Translated and adapted from the French by Amita Mukerjee
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Warm thanks to the world’s best future swimming champ and the eternal optimist, you both know who you are... Copyright © Luc Richard 2009 Cover illustration copyright © Sylvain Garms Author photo copyright © rolandcassar The moral right of the author has been asserted British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-0-9558078-3-1 Revenge Ink Unit 13 Newby Road Hazel Grove Stockport Cheshire SK7 5DA UK www.revengeink.com Typeset in France by Sylvain Garms
To my nephews and nieces whoâ€™ll have to wait a little before they can discover this perfect world...
Life Before Perfection It’s five-thirty in the afternoon and you could cut through my blues with a knife. I’m stuck at the wheel of my car, in loud demoralizing traffic. The cold November rain and darkness outdoors fill me with a choking sadness. My name’s Tom Tellier. I’m twenty-one and I’m a sports coach in a small town in Northwestern France. I’ve been hired to make basketball a more popular sport in the villages of my region. I’ve only just graduated and it’s my first job but it’s already boring me half to death. I thought I’d be working in a place filled with energy, warmth and enthusiasm. What I actually have is a tyrannical employer who’s moody and who makes work unbearable, and a secretary who’s a bitter envious woman with a face to match. Today’s Tuesday. I’m on my way to a cold dilapidated gymnasium to coach seven girls who aren’t tall and who’d wipe the hardiest smile off the happiest face. Their constant bickering is unbearable. I don’t coach them. What I do is spend my time managing their pre-teen existential problems. “No, Stéphanie doesn’t think you’re too fat, and that’s not why she didn’t pass you the ball!” “Ok, just because Myriam subs for you does not mean she can’t be your best friend anymore…” “Yeah well, Julie may be dating Nicolas but on the court you guys have to play together!”
This is the kind of thing I have to keep saying as we ‘practise.’ Then it’s eight and we’re done. And the session ends with the usual explosions of hysterical laughter and/or inexplicable tears. Sickened by what is an unbelievably depressing day I look around at the people that walk the streets. They look morose. I stare at the ugliness of the buildings around us. I feel a thick soup of angst well up in my throat. My friend Mickaël once told me our region had the highest youth suicide rate in the country. No kidding, I tell myself. No kidding. I’m in a morbid vegetative state. I begin to see the end of what will be my pointless, miserable life. I’m convinced that not a single shift, not a single spark will light up the grey stuntedness of my prospects. As I drive, I listen with half an ear to a talk show on the radio. Every ten minutes, it’s interrupted by stupid, repetitive advertisements. I suffer through them as I silently sing the song of my own discontent. Then it happens. I hear an ad that calls on listeners to go on vacation, where the sun shines and there’s luxury, sports and fun. I perk up. That very evening, I send in a resumé with a hand-written letter for my new job in paradise. A week goes by before I get an answer. When the small envelope arrives with a pretty little logo on it saying Club Perfect, I take my time tearing it open. My heart’s beating like a row of kettle drums. I read the letter several times over, repeating key words in it to myself. “We are pleased to call you in…a member of our team… orientation…soon.”
Iâ€™ve been called in for an interview, next week, for one whole day, at a hotel in Nantes, which is in Western France.
