What do you have left at summer's end but memories of The Vacation?
Of course, the worst of it, the charter flight that was overbooked and left you yammering and stammering at Orly, is forgotten. You have exorcised the leering agent who promised you two seats but now condemns you to uncertainty among a flock of robed pilgrims bound for Riyadh. You threaten and cajole, even climb on the baggage scales to photograph her, hungry for revenge, just in case you bump into a hit man this side of customs. But you know, deep down, that you are beaten, that Dirty Harry would wind up shackled in some foreign jail for just thinking what you are thinking.
So you deep-breathe, curse, kick your baggage cart . . . and remember the triumphs. Forget the one who got away. Bask in the glory of the ones who didn't.
Remember the insults and cold shoulders of the Paris maitre d's, jaws tired of smiling at American hordes armed with King Dollar? They got theirs. At least one did. It was a Moroccan restaurant, cheerful little place in the Quartier Latin. The tablecloths were white, the captains tuxedoed, the flies isolated to the cheese tray.
A perfect night for couscous: hot peppers with lamb would chase away the crushing heat. I was salivating.
But I would be the only one eating. My wife had a case of tourist tummy. A waiter arrived. "I'll have the couscous. She will take hot tea and cantaloupe," I said.
Suddenly the waiter stood ramrod straight and announced, "Non, monsieur, you cannot split a meal. That is not allowed."
"No one is 'splitting a meal,' " I explained. "I am eating the couscous. She is having cantaloupe and tea. She has a stomachache. Do you understand?"
"Je comprends," he said, snatching his menus. He was a stickler for his "rules," a bull-headed Frenchman with shiny black shoes who aimed to liberate his table, despite a half-empty restaurant.
"Please send the maitre d'," I said, helping myself to another menu.
"I am the maitre d'," he bellowed.
"Well, in that case, where's the owner?"
Heads snapped our way. Throats cleared. A serving spoon clattered to the floor. Amidst the commotion, a man arrived. He was attentive. "A problem, monsieur?"
"He wants to split a meal!" sniffed the maitre d'.
I detailed the dilemma. "Your place was highly recommended to us as the best Moroccan restaurant in Paris," I lied. "It's a real shame." I sighed and pushed back my chair as if to leave. "Now I won't be able to tell our readers about your extraordinary cuisine because your maitre d' will not let us eat here. A shame.
"What else can I write except that your butcher slaughters your lambs with more kindness than you show your customers? Put yourself in my shoes."
"Oh, monsieur, please sit down," the man implored. "Whatever you wish . . ."
Fed up over the scene, my wife stalked out. "We cannot possibly dine here now," I said. "There goes my wife."
I thanked the owner and trotted off. Over my shoulder, I heard screams and shouts as the maitre d' was dressed down for insolence. "He was a writer, you idiot!"
Music to my ears. Maybe the next tourist got the royal treatment. I hope so. Vacation memories are made of this.