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Sword of Damocles

October 30th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

Just as everything seems to be falling into place, uncertainty is still looming over my head. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I’ll mention the stuff that’s happened since the last point where I left off.

My evening class with Lara Sen turned out to be one of my all-time dumbest moments, as I’d thought the appointment was at 7:45 and it turned out to be at 6:45, which of course I didn’t realise until 8:05, after I’d been sitting in the empty office for 20 minutes and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d gotten the time wrong. I left and got home and wrote an e-mail of apology to her, asking her if she wanted to reschedule or just wait until next week at the regular time, assuming she even wanted me to remain her English instructor. I haven’t heard back from her so that’s still up in the air, but nor did I hear anything from Planeo saying she had called and told them she wants a different instructor. So I’m just going to go back on Monday evening and hope she shows up.

I had one lesson on Tuesday morning which went okay, as I once again spent half the time talking about the U.S. election. Then yesterday I had just one 45-minute substitution at the Planeo office with an individual student in the afternoon. He was one of Alan’s students—the Canadian guy—and Alan had everything prepared for me when I got there. No one at the office said anything about Frau Sen, so that’s why I assume I’m in the clear. But Frank did give me some good news, that I might have two and possibly three more permanent lessons in Helmstedt, which could give me up to 8 hours of steady work every Thursday. The only caveat there is that the lesson Inlingua is trying to put together for me is also on Thursday so I might have to turn one of them down. If I can, I’ll turn down the Inlingua lesson because they don’t pay as much, but on the other hand they DO pay me, while Planeo still needs me to get a “Steuernummer” (tax-identification number) before they can pay me anything.

Which brings me to today. I have the whole day off, so I had to take advantage and get working on the process of obtaining my tax number. Naturally, this is no simple process. Before I can get that number I need a work permit, the same thing the Carl Duisberg school needs from me before I can even start teaching any lessons for them. So I got up relatively early, 8:45, which to me feels like sleeping in now, and headed to the good old Ordnungsamt to begin this process. Once I got the work permit from the Ordnungsamt, I thought, I could head to the Finanzamt and get the tax number. Perhaps I could have it all taken care of today. I waited on a long line for the front desk, only to be told when I got there that I still don’t have a residence permit. What’s this piece of paper you gave me then? Luckily this woman spoke English so she explained it quite clearly. That paper I’d gotten (the one I used to get internet service) was just a receipt, that I still don’t have the actual residence permit. Without that, I can’t go to the Arbeitsamt (yet another “Amt” I didn’t know about) to get the work permit, without which I can’t go to the Finanzamt to get the tax number. Well, fuck.

To make things even more fun, everyone who works in the office that handles residence permits was sick, so I couldn’t take care of that today. I could make an appointment, the earliest being November 13, or I could come back and try my luck again Monday. I said I’d come back Monday.

So that’s where things stand right now. I’m still in debt, and while I’ve got a good deal of money coming to me from Planeo, I won’t be able to get any of that money until I work my way through the entire German bureaucracy, which could take weeks. Even more promising is the e-mail I got from my parents in response to my latest request for money: Sorry, we’re not sure we can help you this time. We’ll have to talk about it.

So when you clear away all the bullshit, it appears I’m approaching a moment of truth. I may have to say to my landlady that I can’t give her the security deposit yet, and could I please give it to her once I’ve got the money. In which case it’s entirely within her rights to say no, now get out of my apartment. Then it’s back on a plane to the U.S. for me, just as I was finally starting to get it together. Fun fun fun.

The last fall-back I have is to beg my grandfather for the security deposit money, but he doesn’t like the fact that I’m paying so much rent in the first place when I could try to get a room-mate. Still, if I make it clear that I either get some money from him or I give up and come home, I doubt he’d refuse. But I just really really really don’t want to have to ask him.

So the whole thing fucking sucks but if I can make it through these next few weeks, I should be in the clear. If I add up all the money I’ll be making from the permanent lessons I’ll have between Inlingua and Planeo, it does cover the monthly rent with 100 to 200 euros on top of that. Considering the fact that I’ll no doubt get more permanent lessons as time goes on, it’s clear that as long as I don’t lose my apartment I’ll be able to pull this off. I can see the finish line, but there’s a giant gap I have to leap over before I can reach it, and there’s a chance I may fall in.

What prevents me from being completely overwhelmed by anxiety is that if I do fall it will be a soft landing, right back in New Jersey to begin again at square one, but at least with some real teaching experience under my belt. A few more months of pizza-delivery and I’ll be ready to start again. As much as it would suck to fail when I’ve already come this far, it wouldn’t really be that bad if I do.

Lingering Uncertainty

October 27th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

Another pleasant yet uneventful weekend. On Sunday I finally got back to the Eilenriede, this time using public transportation instead of going on the half-hour walk. It was overcast and about half of the golden leaves had already fallen from the trees, so the atmosphere in the forest was a lot different than last time, but undeniably pleasant. I wish I’d made it there more often this season. At least I’ll be here long enough to go back many times.

I hope. Later, in the evening, my landlady paid me a visit to talk about next month. The last time she’d come by I wasn’t here, and she’d gone through the place which apparently wasn’t as clean as she’d liked. While she was here she had cleaned the sink and toilet, so now she lectured me on why and how to do that. As for next month, she wants the rent at the beginning of the month, which wouldn’t be a problem, but now she also wants the 1000-Euro security deposit. So that is a problem. I just asked my parents for a ton of money and the only way I can get that kind of dough by next week is to ask them for more. Already. It fucking sucks.

Anyway, today I have three lessons, two of which I’ve already done. I had an intermediate-level class this morning which didn’t show up last week but three came today. We spent most of the time chatting, about the election and other things, which is just how I like it so that went fine. My next lesson was a beginner group though, so I had to spend the time doing more boring things like practicing introductions, letters and numbers and that sort of stuff. It was a group of four guys, which of course was rather intimidating at first but things loosened up as the time went by, jokes were cracked at one another’s expense, and in the end the whole thing went pretty well.

Tonight I have my second lesson with the cute lawyer, Lara Sen. It’s in the evening, which sucks, and it’s for 2 hours and 15 minutes which sucks, but she’s super-advanced in her English and she’s intelligent and cute, so that makes up for it. It helps to think of it as a “date” rather than a lesson. She’s my once-a-week, professional-level only girlfriend Lara. When I think about it like that, I’m looking forward to seeing her.

Tomorrow and Wednesday I have only one lesson each, then it’s back to Helmstedt on Friday. I might go out drinking tomorrow night, but other than that, it’s a clear schedule. And while on the one hand I’m glad because those last two weeks were fucking exhausting, on the other hand I can’t really enjoy it so much because I’m in a hole of debt and sinking deeper. Of course the worst that could happen is I have to leave Germany and go somewhere else, so even the worst-case-scenario isn’t that terrible. But I’m doing everything I should be doing, so I’ll just have to see whether that’s enough.

T.G.I.F.

October 24th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

I can’t remember the last time I was ever so glad it was Friday. Probably high school was the last time that the weekend actually meant 2 days off. But for the first time since then I’ve worked all five days of the week, and I’ve now got two days of rest and relaxation. Like I’m some sort of adult or something.

So here’s what happened since I left off. Wednesday morning I did indeed have to wake up at the god-awful hour of 5:30 and I had my lesson from 7:15 to 8:45 as planned. Emotions again. It was a group of two women so I thought it would go over well, but it was just received warmly at best. Perhaps because I just haven’t been putting as much into it as I did at first. It’s like a comedian who’s done the same routine too many times. But it’s a sure-fire way to kill an hour and a half, so I’ll keep using it.

I got home after that lesson at 9:30 and slept until my Dünsing lesson at 12:30, which again bears no comment. Following that I had a nice long afternoon off, as my 4:00 appointment, Ms. Weiß, the very first student of mine, cancelled for the fifth or sixth time (she’s cancelled now more times than she’s shown up) but because it was a same-day cancellation apparently I’m still getting paid. That was excellent news. Plenty of quality blogging time that afternoon.

In the evening I met again with Herr Erpenstein at the pub and talked with him about his upcoming vacation in the States in June. I hope he mentioned my name when he made reservations at the Doubletree, which he said he’d do the next day. At first I was uncomfortable with the fact that I was sending business their way, but when I thought about it I realised that if word gets to them that I recommended their place from Germany, they’ll know I’m doing a lot better now than I was working for their sorry-ass hotel. So I sent them some business…so what? I’ll think of it as a “thanks for firing me” present.

