Bewildered

July, 1925, le Boeuf sur le Toit, Paris, France

The audience was laughing hysterically. The lyrics to the number were quite clever and Bob and I added the appropriate shocked, loving and, sometimes, lustful facial expressions, which drove the crowd wild. In the middle of the tune, I glanced up and saw the lovesick, puppy expression on Bob’s face that made me laugh so much I forgot my next line, which made everyone else laugh even harder.

I love singing a heart-felt ballad and a snappy jazz number is always fun to perform.  People always compliment my deep, soulful voice, and how Bob and I harmonize so well. But I think I enjoy doing comedy numbers the most. Sometimes, the song was written by the composer to be funny but, most of the time, we take a standard everyone knows and change the lyrics to words that have double meanings, one very innocent and the other very naughty – and our Parisian audience always loves naughty.

I guess being a clown is in my nature as even when I was a little girl, I was always trying to get a laugh. In some ways, le Boeuf sur le Toit reminds me of my grandpa James Taylor’s house in California, always full of wonderful music and interesting, creative and passionate people with ideas they weren’t shy about sharing. I guess there are Bohemians in every corner of the globe, but their leaders reside at the Boeuf and tonight, they adore us.

In the month we have been appearing here, the club has become home and my personal slice of heaven.  It was hard leaving Mr. Varounis and the Chateau Caucasian.  He had been so kind to us and given us our first break, but the moment we informed him of the job offer, he said he understood completely and wished us much success. He even sent me roses opening night which made me cry.

Bob also cried on opening night, but with joy.  One of his literary heroes, Somerset Maugham, came in to catch our act and Bob spent every break happily chatting with him. Bob had read every thing he could get his hands on by Maugham and, even in college, raved about his talent and forward thinking ideas.  Bob got me to read his novel, Of Human Bondage, which, although a bit depressing, I thoroughly enjoyed. I adore his strong, English accent and very dry sense of humor.  His occasional, slight stammer only adds to his charm.

Maugham seemed to enjoy our company as well, as he always asked how Bob’s writing was coming and never seem to tire of listening about where we grew up and our plans to see the world.

After one long conversation with Maugham, Louis pulled us aside and said, “Don’t tell him anything you don’t want the world to know.  His friends seem to end up as the characters in one of his stories, sometimes in an unflattering way.”

We looked over at the distinguished Englishman who was sitting by himself, busily making notes.  I immediately started recalling every word I had ever said to him.

I can’t wait to write Mother about him and all the other interesting people we have been meeting. Celebrities from around the world drop by the Boeuf in droves.  Most ask to meet us and, during our breaks, we join them for a brief chat.  It we hit it off, they often invite us to another club or breakfast after work.

It is all rather wild, as we never know if we are going to sit down and have a conversation about writing, art, music, politics, acting, philosophy, history, social issues – or just gossip about who else is in the club.  Whatever the subject, we are usually discussing it with very passionate, intelligent people who define their field of expertise.  Bob couldn’t be more thrilled but, lately, he seems to resent us having to return to the stage.

I, too, am very pleased, but bewildered a bit as to why they have embraced us. It’s thrilling that they treat us as one of their own, full partners in this exciting and exclusive club that gathers at the Boeuf.  Many profess a determination to change the world, yet all they seem to do is complain about it, drink and howl at the moon at every opportunity.

But I still feel like an outsider. This has nothing to do with lack of self-confidence or the fear we aren’t good enough to join the pack. I am finding that most of these “”stars of the world” are pretty insecure and have their own demons to battle. It just doesn’t seem real – like it is all an illusion that will vanish as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared.  But, on the other hand, I am having the time of my life.

As we finish the number, some of the audience is almost rolling on the floor in laughter. After a great deal of applause, a couple bows and the spotlight shut off, we head off the dark stage, our last session for the night done.

“Bob, how about tonight we go directly home?”

My husband looked at me curiously, as he was usually the one making that suggestion to my objections.

“Great. Maybe we can…..”

Before he could finish, an attractive young French woman grabbed Bob’s hand.  I had seen her around the club before, but couldn’t recall her name or who the hell she was.  “Come, you two,” she said, giggling in a very unattractive way.  “There’s some people here you just have to meet!”

I started to decline for us, but she was already pulling Bob through the throngs of people in the packed club.  Before she disappeared completely with my husband, I followed along. It took a while, as people stopped our progress every five feet to shower us with compliments and invite us for a drink. We finally came to a booth where an attractive couple sat chatting with one of the most gorgeous men I had ever seen. Their discussion stopped mid-sentence and all eyes were on us.

Still giggling for no apparent reason, the girl said,  “Bob and Muriel, this is Scott and Zelda… and I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

“Ernest,” Scott said, loudly, and with a dramatic flare. “His name is Ernest Hemingway. Remember that name for one day soon, the whole world will repeat it often and always with reverence and awe.”

Everybody laughed but Ernest. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald I had heard of before. I think Bob mentioned he was a writer of some sort, but Paris society constantly gossiped about their crazy antics as if they were its unofficial, yet revered Prince and Princess, of all that is fun.

Ernest I hadn’t heard of, but I instantly wanted to learn everything about him.  His obvious, chiseled, good looks were certainly alluring, but it was the unsettling intensity in his dark eyes that made him mysterious and irresistible.  The giggling girl and Bob slid in the booth next to Scott, while I grabbed a seat next to Ernest. It looked like it was going to be another late night