Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 4, 2010.
October, and two months in Germany when a high school friend emailed to tell me that he would be in Frankfurt for the night. My mother would be arriving in a few weeks, but this would be my first visitor since moving.
We met at the train station and headed to a pub. I don’t remember where we went or what we drank, but I will never forget how, between drinks and pubs, we came past the Cole’s house. “Let’s go in for a second,” I suggested, excited at the chance to show someone from back home around the set of my strange new life. “I’ll give you a quick tour and we can use the bathroom.”
I showed him the stainless-steel kitchen and the pink-chaired dining room. “Can you believe these chairs?” I asked pointing at the plastic-backed, pink-velor upholstered seats surrounding the long wooden table. “Janet had them specially made.” Lodged in the (plexi?) glass chair backs were fake pink feathers. I had never seen such ugly chairs in my life, and it hurt my head when I thought about how much Janet had probably paid to have them custom made. They seemed to scream “I want you to find me avant gaurd and edgy,” but the execution was sloppy and tasteless, just like the stainless steel faux antlers she’d commissioned for the stairwell we were now walking up.
On the second floor we met Janet and Jens. In bathrobes. Lurking. Angry. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Who is that?” Jens yelled. “No strangers in the house!”
“What?” I shook my head no. This was news to me.
“NO STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE.” The yell had become a threatening bellow.
“You never told me that before. Besides, this is an old friend of mine. I’ve know him for seven or eight years. I just wanted to show him where I live, he’s not staying, we just wanted to use the bathroom…”
“NO STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE.”
Eyes wide, we turned and scuttled back down the stairs and out the door.
“What the hell was that about?”
“Apparently I”m not allowed to bring friends over.” So much for the affectionate monologues Janet held when she was in a good mood about me being “part of the family.”
The next morning Jens found me in the kitchen. He wanted to talk. “It’s very important that you don’t bring anyone into the house.”
“Ok, that’s fine,” I conceded, “But it would have been nice if someone had told me that before embarrassing me in front of an old friend. I’ve known him for years. He wasn’t just some guy that I picked up at the disco. And he speaks German, so he understood everything you two said. You didn’t exactly make him feel welcome.”
“Well, maybe I should tell you a story. I used to be in banking. A few years ago I was hired to run this bank, and, well, once I had a look through the books it seemed clear that something fishy was going on. I called the police. Twelve people went to jail, and I get worried sometimes…”
He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and pulled up the speed dial directory to show me the first number. “That’s why I have the police on my first speed dial. For a while we were worried that someone would try to kidnap the children. I’m sure you don’t know what it’s like to walk down a dark street and fear for your life every time you see another person coming in the distance, but that’s how I feel every night.”
Sure, Jens. No woman has ever felt that before. I nodded, wondering why a man with so much to lose would hire a complete stranger to drive his Porsche and take his 4-year-old twins to the park. Maybe I had been hired to kidnap them, Mr. Jens, ever thought of that? And even if I hadn’t been, what was one apathetic, underpaid au pair going to do to stop someone who did?
“Now I can’t get a job in the banking world anymore,” he admitted sadly. “I’ve been working for Janet’s father ever since.”
Later I Googled the case in search of more details. I had Googled the family name before coming to work for them, but without banking-specific keywords I hadn’t found anything about the Cole’s dirty little secret. There wasn’t much to find, but there were a few articles about a sketchy court case involving suspected embezzling, a tattling CEO, and some leniently interpreted Swiss banking laws.
After that, the drama of daily life in the Cole house started to seem absurd, hilarious. A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, live-action afternoon soap broadcast right to my living room, dining room, bedroom, and kitchen.
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