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The lazy boy by thadeusz
My father, Rodolf Mehrman, had a factory of ready-to-assemble-furniture. He made lots of money selling relatively cheap kits of furniture which had to be assembled at home to make bookshelves, tables, beds, etc. In fact the main offices were in Berlin, where we lived, but the actual factory was in a nearly desertic zone of ex-East Germany. There my father found cheap labor and he got Federal funds for creating a new factory in what was until then an industrial desert.
My mother, Liselotte, was kind and protective. She let me do more or less what I wanted and thus it was easy for me, Mark Mehrman, to have relatively long hair. In fact I was very proud of my big mane. The only requirement was that I kept my hair clean and neatly "arranged". My father was too busy making money to really take care of my education or of the way my mother filled her empty days.
I must confess that I did not study very well. I was intelligent but lazy and, in any case, I did not like to study. As soon as I could, I loved to escape and go out. During these escapades, I drank a lot despite the fact that I was still underaged. I went out with girls and in order to attract them I succeeded to convince my parents to give me a car as soon as I got my high school diploma. After that I promised that I would go to college, but I did not like it.
In college, I did very poorly. Even worse: I failed my first year. My parents did not like this situation. As soon as I turned 20, my father suggested that I should abandon College and do as he had done: start to work. I was forced to accept this proposal since I had no money. I started to work for my father’s company, in a nice office. I had convinced my mother that now that I was a "working man", I could no longer stay at home. My mother made my father rent for me a small apartment close to the office.
Now that I was a working man, stupidly, I now admit, I spent most of my time saying nasty things to my colleagues, arguing that I was after all none the less than "the son of the boss". I also spent my nights drinking a lot and going out with expensive girls. All that cost me a lot, but I had a more than reasonable paycheck every month.
My parents hated my attitude, especially my father, but they did not know how to treat me and I kept enjoying that situation.
Several nights, I came home in my apartment nearly completely drunk. I did not take my clothes off and simply fell on my bed, and fell asleep immediately. Luckily for me, the next morning the alarm clock woke me up in time. After a quick wash and a changing of clothes, I was ready to go and work in my nice office, with friendly colleagues that I mistreated.
One evening, things went too far. I was drunk and I started, for a reason I have forgotten, a fight in a bar. The police came and arrested me. They put me in a sobering cell. The next morning, when I woke up dirty as everything, I was in panic. A chief police officer told me that I had broken parts of a bar during my fight and that I would have to pay for that. I was going to be judged and sentenced the next day, but in the meantime I was taken for booking: my mugshot and my fingerprints were taken. After that another policeman locked me in an ordinary cell. He explained to me that as of that moment, I had a criminal identification.
It was only the next morning that I could tell the same chief police officer who my "important father" was. My father came and told me he would arrange things. In fact he organized everything so that the police would keep me "for sobering reasons" during a fortnight. To me he said later that there was nothing he could do:
"I regret it my boy, but you will have to serve some time in jail because of all the damage you have done. In any case you will have to repay the barman for everything you broke. That’s a minimum."
"But Father, you know that I don’t have enough money. Can’t you help me ? Can’t you get me out of here ? I promise to be better."
"I’ll see what I can do, but it will take some time."
It took 2 long weeks before the police let me out of prison. My father was there and brought me to my parents home. I ate there and slept on my bed in my former room.
The next morning, the alarm clock woke me up very early: I looked and noticed it was 6 am. I also noticed that I was in the nude and sitting on a kitchen chair placed in my bathroom. I came slowly to my senses and realized that it was in fact a sort of kitchen armchair I had never seen before. My ankles and wrists were attached to it by means of very strong adhesive tape. I tried to get free, but could not move.
A young guy appeared and introduced himself as the assistant of my former barber, when I was a boy. A voice, in fact I recognized my father’s voice, came booming from my back. My father told me that I would now start my transformation.
The barber shaved my head completely, using no guard on the sides and just a #2 guard on the top of my head. I complained about the loss of my big mane, but my father told me that it was the price to pay to start working decently. After that the barber gave me a good and well needed face shaving.
