Category: Germany


Return To The Hood


GermanflagIt was a wet, rainy afternoon at the Frankfort International  Airport. I stood in front of the big wide windows looking at the big jets on the tarmac.  I had lost the required thirty-five pounds (in three months, no less) to get my dog shipped home with me; there was a piece of carry-on luggage, and my family behind me . . .

I was ready to go. I had lost my best friend ever, and was aware that I was going into a great unknown. Sure, my parents had told me we were ‘going home’ – but I just knew everything had changed. It had to . . .

After all, I had changed.  I was heavier – fatter – and I wore glasses now.  I had learned a little something of the world.  I had taken up smoking – a heavier smoker, now, though a pack would still last me a week or two or three . . .

and I’d heard (and met) my old compatriot from the U.S. Army back home – a kid up the street who’s family was Army as well.  They’d come over when we were two years into our tour, and weren’t going to be back home until much later . . .

and things had been in such an uproar when we’d left The Hood before . . . with the death of my best friend (and lover) and his abuser’s (and mine – sexually, that is) dad . . . their family breaking up, poor as dirt mice . . . all that was gone; had to be different, much different . . . but how?

I stared out at a jet, wondering if it was hijacked.  It had been sitting there a long time.  A lot of hijackings were happening about then (it was November, 1973, I am sure of it).  Wondering what lay ahead . . .

I can barely remember my family getting on.  But it was a Lufthansa jet.  Wonderful airline.  I can remember the dinner – filet mignon, chunked roast potatoes, some kind of cheese, and a nice fresh salad – and I gotta beer.  My parents allowed me – almost as a celebration of what we were leaving: Germany, going home, going to the Promised Land where we had been once before, a place where you could drink water out of faucets and there weren’t men peeing publicly (and sometimes the women as well) . . .

I didn’t think about it – and I guess I didn’t know . . . but what lay before me was a tremendous change:

AmericaTown

Going from military schools to civilian ones,
Getting away from the military bases, PX’s, cafeterias, AFEES & more . . .
No more sitting with the G.I.’s outside marching, or singing, while dinner went on . .
No more post theater, library system, reasonable source of transportation, or the rules and regulations that went along with living on a military base overseas during the Cold War – and a military base that dealt in secrets, and secret technology as well . .

Instead I would be arriving in a rural environment, just a few miles from Tobacco Road (of novelist & Southern fame – or infamy).  It was a poor area, poorer than most – even poorer than that of the Tobacco Road crowd – and far from everything – a dirt road last I met it, with a scattering of Craftsman style slab houses (plus a few old farmhouses, mostly falling down) – around it . . .

A place of dirt and poor, ignorance and poorly read, with nary a library – not even a store

Dirtroad

and all my old friends? None of them left?

How was I to know?

I don’t know.

So I ate my meal, my bag stored overhead – and enjoyed it.  It was quite good, and Lufthansa seemed to put on a special flight just for me – until the kid behind me threw up in his seat . . .

and so I had to ride with the smell of vomit in my nose, a decent steak setting in my abdomen, and the silver clouds drifting by below as the moonlight – the moon was riding full and bright – with the occasional dark glimpse of the ocean . . .

and we arrived.

I couldn’t tell you much about that – the brief kiss (custom) – when getting off the gangplank – where you get down on your knees and with much gratitude and love kiss the ground you are thankfully! – finally! – soundly!  on . . . then marching over to Customs to make your “I don’t declare anything” declarations, the open bags; the searching & rifling through, the hand passing you on . . .

gathering your things . . . into the airport, a new beginning, a rental car . . .

and we are going home.

In twenty-four hours my life had changed from what I’d known . . . into something new. Something alien and different again, only in a big way.

And I’d be living here for a very long time . . .

I sighed, shouldering my suitcase across my back, and heading for the taxi cab . . . hoping this ride would be fun . . . and filled with dread . . .

For we were going back to my old neighborhood . . . and would not be living in our old house.

Instead we were renting the house next door.

The house my abuser had lived in.  My friend, my lover and betrayer, and the one who had hurt me so much in the end . . .

Escape

The Temps


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHD5nd3QLTg

“Back in the U.S.S.R!”  But in my case it was “Back in the U.S. of A!”. For we were going home.  Finally and at last.

We’d moved into the “Temps” on the 5th floor of the German military (U.S. occupied) apartments that had been build for the German military back in “the War”.  These were a long string of single rooms, connected by a long hallway.  There were eight rooms on each side, each with it’s own door, and there were no doors on the end of the hallway.  They just ended there in the stairwell.  So while you were living there you were subject to have people walking through the ‘apartment’ that you lived in – whether you were taking a bath, cooking on a stove (in a separate kitchen, of course) – whatever you do.  Fortunately visitors – wanderers, actually – were rare.  Usually you’d just have a gang of kids pursuing one another – taking the forbidden fifth floor route instead of the one in the basement to cut from one long section of armored apartments to another.  We spent some time there – about one or two months, I reckon – living with those walls that sloped up (because you were near the roof) and with the dormer windows.

Gone were the apartments we had lived in below, with their long bay windows in the living room and balcony.  Man!  What can I say: those German soldiers lived nice compared to what I was used to.  And the walls – almost three foot thick, both to keep out the cold and exploding bombshells.  Everywhere: military. Everything green. O.D. was the color of my blood – or part of it.

The rest ran true red white and blue, though I had come to distrust some of the government.  I’d seen too much of it.  I’d lived under the burdens of this world.  I was looking forward to going back to the home of my childhood – if it still stood.

I’d had nightmares all my life, but I’d started to be plagued by this one.  In it I had gone back to the neighborhood, but everything had changed.  Everyone had changed in it; gone were some of the houses, and everyone would be looking at me strange.  As if I was an alien or Martian.  From another world.  Because it was another world, that rural world in Georgia, and this one . . . this all so foreign (and yet wonderfully strange; I wasn’t afraid to explore: I wanted to).  And the Army thing.

But I was ready to go. Gone past ready. It had to be November . . . that’s when dad always got his main orders (there were plenty of TDY’s, too.  And trips in the field.)  And this time we all were to go back home.

