Strife Imitates Art

Like everywhere else on this planet, there were more every day. Homeless, that is. Gisele was almost positive she was to be next, even if her name indicated, to some, a certain ironclad bougieness that could forever prevent her from being subjected to the streets. But no, she wasn’t bourgeois, just French. And the French had fallen on harder times than usual. Particularly those that didn’t work in fat cat industries, like say, private education or luxury goods.

Gisele was still making ends meet by schlepping daily to the Monoprix on Boulevard Saint-Michel where she had worked as a cashier for the past two years. It was a far cry from going to the Sorbonne, which was located nearby and which she had always aspired to attend but never did. Some things just can’t pan out for some people. We can’t all fight the cards once they’re laid out on the table for us.  

Although she had long hated the job, she was suddenly glad to have work deemed “essential” to Parisian existence. It seemed little else was, even if the French were once determined to declare that art was life. While Oscar Wilde instead said that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” In the case of what Gisele was presently bearing witness to on her way to work, it appeared Strife imitates Art as best as it can with such limited resources. That’s what the image of three dogs “belonging” to the gypsy types Paris was known for expressed in positioning themselves underneath a giant poster of Lady and the Tramp that the movie theater had boasted “showing” for the majority of the year. Since the shutdown, of course, no movie theater was showing anything (except to the rats), and Disney reaped the benefits of perpetual free advertising.

While there were three dogs instead of two to mimic the “classic” scene (which Gisele had always taken issue with, among other aspects of the movie), it was still a shocking imitation for its contrast against the “manicured” dumpster romance of Lady and her Tramp. Yes, the alley outside of Tony’s “Italian” Restaurant is certainly more “festive” than what Gisele was presently beholding. And there were signs of this economic rot increasing every day, yet that no one had the will or bandwidth to do anything about.

Allowing herself a moment of lightness, she couldn’t help but titter as she thought about how only in Paris would the Lady and the Tramp image take on an orgiastic, “earthy” aesthetic. This was still Rive Gauche, after all, no matter how many decades had softened it from its headier sexual days of the 60s and 70s. But any sense of levity dissipated when she saw the “owner” of the dogs slightly emerge from the tent they had set up in front of assorted other piles of shit that served as an attempt to create a tenement. Something that was “structurally sound” for the purposes of makeshift housing. Except this man didn’t “emerge,” so much as extend his dirty–almost black from the filth–arm out, in the style of a zombie, to grab for the bottle of liquor that had rolled away from the opening in his “home.” He didn’t quite catch hold of it in time, and it rolled into the street and into the gutter. He’d be lucky to find it still there later if he managed to collect his bearings long enough to remember where it was.

Gisele stared at him through the window of her overcrowded bus, taking in the horrible incongruity of the scene and wondering how no one else around her seemed to be disturbed by it. In fact, everyone, the world over, was so checked out at this juncture, it was next to impossible to disturb any of them. They all had their own life or death concerns, after all. Existence had become more “hand to mouth” than it ever had been, and it made mustering empathy too much of a stretch anymore. Yet no one seemed to have the strength to fight the very oppressor who was making it this way. When you’re too busy just getting by, it’s difficult to avoid adopting a certain bovine complacency.

The same kind that Gisele herself possessed when she trudged into the Monoprix that morning. The fluorescent lighting was an assault on her senses, not to mention the smattering of elderly ladies who saw fit to get their shopping done first thing. It was another indication of zombiedom, seeing these old women trudge about with their mouths ajar, picking at arbitrary useless items they could take back to the housing they didn’t deserve but had merely fallen into thanks to the better time they were born in.

Yeah, Gisele was “grateful” for having a steady job, but of course she also fucking hated this place, this “profession.” Everyone who came into the store infected her further with their own negative energies. It was just so obvious that everyone hated their life, this epoch. It was not “hard” work, technically speaking, but by the end of her shift she felt drained and depressed, making her way back home around six on yet another overcrowded bus so that she could get back home and repeat the cycle yet again tomorrow, ostensibly every day for eternity.

On the return, she looked for the dogs again. It was still light enough outside and she could see that one of them had fled, leaving only two behind on the cardboard box. Perhaps they had all agreed that in order to best imitate the poster, one of them had to go. Then again, to truly effectively imitate it would require Disney to not glamorize the life of stray dogs. For it was anything but pasta and meatballs filled with romance-championing, compassionate people helping you set the tone for establishing lifelong love. 

Strife does its best to imitate art, even when art sets you up for failure by being a total lie with its depictions. The following morning, the entire makeshift tenement had been cleared, and there were no signs of the canine companions anywhere. Maybe they had found a nice alley to have their decadent dinner in, Gisele told herself—the propagandist Lady and the Tramp poster already soothing her with its false representation of how things really are. 

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