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It’s been less than a week since the attacks in Paris, and before I ruminate and pontificate on the city of lights and the world at large, it’s an incredibly sad thing. So many people lost, so many friends and families who must be suffering immensely right now…it certainly makes me reflect.
And so, I will henceforth say “Voldemort” when referencing the terrorist group responsible for so much evil (an appropriate substitution, given Voldemort’s “piece of shit” status in Harry Potter).
The Northeastern US is gearing up for a massive blizzard, so to any snow-ridden readers out there who happened upon this blog, I send you good thoughts and snow-shovel prowess (I grew up in Canada, hence my shovelling skills rule). If you’re living in New York City and don’t have a driveway, your shovelling concerns have likely been replaced with the innate need to “cuddle.” This is no joke, as all the buzz on Craigslist right now relates to offers citing the following: cuddling, drinking hot cider, and possibly making out if you’re hot; let’s make this a snow day to remember. No, I’m not kidding, see here.
I’m too far from “blizzard central” to contend with any similar offers, nor would I, not because I’m afraid of the weird Craigslist dude who would answer the ad and show up at my door, but mostly because I’M the weird one, and my “Kathy Bates in Misery” like tendencies dare not be tested. Watch your back.
What I can do though on this wintry Monday night, is offer up a section from one of the chapters in “Vicarious Paris,” my candid guide through the city of lights. When I initially thought about sharing this passage, I wondered: is it a dick move to reflect on warm summer nights in Paris, when millions of people are trapped inside because of a blizzard? But then I remembered: hey, it’s not exactly warm in Toronto either; we’re in these dog days of winter together. Besides, if the demand for illegal narcotics has taught me anything, it’s that escapism is important to the human condition. So enjoy some escapism now, without the long-term effects of heroin or crack.
(For context, the passage below is taken from Chapter Twelve in “Vicarious Paris,” the chapter where the reader vicariously joins me on a night of bar-hopping in my “tied for first place” favourite neighbourhood in Paris, Canal Saint-Martin. And the bar this passage relates to? Well it’s ONLY one of my favourite “chill out” hangouts in Paris, no big deal; enjoy!]
This next bar is going to win some kind of award, for being unassuming yet leaving a lasting impression. This is Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire, M5 Jacques Bonsergent), a simple café by day, and a packed, lively bar with an amazing soundtrack by night. This café is right along the canal, and at night it draws you in with the buzzing crowd. Tara and I walked in at nearly eleven, and given that it was Saturday, there was no chance of getting a table. You know what though? That’s okay, because interesting things tend to happen when you’re sitting at the bar.
I’ll start with a fun fact: the proprietor of the bar looks like Colin Farrell, if Colin Farrell had a full-on beard and a newsboy cap. Did my mention of a newsboy cap deflate your image of a manly Colin Farrell doppelganger? Fear not, for your faith will soon be restored.
We assumed “Colin” was the proprietor, due to the way the fresh-faced servers looked to him for guidance (on billing quandaries and the like). Colin doesn’t smile. He smirks. As in…he will take your drink order, smirk when he hears your non-French accent, and smirk when he gives you your drink. This is not bad service, this is a game; he is challenging you to tear down his walls, and bitch, challenge accepted.
We will get back to Colin in a minute, but first let me say that on a pricing note, most types of wine at Café Prune are four euros a glass; not generic red or white, but different varieties. This is cool. On a musical note, the soundtrack at Café Prune on a Saturday night is amazing (we went twice on Saturday nights, but the other nights might be great as well). We are assuming it was Colin’s iPhone connected to the speaker that night, and in that case, we salute you, Colin. Colin played Blind Melon. And Foo Fighters. And Smashing Pumpkins. It’s like he’d gone to school with us or something, and I was now more sure than ever that I wanted to make him my friend.
Tara and I each had three glasses of wine at Café Prune. I’m not sure how this was physically possible, given all the wine at the canal, the dangerous sips of “house punch,” the drink at La Patache…how is it possible that we felt totally fine? I am thinking there’s something special in the Parisian air, something that regulates your bloodstream and makes it all okay. That is definitely the rationalization I’m going with; that and the carbs from eating an entire pizza. Don’t judge me, it was thin-crust.
