Monday, March 20, 2006

Little Boys Don't Have Lu Lu's

One of the challenges of taking care of an eighteen month old girl, is finding time to go to the bathroom. Usually, I sneak away while Lea is strapped down in her high chair or taking a nap. Today however, I took a risk and attempted to use the bathroom while she was busy throwing puzzle pieces across the room and screaming the words, "Caw caw!"

I didn’t shut the door all the way because I knew she’d hear the click of the lock and run to the door immediately to beat on it and scream my name. Or caw caw.

So instead I closed the door a little and then sat on the toilet and tucked, “it” so I could urinate. My plan didn’t work because she walked into the bathroom while I was in the middle of conducting business. I realized I’d been caught and wondered if I’d scarred Lea, and if twenty years from now she’d be lying on a therapist’s couch explaining how she’d caught her nanny on the toilet and he was tucking "it". I felt defenseless and wondered how I was going to get “Jake's Snake” back in my underwear without her seeing. I improvised by taking off my shoe and throwing it out of the bathroom.

"Caw caw!" I yelled.

Lea tilted her head and smiled. Then she walked up to the toilet paper and tore off a piece and handed it to me.

I became impressed that she knew what toilet paper was for and then became concerned. Did she think I was going number two? That was one of my five greatest fears. Then I started thinking, how did she know what grown ups did after going number two? She was still in diapers so how did she know bathroom etiquette? Were her parents going number two in front of her? Was that legal? Should I call child and family services? If she thought I was going number two anyway, should I just go ahead and take advantage of it?

Then I realized that her mother probably went number one in front of her and most women used toilet paper for that. So Lea didn’t think I was taking a trip to Number 2 Town, she thought I was a woman. She thought I had a lu lu! (Swiss term for Myrtle's Turtle)

I liked it better when she thought I was going number two. I couldn’t get mad at her for thinking I had a lu lu, though. She was only a baby. Had an adult thought I had a lu lu, it would be a different story. I cross my legs sometimes when I sit but I hardly think it’s severe enough to make people think I menstruate every 28 days and am capable of giving birth.

The whole incident got me thinking. Do I have a right to be mad at an adult if he/she truly thinks I have a lu lu?

When I tell people that I’m from Louisiana, I often get interesting questions.

“Are you married to your cousin?”

“Did you go to town in a rowboat?”

Did your cousin have a rowboat?”

Living in Switzerland, I’ve come to realize that now I’m the one asking stupid questions.

“Do you speak Swiss?”

“Why don’t they sell Swiss cheese at the grocery store?”

“Do you read Swiss?”

I think we often forget that we don’t all come from the same backgrounds and culture. A carpenter might think I’m an idiot because I can’t operate a leveler and I might think he’s an idiot because he doesn’t know what “first person” means. Are we both idiots? Is it O.K. if we judge and condemn each other for not knowing all the things that we know, even if we consider them to be common sense?

I’ve come to realize that we’re all children in some way. We’re all learning new things by watching and asking questions. No matter how old we get, we’ll never stop learning and there will always be some little bit of information that we don’t know. And while we’re learning from others, we’re also teaching them.

I learned from Lea that instead of being annoyed with people’s ignorance, I should take the opportunity to share with them what I know. I did, however, decide to let Lea’s parents teach her that little boys don’t have Myrtle's Turtles. I just had the feeling that if I explained it to her, I would have a lawsuit on my hands.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Little Bit Glamorous

O.K. I’ve officially cracked. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to Elvis and am wearing cowboy boots and a tuxedo that I bought yesterday on a whim. I already have a tuxedo. Two other if you count the one I used to wear when I worked as a caterer. I wore that one three times (once to serve food to a high school band at the Copacabana and another time when I served Joan Rivers coffee cake) and the real one, twice. So why did I buy another one?

