My girlfriend Lisa and I were on the rooftop of the hostel talking about the great day we’d had, just the two of us, so far from the worries of our hectic American life — the stressful twenty-hour work week, the pressures of home-brewing, the hustle and bustle of the bike co-op. We were about halfway through a bottle of wine, a nice drunk going, when this big bro of a man wearing a tank-top and cargo pants came crawling out of an air duct, kicked over the table beside us, rolled into the chair, and shoved his military boots up onto our table. There was green sludge on his boots that dripped onto the table cloth with a sizzle. He ran a hand through his crop top and introduced himself in a gravelly voice as Duke from LA.
He was sending out really harsh vibes. I was not feeling him. He talked real loud about how even though he was here on business, he also came to see art and chew bubblegum, but he had run out of bubblegum at some point early on in his trip and only had art to see now.
As he talked he took pills from a bright orange bottle. Each one he popped — and there were a lot — seemed to make him more jumpy and intense. He kept talking about the “fucking pigs” and saying one-liners that I vaguely recognized. (I mean who called cops “pigs” anymore?)
I was ready to go, just get out of there, and I even patted Lisa on the thigh pretty firmly to indicate my intentions. That’s when she made the mistake that only a great girl with a great heart can make: she invited Duke to join us on our trip to the Louvre the next morning. He jolted out of his chair and yelled, “fuck yeah,” and everyone else on the roof looked over. Then he high-fived Lisa so hard that her hand turned beet red. (How I wish I’d noticed then the red flush in her cheeks too!) He punched me in my tender bicep then threw an arm around my neck. “It’s going to be sweet,” he growled in my ear. We made plans to meet up after breakfast. Duke promptly stormed out, literally walking through several other tables.
In the morning, we heard the sound of breaking glass and spraying water coming from the bathroom. Duke emerged in a towel, all sinewy and damp, and told us he was just about ready and that we should meet him down in the lobby. Before heading down the steps, I peeked around the corner and watched him standing at the closed door of his room grunting. He shouted, “fucking keycard!” and shuffled back toward the bathroom.
At the Louvre there was trouble as we entered. Duke set off the metal detectors. Several men in gloves checked through his bag and got all quiet. Then they had to call over the head of security. Duke stepped aside and showed him some form of ID and they waved him through the metal detectors which went off again, but this time nobody paid any attention.
Once inside, Duke kept standing in front of different sculptures of women, the Lady of Auxerre in particular, grunting angrily at them, his finger twitching outstretched as if he were pushing on the spacebar of a PC. Nothing would happen and I distinctly heard him curse and growl, “What? No breasts?!”
When I relayed this to Lisa, she said she couldn’t believe I was actually stooping so low as to lie just because he made me feel inadequate.
Then I watched her, my girlfriend, looking at a the famed Delacroix with Duke who was leaning around her to point out some detail, and why did he have to point around her with his arm over her shoulders, brushing up through her hair? Jesus! I was perfectly adequate. I had even been told that I was “a really nice guy” by two girlfriends. Solid reviews.
I stepped up to Duke. I got up in his face and jabbed him in the chest but my finger just passed through. Fucking hologram! I looked around. Felt feverish. Sweat ran down my face. I blinked through the tears. Where was he? Where was Lisa? I saw a wisp of her hair disappearing into the crowd. I raced over, a cramp forming in my side.
When I found them, Lisa was in his arms. Swooning! They both looked at me in disgust. I choked a cry of despair. I think snot ran out of my nose. He whipped up a strange-looking pistol that pulsed green and there was a flash and I suddenly felt so small. So insignificant.
My last sight was of his big manly boot rising up, floating high. It grew larger as it descended. What great works of art watched as I was squashed, smeared onto that glossed wood floor. What history overturned.
I could hear Lisa’s giggle and the sound of a jetpack firing up — all from a great distance.