Sunday, April 30, 2006

John Travolta will not be wrecking my trash pick up

Got a message shoved in the mail box today. It seems there's going to be a movie taking over our neighborhood next week. First they explained who was in it (bad move I think - you're going to alienate all the people who hate someone in your cast), then they mentioned that from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. traffic will be diverted to accomodate filming. But they're aware of trash pick-up day, and we're all fine there. We can't get out of our driveways probably, but the trash will go on. It's okay though, they said some very complementary things about our photogenic housing area. Bet that doesn't include our photogenic yard with the highly aesthetic tomato plants we just dug in.

I think our politicians have been tarting the city because there have been several movie crews around recently. Maybe they were just irritated that our previous claims to cinematic fame were Bugs Bunny's endless wrong turns, a mention on the Simpsons (Ooooh, there's a NEW Mexico!), and being the place COPS most likes to film because our petty criminals are the most fun.

Anyway, I suppose it's a bit late now to sell lawn chair seats for people hoping to see the stunt double for some B-list actor whiz by on a motorcycle. Oh well, maybe we can set up a lemonade stand in time.

Children in Iraq - I

Before Kirk disappeared he wrote to a friend of ours in California. He talked about the children he saw - children in Iraq, children of war. The young men fighting now were children during the first gulf war and were raised in an uncertain era of terror and want. What legacy are todays children given? That friend quotes an email from Kirk, saying:

"In Bosnia and Kosovo I noticed...the eyes of the kids - knowing that they weren't likely to die anymore, but still so far from hope. Of course, kids are kids and can take a stick and a rock and make up grand adventures, but when war's ravages have subsided it often takes something to reawaken the spirit of belief, especially in young people. "

He was starting to talk to people he knew about setting up programs for the kids in Iraq and other areas ravaged by war and unrest. We talked a couple of times about the organizations that already existed, about the most important things to bring to these children, about the sort of resources that would be required. I still think that dream is important.

My family doesn't have the resources now to do anything really big, but we all agree that part of our healing process must include doing something if we possibly can, something for those kids.

The oldest child came up with the initial idea, inspired by the Berlin air-lift. The pilots would make bundles of candy and fit them with improvised parachutes made of handkerchiefs. The children of Berlin quickly learned to watch for the planes, and scrambled to catch the treats that sailed down. I met a woman who had been a child in Berlin at that time, and she said there was nothing more magical or memorable than those small packages. For the pilots too it was important - letting them bring a small happiness that had nothing to do with war or politics.

So our idea is to make little packages, small bags with candy (non-meltable) and little toys. We'd like to get them to the troops directly, so the soldiers on the ground can have something little to give to the kids they meet. We've designed the bags to be small enough to fit in a BDU pocket, and are trying to find toys that will be appropriate, inexpensive, and fun. (I'll post a picture later today... edit: I lied. I'll hopefully post a picture tomorrow)

We did run the idea past the oldest child's colonel, and I've been in contact with the Blue Star Mothers, but we are still trying to find a way to make the thing feasable. If anyone knows of someone serving in the gulf currently, I'd love to make contact and see if we can make this work.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Chapter's End

Kirk had to out-process before he was really and truly out of the army, and that meant a stop at Fort Dix, New Jersey. There was a balance there, because Fort Dix is where he did his basic training. He did that in the winter and spent bitterly cold days doing long marches and camping in the field. Now it was full summer and horribly hot and humid. New Jersey is not, I'm afraid, on the list of places I would like to live.

We landed in the commercial airport after a long, but essentially uneventful flight and discovered that no one seemed to know what to do next. There were about thirty of us milling around in the airport, no sign of transport, no one to ask what to do. We must have looked like so many ants without a leader.

Maybe it was someone's thesis project in sociology; maybe it was a subtle army sorting program. A few people simply called for taxis and headed to the base, others stood around and discussed how horrible it was that the army hadn't provided for us all, some (this was our category) watched everyone else and hoped someone would come up with a solution that was less expensive than a taxi, but more practical than sitting around in the airport and listening to the children cry. Fortunately there were just a few who loudly complained to everyone they could lay hands on - airline officials, passing strangers - it took two hours, but eventually we were bundled into a couple of large vans and heading to the base.

