A satire on French-American relations.
|My associates often ask me what it felt like to assault a French waiter. I often reply, not bad, but if I knew the consequences I would've stayed home and ordered a pizza.
There's a French restaurant my wife enjoys called Chevallier's, and I don't mean to stun anyone but the headwaiter Jean Claude, who we had the luck always to be served by, happened to be rude. We'd patronized Chevallier's for three months. Within that time, I'd been subjected to a barrage of abusive language that would've tested anyone's restraint. Worst of all; despite our complaints, he never properly chilled the Dom Perignon; it always tasted flat.
Seconds after we sat my wife needed to visit the restroom. Before leaving she urged me to be polite, "Remember, you have to understand this man. He was brought up this way. He can't help it."
I generally agreed with her, but I sensed something different about this waiter. There was a particular sting in his insults, along with a devious look in his crinkled face that made my blood burn .
He approached with his chin pointed up saying, "So it's you again. What a pleasure."
I immediately felt him under my skin. I tried to order for my wife, but I'm informed that her item isn't available. For five minutes I'm lectured on why. In agonizing detail, all the way down to the disease that wiped out the pheasant population in Paris.
I ordered something else. I received a lecture on how to pronounce the item. And by the way it's also not available.
Bringing his face a few feet from mine he said, "Who taught you how to read menu? What's wrong....are you tired?" I could feel my blood turning into lava. So I said, "Just give her what I'm having!"
He squinted at me, slowly saying, "I thought you say you know what you want. You say you know.....but...you don't." He looked more directly at me, squinting more, "I don't think you know."
He walked back to the kitchen doors. Before entering he looked back and advised, "If I were you I'd order something light. Your wife has been looking heavy lately."
Three months of rage engulfed my senses. I decided to confront him with no intention of touching him. Just to give him a taste of his own tongue.
Storming into the kitchen, I became aghast. He held a bottle of Korbel champagne with a white label attached; it had the words Dom Perignon 1992 written across. He was mixing ingredients into the bottle. I put two and two together.
I knew that flat taste seemed familiar. That taste I could only afford before I sweated my way into upper-management. For three months the weasel served us some second rate champagne and charged us premium prices!
He looked up, seeing my wrath asking, "What you doing here!?!" I swiped the bottle, "What the hell is this !?!" "Not for you!"
He ran out the flapping doors. I charged after him, grabbing his collar. We stumbled to the floor, amid screaming diners.
Simultaneously we flailed away with closed fists, missing more than connecting. He wasn't very imposing, weighing about 155 lbs and standing five foot eight. On the other hand I had previously engaged in only one fist fight my entire life. Actually none if you discount the encounter with my mother-in-law.
We wrestled to our feet. I hit him on his granite forehead with my right fist. I felt my knuckles crack like walnuts. He stumbled back ten paces. I winced in pain.
I had to improvise as he charged at me with renewed vigor. I grabbed an extra large croissant, wrapping it around my hand like brass knuckles. I wound up and gave him a taste of France right on the jaw. The croissants force acted like a boxing glove, vibrating the blow up to his brain.
I leapt at him and again we were on the floor. He grabbed my throat with his massive hands. Gagging for air I reached over to a basket containing a dozen French bread used for display, knocked over by our melee. Time in cohesion with the cool indoor climate created a petrified rock hardness to the two foot long loaves.
I swung several times. His vice-grip unlocked.
I rose with a broken loaf in my hand. He lifted himself up, so I grabbed another one to swat him down again.
This repeated itself over and over, the small particles of hardened bread bursting into the French Onion soup of the screaming patrons. At one point a large chunk of the bread broke off, hitting my wife who was walking out of the restroom in the head, knocking her unconscious. He kept trying to rise, like a criminal refusing surrender. I hit him in every vital place; the back, the shoulders, his face, etc. When he was on all fours, I put my foot on the back of his head, trying to press it down.
I kept yelling, "Get back on the floor!" But he kept lunging. With my last unbroken loaf, I aimed at his left temple. A direct hit, he laid unconscious. I rose with my sweat drenched clothes.
My anger dissipated, I looked back and saw four police officers rush through the wasteland of mutilated pastries, and fine porcelain. I was handcuffed and charged with assault.
