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Archive for December, 2008

Herman Rosenblat’s Holocaust fable makes me wonder if the story of Moses was a work of fiction or if purple is a color.

Apples and bread tossed over a fence? At least Rosenblat didn’t write about turning the apples into applesauce to feed the starving masses.

Oprah should close her book club, quit the show, move to DC and eat more apples. What a fat, dumb ass! There was no sin in what Rosenblat wrote. Winfrey tempted him and continues to rot the core of literature.

“My motivation was to make good in this world,” Rosenblat claimed. I’m sure Bernard Madoff had similar intentions.

 

Lucky

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The Smoke of Hell

I entered into a pact with God, a pow-wow of sorts, and promised to stop smoking. I asked the Heavenly Father to keep my lover alive, and in exchange for a miracle, I promised to never again smoke.

My lover Shawn’s sudden madness– a demon possession it seemed at the time– shook me up terribly. Physicians informed me that he was likely going to die–

“Liver failure is the cause. There seems to be an excessive amount of Tylenol in his bloodstream. Taking too much Tylenol is toxic, especially for one with a compromised liver. The cause of his dementia and the reason for all that screaming was due to liver failure. Have you contacted the next of kin?” The doctor asked. “In all likelihood he is not going to live very much longer.”

The physician departed Shawn’s bedside after making a notation upon a clipboard. I stood next to my vegetated lover with his friend, Dianashaw and cried.

“We should pray.”

“I guess you are right,” I said, closing my eyes, squeezing tears from my eyes as my lids rested shut.

Shawn’s trembling and tense body seemed to relax as Dianashaw’s prayer was whispered. I placed my hands on Shawn’s feet and softly massaged them as she prayed.

“Look at that! He just smiled. Don’t you see? He still hears us,” Dianashaw noted.

She was right. The terror that consumed Shawn’s soul which caused me to call 911, leading to his restraint in a stretcher, seemed to fade with every word spoken to God. I continued laying hands on him.

A stranger who Dianashaw and I assumed was visiting the emergency room patient laying next to Shawn suddenly spoke to us–

“He wants you to say the prayer,” the stranger, speaking in a West-Indian accent revealed, pointing at me.

“Who are you?” Dianashaw asked.

“I was sent here– or I was called here by him. I can hear this man. His soul is very powerful. He wants you, his friend– you are his friend, no? He wants you to say the prayer. You give the prayer,” the clairvoyant suggested.

An unmistakable smile spread across Shawn’s blood-stained lips. He seemed, although comatose, happy that the stranger had arrived at his bedside to channel.

“Dear Heavenly Father,” I prayed, “Please remove this pain from this man, the one I love, whom I may never marry, and place this burden in him upon me. Cast the demons out. Take the fear from him and put it in me so that he may have rest and joy again. I Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”

Shawn’s body suddenly convulsed as I opened my eyes and released my grip from his feet. His face appeared calm and angelic. Somehow it seemed, my faith was curing him.

A bright flash appeared before my tear-ridden eyes. I saw Shawn standing within a golden light– at first I envisioned Shawn in the light, but then, I realized it was the face of Jesus that I saw. As reality and view of the emergency room returned to my eyes, my soul suddenly sank with despair. Like an electrocution zapping through my very soul, a terrible feeling of hopelessness consumed me. It was at this very moment that my own troubles began. If  I had only understood the cost of what I was was asking the Lord, I never would have taken on his pain, through prayer. It was from this act of faith that my troubles began– psychosis– schizophrenia– madness.

I wanted to conduct more healing on him. If one prayer could make Shawn smile, then certainly, I believed, that if I entered into a convent with God, offering to give up smoking, that he would be healed, despite what the doctors had said.

I managed to stop smoking, cold-turkey, despite the worry I had for Shawn. The clairvoyant stranger who inspired my initial prayer followed me outside the emergency room and into the warm Spring air as I relieved my nerves with a cigarette.

“Why do you smoke?” She asked.

“I don’t know. It’s a horrible habit. I would give it up for him.”

“Then do that. When you wake-up at 3 a.m. tonight, I want you to fall to your knees in prayer, repent and say these words– ‘Get thee behind me Satan!’. It is then that you should enter your convent with God. Your friend is going to live,” the soothsayer promised.

I believed her, especially after I awoke at precisely 3 a.m. in a heated panic. I was craving a cigarette. I missed Shawn so much. I said my prayer, telling Satan to get behind me, and made the promise to the Heavenly Father to stop smoking.

I went back to the emergency room, arriving at Brooklyn Hospital precisely at 3:45 a.m, according to a clock in the waiting area. If only I could pray over him. Visiting hours were over in intensive care.

I asked to see a doctor. Something had been burning in me ever since I said my prayer and placed my hands on Shawn’s feet. I waited for more than an hour to see someone, but eventually the first hint of twilight kissed the dark night sky. Consumed by anxiety, I ran to a nearby deli to purchase a pack of Newports. I smoked one before getting back on the train.

As I waited for the G train at Fulton Street, I became dizzy and intensely sad. I rested in a squatted position against a metal beam on the platform and prayed–

“I can’t do this anymore. Take him, God.”

Just as a walked inside our apartment, the phone rang. It was the hospital calling. Shawn was dead.

I have smoked ever since and continue to pray, although I’m too frightened to give up the habits, in fear that my schizophrenia may pull me into darkness again. Perhaps if I stop smoking but continue to pray, Shawn will forgive me, but then again, perhaps my convent with God was with myself and Shawn has already forgiven me for setting my own soul on fire.

 

 

 

 

news

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One Hundred Forty-First Signal Battalion was placed on alert moments after we departed for the Liberty Bell. If we had left just a few minutes later, we would not have been permitted off base and in all likelihood, would have been called into formation to stand at attention for hours, awaiting pull-out orders. Our unit was the ears of the First Armored Division. With the eyes of communist East Germany blinking just miles away, signal soldiers had to react immediately when alerts were called.

As if Father Time were twisting invisible springs within our youthful legs, we rushed over snow drifts, down the plowed cobblestone road in front of battalion headquarters, and out the front gate of Barton Barracks soon enough to avoid the fateful call that put all of United States Army Europe (USAER) on alert that night.

An alert signified that either the United States was at war with Russia or that it was time to practice war and play war games in the heavily wooded forests of southern, West Germany. The element of surprise is battle’s sharpest sword. Catching an enemy Army off-guard is key to military success. Perhaps this is why an alert that lasted for three months was called the day after Christmas in 1986. Commanders did not want their soldiers to become too relaxed over the holiday. The Army used a Christmas alert to practice the reality of pending war with a nuclear superpower with deadly chemical weapons in its arsenal. It seemed, in history, that most major wars started over the holidays when generals assessed that an enemy was off-guard. No one anticipated an alert over the holiday when most of the company was on leave, nor did we.

One clearly-communicated battle plan made by generals across the expanses of continental-wide battlefields during surprise attacks or defensive maneuvers was key to winning a war. Our unit made possible such secure methods of communication during battle.

As a solider with top secret clearance trained in a complex communications speciality and assigned to USAER, one never knew when an alert was going to be issued. Unlike the infantry or artillery, signal brigades had to respond to attack in a matter of seconds. An enemy’s first strike is always to take out an opponent’s communication capabilities. Secret, encoded contact withing the ranks, unscathed by spying ears of the East, was key to winning the Cold War with Russia. 141 trained to be first responders– dependable and capable of establishing contact on whatever frequency was ordered at any given moment’s notice, anyplace on earth.

We were taught to be war-ready radio men and women, willing to give our lives for the sake of maintaining a clear link between decision makers atop the chain of command. Whether the alert that was called during the worst winter storm Europe had seen in forty years signified a real rush to war or mere practice was anyone’s guess, but the fact was, the four of us were headed out to get shit-faced and didn’t realize that our platoon was packing and about to go on camping until Spring.

Despite the ringing of bells inside the barracks and phone calls made from one commander to another at their off-post homes, the two Taylors of Division Rear platoon, private Payne and PFC Davitch were out of reach of the broadcasted alert. We made our way into downtown Ansbach, crammed close together in the back seat of a BMW taxi like cobblestones layered by master masons. A single, long windshield- wiper blade swiped from side to side upon the front car window. I never saw such a thing–

“Look! The wind-shield wiper is one big arm.”

“What the hell?” Johnny asked, trying to squeezing in closer next to Lisa Payne who was tight against me and the car door. Who thought of that?”

“The Germans of course,” Davitch explained, twitching his ass to the side, enough to permit the door to slam shut.

“The cars in New York have wiper blades like that,” Lisa explained, jumping on my lap. “I once gave oral sex in a taxi on my way home from the Paradise Garage.”

Johnny laughed and punched my shoulder, offering a gesture to imply that I was a stud that Private Payne, the only female in the car, had already fallen for me.

We made our way into downtown Ansbach in less than ten minutes. The driver of the taxi, having not said a word during the entire journey, seeming not to mind the slick roadway or patches of black ice. He swerved like a race car diver along the narrow paths and through several underpasses that separated a lower, pedestrian-friendly shopping district of Ansbach from major autobahn highways above. This was Germany like I had imagined. Several small shops with lit display windows exhibited intricate wooden nutcrackers. Almost all the buildings resembled gingerbread houses.

We swerved past an impressive cathedral with three tall, corroded, copper steeples before the BMW came to a rest at a taxi stand– ———- where many other American GI’s were running from automotive coaches into nearby restaurants and bars. The Liberty Bell was just a few feet away, down a narrow alleyway, beyond the rear of the church and a small café. A hand-painted, wooden awning, surprising shaped like an umbrella, indicated the entrance to the Liberty Bell.

There were several small tables just inside the door, where couples sat face to face, slouched in intoxication, moving their heads and waving their glasses to the beat of techno music playing within. Lisa and I waited in a small line to hang our coats in a small room monitored by a old man with thinning hair and no teeth. The coat check monitor informed us that if we shared a hanger, the cost of keeping our coats for the entire evening would be just two marks. Lisa handed the man a one dollar bill and he replied– “danke shen.

Gross got,” I nodded. He appeared puzzled by my accent.

Davitch and Johnny ran straight for the bar to place an order and never did bother taking off their coats that night. They sat on stools in front a middle- aged German woman who worked hard behind the bar, offering an occasional smile framed by a full head of frosted pink hair to anyone tossing coin her way. She looked just like my aunt Mildred washing the glass steins. She shoved each dirty goblet into a sink of sudsy water first, shoving the glasses upon a brush secured within the base of the sink and quickly rinsed each in a bath of crystal clear water over which a tap ran nonstop. The smell of stagnant beer that must have been spilled night after night upon the Liberty Bell’s floor since World War II seeped throughout the crowded bar and filled my nose with a sense of belonging. The smell reminded me of the bars I frequented with my father as a child. I made a mental note to myself not to drink a lot that night, remembering what became of dear old Dad. At least he was decent enough to see me off at the train station in Huntingdon when I shipped off to basic training– offering me a hug with the same scent attached to his neck. He told me how proud he was of me and asked, while we waited for Amtrak, if I happened to have any extra cash to treat dear old dad to a beer before I was killed in war. I didn’t want to end up a drunk.