I guess it all started yesterday morning when I saw a Maroon Five video. One of the guys was wearing a black jacket with a white shirt and a black tie. It was nothing cutting edge, but I liked it. Being that I’m not working in an office, I don’t have the need to dress up and so I often find myself in the casual uniform of today’s youth- tennis shoes and jeans. (All right, I’m in my mid thirties so I guess using the word, “youth” to describe myself is stretching it, but you get the picture.)

So, why the tuxedo? Why not a pair of khakis and an oxford? I guess I’m just in a stage of my life where I want to be a little bit glamorous. Is that so crazy? To every now and then want to stand out amongst the millions of others that surround you? To feel special?

I'm not saying that I need a tuxedo to be glamorous. I grew up on a farm and I would never trade that for the world. I realized this last year when I was home and I had to borrow my brother’s diesel truck. I was wearing flip flops and it was hard to use the clutch with them, so I took them off. When I shifted the gears, the truck jerked, causing me to bounce around on the seat. The only radio station I could catch was a Cajun French one. As I drove down the street, barefoot, listening to French music and bouncing around on the seat, I forgot that the air conditioner didn’t work or that I was choking on the diesel fumes or that a spring from the seat was poking me in the butt. I felt different from my friends in New York. I felt, well, I guess in my own way, I felt glamorous. And I’m not going to lie, it felt great.

Is it really that horrible to want to be a little different? I’m not talking about making yourself suffer just to be different. I’m saying doing something that you enjoy, which happens to make you different. So what if I want to wear a tuxedo to a McDonalds. I love this tuxedo. It fits like a glove and if I get hit by a bus tomorrow (wait, maybe a bulldozer because that sounds more glamorous), I want to be buried in it. If that makes me crazy, if that makes me a freak, if that makes me a person with bad taste or a person who is trying too hard to stand out, then I guess I’m that person. But in the end, when I'm laying in that coffin (make it a water bed) in my tuxedo and cowboy boots, I’ll know that I’m really just a person who wants to be, a little bit glamorous.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Badminton Anyone?

I’m not going to lie to you. I am not the greatest athlete in the world. (Even if I did try to lie to you, my five brothers and mother would be right behind me to tell the truth.) I do, however, enjoy playing sports. So one day over tea, I asked my Swiss friend, Yann, if there was a place or club to play organized sports in Switzerland.

“Yeah,” he said. “We can play badminton.”

“That’s funny,” I laughed, causing tea to pour out my nose.

Yann didn’t understand why I was laughing. I explained to him that when I heard the word, “badminton”, visions of old people at a Sunday picnic popped in my head.

“It’s not like that here. We can go play next Tuesday.”

Since it was the best offer I had gotten for a sport’s activity, I decided to give it a shot. So one February evening, Yann and I took a fifteen minute bus ride to what I thought would be God’s waiting room in the back of a recreation center. I was unexpectedly surprised, however, to step off of the bus in front of a three story building filled with badminton courts and young people that you might see hanging around any U.S. college athletic center.

Even though it had been twenty years since I’d touched a badminton racket, I stepped on the court with an air of cockiness. It was badminton; one step below bowling and one step above the ring toss at a carnival. This was a country where melting cheese was a national past time. Of course I’d have no trouble beating Yann and teaching the rest of the participants a thing or two.

The first time the birdie flew past me, I giggled. I just needed to get used to the light racket. The fiftieth time the birdie flew past me, I smiled the same way a person does when they meet their X with a new companion. The hundred and seventy seventh time the birdie flew past me, it took all my will power not to shout profanities and throw the racket across the net at Yann’s head. Alright. I admit. I shouted profanities but didn’t throw the racket.

After our hour was up, I thought the worse part of the experience was over and that I wouldn’t have to endure it again. I was sadly mistaken because the next day my body felt as if a truck had dragged me thirty six miles through a field of rocks. Very sharp, very large rocks.

What did I learn from all this? I learned that the odds are in a Swiss man’s favor when you play badminton against him. I learned that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a game by its racket. And I learned that crow tastes the same in America as it does in Switzerland; even if it’s covered with melted cheese.

Petting The Cat

One of my favorite scenes from a movie is the rabbit scene from Mighty Python’s, “The Holy Grail.”

