The dollar had fallen substantially. In 1986 one could be exchanged for two German Marks. By 1988 the rate dropped nearly in half. Despite the reduced purchasing power, I was happy to be back in Germany in the Army again. I had no choice but to reenlist. Civilian life was not what I had imagined and so much had gone wrong in my life.
An internship at the “Huntingdon Daily News” was the only positive aspect of my life during the summer of 1988 following an honorable discharge from my first tour of duty in the Army. Josephine McMeen, one of the editors of the paper and a relation to its owners tried to convince me to dedicate my life to writing and journalism. Her strong words of praise and appearing on the front page of the paper was not enough to inspire me to remain a civilian writer. I wasn’t even twenty-one yet and I couldn’t go to bars, let alone gay ones. I wanted out of that little town and to get away from my family once and for all. At least in the Army life seemed worth writing about. There is only so much a by-line does for a writer’s soul.
The gay bar scene in State College was a bore. The men who went to Chumley’s were not my type. I took the time to explore State College that summer. I wanted to know what I would be getting into. The writing was on the wall on the exposed brick of that small town gay bar– “Be All You Can Be!”
I had developed a taste for butch dudes, especially Army men, and I knew before entering the doors of Penn State that obtaining an education there would result in a bad case of writer’s block.
Mom kicked me out of the house that summer. She made me leave the nest becaus a guy that I knew from the Army called me every day. She thought that was weird.
“I hope that there is nothing more between the two of you than being just friends,” she threatened, “because if there is, you are not welcome here anymore.”
I quickly packed a bag and as I left the house I asked, “What would you know about having friends?”
I went to live with Dad who was still drinking heavily at the time. He put me out too. If I had only waited two more months, school at Penn State would have begun. My Army College Fund and the G.I. bill was about to kick in. Housing would not have been an issue. I was tired of sleeping in the back of my car. Thankfully, Gerri Wakefield, a woman who worked as a receptionist at the ‘Daily News’ took me in until I could get my head together.
“I’m sorry to hear that you and your family are not getting along, Charlie. Why not just stay with me? I have a big farm house and my daughter is never home anyway. There’s lots of room. You are just going through a bad time. Now stop crying. The reporters in the newsroom will start asking questions,” she advised.
“Just for a few weeks,” I said while wiping my tears. “I am going to re-enlist in the Army.”
“What? You can’t do that!”
“Yes I can and I will. I don’t think I want a life back here in Huntingdon after all. Dad kicked me out of the house. He claims that I stole his girlfriend’s rent money. You and I both know that Dad was the one who took that money to go drinking on,” I explained while sitting behind a computer with green letters on a monitor. Gerri knew my father. Any girl who went out to a bar in Huntingdon knew who Barry Taylor was. Prior to working at the Daily News, I had never met Gerri, but in a strange way, because of my father’s reputation with girls from the town’s real newsroom, she seemed like a step-mother to me and she took me in until the paperwork was final.
The Army promised me assignment in Germany. That’s all I wanted at the time– to be near Anthony. Germany is not that big and I could get a car and travel the Autobahn to see him when I needed to. There was structure in the Army. That I appreciated. Never did I have to worry if the roof above my head was going to fly away.
They assigned me to a field artillery unit near Hanau, a town not too far from Frankfurt– the largest city in the free western portion of the divided nation. Finally, it was legal for me to go into a bar again. A city as big as Frankfurt must surely have a gay bar in it, I realized.
I didn’t bother exchanging a hundred dollars or so into German Marks my first night back in Germany. I knew my way around even though I didn’t speak the language. It was not necessary to go to a bank to obtain Marks when one was conducting monetary transactions near military installations. Even taxi drivers accepted green dollar bills for rides to places like the ‘bahnhof’– the train station. That is exactly where I was headed to– the train station and to downtown Frankfurt. Surely the gods would be with me now, considering that terrible summer in Huntingdon. It had been so long since I had been in a town where nobody knew my name, where reputations were silly things to consider. Finally I was away from the gossip of a small town with just one newspaper.
The taxi ride from Fliegerhurst Kaserne to the train station cost me $10. There was a subway station in Frankfurt. The maps written in German confused me. A blonde man with blue eyes dressed like the lead singer from Duran Duran stood next to me studying the map.
“Where’s the gay bar?” I asked balefully.
He was offended, obviously fluent in English, but not gay like I thought.
“I think you want to go here,” the young man said while pointing to the market district of the big city.
“Thank you. I’m sorry for thinking…”
“It’s alright,” he said, blowing my insult off. “I think the bar is called ‘The Construction Five’. Gruss Got.”
I rode a long escalator from the underground subway system and was surprised to see street cars. A café across the street caught my eye– cappuccino– it had been so long since I had one. The Starbucks craze had yet to hit America, but the Europeans had been enjoying them for years. Besides the men, I missed European cafes. There were lots of men sitting at small round tables outside. They too were dressed like Simon Lebon. I knew I was getting close.
The Construction Five was just around the corner. I group of three older German men were more than happy to show me the place. They were headed that way too. I was shocked that I was able to find a gay bar in an unknown town so quickly. I realized how owners of the bar decided on its name. There was a tunnel, similar to the one that cuts through the Appalachian mountains along the Pennsylvania Turnpike built inside the huge underground bar. Flashing strobe lights and pumping music created an ambiance of a construction work site. The round aluminum tunnel ceiling above made everyone look and feel incredibly sexy.
The bar was filled with lots of American soldiers. There were at least three hundred G.I.’s dancing in the club. I never expected to see so many. A dude who looked just like the R&B singer Baby Face stood next to me for at least twenty minutes before introducing himself–
“Nice bottie,” he said under his breath.
I smiled as we walked together to the dance floor.
This short story is continued within this post: