Parisian Literary Imposter

Luke discovered Sophie’s latest map, “LUKE’S BRAIN – XXX DESIRES & FANTASYS & BEAUCOUP DE RIEN,” taped to the perfectly fine desklamp he’d rescued from the street. Sophie hated that lamp, the kink in its aluminum neck, a reminder of the poverty he’d saddled her with. How had Sophie so managed to peg him in so few months time? An uncomfortably impressive feat especially since he had lived with himself for much longer without anywhere near the same results.

Sophie Morceaux and Luke Bowen lived in the Marais, the then-already-fabled, overrun 4th arrondissement: falafels, bars, a butcher you could watch behead chickens, saw through bone, a boulangerie within 50 meters of their front door but that, alas, was about to make way for a Prêt-à-Chien, a fashion chain that caters to dogs and their owners. And then there were the banlieusards, those hybrid tourist-locust creatures, who park right up against your front door on the sidewalk of this narrow street, rue Ferdinand Duval. Friday nights meant sliding across the hood of a Peugeot just to get out your front door.

Parisian Literary Imposter bart plantenga

This sometimes called for drastic measures: Butt of a Swiss Army knife ticked against the front windshield, leaving a hairline crack that would gradually radiate outward as the car negotiates the cobblestone streets. He never told Sophie. You could explain this stuff but she wouldn’t be listening.

The apartment, dark, facing a courtyard, was great – and the more you say something is great, the greater it becomes. But one day Luke noticed the wallpaper coming loose in a corner corner, flapping down like a dog’s ear. Some mornings you could see your breath. Leftover baguettes transformed into sopping sponges overnight. Black mold mushroomed up in the cracks. Eventually the city agreed, declaring their studio apartment insalubre and “uninhabitable.” The 4th is after all the Marais, a lovely word for “swamp.” This worked out well; the city eventually reimbursed them 6 months rent – €6,000. Luke felt like a lottery winner.

Meanwhile, the neighbor’s – and you want to sympathize with anyone with an ailment – ratchety, mechanical – Ughuh-ughuh-ughuh – dry cough just went on for hours, entire weeks, with entire oceans of sleep evaporating into thick, humid air. Salvaging sanity meant resorting to cruelty.

Whenever the cougher started, Luke would – and eventually Sophie too – join in to create a coughing chorus, performing a nightly “ca-cough-any.” Afterwards, they’d laugh about it, even if there wasn’t much to laugh about at 3 in the morning.

Two beefy Belles from Chevy Chase, Maryland [deduced from their sweatshirts] who sublet upstairs, came home late every night, announcing themselves with loud, drawling cackles, incessant play-by-play, jokes about French men – and women. Pronouncing “Le COQ SporTEEF” over and over in the stairwell that careened through the escalier as they scraped their stiff little prestige-brand tote bags against the old plaster walls until the next landing where you could hear them panting, out of breath – the climb, the breathless chatter, fumbling for their keys, listing and keening on wobbly heels – imagine the deck of a cruise ship in a storm.

The few times he’d passed them in the hall he never let on that he’d lived in America, that he understood everything they’d said over the past 3 months. He did not comment on their high, greasy foreheads that shone under the hall lights, or the shred of steak tartare between their teeth as they scurried up the stairs, singing patriotic pop songs mock-awful at the tops of their lungs: “I’m proud to be an American / Where at least I know I’m free …” Songs that brought them back to their Sig Kap sorority days.

Sometimes, upon being rudely awakened by them, he’d crouch by the crack of the front door, peer out one-eyed, place his mouth against the keyhole and mimic them: “YAKYAKYAK BLABLABLA, South’s go’n riiise agin!” – as they shuffled past.

A late night at the Crachin du Bruit [Drizzle of Noise], might entail licking the table clean of spilled wine to sop up every drop of neuron-deranging alcohol. Here Luke and his amis [not really his friend friends] would follow the drunk monk route that supposedly led from stupidity to wisdom.

Only to end up standing in the hallway staring at the mystifying light sliding out from under their door. He entered nonchalantly with the barroom smile of a pickpocket that disarmed lesser women, but not Sophie. She, propped up with pillows against the wall, blankets tucked in tight at her side, launched into a broken translation of a Marie Claire article: “Norwegian men like Caribbean coffee-colored nipples …”

Better to simply endure because her disappointment was righteous, her sadness condoned by branches of Catholicism, and any vengeance was justified by social movements …

“I get so tired from thees …” It was difficult to gather what precisely thees was, although Luke was afraid he could probably guess. “Working class mecs desire beeg, fat brown nipples with lots of the auréole all around …”

“Like an egg sunny-side up – I read it. Serial killers like hairs growing out of the nipple,” he interrupted, knowing full well that light-hearted mocking had been a disastrous strategy with Sophie in the past.

“And you like all of zem, anysing that is poot on your plates, even some dried noisettes …”

He skulked, sat at the kitchen table, balanced on the back legs, fumbling through a pile of rejection slips from publishers, magazines, editors, clericals who licked the envelopes. He imagined stringing them together with a length of yarn to span the empty space, reminding him of how he needed to avenge the wrong of each of these rejections. By then her funk had faded and he could climb into bed.

The mad cougher had by then coughed himself into an exhausted diminuendo and suddenly Sophie was asleep – imagine how the dead are arranged in their coffins to look peaceful. A quiet like the whisper of wispy cirrus clouds. The most savored few moments of the day.

Minutes or maybe hours later, he was roused from his sleep by a vague rustling noise. The kind that makes you sweat because you’re unsure whether you’re hearing it or dreaming it. And then again. He bolted upright in bed, vigilant, adrenaline coursing through his veins. Was that a flicker of dark wraith dashing from the unconscious to the conscious?

“You hear that?” Can you even spot a shadow in the dark? And … as his eyes adjusted, it became clear – there was a human squatting at the foot of their bed, rifling through an old cigar box of things, coins, safety pins, sticks of gum.

Luke yelled “HEY!” The crumpled shadow leaped up and into the kitchen and out through the open window, onto the red tile roof below, sliding down, knocking a tile loose that – CRACK – shattered in the courtyard below as he continued half tumbling, half shimmying down the wobbly tin gutter, coming loose from the side of the building.

Luke leaped into his jeans, flew down the stairs, five steps at a time, darted out the door, belt unbuckled, shirtless, shoeless, sockless, into the empty, quiet, November street where he gave chase, miraculously cornering the shadow in front of Falafel MazelMokum on Rue du Rosiers. And there, against the gated storefront, he held the flinching emaciated man-boy at bay, waving his open Swiss Army knife in his face until Sophie arrived.

She, in a house dress and green robe, stood like an inquisitor, eyes raging as she mercilessly began her interrogation. She commanded: “Enleve ta chemise!” When he hesitated for a second, she repeated it in English: “Take off your SHIRT!”

He did as commanded, made as if he was shivering. Poor, poor me – you know the kind. She commanded him to remove his shoes, pants, undershirt. There he now stood in a mound of fashionable clothes I could only dream of owning, but there they were. And there he stood, feigning a shiver in his grimy, piss-stained, but not-cheap, designer-brand underpants.

“Calvins. That’s like 150 francs a pair.”

“I did not steal them. They are 100 francs in Tati. What, I am not allowed to look good?”

Sophie gave Luke the evil eye. Enough underwear envy. Enough impertinence. She picked up a wispy twig that had broken off a street cleaner’s broom, pointed to his expensive underpants. Poked him in the crotch area.

“Your underpants, your slip Kangourou.”

“C’est pas vrais! Tu me piquez, you poke me how the Roman stabbed Jesus.”

“Peut-être you prefer une seringue instead.”

