Tag Archive: military brat

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:


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


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 . . .


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.


It was freezing night, a silver sliver of a moon showing through scattered rents in the racing clouds.  Streetlights threw yellow rays across slushy streets, and stark trees threw spidery silhouettes across the road.  We were walking the deserted streets from dependent’s housing section to the base’s amenities area, my family and I, surrounded by the impersonal military buildings, each with an identifying number, and some by symbols on the signs they wore.  We were on our way to see a movie.

What movie, I can’t recall.  It was on Fleigerhorst, a small military base.  It had it’s own little PX, an old theater, and a cafeteria for enlisted soldiers and people like me: dependents, brought with their father as part of his own army while he served the one we all worked for – in one way or another.  All part of earning a paycheck and doing duty to God, Country, and more . . . a tradition we’d been steeped in since I’d been born.

There wasn’t much to do – no internet, no TV, and only one radio station – but we still found things to do.  I ‘played’ with the G.I.’s, was in Scouts; we met in bunkers, and school dragged on, albeit on a different base.  I commuted on one of those old green shuttle buses, slugging through the crunch snow in the morning, coming back in slush in the afternoon . . . and god forbid you were too late for the last bus. It was a long walk from one base to another, though they had plenty of biking paths.

I had already gotten into trouble once about the theater by going to see “The Yellow Submarine”.  My parents had forbidden it.  They hated the  Beetles, didn’t like rock and roll, and were very conservative.  The only music they listened to was “Mystic Moods” (easy listening) and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Band.  I had gotten beaten for going to the movie but I didn’t care.  I’d been beaten so much it didn’t matter.  I was tough, used to them.  It was just another in a long string of ‘spankings’ – all my life.  It seemed normal.  I was used to having my ass pounded.  The trick was hiding it all.  My sense of self. The things I’d done – and was still doing.  And the crimes I’d committed, whatever they were (or were perceived to be) at the time.

But it didn’t matter.  During the “Yellow Submarine” the theater had caught fire.  It was a matinee so the G.I’s weren’t there – they were at work, which is how I managed to get there without my father knowing.  Us kids were sitting there in the semi-darkness when smoke began to billowing out from the bottom corner of the screen, and there were low red flickers behind it.  Us kids shifted restlessly; we were waiting for the movie.  Then a voice came on the PA saying “Stay in your seats! There is no cause for alarm.  The theater is on fire and we have it under control.”

I wasn’t dumb.  I sat there thinking this is a classic nightmare (I’d read enough books to know) – where the theater actually was on fire! – and here all us kids were just calmly sitting eating our popcorn and watching the smoke pour around the screen while the red glow grew brighter.  No panic, no popcorn throwing – just rows of quiet kids watching the scene.  Only in the Army would you see that.  In the civilian world there’d been a riot, people trampling each other as they raced to the doors . . .

But not us.  We were Army kids. We wanted our seventy-five cents worth.  We wouldn’t run until we saw the flames were higher than us.  But . . . true to their word they got the fire put out, we watched the Beetle movie, smelling acrid smoke.  I was happy, but puzzled.  I could not figure out why this movie was forbidden.  It didn’t make sense – the ban, not the cartoon, though the cartoon made little sense either.  However, I came home smelling of smoke and talking about the fire. Bad news: my parents knew what was showing, so I got my beaten and restricted again.  Another few days in my room. (sighing)

But this time it was an ‘approved’ movie.  The whole family was going.

We trudged through the snow and slush to the theater . . . saw some movie . . . and then when we came out I rushed over to the cafeteria and spent some of my own hard earned money for an ice cream.  Walking out to the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria I encountered my dad.  He stood there staring at me.  Then he walked up and with a scornful look snatched the cone from me and dashed it into the trash.

“If you can’t buy enough for everyone you can’t have one,” he said as I looked with horror at the pristine, brand new ice cream planted upside down in the garbage.

And I broke down and cried.

Because here’s the thing:

I had been taught and trained – it had been enforced and beaten into me over and over again: you don’t waste food. Not ever! – not a single crumb.  It’s an issue still for me, big time.  I have a hard time controlling myself when someone wastes food.  Why?

Well, when dad went to Vietnam, or overseas, or TDY, we’d go from thick to thin in a hurry.  Food was . . . hard to come by.  Hunger was an issue.  Money was thin.  I had to work for every dime I had, hauling trash and such.  Why?  Because he would give all his money away! – to missionaries to look good, and whores when he thought they weren’t looking.  With the former he was trying to feed his ego; with the second his selfish self wants – while we went without and he knew it.  Lord knows my mom knew how to complain (and we got the brunt of it, him not being there).  We were not with him.  We were a thousand miles, if not half a world away and more.

Why should he care? Except in a most superficial, distant way . . . the way he often cared for us when he was home – or not ‘disciplining’ us according to his needs . . .

As a result my mom always – always – fought to make ends meat, and barely succeeded. He would fight about her getting more education, fought about it when she had a job.  He wasted money at every turn of a dime.  It go so bad when he was away that sometimes our neighbors would come just to make sure we had food.

Meanwhile dad ate steaks – sometimes in front of us – and ate good.  He never knew a day of hunger and he kept his sweet tooth fed.  Sometimes he would eat steak while the rest of us had plain boiled hotdogs. No buns. Boiled in thin tomato soup, served up on noodles.