Whenever Tara and I sit at the bar during one of our outings, our scintillating conversation (in our arrogant opinion) on everything from films to funny things we saw that day, is sure to lead to bartender eavesdropping, i.e. the gateway to conversation. Not so with Colin. On our first night there Colin was “in the zone,” working fast and furious at the bar (and smirking at us, the two of only three English-speakers at the bar). You know what made his “in the zone” feat more commendable? The eleven shots of Jack Daniels he consumed while we were there. Actually now that I’m thinking back on it…it must’ve been some other brown liquid in the upside-down bottle called “Jack Daniels,” like maybe an energizing corn syrup, because how in the hell can someone manage such exact, choreographed movements at the bar after eleven shots of Jack Daniels? Yes, I will now confirm it was an energizing corn syrup mix in that old Jack Daniels bottle. Look at this guy…caring about the environment by reusing old glass bottles; well done, Colin.
The incidence of energy shots makes me even more certain that Colin was the proprietor, as the other three servers were only allowed two shots of corn syrup each.
Back to our scintillating conversation; Colin may not have piped in, but this random dude sitting next to Tara did. I glanced around this packed bar of people in their twenties and thirties (and forties), and realized why this fifty-something man in the blazer and jeans may have felt out of place. He spoke French pretty well, but switched to English once he and Tara had developed a rapport. Tara is very friendly; Tara will ask you where you’re from and what you like about Paris. She’ll also smile with consistent enthusiasm, whether it’s the first picture of your ten-year-old daughter you’re showing her, or the tenth. As this man did. I’m the one, if you recall, whose boredom/disdain spills out of her eyes with involuntary eye-expressions. It’s a good thing Tara was next to the man instead of me.
As the night went on, as the patrons got rowdier, and as Colin finished his corn syrup mix, something amazing happened. On the speakers, via Colin’s playlist…came the song that shaped an entire generation. I’m of course referring to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. If you are a child/teen of the nineties, this song is an important fixture from your youth. Our delight in what we were hearing wasn’t the amazing thing. It was the other two bartenders singing along to the song, and Colin joining in (sort of). He wasn’t exactly singing along to the words, but he quasi-shook his hips, twice. After that, it’s like he suddenly remembered he wasn’t in the privacy of his bedroom, bringing him back to his usual smirk. He may have thought no one noticed, but oh, we noticed. We were seeing the cracks in Colin.
When Tara and I finally decided to bring our epic “fourteen-hour hang out” to a close, Colin stood across from us staring as we scrounged up our money. This was a new development, versus the up-until-now barrage of smirks; Colin also stares.
We left the bar feeling energized; we may not have lassoed the smirking Moby Dick just yet, but good things come to those who wait, and Chez Prune is definitely worthy of a repeat visit.
Since we’ve already discussed the nature of this bar as it relates to your inevitable visit (you should go!), I will briefly lay out the conclusion of our quest to break down Colin. We returned two Saturdays later, and the atmosphere was just as lively. The music for the night was “tunes from the eighties,” which cemented our conclusion of good Saturday soundtracks at Chez Prune. When we walked into the bar, there was a flicker of recognition within Colin; I might even call it one eighth of a smile to go along with his usual smirk. On this particular night, Colin wasn’t dipping into the “corn syrup” shots, and I wondered how this might affect our plan to break him down. The plan, by the way, was simple; Tara would be leaving Paris soon, and with so many things still left on our agenda, we only had time for one drink at Chez Prune. Cue operation: leave him hanging.
As planned, we asked for the bill after just one drink, and Colin, for the first time, spoke (outside of the usual things bartenders say). He said, in French: “You’re leaving already?”
Holy crap, Colin needs us.
We explained that our jam-packed night needed to keep on moving, so with a quick good night, we wandered outside to take in the canal’s mellow ambience. Five seconds later something crazy happened: Colin followed us outside. He didn’t say anything; he just stared. My god the staring! Faced with a suffocating silence, I, with my liquid courage, told him I really liked his bar, and wished we weren’t leaving Paris so soon (I’d be leaving two weeks after Tara). Colin’s eyes went wide (he has involuntary eye-expressions too?!), and he said: “C’est dommage.” Then…then…he pouted.
I made Colin pout!
