Early on, the employers had sensed an eagerness in the editor that they considered to be his foremost talent. It expressed itself in his head being slightly tilted forward when talking to them, in his quick reactions, in his bright, alert eyes and laughter at their jokes and playful innuendo. It was clear to the employers that the editor understood them and that they agreed on a great deal of things that would never need to be mentioned explicitly.
He was the right man for the position, this they knew. Certainly, his name and stock were both of reliable nature, but their choice wouldn’t necessarily have been obvious from his resumé (although it did feature all the right schools and certificates, a reference to a thesis judged as a good-average and on a topic that might age quickly – rather than being necessarily unique or outstanding). Meanwhile, there were enough clues to speak in his favor. They could be seen in the way he dressed: unremarkable but fashionably modern, knowing where to set the right accent. It reiterated the editor’s appearance as that of a man who was in touch and knew to read the signs of the times and how to catch on early. But not too early. And this — here the employers nodded to each other in silent understanding — should ultimately be to his advantage.
And it was true: From a young age, before school even, the editor had had in him a sense for a good compromise. When controversy arose, a fight or a dispute or any other incident quickly separating a room into squabbling parties of agitated voices and fiery accusations, for example, he would not – as a fool would do – make an unreserved comment. Rather, he would skillfully, if even for a brief second, await the reaction of his peers before formulating a statement. He was thus able to react to their most subtle of clues: a widening or narrowing pupil, a squint of the eyes, a corner of the mouth announcing the promise of a relaxed détente. He would then quickly obtain a sense of the overall situation and reason that the correct version of the events would probably lie with the majority, except of course when an older, and therefore wiser, person was involved, which could sometimes alter the balance of wisdom and the final situation. Sometimes, when this was not obvious, the editor had learned that it was better to remain vague and attend the formation of a quiet consensus.
In his skilled diplomacy, the editor made the impression of a man who was profoundly, even viscerally reasonable: someone to be trusted, the employers agreed. A timid but well-behaved child, the editor had learned from a young age that loyalty, patience and persistence would ultimately be rewarded and that he gladly let the brash and foolish children pioneer to mindlessly test the waters. When they got caught in a reckless misdeed or came back with a bruised knee, a chipped tooth, or a broken arm, he would silently chuckle to himself. Certainly, as any child, he would sometimes commit acts of transgression but not after previously carefully assessing the risk-reward structure and only in case of the latter tilted favorably against the former.
His parents, who followed a strict policy of avoiding physical punishment, were always there to calmly explain to him why he was in the wrong and ultimately he learned to quickly anticipate their more subtle changes in mood to adopt his behavior. His mother and father – both from the aspiring middle classes – had met at university and eagerly adopted the latest knowledge of child rearing that seemed to allow them to escape from the grim prophecies brought on by modest origins. They would thus grant the editor the mildest and most gentle of all upbringings exclusive to the upper-middle and middle-middle classes – those pillars of democracy shielded from both the cynical schemings of power-experienced elites and from the harsh awareness of violence which poverty inflicts.
In the carefully calculated strength of the editor’s handshake and the clarity of a regard unobstructed by layers of suspicion, the employers sensed all of this history, compact and solid, and without a need to even consult realized that it was a talent they couldn’t let go to waste.
Theirs was a prestigious magazine of tradition, which had weathered all sorts of hardships. It recently managed the transition to a modern media company knowing how to adequately account for the harsh economic imperatives in the sector. Certainly, restructuring had to take place but in recent times it had become only one factor among others. The clients and partners understood that the balance sheets were not everything and that, in these times of vulgar temptations and oversimplifications and pointing fingers, there were higher values to defend.
It was understood that this was a dangerous era, a Weimar of sorts with various strongman hopefuls lurking, and that they were men of morals and idealistic defenders combating the temptations to which the less articulate were prone. Regular meetings were held, discreetly organized by the most moral men of the state, the private sector and non-governmental organisations providing insight into the seriousness of the situation and slowly elaborating a common vision. The editor felt the accolades of responsibility bestowed upon him by those who shared his concerns and values.
