Haresh Shah

Bonding Over Beer And The Blue Eyed Bitch


Life is what happens to you when you’re too busy planning it.

John Lennon

Things happened at the lightening speed. Instead of a three week vacation in California, I am checking in at the Lufthansa counter at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for their Frankfurt bound flight on my way to Munich. Everything seems to have fallen in place smoothly. My lifelong dream of working for Playboy has come true. Better yet. I will be working for them in Europe. I am elated.

I won’t bother you with details such as cancelled flights, delays, lost baggage and such. Their significance has long been lost. So is that of the icy reception upon my arrival in what would be my stomping grounds in Munich and Essen, West Germany.  But what is still significant in telling of this tale is that how swiftly my joy of having landed my dream job had vanished at the realization of being dropped off smack dab in the middle of the debris of the hostile war zone. That I was neither wanted nor welcomed in the job they had hired me to do.

In nutshell – unlike Time & Life, Playboy’s foreign editions are licensed to local publishers. To Bauer Verlag in Germany.  The contract stipulates that Playboy would have direct editorial and printing quality control of its editions through Playboy hired and paid representatives to be posted on site.  Neither Germans nor Italians or the French were thrilled with this clause in the contract and had put up strong resistance to the condition. In the end, Playboy prevailed. And here I am – unwelcomed and unloved. Imposed upon them. Nobody other than the management knows of their contractual obligation. To make matters worse, instead of building bridges, Gerrit (Huig) – my predecessor had however inadvertently managed to burn some. Leaving me to waddle through muddy waters.


Up until then, Heinz Nellissen of the Bauer Team was in complete control of their flagship weekly, Quick. Bauer’s editorial offices were based in Hamburg and Munich and they had their own printing plant in Köln for their mass market publications. But they printed their quality publications in Essen at Girardet. And like us at Time, Bauer’s production team had set up their shop right at the printers’ doorsteps. So Heinz and his colleagues had plump jobs like we did at Time. They would do their jobs, stop for a beer or two or three and then go home. Other than occasional visits from their Hamburg based boss, Herr Schatong, for practical purposes, they were their own bosses. It even got better for Heinz when they assigned him to Playboy. Like me, up until then he had done weeklies and to be assigned to a single product a month for him was a child’s play. But to his chagrin, not one, but two of us intruders were dispatched back-to-back to disrupt his paradise.

Little by little, this becomes clear to me. But what am I supposed to do? Quit? Go back to Time? If I had any illusions about such a possibility, that too is shattered just before Christmas when the front page headline in The International Herald Tribune cried: LIFE DIES. I remember walking past the Essen Hauptbahnhof, struggling to hold back tears. My last days at Time were also my most glory days when I was given Life back, something they were forced to remove me from the very first month of my employment with them. In the meanwhile, I have dissolved my home and life in Chicago, my possessions overstuffed inside a container or two floating eastward on the Atlantic and so is my brand new beautiful Buick Skylark.

So suddenly we have two equally as qualified and experienced professionals assigned to the job which either of us could have done with our eyes closed. Plus, Heinz has an edge. He knows the Photogravure inside out of which I only have theoretical knowledge. I have specialized in Offset, the newer printing process that has already made big strides in the States, but the old world still hangs onto the Gravure.  And he has long established pleasant working relationship with the people at the plant.      

We are practically in each other’s way. So what do we do?  We accept each other’s existence –however reluctantly. We begin to build some semblance of working relationship. Thanks to Rainer (Wörtmann) realizing my usefulness, I carve out a role for myself and become his liaison with Essen – to make sure his creative vision is reproduced and reflected in the final product.  Freddy (Baumgärtel) – the Playboy team leader – invites me to attend regular editorial meetings. I become their direct link to Chicago.  I partner and discuss with Heinz the best technical possibilities and solutions. Something our teams at Time did with art directors and editors in New York. Heinz helps me with finding a beautiful one bedroom apartment in Essen’s ritzy Stadtwald neighborhood, so that I would have my own pied-à-terre there instead of being stuck in hotel rooms.  Thanks to Bauer’s discreet and Playboy’s generous expense
accounts, we feast at some of the most exclusive restaurants in Essen, such as Kockshusen, Grugahof, Schinkekrug, Amboss and  get to know each other: first through the professional respect and then slowly to forge a friendship. Instead of me always going to Essen, I have him come to Munich once a month and us two sitting down with Rainer and discuss every single page of the magazine. Heinz is far from being a stern faced German from Ruhr area in North Rhine-Westphalia, but he would still dress up in his sports jackets and ties to my open collared shirts and sweaters.

I even take him to the Suzi Quatro concert in Munich’s Circus Krone and subject him to her deafening screams. At the time Suzi Q from Michigan was all the rage across Europe. Heinz is in awe of the pint size screaming sex bomb, sliding her guitar as big as herself  between her legs, dressed in the skin tight black leather pants and the jeans jacket, tossing her shoulder grazing full head of hair and belting out…

I’m a blue eyed bitch

And I wanna get rich

Get out of my way

Cuz I’m here to stay

I’m the wild one

Yes, I’m the wild one

Those were the days when the concert halls were not gigantic affairs like today and I am still always able to get seats up front within the first fifteen rows. And I remember, we are standing in the arena in front of the stage. Heinz has loosened his tie and removed his jacket and is grooving to the gyrations of this teeny bopper sensation.

