An American Redneck in Paris, and Italy Too - part 1

An American Redneck in Paris, and Italy Too - part 1

A Story by T. L. O'Neal

(Murphys Law is still in effect even in Europe. Not sure who Murphy was, but damn he must've had a hard life.)


An American Redneck in Paris, and Italy Too

Written by T. L. O’Neal


     Back in 1991 I was still in my artistic prime but my nerves were already starting to go. I was working on illustrating two books for the state archaeology department and I was doing it as a volunteer and the man there gave me enough artifacts to bring home to illustrate for two weeks worth of drawing. I did them in less than 24 hours and had them back to him. He was amazed at the speed and quality and wanted me to do more, so I did these with the same results. Then he wanted me to redo some another artist did for another book, which I did also.


   What neither he nor I realized was that I was in a manic state at the time. My girlfriend recognized something was wrong when I did all this without sleeping for days and being unable to stop. Those pens were on fire. She asked why I was going so fast because I had plenty of time to do them. I had several weeks before I was to leave to go to Europe and did in fact have plenty of time. And to be honest with you I couldn’t tell her, I really didn’t know. My mind was flying so fast that I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted too. But I was a little worried about it too, being out of control and all. I was diagnosed in 1985 for manic-depressive disorder after seeing a shrink on relationship issues and he picked up on it after seeing me for a while. He said he wanted to put me in the hospital for the manic-depressive disorder and to put me on lithium. That’s what they called it back then but now it’s called bipolar disorder. He said if I didn’t, as long as I’ve been up in a manic state that I was going to hit bottom and hit it hard. I told him that I wasn’t crazy and even though he explained it to me, I wouldn’t listen to him and never returned. I really didn’t know what it meant but it didn’t sound good and it scared the hell out of me. I was working 100-hour weeks at work as an art director at the time, then going home and painting canvas all night. I wish I had listened to him, in 6 months I hit that bottom that he was talking about and never fully recovered from it either. So during all of this, it had been so long since then that none of this even registered with me about what was going on. This is just to let you know what was going on with me at that time in my life, so on with the story.


    I was invited to be in this international art exhibition in Italy. I was invited to one a few months earlier in Milan, but by the time I had the letter translated it was too late to get in. There’s not that many Italian-speaking people in North Carolina by the way, not where I’m at. Anyways, this one was in Livorno, Italy. It’s close to Pisa where that leaning tower is, in the Tuscany region. I was suppose to stay all summer but never being one much for traveling, I went to my doctor and got some Valiums for my nerves, then learned Italian as fast as I could, loaded up my paintings and I was on my way.


    The shuttle plane ride couldn’t have been any rougher than in a 67’ Chevy truck with all the shocks out and 3 tires out of balance. I thought I would throw up if I didn’t get off that little plane. Thank God it finally made it to Dulles airport in D.C. and a 10-hour layover, oh joy. I did run into a U.S. Congressman that I met the night before at a pig picking for some politician or other. He remembered me and we sat and talked a spell. He was going back home and I was leaving to go across the big pond. He caught his flight and I sat for hours waiting for mine. The flight over was uneventful for the most part, I just a bad cause of nerves was all. But it was a lot better than the other flight was for sure. When it was light the next day you could see Paris come into view, and it was right pretty with the Eiffel tower in the morning light. I thought this might be a good trip after all.


      Paris was sure fascinating till I talked to my first French person; they sure aren’t too damn nice. Before you say anything my ancestry is half French, they were Huguenots or something or other. (Not to be confused with astronauts.) Anyways, everyone in the airport was nasty and the taxi driver even had a mean disposition. You think if they were going to get money from you they would be nice, but they ain’t. Anyhow, he took me to the train station; he must have been getting paid for how fast he could drive because he sure was getting it on down the road, for a clown car that thing sure would go. So we made it there in one piece and I had to take the subway to get to my train station next.


    Once I got down in the subway and looked around, I couldn’t believe it. That place was like a whole different world down there. A dirty one mind you, but a different one at that. So I stepped into a restroom and the lights were off, so I cut them on and opened a door to a stall. And low and behold there was this guy sitting on the floor shooting up with a needle. I guess he was one of those heroin addicts because he looked like one of those I’ve seen on a TV show before. It plume scared the tar out of me. I’m from the country and not used to seeing such as this. Well I didn’t go, so I was off to find somewhere else to relieve myself.


     I found some kind of store down there, I figured it had a bathroom because it had a line of people and they all looked like they needed to go. They sold smokes and postcards and candy and such and they had a whole row of urinals and closets, probably 20 in all of both. The thing of it was that if you were using the urinal, the people in the store could look right down that line and see you doing your business. It was open right up to the public, and women could see you go too if they wanted to. It was all open except for a little short wall with a swinging door in the middle, kind of like an old saloon door but shorter. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was this bruiser of a woman with thick black rubber gloves that went up to her elbows. She would stand behind you and swab out the urinals when you finished, with her hands too if you can imagine that. I guess that’s what the big gloves were for; it sure wasn’t a fashion statement. Plus you had to pay just to use the bathroom here; it was five Francs for the urinals and ten for the closets. I went ahead and paid the extra and used the closet one. It cost twice as much, but I am a bit bashful and didn’t particularly care for that woman standing behind me or all those people gawking at me either. The toilet paper in there was brown paper like those paper towels you had in school. Man, I sure was glad I didn’t have to use that.