And that night that was cold as a freezing moon I ‘felt’ something ‘in me’ change . . . harden a little bit more.

I’ve seen the movie “Hunger Games”, me and my wife.  I wasn’t impressed.

I guess it’s hard to gain an impression of that lifestyle when you’ve lived one as a kid, courtesy of the United States Army and a few other folks.

I grew up in a wartime culture, as lot of my peers did: steeped in the consequences of Vietnam, our father’s fresh from the horror of Korea (and the PTSD symptoms that followed – at the time unrecognized, but visited upon their kids and immediate family sometimes).

I well remember the hunger games.  The real ones.  The ones that WE played – for real.

Kids, gathered or ganged, platooned or assigned, guardian and guerrilla – we came in all kinds, and all kinds of us had our own specialties.  We’d gather in squads or platoons in the woods under the guidance of some counselors, be they military men or civilian, it really didn’t matter.  I even had a Scout Master – Colonel R., from the time I was 14 or so until I grew up and went into the military myself.

We were all a bunch of Army kids – always ‘fighting’, often playing war.  Our Scouts skills consisted of learning a bunch of survival; our overseas training, even more.*

Often the ‘award’ from such a fight was a can of C-Rats – C-Rations, to you civilian folks.  The favorite was fruit cocktail, pound cake (in a can) fell behind as a distant second.

A stack of “Silver Bullets” co-offered by some counselor (gathered from us, of course!) – would be enough for a reward.

To the spoils goes the victor.

They would set the “goody” somewhere (perhaps), divide us into battle groups (divisions, platoons – squads).  Generally the ‘armies’ were divided evenly, but not always.  Sometimes the ‘smart’ kids would be given the little kids to fight with – and the other team would be a lot of big boys.

Very big boys indeed.

I remember laying curled face down in a ravine, knees against my chest as dozens of kids, charging, dove across the ravine, their heels hammering along my spine and ribs.  I served as kind of a footbridge for a lot of them, or so it seemed.  Not that I was there for that, mind you!  I was a spy, and these were my enemies.  They had come up the hill (stealthily, you know), but I had ‘a-spyed’ them, lurking through the bushes, taking little ‘rushes’ from cover to cover, and had sent my young ‘aid’ a runner, about an eight year old kid (I was 14) to go and fetch help, give warning, do something.  Assemble the troops or whatnot.  Set off the alarm.  For I wasn’t the commander – just an infiltrator into enemy territory seeking a few goals.

Often the rules were uneasy.  You were allowed to hurt other kids – but not too badly.  Nothing that needed first aid (and we’re talking here in the serious days, where a small burn or scratch would get you a look of contempt were you to bring it to their attention, much less whine about it.  Kids today are so ‘tender’ . . . but there again, I had such a high pain tolerance (gee, wonder where that came from?  LOL!)

We “played” hard for that little treat, that can of syrupy sweetness, all swathed in green . . . O.D. green, that is, the color of war and canvas.  (How I like the smell of fresh tinted canvas – that military ‘stuff’, thick, green, and sturdy . . . there’s something about it that says . . . something.  Like ‘welcome home’, somewhat . . .)

I remember (and now this was in my older days, when I was 16 and had learned a lot about survival – and torturing folks) – we caught a kid.

He was from the other team, and he knew where in these deep woods (bounded by a highway and stream on one side, a tremendous lake on the other, bordered by woods and mud, and cut-through with ravines like an old man’s face . . .)

So I had him – or rather my helpers – tie him up.

At the first they were amazed when I took his shoe laces and wrapped them tight around his thumbs.  I tied a noose-knot, one that wouldn’t come unbowed, and would tighten whenever he drew it.

And then I showed them how . . .

to tie him up (to a stump) – and then to torture him . . .

without ever leaving a mark.

(That’s kinda funny, seeing as his name INDEED was Mark; Mark T. is all I’ll say for his own protection here . . .)

He had been boggle eyed and incredulous when I had tied him by his thumbs, sneering and saying:  “I’ll get out in no time!”  He was sure of himself, and that he could break those shoe laces.

While he was struggling with his bounds, I turned to my ‘men’ and began telling them – rather, teaching them what to do.

“We’re gonna tickle him,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.  He was sweating now, and his thumbs were hurting – I could seem them turning blue.

He, overhearing that, stopped struggling (whilst I went over and loosen his thumb braces a bit there) – and laughed again.

“Tickle me?!!”  He barked a laugh again.  “That’ll never work!  You can’t hurt me, you know!  Not really.”  And he smiled with a show of self-satisfaction, and leaned back, confident.

I smiled grimly.

He knew little of what was coming.

Turning to my three or four young charges, I looked over my team and said:

“Like this.”

And we began.  We all took turns in tickling him – him bound against the rough bark of an old (and somewhat soggy) tree stump, and those kids taking turns tickling his ribs, and up under his chin – using every trick in the book, even leaves and soft branches.  We had his shoes off, so his foot soles were bared.  At first he couldn’t stop laughing.

Then he couldn’t stop crying.

Then he couldn’t stop himself from peeing himself.

While we all stood around laughing at him he gave us the information we need . . .