As I lay in my room staring at that sloped ceiling (when I wasn’t wandering the base, now stuck on foot, since almost everything we owned was packed up.  Luckily we were on a small one.  It was used to conduct spy missions on and over the border using Mohawks – planes like this one:

Mohawk w Electronics Pkg

They were used to spy on enemy and stuff.  I used to look at the photos some in the hangers.  There was a lot of neat stuff, but not my school.  THAT was over on/near Old Argonner, a base we used to live.  It was in Hanau, Germany, not real far (I think) from Stuttgart.  We wandered all over the place. Sometimes with the G.I.’s, sometimes in groups, sometimes with tours, often with our parents – or just alone.

We had spent a lot of time in the woods.  And in the bunkers doing military stuff.

but this last year had not been good.  First there’d been the fall of one good friend after another – falling away like leaves in the wind; there one day and gone in the next, until I was alone.  Nothing but new kids to play with; kids I didn’t wanna know.  I’d had enough. I was going home.  My last girlfriend has left 3 months ago.

I was ready, more than ready, to move on.

I’d had it with love and stuff.  I hurt inside.  I’d read a lot of grownup stuff.  I’d cruised the books in the libraries and read about everything I could get my hands on.  The administrators who gave tests all said I’d done really good, with a promising outlook.  One even called me a “lazy genius”.  I read and comprehended on a junior college level, and I wrote almost as well as I read, but I sucked in math.

I played the tuba and did art, but this year had been tough.  This year things were short – you won’t be there long enough’ – and they pulled me out some.  Early, it seems.  My heart wasn’t in it.

My heart wasn’t in anything anymore.

I felt burnt out.

And I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling and wondered, had my doubts.

Everything is about to change which I’m afraid of, but I can’t stand this death I’m in.

The snow’s started.  It’s looking gray outside.  Inside I feel . . . cool.  Waiting and ready and nervous, and listening to the voices down the hall and staring at my room, with its blood red four square tiles, separated by mortar joints.

We’ll be outta here soon.

I hope and pray.

I look around at the bare room.

Its like my life.  Barren and empty except me.

Barren and empty like me.

13.

A Pause for Station Identification


We’ve taken a long pause on this, our blog of our childhood – and beyond. Perhaps this become another’s story; perhaps it is our own – though I know in reality they are intertwined, for ‘I’ am DID and there’s a lot in my life I don’t understand.

This is about “13”, our alter, who more or less took over from the time we left Germany until we came back to the USA – and beyond.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way it appears . . .

This is where “we’ve” been stuck, and is part of the reason for this blog: to work our alters out of our woodwork; to understand our own life, its arc and path – ‘who’ became ‘what’, the reasons why . . .

And that’s why ‘we’ have been stuck for such a long time. We’d sit down to work on this blog – and draw a blank on emotions, memories sometimes. Oh some of them would be there, like glimpses through a fog – snapshots only.

But a few weeks ago we started experiencing a disturbing emotion . . . and it turned out to be “13” – the key to moving on.

So we’re going over what we’ve wrote over the past week . . . documenting 13’s journey, and the steps we – he – ‘they’ took . . .

In many ways this is another alter’s story; not my own, not “Mikie’s”, nor the alter ‘he’ sprang from – an entirely different viewpoint, way of looking at the world . . .

for ’13’ was born when we were 13, and had only a few months left ‘in-country’ before we would go over the the “Good Ol’ U.S. of A.” which we had left a few years earlier.  Change was in the air; our best friend was gone, our girlfriend was fast becoming a thing of history, clouds were on the near horizon – gray ones, whirling and thick in my mind . .

 


I am 13 and I was born over in Germany but I was fairly prepared.  Gone were a lot of the emotions and outlooks I’d had.  I’d read many books and seen a lot of things, but sex with a girl was on my mind – not that I’d had any, tho’ I’d come close with a cousin once, and then with another girl.

I’d had sex over here but it didn’t take – friends were a thing of the past. I was way more into science and writing and stuff.  I played in the band.  I’d learned not to make friends.

I had learned racism over here, due to a few incidents with some blacks. That’s okay. I’ve very nearly gotten over it, but statistics don’t lie, and the black mobs over there were cruel. Unruly. And ran around in mobs.

That reminds me; I’m supposed to write about dealing with racism over here. (germany – host entry – he’s still a bit lost over ‘here’ in the real world)

Not that that has anything to do with this story. Racism plays a part in my life, but just a little one. We didn’t know nuthin’ as a kid about racism. All were the same in my little kid’s mind. ‘We’ learned better later on.

My host is reminding me it’s time to go on. “How should I write this” he is saying.  Should I do it from first person viewpoint or ‘yours’ (his).  I should be writing a question to my (intended) audience.  I could do it like stories like my Boss wants me, or just cut to the chase. I don’t want to do it either way.

But (sighing) I suppose I should fill in the racism blank. And a few other things over there.  But it was hard.

(Bosses Viewpoint):

Okay here I gotta step in (teen attending).  13 is a highly intelligent kid; apart somewhat from “the system”, although very important.  We’d always kind of ignored him – ‘he’ was like an engine running in the background, quiet, but doing his job . . .

then he began to ‘choke’ a bit last week.  Funny how what you took for granted can suddenly misbehave.  But that’s good. We’re gonna get some work done on this blog.

He’s all alone in his own way.  “We” had stripped him/it from certain aspects of ‘his’ personality.  He read.  He was well traveled.  He’d seen Berlin, Spain, whatnot . . . and plowed through every book he could get his hands on.  Fluent in English, he had gained a junior college vocabulary and reading comprehension skill level – he was tested for that – and wrote quite a bit (mostly poems).  And he was shy – painfully so. But at the same time big, quite strong, a bit flabby in the middle, but close mouthed and HARD.  He’d lie to you in a heartbeat, smoke a cigarette in the restroom – give a blowjob there – and go on to steal tank parts (or the bullets that go in them) at night.

He knew about nuclear bombs and nuclear missiles; about girls and boys – knew enough about the biology to make a woman happy; the seven erogenous zones (on a woman, anyway) – knew how to drink and hold it, used his bike like a car; was at home in a German atmosphere as the home one, tho’ sometimes ‘he’ would retreat inside while the child was being punished, sparing himself some pain . . .

