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A novel

Now, I hate mystical impulses and eccentric style.
Now, I can say that Art is a stupidity.
Arthur Rimbaud,
from Une Saison en Enfer.
 Tape 1
Interior. In the cell, in the day
TC : 01 00 02 00
Welcome to my cell. No Sir, I’m not teasing you. You can’t imagine how touching your visit is. You had to walk down these sinister corridors. You had to cross through all these gates, smarming up to the warden, while he was locking them behind you. I suppose it was a hassle getting the authorization to film here. And now you’re staring at me so kindly. I can’t believe it ! You know, it warms my heart to feel understood.
I’m sorry for that nasty smell. And although I’ve complained to the wardens, they don’t give a shit about it. Look at foam-rubber, the mattress is rotten. It stinks of Munster . It’s too humid in here. Everynight, I wake up all wet. I’m not complaining, the food is decent and I go to the library whenever my mood takes me there… Of course you can. Put your bags down here.
Sorry ?
I say “ Londonleedslondonderry ”… Mike tests, One Two Three… Everything is OK… Thanks. I’m used to it. You read my bio, didn’t you ?… You didn’t !  Nothing about it in your notes ?… You can’t imagine how strange I feel on the other side of camera. I feel like everything is turned down. I’ll have to make do… We use the “ tu ” form ? You don’t ? Considering the subject, I suppose that you were advised to cover my daily life here, to get around eventually to the locker room stories, like Jean Genet  but without the rose. They love it, I know, and it can’t be avoided. Just like you can’t repair that crevice behind the toilet over there…
Maybe I should to introduce myself… I am Mohamed Zigouni. Do you want my roll number ? I shouldn’t bother ? You’ll put in a subheading later under my guilty face. What did you say ? Get down to brass tracks ?... Sure, honey, we’re getting there. But, if you really want to dig how I got here, you’ll have to stay tuned.
The essential …
The facts, and only the facts. I feel bizarre full-faced with the camera. Are you sure this is going to work ? I’ll seem insane. But you take me for a madman, don’t you ?
OK, let’s go…
It’s true that working became urgent. I hadn’t shot a film in a whole year. I would have been prepared to shoot any film, even the same old story about Yugoslavian whores for France 2 . I couldn’t undestand what had happened to me. The year beforehand I was still slick popular director. I refused some of the projects, and all of the sudden, my luck ran out. My phone stopped ringing overnight. My friends became scarcer and scarcer, especially the snobbier ones. Everyone avoided me. When I made sales calls on producers, for I was a real fuller brush man, my projects were shot down one by one in sinister hallways and waiting rooms.
At first, I wasn’t that worried. I took advantage of this time to ponder on a box-office winner, while scraping a living from unemployment benefits. Six months later, overtaken by an awful feeling of inability, described by all homeless, I started understanding that I was in a rut of hard times, on cardboard… You know, those ones you spread over the asphalt before getting pissed with rough red wine.
Well, if I’m going too fast, let me know…
Too long ?
I can’t believe it ! You’re making your film with an amateur DV and you don’t have the cash to buy tapes ! What is this, a  2 bit production ?
Like a Mirror ?
OK, the facts, just the facts. To sum it up : I’m rotting in Prison because of that… of Lise Com… Oh, sorry, can’t stop ! Well, I’ll just say that she was a great Dame in PAF . A killer. She was looking for a television news editor. I remember when I received the address, I was floating on a cloud. LC Productions’ building located at 13 Grace street. I told myself I would only  meet people full of goodwill… Do you remember of Vade Retro and the special broadcast about transexuals’ intimacy ? Lise, the Audimat  Baroness for life. You know who I mean. You do, my sweet. She’s the one, the star of sexy show, the diva of rhinestone divan. When she has lunch with the TV Bigshots, at least she has the arguments. Someone whispered in my ear that Madam was to create a brand new society-magazine about to hit a runaway success. Sure, I believed in her. As for myself, I vegetated towards a lemon ready to be squeezed : a guy in a Peruvian cap who would crash the TV Awards. Freelancing was my life, I had no job security. When did I start losing it ?... Maybe that would be a better beginning for your film?
