When the world gets smaller

When I came in, her eyes did not light up as usual.

She tried to fake it, a little, but her smile was all wrong.

I wasn’t in good form either. I was cranky from spending too much time indoors wedding-planning, while the sun shone tauntingly outside.

As so often happens, small frustrations had given birth to a greater sadness.

Earlier that week, Frau B’s telephone had stopped working. The man who came to fix it asked her to dial a number she knew by heart. The only one that came to mind was that of an acquaintance she’d lost touch with. She got through to the answering machine and didn’t know what to say.

It was humiliating.

She couldn’t call me. My mobile number is too long for her to remember, let alone to dial.

We’ve tried before.

Frau B keys in the digits too slowly and gets cut off mid-way through by a dial tone.

We’ve resigned ourselves to this fact, and she knows she can rely on me to get in touch instead.

But there aren’t many others she can call.

“Everyone I knew is dead,” Frau B said, as if she had to justify it.  “If I didn’t have you….”

She trailed off.

We both needed escapism, I decided, and reached to the shelf for a book.

It’s another one full of stories about early twentieth century Berlin.

Usually, the descriptions of the streets, cafes and institutions that defined the era prompt delighted interruptions from Frau B.

“My father would take me to that funfair!” she will say. Or, “Oh yes, that café! Full of artists! We’d only ever pass by and look through the window.”

Today though, I got through several pages uninterrupted.

A bad sign.

She was listening though, so I continued.

Finally, I got to a passage about death masks.

Totenmasken!” she said suddenly.  “I remember seeing some in Vienna!”

“You did?” I asked, a little startled. “When were you there?”

A long time ago. But she remembers everything. The city’s main museum is home to the death masks of Beethoven, Mahler and Klimt.

Frau B can still see them all. And as she began to speak, a cloud began to lift.

She has a cartographic mind, with a remarkable ability to mentally navigate the places she used to know.

One of the best presents I ever got her was a laminated map of the world.

She looks at it through her magnifying glass, while I hover over her.

“That’s Ireland,” I’ll say. “It’s shaped like a teddy bear.” Then, drawing my finger all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll land somewhere in America and say: “And that’s where my sister lives.”

Frau B’s  life now takes place within a room of 20 square meters. Day-to-day, her greatest sojourn is down the corridor to the dining hall. Sometimes, if she is feeling energised, she will wheel herself all the way to the terrace.

She is meticulous in her use of space. Order, for her, has become synonymous with control.

In the last year or two, she has begun hiding things.

She squeezes bars of chocolate into the bottom of her sock drawer and tucks brooches into a box that slides behind the books lining her shelf. She slips banknotes beneath the insoles of her shoes.

She says she is scared of things being stolen.

They never are. Sometimes I think her fear is more about losing herself.

Institutionalised and immobile, the world is ever closing in.

But deep inside her, preserved with care: a rich tapestry woven from the people she once knew and loved, the places she explored, the personal tragedies she endured and the triumphs she savours.

A wealth of memories a death mask can bring back to life.

Advertisements

Money talks but I’m not buying it (review of JT Foxx mega speaker event published on Deutsche Welle)

Deutsche Welle has kindly given me the permission to reproduce this article below:

He describes himself as the world’s number one wealth coach, a friend of celebrities and a billionaire in the making. But despite his cunning-sounding surname and the gravity implied by the two initials that precede it, JT Foxx doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page to his name.

The free “Mega Speaker” event in Berlin was held on June 8 in a hotel beyond the city’s Schönefeld airport. It was part of a world tour that kicked off in May and runs until early July. Organizers claim to be looking for people “who want to be known, remembered and significant.”

Who on earth, I wondered, attends such events? I signed up.

JT Foxx (Facebook/JT Foxx) JT Foxx announces his tour dates on Facebook

 

I prepared for it by watching a poorly produced and comically absurd promotional documentary titled “JT Foxx: A Biography: The Untold Story of a Millionaire Underdog.” It includes awkwardly-staged endorsements from Eric Trump, son of the US President, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and actor Al Pacino. The video claims to have been produced by “Hollywood Kingmaker Films,” an impressive-sounding entity I can’t find mention of anywhere else on the internet.

The walk from the train station to the hotel takes you past fields and down roads decidedly off the beaten track. It wasn’t long before I met others going the same way.