He’d read “Everything a Boy Needs to Know About Sex” – and the girls version, too – just to be safe.  He’d seen a dog jacked off; done it on his own as his abuser had taught him to do, had loved and lost and loved again – and had lost

until he’d sworn off of it.

“Never again,” he was saying in the back of his mind. “No more pain.”

But ‘he’ didn’t know that, not yet . . .

that still laid ahead in his future . . .

and he was a pretty tough kid.

 


While we were overseas, there was very little to do in life during the evenings. We had our old black & white TV which offered up two channels – in German. There was nothing like watching Hoss from Ponderosa ride up on his horse exclaiming: “Vas is los!”.  And I like how they packed all their commercials at the end, and like sweets, sprinkled a little cartoon between them.

But what really saved us was Armed Forces Radio – and a reel-to-reel tape player that my dad had gotten in Thailand to record missionary spiels on.  In that collection of endlessly boring and droning voices was a tape of Bill Cosby’s earlier shows, the ones he’d done while he was young, and, I guess, touring for the G.I.’s on duty over there.

By this time – the time we’d found the tape – I was suffering from some pretty bad depression.  Shifting from base to base, living on American military bases in a foreign nation; no friends I could count, nobody to know me – or I them, and no time to do it anyway before we’d be separated, yanked apart . . .

I read books, I counted time till “the end” when we would return to Stateside (and I wasn’t the only kid doing this!) – usually bored nearly out of my mind, especially during the winter months when night started earlier – we’d sit and listen to those tapes, their contents unwinding from one reel to another, laughing at Bill Cosby’s outrageous stories of Fat Albert, Suicide Hill, and the Chicken Heart.  How I loved that tape!  It was double sided, and long.  We’d get lost inside those stories, watching the cop’s cuff’s slide off those kids signs, imagining rubber baby wheels gone, and home-built carts with those wheels.

He saved me.

There were times when, despite being 13, I had developed a cynical mind. I’d seen too much already: I knew about sex and gunfire, I had squatted and eaten with the  G.I.’s.  I’d ridden tanks and learned to fire machine guns; I’d learned survival.  I was reading ten to twenty novels a week, and could march 20 kilometers at a time.

I was hurt inside by the loss of my friends, and being stuck in a foreign land.  I had withstood school bomb threats (new to my experience), grown tired of the racism (something I couldn’t understand, but which had recently occurred to me).  My family – a shattered one at best, each individual plodding along as best they could, nobody for someone else.  You were expected to make it on your best bet, your best decision.  Your emotions were up to you, and it was up to you to control them – or at the very least, not express them to anyone . . .

In three years I had gone from an open, happy-go-lucky kind of child (“Gregorius”, my mom had called it) to a silent kid.  I’m sure I appeared sullen some of the time, but it was merely watching, mixed with a growing depression.  I kept on having nightmares all the time – not just the ‘normal’ ones (I had nightmares for 48 years) – but nightmares about what I feared was coming. A returning to something new with everything I had known gone.  The ‘end’ was approaching, our tour was fast running down.  And I knew it.

And I wanted to kill myself before the end.

And I can kinda blame Bill Cosby for reversing that when I’d get desperate,  feeling so bad . . . I’d kinda want to go bury myself in a road and let some tank run over me, take one of those .30 caliber rounds and set it off pointed at my head – do something stupid, something to get rid . . . of me.  End a deepening misery I could not understand nor articulate.  I guess I didn’t know anything was wrong – but felt it.  Hell, I was just a kid.    I suppose Debbie kinda helped me with that, in the end.

But nothing helped like putting that old Bill Cosby tape on and listening, doubling up with laughter again.  Interspersing it with some Armed Forces radio shows (“Suspense”, “The Shadow”, etc) we’d find ourselves coming back to that long reel-to-reel in the end.  It helped settle some of the violence in me that was struggling to come out, easing my on-coming rage issues (both inside and out), helped keep the depression and that tearing sense of loneliness – one that was growing every day – ever since I’d lost my best friend over there even worse . . .

and I had forgotten how to cry anymore.

I had done that when I was 13 – once.

After that it was all kept bottled inside.  For over forty-five years plus.

The Girlfriend


The Girlfriend

“You wanna go together?”

“Huh?”, I said, not understanding the question.

“Girlfriend and boyfriend. You wanna be my boyfriend?”

I looked at her, a mushroom shaped girl with long dark hair draped below her shoulders. Her face was fat, a bit like mine, and she sat on a low bench, scuffing her feet in the schoolyard dirt of the playground.

She was fat, like me. I had gained a lot of weight during my trip to this ‘new’ land. The food was great, and the pastries to die for. There was lots of candy in my diet – I was used to doing a lot of work now, hustling to get jobs, anything where I could earn some money. I cut grass. I watched kids. I hauled garbage on a predetermined schedule – and this was back in the old days before plastic bags, and they put everything into paper. Paper could bust out and drop everything on eight sets of stairs; I had learned to be careful.

I thought about it. I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about ‘sex’ – I’d done some reading, too. One of the most valuable books I’d found was in the school library: “Everything A Boy Needs to Know About Sex” – and it pretty much covered it. I read the Girl’s version, too. I wanted to be sure I knew both sides, including their point of view.

Those books were pretty good, too – a lot better than the coach we had, the one who taught sex education in the basement. It looked like the boiler room: dim and dark, stacked with pipes and dark shapes running this way and that, the boys stacked wherever they could fit in the darkness. The coach sat in the middle (it was a poorly lit place, that’s a matter of fact!) and made a few raunchy jokes – just one or two – and set in with a five minute explanation of everything, as if that should cover it. In his mind, anyway. He sort of expected us to know and we did. So for the next thirty minutes or so we sat there – there was a lot of joking, nothing to be done, sat around and then got outta there.

That was the extent of the Army’s ‘to-the-point’ explanation of a sexual education. If you couldn’t get it on the run, you weren’t going to get it anyway else.

So I’m looking this girl in the eye, trying to wrap my head around my feelings – and I don’t have any, not really, not for her. But I’m lonely and bored. Lonely, in a way. I’ve got three months or so left to go (more or less) before we’re shipping Stateside (back home! My other way of life! If anything is left . . . providing dreams don’t come true . . .)