Don’t cut, I’ll keep going...
Coming back from Sarajevo, three years beforehand, in the light of the besieged city, I saw angels. It was winter, mortars bombarded the city everynight. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel with the other journalist vultures. I boozed quite a lot of slivovitz at the bar, since the heating was out in the bedrooms. One night I went up the wrong staircase when going up to my room. The one I went up had been blown away from a shell and leaded out into the night air. I was a perfect infrared target for the Serbs who were just in front of the blown up staircase. I went crazy : a thousand-dollared target. The day before, they bumped-off a young captain of UN-profor, who was going out to smoke a cigarette. Right between the eyes. Just one puff and his whole head blew up like a melon. At the Hotel, we had looked at the dailies all day long. I knew what I was in for. I didn’t move an inch. I grew petrified like a wild rabbit on the staircase and waited for the flash, feeling stunned, being there and miles away at the same time.
It was an agreeable feeling, light-hearted, much more pleasant than reality. At one point I bellowed out an allelujah, giving the snipers the finger. I was ready for the big leap, relieved to finally reach the end of the nightmare. On the Serb side, it must have been cocktail hour as well because nobody fired at me. Following my instincts, I finally groped my way up the right staircase, satisfied with getting off easily. I felt anxious in the hallway when I tried to share my misadventure with my colleagues. I was alive. I saw them,  heard them joking and  laughed with them, but I understood that nothing could ever get to me again. It was as if an invisible wall suddenly separated me from everyone else, making me an outsider to the world. So sometimes I tell myself : « you really lost it that day »… You’re laughing ? What really finished me off was the tycoons’ reactions when I got back to France. I know, I know, I can’t tell… The bearded man in the CSA , of course ! I won’t talk about him.
I can at least tell you that this two-faced bastard found that my reports on the besieged’s sufferings were too indulgent on the Muslim’s side? Considering that President Milosevic still dined at the Elysée, His Vainest highness wanted to see reports on the Serb soldiers’ point of view to counterbalance the topic. In short, I met the angels then came up against a brick wall.
I’ve been rotting in here for six months because of those rats ! In December, I’ll have another twelve months to go before my release. Have you ever counted the seconds ? Without seeing my kids grow up, without touching the soil, without seeing the ocean.… Too bad for my mug. I should never have attacked the cops, it’s the worst crime after counterfeiting …
Anyway, at the time when I applied for a job at Lise’s, my cover had already been blown in most of the production joints in Paris. Momo Zigouni, an inflated clown. Those were the goods on me. I was seriously on the sidelines, obselete, and plus, I was flat broke.
You can easily imagine how I hastened to take advantage of the tip had by a generous soul the night before : Cash was got at Lise C’s, a real job with a fixed contract, long-term, well-paid, with welfare benefits, and without ripping off the ASSEDIC . A miracle. At last I had the opportunity to double or nothing. Of course, there would be a few bitter pills to swallow. This generous soul in question let me in on the picture : faced with a return to moral order, the Baroness urgently recruited any zealous journalist seaking sense. I was in luck, I was giddy.
The Dame, always overbooked, called me in for an interview at Four o’clock in the afternoon. To make a good impression on her, I pulled out all the stops : Ardisson’s  outfit, a charcoal Italian suit with a brand new black tee-shirt, and I promised myself to watch my tongue.
 I didn’t have to ring long, the varnished pine door opened just as I was going to push it. The receptionist must have had a keen ear or perhaps she was just waiting for me. She was a smiling and not-too-snooty redhead. She stared at me, turning her locks and talking to the receiver in melodious tones. I  guessed what she was thinking. To her, I was only another loser. It was rumoured that nobody held the job for more than three weeks.
You can’t imagine how much pressure was on me. For one, the waiting was unbearable. The girl sat me down at Four o’clock. At twenty past Seven, I was still clinging to the sofa. I had watched the Diva go back and forth like a roadrunner for three long hours, promising me, « Just five more minutes». My God ! Dreaming of her stark naked on the desk made me feel anxious. My hands were sticky.
