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Hamilton Stone Review #30
Reamy Jansen, Nonfiction Editor
Reamy has been nonfiction editor since 2010. He writes poetry (Two Ways of Not Hearing, Finishing Line Press2012) and nonfiction, including a memoir, Available Light, Recollections and Reflections of a Son, Hamilton Stone Editions, 2010. His book is also available as an e-book.
Please Connect Me
1. Communication Breakdown.
Originally designated "The Great Asylum for the Insane," Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara was the first modern psychiatric hospital in California. In sixth grade, my girlfriend, Jenny, and I were obsessed with the asylum, which was ten miles from our houses, almost in our backyards. The notion of this mysterious place where crazy people lived fueled our morbid curiosity.
At school, as we nibbled our bologna and cheese sandwiches at lunchtime, Jenny and I speculated about what Agnews looked like inside. We wondered what the patients wore, and what was wrong with those people that they were confined within the asylum walls. But we wanted to do more than just imagine and speculate about the Agnews inmates: we wanted to make direct contact with them. One day, I got the idea of looking up the number in the yellow pages. It was surprisingly easy to get through.
"Agnews, how may I direct your call?" said a normal-sounding voice on the other end of the receiver. Foolishly, I hadn't anticipated this simple question. My eleven-year-old brain possessed only one point of reference for insane asylums, the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in which all the unstable occupants were male.
"Men's wing," I stammered. The operator put me on hold. The Motels' sad lament "Only the Lonely" crooned in my ear. I was one click away from talking to an insane person. I was full of nervous anticipation, the type you feel before watching a horror movie. You buy the ticket knowing you're going to be startled or shocked, but not how.
"Hi," said a guy's voice. He didn't sound particularly disturbed or scary.
"Hi," I said. Someone shouted something unintelligible in the background.
"Who would you like to speak to?"
"I'm not sure." I made silent, excited gestures to Jenny. Oddly, the guy didn't ask why I didn't have a clue about who I'd called to talk to; instead he started listing who was available.
"Well, there's Bobby, Mario, Tucker, Walter, Jose."
I interrupted. "What's your name?"
"I called to talk to you, Harold."
"Really?" I didn't hear suspicion in his voice but detected the beam of a smile.
"What were you doing before I called?" I asked.
"Watching 'Love Boat.'"
I hadn't anticipated that inside the asylum they watched the antics of Captain Steubing and his crew, just like everyone else. I had imagined that something sub-human lived behind the walls of Agnews. I'd braced myself for a dark monster to greet me, not the wrecked sweetness I found there. Jenny quickly grew bored of the men but I continued to call on my own on and off for several months, talking to whoever answered the phone.
2. Bad Connection
At thirteen, Jenny and I invented a new game we called Dial-a-Dude. I dialed the numbers at random. Jenny dreamed of the names—Scott, Mitch, Jason… Jenny and I were competitive swimmers and we played Dial-a-Dude on the payphone outside the girls' locker room at the Santa Clara International Swim Center—five minutes of fun before another grueling practice.
"Ask for Rick," Jenny said one afternoon, as we stood huddled together in our swimsuits with the receiver pressed to our ears, listening to the muffled rings.
"Hello?" said a man's voice.
"Can I speak to Rick?"
Excitement surged through me each time I asked for a new guy. Unlike Jenny, who'd already had a boyfriend, I'd never even kissed a boy. Prone to shyness, I couldn't fathom flirting with a boy in person but on the phone anonymity emboldened me.
"This is Rick, who's this?"
The voice—bottom of the sea deep—exuded a confident swagger that roiled with sexiness. I put my hand over the receiver, mouthing to Jenny, His name is Rick! A random number had matched a random name. This felt like winning a lottery.
"Who is this?" Rick repeated. He sounded intrigued.
"Heather," I said. Jenny and I always used fake names. We didn't offer them to be cautious; that never occurred to us. It was simply more fun to pretend we were someone else.
"You don't sound like a Heather," Rick said.
"Who do I sound like then?" I tried to sound seductive.
"You sound cute," Rick said. This compliment raced down my ear canal, bypassed all reasoning and landed in my budding romantic heart. I caught sight of myself in the silver plate covering the payphone. A blurred pinkness bloomed in the smudged reflection. I was blushing. A knot of our teammates emerged from the locker room and hustled past us toward the pool. If Jenny and I dove in late, it would mean extra laps after practice and push-ups on the deck until our arms shook.
"I've got to go." I said.
"Wait," Rick said. "Can I call you sometime?"
"Yes." The answer leaped from me involuntarily, as if Rick had tapped some invisible switch. Along with my home number, which I'd never given out before while playing Dial-a-Dude, I gave him my real name. Rick called that night as I was doing my homework in the kitchen. His dark rum voice poured into my ear. I asked him to hold on a second while I dashed to my room and I yelled for my mom to hang up the phone. The click of the receiver in its cradle sounded like a lock turning on a door. Rick and I were officially "alone" in my bedroom, its walls painted the same color as my flushed cheeks.
"How old are you?" Rick's tone was casual.
"Sixteen." I lied. "How old are you?
"Twenty-one." It didn't occur to me that he might be lying too. "What do you look like?" I asked eager to find out whether the reality matched my imagination.
"I've got broad shoulders, muscular arms, black hair and light green eyes."
I had no trouble picturing those eyes, a sparkly jade, and that hair, thick, feathered, and dark. Imagining his steel-solid arms around me made an odd yet pleasant sensation spread inside me.
"What do you look like?" Rick asked. I hesitated. Madonna's Like a Virgin cassette was lying open on my dresser. I stared at the cover image, that alluring combination of erotica and innocence, those layers of tulle, the barely-contained cleavage and heavy eyeliner. The prospect of making myself into whatever my imagination could dream up felt exciting.
"I've got big blue eyes—" I said, beginning with the one feature Madonna and I actually shared. From there I embellished recklessly endowing my whippet-thin frame with curves, transforming my stick-straight hair to a mane of tawny waves and even giving myself breasts that would overflow my size B cup. We continued our playful interrogation until my mom hollered down the hall that dinner was ready.
"I've got to go eat," I said, reluctant to end the fun.
"One more question?" "Sure," I said, twisting the phone cord around my finger.
"What are you doing Saturday night?"
"Spending the night at my friend, Jenny's house."
"We should meet up," Rick said. I couldn't believe my luck. A man was asking me for what sounded like a date. It would be easy to sneak out of Jenny's house, too. But now another thought crept into my head. I'd just presented myself to Rick as Madonna's mirror image. It would take red lipstick, a curling iron, a padded push-up bra and a pair of thermal underwear underneath my 501 jeans to soften up my bony body. Even then, I wasn't sure I'd match up to the sex kitten image I'd just rendered.
"It sounds like fun but—"
"I'll bring a friend," Rick offered.
"I don't know." I pulled the phone cord tighter and tighter, watching the tip of my finger turn from red to purple
"Come on, I don't bite," Rick said.
When I hung up, Rick had decided he and a friend would come to Jenny's house at midnight, signaling for us to come outside with two short blasts of their car horn. I lay in bed that night, unable to sleep, preoccupied with what else I would be willing to give this sexy-sounding stranger when we met. Would I let him touch me, wrap an arm around my waist, stroke my hair? Kiss me?
By dinner on Saturday night, like usual Jenny's parents were already stoned. They piled the dishes into the sink, and shuffled off to their bedroom for the night.
A few minutes later, Jenny and I were in her bedroom getting ready. We curled our hair, applied make-up, put on our tank tops then inched our way into 501 jeans. Earlier that day, we'd washed and dried them on the hottest setting, so that they'd be skin tight for tonight. After we were gift-wrapped in denim, Jenny tossed me a tiny bottle of vanilla essential oil. I dabbed the sweet amber liquid on my pulse points, envisioning Rick swooning at the delicious, sugary scent of me.
