15 04 2011


But Monday morning, I leave the hospital as if I was going to Peter Herman, but I get off the subway on St. Stephen’s Place and call in to work.

“I’m sick, some female problems, I guess.” I say to Petra while I check out new fabrics at the best Inner city fabric store.

“Feel better, I’ll make sure to tell Dr. Herman. He should be at the hospital later anyway to make rounds. Maybe he can prescribe something to you. “ She says kindly.

“Well, ya, I’ll try to ask him, but al I want to do id sleep” I feel bad about lying to her and of course, the fact, that the doctor will not find me at the hospital is a problem I have to deal with somehow.

“No wait!” I have an idea “I’m going to the clinic to get checked out. So I’m not gonna be there. I’ll let you know what they say and when I can come back to work”

So, this gives me a day of freedom to work. Tomorrow? Who knows?

I buy a super expensive wool crepe and silver buttons with the money my father gave me for cosmetics and with the 40$ that came back from America. When I step into the salon, Werner grunts at me as a way of saying “Good Morning”. He barely looks at me.

Damn, what did I do? Is he mad at me?  I worry while I take the steps down to my new kingdom.

A few minutes later, Werner comes down with gorgeous a tall blond woman who looks like she stepped out of an aerobics commercial. She grins and shakes my hand.

“I can’t believe I et to meet you! Werner told me so much about you. I’m so excited.” She gushes. Werner winks at me and I pick up on his public relation trickery.

“Well, I’ll leave you two alone, I have a lady with foils under the heat lamp. Monah, take good care of Susanna. She runs the restaurant next door and she could use your genius to make some really necessary updates to her wardrobe.”

“Oh Werner, hahaha, only you can get away with comments like that, you bad boy, you!” she blushes a bit and turns in his direction, but he’s already upstairs.

“Can you believe that? If my husband talked to me like that, I’d kick his ass. But Werner, he’s so honest, he just says whatever comes t his mind and I totally appreciate it. But not everybody likes that. He has a reputation as the rudest, but best hairdresser in Vienna.” She makes herself comfortable in one of the ancient barber chairs and pulls on the fabric of her designer jacket that looks like it cost two years of my Dr. Herman salary or Kenya’s GDP.

“So, how would you dress me?” she asks.

“I could see you in a dress like this one” I’m still wearing the dress I made yesterday “ But on you, it would look smashing in red, a deep ruby red. And a dark grey jacket, belted like a trench coat. That would look great on you” I’m just free floating, improvising as I grab for words in the dark. But she digs it.

“You are fantastic. I would love to have this dress in red. And a jacket. Lets start with this and go from there. How much money would you like me to leave as a deposit?”

She doesn’t even ask how much it costs. Jesus.

“Two thousand for now” I say nonchalantly, as if I’d taken thousands of Euros for a dress before.

She takes her check book out “Are you sure that’s enough?”

“For now, yes” I say and she writes the check. As she hands it to me, she giggles “Werner told me a bit about your unorthotox method that you developed to make patterns that fit better than anything out there. I’m ready.”

I roll out 2 feet of construction paper on the floor and ask her to lie down on it. She takes her shoes off and stretches out. I outline her body just like I did for myself just one day before.

When we are done, I measure her chest, waist and hips and put my pen away.

“That’s all you need?” he wonders

“That’s all I need, yes. It works, trust me,” I say.

“Can you come over for lunch over at my restaurant? I would love to chat with you. You seem like such an interesting and fascinating women.”

“I’ll try. Thank you very much. I’ll have to check my schedule. If not today, can I have a rain check?” I panic at the idea of food. I just don’t want to be tempted or even think about that. I want to get to work and not eat at all. Who knows what will happen once I start?

I open up a bank account with Susanna’s check and then, since they will not let me take any cash out yet, I return to the studio and start to work on Susanna’s pattern. Then I start on my own jacket.

By the time the salon closes, my jacket is almost ready. I dread the hospital and the moronic jokes and stupid junkie/prison people more than ever and of course, most of all, Dr. Herman. Holy shit! He was caught up in his sweatshop and never made it to the hospital!

The next days I pull the same trick and go to my studio instead. Werner brings me a few more costumers and by Friday, I have 10.000 Euros in my account. I meet with Renate for another fabulous party, but when I return to the hospital – a minute before curfew, my social worker looks grim.

“It seems you haven’t appeared at your work-rehabilitation program all week. Dr. Herman is very upset. He expects you on Monday and you better show up. I’m on your side, but my word doesn’t count for much, so please promise me that you’ll go. I care for you and I’d hate for you to get in trouble.”

“OK. I’ll go. But only to quit”

“We’ll se about that. I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Good Night.”

I spent the weekend at Werner’s studio, working, creating and some of my old friends drop by. They can’t believe that I lucked out and got that space. I sense some jealousy, but mostly, they are happy for me. My ex boyfriend, my love and heartbreak and one of the reasons I went to America, drags me into the bathroom of the cellar studio and has wild and passionate sex with me. I’m starting to be happy to be in Vienna, but this doesn’t change my longing to go back to LA as soon as possible. But at least I’m not miserable and full of shame and dread anymore. I have something to live for now.

I show up in my new dress and my new haircut at the Slave Camp and Dr. Herman checks me out with hostile eyes as I waltz into the sewing room. By noon, he calls me into his office and closes the door behind us.