After being released on bond, I felt I could clear myself. After all the fight was instigated by his fraudulent, rude conduct. However, the incident turned into a high profile case thanks to a videotape in the restaurant that captured all 72 of my hate-filled blows.
The press especially in France descended on the trial. The DA no longer talked settlement, the judge dismissed my arguments about the fake champagne despite the fact the incident was also videotaped. He called it minor consumer fraud at best.
I had one hope, my lawyer Turnbull Jones. He was one of the most brilliant/un-ethical lawyers in the country.
His courtroom skills were phenomenal. He stacked the jury with all members of Anglo-European, non-French descent. Using an array of arguments from claiming that Catholics might take the assault with the bread as something anti-papal to arguing some minorities would not be able to count up to the number of times I struck the victim.
Eventually every member was a direct descendent from the people who came here on the Mayflower. (But to the viewers in France this made no difference. The waiter was hit 72 times. Any jury in their right mind would surely convict.)
Once we had the right jury we developed a strategy to discredit Mr. Claude, which was difficult. He often limped to the jury box with a fake dazed look. Every doctor who examined him concluded he was in perfect shape. Just some minor bruises and a few bread crumbs lodged in his ear.) Gone were Mr. Claude's insulting remarks I encountered in the restaurant. Instead he described how horribly he was beaten just for doing his job.
To counter this tactic we played to the prejudices of this upper-middle class jury. No doubt the affluent members enjoyed fine dining, and had at one time or another encountered a rude waiter. So we created a sense of identification by detailing the terrifying personality of Jean Claude.
Taking the stand I described the physical encounter, and how it frightened me. I looked at the jurors explaining how I kept hitting this waiter with the petrified bread, and how he kept rising off the floor. When Turnbull asked me to give more detail I said he seemed like a "monster" that kept rising from the floor.
Turnbull then hired a pathologist to interpret the images on the videotape. He concluded that the only way a person could keep attacking after so many hits is that he had to be under the influence of PCP or some other illegal substance.
The tactic was masterful in playing to the fears of the jurists. The idea of a crazed irrational waiter terrorizing future dining experiences created a strong sympathy for my plight.
On the other hand this subhuman portrayal of a fellow countryman insulted the very fabric of French pride. The "monster" like description of Jean Claude fueled their resentment. They could only take comfort in knowing the trials outcome would end in my conviction. 72 hits! No sane jury in the world could acquit someone for such a blatant act.
We then turned to justifying the physical action I took. Turnbull hired one of the top police consultants on the use of force. Using the videotape as an ally the paid expert blow by blow justified every one of the 72 strikes on the waiter. He freeze-framed over a thousand stills in a week long testimony, showing the position of Mr. Claude's body before the hits occurred.
Using software borrowed from an MIT professor he graphed our positions onto a computer in geometric patterns, showing that his postures captured in the frames were attack positions. He labeled my actions a textbook example of the use of force.
Of course I still had to justify the seemingly inhumane scene where I pressed the waiters head down with my foot. When the DA brought this up during the cross-examination I compassionately stated, "I didn't want to keep hitting him so I started pushing my foot against his head, in order to pin him to the floor."
I looked at the unbiased minds of the homogenous jurors who seemed enlightened by this new point of view not portrayed by the media. It took them two hours to come back with an acquittal.
I drove home, and celebrated by drinking a six pack of beer as I fielded congratulatory calls from several business associates. After I sat on my couch my wife ran into the room yelling, "Quick turn on the television.!"
Riots were breaking out all over France. The verdict had driven many citizens into a frenzy. The repeated playing of the videotape, over and over had been so ingrained in their minds that guilt had been a certainty. And there was something else motivating their behavior.
We turned the channel to the Larry King show, the guest was a professor in International Relations from Princeton. Mr. King asked , "Can you explain what is occurring now in France?"
"Well Larry, since the end of World War II, an animosity has developed between France and America. It started when our administration allied with and adopted the policies of their arch-enemy England, in opposition to the anti-global strategies of French President Charles De Gaulle. Then over the decades a cultural invasion of consumerism swept ashore. Their shops became flooded with American products. Over half of all their movies are now from Hollywood. Most music in their shops are American."
"So your saying the French are culturally persecuted?"
