Different folks

A friend just left her gentrified slum. Her housing company basically chased her away threatening to run the cops up in her place, take her kids and leave her sleeping under a bridge. Now she lives in a nice, yet “urban” section of Berlin. Not so many immigrants, German people with jobs, clean parks, alcoholics as everywhere, but no junkies.

We need to adjust. Before, my children’s school friends were just as loud as them. They’d run up to them in the street and ask them to play. Here you don’t do that. The kids just nod politely and keep walking. They’re all horribly intelligent here.

I embarassed myself. I asked a lady on the bus for the nearest T€DI [a thrift store chain]. She didn’t even know the name. She only wore the best brands. ‘Of course you don’t,’ I said to her.”

I took her kids to the playground. They are five and they’re loud. They are light-skinned and speak German and they don’t have particularly foreign names, so they might even pass. But you can see they’re five siblings and they don’t act and speak like “polite” kids. We used an old bag filled with newspaper as a ball; in more “Bohemian” districts this might find admirers, but in Wilmersdorf it’s not something you do.
Sitting on the playground I felt terribly insecure. The German kids I saw were eerily blond, frail and very tense, just like their parents. They seemed to just sit in the sand, quietly staring into the air, not interacting with the other children. One little girl already looked like Chancellor Merkel.
My kids kept screaming, arguing, kicking around the ball, throwing sand. They are not aggressive, just loud. I could tell the other parents were shit-scared. Slowly they beckoned their children to leave the enclosure. These parents do not have to yell three times at each kid; although the little ones seem emotionally circumcised, they obey immediately when they sense their parents’ uneasiness. “My” kids don’t seem to have this “emotional intelligence.” So they’ll never be good courtiers.
Soon there were only two men left. I heard them talking about ranks and service cars – they were not mean riot bulls, more middle-aged office types, but still… I’d been arrested by their nazi homeboys three days earlier. Imagine I’d have to send my kids to school with theirs!
I noticed one glancing over to the swings, were his son was swaying in the breeze. My two oldest boys were fighting over the neighboring swing.
The cop warned his boy: “I told you not to jump off the swing! It’s dangerous. Daddy once broke his arm doing it!” The kid just stared.
The cops left in time for dinner. All the while, other parents passed our playground, briefly checking out the company, then uttering: “Come on honey, there’s a much nicer one further on.” Old couples in outdoor gear looked concerned, like “did these kids get their tetanus shots?” “Decent folks” will always smell a “slum dog”, on a playground or in a business suit.
With my second-hand clothes and sadhu hair, I always believed, taxpayers couldn’t resist my home-grown esoterrorism, but they just looked at me like a bum. Actually they looked past me, straight at the horde occupying their playground.
A boy passed along the fence with his mother. My oldest seemed to know him from school and hollered across the sand: “Hello Patrick!” [Let’s call him so.] Although Patrick wasn’t older than 8, he had a seasoned “Who are these people, officer?” face. He glanced only brief enough not to arouse a scandal and then hurried after his worried mom.
Now I felt like a zoo keeper seeing his orangutans throw shit at paying customers. “Let’s go play soccer, kids!” It took 10 minutes until they were all dressed. Although it was only four or five and so far it was the warmest day of the year, I felt we needed to get home before everyone else, or people would think “my” kids had nothing better to do.
On the large soccer field next to the playground, kids grouped by size played separate games. I steered my gang away from them, before they’d ruin a good match. “Let’s play in the far corner of the field, then the little ones can play too.”
On the other side of the field, a Chinese father with a military trim and glasses sat on a bench, watching his son – wearing a brand-new jersey – play with three blond boys. He kept yelling commands at his son and interfering in the casual game. The boy followed like Super Mario. Left, right, back, left, kick!


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