jeudi 18 février 2010

Les bleus de travail

First dump run
the Fiat loaded to the ground

I saved all the fun stuff for today: loading the 56 bags of rubble into the Fiat for 3 trips to the city dump, listening to the renovation company's messages in response to the letter from our lawyer and forwarding them (you get your messages on-line with France Telecom and can save them on your computers as MP3 files) to him by way of my brother-in-law, and picking up another grocery bag of dog pooh with my surgical glove-covered hand. I was hoping for lots more snow to cover them for the rest of the winter, or a snap of really frigid weather to make them nice and solid for collection, but there was no more time; it had to be done today because Rapide kept casting me woeful looks over her shoulder as she looked for a pooh-free place to, well, pooh.

Oh, and there were the 4 or 5 additional parking tickets our neighbor collected on the car we lent him until he purchased it, which he finally announced he would not some few months after driving it and parking without paying, and then left locked behind his gate when he abandoned his residence, while the 90-something parking tickets he had collected, parking it willfully without paying because he had read an article that said someone won a lawsuit in July 2008 in Versailles because the law in our department does not specifically say that you actually have to show proof of payment behind the windshield, and then sent to the tribunal de police with a photocopy of the article, were processed, and began to be rejected by the aforesaid, now worth 3 times what they were when he first received them, or 33 euros apiece.

You do the math.

My husband had gone to the tribunal de police a couple of weeks ago when the first ones arrived. He was told that we are the owner of the vehicle, we are responsible for the fines.

We went to the gendarmerie, which acts as our municipal police here outside the limits of the city. They were very sympathetic and kind, but they essentially sent us back to the tribunal de police, saying that because we had given him permission to use the car, it wasn't really stolen and so there was really no basis on which we could attack to recover the car and transfer the responsibility for the tickets to him. They did say they would call him and put a little fear of authority in him.

So far, no sign that worked.

We left satisfied with the approachability of the local law and order, but thoroughly at a loss to know how best to protect ourselves, now that the merde is hitting the ventilateur months after friends implored my husband to write him a registered letter demanding the car and payment of the tickets or we'd file charges. Mr. Nice Guy.

Then, after having paid 5, received 4 yesterday and 5 more today, I cracked and called the tribunal de police to plead. The man on the other end of the line listened and asked why we hadn't filed charges for escroquerie, the French word for the quaint charge of swindling, at the very least, or even theft. He explained that once he had a police report in hand, he could act, and I explained that we had tried that, but the gendarmes had told us that because we had willingly given him the car, then it was difficult to make a charge of theft. The tennis match had begun, with my husband and I in the starring role of ball.

His tone of voice changed entirely, and he became the voice of unfeeling justice.

"Mais votre voisin a la voiture depuis tout ce temps et ce n'est que maintenant quand vous avez toutes ces amendes à payer que vous venez nous voir, et vous n'avez pas repris la voiture dès les premières amendes?" I tried to explain that, no, it isn't like that. We hadn't waited until we had this problem, rather, we had the problem before we knew it, and then we didn't agree on how to handle it.

"Non, on ne pouvait le savoir. Savez, il recevait les PV sur la voiture, mais nous ne recevions rien de tout jusqu'à ce que les jugements ne soient rendus et envoyés," which is true; he received the parking tickets on the car, but we didn't see anything until a year later, when his argument for not paying them was judged inadmissible and we got the notification. "Mais, en fait, je l'avais croisé un soir dans le village, et je l'ai abordé pour voir où on en était pour l'achat de la voiture, et il m'a annoncé qu'il avait eu 84 PV depuis qu'il conduisait nos voitures."

"Oh la la la la la," said the officer, "il s'en est vraiment servi de vous."

"Je sais," I lowered my head. I am sure he could tell. "Il brandissait un article du Journal des Yvelines l'où on disait que les PV dans les Yvelines ne furent plus valables car la loi ne stipule pas clairement qu'il faut montrer la preuve du paiement de stationnement sur la voiture." He made a sound of sympathy.

Let me explain here a moment. Our neighbor, it turns out, is a master of not assuming responsibility. Un beau parleur. Un baratineur

[Please feel free to use the translation tool to the right, and soon I will accept donations in lieu of payment for my French lessons.]

Like all people who function on the edges of respectable society, he sincerely believes he is in the right and that he is good, while those with tendencies toward charitable behavior and a poorly functioning radar for the danger signals all around them [hello!], will be severely taken in. But, it's alright, they will assure you. They have everything in control. They know better than everyone else why their absurd strategy will function, when everyone knows the State always carries the day. He is, of course, smarter than the police.

