Monday, 27 October 2008

Working in Germany, Part III: Getting Lost

So I had resolved to go out with my friends to celebrate the blissful absence of the Tragedian.

Now, I said that the offices were in Großostheim, but my house was actually in Aschaffenburg, a city nearby; because most of my friends lived in Großostheim, I needed to head down there myself. I checked the time for the last bus home on the internet: 22:45. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

So we went out and watched a football match of our beloved national team at an Italian bar (there seemed to be more of these in this part of Germany than in most Italian cities I've been to. It's hard to believe it, but we even outnumbered the Turks). In keeping with the Italian tradition of good organisation and tolerance, the place was akin to a particularly unpleasant bear-pit. The clientele consisted exclusively of Italian (or half-Italian) bigots as ugly as sin and with brains as substantial as the insides of a cloud. In addition, they were all from the South, and as a consequence, they hated Romans. This almost led to a fight when a Roman born-and-bred player lit up the stadium and led us to victory with two magnificent goals and I stood up and started chanting Roman stadium anthems and loudly commenting on how little this team would ever achieve if it weren't for the Romans.

Following a most distinguished exchange of opinions between me and the locals on the qualities of Roman football and on the identities of their respective mothers, we decide to leave. There are still ten minutes of the match to go, but it is already more than half-past ten, and I have to get going. When I get to the bus-stop, though, the revelation: the sign states that the last bus has passed at 21:30! Why on earth did the internet report it as 22:45 then? I start making further gentle comments on the quality of Großostheim's transport and on the occupation of the bus-drivers' mothers while my friends offer to help me out. They tell me there are more buses passing next to the supermarkets, and one of my friends, a short black-haired girl who worked at a nearby Pizzeria, leads me part of the way in that direction. She leaves me in front of a dark road, saying: "Just follow this to the end. It's all a straight road with no turns. Don't ever leave the walkway, and it'll take you about ten minutes."

I thank her heartily and leave.

I've barely walked thirty seconds when I get to the first bifurcation. Hullo, I say. Wasn't this supposed to be "a straight road with no turns"? She told me never to leave the walkway and never to cross a road. But now the walkway dies on my right into a path of grass and starts again across the road to my left. Starting to feel rather nervous, I take the path to my left. I walk for about a minute, then get to something like a central square with four roads leading into it. I walk straight forwards, and soon I am lost in a maze of alleyways and dark cobbled streets. I keep walking straight, in the vague trepidation that there may be something like a minotaur or a sewer-crocodile waiting for me to pass by. It's a new country, after all; who knows what I could find?

Now, Großostheim is not, as I said, a very big city. As a consequence, after ten minutes walking, I am already starting to reach its edge. The houses are progressively getting lower and the shops are getting sparser until I turn a corner and hey presto, I find myself in the middle of a God-forsaken cornfield! 'Where the fuck am I?', I wonder, hearing the whisper of the wind and the crickets singing in the night. Around me, not a soul; above the cornfield a sea of stars extends itself like I have ended up on a boat on a particularly clear night. Suddenly, a sound: a car is approaching through the mud-path that leads from the corn to the low houses. I'm about to raise a hand to ask for directions, when the car comes closer and I find myself confronted with a black vehicle which must have come from the nineteen-thirties at the very latest, with arching mudguards, vents for the motor and white tires, sputtering away towards my astonished self and, a second later, towards the houses. I am now starting to feel an edge of fear: Have I time-warped somewhere back there in the dark roads? Have I mistakenly stepped into some wormhole leading me to some other place in another time? I look around me, and what with the cornfield and the colonial houses, I could swear I've ended up in a scene from one of those American films about the Great Depression where the golfer or the lawyer what have you rises from the abandonment of his great countryside house to earn riches and glory which will brand him in the golden books of history.

I decide it is time to ignore my original advice and stop going straight (not a difficult decision, considering that to stick with it would now bring me to partake of a cultural soirée with the field-mice and the cobs), so I abruptly turn right, bordering on the sides of the cornfield in the hopes of finding something. It is so dark you'd think the lampposts themselves had gone to sleep. I'd like to call a taxi but, as is always the case in the times when you really need one, I don't have the faintest notion of what the number is.

