Anyone at all

IMG_2833When the time comes
you have nowhere
left to go,
go back to sleep
and forget about things
for sleep is like death
and won’t come
when it’s called –

it’s better to sleep
without the weight
of dreams and wake
with no memory
of who you are or
wanted to be,
then you can be
anyone you wanted
to be, or no one at all.

Image from a poster at McMenamins Edgefield outside Portland, OR announcing Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade concert, artist unknown.

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Uncommon denominators

Today we put down a deposit on a used car in a town we couldn’t pronounce that sounded like a slur or spit coming up — Eberhard got right on the used car search with his handy at the Bahnhof on our way to the beer fest, and set an appointment with a guy at a small used car dealership, both of them balancing unlit cigarettes in their lips and leaning beneath the hood mumbling manspeak, that universal knowledge that pretends to know more about things than they do.

We had some low points ending the evening, with Dawn questioning what the hell we’re doing as we sometimes explain it to people and it’s hard to make sense of, and she feels awkward leaving the impression we’re wealthy, spoiled Americans — suggests we come up with speaking points that confine the discussion, but I’m spun out of orbit and don’t seem to care what people think, and care less if they jump to assumptions about who we really are and why we’re doing it, and why I should bother explaining.

We made some bad assumptions about this trip, even though we started planning for it a year before we left; we assumed it would be better to home school because putting our kids into a German school and then taking them out, and putting them back in again when we re-enter the Schengen seemed too disruptive and too much to ask of the school, but we were wrong — the teachers have been so kind and welcoming, no one has given us difficulty about any of it, rather, they’ve gone out of their way to welcome our kids, even help them learn a little Deutsch.

And we assumed since she had offered, it would be OK to borrow my mom’s car for our trip to the UK but then decided it would be too much of a strain on the car (and possibly our relationship) — then assumed buying a used car would be more of a hassle and a risk than it really is, despite Eberhard telling us the contrary.

And part of the low was Dawn feeling like we haven’t seen as much of Germany these past nine weeks as we could have, that we will leave here not seeing much more than the insides of mom’s old house, the cobblestone streets here in the Altstadt.

But next week I’m taking Dawn somewhere foreign for her birthday, a surprise (in about four hours from where we are, you can see Switzerland, Italy, Austria, France, the Czech Republic) and this week we booked our ferry crossing from Amsterdam to Newcastle, 15 hours overnight, and when we get back from our UK tour if our money and nerve holds out, we’re hoping for a road trip to Northern Italy and Croatia, to treat Dawn’s mom and mine, and four or five long weekends to really see more of Germany.

I watched a video of the band Free singing ‘All Right Now’ this week and thought how burned out and fried, how tired they looked, and wondered if that was a common condition in the 70s for rock stars to look that way, that time between the explosion of the 60s and whatever it was that happened in the 80s, a passageway between the two decades.

The skin under my chin has started to sag that way it does in middle age, but I’ve published 43 posts in two months now since we arrived, feel my voice is changing, and I’m listening to those who say good things, and can’t hear the rest. Climbed to the top of the spider web thing at the Spielplatz with Charlotte on her birthday, thought how much fear can focus you when you’re climbing and balancing and how good that is, how necessary, until the fear becomes your only focus.

Somewhere over der Regenbogen

Somewhere over der Regenbogen


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Who needs Munich when you’ve got Cannstatter?

"Oktoberfest bierzelt" Wikimedia Commons

Scene from München, “Oktoberfest bierzelt,” Wikimedia Commons

For reasons perhaps too private to get into it’s hard peeing in lederhosen, hard undoing the suspenders through the clasps when you’ve been drinking, hard clearing the edge of the leather because they don’t come with flies or barn doors, you just climb in and out — hard looking cool standing over a trough in a temporary WC inside a beer tent with other men singing, spitting, doing things men do in public restrooms better not discussed on blogs.

LidlBut as with anything, after a while you get used to it — and I realise you don’t have to undo the clasps, you just slip them off your shoulders and back on again, and as the night wears on the WC starts getting crowded and strange — a guy gumming the wall like a mollusc, singing “Sympathy for the Devil” but stuck on the first line, can’t get past it, like the record’s skipping, so I feed him the words (‘a man of wealth and taste’) and discover there’s a separate queue for private stalls, and start using that one instead.

