Pain and Gain

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2:37 am. Sitting by mi side, Alma, a dog from a very distinguished Germanic social class, sleeps under the covers. Once in a while, she rises and looks at me superiorly; I think she might have been an old lady of pride linage in a different life. Now, in this canine reincarnation, she continues to believe it, since her relation with the other dogs in the hotel is terrible. Not to add that right now she is looking at me from a very superior 90 degrees angle.

I sense she knows I am a 21st century proletarian who sells her work at bargain price: a translation from English to Spanish of a 90 thousand-word book for a ridiculous, absurd and humiliating amount of 125 bucks.

Yeah, $125. No, I’m not forgetting a final zero. There’s just no zero. There aren’t usually many zeros to the right for translators-style-proofreaders-dog-care-takers in the 21st century. It’s as if there had never been minimum wage struggles and as if we had gone back to the beginning of the 20th century. I imagine in those days Alma must have been more or less wearing a white linen dress, winding herself with a fan and observing, from her terrace, a bunch of black people collecting cotton in Alabama. The lack of regulation and the many providers in freelancers’ webs make you end up giving your work away for ridiculously low prices.  I’ve seen people who are willing to work on articles of 500 words for 0,45 dollars. Since anyone can type on a laptop, copy, paste and hit enter on Google translator, I consider an era has begun. I would call it the final hecatomb of writers and professional translators. My university Literature Theory Professor was right. He, as a sort of apocalyptic prophet, predicted we should have looked for a job of a different kind. We writers are doomed to disappear. Just as lute players; as smiths; as typewriters, ironically. In a few years we’ll be a museum curiosity; an old fact to be checked on Wikipedia; a crossword curiosity. I’m delighting myself with the sweet smell of capitalism over the Internet.

As typewriters: about to disappear.

As typewriters: about to disappear.

Pain and Gain is the name of the book I’ve been translating for the last five days. Since I don’t believe in coincidences, the truth is I’m not surprised. Between taking care of the dogs and translating I’ve been working between 13 and 17 hours a day. No self-pity hyperboles. This is like a labor suicide. I eat and work. I smoke and work. I go to the bathroom and work.  I would also say I shower and work, but the truth is I’ve stopped showering because I think it’s a waste of time.

Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, the kilogram of literature I carry around, talks about time perception. How do we perceive time?  You can’t see time; you can’t smell it; you can’t touch it; you can’t hear it; you can’t even taste it. However, in this moment, at 2:43 a.m., I can perceive it with all my senses. Time seems blurry; it has a metallic taste, it smells like shit. And it hurts. It hurts as I feel numbness in my hands and my fingers start to ache, especially my middle finger, which I should have stuck out to this translation in first place.

Pain and Gain. I’m not only translating it. I’m living it.



Interlude: the shitty hole.

It’s not a metaphoric title. I truly was in a shitty hole that I myself dug; just as I dug my own grave with this damn translation.

Ilona asks me to dig a hole in the garden to dispose all the dogs’ shit. This is a common practice in the hotel. Now, I think you can imagine how much dog shit the intestines of 15 dogs produce a day.

It’s raining and it’s cold. Something I had always imagined about Germans, which I have confirmed, is the fact that these people NEVER stop. This is the only possible explanation for the fact that after WWII they have been able to dominate Europe in such a short period of time.

That has always been very inspirational for me. Many years ago, when I came to Berlin for the first time, I bought many postcards with pictures of how the city looked after the war and how it looks now. I find them very inspiring. That is how defeated I felt that day, but I knew, someday, I was going to be able to restore myself.

Berlin, 1945.

Berlin, 1945.

Berlin, 2013

Berlin, 2013

At the hotel there’s still a kind of weitergehen policy. You work no matter what. It doesn’t matter it’s raining. You just put on a rain coat and life goes on. Time resists any weather condition and so do you. Now, you know what they say, when in Rome, do as Romans do. Since I truly believe in that, I can’t say no. Without complaining I put on my raincoat, too. I take my shovel and very determined I start digging a latrine for dogs. I’m willing to do that and much more in exchange for a room in the attic, with a bathroom and a bathtub, and a meal. What happens (I didn’t realize about this until after digging for a while, not very happily) is that the place I chose has already been used as a latrine before. No wonder why right on that square meter the grass grows so densely. This is how, after a few minutes, I realize I am not shoveling dirt out of the hole, but dog shit, 2009 dog shit. Dear readers, I would like to be able to describe with words the odor but I just can’t find them. I don’t even think they exist. A writer has her limits, especially in cases of extreme odors.

Well, what the heck, I am just going to keep on digging. I have been digging for a while already and I am not going to start digging a new hole all over again. That would hurt me more than it hurts the ground. So I go on. Rain comes along. It gets very cold, too. I think it’s probably around 13 degrees. The summer didn’t stop by and it forgot to leave a little basket with sunrays at the door.

And while digging, I can’t stop thinking about something a guy once told me. In that moment I didn’t think it was that bad, but time has made me realize how much that hurt. I mean, scatologically speaking: what he told me started like a hole and ended up as crap.

