Riding in Jacques old, beat-up Citroen van was a comfortable feeling for Cosmo. He felt at home in the shabby; neat or orderly surroundings made him fear he would spill or knock something over, which he then inevitably did.
New Jersey seemed light years away as they headed down the two-lane highway into the center of France. The curves became more frequent, though the towns with their cafés, bakeries and supermarkets looked the same. Cosmo wished the ride would never stop, that they would just keep going and going forever, and that he would simply sit there and watch the world go by.
They stopped in a small café for lunch: sandwich, café plus a beer for Cosmo.
“No matter where I go,” Cosmo mused, “I always seem to wind up doing the same things: eatin’ and drinkin’.”
“What did you expect? Did you think France would be such a grand country of culture that you could live on that? Maybe there is some of that somewhere here, but for most of the people it’s just eat, drink, sleep, work and – of course – make love.”
“That sounds all right, if you leave out the work part.”
“Ah, you sound like a lazy Frenchman. What about self-development and fulfillment of your potential? Do you want to be like those kind gentlemen,” he said pointing to some jolly old men standing at the bar, “getting drunk every day and talking about soccer?”
“It beats working in a factory and talking about soccer.”
“Ah, but those are not the only two alternatives my friend.”
“How should I know? Work or play, they always sounded like opposites to me. Maybe if I had gotten a proper education as a kid, I couldda been some kind of scientist doing something interesting, But no, I’m too old for that and – to tell the truth – I ain’t got no special abilities besides just having a good time. But then, Jacques, you don’t seem to be working your ass off either.”
“Don’t want to overdo it. A little of this and a little of that. These trips to Paris, I not only make money selling to Milos, but I also get all my cravings for things in the big city satisfied. My real life, my work is in the mountains where I am not distracted by society’s nonsense.”
Cosmo dozed off, waking intermittently to catch glimpses of a gray-brown countryside, devoid of the warmer seasonal colors, and dilapidated villages dotted with solid concrete edifices of more recent origin. It would have been depressing if not for the sheer cliffs and gushing streams and rivers which accompanied the road at times.
He woke as Jacques pulled off onto an unpaved road, which climbed the side of a mountain. The vehicle jolted on the rough road, so that Cosmo was forced to hold on to prevent his body from taking a different route.
“You sure you know where we’re going?” Cosmo asked incredulously. “This seems more like a donkey trail.”
“Yes, the condition is not so good, but what can we do? Every time some part gets repaired, the rain comes and washes another part away again. Besides, if it were in better condition, we’d have all kinds of people driving up it in summer for picnics.”
They drove on for quite a while, passing through fields and forests and gradually ascending. At last they reached a clearing, with a huge old house and barn in the middle of it. There were some cows, sheep and goats grazing in the fields and chickens, ducks and geese near the house. A couple of figures in the fields waved as they drove by. Rain started to pour as they stopped in front of the house, and a cold winter wind splashed it into Cosmo’s face as he opened the car door.
“Why couldn’t you have bought a nice place down near the Riviera with some warm sunshine? Don’t answer; I know: too many people would come to make picnics.”
They unloaded the groceries they had bought, not forgetting the cases of wine from a local cooperative. Jacques kissed a couple of men and women on the cheeks in the French greeting style (the original French kiss?) while Cosmo looked uneasily on, unsure of whether he should follow suit.
“Jacques, where did you buy this?” one of the women laughed and pointed at Cosmo.
“Oh, it’s just another antique I picked up,” he chuckled.
Cosmo tried to think of some obscene joke about being a sofa and she could sit on him, but them decided he had maybe better behave until he got a feel for the place. “My name’s Cosmo. I’m a friend of Milos in Paris.”
“Oh, you know,” Jacques said, “The Czech guy I sell all the antiques to. Cosmo’s on a world tour, and what’s a world tour without the center of France.”
“Actually, I’m just doing a comparative study of goat breeding, especially in connection with the antique business.”
“Yes, yes,” Jacques concurred. “You have hit upon my secret: the more I smell of goat, the older people believe my antiques. And my stink keeps them from examining the antiques too long or too closely.”