Anyway, I also recommended some other things to see while he was there and he was really grateful, saying how lucky he was that I was the one to fill in for Amanda. He was drinking a beer during the “lesson” and he offered to buy me one. I hadn’t been planning to drink until Friday but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drink while technically working. Apparently Amanda, the normal trainer, drinks when she meets him at the pub, even if he isn’t. So that was two firsts in one—drinking while working, and drinking at a pub since I’ve been back in Germany. When the “lesson” was over he said to e-mail him sometime if I ever wanted to grab a drink with him. Maybe it was the 3 beers he’d had talking but he made a point of insisting the offer was sincere. So I’ll probably take him up on it, if only for the novelty of my 24-year-old, not-making-any-money ass drinking with a 40-something, well-paid German lawyer for the energy industry.

Thursday was another somewhat long day. My first class was the class I’d gone to with Amanda two weeks prior, and one of my favourite groups. Although there were only two there last week, there were four this week. All women, so that makes it that much better. And since I’d done Emotions last week, for the first time I broke out my new material: Personality Traits. That basically consisted of having them call out all the personality traits they knew, writing them on the board (in either the positive or negative column) and then handing out a printout from the web describing the different personality traits for different signs of the zodiac. This was actually a lesson I’d already half-way planned for my internet TEFL course, so I had a hand-out ready to go from all those months ago, asking them to put the proper personality trait with the proper Zodiac sign. Just as I’d hoped, all of this took more time than we actually had, so I considered that lesson a success.

What followed was my last lesson with Ms. Dünsing, which went okay. When we were done I offered my services in case she still wants practice to e-mail me anything she writes and I’ll correct it and send it back free of charge. I doubt she will, which is good because fuck that anyway. And fuck her. What a huge let-down. A cute nearly-18-year-old German girl who speaks good English was like my number-one fantasy but man, did she turn out to be dull. Good riddance.

After that it was back to Lehrte for two other classes that I also had last week, meaning two more run-throughs of my Personality Traits routine, which after 3 tries is now refined to the point of perfection. It’s interesting how organic these lesson-plans are. The first time you just do a tiny bit of preparation and then basically wing-it. Then you see what works and doesn’t work and it gets a little better the next time. And by the third time it’s reached a form where you know exactly what you’re doing and you do it well. Each lesson had one person who had been there the previous week, and another who hadn’t been. The first lesson was with the emotionless guys, only substituting one emotionless guy for another, somehow more emotionless guy. A class of two people who don’t like to talk isn’t all that great, but I got through it. And the second class had Jürgen, the nice over-emotional guy who had given me a ride to the train station last week, but not Ellen the woman who’d found my lesson “fascinating” but instead a guy who didn’t like to contribute. Jürgen dominated the whole lesson, but by that time I was really good at it so it went very well. The other guy gave me a ride to the train station this time, and the ride would have been in complete silence if I hadn’t been able to find 25 seconds worth of conversation to fill the void.

Last night I had another night-of-a-thousand-blogs, and then I got a good 9 hours of sleep before getting up at 8:15 this morning to catch my 9:30 train to my 11:00 lesson in Helmstedt. The 9:00 group had cancelled so at least I didn’t have to take the 7:30 train, but the 11:00 is the complete beginner group, the one I’d somehow spent two hours the previous week going through the room with questions of “what is this?” and whatnot. I should have done this the previous day, but while I ate breakfast I went on-line and found a web-site about the proper method of introducing the basics of the English language to complete beginners, and wrote it all down. Twenty-minutes of looking at this web-site gave me enough material for the 2 hour, 15 minute lesson.

Just like last week, Siegfried and Sabine were there, but this time the third member of the group, Jörg, also showed up. Having three of them there was a huge benefit because I could at least make them ask each other questions like “What is your name?” and “Is there a clock in the room?” but 2 hours of that shit was still a bit much. Yet I got through it and I dare say I did rather fucking well. Sabine, unfortunately, is a terribly slow learner so the whole course has to slow down for her sake, but I think a few things got through to her, like you say “Is there…?” when you’re asking a question and “There is…” when you’re answering it.

After returning to Hannover I had a meeting to go to at the Planeo office with two other teachers, Natalja who has taught the Helmstedt groups for the past two years, and Robert who is taking over all of the lessons that I’m not. The meeting was mostly for Robert’s sake because he has far more groups than me (and the lucky bastard has all the advanced groups with whom he can actually have meaningful discussions) and needed to move some things around, but I was able to talk to Natalja (an Estonian native who lived in the U.S. for 13 years so she speaks with a perfect American accent) about what I should be doing with the complete beginners (apparently exactly what I’ve been doing) and what to expect from the group that’s cancelled the past two weeks, which is apparently an all-female group of secretaries who like to spend most of the time chatting, so that should be a lot easier on me.

When we were just about ready to leave, I also met another English trainer, a Canadian guy named Alan, and while the three of us (me, Alan, and Natalja) were “chatting” I mentioned how I’m trying to build a social life so maybe we could do something some time? To make a short story even shorter, we’ve made tentative plans to go out this Tuesday night to an Irish pub for “Quiz Night”, which should be fun. In Frankfurt I went to Quiz Night at O’Dwyer’s (the first non-Caribbean bar I ever drank at) a few times and that was always fun. I learned that Alan had the same idea as me—to teach English abroad in order to see and experience as much of the world as he can during his time in it—and so far he’s been to Japan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and a couple other places I forget. I’m looking forward to talking to him.

And that brings me up to the present moment. I won’t be doing any socialising tonight. I’ve been waiting too long for another night of drinking alone, so I’ll put off calling the Australian guy Kym from Inlingua until tomorrow. But it looks like the chances are good that after about two and a half months here, my social life should “officially” begin this week. I still can’t technically afford to go out drinking several nights a week, but my attitude at this point is “whatever”. Since the rent fiasco last week I’ve been living on plastic money, so I might as well push it, true American style.

And speaking of America, it’s time for my daily blog-fix.

Staying Busy

October 21st, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

As much as I am loathe to use some of my precious free time to write in this journal, it’s better I do it now than wait another two days before I have much more to write about. The weekend was pleasantly uneventful. I stayed inside and read a lot of blogs most of the time, took a walk on Sunday, and that was about it.

Yesterday was the day from hell, not because it was bad in any way but because it was so fucking long. I had a class from 7:45 to 9:15 (to which nobody showed up but I had to use the extra time to take care of business anyway), 10:30 to 12:00, 12:30 to 2:00, 3:00 to 4:30, 4:30 to 6:00, and 7:00 to 9:15. Today was slightly better, with a class from 8:00 to 9:30, 9:30 to 11:00, 12:30 to 2:00, and 4:00 to 5:30. I’m tired as a motherfucker and tomorrow I have a class at 7:15, another at 12:30 to 2:00, then 4:00 to 5:30, and finally 7:30 to 9:00. Thursday won’t be much better, and Friday I have to catch a 7:30 train for my classes in Helmstedt. Then I can finally take another breather.

So as for the classes. Monday 10:30 to 12:00 was supposed to be an actual business class but only one woman was there so it became a private lesson, which is not really conducive to my Emotions lesson which I’ve done so many times now that I can get by without notes. It was with an older lady from East Berlin, and her English wasn’t very good at all but we had a conversation about the election, and I asked her about how life in East Berlin changed since the reunification. That was pretty interesting because she had a lot of positive things to say about the Socialist rule in Russia. For instance, under Russian rule kids went to school for free and they could remain after school until the parents came to pick them up, and there was no unemployment. Once capitalism came back, the kids were forced home after school, apparently a huge inconvenience for this woman, and now there’s a high unemployment rate. All this was very interesting to hear, as I’d always pictured life in East Berlin under Communism to be a nasty and brutish existence. I suppose I should have known better.

12:30 to 2:00 was with Ms. Dünsing, and again too boring to say anything about. My 3:00 to 4:30 didn’t show up but I still had to stay there the whole time because I had a 4:30 to 6:00 at the same business, which is in another town. That class consisted of two younger people, a guy and a girl. My Emotions lesson wasn’t received as well with them as it has been with some of the other groups, but it went okay. The girl had to take the same train back to Hannover as me and so I had an awkward-pause filled conversation the whole time with her. Her English was very good at least, but the whole thing just reinforced my hopelessness at the idea of finding friends around here. I suck at small talk but nobody is interested in deep conversation. If I can’t carry on at least a mildly interesting small-talk conversation for 20 minutes, what hope do I have?

I was, again, deliriously tired by the time I got to my 7:00, which was at the (now closed) Planeo office with the lawyer, Frau Sen. I had used the extra time after my first lesson no-show to grab a key to the office, so we were the only ones there in the empty and extremely quiet office the whole 2 hours.

Yet it turned out to be the most pleasant lesson of the day. Frank [the boss], when he told me she was attractive, apparently hadn’t been lying, but I had been expecting someone of a more traditionally beautiful variety, the kind of woman I wouldn’t really find all that appealing. Tall, blonde German lady. Not my cup of tea. But Frau Sen was average height, dark brown hair, with a very unique face. I’d say she was closer to “cute” than beautiful. Of course one of the first things she mentioned was how she lives with her boyfriend, but whatever. At least I get to look at her face and listen to her lovely voice for over 2 hours a week. That’s almost as good as dating her.