Eventually I find two bus-stops, islands of modernity which assure me, if nothing else, that I'm still in the 20th Century. But they're not next to the supermarkets at all. This is looking dubious. I wait there for ten minutes, then take a look at the signposts and try to decipher the German. It appears that the last bus was at half-nine here, too.

And now it is beginning to rain.

I throw my head back and sigh. This is starting to get depressing.

It's become patently obvious by this point that the buses are not going to pass by here, so I conclude that I'm going to have to call a taxi. In order to do that, I need to ask someone the number, and that means finding a human being. I'm pretty sure that if I knock on one of the houses at these hours I'll get blasted down with a shotgun, so I take a look around me. Somewhere at my left, in the distance, there are some lights which might signal a highway. I put my hands in my pockets, steel myself and start walking in that direction.

I walk for a several minutes in the rain and cover most of the distance, when I see two headlights coming towards me and in the direction of the bus-stops. At first I think it must be a car; then, as it starts closing in, I see that the headlights are too far apart from each other, and the engine sounds much deeper and more potent. I stop and look at it. Then I notice it has other two small lights up there at the two top corners of it, revealing it is a much larger vehicle than a car, and my heart sinks: the bus is going towards the bus-stops only now that I have left them. Oh God.

I have at most half-a-second to make the decision. I turn around and see the bus-stops in the distance. I'm going to have to run the three-hundred metres in twenty-five seconds if I want to be at the road-signs when the bus gets there. I can make it.

I start power-legging it like a bastard. The rain is whipping on my face and my coat is fluttering on my back like a pair of wings. I am breathing hard. Two-hundred and fifty metres. Two hundred.

I hear the bus roaring behind me. It appears to be going comparatively slow; I'm guessing the driver has seen me running and decided to slow down to give me a better chance of making it. Bless the man!

One-hundred and fifty metres. It's still behind me. One-hundred and twenty-five. My lungs are imploding. I'm not gonna make it. Oh God, I'm going to have a stroke. I become thankful that the place is so deserted.

It is precisely while I'm in the middle of my last and most desperate dash that I hear the motors finally overtaking me, and I turn my head to find out that it's a motherfucking truck! Even as my legs go slack and I begin decelerating into a slow gallop, I am still failing to take it in. There is a very singular moment in which me and the driver cross gazes, and he must be wondering what I am doing there too, because we both seem to read the same perplexity in the other's face. Then the truck roars past, and I have the privilege of imagining him realising what had happened, then breaking into a grin, and finally cracking up like crazy, while I turn around and start raging against the cobs.

After a few minutes of curses, I start walking the road again. I reach the end and, lo, I get exactly at the supermarkets I was looking for in the first place (rigorously after all the buses have passed, of course). I find some people, explain myself after they take me for a mugger, then get a taxi number off them.

I've never been less talkative in a taxi-trip in my life. And if the driver was disappointed, he can go fuck himself.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Adventures of an Italian in Germany, Part II: Getting to work


I'm in a really jolly mood: yesterday I upped my record for oldest woman ever snogged, she must have been over the age of 45. (I don't know if that should make me happy, but hey, I'm not acting precious and fuck you to the aristocrats!!!!). But anyway, I was telling you guys what work is like here in Germany. So let me reprise my story where I left it: we were saying how our offices had been invaded by flies, and how we had to cope with the garbage, which was almost as bad as Frank’s eccentric sense of dress.

On a side note, though, I also began acquainting myself with the environment of the office. 'So this,' I told myself, 'is where mortals in the West spend their lives.' It was a fascinating ecosystem to be in. I suspected that what I was witnessing in there was not a random collection of individuals, but a very precise balance of personalities which worked towards inducing not the best conditions for work, but, on the contrary, by far the best conditions for slack. Everyone was always producing just enough chat to keep their fingers off the keyboard, but not so much that it would attract the attention of any higher authority. This equilibrium was obtained by a careful assumption of roles (by personality) when a new individual entered the group. For instance, I suspect that a common figure to all offices is what I came to dub the Tragedian. This is an individual of remarkably low intelligence, usually with very few interesting things to say, who complains about absolutely everything. In our case, of course, what with the garbage, the flies, the heat and the organisation of our bosses (with glossaries appearing or disappearing at utter whim and assignments being given and cancelled in the space of a couple of hours), the Tragedian had plenty to wax lyrical about. Our specific Tragedian was Paola, a woman with a nose like one of those potatoes which you see winning prizes at fairs, and a polemical instinct which could suplex Cicero. Not knowing her role, I of course went and sat right next to her. She began her acquaintance by drawing a line between my space on the table and hers like we were a divorced couple, and informing me that I was absolutely forbidden from killing any flies on her side of the table - because, apparently, it 'disgusted' her. How she could possibly prefer to have them festering around and settling on her hair and face is to me a mystery. She was almost more aggravating than the flies themselves.

