Scenes from a summer gone bye

My afternoon student, Magdalena, was apparently some princess of Prussia. Sorry, The Princess of Prussia.

The next in line to the German throne, after her brother, were something to happen to him. If.

Can I, with thee, talk?” my boss asked. My eyebrows raised, instantly wondering how I had fucked up. “It goes around thine single-student.”

Sure…one moment,” I answered.

Not that I had ever fucked up, or ever gotten a complaint, at least not yet, but due to reasons concerning my nature, I always feared the worst when anyone said ‘let’s talk.’

I waited for the copier to finish my charge and stuffed the stack of “what was happening, when…?” exercises in a folder and stuffed the folder in my bag.

The student was either an imbalanced complainer or some VIP fancypants no less.

Whenever a student portended to be high maintenance, someone, the secretaries usually, would warn us. If Gerd was warning me, this had to be one big asshole. Bidding  “have fun everyone,” I left the teachers ‘lounge’ and headed toward the chief’s office. Sorry, Chief is the German word.

I mean the boss’s office. The manager, the head honcho, the big cheese.

Boss was another word many Germans couldn’t fathom. Teaching the word ‘boss’ at least half the time resulted in the confused spock-illogical look of incomprehension. Only the typical ‘German,’ or maybe a Japanese, would actually consider refering respectfully to his boss.

Luckily that was only the typical Germans, perhaps only 50 percent of the population, nowadays. The 20th Century killed off a lot of the real go getters.

Thank god.

“But in English, for example, you say Chief executive, yes?”

I’ve had that asked at least a dozen times. I usually answered something like: “Yes, but chief is… except maybe in the cases of ‘executive and financial officer, Chief Executive, as you said’…but it’s a job title…and sometimes used in greetings….usually reserved for Native American tribal leaders and for construction workers among themselves,” I explain.

That usually confused them long enough for me to change the subject.

So I knocked on the Big Chiefs door and walked in.

Gerd looked up from his computer, stood and began rubbing his hands together with a Christmas-morning look in his eye. Per his nature, a nature shared my many of his countrymen, he started right in. Strait to the point.

Thine afternoon single student is the great great great grand daughter to Wilhelm the II…the man, thou perhaps knowest, who helped, the First World War, start,” Gerd said with a big smile. And that’s not Shakespeare…that’s German translated literally.

Really? Wow, that is yes interesting.” I said, trying to catch up to his enthusiasm, but mostly thinking: Dammit. I was both right.

An imbalanced VIP complainer fancypants.

Obviously, nothing could be more high maintenance than a real live princess. God help me.

Princesses were usually a pretty high animal in the human pecking order. Except no one in Germany cared about royalty. Nine out of ten Germans didn’t even know they still had a royal family, or perhaps vaguely knew but had no idea of any names or who they were or anything about them.

How do I know that?

Because I ask them, the Germans, that question. I’ve asked hundreds that exact question, along with questions covering every topic, or nearly every. I could open a Germany polling service. Noted.

Some Germans might care, but more for the reason she had money. And I cared for that reason, too.

The Prussian royal family hadn’t been allowed anywhere near politics or power for 90 years, but the princess was surely still pooping gold. Waking up soaked in silver from her restless night sweats. Old money, very very old. That had potential.

The blue blood part was awkward for many Germans. As an American, “royalty” for me always sounded like something out of a fairy tale, and the very idea made me want to giggle if not outright laugh. America’s kings and queens didn’t exist as public personalities, they stood behind the scenes, owning everyone and everything without giving the people ever one Bastille to storm.

We only worship celebrities. Especially, the drunk kind.

Is that not great?” Gerd asked again, obviously as happy as an ambitious small businessman could be.

Gerd explain how she hadn’t announced it. She’d said “Magdelena Prussia” on the phone, and he hadn’t thought about it, but then when she paid he saw on her credit card the “Von Prussia” and he’d immediately realized she was The princess Magdelena Von Prussia.

Thou shouldest her, about any feelings of guilt for the first world War, ask.” He said.

I smiled.

Her anwer should interesting be, or?”

Gerd was a East Berliner, born a commie and born again, now a language school entrepreneur. But the know-it-all dark commie force was still strong within him.

Funny. There is really no end to the questions I could her ask.” I answered. “For example, Is it thine uncle or a distant cousin that on the Turkish Embassy pissed?” I said, refering to perhaps the most famous of the German royals, an odd uncle who had a penchant for poor life decisions and was repeatedly in the press for his less than regal behavior.

That had Gerd laughing. Laughing so hard his wig shook.

Dammit…not the wig shake.

I had told myself not to make Gerd laugh because when Gerd laughed his hair, a sort of black and thick artistic molded ultra-light looking material, somewhere between Elvis and a brunette Donald Trump, the hair began shaking. Jiggling, at first, with a swaying motion not unlike jello.

It’s just that Gerd loves to tell a story. To me, he especially loved to bring up some fact he had encountered about some odd cold war or even earlier tidbit between the communists and the US. And he’s my boss, so I listen. Actually I kind of enjoy his stories. He always paints both sides, the West and the East as he often refers to them, as incompetent and bumbling burocracies…pretty much how I feel about the whole thing.

But the danger lie in the wig.

If something caught his fancy, Gerd also loved to laugh. And when he laughed, his face became red. As Gerd’s face became redder, especially if he really got going, the hair on his head seemed to try and match its owners enthusiasm.