Her English was fantastic which makes things a hell of a lot easier for me, and because she’s a lawyer for E.ON our topic always had to do with the Energy Industry, Nuclear power in particular. The unit in the textbook, “English for the Energy Industry” that she had reached with her old tutor was about climate change, so beforehand I had searched for and printed a couple of articles related to global warming and the rape of the natural world by corporations that I found interesting. We had some very good conversation actually, which off-set the struggling small-talk I’d just had with the girl from my previous lesson. I was surprised that Frau Sen’s sentiments were so close to mine, considering what she does for a living. But despite her job as a lawyer for an energy company, a company that contributes to global warming and fights legal battles against the environmentalists, she is concerned about the harm it’s doing to the planet and things like that. Not just her, but quite a few E.ON employees have surprised me with their “pro-Green” opinions. Anyway, the 2 hour and 15 minute class went by rather smoothly, then I came home, ate dinner and went to bed in a very short amount of time.

This morning I had my first repeat-lesson. The 8:00 group was the same as I had last week but only one of the same people. It was her and one other woman who hadn’t been there last time. They speak English very well, and last week I’d spoken a lot about the election before giving my Emotions lesson. I had a new lesson planned, this time about Character Traits, but we spent the whole time talking politics. I had planned to start by talking about the election anyway because reading all these blogs makes me very opinionated and these classes are my only outlet for speaking my opinion (which everyone here seems to agree with) but the woman from last week actually asked me about it to begin. I schooled them on the Culture War and talked about how it looks like finally the Progressives might be winning which actually makes me hopeful.

They also talked about their political system and I learned a lot more about how it’s done here in Germany. A big part of the conversation also had to do with nuclear power, which apparently is politically dead in Germany. It’s the only European nation that has not only banned nuclear power, but in which both major parties and most of the minor parties have said they will completely phase out by 2020 or something. Seems kind of stupid to me. Say what you will about nuclear energy but it is much cleaner than coal or oil, and way more efficient than renewables. If (and this is a huge if) you want to keep the beast of civilisation running, I think nuclear is the only practical way to go. I mean, I’d rather see it all crumble to the ground (I wasn’t going to go into that however) but hey, if you’re going to keep raping the planet, I’d say go nuclear. But for some reason most of Germany opposes it so the political parties pander to the mob by putting practicality aside and taking a hard stance against it. For instance, they’ve actually voted to stop looking for a place to store the waste. All that this accomplishes is to let them continue to say, “Nuclear would be okay but we have no place to store the waste.”

It was a great discussion, and it was winding down just about the time the hour and a half was over, then for my next class once again only one person showed up, an older lady whose job it is to calculate the cost of transporting and storing the nuclear waste, so she knew a lot about that particular issue. I worked with her from the textbook and in so doing got to know even more about the industry and how the people who work in it think. They are all pro-nuclear of course but they all seem to care about the environment. This particular woman was proud to have just bought a new energy-efficient refrigerator, and she’s even building a new house with the most energy-efficient specifications possible.

That little lesson went well, and then I got to come home for about a half-hour before my boring Dünsing lesson.

After that, it was home for another hour of blog-reading before going off to my 4:00 at Siemens. Even after talking to the people there I’m not sure exactly what they do. But their brand is everywhere I look. I think they’re a telecommunications company, but for all I know that’s just a small part of it. Anyway, this class began with just two older guys, and I was worried about doing my Emotions lesson because it hasn’t seemed to go very well with only-male groups. But they said a woman was coming but she’d just be a little late. I decided to go ahead with it, but when the woman came she didn’t turn out to be a German lady (who tend to like talking about emotions) but a Ukranian woman. A very sexy Ukranian woman, but nevertheless she wasn’t all that interested in emotions. I went through the lesson anyway and again it didn’t go as well as it had before, but it took up the whole hour-and-a-half so that’s all that mattered.

After that I came home, had some dinner, started reading more blogs and then decided I’d better write in the journal first. And now I have, so I’m going back to the blogs (I might seriously need therapy I’m so fucking addicted to this election) and I’ll try to go to sleep before 10:00 so I can wake up refreshed at 5:30 tomorrow morning (as if such a thing were possible). But I won’t mind the early bed-time. I’m actually quite looking forward to sleep. The most pleasant 7 hours of the last 48 were those I spent sleeping. The only reason I’m not going to sleep right now is because I’ve got a lot of blogs to read and YouTube clips to watch. I wish this election would never end.

The New Job

October 17th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

What a week. There’s so much to write about and I’m so not-in-the-mood to write that I’ll start out by attempting to be extremely brief about everything and then see how long it takes before I start going into excessive detail.

Wednesday was boring. My only Planeo class for the day, 7:30 in the morning group, was cancelled (thank God) so I only had Inlingua lessons, one of which was cancelled. I used the extra time to go to the post office (the correct post office, not the place I had idiotically gone on Monday which turned out to just be the warehouse) and see if maybe they had my fucking router. I thought I’d save some time by taking the U-Bahn (a.k.a. subway) a.k.a. Strassenbahn (a.k.a. tram) (it’s all the same thing in this city) and of course I had no idea what I was doing so I got off at a stop that was actually even farther from the post office than I started from (which I figured out only afterwards of course) and I walked forever and ever until I finally got there without a doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t actually be there. Extreme pessimism, as it turned out, totally paid off, because they had it, and the next thing I knew I was back home installing my high speed internet router!!!!! I surfed the internet, watched a bunch of election-related YouTube clips…it was like Christmas fucking morning.

Then came yesterday. The longest fucking day ever. My first class, the 8:30, was cancelled, so at least I didn’t have to start until 10:15. Not that my body gave a damn, as I woke up again at 6:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. But I’m used to being deliriously tired by now so I don’t really give a fuck. There were only two students in my first lesson, and neither of them spoke English really well, but it was enough. They were both women, and my Emotions lesson went over quite well with them, just as it had with my groups on Tuesday. One of the students was an older woman in her 50s but she scored some big points with me. When I got to “Rage” she called out “like Rage Against the Machine!” and when we were discussing “Ecstasy” she gave as an example how she felt ‘ecstatic’ at her last AC/DC concert. I said that was a great example, and mentioned how the most ‘ecstatic’ moment of my life was seeing Pink Floyd in London. She gasped, then sank back in her chair. “I’m so Envious!” she said. She said she had seen Pink Floyd a really long time ago and just thinking about that concert still makes her feel emotional. I said I was ‘envious’ that she got to see them back then.

I had to leave that lesson early just to be able to get to Inlingua in time for my excruciatingly dull lesson with Ms. Dünsing, and I had to leave that lesson early to catch the train to Lehrte for my next two lessons.

The first lesson in Lehrte also had only two students, one young man and one older guy. This was my toughest crowd of the week. These guys seemed to be the most typical of the typical German, so my Emotions lesson wasn’t as big of a hit as it had been up until this point (they could never think of examples of feeling any emotion…it was like they didn’t have emotions at all, which I guess is quite possible). But I managed to make it work, and I threw in a long interlude in which I once again explained the political environment of the United States and why John McCain is the biggest asshole to ever run for president (which I now completely believe—he’s way worse than Bush, Nixon, even Teddy Roosevelt) which they were interested in hearing but apparently not enough to ask any questions. They liked when it was just me talking.

But the next group was maybe my favourite of the week. Again it was just two people, a woman named Ellen (or whatever the German version is) and a very effeminate man (he had a wife and children though) named Jürgen. Jürgen came in first and as soon as he knew I was American started asking me questions about American expressions that he’d heard from English pod-casts that apparently he listens to in the car. One of his first questions was what does “Grief” mean, which just happened to be one of the words on my list of Emotions. At any rate, the Emotions lesson was a huge hit with these two. Ellen kept muttering in German about how interesting it was, and they said they had never spent so much time really thinking about the different meanings behind the words they use even in German to talk about their feelings. At the end of the lesson she said that she felt like now she would me more in touch with her emotions, and was just glowing with appreciation. Jürgen also found it completely fascinating and was glad to hear that I’d be back next week as well. He even gave me a ride back to the train station (sparing me a 15-minute walk through nasty windy weather) which was the first time I’ve rode in a car since I’ve been back in Germany.

It’s a small train station so I had to wait awhile for the next train to come (I’d missed the last one by five minutes) and by the time I got back to Hannover it was 18:30, only an hour before my last lesson of the day, my first private lesson for Planeo with one of E.ON’s higher-up employees, a Herr Erpenstein. Not having enough time to go home and eat dinner, I ate out and then made my way to the pub where this guy wanted me to meet him. I think it’s against the rules to meet students outside a classroom environment but it’s not like I give a shit.

