“Hi, I’m here to see...um, Jean. From the production department. Is this, uh, do I have the right place? Is this Melge?” he asked, still panting a bit from the stairs. Of course the place wouldn’t have an elevator or air-conditioning.
“Yup, you’re in the right place. The perfect place actually. Have a seat and Jean will be out in a few minutes.”
Rob stared down a beanbag, wondering whether it would hold him.
“So, like, right here is okay?”
Someone was playing gangster rap but Rob couldn’t tell if the music was coming from inside or outside the building. It was one of those reclaimed spaces -- with exposed brick and all that. Really quite nice.
“Beautiful day today, isn’t it?” Rob remarked to the woman behind the desk.
“Yeah. I haven’t been outside much today, but it looks nice from in here. I guess.”
Heels began clomping from behind a door and out stepped a slender woman dressed in a baggy Iggy Pop T-Shirt and jeans.
“Are you Jean?”
“Yeah. Hi, there,” she said, reaching in for a frail handshake.
“Why don’t you come in?”
She ushered him through a door and into a hall lined with wooden desks and iMacs.
“This is sales.”
“Oh,” Rob said. “Nice.”
“They’re miserable today,” she said, pointing a finger out the window as they walked through another door and past a moose head adorned with a tiara and mardi gras beads.
“And here’s editorial,” Jean said, sweeping her pointer finger around the room. They’d reached the end of the hall; it wasn’t that long.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rob could see someone photoshopping a woman wearing a thong. He could also hear the sound of leaves rustling as someone moaned.
Jean turned around and looked at Rob directly in the eyes.
“They’re working on a documentary about this drug that makes you want to have sex with trees.”
“Cool,” Rob said.
“I should have made you sign an NDA before I said that. Anyway, this is my desk. You can sit here." Jean pointed at a 70’s office desk plastered with rock club stickers.
“So, as we wrote on Craigslist, we’re looking for someone on a freelance basis.”
“So, as we wrote on Craigslist, we’re looking for someone on a freelance basis.”
“I know. That’s perfect for my situation.”
“Okay cool. So, before we get going, I have to say that we can’t actually pay you.”
“Well, we can offer you revenue-sharing, based on traffic. You know how that goes right?”
“Aren’t you, like, a billion dollar company?”
“Exactly. We look great on resumes.”
“Um. Okay. So how lucrative is this revenue-sharing model?”
“Well it depends. Did you see our video about the woman with the largest butt in Senegal?”
“Our cinematographer made $10,000 from that.”
“Exactly. Sky’s the limit!”
Jean opened a bottle of Club Mate and brought it to her lips.
“What about some of the meatier documentaries. Like that one about rebels in the Congo?”
“That didn’t get as many views. But Russian prostitutes did well.”
“So, our attitude is kind of like, If you’re great at what you do, you’ll be rewarded. If not...’”
“You will also have to interact with our commenters.”
“So I’m not sure how familiar you are with our editorial voice, but basically imagine as if you’re Werner Herzog but plastered. Possibly on acid.”
“What if I don’t do drugs?”
“Just use your imagination. It's not that hard.”
“Okay. Well, I’m super flattered you’ve invited me here.”
“Of course. We loved your piece on that transexual singer...what was her name again?”
“Right. What a trainwreck. ”
“Thank you so much.”
Jean’s phone buzzed. “Shut up shut up shut up.”
“Is everything okay?”
“I’m really impressed by you, Rob. I think you’ll make a great addition to the team. You’re not like all the other Berlin artist waifs we’ve been interviewing. Would you like to sign the Non-Disclosure Agreement now so I can give you details about your first assignment?”
“Okay, sure. Let’s do it.”
Jean slipped him a piece of paper filled with German.
“I’m not proficient. I probably should have told you that before.
“Of course you’re not. You’re an American in Berlin. Just sign it,” Jean said.
“Okay,” Rob said. He was starting to feel like he would do anything Jean said. If she had asked him to get naked and fuck her on the desk, he would have obliged.
“Great,” she said, after he’d finished signing the NDA. “Now I can tell you about your first assignment. It’s about gay Nazis.”