“Okay,” I say, my voice guarded. “I’ll be your boyfriend.”

Because, to put it quite simply, I am not sure. Cultures are always changing – people are in and out of my life like roses, blooming and fading – and I’m not sure how this ‘relationship’ will go. I’ve been bitten and burned by quite a few of them. I’ve lost all of my friends. Either we or they have all moved away . . . But what else are we to do?

Her name is Debbie, by the way (a wonderful coincidence later, you’ll see. Much later, in one of the stories I’m going to be writing.)

She’s a fat girl, just like me.

And lonely, too.

Her friends have all ‘moved’, she’s a short-timer, too. I had just lost my best-ever friend, DB. Later on I learned it was in part due to a betrayal by my father. I was lonely and bored. No one knew me, nor I them, and no one gave a damn. I hung out at the youth center, or in the bunkers, or over at the airport where the spying went on – hanging out, getting into things then getting out again. There was a lot of ‘snooping and pooping’ with the G.I.’s out in the field, plus our ‘games’ and training in the bunkers. There were several beneath the airport, and we became quite big fans of theirs.

Anyway, here’s this girl, asking me out to something . . .

I guess it was more in name than in something else; love (or even ‘like’) that is, if there were remotely any feelings involved. I didn’t love her, not at all – nor, I think, did she, I. I was something for her to hit on and hang onto – something to take up our time.

Having not had much experience with other kids (they kept on moving, shifting around) – she and I became a partners in the ‘permanent’ scene for awhile – going to the Youth Center, touring the woods, until someone gave up or someone had to fly. I think it was her, transferred back to ‘here’ (the good ol’ U.S. of A). A lot of my friendships (and acquaintances – and enemies) came to an end like that: all of a sudden, with the brute force of an Army Officer’s call (or some kind of Orders, anyway).

So we hung out together – bored in school, sitting around, that kind of stuff. There wasn’t a lot of romantic ‘kissing’ going on. There wasn’t any kissing altogether, not for a long time, not until

The Castle.

We went on a trip, one we had to get our parent’s permissions for. It was for a 3 day trip to a castle where we would be staying courtesy of some sort of Christian Fellowship. I didn’t know about the Christian thing until I got there and discovered this was the source (or one of the sources) of all those little religious pamphlets or “cartoons” that I kept discovering. Sometimes one would find one in airports, or in some restroom – they kept a pile of them by some cash registrars sometimes – and always there were ‘funny’ in some horrible tragic kind of way, featuring some goon or loser getting his just dues, maybe sent to Hell (or some other kind of eternal damnation) – then getting Saved (or else going on into Hell anyway). We liked them because they were kinda funny – in a way. Christ was always the Savior. I found them corny – one I remember featured a boy propped against a wall, smoking. I had been smoking for some time . . .

But Debbie and I had been planning this thing for a long time – or it seemed like a long time for kids like us. About three weeks or so I guess . . .

And so it was that her brother (and her BIG brother I’m talking about, mind you!) took it into his head to remind me that we were NOT to “do” anything with his sister (and this is his “little” sister, mind you, so he’s especially protective) – or he’s gonna “whip my ass.”

Fine, I’m thinking, because I’m not planning on “doing” anything or going there (though I probably would, had the opportunity presented itself). I’d already had sex on my mind. I had since I was eight or so.

So we go on this field trip with her.

And it’s a wonderful place, this old castle and all – and we’re given a tour of it, Debbie and I hand in hand, and they assign us segregated sleeping quarters (a long hallway with a bunch of bunks on either side) and/or a “day room” to ‘play’ in.

Now this day room is kinda cool. It’s in the center of a tower, or an old turret, so the room is kind of round and all, and there’s tall windows letting the light in – nice, big windows – and there’s a hidden circular stairway in the middle goes to the top of the castle turret through a square hole with a trapdoor . . . Nobody goes up in that dark old hidey-hole . . .

Except us.

So we do.

Eventually we end up making out – going on top of the turret where she shows me how to ‘do’ things (like rubbing her breasts, which were, I guess, just kinda budding – kinda hard to tell when you’ve got a fat girl there) – and she has me stick my tongue in her mouth, right between her teeth (something that I hadn’t realized, since it wasn’t covered in the book I’d read). So . . . I went along with it . . . but memories of her brother kept popping in my head.

But it was quite beautiful there on the turret in the spring air. And my friend taught me to play cards as well – “War”, it was called, the first card game ever I learned with standard playing cards. I ate my first ‘raw’ egg there – or rather, it was undercooked, or at least by ‘my’ standards (and my momma’s, so therefore I had judged it underdone) – and it was one of the best eggs I ever ate in my life. Boiled, and slightly done, cracked in butter and a whole lot of salt – stir it up . . .

yummm.

But we spent a lot of time in that turret . . . in the darkness under the trap door, groping, fondling, finding one another, not that a lot went on . . .

and discovering the beautiful countryside from on high, between the stones of the turret,

I found a little peace and beauty, holding hands with a girl who wouldn’t cry when I left her.

The Omph-Pah Band


I had a choice of an elective, one of the few choices I had, being a twelve year old Army brat stationed on a base overseas.  “Home Eck”, ‘something sports’, or join the band.   However, as I said, choices were limited and even those were whittled down by the parents, peers, and doctors I had.

“You can’t play basketball – you might fall,” my parents had said, based upon an Army doctor’s advice.  Nor could I play football – or even climb trees! – or run, jump, or do anything but walk and swim.  Walking – I’d done a lot of that! – going on 20 kilometer marches, sometimes with a backpack, and climbing trees?  I still did it as best I could.  But the doctors had forbidden me any decent physical activity a boy of twelve or thirteen might have.

It was my knees, of course – those worrisome, troublesome things that hurt and ached and swelled up like grapefruit at times.  The doctors were so interested in them that they kept x-raying them every month or so.  It’s a wonder they don’t glow.  It took them six months to diagnose the problem, and there was a bone tumor as well.  They had to ship the x-rays overseas – back to the USA – then wait for a reply afterwards.   And then they proclaimed their ban.