I slumped down into the leather sofa, a strategic  stake out at only a stone’s throw of the beverage machine. Madeleine cakes, a few Cappuccinos, Big Red, two cans of Cokes and I was all out of change. Since I was broke, I dreaded every minute in Paris. I didn’t realize it at first, but after a while, I counted  my pennies.
What day was it ?
I’ve told you already, on Monday, in July, it was very hot. It was on the 15th, I think, because it was the day after the fireworks show . The ambience in the office was about like all of the other offfices I used to loaf in. The  team was preparing the week rehash. Behind me, there was excitement, chattering, the editorial staff didn’t even notice me. They were buzzing around the newsroom and its corridors. I could hear their monologues, as solemn as  judges, about whether or not they should  invite a certain Raymonde on the set. She was a prized client, but she didn’t quite fit into the pigeon-hole. This Raymonde just lost her son, Mouloud, who was attacked by a guy with a razor-blade in the tube over a mere cigarette lighter. According to the notes, she talked beautifully about her suffering. But a man with a familiar voice behind me declared,  “ There is a  risk that the topic of mixed marriages might damage the ratings, isn’t there, Chief ? ”
I turned round. He was speaking to me. Francis Leborgne, that old bastard Leborgne ! Without him, nothing would have ever happened. Without him, you wouldn’t be there driving me mad with your camera. I’m frozen in front your camera! Yes, Sir. Do you understand ? My mind is blank when you make me chatter non-stop, without ever asking me a question. I agreed to give an interview, not a monologue. Will you stop with that thingamabob. Please ?
Did you stop the camera ?
You’re pulling my leg, I didn’t see the warning light go off… How did I meet Leborgne ?
Alright, I’ll tell you off the air. I’d rather it that way. Especially since it’s a shabby story : a six-minutes special advertising section about recyclable disposable nappies. When you are completely washed out, you take what they give you.
Hey, can I get near your camera, I want to be sure that it isn’t filming. I know the ropes : you stick a few intimate moments up your sleave so that you have something real on film. A live man breaking down or having a ball, but something real, dammit, no bluffling! Look, your pirate film is blowing up in your face.
Let’s get back to corral : the 15th of July, the day of my job interview. Leborgne was observing me, with his mocking eyes, waiting for me to blow up. I was going on my second hour of waiting on the meter, but I remained majestic. I wasn’t worried about the Baroness’ tardiness. He asked what I was up to. I told him that I was still married and that for the time being I kept the house from forclosure, a few retired racehorses, and a very ancient red coupé, which ressembled a Ferrari from a certain distance. We both laughed. He knew as well as I did that my Toyota had 400,000 kilometres on the clock ; I still had a load of credits to pay, and if I wavered, the bank was to walk off with it all. You don’t need to go to Latin America to find hords of vultures ready to tear a poor guy apart.
As for Francis, he had no problems. A beautiful dark-haired man with green eyes, a ladykiller in his glory. He rode a motorcycle, changed sexual partners as often as his socks, and he had no children to pick up at daycare. I remember when I was his age ; untouchable and free as a bird. As for me, the rave was over : I had a family to support. But my problems came from somewhere else. In the end, we agreed that the boob tube was the culprit. I’d served it unpainfully for more than twenty years, up until the day my wings were clipped. It’s true. I could no longer stand ploughing the mine fields to bring back a slice of ham to fit between two pieces of wonderbread publicity spot. I became allergic to this recipe. It handicapped me. The brainwashing specialists have a sixth sense in spotting the deviant like me and I was afraid that Lise would yank it out of me. I had no choice but to convince her. Leborgne gambled I would be a winner. He said that with my  profile, it was in the bag. I crossed my fingers.
When she opened her office door, he had just left. With the telephone plastered onto her mop, she scanned me from head to toe, looking for the smallest flaw in my apparel. I must say that my old secondhand clothes were smart enough to bluff a Luxembourg banker. I gently untaped myself myself from the sofa and turned off my cell phone, before bowing to her. She enjoyed this gentile allegiance and asked me in with a royal gesture. I chuckled under my breath.
