The retraining course held at the unemployment center counted 22 heads. 12 people had an obvious immigration background of some sort; easy noticeable either by their extravagant form of cultural expression, their skin color or more commonly in their speech patterns. In reality, you had to be a tough loser to grow up in a German-speaking household and not at least find something to do for you, somewhere…or damn arrogant about your worth in this life.
After a few conversations with what I considered the worst homegrown cases, I learned the real reason why they choose to be social parasites. It was below their level to work for less than fifteen euros an hour. But the system also caught them well enough to not have to. People were maneuvered back and forth between courses, who were not even willing to help out in a kitchen for 4€ hour – without future obligations – to make some extra cash while ensuring that their unemployment cheques would still arrive at the first of the month. Despite that, they were not worthless for modern society, they fulfilled some purpose while being lazy. Pushed from the state to a private company and back again to get some training, all that cost money under the slogan “Hey, we’re doing something”, but in this way the proud scum of the earth also played its part in the economic cohesion of society, because with them here and paid off for nothing it was possible to artificially create economy by sharing out the honey pot of socialism and let liquid gold flow to fight inflation. Long live the self-inflating socialist capitalist bureaucracy – Keep the wackos fed and at peace by feeding them a free future and some money to buy themselves some breed, while they went more and more in debt, robbing them of the chance to complain without them being seen as ungrateful little crybabies. Long live the self-stimulation-button-pressing-poor and I drink to, that still after a thousand years, the paper sheets bend in the ventilator wind of summer hating Anne Traude, government agent for 25 years.
So, these dregs of society were sitting in some teaching courses, where you played board games and did your time and I sat with them and beat them in almost every single one. To pass time easier. Make all of this sitting mean something, we bet money if the counselor didn’t look closely. Kinkerlitzchen amounts, meal money, usually five, maximum of ten euros. Because I was pretty good, I mainly financed my cigarette addiction with the money I won. Then I only got to play for cigarettes. 2 months in, no one played me for money. There was only one Indian girl who gave hope to the others; that beat me again and again in chess and then celebrated her victory with a Bollywood dance while she stuck the bills in her bra. Tongue and cheek. The first time she did it, I had encouraged her because I’d to laugh so hard that I fell off the chair. Her acting silly still hadn’t lost its magic.
She was one of the normal ones here. With some people, you already knew after a short conversation that things just turned sour somewhere. That there was a day when their coolness set out in stress or they were just programmed to easily lose their nerves in front of every job interview they encounter; it was a matter of time until they left if they just kept trying and didn’t get involved…not that a lot wanted to. Always quiet, they felt out of place. The other part, however, the spitting liquid on the bottom of a beer glass, had to be assigned for projects that presupposed that one was recognized as a source of conflict by the state. With a blind judiciary and an even more blind administration, this alone was already difficult to achieve. Behind closed doors the top of the pyramid prescribed the untamable more courses in aggression management etc. and the decision makers called it a day and went strictly around twelve on lunch break.
I heard it for the first time from course members, and Miro’s stories made much more sense in retrospective. Which football team kept its 11 players when they were constantly beating each other up in training? The dark side of being poor is that the bore leads to banter and fist fights and networking. People even doing worse than before. No god, no state, no helping hand or pity, they wanted, and they turned to find identity and identity can be found in violence
For example, there was an Afghan sitting behind me who was a fire devil and if he hadn’t been one when the second fire in his workplace rampaged, the system would have worked. Fire and evidence don’t go well together. Nobody gives a shit about an empty insurance covered building. It doesn’t really matter if he did it on purpose. He got fired. Now he was sitting there, behind me, breathing in my neck, what I already couldn’t stand because of childhood trauma, playing with his lighter, a petrol-driven storm fire, the lid of which he kept dropping with a click. They didn’t have a better occupation for him. The course instructor wasn’t allowed to give him anything to read.
Yeah, a fellow course participant had explained to me on my arrival that the fire devil was not to be allowed to interact with paper. He lit a fire more than once in class. His pyromaniac instinct was an instinct. He saw no writing, no information, no pictures, just the paper and how it went up in flames. If it was not a building that burned, then the business section plus news regarding our domestic policy was enough. Nothing that anyone here would have shed a tear, even if most of those present would at least have wished to have a look at the horoscope.
Once the Afghan joined us when I stood outside on the balcony with the Indian girl. I smoked and she told me about her parents, that had sent her here to finish higher education, after which she would return. They were strictly conservative. They preserved old and strict values, I, as a child of 3000 years Christian-Judaic history not only didn’t understand but found to be ridiculously demanding. She was promised to a guy in India and I just meant to her, that nobody could force her to get on the plane.
“My father would grab my ear and drag me on foot to India”, she said, holding the top of her braid in her hand. I believed her words, I understood her situation, but I repeated what I often said.
