“Oh my gawwww,” Brittany lamented as she walked through the trash-filled streets near the Luxembourg Garden. The lament was directed at her boyfriend, Kip, who had paid for their nearby lodging at the Hotel La Villa Madame, just across from the garden’s entrance. For the nightly price it cost, Kip had to admit that he hoped it would be nicer…instead of, well, rather no frills. By his and Brittany’s standards, anyway. Brittany tried her best not to express too much disappointment about it, knowing that Kip was just doing his best to be romantic, and that he would probably propose to her in front of the Eiffel Tower or some such in the next few days. She didn’t want to “spoil the mood,” as it were. So much of being a woman was dictated, in fact, by determining whether one might do just that with the mere pronouncement of the truth. Reality.
But who came to visit Paris for reality? Not Brittany and Kip, that’s for certain. Hence, their extreme dismay over the sight of nothing but piles upon piles of trash that had also been piling up even in the days before Kip decided to schedule the trip on the spur of the moment. That’s the thing about being rich: you never have to be limited by the confines of careful, advanced planning. And Kip was feeling very spontaneous that early March. Not to mention he just wanted to get the fuck out of Charleston, where he served as the head of South Carolina Financial Corp. Lately, though, the walls of his office felt like they were closing in, and he yearned for something bigger. Although he had only been to Paris once on a tour of Europe he had taken with The Boys during the summer between junior and senior year of college, it had stood out to him the most. The Scandinavian countries were too cold, personality-wise, Italy was too chaotic, England was too gray and obscenely expensive, Spain was too lax, the Eastern European countries were still too infected by their communist past. For Kip, Paris hit that “Goldilocks spot” as it did for so many of the millions of tourists who came to visit it every year.
He wanted to share that with Brittany, who he had been dating seriously enough for the past three years to move in with her during the second year of their relationship. Or rather, she moved in with him. Her sad little apartment (that she still had to share with a roommate) in West Ashley was too much for Kip to bear. He wanted to rescue her, to show her the power of what money could buy. Brittany wasn’t poor, per se. She had grown up in the Midwest to a middle-class family—but middle-class in the Midwest is ultimately poor everywhere else. Kip opted not to tell her that so as to spare her feelings, though he was usually fairly blunt with her. He could tell her when he thought she looked like shit or that she shouldn’t wear this, that or the other dress, and she would never be offended or talk back to him. That’s how he knew she was the one. He had wasted so much time dating women who felt the need to call him out for being a misogynist prick, worried that there were no quality females out there at all anymore. And then, Brittany came along.
He stumbled upon her while ogling a group of women that Brittany was a part of through the window of a yoga studio called Charleston Power Yoga. Homing in on Brittany’s sweet little ass, he decided he would approach her when the session was over through the magic of “happenstance.” In other words, he milled around King Street long enough to encounter her “casually” when she walked out the door, deliberately-accidentally bumping into her in such a way so that he had to catch her in his arms to keep her from falling. From that instant forward, they were practically inseparable. Well…when Kip wasn’t pursuing, let’s say, other Pussy Avenues.
But he had played around enough, he reasoned, after two years of cheating on Brittany. By asking her to move in with him, he was effectively putting the kibosh on all pursuits of infidelity. Until last week, when he slipped. Slipped right into some slut’s vagina, that is. Not that Kip didn’t have his part in it. He was the one who had swiped right, after all. When it was over, and he slinked out of her apartment in the early hours of the morning, the only thing he could think was: I have to make it up to Brittany. Hence, the trip to Paris and the decision to propose to her there—cliches be damned! However, if Kip had done a bit more research—or ever bothered to read about international news—he might have considered that Paris was not the most romantic place at present. It had been increasingly packed to the gills with trash, sacks upon sacks of it. All uncollected from one of the many unions that had decided to rebel against a new measure to raise the retirement age from sixty-two to sixty-four.
