The invisible Mr. Letterman opens an umbrella on 34th street

No matter how late I left the offices Mr. Letterman never once left before me. The door to his offices remained closed throughout the day and throughout the night. I never saw him coming, I never saw him leaving. I never saw him at all. That might have had something to do with the amount of time I spent in the file closet that was the intern´s work space, basically only leaving for brief meetings with Mr. O´Leary and during office lunch time. I spent a lot of time, really a lot of time, figuring out how to do the most basic things like legal research or how to write a memorandum, more like a first year law student than a graduate preparing for a professional career. In the evening I did a lot of reading. I was never in a hurry to go home. As I had studied in Europe I knew next to nothing about the American legal system when I started my internship. I did not participate in any academic program or training  as I was lacking the funds to pay for that kind of education.  So I spent hours studying, mostly reading up on cases. Mr. O´Leary must have had his own reasons to offer me the internship  during which – strictly speaking – I received more of a general education concerning the legal history of the US than a preparation for any kind of specific legal work. Mr. O´Leary corrected my assignements but he never commented on how long it took me to come up with results. Sometimes a painfully long time. The truth was that I was not qualified at all to fill out the position even as an intern, but Mr O´Leary must have had his own reasons to extend his offer to me.  On my first day he had given me a copy of a handwritten list of chronologically ordered cases decided by the United States Supreme Court . The list concentrated on cases decided during the Rehnquist Court, the tenure of Chief Justice William Rehnquist from September 26, 1986 through September 3, 2005. But there were also cases decided during the Warren Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren from October 5, 1953 through June 23, 1969, like Watkins v. United States 354 U.S. 178 (1957) , on the rights of a witness in refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee, or Brandenburg v. Ohio 395 U.S. 444 (1969) on the freedom of speech, incitement to riot, or the during the Burger Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger from June 23, 1969 through September 26, 1986, like the New York Times Co. v. United States 403 U.S. 713 (1971) on the Freedom of the press, national security and the Pentagon Papers. And so, I had started reading up on these cases at night, eating take-out at my desk and acting out my very own American dream. At around 6.30 pm most of the staff had left the offices. Mr. O´Leary was gone by 9 pm the latest, having a reservation at his favorite restaurant shortly after each night. Mr. Letterman and I stayed on. Every moment I was aware that my time in the closet was a transient state, to the point of being surreal. And this transient state was somehow counteracted by the reliance of the invisible presence of Mr. Letterman in his office. Sometimes I thought that this balance was the true reason why Mr. O´Leary had offered the internship to me, a transient lawyer who reasoned with the legal avatars who had escaped from the files chosen and who definitely had too much of an imagination to be a lawyer.

If I had theories about Mr. O´Leary, it was really Mr. Letterman who – being invisible – intrigued me. Like all things unknown or unknowable his existence behind the pale glowing door made me curious and inspired me to make up stories. The human mind is wired to fill the gaps with some kind of narrative. And so I invented and then reinvented  Mr. Letterman on my nightly walks through the city that never sleeps.My legal avatars  kept me company for a while and often I did not know who was real and who was invented by me or by someone else, who might be equally subjected to insomnia and trying to people the landscapes of his restless mind. with late night company.  One night it suddenly started raining so hard I took a cab from Bank Street back uptown because I was so tired I was afraid I´d fall asleep on the subway. The rain on the windows of the cab washed down like tears and blurred my night vision of traffic lights and movement  on the street resembling a Gerhard Richter painting in progress. When the cab passed 34th street on Fifth avenue I looked down the street and thought I saw a lonely man with an old fashioned macintosh step out from our office building and unhurriedly opening an umbrella.I recognized him  instantly because he was exactly how I had invented him. I thought about how the act of unhurriedly opening an umbrella could tell you all about a man that you needed to in order to know what to expect of him, what kind if man he was. The moment passed quickly. There was little traffic on Fifth and the cab kept moving. I asked the driver to stop and let me out. By the time I had paid the fare and hurried back to 34th Mr. Letterman was nowhere to be seen. I continued to walk east and kept looking for him without any real plan as to what I would do should I find him again. It felt very urgent to find him but I did not see him or any other man in a macintosh. I carried no umbrella and got soaking wet within minutes. I ended up walking home. That was the only time I ever saw Mr. Letterman.