I took my Salem cigarettes from my coat pocket before handing over my wrap and quickly lit one as our crew sat down before the dishwasher – barmaid to order our first drink. Davitch, speaking what appeared to Lisa, Johnny and myself as fluent German, ordered us a fancy sounding German beer. The beverages were darker than tea and had a foamy head atop. I slowly sipped mine and squinched my eyes in response to the tangy bitterness. Lisa gulped her beer like a man, as did Johnny who acted as if he had already savored such foreign delicacies in life.

“It’s good.”

“Not bad– I don’t know. This sure ain’t Budweiser.”

“What’s in that bottle back there?”

“Not sure. Never tried that one,” Davitch said.

“Ready for another? Who got this round?”

My friends were well into their second beer before I managed to finish licking the foamy head from mine. I turned on my barstool to examine a Kino machine, which I learned, after receiving a 5 mark silver coin as change from the bar maid for my twenty, that Kino is a lot like a slot machine, although it’s impossible, due to a furry of spinning symbols and sirens, to determine when and if one wins.

“Let’s dance. You said you can dance.”

“I don’t know if I like the music. Wait a minute. I think I won. How do I get my winnings?”

“You didn’t win. Look– two cherries and a bell. Come with me,” Lisa insisted.

The few soldiers dressed in civilian clothing on the dance floor were obviously over-intoxicated, stumbling like horses to the beat of Level 42 while homely Germany broads swooned them with dips and curtseys and tosses of big hair. Lisa quickly dipped on the dance floor before my knees– as if possibly she would spin upon her head like a break-dancer. Instead, she simply bobbed up and down, grabbing her ears on occasion, as if to imply the music was overtaking her soul. I had no choice but to move too and dance a little with her, even holding my ears from time to time as if to suggest that the sound was far too inspiring. Lisa grabbed my arms and pulled me down with her to the tin dance floor. Like squatted spiders, we danced together at knee level, near the drunken Americans above who couldn’t help, despite their loss of coordination, to watch us and try to simulate the unusual move invented by the only black chick in the bar.

“I’m feeling this,” Lisa screamed.

I just smiled at her and pointed toward a mirrored wall where we had left our tall beers. I quickly finished mine without breathing and just as I placed the empty glass down, Davitch appeared with two fresh brews. Lisa’s two front teeth were green. A black light above revealed her deepest scar– something I never admitting knowing about. Her teeth looked natural and were so pretty when she smiled. Instead of laughing at her teeth under the glow of the purple light, I told her that her eyes were demon- like and that she had lint all over her sweater.

“You should see your lips in the dark,” She shouted. “Looks like you got lipstick on.”

Lisa was unshaken by the appearance of her sweater under the lights. She quickly took it off, grabbed my hand and we returned to our dancing. Davitch appeared several more times throughout the night on the dance floor– never to move his hips, but to hand Lisa and me another beer.

“I gotta pee. I’ll be right back,” I said, leaving Davitch to stand with spider-like Lisa on the dance floor.

There was a waiting line at the water closet. It seemed everyone had to go at the same time. Before I made it to one of the two tall porcelain urinals, I pissed on myself. I returned to the dance floor and came out with the truth to Lisa–

“I just pissed on myself. We gotta go back to the barracks now.”

“Hush. Come with me.”

Lisa retreated to the dark corner of the bar near the dj stand with me in her hand. She dropped her red jeans, revealing not only a pair of brown long-johns beneath, but a pair of orange Bermuda shorts covering a pair of brown, male underwear she was wearing. The casual shorts were covered with green dots.

“You can wear these.”

We undressed and exchanged clothing in the darkness as a disco light spun above.

“Don’t worry about it. Hide those jeans here in this corner. You can wear my trench coat home.”

By then, I forgot I was even in Germany or the Liberty Bell. My head was ringing and I felt free from the strict discipline of military life. We continued dancing, dropping to the floor from time to time and once managed to grind together while the white men standing in the dance area of the bar screamed– “Get laid, get fucked, get laid, get fucked” to a Billy Idol song. I thrust my pelvis like Elvis at Lisa and she returned my move with a quick spin and an unexpected bounce of bootie my way.

A stranger, obviously an American because of his short-cropped blonde hair who had been watching us dance for well over a half-hour slowly danced his way to us. I pretended not to notice him from behind and slowly moved closer to the comforts of Lisa. She patty-caked him and spun and then, just as I had Elvised Lisa, the six-foot three soldier offered me his pelvis on the slide, from behind.

Immediately I grew an erection and the orange shorts only brought attention to the issue.

“What’s that? Christ boy! What the fuck?” Lisa asked. She grabbed my stiff cock as if it were a tambourine and smiled, assuming, I’m sure, that it was on occasion of her. The stranger drifted away, back to a bar stool and watched us again with his legs in tight Levi jeans spread far open in our direction. Throughout the night I met his stare, but I would not encourage him more, in fear of what I might show. Instead, I played on Lisa who suddenly seemed madly in love with me, over her beer, under the translucent lights. She continued to bootie bounce me and by then, I was totally at home in the baggy shorts, permitting my manhood to show– having been proud of what’s between these legs, causing it to bounce from side to side. Even while soft, I’m huge.

