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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Parasite's Paradise

Anyone wanting to work in Paris, and especially on Montmartre, take heed. You need eye surgery. The kind where an extra pair of eyes is surgically attached on your back. I wish I would have figured this out on my own, without having half of Paris's crooks both having a laugh and gaining a living on my expense. As I'm older and wiser now - or just older- I feel I need to share my pitiful story.

As a starving artist paying almost an 800e/month rent, I needed a 'day job', and the one that I got was as a sales woman and later a store manager of a Balinese hippie goods store on Montmartre. Maybe you've seen it. It's yellow. The yellow store also featured jewelry. Those silver rings that are so cheap you can put one on every single one of your fingers and toes and not go bankrupt. There were two glass cases with four boxes of these silver rings each, and since Paris is, besides being the city of Light and Romance and dog poop, a shoplifter's paradise, I had to watch out on a daily basis. 

I had worked for almost three years in the yellow store and had my share of  the parasites that are shoplifters. One gorgeously handsome guy shamelessly flirted with me and before breaking into a run, winked and waved to me with the bunch of hats he was about to steal. I waved back, lost in his black eyes, and by the time I noticed what he had taken, he was probably already in the metro picking stupid tourist women's pockets.  There were regulars, of course; one very chic middle-aged lady that smelled of expensive perfume couldn't leave the store without at least attempting to steal balinese baggy trousers of which the monetary value probably represented 0,000000001% of her daily income. Another one, an old woman with a face that had caved in as a result of lengthy drug-abuse, immediately steered towards the last row of clothes where she figured I couldn't see her stuff goods inside her overcoat. And then there was that incident when my ow handbag was stolen from the employees' toilet (how it was done, I never figured out. As a result, every lock in the store, plus the ones of my home, had to be changed on a sunday night). But anyhow, that day as I was approaching the end of my employment in the yellow hippie goods store, I was icing a bottle of Deutz champagne - no more shoplifters for me, I was going to be a bona fide singer-songwriter without a day job!

It was a busy afternoon, and the little corner store was swarming with tourists and locals. All the dressing booths were full and needed supervision; every square inch of the place had someone requiring my attention. In three years, I was accustomed to this, and wasn't at all worried. 

An american lady called me over and asked to see the silver rings from the glass case. All right, I said, I would be right with her; I just had to go check the dressing booths first, but if she wanted, she could pick the one she wanted to try from the case and I would give it to her upon my return. 'OK', she smiled, 'I'd love to do that, but could you bring me the rings?' Silence. 'Bring?' I enquired, with a benign smile. 'What ever can you mean?' 'Oh, just that the nice man who just took the rings said you'd have some more to show me.' I looked inside the glass case that normally had four filled boxes of silver rings. Empty. 'The man said he was taking the rings to be cleaned', said the lady, still smiling. My smile on the other hand had turned into a rictus grin, as I slowly realized that someone had just stolen four boxes of rings from a closed glass case, right under my unfailing eyes.

This story has an appendix ending - if not a happy one, a funny one. One night, me and the spouse were heading into the giant movie theatre on Boulevard des Italiens. It was a nippy winter's night, and the street vendors were jumping on the spot, clapping their hands and calling out for customers. There was one guy who captured my full attention. 'Silver rings!' he shouted, 'Silver rings, just ten euros! A special price for you, my friend!' We walked over to the guy, and amusingly enough, I recognized the rings. Hell, I even recognized the serial number tags, painstakingly handwritten on little tags hanging on every single ring. 'Genuine silver, Madame', the guy smiled, 'real silver! Check it out if you want! It's all on the tags!' I looked at him, slowly, smiling mysteriously like an Indian deity. 'I should know, sir', I told him. 'I wrote those damn tags myself.'

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