"THE SOCIALIST MAKE-UP COLLECTIVE"
A psychiatric institute.
I began to visit therapists three times a week. My case manager was Dr. Hauschka. After leaving the university hospital he ran the Socialist Make-up Collective at the Regenbogenfabrik. People who came to the Regenbogenfabrik to repair their own bicycles in the workshop could get a makeover on the first floor. Colors were approved at house meetings and could be selected by the patient in tandem with an on-duty cosmetician. Make-up was applied collectively based on agitations performed between individuals in group sessions.
As part of my holistic treatment for schizophrenia I began to impersonate Dr. Hauschka. I took on a job for the census bureau and went door to door inquiring as to the mental health of people in my neighborhood and the state of their make-up. Dr. Hauschka himself provided instruction in the art of the interview. As a person formerly unemployable due to my own diagnosis I was now able to screen candidates for make-up application at the grassroots level. All interviewees were welcome to visit the Regenbogenfabrik for further information and workshops on a drop-in basis. Some hours were set aside for instruction in the mixing of foundations, the fundamentals of eye shadow preparation including pulverization techniques and natural pigment outsourcing. Visitors to the site could join in directly in the activities and feel useful: even the most inexperienced were encouraged to further the aims of the collective by screwing on the tops of mascara bottles or sweeping up Q-tips.
One day Dr. Hauschka visited me at the Urbankrankenhaus and said I looked very fine in my white lab coat, but suggested a spa and a mud bath at the Regenbogenfabrik to increase my turgor. He was wearing peacock blue eye-liner and sparkling earrings and said he had been made over by the collective that morning. We had breakfast by the canal and watched the swans swim by the bridge. After his second coffee and a glass of blackberry juice he rose to leave and told me to bring my bicycle with me to the Regenbogenfabrik as he had espied some especially nice handlebars in the repair station. I told him I would meet him over there.
As I mounted my bicycle the cafe waiter ran out and demanded I pay for the breakfasts. I had been sure Dr. Hauschka had settled the bill while I was in the restroom. I was baffled. I had only two marks, enough for one glass of juice. The waiter became confrontational. Instinct told me to flee. I hopped on the bike and sped off like the devil, lowering my head and leaning over the handlebars as if to avoid recognition. The waiter hollered after me, cursing and waving his fists.
In no time I was in the courtyard of the Regenbogenfabrik. People were changing their tires and oiling their chains in front of the workshop, bicycles turned upside down on the cobblestones for easier maneuvering. I parked my bike up against the wall and, out of habit, put a mild lock on it, linking the rear tire to the frame. I remembered I needed a lamp, too, and went rubbing my hands together inside.
"Dr. Hauschka says you need a new look," said the repair shop attendant, and held out a pair of racing bike handlebars. Fluorescent green tape wrapped around them would complete the effect, he added, and offered me a roll of it. Then he brought out a few spraycans and told me to pick a color for the frame. I set out my tools in the courtyard and went to work. After an hour or so I was able to leave my work in the courtyard to dry and went up to the first floor to the Make-Up Collective.
There were a few people drinking herb tea at a heavy table as I entered. They seemed deep in discussion about something. Color charts adorned one wall, indicating an Anti-Europe palette. A gentle young man with chartreuse eyeshadow and a murky lipgloss turned to me and gave me a questioning look. "May I help you with something?" he inquired. In his selection of cosmetic hues I recognized a color scheme associated with the zodiacal sign Pisces, which rules mental institutions. Encouraged, I stepped forward and indicated the elasticity of my skin. He nodded and immediately led me to a back room where mud packs could be applied. "Stay away from the cafe for three weeks," he recommended. "Afterwards, you can return with your new turgor and your new bicycle and no one will recognize you."
I leaned back in an overupholstered chair with some rips in it, a towel wrapped around my head, and smoothed the colored mud over my face. A basin below me contained steaming water and I dipped my feet into it slowly, gradually adjusting to the temperature. A fine-boned young woman with tinted tresses and an impeccable manicure entered the room and crossed to a dusty old cassette player. One perfectly sharpened gold nail extended over the row of buttons on the deck and pressed play. She pulled a red curtain halfway over the window as electronic balalaika music poured out of the speakers. Soon I was surrounded by make-up artists calmly interacting, speaking in hushed tones in the semi-darkness as their hands flitted over one another's faces and rubbed off excess rouge on small towels.