It didn't get any better once we were there. They dumped us on a strip of grass and left us in the hot sun. We had been in Germany for three years, and were compeltely unused to the American heat. It took another hour for someone else to come by, gather everyone up and drive us to the hotel the army had arranged. As we went, the soldier driving us cheerfully announced that this particular hotel was where drug offenders were sent on release. I think the poor guy got in trouble when we complained; we were not, however sent to a different hotel.

Looking back I think the base was overwhelmed. The number of people outprocessing was far beyond anything they had dealt with before; they simply didn't have the facilities. However, at the time it felt like the army was trying to make things as difficult and painful as possible. We got on the plane completely drained. But finally, all papers signed, we were out - we were going home.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Big Oil, Satanists, and Full Frontal Preaching

I woke up this morning to an article stating that Americans are furious with big oil companies who are happily raking in record profits, and big oil is rated just above satanists as the most hated group in the country. You know right now those satanists are slapping eachother on the back and saying 'man, I knew all that pr work would pay off! Just one more dollar a barrel and we're off the bottom baby.'

However - donning a natty robe and mitre (because if I'm going to preach I want the really cool accessories, thanks) - may I say a few words. Driving, quite early, to work this morning I did a small and unscientific poll and found that %72 of the vehicles I drove around were larger than a 4-door sedan, and the vast majority of those held ONE person. Into that category fell trucks, SUV's and vans - I did not include buses or commercial vehicles. So, while I'll totally admit that big oil execs are probably soulless ogres who feed on baby kittens and wash down the venom in their throats with healthy swigs of purified water from endangered wetlands, may I make a few simple suggestions?

Assuming you're a reasonably healthy person*:

1. If you are going somewhere less than a mile away, and do not need to take or return with enormous amounts of heavy items - walk.

2. If you are going somewhere less than five miles away, ride a bike.

3. (and now things get slightly more difficult, but stay with me) Take a good look at the places you drive every week, and see if you can't combine some of those trips - do shopping in stores that are near work, school, or sports pracice etc.

4. (here's the kicker) Budget your fuel the way you budget your money - as a limited resource. Think of every trip in terms of opportunity cost. Allow yourself X number of gallons every week, and unless there's a genuine, real emergency, don't exceed it.

5. If most of your trips are with one person in the car, think of investing in one of these: scooter (and while you're at it, invest in one for me too - I so want something like this!)

Don't just think of it as making changes for positive environmental and political reasons, think of it as sticking it to the man.

* I should point out that my version of reasonably healthy is fairly high. Blame my dad. He's, well, we'll say over 50, has had a heart attack and cancer, and just last week rode 15 miles on his bike one day to do his errands, much of it up a significant grade.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flying the slightly unfriendly skies

I was trying to come up with an appropriate analogy, but as child two happily informed me at the last possible minute that it needs a ride tomorrow morning clear across town (after child one had already signed me up as the family driver for 6:15) at exactly the time I need to be in a meeting at work I'm a bit distracted, so forgive me for the following.

Our last few months in Germany were like a too-small elastic waistband: an extended period of enormous strain and anticipation, then a snap and all hell breaks loose. From complete suspension we went to frantic activity - signing endless forms, packing up, and on the day before our flight was to leave, spending some desperate hours at the consulate forcing through passports for the two children.

Bored on your latest European vacation? May I suggest as a challenge taking photos of two wriggling children aged 3 and 1 using only a coin-fed kiosk. The photo cannot include any other face, and should be clear and recognizable, and full face. Our method was: Seat parent 1 inside kiosk. Place child on lap of parent one. Keep other child out of kiosk using either the hook-with-an-ankle method or the hang-off-one-hip method depending on length of child's arms. Feed coins into slot. Spend first two photos trying to get parent 1 high enough up to cut off the head and still keep child's face in frame. Spend next two fishing child off floor. Decide to get set first then feed the coins (we can be taught). Take two shots of back of child's head as it cranes around to see what the fuss is about, one blurred image of rapidly moving child as it slides off lap, one of parent 1's back as it grabs for escaping child. Parent 1 then gives up completely and parent 2 decides to show him how it's done properly with other child who is younger, crankier, and sporting a large pacifier which causes an unbelievably horrible sound when removed. With variations, this fun can be extended for hours, or until you run out of coins.