And in all of this was Frank. He was a pretty incompetent if very good-willing leader, to be honest. I can't fault his generosity and good mind, and my experience would have been mightily less enjoyable if he hadn't been there. Aside from being ugly as fuck, however, he also had the most outrageous sense of dress that this planet or any other has ever witnessed. Well, perhaps the second most outrageous: I once had a Spanish teacher who competed with the guy, coming to class dressed up as a piano (I swear to God I'm not making this up. She was wearing a long black dress with a whole keyboard running down it and musical notes instead of laces on her shoes). I don't know if Frank beat her, but he sure as hell gave her a good run for her money. I personally think you should never wear a suit and a bandana at the same time, but why would you want to compound them with a quasi-phluorescent Spider-man T-shirt under it? Or what about the time he came in dressed in a sky-blue boiler's suit and we thought one of the workers from the thermoelectric complex had mistakenly stumbled into the office?

Then, on the morning of one of the most beautiful days since the fall of the Berlin wall, Paola announced that she was having her boyfriend over for the week and she would not be around at all after work (I'd realised something good was going on around her royal chambers because the gusto and the enthusiasm with which she had spent the whole day complaining had to be seen to be believed). We were free of the witch!

I was so happy I decided it would have been unpardonable not to organize something. So I called up my Italian colleagues and rounded them up for a night out.

Stuff happened there, of course – but once again, this story is getting too long to recount. I promise, the next part is going to be the last, but you'll get it all in Part III!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Hilarious Adventures of an Italian Working in Germany -- Part I

Oi oi oi! How's it going fellas?

(ahem. Let's get serious. The guy above us is already frowning).

I've posted a couple of things about my past: my origins-story for how I became a man who never speaks the truth except, well, when it is completely and utterly inconsequential (aka: academia). My legions of fans on this blog will therefore be wandering what I am doing now. So I thought I'd devote a blog post to this: my current occupation.

I am presently working in Germany. I've got a few applications going for several interesting jobs, but while I wait for those to give fruit, I decided to sustain myself for a couple of months as videogame translator rather than suffering the shame of sitting on my ass in my parents' house. So when one of my many more modest applications gave fruit and got me a place for Nintendo in Germany, I took the offer at once. Apparently the translation project had already started by the time I applied, so I booked a flight for two days after I got the offer, and flew down.

I had been told that I'd get some help for accommodation and everything, so I needed to take a bus from the airport to Frankfurt, and there meet up with the guy who was supposed to show me around and who will be my future boss: Frank.

So I get off the bus at Frankfurt, half expecting a meek-looking, formally dressed old man to greet me with a smile. What I find is rather unlike my expectations: one of the ugliest men to have ever walked the earth is walking towards me from the other side of the walkway. "Who is this troglodyte?", I think to myself as he approaches. And he truly is unfuckable: aside from his mass and gait, which would be notable in the waiting room for a liposuction clinic, and aside from his horrendous pony-tail hairstyle which is all but highlighted by his iconoclastic bandanna, he also happens to have a face which suggests he has been beaten up the day before and could not be bothered to get medical attention. Grisly black patches stretch from his eyes to his temples, and his skin flabbers in the wind like a dead umbrella. I thought this was just a bad day or something - maybe the guy had been out the night before and was hungover like a beast, though by the looks of him he must have been drinking with a Grizzly bear or something - but as I discovered later, his appearance turned out to be chronic. All things considered, if it hadn't been for the lack of scales I could well have mistook him for a Stegosaurus.

