Monday, June 18, 2007


Locked out for 2 days. Camped out at Ingrid's. Went to the Schlüsseldienst in Katzbachstraße at 10; he told me to come back in an hour. Retreated to Yorckschlößchen. Back to SD who drove me to the house in his car (he does this now after the time I confused 1700 hours with 7pm and was not waiting on the doorstep). He cracked the lock. I gave him a 50-Euro note and thanked and thanked and thanked.

SD: Es ist meine Arbeit.

It's my job.

The Schlüsseldienst lives in a tiny pocket of reality where someone who DESPERATELY needs a very simple thing done NOW can actually pay a paltry 50 Euros to get it done by the type of person who sees doing it NOW as his job. Once he has done that simple thing I have a place to stay, my books, my clothes, my papers, a kitchen, a bath. (Still no phone, though, and no Internet access, because there's no one at T-Com or anywhere else who can be paid to fix it NOW.)

I know it's his job; I love the fact that it's his job; I must do something to make sure that he makes much more money out of the job. I must advertise the SD on the sidebar so all English-speakers on the Kreuzberg-Schöneberg border know where to go. Yes.

I go back to Yorckschlößchen, gestresst. It's 11.34 am. I tell Jerry I must have a beer and Walker's crisps, and he says Que? and I point. I walk round the bar to have a better look at the ranks of Walker's crisps hanging from laundry clips. Olav (who owns Y'n) and Katrin are standing by.

I say: (This is all in a series of sentences bearing a family resemblance to German, but never mind that now) Don't you have anything other than Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail? Don't you have Ready Salted?

(I have just had an e-mail from an Israeli sniper who is now being retrained in a one-week crash course in computers, because she has almost finished her National Service and sniping is not seen as a sufficiently transferable skill. She can't think of anything but Gaza. She says she wishes she had been killed on a mountain by another sniper, someone who saw her brown skin against the green. She has a scholarship to Harvard which she has had to postpone for 2 years. While camped out at Ingrid's I have been TRYING to get her to put her ticket to Boston on one of my credit cards so I know the ticket is actually booked and she will go, but she now says she has bought the ticket through her factory and does not have to pay till July 1 and she will probably -- well, she has various ideas for jobs that do not sound like very good ideas. I think she has in fact booked a ticket from Tel Aviv to Newark. We had a correspondence a while back about Your Name Here, which tries to engage the reader with Arabic; she said: Do you really thinking learning Arabic will make people stop killing each other? I assure you you are mistaken. (She does speak Arabic; she has an Iraqi grandmother, who does not want her to waste 4 years on Harvard.) The many readers who acted as guinea pigs for the Arabic puzzles thought they were great. The few publishers who have seen the book are not wildly keen -- though not, as far as I can make out, because sceptical that learning Arabic will make people stop killing each other.)

I say to Olav and Katrin: Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail are the worst flavours of crisp. That's why they are always the last to sell -- nobody likes them.

Olav says: No, actually they're the most popular. When we didn't sell crisps Salt & Vinegar was the flavour everyone asked for. Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail.

I say: Oh.

I say: Well, that's echt Britisch. Salt & Vinegar, Prawn Cocktail. And Marmite. Echt Britisch.

He says: Yes. Very British. What flavour do you like?

I say: Smoky Bacon. Smoky Bacon is the best.

Meanwhile Jerry has been down to the cellar and come back with a packet of Ready Salted crisps.

Salt & Vinegar. Prawn Cocktail. These are the Da Vinci Codes of the world of crisps, crowding out Smoky Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Cheese & Onion and Ready Salted -- flavours that are not sold out because popular, merely kept in the cellar to leave the laundry clips free for the crowdpleasers.

Many many thanks to the readers who have generously made contributions to my PayPal account. For those who are sitting on the fence, remember that a packet of Walker's Smoky Bacon crisps costs 1 Euro. According to OzForex,

PayPal charges 30 cents plus 3% commission, which means that a remote-purchased packet of Smoky Bacon Crisps costs $1.66.

Sending Arabic puzzles out into the world is clearly not my job. Writing a novel with Arabic in it was clearly not my job. Writing September 11 novels without Arabic is clearly the job of quite a lot of writers, since quite a lot of writers (Updike, McInerney, Foer, McEwan, DeLillo) have managed to get paid for it. It's not my job, but I think it's meine Arbeit. My poor head.

If Updike or McInerney or Foer or McEwan or DeLillo had learnt Arabic they would have known how exciting it is to make the first breakthrough into the language. If they had known that they would have wanted to know everyone to know it. So if some earlier writer -- a Borges or a Calvino or a Bowles -- had written fiction that enabled the reader to make that breakthrough, Updike et al. would have made that breakthrough and they would have been different writers from the ones they were. But because no earlier writer had brought out the Smoky Bacon, they themselves were in no position to bring out Smoky Bacon, and so there never has been and never will be a market for Smoky Bacon. Except that when I ask readers to act as guinea pigs on Arabic puzzles they generally get very enthusiastic.

That remote-purchased packet of Smoky Bacon crisps could keep the author sending Arabic puzzles (that Smoky Bacon of the world of books) out into the world when publishers and Israeli snipers were not wildly keen. That remote-purchased PDF of Your Name Here (a bargain at $10) sidesteps the sort of publisher who will only publish Salt & Vinegar and Prawn Cocktail. You know it makes sense.

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