We flew back on a military flight which meant a commercial jet borrowed for the occasion. It's the only time I've ever done this, and I don't recommend it. There are no assigned seats. There's a general call (sort of like a starter's gun) and a mad dash for the door. Just try dashing with two small children and the accessories needed for sanity on an overseas flight. We did more of a harassed wobble that still ended us dead last. Fortunately some single guys traded seats with us so we could all sit together (probably because this put them at a considerable distance from our family and its potential noise and mess). By the time we settled in our seats it felt as though we had been sprinting for several days. The plane began its taxi, and we leaned back to listen to the bump and rattle of spare parts dropping off our aircraft. From the sound of things we'd probably lose a wing somewhere over Iceland - but that was okay because we were finally out, and heading home.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

To be fair...

I want to point out that for many of our friends, people we liked and respected, the army was a great thing. It let them do an important job, gave them responsibility and experience - self respect.We knew people who were escaping poverty and prejudice, people who were serving a cause they believed in, people who wanted to do something meaningful. I don't think the importance of all of those things can be underestimated.

The army is an extreme culture because it has to be. It isn't a corporation quietly churning out widgets and watching a bottom line. Instead, it's an organization whose primary product is intangible, and in it's most basic sense unachievable: security. And that means life and death - literally.

Kirk's experience wasn't the army's failure, or his - it was a series of events, a confluence of personalities, that resulted eventually in an intolerable situation for him.

Getting Out

The army was trying to lose people. It was a bloated operation, staffed for a cold war that no longer existed. In particular, Germany was terribly over manned and the German government was eager to repatriate American bases. From a peak in 1987 of 2.1 million personnel, the military was going to drop to 1.4 million.

Getting out should have been easy. In fact, our friends who still wanted to make the military their career were desperately worried about keeping their jobs, about their chances for promotion in the future.

Actually, Kirk wasn't really asking for much of an early out. He was very close to his four year mark, and was just asking to take off some of the extra time he had to sign up for to get us command sponsorship. But if we waiting until his contract was up we would miss out on a semester of school, and we both wanted to go back to college. We had already started applying, and if Kirk got out in January we would be able to find work and a place to live before school started.

All around us people were leaving - the army was bleeding out people left and right. We were, for the first time, living in government housing (although off-base) and a compound that was meant to hold around 150 families had a bare handful. So we were confident as we waited... and waited... and waited.

Of course Kirk had told his commanders that he was putting in for an early-out. There was a strange mentality that even though they wanted people to leave, there must be something wrong with a soldier who didn't want to be a soldier. Kirk was definitely persona non grata, and as weeks stretched to months his commanding officers became more and more irritated with having this low-morale, disruptive person on their hands. Finally they shunted him off into the unit post office where at least he wouldn't cause any trouble and would hopefully keep quiet.

Kirk filed his papers again and again, called people to find out what had happened, banged his head on the walls in frustration. Meanwhile (because naturally all good things happen in clumps) I got pregnant again. Deadlines for acceptance to colleges passed, we had burned bridges by making our intentions clear, and now everything was falling to pieces. Kirk became physically sick, developing what would become a chronic stomach problem. Every night we would put the kids in the double stroller and walk for hours by the Rhine, trying to figure out something, anything we could do.

Finally, late in the spring we found out what had happened. The guy responsible for the initial processing of all the early-outs had decided he didn't want to deal with all the paperwork. He had been simply throwing away every application that crossed his desk - for months - then suppressing any inquiries that might point out what he had been doing.

It fit beautifully with the rest of our army experience. Our plans were in a shambles, we had a baby due in October, no job, and nowhere to live - but we were free. For now, that was enough.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Shoulder surgery and other light entertainment

Injuries are another theme in our marriage (for those keeping track that's 'music' and 'injuries' so far. There will be a test). Actually maybe it's more of a leitmotif. I was sorting through some old notes and things of Kirk's a while back and found a resolution he had made the January before we met: 'I will not injure myself in the coming year.' As I recall, he made it six weeks.

He had badly dislocated his shoulder in a car accident as a child, then reinjured the same shoulder doing various things - football, hiking, kick-boxing etc. We were never sure just what put it all over the top, but during out third year in Germany the shoulder became a major problem. All he had to do was lie down on his back and the shoulder would slip out of place. He got fairly good at popping it back in (sorry, for those of delicate sensibilities it is going to get worse, be warned) with a sort of combination lurch and a twitch (and a lot of grunting) but since it could go wrong at any time it was more than time to have it looked at.

