IN LONDON I’d fall in with a group of young writers and intellectuals led by an older man named Max, who, after releasing a tepidly received book of short fiction in the early 70s, had extricated himself from the rotten world of publishing and academia, choosing instead to write and then systematically destroy century-spanning novels for his own amusement.
I’d move into his apartment, and he’d lecture me on the Russians and the Greeks and, if he’d been drinking, the unheralded benefits of impotence and financial insolvency. We’d both fall in love with a young revolutionary named Mara, with whom and for whose affections we’d undertake a variety of guerrilla campaigns: We’d set Big Ben back by three minutes, we’d plaster pink penis heads onto the heads of bikini models in subway ads, we’d set rich people on fire, we’d break a car’s window, setting off a six-day riot and landing Max and me in jail.
In jail Max would say “I’m an old man, Daniel,” and I would say “this is true!” and he’d say, “look at me. Wreaking havoc, and for what? The love of a woman to whom I could only bring long nights of her saying ‘do I not arouse you?’ and ‘no need for tears, it happens to lots of guys?'” And I would say, “at least you have your art!” and he would say, “but all I ever wanted was fame,” and slump against the bars, dead.
Mara and I would hold hands at the funeral, and I’d whisper in her ear, “Let’s get away from here. I love you.” And she would whisper in my ear, “You don’t love me. You don’t even know me. You’re projecting all these pathetic delusions about romance and sophistication on to me, and why? Because I’m pretty? I am not susceptible to your particular brand of pseudo-intellectual narcissism-disguised-as-self-deprecation,” except Mara is not very good at whispering so everyone at the funeral would hear her and start condescendingly wagging their pointer fingers at me, which I’m told is how people are publicly shamed in Britain.
After discovering that Max left all his money to me I would put that $16 towards a flight to Italy. Seated in the tiny “No Smoking” zone of the plane I would flip through an Italian newspaper, because I know three words in Italian: “yes,” “no,” and a compound word that roughly translates as “televised three-way with two men and one woman.”
Sure enough, Silvio Berlusconi would be casting for just such a show in the classifieds, and within hours of arriving in Italy I would be applying the pre-coital ointment to Giancarlo’s many unsightly thigh lesions. “You ever done something like this before?” Giancarlo would say in a hilarious Italian accent, and I would laugh for a while at his accent before saying, “no I have not, my good man!”
Afterwards, as we lay entwined on our large plush mattress, studio lights shining harshly on our naked bodies, the sprightly host would approach us and ask Francesca: “So: Who! Is! The winner!” and Francesca would say, “need I even answer!” and then two impossibly well-dressed bodyguards would lift me up and deposit me, naked, by the Vatican.
In a nearby bookstore I’d notice a novel by Max, compiled and edited by Mara, in the bestseller section — he’d died before he could destroy it. On the back I’d read the words “story of a young, delusional, and unpleasant-smelling American tourist” before yet another suavely attired bodyguard would handcuff me for public nudity and throw me in Italy’s main nudity-offense prison. (92% of Italy’s crimes are public-nudity related; the rest are mime killings.)
There, still naked, I’d meet Leon, an also-naked French expatriate who, when clothed, dressed in the style of the late-’70s CBGB punk bands in tribute to the musicians he idolized and emulated as lead singer of ‘The French Ramones.’ We’d be clothed in standard-issue French prison garb (Armani button-downs, and also pants hand-stitched by famed Italian designer Roberto Capucci) and, eventually, released.
Leon would know a handful of American expressions, and he would combine these with a number of elaborate hand and eyebrow movements to convince me to come to France with him, to tour manage the French Ramones.
In a well-appointed hotel room six hours after the French Ramones’ first sold out show in Lyon, Leon’s eyes and veins would bulge as he’d spin out a wild amphetamine-fueled narrative linking his late prostitute grandmother to Allen Ginsberg, the Civil Rights movement, an anecdotal history of mayonnaise production, and the continual rotation of the earth. (Earlier, Leon would’ve hired a kind octogenarian ex-librarian as a translator; she would have to say things to me like “herpes is a myth! If herpes was real, I assure you, I would have herpes!”)
Leon would press his face against mine and say something in French and then the translator, who had been alternating between knitting pajamas for her baby granddaughter and napping, would say, “I’m sorry, what?” and Leon would again press his face to mine and repeat himself and then the translator would say “oh — he says ‘are you trying to die tonight, motherfucker?'” and I’d make a series of rapid hand gestures to suggest “no, I am most certainly not trying to die tonight!” Leon would then proceed to jump out the window and into a French garbage compactor.
“Slut Grandma and Her Frail, Pretentious Lover Implicated in Murder of French Ramones Frontman!” the notoriously catty French tabloids would claim the next day. But by then I would be gone — back to America, for a short break.