A Perfect Waiter – Alain Claude Sulzer

apw(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The hotel trade expects long hours from all workers from porters to mangers. Work is an escape for the waiter of the title, who doesn’t have a day off for illness in over twenty years. This results in acute loneliness since nearly all his relationships are when he is in role (even the person whom he thought loved him was merely using him). He is emotionally stuck, captivated by his first love for decades after his being dumped.

The loneliness is intensified when he is the victim of gang violence and he is unable to report this to the police because he, himself, is breaking a cruel law merely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story of this book is told in a restrained manner yet it is vivid and erotic in places.

Most memorable, after the violence, is the hypocrisy of a rich and powerful man who used a young man for his own gratification and then said that this young man’s death was a punishment for his depravity.

Two passages which will stay in my memory for some time to come:

Erneste hadn’t been expecting it. While they were walking down to the lake—it was on a Sunday morning in July, two months almost to the day after his arrival in Giess­bach—Jakob had, out of the blue, draped his left arm around Erneste’s shoulders and kissed him.

Nothing had happened to warrant that kiss, other than the fact that it might not have escaped Jakob how ardently Erneste had been yearning for his touch throughout those past few weeks. Sympathy for the exigencies of a man in love, especially a man in love with another man, was no reason for kissing him like that—kissing him not in the seclusion of their attic room but outside in the open and visible from all directions, a thoroughly dangerous en­vironment in which unwelcome onlookers could be ex­pected to appear at any moment.

Jakob didn’t kiss Erneste like a brother, or like some­one kissing his father or mother. He kissed him like a lover, without fear or inhibition—a trifle clumsily, too, because he probably hadn’t had much practice at it. In kissing Erneste he was doing something forbidden. He knew it, yet he did it. He did it in a place where they might have been caught unawares, for hotel guests could have come upon them at any moment. The weather was fine, just the weather for strolling down to the lake—before or after a swim, with or without children, hand in hand or walking decorously apart—and returning to the hotel by cable car. They risked being seen because the shrubs and trees around them provided only sparse protection from unwelcome eyes. Jakob was endangering himself and endangering Erneste, but he overrode all his misgivings.

He wasn’t deterred in the least by his own audacity. His desire to kiss his friend was evidently stronger than his fear of being rejected. In spite of his own desire for physical contact with Jakob, or for that very reason, Erneste would never so much as have ventured to brush against him, whereas Jakob, the inexperienced young man from Germany, was doing, and doing with complete unconcern, what Erneste would never have dared to do and would always be grateful for. Jakob had no fear of being rejected, so he made the first move. Wherever that move would lead in the end, it now led straight to paradise.

Jakob’s tongue took possession of Erneste’s mouth, invading it unimpeded. Needless to say, Erneste returned the kiss as willingly and ardently as he had received it. His breathing quickened, sucking air from Jakob’s lungs, and his heart pounded. Nothing could have surprised him more than this reckless onslaught, just as nothing could have delighted him more than this fulfillment of his dearest wish. He had never dared to hope that it could genuinely be fulfilled. He had too often dreamed that Jakob’s arms were around him, and now they really were. He was in paradise at last, filled with lust and sensuality, apprehension and fear of discovery.

At first, however, he strove to maintain a certain distance between them, not wanting Jakob to feel how crudely his desire was manifesting itself. Aroused as never before, with his penis engorged to bursting point, he naturally had to maintain this gap of a few inches, this hurdle, only until it was cleared by Jakob himself. When his body abruptly thrust itself against Erneste’s, it was obvious that each of them was as aroused as the other. Their bodies and temperaments complemented each other.

So there they stood on the shrub- and tree-lined woodland path leading down to the lake, closely entwined and inadequately shielded from the gaze of potential witnesses who could not but disapprove because they would regard the sight that met their eyes as “sick and depraved”—the list of current descriptions was a long one. Jakob might not be acquainted with it yet, but Erneste was. Despite this, they not only kissed but began to touch whatever their hands could reach without interrupting their kiss, without severing the bond between their lips. Their hands roamed over shoulders and back, neck and hair, arms, hips and buttocks—or over the cloth, at least, that covered the flesh, sinews and muscles beneath.

It was Erneste who summoned up the courage to put his right hand on Jakob’s penis, whose presence he had long felt. Without hesitation, unafraid of being re­pulsed, his hand enveloped the cloth beneath which Jakob’s penis strained as powerfully, crudely and shock­ingly as his own.

Jakob didn’t recoil. On the contrary, he pressed even closer, his penis sliding obediently through Erneste’s fingers beneath the cloth. Erneste felt the glans, gripped the shaft, cupped his hand around Jakob’s testicles. Jakob groaned aloud. Erneste stifled the sound with his lips. Jakob was trembling all over. No one had ever touched him where Erneste’s hand now lay, and while the ball of Erneste’s thumb moved slowly up and down between glans and shaft, navel and scrotum, his own hand soon found its way to Erneste’s penis. He groaned again between two intakes of breath, and this time a sigh escaped his lips. To Erneste, his breath felt like a silken cloth fluttering in his ear.

