DIARY OF A MARKED WOMAN


November 2004

LOOK FOR BELOW

Wed. the 3rd: Since end of October I've been writing first on my e-mail account and then copying to my website to protect my writing from mischief-makers as I don't like writing for some time and then having the text disappear.

So on that day (the 3rd) after I copied the text on eye torture to my website diary at the end of October, the attendant (short auburn hair) asked me to leave even though nobody was waiting to use the computer. I asked her to let me stay, reminded her of the policy which is to let a person use the computer one hour when nobody is waiting to use it but she wouldn't let me, giving no reason ans since I insisted, she just turned the computer off!

That night, around 1 AM, I wasn't asleep and I heard the whining noise of a city-service truck and saw the amber light blinking on my ceiling. Since it didn't stop after a while I got up and saw TEN street sweepers in white overalls with fluorescent green stripes, with a broom in their hands gathered in front of my building on the roadway and the sidewalk and not doing any sweeping. With them were FOUR different green service trucks from the sanitation dept (Propreté de Paris): a water tanker, a vacuum cleaner with horizontal rotary brushes, a small pick-up and a crew-transport van all of them on the move except the van. The gathering, the blinking, the motor noise lasted for a good half hour.

That night I had no eye pain but couldn't sleep anyway.

On Thurs. the 4th: I had absolutely no food left except some stale bread. I got the idea to make croutons with them so I heated some oil in a cast iron skillet... but let them burn. It was so tragic I had to laugh. Reminded me of that song by Annie Ross "One Meatball"(Waiter says to the poor man who can afford only one: "You gets no bread with one meatball"). So I thought my last resort was to go to the market with the letter that said I was going to get the RMI, show it to a fruit and vegs vendor and ask him to give me some food on credit.

But on the way out I found a letter from Mom in my mailbox that said that she had deposited 75 euros on my account on the 2nd in answer to my letter of Oct. 11th where I told her I qualified for the RMI but would not get it until 1st week of Nov. and was broke in the meantime. It took her three weeks to answer a letter asking for emergency financial help, and as usual she used he young kids as an excuse bec' she was having them during Toussaint vacation. There's always someone or something that takes precedence over me, no matter how desperate my situation can be.

So I withdrew that money and went to the market and paid cash. During all this starvation ordeal I refused to get depressed or anxious because I knew that God was looking after me. I kept repeating to myself that his ways are mysterious but I KNEW deep inside that he wouldn't forsake me because I trusted him and I had proof that he had watched over me many times before.

And now I was saved from starvation and humiliation just in the nick of time! I stocked up on everything: coffee, tea, sugar, oil, butter, cheese, cookies, rice, pasta... well, everything. And on the way back I passed in front of the butcher shop and entered it and bought myself a nice link of blood sausage. I cooked it with potatoes and was going to sit down to have my first real meal in MONTHS when there were knocks at the door. I didn't answer. The knocks started again, more insistent. I kept silent. Knocks again, urgent. Finally I asked "Who is it?"

"It's Mrs Phung from the hair salon downstairs." I opened the door. She was with a young man I knew was her son. I immediately remembered the last time I saw her: it was about two years ago when I had my long hair trimmed and her employee did a horrible job. The part of my hair was at the wrong place and not even straight... the hair was bouffant in all the wrong places... everything that could be done to make me look ugly had been done. And before going to her salon I had had a hesitation but decided to be good neighbors and give her my business. With what had happened in the intervening time, I knew that it was not because her employee was incompetent but because they had been paid to disfigure me. So while I think about that I look at Mrs Phung and listen:

"There's water dripping from your appartment into our hair salon and this is affecting our work," she said. I was very doubtful because just the previous Saturday I had swept behind the toilet and knew it was absolutely dry, and the only dampness was only that, dampness from a pipe, and in no way this could be "dripping" into her hair salon two stories below. I had no intention of having my lunch ruined so I said that I would have a look at my pipes after lunch because I was just starting eating. She looked very disappointed at this statement. "This is urgent!" she said. "The water is dripping nonstop into our work area and affecting our business. "This is unacceptable," the young man chimed in, "we have some work to do and you are preventing us from doing our work!" "All right," I said, I'll look into this as soon as possible." They didn't look too pleased at the calm I displayed. I think they expected me to blush and rush, get flustered, stressed, emotional, panicky, but I was positive that the water wasn't coming from my apartment. How could they be so sure it was coming from my apartment anyway?

