My dad was never one to let the grass grow under his feet, at least as a young man. Later, when I knew him, well, we called him the King of Procrastinators. In the carefree days of his youth, especially back in the 1930s, he saw it as important to get out and live life to its fullest.
Hitler was starting to make noise in Germany, as was Mussolini in Italy. My dad said that he could see the storm clouds of war on the horizon. He wanted to live a little before the world was plunged into yet another conflagration like the Great War.
To that end, in the summer of 1932, he took a bike trip across a good portion of Western Europe. He used to tell me some stories about that trip: giving some Nazis a Bronx’s Cheer; seeing the beauty of Southern France; loving the food and wines of Italy.
Yet, he didn’t tell me all of his stories. To get the full 411 on his antics, I had to wait until he passed away. Then I found his diary.
My father, in 1932, went by ship and I don't mean a cruise ship either. Traveling from New York City to Cherbourg, France, he hopped on his bike and took off. He visited towns and castles, he was quite the history buff and he wanted to see many of the historic sites throughout Normandy. Of course, he also made a point of sampling the fine food and wine of the region.
On reaching Paris, one site he especially wanted to see was the opera house. Unfortunately, the manager wouldn't let him in. He didn't have a proper evening jacket.
That’s was no surprise there, everything he owned was in a backpack. My father had to pass; although a disappointment, he got over it. There were many more sites to see and much to do in the City of Light, Paris.
My dad, at only nineteen, was about to get quite the education on the Paris nightlife. He ended up in one of the many nightclubs in the area, had a few drinks and enjoyed the dancers. The host, a woman, saw him sitting alone; she probably sized him up as an American, right away, and asked if he'd like a private show.
My father had no idea what it might be. He was an eager young man, which meant he had no common sense and was twice an idiot! He was young. He was a man. Yeah, clearly a double-dose of stupid pills was part of his daily supplements.
Anyway, the woman led him upstairs to the private show. Like the main hall, there were chairs facing a stage, only much smaller and he immediately noticed that he was the only guest. To his credit, this was when the little red warning light in the back of his brain started blinking. Danger, Arthur Robinson, danger; get out.
Still, he kept his cool and decided to see where this little adventure would take him. Boy, did he find out. Six dancing girls, all buck-naked came out on the stage and performed quite the hot little number.
When they were finished, the host asked my dad to select one dancer to entertain him. The host suggested ordering a round of champagne.
Dear old dad saw that as a con. Not only would it be double the usual price, but what might be in the champagne. He got them wine and then chatted with the young woman, while trying not to stare.
The host, clearly displeased with his frugality, demanded quite the hefty fee for the time of her young women. That's when my dad knew it was time to make his exit. Here’s where he displayed his street smarts.
Pretending to agree, he rose to his feet and mimed reaching for his wallet in a back pocket of his trousers. The moment he was upright, he bolted for the door. The host, shouting profanity, in French, made a grab for his wallet as he shot by, but came up empty. He always made a point of keeping his wallet in a front pocket, which are less accessible by pickpockets.
My father reached the ground floor. He dashed to the entrance and raced into the night. The next day, he moved on and learned to avoid such nightspots in future.
As an interesting side note, years later, my dad took my mother on a trip across Western Europe; Paris was one of their stops. They went to the opera house, this time dressed properly and the same manager was still there! He didn't recognize my dad, but that's to be expected. His second trip to the city ended on a happier note.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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