What hides in dark, humid areas, has legs yet prefers to crawl on all fours? An insect. And James Vella Gatt.
Kważi għamel taħtu x’ħin dħalt fuqu fl-uffiċċju tiegħu, wearing Grave Expression #17 (il-famuża “I just found out someone is trying to shaft you”) fejn kien qed jieħu issoltu coffee with milk (bottle tal-babies) b’erbgħa zokkor (dijabete gass mal-pjanċa!).
I’ve often asked myself għalfejn m’għandix rispett lejn dan il-babbu. Simples. James Vella Gatt was an almost capable photographer li kien jaħdem għal rasu f’xi dark studio l-Belt (long before digital photography pissed on their plates, insects like JVG were all crowded there selling photographs in hideous frames at heinous prices). Darba jew tnejn kelli xi photoshoot miegħu – u by photoshoot I mean a museum, a church, a tree, or a fucking lamppost: as long as it didn’t move xogħlu kien jaf jagħmlu. Ovvjament kien idum jarma nofs ta’ nhar, making sure the lights and vectors (eh? are those Opel cars) are in place and all that bull. We almost got along well dak iż-żmien: jien, a young budding executive with an ocean of opportunity in front of me, and him, a crankily ageing photographer with nothing else to show.
Ovvjament Malta żgħira wisq għalina t-tnejn and I was shocked when, on the 16th October 2006, Fenech Sullivan announced that Kevin Parkes was no longer studio manager, and that he was to be replaced by James Vella Gatt. Vella Gatt? A manager? Il-Ġesù. Parkes ma kienx xi stilla but at least he was a nice guy, as disorganised as they come, imma xorta tifel sew. Imma JVG? Like a pensioner presiding over a youths council. Or Tutankhamen leading the Young Turks (dejjem kont vroma fil-history anyway).
Even after I was promoted, bqajt insibha diffiċli naħdem miegħu. Pedantiku. Lazy as fuck. Know it all. Pen-pusher. Defensive. Indecisive. And of course his biggest defect, li kien an old personal friend of Fenech Sullivan’s.
Din xi tkun tan-nies bid-double barrel, jaqaw they all know each other?
Insomma, that ancient friendship has been a bit shaky of late. All those żbalji and mediocrity from studio are hard to ignore. People talk. El Primo must have had a few unpleasant lobster lunches in the last few months. JVG ma tantx sejjer tajjeb man-nies ta’ taħtu. Captain Cock is having issues keeping the bloody Bismarck afloat. The designers spend more time complaining than breathing (they don’t make them like they used to, see?). They can’t stand the sight of him, they avoid him so much you’d think li għandu xi tropical disease contagious ħafna. L-iktar wieħed li jaqlagħlu inkwiet, from what I can understand, huwa Dragan. Ma tiċċajtax ma’ Dragan Milicevic. As you can tell from his name, he’s Serbian, twil, miftuħ, could break a bear in half. Reserved, probably with a dozen real skeletons in his closet, this Dragan is a morose “little” bastard. He rarely speaks imma meta jiftaħ ħalqu ma jibżax jgħidhielek kelma, and trust me (this happened circa 2006) ma tridx tarah mill-qrib.
Dragan and I have learnt to ignore each other. Mhux se mmur nistaqsih kif inhi martu, jew it-tfal, jew x’kiel ilbieraħ (raw deer meat, probably). Last time we spoke… meta l-aħħar li tkellimna? U iva. Who. Fucking. Cares. Today Dragan is getting a little temporary promotion. To stir shit up, you need a stirrer. Dragan se jkun stirrer minn dawk tal-Istanley Tools, tixgħelhom, u LOL! Watch it fly everywhere!
Back to us. Vella Gatt qed iħares lejja bis-soltu expression: a mix of desperate solitude and uselessness.
“Bonġu Rich, x’għedtli? Bilkemm irqadt dal-lejl…” he says in that weary tone of his. Għadu jaħseb li jien ħabib tiegħu.
