(Originally posted: 11/22/16)
In the immediate days after the election, a strange memory from two years ago boomeranged back to the front of my brain.
In the spring of 2014, I took a solo trip to Paris. I stayed at a very fancy hotel in the 8th—the fanciest hotel I’d ever stayed at. One of those absurdly luxurious spots where the shampoo is La Prairie and the water on your nightstand is Evian and a room service club sandwich only marginally larger than a deck of cards costs 44 euros.
The hotel had a cat-in-residence: a lithesome, white Birman named Fa-Raon. You could find him prowling the lobby or curled atop the concierge desk or lying by the rose bushes in the garden. To be sure, his grooming, entitlement, and commitment-free schedule made him somewhat indistinguishable from the other members of the aristocracy who called the hotel home. His collar was bespoke Goyard; his nametag, Cristofle. These are fun but completely irrelevant details. This story has nothing to do with a cat.
Every morning breakfast was served in a room off the lobby with crystal chandeliers hanging from a powder blue trompe-l'œil ceiling and oval-back chairs upholstered in every shade of melon. Here, elegant men in sport coats and women whose vibes could only be described as “coiffed” read Le Figaro and drank cafés and managed not to get pastry crumbs on their clothing.
I, meanwhile, always stumbled downstairs at the last minute, uncombed, barely-washed, kicking about in beat-up sneakers, decidedly not fancy, decidedly un-coiffed. As I ate my meals—omelets soused in butter, sensuously molting croissants, perfectly soft-boiled eggs on tiny porcelain holders worth more than my life at its most generous valuation—I was hyper-aware of all the ways I stood out. The only young woman eating alone, I certainly did.
One morning near the end of my stay I was picking through a bowl of berries when an old man was seated at the table next to me. Even before he spoke, he was cranky in a way that let me know he was American. All old men of different nationalities are cranky in different ways.
The first words out of his mouth were apple juice.
“Apple juice. I’d like apple juice,” he said to the hostess who seated him.
I had studied the menu closely over those past few days so I knew that a slice of pain perdu was 26 euros and truffled eggs were 45 euros and the only two juices available were orange and grapefruit.
The hostess nodded and hurried off and sent over a waiter.
The man ordered a plate of smoked salmon and apple juice.
“I want apple juice,” he reiterated, loudly.
“Of course, sir. Right away.”
The waiter rushed off. I laughed to myself. In this posh breakfast room in this fancy hotel, an old American man was yelling about apple juice.
The man waited for a few minutes in a grunty silence. I know this sounds like an oxymoron but the only way I can describe it is to say he gave off the illusion of grunting without actually making any sound. He beckoned another waiter to his table. He leaned in, suddenly bashful, like he was sharing a secret. I couldn’t hear exactly what he said but what I heard sounded a lot like apple juice.
Shortly after, his waiter arrived, carrying a tall tumbler of what I assumed was, by the way the man’s face lit up with delight, apple juice. He held it preciously and sipped slowly, between forkfuls of salmon.
He wasn’t even halfway through his glass when he called back his waiter.
“More apple juice. Please.”
The please was a nice touch, I thought.
And so finally, the waiter came back to the man with a carafe, filled to its lip with sweet, murky, ambrosial, off-menu, price-upon-request, apple juice. Without words, he put it on the table and walked away.
The man wrapped his hand around the base of the carafe and smiled.
I cannot stop thinking about this man and his juice.
As liberals gear up for one hell of a fight, we need to consistently remind ourselves that nothing is inevitable—not progress, not fruit milk, not basic human rights, not even—Jesus Christ—the continued rejection of Nazism.
So, we need to be vigilant. We need to be kind of obnoxious. We need to remember that white men have been inconveniencing society and ordering off the menu, so to speak, for centuries. We need to ask for the apple juice.
And then we need to ask again and again and again.
Let’s make these motherf***ers bring us a carafe.