So I had another first as I went into a pub for the first time since I’ve been back in Germany, and holding my Planeo folder in my hand I walked inside and looked around the crowded restaurant until a guy at a table in the middle waved me over. I didn’t really have anything planned for this—I brought some TIME magazines and figured I could go through some articles and talk about politics some more—but Herr Erpenstein was only interested in working on his conversation skills. His English was the best of any student I’ve had, so conversation was easy. He was happy to learn I was from the U.S. because he’s planning a vacation there in the Spring, for a week in Yellowstone in an R.V. and then somewhere in California but he hadn’t decided where yet. I found myself recommending Santa Barbara, even the goddamn Doubletree hotel…I mean, it was just the easiest thing to do: talk about what you know. Most of our conversation dealt with how he should spend his vacation. We’re meeting again on Tuesday and I promised to bring some maps and information from the internet. He’s really going to take my recommendations and plan his vacation around them. The idea that I might actually be sending business to the Doubletree is just a little fucking weird to me and I don’t know how to feel about it.

“Hello, I heard about this place from someone who used to work here. I believe his name was Kyle…?”

“Are you serious? That’s the guy who got fired for telling a guest to fuck off! That guy’s a legend around here! Every new front desk agent hears that story. He actually recommended this place?”

Somehow we managed to have a conversation that lasted an hour and a half, although I did most of the talking. And that was no easy task in a crowded pub, especially after talking all day through 4 other hour-and-a-half lessons. By the time it was finally over, my throat hurt like hell, and it still hurts right now. I think I did more speaking out-loud yesterday than I’ve done in a typical week since I’ve been here. No…I definitely did. I guess I never thought about how much a teacher actually has to talk.

I had left my apartment at 9:20 in the morning. I got back about 9:10 at night. It was the longest I’ve been away from my apartment since the trip to Berlin on my first weekend here. I was tired as hell but I stayed up for a long-ass time because I finally had some fucking time to myself. And what did I do with this time?

I used my new DSL router to go on-line and watch the final debate. I’m completely addicted to this election, by the way. I can’t go a day without my blog-fix it’s just so damned entertaining. When it’s over I know I’m going to go through withdrawal, especially if McCain loses, which it seems as though is really going to happen (I’m very much astonished by the turn this whole things has taken, but I think it could easily turn back, or simply be stolen through Diebold and other devious plots).

But that was the most entertaining presidential debate I’ve ever seen. McCain looked like he was about to shit or explode the whole time. He was tripping over his words, trying to squeeze as many republican buzz-words into every answer as possible, and levelling the most ridiculous, easily-countered attacks against Obama including the absurd Bill Ayers and ACORN accusations, not to mention grumbling over and over again about pork-barrel spending in Congress. He had his ass completely handed to him and he knew it. Naturally, all the pundits on CNN said he did a great job and now the race might be tightened. I read the Huffington Post blogs about it until my eyes could handle no more, then went to sleep.

Today I had to get up again and take an hour-long train-ride to the town of Helmstedt, a really small town but one of the many places where E.ON has buildings and employees that need to learn English. This was a 2-hour lesson as opposed to the normal hour and a half, but judging by how well my Emotions lesson had been doing I didn’t think I’d have a problem stretching it out at all, as I’ve barely gotten more than half-way through it except for the one lesson with the two emotionless men.

But as it turned out, this was a course for beginners, which I realised once they were both there—an older man named Siegfried and middle-aged woman named Sabine—and having a seriously difficult time introducing themselves. I looked at the attendance sheet and yeah, there was the level right there on the sheet: A0-A1. The lowest of the low.

So much for the subtle intricacies of emotionally descriptive language. I spent most of the time marching around the room and pointing at different objects asking “What is this?” “That’s a table!” “That’s a chair!” “What is this?” “I don’t know.” “It’s a window.” And so on. I also did some verbs. “What does a writer do?” No idea. “A writer writes.” “What does a worker do?” “A worker works.” “What am I doing?” “You are writing.” “What are you doing?” “I am working.” “What am I doing?” “You holding a pen.” “No, you are holding a pen.” “What is Siegfried doing?” No idea. “He is holding a pen.” And on and on like that for two hours. Siegfried is a smart guy though, so he always caught on pretty quickly. As for Sabine, she was clueless. She could never remember the “I am” “You are” “He is” stuff, and Siegfried kept whispering the answers to her. It was easy to see that he’s the A1 and she’s the A0. But honestly I think he might be a B1 because he did pretty well from the beginning. It doesn’t seem right to be teaching them at the same level.

Anyway, this is actually a permanent group of mine, not a substitution. So I’ll be back there next week to continue that teeth-pulling exercise. Don’t get me wrong—It was kind of fun. But it’s the most difficult kind of language teaching you can do and I can see it getting old really fast.

When that was finally over I rode the train back to Hannover and stopped in the Inlingua office to fill out the forms I need to get paid for the first half of the month. (I’ve earned a whopping 252 Euros so far). Frau Giesecke said that the woman in charge was “satisfied” with me (apparently my students have given me good reviews) and they would be offering me a group of business learners once they got one together. About fucking time.

Then, as fate would have it, while I was there a fellow English teacher showed up, an Australian guy about my age, and he was asking Frau Giesecke about whatever (his German is way better than mine) and I figured hey this is kind of the opportunity I’ve been waiting for so I just came right out and told him I have no social life and would it be okay to exchange phone numbers? He said yeah, we could definitely have a beer some time. Just give him a call—not this weekend because he’s going to his girlfriend’s hometown to visit her family—but definitely.

So after two months without any social life I’ve finally reached out and made one tentative connection, with this guy Kym from Australia (an assumption I’m making based on his Australian accent). He seemed like a cool guy. Good sense of humour. At any rate, I’ve never known an Australian I didn’t like and without knowing anything about him he seemed like exactly the kind of person I’d feel comfortable grabbing a beer with. So we’ll see where that goes.

After all that, I had no food so I had to go shopping (which requires a trip to two supermarkets in order to get everything I need) and then I came back here, took care of some business by E-Mail (sent Ms. Dünsing a homework assignment and tentatively agreed to take over a couple more substitutions for Planeo the week after next) and then decided I wouldn’t be able to really rest until I’d documented it all in this journal. And now I have. And now I’m finally done for the day, and pretty much done for the week except for a piece-of-cake lesson late tomorrow morning with Mr. Dörge.

It feels like things are coming together. But the cost of living is high, and I won’t be nearly as busy as I’ve been this week once the teacher I’m subbing for gets back next week, so I don’t want to be too optimistic just yet. But right now I’m not even going to think about the future. Tonight is a night for drinking and amusing myself with the internet. But at least for the first time in a long time I’ll be feeling like I’ve actually earned the recreation I’ll be having.

Impending Doom

October 14th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

What a day. It began with the ringing of my alarm at the ungodly time of 6:40 a.m. then a trip to one of the many E.ON buildings for my very first actual business lesson. Of course nobody was there when I got there, and I figured it was going to be another no-show and I’d have to wait an hour and a half until the next lesson which would also most likely be a no-show, but the students came just a little late.

I feel weird calling them “students” because they’re experienced business-people who make more money than I ever will, but I can’t think of another word for them. I had been a little nervous but it turns out I was actually over-prepared for this. I’d planned a whole lesson around distinguishing different terms for emotions, as well as a bunch of language games should we get through that part too quickly. As it turned out, the first class was quite interested in talking about American politics, as well as contrasting it with the German political system. Naturally, I enjoyed that conversation. We got about half-way through my emotion lesson plan and then it was time to leave.

I spent a lot of time with the next group just learning about the Nuclear Power Industry (which is apparently what E.ON does, though a nuclear power-plant hasn’t been built in Germany since the 80s and may never be built again so they’re now working on a contract in Finland) and during my emotions lesson the class was absolutely fascinated when I told them that Anger is probably the most prevalent emotion in the United States. They were under the impression that we were all a bunch of optimists, never focussing on the negative and always saying how great everything was. I explained to them that this is only a façade—when you’re not happy with someone you have to “sugar-coat” it, like saying “this was great but you could have done this and this” instead of the German method of just telling you exactly what you did wrong—and that underneath the fake-friendliness of business culture everyone is really angry and stressed out all the time. We spent the rest of the time talking about that—this was a revelation to them—and we didn’t even get a third of the way through the whole lesson. When it was over, they actually told me what a great lesson it was.

So that was easily the best part of the day. It’s a strange kind of high to feel like the spokesperson for an entire country—the sole ambassador of the United States to the E.ON company in Hannover. If this is what most of these lessons are like, all I can say is fuck yeah. I barely taught any English at all. Most of the time was just spent engaged in conversation, in which people were hanging on my every word.

