The Tear (Gas) of a Clown

“I got some credit in the straight world
I lost a leg, I lost an eye
Go for credit in the real world
You will die”

***

They came in from the cold of London to the unmistakable odor of tear gas penetrating the even colder Rhône air. How could it have been that they had not accounted for the one-year anniversary of the first gilets jaunes uprising? 16 Novembre (close enough to 17 Novembre, that third Saturday in 2018 when it all began). The new “remember, remember the 5th of November,” évidemment. Lyon bore more of the brunt in many ways than Paris, which Luna had deliberately avoided so as not to be cliche. Plus, Lyon was the most metropolitan city of France’s sud. The nearest nexus with a megaphone for god’s (a.k.a. the government’s) forgotten people to speak through. Trickling in from nearby towns like Saint-Priest and Villefranche-sur-Saone.

And what they had to say essentially was, to use a British turn of phrase, “You’re shit, mate.” The “you’re” in question applying to Macron, the institution of government, the wage for the working class–life itself. What’s more, seeing as how they could never–would never–be able to enjoy it as much as the cochons gorging on the fruits of their labor, they decided they might as well fuck shit up for everyone else until kingdom come. Or rather, until the gilded kingdom of “democracy” ended. Lyon was a hotbed of enraged activity, with not just gilets jaunes but the disenfranchised (gypsy Spaniards among the most notable variety) from all walks of life banding together in camo pants and wielding stray dogs taken in for the purposes of riling them up to howl at the moon, at the injustice. Fuck. This. Existence.

You could see in every protester’s eyes that it got them off more than just un peu to scare the average passerby, to brandish the threat of being “too crazy” to be trusted. To fear getting even remotely in the same proximity. These were the ones who didn’t have the gumption to join them in their cause because they were too upper middle class to risk losing their faux attempt at a nouveau riche reality. But there was nothing nouveau about cowardice among those who weren’t poverty-stricken enough to understand the value–the sheer thrill–of blowing up the world and watching it burn because it was one of the greatest “free” pleasures a pauper could ever know. Finally, it would get the rich and the wannabe rich to react to something other than that which they built within the confines of their fat cat bubble while the rest of the dogs outside of it were forced to chew on gristle.

As an “innocent” bystander, getting too close to the gilets jaunes meant more than just becoming infected with the stigma of their anarchy. It also meant putting one’s own body at risk. For the tear gas was sure to fly at even the slightest hint of the gendarmerie feeling “overwhelmed”–which didn’t take much. One surge in the crowd and it was hissssssss. Followed by panic and further rage. The unleashing of that aerosolized compound. That insidious lachrymator was intended to subdue, but all it seemed to do was incite a more impassioned riot. Filled with screams, signs held all the higher, tramplings, accusations. A bum rush of vitriol just waiting to explode as it bubbled to the surface. Tear gas was almost always, without fail, the cause of that boiling point.

Luna hadn’t been aware of the anniversary of the movement when she made the Lyonnais travel arrangements for herself and Edward. Edward, who was so often foolish enough to leave her to her own devices in matters of booking. But to go against her in any way–to even offer the hint of a suggestion that she perhaps ought to go in another direction, both literal and metaphorical–would result in the accusation that Edward was an anti-feminist like all the rest of them. The rest of them being mankind. Yet she was so eager to get out of Britain that she didn’t seem to consider that France might be just as bad. For all of Europe–all the world–was going up in flames. There was nowhere left to run anymore. Not even for the rich. Unless they were of the uber uber sort. The kind who could fly themselves to another planet if Earth’s ghettoness really did start to show its ass too much. Luna and Edward were certainly not at that level, though Luna wanted to believe they were. That’s why she was always making these infernal trips at a moment’s notice, forcing Edward out into the world on his few days off when all he wanted was to stay at home and watch the planet come crashing down on them from the privacy of their own modestly decadent home. In Notting Hill, of course.

Instead, he was getting a front row seat to it right this very instant as he shielded his eyes by putting on his Tom Ford sunglasses and wrapping his Yves Saint Laurent scarf around his mouth, urging Luna, who had little experience with being among the ruffians called people who make under thirty thousand a year, to do the same. She, in a rare moment of not defying his every suggestion, immediately obeyed and whipped out her Prada shades and a spare cashmere sweater freshly bought from Harrods to use as a surgical mask. Still, they could not avoid the potency of the gas, prompting a barrage of tears followed by near blindness as they felt their way through the crowd–holding hands in a rare moment of practical affection.

All they had to do was get to their four-star (five would have just been too exorbitant) hotel and this would all be over. The problem was, neither of them could really see as they were being robbed blind, to use an all too fitting expression for this particular scenario. Edward’s wallet, Luna’s purse filled with all manner of “club cards” (as well as some arbitrarily stuffed in jewelry for this journey)–it was all pilfered. By the time they hobbled out of the horde, they looked as though they had been pecked into oblivion by buzzards. The air was still filled with the white sheen of the gas. But through that pall, Luna could make out a protester in full Joker makeup grinning at her. Or maybe he wasn’t smiling at all. It was hard to tell with that painted on, upturned red line. That Glasgow smile without real blood. But oh how Luna wished it was as she saw him dangle a piece of her own jewelry at her and then stomp on it. Giving way to dancing a jig around its crushed remains (real diamonds wouldn’t have broken, she lamented). He peppered the rest of their valuables on the ground as well, leading his comrades in a dance that amounted to stamping out any remaining shred of the modern bourgeoisie. Those who thought they were “better” because they had credit in the straight world. The thing is, the world is akimbo, topsy-turvy–a piling heap of a mess resting in its own filth–and no amount of tear gas haze can ever make it look straight again.

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