“I prefer the syringe over Jesus any day.” Unimpressed, she snarled, grabbed Luke’s jackknife, jabbed the knife menacingly under his nose. He removed his underpants with a show of great displeasure and struck a Renaissance painting pose of humiliation with a sad dishrag face.

She gazed down at his shriveled penis. She poked around there with the broom wisp.

“It is petite.”

“It is cold.”

“Bend over!” Sophie commanded; she wanted to be sure he hadn’t shoved anything of value up his ass.

“C’est totalement fou! Fou! Tu me viols!!” Rest assured, they were NOT raping him. “You are rapists!”

Was he English or French or half-half?

“Pourquoi? Pourquoi?!” Luke inquired in a hurtful tone.

“J’ai faime. I’m fucking hungry.”

“If you’re so fuggin’ hungry then why not raid our frigo!?”

“We do irrational things.”

“Tu est un putain de junkie, sac a merde!!” [You are a junkie whore sack of shit.]

“I am speaking very good English.”

“Well, then you will understand me: I feel like kicking you so hard in the balls that they come out your father’s mouth.” Sophie.

“Please let me go. Addiction is a maladie!”

Luke admired Sophie’s crisis management skills and her ability to maintain kung-fu focus in a fit of anger.

The Marais was so … serene at 2:30 in the morning. The street was less cold than it should have been on Luke’s feet in this neighborhood of old world storefronts selling spices, Israeli action videos, Jewish Bar Mitzvah products, dreidels… next to exclusive boutiques displaying clothes you’ve never seen anybody wear except on TV. The more useless an item the easier it was to buy around here any more. Jews scurry through the neighborhood they no longer inhabit – rue Ferdinand Duval used to be called rue des Juifs. If you’re lucky, you can still sometimes find yourself down an Old World passageway going nowhere, where you’re transported to Balzac’s Paris.

“Don’t hurt me. Please.” He cringed. “I am harmless. Je suis pauvre.”

“Tu est Ecossais, Scottish?”

“I am half Scottish, half French, half-jakey…”

What is your name?!”

“Ferdinand.”

“Tu pleasant. Ferdinand on rue Ferdinand Duval.”

“Pure coincidence.”

Fascinated, but also exasperated, Luke grabbed one of Ferdinand’s Reeboks and hurled it up on a rooftop. This small, infantile gesture of spite felt good. A fat wad of paper fell to the ground as Luke handed him back his shirt and sweatshirt. Luke picked it up, unfolded it, noticed it was copies of his latest poems.

Luke looked up, gave Ferdinand an almost appreciative glance. A lover of literature! Luke suddenly went blubbery, bouillies, considered buying him a drink, compliment his good taste, discuss poetry in greater detail.

“Tu veux lire mes poémes?”

Ferdinand sensed an opportunity: “Oui, bien sûr! I love reading.” Lying in a situation like this was justified by our general acceptance of the survival instinct.

“Tien.” Luke was so touched that he neatly folded them and lovingly stuffed them into his shirt pocket. “For you.”

“Nous sommes aussi les pauvre!” Sophie was not amused. “Enfoiré!”

“She is right,” Luke agreed, “we are poor too, you know!” Ferdinand shook his head sympathetically, further ingratiating himself, sensing Luke’s kindness (weakness).

Eventually, they let Ferdinand go, the confrontation dissolving into a sequence of unlinked, unresolved instants, unsatisfied by the impotence of restitution. They watched him, half-dressed, hobbling off down toward rue de Rivoli.

Suddenly Luke yelled “Stop! Arrêt!” Ferdinand turned on the glinting cobblestones – one shoe and one sock on. Luke jogged down to catch up with him.

“Je suis desolée.” Luke handed him some change. He flinched, sensing he was about to get punched.

Sophie was livid. “Why do you apologize to heem. You are pathetique.” In a cartoon there’d be smoke rising out of the top of her head.

