Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The Devil's Coach Horse, or A Weekend in Bordeaux

One day, back in the late 1980s, some friends of mine in London decided to do me a favor and fix me up with an almost famous British author who was coming to “write” in Paris for a while. They thought it was time I dated someone with more to offer than the dinner check or Chlamydia. Yes, my last beau had been a broke photographer who’d given me Chlamydia (hey, it happens to the best of us), and immediately previous to him I’d dated a strange man (I still don’t know exactly what his profession was) who’d declared me “an angel” in a café — an unfortunate misreading of my personality. Things had gone rapidly downhill for us when I’d noticed a large, moist green-grey booger in his nostril one day, from which point I was helpless to look at him without thinking I was seeing one again every time the light played on his nostrils, which just happened to be naturally lumpy and shiny to begin with. He wrote me an affectionately psychotic farewell love poem that contained the word “larval.” Last I heard he was living on a remote Polynesian island, having fathered a large family.

So, why not? I’d never allowed myself to be set up. For me, it had always been a matter of pride turning down set-ups and blind dates. But maybe being realistic and practical might be a good change from proud: who was I to be proud after Germy-McPenis and Ol’ Booger-Nose? I had to admit that the empirical evidence pointed to the possibility that pride was not a luxury I could afford. I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m wrong, so I said yes. Why not. Set me up! Send him over.

Well, my first thought upon meeting this guy was that he wasn’t my type at all. He seemed to be about seven feet tall, which isn’t a bad thing, except it was mostly neck. But I was determined to be open-minded. He was an almost-famous writer after all. There must be something good about him. By way of introducing himself, he’d given me a copy of his most popular book (not his latest), which was straight out of the trendy late-eighties British dick-lit department. It seemed to reveal that he was overly sentimental about himself and his sex drive, narcissistic in a “meta” way, but I didn’t think that was necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it seemed like a late-’80s thing, which I accepted might make him just a perfectly normal specimen of his generation.

He proved to be amusingly quirky with his constant objections to my apparent sexism: for example, one late summer afternoon while walking along the Seine in a sundress with him I announced that I was feeling chilly, to which he responded: “Well, I hope you don’t expect me to give you my jacket just because I’m a man. I’m cold, too.” It was such a refreshingly offbeat and stupid thing to say that, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I put it down to a calculated British sense of humor (do the Brits have any other kind?) and delicately consumed all further similar blurtations (and privations of warm jackets) as if they were high tea and cucumber sandwiches, savoring the privilege of being amused by (rather than, thankfully, part of) his weird culture.

He had a habit of holding my hand up high, almost as if we were dancing a minuet, when we walked down the streets of Paris holding hands. Again, beguilingly strange. So, people stared: I reckoned that after stripping in front of strangers to nothing but a flesh-colored thong backstage of fashion shows for years I ought to be able to handle being seen clothed and holding hands with an oddball.  “Look!” I said to them all in my mind, “I’ve got an eccentric British boyfriend.”

He favored pretentious pronouncements like, “I can’t learn anything from anyone who isn’t superior to me.” I disagreed, and even suggested he had a few things to learn from me (which he doubted), and then found it intriguing that he really believed his own nonsense. Or perhaps he was just being ironic. I had no idea. He was like a strange animal that had attached itself to me and followed me home, and my curiosity kept me constantly entertained: did this or that action mean he’s hungry? Sleepy? Did he need to go outside? Did he need something to eat? Should I put a bowl of beer out for him?

Sex was alright, nothing fantastic, but nothing for a single girl to sneeze at, either, lest we overlook the fact that it may have been in my interest to interpret his oddities as intriguing rather than objectionable.

Well, one day when I was just about weary of him, however amusing he was, he phoned and invited me to join him for a weekend at a country house in Bordeaux where he planned to spend a week or two. He was already there, in fact. I saw myself wearing a lace sundress, languorous from too much sex, resting in a hammock and sipping red wine under an awning of grape leaves while plump, ruddy-cheeked peasants bicycled by in the dappled yellow sunlight with baguettes and wheels of cheese in their straw baskets. I imagined my lover dressed in rustic white linen, tenderly feeding me red grapes when he wasn’t at a desk hunched over his writing, being a late-'80s genius. Of course, I’d never been to a “maison de campagne.” (If I had, I would’ve had visions of mice in the kitchen and many, many gnats and biting insects everywhere else, instead.)

Of course to this fantasy I said yes. He gave me the address, and suggested that I take the train to the Bordeaux train station, then hitch a ride to the town near the house. He said he would meet me at the Café de la Poste, the only café in that town. I tried to overlook the fact that he was not offering to meet me gallantly at the station. He’d pleaded short of money for a cab. (Obviously he was not in love. But I was getting used to swallowing my pride: I could live with less than head over heels for the fabled romantic weekend with a writer in a Bordeaux country house.) The only problem was that I’m from New York, and all New Yorkers know that hitchhiking is exactly the same as begging strange men to rape, murder, then chop you up and place you in several different garbage bags simultaneously. (And not necessarily in that order.)