When the light came on it was artificial and refracted through shards of a mirror collected from the street. Someone offered me her face and placed a yellow water-based paint crayon in my hand. She smiled and murmured an encouragement. I began to stir the crayon in a jar of water, then streaked her forehead with it several times. I felt another presence behind me. A second participant had arrived to lift off my mud mask. Now everything was well-lit and people were cleaning up. Animated conversation filled the air and covered several unrelated subjects. Sullied handtowels were being thrown into a basket and dustbrushes collected the last traces of emerald powder from the floor. A larger, uniform mirror was now visible. It extended over an entire wall.
I turned to empty my footbath into the sink. The scented crystals I had dissolved in it had formed a bit of sediment in the bowl which I hosed out under the faucet. I dried the bowl and replaced it under the sink.
Dr. Hauschka appeared with a clipboard at the entry to the salon. By now it was quite late in the afternoon and he was ready for his espresso, but he winked at me and confirmed the prescription given to me by the young man with the chartreuse eyeshadow. He would not require a new dose of caffeine from me. He flicked an index finger at my chin and complimented me on my makeover. Then he stuffed some boxes of pigment in my jacket pocket and told me he would see me at the hospital.
I descended into the stairwell and studied the posters hung on the door. Make-up actions were scheduled strategically throughout the few weeks approaching and even into the next two months, all at different locations around the city. I would be by to join in on the planning for some of these events.
In the courtyard I found my bicycle had been removed to the interior of the repair shop, which was now closing its doors. "Tomorrow at two," piped up the attendant in response to my curious gaze. "It needs twenty-four hours to dry."
I strode up to the canal and turned into the road that ran alongside it. I passed the cafe but stayed on the opposite side of the street and then crossed the bridge into another district. A Jugoslawian woman approached me holding out a cardboard sign with her story on it and offered to read my palm for money. "I have only two marks," I protested, shrugging my shoulders. She grabbed my hand and stretched it out before her, there on the street. "In eight days someone will come to your house and drink coffee," she said, and demanded my two-mark piece. I gave it to her with my free hand. She seized my palm even more tightly and told me there was more information, but she could only give it to me for another ten marks. "I don't have it," I insisted, trying to move past her. She followed me for a few steps, cursing, then spat and went on her way.
About fifteen meters later I looked down and spotted a crumpled up bill under the streetlamp. It was a ten mark bill. I picked it up, then spun around, nervously anticipating her reappearance. But she was gone. I guiltily placed the money in my pocket and continued towards the hospital.
When I arrived the moon was up and shining brightly over the rooftops. There was no one in the parking lot but I could hear children chattering in Turkish in the park nearby. A man with a Turkish accent was lecturing them. Then he began to croon, singing something in German that sounded both silly and menacing. But I wasn't sure I had heard it properly. I went up to the great glass doors of the hospital and they slid open.
The male nurse at the desk of the psychiatric ward shook his head slightly at me as I came in. Another orderly took my blood pressure, not looking me in the eye. Someone grumbled, but it was just another patient. After eating and taking my medications, I spent the night in my room in the psychiatric ward.
In the morning three policemen were waiting in the hallway for me, arms folded over their chests. A doctor was chatting with them, putting on a responsible air. I put on my sunglasses so as not to be recognized, but she grabbed me by the arm and led me to them.
"Are you Dr. Hauschka?" demanded one of the police, fixing me under a cold gaze. He held out a piece of paper with some typing on it and pointed to the signature at the bottom. "This is your signature, isn't it?" His tone was mocking. A second policeman smirked. The third contained a sardonic laugh and looked off into the distance, beginning to pace and eyeing the other patients.
I didn't recognize the letter, which was crumpled and had a date on it from the previous year.
"You work for the census bureau, " he stated triumphantly. I told them that I indeed worked for the census bureau but that they must be mistaking me for someone else. After all, everyone's name had been collected by the census bureau.
"You'll have to come with us," said the policeman. The doctor nodded at him and disappeared. I began to protest, but before I could defend myself she returned with two orderlies and directed them to seize me. They wrestled me down the hallway, led by the police.
Outside the Urbankrankenhaus I was put into a windowless compartment at the back of a police van. Handcuffed, I asked for my sunglasses, which had flown from my face in the fray. One of six policemen punched me in the throat and slammed the door on me.