“I oughtta get that smell to keep people from hassling me in New Jersey.”
“Don’t worry; we can arrange that. How are you at milking goats?” one of the woman asked.
“I was afraid of something like that,” Cosmo chuckled. “Actually, I’m better at drinking wine, but I’ll let you teach me anything.”
“Oh no,” the woman sighed. “Another love-starved, alcoholic American. You should be good company for the monk. Still, I’m sure Jacques told you the rules: if you want to stay a while, you have to help with the work.”
“That’s a clever way to keep the number of guests down. As a matter of fact, Jacques, you did forget to mention it.”
“Oh, did I?” he contemplated. “Oui, I guess I did. But then I thought you were going to Italy. Of course, you can stay here for a while if you like, but I hadn’t thought about that.”
“Italy ain’t going nowhere. Besides, like you said, what’s a world tour without the center. I’ve been going around in circles enough of my life. When do we start this goat business?”
“Ah, come on in and have a drink first,” another man suggested. “Arlette, don’t be so hard on these people. They’ve been driving all day and look at all the food they brought.”
“Yeah, sure, just as long as it’s a drink and not the whole case,” Arlette said sarcastically. “I’ll be over there when you’re ready to start,” pointing to the barn and stalking off.
“Don’t worry about her. C’mon, I’ll show you where to put your pack,” the man said motioning for Cosmo to follow.
“What’s eating her?” Cosmo asked surprised at the sudden tension and the woman’s aggressive posture.
“Ah, it’s the monk again. Just cause you’re an American… Forget it. My name’s Béru.”
“Bayroo,” Cosmo tried to pronounce, failing miserably with his American ‘r’ and ‘u’.
“Ha!” Jacques shrieked. “Makes you sound like a cowboy!”
“Yeah, well this is a ranch, ain’t it?”
“Who’s this monk?” Cosmo asked.
“Oh, you’ll meet him, don’t worry. Just another American. Let’s test this wine you brought.”
Béru showed Cosmo a room on the second floor almost completely covered by old and not so clean mattresses. “You can take your pick; you’re the only guest we have now. In the summer lots of people find their way up here, so that it’s hard to get a free bed. Many people prefer sleeping outside then anyway. But this time of the year…,” he gestured toward the empty beds. “Just as well. In the summer we have lots of work and can use the help, but in the winter it’s more a time for relaxing.”
“Don’t sound like that woman’s got much relaxing in store for me.”
“Ah, Arlette’s just testing you. She’s pretty fed up with freeloaders, and besides, it’s her week to milk the goats, a job she hates.”
They walked back downstairs to the kitchen where Jacques was already putting the groceries away.
“Du vin, du vin, pour Cosmo! You will need something to keep you warm out there.”
“Yeah, it that icy rain don’t get me, Arlette’s icy stare will.
“Ah Cosmo,” Jacques sighed pouring out three glasses. “Milos claimed you are a ladies’ man par excellence. You should have no problem appeasing her ill-begotten temper.” He paused and reflected. “At least you should be able to convince her not to tear you apart.”
“That sounds great. Cheers”
“Santé!” Jacques and Béru echoed.
They were sitting at the end of a long wooden table with chairs for a dozen. The spacious kitchen had wooden cabinets along one wall and a large stove along another. There were a couple of sinks next to some half-sized refrigerators covered by cutting boards. A huge mound of recently washed dishes was stacked, albeit somewhat unprofessionally. Cosmo’s eyes wandered to the window where the rain was beating harder and night was approaching. He already felt chilled and was not in a great mood for venturing out.
“I bet she’s finished by now. How about if you put me on the making-a-fire-in-the-stove brigade.”
“Oh no, it’ll take her a while to round up the goats. She’s probably just getting ready to start now,” Jacques said.
“Yeah,” Béru added. “Actually, she’s got a rotten deal, because two people are supposed to do that job, but we had a big argument with Henri last week and he left.”
“And Henry was on the goat detail, I take it.”
