I stood in the hallway in front of a door marked “P-203,” rapped my knuckles twice on the green, metal door, and waited for a second before a deep voice from within instructed me to come in. I twisted the cold doorknob, opened the door, and stepped inside into a room cluttered with oval desks and reeking of cigarettes. On the other side of the room, a broad-shouldered, balding man wearing a New York Mets jersey sat facing me in a chair in front of the computer. His fingers furiously banged away at the keyboard.
“Hi, Martin.” I stood in front of the entrance and rubbed the sweat off of my hands along the side of my jacket. “Are you busy right now?”
“No, not a bit. Besides, I’m the one that asked for you to drop by. Just give me a second to finish up this e-mail.” Martin smiled at me and his pearly white teeth shone through his bushy beard that looked to have migrated from the top of his head down to the bottom of his face. On his desk, piles of recycled yellow paper lay strewn about on top of manila folders with bent corners and frayed edges. The window behind Martin was open, and an ashtray with a burning cigarette had been placed on the windowsill.
“Of course. Take your time.” A gust of wind blew in from the window, and I scrunched my face from the wave of smoke that pushed itself onto my face. A few sheets of paper blew off from Martin’s desk, and I made a move to pick them up. He waved me off with his left hand while his right hand clicked away on his mouse.
“Fuck it, it’s fine. Don’t worry about them – they’re just worksheets I used for my classes from earlier.” He once again motioned me with his head to the chair in front of his desk. “Please, take a seat.” I took several slow strides to glance around at the teachers’ lounge, which contained an assortment of colorful textbooks, desktops, pencil sharpeners, and photographs and posters that the teachers had hung on the walls. On the bulletin board next to the door, a photo of the third form class from last year was hung right above a Christmas card. I sat myself down in front of Martin just as he raised both his arms into the air and whooped.
“Bureaucratic bullshit. Always a pain, you know? At the same time, I get so excited when I take care of whatever it is.” Despite Martin’s baldness, his eyes and the relative absence of wrinkles on his face made him look much younger than his age of fifty-five. Martin was the lone American teacher at the school, and he rode his black Harley Davidson to work four days a week, which the students of the fifth form had told me about. Martin cleared his throat, leaned back into his chair, and reached behind to snatch the smoldering cigarette with his middle and ring finger. I asked Martin what it was that he wanted me to talk with him about. He took a couple of puffs of his cigarette and blew the curling smoke out of the open window.
“How have you been enjoying Pinkafeld?” Martin asked. I shrugged and responded that I had liked the people so far. “What do you do in your free time?”
“Read, write, watch Netflix. I play volleyball and soccer with the other teachers twice a week – that’s been nice.”
“Have you hung out with any of the students?” I responded that I hadn’t. “Uh-huh. And do you find yourself being bored at all?”
“Sometimes. I understood coming in that in a small town like Pinkafeld, I wasn’t going to be living the Viennese lifestyle. But I’ve lived in small towns before – it’s not something that’s caught me off guard.”
Martin closed his eyes and nodded his head for a few seconds. I asked Martin again what it was that he had wanted to talk with me about.
“Hans, have you ever been to a strip club?”
I smiled nervously and looked around the room to double check that no one else was here. I asked him if he wanted me to seriously answer the question, to which he replied that he did.
“Several times. They kicked me out after I set the place on fire with a rocket launcher.” Martin began to laugh. “Not sure if it counts, since it was in Grand Theft Auto.”
“The rules are a little different in a video game and in real life, Hans.” The way Martin trained his eyes on me made me want to squirm in my seat. “And there’s one rule you always have to remember when you’re at a strip club: look, but don’t touch.”
“I’m not following.” Martin chuckled and scratched the back of his neck.
“Hans, we’ve had plenty of teaching assistants at our school,” Martin began. “We’ve had them come to our school for at least twenty years. Our school has had plenty of experience when it comes to teaching assistants.” He paused for a second before continuing. “And we’ve certainly had experiences when it comes to American teaching assistants.” He stopped talking and went back to puffing on his cigarette. I stared at Martin’s hand that held the cigarette, a golden wedding band wrapped around the ring finger and a silver Syracuse University class ring worn on his index finger.
“Our last assistant from Kentucky, Chuck, had to be sent back home after a year and a half.”
“Oh. What happened to him?”
“He sent a picture of his dick to a student.” I opened my mouth to say something, but Martin continued talking. “Sarah, an assistant from Virginia, slept with half of the senior class when she worked with us. That was about eight years ago. Andy from Nebraska was caught with his pants down in the girls’ bathroom two years before we had to deal with Sarah, and Billy from Michigan became an alcoholic who walked into classes in the morning drunk as shit and smelling of piss. Last but not least, Abigail from California became quite the religious fanatic during her year in Pinkafeld.” Martin set his cigarette down on the ashtray behind him and sighed. “She was such a nice girl, too – big tits.”
Martin stood up and walked over to where I was sitting. He put his hand on my shoulder and bent down so that his mouth and scraggly beard were only a couple of inches away from my face.
“Welcome to the Great Austrian Strip Club. Don’t you fucking dare fuck this all up for some god damn blue-eyed floozy.”