Monday, February 11, 2008

We'll always have Capistrano....

Pitchers and catchers report this Thursday for the beginning of spring training which, for me is a surer sign of Spring than any bird migration in California. Nothing against St Joseph, mind you. A great step-father, by all accounts, and a heckuva of a baby aspirin. Couldn't have been easy as a step-dad: 'Jesus Christ! Stop bringing all the dead dogs and cats back to life will ya? I can't feed all these animals--do you think I'm made out of money?' 'You can't tell me what to do--you're not my REAL father, is he, Mom? Go ahead, tell him.' Nope, couldn't have been the easiest job in the world. Didn't see him pop up too often in the New Testament after he decided to not have Mary stoned for adultery, as I recall the Bible. Still, it's nice that the swallows observe his day with a fly-by though Saint Patrick, two days earlier, tends to get a lot more ink, albeit green in color.

I knew two people who shared birthdays on the Feast of Saint Joseph, who ended up working for the same employer (they have both since passed, one, many years ago and the other, quite some time but not as long as the first one, ago), the American Forces Radio (and television) Network, Germany. They were both WWII alumni, though on different sides and actually more walk-ons than those with speaking parts. He had been in the Army Band, a clarinet player who had traveled with the US Army as it headed east after Normandy. After the armistice, he had ignored Eisenhower's no-fraternization rule and had met and married a young German woman, Erika.


For a number of years, post war, he had worked for an american advertiser with an office in downtown Frankfurt am main and had incredible stories about landing the Kellogg's cereal account only to discover that Germans and Americans ate breakfast fundamentally differently. Germans, he told me, put the orange juice on the cereal rather than in a glass to be drunk separately. He shook his head in disbelief every time he told me that story.
Bob and Erika never had children and when they passed away, she years before he did, aside from memories such as mine there's no trace of them which is sad, because he loved her beyond all reason. She was, he once told me 'the light of his life' and when she died, something inside of Bob did as well. He was the nicest human being I have ever or will ever know and a gentleman to and through the marrow of his bones.

That he was a radio production genius and had incredible copy-writing ideas and audio production tricks which made him that much more amazing to me as a late twenties radio stud who (upon reflection of three decades later) knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. I could have learned so much more from him, not just about radio but how to get along with others in life without surrendering who you are, if I could have but listened closer and more carefully. Learning as I did years ago that he had died years earlier while shoveling snow during a freak storm in Las Vegas made me smile as that's how he would've wanted to go. Wearing that goofy and shop-worn black beret like Maynard G. Kreb's dad, while snowflakes danced around him. Bob was a St Louis Cardinal baseball fan, and knew every statistic on every player to ever wear their uniform. The Cardinals weren't a force to be reckoned with in the National League when I knew him in the mid-seventies through early eighties, but that didn't stop him from following their every move and as many games as he could stay awake to listen to on shortwave.

Gisela was the record librarian for the 2nd largest recording archive in the world at the time and through part of the nineties when, history and heritage be damned, the entire operation relocated to another building in another city and engaged in a variation of Horse Latitudes in packing up and heading out. She had been a young girl in a suburb of Frankfurt, Germany, when World War II ended. I never asked about what happened to young women her age as the US forces advanced. I've read about the atrocities the Red Army inflicted on the civilian population in retaliation for the horrors perpetrated on Russians by the Waffen SS and einsatzkommando of the Wehrmacht, and assumed similar situations had developed in Frankfurt am Main as had on Frankfurt on der Oder.


She came to work for the Americans at their radio station (which had started in London on 4 July 1943 in the basement of the BBC and had traveled across the Channel and into Central Europe as Patton and crew pressed forward), and as FFM became more geographically the center of (West) Germany as the Red Army made good on Goebbels' prophecy of an Iron Curtain, the radio station set up shop in Hoechst, a suburb of a Frankfurt where IG Farben, the folks who invented Zyklon-B used in extermination camps, had been (they changed their name after the war and altered some of their product line). I remember her telling me there were a few other places she could have worked but chose the Americans because they offered a warm meal at midday at no cost, which was a significant factor for consideration in a country where most major cities had few stones left upon other stones.

I once speculated in the course of her career with the Americans at the radio station, Gisela had interacted with probably close to 10,000 Americans of all ranks and talents connected in some way to the station. She was there when I arrived and was still there when I left under cover of darkness and flawed ambition years later. She, unlike Bob, was not a St Louis Cardinals' fan. She lost her husband many years before passing herself after they had returned from two weeks of camping in Bayern, irgendwo, and she was unpacking their suitcases at their home while he returned the pop-up trailer to the dealer and died of a heart attack while in their parking lot. She too, was never quite the same again.

There's a reason why pitchers and catchers report together at the same time for spring training and if you're married, ever have been married, contemplate getting married or know someone in one of those situations, the reasons are self-evident.

You may be skeptical, but you'll have to swallow your incredulity and take one for the team.
-bill kenny


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