YELLOW PONG MONGER
—Votre nom, s’il vous plaît? the receptionist inquired smilingly. Mona was checking in to her favorite Paris abode, the smart little Hôtel du Petit Moulin, on rue de Poitou. —Mona Høiness, she replied. She had stayed here many times before. She had stayed at many hotels in Paris over the years, but lately she had made her reservations exclusively at this charming little hotel in the Marais district. It felt good to be back in Paris, even if she had felt when she stepped out of the taxi that the dense, polluted air would possibly aggravate her breathing trouble, which had already been a problem for some time before she left Oslo. She wondered if she might have a lung infection of some sort. Her doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her. She certainly didn’t have asthma, or anything else she needed to worry about. It would pass, he had assured her. She deposited her three pieces of luggage in the reception (she was not a light traveler) with instructions for the receptionist to see to it that they were brought up to her room. She slipped a five euro bill over the counter and, throwing a hearty —Au revoir! over her shoulder, she went straight out the door heading for La Perle, her favorite Parisian café. As luck would have it, La Perle was situated just down the street from the hotel. Didier, a man of 52, who’d already had both of his hip joints replaced, had worked there for 33 years. That seemed significant to Mona, and fitted in nicely with her romantic notion of Paris. Besides, they served the best juice, even if they had given up the complimentary hard boiled eggs.
A few minutes later Mona was sitting at a table by the window at La Perle, waiting for Didier’s signature carrot-cucumber-apple juice. Everything would’ve been perfect if it wasn’t for the bout of constricted breathing that was coming on. She tried to suppress it, forcing a smile, but it was no fun. Mona had come in on an early flight and hadn’t had the chance to eat a proper lunch. The airplane food hadn’t been very satisfying even if she was flying first class. She was trying to divert herself from the frustrations brought on by the heavy breathing by focusing on what she was going to eat once she had finished her juice. Crêpes for lunch. That was absolutely a possibility. She loved crêpes, but watched her weight also. Mona pinched her sparse tummy fat without realizing it. She had no reason to worry about her weight, though. For her age she was very fit, comparing favorably to women ten, even twenty, years younger.
Gallerist Joseph Tang, owner of Galerie Joseph Tang, just across the street from La Perle, seated in his bed, had just read the following, depressing e-mail message:
Dear Joseph Tang. I write to enquire about the opening hours of your laundry services?
Jacques Heaulme was on the editorial board of the May Revue, a rather influential quarterly journal of cultural criticism. This was not the first time he had written to Joseph Tang. Only two weeks earlier Tang had received the following e-mail from the same Pierre:
Dear Joseph Tang. I write to enquire about the possibility of buying a large quantum of fireworks from your stock.
And about a month prior to that:
Dear Joseph Tang. I write to enquire about the possibility of celebrating my daughter’s ninth birthday at your fabulous dim-sum restaurant.
Usually these e-mails, full of the kind of spelling errors typically associated with small touch screens, dropped in at around two o’clock on Friday nights, which was when the liquored editor would likely be heading home after his round of openings, which, needless to say, never included Galerie Joseph Tang. His stereotypical racial slurs wasn’t as insulting to Joseph (who wasn’t overly sensitive about being harassed, being well accustomed to the French and their dislike of all things Chinese by now) as the fact that he signed these childish messages with his full name, making it very clear that he was not ashamed of, nor saw any reason to hide, or even mitigate, the fact that he, Jacques Heaulme, didn’t think highly of Joseph and his gallery. And if Jacques had no reason to hide his prejudice it meant that this prejudice was possibly rather common-place in the cultural milieu that Joseph was trying to build a name for himself as a purveyor of fine art. This fact was bad for business, and his business meant more to Joseph than his pride.
Joseph did some push-ups, and then made himself a double espresso, drank it with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Did another set of push-ups, about thirty, he lost count. Then he ate a bowl of cereal. Five hours later Joseph Tang was talking to his uncle on the phone. His uncle was bothering him about a package that he wanted Joseph to bring with him from Paris on his next trip to Hong Kong, which was scheduled in three weeks’ time. Joseph asked his uncle what was in the package. Not drugs, replied his uncle. The package was to be delivered to Joseph at his gallery. It was quite small, so it wouldn’t pose a problem to bring it as luggage, his uncle assured. Whenever Joseph tried to get him to tell what it was that he wanted him to bring with him, his uncle just found something unrelated to berate him for, to make him associate his curiosity with guilt, till finally Joseph just gave up and agreed to bring the package, unopened, on the one condition that it would not cause him trouble in customs. There would be absolutely no trouble in customs, Joseph’s uncle assured him.