So I came up with a very clever plan. The next day I went to the Porte de Clignancourt flea market to buy myself a cheap folding bicycle and a basket to hold my six-month old mutt. The only bike I could afford was a little one-speeder, but it was adorable: milk white, with a wicker basket that my dog would fit into perfectly. After buying a bike bell and a bunch of bungee chords to strap my belongings onto the rear rack with, I took it on a test drive to the subway. The seat had a tendency to sink down as I rode along, but otherwise it was a cute little donkey of a bike. At the subway station I folded it, carried it downstairs and brought it home to pack. For the next couple of days I practiced riding around the courtyard with the dog in the basket to get her used to the idea.

That Friday morning, when we arrived at the Bordeaux train station, I took a deep breath, unfolded my bike, strapped my belongings to the rack over the rear wheel, plunked the dog into the basket and, after provisioning myself with some rabbit paté, a baguette and a bottle of water at the local shops, headed for the first point in the directions I’d written down after consulting my road map. But just as I was about to turn onto the road indicated in my directions, I noticed a little, arrow-shaped sign that had the name of the town I was headed for. It was a road not on my map, and it pointed in the opposite direction. That’s odd, I thought. But that was definitely the name of the town.

What were the odds there were two towns just outside of this train station with the same  uncommon name? And why would I follow these multi-step directions and brave a highway, when there was obviously a nice, quiet road that went directly there? I’d had bad dreams about the highway leg of my route. So what could I do but choose the narrow little road with the “try me” sign? I began pedaling uphill persuaded that I was very clever indeed. So, the '80s genius had nothing to learn from me, eh?

About an hour later I was still pedaling uphill. There were absolutely no cars. It was a very hot summer day and I quickly ran out of water. I stopped at the first farmhouse I saw and knocked on the door. A Jean Valjean lookalike opened the door. He was about sixty, filthy, and sweating like a pig. I asked him for water for myself and the dog, and he genially filled my bottle. Then he pointed out to me that he could see my tétons through my sundress because I was not wearing a bra and invited me into the house. “Ah, non,” I said, “you’re too kind,” declining to remark to him that I could see his tits through his sweaty wifebeater, too, “I must be running along! Bonne journée!”

I hesitated at the next house a half hour later, but damned if I wasn’t out of water already. I’d had to use a lot of it to sprinkle the dog’s head and ears to keep her from overheating, so it went fast. As it happened, that day went down in the weather annals as the hottest day in the history of all recorded French summers. At the time the only inkling I had to that milestone was the wonderful epiphany I’d had when the fine, sandy substance that was mysteriously collecting on my arms and décolleté turned out to be salt.

I knocked on the door and a couple opened the door and spoke to me in Spanish. I was frozen in perplexity for a moment before babbling: “Dios mio! Estoy in España?” Did I make a wrong turn? The couple chuckled gently and told me no, they just happened to be Spanish. They filled my bottle, gave the dog a bowl, and wished me a bonne route.

Relieved and watered, I pulled my bike seat back up, whipped out my collapsible hat and put it on over my prescription Christian Lacroix transition sunglasses to battle the elements. The dog was remarkably cooperative. She wasn’t wild about the long, slow uphill segments of our journey during which I sang “My momma done told me,” but she did like standing up on her hind legs, placing her front paws on the edge of the basket and letting her ears flap in the wind on the way downhill while I sang “Blue skies, smiling at me...”

Well, it turned out much later that the road I was on was a very old road that was formed by the valleys in Bordeaux. It was not an efficient highway that cut past all the ups and downs and meanders that I had yet to pedal up and down and this way and that way on all day long. Once you were on this road, that was it. It was a road to the town I was headed for, and nothing else.

At lunchtime I stopped at the side of the road just before another uphill stretch and used a tree stump as a table upon which I placed my glasses and spread out my rustic French lunch. Carmen (the dog) and I lunched, rested in the shade for a while, taking in the idyllic view, feeling the heat waft off the road, watching it create little mirages. We listened to the cicadas. When I felt sufficiently charmed by the countryside and the paté, I put my hat back on, tied it under my chin, cocked it at an angle against the sun and pedaled off again, uphill. About a half hour later I realized that everything was fuzzy. I’d left my glasses on the tree stump.

Going back would mean going back downhill, then back up this hill that I’d just climbed. The very idea made me feel like bursting into tears, so I had no choice but to decide I’d just get them on the ride back. What was there to see on this trip, anyway? It was one long road all the way to town, no place to make a wrong turn. No one would steal them – I’d been the only human on this road for the last few hours.

The rest of the trip was very Seurat. I rode on like a combination of Doris Day (still singing oldies to cheer myself on) and Ahab on his rails , licking the salt outcrops on my arms from time to time, hoping to replenish my electrolytes. Yet even during my frequent stops to pull my seat back up and reapply sunscreen, I still felt smarter than the pencil-necked geek who couldn’t be bothered to meet his lover at the train station.

The sun was setting when I pulled into town, salted like a peanut, my legs feeling like rubber.  I was several hours late. Pretty much half a day late. By this time, I hated the guy I was about to spend a weekend with. But here I was. And here he wasn’t. He wasn’t at the café I was supposed to meet him at, and had left no message. I found a pay phone and treated myself to a flurry of reproaches and irritable suggestions for how to find the house on my own. I had an irritable suggestion myself, which involved him getting his ass out to meet me so I wouldn’t get “lost” again. He arrived on a bicycle borrowed from the house.