 

 

 

Legal avatars

Many nights, after leaving O´Leary and Letterman, I aimlessly wandered the streets. When I started walking my head was still full of the life of others, the immeasurable distillates   of everyday lives that were contained in the files that I had read in the broom closet during the day, producing even more condensed excerpts for Mr. O´Leary until they  were transparent like glass. Bits and pieces of everyday lives, some mundane, some extraordinary, had to be integrated into the kind of language that the legal system could process. My work as an intern mainly consisted of writing  a good enough draft of a legal memorandum for each of the files I found on my desk in the morning. A legal memorandum presents research and analysis and applies these to the particular facts aiming at conveying the technical and legal content of the file in a precise and comprehensible manner. I had to try and succinctly identify the correct legal issues, within the context of the facts of your case. Yet some untechnical aspect, an idea of what made the case tangible and human had to be preserved. There is no real algorithm to a good legal memorandum. But even producing just a fairly sufficient memorandum meant to be able to recognize which parts had to be eliminated from the narrative because they had no legal relevance and thus were misleading. The more narrow and descriptive the issue statement is, the more effective it will be. It was my aim to only include legal elements that were essential to resolution of the issues. The better I got at this, the more transparent the client became. But in my head there remained a part of the client that was not part of the memorandum and seemed to stay with me instead. Shaping the legal structure of the  narrative produced legal ghosts – avatars to the clients. I was walking with avatars at night until they got tired and disoriented. Only after I had outtalked  the last of the ghosts did I walk home, often talking a late night subway. During daytime while sitting in my closet drafting I had become once again become remarkably versed at entertaining a parallel train of thought in my head while producing avatars. Once I had found a way to draft a reasonably memorandum the days my legal internship were a lot like school.
It was in school still, when I had first discovered the places “where the seams come undone”. Every classroom in my school had a clock over the door, and all the clocks had the same simple clock face, and every one of them showed a slightly different time. I don’t know whether clocks in classrooms today are all connected to one central, totalitarian time piece as I suspect might be the case, though I hope it is not so. I always loved the way time oscillated between classes, obstinately refusing to be tamed. Officially, students had three minutes to walk to the next classroom after a period ended. But for the way from science to math, for example, you’d better made do with 1 minute and 29 seconds – the clock in Ms. Kirsch’s class was as fast as our teacher’s ability to conjure numbers out of the back entrance to Hilbert’s Hotel and as inexorable as her refusal to admit to time measured outside her class room.
On the other hand, you could afford to leisurely stroll to French after that, using not only the 1 minute and 31 seconds from Math but also the 40 seconds the French clock was late, giving you an ample 5 minutes and 11 seconds (not counted the additional minute or two Mme. Petite rustled with her papers ignoring our ongoing conversation). The clock in Language Arts had the peculiar and infamous habit of stopping at exactly 12.01 pm every couple of weeks and being only be persuaded back into service by Superintendent Reginald Smith who, for that very reason, was particularly fond of it, and year after year insisted on repairing rather than replacing it.
Every day for a few moments just before noon instruction in language arts paused and everyone’s eyes followed the unhurried second hand making its way from 11.59.59 am to 12.01.03 pm. It was almost like a pagan ritual, these four seconds of silence, as if we were paying our respects to the spirit of the clock, Time. Time, sputtering, fleeing, stopping, resuming its course, divided itself up over the 79 clocks in our school according to its own preference. With other words, it seemed to be on our side and refused to be institutionalized.
I felt the same way about the legal avatars. They willed themselves into being through the margins of the files. They escaped the system by nesting in my hair. They insisted on being human despite my best efforts.