The reason that Joseph repeatedly levied his uncle’s assurance on this issue was a little incident that had taken place about five years earlier when, returning from a visit to Hong Kong, Joseph had been held up in customs for hours trying to explain why he had brought with him several illegal food-items, that his uncle had wrapped up in a box and deposited in Joseph’s suitcase minutes before he was leaving for the airport, claiming that it was a present for a distant relative who lived in Paris. This relative would come by Joseph’s gallery and pick up the package. He had assured Joseph then too that the package, purportedly containing a set of chess pieces sculpted from jade and some family heirlooms, would present no problems whatsoever in customs. Joseph had had no time to actually open the package to check whether his conniving uncle was telling the truth. Besides, calling his uncle on his lies, to his face, would cause a family drama far worse than a little detainment at the airport. His uncle’s secrecy surrounding the present package, to be brought from Paris to Hong Kong in three weeks, was of course a dead giveaway that there was something the matter with its contents, but since his uncle showed no intention of divulging this information, Joseph saw no other option than to accept the mission, and wait till the package arrived at his gallery, then carefully open it and make sure that he wasn’t risking long term imprisonment by taking it with him. Another possibility was to just present the package to customs upon arriving in Hong Kong, thus avoiding any smuggling charges, and then just tell his uncle that it had been confiscated, which would be plausible, and almost true. But being a horrible liar and rather conscientious by nature, unlike his uncle, this would never work for Joseph. He pushed the package-dilemma to the back of his mind for now, to better get some work done.
Grinding the sugar between her teeth was her favorite part of drinking a cappuccino. The crunchy sweetness mixing with the rich, exotic aroma of cinnamon and the smooth fullness of the milk foam with the perfectly balanced bitterness of the freshly ground coffee underneath that. She savored the flavors on her pallet while crushing the sugar crystals between her teeth with slow jaw movements. After she’d finished her cup, which took her about fifteen minutes, give or take, she checked her watch. It was already five thirty-five, which meant that Lionel was running late. She was in a grumpy mood already, the coffee had barely helped. Sleeping for two hours in the middle of the day does something to the chemistry of your brain that makes it much harder to get back out of bed than if you have been napping for only twenty minutes. Mona knew this, which was why she had opted for the twenty minute nap. But she had slept over the alarm on her phone. Now she was angry with Lionel. Mona felt she needed another cappuccino, but she’d reached her self-imposed caffeine limit for the day. Along with being angry she was also very horny.
Mona usually felt like an attractive woman but right now she was having a hard time making eye-contact with any of the male clientele, who, all of them frail, middle-aged men or fat messieurs with balding pates, were consumed by their large noisy newspapers. They looked like spiders with their dwindled extremities constantly wailing, signaling the waiter to bring them some more hors d’œuvres that they could stuff down into their protruding bellies. Mona was bored, and she was starting to feel like a caricature all dressed up in her pearl necklace and her wavy blond hair. It was probably something about Paris, subconsciously affecting this obsession with sex. She felt she needed to shake it somehow. She really wanted another cup of cappuccino. Her restless head movements had alerted the waiter who came over to her table. —Can I help you Madame? He had the typical French “eh” sound added to every word. It was a cliché, but Mona thought it was sexy still. —Oui, je voudrais un cappuccino, s’il vous plaît, she said with a smile. Her pronunciation was close to perfect, she knew her languages. She imagined she might be mistaken for a native speaker. The waiter had a handsome face, dark and narrow with heavy brows. In his early forties, she guessed. His hair line was receding and he had a heavily greased comb over. Mona liked a good comb over. But he had no shoulders and was thin and hunched, which detracted somewhat from his otherwise masculine appearance. —Anything else? —Non, merci. —Ok, one moment and I will be back. —Oh, et une bouteille d’eau, s’il vous plaît. —Certainement, c’est tout? —Oui, merci. She smiled again, fluttering her eye lids. His butt, she noticed as he walked away, was practically non-existent under the creases of his black slacks. The absence of an ass in a man she found physically repulsive. Lionel had a nice ass, for a man his age. Where was he?
It had been a frustratingly inefficient afternoon. The morning too had been spent in a kind of agitated yet, passive way. First there was the insulting e-mail, that hadn’t so much insulted Joseph as just reminded him of the harshness of the reality he was up against. Not to open e-mails before breakfast was a principle he had, but that he acted against on an almost daily basis, and so suffered the consequences, a consuming restlessness descending on him before he had even gotten out of bed. Using his iPhone as an alarm clock it would be the first thing his fingers touched every morning, and being in the habit of checking his e-mail fifty times or more every day, not doing so as he sat there, naked and heavy with sleep, on the side of his bed, with his phone already alight in his hand, seemed strangely impossible. So he usually did, even if it was just seven o’clock in the morning and very few people were likely to have sent him an e-mail since he last checked it six hours earlier, if they didn’t live on the other side of the world, like his female friend from New York, who had e-mailed him only a few days before.