Such is the fate, and the victor’s spoils.

He was only a little younger than me, by a year or two.   After ‘extracting’ our information (and me having two swift young runners go back bearing the news, by different ways should one of them get caught) – we found their camp and made havoc on them, taking care not to snap any of their tent poles, but otherwise ‘destroying’ their tents, and pity he who left a bit of food laying out . . . we would take it, every last drop and crumb . . .

Hunger games.


I’ve played them.



*We were being ‘trained’ to be infiltrators and ‘helpful little hands’ (in some terms guerrillas) for NBC war.  Those skills included, but were not limited to, learning to fire the minigun from a Cobra’s co-pilot seat using a HUD.  Just in case too many Army pilots got wounded . . . during a nuclear war.

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 . . .

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.

The sixth grade class was quiet.  Preternaturally quiet.  Normally you would think twenty some odd kids trapped in a classroom would make some noise – but no.  You could just barely hear pencils softly scratching as students finished their assignments, but aside from that – nothing.  It was so quiet you could almost hear the dust settling.  Behind a huge slab of a desk sat the teacher, her long hair pulled straight back into a ponytail.  It was dark, like her expression as she glared at us with hawk like eyes that followed every move, every twitch.  We sat huddled, heads down, eyes rolled up, following her every move in turn.

This was Miss McManus, bane of the sixth grade; the hardest teacher in the school.  Not that her assignments were hard.  She was.  Hard as diamond, tough as nails, cold as ice, and hanging judge stern.  We were three months along in class – sixth grade English, if I recall – and we had learned.  She ran the toughest class in the school.  So strict in fact that we didn’t just fear her.  We were cowed.  After all . . .

Well, it wasn’t uncommon for her to send an eraser flying across the room – thrown full strength – at someone who was talking or disrupting her class.  These weren’t your wimpy old standard erasers – these were the real caboose, meant for lecture auditoriums – about a foot long, four inches thick, with a thick wedge of wood for a back.  Once she caught someone talking and sent that eraser flying – it hit the kid upside the head with a dull ‘thonk!’ and puff of white dust.  His head dropped like a sack of rocks and he didn’t move again until the bell rang – at which point she demanded he pick up the eraser and return it back to the front of the room.

We learned to duck well in that class – keep our mouths shut, scuffling and shuffling to a minimum, and our eyes on her.

Often she would walk around, a wooden ruler in one hand, her hawk-like eyes observing us, seeing what we were doing.  Pity the child who was misbehaving or not doing something they were told.  For the boys she would have you hold out your hand, knuckles up – and she would swat you across the fingers a half-dozen times or more.  For the girls it was palms up, and the slaps were in the palms, but I’m sure that stung as well.  Several were the times in the beginning when we would walk out of there – stifled tears streaming down our faces, knuckles sore, swollen, and red.

Eventually they fired her – but that was during our summer off from school.  They had waited that long, or were just that short of teachers “over there” (on the military bases in Germany) to decide she was insane – that she had suffered a breakdown or some sort of thing . . .

One day – it was early spring – and I had brought a small lump of clay in.  It was my ‘toy’ – I’d make small rockets and planes, then squash them flat – just a small thing, not much bigger around than my fingernail.

I had completed my assignment and she was walking around while I was flying my ‘toy rocket’ across the plain of my desk – preparing to smash it into the wall of books – when she suddenly appeared, right there! next to my desk she stood, sternly looking down.

“What are you doing?” she said flatly, tapping that ruler in her hand.

I looked down at the small clay ball I was holding.  It was formless and gray.  I looked back up at her, feeling my face draining.

“Playing,” I said, struck by a sudden intuition.  I put the little ball on the desk.

She looked at me for a moment, and it seemed a confused expression crossed her face.  I, one of her students, had admitted the truth instead of trying to cover up, lie, or make some excuse for something.

Her face softened somewhat.

“Well, put that up,” she said, pointing to the little ball on my desk.  “And stop playing.  You can be studying or something else.”

With that she walked off without saying a word.  And I just sat there amazed, bemused by my good luck.  Later on as we were walking out into the hallway some of my classmates were thumping me on the back and congratulating me – and asking me what I said.

“The Truth,” I replied, still somewhat amazed.  Not amazed that I had told it; I had learned the consequence of lying sometimes, especially when one is caught redhanded – but even more importantly I had learned – once again – sometimes . . .

Sometimes the truth will set you free.



G.I. Joe Scouts

G.I. Joe Scouts

I was about twelve or thirteen when I joined the Boy Scouts. My parents told me about them – they were at the JYC or whatever acronym the Army used for that thing – an Army run “Juvenile Youth Center” where bored teens could hang out. It was worse than the USO, which had fallen into hard times during that period – probably due to the Vietnam war. They had an old dinged up ping-pong table, a couple broken balls, and a paddle or two – the rubber peeling off one side like dead skin. You could hear it flapping and woofing in the wind as you swung it around, batting the beaten balls on their unpredictable trajectories and hearing their dull thumps.

And that was about it.

Us kids were generally bored. We’d seen everything. I read a LOT. We’d scouted out the hangers, hung around in the barracks, stole supplies – you name it.   And we were very good.  Not that we were ‘bad’ kids, just generally bored Army brats with too much knowledge in this world.  So when my parents approached me – practically forced me – into this group, I joined as my brother did.

