Disponibilité: Vignettes from the Summer of 1982

by Devon Pitlor
Je forme une entreprise qui n'eut jamais d'exemple, et dont l'exécution n'aura point d'imitateur. Je veux montrer à mes semblables un homme dans toute la vérité de la nature; et cet homme, ce sera moi. Moi seul. Je sens mon cœur, et je connais les hommes. Je ne suis fait comme aucun de ceux que j'ai vus; j'ose croire n'être fait comme aucun de ceux qui existent. Si je ne vaux pas mieux, au moins je suis autre. Si la nature a bien ou mal fait de briser le moule dans lequel elle m'a jeté, c'est ce dont on ne peut juger qu'après m'avoir lu.
--Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Préamble aux Confessions, 1767

I. Preface to an attempt to recapture vignettes from the past As in the famous quote from Rousseau's Confessions, I have always taken the liberty of considering myself unique in certain ways and in certain undertakings--things for which today at age forty-seven I do not intend to offer any sort of apology, and in omitting any regret for the sort of life I lived between the years 1982 and 1987, I anticipate the regret of many readers, who, under some circumstances and with

regard to my previous autobiographical works as well as my efforts at creative fiction, may find themselves strained at times by my sense of confessional honesty. I promise in this preface that although like Rousseau I shall attempt to be completely honest, I will not portray my life and its more squalid episodes in any sort of offensive language. Rather I shall simply endeavor to give a somewhat disjunctive series of events that formed the ongoing mosaic of my early years. In all such portrayal, I shall strive to paint myself in the colors that were mine without the insidious stain of exaggeration and the all too tempting lapses into fictional embellishment. Unlike the mythological amaranth, the flower that never fades and is so beloved of poets, memory in all of its forms does indeed grow fainter and alter as years and events accumulate, and it is better, I feel, to record what I remember with the clarity of hindsight before the mists of age blur the line between what is real and what is organically fabricated through the transmogrification of whatever wet matter in our brains retain recollection. I warn the reader in advance that there will come gross omissions in my life story, such as the nearly two years that I spent in compulsory military service for my country in Africa. Interesting as these events were, I do not feel like dredging them forth at present. In Africa, then as now, I saw incredible things, about which volumes could be written, but at present that is not my undertaking. It will, I suppose, if I live long enough and write adequately (which has become a problem for

me of late) form the substance of future accounts. What I am attempting here is a self-portrait, a moral history as it were of the sort of teenager and young adult that I was in the authentic illumination of truth and without fear of reproach by critics who may discover my words in a future time and shake their heads in disapproval over the often poor choices that I made, most of which are very dissimilar from what we normally expect of our children today. It is not my fault, therefore, that I grew up in a time and place that were far more liberated that the early decades of this century are presenting themselves to be. I came to maturity in a world where adventure for the sake of adventure was the custom among the young, and my fondest desire was to experience as much of life as I could. To that end I will invoke both the vagabond Rousseau and the oftvagrant Rimbaud, both of whom long before I was born experimented par programme with such things as drugs and gender ambiguity. Because of the years of my earliest vignettes, I wish to summarily dismiss the often over-discussed topic of hallucinatory and mindaltering substances by saying, yes, I did them. I did them all. In my current state of mind, I am very bored by the subject of drugs and how they affected the youth of the seventies and eighties. I will simply say that in the experimentation with narcotic material I was typically unrestrained and unbound by any social convention, but I do not wish to usher in a parade of interesting "druggies." I will leave this to

other writers who, being far more fascinated with the subject than I, have indeed done a much better job of it in recollection. Likewise, the subject of experimental homosexuality. I am and always have been a solid heterosexual, but at times I was tempted for a variety of reasons to explore what lay beyond the gender threshold determined for us at birth or shortly thereafter. At times, you may see me deviate sharply from my preoccupation with women and give in to the monetary rewards that were to be gained by lending my body to men of all stripes. Again, Rousseau and Rimbaud, my spiritual compatriots. One can use them both to engender a lot of excuses about deviant behavior under the guise of uncontaminated creativity. I am nothing, however, if not didactic. It is not only my goal in these pages to paint myself as I was, but to extract whenever possible some lesson from it. And it is here that the reader may trip, as not everyone wants to see a lesson, and many may be compelled to shout in exasperation, as do many of my current colleagues: Just tell the damn story and forget the lesson. I cannot do that. And so, like Rousseau but lacking his narrative completeness, I

embark on some autobiographical moments which today still burn brightly like remote lighthouses in my memory. I cannot write in fear of censure and still be honest. But my honesty may either bore or offend---and that is the risk that I must take. II. Découcher and the bac of 1982 In so many ways my life converges with those of Rousseau and Rimbaud, and perhaps I planned it that way. Many French boys did and do. The freedom, the vagabonderie, the license...these were all parts of growing up in the French working class of my era. By age 16 in 1981, I had already taken up the habit of spending long periods of time away from my mother. My hometown of La Rochelle offered many distractions, especially in the form of both men and particularly women---somewhat older women---who provided "adventure" and some material gain for young men possessed as I was with both physical and mental attractiveness. I make no apology for this. From my earliest days as a young boy, I was sought out by women, usually married but nonetheless exotic, who desired my company in the absences of their spouses. One such woman was the young and pulchritudinous wife of a local wine merchant. Her name was Nicolette Artot, and at age twenty-four she was known to host many a young man from my neighborhood in her quarters during the frequent absences of her husband. I had known Nicolette since the age of fifteen, and she was indeed one of my earliest sexual contacts. Lithe and dazzling, she had mismanaged her life by marrying a much

older man of commerce, and from a certain time onward her bedroom was routinely one of my stopping points as I journeyed, shaggy-haired and ill-dressed, through the serpentaceous streets of my hometown. Through Nicolette, I met, as did others of my gang of boyhood friends, other women who seemed to share both her passion and disposition with regard to what amounted to sex with juveniles, a minor peccadillo in the France of my youth. The general view of these women in their twenties was that pretty young boys were there for the taking and that they were enhancing a boy's experience as a capable lover for later on in his life. Many a night I spent in the somewhat sumptuous quarters of Nicolette Artot in the better section of La Pallice, the port quarter of La Rochelle---and what more can I say about that? Nicolette gave me small gifts and even smaller sums of money and nights of what we both agreed was pleasure. She claimed that carnal contact with me made her a more adequate lover for her husband, and it was well-known likewise that Gaston Artot himself maintained several mistresses and that all of his recurrent absences were not totally business-related. The fact of the matter with me and Nicolette and some of her friends was that these women gave me the chance to what is commonly called in France "découcher," a word which means to sleep somewhere other than one's home but which has other more lurid connotations, all of which involve illicit sex.