So he took me to a bare-bones, mostly unfurnished apartment and I settled there for the night, looking forward to starting work the next day.

I was really rather enthusiastic about beginning the job, given how little work-experience I actually had. Nonetheless, and as the days went on, the local contingencies seemed to be doing every damn thing they could to suck away this sentiment from me. I'm not saying they succeeded - I still walked into the office most days with such a smile you'd think I was sitting down for a picnic (though that's partly just my natural charm) - but they did dampen a few of the most positive sentiments overall. For one thing, I'd been convinced I was going to work in Frankfurt, but it turned out the offices themselves were in Großostheim - a shithole of a town where the closing-time of the bars was so early you'd have thought the entire population consisted of garden-dwarves. I remember walking one of its roads one night at eight and wishing to God I'd see at least some rats on the street to keep me company. (As long as I was entertaining negative desires I could always have prayed for someone to mug me, of course, but that would have been wishful thinking. The most that could have happened to me in Großostheim would have been getting attacked by the lampposts).

Then there was the working site itself. Considering this was a German company managed by Japanese people, one was led to expect a staggering level of organisation, with employees doing one-handed push-ups inbetween office-work and the bosses coordinating the endeavour like a family of Jean-Luc Picards. Instead, the place looked like a war-camp. There was a single massive office where more than a dozen translators were packed around the cables of their own computers and the window gave direct view onto a mountain of garbage. This is not an exaggeration: Fußner, the company for whom I worked, only provided Nintendo with translations as a peripheral activity. Its main business was a thermoelectric station which - only too conveniently - happened to be located on the immediate outside of our office and which produced massive amounts of waste, all of which was deposited at approximately 500 metres outside of our window. The pong when we walked in was enough to double-up and start vomiting. We could always keep the windows closed, of course, in which case the glasses acted as greenhouses and the temperature on sunny days became magmatic. It got so hot on those occasions that even the flies started evacuating the place in great hurry.

The flies were, for the record, constant companions of ours during work. There were always four or five of them roaming around our airs, even when we kept our windows closed. The times that someone fainted and we had to surrender to the heat and open the windows, we'd get a fucking festival. Swarms over swarms of flies would bang their heads against each other in an effort to get into the office first. If on a very reduced scale, I was convinced I was witnessing Woodstock. All of this lasted for a while until, on the second week that I was there, Frank came in there beaming and claimed that he had 'the solution.' Placidly he produced two small green cylinders and stuck them to the ceiling. He then proceeded to unroll what were basically two gigantic boogers from them and he left them hanging over our tables.

It was fly-paper. I'd never seen it in person, but that stuff is simply disgusting. It consists of a brown string rolled up on itself and covered in muck (only an animal that eats shit could be attracted to that thing). It became no more salubrious with the passing of days as flies started getting stuck to it. For two days there were at least five flies wriggling right before me as I tried concentrating on the translation process. For the previous few days I'd been killing the flies myself by swatting them and throwing them off the right side of the table. The floor had become a common grave for flies of course but I still think it was better than this.

As days went by, I began getting accostumed to work. The hours were long, but after the mental rollercoasters some of my academic essays had forced me to take, I'd be hard-pressed to call it anything but incredibly relaxing. It was so pleasant that even my writing temporarily exploded, and I found myself throwing down sonnets and short stories almost every day when I came home.

There is so much more to be said about my insights into the world of work, but it’s going to have to wait until next time. I need another chapter!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Part II: The Two Blondes


It's time to go back to the business, and when I say it's time to go back, then the entire planet starts spinning in the opposite direction, because I say so! I'm in such a good mood at the time of writing this that I'm basically fibrillating. I don't know if that's a verb, but if it isn't, you're going to have to live with it - I refuse to take it down.

The matter at hand: I was trying to teach to you guys everything you need to know about pranks. And since I'm doing this, let me tell you one rule that you always need to keep in mind: pranks are for men. They're not something you ought to go sharing with women (much less doing to women, because they'll get offended like you've just ironed their cat with a Mercedes). The thing is, you see, that women have this sort of secret alliance going on within their sex. If anything, absolutely anything gets planned that involves some sort of conflict, and if this conflict happens to be polarised between men and women, they'll side with the women whatever the conflict is about, even if it's about rescuing the Holy Grail.