We drove for about forty-five minutes. I could neither see nor hear anything. Finally we seemed to be parking somewhere. The door of my compartment opened to reveal six rosemary-scented policemen with tribal warpaint on and fluorescent streaks in their hair. They pulled me forcibly from my seat into a parking lot, hooting at me like apes and kicking me to the ground. Make-up jokes flew through the air. One of them put his face up close to my ear and said, "Nice turgor." I was dragged through the parking lot to the rear entryway of Abschnitt 129. Then they strip-searched me, put me in a cell, and left me there.
Hours passed. I could hear someone screaming in a cell near mine: " I have to go to the bathroom," he wailed, over and over. Occasionally a police officer would peer through a slot in the metal door of my cell and focus on me for minutes at a time without blinking. Finally the door opened and a young woman with long, permanent waved, mousy brown hair entered carrying some papers and sat down next to me. They closed the door behind her and another cop stood monitoring us from outside.
"The arresting officers say they found this in your asshole," she confided, holding up an apple green bottle of nail polish with a suppository-shaped applicator cap. I vigorously denied knowledge of any nail polish bottles in my anus. "It's a plant," I insisted.
"This color is contraband under the current laws governing hue and tone in the European Union," she said. "It's Swiss, isn't it?" she added, with consternation in her voice. I told her I had never applied such a color to my personal appendages and had not had that bottle on me when I arrived at the police station.
"Fair enough," she conceded me some credibility. "But there will be testimony against you in court. You can pay a fine now and we will drop the charge, or you can wait for your hearing. I must warn you that if you leave town, the police all over Germany will be notified."
"There are other charges against you. The police say you wrote a threatening letter to the university hospital last year demanding financial compensation for services you never provided to patients you never had. This was after your license to practice medicine had already been revoked."
"May I see that letter?" I requested. "I don't recall ever having addressed such a letter to a university hospital."
"It will be presented as evidence at your trial," she said. "It is not available to you now, but you will have the opportunity to confess to the seditious behavior in a private interview with a police officer present. By the way," she continued, "I'm your lawyer."
"I have only ten marks," I said. "But I think they've stolen it."
"Be careful whom you accuse of stealing," she said in clipped tones, collecting her papers and leaving.
They photographed me and kept me there overnight. I waited until about one-thirty in the afternoon, receiving visits from plainclothes policemen who claimed to have seen me prowling the neighborhood in my lab coat. One accused me of stealing liquor from a local supermarket. "You were reported to us by house detectives," he asserted. "They followed you back to the hospital." None of this was true, but they claimed to have copies of my medical records which could be used to discredit any testimony I might make on my own behalf.
At two o'clock two officers handed me the shoes they'd confiscated from me and told me to put them on. They were pointy black Italian lace-ups. Someone had painted socialist slogans on them which had not been there before. They seized me by the elbow and led me down a dingy corridor to a staircase. At the foot of the staircase was an exit, but waiting on the other side of it was another police van. I was told unceremoniously to get in.
We drove up at last to the courthouse and I was ushered from the wagon to its door. Inside was another maze of hallways, off of which was the room in which my hearing would take place.
My lawyer, the woman with the mousy brown permanent, was seated with her papers at a table. There were police on either side of a tribunal. I noticed the female doctor from the Urbankrankenhaus at the back of the room. Everyone kept their eyes on me but all remained expressionless. I was told to sit next to my lawyer. There was an extended silence as we waited for something, presumably the arrival of the judge. A team of prosecutors showed up, carrying briefcases. Then the room was called to order and another door opened. A tall, balding man with a tremendously long beard and little spectacles entered wearing a bathrobe and sat behind the tribunal. It was Dr. Hauschka.
The trial began. A drugstore employee testified that she had seen me sweep numerous cosmetic items into a bag without trying to hide the fact that I was stealing them. She identified the two policemen who had responded to her call and they in turn reported what they had found in my bag. A tweezers, a jar of cold cream, and a scented soap were among the objects presented as evidence. Dr. Hauschka had some conjectures as to the circumstances of the alleged theft. He did not address me directly but whispered his questions to a police lieutenant, who then directed them at me. The gist of the accusations was that I had been part of an organized effort to commit beautification and was in conspiracy with local terrorist groups when I had stolen the make-up.