And what more can I say about that? That I was a boy-whore at seventeen? I suppose I was, but in that era it was normal. I was fascinated by the attraction I exerted on both young girls and older woman, and I was unfettered by any sort of social convention that said I should have done otherwise. Guilt never was nor never has been a part of my make-up. I lived in the old section of La Rochelle with my mother as an only child, and my father spent each week away from home as a docker in Bordeaux, where the alehouse and his string of co-workers comprised his universe, in the same way that my mother's tidy kitchen comprised hers. Neither of my parents expected anything other from me. It is pointless to condemn my parents as disinterested. They were simply the products of post-war, post-colonial, half-rebuilt France where aberrant behavior was the norm and boys were presumed to be capable of taking care of themselves at least by the onset of puberty. In that, I never disappointed either one of them. And so découcher became somewhat the rule of my life by seventeen if not earlier. As did the fervent pursuit of girls of my own age. And I note here that I cannot present the partial story of my life without mentioning this fixation. But let me say that I was marked, then and now, by a certain shallowness that prevented me from seeking the company of girls of any sort of intellectual quality. I was the product of a totally working

class home, and the girls I frequented were those that I considered physically, rather than mentally, alluring. The endless talk about "beauty is only skin deep" was totally lost in the flaming lust of my youth---and even today I often wonder about its actual validity. Another French term that I want to introduce here is "auto-stopper." It means hitchhiking, and for boys of my time and place, hitchhiking was far more than just getting from one place to another. It opened, as it were, a world of putative adventure. It was something to brag about: how far we had hitchhiked and with how little---not how much---money. In the days before the proliferation of electronic games and greasy, lethargic, homebound children umbilically attached to mindlessly flashing machines, hitchhiking took on a much greater significance and became a cachet for freedom and adventure. It was, of course, what all the great French writers and poets had done, and it was the escapism we kids employed to emulate them. The road became the goal. The destination meant very little. It was the companionship of the route and the possible escapades that it might offer. By the age of sixteen in 1981, I had already made journeys as far as Mulhouse and Besançon in the east, Marseille in the south and several trips to the British Isles, where quite contrary to the American image of the English, French boys usually found astonishing libertineism with British girls who were anything but reserved and prudish. In fact, both Germany and Britain loomed in the French psyche as places of unrestrained freedom and an absolute tolerance of the often

delicious degeneracy that was lacking in France, a comparatively hidebound country. Also, I must mention here with unvarnished candor that hitchhiking always offered opportunities for some material gain due to the multitude of boyloving men who haunted the routes of Europe. And yes, we took advantage of these. What more can I say? Boys hitchhike and are picked up and offered money for sexual favors. The standard response of those in my social class and situation was this, and I apologize for the crudeness, "I don't fuck or get fucked, but otherwise you can do what you want." I shall leave it to the imagination of readers to figure out what they did. AIDS had not been invented by this time, and it was somewhat natural, despite what the bourgeoisie might believe, for boys to hustle. On occasion, again like Rousseau, Rimbaud and company, I hustled. And all of this unbridled activity leads me to the baccalauréat of spring 1982. The bac is the national exam given to all students who complete three to four years of lycée, and it is the one and only major determinant of scholastic and professional success in France. You get to take it one time. If you fail, as I did, you do not enter university. Your life becomes something else, as did mine. I left lycée, therefore, in 1982 just barely seventeen with only a brevet d'études to show for the years of stultifying boredom I had endured at the Lycée Jean Dautet in La Rochelle.

Nonetheless, I should mention here, quite dryly, that my brevet, second-rate as it was, would later qualify me to enter an American university in the third year, which greatly shaved off the time it later took me to earn the MA in economics which has been the job ticket in the USA that I have used now for almost twenty-three years. French education is based on merit, and the baccalauréat is designed to abolish, not promote, those who do not make the cut. I should also mention that in the 80s, as in all the years before and up until very recently, nineteen months of obligatory military service was the law in France for boys. Those who had passed the bac, were always given the finer posts in our far flung outposts. Those with only brevets got lesser and more dangerous posts depending on their school discipline records. Those with horrid conduct reports and no brevets got the worst and most perilous locations. School records were definitely run through a triage by the French Army. All of this to say that while I did not end up in New Caledonia or Tahiti, neither was I sent to Mali, Madagascar or worst of all French Guiana. Those abominable places were reserved for the real hoodlums and irremediable drop outs. I believe it is still the same way today. When I was finally drafted, it was on schedule in January of 1983, a few months before my eighteenth birthday. I was simply part of the Classe de 1965, a classification that is based on one's year of birth rather than school graduation year. In France, boys were inducted

into the army in January of the same year they would turn eighteen, and so it was that I was sent as usual by rail to the barracks in Avignon and trained to serve in both Côte d'Ivoire and Sénégal with only occasional forays into Gabon and Mauritania, where things were much rougher and far more unsafe and precarious. So where is the lesson in all this? I suppose that it is something about wasting one's time sleeping with married women and hitchhiking instead of studying for one's career. But the other lesson is one about freedom. From the end of my schooling in June of 1982 until my entrance into the army in Avignon in 1983, I enjoyed the greatest looseness and freedom that I have ever again known in my life, and although I will later following military service find myself quite by accident in an American university, I have no regrets about those six months---which comprise the next part of my account. The key word is again French: disponibilité, a magical term that indicates the absolute freedom one has to go anywhere and do anything. Following my failure of the baccalauréat in 1982, I drank for a time from the heady brew of the most profound disponibilité, and that is my story. III. Corinne Saintignon and Marky Develot My mother expected me to be out of the house following my departure from lycée. That was normal in French families. "Seventeen and

out" was usually the rule, accepted by all. Kids did not stay at home in those days. It would have been an embarrassment to do so. And so I moved out, going here and there. Staying sometimes with Nicolette Artot, sometimes with other women, sometimes with male friends, sometimes in cheap hotels where adventure fairly dripped from the walls. I visited my mother every day, but I either begged or stole my own meals and did things like rinse my dirty clothes out in the Charente canals. In all, I was simply waiting to be called up in the coming January, so therein lay the freedom aspect. I could do anything I wanted. In effect, though I visited my mother often and still managed to retrieve my father quite regularly from his dives in Bordeaux, I never again became a bona fide resident of our family quarters. Nothing was more routine. I met Corinne Saintignon, an eye-catching girl of my age, in the nearby city of Poitiers where I was mostly smoking hashish and hanging out in cafés with the shadiest company I could find. Some of the latter were old alcoholic men, who for drinks and other prohibited substances would tell tales about their time in our colonies in CochinChina, Algeria or South America. For years I had frequented the docks of both La Rochelle and Bordeaux, and I was frankly fascinated by the raconteurs. I have mentioned this before in some of my stories. The tales I heard at the price of several glasses of brandy or a stick of opium formed the very basis of my interest in fiction. I suppose that all of these accounts were embellished, but the ancient colonials,

mostly homeless bums, had far more interesting stories to tell than anyone of my age. And Corinne, a tomboy imbued with a kinetic sense of pure energy and a larcenous streak that ran through the very core of her being, felt likewise. "We need to make our own adventures," she often said, "so that when we are old we can tell tales and get drinks on the house." I later found out that Corinne, who incidentally was the model for the character Shaylan Frack in my story The Native Hue of Resolution, had by age seventeen already gone a long way down that road. She bragged about her case policière, her police record, and the absolutely outlandish things she had already done. Like me, she more or less lived on the streets of Poitiers, her hometown, but as an early teenager she had spent a lot of time in the Ile de France, in Vincennes, in Paris and had been embroiled in countless schemes for those who passed as the urban terrorists of our time. Corinne, incidentally, hated any sort of drug like hashish which made one lethargic and somnolent. Being mellow was not her thing. Rather it was the uppers, the remontants, that appealed to her---illicit substances mostly smuggled in from Germany that gave one boundless energy. Almost from the time I met Corinne I gave up smoking things like marijuana, opium and heroin and opted for drugs of energy and vitality, a weakness which I still have to this day. Now Corinne was, among other things, a firebug. She was proud of her ability to set things on fire and had used this skill for the gangsters

