Place Pierre Semard,Tourcoing

Part Three in the Derailleur series.


Six changes of underwear (Mormon), two sets of The Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (English and French redundancies), the other Mr. Mac Ironman Swedish-knit polyester suit, six white shirts, four ties, two pairs of jeans, three sweaters, two oxfords, various t-shirts, a pair of tennis shoes, a down parka, six pairs of socks, two completed journals, around 300 hundred slides, a Minox 16mm still camera, an Olympus single lens reflex camera and three lenses, bicycle mechanics tools, a Bulova timepiece from my grandfather, letters from home, various church publications, a Panasonic cassette player/recorder with headphones, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and Even in the Quietest Moments, the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire, leather gloves, and a beautiful gray rabbit fur toque comprised the contents of the two pieces of luggage that had yet to arrive from Paris at the Gare de Tourcoing from the transfer.

I’d lose count of how many times I’d return to see if I could trade in mybaggage claims. Every day after tracting on our way back to rue Carnot we’d make the little detour. The handler at the gare knew me by name, my real name, and became quite sympathetic to my plight, even had the sensitivity to pull me aside after a month of visits and counsel me that I will not see my luggage again. I asked if I could check their unclaimed bags one more time. I’d really like the watch and the toque back, and the slides. And the Minox, a cool little spy camera. And my journals.

My companion was sympathetic, too. He was my first real exposure to an Aussie, and the Land Down Under couldn’t have had a better envoy. Charming and handsome, brilliant, fluent, unabashed in his manhood, I’d be sad to see him go after four weeks. On door approaches people would ask him to speak more French because he was so delightful to listen to as opposed to the Quebecois influence on my dialect.

Rarely would anyone tag me as American. “Vous etes Quebecois, non?” No. But they got my comp every time. Despite his charms and our ménage of accents, we rarely if ever taught during the time we spent together. It was well spent in other ways, though. In the course of familiarizing me with the quartier, my comp and I talked about girls. Twenty and still a virgin, I had much to learn from the Aussie.

The concept of forgiveness was lost on me as a young Mormon, at least the, “Gee, Bish, sorry I nailed that cheerleader in the back of my Buick. I promise I’ll never do it again,” kind of forgiveness.

I was dutifully terrified of anything immoral by church standards and believed I was doomed to a fate less than the Celestial kingdom if ever I punched in too much time on the clock at the little factory. That’s not to say I was jerking off at every opportunity. I fought off many a morning glory and shower buddy singing hymns and thanking God for the wet dreams. I had urges and for the most part, denied them.

The heaviest thing I ever did in high school was accidentally cup the breast of my girlfriend while we were taking a nap. In my drowsiness I thought she was facing me and that I had in my hand her shoulder blade. Once I realized the errant wandering of my hand I quickly removed it, only wishing that I had lingered a bit longer in my awakened and state. Check things out a little bit.

Who confuses a breast with a shoulder blade? At eighteen? That would be me. While the little criminals  I had grown up with were scared straight, I was scared naive. Sexual intercourse – the only appropriate and allowable sex – was only available for those bound in the sacred bonds of marriage. Chastity was its replacement for the rest of us.

She was so incredibly sweet. Not long after she wrote me a letter telling me how much she loved me and how much she’d love to make love to me, but she knew I had plans to serve a mission and she wanted to respect me for that, and herself for that matter. So the line was drawn at making out. We’d save that sex stuff for when we got married as soon as I walked out the airport gate in Salt Lake City and whisked her into a cab and sealed our love in the Temple and consummated our union at the Howard Johnson. She Dear-Johnned me when I arrived at my ville after Tourcoing, the city of Charleroi, Belgium.

My comp had sex before his mission. Lots of it, stuff I had up to that point in my life never even dreamed of. And in one grand confession he was granted absolution, and here he was ready to die (a term used when one was released to go home) walking Elder Virgin around the streets of Mouscron. All I had lost up to that point, was my luggage.

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