On our way to the house, I rode my bike into a ditch and the dog went flying, but my British lover took no notice, just hurried me along with a stiff upper lip. (It really was stiff, I tell you. I don’t know how they do it, those Brits.) When we arrived at the house, he informed me that the dog could not come into the house because of the white rug. He would not bend on that question, apparently impervious to the degree he was imperiling (perhaps, in his mind) or absolutely nullifying (in mine) his chances of getting laid this weekend. When it was time to go to bed, I had to tuck her little foam bed under a bush by my window to prevent her from being whisked away in the talons of an owl, and she howled for a few hours till I took her back in, carrying her to keep her paws from dirtying the rug. Needless to say, I'd selected a guest room instead of spending the night with loverboy.

In the morning, loverboy knocked on my door at 8am (just like an Englishman to wake one up, I thought) informing me that he was going to the market and did I want anything. My legs and arms were so sore from the previous day’s riding that I gasped in pain as I tried to sit up. I mumbled that I was sleeping and sent him away. With tears of pain rolling out of my eyes I fell back asleep till eleven.

I found him in the kitchen after I let the dog outside in the yard, and asked if I could have a piece of toast.

“What toast?” he asked, “I thought you didn’t want anything. I only bought bread for myself. You want some of my bread? I asked you if you wanted anything and now you want my bread?”

Ah. Now, alas, the spell had broken. The spell that made me laugh at things like, “Well, I hope you don’t expect me to lend you my jacket just because I’m a man,” I mean. The man appeared to be serious. I gave him ample time to change his story, but he wasn’t biting. He was for real. Perhaps if I’d known about Asperger’s Syndrome at that time, I might have applied a little compassion to my understanding of this standoff. As it was, I didn’t, so I had no choice but to demand a goddam piece of bread for my breakfast, which I did, and promptly toasted. Then, as I munched my toast, desirous to mask the inordinately loud sound of my crunching in the baleful silence, I asked, “So, what did you want to do today?”

“How about make love? We haven’t done that yet,” he said, facing me, looking indignant in his kitchen chair.

Right. I had no words to describe how unattractive he had become in so short a time. I considered “I’d rather fuck a red-assed baboon,” but settled on: “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to read a book.” I’d noticed a bookshelf filled with English language books in the hall. When I finished my toast and coffee (coffee borrowed and which I promised to reimburse him for), I selected a book on “The Insects of Europe,” figuring there were enough bugs to read about in it to keep me, for a while at least, from dwelling upon the disaster the weekend had become.

I’d hardly gotten through the beetles, when I began to hear short, high-pitched squeaks, spaced intermittently, outside. That was odd. I tried to continue with the beetles, but I heard another squeak. It could be a rusty iron water pump, I thought. But the rhythm was strange. I opened the door and saw nothing. Then I heard another squeak coming from around back. I crept towards the sound, and saw loverboy in a baseball pitcher’s stance (or possibly a cricket pitcher’s stance, though I can’t say for sure), nothing in his hand, apparently. He threw his pitch, and yep — another squeak. Mysterious. I watched as he bent down and chose a pebble from the ground and assumed the pitcher’s stance again, which was when he noticed me. And which was when I noticed my dog cowering against the house.

You couldn’t possibly imagine how inconvenient it was that I had no money to change my train arrangements and go home that very minute. I know I said something in fury, but I can hardly remember it now. I’ve blacked it out. All I remember is that I had a day and a half left in Bordeaux, and that the next day and a half I spent exclusively with the dog.

Since our non-lovemaking presence seemed to gall our host, we explored the countryside. All day long we strolled the roads along the orchards, and though there were no peasants on bicycles, we did have plenty of lovely dappled sunlight. It was in the shade of the trees along these roads that I taught Carmen to heel, and how to tell the difference between left and right. (Nobody believes me, but I did.) I have memories of picking plums up off the ground in a plum orchard and eating them, and wondering if the trees might come to life and slap me if I tried to pick one off a branch. I finished my insect book under one of them, discovering in the last pages the identity of a mysterious black bug back in Paris that had raised its tail at me like a scorpion when I found it in my closet under my hiking boots and screamed. All in all I was quite proud of myself for making the most of an otherwise ruined romantic weekend.

I had dinner alone and planned the trip back to the train station. I still had my glasses to pick up at the tree stump so I’d have to leave at the crack of dawn, judging by how long it took me to get here in the first place. But this time, I was prepared. At bedtime, I packed my clothes in the dog’s bed again, and bungeed it to the rear rack with plenty of water, some hard goat cheese, a dry sausage and a mini-bottle of Bordeaux wine. I laid out my sundress, flip flops (for a half-decent foot tan line) and collapsible hat. I set my little Braun travel alarm and went to bed with the dog. At sunrise, we were on the bike.

It was foggy, but it was a morning fog illuminated by a tender yellow sun and topped by an Easter egg blue sky. Maybe I was hungry, but I remember thinking that riding through it felt like I was a warm knife in butter. The ride didn’t seem as long this time – I guess it never does, once you know where you’re going. In just under two hours I’d found my glasses. Luckily I’d dreamt about them sitting on that tree stump enough times to recognize the spot immediately, even without glasses on. Upon placing them on my nose and trading my flip-flops for sneakers, I doubled back and took the highway. There wasn’t enough time to enjoy the long and winding road again. I actually considered it.