Home Ec – “Home Ick” to us boys – was a girl sport, one which I or any boy would have been horrified to be in.  Plus my mom had already taught me how to sew and cook a bit; I made up my room, cleaned – the whole bit.  Not to mention my father would have been as horrified – if not more – than the little boys my age, had I shown such a desire to sign up for such a course.

So there was only one thing left: the school band.  Military schools – even army ones run by civilian principles and guarded by some really weird teachers – had those.  Or at least most did.  While the schools were consistent, the courses weren’t – some ahead or way behind, some far, some near . . .

You could find me tripping (knees made me unsteady) reading a book in one hand while navigating between classes; a book on the table while I ate, or a book neatly tucked into another book so I could pretend to read one thing while reading something else.  I was an avid reader, gobbling novels down.  I used to go to the base libraries (when I could) and rob them –  huge stacks at a time.  That’s where my love of reading really blossomed and grew.  By the time I was 17 I had read every science fiction book I could get my hands on.  Anywhere.  So I had to give them up.

“What instrument do you want to play?” my parents asked when I announced my decision (such as it was).  It wasn’t the first time I’d played an instrument (besides those little recorders  in elementary school – though the teacher usually handed me the tiny cymbals nobody wanted.  She didn’t want me, too.).   I thought about it for a moment – just a moment – then I said:

“I wanna play the tuba.”

(Now, at a later date, I wish I’d been much smarter and gone with a violin – or flute – or harmonica instead.  Something I could haul in my back pocket rather than this big old brass tube I’d have to hang around my head!)

“The tuba?  Why?” they asked quizzically.  After all, it’s not the most ‘normal’ instrument to want to play.  But I had my heart set on it.  I loved those big bass tones, that thumbling subsonic under-roar that accompanied most bands.  That deep bass tone drew me like a charm.  To my credit, I also liked the kettle drums – but imagine hauling those around!  At least with a tuba I could play in a marching band . . . something I was to discover later on.

And so I got it – and as I found out, it was easier to play than say, a trumpet or French horn.  The mouth piece was huge by comparison, and suited my misjoined lip from an accident I’d had.  The French horn was tight – you had to pinch your lips together so hard! – and my lip made it difficult to operate the reed on a woodwind (or so I was told).

All would have been wonderful, had it not been for one lad – a black boy, my age, who hated whites with a passion – and who had been there for some time, and resented this white interloper who sat in the class beside him.  He, too, played the “Sousaphone” as the marching band version of a tuba is known – and made my life torture in that class.  Our teacher, too, was black, but I didn’t mind.  He was a good guy.  But that boy taught me all about racism, that’s for sure.  However, that  for another story about how racism can be taught by those who are prejudiced against you, because it was never an issue in my own home.  Not even back then.  We were all Army and the only color was green.

And so it was that I joined the Omp-Pah! band, and the school?  They gave me a Sousaphone to take home to practice on.  This in military apartments.  And truth be told, I loved making “Chicken Heart” sounds from an old Bill Cosby story (about a  “Chicken Heart”, of course).  How our apartment neighbors stood it! – the “OOOMMMMPPP! . . . . PPPPPAAAAAAA!!!!” rattling their walls . . . but then again those old World War Two German barracks had some mighty thick walls . . . .

Time went on – I stayed in this school almost all year (joining late) – Mz. McManus would become a steady threat – I became more  bewildered – and then hateful towards my fellow tuba partner – and I joined the symphony band – playing concerts for the G.I.’s late at night (yes, a real tuba, sitting in my lap and all) – enjoying the show their kids put on . . .

The Dick Knot


“It’s a dick knot,” the boy was explaining to me, swinging it in loose circles between his fingers.  Then he threw out a challenge.  “Nobody has been able to untie it.  If you can – ,” his eyes rolled towards the gray fall sky, “you’d be the very first one to do it.”

I examined the thing.  I had come across it while wandering the playground – a small one on a small base we were on.  This was the last base we would be on; after this we would be going back overseas.  Stateside. We were far from being “short” (that is with only a short time to go) but we could sense a change over the far horizon.  Only about a year left to go . . .

I sighed, taking the knot.  It was huge, the size of a soccer ball, tied in a rope which hung from a massive tree on the playground’s edge .  Facing us was a row of identical apartment buildings, each five stories tall, with identical windows, balconies, and curtains.  The upper floors were more desired, but no one wanted the top one.  That was for “transients” – people who were either coming or going – and consisted of a long hallway the two stairwells, with eighteen identical rooms with 18 identically slanted roofs.  They each had dormer windows.  There’d be a room with a stove and a W.C., but there was no way of locking the doors at the end of the hallway.  As a result kids would occasionally run through, playing chase or escaping foes while a family was cooking dinner or going about their business up there.

Around me stood the playground – one slide, two teeter-tooters, and not much else.  There was, however, the eternal jungle-gym which haunted every playground – a huge cube constructed of pipe iron, set into smaller cubes.  The ends were joined with plain crosses and fittings, and if you fell through – woe to the child who did! – you would crash through all that iron, maybe breaking a bone or your head.

There was another playground once, on another base.  The way the military constructed their toys back then – this time one took off a girl’s fingers – almost took her entire hand – chewing it up in the center pivot of a merry-go-’round they had made out of old sheet iron, a post and some fittings.

But this dick knot – I studied the knot, then looked up.  The rope was tied high on a distant branch.  Looking down, I picking at the knot.

I was about twelve and we’d already been “here” (overseas in Cold War Germany) for two years.  I was tired of moving, the constant changing of schools and ‘friends’.  I appreciated this move – we were on an air corps base now, where my dad belonged and worked.  I had just arrived this afternoon, and dark came early in late autumn.  The rope was easily an inch plus some in diameter, stiff and strong.  I fought the tag end, finding where it looped under a tight coil, and began unraveling.  It was harder than it looked.  The kid who had been encouraging me suddenly turned wandered off . . .

I stood toiling.  Below my feet was sand.   I had become used to kids wandering off – disappearing in and out of my life until it was just a blur in my head.  Not knowing, I was depressed.  I felt it, but didn’t know the word for the situation I was in.  After all, life seems ‘normal’ while you’re living it.  It isn’t until you get to the end that people tell you it wasn’t so . . .