On time, we heard the car horn sound. My heart started to thrum with anticipation. Jenny turned off the porch light, and we tiptoed down the walkway. There were no streetlights near the house, everything before us was cloaked and obscured by night. At the end of Jenny's driveway, I could just make out the outline of a car, dark under the black shadow of an oak tree. Two phantom-like shapes sat in front.
As we approached, a window rolled down. "Don't you two look pretty." The men's features were still blurred by the night, but that voice was unmistakably Rick's.
"Come say hello," he said. Jenny and I walked toward the driver's side window. Rick extended a sinewy hand, Jenny shook it first. Rick introduced her to his friend, Trent, a lanky shadow, sitting next to him.
"You look cold," Trent said to Jenny, "Jump in the back, get warm."
He sounded a little too eager. Jenny walked towards the back door and I moved closer to the car to shake Rick's hand. Rick slipped his hand in mine. Instead of the odd, but pleasant, sensation I'd experienced the other night on the phone, I felt a cold current of fear.
Then Jenny opened the back door, flooding the car with light. In that second of brightness I saw Rick's receding hairline and handlebar mustache, crow's feet carved around sharp, shifty eyes, and a middle-aged man's spare tire rolling over his pants. The light went out, enveloping Jenny into the car, into darkness.
Rick kept hold of my hand, stroking it through the window.
"I'm going back inside," I said. I didn't explain or try to get Jenny out of the backseat, I just turned and left. Once inside, I kept the front door unlocked. I took a seat on the enormous sectional couch in the living room. I sat there, taking shallow breaths, worrying about what may be happening to my friend yet utterly frozen by fear.
Ten agonizing minutes later Jenny strode in, unharmed but annoyed. "Such losers," Jenny said.
As Jenny dragged out two sleeping bags from the garage, the tortured moans began. That's what I thought they were, anyway. The sounds were coming from somewhere outside. "What is that?" I asked. Those moans were like nothing I'd ever heard before.
"Cats," Jenny said, tossing me a bag, "in heat."
The animals cried for hours, filling the darkness with their chorus of agony, calling into the night for some random male to pay attention to them, to answer.
3. The Call
In high school I listened to KATD, nicknamed "The Kat."
At night, deejays took calls from love struck teenagers, reading their declarations of love between the songs. I'd sit there in my teenage bedroom painted the same lurid pink as those Valentine candies imprinted with "LUV ME" at their center listening intently, waiting for those few seconds of verbalized affection.
Even though they weren't directed at me, when they finally drifted through my speakers they felt foreign, yet thrilling because I didn't come from a family that spoke about love. Instead, we used proxies: thoughtful gestures, gifts, candies. I did not lack for what linguist Ferdinand de Saussure termed the "theory of the sign" or signifiers of love. Those were plentiful, easily found in the stack of clean laundry my mother had put away in my dresser; the books lining my bookshelf my father had purchased for me; the sweet taste of a homemade piece of fudge dissolving in my mouth.
But I didn't just want the symbol, I wanted the signified, the words: To the one I love, Don't forget a day. And so it shall be forever and always. At sixteen a punk rocker will write me a love poem.
At eighteen a boy will profess his feeling for me through a sentimental pop song. At twenty-three I will date a man who will inscribe in a book he gives me: You were worth the wait.
At twenty-four I will marry a man who will tell me he loves me almost every day.
But in my teenage room painted luv me-pink I'm a lonely girl who can't see past the next hour, so I pick up the phone on my bedside and pretend to punch in the number, wishing it was this easy: "Nine-one-one, what's your emergency?"
"I'm only fourteen but I'm afraid I am going to die loveless and alone."
"What's your address?"
"3586 Woodford Drive."
"I'm sending help now."
It was one of those routine inspections you get in the Marines, usually with a grizzled field grade officer like a major or a light colonel looking over the green troops, but this time with the less-disciplined Navy Seabees standing at attention in the closed formation of men. A battalion, five hundred men, average age: nineteen.
True, there was plenty of spit and polish, and most of the uniformed men had at least taken the time to spit shine their newly government issued combat boots and polish brass belt buckles as they stood at rigid attention with blank young faces on the steamy black asphalt at the Guantanamo Bay parade ground, a football field size square dug out of the corral beds of Windmill Beach, on the southwestern tip of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
It was part of the unwelcome American presence in communist Cuba, a ninety-nine year long lease that that had been forced out of the newly independent island after the Spanish American War victory, and the bombing of the warship Maine in Havana Harbor. Part of the American watchdog presence, along with the role of being protector of The Philippines, when the bedraggled Spanish left in 1898, it made less sense somehow, but it was ninety miles from Miami, and well, there was, “The Bay of Pigs,’ fiasco, to consider. The Kennedy mistake.
That was what Sullivan, one of the older guys in the Seabee battalion told me over drinks, you got a dozen frozen margaritas for only five bucks, at the enlisted men’s club, an ugly bunker of a building that was disguised as restaurant when it wasn’t used to house large machine guns pointed seaward.
The idea was that Fidel might surprise the American troops with an amphibious invasion led by his miniscule Navy, so the bulky machine guns were stored in the basement, just in case. Ammunition hidden next to them in sealed metal cases in neatly folded belts.
“Look at these animals,” Sullivan said, finishing a frozen margarita, “last night old fat animal Johnson got beat up!”
“Some grunt came in, looked at him, laughing and broke his jaw, blood everywhere,” he went on. They should be shootin’ Cubans, keep ‘em busy.
“Somebody’s gonna bring in a gun one night, and then, bang, bang!.”
“IQs like a goddamn plant,” he lamented, staring at his hands, and then scanning the anonymous drunken faces in the bar.
“Wish they’d come over the fence! Then I could get out, shoot myself in the foot!”
“When do you get out?” I asked.
“Three years, can’t wait that long, I’m already over the edge,” he added, and reached for another frozen margarita which he drank in a steady swallow.
“Working on being a drunk?”
You could go up to the bar, they had an ice cream, or frozen yogurt machine filled up with shaved ice churning round and round, and every so often the bartender would reach over and pour a bottle of tequila into the greenish lava, keeping the colorless liquor floating above the surface, and then he’d fill a tray of margaritas for you, so you wouldn’t have to make a lot of unnecessary trips back.
Most sailors drank margaritas, or a few beers if they got some rice and beans, or a burger, and the bar stayed open every night until 11pm, last call.
There was a pool table to one side, and a few of the fights started there, since there was always some money bet on a game, and losers.
I didn’t see Sullivan for the rest of the week, and then spotted him in a corner with a tray of margaritas on Friday night, sitting alone in a sort of small alcove with warm cases of beer and sodas piled high around him, half hidden from the raucous loud music, drunks and fist fights. Earlier that evening a black marine had his arm shattered with a chair with the broken bone sticking out of his hanging limp arm. It was a nightly occurrence, the violent disagreements brought on partly by the boredom of the place. The fracas with another black marine was over one of soul singer James Brown’s songs.
On Saturday afternoons a bar was set up at the beach a mile from the camp where beer was sold for a dime a can, you might as well give it way, free, and most sailors usually drank a case by sundown. Sometimes you’d see a handful of Marines, coming down from their small detachment on one of the hillsides.
The weekend came, and I went swimming along the reef at Windmill Beach around noon, and noticed a small crowd milling around the metal roofed pavilion that had been thrown up for shelter from the sun as I stepped out of the water.
Two men were trading insults, nothing new, a marine and a burly Seabee, just the usual personal, inane drunken banter, pointing out to each other the comic differences in each one’s services. It was typical of men with too much time on their hands.
