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.
“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?”
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…