Arnon Grunberg
Silent Extras

La Gazzetta dello Sport

Broccoli called the next morning . ‘Meet me at the news-stand in half an hour.’ In the summer, the news-stand on the bridge where the Beethovenstraat crosses the Stationskade also sold ice cream. The man who ran it had a beard, and he also had lots of customers who bought foreign magazines. He knew exactly which magazine each customer came for. Groaning slightly, he would bend over and pull the magazine they wanted from under the cash register. Conversation was not one of his favorite pastimes. But sometimes he complained about customers who would disappear from one day to the next, leaving him with magazines no one else wanted to read. That’s probably why he gave me an American gun magazine once. He’d been robbed a few times, so he kept his banknotes in his back pocket, instead of in the cash register. One time a robber had given him a black eye. He was real proud of that. He showed it to everyone, even if they’d only come to buy a paper. ‘Have you seen this?’ he’d ask. Most of them had no idea what he was talking about.
Every summer he went for a two-week cycling holiday in Drenthe. He was a cyclomanic. Whenever he was on a holiday a woman worked at his stand who looked like the daughter of Ti-Ta-Tovenaar. In fact, I think she didn’t just look like her, she really was her. The actress, I mean. I always wanted to ask her. ‘Did you play the daughter of the magician on that old kid’s programme?’ Even just to make contact. But I never did.
Broccoli and I used to meet there all the time. We were both very fond of Popsicles. Broccoli claimed that a Popsicle was an essential part of any nutritious breakfast. His parents had never let him eat Popsicles. Mine didn’t either. ‘It’ll give you diarrhoea,’ they’d told us, ‘and then you’ll dehydrate. Next thing you know, you’ll wake up in the hospital.’ When Broccoli was waiting for me on the bridge, you could see him from far away. He always stood in the middle of the bridge, and he almost always had an Italian sporting journal in his hand. At first, I thought he knew Italian, and that he was keen on sports. But he couldn’t read Italian at all, and he didn’t care a whit about sports. He was convinced that carrying around the Gazzetta dello Sport could give you a major jump on certain situations.
One time he said: ‘A burglar you should hit in the face with a rolled-up newspaper.’ And another time: ‘Italian men are the best men.’ And then he whispered something that sounded sort of like ‘machissimo’.
I bought four Raspberry Rockets. There were days when we lived on almost nothing but Raspberry Rockets. Broccoli also live on beer, of course.
‘We’re going to the photographer,’ Broccoli said. ‘I called him. He can see us this afternoon.’ He was awfully excited that day. He said: ‘Once we’d got good pictures, they’ll ask us to do a walk-on. And that’ll be the start. The start of something very big.’ ‘Take the Hörzu along for your parents,’ the newspaper man shouted after me, but I acted like I hadn’t heard heard him. I wouldn’t have been caught dead walking down the street with the Hörzu.
Broccoli popped into the Amro Bank on the corner of the Stadionweg to make a withdrawal. He didn’t go to teller’s window, he just asked for a Mr Tuinier. I heard them whispering behind the counter: ‘Young Eckstein has come in again.’ Broccoli pulled two bottles of perfume out of his coat pocket and gave them to the tellers. The tellers started laughing.
‘We want to smell good for you, Michaël,’ they said. When they saw me, they stopped laughing right away.
‘I wish I could smell good too,’ I said. It was out before I knew it.
At first, I thought Broccoli was sweet on the tellers, but when Mr Tuinier came out of his office Broccoli handed him a box of cigars too.
‘Your favorite smoke,’ Broccoli said.
‘Oh, isn’t that thoughtful of you,’ Tuinier gushed.
Tuinier took Broccoli into his back office. I waited for them at the counter. The tellers were staring at me.
Outside, I asked Broccoli why he loaded down the bank personnel with presents.
‘My father taught me that,’ he said. ‘It’s one of the only things that was really worth learning.’ He didn’t say anything for a few minutes, but when we got to Museumplein, he said: ‘A cigar every now and then works wonders. Of course. I’m not saying you should hand out presents to your bank’s employees. In fact, I’d strongly advise against it.’

The photographer lived on the Keizersgracht, close to the Centraal Station. His name was Vink. He was short, and he paced back and forth nervously the whole time, complaining about the filth. We never found out wheter he was talking about the filth on the street, or filth in general, or whether he thought we were filthy.
He led us into his studio and said: ‘Have a seat, I’ll get you some coffee.’ ‘Don’t bother,’ Broccoli said. He pulled a wad of banknotes out of his pants pocket. ‘I’m paying for all three of us.’ ‘So who’s the third party?’ ‘She’ll be here any minute.’ Vink started with me. He took his time setting up the lights, and as he did he talked about how he had once photographed Margaret Thatcher. He was once on the verge of telling us about other famous people he’d photographed when Broccoli said. ‘We’re in sort of a hurry.’ During the photo session, Broccoli kept telling me how to look. He warned me not to squint too much, because otherwise I’d look like a little rat again. After a while, Vink said to him: ‘Please, sit down, I’ve been taking photographs for twenty years and no one’s asked for a refunds yet.’ When Broccoli was finally seated and had combed his hair, the bell rang. Vink was already on his way to the door, but Broccoli raced right past him. He came back with the girl with brown curls he’d met the night before at Oblomow. This time I was able to make out her name.
‘This is Elvira,’ Broccoli said.
‘Are you planning a carreer on the stage as well?’ Vink asked.
‘In the movies,’ Elvira said.
‘She’s already famous,’ Broccoli said.
Vink groaned. Vink made all kinds of noises with his mouth when things got a bit too much for him.
Elvira went next. She acted like she’d had her pictures taken very often. In any case, Vink didn’t make her nervous.
When Broccoli’s turn came, he didn’t say a thing.
‘Try to relax,’ Vink said, ‘this isn’t an operating room.’ ‘That’s what you say,’ Broccoli replied.
Elvira was sitting in a chair to one side. She asked me how long I’d known Broccoli.
‘A couple of weeks,’ I said. ‘What about you?’ ‘Something like that.’ The day was warm, and it seemed like we could have stayed for ever in the coolness of Vink’s studio. Broccoli gnawing on his cigarette, waiting for the next photo; Elvira handing out pistachios; Vink getting more nervous all the time. It would have been nice if we’d never had to leave, but finally Vink said: ‘Well, that’s it. You can come by tomorrow to pick them up.’ Broccoli laid a twenty-five guilder note on the table and said: ‘Drink a beer tonight to my health.’ We walked along the Brouwersgracht to Centraal Station. We ate pistachios. I’ve never eaten pistachios the way I did in those days.