This morning he had read the lines from Heaulme, just like he had six days prior sat reading the e-mail informing him that his friend was flying in from New York. In both cases his heart had started pounding. Anger and anticipation of sex seemed to release similar hormones. After reading Heaulme’s e-mail, he had dropped to the floor and angrily squeezed out forty push-ups. Joseph had a thing with doing push-ups when he was restless, or agitated, or nervous. Which were emotional states that he frequently experienced as his business was not going nearly as well as he would like it to. There were other factors adding to his overall nervousness as well, one being his relationship to his fiancé that seemed to have come to a halt, due in large part to her parents he suspected, whose strong dislike of him was not something they made much of an effort to hide. What exactly it was about him that they found so unendurable he couldn’t fathom. He suspected them of being downright racists. He knew for a fact that they had insistently referred to him as le chinois behind his back until his fiancé had confronted them in a violent fit and put an end to it. She had confided this to him in a moment of intimacy, back when these were still frequent and passionate. Last Saturday night they had had their last installment in a long series of fights that more and more resembled scenes from Ricky Lake. His fiancé was inclined to have violent tantrums that seemed to Joseph to lack any grounding in a rational perception of reality, which made it near impossible for him to know what it was she wanted from him or how he could forestall her rage. Joseph too, could get unnecessarily worked up, and succumb to irrational impulses. This last Saturday for instance, he had flushed one of her exotic fish down the toilet. She had a large tank in her living room, and while she was yelling incoherently at him, accusing him of all sorts of nonsense, like cheating on her, and also referring to previous conversations that had only taken place in her head, where he had allegedly said horrible things, he had calmly walked over to the tank, picked up the net next to it and caught one of the fish. And while she had looked on, dumbfounded, not realizing what he was up to, Joseph had brought the fish with him to the bathroom, deposited it in the toilet bowl and pulled the flush lever. She had come running after him, shrieking frantically at the top of her lungs. There were still claw marks on his left cheek from the ensuing brawl. He had regretted it afterwards and deposited money to her account to make up for the loss, exotic fish being a rather expensive type of pet.
Some days, though, were better than others. Joseph was optimistic by nature, but, as of late, antagonizing realities were piling up on the horizon en masse, and things did not look set to improve. On high-stress days his shoulders were aching, but still he couldn’t help himself from resorting to the obsessive push-ups. It seemed the only thing that somehow alleviated the pressure. Doing push-ups for Joseph was akin to biting fingernails, he wasn’t even consciously aware of doing it. He would find himself on the floor all of a sudden, pumping away, his face contorted. On this particular day, the obnoxious e-mail was only partly to blame for his agitated state. He was also to meet a very good friend that he hadn’t seen for a long time who was visiting Paris, the very same who had e-mailed him earlier to inform him of her arrival. They had been friends and lovers on and off when he was still living in New York, six years ago. Their relationship had petered out after he moved to Paris but they had kept sporadically in touch. And just last week she had sent him an e-mail saying that she would be in Paris the following week and if maybe he would like to have dinner with her. This had made him glad. Their dinner date was today, and so he had gotten almost nothing of the day’s work done, due to that. He was consumed with anticipation, and was compulsively picturing them together in all sorts of foolish romantic scenarios that made it clear to him that his life at the moment was seriously lacking on this front. And he would have been ok with this if only the energy that he instead was putting into his gallery project was paying off, but it clearly wasn’t. His finances were in disarray, his funds slowly bleeding dry. He was constantly looking for ways to turn a dime.
The sudden onslaught of sentimentality following the dinner invitation from his ex-lover, was pleasant to some extent, but it had lasted for several days now — increasing in intensity as the dinner drew nearer — and was becoming something of a liability, as there were also other things that demanded his focus, like arranging meetings with collectors and planning shows. The last thing he needed were assholes like Heaulme to be slapping their drunk cock in his face before he’d even gotten out of bed. Already he had made it past the two hundred mark that day, push-up-wise. He leaned back on his chair, looked at his office ceiling and rubbed his shoulders. Perhaps it was time for another espresso, he’d only had four.
Mona was looking out the window of Merce and the Muse, where she was enjoying her second cappuccino, still waiting for Lionel. Someone passing by was carrying an orange Hermès shopping bag. The bag reminded her of a little incident that had occurred earlier that day, when she was visiting the Hermès boutique at avenue George V.