I had an hour between that and my lesson with Ms. Dünsing (that’s the proper spelling) so in it I took my first trip to the bank. I withdrew 550 Euros out of my German account, leaving a healthy 150 in there for all the automatic withdrawals that get taken from it from it periodically. Then, having transferred 1400 dollars from my line of credit at PNC to my checking account that morning, I attempted to withdraw the remaining 1000 Euros all at once. No? Can’t do that? How about 500? No? 200? Ok, thank you. Great! 750 down, 800 to go. Can you give me 200 more? No? How about now? Fine, I’ll try again later.

My lesson with Ms. Dünsing was boring. She may be cute, but she’s just boring. She said yesterday she was interested in learning about foreign cultures, so I went on-line and put together (quite painstakingly I might add) a bunch of information on Indian culture that would work for an English learner. After doing our daily grammar we went through it and I tried to start up a conversation about some of the more interesting things in it but she just didn’t have much to say about anything. I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to fall in love with her. I’d love to kiss her…maybe even to make sweet love down by the fire…but not go out with her or anything. She kind of makes me uncomfortable.

Anyway, after that I had some more time before my next lesson, this time at a company called Siemens (not sure if it’s the same Siemens that we know in America) so first I went back to the bank. Can I have 200 more euros now? No. Okay. Maybe you just need some more time to think about it.

I went into the Planeo office to take care of some bullshit that need not be explained, and while on-line to open documents that needed printing I saw that my dad had responded to my money request saying they’d put 1500 dollars in my account today. Great. Back to the Hauptbahnhof, with a brief stop at the bank. 200 euros? No? Fuck you…you’re starting to piss me off. I went back to my apartment and in the ten minutes I had to spare, e-mailed my dad to ask him if he could call PNC and find out what the fuck is going on.

But there was nothing more I could do about it because now I had to take a 45-minute trip down to the Siemens building. The room number wasn’t on the sheet of paper where it normally is, so I had to ask the receptionist-guy where my lesson would be. He didn’t know. Was there a contact person he could call and ask? I don’t know. Let me call Planeo. Yes, his name his Ulrich Kass. The receptionist calls Herr Kass. Herr Kass isn’t here. Try Herr Other-German-Name-Guy. Yes, Herr Other-German-Name-Guy is here and he will come out to greet me. While waiting I had a pleasant chat with Herr Receptionist-Guy, who spoke about 10 words of English but used them very well. Apparently he went to Maine 10 years ago.

Oh look, here’s Herr Other-German-Name-Guy. What’s that you say? Nobody has time for an English lesson today? Okay, no problem. I’ll just go home. Bye, Herr Receptionist-Guy. It was nice taking 2 hours out of my day to come talk to you.

45 minutes later I got back to my apartment and found another e-mail from my dad, saying PNC couldn’t legally give him any information on my bank account, but here are a couple of phone numbers I could try if I could get to a public phone, or he could call me and conference me in with PNC.

Might as well try the numbers he gave me first. The clock is ticking after all. It’s 15:30 and the landlady is coming at 17:00. So I go out to my favourite call-shop run by friendly Turkish people and try the first number. No good. The second number? Nope. Maybe a different phone will work? No. Not on the other number either.

Whatever. Back to my apartment. It’s 15:45. I e-mail my dad to ask him for the conference-call option. I spend the next twenty minutes planning my lesson with Ms. Dünsing for tomorrow as I wait for the call but nothing. Check my e-mail again at 16:05. Oh, my dad doesn’t have my phone number handy so could I e-mail it to him? Okay, here it is.

16:15, the call finally comes. We’re really down to the wire here. We get ahold of a friendly PNC operator (my how wonderful it feels to be able to explain something in English for once!) and I tell her without any struggle whatsoever exactly what the problem is and what I need. Well, the problem is you’re only allowed to withdraw a maximum of 500 dollars in one day, silly. Well, that would explain it. Um…is there any way I could withdraw a little more than that just this one time?

Maybe, but I’ll need to hold for awhile so she can find out. While on hold and listening to elevator music, I talked a little to my dad. Found out how the economic crisis is actually affecting my family. Turns out his plan to retire in 7 years has been altered to a plan to retire in 10 or possibly more years. Not that bad, really. Of course, if I was him I’d be piiiiiiiiissed…even 3 extra years of having to work because of this bullshit…I mean that’s 3 years of your actual life that you’ll never get back. Because a bunch of corporate assholes were greedy. Fuck that.

Oh, we’re back, and what’s that? I need to know the exact date and amount of my last deposit before you can raise the limit. Well, I’m looking at my bank-statement on-line and I don’t see that info here. I know my mom deposited 200 dollars some time in September but maybe I could call you back when I get that information? Sure.

16:30. I click on something and what do you know…there’s the information right there. Well, let’s call back. Another friendly operator. Another effortless explanation of my situation, and yes I do know the exact date and amount of the last deposit: September 18 in the amount of 200 dollars. What’s that you say? Balance transfers included? So you mean I could have just said 1400 dollars from my credit line this morning? Okay, figures. So how much money can I take? You can raise it to 1,000 you say, which including what I’ve already withdrawn would let me take about an extra 530 euros out. Well, that’s something. But you can talk to a supervisor and see if you can raise it higher? Okay, I’ll hold again.

It’s 16:43 when she comes back. No, it can’t be raised any higher than 1,000. That’s fine. At least I’ll be able to give my landlady more than half of what I owe. But now I’ve got to go. It’ll take at least 18 minutes to get to the bank and back and I’ve got 13.

I write a little note for the landlady saying I might be about five minutes late, tape it on the door, then head down the stair-well when who should I run into but my landlady! Early! Hooray!

So, I invite her in and hand her the envelope with the 800 Euros, then somehow use my German to explain that my bank wouldn’t let me take out the whole amount in one day but I had just called them and I could get another 500 Euros today and the rest tomorrow. Okay, let’s go to the bank together.

A walk down the street with my landlady. A feeling of impending doom in the crisp evening air. Explaining again why the bank won’t let me take as much as I need in one day. Talking about my work and how I’ve been hired at a few other language schools and it’s going well. No mention of how I haven’t actually made enough money to pay the rent and I’m just borrowing most of it from my bank.

Now we’re at the bank. I go inside, put my card in the machine. Okay…this is it. Please for the love of fuck, can I please have 500 euros? Please? Pretty please? “Your request is being processed”. Okay. Okay….what’s that sound? Is that the sound of money being sorted!? It is! There’s my card! And there’s the money!

Success!!!!!!!!!! Back to the landlady. Here you are. I believe it’s in cash form if you don’t mind. Not a bit. She’ll be back for the rest…tomorrow? No? Next week! Why bother coming by again the next day for only 250 Euros. No sweat. I’m good for it. She’ll come next week.

And that was that. Photo-finish. Rent mostly paid. Crisis averted.

What a day.

Personal Financial Crisis

October 13th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

So today was a horrible fucking day. One of those days where just about everything that could possibly go wrong does, to the point where it’s almost funny after awhile, if it weren’t so damned frustrating.

It started with me waking up two hours before I actually had to get up, then trying unsuccessfully to get back to sleep until about ten minutes before my alarm rang. I’d never been so aware of my R.E.M. sleep cycle. My thoughts kept dwelling on my upcoming lessons for the day until they finally drifted into more abstract things, then into mental imagery with less and less logic behind it growing more and more vivid until I was just in the midst of a full-blown dream and then my alarm woke me up. I remained conscious of my looming alarm right up until just before it rang.

So I got up and took a shower and got ready, then called Planeo to ask a couple of questions about my lessons for the day, and they told me that my first group had cancelled. Now I had 3 hours to kill, hours I could have spent sleeping. But seeing as how I’ll have to get up even earlier tomorrow I decided I might as well just stay awake for the purposes of getting my sleeping pattern slightly better adjusted to what it needs to be over the next two weeks.

Finally, at 12:30 I went to Inlingua for my first lesson with Ms. Dunsing. As I feared, she was rather adorable, and she lives 50 km away so even if I wanted to try and “date” her it wouldn’t quite work. She’s 17, but she turns 18 next month, and she’s incredibly smart but just lacks confidence. I don’t think she needs this course at all, but I’m not one to complain. I just hope I don’t fall in love with her or anything before this two weeks is up. Luckily she’s not overwhelmingly cute—she’s a little tall for my taste, and while undeniably cute, her face is sort of plain. But she’s young and sweet and shy and smart, so naturally I’m drawn to her, which sucks but what can you do? We’ll just have to see how it goes over the next two weeks.

After that lesson I had to catch the train to Lehrte but I had some time so I went to try and put money on my phone, which ran out this morning while I was on hold for the O2 internet hotline to ask about this package with my wireless router for which I’ve been waiting a month. I went to Vodafone, the company under which my phone gets service, but their debit-card machine was broken and I didn’t have any cash, so I sucked it up and went to the nearest phone-place, T-Punkt, and apparently they couldn’t put money on my phone because it wasn’t a T-Punkt phone. Fine by me. I went to an ATM, got some cash, and got the phone-card money from Vodafone and caught the train to Lehrte.

