23 December 2006

The 10 Minute Rule

Arriving at Pont de l’Alma ten minutes late, I was exasperated not to find Z already waiting.

A one-day public transport strike had left me stranded on a train platform listening to French elevator music for no less than twenty minutes, along with hundreds of other disgruntled passengers, which hadn’t brightened my afternoon mood. Understandably, finding myself in a position where I would have to wait around for a man, I considered turning on my heels and heading for the nearest bar at once. But then I reminded myself it was a second date, therefore I would have a perfect opportunity to release my pent-up frustration… when we got into the bedroom.

At this stage, to explain why one was waiting at all: after spending a night in the throes of passion at my apartment, Z had snatched two hours sleep before he was expected to rise again… catching a train to the south of France for another date with yet another gentleman caller. On awaking, I dashed to the nearest patisserie for some hot croissants and prepared him a simple but nutritious breakfast, to replenish some of his lost energy.

When Z emerged from the shower- looking fetching, it must be said- with a quip about the disorderly state of my dining table, I responded that there was nothing disorderly about it: my clutter was an experiment in perfect composition, rather like a Cezanne still life… to which he retorted that he was fond of the Impressionist painters.

Needless to say, this remark caused me to splutter hot coffee… all over him.

Luckily for Z, upon arriving in Paris, the first things one did was purchase a Carte Blanche du Musee D’Orsay, and so I proposed helping him to avoid making such embarrassing faux pas in the future. Because he’d already arranged to take a day off work that week, he proposed to meet for a romantic stroll, followed by a little fine art appreciation, in return for which he would treat me to a fabulous meal in my favourite museum in the whole world: certainly not the self-service affair on the upper mezzanine, or even the full-waiter-service bistro on the floor below; I speak of the quite breath-takingly fabulous restaurant on the first level of Musee D’Orsay, offering a full dining experience (extravagantly enormous mirrors and sumptuous crystal chandeliers, where the food comes on delicate porcelain placed upon silver serving trays, borne by legions of excessively handsome and flirtatious waiters who- in hope of a generous tip from a foreign gentleman- set those plates down just so on a freshly-pressed white linen tablecloth… It is a magical place where one quite can easily imagine being a member of the French aristocracy)

Returning to the present, after a further ten minutes waiting, there is still no sign of Z. This is not pleasing. Given my objections to hand-held devices, he has no way of contacting me. Something must be done, and so I locate a public telephone box. After two rings, he picks up his mobile, knowing that it’s me and that he’s got some explaining to do.

Something about stuck in traffic…still hasn’t returned a rental car… but he’ll be there very shortly…

… and he’s very, very sorry, but he’ll buy me dinner.

It seems an inappropriate moment to remind him that he is already buying dinner. In the knowledge that I will make him feel guilty about this delay for the remainder of the evening- if not the remainder of our acquaintance- I agree to continue waiting.

Returning to Pont de l’Alma, one realises that since Z has only been out of the closet for some months, there is every chance that he is unfamiliar with the consequences for failure to comply with The Ten Minute Rule. For it is standard and accepted practice that when two gentlemen callers who are not yet firm friends agree to meet- whether it be at a particular location or in a particularly intimate exchange- it is expected to ‘arrive’ simultaneously, and if that should prove quite impossible, the two gentlemen callers endeavour to arrive within ten minutes of one another, in order to be polite and hence avoid giving offence to the other gentleman concerned.

Horns honk at Pont de l’Alma, a sound that at first one mistakes for Parisian drivers expressing admiration, before realising that every car owner in the city had decided to take a leisurely drive that afternoon, only to find themselves stuck in congestion. Why do irate drivers feel obliged to make such futile and unnecessary noise, when it only increases the general stress to all those around? This one contemplates, all the while expecting one of the passing drivers to beckon for a little of my personal attention.

In due course, my thoughts take another turn; it is getting chilly out on the bridge. Having worn a short jacket- to allow admiration of my fine figure while walking in the Jardin des Tuileries- I am not appropriately dressed for this weather. After all, it is December… and I have been waiting for… how long?

Incandescent with rage, gentle reader! No other expression is capable of describing my state when at last I am picked up… 50 minutes late. My first words upon getting in Z’s vehicle? If only the good parts of the sex with him lasted for that long!

As expected, Z beats his head off the steering wheel to express remorse; just as well, otherwise I might have had to do that for him.

Needless to say, it has not escaped my attention that plans for the afternoon have changed considerably: why, I enquire, are we in a rental car heading away from the Musee D’Orsay?

It’s a long story, Z informs me… and I tell him that I am anxious to hear that story, and it had better be a good one with a happy ending. Here is that story, gentle reader: imagine hearing this while one’s intimate parts are still thawing… make of it what you will.

If a gay gentleman to be believed, Z has taken a full day off work, rented a car and left Paris before dawn that morning, in order to drive to and from Strasbourg… bringing an unwanted pet to the animal refuge.

Furious repeated blinking expresses my own disbelief.

