Welcome to Gay Paris
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
In the late Summer of 1978, I was invited to the European Managers Annual Meeting in Paris France. I was the youngest member of a delegation of Product Managers and Senior Managers from NCR Corporation’s World Headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. I had moved to Dayton in early 1978 to assume the job of International Product Manager for NCR’s first fully-programmable, electronic point-of-sale terminals. In today’s retail environment, where the brain inside a cash register or point-of-sale device is actually a personal computer running Windows, this may not seem like a big deal but remember this was 3 years BEFORE the first MS-DOS Personal Computer appeared. Windows 1.0 didn't appear until 1984, the same year the Mac first appeared. There was nothing in the marketplace at the time that could match the capabilities of the machines we designed.
We stayed at the Hotel Suffren La Tour, aptly named because La Tour Eiffel (The Eiffel Tower) could be seen from our hotel windows. It was considered a 4-star hotel and I was quite impressed with the large size of the room and the strange little pipes and faucets added to the second toilet. I learned later this was a bidet and, being the curious adventurer, naturally had to try it. It took some practice to not wet my body parts above the waist and to avoid creating a wet floor. Gradually increasing the water pressure is the trick.
During the day, sight-seeing was out of the question. Our agendas were packed with presentations, discussion groups, lunches and banquet dinners, after which the serious drinking began. In Paris, alcohol, especially wine, is the mainstay of every meal, except breakfast. We were generously lathered in a variety of aromatic and flavourful wines that moved our moods towards jovial and carefree by the day’s end. After dinner, our group of six decided we had to take in some night life and what could be more Parisian than the Moulin Rouge? This establishment was opened in 1889 but burned down in 1915. In 1921 the Moulin reopened and has been presenting cabaret shows featuring nude or almost nude women performing on stage ever since. It’s generally acknowledged that the Moulin Rouge gave birth to the Can Can and was the inspiration for the big Las Vegas shows that first appeared in the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas in the early 1960’s. It was also the inspiration and backdrop for the 2001 movie titled “Moulin Rouge”.
Being with these cultural aficionados, I tagged along mostly because I was the only one who spoke French, and I too wanted to see, for the first time, naked women dancing on stage. The two hired taxis, we had hailed at the hotel, disgorged us in front of the historical establishment in Montmarte, and then quickly took off to chase other fares. We were disappointed to learn that the business was closed, as were many others in late July. So we began hunting for a club or bar where we could at least get a drink.
Our search ended at a small, bar-tabac close by. This bar was a long narrow, smoke fog filled room that had a serving counter to the left that ran the entire length of the room. It was crowded to capacity but there were four empty stools near the door. All the other patrons were goatee and beret wearing Frenchmen, and they were all smoking the popular, filterless Gitanes. We claimed the empty stools and I ended up next to a curious Frenchman who began quizzing me about who we were, why were we there and what was it like living in Canada. The French conversation was flying fast and furious taxing all the foreign language brain cells I had, but I was holding my own and our conversation was attracting a crowd of curious natives behind the interrogator. Meanwhile I could pickup the occasional bored groan from my American co-workers who felt left out and were obviously not entertained. Since there were no women in the bar, their chances of seeing female nudity had just dropped to zero.
Suddenly, one of the French men, a burly man who looked like an experienced street fighter, jumped up and began flashing a very large switch blade knife threatening all of us. The young Frenchman, I was speaking to, touched my arm and with fear in his eyes told me, “Tell your friend to be cool.”
I turned around to see one of the Americans, Allen, brandishing a small pen knife defiantly towards the knife-wielding Frenchman.
“Put the knife away, Allan,” I advised. Allan calmed down and dropped his penknife into his pocket. The street fighter closed his switchblade and put it away too. I apologized, we quickly finished our beers and then left the bar to the sound of French curses which fully expressed the contempt the French had for “the American idiots”.
Allen had attracted the aggressive Frenchman’s attention when he had pulled out his penknife to clean his nails. When confronted, he acted aggressively rather than quietly putting his knife away. I shook my head imagining headlines of “5 tourists found murdered in Montmarte” if I had not been there to intervene.
Back at the hotel, most of the party headed to their rooms but my boss dragged me to the hotel bar for one final nightcap. Oskar fit the stereotypical image I had of Germans. He was obscenely overweight with a stomach generously enlarged by the thorough enjoyment of beer before, during and after every Oktoberfest since puberty. He still had most of his blond hair and was a cheerful, confident and very charming middle aged man.
By contrast, I was this skinny twenty-something youngster with a full head of jet-black hair and had the confidence of a cucumber in the presence of salad knife. My brain turned to jelly when talking to attractive young men and women. In almost all cases, others had to make the first move.
Oskar was also “happily married”, which is why I was shocked when he announced he would pickup a young woman sitting alone at the bar. He moved in and began using his tired lines, while I tried to distance myself by hiding in the dark corner of the almost deserted bar. The woman resisted and protested she was not interested, but Oskar was persistent until the bartender finally walked up and said, “Would you please stop annoying my wife?” Oskar apologized and returned to my table. After quickly finishing his beer, he announced he was going to bed and left. The woman he was talking to left shortly afterwards, and I was alone in the bar with the bartender.
I walked up to the bar with the remains of my beer and finished the glass placing it on the counter. The bartender took the glass away and brought me another in spite of my protest. “It’s on me,” he said. I thanked him.
“I’m sorry my boss was annoying your wife,” I said.
“Oh that’s not my wife,” he replied, “I was just saying that so he would stop bothering my customer.”
I laughed. “He deserved that,” and took a sip of beer.
Then the bartender added, “Would you like to go dancing with me? I get off in 20 minutes.”
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