They live in Altona, a borough for artists and bohemians in Hamburg; their apartment overlooks the spire-needle building where she works as a statistician. He works from home. If someone asks him what he does for a living, he says he is an outside creative consultant for an ad agency. He pronounces these three words slowly, out-side cre-at-ive con-sul-tant, so that person asking him has a chance to get a sense of what he does, although not even he has a sense of what exactly he does. Occasionally, someone from the agency will call and ask him something like, “What do you think of when I say the word 'chocolate'?” “Dark,” he says, and the other person says “Hmm” and hangs up. They never give him a chance to come up with anything else, and he figures they'll fire him eventually, but the checks keep on coming and sometimes he comes across a certain TV commercial or billboard that is the result of one of these phone calls. This he finds depressing. Sometimes, they'll also him send articles or copy from pornographic layouts without the images to translate into German. “Mach mir einen Blasen, du Nutte!” or “Was fur einen geilen Arsch!” he writes below the photographs. This he finds not depressing, but boring.
If someone asks her what he does for a living, she says that he's going through a “period of work adjustment,” brought on by “the death of the novel and the peculiar state of the short story, periodically declared dead by critics but somehow still alive and kicking,” which is something she'd read in the paper's Sunday supplement, in a column by a literary critic who frequently appears on television. He has published three novels and two collections of short stories, but that was some time ago. She often brings his books into the living room when they're about to have people over so she can show them to their guests and give them away if they show any sign of interest. If he notices the books out before the guests arrive, he quickly hides them in the room that once served as his writing studio, where there are dozens of boxes with copies of his books given to him by his publisher some time ago to in order to save the trouble of pulping them. She thinks he should be proud of his work in spite of the death of the novel and the peculiar state of the short story, but it's been years since he thought about such things.
"What's with him?” she sometimes asks herself. She thinks he's like one of those office buildings where the lights are slowly switched off one by one as the employees leave and then the night watchman comes and turns off the rest and perhaps the only lights left on are in the hallway, lit up like a landing strip mere seconds before an accident. She thinks that he could use a different job and a different haircut, that they should travel somewhere or read more. She buys him a book by Dostoyevsky that he never reads. He's part of the 41 percent of the German population that hasn't read a single book in the last three months, she thinks. She thinks she needs to think of something.
Sometime later she makes up a game that they begin to play immediately. The rules are fairly simple, but that's because the content isn't simple in the least. The game consists of the two of them traveling to different cities several times a year, ideally to ones that are big and touristy; contrary to what is customary, they travel separately and stay in different hotels. They're not allowed to bring their cell phones or guidebooks and they shouldn't be too familiar with the cities they visit, maybe a just monument or two that they agree ahead of time to skip. Neither of them should know where the other person is staying or what sites will be visited. Despite all this, they have to find each other and return home together.
Needless to say, the chances of this happening are infinitesimal, and the truth is that she has formulated some rather accurate and fairly discouraging statistics regarding the matter, but the difficulty is the main incentive for playing the game, and, in any case, they always wind up finding each other.