She had noticed a young Chinese girl talking on her phone while inspecting a display of handbags. The conversation had piqued her interest, as it evolved around a discussion over where the girl and whoever she was talking to were to meet for lunch. Mona herself was thinking about the very same thing, where to have lunch; and being always curious to try new places she listened in, hoping to get some pointers. There were several places mentioned, a few of which Mona already knew from before. When the conversation had died out, Mona’s attention returned to a beige saddle that hung on the wall and that her hand had been caressing throughout her eavesdropping. It had a smooth leather surface that felt very nice to the touch. She half closed her eyes and tossed her hair a little as her fingers trailed one of the seams, picturing that she was out riding. The leather had a fresh, raw smell that she found very evocative. She stood like this, touching the different saddles. They hung in vertical rows, so she couldn’t reach the top ones. A shop-employee came over to her and asked if she needed any assistance, but Mona just gazed briefly at him and shook her head. He walked off. Saddles had always appealed to her. She had spent a lot of time at the stables as a little girl. She had given up riding a while back, but had frequently thought about taking it up again. She still liked the saddles, even if she had no use for them. There was something empowering about a saddle. She had always gravitated towards tools of empowerment. That must have been why she had started practicing law, she reckoned. Being a lawyer was very satisfactory in that regard. And money too. Money was like a saddle, you could straddle the world if you had enough money. Mona had enough money. Now she was looking to spend some of it, which was what had brought her to Paris, which was always what brought her to Paris. She had no need for a saddle, though. Standing like this, fondling the leather, Mona suddenly heard a commotion. She turned to the cash register by the entrance, where the sound came from. Her fingers still rested pensively on the saddle.
—But I can pay for it, a girl was shouting. Mona recognized her at once as the girl who’d been talking on the phone a few minutes earlier. —You have no right not selling it to me, she added in a trembling and agitated voice. The cashier just looked past her, not responding, and pushed the bag that the young customer had placed in front of her, to the side. There were a couple of other customers in the store, but none of them seemed noticeably affected. A man was browsing a rack of ties, holding them up under his chin in front of a mirror. His back was turned to the scene. Mona’s hand dropped from the saddle as a sturdily built man in a tailored suit showed up next to the Chinese girl. She appeared not to notice him, just like the girl behind the counter in turn pretended to see right through her. The man remained standing next to the frozen girl waiting for her to acknowledge his presence, while repeating: “Mademoiselle” in a stern voice. Sensing her skills as a mediator was called for Mona started towards the frozen group, on instinct. On her way she grabbed a scarf that she spotted out of the corner of her eye. Mona arrived at the register just as the Chinese girl had yielded and was escorted past her and out of the store. Mona caught a glimpse of her face. She looked maybe twenty. The whole scenario had probably only lasted about thirty seconds. Smiling broadly at Mona the cashier took her scarf, and asked her if she wanted it wrapped, as if nothing had happened. Mona shook her head. —Non, merci, she said, throwing a quick glance at the entrance door as it swung shut behind the mishandled customer. Then she casually reached for the bag that the Chinese girl had left on the counter and placed it next to the scarf. —Cette aussi, she said. The cashier glanced questioningly at Mona, squinting. Mona glanced back, her eyes pulsing with righteous anger. The cashier then fed the price of both products into the register. Mona paid and left in a hurry. Once outside she looked around for the Chinese girl. She had made the decision to buy the purse on a whim, she hadn’t even noticed the price. The girl had left the store probably no more than a minute before her, but that was more than enough time to completely disappear on the crowded sidewalk. Mona couldn’t see her. She looked up and down the street several times, even walked a few paces, but no Chinese girl was in sight. Mona felt stupid that she had thought that this girl would wait for her outside the store. It was a very naive expectation, she realized. She considered briefly to go back and return the item, but decided against it. The empowerment she had felt from grazing the saddle had worn off, and facing the racist cashier again, and revealing to her that her plan to counteract her discrimination of the Chinese girl by buying the bag for her, had failed, seemed an enormously humiliating prospect. She felt like crying, which she never did. Why had this gotten to her so bad? She was never this soft hearted usually. To hell with it, she thought. She would keep the purse, Mona decided. She didn’t want it herself, but she could gift it to someone. She started walking again. After about a block the feeling of defeat was beginning to wane. By the time she reached the junction at George V and Champs Élysées she had decided to take a taxi to little place on Rue de Poitou where she liked to go to look at shoes whenever she was in Paris. It was right next to her hotel, so she could swing by for a little mid-day nap after lunching some place in the neighborhood. She hailed a cab and jumped in. —Rue de Poitou, s’il vous plaît, she said. —Quel numéro? the driver asked. She didn’t know. —Je ne sais pas, she retorted with an apologetic shrug. The driver sighed. Mona checked her watch, it was 12.30. The slow moving traffic made her restless and short of breath. She sat pondering the Hermès incident while they slowly drifted through the streets. The atmosphere in the car was warm and sticky. Too bad she had missed the girl, she badly wanted to give her the bag, now that she had bought it. The windows were clouding with moisture around the edges. She asked the driver to turn down the heat. Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. He looked Asian too, maybe Chinese. —Bien sûr, Madame, he said after a short silence, but did nothing. Mona tried to roll down her window, but however much she swerved the handle, the window stayed closed. The handle had for some reason been disjoined from the mechanism that opened the window. Finally the driver reached forward and touched a knob on his dashboard, letting out an ambiguous sigh as he did this. Ten minutes later the temperature hadn’t improved much. Sensing that she was hungry all of a sudden, Mona remembered the girl’s phone conversation that she had been eavesdropping on. Where was it that they had decided to go for lunch? Mona tried hard to recall. Something starting with an “n”, nnnneechez?… chensais… chenenen?… cheneness! That was the name!