He (who will know for sure I am talking about him as soon as he reads this) had just turned me down in one of the worst ways a man has ever done that in the entire history. However, he and I as well wanted to be on good terms. So in a good try to stay as friends we went for dinner. While having Persian food for dinner, (including, what I remember up until now, the best rice I have ever tried in my life) he talked about his ex-girlfriend, a woman who hurt him deeply. I could definitely identify with that kind of pain, reason why I made a huge effort not to judge him. I talk about a huge effort because besides the rice we ordered we were also having meat. Therefore there was a knife pretty handy. I have conveniently decided not to include here the original description of what I would have liked to do with that knife against him because it was certainly not appropriate for a lady. I invite you, dear readers, to be as psychotically creative as you want.

Anyway, this guy took his ex girlfriend on an all-expenses-paid trip to Thailand. If she had wanted to, he would have taken her around the world for half a year. If she had wanted to, he would have even taken care of her forever and she could have spent the rest of her life without a job. Yes, he would have done that in a very traditional chauvinistic way. Here, dear feminists of the world, you would have to excuse me. Just go ahead and dig a hole of dog shit and tell me, wouldn’t you prefer spending the rest of your lives in a 1950’s old style kitchen?

While I was chewing and digesting the rice, I was also digesting the idea of how unfair life is. No man would do that for me. I even feel guilty when a man gives me a ride home. I started getting used to men treating me to something just a couple of years ago. I have never expected anything from anyone, even less if it is something that big. Truly, I didn’t even expect that from him. I was expecting the simplest thing in the world from him. I just wanted him to hold my hand to sleep. I didn’t want anything else. Nothing. I didn’t want neither money nor love (well, maybe a little). I didn’t even want more time; I didn’t want more of that time that you can’t perceive with your senses. Now, it looks like according to him, I was not good enough as to at least deserve that. Oh, but of course her exgirlfriend, who hurt him despicably, did.

And while digging this shitty hole, I can’t stop asking myself what the heck I am doing wrong in life. Why do other women do get those things and I don’t? Am I not good enough? Does the message I send by any chance say I am too strong and I don’t need anything from anyone? Is that why I always end up inside a hole all covered in dog shit, sleepless because of a translation I am working on for the ridiculous amount of $125? More than being all covered in dog shit, I am covered in self-pity and rage.

To make things worse, Astrid, a woman who works by the hour at the hotel, comes and tells me to stop digging the hole because it is raining too much. She does not speak anything but German and I speak very little German so in the middle of this linguistic hole I just continue digging. I am just not able to translate “Stop” from German to Spanish. As Astrid sees I am not stopping, she decides to at least help me out digging. This is how we both ended up all covered in moist dog shit, under the rain only thanks to such a scatological and idiomatic barrier. Memorable.

End of the interlude



It’s Saturday night and I’m taking care of a dozen of dogs. Nothing very glamorous at all. Ilona and Linda went out so all it is left for me is to translate and translate. I have to deliver this stuff on Monday. Luckily, I have done 130 pages out of 195 so I can almost see the end of this. I don’t know if it is the light at the end of the so called tunnel or if at this point I am blinded by the brightness of the computer and surrounded by an immense whiteness, as Seeing.

As if it were some kind of curse, the more I translate the more pages are left. I started with 185 pages and now there are 10 more. I thought it was because Spanish needs more words than English. So I thought while I moved forward the pages in some kind of trick moved along, taking me away from the peace that the blank page produces on me, but I was wrong. It’s a curse.

(Pain and Gain. Dolor y Dinero, its Spanish version. I translated the book on which the movie is based for $125... :(  ).

Pain and Gain. Dolor y Dinero in its Spanish version. I translated the book on which the movie is based for $125… 🙁

Anyway, I am running out of battery. There is no human engine able to keep up with my mad work pace. My computer is going off all of a sudden. Under such unpredictable circumstances I start saving the file every two minutes. Around 8 pm it goes off one more time. I, not surprised, just turn it on again. I open the file and Uh-oh! My precious translation document is ruined and now, instead of beautiful words, all I see is a bunch of codes on the screen, a language that for sure no one on this planet can speak.

Dogs wagging their tales around my death body. This is what I imagine Linda and Ilona will find when they come back because I am about to collapse. MAN, THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING! But it is. In the world of Andrea Aguilar-Calderón the laws belong to Murphy and I start to seriously consider registering them under my name. Or maybe I got the bad luck from the guy who wrote this. It probably came like a virus through the e-mail. The truth is, yes, I lost the document. Not all of it, though. Happily I am able to recover up to page 43. About the other 90, I have to start all over again, on a Saturday night. I get some help from the only friend I could count on. He helps me with 20 pages. I was able to finish after asking for time to deliver it until Thursday.

That Thursday I considered impossible I was going to be able to go to sleep at 11 pm so I stayed tossing and turning until 2 am.

There are three lessons I can learn from all this:

1. If I don’t respect my work, no one is going to do it. Therefore, I can’t go on giving my work away for cents. At the end I ended up working for less than 50 cents the hour.

2. There’s no longer a “good Andre”. There are experiences that make you stronger, but definitely not a better person. I don’t think the new version of me will be better than the old one. Unfortunately there seem to be people who have their mirror neurons damaged, so one needs to be an asshole to be treated appropriately.

3. “Hör auf!” means “Stop!” in German. Whenever someone tells you that, please stop.

PLEASE NOTE: English is not my mother tongue! These ones are rough translations from
the original Spanish version Sobre el caballito.Sorry about the mistakes!

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