With his fists clenched, the young marine said, “Put down the beer, asshole!” in his final taunt, motioning with his arms to start a fight with the sailor, his two friends encouraging him.
In an instant, the barrel chested sailor whom I knew from around camp, turned and laid his half drunk beer can on a brick barbecue fire pit under construction, where with the same hand he picked up a loose brick and in a single turning motion opened up the marine’s head with a crushing blow. These men weren’t playing at hurting one another, they were deadly serious, that blow could’ve easily killed the marine, but that didn’t seem to matter.
The other two marines immediately jumped him, and were pounced on by three more sailors, and the brawl continued for another few bone crunching minutes, until the military police arrived, with a reluctant medic in tow, and broke up the fight, with a few swings of their night sticks.
No one was arrested, what was the point? it was going to happen again, and the two marines carefully wedged their half unconscious moaning comrade into the back of the open jeep, and they drove away.
You built these concrete bunkers during the day to buttress an attack from massed Cuban troops on the other side of the fence which formed the base perimeter, though they were usually hidden in their own bunkers, and then spent the night patrolling the barbwire, or the deserted beach, or joined in the drunkenness and fights. It was too hot to stay in the wooden barracks, roasting all day in the unrelenting tropical heat.
After riding a dirt moving shovel all day, I got a cold beer from the Cuban bartender who had came across the wire every afternoon to work at the club, and went back after cleaning up at midnight. For some reason, the military brass didn’t think any of these Cuban workers capable of spying on troop movements, or drawing a quick of sketch of the base fortifications itself.
Sullivan was older than most of the other sailors by a decade, perhaps even older, it was hard to tell, but he was generally well liked because his attitude was so ‘anti-military,” and that played well with the youngsters, mostly first-termers anyway, ready to return to the small towns, the farms, and the crowded city streets after their hitch.
The first troops were gradually leaving Cuba to go to Southeast Asia, combinations of armed Marines and Seabees to build bunkers in the countryside of the fledgling Republic of South Vietnam, for the rest it was still a waiting game.
“I want to tell you a story,” Sullivan told me one night, finishing a margarita and reaching for one of the three already sitting in front of him on the narrow formica table. They served margaritas in thin paper cups wet to the touch, sweating moisture from the unrelenting Caribbean sun, so a pool of water sat on every table, and the place smelled like stale tequila.
“This goddamn yacht club,” he murmured, looking at me through bloodshot eyes.
He told me he had lived in Spain where he had been stationed at the submarine base off Gibraltar in the Bay of Cadiz, and had learned Spanish. He had met his wife Elena there, and then settled down for good when he got discharged. This was almost a year ago.
For his livelihood he had developed a business selling souvenirs to the base post exchange, and being an American who understood Spain, he was popular with the NCOs who ran the place, and his business prospered.
But he wanted more, so he found himself involved in the import-export trade with two Spanish partners in Sanlucar de Barrameda on the Atlantic side where he lived, selling fresh seafood across the border in France first, then in Germany where demand was high for any welcome change in the otherwise boring German sausage diet, and money was plentiful.
He found that the French didn’t export their shellfish into Spain, and there was a market for fresh oysters which were scarce on the Spanish coast, and also weren’t available in the larger cities like Barcelona and Madrid. The problem was that the Franco government made it almost impossible to bring in outside foodstuffs, believing instead, that Spain was the breadbasket for Europe, something you heard all the time in Franco’s political speeches.
So he got some tough truck drivers to smuggle loads of fresh oysters across the Spanish border half a dozen times a month, and then a couple times a week, and he started making big money. He found out he could bribe the Spanish Guardia Civil police at the border, and for six months his trucks supplied the huge Barcelona market, and restaurants and resorts all along the Spanish mediterranean coast to Cadiz. His payoff for a month was fifty thousand dollars.
Then a disgruntled border guard turned him into the civil authorities, probably over some petty grievance, and the oyster empire collapsed around him, with both of his Spanish partners jailed who then under police interrogation tried to dump all the blame on Sullivan as mastermind of the scheme, the real criminal, some Chicago gangster, although he was from a small Mormon town in Utah.
Word that his former partners were jailed reached him, and he knew the Spanish authorities were on their way to arrest him, so he grabbed his American passport, and took a taxi to the nearby naval base. He found an old chief boatswain’s mate he knew and convinced him to get the lieutenant who was the duty officer that night to swear him in for enlistment, cut some fast paperwork, and then later that night put him on a flight back to states for reassignment. And that’s what happened. The Guardia Civil had a warrant for his arrest, but they didn’t go to the American base looking for him for some reason, though it may have occurred to them later, when he was long gone.
Sullivan had enlisted for four years, and he desperately wanted to find some way to get out of the Navy contract, and he was prepared to do anything.
He told me all about his wife Elena, showed me her photo, and a snapshot of his two lovely children, a boy and a girl.
It seemed like he was stuck, I didn’t see any way out for him, he did his Navy service, got a discharge and then maybe he brought Elena and the children later to the States, away from the long arm of the Spanish law, that seemed like the only workable solution to me.
“We lived in the States, she didn’t like it,” he remembered. “I need to go back there, to Spain!”
“How? they’ll lock you up!” I answered.
“I don’t know,” he mumbled, and quickly downed another margarita.
Then it started to become clear, his plan.
The inspection started as they all did with the company commander saluting the inspecting officer and standing alongside him as he moved down the line of troops, weapons held at the ‘present arms’ position, bolts open showing a empty breech without rounds, and then reengaging the bolt after the officer walked past, and dropping it to their side. It generally went quickly in a single swinging motion..
Sullivan stood in the row in front of me when the inspecting officer approached him, and he pulled back the bolt of his semiautomatic weapon.
I heard, “What the hell!” come from the Marine colonel as Sullivan displayed the opening only to have it filled with dirt and pebbles.
“You Goddamn idiot!” the Marine colonel bellowed, his voice bubbling with anger, and he raised his hand to almost strike Sullivan, but somehow restrained that urge, though barely, and still shaking with anger, walked to the next man in line, glancing back out of the corner of his eye at Sullivan as walked down the line of men.
That’s how it began.
Sullivan was called out in no uncertain terms about dirty rifle by Lieutenant Leap, the headquarters company commander, but this was the beginning of his one man rebellion, and nobody knew why he’d done it. He was restricted to his quarters for a week as punishment.
I saw him the next week, tucked in the same small alcove with his cases of beer companions, six or eight margaritas in front of him.
‘I’m going to get a psycho discharge, that’s the only way out,” he whispered.
“They’re wise to that, seen it before,” I warned.
“No, not what I’m gonna do!” he said. “Watch me!”
He up got from the table, and walked over to the long wooden bar, and called over the Cuban bartender, a new one that evening, and motioned for him to lean across the bar and listen. When the young bartender got closer Sullivan grabbed his face with both hands and gave him a passionate wet kiss on the lips, holding on tightly as the bartender fought to get loose, knocking over glasses on the bar in an attempt to free himself from the stronger man’s grip. Finally Sullivan let go, and the bartender grabbed a small board from behind the bar, and yelled in Spanish for Sullivan to get away, or he’d kill him.
As everyone in the bar looked at him, Sullivan blew the seething bartender a kiss in the air, and then rejoined me at the table to finish his margaritas.
“That’s what I mean, they ain’t seen shit,” he noted, and finished a drink in a single gulp.
As the nighttime Navy watch marched with flashlight through the rickety barracks on his regular rounds, Sullivan would be standing in the middle of the barracks floor masturbating, or he would bang his head against a wall, moaning, all this written in the Master at Arms’ log for that night, suggesting some kind of insanity in this man.