At home, she sat on the edge of the bed and softly sighed “Omelette,” which loosely translated means “homme-lette” or “wimp.” So softly that Luke wasn’t sure she had said anything and if you called her on it, she could simply say Luke was hearing things.

It was 4 AM when he read her a citation from a hardcover book about the murder of Marie Antoinette’s dear friend:

The Princesse de Lamballe, was delivered to the masses near the corner of Rue Pavée and Rue Saint Antoine and there torn apart. Her impaled head was stuck on the end of a pike, paraded around the Marais, and then brought to the Temple Prison where Marie Antoinette was being held. They stuck the pike in the ground, aimed the head at Antoinette’s window and called her out of her sleep …

“I want to do that to the voleur.”

And then they had passionate rip-your-clothes-off sex. The kind ruined by any description. The kind that leaves you smirking, zombie-eyed the next day at work. Also called obliteration, attempted resuscitation, a blind lunge. In any case, they did not sleep that night as a consequence of various what-if scenarios churning through their thoughts.

Luke’s jobs continued to happen – and not. Promises and promises broken. Every job done entailed begging, cajoling, taking trains to non-existent offices to retrieve elusive paychecks. In this situation, contempt became a natural byproduct.

His labors were unglamourous, temporary, demeaning, unpredictable, marginal, migrational, seasonal, off-the-books, in the black, untraceable, no phone, no business card, difficult-to-describe but taught a basic lesson in Humility 101: you are just above shit until they no longer need you and then you are 100% shit and so down and out that you cannot even find solace in Orwell’s “downs and outs.”

When Luke described these odd jobs at parties he sometimes got a laugh. That was as close to a fringe benefit as it got and never supplanted Sophie’s well-practiced twitchy sneer.

Sometimes, after a job, he’d sit on a piece of cardboard on a park bench and watch raindrops drip into a puddle on the path of yellow mud. Open the screw-cap bottle of soul-wilting wine and unfold the wad of scrawled-upon paper from his breast pocket:

Paul Lafargue, architect of the narcotic right to be lazy, the joys and passions of leisure, dragged Brassai to the far edge of Paris that Brassai did not know existed. Brassai captured him in a nighttime pose, sitting on a park bench in a halo of illuminated fog. And here he presented Brassai with his art – Paris sites memorized and revealed.

Luke also wrote about culture for Paris Patois, profiling underground characters: an artist who wore paper bags with funny faces painted on them over his head as he wandered the city and asked people to help him cross busy streets; a guy who reenacted famous scandals and murders on-site; a couple who documented their necrophiliac love performances in the cemeteries atop the tombs of legends. Or the guy who claimed to distill vodka from dirty sponges, something learned during Le Grande Guerre. The editors were dazzled. Loved them. Hyena guffaws. Waved them around. Said things like “Robert get a load of this. It’s great!” Praised them to all ends. Had huddles around greater possibilities; his own column … And then, they’d promptly edit these snatches of genius down from 2,000 words to, say, 289 [He counted]. And then watched him grovel for six months to get paid.

And after 6 months, he’d start hanging around the lobby, slouching away in some pitiful pose as the editors passed him by with their best no-francs-in-bank stares.

Then one Friday, the editors at Paris Patois thought: let’s send him to this poetry event, write a review, interview the poet, bring along Noir Bokeh, the photographer, to get some edgy shots.

Rozie Grier [distant relative, she claimed, of Pam Grier] handed him the latest copy of “that miserable rag” the Paris Patois.

“Turn to page 36, dear.”

He sat down in the Patois lobby, and there on the spread 36-37 he stared at five of the poet’s poems.

“Pas horrible. Kinda writes like me … it’s eerie.”

The reception counter was so high he could just see the top of Rozie’s afro from his chair.

“Rozie?”

“Oui, Luke.”

“I am looking at these words and like you know your own toes, I know these are mine. I know it.”

“The toes or the poems?”

“The poems.”

“In France, it’s gotta be an œuvre de l’esprit, a work from your own mind to claim authorship …”

“I wrote them, they wrote me.”

