Today’s guest post seemed fitting since I will be in Paris soon. It is written by Jamie Reidy, whose new book “A Walk’s As Good As A Hit: Advice/Threats from My Old Man” just came out. After you read this post I know you will want to buy this collection of funny and poignant essays. I just did. Enjoy the following sweet and tender post and click here to order Jamie’s fantastic book.
VIVA LA REEV!
I was supposed to get back from France today. Unfortunately, my client’s situation changed. But that’s a risk I run as an international dog sitter.
I haven’t been in the business long; in fact, this was going to be my first gig. In May, a friend of my father’s emailed to congratulate me on my book and we struck up a regular correspondence over the next few weeks. (It’s amazing how much quicker I get back to people who tell me how great I am.) In mid-June, Frank forwarded me an email from his stepdaughter who lives in France.
Susan had emailed everyone she knows, asking if anyone wanted a free apartment for a few weeks in downtown Toulouse, an 18th century town near the Pyrenees. The catch? The occupier had to dog sit for River, her 13-year old black lab, whose age prevented him from accompanying Susan on a two-week hiking trip in the aforementioned mountains.
“Hey, Mr. Author,” Frank wrote. “Why don’t you go bunker down in France for two weeks and knock out your screenplay? All you’d have to do is walk the dog a couple of times a day and drink French wine at night.” Oh, sure, I’ll just drop everything and jet over to France for two weeks. Like that’s going to happen. But then, as I sat un-showered in my boxers at 3pm on a school day, I began to reconsider.
Why wouldn’t I do it?
In my newfound role as fulltime writer, I quickly discovered that I have the attention span of a crow stuck in a room filled with disco balls. TV, iPhone, “Hiya, Mr. Time Warner Cable Guy working next door” – distractions lurk in every direction. Burying myself in a city where I know no one and can speak to no one seemed like a brilliant way to get work done without addressing my lack of self-discipline. Oh yeah, and Toulouse is supposed to be a charming little city.
There were some good reasons for not going, starting with the fact that I had never heard of Toulouse, let alone yearned to visit. Logistical problems loomed, as it seemed I was not the only Californian trying to fly to Europe in August; exorbitant airfares would require me to cash in 100K cherished frequent flier miles (Jamie doesn’t do “coach” overseas). Oh, and then there was the whole, “Who goes to France to dog sit?” thing.
Which is what sealed the deal. Nobody flies to France – or any other place, for that matter – to watch a dog he’s never even met. This kind of shit doesn’t happen to normal people. So I agreed to become a dog sitter.
“Of course you are,” my old roommate Steve replied when hearing of my trip. Because that’s how I roll, mes amis. “Do you speak any French?”
Ah, zee million dollair question (question)! At my parents’ insistence, I took French in 7th and 8th grade – in 1982 Mr. and Mrs. Reidy didn’t foresee Spanish becoming a growth language in America – and I still recall more words en Francais than I do in German, which I “studied” for three semesters in college. But, to answer the question, non, je ne parle pas Francais. So, I ran out and bought a crash course on CD.
As I listened, many language-related issues popped into my tete. What if River, the dog I’d be sitting, had forgotten how to speak English? He might prefer being called, “Reev-air.” Maybe I could get away with giving him commands in French-accented English, a la “seet.” Assuming River spoke only French and I still didn’t, would he comprendre my asking, “Do you want to go outside?” in that crazy, baby talk way American dogs seem to prefer?
I looked forward to the challenge of trying to teach him un nouveau artifice in our mere two weeks together. My mind raced with the possibilities of using River as a foreign chick magnet: “Oui, il est mon chien.” (Note to self: learn how to say, “Would you like to see where he sleeps?”)
I started to get pretty excited about the trip. I learned from a helpful French waiter at an LA restaurant that I’d be visiting Tuh-looze, not Tuh-loose, as I had been telling people. Checking it out online, I noticed that the city looks very cobblestoney, and I imagined The Reev – as I had nicknamed him – and I strolling its 300-year old streets in our matching berets. It was going to be one heck of a working vacation.
And then I got the email: River died.
The poor old guy conked out three weeks before I was due to arrive. Susan said he went quickly, and mentioned that just a few days beforehand he had joyously fished a baguette out of a lake and then buried it on shore. This image broke my heart; ah, the times we would have had!
But my sadness gave way to an overwhelming sense of relief. What would I have done if River had died on my watch? Mon Dieu! I doubt my English-French dictionary contains help for finding a veterinarian or the phrase for, “I did not kill the dog.” I cannot even imagine what I would have said to Susan upon her return, what words of solace I could have provided.
In her email, Susan said she hoped I’d still take advantage of the free apartment, since she was going ahead with the two-week hike. For me, though, River’s death robbed my trip of its spirit. Instead of living the unlikely adventure of writing a screenplay while dog sitting in an 18th century town in the south of France, I would have been a linguistically challenged, solo tourist aimlessly shuffling through a place I had no desire to visit in the first place. So, I declined her kind offer.
And on Saturday night – what would have been the last night of my trip to Toulouse – I raised a glass of champagne and toasted River. Dying in the south of France while on a long vacation with the girl you love – tres bien, mon frere.
Jamie Reidy is a University of Notre Dame graduate and a former U.S. Army officer. His first book, “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” served as the inspiration for the movie “Love and Other Drugs.” Jake Gyllenhaal played a character named “Jamie” in it. Seriously. Jamie’s second book, “Bachelor 101: Cooking + Cleaning = Closing” is a cookbook/lifestyle guide for clueless single dudes just like him. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA where he also writes screenplays. And takes Jen Pastiloff’s yoga classes. Seriously.
Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station. She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London.