He visited the very jumpy battalion doctor Chacon who was just out of medical school, and who would rather listen to classical music in his quarters than treat patients.
Sullivan grabbed him during an examination for flu, or some other virus, held him tightly in an embrace until forcibly separated by the medics in the clinic, and then he loudly professed his undying love for Chacon, suggesting they marry clandestinely as soon as possible, or he would die of a broken heart, scaring the already timid doctor half to death who thereafter became even more reclusive.
One Sunday he had gone to the morning chapel service, and during Communion had started speaking in tongues, rolling all over the floor, shouting and jerking his body violently. The Chaplain became wary of him, and often had someone turn him away at the church door, suspicious of his behavior, and the disruptions that followed.
One time, he stopped the Chaplain as he was walking around the compound. “Father,” he said, “I’m Jesus Christ!”
“How are you, Terrence?” the Chaplain inquired, trying to make the conversation pleasant.
“You don’t think I’m Jesus Christ, huh? Sullivan said to him, “OK, then look at this,” and he opened his hands to show him two circular wounds in his palms, “see, the stigmata, Father, the stigmata!”
The Chaplain wanted to take him to the clinic at that moment to have what appeared to be serious wounds treated, but Sullivan waved him away, and ran down one of the small trails that wove their way throughout the military compound of one story barracks and Quonset huts.
At dinner, he would also stand up occasionally in the mess hall and hold his bread in the air, and say, “This is my body, the body of Christ! Eat it for everlasting life!” The mess chief had him put on notice, but that only caused him to do it more often, and it got to be a joke with the other men who would also hold up a slice of white Wonder bread, and shout, “Amen, brother! Praise the Lord!” and sometimes sling the bread across the room at each other.
At some point doing this time he had been assigned night guard duty on Windmill Beach, patrolling the vacant sand for a four hour watch, and had gotten on the two-way radio, and tried to call in air strikes from the offshore aircraft carrier to thwart an invading Cuban force. He also had emptied the magazine of live rounds given him, telling the listening post that he killed yet another Cuban soldier with each rifle discharge. Then he was yelling into the radio, “It’s hand-to-hand now, I’m using my knife,” After that, he was relieved of all normal daily duties.
The next monthly inspection saw Sullivan with a clean rifle but exposing his genitals to a different Marine bird colonel, who this time pulled him out of ranks, and threw him to the ground, which supposedly went unseen by the five hundred men standing on the parade ground that morning. Someone said later that he saw the Colonel kick him when he was lying on the ground.
Soon to be locked up in the Marine brig, but now deemed a full-blown psychotic, he was restricted to the barracks before being accompanied under guard on a flight to the naval psychiatric hospital in Oakland, where he would be treated, and either retained, or discharged as an undesirable.
I had a few minutes to talk to him, and he smiled and said to me, “The next time you see me, will be in a suit, in Spain,” where we were moving next as a battalion.
“Sure,” I said, a little doubtful, though I liked the man anyway.
“You don’t think so, huh?” he answered. “I don’t blame you, I’m half crazy.”
“You’re OK,” I reassured him, giving him a tap on the arm.
“You know, maybe this whole thing did make me nuts,” he offered, and then started laughing in an totally unnatural way, not really a laugh at all, almost some kind of plea, really.
I saw some madness reflected in his sad eyes, and I wondered if he had indeed gone over the edge into mental illness, or if he’d already been insane, and it just came to the surface, but he remained an enigma to me.
Six months passed slowly there, the boredom, the heat, the drunkenness and fights, and then one weekend we were all loaded on three C-150 cargo planes and flown to the submarine base at the tip of the Spanish coast, where we’d spend the next few months, and after that Vietnam.
Spain was a breath of fresh air after Cuba. You could wear casual clothes on a weekend afternoon, eat at a quaint outdoor bodega, maybe hear a flamingo concert, or just act like a normal human being, particularly if you jumped into a taxi and drove for a half hour to one of the small cities like Jerez, the sherry capitol.
Jerez was my favorite Spanish city, it had wonderful hidden bistros on side streets where I would eat tapas and sip magnificent sherry from old wooden casks, and in the evening watch the paseo, that ritual of leisurely strolling popular with most Spanish families.
I became an aficionado of the bullfight, though I hadn’t grown up hunting any animals, particularly larger ones like deer, and always had a profound respect for wildlife, but still, the rich medieval spectacle of bullfighting and the corrida itself captured some part of me. I traveled weekends throughout southern Spain as far as Seville, and once or twice to Madrid, to see the best bullfighters of the day.
In Jerez, one Sunday afternoon the most famous matador after Manolete who had died in the ring was fighting, Antonio Ordonez, who somehow made classical ballet part of the violence. His Veronica movement was said to take your breath away with fear, the bull’s horns inches away from ripping open his midsection on each pass.
The stands were packed with as many women as men, and for a few dollars more I found myself in the shady section above two rows of boxes with patrons and girlfriends of the bullfighters, close to the wooden fence encircling the sandy ring, yet far enough above, perhaps ten rows, to give me a full view of the bullring and its bloody action.
The first two bullfights were fought well, by novice matadors, decent kills with some panache, but the bulls seemed smaller than others I’d seen in Madrid, or even Seville, less fierce.
Then the bull Ordonez was to fight charged into the ring, huge, fierce and muscled, far larger than the others I had seen slaughtered a half hour earlier.
It ran in maddening circles, crashing into the planked walls several times, and then charged the first horse coming into the ring, pinning it and the picador rider atop with barbed pole, against the fence, butting it repeatedly, and would have brought the animal down except for the movement of a second horse in the ring which diverted its attention.
Next bandilleros with red capes appeared in the ring, and with a bravado of deadly dance steps in front of the horns, managed to implant two or three ceremonial barbs with their flowing ribbons in the wounded bull’s bloody neck.
By now, the bull was enraged, and ready to battle man or fellow beast to the death, and then Ordonez walked nonchalantly into the bullring carrying his cape loosely draped over his right arm.
The crowd went wild with cheering, and he removed his hat and held it aloft to acknowledge its tribute.
Ordonez was all they said he was, my heart was in my throat at each of his Veronicas with the raging bull, and during the last pass I thought he would surely be gored, his cape was so close to the horns. At the end, he was awarded two ears and a tail, the signature of only the greatest matadors.
Leaving the bullring drained, I had planned on enjoying a quiet paella dinner and then get a taxi back. As I walked out of the narrow tunnel into orange light of the cobblestoned street I noticed a tall dark haired man in a grey sharkskin suit standing in front of me with a lovely woman, talking to another couple, everybody jolly and chattering away.
And my God, there he was! Sullivan! just as he had told me he would be. I was astonished. We shook hands, laughing, and then embraced each other with huge bear hugs, and I said, “True to your word!”
He introduced me to his wife Elena, and the other couple, and suggested we walk a block down the same street to a bodega he liked, which we did.
Then as his wife pulled the couple closer to talk to her, he turned to me.
“It wasn’t easy!” he told me. “Thought I had gone nuts, the place made me insane, everybody was a lunatic!”
He had spent six months at the Oakland psychiatric hospital, and had gone through hours and hours of psychotherapy with four or five different psychiatrists, until they all finally agreed that he was mentally unfit to complete the balance of his military service, and discharged him.
“One of the shrinks thought I was faking it, but I was one step ahead of him. They eventually certified me as wacko!
“I was the sanest person in the whole loony bin, and toward the end, they had me drive a few of the other psychos to the racetrack, a little treat for the nuts!”
“I bought them sodas, hot dogs, and made sure they didn’t try to screw the horses, or the jockeys!”
I didn’t know how to say it, so I just said it to him, anyway. “You faked this then, from the start to finish, right?”