Johnny was gone. Davitch returned to the dance floor again, only this time empty handed, to explain that he lost Johnny and was concerned.

“We better get back now. The sun will be up soon and our company commander monitors the log at the front gate to determine which soldiers stay out late drinking. We better hurry.”

“Wait a minute. What’s going on!” Davitch shouted. “Oh my God. It’s an alert.”

“What’s that?” Druken Lisa asked, sleeping comfortably upon my shoulder.

“”Dear God– we’re drunk as skunks,” Davitch said. Look at that. All the trucks are lined up. They’re ready to roll out.”

“I’m not signing in.” I said. “I’m not a drunk. We can’t be drunk in uniform or let them find out,” I said, exiting the taxi in front of Barton Barracks. Fuck it, I’m going over the fence.

“Are you nuts?”

“Watch this.”

I scaled the Constantine barbed wire atop the stone barricade of Barton like a spider patrolling a web and jumped into a snow bank below. Half- naked, dressed in Lisa’s trench coat, I made a dash for the barracks before anyone could see me. I made it back to the room long before Davitch returned. I quickly shoved all my gear into an empty duffle bag, brushed my teeth, got dressed and fell into formation outside the barracks before PFC Davitch had an opportunity to remove his smoky civilian clothing.

“Charlie Company. Attention!” The First Sergeant ordered. We snapped the heels together and stood tall.

Private Payne and PFC Davitch attempted to fall in without being noticed but the commander ordered them to step aside…

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In Company of Taylors

Private First Class Davitch was reading an outdated copy if the Stars and Stripes newspaper as Lisa and I entered the barracks room after chow. I intended to alert my roommates that a female was entering our private space, but Lisa rushed inside before I could stop her.

I shouted “female on the floor,” but Davitch did not acknowledge our presence. He sat unmoved upon a bean bag chair with a set of cumbersome Sony headphones strapped haphazardly over his greasy hair. The layout of the room had been changed. Davitch’s head, the only one in view within the readjusted surroundings, remained turned away from us, so I asked Lisa to wait in the hallway until I was sure there was no nudeness or trouble about.

Davitch’s noggin bobbed from side to side as he flipped the pages of the paper in tempo; obviously not reading, but merely glancing at photographs to a rhythm subconsciously imposed upon his mind’s eye, by ungodly U2 music. The curtainless, unscreened window in front of him was open wide; the glass panels with aluminum frames had been spread inward, permitting a chilling December breeze to funnel throughout the quarters.

A tide of snowflakes gathered upon a marble ledge, but melted on impact due to steaming-hot radiators found below the sills. Small puddles of water formed and crystalized droplets trickled from a stream that cascaded in the form of a threadlike waterfall from the grey marble into a silver canteen cup that Davitch held between two socked feet.

He managed, while reading, to prevent any of the melting snow from reaching the highly buffed floor in our room. I tapped his shoulder.

“We have a guest. I want to bring a female into the room.”

Davitch appeared agitated. I realized he was angry at me for not accepting an invitation to go out drinking together, my first night in Ansbach. The private first-class ignored me with a cheap glance out the window.

I chose the company of another roommate instead. Bible study seemed more proper than drinking. Davitch wouldn’t look me in the eye or take off his headset. He stared out the window towards an empty barracks building behind the one in which we lived.

We were on the top floor and despite the fact that there was another, unlit, unoccupied, four-story stucco barracks with a brown shingled roof just outside the open window, there was nothing but snow for Davitch to glare at. On a clear day, one could see for miles into the forest valley that surrounded the expansive military installation. With darkness falling as fast as the snow outside, I couldn’t see the building next door, just empty blackness spitting a seemingly endless gush of precipitation inside. A pole light, slightly lower than the height of our floor, enabled one to capture a glimpse of the thickening blanket of snow on the already drift-ridden landscape below. I wondered if it was safe to be outside in such a storm for very long, yet Davitch seemed to bask in the bitterness of the German winter and Lisa was determined to go dancing, no matter how deep the snow was.

While having Christmas dinner with Lisa at the chow hall, Davitch moved my footlocker and wall locker to his side of the room. The upright, coffin-like box; stuffed with my uniforms, helmet, gas masks, flashlights, M 16 magazine cartridges, and all my personal belongings had been rotated so that the doors to the wardrobe chest faced his side of the room and not to the side on which Specialist Foster slept and where I previously was kept.

The room was now divided into two sections by a partition mad of four, nine-foot wall lockers, two opening to each side of the room. Davitch cut the room’s ambiance in half as well; splicing our lavish top floor barracks penthouse into two common areas, each with just a one window, and now, our panoramic view of Bavaria was taken along with what little privacy there was.

In a perturbed gesture, reacting to my entry into the room and a subtle touch, Davitch quickly slapped the pages of the newspaper shut and tossed the print upon an imitation Zebra hide that covered the wooden floor near our bunk. Davitch had already taken the liberty of placing my footgear under the bottom bunk, aligning them perfectly with a metal railing upon which his bottom bunk rested. A laundry bag was tied at the head of Davitch’s bed, mine would go at the foot of his bunk, tied to a wooden beam because there are no railings above and Army regulations specify that dirty laundry of a bed buddy is always placed opposite of where the bottom’s head rests.