My lawyer advised me to avoid the various traps that were being laid for me and deny the charge of political motivation. I protested that I hadn't stolen anything to begin with, that I didn't even recognize the people speaking out against me, but her intense gaze of reproof alerted me to the stakes of the game. I relented and confessed to shoplifting ten to twelve beauty products from the Drospa, but maintained that I had simply been in a depressive mood that day and couldn't help myself: I had acted on my own, without accomplices or connection to a wider plan to subvert a local aesthetic. My psychiatric records would attest to my moodswings and paranoid aggressions against drugstores.
"Were you at the pharmacist's earlier that day?" inquired the lieutenant.
My lawyer nudged me and I replied affirmatively.
"And what did you take?"
I told him I had purchased hayfever medication and swallowed several pills.
"One hundred and eighteen," I blurted out.
A murmur went through the courtroom. Dr. Hauschka then spoke directly to me for the first time. "You will serve one more year in the psychiatric facility," he said coldly. "Your case will be reviewed by a licensed masseuse on the twenty-first of July of next year. Be sure to dress appropriately."
The police lieutenant crossed to me and seized me by the arm. "I'm Lieutenant Figment," he introduced himself. "I'll be helping you with the paperwork necessary to reassign you to the hospital. You will be given additional paperwork yourself, which you will be expected to process in large quantity until the expiration of your current term of confinement. You will not receive credit for your work at the census until you have completed this paperwork sometime next year. You can apply for an exemption from duty in the case of colorblindness, but you will have to furnish proof of this. I don't think you have much chance of that, considering the palette you used to decorate your shoes. "
The entire courtroom broke into song. "Lieutenant Figment has a very lovely daugh-ter-r-r," they chorused. His lips formed a grim line of reserve as he led me from the premesis and I realized he had probably never cut himself shaving.
I turned to face Dr. Hauschka one more time as we exited. His eyeglasses reflected an exotic spectrum of light at me from across the room. A haze of smoke surrounded him.
Back at the hospital I was put through triage as though I had never been a patient before. Lieutenant Figment stood in attendance as the hospital workers interrogated me as to colognes I might have worn previously. I told them that this should all be contained in my existing medical records, which were available on another floor of the hospital itself. "You wore your roommate's Jil Sander," interrupted Lieutenant Figment, angrily. Occasionally he provided answers to questions that were more difficult, such as my skin type according to the Clinique charts. There was also a nicotine dependency questionnaire. There were many forms to sign and I was hard put to read through all of them at the required pace. At the end of the interview a huge stack of dusty records was placed in front of me and I was told I would have to three-hole punch them and place them in binders before entering the ward. I pulled one of them out at random and glanced at it. It described the liposuction surgery performed on a patient at the hospital and contained before and after photographs. The patient's name was not familiar to me and her address was somewhere in Bielefeld.
At this point I became aware that my bicycle was probably still standing in the courtyard of the Regenbogenfabrik and that more than twenty-four hours had passed. I asked Lieutenant Figment if I would be allowed to leave hospital grounds to retrieve it before it was given to somebody else. A glint of wickedly set teeth was visible through those thin lips as he snarled his reply. I would only be allowed out with a police escort, he told me, but not until twenty-four hours had passed. Then I could collect my belongings.
I began to think in circles. I demanded an herbal tea before bedtime but was offered two cigarettes instead. Lieutenant Figment warned me that my fair treatment by the hospital was dependent on my good behavior. "You don't want an injection tonight, do you?" he said.
I accepted the cigarettes but refused to smoke them then and there with the nurse in the sitting room as I had been invited to do. At last I retreated to my bedroom, which was the same one that had been assigned me before. But when I opened the door, there was different furniture inside. My heart sank, but I climbed into bed anyway. Lieutenant Figment stationed himself at my door.
In the morning he was gone. An orderly sat in his place. I went cautiously into the hallway and approached him. "Where is Lieutenant Figment?" I asked.
"Who?" he replied.
"Lieutenant Figment. The police officer. I need a police escort to go to the Regenbogenfabrik today."
"Why do you need a police escort?"
"Lieutenant Figment said I wasn't allowed to go there without one."
"Why? What do you think might happen?"
"I don't know, but that's what he told me. I don't want to get into trouble."
