“Agnès Varda? Isn’t she the old woman?” this doe-eyed French twat with the requisite mousy brown hair and fair skin asks me when I venture to inquire if she’s ever seen Vagabond, the story of Mona Bergeron, a girl who gave up her cush office life to live free of responsibility by traveling through France and picking up odd jobs where and when she could. Naturally I ask because I can relate. In fact, it’s the only reason I’m here in Rouen now. Someone was willing to take me in for a few days, offer a few crumbs. But being that she’s an old acquaintance from my time served in the prison called an office that we try to pass off as a pleasant concentration camp because it pays us to be “present,” she doesn’t quite understand the person I’ve become–which is perhaps why Odile ill-advisedly invited me to come visit her the same week that she was planning to have a party. I should have made myself scarce, knowing how I can get when alcohol becomes free-flowing and readily available to me. But if you give a vagabond a place to stay, she’ll likely never leave the premises. So I stayed, helping Odile and her live-in “partner” (a man who seemed more like a mannequin for all the movement and phrases he was capable of) make their preparations for the party, spreading out the various meats, cheeses, olives and wines that are requisite of such affairs in France and pretentious Brooklyn dinner parties. Odile’s mind seems to be elsewhere as I try to ask her if she’s ever thought about giving up everything and retreating into nature as I have, for she’s looking a bit ragged–run down by the life of capitalism that’s theoretically supposed to make us all feel so comfortable.
She blinks at me, giving a once-over at my disheveled hair and yellowed teeth as though to say, “And you’re supposed to be the poster child for ‘giving up everything’? If so, no thanks.” Instead, what she actually says is, “Would you mind going into the kitchen and grabbing another cheese knife?”
By the time the first guests have arrived, I am already at least one sheet to the wind. It is an elderly professor named Armand and his wife, Clotilde, a graying woman with too much maquillage. I try talking to Armand, but when he starts trying to explain to me that the reason why Montmartre became so popular is because of Amélie, I have to back away. Because, yeah, no fucking shit that’s why Montmartre got popular. Jesus, you’d think he’d been off the grid longer than I have to try to pass off that little “tidbit” as hot news. So far, it was turning out to be a very trippy affair for all the wrong reasons. Thus, I retreated into the bedroom, where there was an ideal window for smoking. Which is always merely an excuse for retreat, or at least the ability to have an adult pacifier amid other alleged adults. But none of the people really were, least of all the latest cliche to walk into the room, a thirty-two year old “man” with a twenty-one year old girlfriend. She was immediately detectable as the sort who thought she was quite worldly for constantly hanging around those who were older than she. I started coughing from all the venom that was building up in my throat.
For a time, I tried my best to keep a distance from her, as I could sense we were going to, at the very least, come to verbal blows. I could intuit that she was going to utter something offensive under the pretense of it being very “evolved.” And, at around the third vodka soda mixed with random glasses of wine and Prosecco, I found my moment to rightfully target her. She was, apart from her boyfriend and Odile’s live-in mannequin, the only other person in the living room with which to strike up a conversation, which brings us back to where we started, with the doe-eyed twat lazily asking, “Agnès Varda? Isn’t she the old woman?”
I take another sip of vodka before preparing my speech. “You shouldn’t call women old so cavalierly,” I say without masking my contempt very well, which isn’t helping my cause as only someone who feels insecure about her age would say such a thing. But I am vexed. That the first detail a person can recall about a woman of great talent is whether or not she’s old. It isn’t right, and it shouldn’t be accepted. So I will not accept it–and, thanks to the courage lent by alcohol, I do not have to.
Sans toit ni loi, the French title of Vagabond, translates to “without roof nor law,” which is precisely how I was starting to feel, at least in terms of being unable to rein in my murderous rage toward this naive cunt who would most certainly not be saying such daft things if she herself was beginning to reach an age of non-desirability.
“In our country it is a compliment to a woman,” she coos in that foul fashion that only women speaking English with French accents can.
I sneer. “No, I don’t think so. No woman wants to be deemed ‘old.’ It means she’s irrelevant. That’s the fucking synonym, it doesn’t matter what country you’re in.”
The 21-year-old was looking scared now. She really had no idea what was to befall her, how she was to feel once someone at last called her this word. Where would her insistence be then that it was a compliment and a sign of respect? Probably flowing out of her fucking colostomy bag as most insistences are wont to do. But then I forgot, the generation in their early twenties now will probably never look old–at least not in the conventional “Agnès Varda” way–eventually to become but a sendup of what it once meant to appear ancient. Because with all those fat-packed soaps (the kind in the vein of Tyler Durden’s specialty) and what have you to be available at affordable prices for the masses, even the most common of humans will be able to afford to delay certain anticipated wrinkles for just a bit longer at these bargain rates. So no, maybe the 21-year-old will never have her comeuppance for carelessly wielding this adjective, especially if she’s rich, or marries rich. Money has a way of ensuring bodily preservation. And yet, still, I find myself somehow, out of nowhere, breaking my glass against her head, stamping on the coffee table and screaming, “Agnès Varda is not old!” over and over again.
Days later, I’m found in a ditch by a passing car, rather much like Mona minus the part where I’m covered in frost. I must have been kicked out of the party, prematurely overstaying my welcome. I must look impossibly aged to the couple now taking me to the nearest train station, where I might continue to spread my message about Varda’s virility–incidentally what I might call my own soap company if I should ever garner the funds.