“You are a little bit too confident. No, no, I’m not saying that that’s bad in itself, but for a junkie, just three months off the needle, that’s a red flag. I’m going to need a pee-test from you” He hands me a plastic cup and calls Veronica in to go to the bathroom with me.

The test comes back clean. His face darkens.

“Whatever is going on with you, I’m going to ask you to keep it down. The way you strut around here, that’s just not healthy. You’re making the other patients uncomfortable.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, “Are you saying that I’m not allowed to feel good?”

He leans back and closes his eyes. He sighs: “I’ve worked with addicts for 20 years and I can tell you, false confidence always leads to relapse”

I get up. “I’m not going to work for you anymore. I got my own studio and I’m going to design what I want. I appreciate what I’ve learned here, but I’m ready to move on.”

He laughs. “That’s not really up to you to decide. You are court ordered to be in an inpatient program for nine months or they will not let you back in the US. I’ve seen your papers. You’re going to have to stay.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“I am very serious. And what’s this nonsense about your own studio? You don’t have that kind of money.”

“I don’t. Werner Berndorfer gave me his downstairs rooms…”

“Werner? Honey I know that sleezeball. He doesn’t give away anything for free; did you have to fuck him yet? I mean, if you ask me you’re lucky if that’s all he wants from you. He’s into kink.” He interrupts me and giggles.

“You’re wrong. I already worked there all of last week. Yes, I called in sick to work and obviously I wasn’t. I went to work instead. Sorry. And you can’t keep me here. I’m here on my own behalf. You do not own me”

He sneers and adjusts his way too tight leather vest. “If you want me to sign your papers, you will have stay for another six months. End of conversation”

He leads me to the door. Just as he is about to dismiss me, I mention in a tone that would be more suitable for a pleasant cocktail party conversation.

“Do you know Renate Possarnig?” I say pleasantly.

“Who doesn’t?” he glares, “that slut who lived with Kaddafi, so she could write a book about him. Everybody in Austria knows about her”

“Well, she mentioned that she would like to write an expose about your so-called work-program. That you use patients and state-money to get your collections made. She says that’s kind of illegal. It is, isn’t it?”

He walks back to his desk and lights a cigarette. I sit down again and look at him for a long time. He stares back with his little pig-eyes.

“What do you want?” he finally says.

“I want you to release me from this job here. I am willing to stay as a patient in your hospital until the nine months are over. I will participate in group therapy and show up every night. Unless I’m busy. And you will sign my papers and give me an excellent review and prognosis. Deal?”

“I don’t make deals with patients” he snorts. “Who do you think you are?”

“Honestly, I don’t really know yet. But I know that I just got the chance of a life time handed to me and I’m not going to pass it up”

He slams a folder on the desk. His face is now shiny with sweat and red with rage.

“Get out of my office. Veronica will show you what to sew and you better be on your best behavior and do what she tells you to do. If you ever want to go back to Los Angeles, or wherever you just came from, you better shape up and forget your crazy pipe dreams of your own design studio. Ha! I can’t believe the nerve you have.”

On my way out, I kick his stylish trashcan and slam the door behind me.

I sit down at my sewing machine, my hands shaking. Veronica hands me a pattern to cut out and I get to work.

“What was that all about?” she whispers.

“Nothing.” I mumble, with tears creeping dangerously close. I swallow and take a deep breath.

“I need to make a phone call, ok?”

Before she can say anything, I storm outside into the coldest snow and sludge on the street. Without my coat, my teeth are clattering. I am so cold. But I find a phone booth and place a collect call.

“Renate Possarnig at Profile Magazine”, I tell the operator, “Yes, collect, she will take my call”

I spend the next few hours of this day sewing and nobody dares to ask anything else. I am quiet and focused and when Dr. Herman pushes through the room on his way out, I don’t even look up. I don’t talk to anybody and nobody addresses me either. They all know better.

At five in he afternoon, he returns. He stops in front of me and waits until I look up.

“We need to talk,” he says, almost politely.

“Okay. What?” I say, like I don’t know.

“Lets get some coffee. Veronica, would you please excuse us?” he grabs my coat and my purse and walks out in front of me.

Out on the street, he helps me into my coat and signs me to follow him. We stop in front of a Coffeehouse and he holds the door open for me and lets me pass inside before him.

Ha! That dude has manners after all! I think and smile.

We sit down and order coffee. He picks desserts from a passing tray, a huge plate of pastries and cakes and tucks into a fluffy Danish. It disappears into his mouth and he is on to the next. It’s a trip to watch another person pig out, but thank God, it isn’t me this time cramming food. He keeps offering hi plate, but I decline.

When his plate is almost empty, he wipes his mouth and beard and orders the waiter to remove the plate. Than he scoots forward in his chair.

“I’ve been thinking about our talk. I have come to the conclusion that you might be right. I will let you go. Under one condition: You stay until the show because I really need you and you will be at the booth and help out.”

“I can live with that. The show is in one week. I’ll be happy to be there and do what I can. But after that, I’m not working for you anymore.”

“I’m glad we could come to a compromise. I’m not a bad guy. I really want my patients to learn skills that will prepare them for work after they are released”

“Thank You, Dr. Herman” I smile as I get up and reach for my coat. He jumps up and helps me into it.

“See you tomorrow!” he calls after me as I walk out, hiding my triumphant smile. I skip out of there. I’m free.



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