These knights, covered in armor, are looking at a bunny rabbit hop around the entrance of a cave. Legend has it that the rabbit is a fierce beast that guards the cave.

“But it’s just a little old bunny rabbit,” one of the knights say.

He walks towards the cave entrance and the rabbit jumps up and bites off his arm. The entire army charges and the rabbit devours all of them in a matter of minutes. I guess you really have to see it to appreciate the humor in it.

In the Swiss apartment I now live in, I have my own little bunny rabbit. It’s a cat named Wooten.

Her favorite place to sit is on a bureau in the long foyer between my room and the bathroom. Her favorite time to do it is in the middle of the night, when I am half asleep, and walk to the bathroom. Her favorite thing to do is to leap into the air hissing and swiping her claws at me as I try to make it to a safety zone.

“She’s just a cat,” Heather tells me as I rearrange my walking pattern throughout the apartment so I remain at least ten feet from Wooten.

“Yeah, and Charles Mansion was just misunderstood,” I tell her.

On a few occasions when I was laying on the floor or sitting on the sofa, Wooten walked over to me and sniffed my face or hand. My heart pounded like a drumstick hitting a base. She walked away without harming me but issued me a warning hiss saying that I might not be so lucky next time.

“I don’t know why you’re so scared,” Heather told me one day. “You’re wearing blue jeans and boots.”
Heather had a point and since Wooten’s attacks had decreased to two per day, I decided that maybe it was time I called a truce.

This morning as I was watching, “The Love Boat,” in French, wondering why I ever watched it in English, Wooten passed through my legs and rubbed her tail against me. She purred softly like one of those cats in commercials. It occurred to me that it might be time for me to take a chance and bend over and pet her. As I type this, blood is still pouring down my hand.

Six years ago, I decided to pet another cat called, “My Life.” I walked into work without any intentions of petting anything but after a karaoke luncheon in the office cafeteria, I realized that there was more to life than working 9 to 5. Or in my case, 7 to 6:30. So I quit my job without any plans except to pet life.

The past six years have been the hardest I’ve experienced. I’ve melted cheese on potato chips in celebration of Thanksgiving and Christmas because I couldn’t afford anything else. I took hour and a half train rides to carry hundred pound trays of food for $10 an hour. And I spent days at a time in my apartment without speaking to anyone because I couldn’t face the truth that I had jumped off a high diving board and water was nowhere in sight.

I recently found out that two publishers are competing against each other to buy a novel that I wrote. It’s been three years since I first started typing the pages of the manuscript. I’ve spent months of hours researching things such as chicken judging contests, the 1970’s and the difference between a tap shoe and a jazz oxford. And until last week, I had no idea if it would ever be published.

I can see the water now but it is still far away. Far enough away that I sometimes wonder if I should have stayed on that diving board and searched for another route to get there. I know I can get to that water but have to keep reminding myself that I need patience, passion and strength. Which is why I've written this entry. Because I needed a reminder.

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to let my scratch heal before I try to pet Wooten again. But I have decided to stop walking the 50 extra steps to go through the living room to get to the kitchen in order to avoid passing her. I’m going to walk by the cat and let her know that although we don’t have to best friends, I will not let her push me around anymore. And of course, I’ll be doing this while wearing blue jeans and boots.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Would You Like Some Cheese With That Wine?

When my roommate/friend/boss, Sebastien, invited me to eat fondue at his parent’s house, my first question was, “Now what exactly is fondue?”

“It’s cheese. You break bread up, put it on a long fork and then dip it in melted cheese.”
My second question was, “Now why exactly would I want to do that?”

“It’s good. You’ll like it.”

“What kind of meat do you serve with it?” I asked.

“No meat. Just cheese and bread.”

I thought about his proposal, imagining Seb, Heather and I sitting around with Seb’s parents, opening up Kraft singles and microwaving them. Although it didn’t seem like a night of good times, I knew I couldn’t reject the offer because I was in Switzerland to experience new and unusual things and this was definitely a new and unusual thing.