"Why didn't they tell me?" I asked, speaking of the people living in the apartment below me. "They tried, they knocked on your door but you didn't answer." "Well, there are people I don't want to speak to so I don't answer the door in general," I said. So they had knocked once or twice because water was flowing from the ceiling into their apartment and that's all they did to warn me?

Mrs Phung said we'd have to do a "constat amiable" or an amicable stipulation, where presumably I would endorse responsibility for the water damage to their place of business... then the son said that I had to cut the water out right now and if I didn't they were going to call the firefighters and they would break my door down. This sounded like a threat, the threat of some violence, some violation of my home, my privacy, and a useless violence at that, because if I was home, why would they break down my door? It sounded so extreme that the faint rat-smell I had detected from the start grew stronger. After all, these people were friends with my sister Sophie so... and besides, my brother François had already played the "water damage" trick on me back in 1980. Maybe they were trying it again just to cause me some annoyance, since they know I have no insurance on the apartment.

I had an excellent lunch. Blood sausage! Yum yum! Then I looked at the pipe the dampness was coming from and again I knew that the dripping two stories below couldn't come from there.

During the night, cleaning vehicles linger in front of the building.

Fri. the 5th: In the early afternoon there's a knock at the door. I ask who it is. "Police." I ask what they want. "Open the door" one of them says. "Show me your ID" I say and I open the door a crack. I see four uniformed people -one is a woman- They say that the people at the hair salon have called them regarding the water that flows from my apartment into their work place. I open the door and they walk in. One of them asks where the bathroom is and I show him. He goes straight to the right of the toilet and exclaims "Ha, you see, the water is dripping like crazy over here! This is where the flooding is coming from." I approach and look, incredulous. Yes indeedy, water is flowing, not even dripping but flowing in a continuous stream from the joint of the water intake. I can't believe it. I had this joint fixed when I moved in two years ago and just last Saturday it was completely dry! How could it leak so badly in just one week? This must be sabotage, I think. Probably my Arab neighbor Hakim, acting on request of my mother. But the thought doesn't take hold completely, it's only a vague supposition. He asks where is the main faucet to cut the water off. I don't know. He slips his arm underneath a partition that hides the pipes from view and turns off the water. "It's there," he says. Well, I would never have guessed so how did he know? "You can't use the water until you've had the joint fixed," he says. "Call a plumber as soon as possible."

The female cop asks to see my ID; I'm indignant. "You are in my place and you want to check my identity! You have a lot of nerve!" But I show it to them. She has a form to fill out on a clipboard but doesn't write anything on it. She keeps my ID card for quite a while then returns it to me.

"OK," one of the cops says, "you're going to have to be co-operative with the people at the salon when they do a constat amiable. Then you send it to your insurance company", he says. "And you should use a mop to mop up all this water," the cop says. I look at him in disbelief. Since when do cops give housekeeping hints to people? Is it to give me this kind of advice that they threatened to tear down my door?

Strangely I'm not upset. It all looks like a big joke to me. To explain my lack of concern I say I don't own the place, I live here rent-free but I don't really own it." And after they're gone I wonder with what money could I buy myself insurance? I've been living in poverty for a year or so, so I won't accept responsibility in case this is a true problem.

After they've left I wonder at the timing of this event. Just when I'm about to collect about fifteen hundred euro, I have this problem that could swallow a good part of that money. Plus for the past few days I've had to ask THREE MEN or three different occasions to open my door for me because the lock is so hard I can't open the door myself, so I'll need to have a locksmith come and so some work too.

Sat. the 6th: Around 7PM Phung Junior knocks on my door. He says again that I can't use the water, that if I do he'll call the firefighters and that they'll break down my door. He proposes to do a constat amiable tomorrow (Sunday). I say not tomorrow, but on Monday. Again this threat of destruction and violence. Why does he propose to do some insurance work on a Sunday? This doesn't sound serious.

So I'm not using the water as usual. I draw a few gallons in the morning and take them out of the big pot when I need water. I turn the water on only to flush the toilet twice a day and then turn it off.