The train arrived in Ahlten, the stop closest to the E.ON building 12 minutes before 15:00 when the lesson was supposed to begin. The problem—it was a 15-minute walk to the E.ON building. The building I had thought was where the lesson would be held was not the actual building. I rang and got the receptionist guy who told me I needed to walk a bit further, and when I got to the building I was between 5 and 10 minutes late, but the guy showed me to the room where it was, and nobody was there. I waited there for another 10 minutes but nobody showed up, then I called Planeo but nobody answered. I took the time to call O2 and asked about my router, but the guy said he’d need to find out about it and call me back later. Then finally I got in touch with Planeo and they said my first lesson at E.ON should have happened, and at least I’d get paid for it, but my next lesson there was cancelled so I could go home.

There were pros and cons to all of this at this point. While I only had 1 actual lesson of the 4 I was supposed to have today, I’d be getting paid for 2, and because the next group had cancelled I didn’t have to wait around for another hour with absolutely nothing to do. I walked back to the train station, had to wait about 20 minutes for the next train back into Hannover, then got back to my apartment at about 16:50.

When I got back I noticed that the O2 guy had called me back, but I hadn’t got his call because I’d been listening to my I-Pod and while I’d been consciously waiting for the phone to vibrate, apparently it did but I hadn’t felt it. And since my phone only speaks German I can’t fucking figure out how to get voice messages so I’d have to call the hot-line all over again.

But just then guess who should finally show up but none other than my landlady! Such perfect fucking timing! She had come for the rent! For all of the rent! All 1,950 Euros of it. I said I’d have to go to the bank to get it and that now was not a good time, thus buying me an extra day. She’ll be back tomorrow at 7:00 to collect. Meanwhile I needed to find out just how much money I do have so I would know how much to beg my parents for.

My landlady also brought me the mail. In it was my absentee ballot, so now I can vote (wahoo) and a card from DHL notifying me of a failed delivery attempt at 10:00 this morning. Well, I was home at 10:00 this morning, and hoping the damned package would come, and as soon as I heard the bell ring I had rushed down the stairs hoping to catch the guy but he was already gone by the time I got down there. Whatever. Apparently the package was at Mercedesstrasse 5, and that place was open until 18:30, which should give me enough time to go there. I could also wait until the next work-day for the next delivery attempt, but assuming my morning lessons aren’t cancelled I won’t be here. And god-fucking-dammit I want my high-speed internet NOW.

So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and go get the package and then check my bank account balance. Getting to this place was more of a bitch than I care to go into. It was quite far so I had to take another regional train to get there, then walk about 20 minutes (not including the time I spent walking in the wrong direction trying to pinpoint where the fuck I was on the map) but I eventually finally got to this place and saw that lo and behold it was naught more than a warehouse—and an empty one at that. No place to go and pick up your package. Just a bunch of DHL trucks. I walked all the way around the building but there was no customer entrance or anything, and just knowing my wireless router was right there…right inside that fucking building but I couldn’t get to…man it pissed me off.

But at this point all I could do was laugh at myself again, way too tired to feel the inner rage and self-contempt at having once again—just like my trip to Berlin to replace my very-much-not-completely-lost-passport—gone way way overboard and exerting an absurd amount of effort with the result of accomplishing less than nothing.

A long journey back to the Hauptbahnhof, and I bought myself a much needed pack of cigarettes. No matches though. Luckily there are plenty of smokers around so as soon as I got outside I found someone with a lighter. Helping myself get lung cancer was the least-problematic part of the whole day.

A walk down the road and a nice nicotine buzz later, I got to my bank and discovered I have 700 Euros available in my account. That was actually a pleasant surprise—I’d been expecting much less. Combine that with the 250 dollars in my American bank account—oh wait, first I need to pay my credit card bill in case I need to take money from HSBC tomorrow—make that 100 dollars, I have about 750 Euros to my name, leaving me 1200 short. When I got home I wrote to my parents about my personal financial crisis and my request for a bailout, which at a minimum would need to be $1,616.52 just to pay rent and then be a beggar for the next couple of weeks. At least I was able to report to them that I’ve got a lot more work and if nobody else cancels on me, I’ll have made over 900 Euros by the end of next week. I promised to pay them back whatever they lend me, and said I’d gladly accept some of it in lieu of a Christmas or birthday present. Now all that needs to happen is that they actually get that e-mail and deposit the money in my bank account by tomorrow afternoon.

So I guess things could be much much worse, but all in all the whole day just felt like God farting on me. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes.

Addendum: After logging into my e-mail account to send this, I saw there was a message from my mom which I had missed before writing the “please give me money” e-mail to my parents. Among other things, she mentioned how they’ve “lost their entire life-savings.” She said not really, but they did “take a huge hit”. And here I am with my begging bowl. Jesus farting Christ…

Getting Prepared

October 12th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

Tomorrow I begin the busiest week I’ve spent in Germany so far, although you could argue that I really started today. I spent most of my free time today taking the trains to the various locations of the businesses where I’ll be teaching in the upcoming week. I started this yesterday, thinking since I had 4 other places to go I would do 2 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday, but the second of the 2 was a train that leaves only once an hour, and when I got back from the first location I didn’t feel like waiting 45 minutes for the next S3 to Lehrte. Instead I went for a walk in the Georgengarten because it was such a goddamn beautiful fucking day, and all those golden leaves sparkling in the light of the late afternoon sun was like a hearty meal for the spirit. I walked around listening to music on my I-pod and observing all the people as I walked by, somehow completely immune to the desire and frustration I have typically been feeling lately when out in public. But everything just seemed really beautiful, and I left quite on top of the world.

Today I’ve felt kind of shitty but not so bad. I don’t know how much of it to attribute it to the beer I drank last night, which was the last night in a week that I’ll be able to get away with drinking but I certainly didn’t have any more than usual, or the lingering remnants of this never-ending sickness that seemed to have subsided yesterday but is possibly still around in one form or another. Either way, it didn’t make much difference to the day as a whole.

I began by timing my trip to the Hauptbahnhof to take the S3 to Lehrte without having to wait an hour. I got on the right train, but when it got to the right stop “Ahlten” I thought it was the wrong stop because this station was in the middle of nowhere and there was supposed to be a business building nearby. Besides the directions Planeo gave me said “Ahlten/Bahnhof” so I thought maybe that was different from just plain “Ahlten”. It turns out it wasn’t. I got off at the next stop, which was Lehrte, and realised my mistake immediately. Glancing quickly at the departures board I saw the next S3 going back in the other direction wasn’t coming for an hour, so I’d better look for another way to get back to Ahlten.

I left the Bahnhof and found a bus terminal, hoping to see the 967 because that bus was mentioned on the directions I was given, but that number was not among the many on the sign. Nor was there a map showing where each bus went. That’s when a girl who was standing there, also with a page of directions in her hand, asked me if I knew how to get to so-and-where. I told her in German that I was lost too and proceeded to explain my predicament. The girl was really sweet and kind of cute but not anywhere near my absurdly high standards, but she seemed to think I was cute, so that felt nice. I briefly gave her the standard info about where I’m from and what I was doing in Germany, and she told me about herself. So caught as we were in the same situation we decided to help each other out. We went back to the Bahnhof in search of a map. I found out her name was Anya, and she’s a first-year college student from a small town near Stuttgart, which is actually pretty close to my Ichenheim family.

We didn’t find a map at the train station but I looked again at the schedule and saw that although the S3 wouldn’t be coming for awhile, another train which passed through Ahlten was leaving in just a minute. Apparently she also had to go to Ahlten, so she accompanied me onto the train and we talked a little more during the ride. It was weird to be talking to a German girl finally after all these months of thinking about it, even though I wasn’t really attracted to her at all. I managed to explain quite a bit, but naturally I never understood perfectly anything she said to me but only got the gist of things. I confirmed what had been my suspicion all along: attempting to converse with a German girl who can’t speak English won’t get me very far. I can only use the most basic language and there are lots of awkward pauses. It made me feel a lot better about not approaching bike-girl at the Maschsee or that girl on the bench in the Eilenriede. Assuming they didn’t speak English (a strong possibility given my experience in this town) I wouldn’t have gotten very far beyond a casual, awkward-pause filled conversation and then a good-bye, nice to meet you. Not that I feel better for not having at least tried, but at least I feel like trying wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.

