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Scenes from Motherboy: Paris

On the first night in Paris with my mother, we ate dinner in the basement of a restaurant called Le Coude Fou in the Marais. She had never been to Europe before and sighed through the whole meal. Her first night ever on the continent. She was joyous and melancholy, jetlagged and enervating.

And it was a very atmospheric place. Which is one way of saying that it was June in Paris and there was no air conditioning, and a haze of sublimated butter and smoke sat all around us. I ate steak tartare and fries with a glass of chilled rose to cool off. She had a chicken thing, probably wrapped in ham. Or a ham thing wrapped in chicken.

When we finished dinner and emerged from the basement restaurant, the sun was starting to set fire to the Parisian dusk. She said she was exhausted and needed to get to bed. I told her that I wanted to get one more drink and wander around for a bit, but that I would be back in just a little while.

I left her at our little hotel and lit a cigarette and wandered the streets, trying to relax into my first solo time since before I had met her at JFK the previous evening. I thought about what had kept her from traveling all these years, and what it meant to be in Paris with her -- how undoubtedly strange it would seem to some people.

But I felt, above all, like a great son. A grown up version of a great kid. Here with ma. Adventuring together.


About seven hours later, I crept into the hotel room as the sun was just starting to set fire to the Parisian dawn. My head pounded -- for now, still pleasantly -- with music. There was champagne chugging through every vein in my body.

Yes, I had started with beer in the Marais. But then I fell in with some British actors on holiday, who introduced me to their Spaniard friend (or maybe it was just a random Spaniard). Then I argued in increasingly slurred Spanish about the promise of American politics (ha! ha! ha!) with the Spaniard until the Brits shook us out of it and then we were out of there.

And into a black cab on the way to Montmartre, the place where I had first stayed in Paris five years earlier. And we were in a bar bathed in red lights drinking cocktails. And then we were in a basement dancing Samba in another basement, drinking champagne, which seemed to me like the most glamorous thing I might ever do.

Outside the samba place, one of the British actors suggested that I call the hotel to let my mother know that I was going to be out for longer than a beer. She spoke French to the concierge, who said he would deliver the message. What a beautiful idea. What a beautiful first night in Paris.

We parted and I rode down the hill from Montmartre back to the Marais.

And when I walked into the hotel room, after slipping off my shoes and socks, the first thing I stepped on was an unread message. The second was a wet tissue. There were wet tissues everywhere. And then I realized that my mother was crying. And had been throwing tissues everywhere around the room.

"I thought you were dead," she said.

"What?" I said. And the floor dropped from beneath my guts.

"I am going home on the first flight tomorrow," she said.

"An impossibility," I said. Or tried to say. What I think I said was "An imblab-iulion." I tumbled into the double bed next to her double bed. The lights stayed, mercifully, off. I lay on my stomach, pressing the pillow into my face. The hangover was already coming on.