We were on the ‘outskirts’ of the main military bases around Hanau, a region in Germany.  Isolated from the other ones by about five miles through ‘Krautland‘.  There was a shuttle bus that ran from one base to another – old civilian Bluebirds converted to military use, and our school buses in the winter.  Now I was five miles from school, and I’d have to get up even earlier to get on, whereas before I’d lived right across from the school on Old Argonner.

I looked around.  There was no one in sight.  I felt lonely, tired, and bored.  It was best to stay out of the apartment while my mom got things settled, and she’d shooed me outside, telling me “go out, explore!”.  I was beginning to make progress . . .

There was no one around me when I had begun, but after awhile a few kids came up.

“What have you done?!” one of them exclaimed, almost in horror, as the last few kinks in the knot fell away.  “You unraveled the dick knot!”  He came up and grabbed the rope from my hand, glancing between it, me and his companions.  He looked frustrated, looking up at the tree.  “Now we can’t swing on it!”

I felt confused.

“What?” I asked.

“Dumbass,” the kid said, thrusting the rope back at me.  The other two kids (there were three of them) glowered at me expressively.  “Tie it back.  TIE IT BACK!”

Somewhat alarmed, I began redoing the knot again while looking him.

“I thought – someone told me – that this knot needed undone – ,” I feebly protested.  It was going to take a little while – the knot had been huge.

“No it didn’t.  It’s for riding this thing.”  And with that he shook the rope, making my task a little bit harder.

After I’d gotten done, then he showed me how – and why it was called a “dick knot”.

“You ride it like this,” he said, grabbing the rope and jumping up, putting the large knot behind his butt.  The rope disappeared between his legs in the front.  Then he bounced against the tree – feet first – told us to stand back, and took off.

Shoving himself hard with his feet, he spun around in circles while going around the tree.  “Thunk!” – his feet came down on the trunk just as the rope got too short to support another go-around.  Then he took off again, only this time in the other direction.  Shooting past his original starting point, the rope coiling around the tree – his spinning on that knot – then his boots came down on the trunk again; the rope was all wound up, ready to go again, and he did.

“The trick is!,” he yelled as he spun around, “to come down with your feet!”  And with that he smacked his shoulder in the tree as he attempted to turn around.  He winced, fell, and stood rubbing his shoulder.  As I watched another kid got on.

“The trick is: who can get the most go-arounds while you’re going around the tree,” he said, pointing at the kid who had replaced him.  “One-two-three-four – ,” the kid smashed, back first, into the tree’s rough bark, and he groaned, falling to the ground.

“Ouch,” he said, standing up and rubbing his back.

I stood and watched for awhile.

Then after awhile, they left.

Then I tried it on my own.

It grew to be one of my most favorite things – spinning and twirling around that trunk.  I’d go for hours and hours.  I got good at it after getting busted up a few times – sometimes good! – and I’d taken my share of scrapes, bumps, and bruises – but I loved it!  The sensation of flying through the air at speed, the world whirling and spinning around you – the perfect (and careful) timing that was required.  I got to where I would win those ‘contests’ – where you had to get off if you messed up on the landing – going around and around until my audience would get tired.  I kept testing my limits – how wide I could take off, how many rolls I could complete before having to come in for a landing – until the other kids learned it was useless in challenging me.  And I’d be far off in my head – thinking about back home, thinking about the woods; the ‘games’ we played ‘playing’ war – our fears and desires and the great unknown, back home, waiting over that far horizon.

Berlin: 1972 – Behind the Red Wall


We weren’t supposed to go to Berlin.  The Army forbade it.  They were afraid due to my dad’s job and security rating the Reds might kidnap us and hold us for “intel” ransom – therefore any trip to, from, or through a Warsaw Pact country was strictly forbidden.  This held true for a lot of dependents, something we were constantly aware of.  After all, the enemy was “right over there” with their forbidden chemical weapons, atomic bombs, and engines of war.  Just as we were.  At least one base I know had atomic warheads – and in my late research I found an entry by a G.I. that confirmed it.  And I’m quite sure those were Pershing missiles I saw cruising through our neighborhoods – packed on the back of some old flatbed semis, and covered with green canvas.

But somehow my dad wrangled it – he was good at getting his way sometimes.  He held a position of mid-level power in the field where he worked, a Chief Warrant Officer – WO3 or 4, I believe.  And he was always doing things – strange things, like taking off for a week or so – or months at a time (after we’d come back to the United States) – and the oddest thing of all was how career-wise he didn’t seem to deserve it – though I suppose he did.  However, he had quite a few bad marks on his record during his first decade or so of beginning his career with the Army, including getting locked up in the psych ward on an isolated island where they kept “people like him” away from the general world.  They were often considered too violent – or messed up – to even associate with the Army.  So they kept him locked up for a year after Korea, plus he had numerous complaints and dings on his record, as well as a reputation for backstabbing and random betray (because he could, he said, explaining why he screwed over my best friend’s dad) . . .

And before I knew it I got the news, and we were on a train bound for West Berlin – “the free country” within an enemy state; an isolated segment of the country, like an infection locked within the enemy’s side – for a tourist trip.

I’ll never forget that ride . . .

The German trains were always on time, clean, and friendly.  The coaches were warm, even while the snow fell outside and our breath fogged the windows.  Sometimes when you’d go to the “W.C.” (the bathroom) when you ‘flushed’ you’d see a trapdoor open up under your turd and it would drop out on the ties flipping by – toilet paper strewn, sometimes, especially near the cities . . .

But the dining cars! – the rich thick coffee, bordering on expresso, souped up on caffeine cut with sugar (and heavy on the creamer, please!) – confined to walking the narrow isles of the train watching the landscape go by – the cold blustery winds on the platforms between trains (when there was not a ‘tube’ joining them) – cheeks red like apples while tears frosted in our eyes . . .

But this trip was a little bit different.  For one thing, we had to have our passports.  For another thing, the soldiers got on.

These were the East German soldiers – grim faced men, all of them frowning, running up and down the corridors with Uzi’s in their hands.  Their uniforms were strange to me . . .

We had come to a stop in the middle of the night.  I, asleep in my bunk, was awaken by some commotion and the lack of movement.   I could hear gruff voices in the corridor beyond the wall, and my mom sat up, looking shaken.

