(You can read part 8 here)
Dedication of this essay falls to SOFREP’s own brother Ryan B; thank you for your generosity in my time of need.
“Memorize this route” the driver of the temporary car I was in told me. Ol’ Jed was a millionaire first thing this morning and now I was being driven smartly along a circuitous route, one that I was supposed to be memorizing, but one that I had given up on some ten turns ago. If anything, I was just staring out the window at something memorable that happened to me years ago.
But then it happened.
“There’s a white envelope in the glove box. Take it and you are free to go.” A crack of the lid gave way to a long white envelope lying just a-top the vehicle owners manual. “Say…” I thought to myself, “That envelope is the size that airline tickets would fit nicely into.” I grabbed it and beat feet away from the car.
Opening the envelope I felt like Charlie from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory tearing open the candy bar hoping for the golden ticket. The usual page of edicts was what first came into view, but it was folded around other docs. Opening the page did indeed finally reveal airline travel tickets: one-way travel to Frankfurt, Germany.
Germany was not at all where I expected to travel to, but I was mildly elated to be progressing to a different phase of this adventure, one that would bring me closer to the end of it all, and back to some normality, if ever that could be found in Delta. Well, after all, ‘normal’ is relative, so normality is what I craved to return to.
“Also, und warum fahren Sie nach Deutschland heute?” (So what brings you to Germany) small-talked the business man in the seat next to me. My instructions had no provision to explain my travel abroad. I needed to tap dance my way through this; come up with an incredibly boring and generic reason why I was traveling to German this day.
“I have no clue” just wasn’t going to sound good, and: “I’m going to meet with a contingent from National Geographic to search for the remains of Adolph Hitler,” would be just too sensational, and draw great interest and attention. Punching a body in the face and running typically worked, but not so much in a tube at 30,000 feet.
“I’m going to meet a relative and stay for a week in Frankfurt.” Was I a freakin’ genius or what?? “What does this relative do? Why… he works for a security firm. What is the name of the security firm? How the hell should I know?” Yes, I was a certified, laminated card-carrying genius, a genius who was about to land in Germany.
I thought of the guys in my squadron. They would be on their way soon to Gibraltar to train for a week. Their delivery would be a high altitude parachute jump onto the white cliffs of Dover. That would be a bragging-rights jump that I hated to miss, but anytime you did something cool in Delta, you missed something else cool in Delta. That’s just the way it was.
On the ground in Frankfurt, I grabbed a map in the Lufthansa terminal and was pleased to find that my hotel was within walking distance. I chuckled to myself at the notion of ‘walking distance’ and what it had come to mean to me these weeks. China… was in walking distance with enough water and change of shoes, just don’t expect to eat en route.
As I headed out the main entrance the language hemisphere of my brain kicked into auto pilot, scanning all information on posted signs. It checksummed each word against what it had archived. Any words that did not match current inventory were quickly distilled in context, the meanings were matched to the new word, and the pair was indexed away in my cranial disk.
I passed a waste container. It had the word ‘Müll’ printed on it clear. “Hello,” I thought: here was a very simple and common German word, yet somehow I had missed it all these years. It had to be paired and indexed. “Müll” I said out loud several times as I pressed forward: “Müll!”
Instantly a charming-looking German woman walking just a few steps to my front turned and shot me a disenchanted frown. I snapped out of my language processing trance and realized I was essentially following a stranger and saying “garbage” in a loud clear voice.
“Müll…” I whispered one final time.
And it was done. New vocabulary was encoded and indexed for all eternity. Ah, but I had to be careful and follow-up, as I had been caught off guard before once in Hawaii: I had seen that the public garbage receptacles had the word ‘Kokua’ written on them. I paired kokua with garbage and filed it away.
Later in the day, I asked a local in my hotel if there was a kokua in the lobby, for which I received a pair of knitted brows. I learned shortly that kokua, in fact, means ‘help’ ‘cooperate’ ‘participate,’ as in cooperate with the custom and throw your trash in the can, not the ground. No real harm, no genuine foul… just a learning point.
I had the rest of the day and half the next day to either curl up on the floor in the fetal position in my hotel room or hit the streets. I chose the latter, as being in one’s hotel room under such conditions was to be a stationary target for the de facto powers who were jerking me around. If they wanted me, they were going to have to come find me.
There was a group of males huddled under an umbrella on the sidewalk. I poked my head in to see what the next play was. There was a shark working the Three-Card Monte sham, where he shows you the ace of spades card then turns it face down with two other cards and shifts them around swiftly, tempting you to guess against the house for money which of the three was the ace.
His overly dramatic shill was steadily winning Mark after Mark as the local boys vied to get in on the game. “Germany needs to wise up,” I thought, “People in the States haven’t fallen for that stupid scam since the days of Oliver Twist, or at least the Film Flam Man.
I stepped away from the crowd where I was immediately met by a man holding open an entrance door for me and waving me in with his hand. But to where/what. I looked at the walls all around the door for any indication… there was none. I would accept this man’s invitation of indoors though, as that would get me off the streets where a mobile patrol might spot me.
Inside was rather dark, illuminated but with the weakest of occasional incandescent bulbs. It appeared to be a hotel, just long halls with rooms on either side. I found that I was just one in a line of just men treading slowly down the hall. The doors to most of the rooms were open. I instinctively glanced in the first room and was stunned to see a scantily-clad woman eerily bathed in a soft baste of red light.
“Entschuldigen Sie Mir!” I apologized and quickly look the other way, only to find myself looking in the opposite room to see essentially the same thing. Two more rooms and a face palm later, I realized I was trolling a brothel. It put me squarely in mind of the evening streets of Amsterdam window shopping, except this was indoors. I mused momentarily at the notion that I might run into the Odyssean here.
If I were to tell a screaming yellow lie in this story I would say that I hated it in there. Alas… it was extraordinary in its sheer visual entertainment value, I submit. There was every measure of scenario in the rooms: hospital room setting with nurse, torture chamber, school classroom with teacher, washroom with attendant, kitchen scene with Betty friggin’ Crocker herself, and a blasphemous chapel setting with pews and a nun, for Christ’s sake, followed ironically by a room decked to the setting of the ninth ring of Dante’s Inferno, with a voluptuous woman in a devil costume.
I stood in the doorway and no kidding applauded for about 15 seconds.
But what’s behind the closed doors? I was already calling myself an idiot before I even completed that thought. The line climbed stairs going from floor to floor; the building was five stories high. I was acutely aware that the quality of the person and the effort to the scenarios was dropping the higher we climbed. I had not figured that one out quite yet.
But once on the top floor, I wondered why the ball was getting bigger, and then it hit me: Here on floor five, there were no scenarios, rather than soft artificial lights, the harshness of daylight poured through curtain-less windows. The rooms were essentially empty save a cot of a contraption, and the ‘hostesses’ were clad in less-than-sumptuous robes.
They literally reached out into the halls in attempts to just yank dudes into their rooms, sort of like used car salesmen back here in America. You see, the higher priced ‘commodities’ got the ground floor; the higher you went up the stairs the cheaper and lower quality commodities became. Reason: men are lazy; they’re simply more so inclined to stay on the lower floors than to do the work to climb up.
And so it went. Human nature is complex, but something I find fascinating and shall never cease in my quest to ever understand it.
By God and with honor,
(All supporting images are courtesy of Wikipedia)