     Well I was getting hungry on top of being frustrated, so I decided to get something to eat. I found a place to eat down there too, imagine that, that place had everything. I didn’t know a damn thing about what the menu board said, but I knew I didn’t want any snails or other surprises. I did see some hotdogs lying there, so I ordered one of those. All they had to put on it was mayo or mustard, so I went with the mustard. Now I’m used to having hotdogs Carolina style, chili, mustard, and onions with slaw on top. So this was all new to me. When I got it, it was stuck down in a hole of this piece of bread that was as hard as a rock. I guess they left it in the oven too long, or maybe the French just don’t know how to make a decent hotdog bun. And the mustard was brown and gritty and just didn’t taste anyhow. The only thing that mustard was good for was scrubbing pots and pans, so I took a few bites and had to throw it away. Texas Pete on it wouldn’t have even helped that poor dog.


   Then I took the subway to the train station I was suppose to go to, and that was strange too. In the subway train there was a heavy set oriental man singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over troubled Water” in a heavy accent for money. He was playing an electric guitar and using a microphone and the whole bit. At least he was trying I guess. People won’t too friendly there either. The ticket man came around punching tickets, of course I didn’t have one, I didn’t know I needed one. Everyone I saw just walked right in; those tickets must have been just for foreigners I guess. I thought he might throw me off the train, which would have been ok, the place was creeping me out anyhow.


   I finally got to the train station and noticed that my ticket was gone. I didn’t know if I was pick pocketed or lost it paying for that damn nasty hotdog or what. All I knew was that it was a $300 train ticket that would of taken me there in style for that 14-hour train ride to Livorno. Private coach, bed, meals, the whole damn spread. So I went to one of those little booths that suppose to help tourists in times of need, and I was certainly in need. There was a French woman running it but she spoke English very well, she said that she would try to help me after I explained to her my predicament. She was a real nice lady too; she was the only nice person that I meet in France by the way. To her I take off my hat, in the figurative sense that is since I wasn’t wearing one. So she wasn’t exactly sure on what to do, she called the train company but that wasn’t any good. They wouldn’t cancel my ticket and give me a new one. I guess someone really enjoyed a nice ride with all the extras at my expense. Anyway, after that she decided to call the American consulate to see if there was anything that they could do to help me out. They said that they thought they could lend a hand and give me some help, so she said I was on my way. I said my thanks and goodbyes to the nice lady and went back to the subway again.


   I was carrying so much baggage, it was in the literally sense plus figuratively too I guess, and I needed to unload it for a while. They had these lockers there in the subway that the woman told me about. So I was going to try to put the stuff in them to ease the pain in my back awhile. It wouldn’t help with the pain in my head, but it would be something. Anyways, I couldn’t figure out how to use the blame things, much less what coins where what. So far when I paid for something, I just held out a handful of money and let them get what was right. Whether they did or not, I couldn’t say. They were all probably screwing me over royally, and that’s probably why the trip cost so damn much. Like I was saying, I didn’t know one coin from the other but they sure were pretty. They had some that were silver with brass centers and the currency was a work of art in themselves. With all the colors and pictures of artists or authors, they sure had us beat in the way money looked department. But they couldn’t make a hotdog or mustard worth eating though. Anyhow, I couldn’t figure out how to use them lockers, or the fact that there were thousands of them. So I just opted to carry my burden with me with a map that she so generously had drawn out for me.


   As I rode the subway I had high hopes of getting this thing resolved and done with. When I got off of the subway and back on the top of the ground, I walked here and yonder till I finally made it to the consulate office. When I went into the office, I asked the lady there about helping me and explained about the woman calling a little bit earlier. She looked at me like I was foolish and said that they didn’t help in such situations as that. I told her that wasn’t what someone said to the woman on the phone. So she asked half-heartily around but no one knew a thing about it, or what to do either. At this point I was totally frustrated and felt more like a foreigner here that I did anywhere else in that damn country. I think it was probably because the way I looked, or that they just didn’t give a damn either way. It sure started to feel like it sucked to be an American in Paris, especially one with longhair.


   Here I go reversing my steps back to the train station, but instead of being optimistic as I was to start, I was now thoroughly beat and depressed. I made it to the woman that had tried to help me and told her what had happened. She was sad for me and I could tell that she was sincere too. So I just thanked her again for her trouble and went on my way to buy another train ticket.



© 2010 T. L. O'Neal

My Review

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I really enjoyed the was honest and fun reading...It felt like I was there and experiencing it with him for the first time...The title also gave reference to our Southern roots which brings a big smile to my face...Great work...

Posted 12 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Hey! I missed this one .. very fun reading .. i always like your stories and way of writing .. using the accent... love the wordplay on the title.
A good one T.L.

Posted 12 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

A very enjoyable tale and you made me feel I was there with your descriptions. It's nice to hear about your travels. I hope you write more like this.

Posted 15 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This is a very cute tale. I enjoyed it immensely, traveling with you and listening to your accent. Of course, that's all in my mind, but you did well enough with the descriptions and language that I could see it and hear it. Most impressive, and you only have a couple of typos. A quick read-through will remedy that. I can't wait to hear the rest of this. Nicely done.

Posted 15 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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4 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on February 16, 2008
Last Updated on October 25, 2010


T. L. O'Neal
T. L. O'Neal

In the sticks, NC

I started writing as a way to work out my feelings and found that I enjoyed it very much. I enjoy humor and feel that you can find it in most things, even though it may be hard to find at the moment. .. more..


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