flash-ball

Fun in the Paris Suburbs, part II

In our first episode, my friend Tanguy and I were in search of a far-off suburban Paris arcade, which did turn out to be quite nice, but not in the right neighborhood for success. It closed not three months later, with minimal fanfare. As we headed home after a rousing day of fighting games, we hit an obstacle. Right in front of the train station, so close to being home free, Tanguy and I were stopped by the police.

This was something I had been a bit concerned about, actually. Before we had taken this journey, I had been told to watch out for cops in the suburbs, because the perception was that white kids only went out there to buy drugs. And suddenly here we were, facing two beefy cops, one of whom was more muscle than brain, but both of them were real gorillas. It was the less muscled of the two who did most of the talking. Being from Oakland, I’ve been around a fair number of cops, and can easily identify the bored type that wants to mess with you as much as possible, for lack of something better to do. And here were two of them, standing in front of us, blocking our way through the wrought iron station gates.

The brains of the outfit asked what we were doing out there, so far from home, and we told them. They seemed skeptical. Arcades? Like games for kids? All the way out here? They asked for ID, and I had to explain I neither spoke French nor had a citizen’s ID, so they asked for my passport, which of course I didn’t have. I’d left it at Tanguy’s flat. Tanguy, for his part, didn’t have a driver’s license, only a basic ID card. The cops were getting extra ruffled — we were already accidentally being insubordinate, if they felt like pushing it that way.

While they were looking over his documentation as it were, I tried to lighten the mood, because the air was getting real thick out there, and I really didn’t want to go to any kind of jail. Muscles was holding a huge, and I do mean *giant* handgun. His right hand was on the grip, and the barrel was rested in his left hand, as though it were on display (it also gave me the distinct impression I might be in a video game). The behemoth of a weapon had two barrels, stacked vertically, and looked like it could kill an elephant. I asked what the heck kind of gun it was, and if he could explain it to me, figuring Muscles was proud of it, the way he cradled the thing.

Muscles smiled, and cracked open the gun to take out a gigantic bullet. He held it up in front of my face. “It’s a suppository,” he said in french, but I understood. “Right up your ass!” *thoomp, click* back in the gun it went.

We laughed about it, because what else could we do? Turns out it was a flash-ball gun, often used to disable protesters without killing them. Tanguy later told me he was once shot with one, in the leg, as he was passing by a demonstration in the streets on his way home. He hadn’t been involved, but the cops had just been shooting at anyone, as happens. He could barely walk for a week after that.

As I didn’t have my passport, Muscles asked what sort of ID card I did have. I showed him my California drivers license. He one-handed his gun and grabbed my ID, while Brains was perusing Tanguy’s scant documents.

He scrutinized it carefully, checking out my stats, looking frequently between the ID and my face.

“California… *giant important pause* …Miami?” He squinted skeptically.

I stifled a chuckle, turning it into a cough instead.

Brains whipped his head around, to stare at Muscles, mouth agape in disbelief. “What the fuck, man!? Miami is in Florida! You’re supposed to be in drug enforcement! That’s like the drug capital of America! I can’t believe I have to work with this embarrassment! Shit!!”

Muscles sheepishly handed me my drivers license, and Brains said with disgust, “you kids go back to Paris.” The two grumbled off, and I didn’t turn around to look back, as my bemusement turned to relief.

As we took the rickety train back to Tanguy’s place, we tallied the day’s embarrassments, and counted ourselves lucky at the minor harassment we received from the police. They could’ve done anything to us, really, with our paltry identification and shaky story – I thank my stars for my bored-cop-savvy (always butter them up, always compliment), and Muscles’ idiocy. Because of that, we ended up with nothing more than a fun story, when it could have been so, so much worse.


Fun in the Paris Suburbs, Part I

Back in 2006 or so, my friend Tanguy and I wanted to go to this new retro fighting game arcade that had opened up in the suburbs. I had never been to the suburbs of Paris, and was given a bit of schooling in that regard: Completely contrary to how most of the U.S. works, most of the suburbs are generally understood to be the “dangerous” parts of town, which is why real estate was cheap enough that someone could open a super specific type of arcade there. So we had to take a real-style old train out there, miles from paris, beyond where the Metro could reach.

We didn’t have great directions to the place, which was about two miles from the station, and wandered around for some time, past ancient military barracks-style housing that made me feel like I was inside Call of Duty II. It was very much a different place from Paris proper, and it was visually obvious that their definition of a suburb was closer to our definition of a low income district.

It was an overcast day, and Tanguy and I were walking on the sidewalk going east, vaguely paying attention to where we were going, but mostly heading straight down a main street from the station. Then, suddenly, on the north side of the street to our left, there appeared an impossibly pretty girl. She was coming toward us about to cross over to our side of the street, stepping effervescently off the curb as she did so. We both noticed her at the same time, and found it impossible not to look, both our heads snapped to attention like a group of kittens following a laser pointer. We were just then passing a bus stop, crowded with people waiting for transport.

The girl turned toward us, smiled sweetly, and waved as she crossed the street.

The both of us felt like the sun was shining just on us, for a moment – we were both immediately, egotistically convinced that she was waving at our respective selves. We were so comically enraptured that we kept walking with our heads turned toward her, waiting for the next sign of her affection, or some further indication of our merit. And with perfect comic timing, at the exact same moment, I stumbled over a cement block in the road, and Tanguy plowed straight into a five-year-old child, right in front of the crowd of bus-awaiting onlookers. We stumbled about like slapstick pros, arms and legs flailing as we re-calibrated our gyros and stood up again.

We recovered, righted the (thankfully unharmed) child, apologized to basically everyone, and felt flustered and foolish when we realized that — of course — the pretty girl was waving at her elderly relative, directly behind us, who was waiting for the bus herself.

For the next two blocks of our journey, we nearly hyperventilated with laughter. Our logic had simply shut off completely. We were powerless before our own hubris. The city of love, indeed!!