YES I CAN!
Not content with merely annoying my downstairs neighbor by throwing a Thanksgiving party at the ungodly hour of 8:30 PM on a Saturday - whereby she started to pound on the wall at exactly 8:45 PM - Handsome and I recently brilliantly succeeded in enraging my upstairs neighbor as well.
This would not be the first time. I managed to piss her off all by myself months ago.
See, in Handsome's family, they have a tradition. They have a family song, which is used at any time to congratulate someone on a job well done. For practical purposes, I'll call it the "Chic a l'amour" song, it being the first line. One person will suggest the person to whom the song should be directed, which is everyone's cue to begin. For example, if the meal is particularly good (which it very often is) one person will say, "Chic a l'amour to Arlette, for the pot roast!" and everyone will join in. The song is accompanied by rhythmic claps and hand waving. You have to experience it to believe it. Luckily, the first time I was introduced to the family, Handsome had warned me in advance. Otherwise, I think my brain would have imploded trying to understand what the hell was going on.
But it does not end there. The Handsome family, they likes them some singing. Very often, after they have gathered around the table and eaten to their hearts' content, they designate someone at the table, and that person has to sing a song. Any song. On the spot. A cappella.
The first time this happened to me, I had brought along my friend Kitty, who has a really good set of pipes. She was sitting next to me, and sang 'Hymne a l'amour' like I wanted to. Perfectly. Bitch. So I was left scrambling for something else. I have no memory of what I eventually came up with. I've blocked it out.
But then it happened again. On a totally different occasion, in a totally different locale. We were once again all gathered around the table, someone got pointed at, and it began. Only this time, it was more like karaoke. Handsome's 11 year-old nephew had a whole DJ console installed in the kitchen, complete with a mike, CD player, keyboard, disco ball and lights. (Have I mentioned how much I love this family?) But once again, I was on the spot, with no song to sing. I passed, blushing in embarassment.
And then couldn't stop thinking about it. All night.
Surely I knew one song sort of by heart that I could share? Me, who used to spend hours in my mother's garden, singing my head off?
The evening was winding down, and people were clearing the dishes and preparing to go to bed. And I was still thinking about it.
Shyly, I pulled on Handsome's shirt and whispered that I thought I could sing that one song on the jazz CD we had listened to in the car on the way down. He nodded encouragement.
I went to get it, and came back into the kitchen, the CD clutched in my clammy hands like Oliver's bowl of gruel. Please sir, can you put this on? I almost whispered to the 11 year-old in charge.
Handsome cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. People were finishing up their last dregs of coffee and most had started to get up and stretch before going upstairs.
"Um, Penelope has a song she would like to sing for us," he announced.
Everyone looked a little surprised. but slowly sat back down. I handed the CD to the preteen DJ and told him which track to play. I gripped the microphone like my life depended on it, and weakly ambled through the jazz ballad. The original jazz ballad composed specifically for that unknown vocalist, so it's not like anyone would have recognized it even if I hadn't completely botched it. There was a modest smattering of polite applause.
And then everyone finally went to bed.
Later on, curled up in Handsome's arms, I whined,
"Nobody liked my song."
"Yes they did," he countered.
"No they didn't," I pouted. "I saw them, looking all confused, like, what the hell? It was jazz, and they don't ever listen to that. But I don't know any Claude Francois or Johnny Hallyday." I sniffled.
"But that's you," he said, "that's your contribution as an American : jazz! Don't forget, they don't speak English that well, so you can't expect them to exactly sing along."
I was mildly comforted.
But once back in Paris, I was determined never to be caught off guard again. I went through my CDs and compiled a repertoire of songs I liked and could easily learn by heart. I began to transcribe lyrics. I played and replayed them. And once I had two songs' lyrics written down, I began to practice. Again and again.
Until I heard a knock on my door.
I froze, and looked at my cell phone for the time. 2 AM. On a Tuesday. I didn't move a muscle.
A haggard voice came from behind the door,
"Could you please stop singing?"
Handsome came back at 5 AM after getting off the night shift . It was the day after my birthday.
Standing up next to the bed, he started, "Haaappy Birrrrthday to Yooouuuuu!!!"
"SSSSHHHHHH!!!!!!! No singing!!" I stage whispered, "She will KILL me!!"
"Who? What are you talking about?" He waved his arms about like a conductor and took a breath like he was going to go for the second bar.
I clamped my hand over his mouth. "I'll explain later!" I hissed.
I totally understand if she hates me.
You would think I would be extra careful after that. You would think I could not find a way to piss her off more.
You would be wrong.
I've only seen her in the flesh once. But I get the feeling she is a mite sensitive about the wreck her love life seems to be in. I make this sweeping judgement based on the shouting matches I've overheard her get into with the person I can only assume is her (not too frequent) boyfriend.
So I really should have known better.
I admit that it was late. 3AM, to be exact. I admit that I mometarily forgot we were not alone in the world. I admit that we made some noise on top of the dining room table. I was going for a second round of 'yesses' when we heard an angry thumping on the ceiling. The ceiling my head was bent up towards. The ceiling that would be her dining room floor.
I would not be surprised if she's made a voodoo doll of me. Which she regularly pricks with pins. In its vocal chords.
The next day, we came back from dinner to find this note under the door.
*Translation : Please try to be at least a little discreet in your intimate acts at 3AM.
So, Penelope? Can you try a little harder to rub it in? Can you just shoot for the jugular? Can you find the best way to make friends in the building in the snootiest neighborhood in Paris?
Oh, yesss! YESS!!! YEEESSSS!!!!! You can, Canon!