David Tilker is a brewer located in San Antonio, Texas, and he hired me last spring to write his biography. During his vetting process he read some of my work, including two stories here at X-R-A-Y about a character named Jannick Meisner. In the second of these stories, “I Was Married By A German Expressionist,” Jannick officiates a wedding for two close friends and orchestrates a violent and spectacular confrontation with a guest during the ceremony. This guest is actually Jannick’s secret lover. Jannick’s antics intrigued David Tilker and he asked, in a hopeful tone, if the events of that purported work of fiction were based in truth and whether Jannick Meisner might actually be a real life individual.
Jannick Meisner is real, I admit. His audacity is real. The danger he once posed is real. I met him first in Lake Charles. We were drinking buddies. And we had many mutual friends and I too was a guest at that infamous wedding, on the bride’s side. I witnessed the whole fight. For his own amusement, Jannick had fisticuffs at a wedding he was presiding over. Tilker’s immediate reaction was: you have got to find this bastard, this iconoclast, and bring him to San Antonio. David Tilker was getting married and he wanted the Jannick Meisner treatment.
The finder’s fee was considerable, enough to keep me in single malt scotch for a year, so I agreed to the preposterous task of drawing Meisner out. I first traveled to Lake Charles to search for Meisner at his usual haunt, Pappy’s Bar and Grill. According to the regulars, he had gone to New Orleans to join the Merchant Marine. So I then went to New Orleans and endured the hipsters and tourists and confederate flag wavers and the lousy goddamn smell of the place. I found Meisner’s ship, just back from Kolkata, and his captain complained that Jannick had abandoned the crew in Ho Chi Minh City, to trade in exotic birds.
That night I phoned Tilker to give him an update. He became excitable, “Yes! Follow the goddamn Bavarian to the ends of the earth, if you must.” David Tilker had become infatuated with Meisner and had even started taking German lessons at Texas State University.
So I went to Vietnam. It is a vibrant country. The people are remarkable. Meisner had gotten into trouble with the local authorities and had fled across the border into Laos. And from there he had gone to Myanmar, all the while traveling with a contingent of small, colorful, rare birds he had captured and trained to circle above him and terrorize any who might reproach him, or show any unkindness to children or defenseless women. In point of fact, he became a sort of myth on the Indochinese peninsula, protector of the innocent, that sort of mawkish thing. But like all lawgivers he had flaws, in his case an obsession with orgasm control. His partner would have to bring him to the threshold and stop, and repeat and stop, all day. The criteria for loving Jannick physically was simply burdensome. According to the people I interviewed, ranging from simple villagers to high powered businessmen in Bangkok, he never reciprocated.
In Singapore, exhausted, I confirmed Meisner had chartered a flight to Brussels, and in Brussels I tracked down an apartment he had rented. I went there armed with whiskey and diazepam, only to find that the apartment had been recently abandoned and that it contained the corpses of six murdered Interpol agents. Jannick was the target of an expansive investigation into the smuggling of endangered species.
“Jesus fucking Christ” I said volubly at a cafe afterwards, and they scoffed at me as if I were yet another Ugly American.
“I’m coming home,” I told Tilker in an email. He was not amused but he understood. Meisner had gone completely unhinged.
I flew back to the States in August of 2018, after months away. In early September, I was reading all the local Texas newspapers for the sports pages. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’m a bit of a gambler and I like to bet primarily on high school women’s bowling. And yes, there is a sexual element to it, if we are being frank. Out of Marathon, I happened to glance at the Life & Culture section. There was a photograph of Jannick Meisner, though the caption read Jeff Coolbody, standing next to the sculpture of what appeared to be a deformed giraffe.
After Brussels, Jannick had come back to the States and settled in West Texas. Every day huge shipments of animal feces were carted to him on the Missouri Pacific or some other rail line and he would take the feces and shape them into the animals which produced them. This was an artistic medium that began in Russia, Jannick told me. He’d sold the birds and in turn had received enough money to afford the logistics of his art, the cooperation of the railroads and zookeepers, et cetera. I went to visit him and he welcomed me with a five course meal.
“This is my dream. I dreamt of this since I was a boy in Munich,” he said.
“And what of Tilker’s wedding? He’ll pay you handsomely,” I said.
“But I’m happy. I am at peace,” Meisner said to me and I believed him. He bid me Gute Nacht, reminding me of the spare room and the full liquor cabinet and the Wi-Fi password before shuffling off to bed.
Perhaps this will surprise no one, but the death I speak of is not literal. It is the death of an idea: the insane, cornered, malevolent, discerning German. He is no longer that person, and he can no longer be properly embellished, at least by a serial abuser like me. His artistic conceit is odd, very odd, but he is earnest about it, like a young child coloring. Nothing to disparage there, though certainly nothing to lionize. And there is no twist, by the way. I promise you. Were this one of my usual accounts, Jannick would have died while working on an elephant. Its torso would collapse on top of him.
All I can say is that Jannick was alive and happy and real when I left him. He works under aliases obviously. He cannot stay in Marathon forever, since he is still a wanted man. He’ll be moving soon, I imagine, but follow the smell and look on his works.