Me and Alex found this out because of our other two housemates, Lorna and Aiken, two short-haired blondes of remarkable wit. One night me, Alex and Lorna were in the lounge, and me and Alex were boisterously boasting (bloody hell I love this alliteration) about the 'monster in the closet' joke. So while we're expending all the hot paraphernalia of words necessary for any man to honour his testosterone, suddenly we hear the soft footfalls of Aiken descending the stairs and going towards the bathroom.

It took me and Alex about 0.6 seconds to decide to play the prank on her. It may have been getting old, but we were still feeling like exploiting every last drop of pathos there may have been in it. Lorna's presence was of course a tremendous source of compulsion for us, because even though neither of us were into her (and she already had a boyfriend to boot), the masculine instinct to show off anything, from your mother's ashes to your uncle's stuffed komodo dragon still smelling of the 1912 abandoned putrefactive loft where it was recovered by six kids playing the Scooby Doo adventures, such an instinct, I say, was enough to make us eat hot coals and dance on the backs of dragons.

Quickly the first matter of contention became evident: who's actually going to play the prank? Alex wants to get in as he claims he's the one who invented the joke, but I'm the one who first suggested doing it tonight, so I'm somewhat unwilling to back down on the opportunity. The matter is about to escalate into an (equally manly) fistfight, which given the two competitors would have been about as appealing to Lorna's eyes as a blind leukaemia patient slugging it out against Richard Nixon when he was seventy-five (didn't live that long? Precisely), but common sense prevails, and what we decide is this: we shall both go into the closet together.

Once inside, I figure that 'common sense' isn't really the expression to define this. I thought the place was tight when I was in it alone, but standing in there with Frankenstein is making it unbearable. 'Get your elbow off my neck, you git,' I whisper him. 'I can't,' he responds, 'it's jammed against the jam.' I'm about to tell him what I think about his puns being forced on me while I have my arms stuck still, when we discover that the door won't close - we're just taking up too much space.

'Lorna,' I call, 'could you give us a quick hand here in getting the door shut?'

'Sure,' she replies. She then comes to the other side of the door and starts pushing. The wood creaks inwards as me and Alex are practically having sex now, but as soon as it shuts, I hear an ominous 'click' coming from the key-hole and a mermaid-like laughter ringing outside: that bint has locked us in!

'Oh, very funny,' comes Alex's voice as my brain is still elaborating the new scenario. 'Lorna,' he calls. 'Lorna!' I try bending down to see if I can take a look at the lock from our position, but it's darker than the inside of Paris Hilton's head and I'm more constricted than if I'd been locked in there with a boa. 'Lorna!' Alex's voice now comes out as a sort of high-pitched wail and he's banging on the door.

'Will you stay still for half a minute?', I hiss to him. 'I'm trying to figure out how we can get out of here.' It may sound convenient that I'm painting myself as the one who managed to keep his head in there, but it's no flight of my own kite at all because, as I soon discovered in the minutes that followed, Alex is actually slightly claustrophobic. He'd obviously managed to cope with this closed spot for the thirty seconds it had taken him to wait for me, but the idea of being closed in there and with no exit is now getting to his head. He doesn't just lose his calm; he goes fucking berserk. He's banging on the door and screeching Lorna's name now with such terrified and distorted intensity that if you were standing outside our closet you'd probably think that someone was strangling a Pterodactyl in there. At a certain point he starts flailing his arms in that goddamn hole and within five seconds I've received at least three elbows in the mouth and have blacker eyes than a mongoose. I might as well have cheated on Margaret Thatcher while she was doing weights (I don't know if she did, but I'm sure she could have beaten me senseless either way).