“You’re quick, Cosmo. So actually Arlette will be quite grateful to you if you help her. She’s really a good person, just gets mad sometimes.”
“Yeah, especially when the monk starts up some of his nonsense.”
“Who’s this monk guy you keep talking about?”
“Oh, that’s just some American lives over the hill over there. He’s a little, how do you say, eccentric, that’s all.”
“Oh la la! Eccentric! That’s great,” Jacques agreed. “But you’ll meet him sooner or later, and then you can make up your own mind. Right now let’s get our chores done, so we can enjoy some more wine in comfort this evening.”
Cosmo got his rain poncho out and Béru showed him some galoshes he could borrow. He trudged to the barn and rationalized that it was better than watching television.
“Finally!” Arlette exclaimed. “Here’s a bucket and you can use that stool over there. Come on, I’ll hold this one in place so you can get started.”
“Started what? I thought you were gonna teach me.”
“Oh, why can’t we ever get any visitors who grew up in the countryside?!”
“Guess cause they’re all visiting the city. How ’bout if I hold that stinky old thing while you milk it?”
“Cause when I do it, she doesn’t try to run away. Look, maybe you should just take that pitchfork and go up and get some hay for the sheep. Just throw it in their pen.”
“Sure. That’s all?”
“Yes, and then I’ll show you where to feed the rabbits.”
“And then don’t worry. Just get to work and stop standing around like a dumb fool.”
“Damn,” Cosmo moaned. “For someone so pretty, you’re an ornery woman.”
“Yeah, well maybe I got my reasons.”
Cosmo did not really care though. He was content to get some exercise after the day in the car, and – like most city people – the first hour’s work on the farm gave him the illusion of well-being and communion with nature.
He worked quietly when not so efficiently, frequently dropping hay and having to go back and pick it up. It seemed quite far from up in the loft to the pen where the animals were; he wondered whether there were not a more efficient way to arrange things. He would have asked Arlette, but she had her back turned to him, and her defiant attitude made him realize that it was useless to try and make small talk. Besides, he was in too much of a good mood to let her ruin it. The old barn with its poor lighting and sounds of animals was so far removed in atmosphere from New Jersey that he felt a great peace of mind just to be there.
Each time he finished a chore, she would bark out another as soon as he approached her. After about three quarters of an hour they were finished, and he watched her stalk out, though not so adamantly as before.
He followed her and asked, “What should I do now?”
“How should I know? Do what you want.”
“Okay, I’ll come along with you, if you’re going back to the house that is.”
“You’re not the real friendly type.”
“Don’t take it personally, but if I were friendly to everyone who passed through here, I’d have to be rather insentient. Right now I’m cold, tired and hungry, and I have a lot of other things I still want to do, so spare me your life story or problems.”
“Whew! I get the message.”
Back at the house, Jacques was nowhere in sight. A man and a woman he had not seen before were cooking in the kitchen, and they apparently spoke no English because they responded to Cosmo’s inquiries in their native language. Fortunately, he had seen where Jacques had stashed the wine, so he grabbed a bottle and glass and retired to the large communal room adjacent to the kitchen.
Settling back in a comfortable old armchair, Cosmo drank the wine and let his mind wander. He could hear muffled sounds from the kitchen and people walking somewhere upstairs in the house, but alone in the communal room an unusual silence prevailed. The wine made him hungry and he wondered whether he should get some food for himself in the kitchen or whether the couple were cooking for everyone. After a second glass of wine – not being accustomed to slow savoring – Cosmo got up and looked around the semi-dark room for a television. There did not seem to be one, although he did locate a stereo system in one corner on a shelf, which he could not figure out how to work. Bookshelves lined one wall, and he turned on a light to look at the offerings. They were mostly in French (he assumed), and he soon gave up and sat down to drink more wine.
He dozed off after a couple more glasses, only to be woken by the clatter of dishes in the kitchen and hearing Jacques call his name. He staggered over there and saw nine adults and two children eating dinner.
“Ah, there you are!” Jacques exclaimed. “I thought maybe Wohnyo had kidnapped you. Come on and pull up a chair; we’re just getting started.”
