Off-campus life in the smallest apple of my life — after the Big Apple and my home town in the Mini Apple, Minneapolis — is, as we say delicately in midwestern circles, interesting. The house that my roomies and me live in is distinctly elegant with Victorian furniture and paintings hung around the walls. I have to say, not quite my style; it is somehow far too spacious to be cozy, but insanely cramped and fussy as well, like living in a small municipal museum. All of this is put even further on edge with the looming presence of our landlord who lives just next door. Let’s call him Jacques.
Jacques is American like us but has spent many years of his life basking on the Seine River in Paris. He described in brief to me and my father this idyllic life he lived for many years: the beauty, the culture. It explains the giant coffee table book of French motorcycle racing pictures and some of the art choices. However, it does not explain the ceramic version of a generic disposable coffee cup, for us young folks I guess, or the out-of-place giant beaker that we affectionately refer to as “Jacques’s bong” — smoking is not allowed on the premises.
After waxing briefly on the beauty of France, my father asked an expected pleasantry: “What were you doing in Paris?” Jacques humbly responded, “Oh, nothing much.” Jacques then went on to explain just how a man of prestige such as himself could find himself moving from the idyllic Seine River in beautiful Paris to, as Jacques put it, an idyllic life in Appleton — ‘the city that time forgot.’ I conclude that everything in life must be idyllic when you are Jacques — a man of culture, contentment, and no inhibitions.
Except the South, as Jacques told us. Apparently, when he toured the United States looking for a place to move, he purposely left the South out of his travel plans, “as I don’t have a taste for mildew or bigots.” I imagine racism must have been hard on Jacques as a white American in Paris for most of his life. I do not blame him. It must have been those Southern bigots who messed up the renovations on the first house Jacques bought in Appleton, leading him to buy another house to live in while the former was renovated properly. The toil of the well-to-do Northerner! I envy many things about this man, but this situation is not one of them.
Sarcasm aside, Jacques is a kind man. He is renting out this house at a very reasonable price to us college students, and we are insanely lucky to be living here, off-campus in safety and independence. The house has a lot of amenities, and to say that Jacques has been giving is an understatement. There remains one more question, though. As my father succinctly put it: “I’ve come to the conclusion that Jacques is a man of means.” Where did he come about these means? My guess . . . art thief. Just think, living on the Seine, he must have had great access to countless museums and landmarks. The Louvre! The Orsay! Notre-Dame! What a life. What a man. Joie de vivre personified.