When the barber was done, he freed me and my father told me, severely, to take a broom to clean all that mess. I looked in the mirror and the image of myself horrified me. In the mirror the image of another person appeared, not me ! I was still in the nude and that bothered me a lot, but my father did not care.
My father told me then to sign a piece of paper. It looked like a contract, and it was a contract, but I did not dare to read it. In any case, my father told me:
"Sign this document NOW, or I leave you in the street dressed like you are. You will be arrested immediately and sent back to prison."
I signed ! My father gave me undies and a blue overall with the name of the company on the back: "Mehrman furniture". This overall had another name on the left breast pocket. My father added:
"Mark you are now going to work as a workman in one of my factories situated in the East. The paper you just signed is a five year contract. You will be fed, housed and clothed there. If you work well, you will earn a small salary. After five years it should help you to have a better start in life."
"I will work as a plain workman ?"
"Yes, and in order not to ridicule my company name, your name is from now on Peter BRENNER, your middle name and your mother’s name."
"But father, I don’t want to do that."
"Well, you signed a contract saying you are going to do it. It is too late to change now, you ex-prisoner."
My father gave me thick and coarse blue socks. He added to that heavy black workman shoes, claiming it would protect me at work. Finally, I got a little blue cap with the letters MF in white and in front, showing I now "belonged" to his company. Finally my father gave me my "workman pass", a document established by his office and saying that I was Peter Brenner, aged 22, born in the village of Pölchow, near the town of Rostock, and that I was now an employee of "Mehrman furnitures" after serving time in prison for fighting in a bar. Everything was misleading but I was not in a position to object. This document was my only identification document and it mentioned a false birthplace, etc. But the mention about a stay in prison was correct, even if I had not been sentenced and if the short duration of my stay in a police cell could not be compared to another stay in prison. I had a police record now !
I was then told to sit on the back seat of a small van, with MF on its doors, and these doors were locked by the driver. MF being an abbreviation of the name of the company "owning me". The driver started and took me to a far away factory, without a cent in my pockets. There, I was met by the foreman, Johann Kleber. This man showed me first my place in the young workmen dorm. I was to live from now on in a big room foreseen for 40 young workmen. There were 20 double metallic bunks, ten on each side of the room and for each man, one tiny cupboard. There was a big "water room" next to the dorm, with a set of 10 showers without separations, as many toilets again without separations and finally 10 washbasins with as many mirrors, but without any separation between them. The whole thing looked clean, but sad. Chief Kleber, as I was told to call him from now on, gave me additional clothing and told me how to treat it.
Finally Chief Kleber told me about the schedule and the breaks. Waking up time was set at 05:30. A loud noise would wake me up and it was also going to mark the different steps of my day. From 05:30 till 06:00, cleaning self and cleaning room. I learned that I had to be perfectly shaved. Then 30 minutes of sport (compulsory despite the fact that I hated sport) followed by 30 minutes for breakfast. At 07:00 the working day started with a 5 hours uninterrupted session. The session could only be interrupted by the Chief if he felt like it and was satisfied by the work of his labourers (I nearly wrote ‘slaves’). From 12:00 to 13:00, I would have the noon meal and possibly a cigarette. No beer for me since I was a "sentenced" drunkard. Then from 13:00 till 18:00 a second work session with the same possibilities as in the morning. From 18:00 till 18:30, compulsory sport and at 18:30 cleaning time for humans and their clothes. At 19:00 : evening mealtime. From 19:30 till 21:00, free time in the room and at 21:00, lights out.
This was the weekdays timetable, from Monday till Saturday included. On Sunday, I could rest but not on my bed. It was advisable, if you wanted to please the Chief, to do as much sport as you could.
This timetable appeared horrific and I said so, but the Chief replied:
"This timetable has an aim: it help let you make amends for your past behaviour and lead you on better tracks."
Then came a very bad moment for me. The Chief looked at me and said:
"Here, you must be neat and ready to work. That means that you must have a clean head in order to have clean ideas."