“Yeah, I could use some food. What’s that you said? One what?”
“Not ‘one what’, ‘Wohnyo’, the monk.” And turning to the others, “Hey everybody, this is Cosmo, the world-famous traveler.” And he proceeded to list the names of the others, although they were not really listening since only he, Béru and Arlette spoke English. Besides, guests were almost too common there.
“I’m sorry I won’t be able to remember your names so quickly,” Cosmo said to the others who did not even look up but were instead intent on dishing out the food.
“Don’t worry,” Jacques chuckled. “They won’t remember yours either. Here, let me give you some of this stew.”
“What is it?” Cosmo asked out of politeness.
“It’s called ‘boufe à la montagne’,” Jacques said with a twinkle in his eye as Béru and Arlette laughed.
“Okay, so I’m an ignorant Yankee,” Cosmo said good-naturedly. “But it smells great anyway, and I could use some warm grub.”
“Did you hear, Josette?” Béru called to a woman at the other end of the table. She looked up upon hearing her name. “Cosmo says your food is great.”
She shook her head, not understanding. Béru repeated it in French: “Cosmo dit que le boufe est super, c’est le pied!”
“Merci, mais je suis desolée que nous avons pas pu faire des hamburgers,” she answered sarcastically, since she imagined he was doing likewise because they were only having a simple stew.
“What’s going on?” Cosmo asked. “Jacques, what did they say?”
“About le boufe, the food, tu sais, c’est le pied!”
“It’s zee foot!” Arlette laughed.
“The food is the food?”
“Non, non, Béru laughed. “The food is the foot! It’s zee foot!” he shrieked in an exaggerated French accent.
The other French understood enough English to get the joke and also began laughing and repeating, “It’s zee foot! It’s zee foot!”
Cosmo shook his head. “What’s the big joke? Is it a pig’s foot, cow’s foot, or maybe even a sheep or goat’s foot? I ain’t so particular; you should see some of the slop I’ve eaten in my life. At least this tastes good.”
“Qu’est-ce qu’il a dit?”
“Il a demandé de quoi c’est le pied: du cochon, du mouton, du chèvre…”
They all laughed again. “Il est drole, l’americain,” one of the children exclaimed.
“I think I need a drink,” Cosmo said exasperated. And because they were all looking at him expectantly, he added two French words he had heard in Paris, “Pour boire,” and pointed to his glass.
“Il veut un pourboire!” Arlette laughed. “Probablement pour ayant raconté des blagues!”
Cosmo did not understand her words, but he knew she was making another joke at his expense.
“Never trust a woman,” he said to himself. “After all my hard work.”
“Un pourboire pour Cosmo!” Jacques joined in. “Après tout, un pourboire c’est pour boire, mais peut-on boire un pourboire?” And he answered himself: “Mais oui, parce que c’est de l’argent liquide.”
“Pas mal, Jacques,” and they all laughed.
“Shit,” Cosmo thought to himself, since he assumed they were all laughing about him. “What am I doing here?”
“Don’t get upset, Cosmo,” Arlette said seeing that he was getting angry and confused. “We’re not laughing at you. They’re just some puns.”
He was not quite reassured, but — coming from her — he accepted the explanation, since they were the first words in a friendly tone they she had addressed to him.
“Here you are,” and she poured him some wine.
“Oh, we’re sorry Cosmo,” Jacques added. “We get carried away sometimes.”
Everyone was smiling at him, and Cosmo was all too happy to have passed what he assumed was some kind of initiation rite. “Yeah, it’s okay; don’t worry about it. ‘Carried away’, that’s the story of my life.”
They lost their interest in Cosmo as quickly as it had been aroused and were soon conversing in French amongst themselves, leaving him to munch and muse. After dinner as they began clearing the dishes away, Cosmo asked Jacques whether he should help wash them.
“Don’t worry about them; Claire and Georges will do them. You’ve been requisitioned by Arlette to help with the animals this week.”
“Oui, and don’t forget: we start at six a.m. tomorrow.”