We were a very small group, this “Troop” of ours.  There were only five or six kids.  They were of various ages and colors – ranging from some small ones (two little black brothers), a medium one (Latino or Hawaiian) about my age, my brother, and someone else.  Race didn’t make any difference; never did, not until the blacks taught me to hate them for a while with their hatred for the ‘white man’ (though I was only a boy at the time).  Sometimes  I still have a problem with it, but then – so do they and they caused it.  At least in me later on.

We had a lot of ‘fun’ with those guys, our G.I. Scout Masters, serving as go-to boys for their beer. They sold it in the barracks in a soda machine – just insert four quarters and you were done – and we’d dutifully trot right on back, bearing their beer. We never drank it. Though German beer was good they didn’t offer it in the machines due to the higher alcohol content – and our Scout Masters always provided the quarters. They were our masters in more than one way, and we were their sons sometime.

They didn’t act like Scout Masters, not much. Nobody wore any uniforms, took any oaths or salutes. I wouldn’t learn those until later, when I joined a real Scout Troop over ‘here’ in the United States again. They acted like a couple G.I.’s who were set on having a fun mission – that of training us kids.   It involved a lot of hiking, quite often in Volksmarching (20 kilometers or more), hard winter camping, and learning survival skills, which included learning weapons and ammo, how to set up a tent, hunt for mines.  We met in one of the underground bunkers – the first of seven  of the rumored underground levels of the base we were on, Fliegerhorst Kaserne (Flying Horse, quite literally translated). These were also the two G.I.’s who took us on trips through parts of the huge sprawling bunker – it seemed to cover acres, and was built like a rat maze with rooms. All the doors were gasketed and vented with chemical ports – small black perforated domed eyes of thickly painted steel – with big dog-legged levers that pivoting in the middle, one on top and one on the bottom. There was a firing range there as well.

We spent a lot of time identifying bullets by their remains. The G.I.’s had us doing it at an outdoor mountain range one time, digging them out of a hill bank that acted as a range backstop, identifying them by name.

“This one’s a thirty caliber, and that one’s a forty-five,” they’d explain, holding up some mushroomed piece of lead, its copper jacket all torn and mangled. You could usually tell by looking at the lands (bottom rim) of the bullet what kind of gun it came from. But sometimes the bottom would be chipped and broken and you’d find yourself digging looking for the pieces, as if there was a story to be told and here were the hidden words. And that was the truth of it sometimes. Sometimes you could tell by small arms caliber fire what kind of bullets were used, and get some idea of the strength of their weapons. They could sometimes tell you the enemy’s – or a sniper’s – direction, though you hadn’t heard where the shot came from. And sometimes, piecing them together, you would learn a little bit about yourself. How to use your own skills to find things like that – those little bits and pieces, piecing them together, and announcing:

“They shot an M-16 from that booth on automatic,” and then pointing to the little holes, be able to explain where the fire came from, where was the enemy’s last known direction when this attack took place. From that you could determine where to go next. We always found ourselves going towards the enemy’s direction so we could track them, or else back to ‘base’ to make your report and stand by for ‘more orders’. A lot of the time those ‘something else’s’ ended up being extended marches – through the snow and woods; along some busy German road in the slush and the rain, backpacks bearing down across our backs. I wished so bad for a frame; mine didn’t have one. It took a long long time, saving up a little as I did, but it was well worth it when I did. My back became hard and strong by then.

One day we were walking when we heard some small arms fire coming from our right. Looking up the mountain, we could see a narrow green swatch of ‘range’ arrowing up on the mountains.  Earlier that day we had been poking for some mines and looking for booby traps and ‘things’ – those long thin wires they would lay out on the ground where a firework would go off announcing your presence to someone and you were ‘dead’.

Filtering up through the woods we ‘took’ that range strategically (announcing ourselves and surprising some older scouts posted around) and surrounding them, went into the long lean-to that served as wet weather protection and a place to clean arms. We all stood there fidgeting around while the two scout masters met, discussed something real quick, and the boys all laid down their weapons in the pits. I was hoping and praying we were going to get to firing them – you know, shooting the still warm weapons, but we didn’t. Instead the Sargent had us move on – filing out of the building single file. Later, after a long night, we came back and dug some bullets out – again, with our fingers stiff and sore because we had to use them. No one had a shovel, which I find rather strange – not even the two G.I.’s. Or if they had one I don’t remember.

So we walked again – a long time – set up our tents and laid down inside, still on the hard packed snow in our canvas bags because it had started snowing again. We were cold, wet and shuddering, wrapped in army canvas as we tried to stay warm . . . but soon the quilted warmth of our downy “Sleeping Bag, Arctic” kicked in, and we slept in our warm cocoons, our breath frosting our mouth and nose.

It was a long night . . . and just one of many I’ve experienced in my lifetime. And some not so comfortable as that . . .

Says a lot for the places I’ve been.

The Canteen: Part Two

It was a chilly early afternoon. Gray clouds scudded across a slate plated sky, broken by occasional shafts of sunlight marching across the verdant green land like golden lances. The tree shuddered and moaned under the wind’s brace, shaking its branches against winter’s advancing chill. Leaves shook with a delicate rustle, some tearing awayto go dancing down the hill and disappearing into the farmer’s field like mice among the grain.