I mean every one assumed it was a wig.

His eyebrows were blond. He had a fair complexion…usually downright pale, actually. He had blue-gray eyes. And then he had the hair of a dashing Greek romeo, combed up and up, parted to the left, towering high in a feathery arch to the side. The way the hair moved you got the feeling that arch could bear considerable weight. It looked so free and feathered, but there was tension in that hair. It was a crime against nature. It couldn’t, not in a million years, be natural. It was a wig.

“It’s a wig or I’m the bloody Nazi Pope in Rome,” was the way my collegue from Northern Ireland, Smith, put it  one day at break-time. Smith was tall and thin, with a slouch like is typical among nerdy giants, and he always had a dramatic comment he would fire out well-timed. The room laughed and hissed.

Break was 15 minutes of 10 teachers crammed in the tiny teacher’s lounge all vying for a turn at one of the three copiers, all rummaging through their notes and material to prepare for the next class, all taking part in the flow of non-stop banter of amped up language trainers at half time in their 3 hour language game. Perhaps because we had to so clean up and exactly control our speech in the classroom, the language the teachers spoke in the lounge at break was fast and furious. Full of bad jokes, idiomatic languageand dialect, often including crass, culturally insensitive jokes, especially about Germans.

The conversation was a mix of bitch session about customers, watercooler talk about weather and politics and what was done or what to do on the weekend (“at the weekend” as the British say) and linguistic exchange workshop between the teachers each of who come from another English speaking background.

Represented are Ireland, both North and Republic of, The States, including New York and New Jersey dialects, Georgia southern, a South Cali, and Myself in the middle at the Rocky Mountains, and then there is the pair of Brits, John and Johnston, one from the North near Liverpool and one from the South. There was also a South African and an Australian.

Incidentally we couln’t aggree on anything, linguistically or politically or socially or anything.

Johnston: “Having to look that man in the eye with his wig wagging to and fro, and keep a strait face…we should qualify for workmans compensation, under psychological duress.”

A hair piece that would, if set in motion along with the ever reddening face of said boss, Gerd, create quite an amusing picture, possibly amusing enough to cause the employee to loose composure and invariably offend the boss by laughing uncontrollably, tears everywhere, while pointing at him and his stupid hair. And maybe even saying something to that effect.

That’s how powerful the wig was. It was a dangerous wig and there I’d gone and got it excited.

Hey, Gerd. Sorry, I must away,” I said looking at my watch. “But thanks for the tip.”

In any case, she wants apparently anonymus to stay, so please nothing about royalty mention,” added Gerd with a serious brow, the wig leaning as if to emphasize its owner’s point.

So my said princess, her majesty Magdalena was with Charles’ morning intermediate intensive group of five, the other four students, being teen-aged girls. In the afternoon, the girly went to some other teacher, and Magdalena had paid the bit extra for individual conversation session, and I was that teacher. Coordinating his morning classes and my afternoons at noon, I asked him if he thought the princess thing was true.

If she wasn’t a real one she was faking it, he said. She stayed mostly quiet, had anwered any questions short and sweet, but she had acted bored and aloof of the whole affair. He was having a hell of time getting the teenies and the princess to converse with one another, because probably, Charles said, the princess thing was on the down low she couldn’t command her subjects to like her and respect her.

Mixed generational groups were only ok if everyone was a unique age qroup. Every generation works together immediately against others, but teenagers were notoriously vicious.

If they were outnumbered it was usually ok. If there was one odd older person among a group of puberty struck, hormone junky teens, it usually was bad.

Old old people could play the wise old role, but mid-aged people were all suckers.

Magdalena being thirty-something she was like the lowest of the low on the teen scale. Not dead yet, but you know, old. Thirty-ish. Horrid.

I was glad as hell he had them in the morning, Charles was the kind who could handle himself in a bitch fight. Not me.

Luckily, it was just me and the princess, the princess and I, mono e mono, conversational in the afternoon for two hours.

That too had its dangers…if she hated me for instance. But I had a nack at sweet talking the business types. She was a hotel mid-manager at a fancy hotel. She wanted to improve her English. Learn and practice job interview situations.

No problemo, right up my alley.

And do not mention the princess thing. No problem.

I didn’t have a chance long enough to think about it as I was teaching the first class with her, she was so aggressive with follow up questions. Businessers were most often like that. They tell you where they want to go and then they speed off down the road. An hour and a half with a amped up suit was like brain gymnastics, trying to translate the odd words they through at you, in questions they ask interupting their own sentences, to which you were already paying close attention.

I didn’t think about it again, in fact, even the rest of that day until about 6 or so when I got finished with my last class, a Japanese young professional, but at the latest by the time I started home on the subway I was starting to have my doubts about the princess.

Not on a bag full of my old toenails, would I bet she’s a princess.

What kind of respectable German princess needs English lessons?

Their friggin’ cousins are the English royalty.

Why not go hang out at the relatives for a week or two?

Needs help interviewing to get a job?

Nope.

Perhaps this was the black sheep exiled and disowned daughter of royalty or more probably Gerd had the wrong Von Prussia.

It was probably the wig messing with his mind. Damn wig.

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About Andrew Flohr-Spence

Something about the sound and the word. Was a singer/bassist for five years, a German major for five, an English teacher in Germany for another five, then a journalism major in Denver for 5 more, and now I'm back in Berlin (for a while, I intend).
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