Balzac

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Flew to Paris years ago on business. I was saddled with a mid-level manager who was as loose as uncooked pasta so I had to entertain myself. Because it was those times, I snorted coke crouching in the lav then couldn’t sleep the whole way across the Atlantic; drank too much in the darkened plane till I got tired of it then dropped a Quaalude. The times, as I said.

By the time we landed the drugs had cancelled each other and I was straight, but wine drunk and it was midmorning. He wanted to go to the hotel to “freshen up” whatever that meant, but it was my first trip to Paris so I commandeered the cab and barked “Pere Lachaise!” Where? he asked. Cemetery, I said. We’re in Paris and we’re going to a cemetery? Who’s buried there? Balzac, I told him. Balzac. Turned out to be true but what did I know? Just said it. Didn’t want to tell him we were going to Jim Morrison’s grave.

The jig was up when we got out of the cab and picked up a map from an old woman on a folding chair and started following the makeshift signage. As we got closer, the graffiti thickened, the litter deepened and just as we reached the small circle of pilgrims passing a joint, which I grabbed at, the sun hit me like an ax and the night of red wine split my skull. Somewhere there is a picture of me talking to a pack of German girls one of whom had some English. None of them thought Morrison was buried there. That he was dead at all. I had no problem with him being dead-that it could happen. That’s what people did: some sooner some later. I never thought he wasn’t buried there.

Until the morning, years later, when I saw him working in a bait shop in North East, PA where we had gone salmon fishing. We were almost sick at the time, having drunk all night and barely sober in the cool autumn morning. Aside from the fishing and wine, North East was known for fresh donuts made in a bakery with huge foggy widows on the main drag. People lined the street for them. That was back then-not now. Now it’s all Horton’s and Dunkin and that shit.

So the first thing we did was split two dozen fresh, gooey hot glazed donuts and sweet steaming coffee from Styrofoam cups. Then went to the bait shop near the creek where Jim Morrison sold us salmon eggs and hooks. It was surreal. I couldn’t stop staring at him. I even called him “Jim” and he looked at me like I was nuts. It wasn’t till later, on the stream, that I realized the guy didn’t look like Morrison at all, but like a fat Val Kilmer. I had them confused from the movie.  Fucking embarrassment. Coulda been worse. Coulda thought he was Doc Holliday.

Caught three nice steelhead that morning, on the eggs I bought and only puked once behind a tree. Kicked leaves over it. Turned out to be a good day overall.

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