Learning Perfection I’ve always dreamed about Club Perfect. I grew up with movies and commercials in France filled with glamorous, hedonistic scenes of le Club as we call it. Before I get into my car, I take one last look at their website. It’s a perfect imaginary world, like a childhood fantasy, far away, at the foot of a rainbow that appears once a year. As children we all believe easily in these enchanted dreams. As a depressive adult, only my computer screen confirms for me that they still exist. The Club was the first to surf the wave of the seventies and everyone’s desire back then to live a wild, passionate, communal existence. It was all perfectly realisable in the Club’s real paradises of natural beauty. It’s no surprise of course, but in all the ads I see now, the holidaygoers are beautiful, young and athletic. Sometimes whole families are on the beach under a setting sun. Everyone’s happy. No one’s badly behaved, bored or anxious. In one picture of a family, the mother wears a slightly transparent dress of immaculate white, her legs and hair are smooth and long. Daddy is bare-bodied and carries their little blonde daughter on his muscled shoulders as she claps with joy. Both parents smile enthusiastically and admire their older son who jumps over the last little waves as they die out on the sand. There are also single people in the photos, all sipping cocktails and laughing. One of them tries to push his girlfriend into the pool. Everyone’s shiny with tans and oozes joy and heartfelt
closeness. If there were a caption to the photo, it would be Mr. Big and Strong giving his girlfriend a little kiss and reassuring her: “Of course I love you darling, and no, I won’t let you fall, you’re too beautiful for that!” I turn away from the computer and watch my five-year-old niece playing with her Barbie doll. Maybe she’s the one who wrote the ad, I tell myself. Then I imagine my own future adventures in this perfect, polished gloss. I feel like slipping into these pictures right now and doing all the wild things that I dream of, like sleeping with young, natural, shiny girls and stuffing myself with gourmet foods or swimming with dolphins. There’s a classic French movie called “Les Bronzés” (literally meaning The Tanned) that lampoons the early days of the Club with its crazy sex, corny situations and crude vacationers. Even today the French tend to think of that film when they think of Club Perfect. But now things are different. On the way to Nantes, I hear my future boss on the radio. The President of Club Perfect is asked about the excellent performance of his company on the stock exchange and he says this: “The film poked fun at what went on at that time, in a few villages. But today’s Club is different. It’s classy, multi-cultural and refined. It’s known for its excellent services. The ‘Sun, Sea and Sand’ or ‘Sea, Sex and Sun’ image, to refer to your question about the film, is totally obsolete. Today’s Club is about three things: Heritage, Natural Beauty and Leisure.” His tone is haughty and serious. I start to hope it won’t reflect the attitude of the real Club Perfect. I’m still wishing the Club has a little craziness left in it.
Interview The interviews are held in the kind of hotel you find in industrial zones outside large cities in France. The place isn’t glamorous but the little ‘Club Perfect’ signs pointing out the interview room make me feel like I’m taking off for the tropics already. Everything is well, perfect. In the lobby, there are people checking our ID and they welcome me with a little cocktail and a smile. There’s a slender brunette with long, unbelievably soft hair who keeps moving her head from side to side like she were in a shampoo commercial. She jokes with a young man with perfect dark skin and perfect white teeth. Their athletic bodies are enhanced by the tiny sizes of their ‘Club Perfect’ T-shirts. They’re young interns but they take their work seriously. Inside the interview room I hear a pleasant confusion of laughter and chattering voices. I feel like an amateur show is about to begin. I walk in and put my jacket on the back of a chair. I’m keen to do well here today. The tables are placed in a circle so we can all see each other. There are about fifty of us in a conference room decorated with advertising posters for ‘Club Perfect.’ An overhead projector shows an image of a lagoon with shades of blue and green and a catamaran sliding over it, leaving light foam in its wake. The picture can be seen in two ways because the whole thing also
looks like the face of a beautiful, fulfilled woman. Cooks, heating experts, child supervisors, sports coaches, managers, hair-stylists, choreographers, we’re all here for the same thing: to work at Club Perfect. There are some who talk and smile but most of them wait with their heads down, tapping on their cell phones or carefully arranging the three documents they’ve brought with them. We all get a bottle of water, cookies and a Club Perfect napkin. All details that make us feel important and wanted. The recruiters are tall people who’ve worked for the Club over many seasons. Their eyes shine whenever they mention the Club and that more than anything makes us want to work there. I think about life at the Club the way you imagine life behind a window that’s lit up at night. It always seems more glamorous in your head than it is in reality. The first recruiter is tall, muscular, with long curly blond hair. Throwing his arms up in the air, he says: “Hi, I’m Patrick. Welcome to Club Perfect.” The second is smaller and bald. In a gruff smoker’s voice, he takes over. “Hi, my name is Paul. Thank you all for coming. We’re going to spend the day together so we can get to know you. We’ll explain the very unique workings of the Club to you. Then we’ll move on to some small exercises to test your aptitude for working in a place like Club Perfect.” They give us a brief history of the Club and check to see if any of