He went to an army doctor first, just before the move from Wildflecken. The guy told him he would, and I quote, 'just have to live with it. Man up soldier.' Kirk being Kirk he figured that was it and did try to live with it for another few months. Once it started going out several times a day he agreed that just maybe it was time for a second opinion. We were lucky this time, he went to an Air Force doctor who took one look at him and scheduled surgery for the following week.

I think Kirk was strangly pleased with the whole thing. Maybe it's a guy thing? At any rate, he sounded pretty happy about the fact that the surgeon had never seen a shoulder so badly out of shape, that once he exposed the joint (I did warn you) the whole thing had basically fallen apart right there, and he had called in several other people just to admire the mess that was my husband's shoulder. Kirk added a lot about clamps and ties and various accessories that were used to make it all workable again. The surgeon did do a fantastic job because with all the extreme things Kirk did with his body over the next ten years or so, the shoulder never gave him a problem again. However, a plastic surgery expert he was not. Kirk came home with a six inch scar roughly bunched together with a series of brutal-looking staples.

He was on medical leave for a couple of weeks at least, and spent most of the first few days lying very still on our couch while the oldest child came in several times an hour to admire Daddy's really impressive owie. By the end of the week we were sight-seeing again, driving as far from the military base as the shoulder would allow.

At the end of two weeks, still in massive pain, Kirk turned to me one night. 'This is the best two weeks I've had for as long as I can remember.' Major reconstructive surgery and recuperation was better than the best day at work. It was definitely time to get out.

Kirk put in his paperwork and joined the hundreds of soldiers heading out of the army thanks to the post cold-war draw-down.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Move over Heinrich Schliemann

The week belonged to the army, but usually the weekend was ours and we made the most of it. We had a fantastic road atlas, produced by Zurich Insurance. It says 'Road Atlas Europe' which means the important bits - West Germany - were covered in loving detail while the rest of Europe got a cursory few pages, mostly to show where they joined up with Germany.

The really important thing about this atlas was the key - or in the mellifluous German, the zeichenerklarung. Roads were neatly picked out according to importance (autobahn mit anschlusstelle, zweibahnige schnellstrasse, kraftfahrstrasse... down to sonstige strasse - 'other road' which usually meant 'completely impassable, often unfindable track'), mountains, forest, boundaries were all carefully detailed, and along with symbols for airports, camping places, and ski jumping hills were tiny icons that indicated: burg, schloss, festung (castle, palace, fort) Romisches kastell (Roman castle), and Romischer wachturm (Roman watch tower).

Most free days we would haul out the atlas and pick a likely looking symbol to track down. The fun of it was we never knew what we would actually see when we got there - the atlas didn't indicate much. A hollow icon was supposed to mean 'ruin,' but that could be anything from a fairly substantial place with standing walls and discernible motte to an overgrown lump that might possibly be the remains of a tower or could be an old shed someone hadn't bothered to clear up. Even the buildings that weren't ruins were a mystery. We found one fantastic schloss from about 1650 that had been turned into a government building: huge thick stone walls outside, linoleum and flickering strip lighting inside. But it was not knowing what we would find, and the fun of tracking the things down using only a general atlas that we liked.

On one trip we had managed to locate three ruined forts in a fairly short time. They weren't very big or impressive - just a set of half-decayed towers on top of hills. It had taken less time than usual to find them because none of them were in a town, and we still had a few hours before dark. Kirk suggested we find the last one and then track down an imbiss stand for dinner, but there wasn't another festung marked on the atlas. Nonsense, he insisted, there must be. These three were clearly part of a frontier, and there was one other hill that would have logically been included - but nothing was marked on the map. With nothing better to do, we drove out and found the last hill. We parked the car and the foot and hiked up through the undergrowth. Sure enough at the top was a suspicious mound, and with a bit of careful digging we found what seemed to be a stone wall.

Excellent. We had found an unknown, very small and insignificant fort. Obviously we needed to inform the local authorities. We tracked him down too, and the man listened quite patiently to the over-excited Americans who burst into his office. He looked through his records and confirmed that no, no one knew about anything of interest on top of that hill. He would make a note of it, and thank you for not digging around and treasure hunting. We assured him we would do no such thing and, quite proud of ourselves, left the poor man to his thankless task of logging in yet another piece of archaeological trivia.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

He keeps going... and going... and going...