Joseph’s mind, when in this agitated state, was easily diverted from the tasks at hand. He would suddenly get up from his chair, feeling that there was something he needed to do that involved him getting up, but as soon as he was on his feet he got confused and either dropped down and did twenty or walked over to his espresso machine and made himself an espresso, drank it, and then did twenty, and then sat down in front of his computer again. All Joseph had gotten done all day was to place an order for an ad in Mousse magazine — he thought it pricy, but hopefully worth it. He typed contemporaryartdaily.com in his browser. He scrolled down the page. Balice Hertlings website was linked in the side bar. Joseph clicked the link. The site had an inviting layout, with large, soft-grey letters. He ruminated the possibility of giving his own site a make-over. Maybe there was too much information on his front page? Perhaps the black lettering was too aggressive? It looked like a swarm of black ants drizzled from the top of his screen. Something cleaner and more symmetrical perhaps?… He would arrange a meeting with his designer to discuss it. He checked the time; it was 5.30 pm. Time to close up the gallery. Not one visitor the entire day. He had to go home and get ready for his date. There was a text from his fiancé on his phone. He deleted it. He could deal with her some other time. Tonight he would get drunk he decided. On second thought maybe getting drunk wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe he shouldn’t decide in advance but instead play it by ear. He got easily drunk, and when he did, things could get out of hand, emotionally. There was a lot of dammed up emotion right now, and Joseph didn’t want to flood his friend with rants about all the things that was going wrong in his life. On his way out Joseph threw a quick glance at the press release for a show that was opening at Yvon Lambert that same night, The Unplayed Notes. He had found the text so painfully convoluted and pretentious that he had printed it and hung it on his wall. Looking at it reminded him of everything his gallery was not — a showcase for bewilderment. Spelling his way through it again gave him a pang of confidence. At least his brain was still in one piece.
Mona told her driver that she had changed her mind and to take her to a restaurant called “Cheneness” instead. She asked him if he knew the address. He just looked tiredly at her in the rearview mirror and shook his head almost unnoticeably. His disaffected attitude provoked her. As she couldn’t see his face but only the small section of it reflected in the mirror, she wasn’t sure if he had understood, so she repeated her change of plans, this time in French. —J’ai changé d’avis, emmenez- moi Chez Nénesse en fait. —Bien sûr Madame, he mumbled. His eyes lingered on her. It was eerie. Mona turned her head. It seemed to take them forever to get there, and Mona began suspecting the driver of making unnecessary detours. He was listening to some French hip hop music on the radio drumming along on the wheel with no sense of rhythm. Finally they arrived, and as she jumped out of the taxi on Rue de Saintonge, Mona immediately started towards a sign that read Chez Nénesse. A voice called out after her. She stopped and turned. It was the driver. —D’argent! he shouted, clearly irritated, his angrily gesticulating hand sticking out of the window. Mona reached into her purse and pulled out a €10 note as she walked back to the taxi, embarrassed. She handed him the note. He took it, said nothing, turned and closed the window. Mona remained standing on the sidewalk and watched the taxi as it rolled back into the lane and drove off. She was dizzy and out of breath, clutching her breast and drawing in the brisk air in strangled gulps. Her breathing gradually improved, but she was still desperately in need of a chair as she entered the small, crowded restaurant. Her eyes panning the interior Mona couldn’t spot the person she was looking for. She probably hadn’t arrived yet. She decided to have her lunch here while she kept an eye on the door, in case her prospect walked in or passed by. She took a seat near the window with good view of the entrance.
The oil-fired stove and the uncovered wooden tables created a very warm and intimate atmosphere. The restaurant was only ten-tables-large. What enticed her the most about the place though, the inviting, rustic atmosphere aside, was the savory plates of food that the other guests were greedily shoving in. It was first then that Mona realized how hungry she in fact was. She was now in a hurry to order, but the menu was tempting and it was hard to decide. For a moment she considered the kidneys, a dish that she hadn’t had for a long time, but she chose instead the andouillette. Judging from what the other guest were eating it seemed to be a popular dish. She ordered a glass of champagne to accompany it. Twenty minutes later the plate of pork sausages arrived.