My buddies and I sat on the grass covered bunker, a left over from World War Two. It was outside the fence in the ‘forbidden zone’ – Krautland – and we had gotten there through a hole in the fence. It seemed no matter where we went we could find an escape route – a hole in the fence, a poorly guarded outpost – sneaking out and sneaking in again. You weren’t allowed to do that. It was strictly against regulations. You were required to leave by the main gate if you meant to go, presenting your ID upon re-entering the base to the always present MP-cum-sentry there. Going through the fence was strictly forbidden and it was farmland there – farmland followed by stretches of woods where the tanks and we ‘played’.

We’d go there when we’d get bored, looking for something to do. It wasn’t that weren’t other distractions on the military bases, though we did a lot of things which were illegal, such as sabotaging an airfield’s radar installation, or stealing supplies from the supply depots – and the ammunition no less! – being another. Oft times we would go ‘play’ with the G.I.’s who were on maneuvers, lying and deceiving to our own parents about where we had been, and lying to the G.I.s commanders as well. It all depended upon whose side we were on at the time.

And of course there was the PX, theater, and snack bar – and if you were really lucky, a bowling alley or a pool. Most of the bases didn’t have the latter. That was about it. No TV or radio, no phones to use and play on, no internet, no . . . nothing. Us kids road shuttle buses like flies following a garbage truck. They were long green ones, driven by a German driver, with the classic folding doors and hard seats – Old Bluebirds painted green and recommissioned for the military’s uses. They also were our school buses when the time came, though you had to be on your toes to catch one. The Germans ran their schedules like everything – strictly on time, though God bless them, they would wait for you if they thought you were in trouble or something – on the military bases only.

But us kids were bored. We’d seen it all. We’d scouted the hangers, hung around in the snack bar, played the pinball machines – a costly expense for me. I was always hunting for one that was broken, whether by dropping my quarters back into the return slot like a loose drunk’s grip (while award a credit for our effort) or like a benevolent god, granting us kids our wish for endless credits in return for us sharing the thing and keeping quiet so the snack bar operators wouldn’t catch onto the free games. Once we kept a machine going for almost a week – gathering around it and shielding prying eyes from our gain.

This time we were on a mission, albeit one of our own making. We weren’t hanging out simply because we were bored. I had my purchase from the German canteen; another had the necessary items. We all hoisted ourselves into the tree that stood on the shoulders of the bunker, climbing its branches. We had already checked the single squared opening we’d found in the bunker – near the top, with a square runged ladder leading down. We’d gone inside a few times, but it just stunk of piss, like old beer, and there was always a thin film of water from one to a few inches deep at the bottom. A few G.I.’s had come out one time – we had hidden from them in the tree, not even knowing we were hiding – and then they had engaged in gay sex right there before us, in the weeds below the sharp rise of the bunker. It had grown funnier and funnier until we all started laughing like a bunch of crows – and then screaming “Book! Book!” we’d taken off running for our hole in the gate. The G.I.’s, all tangled in their embraces and the bedsheet they had brung had found themselves tripped up by their nakedness and the sheet they had wrapped themselves in. I was laughing so hard I was barely able to make it – ducking low as I slid like a baseball runner under that scornful lip of the bent chain link curling in the ditch near the bottom – scuffing up the dust as I went ‘in’, back on the base safe and sound, still grinning and looking at my friends . . .

We often came there where when we were bored. It was always quiet and peaceful once we’d get settle down. A Jagermiester’s hut stood out in the field – across the grain you could see fences of wooded land marching down across the horizon. It often brought me a smile, being in those woods . . . away from everyone and the base we were on.

I drew out the package I had purchased the night before and tore the top open. There were the German cigarettes I had bought and I hadn’t been picky about the brand. They were rough and unfiltered. I wouldn’t have known what brand to get anyway since I hadn’t smoked. My father owned a pipe – several well aged Meerschaums as well, but he had given up smoking some time ago. How I loved the aroma of a good pipe tobacco! How my mom hated those things – including the cigarettes I held in my hand. She hated a lot of things with a passion, insanely so some times. Including us because she hated men – hating them secretly and then vomiting out all her own fears and hatreds on us, her own children. There was a lot to be said about that woman, some of them good. But most of them are not.

This was a first for a lot of us, smoking. There were six of us in all that morning or afternoon. With the cloud cover it was hard to judge the time sometimes, but watches were rare. I had a Timex strapped to my arm; some of the other kids owned one as well – small white faces with thin black straps, each one a windup. They were for telling us what time to be home. Others relied on Taps sad siren’s song which would sound promptly at five o’clock pm to announce when it was time to be going. It was like a command from God himself, only more reliable and much more punctual.