“It’s just the East Germans,” she said, opening the door a crack.  This was when I watched the soldiers running by.  They passed, checking the train (but mostly putting on a show, I was to later learn – to impress the Westerners with how tough they were).  They passed, and we moved on . . .

Berlin.

What can I say?  Kennedy went there – and declared himself a doughnut.  Comes from not knowing the language, I know – but when he said “Ich ist ein Berliner!” he was saying he was a doughnut – since a Berliner was a specific type of cream puffed pastry there – however, the Germans understood what he was trying to say – tthey are very good – and tolerant of our attempts at their language – and they applauded him, if not for nothing else than the fact he was trying . . .

We saw the Berlin Wall, Check Point Charlie, and the museum that was there.  There was an old car with more bullet holes than Swiss cheese, and lot of stories about people who had come over, through, or under the wall – and even more poignantly, those who didn’t make it.

I saw that wall – high, hugging a neighborhood in the distance – blank windows, all bricked up, the dragon’s teeth in the ‘no-man’s land’, curling barbed wire . . . knew there were sensors (and mines, it was rumored); there were the East German sentries staring (hard again, as usual) back at us – the curious milling civilian crowd, for the East German wall and Checkpoint Charlie were tourist checkpoints as well – places to go if you were going to see Berlin – and we did.

After that – indeed, during that trip a feeling of sympathy began growing in my heart towards these people, the East Germans across the wall.  You could see – practically smell! – how gray and hard, how restricted, regulated it was.  There were very few people, if any, that I could see.  The buildings were all either brown or grey.  There was none of the color and glamor of West Berlin.  Just what seemed a dismal dull and somewhat lifeless city ‘over there’ that the people who lived there were desperate to be rid of.  But there was nothing they could do – they were powerless – and so was I.  And so I read their stories – wished them luck, wistfully wished that I could help them . . .

and we left East Germany behind.

Tank


“Bring up Tank!  Come on, hurry up there!”

I hurried at a run, my two guys behind me, ignoring the flames running up and down my legs.  The squad leader, a youth of about fifteen, stood silhouetted in the darkness of the woods beyond which lay a street light on a road.

I was dressed in shorts – not a wise choice for this kind of mission, but it was what I had been given: shorts and a tee shirt.  My half torn old tennis shoes flopped, one sole half torn lose.  I was steaming hot yet soaked to the bone.

“Tank!  Hurry up!  We need you!”  The squad leader didn’t bother to hide his impatience to get going.

I redoubled my efforts, my girth hampering me some.  I had grown during my years here – mostly around.  The briars and nettles raked me – it was impossible to see them, except when we’d cross the occasional field under a spotlight moon half hidden most of the time by darting clouds.  It felt like it would storm again at any time.

“Where’ve you been?”, he asked, crouching as I came nearer.  A few other guys – kids my age – were crouched down around him.

“I had to pee – and we had to finish setting up the deadfall.  Remember?” I told him with a bit of anger in my voice.  We had set the latrine up as a trap – a pit someone might fall into if they came scrambling over a certain log, and if they missed that there was the deadfall to get them.  Or so we hoped.  Everyone was certain our camp would be raided again tonight; they always did, those raiders like us: other kids who were being trained in the guerrilla art-form of warfare.  But we wouldn’t be there – instead, we would be out raiding them, at their camp.  Or so we hoped.

Our fearless Leader had come up with this: the idea of an early offense, striking earlier than was anticipated, and thereby hopefully taking out their camp while they were there – beating up a few kids (maybe), striking many with the sticks we held in our hands.  Nobody was allowed to actually do anything – the use of knives or guns of any kind was strictly prohibited.  Injuries were to be kept to a minimum.  However, our boobytraps – some of those could be quite deadly, if you were foolish enough to get caught in them.

This was while we were overseas, at a camp – I don’t know, some military camp around there, over in the Eastern part of Bavaria.  We were always moving around, and this was a larger camp I’d found myself – there were plenty of amenities and plenty of woods for the G.I.’s – and us – to ‘play’ in.

“You, Tank – you take the lead,” the squad leader said, pointing his finger at me.  The other boys smiled and nodded vigorously while my heart sunk.  I hated going first sometime.  First was always a precarious position – and they were using me as their ‘Tank’ – someone to take the lead, pushing through all the nettles, briars, and bushes – busting a trail while running, not knowing when someone (or something) might take offense to your actions.  But that was what I was known for: my toughness, ability to stand pain.  I could pick a path out through the dark before I was ten and I never got lost.  If I knew where the target was (or home was) I could keep on going (albeit in a straight line) until I got there.

They depended a lot on this unfailing quality about me.  I could guide them to our campsite in the dark – and I could take them through the brush to the enemy.  (This quality was to come in quite handy – and profitably! – when I entered the Corps – escorting Marines through the brush to the theatres.)

We crept slowly up the hill – me sensing more than seeing the paths ahead.  I had been practicing my Indian walking for a long time – about two years, ever since I’d studied it at about age eleven.  My tennis shoes, worn as they were, offered a hope of feeling a branch before I crunched down on it.  I could ‘see’ in the dark rather well compared to some of my peers (a quality I regret to say has been going with age).  I was a good leader.

And I made a good tank in the woods.

Bursting forth with a run, I ran screaming and waving my club through the last dozen feet of woods.  There, in front of us (my legs still burning from the nettles) sat our startled enemy – sitting down, cans out, food half eaten by a small fire who’s light I’d seen.  Behind me, through the hole I’d carved – I’d intentionally went through the thickest set of bushes, figuring they wouldn’t set any boobytraps in there – poured the rest of my squad, the leader behind them, taking up the tail.  With a bunch of Indian screams we ran around, punching in the tents and snapping some of the poles with our clubs.  The kids, startled, jumped up screaming and ran helter-skelter through the woods – I watched as one of them got caught up in his own trap – a net that swung up from the ground and bore him aloft – all the while raising my club and screaming and shouting . . .

It was great, and it was fun

but I’ll never forget how my bare legs would burn and burn for hours to come . . . the deflation after victory, the long march back home . . .

marching through the nettles, to the place we called home
for now.