The invisible Mr. Letterman keeps it real

During my internship at O´Larry and Letterman I lived in the city like millions of other people. I was richer than many, poorer than most and still privileged. I was a post-grad. student from Europe trying to get in touch with  life in a way I had thought or judged not attainable back home, but really engaged in make-believe like so many European kids at that time.
In my well ordered home country, even in Berlin, where I had graduated from law school people did not easily get lost. I don´t doubt that, if one really tried, one could manage to loose oneself some way of other, but it would have cost a measurable effort and willpower to not be found and catalogued like any other specimen starting to drift in a welfare state.
New York  was different. The city was not going to cut me slack and neither did I expect it to. And yet, at any given time I felt that it was possible to just gently drift out into that good night without giving it much thought. It was quite the opposite: you had to remind yourself to keep swimming, to unfold some kind of will to stay afloat.
Especially at night, emerging from my file cabinet, really broom closet, and dusting off, I walked down the narrow hallway, briefly pausing in front of Mr. Letterman´s office with its gentle light behind the milk glass pane. Sometimes I thought I heard papers rustling. Sometimes there was a stillness as if Mr. Letterman – behind the door with the milk glass window – was listening to me listening to him. The stillness was gentle. I waited a moment and then continued on my way to the elevator.
The lobby at 10 pm was quiet, too. There were two doormen behind a mahagony reception desk. They would briefly say good night but they were not up for a chat with the European legal intern leaving late at night. There was a television set behind the desk running. I could recognize bits and pieces of the channels turned low in volume as CNN or ESPN without seeing the screen. I had no one to share this accomplishment with so I just quickly crossed the lobby. Stepping into the revolving door I was already anticipating the smells and sounds of 34th street.
There was a moment of absolute freedom of stepping out of that door. I knew it to be an illusion. But it was also real because it would have only depended on a change of heart, on a simple act of letting go to make it real.
That moment of freedom lasted until I crossed the street and looked up at the Empire State building beyond the next crossing of 5th Ave. Then I turned back and looked up the fassade of the building I had just left. I did this every night. And every night one light in the row of darkened windows of the sixth floor, like a shard of glass on the beach reflecting the sun, responded to the sparkling of its grand and beautiful neighbor, the Empire State building, and seemed to bid me a kind of good night that reconciled me with the idea of a common life and prevented me from drifting off into the night and set me back on track to my apartment though sometimes not for some hours. One light was all that was needed to break the spell.

Mr. O´Leary encounters an act of kindness

 

Mr. O´Leary was highly suspicious of acts of kindness. He had been working in a field – contract law – where nothing ever was what it first seemed to be. As a lawyer he had had to train himself to question not just every contract presented to him, but to question even the expressed will of every client who came to him to have a contract drafted.

This was kind of the connecting negative puzzle piece to the legal plain-meaning rule, a principle used by courts in interpreting contracts that provide that the objective definitions of contractual terms are controlling, irrespective of whether the language comports with the actual intention of either party.

Mr. O´Leary was a specialist in creating contracts that satisfied plain-meaning-interpretation, eliminating inconsistencies and double-meaning phrases, extracting the literal content of the contract from the hidden intention of his clients without making it plain that other than purely legal and contractual reasons were actually motivating his clients to sign a contract that was written thus.

His guiding principle in understanding the lawyer-client relationship was that clients expected him to know about them and their intentions without telling him, in fact, for him to know what they could have known about themselves but preferred not to know and thus would not relate to him in plain terms. He considered it his job to shield them from this kind of painful, self-reflecting knowledge and he was supremely certain that his clients expected him to not ever let them know what they preferred not to know about themselves but to keep it disguised from them while at the same time adjusting the contracts to their hidden goals thus allowing them to continue to feel – reasonably – good about themselves and at the same time satisfy – and justify – their true goals.

When he was a young lawyer still – and green with it – he executed – to the letter and in an irreproachable manner – what clients told him to do and wondered when they paid their bills without complaint and still carried their business elsewhere afterwards. But he was quick on the uptake and soon adjusted his business conduct. There were certainly things they did not teach you at law school. Ever since he´d adjusted his guiding principles , clients, high paying clients, knew how to find him even though he was literally hiding amidst his file boxes like the Minotaur at the heart of the labyrinth Daedalus designed.

A graduate and scholarship student of the University of Chicago Law school Mr. O´Leary in his day had had his choice of law firms who´d have been glad to consider his application. He was extremely smart and had an impeccable work ethic. He´d also been subject to the same prep-talk (he called it propaganda) of „success“ as his class mates. Judged by how their alma mater described her alumni they all were but a group of friends who would pick up the phone anytime one of them called with a question and sat down with him to walk through issues. According to their law school they all were extremely fun, thoughtful, smart, and FUN students, and would continue to bring the same energy to their work as lawyers.

It was not that he did not appreciate the excellent education and rigorous academic training he had received.He also knew that the average salary for newly minted law graduates was nearly about $180,000 per year by now and that the graduates were worth it. It meant that as a lawyer with no experience he could have immediately be in the top 5% of U.S. earners. But for some unfathomable reason he also knew that students graduating from a top tier law school were the same as people on average with the only – significant – difference that they were subject to more diversion and temptation.

He did not graduate top of his class to be diverted from life. He could have taken three or four top performing associates from any top law firm and founded his own big law firm as a naming partner. It was all within his reach. But it was not what he had wanted.

If it seemed strange to others that he had accepted Mr. Letterman´s offer to become a partner on 35th street rather than to join one of the top ten law firms in New York and get worn down as an associate there before being hired by an excellent law firm and becoming partner eventually it was because they did not know some of the things about him, he thought he had realized early on.

