Thursday, June 16, 2011

From a Smile to a Tear

I may have mentioned I'm a pack rat -- at least I should have. I save everything, even stuff I know has no value or meaning. The biggest example of this is hanging in our garage-it's an old children's chalkboard with magnetic letters that we used when our son, who is almost 29 years old, first started kindergarten. My wife spelled out 'my first day' and the date (alles auf deutsch) and then took a picture of me and Patrick. We have the photo in a frame and I have the moment in my heart.

So why some years ago, while cleaning out the basement, did I balk at putting the now broken blackboard out for trash pick-up? Hard to say. Yeah, I was also the reason why it was packed and shipped to the Land of the Round Door Knobs back when we left my wife's country damals. So here I am, refusing to let go of what's left of all my memories even it that means preserving only some of them.

Someone sent me a joke the other day 'that's perfect for you and your wife' (even though it really wasn't) and I'm going to share it even though I'm actually terrified to fly in anything, anywhere at anytime. That's not integral to making this joke funny (or not) but it is true.

Bill and Sigrid went to The Big E every year. And every year Bill would say, 'Sigrid, I'd like to ride in that helicopter.' And Sigrid would always reply, 'I know, Bill, but that helicopter ride is fifty bucks, and fifty bucks is fifty bucks.' The next time Bill and Sigrid went to The Big E, Bill said, 'Sigrid, I'm getting old! If I don't ride that helicopter this year, I may never get another chance!' Unmoved, Sigrid replied, "Bill, that helicopter ride is fifty bucks, and fifty bucks is fifty bucks. Damit, basta, ende."

The pilot overheard them and said, "Folks I'll make you a deal. I'll take the both of you up for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the ENTIRE ride and not say a word I won't charge you a penny! But if you say ANYTHING, it's fifty dollars.' Bill and Sigrid agreed and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of fancy maneuvers, but not a word was heard. He did his daredevil tricks over and over again, but still not a word...When they landed, the pilot turned to Bill and said, 'I did everything I could to get you to yell out, but you didn't. I am impressed!'


Bill smiled sheepishly and replied, "Well, to tell you the truth I did almost say something when Sigrid fell out, but as she always used to say 'fifty bucks is fifty bucks!'"

Maybe you had to be there; but it's a funny joke. The mention of the helicopter reminded me of Magnus und Marchy (bear with me). They were two German kids popped for dope, actually hard drugs, as I remember the sporadic letters in tortured English arriving from JVA Stadelheim and, more often, Neudeck (where the women's jail was/is) who listened to a radio show I did thirty or so years ago. They weren't married, I don't think, but were boyfriend and girlfriend; at some point, on the outside, they had become junkies together.

When they started writing-actually Marchy did as Magnus knew close to no English--they weren't clean but they were in jail. I didn't know how long they were in jail for or how much longer they had but I did get the sense it was a long time. I'd hear from Marchy with a request, not always for Magnus but often, about every two weeks or so. You had to keep track of her letters since she'd reference something in one note and mention it in later correspondence in much the way you'd return to a topic in a conversation. Marchy's letters kept me on my toes.

I recall she requested for herself--"I'm Going Home by Helicopter", from Ten Years After (with Alvin Lee, whose blazing guitar licks were stupifying especially at maximum volume). TYA had lept into American rock awareness with a blistering performance in the Woodstock motion picture. I hadn't realized until I'd needle-dropped the record that Marchy was right-listen to the intro yourself, Alvin Lee does say 'by helicopter.' I had never heard it in all the times I'd listened to the song.

I smiled just now remembering the smile I had when I played it for her. A memory sparked by a helicopter joke and then I recalled the letter from Magnus, actually by someone else in the cell block who could write English, some days after I'd played the song thanking me for it and telling me how much Marchy would have loved hearing it if she hadn't deliberately overdosed the weekend before.

And then suddenly my smile gets very tight until the jaws ache and I realize you can lose people more than once and that no matter how often you do, the pain is real because the loss still hurts.
-bill kenny

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