One of the boys in our group said he had tried smoking before, sneaking some from his father. Another one chirped that they made you ‘high’, but nobody was quite sure what that meant. After all, what is ‘high’ when you are a kid and only twelve years old? You don’t associate it with some drinking that you did; that was “getting drunk” in our minds. And nobody talked about what others were doing, not much. Sometimes there were traitors in our groups, though usually we were best of friends. You never knew when a knife might fall – the knife of Army separation, or from a small group of friends, or from the disappearance of one individual by himself. Sometimes it would be the fathers who were in conflict – and then everyone would suffer. Sometimes the whole base would feel the wrath of a particularly mad and powerful C.O’s anger. Sometimes we were punished as a group; sometimes all alone. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes it didn’t; but as time went by I just quit feeling this ‘thing’: this sense of loss and separation. By withdrawing into myself I could feel myself ‘keeping myself whole’ in some way as I tried not to fracture into more pain I could bury, more parts than I was capable of keeping going at the same time.

“Here’s the matches,” said one of my friends, dragging one of those paperbacks from the PX, it’s logo small and round. It was a plain white rectangle, stamped with “PX” in black letters in something round. They burned, though, and that was the thing.

Passing the cigarettes out, I took one in my hand and put the pack back in my pocket, carefully balancing. I was sitting on a limb; we all were. Eventually I would learn to stretch out on them and take a nap – high up in the sky, unbeknownst to anyone below – sleeping and catching some breeze, one leg propped against a branch or in a vee, or if the branch was wide enough, cupping it between my shoulders and down the length of my body and letting my legs hang down.

I looked at the cigarette. It was small and round, its ends firmly packed. I was nervous. I had been warned again and again about this thing. How they were not good for you, how they could give you certain types of cancers and things. How your lungs would turn black and fall out in a violent fit of coughing (my mom’s threats on the stuff, including how she would cut our throats if she ever caught us smoking – and she had a good nose on her, that woman! She could smell a package of cigarettes a few yards away, hidden in the back of a drawer under some laundry. I should know as she caught me a few years later when I had the habit going, along with the habit of trotting up to the store where they sold those kinds of things in a machine. Marlboro became my favorite brand and you could get them for fifty to seventy-five cents, though they later went on up to a dollar, which nearly broke me of those things – and my paycheck.

They sold them in a machine over here, too, in Germany, and it had been by the machine the lady in the canteen had been guarding. It wasn’t uncommon for some Army brat to come in, and try to use the machine. But most of them had been caught and then marched away, maybe never to be seen again. You never knew. It depends on what other infractions they had been caught doing, what they were admitting, their own father’s career track and history – their future, everything, was up to second guessing. You never knew about Army command. Sometimes there were politics, deep and personal. Sometimes it just went by the book and regulation. Sometimes it depended on how much trouble the kid had got in – who had seen him do what to who’s or what things. It always depended upon your powers of observation, making sure no one was ever around. Sometimes your entire life was hinged on a word, a look; accurately guessing what others were thinking or which way they would look. We were sneaky as all get-out. You had to be.

For the most part, Americans being Americans, we were American kids. But then there were those special things, those things that set us apart from the groups of school children we were in and with. There were smaller groups among them, of course – there always are: loose groups of losers and friends, the popular ‘cliques’, the jocks and the ‘guys’. But even those were constantly changing, being revised as families shipped off overseas, or to or from somewhere. Our circle of friends was constantly rotating, the faces never remained the same. A few did. A few stick out in my mind with a burning intensity, some of them quite sad, but a lot of them are a blur. And so was this circle – all but one. He was my friend – my best one – and yet he was missing from that thing; this ‘group’ of rougher kids – and more daring kids. Of course his father mistreated him as well; expecting perfection and beating him when he was stoned drunk – sometimes beating him badly and violently in my mind. But not being there for this was good for him, for he went on, much later in his ‘career’, to become a fighter pilot of some kind. An expert in his field no doubt – he had a sharp mind, where mine was muddy as hell sometimes, even back when I was a kid.

“Here, I’ll take one,” I said as the kid, opening the pack of matches, struck one. He applied it to the cigarette he held posed between his lips. Drawing a deep breath he choked on the thing, nearly falling from the tree while simultaneously holding the pack of matches out to me.

“No! I’ll show you how to do it,” said the other kid, the one who had first spoken up about smoking to begin with. He was the one who had stolen some from his father; him and his friends had set me up on the dare; I had been the one to plan a night advance (when the canteen would presumably be at its emptiest, which it was not – it was in full gear when I came in!). He took the still smoking cigarette from his friend, and drawing on it a few times, got the coal red hot and glowing. Putting an unlit cigarette in his mouth, he touched it to the coal and lit up off of it. He handed the burning cigarette to a friend, then lit up another one. Taking mine from me, he lit that one up as well disappointing me – I had wanted to imitate what he was doing; he was saving matches, even I could see that.

As we all sat around – discussing smoking and how it should be done – I found myself growing dizzier and dizzier on the branch I was sitting on. My friends also complained about some vertigo.

“Maybe we should get down,” I said, wisely advising them in my best way. I didn’t want anyone falling and getting hurt out here. That would be sure to bring disaster down on our heads – beyond the fence, the fence would be mended, and we would all get our asses chewed for sure, beaten in some cases beyond a doubt. Mine was one of them for which I feared.

We all clambered down, still discussing this thing – whether to inhale them, or simply puff them away in spurts of smoke. At first we were just puffing on them, but as we grew stronger in our desire to try this thing – getting higher and higher all the time, we began inhaling on them, at first choking until we grew our brown wings and started getting the knack for holding them down. Then we smoked another – and by that time some of the boys were complaining about feeling like vomiting – and we headed towards the fence.