Tara and I laughed our way home, and maybe also skipped our way home; it was such a victorious blur. You’re probably wondering where the rest of the story is; like what about the part when Colin and I have a torrid love affair? The thing is, Colin was wearing a wedding ring, and the other thing is, it was never even really about that. The only thing that mattered was my need to weaken a person with my magnetizing charm, and force him/her to become my friend.
If it wasn’t clear in previous chapters, you can now see there are times when I will talk about a place for two paragraphs, and other times when I’ll go on about a place for three pages. That’s a key thing about Paris, the way that various experiences will stick in your mind and inspire you in different ways; nothing about this city can be confined to a table or chart.
Next we’re going to hop and skip through all my favourite parks, and talk about the ways to make the most of them…
[I’m not actually going to continue with the jaunt through the parks in this post—though it’s an interesting chapter with fun facts, like finding out which fountain Natalie Portman waded around in—but if you’d like to read about the parks, and 80,000 words of everything else (photos included), you can buy “Vicarious Paris” at Amazon, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes and Noble!]
PS: I’ve finally updated my blog’s “About Me” page, which details other projects and what’s up next (and a photo of me in Paris, which I should’ve had all along; d’oh!—>and keeping in line with my photo tradition, I look creepy as per usual, ala Kathy Bates in Misery; you’re welcome.)
(This post begins on a serious note, but fear not, it’s mostly about a happy dog)
I don’t discuss world news on my blog or Facebook page, as I believe it’s your individual right to digest world news in whatever form/amount best suits you. I do however, *hope* that you haven’t just decided: “Screw it, I’m not reading world news anymore; it’s too depressing.” There may be a certain logic to this mandate, but it’s not for me. I don’t want to be insulated from the world, and between the latest assault by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, and the attack on free speech in Paris, we can all agree that it’s been a sad start to the new year, yes? YES.
In these times of feeling like your existence is useless, since you “individually” can never stop the horrors of the world…in these times, it’s important to smile for at least five seconds a day. Preferably this smile will spread across your face when there are other humans around. If the preceding condition is met, it’s possible that your five-second smile will spread like a virus, not unlike the H1N1 I’m currently experiencing. And if THAT condition is met, maybe those you infect with your smiley assault, will then in turn spread those smiles further on, and maybe just maybe, in all these five-second increments, people will be a little nicer, and the world will be a little less shitty.
It’s obvious that my new year’s resolution was being cheesy to the point of making myself vomit, or maybe it’s the H1N1. In any case, the point of my insufferable cheesiness was to tell you about this dog: Meet Eclipse, a black Lab who hops on the bus all by herself, takes a seat between passengers, quietly stares out the window, and then hops off at her appropriate stop near the dog park (you can read more about her here). I love Eclipse. I love that she doesn’t have time for her owner to finish his cigarette when the bus arrives. I love how she’s all like: “Yeah….I’m gonna get going, but uhhh…see you at the dog park, and bring the plastic poop bags.” That’s my kind of dog, and as a cat person, it takes a lot for me to say that.
Anyway, I stared at that photo of Eclipse for five seconds straight when I first saw it, and for five whole seconds I could not stop smiling. Hopefully I can pass along that “smiling” virus, and hopefully you’ll pass it along to others.
That’s really all I had to say tonight, and I’ll end by sharing some photos from my recent times living in Paris. I enjoyed every day that I lived in Paris; it’s a place where I was frequently met with kindness, a place where I made good friends, and a place that is extremely beautiful. You should go.
If you’ve spent any time in the last month on my Facebook page, you’ve seen me talk about the impending book release inspired by my two stints in Paris (as well as by this blog). As of this moment: it’s alive, it’s out there, but all I care about now is sharing some of it here. Sharing is important when it comes to this book, since this book is my attempt to write something that’s in “some way” a guidebook, but that’s in another way a jaunt, a fun escape that has nothing to do with being practical and planning a trip. The fact that it’s indeed useful when planning a trip to Paris (with over 130 places vividly described along with a summary), well that’s just the icing.
And so, what I’d like to focus on now is the “meat” of the book, and who doesn’t love a slab of meat with their icing? So here are some meat slabs and meat shreds, which represent what this book is all about: being there, seeing it through my weird-ass eyes, and living it through my weird-ass tangents (kind of like this blog, now that I think about it…)
Read on and enjoy!