The highway was brutal. Every time a six-wheeler rolled past me, I got hit by the wind in its wake and practically knocked over sideways into the ditch. Just as I was getting used to it with the help of frequent loud exclamations of “motherfucker!” a police car pulled me over.

“Young lady,” asked the officer as his partner stared at my nipple region on my sundress, “Where do you think you’re going like… like… this?” “This,” meaning: looking like a crazy, bra-less woman in a yellow sundress and collapsible hat, riding a tiny folding bike packed with luggage tipping sideways on the rear rack and a dog in the front basket.

“To Bordeaux train station, officers,” I said, restraining my natural belligerence in the face of authority and smiling as beatifically as someone who looks nothing like an angel can. (I may be crazy enough to ride a small, one-speed bike with a dog in the basket on a major highway, but I know better than to sass French police officers.) Upon which they asked me for identification. Trying hard to make my nipples disappear by sheer willpower, I handed them my passport, which contained several pull-out folding pages attached to the original pages.

“Yowza,” they said, or the equivalent in French. Might’ve actually been “ça, alors!”

Apparently they were impressed or bewildered enough to let me go, because after looking at all the passport stamps and asking me what my favorite destination had been (mais, la France, I said, bien sur!), they did. Off I pedaled to the station.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I arrived at the station just in time for the train, and although I knew my host would be on the same train, I did not spot him. Phew.

Upon reporting back to my friends, they expressed disappointment that things hadn’t worked out with the dog-abuser, but I found them suspiciously unsurprised. I threw away his book. We met once more on my way home from the supermarket, fought on the sidewalk in front of some bourgeois-looking old ladies when he refused to help me (just because he was a man) to either carry my six liters of water or hold the dog’s leash before changing his mind (probably shamed by the looks on the old ladies’ faces) and trying to wrest the water or dog leash from me unsuccessfully. Empty-handed, he followed me home, where we discussed his insensitivity before parting forever. Upon my accusation of insensitivity, he’d said, “How can you say I’m insensitive? Haven’t you read my books?”


A few weeks later, I was in my little Paris garret with the dog, listening to Gardener’s Question Time on the BBC World Service while painting an extra window in India ink on my side wall, when a listener in Chichester (or somewhere) called in about a mysterious insect. “It were long and black, and ‘bout near as big as a large beetle, and when I moved, it raised its tail like a scorpion and bit me! Me arm swelled up something orrful and it made me quite ill, it did.”

Nobody knew what it was.

Nobody but me, that is. It was the Devil’s Coach Horse, from the next to last page in the insect book from the bookshelf in Bordeaux.

I ran to the phone, bubbling over in glee...

Previously: One That Got Away.

Carolita Johnson's cartoons appear in The New Yorker and at Oscarinaland.

151 Comments / Post A Comment


This was wonderful. And I'm thankful to read about someone else writing off obvious personality flaws because 'they must be kidding! hahahah, how funny!' The 'oh my they were not kidding,' moment is always charming.


@smartastic Oh my god, right? This piece spoke so deeply to me. <3


@smartastic story of my life for the first twenty years! I kept thinking men were being ironic, when they were actually just being jerks! (I never could believe they really meant it, you know?)

Oh, squiggles

YES! Carolita piece!

okay, now to go read it. yay!

Oh, squiggles

Once again, reaffirming my feeling that Carolita is my favorite raconteur, and my hope that there will be more like her in the world!


@Awesomely Nonfunctional Aw! But without sounding vain, I hope I can say I sure hope there will be more like me in the world! Can I say that without sounding vain?

Judith Slutler

Amazing. He threw rocks at your dog? You strapped all your luggage to a cute little folding bike? Amazing. I love this story.


@Emmanuelle Cunt Me too! Every time I read one of Carolita's pieces, I think, "This is my favorite one." (Then I think back and am like "Wait, what about the dude with the bird? Or that guy who was a jerk--" and just end up recalling all of them. They're all my favorite one!)


@SarahP oh, but THIS one. this one is REALLY really my favorite. I am overwhelmed with how much i love this one.


@candybeans Me too. When does your illustrated memoir come out, Carolita? Because I don't ever read memoirs, but this entry convinced me I NEED yours in my life.

I smell burnt toast

@pterodactgirl I know! I will buy this book!


@candybeans This one made me think of all the things I did while travelling and generally being A Youth that I was all 'what? I went to China by myself and turned up at busstops and travelled out to whatever tiny villages those buses were going to. NBD!' and in hindsight I'm like 'I did whaaaat. Why would I do that, it's ridiculous! And also so much fun and great stories'.

Sometimes I forget that I'm actually kind of a badass.


@pterodactgirl I'm plodding my way there, it's gonna happen sooner or later! I never though anyone would want it, so I'm relishing every encouraging word here! Thanks, everyone.


@Craftastrophies Now I'm looking up holidays that I can't afford. A girl can dream.


"except it was mostly neck" AAh! I LOVE THIS.


@Ophelia heh-heh-heh. He got off lightly. ;)


This was so good. Oh my god. Licking the salt from your arms to replenish your electrolytes! I have never been there, and yet somehow I totally identifed with that.


