It’s been a strikingly crummy year, though i trust i am being forged to some dark purpose and all this grimmery and malhappence is but a necessary fire. Probably the only good thing about this year are the people i’ve met. Some of my fellow freaks (teachers), not all a joy to meet but there it is:
1. The Cop.
A short, muscular shaven-headed Canadian a bit older than me, did beat cop work back in the snowy New World, came to Germany after making a good marriage, and now lives in a penthouse, the building owned by his wife’s family. He is intense and aggressive and shares many of Henry Oak’s mannerisms (Narc), including the disturbing cold laugh and psychotic glare.
He had been repeatedly kicked out of the JobCentre McLingua centre (purely for classes of the unemployed) for refusing to let the students speak German, gossip with each other, or come in late, drunk, stoned, etc. Slavic students tend to respect him, as they are usually highly motivated and disciplined; the others are divided, but often complain until he is taken off the schedule; he always returns, as McLingua finds it hard to retain staff and he is reliable and competent.
He is almost British in his need to constantly perform, to be always telling a joke or otherwise demonstrating his wit. There is a contained, manic energy to him which can be bright and weird in its intensity, or dark and likely to bubble over into rage (as he said once, “I’m tetchy as hell this week”).
i’m one of the few McLingua staff who enjoy his company, i think in part because i am exceedingly tolerant; and we share a broadly conservative view of things. He alienates most people through his slight weirdness (he quit policing for almost exactly the reason Marty did in True Detective, and there is an echo of violence about him) and his know-it-allness, which comes across as laboured and tiresome; i get on with him – or have so far – because i don’t care if he knows more about cars or Tuscan wine cellars or poker or whisky.
i went for Glühwein with him and some other teachers in early December; our table was crashed by a spindly tall German who was drunk and slightly belligerent; the Cop bummed a cigarette from him:
German: So now we share a cigarette we are friends, or?
Cop: Sure we’re friends. We’re friends as long as this cigarette lasts. [throws it down and treads on it]. Friendship’s over, beat it, pal.
2. Susan the American.
A 24-year-old from Minnesota or Minneapolis or one of these other ghastly nowhere places. She allegedly came to Germany to learn German, her family being of good Kraut stock. She had studied English Lit, actually liked Shakespeare, prompting one of my older matchmaking colleagues to muse, Maybe she could be something for you, Elberry! i just snorted, Too young.
Susan came from moderate wealth, her parents having arranged and paid for a flat in the poshest part of Munich. She was one of these ultra-squeaky-clean girls who only talks about the weather, food, clothes. i joked that if my mother visited again, i would pay Susan to pretend to be my girlfriend, because she is exactly the kind of girl my mother would like me to settle down with. Susan tittered nervously, probably imagining this was a come-on, when it was a fuck-off.
Susan failed to learn German, because she couldn’t stand Germans and they couldn’t stand her. Actually, no one could stand her. She would whine that she only had 20 units of work, but went on lengthy holidays to e.g. Barcelona every other month; i found her complaints hard to take seriously given her parents were paying for everything and i’ve survived on the same amount of work for the last year. On her first day in the JobCentre building, she told the students she was 30, had a boyfriend, and had been teaching for 5 years (all lies). The students told me she was unusually nervous for a teaching veteran and i put them right without realising she had lied to them. i thought it curious that someone so ostentatiously pure, bearing a huge crucifix necklace, would reflexively lie but perhaps this is the way with these saccharine Christian go-getters, that reality is too abrasive and simply frightful, and lying is always preferable to the truth.
She only stayed in Germany for about 6 months, returning without regret to Minnesomewhere. i dare say she has effortlessly acquired a job in Publishing or Marketing, her natural habitat, i feel.
One of the few real teaching veterans, who somehow existed in the same building as Susan without ever exchanging more than a dour good morning, Molloy is my age, from a small village in the west of Ireland, Galway being the big city and Gaelic a secondary but real thread in the everyday weave of things. He’s been teaching all over the world for nearly 20 years, in Munich a few years longer than me, and has a very old-fashioned schoolmastery air, despite his time-torn longshoreman’s garb. He reminds me very much of my stepfather, now in his late 60s, one of the last real working class, a man with an ingrained aversion to bullshit, management speak, offices, bureaucracy, technology, the State (and socialists wonder, irritatedly, as they quaff their champagne, that their chosen cannon fodder either don’t vote or vote Tory).