On trying to make your first French friend at a quiz night:
“The French woman and I were on the same team, and one of our teammates was a very intense mega-dork. I’m sorry but there’s no other way to put it. Like he would accuse nearby tablemates of copying our answers, slam his fist on the table when none of us knew the answer to an obscure question on cinema, and one time I even caught him foaming at the mouth. As all this was happening my eyes would go wide or I’d raise my eyebrow or I’d roll my eyes; basically I was having a lot of eye-related reactions. Letting you know I don’t like you via my eyes is one of my biggest flaws; I just can’t hide it, so it’s a wonder I got a business degree and spent several years in the corporate world. Little did I know that the French woman was having a similar “eye-related” tic, and when our eyes finally met, I knew right away that we’d be friends. Mutual distain for other people; it’s the cornerstone of all great friendships.”
On the sort of intense poser you’ll see on the Seine River boat ride:
“The consistency of the posing on the boat ride impressed me, as the wife always had her one thumb in her jeans pocket, I guess as a way of saying that her face might be stern, but she’s pretty casual and likes to have fun.”
On resolving not to like a falafel place just because Lenny Kravitz liked it:
“The word of Lenny Kravitz’s endorsement must’ve spread, since this one always has a bigger lineup than the one across the street. Did he even go there? I don’t know; it’s all word of mouth at this point. Even if he is the official ambassador for L’As du Fallafel, is his endorsement enough to sway me? I think not. Like I will NOT “go your way,” Lenny Kravitz, not until I’ve tried it for myself.”
On meeting new people at a wine-tasting, particularly a French man with murderous “laser eyes:”
“With each new wine we sampled, either I was getting fatter or he was getting fatter; what else would explain how our bodies kept getting progressively closer? Weird. The other thing of note was that he’s one of those people who not only stares directly at you the entire time he’s speaking, but also stares directly through your eyes and out the back of your head. Like why are you trying to kill me with your psycho laser eyes? (Oh I’m sorry; did you think this was turning into a tale of Parisian romance?)
Not long after that, the tasting concluded, and as I gathered my stuff from the basement, laser-eyes cornered me and asked if he could take me out for ice cream. All the various wines I’d tasted added up to a full bottle, so I was really in no position to be having a sexy cold dessert with this man I’d only just met. That’s the thing about Paris; adventures aren’t hard to find, but it’s always important to check yourself before you wreck yourself. I mean come on, ladies, none of us wants to be drunk on a first date. Class before ass. That’s enough sayings for now.”
On trying to reconcile the outrageous price of a simple dessert at the restaurant beloved by “celebs:”
“I was tempted to ask our super-model waitress if perhaps the berries had been pickled in unicorn tears, thus explaining the hefty price.”
On drinking wine by the canal versus drinking wine at the riverbank:
“The area by the canal gets very crowded on summer nights, and as it’s pretty small in width, the buzz of conversation tends to permeate the air. The difference here compared to the river, is that here it’s mostly just friends hanging out, with less of that insidious agenda defined by “trolling for ‘hos” (see: riverbank drinking at night).”
On the group dynamic you’ll encounter in the Catacombes ossuary:
“Once you’re inside and down the many stairs, you’re basically left to your own devices. They let people inside in small groups at a time, so it’ll just be you and a handful of people navigating the tunnels together; let’s hope they’re not A-holes.”
And later…the conclusion of the group dynamic in the Catacombes ossuary:
“The picture-taking reflex is normal, but the standing in front of skulls, hugging your boyfriend, and smiling as someone takes your picture? Smiling whilst posing amongst the dead? What the hell, boys and girls? These two posers were a couple of the people in my “group.” I guess there are two A-holes in every bunch.”
On the strangeness of the TV subliminal messaging at the Japanese/Chinese buffet:
I can’t forget to mention something very weird about Matuya Panda. In the back of the restaurant, there’s a flat-screen TV mounted to the wall. The volume was muted, but over and over on a loop, this infomercial for a weight-loss contraption kept playing. It was one of those scenarios where you can actually lose weight by being a lazy turd, via a vibrating elastic band; all you have to do is wear it around your belly for like an hour a day. So there we are (this time it was Carlos, Tara, and I), eating a huge Japanese buffet, while this super-model woman in the infomercial (who is clearly not the same woman in the “before” pictures”), looks all hot and sexy, due to this vibrating elastic band she’s wearing around the house. She wears it while she’s reading the newspaper, watching TV, painting her nails…she wears that stupid band and it gives her a six-pack of abs. As I ate the fifteenth chicken dumpling, I started to wonder if a conspiracy was afoot. So their plan is: I’ll eat the buffet, feel guilty with that infomercial playing in the background, run home and call the number, order myself a vibrating weight-loss band, and then Matuya Panda will get a 10% kick-back from the manufacturers. You sly devils.”
