Friday, March 18, 2011

Laverie Automatique

In 2002, Will and I were in Paris for five days.

It was my first trip "abroad" - the first five days of a month-long trip that would encompass seven countries, five flights, a two-day "cruise" and miles and miles (er, kilometers and kilometers) on our EuroRail passes, but after only four days of the Louvre and Orsay, brasseries and patisseries, and a day trip to Versailles, we were filthy.

We had already worn everything in our backpacks and I hadn't yet learned that washing my underwear in the sink wouldn't kill me. And, if the "one-day transportation strike" ended on schedule, our flight for Athens would leave the next day.

So we wandered over to the "laverie automatique" just across the street from our hotel - chocolate bars, paperbacks, and bottles of Vitel in tow. Look out, punks - here come two dirty Americans with their laundry.

It was mostly uneventful. We figured out what coins needed to go where and how to purchase detergent, and settled in for a quiet morning. We chatted briefly with two Americans from Seattle, discussing the relative merits of one Rick Steves.

And then, the most spectacular thing happened: Two Parisians got into a heated argument over their laundry.

It was the same sort of argument that happens in American laundromats every day, I'm sure. Someone, impatiently waiting for a dryer, removes another person's clothing from the dryer before said clothing is actually dry. Or wet clothing is heaped on a counter while the waiting person nabs a washer that has barely stopped spinning. But it was impossible to tell exactly what the situation was here, because it was all in rapid-fire French, and my fingers couldn't have spun quickly enough through my French-English dictionary to catch even one word in twenty.

But I didn't really care what they were saying. The translation itself was beside the point, and may have detracted from the real drama of the scene. How exciting can words like laundry, wet, dry, mine, I was here first, etc., really be?

For Will and I, chugging our Vittel and nibbling gleefully on our chocolate bars, this was entertainment at its best. For the last five days the most exciting exchange we'd had was with the hotel maid, who came into our room while we were napping to remove - mysteriously - the quilts from our bed. This fight - between a man and a woman - raged all over the laundromat and involved his clothes and hers in various stages of cleanness. Their voices had fabulous range - from dramatic whispers to raspy screams to strident demands. At one point, a woman holding a toddler by one hand and a laundry bag by another, poked her head in and immediately walked out.

I would have loved to stay all day, but at some point our meager load was finished, our backpacks were repacked with clean clothes, and the rest of Paris was waiting. I wondered how long they stayed there, engaged in a verbal duel. I wondered, all day, who won.

It's a funny thing when I think about it now. I remember walking along the Seine at night, and our picnic of bread and wine at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. I remember the Monets and Manets, the extravagences of the Louises, the graffiti as seen from my window seat on the RER. But nothing says Paris to me like a passionate argument in the laverie automatique.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Pepper Spray Works!

B and I, minding our own business on our daily walks, have been attacked by all sorts of dogs – the blue-gray hound with the high-pitched wail, the chocolate brown dachshund who lurks, waiting for us, beneath a parked car, and twice by the snarling pit bull with the oblivious owners.

After the second incident with the pit bull, I gave in. Clearly, pleading with the owners, screaming at the top of my lungs (a surprisingly girly sound), and calling Animal Control had little effect. So we changed our route. B and I now cut down another street and make our way to the park – where we still might by accosted at any moment by a variety of other off-leash menaces.

At least, this is my fear.

The dogs who run up to us in the park are often benign, tails wagging, no doubt attracted by B’s friendly demeanor and his wet brown eyes. If we’re with Will, he’ll take care of the approaching dog, calling him off, yelling at the owners (who always, always, seem shocked that their dog won’t obey their commands. “But he never does this! I don’t know what’s come over him!”), and in general, offering protection.

But at least half the time, it’s just B and me. And B is never scared – at first. He looks with mild interest at our neighbor’s snarling German shepherd, he wags his tail when a little Yorkie tries to take a bite out of his ear. Ever since the second pit bull incident, I feel like we’re walking targets. I’m extra vigilant, constantly scanning the area for the enemy.

And so I bought pepper spray – a purple, phallic-shaped canister that bulges strangely in my pocket. It works quite well, as I learned from pulling the trigger in my kitchen and then coughing for an hour.

Only a week later, I used it on a dog – a German shepherd mix that charged at us from out of nowhere when we were on the edge of the park. B, in typical B fashion, didn’t notice, but I heard him coming – picked out the particular jingle of a dog collar, the pounding of feet on soft grass. I whirled around, holding the pepper spray like it was a gun and the dog was an intruder in my bedroom.

“Stop!” I yelled, figuring a warning was only fair. The dog was maybe 20 yards away, and it was impossible to read his intentions. “Halt!” I ordered in my best Nazi imitation. No reaction. Well, you stupid dog, you give me no choice. I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.

When I opened my eyes a second later, our attacker was about five feet away, spinning in a confused circle. He kept snapping his jaws in the air, like he was chasing a fly. He turned to face me again and I gave him another shot for good measure. After a yelp, he took off in the other direction.

My heart had somehow crept into my throat. I slid the pepper spray back into my pocket, and then I felt a tug on the leash. B was looking at me – enough, already. It was time to get moving. From a little farther on, a tree was calling to him.