While she ate Mona recounted to herself what she had eaten since she arrived the previous day. For yesterday’s lunch she’d had oysters at Huitrerie Regis. For dinner, which she had eaten together with Lionel and two of his friends at Le Meurice, she’d had crispy green ravioli with a fricassee of snails and wild garlic and spit-roasted red-wine marinated pigeon with red cabbage and apple juice. It had been a fabulous meal. Tonight they had a table at L’Astrance. Perhaps some red meat, a bavette or maybe a nice juicy côte de bœuf.
After she’d gone through this list of food, she went on to recount her activities. Yesterday she had been to the Louvre. It was a cliché, but what did she care. The paintings in the Louvre brought tears to her eyes, especially Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Today she had set aside for shopping, and tonight, after dinner she and Lionel would go to exhibition openings. She didn’t much care for most of the art, but it seemed an obligatory part of the whole Paris experience, and every now and then she came across an artist who was worth investing in. Tomorrow, more shopping and a concert, a Chopin tribute at Église Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, again with Lionel. Reconstructing and planning her days in this fashion always gave her a mild satisfaction. She did this also when she wasn’t on holiday, to remind herself what kind of person she was, i.e. one who was conscious of how she lived her life, of what she chose to acknowledge as worth her attention. It was an especially satisfying activity when she, like now, was spending her days consuming things she felt reflected especially favorably upon her as a person of taste, one who appreciated the finer things in life. And Paris offered this opportunity to a far greater extent than Oslo, or most other places she’d been to. What was money for if not to furbish your life with exquisite experiences? She held that it was not only a matter of treating oneself to luxury, but a moral obligation also, to consciously steer your consumption towards the aesthetically superior, whether it was clothes, food, art or music. There was something about these items that spoke to her in a way that more ordinary objects didn’t. This awareness made her, nonetheless, doubly enjoy her wealth. It not only equipped her with money to buy what she wanted at all times, it also bestowed on her a feeling of moral superiority in that it enabled her to access this realm of privilege where she never needed to compromise with good taste, even if she sometimes did, as a gesture of good will towards her social surroundings, who weren’t always as attuned to the finer nuances of aesthetic experience. She didn’t want to come across as an obsessive snob. But Mona was aware of the dangers engendered by construing her life as an endless process of accumulation that turned every sensual experience into an abstract item on her to-do or have-done list. This outlook would quickly get in the way of the state of sensual immersion that she strived for. It was therefore important not to indulge this urge too often.
Joseph showed up at Le Bœuf Couronne, near the Parc de la Villette, only seven minutes late. His friend hadn’t arrived yet. He’d made reservations but decided to wait in the bar, texting her that he was waiting in the bar. He ordered a glass of pernod. Ten minutes passed by. He tried to call his friend, but was immediately connected to her answering machine. He waited another ten minutes. Tried calling her again. —The person you are trying to re… Joseph ordered another pernod. This didn’t bode well. The alcohol helped his spirits. He looked at himself in the mirror behind the bar. He was wearing a beige v-neck. He touched his moustache. He felt calm and accepting of the circumstances, though still a little sad. Half way through his second pernod he got a phone call from his friend. She was held up at Gatwick because of weather issues and was sorry she hadn’t gotten a hold of him before, she’d had a problem with the coverage on her phone, and suggested that maybe they could postpone their date till the next day or the day after. Sure, Joseph said, in a flat voice. She said she was sorry again, sounding sincere. That’s ok, Joseph replied, trying to sound convincing, feeling that it in fact was ok, even if he was undeniably a little disappointed that she hadn’t made an effort to reach him sooner. They exchanged polite adieus and hung up. The waiter came over. A half hour had passed and he wondered if Joseph still wanted his table. Joseph thought it over and decided he needed to eat anyway. He was feeling ok, not nervous or agitated, a little empty perhaps. He asked the waiter to bring him a bottle of champagne along with the menu. For his entrée Joseph chose a pâté de lapin, and for his main course he went for the onglet aux échalotes, feeling like he needed some red meat, which he hardly ever ate. He drank two glasses of Beaujolais-Villages ‘Combe aux Jacques’ with that. The food and wine did Joseph well. For the first time in weeks he felt at ease. Come what may he thought to himself and filled his flute with the last drops of champagne. He thought about his fiancé, his American friend, his struggling business, crisp euro bills, the world economy, his competitors, contemporaryartdaily.com, his ad in Mousse, future ads in other magazines, Henry Miller, the streets of Paris, the streets of New York, the streets of San Francisco, Frank Oceans new record, his uncle’s package, his website, upcoming exhibitions, past exhibitions, his childhood, his adolescence, his family in Hong Kong, his father, the streets of Hong Kong, the trip he would soon take there, delayed planes, airports, customs, Chinese food, his future kids, if he ever had any, the date scheduled for tomorrow or the day after. Joseph sipped his champagne and thought about exhibition openings, art fairs, his artists, about the always reliably erratic Victor Boullet whose show was coming up, about Justin Wells and Clay Smith trying to peddle their over-prized services, and about how abstract and contrived all this dealing with art and artists and art collectors was.