Lily says she was surprised at German school, the kids all just change together in the same room before Gym, whereas in the States they have private stalls — and both of them are delighted they get to use hot glue guns unsupervised during Art, a “large saw” Charlotte describes, for cutting.

It’s different here but not better, I say. Different, because you’re trusted with more responsibility but expected to not act like an asshole, which is something I didn’t get growing up and I’m not sure I deserve it now, to be trusted to not act like an asshole.

At the butcher, the woman behind the counter uses what looks like a battle ax to muscle the pork cutlets apart, grabs it from a hook and slaps it on the cutting board but can’t get a clean cut with the ax so she lifts the whole unit up, the blade stuck in the bone or the muscle or whatever, and slams it down two or three times, a messy break.

Used without permission from grocery flyer ad, Lidl

Used without permission from grocery flyer ad, Lidl

And in the beer tents, the Cannstatter Volksfest, the second largest beer festival in the world after Munich and for me much better, because you can actually get in and drink beer and have fun and not have to worry about reservations, long lines, or droves of drunk tourists — they are climbing up on the tables clapping, and the wood on the benches sags as they bounce up and down, some of them in heels, taking selfies, the one litre ‘Maß’ equals almost three cans of beer from the States and no, you can’t just have one — and they’re selling balloons with Hello Kitty or Sponge Bob, Papa Smurf, My Little Pony…cheap, felt Tyrolean hats with fake feathers, everyone smoking — and the security guys look the same as they do everywhere with the sides of their heads cleanly shaved, ribbed necks, mic’d with ear pieces and radio sets, stern in their greying goatees…the band does a call and response to “Summer of ’69,” “The Boys of Summer,” and every song sounds like “Edge of Seventeen,” (just like the white winged dove / sings a song, sounds like she’s singin’) and finally, they’re all singing “Country Roads” (take me home / to the place I belong) and I find it funny and ironic they’re singing about West Virginia, and how alike we all are, or at least maybe it’s just the Americans and the Germans, we’re the ones most alike.

Awaiting new Followers and Likes after a blog is published

Awaiting new Followers and Likes after a blog is published

I want to tip our server because I think a.) it’s nice to tip, and b.) it gets you better service when you want another drink, but Eberhard won’t tolerate it, insists I just give her .70 and that’s normal — then pockets an unopened ketchup packet that came with our pommes frites before we go — and after a couple hours, with all the smoke and the Oy!, Oy!, Oy! call and response — the Dirndl dresses and the boobs, I need some fresh air, need to remember who I am and what the night sky looks like and not let all this ruin my appreciation of beer and music and women in bar maid costumes with tight braids and aprons.

Mom can’t get a grip on her Maß because the glass is so big she needs to use both hands, so it looks like she’s drinking soup — and every time I take a drink it feels like I’m chugging, which feels strange at 44, and worse in the middle of the night when I wake up bubbly and farting from raw onions and some Döner thing I had in the Bahnhof, shaved lamb in a pita with a white sauce I leave half-eaten on the bench for the pigeons.

Returning much later than any of us thought we bump into the singer from the Boogie Woogie band, Cadillac Kolstad, and I tell him he should come down Türkengasse by the Obama house, where mom lives, and I’ll do some American cooking for him before he goes back home to Minneapolis next week. The owner of the Hirsch points out the panel comes down in the front of the lederhosen, that’s what you do when you need to pee.

Eberhard's lederhosen from his dad, elk leather, with a fly (hat by Stetson)

Eberhard’s lederhosen from his dad, elk leather (hat by Stetson)




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Meet me at the cemetry gates

IMG_2840We dropped the kids off for their first day of German school, their first class French — French taught in German — and I walked to the cemetery by the Realschule, where we’ve started our third week of German classes, the cemetery because it’s fall and seems a fitting place to sit and brood, and though it was warm in the sun I sought a dark bench to see what inspiration I could find among the headstones and the dead.