There were the exercises, small 'e,' small effort. Then there were Exercises that involved multiple units and lots more complexity. These mid-sized exercises were actually the most fun apparently, because a. the toys were better, and b. for intel there were many more opportunities to mess with people you weren't going to have to work with for the next several months (don't irritate people who have opportunities to do nasty things to the filter in your MOP gear).

Kirk's company did signal intercept, so naturally they spent much of their time breaking into radio transmissions and making judicious changes to certain directions. They intercepted rations for half the participating units that way. They also got a large group of heavy vehicles detoured down an extremely narrow dead-end lane. I gather that complaints were made to the commanders eventually - the impression was the other group was going to pack up their stuff and go home if everyone was going to be so mean.

Then there was the MILES gear - basically the ultimate game of laser tag. Soldiers, vehicles - everything is fitted with a transmitter and receiver. A hit or a kill is registered, and the equipment bleeps loudly to let you know how badly maimed or thoroughly dead you are. Naturally one of our friends immediately removed the battery from his vest (which is considered not fair) and had a wonderful afternoon running around the woods and impressing everyone with his luck and skill. Well, until a bomber flew overhead and everyone in the area except him began bleeping like mad. He froze for a moment, then shouted triumphantly 'I am invincible!!'

One of Kirk's favorite moments was when an 'enemy' lieutenant came wandering up to his track staring intently at a compass. He blinked up at Kirk and asked how far South they were of a particular waypoint. Kirk told him, the Lt thanked him nicely, then wandered off in a totally different direction. Kirk raised his weapon and shot him in the back. The guy jumped as his vest went off, looked around and said 'oh MAN!' Kirk said he only did it out of compassion - he was afraid the guy would never get found. His compass was locked on North.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Soldier, you WILL have morale

The Charley company captain (known as 'Skeletor') figured he'd cracked it. It wasn't that the entire battalion had morale issues - just the intel people. Look at Delta company, they had huge morale. They Oooh-Rah'd around the pt field like real soldiers. While his company had sounded okay from a distance, but close up you realised their Jody call went:

Thee-one thirty rollin' down the thtrip
Airborne ranger's gonna take a little twip!


Left, right, left-right your left YETH!!!

Now that was just wrong. And it was making the delta guys very uncomfortable.

Nope, the problem was no sense of unit pride. The deltas were the delta DAWGS and they had a mascot and special chants and everything. That's what Charley company needed.

He tasked the company with finding a company nickname, drafting a company crest, and (in a stroke of sheer genius) designing their very own company PT uniform. Over to you, guys.

The crest was fun. Rather than the traditional shield, they finally settled on a piece of toast. Then they put Hobbes on it - not just any Hobbes though, Hobbes from the strip where he and Calvin are being peanut-butter and jelly zombies.

It took a bit more to get consensus on the nickname. The delta dawgs called them 'the coneheads' but that was no fun. Ah yes, the Charley Company Growlers. Perfect, because it allowed for some really good work on the PT uniform. It should be pink probably, and on the upper left it should say 'Growlers!' in loopy, lavendar script. And there should definitely be a sumo-wrestler beneath it - squatting suggestively.

The next week Charley company was running PT in grey sweats with ARMY printed on the back in black sans-serif. Their input was not asked for again.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

US Army and fluffy forest creatures

The move didn't help the morale problem. It didn't really hurt it much - well, until the officer showed up one day to announce that rats had been found in the dining hall and the single soldiers could either a. continue to dine with the rats or b. switch to eating MREs. The really scary thing was the poor sods were going to obediently vote for either option a or option b until Kirk pointed out that neither one was acceptable. When he raised a stink (of course as a married guy he ate at home) the officer reluctantly decided that maybe - maybe - it would be possible to get in an exterminator and get the dining hall back up to minimum standards.

It sort of outlines the whole problem. Kirk's company was filled with highly intelligent, thoroughly educated and trained people, who were treated like herd animals of limited value and ability.

What the army didn't realize was that when you do that to highly intelligent people they tend to come up with their own methods of improving their outlook.

Take Bob. It wasn't his name, but I always think of him as Bob. He spent a quiet evening working very hard over his BDUs using iron-on camouflage patches and a pair of scissors. For hours he cut and pressed - the very image of a conscientious soldier. Next morning in formation Kirk was directly behind Bob, and was staring blankly at his back. He said it was quite odd. Everything looked totally normal for the first 15 minutes or so, then suddenly... 'wait a minute... F... U... ' all beautifully and subtly picked out. Apparently he had modified his entire wardrobe to include scatological and genealogical references.