As luck would have it, right outside the Chez Nénesse, as she was leaving, Mona bumped into the Chinese girl that had been thrown out of the Hermès boutique on Avenue George V. —Pardon, the girl said.
—Pardon, Mona said and smiled at her. She recognized her immediately and remained standing, blocking her way. The girl returned her smile. I have something for you, Mona said. —Pour moi? —Oui. —Pourquoi? —Don’t you recognize me? Mona asked. She cocked her head, still smiling, looking at the girl intently. The girl furrowed her brows for a second then shook her head. —Non. —I was at the store, the Hermès boutique; I saw how they treated you. The girl appeared uncomfortable. —C’est rien, she mumbled, looking at her shoes. —Mais, ce n’est pas rien, said Mona, c’est moche, c’est très moche, feeling all motherly and warm towards her. The girl, who Mona thought was very pretty, looked at the orange-colored Hermès bag that she was carrying. Mona suddenly felt ashamed that she was flaunting it in front of the girl, seeing how it made her look like a hypocrite. She hurriedly repeated her offer: —I have something for you. —Quoi? Je ne veux rien, the girl mumbled, a bit confused. She looked skeptical, which was understandable. Mona produced the handbag out of her Hermès shopping bag and handed it to the girl. The girl just looked at it. Je n’ai pas de cash, she said finally. —Ce n’est pas un problème, j’ai beaucoup d’argent. She tried hard to not make it sound condescending, offering her most generous smile, afraid the girl wouldn’t accept her gift. The girl hesitated. —Take it, I bought it for you, just take it, Mona implored. The girl looked at Mona again, not knowing how to respond. She was clearly struggling with some instinct telling her not to accept it, but Mona could tell that she wanted it. —This bag is yours, she said. If you don’t take it I will give it to the first homeless person I see, who do you think will better appreciate it? Mona was getting impatient, she wanted this scene to be over with. The two of them were standing in the middle of the sidewalk and people were turning their heads as they walked past them. Finally Mona hung the bag over the girl’s shoulder. —There, she said, it’s yours now. The girl just stood there. She looked at Mona, then she looked at the bag, then she looked at Mona again. Mona was still donning her fawning smile, which she by now had held for so insufferably long that it had turned into a grimace. She wanted to give the girl a hug, but she knew that that would only make her young friend even more uncomfortable, she would have to restrain herself. —Merci, the girl said at last, giving Mona a little smile. She felt elated as the girl entered the restaurant.
At the small shoe store down the street that she had intended to visit earlier, Mona found a pair of comfortable high heeled Adidas that would be perfect for the opening spree that Lionel had plotted in for the night. She bought them and walked back to the hotel for a quick nap. She was breathing freely now.
Greedily spooning down his desert, a rich raspberry brûlée, that his bursting stomach didn’t really have room for, Joseph thought about violin music, the stinking band he had played in when he was a student at San Francisco Art Institute years ago, people with faces that looked like pigs or toads that he’d seen online during office hours browsing the web when he’d had nothing better to do or just lacked the resolve and discipline to do real work — whatever that was. He thought about fat people, the sex-scenes from the film La Grande Bouffe, the constipation that had bothered him lately, bowel movements, high cholesterol, heart failure, failure in general, his father, again
Riding his bike down boulevard de la Villette on his way home, he thought about his chipped tooth (touching it with the tip of his tongue) rotten dim-sum raining over Paris, rabbits copulating on a dessert trolley, streetlights bending down to kiss his hair, aching shoulders, baroque interiors, the revolving chamber of a washing machine, fireworks reflected on the Seine, the tricouleur spinning, revolving plates of foie gras, revolving plates of severed female breasts, his severed penis flying over the Atlantic, back to New York, his severed arms paddling their way across the ocean, back to Hong Kong, his torso planted on a revolving pedestal in the Louvre, planets revolving around the sun in high speed. Then briefly he thought about vomiting only to realize seconds later that it was not just a thought but a very real urge. He jumped off his bike, letting it fall noisily to the ground, and, leaning against a street light he purged himself in loud, gurgling spurts, undigested meat swathed in foaming champagne splashed down around his feet.
Five minutes later he sat against the wall opposite his dinner, with his arms resting on his knees, his hands folded and his hot head leaned against the cool bricks behind him. His eyes were closed. He had a dry taste in his mouth and a throbbing boner, and nothing really seemed to matter too much, apart from that. He sat like this and thought of nothing for some time.
