text to Isidora Ficovic RATMAN project by Mika Hannula 20.1.04
Take It Like a Man
Run run run.
Run for the cover.
Hide hide hide.
Hide from yourself.
You got to do what you got to do as a man.
But most importantly, remember:
Take it like a man.
His name is Norbert Witte. He is about mid-forties, give or take, it does not matter. Medium size, pot belly and a graying mustache. His sits, and he sits alone in his cell. He has got all the time in the world – and very little patience. He is been inside now for just over 1 ½ years. It took him over five years to get there.
It started with good intentions. Witte is someone whom we have learned in recent tumultuous years to appreciate and crave for. He is an entrepreneur, who – as we are told – are there to give us jobs and security.
Witte had a history, but that is not important. Relevant is how he came to Berlin. How he saw, investigated, made a deal and bought a huge piece of land on the riverside. It was the previous DDR amusement park on the Spree. A deal which he financed with golden framed promises, promises, promises – and more promises. A deal that went spectacularly belly-up. Thus, a typical Berliner transaction throughout the illusion of the boom years, which has gained the title: Normal.
But let us not forget. Witte did try. He did try to set up a new business on the shores of the eastern park Landshaft. He tried to modernize the equipment, and he did try to lure the people into the fairground and he did try to convince them to leave home with a lot less money that they came with.
Unfortunately, Witte failed. The business was all too symbolic for the faith of Post-Wall Berlin. The extravagant hype told it boomed, and the crooked company books claimed it too. However, it was a proper crash boom bang: incompetence, insane arrogance and in the end, a bankruptcy.
But Witte did not wait long. He had a nose for this type of special opportunities. If not Berlin, lets try it in Peru. He was convinced that Lima was the place to be. He packed his know-how and kissed good-bye to the gray misery of the Hauptstadt.
Needless to say, our hero entered into unknown terrain. It was his first trip outside Europe. He knew nada Spanish. He had no idea what he got into when accepting the offer by the Lima drug bosses. For sure, he knew their business was, but he, Norbert Witte, was not in drug business. He was a famous German manager of entertainment enterprises. Or that was what he thought.
Not so surprisingly, Witte did try hard in Lima. But to no avail. The park set high up in the lovely hills, almost touching the sky, was not a success. Soon, so soon it had to close its gates and pull the plug of the colorful fairground. In other words, he had seen enough of Lima – and vice versa.
Witte was due to go back to Berlin. This time around, the Lima guys were so helpful that they packed his bags. This time around the luggage’s were filled, not with dreams of conquering the world of entertainment, but with bags of white power. The elegantly dressed suave guys in Lima were so friendly they even gave Norbert two extra suitcases and drew in an extra fancy suit – just for the bargain.
Now try to picture this. Norbert Witte is flying back to Berlin, back to home, back to buddies who talk his talk and walk his walk. The plane makes an in-between stop in Hamburg, where Witte is asked polity to step aside and follow the Flughafenpolizei. The figures are amazing. When put together, the white powder weighted 181 kilos – and I don’t think Norbert had that much humor left in him in that particular situation to claim that no worries, officers, this is only for my personal habit.
But hold on. 181 kilos smuggled in with 4 suitcases by one man? Who would take a risk like that? Isn’t it a bit too obvious? Like close to the wish of being caught? Perhaps Witte had no choice, but why did gangsters speculate so wildly wrong?
Questions, open questions which burn and itch our Norbert when he sits alone in his tiny cell. He is afraid, and he is not talking to anyone. He is worried and sad. But he did try. He at least did try to be a businessman. To bring wealth and jobs to his neighborhood, to his chosen community.
John Stapleton used to be a soldier. He used to work, long time ago, for the Irish Republican army. To be sure, this is not to be mixed up with the terrorist organization. John Stapleton worked for the democratically elected government of Ireland.
John was born catholic on the other side. He was born in Northern Ireland. He did not have a fantastic time growing up. Being sort of short and skinny, he got used to getting beaten up. And he did not really like it.
At the first opportunity, he decided to do something about it. He joined the army at the age of 16. He went through the emotions and the motions and was sent as a part of an international United Nations campaign to keep peace in Lebanon in early 1980’s.