It was little short of a miracle that no hotel guests or Sunday excursionists crossed their path during those five minutes of perfect bliss. If they had, there would un­doubtedly have been a scandal. But Erneste and Jakob had the shameless good fortune to be alone in the world for a few moments, alone and unobserved. Nobody came their way, neither adult nor child. Had they been caught, they would have been dismissed the same day.


He was lying on the floor when he recovered con­sciousness. Unsurprised, he fought for breath as he lay there on his back. He could hear himself gasping, hear his own hoarse breathing. Then he was hit with some heavy object, some kind of cudgel, first in the chest, then in the stomach. He curled up on his side, but no sooner had he done so than someone kicked him in the ribs. So there was more than one of them. He heard shouts nearby, but not for long. They were scared of attracting the attention of outsiders and alerting the police. Erneste wasn’t the only one they’d picked on for their night’s entertainment. Two or three others had also failed to make a run for it in time. There were several assailants, three at least. They never came alone and were always armed with weapons of some kind.

What he had always dreaded had now come to pass: they had caught him. Now he was in it up to his neck. They would kick and beat him senseless.

Too engrossed in his own thoughts, which were unconnected with his personal safety, he hadn’t been alert or quick enough. He hadn’t heard them coming or detected their lurking presence. They wanted their fun and they were having it. They beat up on anyone in the park they could catch, and they would go on doing so for as long as they thought fit. They alone would determine the duration of this orgy of violence. They were young and strong and convinced of the unimpeachable nature of what they were doing.

They usually turned up on weekends, but today was Thursday. Warm, viscous blood was oozing from his nose and mouth. How on earth could he appear for work with a swollen nose and split lips?

Another blow, a faint, crunching sound from beneath the skin, and he passed out again. That was his temporary salvation.

The next time he recovered consciousness he at once took in the fact that four men were standing over him. They were concentrating on him alone. “Pervert!” they growled. “Filthy queer!” Erneste felt as if he was lying with his head in a dog turd, but what did that matter in his predicament? Why worry about that, of all things?

There was a lot of raucous laughter. He didn’t catch what else was said because a thick, soundproof wall had muffled every sound. Kicks were being delivered. Each of the men was at liberty to kick him as often and in as many places as he chose. It’s always the same, he thought: first you have a good idea, then a bad one. Strangely enough, only his assailants seemed to be really with it; he himself could scarcely feel a thing.

Perhaps one of the many blows he’d sustained had rendered him insensitive to all the blows that followed. Perhaps that crucial blow had struck, severed and deac­tivated a special nerve essential to the experiencing of pain. His body felt alien to him. Although he was lying helpless on the floor, he took a long stride, and after that he found himself in another world, and every succeeding blow reinforced his position in that other world. Another blow, and another, or no blow at all—it didn’t matter, he felt none of them. One connected with his knee, another with his genitals, another with his head again. They had stamina, his assailants, you had to grant them that much. He couldn’t see their faces. They continued to aim deliberate, almost desperate blows at him, a squirming figure that might or might not have been screaming as well—he couldn’t hear—but seemed curiously absent. He was elsewhere, but he probably wouldn’t die; the frontier he’d just crossed gave access to deserted terrain, a ren­dezvous for the insensitive. He was in a state of drunken dissolution, not a permanent condition but one that fortunately persisted. Then it went dark again. Jakob and the letter, Klinger and America, Julie and his own uninteresting existence—all had disappeared. Everything within him concentrated on remaining in that other world.

The noise had almost died down by the time he came to again. Guffawing, they unzipped their flies. What better way of demonstrating their superiority, what more effective display of contempt, than to wisecrack as they pissed on him? They must have been drinking beer, because it was two or three minutes before they strode out, one of them whistling a popular tune. They’d had an enjoyable Thursday night. Everything had gone the way they’d hoped, maybe even better.

A church clock struck once just as he tried to get to his feet. It had to be one o’clock or half-past. He was overcome by the pain he’d been spared until now.

His attempt to get up seemed to rend him in two. He collapsed. He couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk, couldn’t call for help. No sound escaped his lips, just a trickle of blood. He was doomed to pick up the thread they’d extracted from his body: he wasn’t dead.

No morning newspaper would report what had hap­pened here. He was alone, the others had gone, no one could help him, no one would tend him. He should go to the hospital, but he wouldn’t. The urine was beginning to evaporate and leave a sticky film on his skin. Unable to suppress his nausea, he vomited, soiling his jacket and trousers. It was self-loathing that eventually lent him the strength to stand up. He had to. His clothes were sodden, torn and filthy like his inner self—there was no differ­ence. His one thought was to get away from there, to get up, go home and wash, sluice off the filth they’d soiled him with. He was soiled. That wouldn’t wash off so quickly, but he must make a start. He must wash, shower, soak in the bathtub, lie there until the stench of blood and urine and vomit had disappeared from this cramped world of his, until the scent of soap had displaced the stench of humiliation.

A more recent review is here.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] There’s an older review at https://gaymensbookclubbristol.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/a-perfect-waiter-alain-claude-sulzer/ […]

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