“We’ve got an extra alarm clock which I’ll give to you.”
“Aiihh,” Cosmo moaned. “Some vacation.”
“Think of it as a unique opportunity to commune with nature,” Béru kidded. “And it’s free! Some friends who live not far from here have started charging people from Paris to come and work on their farm. A once in a lifetime opportunity to experience nature and a farm, to get fresh air and healthy exercise, a sort of Club Mediterrané for frustrated bourgeois, or — as you say — yuppies.”
“We ought to call this place ‘Club Montagne’.”
“Yeah, well I already got a lifetime membership in ‘Club Sleep Late’,” Cosmo said.
“You can sleep all day if you want,” Arlette responded. “Just be up at six to help with the animals for an hour.”
Cosmo followed Jacques and Béru back to the living room where they drank more wine and the latter spoke together in French. Cosmo soon became drowsy and gave up hope that any of the women would come in so he could flirt. He retired to the guest bedroom where sleep quickly found him.
He was back in New Jersey in his old apartment, and he rolled over trying to smash the alarm clock, which had so rudely disturbed his sleep. It was not, however, in its accustomed place and its shrill sound continued to pierce the darkness. He tried to make out the objects in the room, but nothing seemed right. Finally, he located the alarm clock on a high shelf and struggled out of his sleeping bag into the cold morning to turn it off.
“That bitch Arlette put that there!” he cursed, remembering where he was. “Shit, don’t they have any heat in this place?!”
He looked around for a radiator or a stove, but none was to be seen. He wondered how they survived the winter and guessed that was one reason he was the only guest. The other reason had to be the work detail as Arlette’s pounding on the door painfully reminded him.
Once outside in the cold morning air, Cosmo did not feel quite so bad. He was amazed himself that he did not feel terrible considering the quantities of wine he had consumed the night before. He felt a little groggy, but the air and the exercise that the work afforded him soon dispelled that.
Arlette was not unfriendly towards him. In fact, she was a little grateful that he had actually gotten up and was helping. It was rather Cosmo who was not in a socializing mood. He never really was before he had a few cups of coffee in the morning. Added to that was a predilection to wonder what was going on in new situations, and — at the same time — a desire not to think but rather just enjoy the physical sensations of working outdoors in a healthy environment.
At the end of the hour’s work, Cosmo was beginning to tire and was very hungry. It was a pleasant surprise to find that breakfast was waiting. He thought that he had never tasted such good strong coffee and was not shy about savoring the bread, meats, cheeses and jam.
He had thought he would then go right back to bed, but was astonished to find that he was not really tired. He asked Jacques and Arlette what was next on the schedule, but they just looked surprised and perplexed by such a question. He gathered that he was on his own.
He wandered outside, almost wishing they had asked him to do some more work. The rain had stopped during the night and now the sun was even beginning to come out. Cosmo surveyed the farm’s fields nestled in the mountains. There was only about twenty acres of grazing land before the forest took over. The dirt road that led up to the farm continued — although suitable only for tractors — and Cosmo decided to follow it.
It ascended slowly at first, but then curved and became steeper. It was colder out of the sun as the forest was rather thick. Cosmo could not remember when he last experienced such quiet. Occasionally birds were to be heard or the sounds of a small animal — maybe a mouse or a rabbit — rustling among the fallen leaves and branches, but otherwise there were only the sounds of his feet trudging and his breathing. He reflected that he ought to get more exercise; city life and drinking had certainly taken their toll.
“What would happen if I just decided to stay here?” he mused. “Fresh air, good wine, and that Arlette …, well, she’s not so bad looking.”
He did not believe that she would remain so cold forever. And then he could learn French and how to make that delicious goat’s cheese. Life would …
“Où vous en pensez y aller?” a voice yelled at him as a figure dropped down in front of him, apparently from a branch overhead, although Cosmo was too startled to consider that at the moment.
“What the fuck?!”
“Reponds vite! Où va ton chemin?!”