Later that night, I sat in Seb’s parents’ living room with his mother, who we call Marie Jose, drinking a glass of wine while Heather played with Lea and we waited for Seb and his father to show up. The best way to describe Marie Jose would be to imagine an older, more updated, Swiss version of Martha Stewart. She is a very cheerful, generous woman who speaks constantly and with great detail and you listen closely to see if she'll reveal her secret recipe for "Mojitos a la Martha."

However, a statement like, “I bought new shoe strings today,” could take her forty-five minutes to say.

Normally, I can listen to such a story with great enthusiasm and even join in on the discussion.

“Now what size shoes were these? Was the lace brown or another color? Is there one store that offers a wide selection of laces?”

However, this became difficult with Marie Jose because she only speaks French. I speak and understand enough French to order food, buy train tickets and mail things at the post office, but not enough to understand an adult conversation unless it’s about Brad Pitt’s and Angelina Jolie’s relationship.

Marie Jose didn't talk about these things though, so I understood about twenty percent of what she told me. To entertain myself and be polite, I pretended to understand everything by making expressions which I felt corresponded with the tone of her voice. If her voice was low and her eyes looked upset, I shook my head from side to side and said, “C’est pas bon.” If she seemed happy, I leaned forward and laughed and slapped my knee like I got a real kick out of something. This backfired though because one time after I leaned forward and laughed, Heather quickly explained to me that Marie Jose had asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee.

“Oh. Non merci,” I said and then Lea started crying (saving me) and pointing at the door of a cabinet. I knew she wanted something inside of it because she often did that at our apartment. I had a feeling that she wanted her pacifier, which her mother is trying to wean her from. Heather’s not having very much luck and usually caves, in the early evening when Lea becomes cranky. Because Lea now understands the word pacifier and we try not to mention it around her, we have started calling it, “Kevin.”

“Is Kevin in that cabinet?” I asked Heather in English.

“Yeah,” she said as she rolled her eyes.

She seemed uneasy so I knew to keep quiet.

“Come on Lea. Let’s go change your diaper,” Heather said. “Jacques, do you want to help me?”

Marie Jose said something in French to Heather which I didn’t understand except for the last word; “caw caw.”

“Did she just say the word, “caw caw”? I asked Heather when we were alone.

“Yeah. They use that to describe the word, “poo poo”.

I knew what the word, “caw caw,” meant from all the times my older brother told me that my breath smelled like caw caw or that I was full of caw caw or just called me, "caw caw face". I didn’t however, realize where the word came from or that adults used it. I realized then that it was probably an old French word and the reason that my brother knew it was because I was from a Cajun family.

Lea’s diaper was full of caw caw and as her mother changed her, the baby screamed and wiggled all over the place. Usually when she acted that cranky, we gave her the pacifier.

“Do you want me to go get Kevin?” I asked.

“No. Seb’s mom doesn’t believe in it. Seb and his sister never used one and his sister’s kids didn’t use one.”

“Oh,” I said, wondering why Heather cared what Marie Jose thought but not dare asking because I had the feeling the question would open Pandora’s Box or in French, “Le Boite de Pandora.”

Thirty minutes later, after Seb and his father arrived, I watched Seb’s father, a jolly man who has the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen, prepare the fondue. The cheese was not American or wrapped in plastic as I’d thought, but instead shaved pieces of Gruyere and Vachern. I watched Seb’s father’s beautiful hands dance around a big black pot as they transformed unsuspecting shavings of cheese into a thick, bubbling liquid. I learned that the recipe to Fondue is as follows:

Put shavings of cheese into hot pot on the stove. Pour shots of a very strong liquor called Kirsch into the cheese and then into your mouth. Stir until the cheese melts or you’re drunk.

Seb, one of the friendliest guys I know, who always has a smile on his face and expression that makes one fear that he might break out into a song about cattle farmers who live on the side of a mountain, announced when the fondue was ready.

"A table everyone!"

