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For some time now, we used to hang out at the Back Up out of desperation. My behavior and mindset during that time now make me feel a bit ashamed. We clearly went to parties to meet what we called “chicks.”
But those nights were epic precisely because we were mentally as dismembered as a band of bloodthirsty crusaders on a quest for the Turkish crescent. In the end, it’s not stories about “chicks” that remain with us over time, but stories about friends. These absurd images, these comical episodes, make up a dark past that you never talk about. Then, on certain nights when we find ourselves at a party under different circumstances, we remember those misadventures. And we laugh about them.
So L., whom I had just met, was a student at Montaigne, a bad school for rich kids in the center of Paris. He knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a girl close to the Backup. We were barely 18, so the Rex Club, Gibus, and OPA weren’t on our radar just yet.
At the age of 15, I had a traumatic experience at Menphis. I was dressed in a suit I had found at home and got harshly rejected at the entrance. The bouncer, a jerk of a white guy with glasses, made it clear that I was too young to smoke properly and that I was just pretending. My friend, three years older than me, pulled out his ID like a trophy and pointed it at the bouncer’s head with his famous line: “And this is a badge” (yes, back then, a badge meant something).
We ended up on the subway with a “girl” who was supposed to help us get in, and that S guy whispered to me, “Well, it’ll cost you 200 francs on the princess’s tab.” The princess was his father, a psychiatrist by profession, nicknamed “Scarlett O’Hara,” who spent most of his time going into his son’s room and slamming the door on his way out. The respectable man living in a “villa” in Bel Air was a great psychiatrist but a terrible parent. You see, no truly sensible words have ever convinced a fool. And a 16-year-old kid, well, they can be pretty foolish.
Well, the BackUp then… This L. could get us bottles for 350 francs. I never knew if I was getting ripped off with the bottles because you buy bottles when you’re 16 or when you live in the 16th arrondissement. And I still don’t live there. So he presents his plan to me. And we gather the pack. Six completely frustrated guys whose main goal in life is “to score chicks.” Of course, like any good missionary, all he manages to score are handshakes and occasionally smoke joints while watching an episode of The Sopranos.
Honestly, our nights scared me. The first time M, the guy who introduced me to L, brought me to his famous squat in M…é, I saw 15 guys. Astounding!
So we try to gather the pack. At the beginning of the week, everyone agrees. Then, as the days go by, the 50 francs start to scare them off. With each cancellation, the amount grows even more. And we end up being just the two of us. So L. suggests that we still go. He paints a picture of the perfect night with “chicks” everywhere, sex, and maybe even ending up in a jacuzzi with Will Smith in Miami. Stupid and naive, I get caught up in a frenzy, and for some reason, I already see myself on Hollywood Boulevard. So I dive in.
We meet at his place. L. is Polish, and he uncorks a bottle of vodka. We finish it together. I’m already at the peak of drunkenness. I showed up at his place dressed in black (yes, as usual), but with a black shirt featuring a Rasta head on the back. He laughs and gives me a blue Burberry shirt. Yes, he’s classy. As for him, I’m not quite sure what he’s up to, but he puts on some kind of orange jumpsuit on top. Well, we’ll see.
We arrive in front of the club. Compared to the golden youth who hang out here, we look like two bouncers. So everyone calls out to the bouncer, “Hey Jérôme, over here!” So, of course, we call him too. The first time, the guy responds, “Sorry, it’s only for regulars.” So we say, “Hey Jérôme, we have a bottle.” Then he lets us in. Once inside, L., too drunk, realizes he forgot his ID card. And I don’t have 350 francs on me. You know me, I’m a negotiator. So we find a guy in the aisles leading to the cash register, and we sold him glasses using our bottle. He thought he was making a good deal, poor guy, or he thought he was being robbed.