“Kien hemm xi porn tajjeb jaqaw, eh?” għedtlu, winking at him. Wanker bħal JVG impossibbli ma jarax porn.
“Eh, I wish. No I’m having these constant migraines and it’s…”
MIGRAINES! Land ahoy! Qas bqajt insegwi x’kien qed jgħid… I was trying too hard to stop myself from doing a little hipster dance in jubilation.
“Eh ħażin, James, mur ara tabib (LOL! mur fittex deffien mill-ewwel!)”
“Yes, I’ve an appointment at…”
“Ismagħni James, naf li it’s not a good time right now but I have to tell you this.”
Il-mara qed taqlibhielek ma’ tal-ħobż, tal-gass, tal-grocer, and anyone passing by. Ibnek qed jittaqqab f’crack den il-Marsa. Your daughter is an underpaid prostitute in Gżira. Il-Manchester United falluti and they’re being relegated to Conference North. Moħħi qas ilaħħaq mas-seħtiet li għandi x’nitfagħlu.
“Bertie is very angry about Angela’s account.”
“We’ve been having a lot of mistakes from studio and he’s not pleased. She’s phoning and yelling at him, you know how she is…”
“X’għandi x’naqsam allura jien?” he said as he slid back in his chair, trying to look relaxed.
“Technically speaking, xejn,” għedtlu. “But he’s not happy with studio. For some reason he thinks you should be doing more to prevent these mistakes.”
“Rich, mhux għal xi ħaġa, but isn’t the executive your remit?”
“Iva, James, u I’m going to take action there. I’m thinking of giving the account to someone else. I think Kimberly or Jonathan. But this doesn’t solve your problem with Bertie…”
“U l-ieħor… qatt ma jkun hawn, fejn jaf kif qed naħdmu?”
“Easy there… bejnietna, James,” I looked him in the eye. What a sight. “I know Dragan’s been to that office a few times the last few weeks…”
“Eh?” Reġa’ deher dak il-wiċċ idjotiku u surprised tas-soltu.
“Qed ngħidlek ta’ ħabib (LOL! Mel’int you have friends!), I’ve a feeling he’s trying to put you in shit with Bertie. You know how they are these bastards…”
“Uuuu kieku taf x’qed jagħmilli. Jumejn ilu…”
BLABLABLBLABLA. Another story involving industrial levels of dimwittery. Tajtu ċans jasal sa the last, mellow, whimpering sentence, imbagħad qbiżt jien.
“Jim, ħu ħsiebha. Qed navżak għax hekk ħassejt li kelli nagħmel. I don’t think you should let this lie. Affrontah u kellmu,” għedtlu hekk kif mort lejn il-bieb. “I’m off. Handle it,” għedtlu as I rapidly evaporated from his field of view.
I was lucky enough to encounter the big bear himself malli ħriġt minn that pigsty of an office. Dragan wouldn’t have looked kieku m’għamiltlux sinjal biex jiġi miegħi fl-uffiċċju. As I walked in I calculated the potential damage of this going wrong. Qed tarah il-parquet? He would probably make a nice fur carpet out of me, our Dragan.
I sat down in my chair without asking him to take a seat. Baqa’ jħares lejja b’għajnejn ta’ crocodile killer. Fuck. Kważi se nagħmel taħti jien issa.
“Dragan, why are you trying to get my executives fired?” Authoritative Tone #2 – id-double malt tar-Richiespeak.
“I’ve spoken to your manager. I’m not pleased about this at all. Martine doesn’t deserve this. If there’s water under the bridge I want it cleared now.” He sure could drain water out of this planet, this Dragan.
“I don’t know what you’re on about man. I’ve got things to do if you don’t mind,” u dar biex joħroġ.
“No. Where are you going?” Qomt mis-siġġu. Probably one of the world’s biggest mistakes. I can only know that if, within the next ten seconds, he’ll have his hands around my neck, wringing life out of me.
“Listen man I didn’t do that shit,” qalli, serju daqs an undertaker.
“That’s not what James told me,” għedtlu as I sat down again, wearing Resignation Look #3 – Why is this happening to me?.