"Correct Larry. This consumeristic attack from across the Atlantic erased any grateful memories of our landing at Normandy. They interpreted the site of a Frenchman being hit with ethnic cuisine as a genocidal attack against their cultural identity."
"So the groundwork had already been laid for such an uprising. The beating of this innocent citizen was the spark?"
"Correct Larry. Well, that and the fact that they just don't like foreigners."
My wife turned to me with a cold stare saying, "You just insulted an entire culture. How could you do such a stupid thing?"
"Yeah, but he said you were overweight."
After the break I saw my nemesis Jean Claude appear with Larry King. He had on that same fake dazed look. His lawyer by his side, they announced they would forward a motion to retry me in the Federal Courts for violating his civil rights.
His revelation of being unable to connect with his French culture created a firestorm across the Atlantic. He proclaimed since the beating with French cuisine he couldn't recall many basic facts about French society. He mentioned his stomach often revolted when attempting to ingest foods such as croissants and French bread.
Sympathetically touching him on the shoulder, Larry King asked, "Are there any foods you can eat?" He answered, "I can eat at McDonalds. The food goes down better when I listen to music by the Jackson Five."
At that moment every viewer in France let out a scream. Rioting resumed with renewed vigor. However, unlike people in America who destroy their own communities, these Bastillelites struck with a strategic elan, unrivaled in the history of civil disobedience. They attacked American rooted establishments like McDonalds, burning signposts and overturning furnishings. Record stores were looted of American CD's which were hit with sledgehammers. They did the same with British music, but just for the fun of it.
The most extreme of these factions entrenched themselves up in the Matterhorne at Euro-Disney and began lobbing mortar rounds onto the floats during the Main Street Electrical Parade. Bravely, some level headed citizens tried to advocate passive protest. They became labeled as Burgundians. (The French traitors who allied with the English and helped condemn Joan of Ark.)
The media on both sides publicized these events, juxtaposing the burning facilities with slow-motion replays of the beating. They kept portraying the waiter as a victim of cultural persecution, never mentioning that he lived in the United States since he was a teenager. Or that he liked to dress up in a John Wayne outfit during the weekends and go line-dancing. Worst of all they never reported he was an ethnic Corsican like Napoleon, who before the incident viewed the French government as an oppressor.
The effect on our economy was devastating. The price of Dom Perignon tripled in a week. The price of an authentic French croissant cost the price of a used truck. A month later an extremist faction took control of the French government and banned all American imports until I was extradited to Paris to be guillotined in the same square where Louis the 16th lost his head.
Unemployment in the U.S. skyrocketed. Everyone blamed me. For the first time I started receiving death threats from someone other than my mother-in-law.
I then received a call from a State Department official who said if things became worse they might extradite me to France to appease the revolters. I protested pleading, "You can't extradite someone who was never convicted of a crime. Wouldn't that violate the constitution?" With a chuckle he responded, "True but since when has this government ever abided by the constitution?" (I agreed, It was a stupid question.)
I called Turnbull to help me out of this dilemma. We found out that Larry King would be doing a special show from France at the University of Paris. Through his connections he would send a close associate of his William F. Buckley, the most persuasive advocate of free-market capitalism to speak on my behalf.
Of course, my wife objected . She believed we could reach some sort of understanding with Mr. Claude. She pointed to the fact that the city counsel reached a multi-million dollar settlement with him for not properly representing him during the trial. She pleaded, "We don't need to push this any further. He already has enough money for the rest of his life. Just ignore him and he'll go away."
Had I known the state of Mr. Buckley's mind at the time, I would've had Turnbull cancel this meeting. The normally cool, and intellectually stimulating publisher was in a agitated mood. Before the event he found out he had lost millions along with his Burgundian business partners when their commercial holdings in the South of France were burned down by rioters . The heckling from the French students ruined his concentration.
When Larry King asked him what he thought of all the violence against American business he replied, "It's appalling. These people are acting like children. If they don't want these products then they shouldn't buy them." "True, Mr. Buckley but how would you feel if you were French and all the products at your local stores were American."
With a angry/puzzled look he said, "But, it's their choice." Students then began throwing Big Macs they had looted from a nearby McDonalds onto the stage.
Mr. King stood up saying, "May I please ask that you refrain from throwing anything. But if you must I prefer mine with no lettuce." He brought up a more sensitive subject; the beating.