After that I never did give up smoking – at first sneaking a pack a week, sometimes getting them at the PX, but always with my own money. I usually stored them outdoors in some location – down in the community basement room system of supplies and locked doors, and maybe an old machine ‘laundromat’ of some kind – usually consisting of some old worn out machines scattered across a concrete floor in a cold damp room covered with slime from inadequate ventilation, and drain hoses snaking across the floor.

Later on I would go onto being a much more prodigious smoker, though I traded brands from time to time. For instance, I would smoke “Mores” later on during my high school days because cigarettes had gotten so much more expensive (I think they were about a dollar and a half by that time) – and I was always paying for them myself – working for my money and then some. I had an old bike for transportation – I got my first one when I was twelve (and often envy you ‘American kids’ who seem to get one every year or so, though I was an American child). We were just that poor sometimes. I only had three bikes as a ‘child’ – and I bought two of them with my own funds. I had to. My parents weren’t going to get them for me – and they said I would value them more if I worked for them, which I did.

I worked for everything in my life. Hard times – they do that to you. Instill in you a work ethic for life. And a good one, too, given my military background and training, though I don’t use it anymore, having become disabled due to my long stint in the Corps.

And smoking? I wish I had given it up; hadn’t even started back then. I’m still not quite up to a pack a day, though there have been times I exceeded that. I’ve been known to quit – two times. And then I gave up on the thing.

I shouldn’t have. I’ve got enough Nicorette – I worked for the company that makes them; hell, I even helped design the Commit factory – but oh well. We smokers would take breaks outside of that thing, that long tall brick building – smoking and discussing our commitment to this thing – both the building and the habit we would be breaking. Though none of us did it – not a single one.

They ended up hiring smokers for that thing (as much as possible, anyway) just in case someone got addicted to nicotine – which by the way, is an extremely poisonous drug to the system. It’s the plants way of keeping insects off of it. Think of it as a chemical insecticide – that’s what you all are smoking, and so am I. A chemical insecticide produced naturally by some plant, as is THC, by the way. Turns out bugs don’t like getting high any more than teetotalers do, especially when it comes at the risk of taking one’s own life. Which nicotine will do, especially when combined with the hundreds of other chemicals a cigarette is ‘providing’.

So . . . I urge you all NOT to take up smoking if you haven’t; and to give it up if you do (you will live a healthier and longer lifestyle), you will be happier, have more energy (due to lowered CO2 levels if nothing else); take more walks, have fresher breath, no more burn holes in clothes, no more stinking around the house . . .

While I go on smoking my own damn cigarette.

And think about giving up the habit, too.

(I am almost 53 years of age right now. I have been smoking continuously for at least forty of them. It’s really about time I did something for myself, if it isn’t too late by now. But even then I’m going to give up smoking sometime . . .

might be when I’m dying from ’em but I’m gonna have to put ’em up one day, maybe in my grave.

Speaking of which I left my lifelong friend and a guy who could’ve been my grandpa with five cigars – and a lighter – in his front pocket when he got buried.

One of the Boatman, one his well being, one for the Christ he believed in, and one for God the Being.

And one left over for me, when I come up there.

The End.

It was night, not that that meant much. Night came early during those days in Germany, especially in the fall and winter. Dry leaves rustled, stirred by a nipping wind. I could see their dark forms scattering before me like mice, rustling around my ankles and darting away into the darkness.  I stood, eying my target.

It was the Canteen. A low dome rose in the woods.  Cut into the outer edge was a dark ledge of steps going down and coming back up the other side – a line bisecting the dome. It was overgrown with grass; you couldn’t see it was concrete and alive ‘down there’. But I could make out the steam rising from the vents, smell the cooking. Occasionally a man would stagger out, ascending the stairs from the slits which cut into the dome’s great big blister, calling back to someone inside. You would see the yellow light briefly gleam on his face – usually thickset with heavy German features. I stood and watched from my position behind a tree, wondering if I should go in.

It was more of a ‘dare’ than anything, this thing I was about to do. No one had done it yet – no one had been allowed to. It was forbidden to go into the dome, the “German Canteen”. This was an installation on a military post, and only Germans were allowed in there. They were all German contractors, these men – some thick, some thin, and all with that thick guttural German accent when they spoke to us. Some were rather mean, but most were kind and friendly – however, they would be directing you elsewhere, always. With a firm command and a stern face if you hesitated or disobeyed. Their punishments weren’t harsh – they’d just turn you over to your parents. Usually that was all it took. However, in some cases – such as this one . . .

Darting forward through the scattered shadows in the darkness, I could see the bright lights and pinpricks of barracks and military installations all around. In the distance there were some streetlights. While this was ‘in the woods’, technically it was almost like a park – just a few acres around – with the German bunker in the center.  The ring of woods were clean of woods debris, for the Germans kept them painstakingly clean. They also kept their own woods – their own forests – ‘clean’, meaning you as you went strolling through their woodlands and parks you would see cords of wood stacked up, usually between some trees. The woods themselves were bare of scrub and undergrowth, rotting wood or fallen logs. All that would have been ‘cleaned up’ by the Germans – scouring the woods for firewood and stacking what they found. I was amazed by the thing. And it was the same on base. Everything was kept nice, clean, and orderly. Just like the Germans were.