“Hey buddy, just be cool with that stick,” Cosmo said, not sure whether he was seeing correctly. A tall, black man in his mid-forties with a shaven head and a long gray robe was threatening him with a big stick. He was holding it high in his two hands, and Cosmo sensed something between tenseness and concentration in the man’s movement, or rather his non-movement since he seemed almost frozen. Cosmo warily took a couple of steps backwards.
“Hey, take it easy. I didn’t know this was no private property,” Cosmo tried to reassure the man. “I was just going for a walk, and now I think I’ll just walk on back.”
He was trying to calculate his chances of making a run for it.
“Oh, so you’re an American,” the man said relaxing his features and breaking into a grin. He brought the stick down and held it in one hand like a staff. “It’s about time you came. I don’t suppose you know any Korean, but then I suppose you’ll have to do.”
Cosmo was almost as surprised by the man’s sudden change of countenance and tone as he was when the man first appeared. His accent was American and he was not unfriendly.
“Say what? Do for what? I’m afraid you got me mixed up with someone else.”
The man, however, did not seem to be paying attention. He waved his hand and took off into the forest. Cosmo could not discern whether the man had waved goodbye or had beckoned him to follow, but he did catch a glimpse of what he took to be a skull dangling on a string tied to the man’s waist. That was enough to convince him that adieu was the better interpretation. After watching the man disappear into the forest, he turned on his heels and headed quickly back to the farm.
When Cosmo arrived at the clearing where the farm was, the man was sitting on a rock waiting for him.
“Why didn’t you follow me and take the short cut? Don’t answer; I know: you’re a nature lover, probably some follower of Tao with all my luck.” And he turned, leaned back and lifted his face to the sun: “Actually nature’s not so bad, you know,” he sighed as the sun’s rays warmed him.
Cosmo was at first taken aback to find the man there, but he did not feel threatened in sight of the farmhouse. “Just another weirdo,” he thought. “We got plenty of them back in New Jersey, though this one could compete with the best of them.”
“Tao who?” Cosmo asked. “Don’t believe I know him. Say, you must be the monk!” he said excited at his own discovery.
“The monk!” the other shrieked. “The monk, the monk! Who told you that? Those stupid hippie farmers, my god, can’t trust them to get anything right. Wouldn’t surprise me if they starting mixing up Vishnu with Mohammed. Still, they make good cheese …” He seemed to be contemplating something.
Cosmo was not sure what to answer. He certainly did not want to antagonize a man much bigger than himself and with a big stick. “Well, maybe they meant someone else…”
“Oh nonsense! Of course they meant me, but then they’re not the only ones to call me that. It’s not so terrible after all, just not true. I always wanted to be a monk, but alas … . Hey, did Jacques bring back some wine with him yesterday?”
“Well, …, yeah.”
“Then what are we waiting for!?” And he sprang to the ground and headed in the direction of the house.
Cosmo shrugged and followed him. He had enough of exploring for one day. Who knows what other kinds of weirdos were lurking in the woods?
“Who are you anyway?” Cosmo asked as he caught up to him. “I mean, if you’re not a monk.”
Cosmo felt secure enough to look the man up and down. He was four or five inches taller than Cosmo — who was five feet eleven himself — and rather muscular looking. Even with his head shaved he was strikingly handsome, so much so that even Cosmo noticed it.
“Who am I?! Why do you have to ask such a philosophical question. Can’t you just ask my name like some normal human being?”
“Hey, don’t go start talking about normal, cause I don’t wanna say nothin’, but you ain’t exactly dressed in the fashion of the day. Nothing personal, mind ya.”
“Oh, aren’t I”
“Well, to tell the truth,” Cosmo added, “I don’t know a whole lot about these Frenchie ways. I thought they all wore berets before I came over here. Maybe you got the mountain fashion, but then you don’t sound like no parley-vousie either.”
“No, I’m Korean.”
“I said I’m Korean. At least I was in most of my previous lives.”
“Previous lives?” Cosmo questioned hesitantly. then he feigned understanding: “Oh, I get it.” He considered making a joke, but the man looked too strong and unpredictable.
They reached the house and the other immediately went to the stash of wine and opened a bottle.