@myeviltwin I have been, but I was running a marathon so it was like... kind of expected that I was that sweaty and delusional?


I created an account just to tell you how great this is! If you wrote a book I would definitely read it.


@Seacrow Yes! Book book book!

Sydney C

@Seacrow I was just about to say that! BOOK!


@Seacrow Yesss!! I want a whole book of this.


@Seacrow I want a book right now more than ever.


@Seacrow Yes!

(And a book of clean person wisdom too, please)


@Seacrow Thank you! That made my day!

Lily Rowan

@carolita BOOOOOK!! Seriously, if these don't turn into a book, I don't even know.


@Lily Rowan I think it's looking good. I just need to find the right agent/publisher.


I LOVE THIS. I would like to pretend that I would realize someone was a huge dick BEFORE taking that crazy bike ride... But I would just be pretending. I've probably done crazier things for worse dudes. Thank you for writing this.


@RoxxieRae I feel like he could have been the best dude ever, and I'd still hate him after that bike ride. The pebble-hurling at the dog after the refusal to share breakfast would have resulted in him being murdered (possibly via bike ride) while I ranted nonsensically about the bike ride. The crazed "I don't understand why you're arresting me for this" explanation to police would have involved emphatic gesturing from a map of that road to the bike.


@wharrgarbl If I saw him throwing ROCKS at my DOG after that bike ride, the bike, the dog, and I would have had to leave immediately, or you would not have been able to distinguish man from bike when I was done with him. How awful!


@AmandathePanda Ooooooooooh, if I'd caught him throwing rocks at my dog, this would've turned into a murder story SO FAST. That man would've been converted into British Intellectual Foie Gras.


@werewolfbarmitzvah I'm with you. DO NOT MESS WITH MY DOG.


@AmandathePanda Seriously. If I ever caught somebody hurting my dog, I don't think I could control myself. I feel like I would be watching my fist connect with his jaw (and I'm not a violent person) before I could even register what I was doing.

Porn Peddler

@all I feel the need to point out that while I agree and would probably black out with rage/violence if someone were abusing my dog, a dude who is chucking rocks at your dog for fun is probably down for murdering you.

Judith Slutler

@werewolfbarmitzvah boys becoming men, men becoming British Intellectual Foie Gras


@Third Wave Housewife Sadly from experience I know that my rational brain is nowhere to be found in that situation. On the bright side I'm confident that man will never kick a dog again.


@RoxxieRae I like to think I took one for the team.


@carolita You deserve all the happiness in the world for not getting to the cottage, setting it on fire, and pedaling away.

@Third Wave Housewife My rational brain would not have kicked in for like a week afterwards. That bike ride sounds like my own personal Twilight Zone episode. The only thing missing is soldiering up yet another hill only to see Jean Valjean's house coming up again ahead of me while the camera pans around to show the mangled corpses of me, the dog, and the bike all lying tangled up and unnoticed in a ditch.

Faintly Macabre

@werewolfbarmitzvah Seriously. Even if I were too lightweight/scaredy-cat to physically harm the person, I'm pretty sure every object in that house would have been destroyed by the time I was done. Or at least this horrible man's eardrums.


@Third Wave Housewife well, yeah, I dunno if he'd have murdered me, but I sure didn't want to hang around him alone in the countryside anymore!


O.M.G. This guy! Yeesh! I feel skin-crawly and I've never even met him! What's that saying, something like, if he was any more of a tool, he'd be available at Home Depot?

Did you ever hear about him afterwards (that he found someone who would put up with him, or he's permanently single, or...) from your mutual friends?


@dale He apparently dated someone who was into colon washes, after me. Then I saw him years later at a cafe with her (or so I assumed), and when he called my name it took me a moment to recognize him, but when I did all I could respond with was, "You?" and burst into laughter, then walked away laughing like a woman alone with salad, his GF looking puzzled. He's more famous than before, apparently. I hear him on the radio now and then. He's never denied the dog incident! I'll give him that! (for all that's worth!)


@carolita How happy am I that you laughed! Oh, goodness. But I really don't want him to be famous. I want him to have some kind of public scandal - maybe plagiarism! - and be shamed into changing careers.


@carolita Just when I thought I couldn't love this story any more, the "You?" epilogue comes along and makes it that much more amazing!


@dale Somehow I think that his end will be inglorious. It's just a feeling. And it won't have anything to do with me. It'll be a freebie. ;)


@carolita I second Dorothy Mantooth! Perfect, delightful epilogue. I sincerely hope his end will be inglorious. People who hurt animals deserve nothing but the worst there is.

I also second the calls for a book! Pretty please!


This was perfect! You've managed to beautifully illustrate the strange and wonderful situations in which expat ladies find themselves in occasionally. Situations (and characters) that dare you to try things out of your comfort zone and show you the stuff you're made of. Can't wait to read your next piece!


@thatslikeyouropinionman yep, yep, and yep! and thanks! :)


Lovely and insightful, as usual. I just want to hug this story.

I always wish I could willingly retract my nipples. It'd make going braless so much more convenient.


@xine Right?!!


@xine Some days I just wish I could take my boobs off and hang them in the closet, or something.