When you have an Arab background, complicated things happen to you. I was 16 and hanging out with a friend near the school. Our big trend was wearing tracksuits and shaving our heads. Everyone at that time wanted to become a “caillera” (French slang for a tough guy), but no one wanted to meet real “cailleras”. We were missing like 10 cents to buy a pack of something. N. approached a guy our age on the street and asked him for 10 cents. The guy gave him a 20 franc bill. I was dying of laughter. I told him to give it back, but he kept it. We exploited the “cailleras'” work.
Even more complicated, I still go out to parties (today), not necessarily “to hunt for chicks.” I’m quite sociable, and I talk to everyone a bit in my favorite hangout spot, “the smoking area.” So every time at a festival or in a club, there’s always some asshole who comes up to me like they’re raising their finger in front of a teacher and asks, “Are you selling something?” And I always reply, “So just because I look Arab, you’re asking me that?” And then, as if the guy was already approaching timidly, he contorts himself in apology, saying he’s not racist and that his cleaning lady is Arab. Go figure.
Conclusion, this guy gives us some money. We go in and settle down. Pfff, oh my God, we’re as comfortable as two Serbs at a Bosnian party. And it shows. We look at the dance floor. We attempt some “shoulder moves,” you know, when you just move your arms. Nope, it’s a total failure.
Positive attitude, I get up after 30 minutes when “California Love” comes on. With my status as the token Arab guy, it’s an obligation. And L. makes it clear that if we get up, we’ll lose our table. Optimistically, I tell him that’s not true. We get up. The bottle is half empty. The waiter approaches dangerously. I go back to the table while the DJ hits rock bottom by playing a track from the Hermes House Band. Yes, “I Will Survive.” So we hurry up and finish the bottle. It’s done, I’m wasted. Unfortunately, we’re no longer afraid of anything. I get up to “World Hold On” by Bob Sinclar. I’m so drunk that I feel like I’m doing a DJ set by DJ Premier. Sinclar’s music pierces through me. I look at L., he looks happy, he’s enjoying the sound. Incredible, him, who eats Drum ‘n’ Bass all day long, and me, who listens to US rap (you see!), it’s our moral demise. Then we come down, and that’s when we realize we don’t have a table anymore.
I’m never afraid of anything. So I try to crash somewhere. I don’t have the looks of a blonde, nor a Latin bombshell, let alone a shisha star, so I return to the dance floor. And there’s no sign of L. I search, but find nothing. So in my madness, I imagine that he met Catherine Zeta Jones and flew off to Miami. Then I hear “the regulars Jérôme mentioned at the entrance” doing a synchronized “Tut tut tut tut.” I try to talk to a girl. We end up kissing. I think I’m the hottest guy on Earth. Then she asks me for the time. I tell her I don’t like watches, and she leaves. Two minutes later, she kisses another guy. Well, I figure I can head home.
I remember L. The guy lives in the 14th arrondissement, about a 30-minute walk away. I live on the other side of Paris, in Bastille. And I don’t have a penny left; we spent everything on the bottle. There’s a group of police guys at the club entrance. I approach them, making my bambi eyes (plus, I’m really short), and I ask, “Is Bastille far?” Three of them are already considering frisking me, but the coolest one says, “It’s that way, but it’s far.” And there, under the influence of alcohol or I don’t know what, I say, “Can you give me a quick ride back?” The “quick ride” part was truly the icing on the cake. They burst into tears, literally, and one of them tells me, “We’re not taxis, sir.” So I walked for a long time, very long, very long. I came home, my father sprawled on the couch, reading “Rule of the Bone” by Russell Banks, a book that I borrowed from him and everyone in the group has read. I made myself instant noodle sandwiches and Kinder Delice. Go figure!
A few days later, I’m at school. It happened from time to time when I was bored. I’m talking to a pretty cool girl without any ulterior motives. I don’t engage in flirting at my school, except in desperate times. And… she says, “You’re friends with L.” I reply, “How do you know that?” She retorts, “I know him, and you guys talk the same way.” That’s how I decided to diversify my circle a bit.