We were nervous for the girls starting German school, all of it in German, loosely agreed upon plans mostly by email with the English teacher brokered by our friend Heike and her son Sascha, the school close enough the kids can walk there, all of it free, our choice of subjects including Geography, Latin, Grammar, Math, Biology, Religion, Fine Arts, Sport, Choir, and so on.

I went back to my notes from the weekend with our French friends: the boy Mathis may be 5 or 6, playing with the letter opener, making slicing gestures across his throat with it — the Spanish ham sliced extra thin, peeling pieces of it off with our fingers in the morning, all of it shredded and fucked the way toilet paper gets when it’s unraveled wrong — the French have a resilience that’s hard to pinpoint, they don’t give a shit or worry about stuff we tend to, they don’t seem to gain weight like us either, and manage to keep smoking well into their 40s.

All the cheeses and tiny pickles and breads, the Raclette, a tabletop grill popularised by the Swiss, cooking strips of pork fat on it and then onions and parboiled potatoes, on and on, reminds me of the time my cholesterol got over 300 and I had to pare everything back to gluten-free with raw almonds, celery, fish.

We have to use the tip of a wooden spoon now to turn the dishwasher on because the power button fell inside the console, and it’s like some game at the fair, fishing for the button, something we should probably have checked, it doesn’t seem safe.

I get emails from LinkedIn with press releases about newly filled executive positions at retail chains in the States, and people still use the phrase proven track record which makes me gag, it has a perverse sound to it worse than pornography, and less convincing: what exactly is a track record?

Laurent wears his sweater around his shoulders tied in the front just so, like only the French can.

We get a text message from the Italians up the street saying they’re going on a mozzarella run to Italy and how many kilos do we want? Mom stabs the cell phone display with her pointer finger, bats back the autocorrections, reads it aloud before sending it.

We now have only 20 some days we’re allowed to stay in Germany before we need to leave the Schengen, the Schengen getting more attention with the European migrant crisis, explaining to those outside Europe what it really means, and whereas before we thought of going to Croatia we’re glad we’re going the opposite direction now, grateful the UK opted out of the agreement: it means we can stay there for 90 days in Britain and Ireland, as we’re not allowed to re-enter the 22 Schengen states (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, etc.) until we’ve been out a full 90 days, the end of January.

Although mom said we could use her Mazda to drive to the UK we decided to rent a car instead, a rental for about 102 days that’s roughly €35/day plus the border-crossing and extra driver fees, break-down insurance…and Eberhard offered to help us buy a car, which seemed preposterous, but now that we’ve done some research it’s clearly the best idea: you can get reliably used cars here in Germany for a lot less than in the States.

And when we collect the kids from their choir class (they sang Cold Play songs, in English), Lily says she wants to stay at this school forever, all the German kids crowd around them like they’re rock stars and trade email addresses, ask if Lily’s got a handy — and she’s sharing her blog with classmates in the States and mentioned a blogger who’s following her now who’s also following me — she could read my comments to him on his blog, but doesn’t think he’s really reading her posts because all the comments to him say “Thanks for the Likes,” (she’s only 10 and seeing through it already, who reads, who doesn’t) — and now Dawn and I will have a break from home schooling as we finish our plans to the UK, and I find new haunts in the dark corners of town where I can forget what day it is and imagine what it was like in this graveyard 50, 100 years ago, despite all that was going on in the world and all the warring, how it probably looked a lot like it does now on a day like this, the sky and the clouds, the trees about the same as they’re losing their first leaves, poets moping about below, wondering where they came from, where they’re going — all those people, all those lives, where are they now?



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How to love, with fences

There are limits to my love
as with fences
to remind us what’s ours
and keep things out,
keep things in —

Love is a word we use
for protection, like
all things defined there’s
a start, an end, and
arguments over what
it really means.

Love with fences and not
with leashes for love
is trust, walls made to
not contain —
lines more like the horizon
than lines on a map, for
there are no lines like
that, not in space.

Love, like all things but
a word, lines in a script
anyone can read but only
some can make you
believe — to say my love
is limitless is a lie
as there are no lies in love,

as there are no holes
in fences.