Securing peace is an extreme difficult operation. You are practically fucked all over and over again. Its hot and humid, you are very far away from home and anything that you recognize and makes sense to you. You are parked in the middle of a disastrous conflict, trying to convince both parties not shoot – over or through you – against one another. You stand at the guardpost, getting stifled by accumulating boredom, but at the same time praying that nothing would happen.
Like his colleges, John had nothing to do. At work, he walked around the compound, checking the fence and kept staring into the plentiful nothingness of the desert hills. When free, he waited for the next work shift, just hanging around in the tent. Then a thought crossed his mind. He took up drawing, just for the hell of it. And then he draw and draw and draw.
Predictably, their base was attached. Or more precisely, they were ambushed. It was not a pretty picture. Broken bodies and spilled blood all over. It was night, and it was chaotic. It was devastatingly brutal. Not something you are keen to remember.
Our hero got lucky. He came out of it alive. But he did get hurt. A large piece of shrapnel dug into his bottom and went for the long haul. With a large chunk of foreign metal in his ass, John was looking for a long long recovery time. In fact, it took seven months and two weeks for him to able to even start to learn how to walk again. Don’t even think about how long it took before he was able to sit down without pain.
For those months, weeks, days and hours John Stapleton had a lot of time to think through what to do, what he wanted in life and what he might perhaps try to do next after the disaster of the military operation. While thinking, he kept on nursing the habit he took up while sitting in a tent in Lebanon. He draw and he draw and he draw.
And before he even noticed it, he was hooked. For good. At that military hospital in central Dublin, something certainly ended, but simultaneously something quite different got started. John Stapleton became an artist.
It was definitely not a good time to visit my childhood home. It was not a good time to try to be with my father. Our main link together, my mother, his wife for more than 30 years had just died. Two nights ago, and completely accidentally.
I was home. It was the first time since some years. Nothing special or dramatic about it. But now I was home, sitting downstairs at kitchen table with my father. The TV was on. Were we watching the ice hockey play-offs of that Spring. Our local team where both of us had been active players for more years than we cared to count for was fighting in the semi-finals. They were doing fine, we were not.
But we were very grateful for the game. It gave us something to share, something to pretend to be interested in instead of talking about my mother and his wife. Instead of talking about death, the funeral, the pain, the emptiness and the hollow sadness of it all. I sensed that he cherished the same unpleasant thought. There was no exact or credible reason but we felt that it was our fault she was death. We let her down. We were not there when she needed us.
Later on we kept sitting at the kitchen table. I ordered some pizza in and we had some very mild drinks mixing vodka with stale cola. We really had nothing to celebrate about. But we got into some tiny tiny small talking, which we had not actually never ever done before. Again, nothing special or dramatic about it.
My father was asking about my studies. I explained patiently that I was about to finish my Ph.D. and I was teaching part time on the side. I also explained that I lived alone and I felt fine where I was and with what I was doing. I told him that I was planning to stay permanently abroad. I was kind of expecting a routine fight and an argument, but instead of repeating the old mantra of why don’t you finally grow up, settle down, get a family and face your responsibilities, he did something quite unexpected.
”Higher level university education and working experience abroad is absolutely essential. There is no way you can lose with those cards at hand. I hope you understand what kind of a future capital you are building, there are such wide and various potentialities deep down in you. You know, international collaborations and relations are the future in every kind of business. The most important thing is to know as many languages as possible and then keep your mind vital and open for new opportunities.”
I did not really understand what he was talking about. So I just did what came the easiest. I kept nodding. I did not have the heart of telling him that unfortunately, having an education was no longer a secure ticket for full employment, not to say to an interesting job. I did not want to disappoint him that his son was among the thousands and thousands of semi-losers with a CV that spelled over-educated, under-paid, risk-averse and alienated from the long-term pleasure principle.
Instead, I kept the silence. True, it was sad, but, yes, still tolerable. We watched the news. It was the 6th time that evening, 2nd one on that particular channel. We really appreciated the sports section, seeing in endless repetition how our own teamed scored that magnificent over-time slapshot goal. We appreciated it, and we nodded at each others in complete agreement and pseudo-harmony, but no, we did not talk about it.