Private First Class Davitch was reading an outdated copy if the Stars and Stripes newspaper as Lisa and I entered the barracks room after chow.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 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…