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Sometimes, trouble is harder to get out of than it is to get into, and sometimes, getting out of it can be a little more painful than staying out of it would have been.

Of course, I have a story about this.

It started, as these things often do, with an innocuous question from my son, who’d just come back from a class trip to France.

“Pop, is it possible for the memory of something to be better than the event itself?”

That kind of question had me listening with all ears, and brain set fully on “record”.

“Um… Yeah, why?”

“Well, when we were in Paris, – well – did you know that they sell beer in vending machines in France?”

“No, I didn’t…”

Unspoken was the fact that not only had he noticed that they sell beer in vending machines, but also noted the sounds that coins make going in, and the sounds that cans make coming out, and how cold they feel once they get into your hand..

Sometimes it’s better to just let the story tell itself, so I waited. He’d gotten a tattoo before he’d gone, a fairly sizable one.  He figured he was 18 and could do that with or without my permission, so he did. He’d told the fellow who did the tattoo that he’d bring some French Cigarettes back for him, so he found some Gitaines, or Gauloises, I forget which.  These are cigarettes that would make the Marlboro man look like an absolute wuss, just before he started hacking up rugged pieces of lung.

Part of the trip to France involved a stop in Paris, and the free time they had involved them walking… Everywhere.  Late one evening, after one of these long days of walking, he and his roommate were standing on a balcony of their hotel room, relaxing, leaning on the railing, looking out over Paris.

In springtime.

I’ll pause here, while the image gets burned into your mind…

Understand, it’s the wrong image, but still…

So they’re standing there on the balcony, when that image tried to assert herself.  I mean, there they are, overlooking one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and the image that kept calling to them had a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and was so-o-o-o cool.

The pieces were all there, all they had to do was answer the call of that oh-so-cool image.

That’s when one of them decided he wanted to try the French beer.

Just a note: two words that have never, ever gone together in the same sentence: French and Beer.

French and Wine: Totally different story.

German and Beer:  Definitely a different story.

French and beer?  Not a chance.

But, they were in Paris, and chances like this don’t come up very often, so they tried the French beer.

“Have you ever had French beer?  It tastes like cat piss!”

This was not a comparison I felt qualified to make, nor am I sure he was, but we’ll let that one go.

After gagging and spewing a bit on the cat – er beer, they decided to try the cigarettes.

“Pop, what do they put INTO those things? I mean, it was like sucking on asphalt.

It was GROSS! “How do people smoke those things?”

Sometimes a single whiff of asphalt is more effective than the most strident parent’s  words.  I smiled.

“And we had to – just HAD to get that taste out of our mouths and the only thing we had was that French beer….”




A balcony… a drink, a friend, and smoke, drifting lazily from the end of a cigarette…

That’s the memory.

The reality is a little different.

© Tom Roush 2009

Tom Roush


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