Heather glanced at me and said, "I hope we can get through this without having to give Lea, Kevin."

The rest of the evening was spent just as Seb said it would be. We put pieces of bread on long forks and then dipped it into the pot of cheese. The taste was a little bitter because of the Kirsch, but I have to admit that it was the first time I ever got a little buzzed from melted cheese. It was a bit salty and when I asked for water, everyone looked at me like I’d used the Lord’s or Swiss Army’s name in vain.

“You shouldn’t drink water,” Heather told me. “It’s not good with all that cheese if you know what I mean.”

I didn’t know what she meant, but didn’t want to hear about it during dinner time, so I poured myself glass after glass of wine, which became difficult for two reasons. One, the wine glasses used during fondue are small and resemble a shot glass. My brain is wired so that when I see a shot glass filled with something, I pour it down my throat in one sip. This created a second problem. During a Swiss dinner party, it is considered rude to pour yourself a glass of wine without topping off the others in the party first. Since I was drinking faster than anyone else, and didn’t want to be rude, I had to hold the bottle just right so a drop of wine fell into the other’s glasses, without overflowing, before I could refill my glass. Not as easy as it may sound when you’re eating cheese spiked with Kirsh.

For the rest of the evening, Marie Jose talked, Seb’s father led his beautiful hands in a ballet, Lea cried for Kevin, Seb asked where Kevin was, Heather moved uneasily in her chair saying that Kevin couldn’t come out and play and I smiled thinking that I wouldn’t trade that evening of dipping bread into melted cheese (even if there was no meat) for anything else in the world.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Around The World in Fifty Flushes

When I was in elementary school, my sister in-law, Rhonda, wrote a college paper entitled, “How to Flush a Toilet in Europe.” I thought it was SO funny, mostly because she used the word, “toilet,” in the title, but also because I couldn’t imagine flushing a toilet any differently than the way I did at my parent’s house.

As I began to travel, I saw that she was right and that in different countries, there are different bathroom customs. In Bolivia, the toilet was a hole in the ground and when I was finished, I just kicked dirt in it. In India, some places didn’t use toilet paper and I had to fill a bucket up with water and balance myself while I poured it down my backside. And in France, the toilet is often in a different room from the bathtub or even the sink.

Recently here in Switzerland, I experienced something else new. It was in the bathroom of my favorite coffee shop, Bar Tabac. Right on the wall, next to the roll of toilet paper was a dispenser for, “Seat Cleaning Foam.”

Since I am a big advocate of the expression, “When in Rome,” I tried the stuff. The Swiss are known for being very clean, so it shouldn’t have surprised me to find seat cleaning foam. What did surprise me, however, was that the foam was peach scented.

I hadn’t wiped the seat well enough so when I sat down, it was a little wet. At first it felt weird, but I got used to it and felt a little bit at ease knowing that the seat was clean. It didn’t burn like I thought it would, but was a little sticky.

As I sat there, I imagined what it would be like if humans were like dogs and smelled each other’s backsides. I laughed a little when I thought of some stranger smelling me and then standing up and saying, “Wow! That smells great! What is that, peach?”

I only sat there for a few seconds because my sole purpose was to test the seat cleaning foam. When I felt I had enough information, I pulled my pants back up. I was about to head back to my apartment when I noticed that my shoes were untied and so I sat back down on the seat and tied them.

When I arrived at the apartment, Heather asked me, “What’s that on your pants?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as I turned around and saw wet marks on my chinos.

When I saw the marks, it occurred to me that when I had sat down on the toilet seat to tie my shoes, that the seat was still a little wet. I felt like a teenage boy who’d been caught smoking in the high school bathroom, but wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

“Oh,” I said. “I must have sat in something.”

“Did you put on some peach moisturizer or lotion?”

I took a whiff and sure enough, I smelled like the seat cleaning foam.

I didn’t know which was worse; telling her that I was trying out seat cleaning foam or that I used peach moisturizer. I improvised.

“Soap. There was some soap at the coffee shop and it must have been scented.”