So we got to Ahlten and saw that we’d be heading in separate directions. I wished her good luck and she did me the same, and then it was the goodbye, nice to meet you and that was that. I found the building, which was indeed strangely located right in the middle of absolutely nowhere, then went back to the train station and back to Hannover. Over the next two hours I easily found the other two businesses, so now I’m prepared to at least get to the buildings. On my way back from the second building I got carded by one of the ticket-inspectors and I got to flash my Üstra card, which made me feel a hell of a lot better at having coughed up 80 Euros for it on Friday. As long as I get carded one more time this month, it will have basically paid for itself.

For my lessons this week I went on-line and put together a list of a bunch of language games, which is the only thing I had prepared besides a few grammar exercises. But while listening to my lectures on the philosophy of emotions this afternoon, when he started explaining emotion families and the subtle differences between things like contempt and resentment, guilt and shame, envy and jealousy, I realised that would be perfect fodder for an English lesson, so after dinner I planned a whole lesson based on learning about English words for emotions, when to use which and how to use them properly. It should be quite interesting actually.

As for Ms. Dunsing, I’ve got a bunch of grammar sheets prepared because she’s taking this lesson to study for a test so that should probably be my main focus. She’ll be bringing some books from the school to our first lesson so I’ll have a better idea of where to go from there after our first meeting. Maybe she’ll just find me so fascinating and she’ll be so mature and thoughtful herself that we can just spend these two weeks engaged in deep conversation…then at the end she’ll be so torn up at the thought of never seeing me again that she’ll beg me for her phone number and I’ll tell her not to worry, that we can see each other on Saturday night and we can go back to my place and talk and make sweet love all night long…ah, to dream…

Anyway, it should be an interesting week.

A Whole Lot of Stuff

October 9th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

My sickness is worse than usual this time. I’m even too tired to look for a doctor. Well, that’s just laziness on my part but I did do a quick internet search and found that there’s no quick, easy, click-here-for-a-list-of-english-speaking-doctors-in-your-area website or anything. I’ll have to call doctor’s offices and ask the almost certainly non-english speaking receptionists if the doctor speaks English and if I can make an appointment. Of course, I don’t really have any time next week to make a doctor’s appointment anyway, and it’s a little too late to set one up for tomorrow (my laziness-justifying assumption) so I’m just going to try to ride this one out like the last 76 times and hope that it’ll be gone by Monday when I have to start travelling all around Hannover and teaching multiple lessons a day for two weeks.

Yesterday I went back to Planeo to sign some contracts and get more information about these lessons. When I got there, the ladies in the office (the woman who interviewed me wasn’t there) hadn’t prepared the things at all even though I called hours earlier to let them know when I was coming, so I had to sit and do nothing for awhile. But while I waited, Frank came to tell me that unlike the normal payment method in which I’d hand in my papers at the end of the month and receive money by the end of the following month, he was going to expedite the process by paying me as soon as the papers were in because of my current tenuous financial situation. Needless to say, I was extremely grateful and I remain quite in awe of his understanding and helpfulness (not very characteristic of the German businessman).

He also said he might have a few lessons for me to teach full-time after my substituting is done. He asked me how familiar I am with legal terms, and I said I had a very basic knowledge (a couple of years of mock-trial, and many years spent watching lawyer-shows will give anyone a familiarity with the basic vocabulary). He gave me the English-for-lawyers textbook and said to look through it and see if I’d be comfortable giving one-on-one lessons to a “very attractive” lawyer woman. I read through them and I still haven’t decided yet. I said I knew about 80% of the terms in the book, but I’d still need to study a lot on my own to get ahead. He gave me the number of her former tutor and said to call him and find out how demanding she might be as to the knowledge of her instructor (she’s only paying for a basic instructor anyway—it would cost her a lot more to learn from an actual legal professional). I called the guy and left a message but he hasn’t called me back.

The ladies finally finished making those sheets for me, then they came to try to explain everything, which was very difficult for them because their English wasn’t great. But we muddled through and I took home the contracts which are in German because I couldn’t pretend to understand everything just by skimming it, and they gave me a list of my lessons and the names and addresses of the businesses, and said they’d e-mail me directions for how to get to them. I could accompany one of their teachers, an Australian woman named Amanda, to one of her lessons the next day (today) just to see how they do things.

Knowing that I always get lost when I go to new places, and not wanting to be late for the lesson the next morning, I reluctantly decided to spend that afternoon before my lesson at Inlingua practicing getting to the place. I checked the internet and saw that the place was about 8 miles away so I probably shouldn’t walk there. I went and bought a tram ticket and for the first time since I’ve been in Hannover I used the public transportation. The tram was 2.70, ridiculously expensive, and I didn’t even realise until today that I’d only bought a one-way ticket and it had been illegal for me to use the same ticket on my return journey. But nobody checked the tickets so I lucked out.

Anyway, the thing about public transportation is that you’re stuck in a little box with a bunch of other people for an extended period of time. It’s never an extremely long period of time. Just enough to fall madly in love with the most beautiful woman/girl in sight, and then watch her walk away out of your life forever. I didn’t fall in love on the initial tram ride, but I had to get off and take the bus for the next part of the journey, and I fell madly in love on the bus ride before having to get off and let her ride far far away.

The directions I’d received from the company only got me to the bus stop closest to the building. I had only my memory of the google map to get me from there to the building and that memory didn’t turn out to be so good. I asked a couple of people where Max-von-Laue Strasse was, but nobody knew. I finally gave up and called Planeo, and not without some difficulty they were able to walk me to the right street and after handing the phone to Amanda, the woman who I would be meeting for the lesson today, I finally found the right building.

As I was walking back towards the bus-stop, this unbelievably beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous Asian chick walked right up to me holding a piece of paper in her hand, and in broken German asked me, “Excuse me, if I turn right here, will I get to Max-von-Laue Strasse?” The irony struck me instantly and a million thoughts of fate and destiny burst through my mind as I just said, “Ja” very enthusiastically and then started to try to explain in my own broken German how I had just spent the last half-hour looking for the same street, but I didn’t get very far into it at all, as she just said “Danke schön” and walked away from me in mid-broken-sentence. I was just too excited. I would have had a better chance if I’d gone on in English.

Anyway, fast-forward to this morning, when I got up and made it back to the business-place with near perfect timing, only falling in love once with a girl on the bus who sat facing me, and whom I stared at nearly the entire time because I don’t think she noticed. I waited in front of the building for awhile, then went inside to ask the receptionists about the woman who teaches lessons and maybe she got here already and what-not, and they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about, but Amanda came while I was there and brought me to a different building where the lesson was being held. The business, by the way, was an energy company called E.ON.

I introduced myself as we walked to the classroom, talking about how Inlingua was the reason I was in Hannover and how they’d screwed me over. Amanda said Inlingua is evil and I should stay away from them. She’s heard stories. Apparently they fired someone because she was too fat, and then brought in another guy from Ireland who moved all the way to Germany on what little money he had, then they didn’t give him any lessons because he walked with a limp, which didn’t “project the right image”. The guy was stuck here—he couldn’t even get home. I remarked about how they would be sued if this was the U.S.A., but she said it’s a very different world here, and apparently a company can get away with firing people for being fat or disabled.

The lesson itself was actually rather fun. The group consisted of three young women, none of whom were the least bit attractive (apparently all the hotties were out riding public transportation) whose English varied from somewhat decent to pretty terrible. Amanda had centred the lesson around jokes. She told a joke, then asked if anyone else had a joke including me, but no one did. I’ve heard thousands of jokes in my life but I couldn’t think of a single one when put on the spot. Then she had them take pieces of “the funniest joke in the world” according to a web-site which allows users from around the world to rate jokes, and put them together into what we thought the joke was. Even with my help we didn’t get it. Then we read a blurb from that web-site about how different cultures in different parts of the world find different things funny and she explained all the difficult words, writing them up on the board. There were some interesting things in the blurb—apparently the British prefer jokes with a fantastic element like animals behaving like humans, and Americans and Canadians like jokes with an element of superiority where one group gets the laugh at the expense of another.

Then we were given cards with the number one joke from each country and told to read them and say them out loud in our own words. The funniest to me was Scotland’s favourite, a one-liner: “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in panic like his passengers.” Finally we played a little game where we worked in pairs, got one of the vocabulary words on a card that we’d discussed, and tried to form a sentence one word at a time (She’d say “When”, I’d say, “someone”, she’d say “does”, etc.) while the other group had to guess what it was. And she ended the lesson by asking everyone what they planned to do on the weekend, making a big deal of the fact that she’s going to New York City for two weeks. What was I going to do? “Stay in my flat and try not to spend any money” I said. The truth.

So apparently that’s the basic idea of how these lessons are conducted. Much more informal than I’d pictured which is good, and apparently the students are all very nice. After the lesson Amanda talked to me a bit about it and it was all very reassuring. Now I’m much less intimidated about doing it myself. She also asked me a lot about myself and as so often happens when I talk about myself it turned into a somewhat philosophical conversation, which was fucking fantastic because I haven’t had anything close to a deep discussion in…I have no fucking idea. I mentioned how I write of course, and I gave her the address of my web-site because she actually seemed interested in “Synthian Truth” so maybe she’ll read it and give me some feedback.