“Well, then reclaim them, dear.”

“I have the originals … somewhere.”

“You better get diggin’.”

“What’d the quote-poet-unquote look like?”

“Skinny as a letter opener.”

“Like a junkie?”

“Maybe. More like a knife. Or a ghost almost. French but … with a Gaelic or …”

“Scottish?”

“Maybe. His English was pretty good. The French have droit d’auteur.”

“All he did was change some line breaks to – what? – throw me off?”

“I’d say you been had. I’d say avocat.”

Out along the Canal St. Martin, his chin on the railing of the little bridge that connects east to west – here he stewed; what’s the cure for naiveté … Life?

He gazed at the Press release: Poets F-L Ross, Camille LaFolle and Nels Eldrich will read at the Anglo Centre, The American Church in Paris (ACP), 7 PM Friday, November 12.

Nels Eldrich: American professor with the ambition to fuse poetry and patriotism, not the usual, pedestrian sort, but the mythical blood-&-earth type, where you go into a forest worshipping trees, the American flag, bellowing hearty incantations of the Declaration of Independence – sometimes in the nude. He grew up in rarified Connecticut lawn and mansion culture. Pennyloafers, cravat, hair that kept its symmetry in a stiff breeze. Worth drinking with afterwards because he’d continue buying drinks to maintain an audience until all opportunity had evaporated …

Camille LaFolle: Survived years of fending off every new drive-through-Beatnik-Hemingway ex-pat, sitting in cafes, gaze deeply into the void of her swirling cappuccino. Her armor included: wild hair, unconventional clothing, dark Alice-Cooper eye make-up, satire, cynicism, sarcasm, a sardonic streak honed by a thesaurial tongue. She could write better than most of the guys who dumped their pathetic journals in her lap. Three chapbooks.

F-L: A bi-coastal, published poet, substance abuse counselor, and globetrotter. the photo made him look like a professor and … the voleur! Forthcoming debut book: Voilá Volée.

ACP had an active reading-performance scene, well-attended, free beverages. But Luke found the Anglo scene insular, pretentious – and insufficiently appreciative of his work. It was well funded by the British Institute, American Embassy, Committee for Cultural Freedom, and American Women’s Group.

Luke’s eyes met F-L’s in the vestibule. Two thin, poisonous grins about to side-swipe each other. He had repeated the title over and over and while volée meant “birds in flight,” it was also the past tense of “steal” as in “stolen” …

Luke’s eyes swept across a flickering sea of familiar faces, looking for an empty seat next to a camarade of vaguely similar inebriation. But you’ve probably experienced this yourself: People you know turn away from you just as you’re about to greet them.

The reading was classic: Two featured poets, a break [WINE!], smokers outside hunched over their doubts about why they’re even here and then the headline poet. The French women demurely sullen, seemingly unimpressed. The American women too forthcoming about in-grown toenails, vaginal issues. The British and American men all very lubricated in their stilted chattiness – warm hand on shoulder, baseball versus cricket, jocular ribbing.

While the two poets had their moments, everyone was here for F-L. The dapper host described him as “straight as in straight edge – no cigs [cheer], no fried foods [cheers], no alcohol [loud cheers], no heroin [very loud cheers]. He’s a role model of rehabilitation who offers us the best gift of all – hope. I hope you’ll pick up the latest Patois and read his wonderful poems …”

Ferdinand took the floor and launched into “his” poems, spoken-word-beatnik rapper style – hand-gestures courtesy of 1990s MTV. This gave him a “modern edge,” a “danger quotient” upgrade in this well-ironed, rarefied setting.

