The day was extremely hot, as it usually was at home on Fourth of July. I woke around three, for I had gone to a bar on Rue St. Jacques the night before and drunk a little too much. I stared up at the ceiling and thought about millions of hotdogs being cooked all across America as I lay there. Flags were flying from porches and kids all over the country were watching fireworks. I wondered briefly how my family was celebrating, but then I remembered why I went so far away in the first place and stopped wondering.
I stayed in bed for most of the day except to eat a piece of stale baguette. Around five Annna called. “Are you coming with us tonight?” I had met her, the twins, and their father at Pere-Lachaise cemetery the day before on my pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s grave.
I thought, maybe she likes me. “Yeah, sure.”
“Cactus Charly on rue de Ponthieu.”
My friend Glenn was bartender there. “Sounds good.”
“See you around nine. US passport holders get in free.”
I hung up the phone and went back to sleep for a few more hours.
I came up the Metro steps at Etoile and leaned against a pole, watching the cars and buses spinning in circles around the Arc de Triomphe. There was an orderly frenzy to traffic in Paris that I’d not seen elsewhere, certainly not back home in New York City. I strolled down the Champs-Elysees past the bustling cafés that were filled with music and laughter. On this warm evening, tourists with cameras and shoppers with large bags were everywhere.
There was a long line of people waiting to get into Cactus Charly, many of them holding passports. I didn’t see Annna or the twins queuing, so I went up to the doorman, showed my passport, and said the magic word Glenn told me. I got in ahead of the crowd and heard the band upstairs playing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” It made me feel a little homesick.
I shook hands with Glenn, a tall, thin fellow with wiry red hair and beard. He wore a Red Sox hat tipped back on his head. He saw that I was wearing my team’s hat. “You’re my only friend who’s a Mets fan!”
“Sorry about ‘86!” I said as he handed me a Budweiser.
“Yeah, right.” Glenn chuckled.
“Happy French Fourth of July.”
“Nothing French in here tonight.”
“Too many Americans for my taste,” I said.
I took the beer, shoving my way upstairs where the band started playing Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” I got uncomfortable and went downstairs looking for Annna, but when I peeked out the window I saw her and the twins leaning against a gate.
I went outside. Annna said, “They couldn’t find their passports.”
“Sorry, man,” Lee said.
“Hey, whatever,” I said.
“I have an idea,” Tra moaned. “Let’s go back to our flat. We got booze, beer, and Pop rolls a mean joint.”
We took the Metro to Trocadero and walked to their flat in the upscale neighborhood. The first thing I noticed was the great view through the doorway that opened into a lush garden with the Tour Eiffel glistening above the trees.
Their father Conway reclined in his wheelchair on the patio. We all sat around a wrought iron table, the lurid hush of night almost enveloping us. Conway rolled a big joint silently as the rest of us talked about an upcoming concert on the Seine. His long gray hair and beard were luminous in the garden’s pale light, and his iron dark eyes followed the conversation, darting from one speaker to the next.
After Jack Daniels shots, some brews and tokes, Conway grabbed his glass and the rest of us followed. “To James Douglas Morrison.” He drank quickly and we all did too.
After a few more rounds, Annna said, “I must tinkle.” The twins followed her inside to put more beer and ice in the big bucket. Conway sat staring at me, so I said, “You’ve been an expat a long time?”
“Longer than you, son.”
I laughed. “True.”
“Funny, I learned to love America living here,” Conway said. “Distance makes things better.”
“I guess. I miss home sometimes.”
“I left to avoid Vietnam. Lucky my mother was French.”
“I was upset about Iraq.”
“Wars always suck, kid.”
“Annna says you knew Morrison.”
“I met Jim in the Tuileries. I’m painting a landscape, and he just walks right up to me. We sort of became friends.”
“Cool. Two creative types getting together, huh?”
“I think it was two Americans wanting to smoke weed.”
I laughed. “Did he do any writing here?”
“I don’t know because I only knew him briefly. I was just getting to know him when he died.”
We were both quiet in the sacred fragrant garden, almost in a trance covering decades and yet mere seconds. I thought I could hear Jim singing, the cadence of his voice strengthening and shaking the bushes, foaming in the sea of the night like powerful waves battering the shore. I looked at Conway and felt he could hear Jim too, the bravado of his voice filling us as we sat there, the words echoing across dimensions from some happy netherworld.
Conway nodded. “I go every year on the anniversary. He’s been gone too many years now.”
“Do you know what those Greek words on his tombstone mean?”
“Well, I’ve heard some say it’s ‘Divine spirit within himself,’ but others say it means ‘Demon spirit within himself.’”
“Wonder which is right?”
“I’d say it had to be ‘demon’ because he had lots of demons just like me.”
Someone shot off a Roman candle near the tower, and Conway looked up at it until its trail went dark. I lifted my beer and said, “Happy birthday, America.”
Conway winked at me. “Let’s drink to that.”
Photo credits: equator.eftours.com; travelinnate.com; typophile.com[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000C152X2] [amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00004RF9F]