"Why don't you just take a taxi? I'm sure it will be all right."
I hesitated, but decided to risk walking on my own.
I avoided the cafe as I had been instructed to do and took a longer, more circuitous route to the other side of the canal. I passed through the open market on Maybachufer, browsing the prices on Morroccan tomatoes and fresh spinach, the bags of orzo and pistachios for three marks fifty apiece. A smell of fish and roasting chickens filled the air. Women loaded bicycle bags with sacks of onions and potatoes. I had the impression of great controversy stirring the air, one which could be resolved by a proper purchase on my part, but I was afraid to make the wrong choice and influence international politics in a negative manner. The market sellers still seemed to fill with hope as
I passed, but I wondered how much of it had to do with NATO. Meanwhile, expensive whole grain bread sales were increasing under a tent. The locals had cast their lot with the immigrants but were seducing their customers into a higher bidding range.
I crossed a different bridge to get to the Regenbogenfabrik this time. Unleashed dogs ambled by as I neared it, followed by straggling, unwashed folks in leather. The cacaphony of the streets today was in contrast to the placidity of the previous Sunday when I had sat drinking coffee with Dr. Hauschka. I began to worry about my bicycle again. Finally I arrived at the great big doors to the courtyard and went through the driveway to the back.
There was a big padlock on the door of the bicycle repair shop and all signs of a self-help station.had been removed. One window had been boarded up. I caught my breath. No one was anywhere to be seen. And yet my bicycle stood, unlocked, in a corner, with new handlebars and a new paint job. Someone had even replaced the lamp on it for me.
I glanced upward toward the first story window where the Make-Up Collective was. A light was on. The door to the stairway up was open, but I was afraid to go inside. I walked my bike over the cobblestones toward the door and peered in to find an old woman mopping the stairs. Two men in blue coveralls came clattering down the staircase past her and squeezed by me into the open air, talking loudly in Berliner dialect. Yet posters for collective make-up actions around town were still visible on a rear wall. Without investigating any further I turned and wheeled my bicycle toward the driveway and onto the street. I was too nervous to know any better.
Something whizzed past my ear as I rode off and I heard angry female voices from above. I looked backward while riding forward and saw that a bag of cosmetic puffs had landed in the street behind me. An unrecognizable female head withdrew quickly from a window and her hands pulled the window to. I registered only the impression of a face that had not been made up. I braked and considered retreating to pick up the bag, but looked around for police first. Carefully I went back for the cosmetic puffs, which still were useful, whatever the intent of the gesture had been. I collected the ones that had fallen out of the bag and stuffed them in my pocket for safe disposal elsewhere, then elasticked the bag to the rear of my bicycle and started on down the street.
I headed up Skalitzerstrasse in a daze. In front of the escalator to the station at Kottbusser Tor sat another group of scruffy leather clads. Perched on the chest of one of the girls was a bird which played with a chain she had attached to its ankle. She kissed it, then looked up as I passed. She had gotten lipstick on the bird's feathers. Things were moving fast. Was she friend or foe? I told her the police had taken my last ten marks. She cursed sympathetically. I descended into the U-Bahn, counting my good luck.
The map on the platform did not show a Bielefeld, although I was sure that many psychiatric and also gynecological professionals with an interest in the arts commuted from there. One could, in a pinch, sell a painting in Bielefeld, and it was said that the door to door business in make-up was lucrative. There was also a Bielefeld near Hannover, I knew, but a bicycle trip of that length was something I hadn't undertaken since before my stay in the hospital. It would involve overnighting on the side of the road and I would have to go without medication. It was tempting. Nonetheless, the subway police arrived as I was making my decision and as I did not have a ticket I decided not to take the train anywhere. I would simply bicycle out to Bielefelder Straﬂe in Wilmersdorf and further contemplate my good fortune.
The baldness patterns of a hundred policemen filled my mind as I began the journey across town. Precision grafts in groups of thousands at regular intervals were something the state would no doubt offer them in exchange for their loyalty, just as certainly as the smell of thick grilled beefsteaks had drifted towards me one night from behind the walls of the police station near Platz der Luftbr¸cke. I pumped harder away at my bicycle, passionately, reaching a state of euphoric resistance at the foot of Potsdamerstraﬂe, where the Neue Nationalgalerie loomed like a mausoleum or a department store depending on whose work was being exhibited. In a terror I imagined Rosa Luxemburg emerging from the Landwehrkanal in a dress by Coco Chanel. I decided to stop at the KaDeWe on the way to Bielefelderstraﬂe to sort out some of my theories about the numbering of shades of rouge. Would the onslaught of digital technology have systematized the reds available? Would green be an option in Wilmersdorf? Would red and green come in the same compact?