On my close-call with Bradley Cooper at the Luxembourg Gardens:
“Twenty-four hours after one of my “lie in the sun” recovery days in the gardens, I learned that Bradley Cooper was now lying on that very same lawn. I’m pretty sure some of my alcohol sweat that was still attached to the lawn had now absorbed into his body.
Bradley Cooper IS WEARING MY DNA.
This sounds like a very random fact I shouldn’t care about, but listen my friends, in the summer of 2013, Bradley Cooper was a big deal in Paris. It had nothing to do with his movies, and everything to do with him being the official spokesperson for Magnum ice cream bars. I have no idea if this advertising contract extended to North America, but in Paris at least, he was on bus shelters in every neighbourhood in Paris, wearing a tuxedo, looking at me seductively, and offering me a Magnum ice cream bar. And to think I missed him lying on the grass by one day! In these times of “missed connections,” one can’t help but ask oneself: with just one different decision on how I’d chosen to spend my time, could my life have gone in a completely different direction? (And yes, I’m completely ignoring the fact that he was lying on the grass with his girlfriend)
Picnics on the lawn and soaking up the sun; these two things are relaxing. Yep, that’s basically what I was getting at.”
I hope you enjoyed what you read so far. If you’d like to buy the book, the links are below; it’s a full-length book of 79,000 words (i.e. 70 times more what you read right here), so definitely some good bang for your buck. If, alternatively, you’d like to start by reading the first few chapters for free, you can do that on Wattpad here. And if, alternatively, you’d like to eat a sandwich, you can do that too (there are no fixed options on my blog; I believe in freedom).
I’ll return to the blog in the new year, but now I am rather excited to bake cookies and brownies and other sweet-tooth things, to be merry, and to catch up on my reading; it’s what the winter solstice is for…
À bientot in 2015!
Amazon US link (also available at all international Amazon websites):http://www.amazon.com/Vicarious-Paris-account-insights-nightlife-ebook/dp/B00R3RZ6RA/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1418821869&sr=8-5&keywords=romi+moondi&pebp=1418823072163
Epub version for you Nook or iPad at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/502498
I saw a headline in reference to Tom Cruise “scouting” women (applicants?) for his next official girlfriend, and instead of being grossed out, I was immediately reminded of a summer night in Paris (the dots will be connected, I assure you).
The night in question did not occur when I lived in Paris this summer, but in 2013 when I lived there to write my last book. It was halfway through my six-month Parisian stay, and my Canadian friends were joining me on some travels. We’d just returned from Brussels–which is a whole other story of crashing a Scottish guy’s bachelor party at Delirium–and with four days in Paris ahead of us before we journeyed south, we needed a nighttime fix.
Our twitchy-eyed withdrawal led us straight to Rue de Lappe in Paris’s Bastille neighbourhood.
After living in Paris twice, I would not go to Rue de Lappe again; just give me a quiet wine bar, or a hole-in-the-wall with surprising cocktails and I am a happy lady. If, however, there are four of you, and one of you broke your toe in Brussels (ahem), which means you’re looking for a dozen options within a five-minute limping stroll, Rue de Lappe is the place for you.
When you’re on this street you must relax your usual standards, otherwise you’ll freak at the first sight of “El Rancho Dominicano,” a bar façade covered in fake green bushes, where the doorway is kind of like this hole you have to huddle into, a pathway that may or may not lead to a militant jungle environment you’ll never come out of alive. There was no way in hell I’d be huddling into some plastic bushes with a broken toe. Well, actually…we did go inside out of sick curiosity. More leaves, extremely dark, people giving you weird looks I interpreted as “did you bring the drugs?”…we didn’t stay.