He looked at me, and then he glanced over at Elena who was laughing with their close friends, and he picked up his half filled sherry glass.
“Of course, you did,” I said to him.
“One of those mysteries!”
“But the Spanish police?” I said.
Paid them off, he told me, and then turned to Elena and said something to her in rapid Spanish.
Elena beamed at me, and said in careful, halting English, “Sullivano says we see you next weekend!” and proud of what she had just said, kissed me on the cheek.
Listening to the Wind
In November, my sister’s husband, a lifelong diabetic, went into heart failure. Doctors successfully inserted heart stents, small mesh tubes, to open his coronary arteries. During the procedure he had a mild heart attack. In December, surgeons attempted to insert more stents to enable blood flow to another part of his heart, but the procedure failed. Open heart surgery was proposed as a future option.
It is now January. In Alaska, where my sister and her husband live, snow piles in the driveway and drifts down the back slope to the river. Their house sits in the cold shadow of short days. Despite the seven stents that keep arteries open in my brother-in-law’s legs, circulation to his lower legs is constricted, his legs cramp, and he cries out in pain in the night. He has returned to work, but his concentration lapses and he struggles with his memory. My sister and her husband worry about the loss of his job, the loss of his health insurance, the loss of the life they know. They worry about losses they cannot bring themselves to name out loud. Each of them is seeing a separate therapist for depression. The unspoken resentments and disappointments of 37 years have become a bellicose rumbling. They have stopped eating meat, poultry, fish, dairy, nuts, avocados, and all other fats in a war on cholesterol. They have lost weight. They are starved of joy. Each night they fortify themselves with martinis - Vitamin M.
I ring repeatedly from Australia where the inferno of summer slows time. My sister has stopped answering her phone. “Call me,” I say to the voicemail, curbing the concern in my voice.
The preceding August, my sister and her husband left their twenty-year-old daughter in Spain to attend university. The night they flew back to Alaska, their daughter’s roommate was drugged and raped and dumped on a sidewalk in Barcelona. My niece began vomiting black blood. My sister held this inside for weeks. She held inside the unpleasantness of her trip to Spain: the press of people, the foul smells, her husband’s failing health, her torn rotator cuff, gastro poisoning from contaminated olives, the death of a man with a mouth full of rotten teeth whom she attempted to resuscitate at a bus stop in Madrid.
When she finally wrote to me in late September, it was not about Spain but of autumn: “nearly clear blue sky with a sprinkling of cloud puffs, golden leaves of birch mixed with the dark green spruce, a dusting of snow on the peaks. Have thoughts today of driving out Turnagain Arm to catch a glimpse of the migrating snow geese.” She wrote of the outback where we had gone when she visited me in Australia the previous September ̶ the year before Spain ̶ of the dingo we saw at dusk, of her longing to return.
The day we saw the dingo had had a difficult start. My sister and I had a clash of tempers. We were all edges as I ground the gears of our 4WD and headed out of Alice Springs towards the MacDonnell Ranges, the stony rises and chasms that are the remnants of ancient mountains once as high as the Himalayas. The vexation between us evaporated as we entered a desert that had become a rowdy botanic garden after unusually heavy winter and spring rains. Meadows of yellow cassia, salt spoon daisies, and desert fuchsia spread across the floor of red earth. We couldn’t stand the distance. We clambered out of the car and walked into the desert where the blur from the windows contoured into the particular. Dormant Ruby Dock, which had looked like fading autumn leaves from the car, turned into pink pouches veined in ruby that hung in clusters from soft green stems. Spinifex sported copper tips that rattled in the breeze. Budgerigars pecked noisily at a feast table of Spinifex seeds in the camouflage of grasses. Suddenly, hundreds of budgies rose from the clearing and streaked the sky with lime, shifting direction en masse, first one way, then another, and another, as if pushed and pulled by currents, before diving back into cover. When I turned to look at my sister, she stood in a band of sunlight, her hair a shimmer of platinum, her mouth open, her arms raised as if to catch the moment with her whole body.
Many times we stopped the car and spilled into the bush to fill our senses with the desert. Our ears captured the songs of rufous whistler, mistletoe bird, and zebra finches marking their territory as they flitted from branch to branch. At Trephina Gorge, clouds of grasshoppers swarmed around us on the trail. We climbed from the cliff down to the river, rolled up our pants legs, took off our boots and socks and waded into the milky red water. The coolness swirled around our ankles and calves as we scrubbed our feet along the coarse sand and moved deeper into the gorge where blazing walls of rock closed us in on two sides.
We were like a pair of ballroom dancers practiced in our routine, taking cues from one another through the tiniest of motions – a nod, a turn of the head, a change in gaze, a press on the arm, a hand to the heart - to stop, to listen, to regard. Words were rarely necessary between us.
We came across a young woman, also wading in the river. She had a Glossy Black Cockatoo feather banded in scarlet stuck in her hair. “How beautiful!” I said as we pushed through the water past one another. She stopped, reached up to the feather, pulled it from her thick brown plait, and handed it to me without a word. Smiling, she turned and continued, her long skirt dragging through the water. As much as I wanted the feather, I offered it to my sister. Feathers, shells, rocks, and pieces of wood are often our most treasured gifts from one another.
We left Trephina Gorge driving away from the receding sun to N’dhala Gorge, where we hoped to hike to ancient rock carvings. But we had dallied. We had stopped to inspect a frill-neck lizard sitting on the road absorbing heat. By the time we reached the turnoff to N’dhala Gorge, the sun was too low in the sky for us to attempt driving over sandy river beds and into unknown bush.
At dusk, the dingo appeared from out of nowhere. He saw us at the same time we saw him. He ran parallel to our car until we stopped in the middle of the empty road. Then, he veered in front of us. He could have been a stray dog with his curled tail and ginger coat, shiny and neatly matted, but for the fire in the eyes. He fixed us in his gaze with an unnerving penetration as he moved in front of the car and continued to watch us as he crossed the road. When he reached the edge of the road he gave us a final look, then broke into a run and disappeared into the bush.
We sat in in the stillness with all the windows down, breathing in the coolness and slight moisture that infused the evening air. Surrounded by the vast outback, it felt as if we and the dingo were alone in the desert, that it belonged to the three of us, that the three of us belonged nowhere else. It was as if my sister and I too had crossed that road with our smouldering wildness and released ourselves into the bush.
We drove on in silence. A full moon was on the rise with Venus watching on. As neither of us was in a hurry to leave the bush, we pulled off the road to drink a beer and watch the clouds streak across the moon. Black descended around us like a lace curtain backlit by moon silver.
“Sometimes, a day like this is the only thing that makes sense to me,” my sister said.
A week later, we were on the south coast of New South Wales. In contrast to the desert, grey watery skies and cold air draped over our days. The sea churned. The wind blew. On a day when the weather confined us to the house, my sister disappeared into her room for hours. “Join me,” I said each time she reappeared in the living room where I was curled up on the couch reading. She paced for a few minutes, then again retreated to her bedroom. I worried about what churned inside her.
“I love the sound of the wind,” she said to me at dinner. “In my room I could lie on my bed and hear it like a song, drift with it. I kept coming back into the living room, but it wasn’t the same, and all I wanted to do was go back to my room so I could float on the wind.”
The weather cleared the next day. We hiked down the headland and onto the beach to walk to Mossy Point. My sister fell behind. I waited for her to catch up several times. At one point when she joined me she said, “Do you know there are over 400 different species of seaweed?” and leaned down to scoop up a handful of leathery jade strands dotted with green pearls of seaweed fruit. For an hour we picked through the seaweed that had washed up on shore the length of the beach. We identified nine different types. There was the jumble of grapelike balls tethered by green rope and the seaweed that looked like boughs from a pine tree. Some was rust coloured, some a dirty brown purple, other olive. One bunch looked like the charred remains of a fire. Another, like green petticoats.