“Welcome to your new home,” Davitch said. “Another new soldier arrived today, and now there are four of us in here. You’ll be sleeping on this side of the room with me, and that’s your bunk up there, for now at least.”

My former bed on the far side of the barracks room had been stripped of tightly-tucked white sheets and two wool blankets, in order to make room for the new soldier. Davitch, although having taken the time to strip my old bed of linen, had not been so courteous as to make it up again, but left my linen in a knotted nest, above his sleeping space.

The stranger on the other side of the room, taking the bed upon which I slept for two nights, carefully placed his belongings inside a chest of three drawers that I had painstakingly cleaned with Windex just two days prior. He stood up shirtless, revealing a chest of brilloish hair, and quickly switched his hold on a pair of underwear from his right hand to his left before reaching out to me.

“You must be Taylor C. I’m Taylor J. I suppose you and I are going to be attached at our heads for the next three years. You can’t get much closer, alphabetically than we are. It’s nice to meet you. We both know that in the Army, everything is alphabetized.”

“The pleasure is mine,” I said, shaking his large hands. Taylor J.’s hair had a slight touch of red and his face was covered with more freckles than Davitch’s back had sore pimples. His heavily calloused hands were stained black– obviously an indication that Taylor J.’s military occupational speciality was that of a mechanic. His grip was strong and he made the most unusual hidden gesture in my palm as he slowly slid from my grip. He scraped the grease-infested nail of his pointer finger against the soft, radio-teletype operator hands of mine and smiled. He was either making a pass at me, I realized, or perhaps this was a family name code that my family had failed to pass onto me. The needle like scratch was obviously intentional, or perhaps, I realized, Taylor J. had warts.

“There are now four Taylors in Charlie company,” Davich remarked, “And I live with two of you. They already call the other two Taylors, Taylor D and Taylor H. That was before the two of you showed up this week. This is going to be very confusing for a while. In the Army we always use last names. What will we do to distinguish your names in Charlie Company? Let’s see Taylor, D, Taylor H, Taylor C Taylor J and I think the female Taylor won’t be a problem, still– her name is Delores and there’s already a Taylor D so we call her Taylor. At least it’s equal with the men. Two black, two white. I wonder how we got two white Taylors in Division Rear Platoon.”

“I’m Italian,” Taylor J proclaimed. “Niggers are everywhere in the Army. I pity us with a name like Taylor. My drill sergeants were all Black. One of them was a Taylor. Thank God we’re all white in this room,” Taylor J noted.

“What’s your first name?” I asked, “I’ll use that.”

“Johnny,” He said.

“I’m Charlie.”

I suddenly remembered Lisa was standing outside in the hall way–

“Opps….my friend. My friend is outside. Do you all mind if I let her in?”

“We’re all decent,” Davitch noted.

At that moment, Lisa Payne knocked on the door. “Is everyone decent,” she asked, with the door cracked but her head turned.

 

I politely introduced Private Payne to my three roommates and wondered if Taylor J. would shake Lisa’s hand in the same manner in which he took mine. Lisa, although polite, seemed not to be interested in small talk or meeting more new people. She quickly said hello to them all and stood near me by my new, unmade bed.

“Where can I get a beer,” Tamburro asked, still unpacking a green duffle bag.

“Lisa and I are going to a pub, nearby. You are welcome to join us,” I offered.

Davitch quickly rushed to the east wing and interrupted me by insisting that he supervise all three of us on our first night out on the town–

“You don’t understand,” Davitch said. “You haven’t been briefed by the commander in regards to dealing with communist spies yet. They are everywhere in Germany and the three of you are new to this communications battalion– I remind you. It’s considered treason to give away even the smallest of unclassified military information to Russia or the Eastern Block. What if you get drunk and meet a good-looking foreigner who happens to be a spy? Before you know it, you’ll commit treason which could lead all three of you into incarceration for the rest of your lives.”

I looked at Lisa. She shrugged her shoulders. Like me, she had no idea that being a soldier stationed overseas was so serious.

“We were going to the Liberty Bell,” Lisa explained to Davitch.

“What’s that?” Taylor J asked.

“The beer there is nothing like American beer,” Lisa said. They put rice in it and it bubbles like champagne. And the dancing– I never saw such a sight as a German trying to dance. And German marks– don’t worry about them. You don’t have to exchange a cent before drinking at the Liberty Bell. They take dollars. I got shit-faced with just a five, and it’s impossible to enter the Liberty Bell without someone offering to buy you a drink– especially if one is a female, like me,” Lisa explained.

“There will be no Liberty Bell tonight,” Davitch insisted. “That place is notorious for trouble. Military police are in there almost every night– breaking up fights. Please, follow me around– let me show the three of you the real Germany.”

Our other roommate, Specialist Foster didn’t say a word. He rested atop his top bunk, pretending not to be listening to our conversation and introductions, nor did it seem he sensed the cold air blowing in the open window. Foster simply read his Bible and pretended not to notice that a female was in the room or that we were going out to the Liberty Bell.

“Would you care to join us?” I asked Specialist Foster. He scratched his unshaven face and replied– “No thanks. I proposed to my German girlfriend today. We’re getting married as soon as the paperwork is final. She wants to live in America when I get out. And it’s not because she wants American citizenship!”

