Saturday, July 15, 2006


When I was in High School, I took a couple of years of French class. I remembered enough to ask where the train station was: Où est la gare? The problem is, what is the pat phrase that they will respond with? There isn't one. The response will be the French equivalent of "well, you go down by the post office and turn left. But don't turn before the post office, you know, after the post office. Then there is a one-way street, which you want to be on, but you'll be going the other way. So you have to go one street over...." You get the idea. So it was pretty much worthless. Just the same, I signed up for French in college too, because a foreign language was required.

In 1990, I actually went to France. Everyone says the French are rude, and will not let you speak French with them but will instead try to switch to English. Furthermore, "everyone in France speaks English." This is true to the exact same extent that it is true in Texas. "Everyone" speaks Spanish. And if a person from Mexico comes up to one of them and says, "Where to is the ESTACIÓN DE TREN?" they are likely to be answered in Spanish. If that Texan doesn't speak Spanish, the Mexican will get blank stares. How rude.

Anyway, in February of 1990, the English channel, which you may know also borders France, experienced some of the strongest winds in over fifty years. Boat service was shut down, news reports were filed, things blew over, and so on. As we were walking by the channel, we were being blown like crazy, almost being lifted off our feet. Finally, we turned a corner and the wind was blocked by a building. However, there was another couple walking in the opposite direction from us, toward the channel, blithely walking a standard poodle. We tried to warn them, but right there was that French rudeness again. As they rounded the corner, the dog was lifted off his feet and he flew through the air until he sproinged out to the end of the leash, rather like a cartoon. Outside of a cartoon, I'd never seen anything like it.

But that is not the story I came to tell. About six or seven years later, at a work party, the subject of international travel came up. Luckily, I had that old standby about the poodle all queued up and ready to go. I started in with the obligatory apology, "Oh, yes, we've been to France."
My co-worker echoed back, "Yes, I've been there too."
I don't think he realized this was a monologue. "When we were there, they had record winds on the English channel."
He started in again. "No, we had record winds. On the channel. Strongest in fifty years."
This threw me for a loop, but I plodded on. "I think it was about February of 1990."
Once more. "Yes, this was February. Let me think. Oh yes, it would have been about 1990."
At this point I knew I had lost, so I dropped any pretense of telling a story and began that long wait between my own stories when I have to listen to someone else's.
He continued. "As a matter of fact, the wind was so strong, we were walking along in the wind, and finally found shelter as we turned a corner. However, there was this other couple walking a dog..."
Yes, he proceeded to tell MY story. I was so flabbergasted that I couldn't continue, or even make note of the fantastic coincidence that two people working for the same company would have the exact same experience at almost the same time. They could have been on the same boardwalk as us. I spent the rest of the party in a daze, and as it turned out I later left that company without ever resolving that strange incident, so there's someone else out there with the same story as me, but without the punchline.

Looking back, I now realize that I probably had already told him that story once, and he had simply repeated it back to me later as if it was his own. What a great thing to do to someone who starts repeating themselves and retelling the same story. Of course, I would never do that; I'm not that old. Now you kids get off my lawn.

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