Sometimes, when he would go out for a walk, the editor even thought he could read their hazy suspicions and faulty cognitive mapping in the contrite faces of those disgruntled deplorables and losers he saw on the streets. Recently he stopped using public transit as he used to. Every once in a while he had felt the eyes of some maniac settle on his neat and correct attire. In return he would prefer to avoid eye contact. He had an obligation to his family, he reasoned and it was better not to be provoked. Also, he had learned that the first rule of martial arts and self-defense was to avoid trouble and although he had never practiced a contact sport, he abided by the rule and would frequently cite it in conversations when joining a party for a walk through the uncertain terrain of urban nightlife.
After the employers had already made their favorable decision, the excellence and clairvoyance of their staffing policy were once more verified at the editor’s first dinner reception. They remembered a scene when his delightful and talkative wife excused both herself and the editor, and for a moment removed him from the other guests. Discretely following the editor and his wife with their eyes, the employers observed her eagerly fixing his tie and talking to him, while his eyes innocently darted around the room. The employers’ eyes briefly met at this spectacle and although it would have been impossible to know what the editor’s wife said to him, they felt her demeanor to be reassuring. Upon her return to the dinner table, they also noticed in her a facility with the slightly forced smile, with an almost imperceptible hint of tightness in the corners of her mouth. These true vectors of a successful marriage to them were the finest of guarantees.
After a couple of uneventful months, the employers summoned the editor. Immediately upon entering the room, the editor’s refined senses perceived the warning signs of a crisis: an acrid smell of acid sweat amalgamated with sobering coffee pervaded the room. The editor felt light-headed as he entered the room and the employers’ eyes settled upon him.
He had been doing a good job, one of the employers said solemnly, and while certainly the numbers were “not exactly stellar,” there were broader concerns and forces at work. However, with the loyal commitment and advance trust and financing of the committed partners and advertising clients, it was important to err on the side of caution and demonstrate to them confidence-inspiring signals concerning the content policy of their magazine, which after all, was one of long tradition.
“Of course,” the editor said with as much of a reassuring calm as he could muster, his wide and alert eyes betraying his composure.
There were certain imperatives, the employers went on, to which all of them were equally subject and in these times of struggle it was better not to vex anyone and create unnecessary controversy. The new owner of their magazine, they went on, was a man of solid instincts, who could smell trouble from a mile away.
The editor remembered the new owner, whose hand he had shaken briefly, and remembered his obscure shark eyes superficially and impatiently scanning his face for a second at the reception. It was clear that the owner was a man constrained by organization who had, it was said, in his entire life never had a free minute to be wasted on hesitation and was entirely certain in his direction which had been instilled in him since birth.
“Controversy,” the editors went on and mentioned this displeasure in connection with one of his journalists, a certain Jonathan Smith. Here the faces of the employers indicated an even further deterioration in mood. An iron gravity befell the room. The name had been uttered with an almost physical displeasure, evoking brief instances of pained sighing across the room. The name’s structure and tone seemed to cause abrasive nauseous weariness and an instant loss of appetite.