It was not a sign of humility that he had chosen Mr. Letterman sen. instead. It was not exceptional that he did not get drunk on the prep talk of success. He had not been a recluse in law school. He had actually differed from the other highly motivated graduates and future pilars of society in a degree up, not down, by a notch. He had wanted more. It had been an extreme act of arrogance and late-puberty idealism (the same) and the result of careful research. He had been very clear to himself about what he thought he wanted and what he thought he did not want.

He was convinced back then – and was convinced still – that life mostly just happened to people, even or especially people who graduated from top tier law schools. Even early on in law school, he was convinced that people wasted about 15 – 20 years of their lives and took another ten to rectify their initial mistakes, if they were so lucky to live as long as that. He was not going to be cheated by life in this manner.

Mr. Letterman had an excellent reputation. You did have to know  how to find him. The office address was not sufficient to get in touch with him. But Mr. O`Leary was a good observer. Mr. O´Leary had also been told that Mr. Letterman sen. was legend and did not accept any applications. He had been told that even if Mr. Letterman would accept an application, he´d be likely not to pay the kind of salary that a University of Chicago Law school graduate legitimately could expect as a starting salary. This was concluded by the state of Mr. Letterman´s cramped office and filing system.

But what mattered to Mr. O´Leary was something fairly abstract and elusive: he was convinced that Mr. Letterman was one of the few lawyers he´d ever encountered who was in charge of his own life. His research showed that nobody took Mr. Letterman sen. along for a ride. As Mr. O´Leary saw it, Mr. Letterman owed nobody a kindness. He certainly did not owe him, a recent graduate, an opportunity to reach out for the kind of life he thought Mr. Letterman had found. He knew though he was depending on an act of kindness for Mr. Letterman to accept his application.

Not that he believed in it. In kindness. He had been practicing law for many years now and he had lived in NYC for as many years and he was sure, absolutely sure, that he had never encountered a genuine act of kindness apart from Mr. Letterman´s willingness – as many years ago – to accept his application.

Mr. Letterman disappears

 

Mr. Letterman loved New York City, and he loved his profession. He had graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1966 and had worked for a year for the New York City Corporation Council’s office. He was a shy and friendly person and a very good lawyer. He certainly did not not have a reputation for aggressiveness, appearing almost apologetical as he was presenting his cases with a polite old-school manner. He did meticulous research and was a sharp analyst. Rudeness aggrieved him. He distinguished himself by winning his cases in an inexorably kind manner.

His parents had been doctors in Brooklyn. He had a sister who was almost 14 years his senior and who had taken over their parents medical practice as they both retired towards the end of his law school time. It had seemed a natural choice that he would do medical malpractice litigation but it had been too obvious a choice for him. Instead he had set up his offices in a small place near the Empire State building and had started to defend New York property owners in claims involving the wide range of problems the city dealt out to them on a daily basis: property damage, negligent hiring, inadequate security, lead poisoning, bodily injury on the premises, intentional assault, arson, and fraud. He was well known in his area of expertise, and he had seen every kind of  human misery conceivable. He was a New York lawyer.

He rarely met clients in his offices. Instead he preferred to sit by the window in a small coffeeshop until well after lunch time, taking notes while clients sat opposite him in the booth that was reserved for him on weekdays. After lunch he quietly slipped out of his booth, payed his bill, left a generous tip and crossed the street. On court days his booth remained empty. Afternoons and evenings he spent at the office working on legal briefs.

He led a typical New York life. If he made a lot of money he certainly did not show off or took a lot of time to spend it. In some ways his taste was very simple. He loved his coffee black, no sugar. He knew who he was and what he liked, but he did not need to talk about it.

He would never tire of his corner of the city. He thought the Empire State building was the world second most beautiful manmade sight. First was the Brooklyn bridge. He considered himself a man born at the right time in the right place.

In 1996, when I started as an intern at O´Leary and Letterman LLP I did not know any of this. In fact, I only knew Mr. Letterman by name, and I never met a staff member of an associate who seemed to have either met him or who had the willingness to share their knowledge if they were in possession of it. Over time I wondered if he even existed or if Mr. O´Leary had simply invented him for the sake of a better company name.

Reading Wallace as a legal intern, or: Being half as smart as a moose makes you a muffin

 

So, it turns out that reading David Foster Wallace kind of inflicted permanent damage to my brain. What I mean to say is that writing German is an elusive task for me since reading Wallace. Writing German I sound, well, I guess, cultured. Professional. Well phrased. Boring. Writing German is something I do every day, as I do it for a living, but which I do not half as well as I would could I use my other language for my legal briefs. I´d be brillant. If I could only write my briefs in English.