So the radio stopped working last year, then the hot water stopped working too a few months ago, then my computer broke down at the end of February and the electricity was cut off at the end of July. I've been living in primitive circumstances but I'm taking it as an experiment in survival. And now I don't have running water anymore. Oh, well...

Mon. the 8th: Check my bank account at 4:30 PM. Still no money transfer from the RMI.

Tues. the 9th: Around 8:45 AM go to the CAF office rue Nationale to inquire why the money hasn't been transfered. Before leaving I stop to think of what I'll do while waiting bec' I know they'll keep me waiting. Should I take something to read? Or some crochet to do? Then I decide that I'll update my diary and go out. I show the letter of acceptance of my "contrat d'insertion" with allowance payable retroactively starting from July 1st. The man at the desk tells me he hasn't received this letter, the RMI office apparently didn't send it to this office. He says I should go to the other room to ask for a cash advanceso I go.

After a short wait my name appears on one of the three TV screens. I go to the window indicated. A black woman listens to me as I show her the letter of acceptance and ask if I could get a cash advance. She calls up my file and says there's a form I haven't filled out so she makes me fill it out. It's a quarterly statement of income (in case I earned money besides the allowance). She also makes me fill out one for the second quarter, as if she was willing to pay me a lot of back-allowance. Then she says she has to speak to the office manager about the cash advance and leaves me for a few minutes. "Tell her I have no money and I'm hungry," I tell the woman as she wals off.

She returns a few minutes later. "They're going to give you two hundred euro," she says. Then she tells me to have a sit and wait until they come down to bring me the cash. So I sit down and wait but after a good twenty minutes nobody has come down yet, so I return to the window. "There's nothing more I can do for you," the woman says. "Go sit in front of the stairs so they see you when they come down." So I walk toward the entrance of the room where the stairway is and sit in front of it. I listen to any noise coming from upstairs: voices, footfalls... but there's no sign of life except, at intervals, a door that slams four times with the same noise.

My patience is running short so I ask the guard what's taking so long. "Oh, you know, when they give a cash advance, they need a lot of signatures so don't complain, you're lucky, they don't do that very often," the man says. I thank him and resume my wait. Three different men climb the stairs and come down a few minutes later. I didn't know the public was allowed to go upstairs. I thought it was the inner sanctum but no,even a man on crutches with a foot in a big bandage goes upstairs. It seems to me like an incentive for me to go too. After all, if these men go, why not me? But a voice tells me to stay put. The black woman told me they would come to me so I should just be patient. If I went upstairs and something bad happened to me, I would be in the wrong. What could happen to me? What was waiting behind the door that kept banging? I suddenly felt exhausted, hungry and faint. I was sure I couldn't take it one more minute, but thought better of it. "It's the home stretch," I told myself. "Don't give up just yet, you're almost there. Just wait a little longer that's all." And then I remembered my diary I had told myself I would update to pass the time, so I took it out of my bag and started writing, thinking that this would probably make my wait come to an end very shortly, like when it's late at night and you're waiting for the subway so you light up a cigarette, and within a few seconds you can hear the train coming. And bingo! I had hardly written three sentences when a door on the ground floor opened near the stairway and a woman called me. I walked in. There were several women in the office, including the big chief who was wearing a fuzzy mauve and pink sweater. The woman gave me two hundred euros, made me sign a receipt, I thanked her and walked out.

(Nov. 9 cont'd): I had walked into the office shortly after 8:30 AM and 10 AM rang at St Joan of Arc's church just as I reached the area after leaving the CAF office nearby. Since the business at the window had taken fifteen minutes at most and the counting out of cash five, I had been kept waiting about one hour. Apparently they tried hard not to give me the dough but since I wouldn't make the mistake they were pushing me to make, they had no choice but to cough up the dough. KOFFF KOFF KOFF!

When I return home I find a letter from the electricity Co EDF saying that despite numerous requests I haven't let them read my meters for over a year blah blah and asking me to let their man in on Nov. the 19. But, as I was saying to the employee last August, there was a reading by an EDF man on March 1st of this year, and the proof is that the gas and electricity numbers appearing on my bills for that month are in bold characters. (This is what I write them back one week before the appt.)