The thing about that closet, though, is that it had two doors. One main door, on which Alex the Lionheart was banging (me) right now, and one lower door for the tiny space to the left where the owner has left his collection of old shoes. Lorna therefore has the brilliant idea of opening that smaller door and sticking her hand through it (in case it isn't completely obvious, I'm being sarcastic on its being a brilliant idea). As luck would have it, her hand ends up grabbing Alex's calf, at a moment when neither me nor him had realised there even was another door. To say that Alex 'jumped,' in that occasion, would not do justice to the magnitude of the event. Alex screamed and managed to leap four feet in the air without even having the space to bend his legs, and the tremendous 'thump' that I heard above me I assumed must have been him braining himself on the roof. After managing to hit the roof with his head, gravity kicks in so he obviously lands over me and I go down like a sack of potatoes, which I suppose makes me very apt to my location. But the thing is that as Alex comes down he grabs the shelves next to him in an attempt to regain his equilibrium and tears them down - straight onto us. There is something like a storm of tins and onions and the collective nutrients of a student household plane-bomb onto us. Alex hasn't managed to kill me yet, but these damn cans are doing their best to finish the job.

A few moments later we are both piled up in a ruinous burial of vegetables and tins, and the door opens above us to reveal Lorna standing there and laughing. How people could laugh at things like this is something which seriously infuriates me. Scaring and fooling people and getting them to risk their lives is not funny, especially when it's done to me.

'Grand,' I mumble, while Alex looks at her like she's a manifestation of the Virgin Mary. That's just like Alex. He doesn't consider for a second that it was her who locked us in here in the first place. The fact alone that she let him out is enough for him to consider her a goddess.

At that point, the door of the bathroom opens and Aiken walks out, seemingly indifferent. 'What's going on?', she asks - with a tinge of disdain, I believe. Admittedly the sight of me and Alex crumpled on the floor before Lorna, under a carpet of cucumber and tinned tomato passata, must not have been the most awe-inspiring of sights. But still.

Lorna laughed, and as for our reaction to the question, we did not reply. Our masculine spirit rebelled to the idea of telling her, 'We've been royally fucked over.' It's only funny when we're the ones doing it to other people.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Everything you need to know about pranks, Part I

I was looking back on some of my past writings, and I was surprised by just how many of them discussed pranks. I'm passing for a man of extremely unreliable character. But there is an explanation behind my initiation into pranks, you see. So I thought I'd expend a blog-post to declare more or less how I came to the point where I am.

It's all Alex's fault. Basically, that's what it comes down to. Alex is one of the four people who have signed a contract to stay in the house with me, a guy so tall and thin you'd think he's been bitten by a radioactive giraffe when he was young. As well as an ardent vegetarian and a committed philosopher, he is struck with the curious characteristic of being completely incapable of accepting defeat. He once challenged me for a piece of a cake I had made by stating that if I could beat him at a videogame he would wash my dishes for a week, while if I lost I'd give him a piece of the cake. He managed to win enough games in a row to get the right to three quarters of the cake - then lost it immediately after that by brashly challenging me further, losing three consecutive games in a row, and jumping in a fit on the sofa, meaning that not only he had none of the cake he had effectively won ten minutes ago, but he was also going to have to wash my dishes. He was so angry after that that when I locked my door he spent an hour and a half banging on it and kicking it while howling like an animal for the cake. We tried to discuss it 'in peace' the next day, and the subsequent argument almost came to blows. I don't think I'd ever seen him that incensed yet. After that episode, he put on a face like a pitbull looking at the man who just castrated him and didn't wear it off for the whole week. (Alex later described the situation by means of a parallel with Dostoesvski's novel The Player. I agreed with the choice of the author, though I suggested he might want to change the novel to The Idiot. At this he hit the roof again and started yelling).

So this one dark evening I go to the bathroom, I brush my teeth and everything, but as I'm coming back through the kitchen suddenly this ghastly form explodes out of the closet and assaults me. 'OHMYFUCKINGOD' I scream as I fall backwards on the pavement. I freak out: my heart seems to explode and I have to sit on the floor for five minutes just regaining my breath. Only when my life stops flashing before my eyes for ten seconds do I hear the sound of laughter, and I open my eyes to find that idiot Alex standing there hooting while his melon-shaped head swung back and forth in convulsions. The motherfucker had been hiding in the closet.

I don't know if he did it on account of the cake episode or just out of his own personal initiative, but he had decided to play a prank on me. And a very effective one at that.

