02 February 2008

Everyday Life

Sitting in the living room watching the playoff games on our first rainy day, I use the half-time to reflect on what we do day by day. Dealing with people down here is as different from our New York life as the weather at 18 degrees North Latitude is from the weather at 40 degrees North.

A recent example in this brief report from Paradise:

Think about the last time you had a fender-bender. What was the attitude of the other guy?

We have two cars. I have managed, in just two seasons, to put dents in both of them, once actually using one car to damage our other one. Crumpled plastic and sheet metal are a part of life on this island where two-way roads are 1.5 lanes wide, and the parking shoulders are studded with tree stumps, three-foot high concrete electrical conduit boxes, and pieces of the mountain that have migrated south. A substantial number of cars on the road have no left hand side view mirrors, and NOBODY drives with their elbow on the open window ledge.

But up until yesterday, all the dings in Pinks' car were put there by other family members. That is until yesterday, when she backed out of a parking space and knocked over a motorcycle in the parking lot at the gym. Three items of note: i) the bike was parked exactly where it should have been, ii) its owner's helmet (which skittered 10 feet across the crushed rock surface of the lot) was brand new, and iii) the gym is also new, and of ultra-modern design, which means there are two stories of glass walls facing the lot in the foreground and sea in the background. Behind those walls struggled a score of exercisers observing the crash, some of whom seized the unexpected opportunity to escape the stress of climbing their lonely staircases to nowhere, and rushed down to the parking lot clucking their tongues. One who could not cluck because of his frozen grimace, was the young man who owned the bike. Uh, oh.

An inspection revealed the bike still worked, though it had now lost the right hand mirror, the body was badly scratched, but most aggravatingly, Claude's Christmas-present shiny black Darth Vader helmet is badly scored.

In New York City, the parties would now exchange licenses, registrations, insurance cards, and harsh words, (he would scowl, she would cower), and he would storm off cursing Hillary Clinton.

Ahh, but at 18 degrees North, things are different. Claude is an attractive thirty-something guy whose visage proclaims "surfer dude." And he is what he looks to be. He looks over the damage and says to Pinks, in quite good English, "Not so bad, but my helmet is scratched" and they exchange phone numbers. The next day, in response to his phone invitation, we visit Claude in his shop in St. Jean, where he sells boutique items ranging from 50 euro t-shirts to 5,000 euro ski jackets. (You read it right. That is not a typo.)

Small world. Smaller island. Today, as we enter his shop, Claude recognizes us immediately as customers of his former restaurants. Yes, that's plural. He owned our favorite restaurant in Saline, as well as a newer on the Harbor, La Vela. He has since sold both, and opened this shop, which, he admits, is a little scary because business is spotty. I refrain from commenting that I am not surprised, given that he is selling ski jackets in the tropics.

The conversation focuses, for a while, on one of his former restaurants, and why it did not do so well. Pinks mentions that her daughter Stephanie, who ate there twice, loved it. Claude lights up. "Stephanie? The gorgeous Stephanie is your daughter?" He remembers Stephanie very well. Boy does he. It's all this hip young Frenchman can talk about for the next five minutes. Stephanie, Stephanie, Stephanie.

I now face an ethical dilemma. What role does Stephanie have in the coming negotiation? Must I reveal that Stephanie is now happily married and a mother? I mean, I won't lie, but am I obliged to volunteer that information? Is it relevant to the cost of repairing the bike? Hmm.

Ultimately, the question is moot, because, as usual, the moment I yield control of the conversation, Pinks tells it all anyway. (My Reason For Living's idea of negotiation, be it cars or castles, is to say things like, "I love it, how much does it cost?") No matter, I probably would have said something about Stephanie's current status. In time. For sure. Probably for sure.

The world gets even smaller. Claude loves Montauk, and has surfed at Ditch Plains. We talk about that for a while and then get down to business. He shows me the bike parked out front, we examine the helmet, and Claude produces an absurd written repair estimate for the damage to bike and helmet. I figure he thinks I am a rich American and have never heard of the concept of negotiation. Anyway, we go through the drill: I tell him that for the correct number I pay cash, for more than that he needs to file a claim with my French insurance company, which, I think, has its head office someplace in North Africa, and I wish him luck. It takes only a few minutes, and we reach a happy resolution: I leave some euros behind and get a written release, drafted on the spot on piece of scrap paper, and assure him we will direct to his shop all our friends who may be in need of a 5,000 euro ski jacket.

Claude is happy, Pinks can go back to the gym again, and Stephanie has paid for lunch. Ah, peace.

A bientot.

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