O CHAPEAU
Torso/Cadeau/
Dutch Hoe
Gizmo/rue de Jambeau by VAN GOGH
/Ride a Dumbo [slang polite-presto]/
IMITATE Jean Moreau carrying her portemanteau
loosen her bandeau/offer her a bordeaux/ in the back of her banjo
o o 
!! rhyming mustachio et pussy willow/capital of Idaho – where she’s ...
first girl to play Zorro 
studied the American buffalo/ & Michelangelo. 
& by midnight glow
I pronounce her name Nay-Oh
--ME 			   in falsetto. oh oh 

Luke stood up, ready to protest that he had never intended this to be a poem. But, the applause was too torrential. Ironically, he should have been thanking Ferdinand for transforming it into such entertaining poésie.

REVENGE OF THE UNPRETENTIOUS CLASS [excerpt]
...
I sit with suitcase in the park
rang Vian at 98 rue Faubourg Poisonierre
But they say he’s never home 
slept in a porn theatre where men slept years
berceau de verdure is a dirty crap mop
stinks wherever you sit
I’m misbehaving, ignoring the plot
Rilke yelled “you must change your life” and we all laughed 
poured wine down the back of his pants
Room 25 Beat Hotel Brion Gysin not home
Kiki yelled : “You Scumbag Worn on the Dick of a Dead Pope”
Sold Le Monde ’round Montparnasse – table to table, 5 francs. 
“They say show us your bosom for ten, a pernod, et bien.”
She lives in the back, boils water on the stove, pours it into the tub,
leaves mints and a drawing of a head
lies on her potatoes singing “it should be yr book we’re celebrating instead”
“don’t I know or do I NOT / I’m the broken leg of the wobbly cot”
“me, i’m a muse of Man, I amuse the man 
a ray of hope, his flattery / short of assault & battery
– just a way to cope” ...

The applause, laughter, palpable gratitude thundered through the high-ceilinged nave, beyond all and anything he had ever been the recipient of. People stomped their feet like he hadn’t heard since the days of the Wampas at Elysée Montmartre or Nina Hagen, Casino de Paris. He was like the Dalai Lama, Colouche and Leonard Cohen all in one. Well-wishers, bowed before him, grabbed both his hands in theirs, gripped his elbow, kissed his cheek.

Luke, meanwhile, got into a heated discussion with what’s-his-name, Actuel’s cultural editor: Could Luke actually prove his authorship of these poems? Did it really matter? What would it prove?

Luke showed him his journal with the original scribblings, pointed to “loosen her bandeau/give her a bordeaux.”

“Ah, you write ‘give’; Ferd writes ‘offered’.”

Interesting: the notion that there’s a point when proof no longer matters as if there’s a statute of limitations on authenticity. What happens when the plagiarist enhances the work? Luke scribbled in his journal: “repaint the stolen bike & its yrs, not the tike’s.”

Sensing an opportunity, what’s-his-name leaped forward to offer Ferdinand his congratulations, reassuring him that “His” poems would be appearing in January’s Actuel – sans doute!

Luke skulked back over to – that’s his name – Jean-Philipe Beauzut and, bilingually tried to explain how the poems were literally stolen from his place. Beauzut frowned, laughed heartily and made a toast: “To your alter-ego,” as he sidled off between the chatting molecules of after-reading boozers.

“The ghostwriter must never reveal himself,” Beauzut declared with his wine glass raised to eyebrow height.

Luke thought: Cryptic – the kind of statement that let’s one off the hook because by the time you figure out it’s nonsense wrapped in pseudo-wisdom, the perp is long gone.

One of Beauzut’s minions, a stagiare, an intern assuming the stance of a predator you’ve seen on a BBC nature program, trying to impress, turned and pointed a finger at Luke and said loud enough for all to hear: “L’art est le VOL!”

Luke had been unable to make his point to anyone except Violet, who claimed to be Ferdinand’s ex. She believed Luke, but probably only because the enemy of one’s miserable enemy is one’s friend.

“Meaning’s not punched into the vein of a text by the writer, it has to worm through layers of stuff, bit-maps, myths, misunderstanding, brands, double entendres, tongue-in-cheek… codes that come from somewhere else.”