“In the West, no one can force you to do anything”, and I meant it bitterly.
When she again tried to explain to me how hopeless it would be to rebel against him, the Afghan came to us on the smoker’s balcony. She didn’t stop talking, I listened and looked the Afghan in the eye. He didn’t look at me. He looked at my mouth. Where my cigarette was slowly burning down. I noticed it and it made me nervous. I lost my train of thought in the conversation.
“Do you want one too?”, I asked him and interrupted the Indian girl for a moment.
“No, no, thank you”, said the Afghan and stood at the railing. He was playing with his lighter and I turned back to my conversation. She started recycling her last points. I got tired of the subject and lost the thread. In a speech pause that she needed to breathe, I told her to end the conversation: “As soon as you lose hope that you will be saved, you will find the freedom to save yourself”
“That’s right,” said the Afghani who overheard us. He reached into his pocket and pulled out yellow strips of paper. He ripped the Post-its off the block, set them on fire and threw them into the ashtray. I saw the stickers burn in the air. The gust of wind from the throw tore down the yellow paper into ash flakes. It was raining black dots on the ground. What arrived in the ashtray was burned into nothing completely.
The Afghan held back the rain of fire as I approached, I muffled the cigarette in the ashtray and went inside. Traditions no longer exist if wisdom could touch them. As expected, she got on the plane.
While people know about the rich and famous from the news, follow their boring shopping and travels in social networks and mostly only saw what they were allowed to see, here laid the truthful stories. They were naked, had holes in their shoes, and only caused compassion if you didn’t learn to listen properly. There’s meat on the bones. That you could gnaw off raw. They all had my pride for their messed up lives; they didn’t go begging to the public, they only shared their stories when you laughed with them about the absurdity. We all sat here in the same boat, a sinking one; were different and yet so damn similar and for a while, we shared an alike fate.
The course participants circulated in a short time in and out of the room. The people who were expected to stay here, came back. I felt better than the other revenants. They probably felt better than me. Everybody somewhere and somehow. I saw it in a variety of ways, faces, and words. I felt the feeling of superiority nowhere the strongest, but in the faces that were sitting around me here. I concluded that out of relation with all my past and later made memories. Conflicted on it, because the arrogance never belonged to them. To the people who buried their faces in their hands and cried here, between people that laugh and think they are in the right. Their faces burned into my brain and in the end, I was nothing, but one of them.
The Fire Devil Afghan was there all my time. He was a fire risk to anyone who sat here. I was there all my time. He was a fire risk to me. New faces were there, but I didn’t have to get used to most of them. Once even a Catholic priest was sitting inside our house. When I asked him in a quiet moment if he touched children in his spare time, he remained calm and certainly said “No”.
“What kind of wooden post do you have to be to get kicked out of the Catholic Church?”
Even then, he remained calm. I didn’t manage to provoke him, and after I talked a lot to him about God. The subject naturally came to mind between us. The problem with the new generation of priests is, they accept science – even if for them God is considered its origin. I thought that the origin was, that because on this floating and God-liberated piece of dirt that floats in the middle of the cold universe, there was nothing better to do than to observe apples falling and because people love patterns and like to make sense of things, science came into being. A deliberately redundant statement. As expected, we didn’t come to an agreement.
Still, I kept trying to provoke him. Make him answer as a self-proclaimed voice of the divine on this earth for all its little and big failures.
“When God sees everything. Every bullet that hits a man’s flesh, every rape, every suffering, all the hunger, how can he then watch. Is he enjoying it?”
“Of course not “
“If you caught me, priest, in whatever, for example watching videos of people getting mutilated, even if I said that I find it disgusting, repulsive, barbaric, how would you react if I kept on watching it?”
“God wants to see his children as they are”
“That means God just shakes his head and thinks – Oh people and their desires again…pfff…and then a shoulder shrug…well I created them so, what can you do? – and then scratches his head, while getting another bowl of popcorn?”
The priest continued to let me vent in from of him.
“I’d just like to understand. Understand! I don’t get it. I don’t get it. People like you are a self-help book, a guru for fools who just keeps repeating himself”
The priest always answered, but his answers were too simple for me. They were institutional truths. Too much pulled out of a hat. Too easy to repeat. He left the course and found a job in customer service. I knew he’d be robbed of his faith soon. The day before he left, he said goodbye to me. He enjoyed the time together. I enjoyed it too, talking to someone who believes in something. The last thing the former priest said to me was: “God has a plan for you, Nathaniel”
“Yes, I’m afraid so” I replied and he was satisfied. After 2 weeks he was transferred to a permanent position and I had been divided into different small jobs over my 6 months. There was nothing secure about it, only auxiliary work for single days, which I was put into to finance the basis of the existence of the employment office and to justify further payments of the unemployment benefits to me. In hindsight, I can see I’ve been handed around a lot.