I write: „my“ other language, because though I feel I am represented extremely well by what I write in English, I also realize that I am not even close to being a fluent writer in English, and thus being extremely well represented by what I write in English also means that I am extremely well represented by a halting, hacking use of a foreign language riddled with mistakes, misconceptions and yearning. Which as far, as I know, are the signs of true love.

So strong is my rejection of my native language in representing who I am, that I feel better represented by a language that constantly demonstrates my limited ability to use it than my own that I master to the typical bourgeois degree your average lawyer is bound to. It is as if writing in English is a personal code my brain is using; hence the possessive pronoun, „my“ other language.

I am stuck, with other words, in the rejection of my mother tongue like a dutiful wife in a sensible marriage. I am also stuck between two languages, two ages, two cultures. Somewhere along the way I lost myself. It´s been years since I have been me. Thank god. Being me was scary as hell. I read a lot of David Foster Wallace when I was me. I heard the vermin stirring in the walls of the closet I called my New York apartment. I actually heard my hair growing when I turned off the light at night. You may conclude how scary being me was, when I tell you that I took that for a hopeful sign.

At daytime I worked in a crappy small place of a law office of 35th street and Lex. My German fellow interns were on the L.L.M. track, lived in trendy lofts they presumably leased for token rents from some distant American cousin and got accepted into prestigious law firms with company names that were longer than the hallway of my apartment. I worked in a place with boxes full of files stacked along the walls everywhere.

Some days it took me an hour to find my boss who was curiously enough named Mr. O´Leary (as if all my German knowledge of American subculture had convened in one place) because the labyrinth created by the file boxes changed every day as new documents had to be filed or old ones to be found.

I don´t know whether Mr. O´Leary, Esq. ,ever left the premises. Or his office for that matter. He was wearing the same crumpled, dark blue suit every day. Judged by the amount of bento take-out sushi boxes and Chinese fortune cookies that assembled in the margins of his desk like shells and sea weed left by a receding tide line he lived right there. Sometimes, in order to find Mr. O´Leary, in the morning to receive my assignments from him, I simply followed the Pizza guy who never had trouble finding Mr. O´Leary´s office. Mr. O-Leary liked pizza and coffee for breakfast. I never met Mr. Letterman sen.

The firm did real estate law exclusively. This being the age of the internet my boss advertised his services ONLINE with a company website that a client had put together lieu of a legal fee for Mr. OO´Leary and the invisible Mr. Letterman sen. whose existence had never been proven to me or any other employee I had talked to during my three-and-a-half years at O´Leary and Letterman sen. LLP. T

he website looked like a ripped out yellow page ad and said that O-Leary & Letterman sen. LLP did commercial and residential real estate transactions, presented „Comprehensive Legal Strategies for Real Estate Investors“, and excelled in the representation of sellers and purchasers in the sale, financing or leasing of multifamily and single family residential properties and a wide range of commercial properties. My job was mainly to draft office and retail leases somewhere in yet another closet that was 3/4 filled with file boxes, a copy machine and a small desk. The place smelled like cardboard and ozone. The whole firm was a nightmare of a fire hazard.

Once a month the cleaning lady removed the debris of take-out left overs (she never touched the file boxes, of course). When Mr. O´Leary´s desk was clean, there was enough place to write pay cheques. Minimum wages were a dream for me. I knew the cleaning lady was paid royally in comparison. I also knew all of our survival depended on her. She was worth it. I was replaceable. At best.

And yet I felt like I was on fire. No. Delete that. I was on fire. And reading David Foster Wallace confirmed it. That I was smart enough to read David Foster Wallace in English confirmed it. I was on fire and I was so super smart. Smarter than the German interns in the big law firms who for all I knew had no idea who David Foster Wallace was. Nor cared to know. Nor would have been able to read Wallace if they had cared. Or so I wanted to think.

Living in New York in a closet working in between a labyrinth of file boxes doing legal research on LexisNexis. I felt like living in a Coen brothers movie. Just without the action. When I read Wallace I didn´t care that we had a roach infestation in our prewar building or that I was only able to make rent by renting out the space under my dining table to a guy from Senegal who worked in a food truck till four in the morning and came home at 8.00 am to crash for a couple of hours. His name was Jawara. He kept his mattress and his few belongings in such neat order as only very poor people know how. I was rich in comparison to Jawara. We barely saw each other because I left for work when he came back home – which was why the arrangement worked – but I always felt kind of shy around the place that should have been my own but that due to my own kind of poverty I shared with an almost stranger who had set up camp underneath my dining table.

