Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Francois Bucher, pt 1


When I was nineteen I lived with a man named Francois Bucher. This was just after I dropped out of college but before I took off in my truck for sights unseen. When I called Francois I had no intention of actually living with him, I just wanted a place to stay for a little while with cheap rent and I was wildly inexperienced in finding lodging. What I knew of Francois Bucher was that he was a little eccentric and a boyfriend that I'd had when I was fifteen rented a place from him in Lloyd for the very fair price of $111 a month. I had good memories of the place- it was a little cracker shack duplex set inexplicably in the middle of a monks bald spot of a field at the top of a hill somewhere in the Lloyd woods. We would get stoned and wade in the creek just down the hill from the place and at night there were zillions and zillions of stars.
Back then, people were actually listed in phone books and so that is what I did. I looked up his name, I called the number. (Later when I was living in my truck I employed this same method of detective work while in La Conner, WA in an attempt to find Tom Robbins. Don't try it kids, he ain't listed.) Francois answered the phone and told me that the duplex was no longer available, but if I was willing to drive out to Lloyd he might have something else for me.
Francois Bucher lived in The Nautilus Foundation, a place he dreamed up and built of his own design. The intention of the foundation was to create a space for artists and intellectuals to live and work, a communal genius utopia. He lived there alone, with his two dogs.
The main building was an asymmetrical castle in the abstract with a tower over the middle part that had one of those pointy roofs that one would expect on a tower on a castle, with a flag coming out of the pointy bit. This building was set far enough off the main road so that you couldn't see it if you were just driving around Lloyd and it surprised the hell out of me when I first drove up. I parked in a small parking lot and walked up the path to the main doors. Now I don't recall if I knocked, or if the doors were open, but somehow I got inside and was greeted by the man himself. Before we sat down for coffee he gave me the tour.
The first room I entered was large and dark and had very high ceilings. There were no windows, but there were two doors along the wall to the left, one door to the right, and one straight in front. The room contained a large sleigh bed made up for company, a red and green painted armoir, and a statue of an avenging angel on a pedestal. One of the doors to the left took you to a bathroom completely lined with green marble, the other to a hallway. The hallway sloped downhill to the art gallery which was made from an old silo that had been cut down and bolted on with giant metal bolts. The door to the right in the main room entered into the auditorium style theater (where the plays of geniuses would be performed, I suppose) which at this time was being used mostly for storage of strange objects de arte. At the back of the theater, beyond the rows of chairs and up and across the stage was a small door. That door led to a round brick lined room with one tiny window that Francois called the Nun's Room.
Back to the main room and straight across was the kitchen. To the left of the kitchen was the library. The library was something to behold- chock a block full from floor to ceiling with rows of books on shelves made from boards and bricks and so cram packed that there were even stacks of books on the floor and in trunks and boxes yet to be unpacked. There were two small desks, one at the front of the library against the wall that led to the kitchen, and one at the back that held a lamp and a small statue of a young man whose cranium you could remove to expose his carved wooden brains. The statue, Francois told me as an aside, was made by Michelangelo.
Upstairs from the kitchen was Francois's bedroom, personal bathroom, and the way to get to the tower. You could get to his bedroom either by climbing the obvious wooden stairs in the kitchen, or by going through the secret passageway hidden behind the hutch. It was in the kitchen that we sat, had coffee, and talked.
Francois had recently gone through the break up of a long term relationship and a quadruple bypass surgery. He was afraid that if he were to have another heart attack it would be his last, and he would die alone on the floor with his dogs standing over him, unable to reach the phone to call for help. His proposition was that I would move in and cook suppers for him (following the guidelines provided by his doctors) and in exchange receive room and board. I thought about the library, about the marble lined bathroom, about the secret passageway behind the hutch. I looked over my cup of instant coffee at this old man with an angry purple scar stretched tight across his chest and the doorhandles of his knees pushing against the worn fabric of his trousers. He sat like a man defeated, he held his hands with fingers curled. I was nineteen and all of life was a grand adventure. I said yes.

18 comments:

downtown guy said...

I love this story.

Ms. Moon said...

I love this story, too.

Mwa said...

Me, too. Will there be a follow-up?

Allegra Smith said...

Of course you said yes, what else could you have said? Intelligent, passionate women - or at that age a woman in the making - would have seen the little bits of wonderment that hold together the weave of life and like Penelope but for different reasons, knew too that they will come handy when knitting her own story.
So, keep going. I am waiting.

Mary said...

Really you are wonderful... You take a story and breathe humanity and awareness into it.

So writerly and such a joy to read!

Glimmer said...

Oh yes, she is definitely writing more about living with Francois Bucher. Because she promised with that little "pt 1." I am so in.

Also, I'd like to put in my order for some of your distinctive true Esquire-in-the-good-old-days writing about taking off in that truck.

May said...

DTG and Ms. Mama Moon- thank you. I wonder how long the story will go on before people realize there's really no point to it. hmmm.

Mwa- Done and done. We'll see how far this goes.

Allegra- Isn't it funny how you never know when you are living a thing what will haunt you and what will drift away? "the little bits of wonderment that hold together the weave of life.." so well put and so true.

Mary- thank you, dear!

Glimmer- Thank you! I will (someday, perhaps) write about living in my truck, but right now Francois is whispering in my ear.

Danielle said...

...you are so damn giftet may..plus you lead an exiting life..when you wrote today at my blog that you wanna write down memories i was all like " yes yes yes please do so..and now i come over and find allready two parts of a wonderfull story...a breathing an dulsating story...i so could see it all...you totally made my evening...

Steph(anie) said...

And yes and yes again.

SJ said...

I love, love when you write. I really do.

Glimmer said...

The story had no point? The same was said of Chekhov. Keep going, May, keep going. Seriously.

Petit fleur said...

I can't believe you lived with Francois!! Now that I think of it, I remember your mom mentioning something about it, but I'd forgotten... regardless, I still can't believe it! Too cool.

I was friends with a guy who was his neighbor (and tortured artist) who used to always complain about him... I can't even remember what now. Dogs? noise? his rampages? He felt Francois was crazy. I felt bad for both of them, because I thought it was more that he was lonely.

Anyway, beautiful writing. Your descriptions are perfect! That is exactly the feel of that place. (I've only been a few times, but..) The woods in Lloyd are just like you say. Marvelous marvelous May.
love you,
pf

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is fascinating, May. Totally fascinating.

honeyluna said...

I have such faint memories of this house, but what I do remember you're bringing back to my mind so beautifully.

Thank you for writing! It's so much better than any book I could be reading right now (and it bets the hell out of some textbooks).

Bethany said...

I couldn't tell if this was the beginning of a brilliant novel, or a true story from a brilliant life. I love this. Wow. So intriging. I'm awed and rushing off to read more.
Love your writing.

claud said...

It was fun to stumble across this story about my father. It adds yet another layer of texture to a very nuanced relationship with the past. If all the young women were to come out of the woodwork, what stories there would be! Yes, where is pt 2?

George Brooks said...

I knew Francois as a graduate student in medieval studies at FSU in the early 90s and was at the Nautilus Foundation many times. Your account of the man and his home matches my memories, and it was pleasant to have them conjured up so vividly by your account. I also have a story of regret about Francois: I took too long to finish my dissertation and he never got to see the final result of a work that he encouraged me for years to complete. He was a difficult person to deal with in many ways, but he never gave me bad advice, and I am grateful for everything he taught me about how to think like a medieval builder. Thank you for writing this.

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