The dress code was the giveaway. The men were in suits and carried briefcases. The women were wearing dresses and heels. One told me she was a musician from London. She’d just brought out an album but needed to make some money. Speaking, she’d thought, could be the way.

At 9 AM the doors opened and we were ushered into a nondescript conference room. The opening act was a man called Reggie Batts. Tall, attractive and self-assured, he told us there were two types of people in the world: “right-brainers” and “left-brainers.”

The former act impulsively, the latter think first. Right-brainers always barge in and sit at the front. Left-brainers wait for the others to shuffle in, and then take their seats at the back. In the front row, a middle-aged woman in a headscarf nodded along enthusiastically, frequently blurting out “yes!”

JT Foxx’s own entrance was underwhelming. Less charismatic than the support act and sporting two pins on his lapel (one the American flag, the other the German) he opened with a rant about Berlin’s airports.

In the hours that followed, JT Foxx fed the 167 people gathered a cocktail of hyperbole concerning his fame and wealth, vacuous clichés masquerading as business advice and menacing sales pitches.

JT Foxx (DW/K. Ferguson) The Berlin hotel where JT Foxx held his free event

 

He made no secret of the fact that he pays celebrities tens of thousands of dollars to appear on stage with him. He claims to pay John Travolta half a million dollars for a joint appearance. His connection with the Hollywood A-lister apparently earns him enough street cred to multiply the money he invested several times over.

He described an instance when he annoyed Travolta by going off script, putting him on the spot and making him perform a song from Grease during a paid appearance. It was part of a plot engineered to generate more clicks online. He said it worked, though the relationship with Travolta soured as a result. (Footage of that event can be seen here.)

“He’s never quite forgiven me,” Foxx said. “Would I do it again? Definitely.”

The first product JT Foxx tried to sell seemed harmless enough: a set of CDs, apparently featuring business advice he himself had paid a former coach $250,000 for. The catch was that there were only 15 copies available. They would be for sale at the back of the room during the first break. The woman in the headscarf was among several people who joined the line to buy.

As the rest of us filed out, I was desperate to find out how the rest of the crowd felt about JT Foxx.

“He sure knows how to close,” a middle-aged man said in German. “You could learn something from him.”

“I don’t like his way of selling,” a young man said, to which an older woman who frequently attends events like these retorted: “You’ve got the wrong mindset.”

Things took a more sinister turn after the break, when JT Foxx began speaking about women. “Most women can’t sell,” he said, claiming that they “love telling their sad stories.”

This led to an anecdote about a first date with a beautiful woman who told him 36 minutes in that she’d been raped. This proved a massive turn-off for JT, who told us that: “No one cares about your problems. They only care about themselves.” Further enlightened views about women included boasting about his connections with Miss Cape Town 2016 and that he was considering “buying the pageant.”

The purpose of the rest of the event was to “select” people to turn into “mega speakers.” As it turned out, this meant anyone who was willing to spend between 4,000 and 20,000 euros on the spot.

JT Foxx (DW/K. Ferguson) We were given a sheet of paper with four ‘options’

 

This is how it happened: We were given a sheet of paper with four “options.” Our job was to write down the usual prices and then JT Foxx would announce the incredible, one-day-only-just-for-Berlin offer.

Option 1: A day of one-on-one coaching or four days of group coaching with JT Foxx. The cost: 4,000 euros.

Option 2: Getting coached at one of JT’s mansions, in either Florida or Thailand, costing just 8,000 euros.

Option 3: The opportunity to speak for 15 minutes in front of a large crowd at the “Money, Wealth and Business” conference in South Africa, for 12,500 euros. A unique opportunity to build your brand.

Option 4: The once-in-a-lifetime, career-enhancing opportunity to interview either Al Pacino or Mark Wahlberg for only 20,000 euros.

Not less than eight people chose at least one of the options. Most of them were young women. They were then taken out to the lobby for one-on-one interviews with members of JT Foxx’s team.

It wasn’t long before their credit cards came out and JT Foxx, once again, became tens of thousands of euros richer overnight.

Before the Berlin event, JT Foxx had held similar workshops in Singapore, Dublin, Manchester, London, Birmingham, Stockholm, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Amsterdam. The second leg of the tour sees him speaking in four US cities, as well as Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Adelaide.

And each time, he is likely to get what he needs: a handful of people willing to gamble away their savings for a shot at stardom.