Anyway, rather than wait a half hour for her next lesson which she said might not even happen because the students don’t always come, I came home and made it the entire way without falling in love with anyone.

I think I’ve concluded that I’m actually three different ages. While physically I’m 24, mentally I’m 34, and emotionally I’m 14. I’ve always been ten years ahead mentally, and emotionally I’ve been stuck at 14 ever since I was 14. That’s the age when you fall in love with everybody, when you’re emotions are just completely overwhelmed with desire—desire for love, desire for sex, desire for whatever—and your mood constantly fluctuates from one extreme to another to the point where you’re either blissfully praising life and all that exists in this lovely universe, or imagining with great enjoyment your own suicide. My self-imposed social-isolation is probably the biggest cause of my stunted emotional growth, and the net result is that I can’t meaningfully connect with anyone my own age. The people I can connect with mentally are at least 10 years older than me and I don’t desire them. The people I can connect with emotionally are 10 years younger than me and that’s illegal and immoral and wrong and evil and bad. Yippee.

I spent the afternoon getting my mind on much less important things by absorbing myself in political blogs off the internet. Following this presidential election has become such a disproportionately large part of my life that it’s finally seeped into my subconscious, and Barack Obama has started appearing in my dreams recently. I’m always either following his campaign or one of his advisors or something. Last night he was at a fundraiser with some asshole kid who gave him a few dollars and gave John McCain five billion dollars, and Obama made a snide remark and left, which the press made a huge deal out of and basically saying his campaign was over. I was telling him not to give up, that that kid was an asshole bully and the people would be behind him, that if anything he should get really mad at the kid and show some anger. Then he went and beat the crap out of the kid, and I knew then it was really over.

I had an even more interesting dream before that though. I was driving back from California with Corey and we stopped in Texas for some event, the nature of which I forget (perhaps an Obama rally) and I was there with his family, including his father who appeared as this fat redneck guy who was ridiculously high and who didn’t even notice his son was there. And everyone was fat and unattractive and even downright repulsive, but in a way I liked it because I could finally be in a public place and not feel any desire for anyone.

I have the day off tomorrow, except I plan to go to Üstra, the company that runs public transportation and buy a card that’ll get me around for a month without having to buy a ticket every time (I found out this morning that a day-ticket is 5.10—absurd), maybe practice how to get to the places I need to go Monday (though I have all weekend to do that so it depends on how lazy I feel), and the only thing I have to do is check out another apartment in the afternoon, which will hopefully be wonderful and perfect and beyond my wildest dreams but of course it won’t be and I’ll still rather stay here. But now with this whole Planeo thing it might turn out to be the case that staying here for the time being is the smarter option, seeing as how moving out will not only require giving money to the new landlord (assuming they’re not like the current one) but also squaring up with the current landlady, and no matter how much I make from Planeo this month I won’t be able to afford all that without some parental help. If I stay here, on the other hand, I might not be asked for any money at all. The landlady might not even contact me because November 1st (the date the lease contract ends) has come and gone. As of now, the only indication I have that she remembers I exist is that occasionally someone drops my mail through the slot. It might actually be smarter financially to stay here until I can afford to pay her all the rent I owe and then move to another place.

Or maybe that’s all a bunch of bullshit and I’m just trying to think of excuses so I can stay here.

Planeo

October 7th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

Yesterday morning my alarm woke me up at 8:00 a.m. from my nightly lucid dream and I got ready for my 9:00 interview with Planeo. As usual, I got there right on time, and was pleased to see that unlike Hans’s place, this office actually looked like it was run by professionals. I found the main office where the workers were, introduced myself, and waited in the lobby for just five minutes or so until one of the women invited me to a conference room and we began our interview.

I gave it my best shot in German, which lasted less than a minute as I continuously gave her the “I’m not quite sure what you said” look and she switched to English. Once again I went through the standard questions of where I’m coming from, what made me decide to do this, what do I like about teaching, etc. The woman’s English was okay but not extremely good so the interview at that point was probably more challenging for her than it was for me.

Then the owner of the place, a guy named Frank, came in and introduced himself and the real interview began. This was a bit more challenging, as he knew exactly how to put me on the spot, presenting me with hypothetical situations like how would I plan a course around teaching a group of German businessmen about the American political system. Luckily, being as knowledgeable on that topic as I am, I had no problem laying that out. The hardest part was answering the most relevant question: “Let’s say you go to this group of five businessmen next week and you have to teach them a lesson. How would you go about it?” I stumbled a little at first, saying I would need to know what they were learning about before planning a lesson, then I realised he just wanted to hear from me the three stages of lesson planning: Engage—get the class interested in the topic, Study—introduce and practice the main point of the lesson, and Activate—design an activity to put it to use.

In spite of his challenging, rapid-fire interview style, coupled with the fact that it was 9:15 a.m. and way before the time where my brain wakes up, I did well enough to “get the job” the only problem being that there were no jobs to get per se. They have enough trainers at this point to cover all their lessons. But starting next week, many of their trainers are going to be away on vacation for two weeks, and they need someone to fill in. I could take over these courses for two weeks and based on the feedback he gets (he said he expected good things because I had done so well in the interview) they would give me full courses when new courses become available.

I didn’t have to sign anything, and the subject of working papers wasn’t brought up at all. The woman who began my interview came at me with a schedule of 14 classes (a total of 28 lessons) and we tried to figure out which ones I could do. The problem was that my high-school student, Ms. Dunsing was scheduled for lessons that conflicted with most of the lessons available. I said I would try to get those times changed and get back to them later.

I called Frau Giesecke after 12:30 and asked her about changing the times for Ms. Dunsing and she said she’d call her and hopefully get back to me when I had my lessons with Ms. Weiß at 17:00. When I got there she said she hadn’t gotten in touch with her yet because she was still at school, but that they were thinking of giving her another instructor anyway because Ms. Dunsing wants to prepare for her high-school exam which I don’t know anything about and they had other teachers who did. I figured it didn’t matter—if they took her lessons from me I’d still have plenty of lessons from Planeo to teach.

Frau Giesecke also said that she had talked to the administrator about my not having enough lessons and that they’ve apparently found something for me but I haven’t heard from them yet so we’ll see.

Ms. Weiß had no problem changing our meeting time to accommodate my different schedule, and my lesson with her went as well as usual. Just as I was getting back to my apartment Frau Giesecke called me to say that Ms. Dunsing had no problem switching the time of her lesson, and she didn’t care that I wasn’t familiar with the exams—she just wants to work on her grammar and vocabulary.

So in quite bizarre fashion with respect to the way things usually go for me, everything worked out as well as it could possibly go. I get to substitute for 13 out of the 14 classes for Planeo, and I get to teach the young Ms. Dunsing (who is probably much less attractive than I’m picturing). For the next two weeks I’m going to be obscenely busy, but I will be making a shit-load of money. Planeo pays 18 euros per lesson as opposed to Inlingua’s 14, and I’ll be teaching at least 26 lessons over the next two weeks (maybe more because they also have individual students with flexible schedules that I might be able to work with). I am a bit nervous because I’ve never done an actual business course before, but I might be able to go with one of their trainers to one of the courses I’ll be substituting for and actually see how it’s done before I have to do it myself. Also, for one of the businesses they say I need to drive, and while they have a company car and apparently my American drivers’ license is valid in Germany for up to 6 months, it’s a manual transmission and I haven’t driven a stick-shift since I was 16 years old—and I never really mastered it in the first place.

On the down-side, my mystery ailment has returned yet again, this time after only 2 or 3 days of feeling healthy. Something is definitely up—and the fact this came about while prospects were starting to look very good is further evidence that it’s not just psychological. BUT yesterday I finally got my medical insurance documents, which means I might actually be able to see a doctor this week and find out what the fuck is going on.

I feel depressed today but that’s just due to the sickness and natural emotional cycles. Things are actually going really well. It’s just for some reason when I woke up this morning while trying to go back to sleep because I was still tired, my brain got caught in a time-warp and I spent a good twenty minutes in my freshmen year of high-school, re-living everything that happened (and didn’t happen) between me and Aimee. No matter how my brain spins it, I know my entire life would be radically, drastically different if I had just avoided a few key mistakes in that situation—that had I overcome my own nervousness and talked to her openly and confidently at the beginning she would have gone out with me—I would have had my young, passionate Romeo & Juliet romance—and from there I probably would have had many other relationships by now and I wouldn’t be so fucking lonely and isolated and miserable so much of the time. She destroyed me. I let her do it. My entire life is the consequence of two or three innocent mistakes I made almost ten fucking years ago, and I’ll have to take that with me to the grave.