@Craftastrophies they can be really inconvenient! They ought to have shells like turtles that they can hide under, and peek out of when they're safe from creepy leches!


@carolita Hahaha that visual image. Terrifyingly hilarious!


Cycling a million miles just out of stubbornness sounds like the kind of idiotic thing I would do.


@cmcm I am pretty sure I HAVE done this. Totally get it.


@cmcm I know for sure I have, but not for a dude who threw rocks at my dog (seriously, he would be bag of little bits if that happened) (oh and not for a dude at all)


@cmcm and yet, I did it again. That story was not as funny, but it was a lovely trip biking from Cork to Baltimore, Ireland. Again, my friend and I were convinced hitch-hiking was out of the question. Actually, it might be a good story, now that I think of it. It was a last trip as girls kind of story (my friend was pregnant, and debating whether to have the baby or not during the trip.) (She did have the baby.) Spent days getting there, same leg cramps (though my friend was kind enough to rub my legs with Tiger Balm). Why do I get such leg cramps? Do I have a magnesium deficiency? I rode bikes all my childhood! Hmm. Anyway, there may be another bike story TK! Thanks for reminding me! Yes, I did it again. Hahahahahahahaha. Madness. (But that next time it was for girl friendship, not a boy.)


@carolita I have been told by sports-medicine people that most cramps during strenuous exercise are the work of dehydration. The remedy is usually to drink a lot during the activity, even if you're not feeling particularly thirsty yet.

Speaking of cake, I have cake

Did the almost-famous writer end up becoming famous? If so I'll try and guess who is he, so I'll know to NEVER READ HIS BOOKS

Judith Slutler

@skyandgorse But if you don't read his books, how will you learn how sensitive he really is on the inside???


@skyandgorse Did he publish under Chris Roberts@facebook?


@skyandgorse Pure dick lit, anyway. You'd never read his stuff, I'm sure.

Tragically Ludicrous

@carolita By the way, "dick lit" is my new favorite phrase.

Edith Zimmerman

@Tragically Ludicrous Dick lit keeps making me think of a reeeeally weird candle/candleabra


@Edith Zimmerman Ha! Now I'll never think it without that image again!


What an awful person. I feel like he should be publicly shamed. Throwing stones at a puppy! GRRRR, my blood is boiling just thinking of it! I hope I've never read any of his books.


Love this story. Thank you!

Can you please change "alright" to "all right"?


@atipofthehat Where?


@ ah, I see. But. It wasn't all right, it was just alright.



No, you've got it alwrong.


@atipofthehat Ah, well. See Edith about that! I personally write the way I speak whenever I can, and it comes out "alright" when I say it, not "all right." Sometimes I just go with the sound of it. Language is a living thing!



Anyway, I'm also pulling for you to get a book of these in print. With both fully illustrated and sparely (or un-) illustrated pieces! (?)



What a monster!!! But Carolita, you tell it in such a way that I forget to seethe over how terrible he is and instead get swept up in how wonderful you are!


@tortietabbie Personally, I prefer not to give the leading role to the monster! :)

nico ani

@carolita This sounds like a good life motto!


I'd like to find this guy and hurl rocks at him till squealed like a small doggy.
The rest of the story was delightful.


Oh the spell that makes us tolerate ridiculous behaviour in people we are attracted to.

the weird thing is that it's totally necessary to be able to overlook or accept some of your partner's flaws, otherwise, you will be alone forever right. but how do you learn to overlook/accept the right flaws, while tossing the unacceptable out?

if somebody told me my 6 month puppy had to sleep outside, I would CHFT.

never mind the rock throwing! holy fucking shit. This would be one of those times when all my well-meaning intentions to learn how to control my anger would be hulk smashed.


@redheaded&crazy CHFT?


@nonvolleyball cut his fucking throat!


@redheaded&crazy ahh, yes! I guessed the F correctly at least (& that it was something bad)--then I thought maybe I was wrong & that you'd meant it as an onomatopoetic expression of losing your shit.


@redheaded&crazy I read it as crush his fucking testicles. Throat-cutting is a good option, too!


@cmcm Haha yeah. I completely relate - driven by some sort of stubborn independence and maybe optimism.
Reminds me of the time I tried to move apartments more than a mile across town with only a grocery cart (not even boxes).


@remargaret I did that with a dolly and the bus once. Never knew there was a law against bringing tv sets on the bus...


However, I think the bike ride sounds really badass. In a sundress!


However, I think the bike ride sounds really badass. In a sundress!


I actually gasped at the part where he was throwing rocks at your dog. Holy shit.


@laserbeams not just throwing--BATTING. which just seems worse somehow.


Aaaaaaand now I miss France again. This was lovely, Carolita!


@rayray merci, madame!


"Of course to this fantasy I said yes." Oh to have had that sort of insight when I was in the point in my life that where I made these sorts of decisions (i.e. hanging out with dirtbag foreigner boys whose dirtbagginess I excused as intriguing foreinness).


"he was living on a remote Polynesian island, having fathered a large family." Carolita! You dated Marlon Brando?!?!?


I would have thrown something heavy at his face if he refused to share the toast. Normal people know that "anything from the market" means "anything in particular". Gosh. Great, great story. Echoing many others, I would totally read a Carolita book and anticipate the movie version.