“Of course not,” Lisa noted, as Davitch closed the window and we headed out of the room, down four flights of stairs, and into a layer of snow that was as high as Lisa’s buttocks…

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Bavarian Chocolate

“Have you been to the Liberty Bell?” Lisa asked, removing a laminated meal card from the left-rear pocket of a tight-fitting pair of camouflage pants. I reached for my wallet, kept on the right side of my ass under a buttoned flap and took out identification to account for my meal.

Soldiers who lived in apartment complexes outside the heavily fortified communications installation received supplements in government paychecks to cover the cost of food for their families. Single soldiers, like Lisa Payne and myself, were given cards as a means for the military to monitor those who could eat at the dining hall without paying a $4 surcharge placed upon those who already had been reimbursed by Uncle Sam in cost of living allowances.

Lisa’s reference to the Liberty Bell seemed out of context, having been stationed in Ansbach, Germany and not Philadelphia, PA. The Liberty Bell, Lisa explained, was a little pub off base, in the center of town.

Lisa forgot to remove her uniform cap after first stepping into the mess hall, still describing the place with a metal dance floor. According to Lisa, at 3 a.m., middle- aged German women stormed the bar, for last minute sexual hook ups with young and drunken American GI’s. “The Liberty Bell is an absolute whorehouse,” Lisa explained. “It’s no place for a female GI, but fuck it– I stayed until last call and couldn’t believe my eyes. Have you met the Irish guy in our platoon yet– McManus? He was shit faced and went home with a cow. There was no Black music at all. Not even Tina Turner. Can you imagine such a thing– but they were playing house music– pounding house music, just like in New York. I lost myself. I gotta take you there.”

“Lisa, take off your B.D.U. cap,” I reminded, standing at-ease with my hands resting within the small of my lower back.

“Fuck these Army niggas,” she whispered, covering her mouth from what slipped out. “I’m a female. We’re not required to take off our hats while inside. Even in the Army, this is a man’s world. I don’t think I’ll survive the Army for more than a year. I miss the fashion and ethnic diversity of New York. The Liberty Bell? How will I ever survive? Dance Halls are as large has warehouses in New York! All my nice clothes are still there. I miss going out to the clubs. What I wouldn’t do to get dressed in a linen dress right now, jump on the 4 train and go dancing at Paradise Garage! I need to feel like a woman again, Taylor. I hate this uniform. The Army is turning me into a man. I ain’t no dyke, but let me tell you this if you haven’t noticed yet– almost every female in 141 is lesbian.”

I blushed.

“My brother Christopher is gay. So what! I really don’t care, but they had better not take me the wrong way, just because I’m a little tough. What was I saying? Oh, yes, I was telling you about the Liberty Bell. It’s a GI bar in downtown Ansbach– what a trip it is to go there. I had so much fun last night. Who knew German men were such vampires? Oh, I meant to loan you that novel, remind me after chow.”

“Thank you,” I said. For a moment she remained in silence as we waited in the cafeteria line.

Snow covered the toes of my new black jump boots. I looked away from her brown eyes and stared at the highly- buffed floor upon which snow from many boots had fallen and melted into dangerously, slipper puddles. I wished Lisa would stop with innuendos relating to sexuality and I cautiously looked away from her as I stood in line, almost pretending that I wasn’t there to eat with her. The chow hall was packed on Christmas day. Not as many soldiers went skiing in Austria like I had imagined. My new boots were difficult to polish the first time. The thick leather was thirsty for black Kiwi polish. I regretted wearing my uniform to dinner and not civilian clothing. Almost everyone was dressed in civies. I didn’t know that at permanent duty stations, soldiers were free to dress casually when eating at the mess hall. I spent hours polishing my new jump boots ($126) to meet Army boot polish standards. I used spin shining techniques taught to me by a black specialist at Ft. Gordon while there for thirteen weeks learning to become a 31 Charlie.

Having already learned to type in high school, I was weeks ahead of my platoon members and I was free to hang out in the tin barracks buildings of Ft. Gordon, GA, while others studied the keyboard. It was during these quiet times that I became an expert boot polisher, I’d listen to my radio, taking in the new tunes of the time, while everyone, but a few other fast typists, were learning to move their fingers fast enough to meet military standards for Single Channel Radio Teletype Operators.

I had nothing to do but shine boots and read a Gideon Bible at Ft. Gordon. It was no coincidence that I accepted Jesus there. One was considered an ‘ate-up’ soldier if his or her boots did not shine– even in the snow. Between pages of Psalms and dips of blackness, my innocent childhood mind was transformed by the power of scripture and a high I got off the Kiwi.

The first three weeks at Barton Barracks, before meeting Lisa, reminded me of the terrible loneliness I encountered at Ft. Gordon. To pass the time, I bought a new pair of boots and steadily shined them. I didn’t like to go out drinking like most. In order to pass my time, being new and not having any new friends in the Army, I spent down time mastering the unofficial military custom of spit shining. I used a brown cotton Army issued t-shirt, dipped first in black polish, then a shiny tin lid filled with water, and with evenly tempered circular motions pressed by my saluting fingers, a glossy, mirrored surface appeared. The many layers of polish created a Cinderella-like aura over my soles.

Unlike common issue, plain Army boots handed to recruits at basic training, walking in a pair of jump boots felt butch and soldiers stationed with 141 Signal were authorized to wear them. The boots with a globe-like toe proved to be treacherous in the snow. I fell outside the mess hall, with at least fifty fellow soldiers standing nearby. I took Lisa with me and we tumbled into a snow- covered row of pine trees that separated the dining facility from the posts’ chapel.