of Paris and its environs many times. She also claimed to have worked several pyro jobs for the ubiquitous Union Corse, the Corsican mafia. But more about how and why a little later. Suffice to say, the Corinne took me under her spell, and it was a spell of trouble. I was very lucky to have narrowly escaped arrest and incarceration many times. But first I want to talk about Cristophe "Marky" Develot, an ageless felon that both Corinne and I knew in Poitiers. He was furrowed and ravaged by every sort of drug and alcohol possible, yet compelling and coherent in his stories. As I said, that is what I liked. So did Corinne. Develot sat in the same lowbrow brasserie every day from early morning onward and told tales of his sabotage plots in Indo-China when it was still one of the widespread orange places on the map indicating our far-flung colonies. So there I was side by side with Corinne, who like me bathed in the river and wore mostly the same clothes every day, listening in rapt attention to Marky Develot develop his fantasies. Most of them were simply about either setting fires (and he gave some tips to Corinne thereupon) or killing Cambodians and stealing their opium. But one day, he began a story that little by little gained our complete attention, a story that he refused to finish until much later. I want to tell that story, whether it is fiction or not, because I wish I had written it myself. And so I will lay my exploits with Corinne aside for a minute and begin Marky's story in summary fashion. I say summary because

in reality there is no way I could ever duplicate the man's narrative style or richness of detail. IV. A work of fiction interrupts my autobiographical maunderings Marky's chair in his favorite low-end boui-boui had a well-worn and barely cushioned seat, and it was known to every barman in the place that it was Marky's alone. Many had been captivated by his storytelling skill, and Corinne and I were not the only ones who gathered around under the canopy of the rotting wooden terrace to hear his raspy words. And the reader will forgive me for this digression because if you know me, you know I love stories. Marky, until he dozed off in an alcoholic stupor, began his story in an unusual way, that is by presenting us with two characters, whom he either presumed to have known or, more realistically, known about. I say more realistically because in 1982, his central characters---a French adventurer named Aurélien Darchaux and a Prussian spy called Aileos Furtwegler---could not have been younger, each one, than 120 years old, something patently impossible, but Corinne and I didn't care. The story Marky told supposedly happened in the disputed French Sudan in the year 1898, when France was rapidly expanding its colonial empire across Africa in order to join its western colonies of Senegal and Guinea with its far eastern colony of Djibouti,

which would have allowed the French Empire to stretch completely across the top of Africa. What happened is well-known, and if any reader wants to research it, all the necessary information can be easily located. The British, anxious to expand their own African colonial empire, were building a railroad from Cape Town to Cairo . The French were also building a railroad. In short, France and Britain were in the famous scramble for Africa, and their military adventurers were destined to intersect in the eastern Sudan at a mud hut village named Fashoda. What occurred, prosaically, was the famous Fashoda incident, wherein the illustrious Major Marchand, commander of the French forces met up squarely with the equally famous Lord Kitchener who was determined to block the French presence. The Fashoda incident ended not in bloodshed but rather in France conceding the entire Upper Nile Valley to the British over a negotiations table in Europe. France was outnumbered and outgunned, and its empire was already huge enough. Kitchener was too formidable, and France decided to withdraw and maintain its own holdings due to certain military foul-ups and regrettable miscalculations. Marchand went back to Western Sudan and the matter was forever settled. Avoiding war, Africa was peacefully divided between the two superpowers That is the basic story. Look it up under the Fashoda Incident. It makes good reading. But this was only the backdrop of Develot's story. In a croaky, cigarette-scorched voice Marky explained to us that a

second patrol of French tirailleurs, irregulars as it were, had broken off from Marchand's main force and had headed south through the parched village of Talodi in order to reach the White Nile before the British did. Along the way, they were halted by a huge contingent of native Tuaregs, vicious desert warriors, who took the side of anyone who offered them the most in camels, sheep and opium. The leader of this doomed operation was Aurélien Darchaux, an adjutant in the French Army of Africa. He was betrayed by a shady Prussian, who had been conniving on behalf of both the Tuaregs and British for some time, as the German Empire had some expansion interest itself in the Sudan. Drink after drink, cigarette after cigarette was produced as the crowd grew larger around Develot's table. But Develot abruptly closed that day's narrative, which really involved the horrid fate of Aurélien Darchaux and how the wily Frenchman had escaped it. At this point, as usual, the hot July afternoon sun overcame the decrepit Marky Develot and he broke off his account, staggering back to whatever lean-to or gutter he spent the night in. A small crowd of us stared at him as he limped dismissively away. Everyone was French, so therefore everyone knew about the Fashoda Incident, which is as well known in French history as Little Bighorn would be in America. But no one had ever heard of Aurélien Darchaux or Aileos Furtwegler. And how on Earth did Develot know about something that had happened eighty-five years earlier?

It didn't matter. It was promising to be a good story. It would resume the next day. Corinne Saintignon and I retired to a barn near the limits of Poitiers, where we made furious love, all the more enhanced by the narcotic stimulants she had so generously provided. It rained enough that night to fill a wire basket (an old French saying), and we pleasantly drifted off under the calming effects of both the pounding rain and a purloined litre of Côtes du Rhône. In those days, there was always a tomorrow. Disponibilité V. The following day. The story continues. Corinne Saintignon and I woke up fairly early the next day and got dressed after washing off under some rusty pump water near the barn where we had slept. Gnats covered our bodies because we had bedded down in the hay rather than the straw. Corinne slipped almost effortlessly into the absent farmer's smokehouse and ripped off some strips of flesh from a sheep that was hanging by a hook dangling from the ceiling. We gorged ourselves on this mostly uncooked meat and drank the last of a pan of boiled, unfiltered coffee that we heated over one of Corinne's innumerable and almost spontaneous fires. I chanced to ask her about why she had set fires in Vincennes and other places near Paris.

"Because I knew how," she said. "What did you want to burn down?" "Absolutely nothing. You don't know much about arsonists, do you?" I assured the lithesome young girl that I knew nothing about setting fires and asked what interest it held for her. "I like to watch the flames," she said casually. But then she continued in a monotone to tell me that she had been traveling around in 1982 with a group of Irish paramilitaries who had been planting bombs in French trains and who were widely known as the Irish of Vincennes and worked for the ultra-clandestine and anti-Semitic Abu Nidal Organization which had taken responsibility for the fire bombing of Jo Goldenberg's famous restaurant in the Lower Marais, the Jewish section of Paris. The firebombing had killed several people, and the case was well-known throughout France. Later she slipped away from the group and narrowly avoided arrest by the interior security branch of the Gendarmerie Nationale. "But why the fires?" I asked. "Because that is what a lot of arsonists like me do. We set a fire somewhere to cover some covert action nearby. You need to look into

that. A lot of other crimes are committed while the pompiers-sapeurs are busy putting out a fire." She arched her thick eyebrows, and her explanation was finished. I could tell it was no use to go any farther in my questioning. As planned we regained the bar Chez Solange around ten thirty that morning just as Marky Develot was staggering in. His clothes, mere rags, smelled like stale urine and his hair was filled with gray lice. A small crowd of stragglers had started to sit down around his usual spot, and Solange herself, the proprietor, a stout businesslike woman in her sixties, came out with a ceramic jug of local brandy. "Paid for," she muttered and walked away. Someone other than Corinne and I had wanted to hear the conclusion of the story bad enough to steal some farmer's home-distilled spirits. Develot, pleased, settled into his place, blew some random snot from his nose, and began in his usual gravelly voice: Aurélien Darchaux was fucked. The Prussian had done his work. The Frenchman's entire squad had either been killed or dispersed, but the Tuaregs, recognizing him as the leader, had a worse fate in store for him. Drinking deeply of his gratis brandy, Develot explained in lurid detail that a cubic pit had been chipped into the flinty desert soil. The pit