I think often of those weeks with my sister. About how we let our spirit selves run with the dingo with the fire in his eyes to howl and wail into the soft curtain of night. I imagine my sister drifting on wind currents or riding the tide wrapped in seaweed, protected from the pain for which she has no words. I think of how we are with one another in nature in a way we are with no other. Of our comfortable silence. But now, with time and distance between us, I worry about her silence. I once read that the dingo mates for life. When it loses its mate, the dingo may mourn itself to death. This is what I fear for my sister, that her grief will consume her.
A short email arrives in late February. “The wind is blowing,” my sister writes, “and my tree out front is covered with cedar waxwings eating the beautiful red berries. They come thru every winter and strip the trees. I love listening to the wind and seeing the trees bend under its power.”
Die Schöne Frau:Native America Meets Obersalzberg
In 1992 five hundred years following the Conquest and colonization of the Americas, I was selected for an international scholarly exchange to Germany as a Fulbright lecturer. In the process, I chose to reverse the flag, taking my message of Native American traditions to Europe as an act of liberation. When the first Europeans arrived in the present-day Carolina sound region, they encountered Woodland Indians who lived in towns and villages sustained by three sisters – corn, beans, squash – agriculture that supplemented a gathering, fishing and hunting economy. Among their earliest encounters with Native America the English arrived in the Carolina Sound region in 1585. There they met a regional leader, Wingina, who commented upon their attire saying wingandacoa meaning “what good clothes you wear!” The visitors promptly assumed this reference to be the name of the place and applied it to their colony.
As a Native aboriginal to these lands, my story is not solely bound within the parameters of North Carolina or Virginia but affirmed in the claim of an indigenous perspective transcending the two states. These origins are born of stories from mythic times in the imagination of my ancestors while recounting the primal landscape. Apparent within our stories, it is a beautiful and bountiful land reflecting culture and civilization well before any European “discovery.”
Upon their arrival it is said, the first English adventurers appeared as ghosts emerging from a fog. One so-called “savage father” – Chief Ensenore – likened these ghostly colonists to dead men risen from the grave and having with their muskets the power to kill at a distance. While old Chief Ensenore may have been inclined to view the pale paisley skin of the invaders as something of the walking dead, his remark appears to reflect some rudimentary account of having heard snippets of the Synoptic Gospels account of resurrection. In the idea of “walking dead,” however, he was surely giving testament to the aggressive and warlike nature of the European invasion of the Americas.
Perhaps an associate of his, my grandfather of thirteen generations ago, Opechancanough, is often linked with a tidewater Native, Paquiquino, also known as Don Luis de Velasco following his captivity within the Spanish domains of the Western Hemisphere. The man, Don Luis, or these men, Opechancanough and Paquiquino, subject to the interpretation of history, launched retaliatory attacks upon the Spanish and English colonials for taking Native lands and lives. In this manner, he or they ought to be remembered as freedom fighters and patriots of an indigenous way of life or civilization when resisting the Conquest of the Americas.
Equipped with this perspective and my quest to reverse the flag, I found myself destined for Europe during the five hundred anniversary of Columbus’s desolation at being lost in the Americas. Prior to beginning my duties as a lecturer, the academic exchange afforded me an eight-week long intensive study of German, the language of my host nation. Known as the Goethe Institute, the German language school located in Priem am Chiemsee was deep within the Bavarian south of Deutcheland. Bordering Austria the region is within the province known as the Obersalzberg that was defamed during World War II with the “berghof” home of the brutal dictator Adolph Hitler.
As we settled into our daily regime of instruction and study, I learned there was another professor in our class. He and his wife, a native Austrian, were on exchange from Amherst College in Massachusetts. Eager to promote a common rapport within our Fulbright ranks, he invited me to lunch. When I approached the eatery, I was somewhat surprised to find him there without his wife but accompanied by the Deutschlehrerin (German language teacher). Her impromptu presence made me feel a little awkward but I assumed he had included her at our luncheon as a professional courtesy. Originally from Munich, she was a single woman approaching forty. Blonde and charming she was still attractive though the prospects of an ample figure in middle age were already apparent. Although I had introduced myself asserting my traditional Native American heritage, she became somewhat compulsive in her attention to me asking all manner of questions about my cultural inheritance. In the course of our conversation, she began addressing me at the expense of our host and there was something within her tone and mannerisms that suggested an interest going beyond professional courtesy behind this meeting. Our discussion managed to broach the question of the “Columbian Exchange” and she assured me that she had studied the factors associated with the “Discovery Doctrine” as it represented the savagism dogma in its projection of claiming the Americas.
In the days following this little social, there was announcement of a traditional dress gala serving as an initial get together for all the foreign scholars studying the German language and its literature at the institute. It was to be a costume adventure reflecting traditional regalia from the home countries represented in our session. Anxious to encourage our presence at the ball, my Deutschlehrerin praised the event and addressing me directly she made a point of encouraging me to attend. Assuming her best dramatic mannerisms, she resumed the lesson taking a seat on her desk. Coquettishly she sat with her legs crossed and played with her hair while smilingly announcing - schöne Frau, sehr schön (beautiful woman, very beautiful) – as a means to introduced us to the German idea of beauty.
Arriving somewhat early at the gala, I took a seat prior to my teacher’s appearance. Shortly thereafter in her best sashaying manner, the schöne Frau entered the venue wearing a charming Bavarian dress. She promptly marched up to my table while standing with one leg and foot thrust forward like a model inviting a compliment on her attire. Noting her elegance and grace, I offered my best smile and praised her dress, thinking “what good clothes you wear,” after which she relaxed a bit standing easy on both feet.
Looking directly at me, she spread her hands wide addressing my own clothing and choices for the ball.
“A tee shirt and jeans is that the best you can do?”
Countering I offered, “Sorry I left the buckskins at home.”
“I had something more in mind for you,” she continued. “We’ve had other students who wore their brightest traditional clothing for this dance.”
Tugging at my shirt and jeans I asked, “What’s not traditional? These are made of cotton and my peoples introduced these fabrics to the world.”
My remarks left her speechless and she was off to play host with the other guests. For several days I had noticed something aggressive in her approach to me. With her direct approach at my table and the candid remarks addressing my attire, I sensed a single woman on the make and it was clear she was hitting on me that evening. But while my observations of the schöne Frau gave me pleasure, I had other romantic interests brewing at the ball.
In the coming week, we were scheduled for a concert in Salzburg. Perhaps it was just my imagination but Mozart seemed to waft throughout the Stadt as we strolled through the old quarter. There were men playing chess with life-sized pieces and I thought to tell my brother – a grandmaster back home. We took the tram to a fortress on a hill above the city where I noticed Tatiana. At twenty she was a tall, powerfully built brunette with long hair and an aquiline nose graced with sharp brown eyes. Thereafter as we made our way to the concert hall, I kept my eyes on her longing for my chance to charm her.
The music took me back to childhood holidays when dad would play classics for our morning appreciation. He had grown up with country and western music beamed in from Cincinnati on the evening radio waves. It was old timey music reflecting the fiddle play that my granddaddy made to entertained merry makers at barn dances back in the day. Dad had come to Obersalzberg with the airborne after surviving the fiercest combat known in Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, and Alsace-Lorrain. As his unit reached Hitler’s schönes Land, their mission was given over to beauty, the 101st Airborne Division had been assigned the task to secure the region and here they discovered the arts hoarded by der Führer. Dad survived to hear the recordings of the great masters – Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss and others - there in their homeland so that he came home with a lasting love for the classics. It was an ironic gift that after suffering the horrors of war he should discover the beauty of classical music. He shared this gift from the schönes land with his children especially during the holidays. He had seen the worst of war including a death camp at Landsberg, so that he knew the truth behind the Third Reich’s racial fantasies but he had also discovered something wonderful, something beautiful in the classical music of Obersalzberg in this land of the Blue Danube.