Kip and Brittany were informed of this after wading through the heaps of garbage and trying to avoid any rat scatterings. It was their irritated waiter who, rightly, treated them like mentally challenged ilk with his condescending tone while explaining the situation. That there was likely to be many more days, and even weeks, of this. As he walked away, leaving them with their stunned expressions, he thought, Just another pair of naïve Americans thinking they’re going to have the romantic trip of a lifetime. But Paris, in so many ways, embodied the antithesis of romance. When the unions decided to strike, everything about the city’s rebellious, guillotine-happy ways came to the surface. Violent revolution was embedded into the very fabric of France in general, and Paris in particular. This was not a city for romance, but for radical politics. And Kip, conservative, white bread man that he was, hated this kind of politics.
After lunch, they sidestepped through the streets again, trying their best to make the most of a bad situation. But Kip could tell Brittany was upset by the fact that she wasn’t taking any pictures. Just sort of moped as they ambled aimlessly, doing her best not to look too closely at the debris. Granted, she wasn’t the only one. Many of the tourists, he noted, didn’t seem to be as camera-oriented as they might normally have been. Of course, there was always that singular category of goons who got one of their buddies to snap a picture of them throwing up peace signs in front of a trash mound. The whole thing annoyed and sickened Kip so much that he said he wanted to go back to the hotel. At least there, an illusion of cleanliness prevailed.
It was inside their room that Kip went on an unprovoked rant, pacing the room as Brittany sat blank-faced on the bed, about what fucking pussies French people were for having a total meltdown about retiring at what was actually still a very young age. “You’d never see this shit in America, Brit, never. We like to work. We understand that work makes the world go round.” Brittany didn’t bother pointing out that she had never actually seen Kip do much work of any kind apart from yelling at various underlings over the phone. He continued, “Who the fuck do these unions think they are? Destroying tourism like this? I’m going to tell everyone I know never to come to Paris again. This whole country is a pinko liberal nightmare.”
Brittany muttered under her breath, “I’m sure they’ll all take your advice.”
Kip stopped in his tracks. “What was that?”
She bristled. “Nothing.”
“Did you just talk back to me?”
“No?” she replied with a questioning intonation.
“That’s it. We’re getting the fuck out of this city. It’s tainting everything.”
Thirty minutes later, they were out on the street with their suitcases at their side, waiting for a taxi that wouldn’t come. They walked only as far as Rue de Rennes trying to flag one of their own to replace the so-called “chartered” taxi. But Kip got so impatient after a mere five minutes of waiting that he decided they were going to take the metro. He was that out of his gourd with rage. “Fucking ineffectual, non-functioning city,” he seethed to himself as they walked down the steps of the metro.
The ride on line 12 went smoothly at first, until they realized they would have to transfer to another line to get to the RER. From that revelation forward, it was delays and stalls that sent Kip further over the edge. “How the fuck can people live like this?” he kept demanding of Brittany, as though she might have the answer. As though she might have the balls to tell him that most people don’t really have a choice about how they live. They’re just at the mercy of a sadistically whimsical government and its ancillary institutions. Of which public transportation could be considered one. That is, until the government did something too unforgivable to it—like try to up the retirement age.
After being stranded at the same spot near Place de la Concorde for ten minutes, when the train finally reached said stop, Kip insisted they get out. Against Brittany’s better advisement. She contended they should stay the course if they wanted to get to the airport without additional fanfare. Kip sneered at her and said, “You know, I like your personality much better in Charleston,” before continuing up the stairs and into the fray he did not know awaited them. Or rather, him. For after Kip said those words to her, Brittany deliberately hung back in the crowd, allowing Kip to be lost in the explosive protest he was walking into above. Kip would prove to be among the tourist casualties of that demonstration. Him and four other Americans who just happened to be right in the thick of it at the wrong moment.
“Oh well,” Brittany noted to herself the next day. Sitting at the same café she had previously been with Kip. She wasn’t ready to leave Paris yet, after all. She still had so much more to see. And, sooner or later, the trash would have to be taken out.