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Zur Originalfassung: »Normal«

August 19, 2005

Stefan Schrahe

Translated from the German by Noel Middleton


The face of the filling-station cashier is one huge question mark. The people behind me in the queue are looking me up and down with suspicion, and I feel like somebody who has missed the announcement that today his train will be leaving on a different line, and who wonders why the platform on which he is standing is so deserted, while the one opposite is so crowded. All I said was that I don't collect points.

It is happening to me more and more often. That I ask myself whether I really am normal. It began with trivial things. I seemed to be the only person who had never once changed his mobile-phone network, and just as seldom, his electricity supplier, or telephone company. Nor can I take part in conversations about flat-rate tariffs or constantly changing pay-as-you-go numbers. Tele-sales professionals who ring me from call-centres, with the object of helping to reduce my monthly bills for telephone, mobile phone and electricity, as well as keeping track of my »Miles&More« points account, are told that I see all of this as an unjustifiable complication in my way of life. Once I had entered into this search for bargains, I suspect that I would just become hopelessly entangled in a jungle of tariffs, special deals and »this month only« offers.

Is there anyone else besides me, who has kept his account with the same bank for twenty-four years, and who doesn't want to get used to new account numbers, PINS or passwords? I don't know how people remember the umpteen different four- six- eight- and ten-digit Pin-numbers without setting aside at least half-an-hour a day to learn and revise. Instead of that, I always use the same PIN, the same password and the same user-name for everything, even though the advice magazines warn against it. Not that I read advice magazines, as they always leave me with the unpleasant feeling that in all things, one can do more wrong than right, whether it's raising children, buying shares or removing stains. However, I have certainly noticed, that every day it seems that there are more and more people who have not the slightest difficulty with this kind of »life-optimisation«

These are the people who also collect »REWE« or »Payback« points. It is not so long ago that I could live quite happily without collecting points. But every time, the looks become more critical and I am waiting for the day when the cashier shouts across to her colleague, »Here's someone who doesn't collect points«. Then every head will turn towards me and glare with a mixture of horror and outrage, as though I had just bought a newspaper for paedophiles and the cashier had loudly asked her colleague for the price. Probably the security staff in the large supermarkets will start to watch out for non-collectors like me. We will come under a general suspicion, and within the provisions of the anti-terror legislation, be placed on the same level as rucksack-carriers.

At first, attempts were made to convert me. Payback brochures were pressed into my hands, together with application forms. I threw them all into the waste-paper bin, unread. My life is complicated enough. and I don't intend to make unnecessary difficulties by applying for a Payback card. Not only would I have to consider that I could only do my shopping in particular stores, but also that I would have to regularly check my points balance. Before the expiry of my collected points, I would have to decide on one of the totally useless rewards on offer, perhaps the »Slawa hiking-rucksack« or the »Grilliput portable barbeque«, even though I enjoy neither hiking nor barbequing.

And that brings us to the next problem. Barbeques. It is not the fear of cancer-causing nitrosamines or acryl amides... – The thing that torments me is the thick cloud of smoke which is invariably generated in the attempt to get the fire started, which in any case takes me far longer than anyone else. Afterwards all one's clothing reeks of smoke,.. and cleaning out a used barbeque fills me with horror. I never know whether charcoal and ashes belong in the green or the black dustbin, and the thought of a barbeque which has been abandoned at the end of the evening and has stood out all night in the rain, is enough to completely ruin my appetite.

Not enjoying barbeques has left me increasingly isolated, as it is frowned upon by society even more strongly than the non-collection of points. In order to demonstrate the smallest degree of social competence, I bought myself an electric barbeque. It was on special offer. But an electric barbeque is not the same thing as a proper barbeque. Colleagues gave me strange looks when I told them about it during the lunch break, and instead of being accepted as a fully-fledged barbequer, my purchase had merely outed me as being a person with obviously bizarre tendencies. Two weeks later, the electric barbeques which had been on special offer, were reduced by a further fifty percent, and at least thirty specimens stood in the clearance section. Up till then I was probably the only person who had ever bought one.

In my neighbourhood, meanwhile, my nose is permanently filled with the smell of barbequing. From April to October my letterbox overflows with special offers. Under such titles as »The Barbeque Season has Begun«, or »Everything for the Barbeque«, not only are large quantities of meat to be seen, but also pages of various barbeque accessories, such as digital thermometers, or vegetable- and cutlet-holders, whilst on the supermarket meat-counter there is nothing but ready-seasoned barbeque meat . My neighbours now have a weatherproof »oven-barbeque», and on television, proud all-year-round campers show how they barbeque from Friday evening till Sunday afternoon, every weekend, year-in year-out, even at temperatures of minus fifteen degrees. On one afternoon talk-show, a young lady was asked about her partner's hobbies. After twenty seconds of strenuous thought, her face brightened, and with the utmost matter-of-factness, said finally, »He likes barbequing«

In the free-ad paper which comes through my letterbox every Thursday, I noticed an advertisement for a swingers club. They have a barbeque there, every day from 6pm. I suppose that this argument will convince the last doubters to visit a swingers club, and soon there will be more men at the barbeque than in the »dark room«. And probably the swingers club now gives Payback points too.

The filling-station cashier is still looking at me in astonishment. On the counter, next to the »Bild« newspaper, lie sex-magazines wrapped in foil, price 9.80 euros. To the left of these, some pink handcuffs, and next to the »Fisherman's Friend« dispenser, key-rings in the form of the male sex-organ. Suddenly I understand.

»Of course I do..«, I say. »..Of course I collect points. And not only that, but I'm just on my way to the barbeque at the swingers club. That's the reward I chose from the Payback catalogue«.

The expression on her face relaxes. And for the first time today, I feel completely normal.

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Stefan Schrahe

Wurde 1962 in Waldbröl geboren und lebt heute in Bonn und Mainz. Mit dem Schreiben hat er 1988 angefangen. Bis 1991 erschienen drei Automobil-Monographien im Heel-Verlag/Königswinter. Wegen [..]

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