Sweating a failed friendship

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March 25, 2008

5:35 AM

“Sara, did you show James how to clean the shower once he’s finished?” Helene asked.

p. It was my first day in Paris and I had just taken a shower in my friend Sara’s bathroom. Aside from ordering food or asking for another pillow, traveling requires little from me. Yet I leave every flight drenched in sweat. This probably has something to do with my strong fear of flying. Also, I sweat like a baby seal. During takeoffs and landings, I imagine that every bump is a missile hitting the plane and every gust of wind the sound of one of our wings on fire.

p. No matter how hard I try to calm myself, I leave every flight glistening with sweat. When I stepped onto the tarmac at Charles De Gaulle airport, my fellow passengers had to put on designer sunglasses to avert their eyes because the glare from my glistening skin was so strong. As soon as I slithered into Sara’s apartment later that day, I had to jump into the shower, for fear of smelling like, well, a French person.

p. Helene hovered above me, holding a two-inch wide squeegee in her plump fingers. Helene kept her hair in a boyish haircut that accentuated her lips, which were wide, and her eyes, which resembled half-nibbled almonds. I always assumed that ugly people were nice and nerdy to make up for their aesthetic lack. To use scientific terms, being nice is an evolved trait. For fear of dying a sad and lonely death, ugly people work a little bit harder to make friends.

p. Not Helene. She insisted that I go back to the bathroom and, using her dwarf-sized squeegee, dry the glass of the shower. Twenty minutes later, when I finally finished, I asked Helene where she kept the curtain. The current shower was made of clear glass, and looked out onto a busy market three stories below.

p. “I don’t own a curtain,” Helene said. “If you want to buy one you’re more than welcome to. Sara can show you how, in case you get confused.”

p. My initial frustration gave way to grief. I felt sorry for the people in the market below Helen’s bathroom, who probably grew sick from an almost non-stop peepshow. It was a good thing Helene didn’t shower much, because I’m sure she luffaed like a hippopotamus. The sight of her rotund hips and careless paunch probably left many passersby in need of a state-funded psychiatrist appointment.

p. I always feel a compunction to make mean people like me. Winning over a jerk feels like an accomplishment. At first, I considered buying a thank-you gift to give to Helene. She was, after all, letting me squeegee her bathroom for free. I hoped that the perfect gift would make her realize what a charming person I am, and she would then invite me to sleep on the blood-red love seat in the den. Anything would beat the hardwood floor of Sarah’s bedroom, where I slept restlessly.

p. At night, I avoided shifting in my sleep, for fear that the sound would drive Helene mad. Because Helene is ethnically Jewish, Sarah and I were not allowed to keep pig meat in the apartment. I even made a point of laughing less. On the second day of my trip a joke sent me into a fit of laughter, and my cackles distracted Helene from her work.

p. “Could you laugh less?” Helene asked. “While you laugh, I am trying to read.”

p. It turned out that Helene only loved one thing: the Holocaust. When Sarah told me this, I assumed she was joking.

p. “No really,” Sarah said, “whenever she’s not at work or eating she’s watching movies about the Holocaust. It’s her only hobby.”
That night, I returned from the Eiffel tower to find Helene sitting alone on my coveted red loveseat. On the television she was watching a documentary about Jewish refugees after World War II. Tears filled Helene’s nut-shaped eyes, making the orbs glisten like oily peanuts. At first, I thought this must be a coincidence. I myself enjoy a good Holocaust documentary on occasions. Yet, every night that week I came back to find her watching a different film. The only exception was the night she picked a film about the nation of Israel.

p. No wonder Helene was so mean, she spent all her free time watching films about the most depressing event in recent history. Clearly people should recognize that the Holocaust happened, but who needs to be reminded of this fact for two hours each day? Just because the Jewish people were persecuted does not mean I should be subjected to 20 minutes of torturous work in Helene’s shower.

p. On the plane ride from Paris to Atlanta, I contemplated my failed attempts at friendship with Helene. Nothing, not even the DVD copy of “Schindler’s List” I bought her, seemed to placate the tyrant. Some people are incorrigible, I thought to myself, as our plane hit a patch of turbulent air. Panicked and sweat-drenched, I wished I had a towel to dry myself off with. A squeegee would have worked fine, too.

p. James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. He’s purchased copious amounts of deodorant for those long flights.

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