"Chief, I had a severe haircut this morning. Before that I had a long and important mane, my father forced me to have it reduced to what you see now."
"That’s not enough. I have clippers in my room. Wait here and I will correct that.
The Chief left me alone in what was going to be my big room for five years. He came back a few minutes later with his instrument of torture, without any guard. He called me in the water room and told me to kneel so he could easily reach my head. He then started to shave very seriously my head, and all the possible bits of hair left earlier the same day on my head disappeared in less than five minutes. The Chief told me then that I would have to pay for that haircut, and that the cost would be the equivalent two hours of work (I learned later that one single hour was paid 9,50 Euros) ! He added that I had to get a complete head shave every week on Sunday morning. I felt lost.
In any case, the pay was very little compared to my former pay in Berlin and every breach in the discipline would be punished by a fine equal to the pay I would get in one or more hours of work, depending on the severity of the breach: the factory manager was the only one to decide about that.
I got an upper bunk, the guy on the lower bunk was a certain Adam Karlsfeld. He got to this special factory because he had debts and did not know how he could repay them. Not knowing better, I told him a similar story. In fact all of the 37 guys who were there with me had a similar problem: debts, a stay in prison for something not too serious but which inhibited them to get a better job. After all I was not very different from my new roommates. I also had debts and an inability to work decently.
I was put to work next to Adam and he promised to explain the tricks of the job. At noon, he received one beer every day, but considering his past, he could only buy water or Coke in the bar, when he was allowed to go there. I was strictly restricted to water, with the exception of Sundays: on these days I could buy one single coke and not more.
I completely missed a piece and Chief Kleber was furious because the elements he was supposed to deliver would not be ready on time. He gave me several punches in the face and nearly broke my nose. I had seen him behaving like that before and I knew it would be dangerous to try to shelter behind my arms: that would be considered as a provocation. I also had to appear in front of the factory manager who gave me, as a punishment, a fine of 100 hours of work, which was enormous: 10 full days ! The factory manager lectured me, explaining that I had destroyed expensive material and also that I had cost a lot to the company by making a sale impossible. At the end of the month, I was called by Chief Kleber who told me that my work had not been good enough and that the factory manager had fined me the totality of my pay for this month. He added:
"If you are not able to do better, you will be placed on another job, doing parcels, which is more tiresome and less paid".
That’s when I decided to do my best. My friend Adam explained to me that the Chief and the Manager always behaved like that with a new workman in order to keep his pay and to share it later among them.
After three months in the factory, I had a one week holiday. Adam and five of our comrades also had a one week holiday. The five comrades went and took the bus for the nearest city, after buying new clothes. But I had only 25 euros, that’s what was left of my pay because of the cost of my haircuts, my cokes and my "sloppy working". Adam was in a similar situation. Chief Kleber told us that we could go to a company resthouse where we would pay relatively little, but we would have to keep our uniforms and continue doing chores.
I went once more to the barber, despite the fact that I had not been ordered to do so, and I got my head completely shorn. I was theoretically free and could have escaped, but I had no money. Moreover, I had no ID, except the vicious document my father had fabricated. Anyway, I had this five year contract with my father’s company. So I stayed with my friend Adam. He had more money in his factory account, but not enough because of his debts. So Adam followed my example and also got his head shorn : it was cheaper to have Chief Kleber do it.
We thus stayed in the company resthouse during our one week holiday. The discipline was still there, we had chores to do, but we had no work. At the end of that week we were both broke and we had a small debt with respect to the company, but we were then completely decided to work better since we had no other option.
I wrote to my father saying that I had understood his lesson and that I was now ready to work well and to avoid bars. I hoped that he would let me come back to Berlin. He answered by a letter addressed to "Workman P. Brenner". In it two sentences only: "Workman Brenner, your work is not very satisfactory and you signed a five year contracts three months ago. A man must learn to fulfil his contracts."
I think that’s when my father really won his war by succeeding to force me to become what he wanted: a grown up.