Having grown up in the Blue Ridge at a mountain site called Hico Oto (Turkey Buzzard Rock) Dad was ten years old before moving to a town in the valley. As he attended school, he was set upon by some of the local boys who flung the racial epithet “Brownie” at him in a derogatory and abusive dismissal of his American Indian heritage. He had had to fight and defeat each one of them before finding a measure of acceptance in the segregate south where Indians where commonly dismissed as colored. A significant athlete in high school he overcame much of the racial trauma and became the first of his family to graduate from high school. Although he won an athletic scholarship for football and baseball at Washington and Lee University, he could not accept them because of conscription into the army.
As the story goes Dad explained: My brother, Louis, and I had just come home from hunting squirrels up on Irish Creek, when a speech by Adolph Hitler was aired. It was directed at the large German-American population then living in the United States. The speech did not mean anything to us at the time, except I do remember hearing Mr. Shanks say, “there goes World War II.” The draft commenced soon after Hitler talked on the radio. American youth were quickly graduated from the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) camps and high schools to army barracks and tents. Two years later I won my scholarship but it arrived on the same day that I received my draft notice. The local draft board called me to the Court House and gave me a chance to draw a draft number from a big five gallon bucket. The numbers were rolled up in capsules. Mine was a low number, so I had a choice, either join voluntarily or face conscription. As a volunteer, I had some control, so I chose the Army Air Corp.
Stationed first in Texas and later at Columbus, Mississippi, it was routine work. With the war coming, I found myself looking for a little more adventure when one day I came across a Life Magazine article describing the plan for an “exciting new fighting unit” known as the airborne. With glossy photographs, it spoke of paratroopers as an elite force. The allure and challenge immediately appealed to me. So I volunteered, and in April 1942 I went through parachute school in the class numbered 22 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Following jump school, we were moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for further training as combat infantry prior to our deployment overseas. Upon arrival in England we began preparations for the Normandy invasion.
As the war in Europe slugged towards its conclusion, Dad was among the first allied troops to occupy the Obersalzberg region at the end of World War II. He was been stationed first in southern Bavaria and subsequently at Bad Reichenhall, Austria where the autobahn exited the Alps from Italy. Among his first duties during the occupation, he was ordered to lead a squad up a nearby mountain to determine if any German troops remained hiding in the area. On top of the mountain there was an alpine farm with dairy cattle. It was cut off from the rest of the world but living up there was an old German farmer and his wife. They processed cheese from their dairy cattle and basically stayed out of the war.
As Dad told the story: The old farmer could talk a little English and the rest was German but we could understand each other very well. He said he lived out the war up on that mountain. He delivered cheese and milk down the mountain for other stable goods when they could get them. But mostly they did without all the luxuries other people had. He did not know how the war was going and we told him it was about over. He wanted us to stay and help him on the mountain. Of course, I told him we were in the American Army and had to go on. We were the first people he had seen in four years. It was getting dark and we were on our way back down the mountain when I almost fell two hundred fell straight down. In the dark, I had nearly stepped-off a cliff onto the top of a big “fir” tree so I turned back to wait until daylight and we stayed in the barn as overnight guests of the old gentleman and his wife.
In the evening we had supper with the old couple and in that rugged setting so like home I felt a longing for my life in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For a moment it was as if I was having dinner at my grandfather’s on the mountain with fresh dairy products from grandma’s springhouse. There was a comforting feeling in meeting these folks amid the trauma of war and I felt kinship with them transcending war and conflict in our meeting amid these beautiful mountains.
Back at the autobahn junction, I was given an order by my Captain to take over a large brick house near Bad Reichenhall. This highway connected Italy with the autobahn to Munchen. Troops were coming north through the Brenner Pass on to Innsbruck, Austria, so a battalion of German soldiers came through and stopped at this brick house where I was staying. From them I learned their commanding officer lived in this very house. Having three daughters age twenty-one, thirteen, and twelve as well as his wife, he was worried sick with all the American soldiers around. But he found order and respect among our men, the American soldiers behaved like they were back in the states where we had been taught to respect the lives of women as if they were our sisters and mothers.
In something of this manner I had observed Tatiana about the village and at the Goethe Institute. On a visit to Wasserburg, an ancient village filled with ornate medieval art, I admired the way this young woman gave attention to the tour guides. Her attentive mannerisms appealed to me and I respected her quiet dignity but at the same time I sought an opportunity to make her acquaintance. The opportunity came one afternoon during a class break. She was seated on a bench across from me while I played toss with a young Polish boy who with his mother had entered our class. Tatiana was a much more accomplished student and she had taken no notice of my young classmate or me. But with some deliberateness, I feinted a mistake in my next toss sending it directly in the sphere of the Russian beauty. Effortlessly without noticing the ball, she caught it in one hand while hinting the coordination of a gifted athlete. Apologizing for the “errant” toss, I took the opportunity to engage her in small talk. While she introduced herself, I learned she had been the figure skating champion of all Moscow at age twelve. Thinking to take the dance a bit father, I remarked, “I’ve been to Moscow,” which of course was not exactly true but I as I imagined she took the bait with a bright smile.
“Oh yeah,” she remarked.
“Yes,” I replied, “You know Moscow, Idaho.” Of course this little ruse took her aback but it did not get the better of her.
Somewhat later in our little chat she returned the double entendre with some twist on Georgia, which I feinted not to get while playing into her triumph. Tatiana loved word games and she had a true gift for languages. In fact while having command of English, she was named the most outstanding student of the entire session at the end of our term in Priem. My gambit with the toss had opened the spark of romance that I had been seeking and I invited her to dinner in the village.
After our first outing, Tania and I were becoming familiar to each other so we began making little excursions into the surrounding world of Obersalzberg. We traveled to Munich for visit to the Englischer Garten, where the annual Oktoberfest is held. Our outing included a tour of the Bavarian Treasury, which was dazzling with jewels that sparkled with brightness in our romance. On one day, however we took the train to Rosenheim past an obscure village going toward Munich. It was Dachau, the extermination camp where countless Jews and other so-called undesirables were terminated without mercy. While passing I told her about another such nearby camp at Landsberg were my Dad had helped liberate the starved and abused prisoners. The horrors were so ghastly that Dad could only speak of it in vague general terms when relating it to us children but what he told us was enough to put the image of horror in our childhood imagination. Tania responded with her own stories of Nazi aggression in Russia and she proudly drew me a portrait of the Red Army and the suffering of the Soviet peoples where twenty million Russians were killed. The thoughts were sobering but insightful as we discovered respect for our respective countries and cultures out of the ashes of the Cold War.
On the following Monday, the Deutschlehrerin, charming as usual, began a new unit in our Germanic education. Her next linguistic infatuation centered on the word “entdecken.” Referencing the word as it appeared in our text, she began responding to a question by using it in a sentence: “Sir Isaac Newton ‘entdecken’ gravity.” No one seemed to grasp the term in translation so in her bright and effable way she popped off: “Intrulegong Jay, Columbus entdecken America.” What’s this I thought she is asking my pardon so as to tell me “Columbus discovered America?” The steam was venting right smartly out my ears as I responded, “Nein! Columbus was lost; he made no discovery!” Her response was again to assert the fallacy of discovery to which I responded, “My people had lived there forty thousand years and they were not waiting around to be discovered by Columbus or anyone else.” It was a discomforting moment but a Catholic Priest of Hindu origin chimed in on my side and still the Deutschlehrerin refused to correct herself and apologize for the insult. Even the other professor in my group, a scholar no less of Frederick Douglass, failed to acknowledge my claim to insult and he thought me rude to interrupt with this degree of indignation.