was about four meters deep and three meters wide. Over its surface had been placed a series of crisscrossed iron bars. From a bar in the center of the contrivance a heavy hemp rope had been tied. The rope, knotted at its lower end hung down into the pit. Beneath the rope scores of wooden spears had been planted in the soil, all facing straight upward, each topped with a lethal, razor-sharp blade. No two spears were more than ten centimeters away from the one next to them. On each side of the pit a makeshift wick lantern filled with a supply of burning doum palm oil had been inserted, presumably to give light to what was to transpire beneath. Darchaux was goaded under the bars and told to grab onto the slippery hemp rope. The idea was that he was to hang there as long as he could until he fell. At the surface of the pit little knots of laughing Tuaregs threw French banknotes and coins into piles and placed their wager with scratch marks in the clayey soil of how long the Frenchman would last before finally he lost his strength and fell, inexorably impaling himself on the spears below. Among them was also the Prussian Furwegler, who himself was enjoying the spectacle and had a few silver German marks in the wager pot himself. It was a deathly and fatal scene. No man, however strong, could remain suspended on a rope for long, but the Tuaregs, seeing Darchaux's strength had planned with the burning lanterns for it to last at least into the night. And so Darchaux, dangling from a greasy rope and finally bleeding freely from his grated hands, continued to

cling on, knowing no doubt that at last fatigue would of necessity overcome him and that he would fall to his certain death. The Tuaregs joked and chanted and drank native burukutu and did not fail to say the prescribed Musulman prayers as the day passed into afternoon and the Frenchman groaned and swung from the rope. As Develot's story was so laden with precise details from the scene, our day also passed rather quickly into afternoon, and soon Develot, quite pleased with his audience, soon passed out and coiled over on the tavern table, leaving his story incomplete and "hanging" if one will excuse the pun. Then a very usual thing happened. Some government envoy of President Mitterand's was coming to Poitiers that very evening for some pre-Bastille Day celebrations and the Police Municipale were rounding up all the drunks and other assorted unsavories from the alehouses and troquets. Develot was summarily loaded into a dark police van and carried away It was the same every time someone important came into a French city on an significant day. They would briefly incarcerate the indigents. Of course, this would have included Corinne Saintignon and myself, and we truly looked the part, so taking a fast leave of Chez Solange, we headed toward the national highway with only the shabby clothes on our backs. We were accompanied by another boy of about our age named Jovany, who had been hanging around us for some days now. I knew that Jovany, whose last name I never learned, was interested in Corinne and that

he wanted to share some secret with her if he could. As we stood along a deserted patch of the Route Nationale 83, which led south, Jovany sidled up to Corinne and whispered something in her ear. Later I found out that Jovany knew that Corinne had a long police record and would probably be taken in by the Police Nationale if they interrogated her. Jovany had a strong Méridional accent and was obviously from somewhere in the south. It later turned out that he was from Provence, a native of the almost deserted interior of the Département du Var. He suggested that we try hitchhiking there, a distance of over 800 kilometres by road. Somewhere he would find a place to hide us, and there was something more, which I shall presently get to. For the moment, however, let me say that I was more than sorry not to hear the conclusion of Develot's story. I felt at the time that I would never hear the outcome of Aurélien Darchaux's calamity. As turned out I did, but somewhat later in life. VI. The road south There were three of us then on the road with our thumbs out, and the traffic was very light. It was something like the 12th of July and the national holiday of July 14th was close at hand. That meant vacation time for many French workers and so lighter than usual traffic, especially in the underpopulated south. It also meant CRS, PN and

GN police patrols and traffic stops everywhere. It was not illegal to hitchhike in France, and still is not to this day, but hitchhikers were routinely checked by the police. All French citizens are required to carry national ID and police records can be easily checked from these. To be without a national ID card meant immediate incarceration. Several agricultural workers picked us up and gave us brief rides in the backs of their trucks. Many carried the requisite loads of cabbages, peas or hay. All were friendly and affable, as peasants are, and none of then asked any questions. We were far enough from the urban areas where the ubiquitous boy-hunters lurked, so we moved into night unpropositioned and often sharing dark bottles of Armagnac and Calvados with the peasants who drove us. One particularly strapping, although rough hewn and unsightly, farm boy did outrightly offer Corinne 100 nouveaux francs for sex. As we had no money, she considered the proposal for a minute then asked him "What is the capital of Sweden?" It was obvious that the boy had never been more than a hundred kilometers out of the Limousin, so Corinne might as well have been asking about the nether side of the Moon. When the kid confessed his ignorance, Corinne said "No deal. I like people who know that answer to that question." Then she said that all of us smelled terrible and that she would strip naked and take a swim in a nearby stream in front of him if he gave her the money. The boy readily accepted and pulled his dirty Citroën truck-van to the banks of some muddy river and watched in rapt awe as the shapely

girl ripped off her clothes and dived into the murky water. Eventually we all did the same. We hung our wet clothes on a plane tree and stretched out on a soft patch of grass. The peasant boy could not take his eyes off Corinne nor could he conceal his physical arousal. But it was in vain. Corinne had no desire to copulate with him---or any one of us at that time. She was tough and wiry and always made clear her intentions or non-intentions, as it were. In the late afternoon sun, we all eventually fell asleep. When I awoke it was starting to get dark, and the peasant boy along with his truck had vanished, presumably unsatisfied. Jovany, however, was a different story. He was leaning over the lithesome body of my outstretched companion and excitedly telling her something in hushed tones, which I could not understand but which did not conceal his strong Provençal accent. I learned later that he was indeed propositioning Corinne, but not about sex. Jovany came from deep within the Var, from the village of Cotignac about fifty kilometres to the south of Draguignan. This was deep forest and foothill country, marked by almost inaccessible massifs and quartz outcroppings etched deep into the shadowy ridges of the tortured Mediterranean landscape. It was also, as is well known in France, a region where some very strange cults are practiced. Somewhere near Jovany's village a veritable cultmaster had a colony of followers, who were under his almost complete control---as cult followers usually tend to be. From time to time this group, who were

waiting for the end of the world, raided the countryside and extorted money from the isolated farmhouses of the shepherds and subsistence farmers. Later I learned that cultmaster's name was Dominique Zahant and that he exercised an almost complete and likewise hypnotic rapture over his small coterie of followers, among which the unlikely Jovany had once counted himself. Zahant had totally calculated the exact date for the end of the world, via unruly meteorite, in 1982. It was to come, characteristically, one week after the national holiday of July 14 which was only two days hence. Zahant who was reportedly older than he looked had done some of the usual things that overly influential cultmasters do, namely sleep with all the young girls in the sect and demand personal sacrifices from the men and boys. In all, Zahant seemed like a total sleaze. But Jovany's plan was to rob him. "He has thousands stashed in his hut," Jovany said with the lilting tone of a true Méridional. "Let's rip the bastard off. The end of the world is coming anyway. He won't need the money." A balmy breeze was blowing through the pine scrub of the Limousin, and morning was starting to break over the Massif Central when we all set out again, standing along the road waiting for whatever cars we could stop. The plan of robbing a cultmaster sounded like a good one to all of us. We had, at last, a destination in the Département du Var.