Although it took a couple of washings to get the scent of peach out of the seat of my pants, I don’t regret my experiment. Now, whenever I enter a bathroom, I will look for all the things that make it different from the one I use at home. Hopefully one day, I will have enough information to write a part two to Rhonda’s paper, entitled, “Around the World in Fifty Flushes.”

Playground of Death

When I decided to take the job as nanny for my friend in Switzerland, I had no doubts if I could do the job or not. I had several nieces and nephews who I’d taken care of, knew how to change a dirty diaper and worked as a camp counselor. I had my Masters in Business, worked for some of the toughest bosses around and pulled a pirogue through my daddy’s crawfish ponds at the crack of dawn. None of this, I soon realized, prepared me to take care of Lea.

My first indication that this job was going to be more difficult than I’d expected was on the day of my arrival. I had met Lea twice before. Once, a few months after she’d been born and again, this past summer when she was still crawling. This time when I met her, she ran past me to her mom. She had a small bump on her head, which her mom, Heather, said had happened that morning at the playground, while Lea was riding a giant, wooden rooster. I wondered how Heather could have let that happen. I thought that if I had gone with her, I would have wrapped the rooster with a blanket. I learned about twenty minutes later that there is more to a play ground than wrapping things in blankets.

When we got the park that afternoon, I saw the rooster that Lea had bumped her head on. Because of its shape, I decided that if I were to wrap a blanket around it that I should probably use some gray tape just to ensure that it stayed on.

Lea didn’t ride the rooster on this visit. Instead she went straight to the slide, which Heather had said she’d gone down by herself earlier that morning. I stood at the bottom of the slide while her father, Seb, brought her to the top.

This was when I started to feel nervous for the first time about taking care of Lea. I felt like I was being interviewed for this nanny position and this was my test. I imagined her sliding through my hands onto the cement. I couldn’t let that happen, so I squatted down in a football position and rubbed my hands together. I was determined not to let her fall.

She started sliding down and I thought to myself, “I can do this. I can catch this little girl. I can be a nanny.”

But then, without any foreshadowing of any kind, her shoe stuck to the slide. Her body lifted up in the air and headed towards the side. She was only about mid-way, about five feet from the ground and the fall would have surely caused a badly skinned up face and maybe even a concussion. I stood there shocked and frozen. Surely they couldn’t blame this for me? I wasn’t the one that suggested it, and I specifically called the bottom of the slide. Had I failed the nanny test? Would I be back on a plane that night to New York, where I had no place to live? Where all I had was a packed storage unit I shared with a friend?

Before I could answer any of these questions, Heather came from out of nowhere and pushed Lea’s body back to the slide.

“Oh, oh,” she laughed. “You almost got away.”

My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it would come out of my chest. Was everything O.K? Was there judgment in her voice? How could she have just laughed and when did she become so lightning fast? Most importantly, how can they have such a dangerous piece of equipment on the playground for children to access?

When I caught my breath and realized that the child wasn’t going to smash against the pavement like a pumpkin, I asked,

“Do the people at 911 speak English?”

I was only joking to help ease the tension, but it in fact made it worse because I found out that not all of the people speak English and it’s not 911 here. It’s 144 for the hospital, 117 for the police, and 118 for the firemen. Three numbers just like 911 but different. How was I supposed to remember these new numbers while running around with a child with a split opened head and trying to translate in French, “She fell off the slide. I was watching her but her tennis shoe got caught. Nobody told me this was going to happen! How was I supposed to know!”

I of course knew basic things like to not let a child near a hot stove, not to let her near the top of a flight of stairs, not to give her a fork and tell her to play with an electrical outlet. However, what I did not know was that no matter how safe a situation looked, something can happen. I began to wonder if I was in over my head. Maybe taking care of a baby wasn’t going to be cake like I thought it would be. I had imagined my biggest headache would be trying to change her diaper without getting peed on, not saving her life from an unforeseen incident.