“ Sorry for making you wait. It wasn’t too long, was it ? ” She simpered with shining  eyes. A charmer. I noticed her eager lower lip. Her office was warm : a place where you could easily relax. You could relax your life a way in this place.
“ I took advantage of this time to get my feet wet. ” I must have retorted. Her little game didn’t fool me. She shifted onto the subject of the corporate culture of the firm, a real team where human relationships were priviledged.
 “ …A friendly atmosphere, real values, priority given to sincerity, a difficult family, but such a wonderful,  close-knit one… ”. The Diva broke into a speech. I absent-mindedly listened to her claptrap while my antenae wandered. A flowery sign advised visitors that smoking was strictly forbidden. I took advantage of a gap in the conversation to confide in the chatterbox that I was about to kick the habit. She gave me a vampy smile and congratulated me, as if I was already part of the clan. This stimulated my libido.
I can still see her in her micromini-skirt that hardly covered her daisy. Her legs were tucked up on the large leather sofa offering to my disturbed point of view the sight of her pale and bare thighs. She was testing me.
It was the first time I met her in the flesh. This Lise was unrelated to the glamour show-host I had watched hundreds of times on TV. Her natural look revealed a bohemian side, fragile. And her deep crow’s-feet made me think of the painful hours she must have spent with her make-up girl. I should state that when I met her she was pushing fifty. We started a long staring match. Carefully, I took advantage of this moment to check my soles. An authentic Aubusson tapestry was used as a fitted carpet and a doormat. On the floor, under the desk, and around the chair, calligraphy alerted the visitor of the words uttered for the sake of talking. It was a question of lies, truth and silence. It was fantastic. I shifted my feet around on a work of art, but I think I was the only one who knew it.
“ Well, tell me what brings you here ”, she threw back at me like a Social Services counter clerk. I decided to play it frank. I admitted right away that a dear friend filled me in on the position. I did add, nevertheless, that if the former TV editor handed in her resignation due to overstrain, I was healthy and ready to pick up where things left off. An evil light flashed in her eyes that make the beloved TV viewers shiver ; a sort of Florentine courtesan’s mask, where cunning has a row with falseness. I really thought this was a trap, but not long enough to ditch the scene.
The topics of The Eyes of Reality, her new magazine, were very ambitious : “ The feuding female Siamese twins ”, “ Irradiated people in Auvers-sur-Oise ”, “ Rape at the terminus ”, nothing but the beautiful with buckets of tears, politics and sinister stories alway being avoided of course.
After the psy-show exaggerations, Lise C. decided to redirect this flourishing goldmine to the Franco-formated blue-collar documentary. The one where the maid becomes a housework technician : popular subjects, provocative enough and at the same time remaining in good form so that a pedophile bishop could express himself at ease. A first-rate sorceress… She always did know how make the masses quiver. When she asked me with a high brow look if I was currently working on a film, a glance at the second hand confirmed to me what I had already guessed :  one minute of silence was to her living hell.
She had asked Carole, her faithful secretary, to consult my complete resume on my site http://momo.fr, and so therefore learnt that I had perpetrated some mildly subversive pamphlets, stealthily published in the 80’s. But she didn’t give a damn about it. She just wanted to be certain of my open-mindedness, and, most of all, of my moral malleability. I swore to her that, cross my heart and hope to die, that the difficult Momo of famine in concentration camps and torture under mortors was finished. I wasn’t lying. After spending nine months out of work, I’d had enough stress about my childrens mouths to feed. To be at peace, I really was ready to be leashed up. In reality, I was only looking for a kennel for the winter, but I kept that detail hidden in a dark corner of my mind.
Reassured by my new moderatation with a tad of cynism, she started to explain the same old story, highlighting the pretentious titles : TV News Editor, Total Availability, Programs, Channels, Popularity and Sidelines… the vocabulary of the Castle. I was to become a lackey, with flexitime, lunch tickets and a portable phone turned on around the clock. I was already terrified. I can’t let this efficiency addict get to me, I told myself, staring worriedly at the sophisticated gymnastics of her lips. Have you ever noticed how she is always wetting them ? Two acrobats hanging from from her crazy jaw muscles, they catch your look like a chameleon catches a fly.