VII. Département du Var: a severed head, the demise of a cultmaster and some grave robbing It is, I suppose, difficult to convey to Americans just how deserted some parts of south central France are. But as nightfall fell over the Auvergne and we rested in the silent foothills of the Massif Central, the sky tumbled down upon us like a death shroud of emptiness. Even the stars seemed to hide in order make way for the nocturnal blackness that is the Département du Cantal. Les Monts d'Ardèche seemed to bleed liberty and elongation from the world. The sounds of insects, ordinarily so silent in the cities of my youth, became almost sadistic, as if crickets actually ruled and human beings were relegated to a place of secondary importance. We huddled together under one thin blanket, and as it was July, the night air even in the mountains was not disturbing. Free and unbound, we three had set our sights on the dimmest of goals, that of robbing a cult leader in another empty setting that was still kilometres away. Such goals are the destiny of youth. And they never return again. Such freedom is the freedom of those fated by nature to be free. And free we were. Again disponibilité. Jovany, Corinne and I, in the vernal blush of our first youth, squeezed ourselves into one tight package, and to this day I have no idea what we did. Perhaps I was involved also with Jovany. Perhaps not. Sexual orientation does not matter in such moments. Rimbaud would agree, so would Rousseau. We were young, vital and filled with

excited aspirations about really nothing at all, and it is the nothingness of the situation which liberated. Today, surrounded by obtuse obligations, absolute liberty is more than challenging to explain. At that moment, all was natural. Perhaps that is how humans were originally meant to be. At daybreak, we arose and took up positions along the national highway. The sun rose over the purple glare of the Massif Central, and none of us cared. None of us, in fact, had watches. Time ceased to be of any importance. Eventually, our first ride of the day arrived, and it bears a recollection. It came in the shape of a woman, already past her first youth, driving a dark colored Citroën fourgon with something I at once sensed as sinister in the back rack, something which she ardently sought to hide. It was a wooden box, probably teak, covered with a rosy blanket. As she drove, she continually kept glancing back at the box. "Don't touch that," she warned us several times. "Don't worry," said Corinne, lighting a Gauloise she had stolen from the peasant boy of the Limousin. "I mean," she continued, "look if you have to." "And why should we?" inquired Corinne, aloof.

"Maybe you should. The CRS have all the junctions blocked. You may have to cover for me." And so Corinne threw back the scant blanket that covered the wooden box. To our horror, the box contained the severed head of a man. A young man at that. "What the fuck?" I said. Of course, readers will have to know that I said it differently because the French language has different ways of expressing things. But that is essentially what I said. "His name is Armando Beboco," said the woman dispassionately. "I was asked to retrieve his head as proof of his death. Union Corse and all that. They want proof in Toulon." "No ice?" said Corinne, with equal equanimity. "I should have thought of that," said the woman. "I can smell it a little. How about you?" "A little," said Corinne, losing her sense of shock. "What if we are stopped by the CRS?" said Jovany, somewhat disquieted. "I don't know," said the unnamed woman.

"You're taking this guy's head all the way to Toulon?" I blurted. You have bornes to go. It is going to start stinking." And stink it did. Before we passed Nyons in the Drôme, there was a distinct odor of decomposition arising from the wooden box and its concealed head. I asked our driver what she planned to do at a junction control. She shrugged and said: "This is Languedoc now. They have cheeses, strong cheeses." We drove on past the heather topped foothills of the Massif as our unnamed guest consumed one blue-smoked Gitane after another. I wondered what the decapitated head was worth to her in Toulon. I have never had an answer to that. Jovany, almost asleep despite the growing stench of the head in the box, roused himself enough to address Corinne (whom he patently preferred talking to more than to me). "I wonder what did happen to Aurélien what’s-his-name? Guess we will never find out. Poitiers is over 500 km behind us and the gendarmes will keep old Marky in for a while." "I wonder too," said Corinne. "Really a good story. Wonder if he made it up." I pretended to sleep until Sisteron where I immediately was awakened

by a roaring siren and some blue lights. The CRS were several meters ahead of us. "Oh Jésus," I muttered half stupefied by interrupted sleep. The police control was conducted as usual. Every car door was opened, and officers of the national police force in requisite képis surrounded the car. "What is that smell?" one of them asked. Our driver, finding a sudden steeliness responded without hesitation: "Some Carré d'Aurillac cheese from Cantal. I'm taking it to my husband in Toulon." "Is your husband in the Navy?" inquired the CRS officer. "Yes, of course." "Okay, then you may proceed. Who are your passengers?" "Just riders. They work in the Ardèche." The CRS did not bother to check our IDs. He waved us on with a look of the most unutterable repulsion on his face. "Get your cheese to where it is going," were his last words. We proceeded onward. The dim Mediterranean night began to lift

and give way to another beauteous day as we crossed into Haute Provence and skirted the dark bastions of the Château de Forcalquier. It was here that our chauffeuse finally dropped us off at a bifurcation of the national highway, as she hastened with her separated head toward Toulon and we once again took up positions in the long fingers of the morning sun and sought the final leg of the journey toward the fortified town of Draguignon and then toward Jovany's hometown of Cotignac buried deep within the crystalline rock crevasses of the Maritime Alps. As the stupendous Massif de Maures raised its morning glitter to the east, we waited a virtual eternity for our next ride, which eventually came in the person of yet another farmer with a truckload of the local and highly renown Mourvedre grapes. As it happened, this man, as bald as a fence post and curled like a shepherd's staff, was heading straight for Brignoles and would pass through Cotignac along the way. He was pleasant and affable, as all peasants are, but informed each one of us that we needed to bathe as soon as we found water. This was something we already knew. Freedom and disponibilité were sweet, but they came at the price of personal hygiene. All three of us were covered with blotches of black dust and marked by the bites of a thousand bloodsucking insects. Corinne had torn a seductive gash into the crotch of her threadbare jeans, something which the estimable viticulteur did not fail to notice several times in gleeful succession. He kept making jokes about storks' nests until at last Corinne simply ripped the crotch of her pants wide open and exclaimed "See. The storks have left for Alsace."

One may have to be French here to completely understand her humor to its fullest extent. But it was clear that her overgrown pubic bush had become rather garish in its untrimmed state, something which delighted the old peasant, and he laughed heartily as he rumbled his ancient Opel panel truck down the potholes of the secondary communal route we were now navigating. When the man learned that we were destined for the Enceinte Fortifiée de Charmanse, the compound of the doomsday cult we were seeking, he again burst out in a raucous guffaw, playing off the double meaning of the word enceinte, which means both compound and pregnant in French. His age may have prevented him from action, but the grape peasant wasn't beyond the crudest humor he could muster. Also, he knew about the Compound of Charmanse. "Bunch of nutcases waiting for a meteor to crash into Provence and destroy the world," he said jovially. "Let me know someday how that goes. I'll wager you a case of our Coteaux Varois wine that it never happens." Here we disembarked from his truck at a hastily built stone gateway where at least a dozen anaemic souls we drifting around with shovels on their shoulders. Off and on it turns out, they had been digging their own shallow graves in anticipation of the asteroid which was to strike early in the following week on July 22nd if I remember correctly. Right prior to the impact, when the skies would darken for the last time, they were to lie down in their tombs and wait for the inevitable. Their leader, however, a robust and shifty-eyed charletan

named only Omarion would have a grander exit. Already, a huge cinder block mausoleum had been constructed for his body, and he would lie in a raised cement coffin under a solid oak lid and wait for his own fate. His instructions were clear. Everyone would die. But only for a short time. Because of their belief and their piety toward both Omarion and his atypical notion of God, their souls would rise up almost immediately and join some sort of holy legion of the righteous that would inherit, for better or worse, the ruins of the fruitless planet. Provence was full of these cults, and Omarion's was certainly not the sole establishment waiting for the end, although we did learn somewhat later that there was considerable disagreement between cults about the exact dates. Some nearby compounds put the impact date firmly in August, others in October and November. But all agreed that 1982 was the last year for human beings in our current form to forage freely on Earth. Omarion greeted us with great pomp. He was wearing a kind of homespun purple robe which looked for all the world like the négligé dressing gown from lady's boudoir. Although decorated with wreaths of olive sprouts and other indigenous plants, it was still nonetheless a converted dressing gown. He eyed Corinne copiously. Her exposed "stork's nest" was ostensibly of great interest to him. Taking her by the hand, he insisted that she follow him to his rather well-appointed hut where a warm bath could be confected by some of his servile followers. In fact, he exclaimed, she and he would bathe together, and the warmth of their mutual union would freely flow from body to