And, I watched time slip by, the car -- still unpaid -- in his hands, while we were exposed to all kinds of risks.

We continued to insure the car because he failed repeatedly to show us proof of insurance, but we still believed that he would pay for the car. That's the royal "we" because I had stopped believing him long before my husband, and felt ready for the kill. He had also once propositioned me, right in front of my husband, while my husband chatted with another neighbor during drinks at his kitchen window one evening. My husband chastised me for my change in behavior toward him after, perplexed by the distances I started to keep, not wanting to say anything because I never want to believe the worst in people, and now, here he was, brandishing an article of which he carried multiple copies in the car -- you never know when you'll need one! --, and telling me that it didn't matter that he had received 84 parking tickets; he was not going to pay the parking fees because the court in Versailles had judged in favor of a man, who had nothing better to do than to bring a suit saying that parking tickets were illegal because the law did not actually say that you have to show proof of payment in the car. The law had forgotten to make this perfectly clear, and it wasn't just because you know you have to that you should follow the spirit of the law. Oh, no! Not even when you are not even driving your own car.


My face had turned white. All I could hear was the number 84. My head was doing math while he was talking and showing me the photocopied article he'd retrieved from the pile of papers on the floor of the passenger's seat.

Ever hopeful, my husband said, when I, still barely able to speak, showed him the article, the number 84 running through my brain like a 10-year-old boy infatuated with a new sentence only he finds captivating, "Ah bon? Selon cet article, il a raison." He is right. He is right. He is right. I clung to his hopefulness in the face of disaster.

That's what you tell yourself when you are praying to heaven that you aren't going to have several thousand euros of parking tickets to pay.

I had to somehow make the man on the other end of the phone understand all this. Accept it. Feel sympathy for us. Want to help us. Want to make our problem go away. He was accepting my improbable story, and now I needed his sympathy. I wasn't going to stop until I had it. I worry enough about money as it is, I couldn't, wouldn't pay these fines. It just wasn't fair.

"Mais ce n'est pas juste," I protested, barely keeping the whine out of my voice. "Mon mari s'est levé dans la nuit pour aller sauver la vie d'une femme au bloc. Elle était morte, mais ils l'ont récupérée. Et lui, il travail pour un salaire publique, et il ne reçoit rien pour ce qu'il a fait cette nuit, mais maintenant il se peut que cette même volonté humaine nous oblige à payer jusqu'à 3,000 euros d'amendes." It's true, just as my husband was coming upstairs to go to bed last night, the phone rang. 12:18 AM. It was the hospital. He listened, said he'd be right there, and headed out the door. No kiss good-bye; I rolled over and closed my eyes. At 2:58 AM, he trudged up the stairs, tried not to trip over the clutter in the dark, and climbed into bed. Thinking he'd fall straight to sleep, I said nothing. It took him more than an hour to find sleep.

A haemorrhage on a Congolese immigrant who'd come for no prenatal care, who had a rare blood condition that made a transfusion impossible since they'd had no time to anticipate the delivery and order some to have on hand. The staff had contacted hospitals in the region, but the emergency medical technicians refused to transport her; she'd have died on the highway. They had no choice but to operate there, blood or none, on the spot. Only the husband disagreed. She was, he said, merely tired after the birth. Normal, he said.

"Votre femme est en traine de mourrir," my husband told him. "Nous devons l'opérer immédiatement." 20 minutes later, they had to make the decision to remove her haemorrhaging uterus to have half a chance. 39 years old and 3 children, it was an easier decision to make. Then, every machine in the room started to sound the alarm, "Juste comme sur E.R.," said my husband. The anesthesiologist said, "C'est foutu. Elle meurt."

There comes a moment when there is no more blood, no more oxygen circulating to the vital organs, and no more coagulating agents. In addition to the main source of the haemorrhage, micro-haemorrhages begin everywhere you touch the patient. You do what you can, alarms sounding, every heart but the patient's wishing to pound, but you don't let that happen. You stay focused. You do what you know you have to do. The anesthesiologist tilted the bed as they worked, pooling all remaining blood in her body in her head to preserve her neurons, and my husband continued to operate enough to stabilize her. You pack the abdomen with compresses, close and wrap the abdomen with a compressive bandage to stop the multiple, small internal haemorrhages to achieve hemostasis by compression only, while the IC doctors begin reanimation to bring her back from death, right there in the OR.

She made it back from death, stopping just short of the river Styx, and was transferred to the ICU. My husband will operate again tomorrow.