“James said you’ve been blaming Martine for everything. You guys work on the Angela account together, and you have equal responsibility. This is not a place where you guys come in, design things and go home at five. You wanted to be involved on the consultancy side of things because you’re one of our veterans. Fine. But don’t shift responsibility for mistakes on my executives. Is she responsible for the corrupted fonts too?” bdejt raising my voice a little more each time, peaking at “corrupted fonts” – a Dragan fuckup. Dragan’s body temperature was also bloody rising.
“Look man, I go sort this out with James. I never talk to him. I never say it is Martin’s fault.” Martin? Bear no can tell man from wimmin.
“Dragan I’m serious about this. I want this thing sorted out before it goes upstairs to Mr Fenech Sullivan.” Malli semmejtlu lil Primo, his temperature rocketed.
“Don’t worry man.” Telaq ‘il barra. Mank thankyou. Jien, I’m surely not worried.
Two hours later, I’m preparing my kitbag and racquet u tlaqna siegħa squash. Li jsiru sagħtejn bejn shower, light lunch and a couple of beers. Work is for proles! Workers of the world unite! You’ve nothing to lose but your employment, your houses and your dignity! The usual racket in the lower floor is interrupted by the sound of two people yelling – well, one of them can’t really yell – and a loud crash. Nispera kienet dik it-tavolina tal-ħġieġ li ġabet Sandra m’ilux. Hope her little green heart breaks at the sight of all that glass! But there’s no time to worry about ċuċati, I’m downstairs in a flash, wearing Concerned Peacekeeper Expression #1 (there’s only of those!), fully knowing I’m about to witness a bloodbath. Malli dort il-kantuniera behind the stairs ilħaqt eżatt lil Dragan jimbotta lil James in his chest, dak għamel two steps back, u Dragan, finding space like… Darko Kovacevic fil-penalty area… faqqagħlu daqqa ta’ ponn on his right cheek. James – miraculously – baqa’ bil-wieqfa jżomm wiċċu. Blood gushing out of his mouth.
Your appointment at? What time was it?
Il-commotion ġabret xebgħa nies iħarsu. Concerned Peacekeeper has to step in, even if Dragan is already thinking of plonking his his left hook. Dħalt fin-nofs eżatt qabel ma tahielu (what bravery! They should give me a fucking medal!) and I pushed Dragan away feebly to prevent further damage. That’s enough blood for today. Hemm il-Christmas party for them to kill each other. Behind me, JVG is groaning threats he never thought he could utter, including “Noqtlok” (LOL! iżżabbab!) u “you’re finished here” (ye ye ye of course you are).
Dragan looks at me – through me – at the whimpering mass behind me. Għal mument I thought he’d punch me too, but he knows better u telaq ‘l hemm fl-istudio. I turn to JVG, still bleeding from the side of his mouth, minfuħ daqs a turnip, feigning concern. “Jesus, James what happened? You better get someone to drive you to the polyclinic!” Id-daqqa li qala’ naħseb weġġgħatu iktar milli stennejt. JVG baqa’ bla kliem, holding his jaw, ibati biex jibqa’ bilwieqfa. “Colin fejn hu?” I shout. Nothing. Telaq lunch, żgur, ma jmurx imut bil-ġuħ. “Jonathan?”
“Jon, take him down to the polyclinic. I’ve a meeting at Powell’s and I’m already late.”
“Ok boss, f’idejja.”
Jonathan, hawnx bħalu. Jekk tgħidlu jimtedd fuq l-imsiefer he’d do it without question. Pencil him in for a tiny, irrelevant pay raise.
I head back to my office, grab my kitbag and racquet, u ħrabt ‘il barra mingħajr ma nżilt bil-lift. Down the road I can see Jonathan’s Polo driving off. This will not be the end of it, for sure. Bertie ħa jċempel żgur.
For now, however, my little global domination plan has started on the right foot. I put my shades on, get in my car, and bask in the spotless sunshine of the eternally perfect mind.