Other people may have had a laugh about it and left it at that. But in my case, Alex's little jest had hit some special nerve in my system whereby all my cisterns of pride were being held together. I felt the cavalcades of the Walkyries rumbling inside me. When I stood up again, I perceived a steady surge of a primordial, masculine warrior spirit welling up within me. How dare this fucker pounce me? I'm going to take the roof of his cathedral down! I said nothing, for that moment, and he walked away laughing while I watched him with feline eyes.

All's fair in love and war and nothing says that the same trick can't work twice. So one evening, I am sitting in the lounge watching some TV when I hear his equine gait walking down the stairs and heading for the kitchen. Then I hear the sinks in the toilet starting to throw water.

I decide that the moment has arrived. I walk to the closet and shut myself into it.

It is not quite what I expected. It doesn't appear to have been thought out to accomodate a human, truth be told. For one thing, good God, is it stuffy! I have two cans of peeled tomatoes pressing against my face and there's a broom awkwardly hanging across my shoulders. I can hardly believe that Alex managed to get in here, giraffe-ish as he is. The door can't be closed from the inside of course so I have to keep it pulled against me with my arm, which makes the whole thing even more uncomfortable and, incredibly, even tighter. Plus it's dark like a coal-mine out of an Emile Zola novel.

As I wait for Alex to come out, I start rehearsing what to do. Alex had come out screaming like a raging rhinoceros. As I thought of doing the same thing myself, I was struck with an unexpected and very much unwelcome awareness of just how ridiculous I must have looked in this endeavour. What if another of my flatmates walked in while I was doing it? But then again, the idea of doing a silent pounce seemed idiotic. What on earth would be the point? Also, I'd have to wave my arms or something. But how on earth do I do that when I barely have the space to lift them? I'm going to bring half this closet down for my stupid joke.

In the meantime, for some reason, Alex is taking quite a deal of time in there. The sinks keep flowing and at a certain point it even seems like he's talking to himself. What the fuck is he doing? I've been closed in this mouldy hole for what feels like ten minutes now. I'm starting to feel like I don't have the air to breathe in here. For a moment I even experience a brief surge of admiration for Alex's capacity to stay stuck in here waiting for me - the brave fellow, undergoing deprivations and hardships just to play a prank on me!

From the kitchen, I hear the bathroom-door opening. My heart starts pounding. Hold on a second - why am I getting scared? Hell. What happens if he opens the closet before I decide to leap out of it? What am I going to tell him, that I needed some intimacy to look for the tomatoes?

Then his steps come close enough to the locker and I decide: to hell with everything. I blast the door open with my right arm and wave my left arm forwards while attempting something like a war-cry. I say attempting, here, because my sense of dignity and shame is rebelling to my actions as if I'd decided to beat up an old woman. The cry that comes out of my mouth resembles more that of a goat calling for some lost companion over the mountains than that of a Viking leaping out of his Drakkar. Further, I can't swing my left arm around too much or I'll knock stuff over, so I end up keeping it flexed by my ribcage and fanning it up and down like a spastic velociraptor. Overall I really look like an emu.

Despite the poverty of my contingent performance, though, I am pleased to see that its effect is nothing short of what it had been for me. Alex leaps so high that he almost bangs his head on the ceiling (not at all an hyperbole for a crane like him). He then collapses on the floor with his hands over his face like a grenade had exploded somewhere nearby. For a second I'm afraid I've killed him - the guy is as thin as a grasshopper and his constitution doesn't suggest a particularly robust cardiac system. Then his ragged breathing is heard and I realise he is alive.

'You fucking bastard,' he chirps. 'You scurvy, lousy son of a bitch!' This is another thing about Alex. When he's had it, he doesn't just refuse to accept defeat; he spends at least half an hour insulting you. In this he is very much like French football fans.

I had to take forty-five minutes of insults while we bitch-slapped each other virtually in a videogame. Sometimes I am thankful for videogames. If we hadn't had the chance to pound at each other like mad on the screen of our little TV, I fear we might have ended up doing it for real. Our debates on philosophy alone caused more shouting arguments between us than I've had in all my relationships with women put together.

This is only half the story though, but it's getting too long - it will need another fully blog entry of its own. See you in Part II!