Thank you for taking your experiences with various odious people and turning them into fun, charming pieces of storytelling. Great revenge, or greatest revenge?


@figwiggin They're all just lions and tigers and bears! :)

Beth Anne Royer

so excellent! I look forward to everything you write, carolita! I mis-read this sentence, "while plump, ruddy-cheeked peasants bicycled by in the dappled yellow sunlight with baguettes and wheels of cheese in their straw baskets" as "while plump, ruddy-cheeked pheasants bicycled by in the dappled yellow sunlight with baguettes and wheels of cheese in their straw baskets" but that just made the detail more magical. Thank you for an afternoon mental vacation to a land of beautiful landscapes and hideous men.

Flora Poste

Beautiful and hilarious! This is my favourite piece so far. I love the fact that the day you had to cycle up a million hills in France was the hottest summer day since records began, just perfect.
(and CHICHESTER, what up almost-hometown!)


@Flora Poste Your ID must be a reference to one of my favorite movies of all time, Cold Comfort Farm! I love you.


@gtrachel There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm!


@pterodactgirl I saw something nasty in the woodshed.


@leastimportantperson Sure you did, but did it see you, baby?

Flora Poste

@gtrachel It is indeed, haha thanks! I've never actually seen the film, but I really want to. I've just read the book too many times too count, and it is glorious!


Upon my accusation of insensitivity, he’d said, “How can you say I’m insensitive? Haven’t you read my books?”

HE DID NOT. Holy balls, what a cherry on top of everything.


@Inconceivable! he really did! in my life story he'll go down in history for having said that! I must have quoted him at least a few hundred times, over roaring laughter with friends over the years...

Vera Knoop

@carolita It really is the most amazing thing. This whole story is great, but that line made me howl.


Carolita Johnson, you can paint an extra window in India ink on my side wall anytime. And eat my bread!


@nik you'd be the perfect landlady! (I don't think my landlady appreciated it!)


As a Brit, I'm kind of appalled by the accent's magical ability to gloss over all kinds of terribleness in this story. He threw rocks at a dog, but even before you get to that point, it's like being compared to Satan.


@nestingdoll Ditto! I'd hate to think anyone thought being rude and insensitive was our national stereotype rather than what it should be properly characterised as, as juice box stereotype.

Or maybe we ARE all like this guy (apart form the animal cruelty bit) but we're so desensitised to it that we don't notice. THE HORROR! I shall be examining all my social interactions minutely now.


@megancress Ah, no. Don't worry. It was only the stiff upper lip thing and the sense of humor... I know Brits aren't all nuts like him! But Brits do have their national quirks. Like anyone else!


@carolita It's like the bit in Arrested Development when Michael gets a British girlfriend and keeps thinking she's being 'British' when she's actually mad.

@megancress http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg


@carolita (But nevertheless, I did love this piece!).


I hope the people on Gardener's Question Time were grateful for your knowledge!


@Verity I tried to see if they ever used my answer (my schedule wasn't regular enough for me to follow their every episode). When I called in I only got an answering machine. I also wrote, though. I wanted full credit for that answer!


You can teach dogs right and left.

Gee. Haw.

Consider yourself believed. But what did you use it for?


@beerd I used it to direct her when letting her walk off the leash. I like my dog to stay to my right when walking. But sometimes a dog needs to go to the left to stay out of foot traffic. I haven't succeeded in teaching my new dog left and right, though. Carmen was exceptionally smart. Her sister could tell time, apparently. She came from an elite family of Spanish mutts. There will never be another dog like her. But there will never be another dog like the one I have now, either!

You'll be sorry Jo March

Yay! This was such a fantastic piece! My arms are all twitchy from wanting to punch this guy. I'm glad you and the puppy got out safely, Carolita!


Ah, that puppy went on to live a long, full, well-travelled life. Sniffed the butt of Yves St-Laurent's dog a few times, hung out with JP Gaultier, lived in Madrid, Paris, Weehawken, and Manhattan. She was an angel. Even people who didn't like dogs would stop me in the street and tell me, "I don't like dogs, but your dog just has... something!" Must write about her, too someday.


@carolita So, does the guy have Asperger's Syndrome? Cuz, that would explain a lot!! Not justify his behaviour, but explain it...


@Barracuda I don't know! You know, my dad has AS, and all his life everyone just thought he was a jerk. He's SO embraced his diagnosis, which he only got about seven years ago. All my european friends immediately nailed that he had a form of autism just upon my descriptions of him, way before AS became well-known and the subject of many an NPR or NYTimes piece. (Sometimes I wondered if I was drawn to autistic men just because of my father setting me that example. But maybe I was drawn to jerks because they acted like my autistic dad, but weren't necessarily autistic?) It's a mystery. I'll ask our mutual friends what they think. He definitely is missing some kind of radar or sensor, I'd say, autistic or not...


@carolita One of my best friends was diagnosed with AS within the past few years and when he told me, it all made sense. The offbeat things he'd say, certain behaviours.... I just took him as he was all those years. He felt better having some explanation, as he always felt .... something. Love him lots, regardless.


@carolita How amazing that Weehawken, land of my ancestors, gets full billing with Paris and Madrid, land of my imaginary and wishful ancestors.