Heinz can tell this one better than I could. Also because its his story, and by me trying to tell it, I am  risking being immodest, and worse yet, boastful. In fact I had completely forgotten all about it until Heinz brought it up two years ago when he came to visit me here in Chicago with his wife Lia.  And then I remembered vaguely the tableau in which we stood around at the end of the plant tour to show our visiting production boss John Mastro accompanied by John Groening – a printing executive from the US. I am not sure if the Playboy German edition editorial director Heinz van Nouhuys was also there or not. But there are also Friedrich Karl Schnelle – Girardet’s managing director and Dr. Wilhelm Girardet Jr. himself. And stepping back from the group was Heinz, wishing us all Gute Nacht and Guten Apetit. Dr.Girardet was hosting a dinner for us all at the Schloss Hugenpoet – a very exclusive  hotel and the restaurant around Essen.

‘Where are you going? Aren’t you going to have dinner with us?’ I ask. Heinz doesn’t answer, but the expressions on his face lead me to turn around and look at Messers. Girardet and Schnelle.

‘He is not invited.’ Herr Schnelle whispers.

‘Why not? He is a part of our team.’

‘He doesn’t fit into the present company.’ Dr. Girardet answers, meaning John and John.

‘Well, in that case, I don’t either!’ It just rolls out of my mouth.

India gets all the bad rap for our caste system, and rightfully so. But if this isn’t a caste system of a different kind, then what  is it?  Put in the compromising position and also sensing John and John’s silent approval of me, Dr. Girardet, feeling however  awkward, invites Heinz to join us. And Heinz isn’t even in socio-psychological frame of mind to gracefully decline the invitation and wiggle out of his predicament. If Dr. Girardet has personally invited him, then all he could say is: Danke. Gerne. It enormously pleases me. And relieves John and John of whatever discomfort they must have felt.

‘I have never forgotten that.’ Heinz has often said to me.

So yes, we have bonded. And yet, there remains a certain amount of indignation that I can sense in Heinz. We never talked about it, but I could imagine him feeling at times that here I was, the devil in what was his paradise. Albeit a friendly one and likable even, making it harder that at the end of the day, I would have the final say on the matters we couldn’t agree upon.

There would be small annoyances and disagreements that would play out between us in front of people of the printing company, and whereas before Playboy’s arrival, he would be the only one to scratch his signature on the corrected forms (normally 16 or 32 page on large sheet of paper), now had to be okayed by both of us. But we always managed to reach a compromise and never allowed those things to come between us and our favorite watering hole Amboss nearby. The place we referred to as Axel’s – after it’s owner’s name.  An added attraction was Axel’s Rubenesque but very pretty and flirtatious wife Bärbel. That is until…

Must have been around 3:30 and we are looking at a form and doing color corrections with Girardet’s Hans (Potisch). I no longer remember the exact nature of correction or the extent of it, but we couldn’t seem to have reached an accord and agree to a compromise. If I insisted and Heinz resisted, it must have been something that would cost Bauer fair amount of money in labor, material and lost time. Something Heinz is responsible for. Whatever it was, it must have been important enough to me to correct. An argument ensued. It gets heated. Normally, Hans would step in and suggest a middle way. Not this time. At some point, Heinz gets so angry, he throws his China marker wax pencil across the viewing table. Frustrated he spews out:

‘Verdamt! Du machts was du willst, Ich habe nicht damit zu tun!‘(Damn, you do what you want to do. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.)  Huffing and puffing, he darts out of our loft viewing room and I hear him thumping down the spiral stairs, opening his office door and then violently slamming it close.

Left behind in bit of a daze, after a while, Hans  picks up his wax pencil and begins to mark the proofs spread out on the table and us two finish the job. He rolls up the pages, shoves them under his arm.

‘Gute nacht Haresh. Bis Morgan!’ And he leaves.

I sit down at my desk and take a deep breath. By then it must be 4:30 or later. I got it my way, but I am far from being happy about it. Heinz and I have grown on each other and I thought we had found a way to work together. And we had. And suddenly, there is a lapse.

I gather myself and walk down. Even though the door to his office is partially closed, I know that Heinz is still there. I don’t even think about walking out of there without wishing him good night. I slowly open the door. He is sitting at his desk. Looking pensive and down like a defeated warrior. I hold the partially open door and say:

‘Heinz.’ He doesn’t look up.

‘How about a beer?’ I say. Now he looks up. Quite confused, probably not knowing what to say to that. So he doesn’t respond. The expressions on his face seems to say: What the fuck! Are you crazy or something? You’ve got some balls! I answer to it, as if he really said it.

‘Look, you were doing your job and I was doing mine. Now is after five, feierabend . Why can’t we go have a beer together?’

From the changing expressions on his face I see that he still isn’t sure. Seems flabbergasted at my audacity.  While just over an hour or so a go I had caused him such a humiliation in front of a technician from the printing company over whom he had reigned supreme up until  not long ago.

His eyes level straight at mine. It just comes out of my mouth: ‘You know what? At the end of the day it’s just a fucking job. Let’s go have a beer.’

He lowers his gaze. Shuffles his stuff off the desk and gets up.

Na, Gut!’

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Celia  Rose Marks



Next: Friday, June 21, 2013


Ever since La Toya Jackson asked for a Boa Constrictor to accompany her to the popular television talk show to promote her layout in Playboy Germany, I have often wondered what it is about the snakes that enchant women?


Yup: You read it right. The next post to arrive on your screens will be on Friday, June 21st. I was actually thinking of taking a short break after the 25th post, but seemed both you and I were in a fine momentum, so I just kept going. Now Celia and Jordan are taking a couple of weeks’ vacation to go see their parents “back East,”  and even though Celia offered to double up and illustrate the next two posts, I decided now is as good a time as any for me to take a short break as well. Let’s try not to miss each other. The break will give you time to catch  up and me some extra time to build some inventory. So have wonderful next two weeks and Playboy Stories will be back to its weekly frequency on the 21st of June.

Don’t go away. More exciting stories are still to come 🙂 

You May Also Like