The clacking of heels approached and stopped. He kept his eyes closed. He felt that someone was close by. A whiff of sweet perfume. An ingratiating female voice. —Allez-vous bien? He opened his eyes. She was standing only a few feet away, bending towards him. Her hands were pressed against her thighs, her tacky handbag had slid off her shoulder and was lying on the ground next to her awkwardly high heels with its long strap hanging from her wrist. The first thing he had noticed about her was a petite nose that he immediately felt an urge to reach out for and give a little squeeze, but he remained motionless. Her uneven bangs covered half her high-cheeked yet soft and round face. She was unmistakably Chinese. The corners of her pouting mouth pointing upwards in an almost caricatured fashion, giving her a sort of perpetual, involuntary smile. She wore a short skirt. She repeated her question. Joseph took a deep breath. -Non, je suis… He looked down and discovered a pattern of small drops of vomit on his trouser leg. He couldn’t finish his sentence. -Voulez-vous un peu de compagnie ce soir? she asked. Joseph looked up at her again. He slowly started to his feet. —Oui, par Dieu, je veux de la compagnie, he said, his voice louder and more resolute than he’d expected. She reached out and held his arm to support him.
Mona never cared much for these exhibitions that she was always dragged along to whenever she was in Paris. But this one was especially bad. Large video screens showing a pulsing, abstract shape that gradually turned into a woman’s torso, having sex it appeared, and some bats. The videos were filmed using a cheesy night vision effect. It was very quasi-mystical, she thought, overblown and empty. She couldn’t figure out what it meant, other than that we were all going to die and go to hell and this was what it would feel like, which was a pretty bleak and uninspired interpretation, she knew, but it wasn’t her job to make sense of it, luckily. She didn’t envy the ones who spent their life embedded in this world of affected goth. The gallery was darkened and large clusters of blinking lights hung from the ceiling, a spooky soundtrack was playing in the background. It reminded Mona of the dismal synth music she’d had to listen to back in the eighties. It was oh so gloomy. Why couldn’t they just keep the lights on? And turn off the horrid music. The Unplayed Notes was the name of the show. Lionel was busy talking to someone, the gallerist she’d gathered. Mona didn’t care much to be part of the conversation, he might ask her what she thought of the show. She moved through the space. Behind the screen with the nude was a grid of plinths with glass boxes on them. They contained some kind of ugly, grey sculpture that looked like an erected turd. They all contained the same sculpture. Why had the artist made the same sculpture so many times over? It made no sense. Especially since it was so ugly. She had much preferred the show she had been to earlier at… what was the name of the gallery again? Prenintinon? No, never mind. She remembered the name of the artist at any rate, Klara Kristalova. Nice ceramic works.
She was thinking about buying one of her sculptures. She thought they were very inventive and playful. She had long intended to fill her big house with more art works. Lionel knew all the gallerists apparently. He was a serious collector. Mona only dabbled, but wanted to step up her game a little, which was partly what she saw in Lionel, a way in. Lionel was full of art world gossip. The art world was like a twenty first century aristocracy, with all its vain affectations, slandering, and squandering. It both attracted and repulsed her. The names that Lionel mentioned often slipped by Mona’s mind since she had no real knowledge of who they were. She remembered severed pieces of information, though, like the gallerist with the horrible teeth whose gallery they had been to last time she was in Paris. Lionel told her he didn’t turn much of a profit and had to be supported by his wife who was a successful fashion designer. (kkk). Mona felt she needed to get some air. Lionel was waiting for her outside, smoking a cigarette.
It was only by a hair’s breadth that Joseph Tang didn’t miss his scheduled flight for Hong Kong. The reason for his delay was that he had forgotten all about his uncle’s package that had been lying around his office for more than two weeks already. Wrapped in innocuous brown paper and generous amounts of tape, it had become just another object stowed away on a shelf along with some other miscellaneous items that his eyes panned across several times a day but that never registered, as he had no use for them. The taxi driver was an annoyingly uncommunicative Chinese man who kept drumming on his steering wheel the whole way and took forever to respond when Joseph asked him if he could take him back to Rue Charles-Francois Dupuis, as he had left behind a very important package that he needed to bring with him, and also to please turn down the insufferable heat which was turned so high the windows were fogging up. Once they had stopped outside the gallery, Joseph ran inside, grabbed the package and got back in the cab. It only took him a minute. Joseph had never bothered to actually open the package to check its contents. He had asked the pretty, young girl who came to drop it off what was inside it, and she’d told him that it was a handbag from Hermès. The girl seemed trustworthy enough. Joseph smiled to himself. He didn’t feel bad at all, helping his uncle flood the market with fake Hermès bags. The Chinese needed to make money too.
Yellow Pong Monger by Victor Boullet
Written by Stian Gabrielsen