“Right. They’re out there. We want to meet them. Infiltrate their world, make friends with bouncers, and start filming inside of the bars and sex clubs where they meet.”
“You want me to film inside gay sex clubs?”
“Mark, we’ve filmed Columbia’s most notorious drug gangs. We released the infamous Vladimir Putin sex tape. This is not going to be a problem. We’ll provide you with security.”
“Okay. After this, can I pick my next assignment?”
“We’ll see what kind of tape you get,” Jean lit a cigarette. “Let me be straight with you: It’s going to be tough. Germans hate being filmed. They’re scared of Google and Mark Zuckerberg, too. Bunch of paranoid pansies, if you ask me.”
She exhaled into Rob’s face. Rob noted that her breath smelled sweet and noxious, like a dragon who’d accidentally swallowed a Menthos.
“When do I start?”
“Soon as possible.”
“Well, uh, danke. For the opportunity, I mean.”
Jean stubbed her cigarette in between a pair of porcelain breasts.
“You don’t have to pretend to be the nice American here, Rob. We’re not your commie roommates. We’re, as you said, a billion dollar company.”
“I suppose I should introduce you to the team, then.”
Jean rose abruptly and motioned for Rob to get up as well. He noticed that she was missing a middle finger on her right hand, which looked a bit like an optical illusion.
“Not nothing. You just looked like you were about to faint.”
Rob breathed in sharply.
“I know your type, Rob. You look at my finger and think about dying because you’re a hypochondriac. You’re trying to figure out how it happened: if I took drugs, if I cut it off, if I’m an extreme sports kind of person. You’re probably judging me. But you know what? Go ahead. I’m not ashamed of my nub. Because it allows me to see the truth in other people. Because when people look at it, I can see all of their insecurities.”
Jean stared into Rob’s face with the intensity of a judgmental elderly lady on an U-Bahn train.
“Are you on Facebook?”she asked.
Jean typed something on her keyboard then looked up.
“I can’t find you. Don’t tell me you’re trying so hard to be German you’ve devised some unfortunate pseudonym like ‘Barry Brandenburg.’”
“No, I should be on there. Robert Delancey.”
“Okay. Added. I’m going to send you a link to a group. Don’t join it under your name, of course, but you’re going to scope it out for us. Have you heard of a Nazi fashion brand called Thor Steiner?”
“Check it out.”
Jean twisted her computer around to show Robert a picture of a slender blond women with a ponytail stepping into a BMW. The name “Steiner” was bejeweled in Gothic font across her white tank top.
“Those are some flashy threads. She looks like a Czech Hooker.”
“They’ve rebranded. Now they’re trying to go for a more sleek and stylish look; Zara for young, urban, twenty-something Hitlerites.”
“How do you know they’re a Nazi brand?”
“Well, of course all explicit Third Reich iconography was banned in Germany after the war, so Steinar uses coded references like the number 18 and 88 for Hitler and an eagle for German pride. They’re also devised a sleeve that conveniently stiffens when the wearer raises their hand to eye level. Anyway, I have a tip from a very good friend that some in the bear community have been spotted wearing this shirt.”
Jean pointed at a blonde man wearing a shirt which read “Nordland” above a Norweigan flag. He looked suspiciously like an Abercrombie model.
“Yes, Robert, bears, as in: hairy gay men. How long have you been living here again?”
“Jesus Christ. Anyway. It’s clothing signifiers like these that’ll help you spot a supremacist. We need you to wear the Thor Steiner so that the people we want you to meet will approach you rather than the other way around.”
“Say what now?”
“Don’t worry, you won’t have to risk your life by wearing anything around Kreuzberg. Just buy the sweatshirt online and save it for the night of your assignment.”
“Isn’t there an easier way to do this? There’s gotta be like an OKCupid for Jew-haters or something.”
“No, we need the footage. We want to know everything about these men: what they eat, what they watch, where they go out. Maybe one of them has a secret affinity for Seinfeld. Accidental hypocrites are the best.”
Jean motioned for Robert to move.