Are you still filming ?
I had to launch the right topic if I wanted to interest her.
“ Television no longer loves me because I can no longer stand to play the role it wants me to play.” This is more or less the baloney I dished out with a straight face to the Baronne. She had a good laugh ; my ultra-conservative speech pleased her. I was brilliant. I’d prepared myself for the interview like an athlete prepares for a match, without the dope.
She asked me out for a drink at Decoy, a smart brasserie where she usually went. We left chatting cheerfully. I took flight, the heavens were splendid, and Lise was more and more loquacious. She now decided that she had all the time in the world...We were just around the corner from Radio-France, the radio headquarters, and I pictured myself coming home with the bigwigs.
We talked for hours of the farce of power and the rotten milieu of the media, about the impossibilty of public accountability, and about the devilish craftiness we learn when playing with truth and  lies. She listened to me, nibbling on her lettuce, while I stuffed myself between monologues with dry sausage and Bayonne ham, with a premium bordeaux to boot. To give her a good idea of my kind of morality, I told her that one day I dropped my dearest mistress because she sympathized with Bronski from the Streetcar named Desire. That got a smile out of her and I smiled with her. She joined me in guzzling down glass after glass of wine. I knew it was in the bag.
 I had hooked the high priestess but time was running out. I knew I couldn’t keep on producing social chitchat. Sooner or later she would find me out. It was urgent. The last metro would be leaving and I had my connecting train at 1 :13 et Gare de Lyon. Otherwise, I’d be stuck in Paris with a plastic coffin at Formule 1 or a room in brothel hotel with view of the project housing. No expenses paid. That’s the trouble living in the boonies. At night, the trains stop and the city - the big smelly spider, sucks your cash before your even earned it.
I pulled out my wallet like a big-time gambler, pretending to look for my credit card, lost in a mess of receipts. The old tricked worked. Nutty from macho arrogance, the diva absolutely insisted on paying my food and drink ; at least that was to gain. All had calculated to the T. I had ordered  sausage to show her that, in spite of my Barbarian origins, I could eat pork like the rest of them. Of course she noticed it and even merrily confessed that this reassured her. At first, I was mistaken for a Libanese. She had read Never without my daughter and seen on TV news the devastations committed by the ex-CIA agent Ben Laden. It was long before September 11th, but bearded men already scared her. I was scared too, but not for the same reasons.
After ?
Just a minute, It’s coming back to me.
She told me to drop by again the next morning at around Ten o’clock, to review of the work in progress. We gave eachother one more a kiss, and I flew to the metro. Arriving at the empty platform, I felt happy, a little tipsy, but clear-minded. Lise C. was going to hire me. It was a sure thing. I reviewed the scenes of the evening. Everything was going as planned. And then all of the sudden, for no reason, anxiety of a fiasco started to work me over.
A stinking summer fauna invaded the station : middle-aged morons dressed-up ridiculously like teenagers, teenagers disguised as babies in deconstructed bermudas with shaven heads and orthopedic hiking boots ; English girls, irritated from the heat, batting their eyes at their big lovers for the night ; mocking cops ; ticket controllers and unwanted tramps. In other words, holidays in Paris. And there I was, stiff as a board in my Telly monkey suit. I felt like the evening’s pawn-bearer. And to top it all off, I spotted my clone : a dynamic West Indien parading around with his Hermès briefcase and his loud tie. A real and genuine executive, a chocolate bon bon, all black on the outside and pure white on the inside. He looked to me for an affinity, the poor bastard. It was easy to be the big fish in the little pond. But, in the end, we were waiting like all the others for the last train. I heared the organ playing Requiem for a Loser.
I thought I saw everything go black, but I was still an optimist.

TC : 01 00 13 00 01
BACKGROUND SOUND : 3’at the end of tape.
Paces. The prison warders are coming.
Sirens (3 types).
Rain on the roof.
Someone is hit with a truncheon. (stolen shots)
Cells are locked.