Luckily we found a dive bar thirty seconds up the street, “Le Bar à Nenettes.” It was nothing amazing but I didn’t mind it; just wooden tables, affordable drinks (by Parisian standards), and a lot of French locals which I always find comforting. What ensued was a few rounds of drinks, many utterances of “I love you guys!” and then of course, all of us freaking out about finding food before the eating establishments closed. This is one thing I find forever annoying about Paris; why is it so hard to find something to eat once you leave the bar?! What do you French soak your alcohol with? Your snobbery?! Just kidding, French people are really nice; whoever made up that snobbery stereotype is basically an asshole. Nevertheless, I don’t understand how the French avoid getting hangovers when I never see them eating after the bar. I’ve asked them too and they just smile at me all coy, those withholding bastards.
Anyway, we got lucky; there was this Mexican joint down the street serving food for another twenty minutes. I am unable to tell you if the food was any good, due to being intoxicated and therefore having no standards.
What I DO remember is the guy that looked like Tom Cruise (see, I told you I’d connect the dots!).
We were still on this street, wandering at some unknown hour, when a trio of guys approached us. They must’ve been moved by our luscious Canadian accents, as two of them were American and the third one British, with generous smiles all around. I wasn’t the least bit interested, but when I’m amped up with alcohol I ask a lot of questions. Which led to this: how do you guys know each other? Oh, you’re staying at the same hostel? Cool. How long are you guys here for? Actually I’ve stopped listening ’cause I got bored; yeah, I’m just saying random things now. Wait, did one of you just say that people say you look like Tom Cruise???
Yes, he did. Item one: he did not resemble Tom Cruise. And yet, it wasn’t one of those things where he was drunk and making crazy claims; like he truly believed it and showed us his drivers’ license photo as further evidence. Being myself and having very little social filter, I laid out his delusion before him. His reply? “I don’t look like Tom Cruise NOW, I look like Tom Cruise from the early days!” Ohhhh I get it, you have outdated hair and your shirt is tucked into your jeans; okay cool let me take off my clothes now, since I’m so excited that I can’t even handle myself. I said some variation of this out-loud, but only after he claimed he’s the friend from his group who gets asked out the MOST, on account of this mystical Tom Cruise resemblance. How’s that workin’ out for you, Top Gun? I definitely said this out-loud. I may be a horrible person.
The second guy was pretty generic so let’s move on to guy number three, this adorable guy from England. My friends and I could immediately tell he was young, which officially removed him from consideration. It’s weird; like when a man finds out a girl is nineteen, he will probably hit that shit. But when three women discover a “MAN” is only nineteen? They will treat him like a fucking baby. For fun. “You’re so cute! Look at your little dimples! Look at your adorable sweater!” These were my friends, and boy-wonder was loving the attention. I was feeling left out from offering all this innocent affection, so I thought I’d join in too: “Do you still get breast-fed on a daily basis?” They looked at me like I was crazy. So I tried to clarify: “Is there someone here who can burp you? Should we ask?”
For some odd reason none of my comments landed like I’d hoped, and as we went our separate ways, I was certain boy-wonder was relieved to be rid of us forever.
But THEN….the next day….far from Bastille…my friends and I were wandering down Rue Galande in the Latin Quarter, which was near my apartment at the time. We were specifically there to visit an independent jewelry shop, as my friend has this thing for buying a pair of earrings in every city she visits. So there we were, leaving the shop, and who should stroll right past us?
British boy wonder!
I couldn’t remember his name so I simply cried: “Hey! You’re that kid!” He smiled but there was a look of terror in his eyes, and that’s when I knew I had to do it. So I stared at my feet, sheepishly, and apologized for the previous night, when I’d suggested that he still gets breast-fed by his mother. He laughed it off like it was nothing, but he finally had some colour in those boyish cheeks of his, so I knew I’d made a difference in his life, by at last saying sorry for my blatant ageist comments. After that, we marvelled at the sheer coincidence of our run-in, we invited him to our upcoming picnic that night, and one of us even became friends with him on Facebook (not me, of course), a superficial friendship that lasts to this day.
It was one of those magical moments that Paris is so full of; that beautiful random quality where destiny sometimes brings two people together on the cobblestoned streets, only this time the singular purpose of this force was to have me apologize for humiliating a male adult.