With tears in his eyes- there will be more tears when I am finished with him, I promise myself- Z points to a forgotten half-chewed toy on the floor of the vehicle, then draws my attention to quantities of shed hair on the back of my seat. (How thoughtful for him not to have mentioned this… before I sat down!)

Then he goes on to describe how he had first seen a picture of his beloved ex-pet on a webpage for abandoned animals and fell in love, immediately driving to Strasbourg earlier that year, where the animal refuge informed him that it was their standard practice to retain legal ownership of the pet… nothing to do with concerns about the sanity of a man prepared to drive hundreds of kilometres for an animal, certainly not. Because Z leaves his job in Paris shortly, he is no longer able to commit to providing this animal with constant care and attention: he considered it kinder to return it before Christmas-, along with a glowing reference, one assumes- in the hope it would find another loving home.

That, Z concludes- in addition to the unexpected traffic congestion- explains the delay.

Gentle reader, such an excuse is too incredible not to be believed… and all I can say is given the lengths Z is prepared to go for an animal he’s never met, it’s lucky that he has never connected to websites like Gaydar; when he eventually does, let’s hope there is no one from Outer Mongolia in the chat room.

And yet, still none of this provides one with a good reason; after all, Z is welcome to waste his own precious time, but not mine. I tell him that in Ireland, a traditional way to dispose of unwanted pets involves a length of rope, an empty sack and some rocks.

Bewilderingly, Z believes that I am being ironic and trying to cheer him up for the loss of his beloved pet. Charmingly he laughs, once again insisting that he will buy dinner… this time, I do point out that dinner has been on the cards from the start. Where does he have in mind, exactly?

On top of the Eiffel Tower, he suggests? I inform him that unless he reserved a table last month, that is quite out of the question: in which case, why not a fine restaurant that he knows, to sample typical food from his homeland? Distraught and disappointed- and knowing nothing about his country of origin- I agree to this proposal.

But first, this rental car must be returned. Z enquires if I’d like to wait at the rental office while he deposits the vehicle: I respond that I’ve already spent quite enough time waiting for him. However, once inside the underground car park, one regrets uttering such words: harsh florescent lighting makes everything look hideous as the car park itself. Returning to the more subtle light of a moonless Parisian sky- more flattering to all those concerned- Z proposes a quiet drink before we eat. What could be more agreeable? To this, I consent… a little too hastily, as it turns out.

Because it appears that Z knows a really great Irish bar just around the corner… isn’t that a nice surprise, gentle reader? Who doesn't, one might add...

To propose a drink in one of those non-descript franchised watering holes- invariably decorated with road signs to villages in the middle of nowhere and ridiculously grinning little green fairies, peddling some hallucinogenic marketing-man’s vision of all Ireland’s charms- was almost enough to completely ruin my evening.

Assuring Z of my delight- that he knows the bar’s location, and that I know to avoid walking anywhere near it- I persuade him it’s likely to start raining at any moment inside an Irish bar, which is only going to be full of backpackers and paedophile priests anyway, and inform him we should go for a drink anywhere else. We find another bar- large, nondescript, selling pints of warm beer, with a television blaring in one corner… an English pub, obviously.

Before we sit down, Z decides to confess what I should have suspected from the start (after all, he’s been laughing good-humouredly at all of my jokes)- there’s something that he hasn’t told me…

From how Z apologises before explaining, already I’m running through a list of STDs that it’s possible to have contracted... so it turns out to be a relief when he announces that he’s only expecting a call on his mobile; he has been ‘head-hunted’ (I believe that is the correct term) to work for a large financial institution based in London, and they’re calling to interview him. In the circumstances, he does the honourable thing- offers to decline taking the call, sacrificing his career so as not to further displease- but the general warmth and the amount of alcohol displayed in the bar have instilled a mellow mood… I tell him to take the call, even going so far as to wish him luck.

So, waiting for him- again- at least I can amuse myself by flirting with other clientele, while drinking warm alcohol- his pint, as well as my own- and flicking through a copy of the Daily Mail, laughing aloud at such printed rubbish. One of those activities helps to pass the time, so that when Z returns one has hardly noticed that another 55 minutes have gone… but of course, one remarks indignantly about having to wait… again.

Gentle reader, you will be relieved to learn that my ordeal does end.

In fact, shortly after we leave that bar, Z treats me to one of the best meals I have ever eaten... ever! What can be more delightful than entering an expensive foreign restaurant with one of the natives, who dismisses printed menu in an offhand fashion to speak directly with the head waiter in native tongue, requesting something a little more authentic, and then ordering so many delicacies that the head waiter protests that it’s going to be quite impossible for two people to eat all of this food, which is enough to feed a starving village in their country…

…and so it was!

Of course, my evening of pleasure had not yet ended. I had not yet forgotten - nor am I ever likely to forget - Z’s gross breach of etiquette… on two separate occasions… after a one night stand.

Suffice to say that for most of the night, one lay back quietly with one’s arms crossed behind one’s head and a contented smile… because you know what is bound to happen if one gentlemen shows unwillingness to abide The Ten Minute Rule, don’t you?

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