This is the same guy who absconded with all the unit's tank helmets one night and got creative with a pot of paint. The next morning the officer found everyone lined up wearing forest creatures on their heads - he'd even put little tails on the back. They were getting ready for an exercise that morning so there was no time to do anything about the artwork. Kirk said he would never forget Bob standing up at the end of the briefing, throwing his fists in the air, with his little grey rabbit falling over his eyes and shouting: 'Let the silliness begin!!'

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Goodbye Wildflecken

Once the wall came down and the Soviet army began pulling troops out of the former East Germany Wildflecken changed from a vital intelligence link in the Fulda Gap to a tiny, inefficient outpost in the middle of rural Germany. Understandably the Germans were quite eager to repatriate some of the American bases, and Wildflecken was an obvious and early choice. We were going to have to move.

We loved Wildflecken - its quirks and its oddities. There were the 'Achtung! Frog!' signs posted along the tiny road to our apartment warning cars about the hazards of migrating amphibians. (I was never sure if it was a concern for the lives of the frogs, or a safety warning about the slippery road conditions, but it did give a great mental image of psychopathic frogs stalking the back roads of Germany) There were the solemn hikers who could be seen on weekends doing their well-organized walks along paved paths through forests of neatly aligned trees. At the end each walker was presented with a small medallion to stick on its walking stick, and the whole group celebrated with large amounts of beer. There was the Kruezberg - a monastery on top of a mountain that produces some of the best beer in Germany and has walls studded with warning signs: 'no alcohol permitted.' On weekends the place was stuffed with GI's, Australians, and locals. It's where I learned my first German drinking song (the lyrics are extremely difficult - they go 'eine bier, eine bier, eine bier hier, eine bier mehr, eine bier hier... this is repeated endlessly as required). There was the smell of flax flowers in the summer - heady and sweet - rising from the tiny, patchwork fields that were sometimes no more than a few yards across. There was the enormous cathedral, St Boniface, that held the remains of the missionary saint (and several bones from relatives as well, probably in the hopes that holiness, and the accompanying post-mortem miracle working, was genetic), and boasted at least one sliver from the True Cross. It lorded over the tiny, medieval abbey next to it, but I liked that building better. The crypt was cool and lovely, and the small room with the stations of the cross on the walls was beautifully simple after the baroque extravagance next door.

We would move from our tiny town of Sandberg (the second of that name that we lived in) to the Rhine valley, a block from the river.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Munich, 1990

Summer nights in Munich the streets are full. The students from the performing arts college sit in small groups on the street corners, and Mozart vies with the Brandenburg Concerti in a battle of the quartets. There are a few street artists dotted along the road, and some jugglers and magicians, but music dominates.

A young man singing Simon and Garfunkel songs has gathered a large crowd, while a few blocks away an even larger group listens to what seems to be an original composition part folk, part Euro-punk. We join the stream of people, pushing the baby stroller. It is 10 at night and there are young families, old couples, students all strolling together through the streets. It seems all of Munich is out.

A middle aged man with a striped sweater vest stretched tightly over his stomach is singing Wagner at full volume. He has an enormous beer stein in one hand, but manages not to spill a drop as he gestures dramatically through the aria. The more he drinks, the more expansive and warm he becomes until he begins to pull people out of the crowd to give impromptu lessons in the fine art of opera. Above his head, the movie house sign flashes the titles of the latest pornography films.

You can feel the warmth and good humor of the crowd wash over you. Munich in the summer. Magic.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all friends and family. Hope the return of Spring brings hope and happiness to you and your families. We are thinking of you, we love you.

Easter Tradition

Our holiday traditions are highly portable. We've moved so often we couldn't tie ourselves down to a geography. Wherever we are, we can do the things that speak to us of celebration.

So today we had our traditional easter candy hunt. That means that last night I spent far too long packaging up candy in small cellophane wrapped bunches, tied with different colored ribbons so each child, when it finds something, knows at once who the rightful owner is; saves a lot of squabbling. Then this morning I hid them around the house. The rest of the morning went by tradition too - the kids found the easy ones quickly (very few this time), naturally located their siblings' candy long before they found their own, and eventually settled down to a beautiful community spirit of helpfulness in the theory that cooperation would produce more candy quickly. When about half of the packets were found they gave up to the point that I needed to give hints (easy candy hunts are for sissies; if you can't think to look inside the third oven mitt from the back then you don't really want those jelly beans).

