A whiff of working class break-room jokes

The stank in the city was the worst in the morning. The dirt and debris from the previous day were spread all over the platforms and bus stops. Beer cans, often just cracked upon and cast aside, stood next to flower boxes and on window sills when the sun rose above the horizon. The free newspapers laid in stacks in puddles and turned into paper mâché. The trams smelled of wet pussy and death. Yeah, it smelled musty in the alleys. Wine sweat and unwashed hair with a touch of sewage system when it got warmer. One lived in this stench, smelt it only when one concentrated and while the inhabitants had learned to breathe through the mouth, I had been living here for over a year and still hadn’t managed it – but I was ready to get started.
I took the tram there and then I stood in front of it for a while. I thought about turning around, calling myself a “pussy” – intimidated by nothing. If my efforts didn’t bear fruit, I’d just smoke weed on the couch again. I repeated it until my nervousness dissipated. I went in. I had nothing to lose.
It wasn’t a small business that was driven off the Internet. It was an institution like all the other shops that had the same logo. The logo was the foundation of the institution, a sign of permanence because it was not stolen from the WWW by a grandson like Aunt Emma’s, but produced by a sex-free graphic artist with mindfulness according to some doctrine of aesthetics. The logo adorned the shop and had nothing to do with books.
Working where I was surrounded by things I loved. Right at the source, who couldn’t love the prospect of that? I already saw myself reading during my breaks, while I was allowed to talk about my books during working hours. I went inside the bookstore, asked myself through. I knew they were looking for someone and since my CV consisted of three lines I thought that a personal interview was my best chance.
A salesman guided me to the back, through the storeroom I went alone and to where I was described the office was located. I entered it. No one was there. I went inside and sat down. One of the employees noticed what I was up to. He came up to me from the break-room and asked me:
“What are you doing in here?”
“Hey, sorry. I’ve been sent back here. I’m here for a job.”
“Apply online”
We locked eyes.
“I don’t own a computer”
“Mhm…wait a minute, I’ll get him”
One minute passed and a stocky man came in. He had a thick belly, short feet and an imposing mustache above his lips, the twirled tips of which were suitable for throwing rings onto. He was wearing a jacket and a shirt with a red tie. His hair was white, as was his beard. Top of his head meets my forehead and when I looked down at his face, I saw no joy in there. Immediately he fell into a tone of moaning:
“Normally, I would like to make an appointment in advance before receiving someone for an interview. You’re already giving me a reason to think you think you’re special. Not that you couldn’t be”
He smiled like he was joking. I grinned to get the job.
“I thought I proved initiative, that’s important as a salesman.”
He seemed to enjoy the answer.
“So, you want to apply?”
“My name is Nathaniel, I graduated from school, and I’d love to work here and for you.”
“Pleased to meet you, Nathaniel. My name is Konrad Herbert”
We shook hands.
“Let’s sit down, Nathaniel.”
I sat down in the chair.
“Say, Nathaniel, don’t you have a last name?”
“I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Konrad, but do you have one?”
I was sure he had heard this joke a thousand times before, but if only for timing reasons it worked at the thousand and the first time, as the first time. He was laughing and his stomach was rising and falling in his comfortable looking office chair.
“Seen that way.”
I grinned.
“Schradinski, Mr. Konrad”
“You got guts, Mr. Schradinski, I like that. It’s important to have fun at work.”
He seemed to think a lot of me already.
“Say, do you like to read Nathaniel? It takes a certain love of the material to get literary works to the man and, of course, the woman in the most efficient way”.
“Since my childhood, Mr. Konrad, I have enjoyed reading.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear.”
He nodded contentedly.
“You know what, I’m gonna give you a chance. Be here. Monday at 7:30. The shirt you get from us. Put on a pair of black pants.”
“Thank you, Mr. Konrad, I will not disappoint you.”
We got up, gave each other hands and wished ourselves a nice day. What my father always had with his defeatism and Chang with his black outlook. Finding a job was really damn easy.  When I came home, I promised myself to twist a knife in Chang’s past words.
On my first day at work, I got the promised work clothes handed to me at the door. They consisted of a white T-shirt with the logo on it. The trousers to be worn had to be black and long without exception. It was autumn when I started, so that wasn’t a problem yet, but I could already see myself fading away into a puddle of sweat in summer. That was a problem for future Nathaniel. He’d survive, I told myself. I was also assigned to my responsibilities. Literature in the English Department. Shakespeare and all the good guys in widely regarded world language the English: Bukowski, Poe, Orwell, Tolkien, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Fante, Burroughs, Thompson, all of them white, desperate and dead dudes like me. There was a Rowling here too. When I was first assigned to rearrange the books, I put hers on the bottom shelf.
In my first few weeks, I admit I loved the job. I came in in the morning and made the first contact while snoring cigarettes. Talked to my colleagues before work. They seemed nice. The boss was relaxed, was satisfied with my performance. When mistakes were made due to my lack of experience, he turned a blind eye. Among my colleagues, nobody seemed outstanding, before I got to know Gerhard. A 50+-year-old who was dragging his youth after him, just not to lose it. He wore a mullet and colorful button shirts out of work. He wasn’t particularly skinny or fat or muscular. He had a good ass, a female colleague said, but it was not my job to judge that.
The first time I saw him was in the break room. He made a thought out a humorous comparison between the appearance of a vagina and a started off and dumbed lasagna. I didn’t find him very funny nor his comparison accurate, but his talk was passing the time, that’s all it took. The rest of the staff were strangely energized, laughing and talkative when he was there. If he wasn’t there, they buried themselves in their smartphones. I avoided the break room and the jokes.
When it wasn’t raining, I went out back to smoke. Into the yard where the delivery entrance ran by. Delivery arrived Monday and Thursday morning only. The rest of the time no one was here, especially not during their lunch breaks.
Before each longer break, I grabbed one of the books, read as far as I could and wrote myself as a note on my mobile phone at which page I left off. That went pretty well for a long time, and I have to claim that because it wasn’t actually allowed. Though I didn’t see any damage in it. All I did was read and bring the book back after the break and the only thing that got damaged was my curiosity about what was in the lines.
Leaning against the wall on the asphalt, sitting on the floor, I smoked, turned pages, smoked, turned pages, smoked. For safety, I flicked my cigarette off after every third blow. Ash cannot be controlled. It’s so light, the wind plays with it, but I was careful. From time to time it happened despite my cautiousness that ash fell on the bleached paper, but I blew it away and there was never even a single stain.



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