“Looks like you know your way around here,” Cosmo commented.
“Well, we got real neighborly ways. Here’s a glass for you,” and he poured Cosmo some wine. Then he took what really was a small skull attached to his waistband and poured his wine in there.
“This guy musta been in Vietnam,” Cosmo thought.
“Cheers!” And the other took a long draught. “By the way, my name’s Wohnyo.”
“One yo? Ah, pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Cosmo.”
“Cosmo! That’s great! I’ll have to check the Chinese characters.”
“What kinda character is that? Is there some kinda Kung Fu star living out in them woods too?”
“Ah, you’re really a clown I see.”
“That’s what everybody here seems to think, although I’ll be damned if I can figure out why. What’s your name again?”
“Wohnyo,” he repeated clearly and slowly.
“One yo? What’s that? Half a yo-yo?” Cosmo asked feeling brazen from the effects of the wine and partially just fed up that everyone seemed to be making a fool of him.
“One yo, half a yo-yo!” the other shrieked. “Ha, ha! Yes, that’s great. You must have some more wine. What is one half of a yo-yo?” he questioned, but answered himself, not giving Cosmo a chance. “It’s like the sound of one hand clapping, of course.”
“This guy is really nuts,” Cosmo thought.
“Ha, ha, I know; you think I’m a total yo-yo. But that’s okay, and I won’t tell you what I really think of you,” he reprimanded as his tone became serious. He filled his skull with more wine and then took another sip.
“I always give my friend a drink before I take one,” Wohnyo said motioning toward the skull as he noticed Cosmo’s eyes upon it. “Of course, you might say that it goes to his head, but then he ain’t a whole lot worried about such things at this stage of existence.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of a unique mug you got there.” And then noticing his own pun, “The mug’s mug.”
“How about a mug shot?! The original!” Wohnyo screamed with delight holding up the skull. “Yes, yes, I know you had to be the one.”
“Wait, hold on a second, bro. One What?”
“One yo?! Ha, ha! Of course not,” the other laughed. “That’s me, Wohnyo. We’ll have to see about you.”
Just then Arlette walked in. “I should have know: ‘le complot americain’. You two make quite a pair,” she said sarcastically.
“Ah, fair maiden of the mountains, your soft voice assuages my darkest fears,” Wohnyo jested and then kissed her on both cheeks in the French style of greeting.
“What about me?” Cosmo asked. “Don’t I get one of those greetings?”
“I just saw you this morning. What do you think? We do that all day long every time we meet?” Arlette chuckled.
“With you I love to do it all day and night long,” Wohnyo exclaimed.
“Ha! Some monk you are.”
“Ah, there you go again. But even if I were a monk, why should I be constricted by those silly prohibitions? Prohibitions are only for those concerned with the things of this world.”
“Yeah, I know; you’ve gone beyond it,” she mocked. “Then why do you need that wine?”
“Who said need? It’s here …”
“And then it’s gone,” she interrupted.
“Exactly. So why shouldn’t one enjoy without imposing some kid of worldly constrictions.”
“Will you cut the bullshit and just pour me a glass. Otherwise I might remember that I’m angry at you.”
Cosmo grabbed a glass while Wohnyo just smiled at her. “That’s right, you should be concentrating on the search for the truth and leave these worldly affairs to me and Mademoiselle Arlette,” he said winking at her.
“Oh no,” she sighed. “Two drunkard Romeos and Americans at that. I leave Paris among other things to get away from all those American phonies running around and pretending they’re artists or some reincarnation of Hemingway, come to this desolate region where even the French no longer usually venture, and wind up drinking cheap red wine at eleven in the morning with two social outcasts, victims of the alienation process in the advanced stages of capitalism.”
“Who do you think Hemingway was a reincarnation of?” Wohnyo wondered. And after a moment’s reflection added, “But anyway, ma chère, at least you’re not sipping Perrier with two yuppies à la française, you know the kind that vote for Mitterand and his nuclear power plants, who don’t waste any words on his secret service when they assassinate ecologists.”