body, producing some ineffable effect upon which he did not elaborate. There was ample time to do these things, and more, before the inevitable catastrophe struck. Inexplicably, Corinne Saintignon did not demur at Omarion's wishes, and she dutifully followed him into his cedar hut. When she at last emerged, she had obviously borrowed a pair of red underpants from Omarion's wardrobe trunk and wore them proudly under the gaping hole in the crotch of her jeans. "No more stork's nest," she laughed as she passed by Jovany. It was visible that Omarion had not had his way with Corinne. He was cursing to himself and calling her a salope allumeuse (teasing slut) as he exited from his hut. "My power is greater than yours," he was screaming. "In fact, my power is greater than anyone's here. That is why I lead. That is why I have a mausoleum and the rest have only holes in the ground. I shall rise first. Wait and see." The other pasty, ashen souls that surrounded Omarion seemed quite used to this sort of rant and passed by him like wraiths, only nodding slightly and bowing the shovels on their shoulders in brief deference to the master. He continued to roar about every conceivable nonsensical notion that ran through his head and at times beat his meaty hands against his broad and hirsute chest, as would an ape. In all, having a definite simian aura, Omarion looked like a sort of squat gorilla. What band of losers would follow such a troll? I wondered.

It was clear that Corinne's rejection had rendered the cultmaster into some sort of prolonged fury, as he continued shouting both gibberish and hot air about his insuperable powers. We were, he said, now forbidden to leave the enceinte and we would have the "privilege" of dying alongside of him in our own self-excavated graves as he awaited his destiny five meters above us in the cement coffin of his rude mausoleum. The coming asteroid, which was nameless, would burn us to cinders all at once, and then he Omarion would be the first to rise and give the signal for all others to follow in spirit form. We would travel to his ethereal kingdom where he would rule, etcetera and etcetera and on and on. He continued fulminating until most of the others, wearing only torn sheet togas and scraps of what were once clothing came and knelt down mechanically by his feet. It was plainly something they were used to doing to assuage his rage. As the followers, men, women, teenagers and even little children of all ages fell to their knees on the sharp limestone ledge next to Omarion's mausoleum, the latter cranked up into an even higher velocity and stepped confidently out onto a sharp pinnacle which jutted over a narrow, rocky canyon gorge that dropped about twenty-five meters below his perch. He continued to pound his chest and rage in an unabated fury of pathologically incoherent and repetitious jags of deadpan and incantatory logorrhea. No one could be exactly sure about just what he was saying, but it held his devotees spellbound in a kind of dead-fish-eyed trance.

"What next?" said Corinne elbowing my side. "Let's make a run for it," I said. "They probably haven't locked the gate." "No way," snickered Corinne. "No fucking way. That hut is full of gold neck chains. Solid gold neck chains, at least fifty of them. They are to be placed around his neck before he gets in the coffin." Jovany looked at us and slyly said only "I told you so." Omarion was cursing at the clouds and proclaiming his gift of immortality when suddenly--but almost on cue---he lost his footing and keeled off the point of the jutting limestone pinnacle and fell headfirst into the gorge. As he dropped, the deadening sound of his huge head hitting several different rock outcroppings was sickeningly audible. And when at length his weary adherents managed to pass a loop around his torso and haul him out of the canyon, he was already in a state of rigor mortis. His bulging skull dented in several places, he had died almost instantaneously. Torches were lit and wailing ensued from all corners, and I shall not bother to detail the all-night funeral ceremony the faithful, now seemingly leaderless, enacted about him. His body was stripped naked and lovingly washed by many hands at once using coarse lye soap. At least ten kilos of heavy braided solid gold chains were

fastened around his lumpy and swollen neck, and I noted along with Jovany that like other renowned cultmasters of the past (Rasputin comes to mind) he had a huge and perennially erect penis. I wondered whether one of the adherents would slice it off for preservation's sake and place it in a jar of alcohol. But that never happened. After the washing and wailing subsided, Omarion's bulky remains were placed on a cypress slab and lowered ceremoniously into his molded cement coffin, upon which the massive oaken lid was set with the repetitious mumbling of unintelligible prayers. No, the spell had not been broken. The speechless followers simply nodded to one another that the end of the world was still coming and that dead or not Omarion was sure to rise as promised before them, leading one and all to a previously guaranteed paradise where he would reign over them for all eternity. Small tallow candles were now lighting the mausoleum as total darkness fell, and at once I became aware of the absence of Corinne Saintignon. I looked in curiosity at Jovany, who only shrugged his shoulders. "Let's get out of here," I said again. "Corinne has probably already split." "Not on your life," replied Jovany. "Let's roll out and bed down right here with the rest of them." The sniffles and snorts of at least thirty bereaved souls circled the dim-lit mausoleum, making it even more frightfully gloomy. The Mediterranean moon rose from behind some wispy clouds, and total

night fell on the compound encampment. Almost instantaneously I was bolted awake by a shrill scream followed by the rasping of the oaken lid of Omarion's casket. A sallow figure, grasping his arm in unmistakable agony, was beating a fast retreat out of the cement casket and running off into the line of trees which marked the edge of the scrub pine forest which surrounded the compound. Behind him another shadow arose from the crypt. It was Corinne who had apparently secreted herself into the coffin before Omarion's gold laden corpse had been consigned to it. In her hand a lasso of clinking gold chains dangled as she deftly pulled herself up and away from the coffin. "Son of a bitch. He was trying to rob the grave before I did. I bit the motherfucker in the arm. He must have thought I was Omarion come back to life. Let's get the fuck out of here." And so we ran through the damp Méridional night, tripping on hawthorns and other brush along the spiky landscape until at last we reached a road. Corinne had ripped off her torn jeans and wrapped the stash of gold braided chain in them, making an innocuous although burdensome package. The only thing suspicious about us as a trio was that Corinne was wearing only a bright red pair of underpants beneath her white teeshirt. Surely some sort of early morning farm vehicle would happen by and retrieve us as a group, but that did not happen, so we quickened our pace as we plunged off

down the unlit country road. Such was the frenzied commotion behind us in the compound that no one even chanced to follow, and the last comprehensible words I heard was the wounded man assuring his compatriots that Omarion had come back to life and bit him on the arm. A sense of the followers' almost palpable fear rose up behind us, and even though we ran, we felt as if a clean escape had been made. After about a kilometer, we took refuge in a dark coppice of maquis scrub bushes and began to examine the gold chains, which were heavy and seemed real enough for us---and in fact they were, 24 carats of pure gold each one. There were fifteen chains in all, and we each took five, attempting to hide them in our shorts or under our shirts or even in our pockets. Corinne stretched hers in a ring around her bra and secured them with the straps. Just the same, we were heavier that we should have been for trekking, so, close to the hamlet of Cotignac where several roads ran together, we decided to split apart and go our separate ways. If all went well, we would someday meet again in Poitiers or somewhere else in France if we managed to find one another. And though I never saw Jovany another day in my life, Corinne, whom I had begun to ardently desire, would one day enter my life again, but that story must wait until I finish the next stage of my odyssey into unrestricted freedom. Disponibilité délicieuse, as it were.