us have taken the trouble to find out about it already. I try to be a good student. I look at them attentively, speak up and smile. Even as they joke with us, I notice they observe our talent for repartee and how interested we are in what they’re saying. They walk around us like wolves dressed up as Red Riding Hoods, looking harmless but ready to devour our dream to be part of the Club at any moment. The sound of their footsteps reminds me of a police interrogation. I feel anxious but try to stay relaxed. After an hour or so spent talking about the philosophy and history of the Club, the tests begin. We’re asked to come up with small advertising captions: “Ok, if I ask you to find something that includes the words ‘white T-shirt,’ you, what’s your name? Tom? Ok Tom, tell me what you can come up with?” He looks straight at me, I figure I’d better not get it wrong. I improvise instantly: “With white T-shirt? Um, out on the beach in a white T-shirt, Club Perfect makes sure you’re out of the dirt.” “Ha ha ha, not bad. And you? Sasha ? Hello, beautiful Sasha, well?” I take a deep breath, relieved and resolved, my fist clenched against my leg. The tall guy with the curly hair wraps it up: “Ok, at the Club we like to be up-front about everything. So let’s talk about money! You’ll get the minimum wage but you have to pay for your room and board.” And he puts some numbers on the blackboard like he’s teaching arithmetic to a bunch of primary school children.
“You see, at the end of the month, you’ll still be able to save some money. In any other job, outside the Club, after having paid all your bills, you’d have practically nothing left.” And he concludes by noisily slapping his hands together to get the chalk dust off. The strong bald guy goes on. “On the other hand, for one whole season, you’ll live intensely. You’ll be part of shows in front of an audience of five hundred people, you’ll meet people you’d never have the opportunity to meet otherwise, you’ll travel and take advantage of your days off to visit the country you’re in. There are always locals who work in Club villages. If you get to know them, they’ll show you unexplored parts of their region. The Club is a fantastic place to learn about life!” Patrick drains his glass of water and adds: “Of course, you’ll have to become involved in the life of the village. So if you think talking to people who’re on holiday is too much work, go somewhere else. Club Perfect is all about an attitude. You have to like people, you have to smile, be available.” Then we break for coffee and ten people leave. One of them says to me: “To have to talk to and dance with customers once my job is done? No way, this is not for me!” I think the opposite. Partying with people who’re on holiday? You bet! That’s most definitely for me! At lunchtime, we have the choice between eating here with our recruiters or at a fast-food place across the street. Needless to say, staying means we’re team players and open to new challenges. So I choose to stay. There are only twenty of us left. We have to choose from two well-
decorated tables with a recruiter seated at each one. Conversations are launched by the two tourism pros. Of course, we can’t just sit there and say nothing with these experts of manufactured bonhomie watching our every move. Especially since they continually direct the conversation to see who’s making the effort to liven things up. So I make the effort. And I’m lucky. I make them laugh with a small joke. I notice my competitors smile like they’re happy but then grimace like they’re thinking: ‘Shit, now I have to find something funny to say!’ The last test is a surprise. We have to write down the names of three people here that we’d like to go on holiday with. I guess the recruiters want to see who’s most popular among us already. I begin to look at the names of my colleagues, written on name tags placed in front of them. I try discreetly to get their names but it’s awkward since I know none of them at all. So I look around and smile, just to show I’m not indifferent to any of them. Then I wonder if they’ve seen my name. And I check to make sure my name tag is nice and visible. It’s clear what’s happening. After just a few hours, we’re being tested to see if we’re liked and if we have charisma or personality. To remain invisible by melting into the crowd is a dereliction of duty here. It’s like we have to conform and stand out at the same time. So what should I do, I ask myself. Dance on the table? Do a striptease and sing out my name? I’m surprised at my reaction to this Club Perfect version of American Idol. I don’t like it. It’s like my destiny’s being placed within the hands of twenty individuals and their personal opinions. The recruiters never do tell us how that test turned out. The goal
is probably just to let us know how important our presence would be once we started working at the Club. The day ends with a face-to-face session with the recruiters. I find myself facing Paul, who sits behind a small table with a notebook in which there are photos, names and notes. I’m quite confident, but my heart beats fast. He reads through my CV and warns me: “You should know that sports in a Club Perfect village isn’t very high-level. I mean, are you sure you won’t be bored without the tournaments and competitions you’re used to?” I close my eyes and imagine myself in the sunshine, near a sea that’s smooth and almost oily on the surface. I see myself leading a tournament of Beach Volleyball with six Brazilian girls in bikinis. “No, not at all,” I say. “I want to work for the Club to meet lots of people, work in a holiday environment and to fully take advantage of this life experience!” He smiles, clearly pleased with my response, and holds out his hand as he winks and says: “In that case, welcome to Club Perfect!” When I get home, I’m on a cloud as I go through an album that presents all the villages of the Club. I imagine myself on beaches of white sand where there are turtles and clownfish at the bottom of a clear sea. I’m sailing in Israel, surfing in Australia and skydiving in Portugal. I converse with imaginary holiday-goers. I am funny, cool, handsome, I smile with perfect white teeth, I am tanned, yes sir, I have it all, but I remain humble. I keep it real. The phone rings. The folks at Club Perfect say they want to test my English.
