That night in Paris, the air was damp with fog, and the Seine ran like a lazy snake sparkling in the evening lights. At the Rue St. Hubert, I stood outside my lover’s window, singing verses from all the old Al Jarreau songs I could bring to my intoxicated recollection. One of the songs I worked especially hard was “Teach Me Tonight.” Several patrons at the small bar next door were crooning in broken English: “Diss Him Tonight.” In an abundance of good will that surpassed even my antipathy for the French, I thought of them as an encouraging chorus, sympathetic to my romantic excesses. When they realized how steadfast I was in the face of ridicule, they seemed to soften, maybe charmed by the lure of love, or dissuaded by the dignity of all love forelorn men who unabashedly declare their passion.
A waiter from the bar came over to me, his mop in his hand, as he prepared to close for the night. He held the mop like a lover, and stroked its damp long strands as a man might cradle the hair of his beloved, and play with the length of each curl. He handed the mop to me. Monsieur, he whispered, I think you’ll have better luck with this. I set the mop aside, and returned to my song, even out of tune, I gave it my undivided effort:
Did you say, I’ve got a lot to learn
Well don’t think I’m trying not to learn
Since this is the perfect spot to learn
Teach me tonight.
Starting with the ABC of it
Getting right down to the XYZ of it
Help me solve the mystery of it
Teach me tonight.
Above me, a window opened, two flights up. Hush, she said gently, just loudly enough for me to hear. I’ll be right down. Within moments she was on the street beside me, just as the fog, now like a slow moving cloud, pushed closer to us. “Come inside,” she said warmly. As we reached the door, the few people remaining seated at the café gave me a polite round of applause, either in celebration or relief that I would now be sparing them of my lovesick singing. When I arrived upstairs I looked out of the still open window to see the waiter below retrieve his mop. “Félicitations mon ami. Vous avez osé chanter hors de votre coeur, alors que je rentre chez moi seul ce soir,” he called up to me. As best I could tell, he meant me well.
I closed the window, as the waiter danced his way back to the café in the arms of his mop, disappearing into the fog.
(c) 2011 FXP