Braided fence, West Seattle - July, 2015

Braided fence, West Seattle – July, 2015

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Leaves clawing the cobblestones

When the French arrive, it’s with armsful of things from France: breads wrapped in brown paper bags, coolers full of cheese, boxes of wine, even duvets for their beds. It feels like a hotel and we lose track of how many of us there are. Eleven, we repeat, an odd number. A family of five plus ours, also five, and Benny, who’s half-German, half-American. The French boy Mathis has a soccer ball and skateboard he drops upon entering, and climbs on top to do tricks, practices his footwork. The weather forecast is times of sun and clouds, cool. The week ending with a supermoon lunar eclipse best viewed from Paris or London, the last one until 2033.

Laurent has an Italian cheese called Burrata that’s white and soft, in liquid, and lays there on its side in the bowl like an entrail; Laurent mixes the salad with his hands and sprinkles coarse salt with his fingers, sifting the grains out, asking me to try it.

And the French kids greet us with kisses in the morning — we can’t talk about much with our limited French and their limited English, but they smile and give us kisses on either side of the cheek, as does Laurent when he comes, and it reminds me how nice it is and civil, to do that side-of-the-cheek thing.

They’ve come to celebrate Charlotte’s eighth birthday, which we’re making a big deal of, but not in that showy American way with all the gifts and the thank you gifts for all the gifts, wrapped in cellophane. But still there are more gifts than we thought, and more is probably better, no matter how you look at it, especially with little girl birthdays.

I make a slideshow of Charlotte-pictures, roughly 300 of them spanning her first seven years, starting with the first of her and me at the hospital, me with hospital scrubs and her with various monitors and wires, clutching my chest — I wear the same shirt over the weekend from the photo and doubt anyone notices, but do it for continuity.

And if you’ve made slideshows of your kids or any special occasion in life, it’s odd if you scan through the photos fast, because it’s a lot like life, these stills we save and how quickly you can flip through it all and think, well, that’s it!

That first autumn she came triggered a series of strange events, starting with Dawn’s dad getting sick, passing away early the next year — my stepdad the same — and there’s a photo of the two of them together, John and Dawn’s dad Dick, and another guy Willi, here in Germany (Willi is Eberhard’s friend), and in that next year each of them died: Dick on Valentine’s Day, Willi on John’s birthday, and last, John on Halloween.

Early 2009, Starbucks announced lay-offs and we decided we’d take a sabbatical here in Germany for a few months, hit the reset button as everything seemed to be coming apart.

Laurent and his family came to celebrate the first anniversary of John’s death, and we threw a party up the street at the Hirsch, the same spot the Boogie Woogie band from Minnesota played recently, and the weather was about the same that weekend, though the end of October, a brief throw-back to summer: the sound of fallen leaves in the morning like claws scrambling up the cobblestone, the wind threatening to just take everything away.

Benny, Laurent and I stay up until 3 AM both nights and we’re slow to rise in the mornings, and the mornings fan out with nowhere to go: plans are distant things, spots on the horizon.

Charlotte thanks me for making her favourite pasta sauce, and rides all the rides at the amusement park, barely meets the height restrictions, and it’s just memories we’re wanting them to have.

We talk about sentimentality because it’s something I keep trying to figure out, why some songs sound sentimental in a way that’s good or not so, and why that is. And all of us agree “My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker is a good-sentimental but Laurent won’t budge on Elton John, can’t stand the violins.

Charlotte left her plastic fangs by the toilet in the first floor bathroom, the set she won at the Winzerfest fair last weekend for throwing darts at balloons. And it’s that time I’ll remember, that moment she popped the balloons and the guy offered her a few prizes to pick from, and she had trouble fitting the fangs in with her retainer, and I suggested it’s one or the other, probably best to put the retainer away somewhere safe so we don’t lose it, it would be hard to replace here in Germany now. Most things are like that, hard to replace.


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First poem for fall

IMG_2236That first fall something
found me there,
the greys and browns of
northwest Pennsylvania,
what little light you find
come November, the last
of the leaves flapping
just a few here and there,
and yet            I felt
such a force inside,
that finds comfort in
the crackle and hiss
of the rain,
how the roots became
knuckles bearing down
for the night,
how the awareness
of nature’s nerve
gave me hope
I could hold on, too.


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