize this with a pleasurable shock.
                Then I realize that when I consider them with any kind of seriousness—the 1,872 incomparably melancholic and unforgettable atmospheres I’ve been fortunate enough to forget—I know human knowledge has never mattered, that I long for it nonetheless, and that I will, one fine day, earn my doctorate in disappointment.
                So what?
                I’m in love again, I’ve found my smile, and to finish things—to finish them well, that is—all I have left to do is find my tears.


                After the indignities at the airport, the cameras and machine guns in the streets, the checkpoints in the department stores and supermarkets and libraries and post offices, I knew they were coming: strip searches at the boulangerie.
                But I said, “Non, merci,” to that arrogant African man standing next to the Haribo display with the fluorescent orange security badge wrapped around his arm and the ash gray orders wrapped around his mind. I said my futile words to his futile presence and their fearful politics.
                To their vigipirated Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité, I said no.
                To their perpetual emergency and new normalcy—to all their false senses of security—I said no, no, no.
                And then I abandoned those naked and half-naked men, women, and children as I abandoned America, and I returned “home,” hungry, because it was better to starve than conduct one more transaction with these asshole societies.

Kevin Tosca is the author of The Hug and Other Stories (Červená Barva Press, 2019), Ploieşti (Červená Barva Press, 2019), Revelation #2 (Iron Lung Press, 2019), Questions Are My Only Answers (Alien Buddha Press), and My French (Analog Submission Press). His stories have appeared in Bateau, Notre Dame Review, The Frogmore Papers, Litro Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Berlin.
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