@Barracuda Yes, I think it's a relief for lot of AS people when they finally get diagnosed. As far as I know, my erstwhile loveboy has never been suspected of autism, except by me. However, I am sympathetic to people who seem to have the traits without the syndrome. I, myself, feel I've picked up many of my dad's quirks and coping mechanisms just by having had him as a parent to emulate. I think I sometimes act asperger-y without being it. I have to watch myself. Maybe loverboy had similar complications. But the dog thing... That's beyond all this. Eh?


@carolita Yes, there's aspergers in my family too and it might explain some of the guy's awkwardness, but not the animal cruelty. We're pretty sure my grandmother has it, as my cousin's been diagnosed, and it explains so much about her, but she loves animals and would never mistreat them, and is very kind. My cousin's also grown up to be considerate. Having it in the family has made me much more tolerant of all kinds of eccentricity, but I feel like the 'lack of empathy/understanding of emotions' thing is a bit of a mislabelling; aspergers people can have a lot of empathy, they're just not always great at interpreting social cues, which can come across as insensitive. If you explain your feelings properly, they will understand, in my experience anyway. I often find people are quite cruel in response to aspergers-like traits - just because someone's socially awkward, it doesn't mean they're actually a jerk. This guy was a jerk, though.


@nestingdoll This sounds like a sociopath to me. Not Aspergers. The lack of remorse.


@Myrtle Reminds me of a George Eliot book, Daniel Deronda, where the surest sign of the villain's total villainy is his cruelty to an adoring pet spaniel. Past that point, there's no chance of redemption, the man is a HEARTLESS FIEND FROM HELL. (I just googled the character – his name is 'Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt'. Wikipedia describes him as a 'sadist').


@nestingdoll Yes, it's true. (And my dad might be a bit of a jerk, too. But lots of kids of my generation think their dads are jerks, autistic or not.)

Ainsley S@twitter

As a coleopterist, I would just like to commend you for the excellent staphylinid portrait. You really captured its beetleness. <3


@Ainsley S@twitter Comment of the DAY!!!! :)

Katie Davies@twitter

This was one of the best things I've read in a very, very long time. Thank you.


@Katie Davies@twitter Aw, thanks for that, just as I'm about to shut down and get some shut-eye. Such a nice note to go out on. And thanks to all the commenters! I love coming to chat with you guys!


Write a book! Write a book!!


How brilliant.

I am British. This type is well known to us British ladies. If only you had asked we could have clued you in. It's the whole sensitive/tosser puzzle. As Rolf Harris would say "Can you tell what it is yet?". Answer: it's always a tosser.

For the sake of your British readers (and by the way, I'm sure he was English. Welsh/Scottish/N.Irish tosserdom looks quite different) could we have a teensy clue as to his identity. Not full name but this is a small island - we can work out who it was with just a tiny bit of extra help. Won't tell anyone. PROMISE>


@dontannoyme WAS IT MARTIN AMIS?

Alter Kocker

Martin Amis
Dick-lit: check (but not exclusively!).
Dick: check. Probably. But animal-cruelty-level dickishness? I dunno...
BUT: He's not tall or necky. Also, possibly old enough to be Carolita's dad (I immagine). Already had 3 kids in the late '80s, and was way too famous by then to qualify as "almost famous". So no, not Martin Amis.

But who then? People deserve to know. NEED to know. MUST know.


@nestingdoll Nope!


@dontannoyme No, I'm afraid I must remain cryptic on that one. It wouldn't be fair. I tell you, he will meet his deserved fate. He's the type. I know I'll read about his humiliating fall from grace one day and cackle over my breakfast cereal a bit.


@Alter Kocker One should know that if I describe someone's salient physical feature in one of my stories where the person's identity is disguised, I may have displaced the humor -- as the case may be -- from one body part to another in order to maintain the disguise. So necky might not be the misproportioned bit of him. (It was not a private part, though.)

English 'chap'.

It is already circulating the dusty corridors of literary power in the UK - oops, I mean England. Some of them know full well who it is. This promises viral action. If there isn't an OUTING by Sunday, I'll give your favourite charity $10.


@English 'chap'. Only $10?


@English 'chap'. I doubt it. He's really not that famous. And I don't hope for an outing! I just like to tell a good story, and edify my readers. Please don't out the poor sod. I'd like everyone here to know that everyone who's ever done me a bad turn has met their own terrible fates without me lifting a finger. Really. So nobody needs to out anyone. I have a really mischievous little guardian angel. He'll probably get bitten by a rabid poodle one day or something.

English 'chap'.

@carolita Never underestimate the human desire for gossip. But you're absolutely right. What's the point? He's a mere character in your terrific story, and anyway eternal damnation almost certainly awaits him, if only for his sheer gracelessness.


I think the clue is Tarkovsky


@PeckhamNutter ???? no.

Typo Zonies@facebook

Carolita: what a wonderful read; and how kind of you to go through it again so we could enjoy without having to face " Mr. Haven't you Read MY books". Perhaps we are lately conditioned to call it Asberger's when in fact it is ASS boogers.....hell of a trip.

Looking forward to more!


@Typo Zonies@facebook Haha. Yes, assboogers is another condition entirely. ;) thanks!

Zeki Yol@facebook

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