VIII. St-Tropez and my "cinematic" antic From Cotignac I caught a straight-shot ride to Brignoles and thence to the seaside resort town of Hyères on the overly touristed Côte d'Azure. It was the l5th of July, and all of France was littered with the debris of the frenetic national holiday that is Bastille Day. Wayfarers and hitchhikers of every nationality and stripe vied for rides up and down the beautiful coast. Many of these were, as usual, boys who were simply out hustling, and some were teenage prostitute girls. But laden with several kilos of gold chains, I was neither. My only interest was to get the gold out of the range of those who might steal it from me. I needed to pawn it for actual money in a jewelry shop somewhere. I realized, of course, that this might be tricky. The weight of the gold in my pants and around my waist made me walk strangely, and already I had been eyed suspiciously by a few roadside gendarmes as well as a fair number of hustlers who at first saw me as breaking into their territory and then, due to the disheveled state of my clothes, realized that I was not pursuing the same rich quarry as they were. But they eyeballed me just the same. I realized it was only a matter of time before someone caught on that I was carrying something of value, and in the bustling demi-monde of the Côte d'Azure my life could have well been in danger. Walking along the seaside highway, I knew that I needed get a ride fast, and at that time I did not care in which direction. As it was, I had no clear idea of which direction I was heading, as it was a misty

day in the Maritime Alps and the jumble of distant peaks confused the exact location of the midmorning sun. In vain, I watched as boy after boy boarded car after car, and I apologize to any readers who may be offended by my observations about hitchhiking and male hustling, but in crowded and affluent resort areas like that of Hyères, it is an every day reality and not one that can be glossed over or easily dismissed. My mere presence on the seaside highway said that I was up to something, and that something was usually selling sex when it came to cute, teenage boys as I was. My lighthearted fugue into the absolute liberty of disponibilité had suddenly cast me into the realm of imminent danger through the palpable reality of five gold braided chains. Possession, I knew, always carried risks, and many was the stranger upon those coastal highways who would have not thought twice about killing me to gain what I had so carelessly secreted on my person. I became for the first time in my life wary of every passerby, and I am sure that I clearly punctuated my fear with darting glances of pure paranoia at each and every transient vehicle. I was relieved, therefore, when a well-dressed young man in a long black Citroën DS pulled up on the opposite side of the highway from where I was standing. The dreaded agents of the Deuxième Bureau, the national secret police, sometimes called the Sûreté, were known, however, to cruise about in such luxury cars, so my apprehension rose once again. Meeting an undercover cop was the last thing I wanted to

happen to me at that moment, as in my entire life I have always dreaded the police more than the criminals they supposedly oppose. Again I was relieved when my stoppeur addressed me in a slightly effete and markedly feminine voice. He was a delicate person with the kind of moneyed refinement that often evidenced the chickenhawks of the Côte d'Azure and other venues of wealth where men with a preference for wayward boys prowled along the byways. I decided he was the least of all evils and resolved to act like the hustler he must have taken me for. After all, I had, as previously noted, engaged in some lowkey hustling in my life, something for which I bear no guilt and harbor no contrition. A gay pick up would be better than a thug or a cop, which in the France of 1982 were often two sides of the same coin. As I pulled myself onto the clean leather seats of his long Citroën, I indicated with a certain nonchalance that I was indifferent as to the direction we were going, and he informed me that he was returning home to Fréjus, about seventy kilometres north along the coast. As we sped along the corniche overlooking the scintillating blue of the Mediterranean, I awaited his come-on. It was slow in coming. He asked me at first if I was really hustling, to which I gave a noncommittal reply, shrugging my shoulders as if the question really didn't matter. Then he sharply introduced himself, something which boy-hunters rarely do.

"I'm Julien Marchaille," he blurted suddenly. "Maybe you have heard of me, maybe not. I am a partner in the UACB, S.A. production house in St-Tropez. I work under X.V., the famous producer and director. I'm sure you have heard of him. I mean like....Marilyn J.....?" Marchaille not only pronounced his own name as if he were someone important but put particular emphasis on UACB, S.A, St-Tropez, X.V and especially Marilyn J. He seemed somewhat annoyed that I did not know any of these names save the famous resort city of St-Tropez through which we would shortly be passing on our way to Fréjus. StTropez was known throughout the world for many, many things, but little did I realize at that moment in July of 1982 that St-Tropez was also the very epicenter of the French pornographic movie industry, which by that year was burgeoning into a huge enterprise after the legislative acts of the mid-seventies had in the name of French freedom of expression lifted all censorship restrictions against cinematic porn. I was, of course, no stranger to pornography, but I did not follow it closely enough to realize at the time that X.V., a Marseillais of Greek extraction, was one of its major producers and directors. Nor did I realize that for several years now, the absolutely nubile and shockingly gorgeous Marilyn J., who had chosen her stage name after the legendary Marilyn Monroe, was probably the most famous and certainly the most recognizable pornographic actress in all of Francophonia with a score of successful titles already embellishing her lurid filmography.

When we reached his condominium overlooking the bay of Fréjus, Marchaille very politely escorted me to a spare room and handed me a stack of clean towels and pointed toward a glass-enclosed shower stall which seemed to be larger than my mother's kitchen back in La Rochelle. "You're a very beautiful young man," he said matter of factly, "but I'm not going to bother you. I think we probably fit into the same size clothing, so I'm going to get you something to wear at least until we can buy you something better. I may be queer," he added, "but I'm not a pervert. I'll totally respect your privacy, and then if you consent---and only if you consent---I will introduce you to X.V. I'm sure he can use you in a scene or two if you are willing and if you pass the screen test, and if he does, he will pay you well. And I guarantee that no one will force you to do anything that you don't want." Then he pointed to a picture of a luscious and totally naked blond woman which was hanging on the bathroom closet door. "Marilyn J.," he said. "I'm sure you've seen her." I stared at the now famous Marilyn J. for several long seconds and realized that I had seen her face and even her sculpted body several times before in both magazines and a couple of films that I had sneaked into in La Rochelle, X-rated, totally pornographic films to be sure.

Marilyn was probably the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life up to that point. French pornography was a capital industry, and it did not employ worn out prostitutes or street sluts. Perhaps that is where it deviates sharply from the X-rated output of other places like California or Miami or Amsterdam. Only beauty could reign on the French screen---pornographic or not. Marilyn J. was beyond mere description. I suppose that somewhere, somehow she still is today, although the toils of time have most certainly taken their toll on her as they have on everyone else in the thirty years that have transpired since that day. With no false modesty, I invite the skeptical reader to research both X.V. and Marilyn J. I am sure that today's internet has kept some of their titillating footage as fresh as it was in the eighties. As I carefully undressed in the total privacy of Marchaille's guest bathroom, I realized once again that I was concealing five gold chains. What could I do with these? I didn't trust Marchaille enough to simply leave them with my dirty clothes, on impulse, I called him back into the room. I was partly undressed and three of the chains were hung around my waist. Marchaille stared at me for a moment, and I fully expected him to make an amorous move, which he did not. Instead, he cleared his throat and said: "Well, I figured you had something other than a nice body under those rags. I'm not going to ask where you got them, but if you want I know a jeweler in Fréjus

who won't ask any questions." And so I jump ahead in my story and summarize so as not to become too tedious. Because everything that was supposed to happen did. In the oppressive glare of the Mediterranean summer of 1982, Marchaille gifted me with a new wardrobe, found me a jeweler that gave me a certain sum of hard cash for my gold, a sum that I do not care even today to reveal because talking about money is gauche and not my style. Further, he made good on his promise to introduce me to X.V., who was every bit the squat, perverted, apish and eccentric bastard that one expects from a successful pornographic film director. X.V. immediately put me in front of a camera first fully dressed and then by my total consent naked. He asked me to---how can I put this gently---perform, but only to make sure I could. At no time did he touch me or even ask to. He exhausted his store of laudatory adjectives about my appearance and scheduled me to complete a long and very graphic sex scene with Marilyn J., a scene that was shot on a knoll overlooking St-Tropez, a scene in which we had passionate, albeit scripted, intercourse for several hours on a sandy loam. It took that much time to get a workable print for the film he was making, and a rather famous film it became. It is still around today, although I am not billed by name in it because I was not yet eighteen and the law required that for name billing even under a pseudonym. The film was simultaneously released in Italy, France and West Germany. To protect identities it was back dated to 1981, the year production