Wed. the 10th: When I come back from two hours' shopping Mrs Phung waits for me in front of her store as I pass by. She says that the leak has started again. I answer that I have turned off the main faucet in my appartment, therefore the leak doesn't come from my apartment. I ask her to come and check personally that the water is cut off.

She walks to the second floor and instead of following me to the third she knocks at the apartment just below mine and comes in. Because I looked in my papers the first day the Phungs knocked on my door, I know the owner of that apartment is the owner of the restaurant, hence managed by the same manager, the Chinese man who, when I was in the restaurant with my mother last April, had two men come out of the woodwork to threaten me wordlessly. "Bad news," I thought, when I read it was him. But at least I was forewarned.

I come down a few stairs and follow her in. About five Chinese men appear to be having a few beers in the kitchen. One of them gets up and gets into the bathroom. I take a look and see that it is in very bad condition due to humidity. The paint is peeling everywhere and instead of white being the dominant color, it's brown. The ceiling is terrible but no water is dripping from there presently. The man takes a plastic wastebasket and shows it to Mrs Phung. There's a roll of toilet paper inside. Mrs Phung says that the roll is entirely soaked due to the water dripping from the ceiling and from my apartment. Then there is some more talk in an Asian language and Mrs Phung shows me the roll of toilet paper a second time. You'd think a wasted roll of t. p. is a major disaster.

Then we go to my apartment and I show her that the water is turned off by opening the faucets in the bathroom and in the kitchen. I look where she looks in the kitchen: a plate of cheese on a chair (I have no table, only a fireplace top as a work area and use the chair top as a table and the backrest as a rack for the towels), a bucket on the floor with underwear soaking, the sink area, the skillet on the stove. To my satisfaction, despite her son's vehement interdiction to use the water, I have maintained the place clean and nothing she sets her eyes on provokes any shame: the dishes are done, the skillet is clean. "So you see, if the water keeps dripping it's not coming from my apartment!" I tell her.

Next we go to her hair salon and this is what I see: in an area to the right of the entrance after passing the cash register, where there are several sinks to wash the ladies'hair, there is water on the floor and one or two buckets, presumably to catch the water dripping from the ceiling. I look at the ceiling and see no dripping at all, only a damp area the size of a palm on one of the acoustic tiles. In front of the cash register one or two tiles have been removed and wiring is apparent in the space above the tiles. It reminds me of what Phung Jr said about the water causing a fire hazard because of its dripping on the electric wires. But what I don't see is water dripping from the ceiling.

I walk toward the exit and as I reach the door Mrs Phung takes out her cell phone and makes a call. She speaks in an Asian language then tells me that she just called her husband who's at work and is not available to talk right now. Why did she need to talk to him right now?

Next and last, we both walk to the restaurant at the corner because after all, if there is any leak from my apartment to the one below, it was the restaurant manager's responsibility to let me know in no uncertain terms. But since I have just been exonerated by showing the lady that my water is turned off so if there's any leak it's not coming from me, I don't have a compelling need to talk to this man I mistrust and dislike.

She walks ahead of me and when we reach the door she opens it and speaks a few words of an Asian language to the manager but doesn't get in. The manager is behind the counter and looks up but doesn't say anything. His hair looks just combed and he has a meek look on his face. Why isn't he answering her? While she speaks I see the setup: they really take me for a jerk, and have the nerve to conspire in front of me in a language I don't understand.

They thought that after Phung Jr threatened to have my door broken down if I used the water, I wouldn't dare use it and after ten days or so my apartment would be a filthy mess. And having my mess witnessed by Mrs Phung's unsparing eye would make me feel ashamed, and the feeling of shame would make me want to justify myself and accuse the restaurant manager. So given the opportunity, I would walk into the restaurant burning with shame and fury like a woman scorned and accuse him for not having warned me in time, and realize too late that Mrs Phung had locked the door from outside.

And presumably, Mr Phung who couldn't be disturbed from his work somewhere would appear from the bowels of the joint like a bad dream. And what can happen when a woman is the prisoner of (at least) two men is up to every reader to imagine.

But since I thought Phung Jr was "un petit connard en costard" (a little jerk in a suit) from the get go because he didn't seem to realize that living creatures need water, I didn't hesitate to turn the faucet on once or twice a day to refill my water supply, so I maintained a decent environment and when Lady Phung paid me a visit I had nothing to be ashamed of. So there. Up yours, everybody.