“Calm down, Wohnyo,” she laughed. “Good thing you do drink wine; it keeps you out of trouble. Otherwise you’d be a front-line activist for sure.”
“I’m active where it’s necessary,” Wohnyo responded.
“What do you do?” Cosmo asked.
“What do I do?! Don’t be silly; you know, or if you don’t, you should. Think back to your previous life, and you’ll know why you came to this place.”
“You mean back in New Jersey as a beer drinking factory worker?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it! See Arlette, I knew he was the one!”
“Pass the wine, will you?” Arlette scowled.
“Huh?” Cosmo asked surprised. “Are you from New Jersey too? I don’t remember you.”
“That’s not important. Important thing is you remember that life.”
“Well, actually, I’m trying to forget it.”
“Trying to forget it!” Wohnyo was astounded. “The memories are so strong! Fantastic!”
“No, it was lousy,” Cosmo muttered.
“How about the future?”
“Well, I guess I’m heading to Italy …”
“Oh no! I should have known. Not to Italy, to Greece, to Greece!”
Cosmo looked quizzically to Arlette. He was not sure whether he should contradict Wohnyo or just let him rant. She, however, only smiled at his dilemma.
“Yeah, maybe I’ll get to Greece after Italy,” Cosmo compromised.
“Greece after Italy? Is it possible? Greek after Roman? The Iliad and the Odyssey after the Aneid? Don’t you see? All that slobbering servility to the State, that’s nothing but Western Confucianism!
“Confucianism!” Wohnyo moaned continuing. “The bane of our great Buddhist culture, not only in Korea, but in China too! No, you must set Greece as your goal, where the individual’s search for the truth has precedence.”
“I’m sorry Wohnyo old buddy,” Cosmo said with a snicker, “But speaking of the truth, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah Wohnyo,” Arlette chimed in. “Give the guy a break.”
Wohnyo seemed not to be listening. He was staring off into space as if in deep reflection. Then he calmly turned his gaze to them. “Yes, of course, let’s just drink and enjoy ourselves. There’s no sense in forcing anything,” and he took a long swig.
Cosmo was beginning to feel tipsy with so much wine on an empty stomach. “I don’t know nothing ’bout this religion business. Used to be some Hairy Krishnas hanging around town for a while, but I never was fan of jingle bells.”
“Ha!” Wohnyo cried. “Those fools! America really has become crazy. At least if you’re gonna become a Hindu, you’d think they would be followers of Shiva instead of Vishnu. I can’t understand it, all those middle-class brats running around and pretending they’ve got some kind of truth. They even think Buddha was one of Vishnu’s reincarnations! Ever hear of anything so ridiculous?!”
“Can’t say I have,” Cosmo nodded winking at Arlette.
She looked exasperated. “Now you really got him going,” she complained to Cosmo.
“Just cause you used to be one of those fool Bagwanis,” Wohnyo laughed at her. “Running around in those red clothes! Ha, ha, ha! Cosmo, ever see that movie Invasion of the Giant Tomatoes? Ha, ha!”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“That’s where they musta gotten the idea. That or they got ketchup on the brain.”
“You should talk,” Arlette challenged. “Sitting there in your gray robes with an ax handle and a skull, pretending to be the reincarnation of some seventh century Korea monk!”
“Ah, ma chère, which one of us is really crazy?” Wohnyo chuckled. “I think maybe it’s Cosmo, since he wasted so many years of his life in New Jersey.” He grinned knowingly at Cosmo. “It’s crazy to waste one’s life. At least you and I, Arlette, have been trying to make something of ours.”
“Poor, lonesome traveler,” Arlette snickered.
“Whew! Now don’t you go gangin’ up on me with him, Arlette.”
Just then two of the other French came in and chased them out so they could prepare lunch. “Come back in an hour.”
Cosmo felt rather dizzy when he stood up, and by the time he got out of the kitchen door Arlette and Wohnyo had disappeared. He thought he heard her giggling somewhere upstairs in the house, but after a cursory search for the two he gave up, went to the guest room and slept.