The good jobs for which I was qualified, the jobs that paid a salary that I could have afforded my own apartment with…I went to these job interviews without expectations. I constantly sent them resumes and applications in which I admitted not to have any experience apart from working in the book trade, but the necessary stamina and brains to find my way around. Most applications remained unanswered. On some, I got email cancellations and the fewest invited me to a conversation.
They sat me down. I met the head of the department, shook his/her hand, introduced myself “Schradinski Nathaniel, hello”. The person on the opposite looked me in the eye and I had no chance. My life is a sulfur mine. It stinks everywhere, and I couldn’t get the stench out of my clothes.
I was a good worker who endured a lot and was self-reliant even when he did what he was told, but the higher you go that isn’t just as in demand as a friendly appearance. I saw the fact that I wasn’t given a chance as a sign. Maybe times have been really hard. Maybe I am just an arrogant asshole as well.
Once I worked as a waiter at an event in the town hall. I dropped the tray on a guest and was allowed to wash plates for the rest of the evening. I cleaned out the apartments of hoarders. The declutter gave me confidence in my own housekeeping and I liked my coworkers, but my back went out after 2 weeks. I had the brace of a scarecrow. One day I was cleaning toilets in a football stadium after a derby, a mess, I tell you. While roughing I realized what the difference really was between the bookstore and the serving of Horsd’œuvre? Of course, this stank more to me, but basically, books had to be sold, furniture had to end up at the landfill, toilets had to be cleaned and the rich had to be fed. Every day – everywhere – always the same. So I decided when I took off the yellow rubber gloves, after working on the stubborn remains on porcelain with a toilet brush, that I wouldn’t do it anymore. Not for a minimum wage, and certainly not below it. I pushed the cleaning cart into his chamber. I slapped the rubber gloves on the stadium warden’s table.
“I quit,” I announced resolutely.
“Okay, you’re not a permanent employee, do whatever you want” the man behind the desk just said and dialed the number of the employment office.
In the end I ended up back in the class, playing the same games with other people, doing the same occupational therapy as before and then, sitting in front of a piece of paper with five white columns that I was supposed to relate to my identity and depending on how much I thought they applied to me fill them up with color, I realized where I was here. Health, social network, work and performance, material security and values. I left all five fields white, the people around me were getting off on that shit. Was I the only one who saw the kindergarden in it?
I raised my hand. I had a question.
“Nathaniel, please what do you need?”
“I got a question. What the fuck is this? I know where my problems lie. If you’d rather show me the way, A WAY, instead of this hippie-self-discovery crap. Most of us here are here because they are too DUMB themselves to find a way for themselves to find”
“You think you’re better than Nat, don’t you?”, they held the sharp ends of the coloring pencils up to me.
“Then why are you sitting here if you’re so smart, Nat?”
“I don’t have a way either, maybe I’m as stupid as you are…“, a few fists landed in palms, “…maybe I can’t see the forest for the trees…”, ankles cracked hearable excited, “…but do you really think a stupid piece of paper in which I fill in five bars is anything but wasted time?”
Approval stirred up in our small round.
“Mr. Schradinski, we’re all here to help you”
“Then why don’t you just give me decent work instead of keeping me here? Is it because then you wouldn’t have any? Or do you think it is just how they keep us from robbing banks?”
“Yes, exactly” out of row in front of me.
“Who wants to work?”, from the left behind me.
STOP HIM – stood in the face of the instructor. She had lost control. The women who understood what I said were uncomfortably touched, those who did not understand it followed the energy in the room. The men tore up the sheets, some stood up, others remained seated or collaborated in a quiet murmur. The click of the lighter behind me stopped, the flint was heard, and a flame was lit.
“What are you going to do if I just leave now?”, I asked the instructor.
“Have unemployment benefits cut for you, Mr. Schradinski”
The room turned dead silent. The tumult stopped, the before embarrassingly touched women smiled now confidently in the system, and some paper pieces even magically joined together again. Threaten the riffraff to eliminate their emergency penny and you remind them again of the concept of control.
“You know what…I don’t give a shit”
I smelled smoke as I walked past her.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING BACK THERE?”
The fire alarm went off. Everyone’s eyes were probably on the Afghan, but I didn’t turn around. I walked out the door of the Kursaal and slammed it shut. Outside I lit a cigarette and watched the fire brigade arrive. The firemen weren’t in such a hurry like me, maybe they already knew what was going on. I said goodbye to the beautiful free money. A farewell in smoke signs. I called Ätz. “I need more money”, I told him.
“Who doesn’t?”, he replied, and we met half an hour later at home.