As I darted forward, I became aware of a thumping – soft and persistent.  It it resembled an “omp-pah” band. The German kind. As I grew closer to the underground building the thumping grew louder, resolving itself into music – a lively German band.   The sounds were distorted by the thick steel doors resting loosely against their jambs – and the concrete slots they lay in – but I could hear the music faintly rising from the building underground.

It was an old World War II bunker. Like the base we were on, occupying our former enemy’s installations. Living in their barracks, working in their rooms, and in some cases using their old leftovers and equipment when ‘we’  or the US Army could. Bombs could still be found sometimes when they were doing excavations – they’d find that kind of thing – and explosive device, sometimes in a five hundred pound bomb – just waiting for something to set it ticking with a bump or a thump of some kind. Occasionally stashes weapons were found. like a case of hand grenades.  You never knew – or knew who might find them.  All us children had been trained – both in how to use them and avoid them.  That was part of our job.  It was a well known fact – you didn’t go around sticking a shovel in the dirt until you knew what lay underneath – especially in some places, where the Allied bombing had been good.  Or bad, depending upon your way of looking at it.

But this base – this was the one with seven underground levels (or so we were told). It was a ‘secret’ base for some time, then bombed to hell by the Allies. However, the Germans (it was said) had been prepared for that and had moved their planes underground. And they’re still there (it was said), deep under water – for the Germans had a pipe to a river somewhere, and they used it to flood the field, concealing it from the Allies by pretending it was a pond (it was said) – and then drain it off the shallow lake chase the bombers with their planes from underground – bringing them up on elevators and launching them from the hanger domes.

However, this had nothing to do with the mission I was on. I had been ‘sent’ on this mission by some of my friends – a small group of them, bored boys looking for something to do, myself included. I had a couple marks in my pocket (German money) which I had earned hauling trash for a ‘living’. I narrowed my eyes, looking at the dark opening and coming to my final decision – when to move.

I darted down the stair like a hawk, feet pounding. I didn’t want to miss a step. One wrong move and I might get caught. That would cause problems for my father – who (along with his wife) would cause some pretty bad problems for me.   But I was fairly confident.  I could duck and weave.  We’d already analyzed this, how this mission was going to go. I had visualized it in my head.

Legs pounding, knees high, I came to the steel door. It pulled outwards, its heavy handle a long slashof steel. I pulled on the door as hard as I could. To my surprise, it swung easily open. It wasn’t like the steel doors I’d trained on – the same kind as this – but they had felt much heavier, maybe because they weren’t used as much as these.  I desperately wrenched at it to keep it from clanging against the concrete shaft’s side, but once started, it was too heavy to stop.  It clanged anyway.  I darted in.

The building was moist and warm from all the German cooking, and the smell of sauerkraut and bratwurst hung in the air. The air was thick from smoke and cooking, and there stood about a dozen tables or so – rough thick legged things was my impression, covered by checkered clothes, glasses and food.   The light was dim and yellow.  A jukebox stood along the wall I was on, and already I could see the men turning to see who had come in.  Behind a long bar I could see a heavy waitress – a thick German woman, wide and broad. She was turning from the glasses on the back wall as I paused, looking for my goal.  Spotting it, I sped along the wall like a little rat, dressed in a thick green G.I. jacket and jeans.

I sped to the machine, passing the thumping wailing jukebox with its warm light and chrome. The men were turning back around again, though quite a few were keeping their eyes on me. I could see the German woman looking up in my direction. Quicker than I could say “breathe!” she started to move, coming around the counter with a surprising swiftness for a woman her size . . .

I looked away, and taking two marks in my hand (I had come prepared, shoving the marks from my pocket to my fist as I ran) – I slammed them in the machine – ‘clink!’ ‘clink!’. A moment later after I heard the coins hit some distant mysterious bottom, I grabbed a worn silver knob on the machine and pulled, looking over my shoulder at the woman and measuring her pace as she came on.

She was rounding the end of the bar in the corner of the room and proceeding rapidly my way, her mouth open and her thick arms coming up . . . I could hear her yelling . . .

I turn, looked, saw my choice had arrived – grabbed my purchase and ran, darting towards the equally thick door on the other side. Crashing it open with a big bang, I took those steps flying, two and three at a time, feet pumping, heart pounding, my ‘precious’ purchase gripped in my hand. Distantly I could hear shouting and laughter as the door behind closed, then it popped open briefly again – but I think seeing my shagging behind, the woman turned and went back to her business . . .

I ran through the woods to the edge where my friends stood, and I stopped, bent over and gasping, winded, and looked down at my hand. There it was.  In the palm of my hand. I had done something forbidden – not just once, but four times over. Once in going to get them – two in where they lay – three in having bought them – four in where they lay now: in my possession.  They were forbidden, extremely so . . . they were for me! – for me and my friends . . .

And we divvied it up with my friends the next day.

(This is part 1 of 2.  I shake my head, wondering how I came to that decision and kind of knowing why – and wishing I didn’t – any of it. It affected my life in so many ways – meaning core values, things I do every day – it became a ‘part’ of me.

You’ll see in Part Two.)