I felt so smart when I read David Foster Wallace (and only then) and I know, I KNOW, you are going to say that this – by statistical probability – could not have been but your typical college kid delusion. A bad case, too. Except that I was past college age. I was on fire and delusional, that much is true. Two things scared me while reading Wallace. 1. I got him (correct that: I was convinced I was the only person in the universe who got him) 2. I realized I was not half as smart as Wallace. Smarter than your average lawyer intern. Not half as smart as Wallace. And being half as smart as Wallace was just not that flattering a thought to me. Being half as smart as a moose makes you a muffin.

At least, I knew a few people who could well have been as smart as Wallace. I had no way to truly prove that, of course, prove that they were almost as smart as my guru Wallace. It was more of an educated guess. But judged by the rate they have died on me since I left the law firm on 35th and Lex. they probably had been. I have learned a few things just by being a muffin in the vicinity of very, very smart people. They tend to hide behind file boxes. And despite the fact that still no big name law firm would hire me, neither would they hire any of the very, very smart people I knew, some of which had law degrees. Not statistically speaking, just deducing by the kind of very, VERY, smart people I knew, I do have something in common with them. Being truly smart makes for a lonely life. As does being a muffin. But so does poverty. Illness. Old age. Alkohol. The wrong nationality. The wrong color of skin. As well as a few other suspects. Being any of the latter and being smart, really smart, is almost sure to be a killer.

But I should start from the beginning. How it happened that a German intern who was green with it, got to work for O´Leary and Letterman sen. LLP. on 35th Street.

Aristotle´s last gift

So that very night, as I pushed north, tired but alert, I finally reached the realm where the sky stays streaked with light even in the darkest hours. The engines ran monotonously, I had regulated the radiator down to avoid drowsiness and as a result was shivering ever so slightly. It would be time soon to steer the car off the road to sleep for a while but that moment had not quite come yet. It had been a while since I had turned the radio off but the last few lines of a jazz song by Nina Simone were still trapped in the cabin like some slovenly buzzing insect that would eventually die for want of food and would reduce itself to a parchment memory of itself. I rolled done the window ever so slightly and let the Nina Simone lyrics escape through the narrow slit into the summer night. I wondered briefly wether the wind would carry it away to one of the deserted villages or if it would gently rain down on the adjacent fields. My senses were acute and alert, registering the thick and slow movements of the farm animals on the fields, stoically waiting out the night, and the depth of the glowing darkness beyond. For a moment it was easy to imagine that in that immensity nothing could be lost. Aristotle would be sitting somewhere out there in the cabin by a carefully build fire, no other light in the room, and warmth radiating beyond the cabin walls, attracting lost things. Aristotle as I knew him, not that being reduced to shadows and ash, that I had been asked to identify days earlier. They had given me the small metal box with the ring and a key I had never seen before, and that looked like made from a smithy in an old children´s book. Maybe the matching lock was long since gone. I had put the key on a woven silk cord the color of fresh blood around my neck. He had promised to bring back some trinket from his trip after all. The last gift of Aristotle.

Erzähler jenseits der A7

Für mich stellt sich auch immer wieder die Frage, ob ich in den Ideen, mit denen ich mir die Welt erzähle, überhaupt noch vorkomme. Denn es gibt ja auch die Versuchung, sich aus der Welt heraus zu erzählen, die Welt gläsern, schön und fern zu erzählen. Wie  schaffe ich es, dass die Figuren lebendig bleiben und Menschlichkeit atmen trotz des dahinter liegenden erzählerischen Motivs?

Es gibt das vorwegnehmende Schreiben im Kopf, wenn sich das  allgemeine Denken ablösen lässt durch die innere Erzählstimme. Auch dieses Schreiben unterliegt der Versuchung, sich aus der Welt zu erzählen. In den letzten Wochen habe ich viele Stunden im Berufsverkehr auf der Autobahn und auf Umleitungen verbracht, begleitet von dem Gedanken an den Text, der zuhause wartet, und von DLF, DKultur, Lesungen, Lang Lang, dem ungeduldigem Wechsel von Straßen, Radiostationen, Hörspielen zerschnitten, während ich im Stau stehe oder den Stau umgehe, was annähernd ebenso schmerzhaft ist.