At the glass and mirror counters of fifty make-up manufacturers I pored over the selections, then came to a halt at the Shisheido department and, closing my eyes, pointed to a lip color. I took a look at the label on the applicator. "Nevertheless, number five," I sighed, and darted out of the store. I would go to Bielefelderstraﬂe 5.
And as I pulled up in front of my destination I knew I would find her there: Frau Peinlich. She was coming out of the doorway as I looked for her name in the directory. "Are you Lt. Figment's daughter?" I shrieked at her. She ducked her head, startled, and hurried to her car. I watched the fabric swish over her liposuction job as she scurried into the driver's seat. She didn't fix her hair before leaving me in a cloud of exhaust, and as she sped off I had the distinct feeling that Tommy Hilfiger had gone down on the stock market.
I rode my bicycle around for two weeks this way without returning to the hospital. Occasionally I tried to sleep in abandoned armchairs in front of squatted buildings, but images of my further incarceration kept me moving. I wanted to return to the hospital but there might not be a medication to help me at this point. I thought of trying to get some Baldrian from the apothecary in order to sleep but I was sure they would advise against anything holistic that might conflict with my psychopharmaceuticals. Certainly the whole city had my medical records by now. At last I got up the nerve to ask for allergy medicine, as it was spring and the grass next to the canal where I would try to nap was keeping me awake and sneezing. Benches in parks beneath 19th century churches were too well-lit for me to avoid the massive sweep up of street people that might occur if I left the hospital for good.
The pharmacist told me there was an over-the-counter medication that would do, provided I had no other physical ailments. I had none that I knew of. "Be careful of the drugs," he shouted at me as I left the shop.
I was finally able to sleep for two hours in the sun, but my nose was still running when I woke. Yet I had a strange conviction that everything would be all right if I just went back to the Regenbogenfabrik. My bicycle by this time needed air in its tires, but I would have to scout other neighborhoods for a pump. I didn't trust the gas station.
I tried to go back to Bielefelderstraﬂe every few days to see if Frau Peinlich would reveal her secret knowledge to me but found there was no hope of forcing another chance encounter.
I went to the Regenbogenfabrik at last. I hoped they had their own coffee. I was desperately in need of a makeover.
"Dr. Hauschka will be out in a minute," said the young woman on duty in the front room, gently guiding me to a seat at the big oak table. There was herb tea at last. I examined my nails. I had never had a manicure before. My toes were sweating in my boots.
A dreadlocked girl with smooth, lanky arms and a few primitive tattoos emerged from the rear wearing a smock and gestured at me to follow her. She sat me down in the back room where I had had the mud pack and sat down facing me with her legs spread. "You missed your appointment," she said. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No one told me I was supposed to come back," I protested.
"Yes, once a week until your turgor improves," she said. "You were supposed to be released next week but we may have to extend your therapy. Do you have some time now?''
I was drowsy. I nodded yes.
"I can give you a massage today, but your skin care will have to be resumed tomorrow. Do you have a place to stay?"
I was uncertain how to respond. "At the hospital," I confessed.
"Good," she said. "I want you to go back there tonight and check yourself in for a week.'
"It'll be all right," she insisted. "I'm Dr. Hauschka. I'm going to be your consultant. "
She was obviously on the verge of losing her mind. I told her I could help. "Come to the hospital with me and we'll get away from all this," I pleaded.
"No," she said. "But I'll visit you there."
Lt. Figment's daughter was obviously having her way with me. I fainted on the spot.
When I woke up I was on a futon in an unfamiliar room. "The un-made-ups are organizing a counterdemonstration in Oranienplatz on the 13th of May," Lt. Figment's daughter was saying to another member of the collective. She rinsed out another hot white towel and applied it to my forehead again.
"Am I in Berlin?" I queried. I began to feel very lewd.
"Rest up," they told me. "There's a lot of work to be done."
----April 11, 2000