"So Mr. Buckley, what do you think of that verdict. Can you believe it 72 times, and they found him innocent. Sure he was rude, but that doesn't give someone the right to beat him up."
The normally politically correct proponent of free trade then said something he really regretted, "Listen, I feel real sorry for Mr. Claude, but he should've stayed down." The audience then hurled something more digestible than the previous item: Garth Brook CDs.
The famed capitalist was escorted off the stage by several members of his security force. Mr. King then turned to interview Jean Claude on the wide screen television hanging on top of the auditorium.
"We are now live from a McDonalds in New Jersey with Jean Claude. Bonjour Mr. Claude." He had on that same fake dazed look, but this time he was trembling with convulsions, as he gobbled down a Quarter Pounder. "Bonjour Larry, excuse my eating habits, but I have moved my residence next door to this restaurant because this is all I could eat."
"We're all sorry for your plight Mr. Claude. What do you have to say to the charges that your doing this just to enrich yourself."
"Untrue, I'm doing this for the French people."
"Well, Mr. Claude you just won a multi-million dollar settlement with the city. Will you now end this crusade of yours?"
My wife nudged me with her elbow, thinking this would be over. Then she passed out when Jean Claude said, "Larry if I do that I would let down my country. It's not about money, but about my heritage." The audience let out a loud ovation.
Larry King then pulled out a book, "I promised Mr. Claude we would showcase his new autobiography titled: 'Trying to Stand Tall'." The camera zoomed in a close up, there on the cover was Jean Claude on all fours with my foot on the back of his head.
"This book is currently a number one seller in every country except England, where if your lucky you might be able to find it in the bargain bin at King Henry's used book store in South London."
Larry King then asked, "Are there any last words you would like to say.?"
"I want to tell the viewers in France to keep up the fight. I do this because I don't want them to end up like me."
He then started going into convulsions, so his lawyer and someone dressed in a nurses uniform began shoving Chicken McNuggets into his mouth.
The audience members went into a frenzy, tearing apart the auditorium.
A week later every European country, urged on by their own anti-American factions from within, and fear of retaliation from France agreed to halt imports of all products from the United States. The only holdout was England, as usual.
This Napoleon would be willing to take down the entire economy of Western society for his own personal enrichment. My wife realized appeasing this man would be futile. She grabbed me by the shoulders screaming, "You have to stop this man, he's out of control!" (The thought of living in a society with no cell-phones, weekly manicures, and double lattes finally sunk in with her.)
But how could we stop this seemingly invincible opponent? My readings of French history showed that it was the arrogance, and craving for power that undid Napoleon. We had to find a way to bait this waiter's arrogance, and lure him into a trap the way the Russian Czar enticed Napoleon into Russia. Then we could bring him to his Waterloo.
I arranged a meeting with Turnbull to hatch some plot, but we had no idea what it would be. It must've been a coincidence as I walked to his office, just a block away from Chevallier's. Walking past was the owner himself, Georges Chevallier. He grabbed me by the throat. His receding head pinned on my chest, he screamed, "Idiot! Thanks to you my business going bankrupt!"
Chevallier came to America with the hope of success in the restaurant business. Starting with one restaurant he grew it into a chain making millions. However, this determination to expand made him neglect functional activities, which lead to poor service and waiters like Jean Claude.
Controversies surrounding this event, caused many to boycott his chain. He had severe financial problems. Gripping my throat tighter he said, "I can't afford real cuisine anymore. No more French ingredients! Dom Perignon too expensive! I might have to serve Korbel!"
Korbel! That's it! My eyes lit up like the Eiffel Tower on New Years. The waiter served some second rate non-French beverage in place of Dom Perignon. If we could propagate this behavior we could shake the revolters into sobriety. (Of course sobriety would be on most people's mind if all they had to drink was Korbel.)
First I had to reason with Mr. Chevallier. I calmly explained the plan. It started sinking in. He let go of my throat, and for the next minute listened with a passive look. (I think the knee I planted into his groin helped a little.)
Hours later we were in Turnbull's office, plotting to lure this Napoleon into his Waterloo. The time seemed perfect, his arrogance had reached colossal proportions. We watched on the news the audacity of the individual. They reported he had just accepted monetary offers to speak at victims rights organizations. And he began making cameo appearances at county fairs, allowing visitors to have pictures of them hitting him with rubber bread loaves for a hundred dollars a shot. Like Napoleon he was riding the crest of a ideological revolution for his own self-interest.