The editor‘s heart was rushing and he intuitively sensed that there was something perverted and obscure and displeasing about this Smith. He suddenly realized that he had always distrusted him. He perceived his remarks to be tainted by cynicism and bitterness and while he feigned to laugh at his odd humor, he neither understood nor liked Smith‘s remarks which seemed to be made from some pitch-black, acidic and astringent substance. Although Smith‘s column was popular with readers, it appeared outdated, oddly forlorn, and unnecessarily heroic to the editor. Even Smith‘s stature appeared out of joint, impractical and vulgar placed inside the modern glass corridors of the magazine‘s offices. He remembered Smith as being slightly shorter than him, but with a wider chest (his own was concave and unimpressive) and more bulky and solid features. He remembered Smith‘s brutal blockhead and his unrestrained and an excessive laughter betraying the prolonged cultivation of an unsound solitude. Although Smith was only marginally older than the editor, there were already deep lines extending from the corner of his mouth to the ground (He imagined that they would reach all the way down to hell). The editor couldn’t help but thinking of a proud but defeated animal when he saw Smith. His regard, however, still carried something fierce and inhumane so that the editor often found himself forced to lower his own eyes to the ground when they saw each other. More than once, he had quickly fled into his office or feigned a phone call when a grunting and heavy breath announced Smith in the magazine‘s corridors. Sometimes, he had looked after Smith through the crack of his door and sensed an unusual and frightening urge of perfidiously attacking him from behind and smashing his head in with a blunt object.
“There is no doubt,” the employers interrupted the editor’s thoughts, “that Smith had certain sympathies and that his opinions and themes are similar to those of fascists.“
It was here that the editor noticed the violent throbbing of his carotid artery and a sharp rush of adrenaline, an empty and vacuous feeling in his stomach. He felt a sudden and passionate urge to interject and defend himself, but, as if anticipating this, one of the employers carried on slightly elevating his voice. “Of course it characterizes the modern fascist that he never admits to being such. Rather, in his strategizing, he infiltrates his hateful themes into democratic discourse, thus leading it astray and into dangerous territories ultimately jeopardising the very nature of a free and democratic society.” The employer again rested his eyes on the editor with the room becoming noticeably silent again.
The editor’s mind was racing and a thin layer of sweat had formed on his temples giving them an almost translucent appearance. Were they attacking him? He felt a sudden urge to ask them for forgiveness. He wanted to touch the cool ground with his hot forehead, to fall to the employers’ knees and to plead them to forgive him for harbouring such an unspeakable person. To admit that he made a mistake and that he simply did not know. Why had he not realised? Had he not betrayed their trust? He could now see it all so clearly. Something had been wrong all along. A violent and unbearable tension spread through the room constraining his throat.
“We need to let him go,” the editor suddenly gulped to himself quietly and instinctively – disrupting a silence which perhaps objectively went on only for a second but seemed infinitely longer.
“I beg your pardon?” the employer inquired with one of his eyebrows lifted.
“We need to let him go,” the editor repeated, regaining voice and composure, his eyes steady.
Without a word the employer leaned back. As if a magic spell had been broken, first his face and consequently those of the others relaxed and lightened up again. With the crisis resolved due to the editor’s lucid reaction, the employer who had been speaking to him appeared to blend back into one unit of affirmative words, gestures and jovial production with the others again. Getting up they each shook his hand and congratulated him on his instincts and “solid leadership” remarking that they had thought his decision a “difficult but ultimately a correct one.” It was also mentioned that he should start undertaking a more vocal role and increase his editorials.
Upon leaving the room, still slightly erratic and confused by the severity of the situation and ensuing triumph and euphoria, the editor better understood his own decision by the moment. In his mind, he replayed all of the clues which should have alerted him to Smith much earlier: his unkempt appearance and unpredictable moods, his lack of respect in conversations and briefings, and his unpleasant argumentativeness came to form a whole in his mind: yes, it was a fascist, he had been harboring. Shutting the door after entering the security of his own office, he sensed a cloud of dark rage forming in his mind produced by Smith‘s covert betrayal and insectoid demeanour.
“A fascist,” he said quietly but with an incipient fierce determination. “We need to let him go”.
With the words uttered, a light certainty and peace installed itself back in his mind. The editor knew that at least for the time being, a terrible danger had been averted.
Nicolas Hausdorf is a German editor, analyst, and essayist based in Melbourne. His essay “Superstructural Berlin,” an experimental sociology and pulp theory of Germany’s capital (with illustrations by Alexander Goller) has been published by Zero Books. He tweets at @dcntrrr.