Perhaps they were just ignorant of the holocaust executed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, but the schöne Frau, my Deutschlehrerin, had earlier informed me she had studied the savage conquest of the Americas during her days as a student at the University of Munich. Why then I wondered was she so hesitant to correct herself? And why would a scholar of Frederick Douglass not appreciate the annihilation of fifty million Indian lives associated with the doctrine of discovery? The one professed no lack of ignorance on the subject while the other seemed oblivious of the facts. Is it they could not see the intentionality of the Conquest as supported by the discovery doctrine? Was the deliberate use of biological warfare in the issuance of smallpox infested blankets given out to Native Americans less revolting than Hitler’s final solution? Or did the initial enslavement of American Indians somehow fail to elicit equal concern with that servitude given to Africans? Do we not imply all these horrors when we say Columbus discovered America?
It was all very troubling to me so that I demanded an audience with the Herr Direktor. Instead I was introduced to another instructor, chosen for his strong-arm appearance, who tried to suggest there was no insult. Afterwards I finally managed to schedule a meeting with the Herr Direktor. It turned out however that I was merely included within his luncheon group of standout students and it was hardly the place to broach such a sensitive indignity.
Oddly as I arrived for the luncheon, I noticed that Tania, a member of the select student group, was not present so that I felt alone without the sympathetic support she might have given me in facing the administrator. There was however a familiar face in Ian, an anthropology major from England who had earlier in the summer approached me to witness his graduate studies application. Completing the luncheon guests there was also a charming Scottish lass whom I had noticed at the beach and around the campus. Limited by the student company, however, the insult given me by the schöne Frau, my Deutschlehrerin, could not adequately be explored and the best the Direktor could muster was not an apology but an offer to enroll me again at another time so as to get my certificate. I explained to him that this was the five hundredth anniversary of the so-called discovery of America and that I just wanted an apology for the insult. As a visiting professor, I had no interest in any Deutsche language certificate, I just wanted some form of redress from the dishonor that is the European “Discovery Doctrine” as it was once again imposed on my people – albeit not in the small context of a classroom but in the larger memory of a Conquest that doomed fifty million Native Americans. Like a hulking shadow in the room, there was the parallel of genocide that haunted both the “discovery dogma” associated with the Americas and the Jewish Holocaust grounded in Germany’s Nazi cult.
While demographic estimates of the indigenous population of the Western Hemisphere vary widely, there is significant evidence to sustain the conclusion of a holocaust in the Conquest of the Americas. For instance, the Jesuit Priest Bartolomè de la Casas reported a population of eight million Natives on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic today) in 1492 when Columbus presumed to discover and claim it for Spain. Within fifteen short years that number was decreased to 27,000 Indian souls. The Natives were by and large victims of viral disease for which they had no biological immunity due to its absence in the Western Hemisphere, however significant numbers were also killed outright in warfare while others were enslaved and worked to death in newly established gold mines. The Caribbean region was so ravaged by the Spanish they turned to importing Africans from their homelands to meet their slave quotas. Hence the Conquest of the Americas lead directly to the African Diaspora. In fact Las Casas warned that future generations would not believe all that he had seen in the destruction of the Native peoples but he was a sober Jesuit who presented the facts and provides a true account of the American Indian Holocaust.
In Central and South America, great civilizations – Aztec, Mayan, Incan – flourished during a time span equal to the earliest days of Rome. In the arts, science and agriculture, these civilizations were virtually unrivaled for their contribution to world knowledge and food cultigens. Yet the Spanish melted down their golden art, killed their leaders and plundered their great cities drastically reducing their population of upwards of fifty to sixty million people. North of Mexico in the present day United States, there was a significantly well inhabited country including the Mississippian civilization that boasted a city – Cahokia (near modern Saint Louis) - of fifty thousand inhabitants before Paris and London were even mud puddles. Estimates of eighteen million Natives lived north of present-day Mexico, however by the outset of the twentieth century the indigenous population of the United States and Canada was reduced to two hundred-fifty thousand Natives.
Born of a deliberate ideology encased in the “Discovery Doctrine” it was genocide sanctioned by the Pope and used to rationalize the Conquest and occupation of the Americas. For instance, during the great debate of 1550 in Valledolid, Spain that pitted Las Casas against Juan Ginès de Sepúlveda the fascist tenor of the Discovery Doctrine was established in law. While Las Casas argued that Indians were fully human and their forceful subjugation was unjustified, his antagonist Sepúlveda invoked Aristotle’s doctrine of racial inferiority. Born in the Aristotelian ideal of natural born slavery of the so-called inferior races, Sepúlveda invoked a fascism that rationalized the Conquest of the Americas in the name of Western civilization.
In a subsequent but compelling parallel, Dr. Walter Plecker, head of the vital statistics bureau of Virginia, decreed in 1924 that the remaining American Indians of the Old Dominion were colored and undeserving of their indigenous racial status. Plecker decreed that anyone having one-sixteenth Indian blood or more be classified colored within the apartheid structure of Virginia’s segregation law. He systematically changed Indian birth certificates and planned an assault on the surviving Native peoples. Together with a core of scholars at the University of Virginia, Plecker authored a eugenics doctrine that lead to the forced sterilization of a Monacan Indian woman. Continuing into the 1950s, the same practice was initiated against other Native women in the western states by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In large measure, both North and South Carolina follow suit with the policies of creating a bi-racial environment denying American Indian survivals. Were these racial abuses any less offensive than Hitler’s final solution? Affirming these eugenic actions der Führer expressed his admiration for Plecker’s ideals and used them as a blueprint for his own fascist oppression of the Jews.
It may have been that the apology I sought from the Deutschlehrerin was a small thing within the scope of world affairs but the idea of discovery as in “Columbus entdecken America” is a stark reminder to each and every surviving Native American of a genocide that foreshadows Nazi extermination of the Jews during World War II and it remains unsurpassed in man’s inhumanity to man. Yet there was no apology forthcoming and indeed the quin-cenntinnal celebration of Columbus’s errant “discovery” was in full force as an opinion editorial in the Munich paper served within days of the classroom incident. It was authored by an Italian-German citizen who championed the heroic Christopher Columbus as if he were Saint Christopher opening the doors of discovery that set the stage for the Conquest of the Americas. As I pointed out to the Herr Direktor, the so-called “discovery of America” echoes in the celebration of a legacy of murder akin to Adolph Hitler’s actions terminating eleven million Jews.
Some days after the incident that led me in protest to suspend my studies at the Goethe Institute, I was walking with Tania north along the pathway opposite the campus. Tania and I were discussing our plans, soon she and the Russian students would depart for Passau bordering the Danube in southwest Germany while I was scheduled to begin my teaching duties in medieval city of Bamberg of old Franconia. I had invited her to Bonn along the Rhine for the initial conclave of Fulbright scholars and she had agreed to join me. So we were wrapped in the warm anticipation of our romance as we strolled along the rustic lane when I noticed a movement across the way. It was the schöne Frau, just as I turned to look across the way at her she returned my gaze and smiled. It was a gentle confrontation and I appreciated the moment returning her generosity with a smile. In the brief exchange however my gaze lifted to the snow capped granite Alps of Obersalzberg looming behind her and I thought sehr schön – very beautiful – yet these same peaks hosed the berghof culture of der Führer where they plotted their atrocities against mankind. Turning away from the schönes lands and the schöne Frau, I took Tatiana’s hand in mine giving my heart over to beauty and romance in this haunted place.