“Just to check if you are able to talk in English a little bit, you know. Is that all right for you?” “Euh, yes, yes, it is!” Ou la la, I tell myself. I always did badly in English at school and I begin to regret it now. It makes me doubt everything. I fear I might be chased out of Paradise even before I set foot in it. That I’ll be struck down like the builders of the Tower of Babel. “So, why have you chosen to work for Club Perfect?” “I have euh, choosen Club Perfect because I euh, like meet new people and I am very good at sports and terribly sympatic.” I’m red-faced and sweating. But it turns out my few sentences in Shakespeare’s tongue are enough to get me to the next stage of selection for my future job in Eden. A few days later, I leave for one week of training and initiation in the spirit of the Club. I’m off to St-Raphaël on the French Mediterranean coast.
Orientation It’s Tuesday March 25th, 2 pm. I’m driving Southward fast, in my small Clio, under a magnificent blue sky peppered with a few light clouds. I enjoy the change in landscape: houses with orange tiles, the garrigue or dry vegetation so typical of the Mediterranean region, churches with rectangular bell towers, the warm heat of the South or even just the signs indicating we’re close to Marseille, Nice, St-Maxime and St-Tropez; it all gives me goose flesh. With my heart beating fast, I sing She’s Only Happy in the Sun with Ben Harper. I feel fabulous and I have the music cranked up high in my car. And then there it is. The sign that says Club Perfect. It’s located at the heart of a set of private villas where celebrities spend their vacations. I am at the polar opposite of my former situation now. Everything here is stylish, flaunted and exposed, the crickets sing me a welcome song and the warmth of hot sand dances on my skin. I park my car, get out and walk towards the entrance of the Club. My legs are stiff and I’m nervous. “This is not a smart thing to do!” says my inner voice. “You’re shy and discreet, solitary and reserved. What the hell are you doing here? This isn’t your world, you’re going make a fool of yourself!”
I never did my military service because the French government did away with it before my time. But my great uncle said it was a fantastic rite of passage for becoming a man. I choose to see my adventure at Club Perfect as just this kind of rite of passage. I hope to become a person that’s stronger and better educated at the end of this. So I take a deep breath and walk towards the reception desk with a more assured step even though I get the feeling I’m in Disneyland. All the paths are surrounded by flowers, the walls are warmly coloured and you can spot the beach through the pine trees. Everything is perfectly maintained and esthetically designed. On the way to the reception desk I pass the swimming pool with a feeling of beatitude. Its floor is decorated with a huge ‘Club Perfect’ logo in mosaique, and I see a shiny gym beyond it with brand new work-out machines near a restaurant and a huge fountain. When I get into the lobby that’s been designed by Philippe Starck, I see eight happy-faced guys and an attractive young girl waiting and talking noisily on a huge white sofa. “Hey, you here for the orientation? Welcome to a perfect world!” And a guy called Antoine welcomes me enthusiastically. With very short brown hair, he has obviously appointed himself leader of the group. “Hi everyone,” I say. “I’m Tom. Have you been here long?” “Just a few minutes, we were asked to wait here…” says the girl.