Im Stau stehend lässt es sich zwar weder denken noch im Kopf schreiben: man beobachtet und wird beobachtet. In den Wagen auf der anderen Spur, an denen ich im Zeitlupentempo vorbeirolle, sehe ich die ganze Vielfalt des Lebens im Miniaturformat, Schachteltheater: Fahrer, die vor Verzweiflung ins Lenkrad beißen. Fahrer, die schon mal duschen und Zähne putzen oder den Hund ausführen, oder Klavier spielen, kirchliche Trauungen in SUVs und einvernehmliche Scheidungen in VW Polos von 1998, eine Geburt auf Kilometer 96 Richtung Flensburg, ein Altenheimpicnick in einem behindertengerechten Transportbus und das Set für eine Pornofilmproduktion in der Kabine eines Lkw.

Nach der Flucht von der Autobahn und während ich mich auf Umwegen über Land verliere, beginne ich jedoch im Kopf zu schreiben, Bibliotheken unveröffentlichter Bücher.  Alle Strecken Richtung Norden sind von abfahrendem Verkehr verstaut, also kreuze ich wie ein Segler vor dem Wind und gerate auf Wald- und Feldwege. Es ist die Stille und Leere der Straßen, sie weckt die Stimme, die sich die Welt erzählen will.  Sie erzählt sich den Wald im Abendlicht, die dunkelgrünen Schatten noch vereinzelt golden gesprenkelt. Sie erzählt den Luchs am Wegesrand. Noch nie zuvor habe ich einen Luchs gesehen, aber ich erkenne ihn aus meiner Grundschulfibel, wo er unter L, Luchs, mit feinem Pinselstrich dargestellt war. Ich grüße ihn innerlich, hier also bist Du, alter Gesell. Er springt über den Entwässerungsgraben und verschwindet geschmeidig im Abendgrün. Zwei Tage, erneut auf der Flucht vor dem Stau, erspähe ich auf einer Weide ein frischgeborenes Kälbchen, kaum mehr als ein Haufen Fell, das schlaff vor der Mutterkuh auf der Wiese liegt.  Ich parke den Wagen am Wegrand, trete an den Weidezaun und sehe der Mutterkuh dabei zu, wie sie ihr Kälbchen anstupst und es zu seinem ersten Aufstehen ermuntert, während die Abendsonne des hohen Nordens meinen unerwarteten Schatten über das Feld und das gescheckte Fell der Kuh malt.

Ich frage nicht, warum ich hier stehe, abseits des eingezeichneten Weges, und mir Kühe ansehe statt nach Hause zu fahren. Es ist ein einsamer Augenblick, Kuh, Kalb, Felder, Schatten, Mensch, Abendlicht, und Akten auf dem Rücksitz. Ein kleines Licht löst sich aus meinem Atem. In der Gemeinschaft würde es sofort versuchen, sich in das kommunale, kollektive Bewusstsein zu integrieren, aber hier steht es eine Weile fragend über dem Feld wie eine schimmernde Seifenblase.

Ich komme nicht umhin zu sehen, dass ich in diesem Bild auch fehlen könnte, Kuh, Kalb, Weide bedürfen meines Schattens nicht. In diesem Augenblick bin ich nur ein Störbild im Horizont eines einheitlichen Geschehens. Leide ich in diesem Augenblick an dem sich aus der Welt schwebenden Bewusstsein, das sich selbst für entbehrlich hält? Ist die Welt nicht schöner, wenn sie fern und gläsern ist, Alltägliches verwoben mit Licht und der Erzähler unsichtbar?