Molloy is Irishly cagey and secretive, answering almost all questions with a gruff mutter, shrug, or brusque joke. He is probably the only McLingua teacher i would absolutely trust with both information and money. His decency is of a Bartleby kind, formed from absention – from almost everything. He refuses to teach at companies because the students don’t learn anything (90 minutes once a week, with frequent cancellations), even where the JobCentre classes that comprise his workload are frequently hellish. He refuses to work weekends. He has a few private students but refuses to work at schools except McLingua, because it involves hustling and trouble; his lessons are mostly grammar.
Molloy reminds me of me, taken to an extreme in certain directions. i suspect his refusals come from years of hard experience, and he has learnt not to answer questions because people (women especially) love to give unwanted and wrong-headed “advice” to men, which rapidly escalates to nagging and hysterical rage and clawing. i’ve now adopted some Molloyery, so i didn’t tell my matchmaking colleague that Susan was clearly a bland rich kid with whom no meaningful friendship would be possible; i just said, Too young.
He forms friendships principally with Slavic women students but remains single. i even tried to push a buxom and ripe Russian girl in his direction, since she clearly lusted after his dashing Irish ways, but nothing came of it; i guess that he has had bad relationships and learnt, as have i, that after a full day of teaching the last thing you want is a woman who expects you to take her to restaurants and charm and entertain her.
Despite his total lack of charm he’s one of these people who most people like, the ideal confidant since nothing you tell him will ever be passed on, and he has a decency and warmth to which we respond in spite of his gruff Irish manner.
4. The Prima Donna
Another teaching veteran, i think the same length of service as myself, though she worked in South Korea till a couple of years ago, the Prima Donna is early 30s, an opera singer (there’s even footage of her in quite reputable productions online), Wagner fan, of truly Valkyrian aspect – about 6 foot tall and i would guess a good 1oo kilos or more of muscle and fat. Despite the bulk she is radiantly pretty, comes from a rich family, and will, i guess, make a good marriage as they say, or even control her heavy drinking and discipline herself to learn German and work on her voice. She is a curious person, one of the few i’ve met with “star” charisma, so it’s hard not to be impressed. Unfortunately, she’s also narcissistic and insists on being the centre of attention, so she will burst into the teacher room and interrupt every conversation with a bawled, God! I’m so hungry!!! and then launch into some diatribe or anecdote without caring that she immediately stills every other conversation.
She has a politician’s fluence and flexibility, which i have come to distrust (it is telling that she dislikes Molloy). Everyone instantly feels that she will be famous and rich and we will all be a very minor footnote to her life. She seems to dislike me a little, though i’ve been careful to shut up as soon as she interrupts me, and to either discreetly leave the room or just let her drown out everything i’m saying (she’s one of these people who will also interrupt quiet private conversations with a snide remark, so it’s impossible to say anything to anyone when she’s in the room). After 5 years of temping and the same teaching, i’ve learnt to shut up as soon as anyone else demands to speak, but all the same i think she senses that i am sitting there watching and listening, and forming dark judgements, and she cuts me down to size every time i say anything, and even when i say nothing she will often make some sarcastic remark about me. For example, a week ago she said we should let the students go home early (from the JobCentre building) because it was test day, they finish at 1400, and don’t need to stick around to the mandatory 1615; i said i did this once in Kassel but then the Centre Director unexpectedly showed up – whereupon the Prima Donna bawled: Oh God Elberry, not another of your Kassel stories! No one is interested, Elberry! God! Nobody CARES!!!
She’s a good example of how charisma is usually unconnected to goodness, for she is a self-seeking, mercenary go-getter and first rate apple polisher, who tends to talk about her friends & acquaintances purely in terms of their money and status; i think she despises Molloy mainly because he’s poor. Another time, when she and i were alone in the teacher room and she decided she had to cast her spell over me, she put down her iphone for a few seconds and bellowed that i should do a MBA and get a real job instead of wasting my education on teaching. And yet she has a curious magnetism, so it is hard to resist her spell when she elects to cast it – hard for lesser mortals, that is, i find it quite easy. Amusingly, Agata, a Polish student who liked Molloy (but it ended in recriminations and fury) hated the Prima Donna, and every time i mentioned her she would expostulate: Die Prima Donna ist furchtbar!
Teachers are a strange lot.