She giggled and Luke thought: I told you I’m amusing, engaging, worth hiring. But her smile suddenly sagged like it had been painted onto a candle that was now melting before his eyes. Shoot up ma cherie!

Luke felt queasy at this point and slipped outside where he managed to snatch a glass of Pinot Noir from the high-held pinch of a woman’s hand, who was clinging to a raggedy self-rolled cigarette with the other and chatting about feng shui strategies as applied to men. “Hey, you, voleur!”

“Le vol est L’ART!” Group chuckle.

“Surely you must say this to ennoble your petty crimes.” This fashionable woman knew how to own authority. “Stealing free wine, way to go.”

“Sorry, I’m pissed. Those poems – I wrote them.”

“Well, you think you’d be proud. The poems are now more famous than one could ever hope for.”

“You’d think.”

“Besides, it’s all collective legacy.”

“I have the originals …” He fumbled through his bag.

“Don’t bother … Besides, what’s an original? There isn’t a word there that isn’t in the dictionary for one and all to pluck.”

“He’s a compulsive shoplifter of words. Maybe it’s DNA. Maybe’s got no choice. Maybe he’ll be called the ‘post-modern Zorro of intertextuality’.”

“You can speculate all you want but I suspect some oxytocin on both ends – envy (you) and schadenfreude (him). The love hormone, the moral molecule, mon cul!” She handed Luke a card for one Sheila Lichtmanop, self-described plagiarism expert, before turning and retreating to her previous coagulation of buzz.

He gulped his wine. Placed the empty glass on the sidewalk.

“You know, harm-joy, gloating over another’s misfortune,” she blurted from over a shoulder, with a smirk.

“Merci, ma jolie,” Luke tipped his nonexistent hat, traipsed off, turned a few corners in the 7th, ended up off the Passage Landrieu and there, down a sans issue – worn paving stones glistening under the one streetlight – he spotted a man. Was he urinating, praying, mugging someone? The figure half-turned; Luke noticed it was Ferd, the evening’s heroic Monsieur Propre, shooting up. So adept was he! You had to admire the way he could balance the needle on the vein in the bend of his elbow with no hands as he tugged on the colorful cravat, pulling it tighter around his arm. Luke stood mesmerized like when as a kid, he watched balancing and juggling acts along Glasgow’s Buchanan Street, the only time his father ever showed any affection, placing his palm on his, but only for a minute.

“Boot it!” Luke whispered aloud in a near-snarl. Then got courage up to declare: “Junkies boot it, they shoot it, but don’t often do it.”

“My zizi is shy, dry as a french fry, desire’s departed, oui, junk’s not for the faint-hearted.”

The last metro was ages ago and so, Luke walked home – a peripatetic hour to sort the evening’s events: Ferdinand’s admirable reading of his lines. Admit it? Find a lawyer? Envy-management professional? Sheila?

Maybe Luke was also borrowing someone else’s poems?

Read up on egocentric memory bias – if I remember it, it must be my memory, my words. Ferdinand = hijacker of his authorial ID. Why did the woman mention oxytocin? Released during orgasm or upon completion of a great poem. Effective in addict rehabilitation.

Research: oxytocin, miracle cure for social deficits and depression with a dark side. Does it amplify envy and schadenfreude? Playing Monopoly with volunteers on oxytocin and a placebo, led researchers to highlight amplified envy signals when oxytocin-takers began to lose, because envy appears when others receive rewards you think you deserve. And winning led to gloating among oxytocin-takers. Conclusion: Envy and schadenfreude are amplified by oxytocin intake, especially among recovering addicts.