Later that night I talked to Heather about it. She confessed that she’d had many close calls with Lea herself. Even Seb, her father, had had a situation when Lea fell against a table and cut her head. He was six inches from her at the time.

“It’s gonna happen,” Heather told me. “You just have to be ready. And remember if anything happens to her, I’m gonna kill you.”

Our conversation did not put me at ease because I knew Heather and that she was capable of killing me. And I knew her well enough to know that she would do it slowly so it would be even more painful for me.

I’ve been with Lea for a week now and the worst thing that has happened was that I allowed her to stab herself with a cheese knife, (it didn’t break the skin) and I partially blame her mother because she’s the one that gave it to Lea. I realize that this job is harder than I initially thought, but I’ve also realized that so is life. So each night I go to bed thinking about what I’ve learned and how to use it the next day to protect Lea and myself. Tonight’s lesson, “A cheese knife is still a knife.”

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My Name is Jacques Couvillon

My name is Jacques Couvillon. My grandfather, who used to call me King Jackson, thought I was named after his brother Jack. My mom claims that I’m named after John F. Kennedy, who was popular at the time of my birth. Since I already have a brother named John, my mom named me Jacques. She said that people called our late President, Jack, but she didn’t really like that name. Since she wanted to please her father and honor our President, she went with Jacques, which she thought was French for Jack.

My mother made a common mistake in thinking that Jacques was French for Jack. It is French for John, and Jack is simply a nickname for John. I have gotten in several arguments with people about this. They claim that Jean is French for John which is not true. Jean is French for, well, Jean, which is pronounced and sometimes spelled Gene in English. When people disagree with me about my name, I refer them to the song, “Frere Jacques”, whose English translation, is entitled, “Brother John.”

This isn’t really about my name. Although those two paragraphs did give pretty good examples of people not really knowing what’s going on, even when they’re 100% sure about it. I’m not saying that I know everything that’s going on. I don’t, and that’s what this is about; me trying to figure out what’s going on in my head and the world that surrounds it.

So I guess I should start from the beginning and where I am now. I was born on a farm to the parents of Andrew and Julia Couvillon, a farmer and school teacher respectively. I am the youngest of eight children. Two sisters are school teachers, one brother a Sheriff, one a business man, another a bank Vice President, one a truck driver and the last owns an appliance store. And then there’s me; a thirty six year old boy from Cow Island, Louisiana with a Masters in Business, living in Switzerland and working as a carpenter and a nanny.

I have never had dreams of being a carpenter and a nanny. I have done everything from working as a marketing manager to delivering coffee to business executives to peddling socks and ties. So why this all of a sudden?

Because I don’t know what exactly I want to do, although I have a pretty good idea that I want to write. You see, all my life, stories have been piling up in my head like fifty pounds of crawfish in a thirty pound sack. I decided that although I am getting prettier, I am not getting any younger. And so when my friend Heather made me an offer to be a nanny for her one year old daughter, Lea, and work in her husband, Seb’s furniture design company I said, “Why not? Those executives will just have to get their own coffee. Will I have to change Lea’s diapers?”

It’s a new life for me. I’ve never lived in Switzerland or with a married couple. I’ve never been a nanny and I’ve rarely used a hammer except to hang up the occasional picture or to crack open walnuts. But here I am now with twenty dollars in my bank account in case of an emergency, and sleeping in a single bed like one of my childhood. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s like watching that scene in a horror movie when the pretty homecoming queen hears a noise in the closet. You scream at her not to open the door. But deep down you want her to. If she just ran away, you’d never know what was in there and after paying $10 for a movie, you’d be pretty disappointed. I’m hoping that there’s not a masked man with a butcher knife here in Switzerland waiting to chop me up. I’m hoping there’s a publishable novel in that closet waiting for me. But if my head gets severed, at least I’ll know. And I have faith that my family and friends and especially my mother have the right kind of band aids and a big bottle of Bactine to help me heal.

So you’ve heard it from my lips. I’m going to take a deep breath and open that closet door because I really want to know what’s inside. Don’t you?