began, but my scene dates from July of 1982 and was just kind of patched in. X.V. had a kind of distorted sense of duty when he attempted to give the film both a skeleton plot and an original title which were both meant to have the redeeming feature of warning young girls away from making sex films with strangers. Briefly told, the Marilyn J. character returns home to Paris from St-Tropez after being filmed with a variety of guys and her father accidentally discovers her porn career. That was the weak "moral" of X.V.'s attempt to inject something of social value into what was in reality a work of pure smut. To this end, he called the original release of the film Attention Gamines, which roughly translates as something like "Watch out girlies." In some cinemas the film was released as Dans L'Ardeur de St-Tropez, which given the heat of that July and August of our filming strikes me as a far more appropriate title. I have nothing against pornography, although for various reasons I never became involved with it again. Therefore, I have no shame in saying that I was the semi-blond guy that Marilyn's character picked up in a seaside café and later made love to. I only saw the film in its entirely once, but I believe that you---the open-minded reader---can find it and maybe even find me as I was in 1982. It is not something that I expect many readers to do. I would rather be remembered for other things. Perhaps I will someday.

Marilyn J. and X.V. went on to become more successful than ever. Neither one descended into the world of narcotics and mental illness. There was and is a certain health to French pornography, and I am not making excuses. Or maybe I am. IX. Return to La Rochelle In all, this ends the tale of my summer of disponibilité in the fateful year 1982 when I was seventeen, totally free, and one of the thousands of French boys who simply did not make the cut on the yearly baccalauréat. There were more episodes of course, episodes that in the browning haze of my already fading memory all begin to look like one another: a series of encounters with girls, a little hustling here and there of older women, more imitation of my heroes Rousseau and Rimbaud, some minor and experimental forays into genderambiguity, some fights that I usually won, a few fights that I lost, more stories from burnt-out veterans drinking themselves to death in wharfside bistros so low that they didn't even have names, a few more escapades of stealing some minor things that I really had no business touching and would not have if I had everything to do over today. But there is nothing further now that I wish to highlight. As Rousseau said in the Preface to his Confessions, with which I began this account:

Si la nature a bien ou mal fait de briser le moule dans lequel elle m'a jeté, c'est ce dont on ne peut juger qu'après m'avoir lu. [If nature did either the right thing or the wrong thing in breaking the mold into which she had thrown me, it is what one can only judge after having read my words.] I have no idea what is the correct way to conduct one's life except with honesty to oneself and a sense of fidelity to those instincts which separate us from mindless beasts and give us the unique characters we are privileged to develop independently from the cradle onward. X. Epilogue: Marky Develot and Corinne Saintignon But there is a strange epilogue to my story, and it came late in 1984 after my release from military service during nineteen months in Africa, a time that in itself could compose a volume of vignettes. Like all French soldiers, I was suddenly back home, on the sticky tarmac of Marseilles, out of uniform with only a one way train ticket to wherever I wanted to go in France in my pocket. I had no idea where I wanted to go. My father was dead by this time, and my mother drifted aimlessly---or so she said---about in her tiny quarters in La Rochelle, my hometown. We had never been very close, but I felt it was my duty to go home, see my mother and at least say goodbye to the town where I was born and raised.

And so I boarded a train for the Charente Valley and the memories of my childhood. By chance I stopped in Poitiers which is along the way. It is always possible with French trains to break one's trip up over a period of days, so I disembarked at the central railway station and mechanically began walking down the timeworn cobblestone streets of the old section of Poitiers toward the brasserie where I had first met Corinne Saintignon, Chez Solange, which like every other weathered landmark in France had changed very little. By the purest of coincidence I stumbled onto Corinne as she was filling a straw basket with food provisions from the streetfront grocery stalls. Our meeting was warm and cordial, but Corinne was not quite the same. In fact, she had married a local guy who worked in a foundry and was preparing to start a family. We reminisced for a time standing out in the street, as she told me about her life and how the gold chains had been stolen from her by a motorist who had also assaulted her and left her nearly for dead on the side of the road somewhere in the Dordogne. It appeared that her life as a gangster and arsonist had come to an end, something which briefly disappointed me. We were laughing about old times and the doomsday cultists of the Var, when I mentioned Marky Develot the raconteur that used to haunt Chez Solange and entertain the crowds with his outlandish and

no doubt fictional stories. "I think he is still there," said Corinne, "drunk as ever and still blathering his tales." "Let's go find out." And off into the morning light of a bright November day we strolled hand in hand, oblivious of the new marital status that Corinne's life had taken. There in the same seat we had once left him over two years previous sat Marky. He didn't look a day older than when we had last seen him. He greeted us and showed us his empty glass, which we filled. Then one of us, I forget who, asked about the outcome of the fatal punishment of Aurélien Darchaux in the year 1898, the year of Fashoda. As if only minutes had transpired, Develot reprised the story from where he left off. And now, going full circle I suppose, I can finish it in summary form for the reader by paraphrasing Marky's words, although I can in no way do the story justice nor add the color or details that Marky, despite the ravages of drink and age, was still able to trim his tales with. And so as not to leave the reader "suspended," as was Darchaux, here is the account briefly rendered and with great apologies to the inimitable artistry of Marky Develot:

So there he was, Majeur-adjudant Darchaux, hanging by an oily, bloodsoaked hemp rope four meters above a forest of upwardly pointed spear heads. One alone would have been sufficient to impale him, but the proximity of the Tuareg weapons guaranteed that his body would be pierced like a sole on a spiky sea urchin. Above him the betting continued, often punctuated by throaty shouts in guttural German issued by the Prussian agent Furtwegler. It was only a matter of minutes now before Darchaux's hand and fingers would be stripped to the bone and his strength depleted. There was seemingly no escape from his dilemma. A quick and hopefully painless death awaited him, but this death, Darchaux knew, would not be either quick or painless. to be impaled by so many spears could not be without agony. But then an idea came to the frenzied Frenchman, and, mustering the rote end of his dwindled strength, he began to swing and sway from side to side, increasing the cadence as he went. At length, and unseen by the Tuaregs or Furtwegler, Darchaux was able to swing from wall to wall within the pit enclosure. Finally his swinging became so energetic that he managed to kick first one burning lantern and then another from their fastenings on the pit wall. The lanterns fell, spreading a burning patina of doum palm oil over the floor of the pit. The fire wasted no time in reaching the wooden spear shafts, and due to their proximity spread rapidly among them creating a great but temporary conflagration which within minutes leveled each and every spear to the floor in piles of smoldering ashes. At this point, Darchaux was able to finally release his grasp and fall to the ground, landing in only the

smoking embers of what once had been spears. For the moment his life was saved. Of course, the Tuaregs had seen the smoke and witnessed the fire, which had not of course, left Darchaux untouched. They peered down at the Frenchman through the bars in utter amazement, chattering amongst themselves. Somewhere above him, Darchaux also perceived Furtwegler the Prussian agent. Out of respect for his sheer tenacity and bravery the Tuaregs pulled Darchaux free of the pit and released him on to the cold desert, a free man that very night. It was true that among this savage tribe there was still some honor and a definite respect for ingenuity. Darchaux, now a free man, had earned them both. And so the circle was closed that morning in Poitiers. With real tears in my eyes I took leave of both Marky Develot, leaving him what little money I had, and Corinne Saintignon, wishing her the greatest of success with her new life and forthcoming family. Devon Pitlor -- October, 2012 /*/*/*~~/**/*~~

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