This is what my husband does, and through an act of generosity for a neighbor who said he was in need, he might have to pay several thousand euros in parking tickets.

"En plus," I finished, "on a un caducée. On n'a même pas besoin de collectionner les PV." The caducée is the French word for the medical symbol of the two snakes entwined around a laurel branch, and it appears on the parking pass my husband receives every year as a doctor. We can park in the city and anywhere in the département for free. There is no earthly reason for us to have a parking ticket to not pay.

This very honest pity ploy earned me a lecture on the laws around who is responsible when a car is loaned. I knew the laws, we all know the laws; I wanted someone to ease the consequences for us. It just wasn't fair. Now, I had his sympathy, but I would have to have a police report. I'd have to return to the gendarmes and tell them this time, with a minimum of detail, that our neighbor had never paid for our car that he had said he would buy, and then failed to return it, and now the tribunal de police was advising us to file charges for swindling or theft.

An odd thing about this country is that everything seems to be a matter of opinion, and the one who imposes his or hers the most successfully will carry the day.

This might not be as odd as I think. I just might never have lived long enough, or done enough stupid things, or things that carry sufficient consequences, to have seen this in the States. You can tell me.

Now the man was starting to build our case with me. He gave me the example of rental cars: if you rent for a week and don't return the car, a week and a day later, the car is automatically considered stolen and a police report is made for theft. Since we had expected payment for the vehicle at the end of March 2008, then we could consider that the car was stolen from that point on. Go file a report, and then he could help us.

Now, he was wanting to help us.

"C'est quoi votre nom?" he asked. I began to tell him, "Mais," he interrupted, "votre mari c'est le docteur de l'hôpital?" That was it. He had made the connection. The one my husband hated to have to use to help us, never liking to use the regard in which he is held, including by a number of gendarmes and police officers he sees, or whose wives he treats.

Now, he wanted to make our problem go away. I nearly started to cry. Only I could have made that call and gotten this much. We'd have been at the 3,000 euros before my husband would ever have finally said, "This is who I am, can you please help me?"

"Ne pleurez pas," he said to me. "Allez faire la plainte, et quand j'aurai ça en main, je pourrai agir pour vous."

Now I really felt like crying, I was so relieved, and proud, thinking of what my husband could do, and the esteem in which he is held. It might not be my own, I might have made an incomprehensible choice to give up so much, and losing all opportunity to gain esteem for myself to wield a pickax and sledgehammer as a chain gang of one in workers' blues, while he is wielding surgical instruments and defying nature, but this is what I have done. Now, we just had to let the gendarmes know that the tribunal de police felt we were justified in declaring a swindle or theft.

The man at the dump was another reason to discount the evils of the day. He couldn't do enough to help me. He raced me through the heavy bags, never complaining, trying to empty them faster than I could so I would have less to do. After the second run, I told him that I had another left, and I would have something for him.

"Non! Non!" he protested. "C'est un plaisir de vous servir."

A pleasure to serve? A pleasure to do his job, emptying heavy sacks of masonry rubble for this strange woman in laborers' clothing, the waist cinched with an elastic belt to keep the crotch high enough that she could walk normally?

After the third car load was emptied, he practically ran to the dumpsters with the old, broken sawhorses and the can of paint to dump. I got into the car and followed him. I was just stopping, when he hurried off ahead of me up the ramp to join his colleagues; I followed him, stopping the car again on an angle and jumping out before he could get away again.

"Vous faites exprès," I touched his jacket sleeve and smiled over his shoulder at the guy who'd been watching us before, and who was grinning now. I pressed two two-euro coins into his hand. He smiled, as he moved away and I turned to return to my car, saying as I left, "J'ai rencontré des gens pas sympas aujourd'hui, alors ça donne envie de remercier ceux qui sont sympas." They were all smiling at me as I climbed back behind the wheel in my husband's workers' blues and drove off.

"Tu l'as peut-être gêné," said my husband, when I told him the story this evening.

"Peut-être, mais je ne pense pas." I hoped not, anyway, but maybe I had in some way hurt his pride. So few seem to have that. In the past, I had baked a cake for a man who helped me every time I showed up with a car load of soil and cuttings, at the height of my plantings. If this becomes a habit again, I will return to baking.

And on the way home, where I'd find the messages from Joachim, the rain began to fall hard. Then, driving along the Seine, where we turn off to head home, there appeared a brilliant double rainbow, both ends visible just a little further away.

I'll take that as a sign. I'll take any signs and any kindness, there is so often so little.
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