Big Red


Big Red

It stood before me in the dank basement storeroom, its chromed edges glittering in bare bulb’s dim yellow light.  It was huge – an American Schwinn bicycle – fire engine red with a thick padded seat.  I stared at it, my heart pounding with excitement.  To me, a twelve year old boy trapped on an Army base in Germany, it represented freedom.

It was Christmas and my first bike – ever.  We’d had a bike before in the old neighborhood, but it was my brother’s more than mine.  It had been cobbled together from parts of old bikes us kids had found.  We were the only kids in the neighborhood without a bike and it had taken a long time to gather the required parts.  It had been my brother’s pride for awhile until a year or two later when I learned to ride the thing.  I still have a scar from trying once when I had decided to try to ride it before I knew how.

But this one was MINE!  All mine.  I stood, admiring the thing.

I looked the bike over.  It was larger and heavier framed than the German bikes I was used to seeing.  Its frame spoke of American strength and steel, and its handlebars were curved boldly back – unlike the many of the German bikes which had just straight bars, and ended in thick black grips, ones that would have saved me once upon a time.

It was equipped like all German bikes – a reflector, rear light, head light, generator, and bell.  It was required by law.   It also had a basket, which, while not required, was handy since bikes were more or less the universal method of transportation – both on base and off base, by Germans, boys, and grownups alike.

Everyone used a bike or had one.  I already had been here a year.  Unlike my brother I was dependent upon the Army shuttle buses – converted Bluebirds painted green – to get around.  It seemed we were always on the little satellite bases surround some main base where you would find the commissary, PX and public goods.  We lived for a while on Old Argonner, then after a few months moved to “New Argonner”, which was virtually identical to the old except it had the school there – before moving to Fleigerhorst, which was some distance away.   I’d had to walk home from time to time) from the school, doing the forbidden hitchhiking thing only once – a good five miles.  This was while we were in the Hanau area.

I looked at the bike.  I pushed it a bit.  There was no way I could get this big thing up the stairs were my parents were.  We had received our swords upstairs on the third floor – me a big old broad sword made in Toledo, Spain – famous for its steel – and my brother a  rapier with a cupped hand guard – which I learned to my dismay was much faster and easier to lunge with.  I still have those swords – the broad sword, its guards broken; the rapier with huge creases in its black hand bell.  Both the blades are heavily nicked, but the ends are still sharp enough to run you through.   Then my parents had sent me down to the basement to our storage room – always empty – with the vague excuse about getting some boxes.

Unable to get the bike out and being a little kid – and a little boy – I did what came most naturally.

I took the bike apart.

I took it down to the last bearing and wheel.  Then I put it back together, lubing the parts and studying how it worked.  A few round bearings were all that were left over.  While a bit stiffer in the pedals, it still rode proud and tall among the lithe German bikes.  Its padded seat was comfortable compared to some of the lean machines I had seen – not racing bikes, mind you, just ‘normal’ bikes the Germans used.  And boy, did the Germans ever use them!

That’s one of the things I loved over there: the transportation system was built with bicycles in mind.  There were racks and lanes, paths made for them.  Everyone respected them, and everyone rode them, from the big old fat German ladies (some who would look ridiculously funny, their buns hanging down along the sides, dwarfing the bicycle under them) – to the boys who would come rocketing by.  Everyone was polite.  You were expected to obey the rules of the road, and ring the bell (a thumb operated affair) whenever you came up behind someone to give them warning.  At dusk you’d throw the little lever on the generator, engaging its rough splined wheel against the tire’s sidewall so the light would come on.  The faster you went, the brighter the light would shine – slow down, and it would dim.  Stop and it would die entirely.

And then five or six months later someone stole Big Red, as I had taken to calling the thing.

It happened at a German pool we used to go to near a lake where the tanks would swim (and we would skate on thin ice some of the time).   I know we were still living on Old Argonner (this was before I moved – again) because the pool and lake were near there.  As soon as the weather permitted – usually June – the Germans would open the swimming poo.  It cost fifty phennings to get in – you parked your bike in the long racks, locked it up, paid your dues, went through the turnstile and went in.

When I came out one day – it was still early in the season – my bike was gone.  I circled the racks several times, but there was no denying the sheered cable on the ground.  I was dismayed, mad somewhat, and I glumly walked home, wondering how I would explain to my parents.  You took care of your stuff or it was gone.  I had taken care of my bike – and yet it was gone.  I knew I wouldn’t be getting another one; not from them.  But while I was walking – it was a long walk ‘home’ – I made up my mind.  I would get another one.  Somehow, some way.

I didn’t get into trouble – my parents were stern – but to them (and us, now) it was fairly apparent that some German had been envious of Big Red – so unlike the German machines, it screamed “American!” whenever one looked at it.  It stood above the other bikes – quite literally! – and since I took such good care of it, it had been practically new.

We moved.  I worked hard.  It took a lot of saving at twenty-cents a job, but I finally was able to afford a used one – eighteen dollars from some G.I. rotating home.  It was a German brand.  It rode easily but had the straight bar handles I didn’t like, and was worn out.  Even the paint was worn – a sheer gray.  But the wear made it pedal easily and it coasted well.  The bearings where all but rattling in its hubs, and the steering was a tad loose – something I fixed with my previous experience from disassembling Big Red the first time.  It was all I could afford between my allowance and the work I did.  It takes a long time to save when you work for low wages (or none),  plus I had my own expenses: snacks from the roach coach, models from the PX – tanks and planes – and the Testor’s paint, glue, and brushes needed to assemble them.  And sometimes I had to take German buses – because I’d lost my bike!  It took months, weeks to find – but when I finally got it – I breathed a sigh of freedom.  With my bike I could truly wander and roam, get into things.  I could join my ‘friends’ (casual classroom or playground acquaintances, changing like the wind) – on long rides through the woods, or along German roads.  It was so ratty nobody wanted it – and once again, I owned the poorest bike in the neighborhood.  Not that it bothered me any.  I was just glad to have a bike to ride.

There’s a lesson in that, I suppose – one that I learned early on.  Something about being content with what you’ve got – it’s working – and not needing the latest nor flashiest thing.  About being happy with what you’ve got in live . . . and not wanting much more than you need to survive.

It can make you happy some of the time.

I know I was – despite my crappy bike and all.  Happy some of the time.