Being at a permanent duty station came with many new perks, including authorization to wear Army jump boots. I stood my ground, inside the chow hall as I brushed myself off.

Drill sergeants at Ft. Jackson wore jump boots. Surely I appeared normal even after the terrible fall when I screamed like a little girl. I couldn’t wait to break the jump boots in, so I wore them in the snow on Christmas day, ruining hours of buffing, just to make a good impression on Lisa and others in my new unit.

“The entire platoon was at the Liberty Bell last night. Where were you? In your room? This is Europe! You should have been there to witness the anger after of the platoon after I left the Liberty Bell, not holding the hand of one of thosee niggas, but that of a white man, a German! What was I thinking?” She asked.

“I attended a Bible study and stayed off-post,” I said shamelessly, almost wanting to shock her, knowing never to deny or turn my back to the Lord. “My roommate, a Specialist Carter, invited me to his Bible study, and after having a few home-cooked meals in the home of an elderly missionary couple, I decided to spend Christmas Eve there. I’m not having sex until I get married,” I explained to Lisa and went on to say “That’s where I was Friday night. I’m born again. I don’t drink!” I hoped my Christianity didn’t offend her. I wanted to be her friend but wasn’t going to back down.

“Don’t get me wrong, Taylor. Don’t let the color of my skin lead you astray when reading into my soul. I’m Catholic and know where you’re coming from.” She made the sign of the cross and kissed the knuckles of her thumbs that she gracefully folded into standard Catholic knotting before her lips, as if to imply that her dirty mouth that had spoken just moments before, had miraculously been cured of the demonic dialect that seemed to plague her very soul.

“I’m not judging you,” I said. “I’m born again and still got a plank in my eye and that hurt, falling down outside. I’m really sorry.”

“That was embarrassing but funny as hell, Taylor. I like you.”

A blue eyed private first class sitting behind a small wooden desk interrupted our conversation and Lisa’s imitation prayer. We had been talking, non-stop, for well over an hour and seemed to be forming the sacred bond that best friends and soul mates establish just moments after meeting. It seemed now, the entire company, eating Christmas dinner at the mess hall, were watching us closely– Opie Taylor and a skinny, baby Oprah Winfrey– and both new to 141. They watched us carefully as we entered the dining hall. The new faces who seemed already to know each other– making so much noise as newbies. My notation of being Born Again seemed to anger Lisa, somewhat as we progressed in the line towards servers dressed in white, holding large metal spoons and tongs.

The short Black girl was what I needed to overcome my Christmas blues. She took my mind off longing for home. I permitted my manly arms rest peacefully at my side, realizing that inside the mess hall, the formalities of miliary life were gone on Christmas Day. Lisa charm and charisma was releasing me of my greatest fear in regards to the military– what if there are no artistic people, like us, who serve? Lisa melted that assumption the moment she started talking and introducing her peculiar, bi-sexual lifestyle to me.

Her smile filled me and made me glow, unlike the companionship I had found in new friends at Bible study. My stomach growled. I was starving. Lisa read off the numbers on her meal card and I followed and signed the roster. We picked up large plastic trays and our silverware, being careful to inspect each utensil for hard food items not washed away in mess hall dishwashers.

She was what I needed at the time in life when I had determined it was best to leave the church behind. She expressed herself like a poet and somehow soothed my fear of God. Perhaps my shy, quiet demeanor intrigued her as much as her boldness appealed to my bashful desire to escape and grow wild and sinful. I rarely spoke words to interrupt her on our informal date, really not having anything to say anyway. My life was boring growing up in the country. She was from New York and had seen everything.

While waiting for Lisa to finish dressing for chow, as I stood inside her barracks room door that had not been closed due to company regulations governing visiting protocols, I saw her tits. If any of the many soldiers who lived in the barracks were to have walked by the room, they would have seen her undress, shamelessly too. It seemed as if I were a little brother in a big sister’s bedroom. She went topless and I witnessed silver dollar size chocolate nipples that made me turn bright-red, I’m sure, but she seemed not the least bit frightened by my momentary glance.

She offered a wink to indicate that my repressed flamboyant tendencies were not an offense to her and that we, in a sense, although not yet a couple or in love, were ‘family’.

Lisa’s roommate was blonde with a double-chin whose last name was Blaugahjeaneau, according to a name tag on a pair of BDU’s hanging on an open door of a wall locker in Lisa’s room. Lisa walked me to Blaugahjeaneau’s side of the room for introduction. The poor girl seemed terrified of Lisa’s Bronx attitude. Lisa and I quickly left her to her privacy and vanished to the other side of the room, out of view from the sinking chins where Lisa made circles around her ears with her saluting finger just before popping a Blow Monkeys cassette tape into a small stereo system. Lisa pranced around for at least five minutes without as much a bra to cover the shame, despite the fact that the door to the barracks room was still open. She waved her limp wrist to the crooning of the singer and winked at me.

I was shocked that I was so noticeable, even in uniform and jump boots.

We left Blaugahjeaneau to finish listening to the remainder of the Blow Monkeys album and headed out into the cold December air on our first official date together.

“Did you ever see so much snow?” She asked, diving into a pile of powder to make an angel. I loved her from that moment.

Lisa selected a table far away from the other soldiers eating near the salad bar and a soft-serve ice cream machine. I nodded to Lisa, indicating that I too preferred to sit where it was quite. I waited patiently, still standing in a slow food line where I had requested mashed potatoes, fish, and corn.