Fri the 12th: Hey! Made it to my 52nd birthday! Quite an achievement I'll say. At bedtime severe pain in toes of both feet.

Recently I've been forced to ask men coming up or downstairs to open my front door for me because the door is so hard to open. I asked Hakim once and couldn't believe how reluctant he was to help me. First he pretended he wasn't there but since he'd been speaking the minute before he gave up this ploy, understanding that I knew he was home. I had to plead with him for some time. He seemed to believe that I was laying a trap for him. Finally he came out and opened my door, saying his usual "No problem" and said I had to PULL the door towards me with my left hand while trying to open it with my right hand. Insane. All evening I kept wondering why he had been so reluctant to help me with this simple matter, and finally, while having my morning coffee the next day, it hit me: it was because it was him indeed who had sabotaged my water pipe so now he was embarrassed to be asked by his victim to open the door he had previously opened without her permission.

Sat. the 13thVision blurred until noon by left eye weeping nonstop after severe 7 AM attack.

Receive letter from 13th police Dept marked "URGENT" asking me to go to office Nr 100 at the precinct and bring some ID. No reason given except "some matter concerning you." If I hadn't received the same letter last month I would think one of the cops who came to my place had a tip on how to get rid of the shit that cakes my toilet bowl. But I rec'd the same letter BEFORE the leak problem started so.... All I know is that even though I ain't a Jew and this is not Nazi France, I'm not sure I'd come out of the precinct alive.

Severe pain in toes of both feet at bedtime.

Sun. the 14th: Phung Jr knocks on my door. Says leak on electric box creates fire hazard and asks me to stop entirely using water without suggesting alternative source of water.

Tues. the 16th: At the Melville library computer, I can't open the File Manager on my web site after signing in with username and password.

Thu. the 18th: Coming back at 7 PM from shopping at Monoprix and from the Melville library, I see a red firefighters' truck right in front of my building. While walking from my parked bike to the building's entrance I see a fireman handle a ladder in the street, bring it to the truck. Coming into the building, I see the restaurant manager with two or three firemen standing at the bottom stairs. I ask what's going on. One of them says that a pan was left burning on the second floor (not in the restaurant's kitchen I'd expect) but that nothing really bad happened. They block my way so I have to say "Excuse me" to get through. There is indeed the smell of something burnt in the stairwell and in my apartment but no smoke. As I'm sure everybody does, I unconsciously tried to identify the smell. It wasn't burnt rice, it wasn't burnt pasta, not burnt beans nor vegetables... But if it was on the second floor, why did the fireman handle this ladder? Later I identified the smell: it was the smell of burnt flesh and I took it as a threat since the firemen's presence was deliberately made to look like a farce added to the recent profusion of gas torches, first in front of my building, then at the market where the butcher singed the skin of chicken with a small blow torch, which he'd never done before... the smell of burnt flesh as a threat. Thanks, mom.

Fri. the 19th: No is coming out of a car just as I'm arriving with my bike around 7 PM. He acts surprised at seeing me and follows me into the bldg. Says he wants to get his stereo back. I say he still owes me money on the system he took from me while was in the US and he has to pay me entirely before he can get his own system back. I remind him of all the notes I wrote him last summer while I was starving, asking him to pay me some of what he owes and he hardly gave me any money. He said he made me an offer. I say I find it too low, 600 euros for the whole system with a pair of excellent loudspeakers is a joke but I haven't had time to research the value I put on my stereo. I tell him of all the troubles I've been having since the begnning of the year, the electricity cut off, the water leak, this little shit from the hair salon who disrespects me and this asshole across the hall, who I'm sure sabotaged my pipe to create the leak. "Oh, are you sure? I think he's got a lot too much to do to be thinking of doing this kind of things." "Well, I'm sure it's sabotage because the week before the leak started I swept the floor behind the toilet and it was completely dry so how could a big leak like this start on its own? Mom must have put him up to it." I show him the pliers I'm using to open my door because the wood has absorbed some humidity and swollen, making the door hard to open and close. I tell him I'm not inviting him in because there's no light. He lights up a cigarette, offers me one which I decline and when the timer puts the light out there's only the ember of his cigarette visible in the dark. Afterwards it seems to me like he took my display of the long-handled pliers like a threat so he threatened me back with the display of cigarette ember. What a family. I threaten you, you threaten me. He said he would come next Sunday to pick up his stereo and records. I begged him to give me some breathing time after all the hardships I went through but he didn't relent so I promised I would call on Thu. with a price. He insisted on kissing me as if "everything was forgiven" or as if he expected to mollify me, I don't know, but while he kissed me I thought about Judas'kiss because I felt so little affection for my bro and I knew he didn't kiss me out of affection either.

