Our Vendors: René Mocellin (Surprise, Switzerland)

By René Mocellin, Surprise vendor

I must admit I was initially rather hesitant when selling the street paper, Surprise. I was afraid people would consider me marginalised, and I certainly didn’t want that image. Then I said to myself, I’ll do it my way. I don’t look like an outsider, and my equipment, such as my monitor and other extra gear, does not give that impression. I have now been with Surprise for almost a year. I started in March 2015.

Nearly every day, I start at 10am at the main entrance to the Basel SBB train station and sell until well into the evening. And I have to say, I enjoy the task. I get a nice response from people, they like my electronics. I always have illuminated panels with me, that I install myself. During Advent, I took a small, lit up Christmas tree with me. That drew especially positive reactions. Once, a family of orthodox Jews passed by and the children were fascinated by the tree, just staring at it. Then I said loudly, “Hanukkah!” and everyone laughed.

Surprise vendor René Mocellin. Photo courtesy of Surprise

At the moment, I would like to keep my life’s story to myself. Not because I have anything to hide, quite the contrary. I am nearly finished with my autobiography. I hope to find a publisher in the next few months and release the work as a book. Until then, I don’t want to give everything away.

I have been writing the book over the last few years. Right now, I’m working on revisions. I have my own methods. I dictate the story onto tape, all in one go. It took me 12 hours to dictate 360 pages. In the past, I used a Revox G36 recorder, now I use a recording device with a chip memory card. After I record, I listen to it, making stylistic changes along the way. I have repeated this procedure 10 to 15 times now, and can recite some passages by heart.

It is a very intensive encounter with my own life. Sometimes it makes me sad. In one scene, I describe how me and my mother, who has since died, go out to a neighbourhood restaurant for a snack. I remember so clearly how I went over to the Wurlitzer and selected a couple of oldies. My mother requested Lara’s Song, the theme music from Doctor Zhivago. I see her sitting across from me with the song playing in my mind, and the scene comes alive, and that makes me sentimental.

Once most of the book was finished, I suddenly had a great deal of free time, being a disability retiree. And to be honest, I was bored. I thought to myself, you have to go out and do something; to get out among people. I had occasionally seen Surprise vendors on Clara Plaza. And that’s how I came to be with the street magazine. It’s difficult for me to stand outside from mornings to evenings. I have a hard time with that. Also, when I sell more or less well, I have to give up two thirds of my earnings. That’s disability pension law.

“I was bored. I thought to myself, you have to go out and do something; to get out among people… that’s how I came to be with the street magazine.”

But it’s really worth the trouble. I have social contacts and despite everything, can even lay aside a bit of money. When I’m careful and, for example, do my shopping only in Germany, I get by rather well. It’s not enough for big spending, and I can forget about travelling, even though I would really like to take a trip to Cologne, Amsterdam or Berlin. I hope I earn enough with my biography, so that I can afford to go to these places.

As a matter of fact, in the early ’70s, I once did something similar to selling Surprise. After my parents were divorced in 1962, the Guardianship Authority [an Authority in Switzerland who look after the financial and personal affairs of a person who is deemed not able to do so themselves] put me in a community home for six years.

When I finally got out of there, I went to Alsace [in north-eastern France]. I earned my keep as kitchen help, scrubbing pots and dishes. A large part of my pay went for the dingy room the owner rented out to me. So I looked for something else, and landed at a magazine that was sold to benefit handicapped children. Four of us drove through the villages and sold the magazine. We could keep half of what we sold, just like at Surprise. That was a lot of fun back then. And it is always amazing how things come full circle in life.

INSP publishes an international vendor story every week. Come back next Wednesday to read another story from one of the thousands of inspirational men and women who sell street papers.