And what about F-L, the “poet” and recovering addict? Did his DNA have some preset for personal memory or poetry appropriation? Can’t help himself? Like barnacles latched to a shark’s belly? Research: Sheila Lichtmanop, plagiarism expert, lit sleuth, and poetry dick. The BBC series Sherlock Pomes is based on her stories as a literary plagiarism investigator.
~~
The five poems appeared in French translation in January’s Actuel, with a Noir Bokeh photo spread of the author posing at a writing desk, in the act of “writing” with an expensive MontBlanc fountain pen [product placement]. In the interview, he expresses his obsession with the wrongful death of Jean Seberg and how he’s like her, like she died for his sins, was a martyr and wasn’t it more than coincidence that she played Joan of Arc … On a special edition of Apostrophes, he reiterated: “la vie m’a brûlé sur le bûcher,” [life has burnt me at the stake] whereupon Bernard Pivot declared him the new Rimbaud, the 21st-century’s male Sylvia Plath.

Luke passed his under-employed days in a state of chronic envy and self-pity, brows casting brooding shade upon his eyes. In March, Luke read in Liberation that F-L was to appear at the Fete de la Musique et Poésie, Glastonbury, Crossing Borders, the SXSW Be-Spoke Tent …

His mind filled with schemes and revenge porn. He researched tickets, travel, creative revenge, rebuttal writing, freebooter and anarcho orgs that helped gatecrashers. He finally made an appointment with Sheila Lichtmanop. A photo of his astonished face as he opened her office door and realized the woman outside the Anglo Centre and Sheila Lichtmanop were one and the same would have been priceless.

“Droit d’auteur is what we’re concerned about. And who is an author …”

“… And how’ll I pay?”

“Plenty of acceptable currencies … And whether this F-L is really an author or just an avatar, a stand-in, a character not of flesh and blood but of bytes and invisible ink.”

“I could dedicate my next story to you …”

“Maybe your next dozen. So, for the record: He stole these poems from your home?”

“YES!, Well … not exactly.”

“OK.”

“I gave’m to him. It’s a long story. The only thing he had on him that was ours was these poems. So, I asked him if he liked poetry and he said he did, so I gave’m to him.”

“You gave them to him? Well, that changes everything.”

“Why?”

“Well, a gift is not a stolen item, is it.”

“But it’s about him later claiming them as his own. Using them to …”

“Like I said, legitimate USE, intertextual reuse, isn’t the same as stealing or plagiarism. It’s complex. Rap, collage, sampling …”

“What if I write him into a story and then kill him off.”

“Like a shaman? Rub him out? But he’ll simply die in your story, be reborn in another. He’ll hide deep inside the complex rhizomes of intertextuality, intention justifying theft.”

“Maybe we can apply powerful literary kill-off tools like those developed by crime and detective writers …”

“When I was younger, I was involved in the FBI-vs-Jean Seberg case, the FBI’s pushing her to suicide – COINTELPRO’s “neutralization” of Seberg …”

“Character assassination.”

“Exactly. How about this: End of summer, F-L steals a Renault 5 on the Champs Elysses, takes a handful of seconals, washes them down with a bottle of whiskey, waits for the cocktail to take effect, and then supposedly drives to quiet Rue du Général-Appert, where he locks himself in the car. Nobody picks up on anything for nine days until a neighbor walking her dog notices the sickening smell coming from the car. It turns out to be a very dead F-L, hidden under a blanket, wearing a Jean Seberg in Breathless tee shirt. The Préfecture de police determine it a suicide, the result of alcohol and barbiturate poisoning. The coroner calls it a ‘probable suicide’ with ‘unresolved questions.’ He reopens the case for ‘persons unknown’ because F-L could NOT have driven the car from point A to B alone. He had to have been driven there and left to die.”

“I like it. It covers F-L’s martyr complex, his fable of a man done in by a fate crafted by others, by authors … a chic kind of zero-sum game that frees him of all blameworthiness.”

“The handheld camera – or your description of its movements – will glide down the Champs Elysses and capture in raw black&white, Godard-style, the exact path that Seberg and Belmondo walked … and we are left to ponder their path of indifference …”

–bart plantenga


Stories

3 thoughts on “Parisian Literary Imposter

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