We concluded he had to be exposed in a methodically coordinated plan. If we released the story to the press it could be dismissed, maybe a few mentions in the back pages, and then fade. Given their low attention span, and insatiable appetite for reporting emotion grabbing headlines, we had to bring this revelation forth in dramatic fashion.
For months I had been hounded to appear on the Larry King show. I finally accepted, but Turnbull proposed we invite Jean Claude along with Chevallier for a "conciliation" meeting. It would be the highest rated show ever, so Mr. Claude's camp was ecstatic; what better way to gain more publicity.
For the event Mr. Chevallier agreed to an alliance. His credibility would be invaluable. (Of course I had to sign a contract agreeing not to knee him in the groin again.)
A week later the night arrived. Despite our planning I knew the success of the scheme would hinge on the integrity of one individual.
Every viewer in France turned in to see an event that would determine the fate of our capitalistic lifestyles. In the dark newsroom we sat, live in front of the world. Mr. Claude across the table from me.
Larry King had a brilliant smile; this was a major break for him. His career had been in a tailspin, he had problems competing with the tabloid personalities saturating our airwaves. But he was still barely the acknowledged leader in television journalism.
To ease the animosity concerning the beating I informed the viewers how sorry I felt over the incident and spoke about how I was raised to respect other cultures as a child by my dear French babysitter. (She was German-Irish, but she made such good eclairs I considered her French. Fortunately nobody looked into this.)
Then as planned we allowed Jean Claude to speak about his ordeal, and passion for his culture. As they say in France, we would allow the pear to ripen. Finally after one of his grandeur statements about his love for France Mr. Chevallier made an announcement, "This man is fake!" Lifting a videotape from his bag, he proclaimed we had evidence he had defrauded the heritage of France by serving Korbel champagne in place of the sacred Dom Perignon. "We will play this for the world!" he bellowed. (I wanted to pull the trigger myself, but the French never would've accepted the evidence coming from a non-native.)
"It's a trick!" Jean's lawyer pleaded. I looked at Larry King, holding my breath. Then I noticed a slight crinkle on his forehead, not noticed by the viewers. He was trying to mask the excitement at such an opportunity to broadcast live the Waterloo of a fallen icon. This symbol of professional journalism had succumbed to the most depraved practice in the history of mass communications: Ambush Journalism. The integrity on which all our hopes hinged on had been bought over by our teamwork.
He turned to Chevallier still trying to mask his excitement saying, "Wait a minute, are you saying you have proof this man was passing off some half-assed champagne for France's finest?" Jean Claude yelled, "You can't do this!"
"I understand your concern Mr. Claude, but I think the people in France deserve to know the truth. We'll look at this and possibly play this after our break."
I saw his forehead crinkle up again, trying with every ounce of strength to hide the joy of seeing his ratings revitalized. Pointing to the camera he said, "Don't you touch that dial, we'll be right back."
Mr. Claude and his lawyer did not stick around to see the tape. The citizens in France became appalled at the waiters conduct. And all of a sudden we had some interesting stories appear in the news media about Jean. Suddenly we found out about his Corsican heritage. Another surprise, they discovered he left his plain looking French wife for some blond, leggy American with the IQ of a crepe. All of a sudden we found out he drove a Chevy, enjoyed chewing tobacco, and was a member of the NRA.
In a week all the anti-American violence stopped on the streets of France. A somber calmness could be felt throughout the entire nation similar to the climate after the Bourbon Restoration following the Congress of Vienna.
The French are still trying to maintain their identity through rude behavior to the influx of American culture. But they realized acting violently in the name of someone with despicable credibility would be shameful.
Jean Claude was placed in a government protection program, due to threats against his life. Oddly most of the threats weren't from French citizens, but from employees of Korbel who were laid off due to poor sales after Larry King called their champagne half-assed in front of half the world population. Like Napoleon they exiled him to some remote island off the coast of Africa.
My wife and I noticed some improvements in the service the last time we dined at Chevallier's. The food never tasted better. And best of all the champagne wasn't Korbel.