“You should be thankful we’re giving you an assignment. Most of our freelancers have to pitch everything they create for us.”
Jean and Robert walked down a second hallway, this one stubbed with gum like stucco.
“This is Ira,” Jean said pointing to a man with Jesus hair.
“Sup,” Ira said. “‘Where you from?”
“Get back to work Ira. You guys can sniff each other’s butts later.”
“Wait,” Rob said. “There’s something I still don’t understand. Gays were persecuted in the Holocaust, too. Why would a gay German today identify with Nazis?”
“Why do people hate? Why are there wars? I don’t care. Do you realize how many lazy readers skip over content until they find the word Nazi? It’s basically the Daily Telegraph’s entire M.O. At least we have a unique angle.”
“I hung out with a bunch of Neo-Nazis once. Fuckin’ crazy bastards in Moscow. They almost got me banned from the country --- super long story,” Ian said.
“Ian, stop. Just...stop,” Jean said, then turned to Rob and whispered “Ian’s a compulsive liar.”
“I heard that. Don’t listen to her, Rob.” Ian leaned in close to Rob’s face. “Dude. Be careful here. I’m getting followed by a drone because of a story I wrote about Israel the other day. Could’ve spotted that little fucker in the sky from a mile away. It was either that or...a bird.”
“That’s....terrifying. Do I get a desk, Jean?”
“Freelancers don’t get desks!”
“We all exist in the cloud! We’re practically dead.”
“Truer words,” Jean replied. “Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to just leave. Like now. So bye, welcome to the team, blah blah blah, don’t fuck this up for us.” Jean walked out of the room.
“Rob, was it? Jean told me you studied Anthropology.” Ian said the word “Anthropology” in a seductive Latin American accent.
“Yeah, mainly primates.”
“Whatever, I have a sociocultural question for you. Check out my former boss’s LinkedIn profile here...eyebrows raised, squinting into the distance, dangling sunglasses from his hand like the world’s biggest douche. Looking at that face makes me want to implode my former office with explosives, Fight Club-style. Ha ha. So my question is, why do I visit his profile so often? Is it the satisfaction I get from realizing I’ll never be forced to interact with him again? Or is he still somehow haunting my subconscious?”
“I’m not sure but I am always visiting the Facebook profiles of people I vaguely pity.”
“Right? WHY DO WE DO THAT? Someone should really write a story about that.”
“I’m pretty sure someone has.”
“Maybe they have. I don’t read any American media. Just stories ABOUT America. Gives a more honest perspective, you know?”
“What do you read?”
“What? Oh, lots of things. Sorry, I’m still processing what Jean just told me to do.”
“Processing? Don’t be a lesbian Rob, ha ha. See this?” Ian suddenly adopted a grave look and pointed at his temple. “It’s meant for the doing.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story now about the doing. It involves mescaline, ketamine, Berghain and feeling like you are climbing THROUGH an LED light.”
“What is ketamine, exactly? I mean, I've heard of it but...”
“Only the ball trippingest confidence booster ever. It makes you feel positively supreme. Why don’t you know about Ketamine? Don’t tell me you came to Berlin because of a job or to ‘learn German.’”
“No, I came here on a short fellowship but my funding ran out a month ago.”
“I knew it! Oh man. I KNEW it. You’re one of those expats.”
“You’re not here for la vie boheme. You’re not even here to experience the cultural moment that is Berlin in 2013. You probably have no appreciation for this beautiful yet tragic city’s heady mix of international arts and culture.”
“That’s not true. Last night I saw a modern dance performance where a Korean girl stomped in a circle of mud for an hour and a half.”
“That’s nothing,” Ian said, sighing. “You wouldn’t believe the parties I went to here in the 90’s. Christ, you know Berlin is getting soft when academics move here to have a safe, quiet, professional life.”
“Next you’re going to tell me that Berlin is over.”
“Berlin has been over, you’re the final nail in the coffin. Anyway, what are we working on today?”
“Some story about gay Nazis.”
“Oh heil no.”
“Oh heil yes."
....TO BE CONTINUED!