Abitur 2016

Für einen Augenblick,gerade jetzt, stehen dort draussen vor den Türen die Uhren still, hebt ein Hund regungslos sein Bein am nächsten Baum, lässt eine Greisin die Griffe ihres Walkers los, streckt ihren Rücken so gut es geht und verharrt, schwingt eine Schaukel mit einem kleinen Jungen bis zum Zenith und nicht zurück. Der Lärm der nahen Autobahn verstummt, ein Containerschiff hält unvermittelt gegen alle Regeln der klassischen Mechanik und das Wasser im Kanal sieht aus wie das Meer in der Augsburger Puppenkiste.
Die Elemente,aus denen Ihr Körper gemacht ist, kommen aus dem geordneten Chaos aus Gas und Staub,mit dem die junge Erde vor 4,5 Milliarden Jahren um die Protosonne kreiste. Wenn die Erde einen Tag alt wäre, so träte der Mensch an diesem Tag drei Sekunden vor Mitternacht in Erscheinung. Und Sie selber, auch wenn Sie hundert Jahre alt werden, sind ein elektrisches Flimmern, das sich mit bloßem Auge nicht wahrnehmen lässt. Für einen unfassbar kurzen Augenblick nur entstehen Gestalt und Bewusstsein. Sie haben, mit anderen Worten, 4,5 Milliarden Jahre geschlafen, um für den Bruchteil einer Sekunde auf der Erde zu erwachen, offenbar unter anderem, um ihr Abitur zu machen.
Und deshalb steht dort draussen die Zeit jetzt still. Denn dieser Augenblick gehört Ihnen, und es ist ein verwunschener Augenblick.Und wenn Sie diesen Augenblick verlassen, indem Sie nach dieser Feier wieder auf die Straße treten, beginnt unter Ihren Füßen der Weg, der bis zu den Enden der Welt führt. Ein Weg, der sich tausendfach verzweigt und den man doch in allen Abschnitten eigentlich nur auf eine Weise gehen kann: Never save for the way back.
Die Welt, in die Sie jetzt als Erwachsene hineinwachsen, ist, befürchte ich, zwar in keinem wohl geordneten Zustand. Es wird seit einiger Zeit sehr deutlich: wir, Ihre Eltern, haben es uns zu lange erlaubt, unpolitisch zu leben. Sie werden diesen Luxus nicht mehr haben. Viele der Wünsche für die Zukunft, die ich in Ihrer Abizeitung gelesen habe, werden sich nur erfüllen wenn Sie selbst dazu beitragen, die Welt so zu gestalten, dass sie lebenswert bleibt.
Als Ihre Eltern haben wir nicht das Recht, von Ihnen verlangen, dass Sie hinter uns aufräumen. Es wird Ihnen aber wohl nichts anderes übrig bleiben. Wir haben Ihnen Häuser gebaut, jetzt müssen Sie Mauern überwinden. Wir haben Ihnen Gärten angelegt, jetzt müssen Sie durch die Wüste ziehen. Wir haben Ihnen Gesetze gegeben, jetzt kämpfen Sie um eigene Regeln. Wenn Sie es nicht schon getan haben, lernen Sie es jetzt, uns in Frage zu stellen. Trotzdem wünschen wir uns von Ihnen, dass Sie Ihren Teil dazu beitragen werden, dass es weiter Menschlichkeit, Gerechtigkeit und Freiheit in unserer Gesellschaft gibt, und dass Sie die Überzeugung nicht aufgeben, dass es ohne diese kein menschenwürdiges Dasein geben kann.
Noch einen letzten Rat zum Abschied: Wenn Sie sich derzeit in Ihrer Berufswahl noch schwer tun und sich fürchten, sich falsch zu entscheiden, so stellen Sie sich vor, Sie wären schon steinalt und würden auf Ihr Leben zurückschauen. Dieses fernen Tages werden Sie sich nicht dazu gratulieren, dass Sie 40.000,00 oder 70.000,00 oder 150.000 oder 500.000 Euro im Jahr verdient haben. Aber Sie werden an Menschen denken, die in Ihrem Leben wichtig waren und in deren Leben, mit etwas Glück, Sie wichtig waren. Erfolg läßt sich nicht an Ihrem Abiturschnitt messen, es wird sich nicht an Ihrer Berufswahl oder Ihrem Einkommen messen lassen, sondern daran, ob Sie wirklich lebendig waren in Ihrer Lebenszeit, ob Sie gestaunt und geliebt haben, welchen Weg auch immer Sie gewählt haben, wählen werden. Also wählen Sie mit leichtem Herzen.
Nutzen Sie Ihren Sekundenbruchteil von Bewusstsein in der Ewigkeit und seien Sie Teil dieser Welt, so, dass man es sieht, fühlt und hört, dass Sie da sind. Erkennen Sie das Provisorische Ihrer Zeit. Ich wünsche Ihnen, dass Sie für etwas brennen, dass Sie sich vom Leben entflammen lassen. Alles andere wäre Verschwendung. To give less than your best is to waste the gift. Weniger als Ihr Bestes zu geben ist eine Verschwendung Ihres Talents.
Sie haben Milliarden Jahre geschlafen, jetzt ist Ihr kurzer Augenblick, zu strahlen. Sie haben nichts zu verlieren. Nehmen Sie Ihr Abitur als Ticket für eine fantastische Reise. Machen Sie unbedingt Fehler auf dem Weg. Lieben Sie jemanden. Schützen Sie jene, die schwächer sind als Sie selbst. Finden Sie Freundschaft. Das Leben ist ein Fest.
Und egal, was Sie studieren oder was für eine Ausbildung Sie machen, lernen Sie auch etwas über unseren einzigartigen Planeten, über das Universum, das uns umgibt, über das Wesen der Zeit und über das Kilogramm Gehirn in Ihrem Schädel.