When Dana graduated from law school, we took a trip to Europe and wound up in Paris for a few days.
“I know it’s a long shot,” I told Dana on the subway, “But wouldn’t it be neat? I bet he’d invite us over. I know he would.”
We scanned the subway car, searching the faces for someone familiar and finding only anxious tourists who probably thought we were a pair of pickpockets, sizing them up. One man moved his hand to his chest, fumbling for the money belt I was sure he had duct-taped to his nipples. Most people go to Paris for the Louvre or Notre Dame. People probably dream of lunching somewhere along the Seine or exploring the the Musee D’Orsay or maybe taking a day trip to Versailles. We dreamed of finding and befriending David Sedaris on the subway and spending the rest of our vacation attending intimate dinner parties.
“I don’t think he’s here,” I sighed, holding onto a subway handle. “Want to see the Louvre?”
Dana shrugged, “I guess so.”
Our new neighborhood — our new block — boasts a popular restaurant whose chef was on the The Next Top Chef program on Food Network, and we’ve seen the guy around the city over the past few months: getting coffee at our new cafe, buying produce at the Saturday morning farmers market at the Ferry Building, working the front room at his restaurant.
“Maybe we’ll get to know him,” I told Dana, “And he’ll invite us over and cook us wonderful dinners.”
We dreamed about sharing recipes and shopping together at the Ferry Building, because when it comes down to it, we’re kind of crazy, both of us inclined to stalking others in our day dreams.
After an appointment yesterday at our new place, Emmeline and I explored the neighborhood a little more, poking around corner stores to see if they had the same brand of milk our current corner store sells. (Yes!) The chef walked in and chatted with the clerk for a few minutes while Emme and listened from the corner, feeling uncomfortably like characters from Single White Female. He seemed friendly, approachable, all too willing to spend hours cooking for us after a long day of work. When he turned around to leave, instead of introducing myself, I hid behind the Doritos.
On the way home, we stopped at Union Square and spent an ungodly amount of time climbing on green metal chairs and then racing each other across the plaza.
“Emme winning!” she would scream, toddling over the plaza like a drunken albatross while I pretended to lag behind. Occasionally she would stop the race, grab my legs and push me to the front of our two-person pack.
“Daddy winning!” she would declare, only to get perturbed a second later by my presumptuousness and demand I fall back again.
“No!” she would scold, “Emme winning!”
A young woman sitting on one of the green chairs smiled at Emme, who inched closer to bask in the momentary affection. And then suddenly she bolted again, and we were off across the plaza.
By the time Emme returned to the chairs a few minutes later, the woman was sitting with a man and wiping new tears from her eyes. Even from a distance, the words carried in the air.
“I don’t understand,” she cried, “Why?”
The man looked down as Emme reached for a chair. I grabbed her as quickly and quietly as I could and we left the pair alone. Emme screamed and kicked her feet in the air, while I whispered, “It’ll be OK,” and wondered whether she would ever have her heart broken in such a public space while a strange child smiled at her grief. Our hasty retreat back to the “races” reminded me of a line from that Auden poem, “how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster.”
“You’re not allowed to eat on the bus,” the man said, “Hey you. I said you’re not allowed to eat on the bus.”
We were sitting near the front of the bus and Emme was elbow-deep into a new bag of Pirate’s Booty, the only thing that never fails to keep her quiet and, more importantly, in her seat. The man got on the bus near Chinatown and eye-balled us for a few seconds before finally speaking.
“It’s the rules?” he said in a question in need of no answer.
I considered telling the man that Emme was tired after a day of exploring, and if he tried to remove the snack food from her clutches, she would probably jump to the floor, scream something about “ankles!” and then bite the ever living shit out of him. I considered telling him that she would never, ever drop a morsel of beloved Pirate’s Booty on the bus anyway. I considered ignoring him altogether or asking whether he knew that rules didn’t actually apply to us.
“You didn’t see the memo?” a snappier me asked. Instead, I did what I usually do when confronted with awkward social situations: opt for the easy way out and pretend to be a French tourist.
“Oh, je suis desole, monsieur, mais je ne parle pas anglais!”
The man grew exasperated and raised his voice an octave or two while I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to my ears as if they didn’t work.
The man went into an elaborate pantomime about not eating on the bus while my miniature gourmand continued to reach her grubby hands into the bag and not spill one. single. crumb. She giggled at the man’s antics but quickly grew weary of the MUNI Marcel Marceau and demanded I translate a bus sign for her.
Clear as day she said, “Daddy, read the words please! Daddy read the words please! Daddy!”
The man frowned at me and tossed his hands in the air, while I looked down at Emme and pretended not to understand whatever oddball language she was speaking.