Sat Nov. the 20: "Le Point" weekly magazine has an interview on Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. A real puff piece. He says (among other things) that his favorite poetry is "the Flowers of Evil" by Baudelaire and that he's still making payments on the apartment he bought in the 6th district. Ha ha ha!!!

While I'm commenting on the press, I'll also mention this quarterly magazine of the 13th district. In the latest installment there's an info that says "le 13ème primé ville internet 2004", which means the 13th district (where I live) has been nominated "Internet City" for 2004. The article says that the Association Ville Internet gave a "2@" note to the district's city hall, becoming the first district to receive this mark of distinction," in aknowledgment of its actions in favor of of a Free, Participative and Citizen-friendly Internet ".

I found this incredible after the nonstop harassment I got at the two library branches, the closing of one of the branches for "restructuration" -and thereby the elimination of one free internet access station, and the elimination of the four cyber-emploi stations where you could surf once a week for free for 90 minutes. I checked the website of the association. It says that a Paris district is not eligible per se as a municipal entity to receive the good mark but it was given anyway to the 13th as a "pretend" award by a committee of "experts". They don't say what is the area of expertise of the experts but as a resident of the 13th I consider myself an expert 13th district internet user and I swear the district deserves five thumbs down instead of 2 "@".

Sun the 21st: Return to the ACT internet space on rue Tolbiac off av. Italie. I'm there a bit early and as I leave to have a coffee nearby a man approaches me. 3Can I speak to you for a moment?" he asks. I say no and walk away while he's upset and insults me. Probably a FOM (Friend Of Mom).

Mon. the 22nd: At the Fouquiau pharmacy a pretty young thing tells me she's out of the brand of eye drops I'm asking for and offers me another brand. She asks what's the matter. I say that it may sound weird but it feels as if someone was stabbing the eye of a doll representing me, "you know, like in voodoo? I have found no other explanation. And also I have pain in my toes as if my shoes were too tight when in fact my shoes are very comfortable." About my eye she asks for how long I've been having the problem. I say since the beginning of August. She says that the eye drops are "habit forming" so I should not rely on them exclusively to take care of the problem. It was probably an allergy, she said. "I don't think so, because there's only one eye involved and there has been no change in my environment," I said. She said I had to see an eye doctor ASAP. She added that there was a two-months wait at the eye doctors so I should make the call real soon. "Why is there a two-months wait at the eye-doctor?" I ask, because it didn't make sense to me. She makes no reply."@".

Wed the 24th: Very painful eye attack but no pain in toes for the first time since they started."@".

Thu the 25th: I'm waiting in line at the Monoprix to get my purchases through. The cashier looks at my bag of apples. "They're boskoop at 1,90 euro per kilo," I say. "Oh, thank you, I was wondering;" Then she picks up a folder and leafs through it, her head down, and she looks and looks, doesn't say anything to me and keeps her head down for what seems like a very long time. Then she turns her head away from me and calls the cashier next to her. "What's the code for boskoop apples?" she asks. The woman tells her, then another woman ppears and tells her a totally different number. During all this the woman hasn't once apologized for keeping me waiting nor asked me to be patient. When I'm through with her I ask to speak to her supervisor. The customer service woman calls her, I wait and then she shows up, a Mrs Saidi, very short woman. I tell her that I'm very upset because of the bad manners and disrespect of the cashier. I add that she's not the first one to do this to me, but that actually it happens almost every time I shop here and I can't understand why the cashiers are being so rude to the customers. Mrs Saidi explains that the cashiers have to memorize the code of the fruit and vegetables and when they're new to the job they sometimes forget. I protest that this is no reason to be so disrespectful. "Don't you tell them to be polite?" I ask.

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