“You never answered my question. Have you ever been to the Liberty Bell? It’s a pub in downtown Ansbach with a tiny dance floor. I haven’t danced since last summer. Like you, I’ve been in basic training. I never thought I’d miss music so much. What a release it was to go dancing. It reminded me of the Paradise Garage. Have you ever been to New York?”

“No. Never been out dancing either.”

“Do you like dancing, Charles?”

“Yes, but remember I don’t drink.”

“Don’t tell me you eat Army mashed potatoes,” Lisa noted. “They put salt-peter in them you know.”

“I think that rumor is true as far as the food in basic training is concerned,” I noted. “But I haven’t noticed any numbness down there, since leaving Fort Jackson.”

Lisa was shocked.

“I’m taking your white ass dancing tonight. Stop looking so sad, my little friend. You’re going to love the Liberty Bell– these German men– what a fucking trip!”

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All submissions must be made in the craigslist literary forum

Word Limit:  2400 characters (not words, characters).

Theme:  Three Kings of Orient

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I would rather have been alone on Christmas Eve than spend another night at the home of the Baptist missionaries. If ever I was forced to read aloud from the book of Luke again, I would spit, I thought. The Bible study drained me emotionally and being near the elderly couple during my time of loneliness only made my soul sink deeper into hopelessness.

I smoked three cigarettes while walking in the snow, attempting to relive my mind of the sadness that overcame me during the first few weeks in Europe. Going to church wasn’t going to save me from the grips of depression and the Davenports, the elderly missionary couple, were as sad as I was on the inside. Like me, under the disguise of the cloth, they were searching for salvation and a place to fit into society and they read and studied the Bible as a means of tuning out the reality of life as it passed by tediously for the holy.

If only I were not gay, I thought, then life would be much different and I wouldn’t have to be forgiven in the first place. One way or another, the military was going to convert me so that one day, I’d get married and have kids. That was all I ever wanted anyway– just normalcy in life. Somehow, the repressed attraction to men was going to fade and the demons of improper lust were going to be exorcized.

I should have gone to college and not joined the Army, I realized while crossing a footbridge that enabled me to make a shortcut around the heavy traffic of the town square. I saw an American McDonald’s in the distance. It’s golden arches called to me like the cross. French fries sounded good, but this was Germany and I didn’t have Marks.

If I had gone to journalism school at Penn State, I’d be home on Christmas Eve, sitting near the tree, eating mom’s whoopie pies and potato candy with a cup of hot chocolate. I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a writer anyway, despite the awards and contests I won while in high school. I had yet to read a book from cover to cover and was smart enough to know that college would have been too difficult with so much to digest, mentally.

There was so much reading to do before I ever went to college, and besides, I hated what little I had read by Shakespeare. But why the Army? How could I have been so dumb to permit a recruiter to convince me to write my name on a contract at the age of sixteen?

In the Army, I would have time to read more, I thought as a chilling wind crawled through the space between the top button of my blue winter coat and my red throat. When I got back to the barracks, I was going to read something– anything– other than the Bible, the only book I ever studied in detail. The river below was frozen solid and German children skated on the smooth surface, yelling in a strange tongue that to me sounded like noises one makes when hawking greenies.

The barracks were quiet because most soldiers assigned to 141 Signal Battalion were away from post celebrating Christmas at ski resorts in Austria and Switzerland. I signed the roster at the CQ (Charge of Quarters) desk located just inside the front door of the building. Female soldiers lived on the first floor of five-floor Barton Barracks. Lisa Payne, a black girl whom I had met during orientation classes passed by the desk, dressed in a housecoat. She was on her way to the shower room located just to the left of the CQ officer.

“I remember you from class. Taylor, right? What do you think about our teacher? Ain’t she a trip?” Lisa asked.

“Do you mean Frau Hersher? Oh yes! She’s a blast. She is a good teacher too. I’ve already picked up a few German words and have been out exploring the town on my own. When do classes start again? Next Friday? Is that what she said? Did anyone tell you what we are supposed to do until next Friday? Are there any formations to make or are we off?” I asked.

The CQ officer interrupted– “Take it to the day room. You can’t stand here and talk, especially you, Private Payne. Put some clothes on and get away from my station.”

“We’re off until next Friday. We should do something. Hey, what are your plans for Christmas?” Lisa asked, pushing open the door to the latrine where three female soldiers stood nearly naked in front of a row of mirrors and stainless steel sinks.

“Nothing. I’ll probably just read. Do you have any good books?”

“Are you an Anne Rice fan?” Lisa asked.

“No,” I replied.

“I just finished a book she wrote called‘Interview with a Vampire’. Reminds me of shit in Harlem. I’ll loan it to you. I’m in room 201. Stop by later. Do you wanna eat chow together?”

“Sure,” I replied, chuckling as the white females at the mirrors screamed at Private Payne to shut the door. They glared at me as though I were perverted, not knowing what I was imagining.

“Pick me up at six,” she shouted out of view. Her voice bouncing from tiled latrine walls echoed like that of a man and her strut in a yellow terry cloth robe reminded me of my own nakedness.

“You forgot to note the time,” The CQ officer informed. I quickly wrote 16:30 and headed upstairs to shower, cautious of my strut, not wanting to swish.

To be continued…

 

Verse I

http://https://charlestaylor.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/a-christmas-in-bavaria/

Verse II

https://charlestaylor.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/a-christmas-in-bavaria-chapter-ii/

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