And, again by tradition, I didn't bother to write down where I had stashed everything. So if you come across five Easter smarties with a gold ribbon round them, or a small package of jelly beans, just let us know. This is why we don't hide real eggs.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Walmart Avoidance

I did something Thursday I haven't done in over a year - I ventured into Walmart. So my kids should read this and recognize that, even though I have often said I should have had guppies instead, I clearly do love them because after figuring out that there were no Costco sized packages of Easter candy I was willing to buy (although there were many many tubs of Costco sized industrial lard, and many Costco sized people), I did go to Walmart. After all, it's national fertility symbol weekend, and my kids deserve to be spoiled with as much processed sugar as ten bucks can buy.

Better make that seven dollars. Gas prices are way up.

Night Life baby

Wildflecken is a great little town. In fact, it's one of a whole series of great little towns dotted around the fields, clustered around Fulda. It has a nice hotel, a couple of great Imbiss stands, and in 1990, a tiny car dealership where you could buy the special edition Stephi Graf VW (with upholstery featuring Stephi silhouettes in a variety of colors). Night life, however was just a bit lacking.

We went to the club - the one, singular, dance club in town. It was... charming in many ways, if a bit unusual. Somehow it combined naiveté, and a sort of staid, middle-aged, stodginess. The only people who seemed to dance were a collection of young, giggly German farm girls who gyrated together in the center of the floor and laughed at the GI's they tried to entice to join them. The soldiers sat around in self conscious clumps and drank their beer, daring each other to approach the mass of German femininity in the middle of the room. Every third song was Space Cowboy.

Kirk went out for a pee and came back looking highly amused.

'you should see the bathroom'

'what's wrong with it?'

'it's a wall.'

'a wall?''

'well, a wall and a trough at the bottom. But it's great for high marking.'

I wasn't sure if I wanted to attempt the women's version. I had visions of open-door squatting in a land that hadn't heard of the bikini wax.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Casting call

I park a long way from work - a loooooooooong way from work. So I have a variety of things to think about as I walk because it's either that or doing mental math about finances which is depressing and doesn't actually accomplish anything. Thinking of how to cast the made-for-tv-movie of this whole mess also doesn't accomplish anything, but it's a lot more fun.

So I'm thinking Emma Thompson for me, only I'd like her to do a reverse Nanny McPhee thing, so she ends up with the warts and the unibrow. That way I'll look really, really good myself in the making-of DVD.

To complement that maybe Alan Rickman for Kirk. Only I think we'll need to give him a cape because he does such a fantastic swish in the Harry Potter films. That's okay though, we'll just make it a period film and have Kirk disappear in the Napoleonic wars or something.

The kids will definitely need to be computer generated; at least one of them should probably be an animal too, like a terribly endearing dog. That way I can get a tour of Weta Workshops, and hopefully nick some of their tools when they're not looking. Plus I'll get to use 'scan the maquette,' in a sentence and I've wanted to do that since I saw the Lord of the Rings extended edition.

The CID guys will obviously have to be condensed into a single character - probably female. Keira Knightly can do that; what kind of actress is she if she can't play a female version of several old American CID agents? Only she'll need to be a feisty and rebellious secret agent for the king. Maybe we can work out some lethal hat pins or something.

She'll need a love interest as well I suppose... maybe a French aristocrat fighting to recover the honor and lands of his ancestors. Or he could be a sailor on an English ship who can either die in her arms after heroically saving whichever kid ends up being the dog, or, after a series of terrible misunderstandings in which he questions her intelligence, her loyalty, and her virtue (not necessarily in that order) he learns the truth in one crashing moment complete with dramatic embrace. At that point I (Emma remember) can give them my blessing on my death bed... come to think of it I think I'll have to be considerably older. Maybe Angela Lansbury is free.

The Coin

Unit coins - sometimes called commander coins - are part of the military tradition of reward and recognition. They're clunky things with the unit insignia on them, handed out as a sort of pat on the back whenever someone does something good. It's less official than a medal (it's not going to show up on your record), but more personal as well. The lower level coins are handed out like candy, and Kirk must have had eight or ten. Upper level coins - above company grade - are much rarer and far more difficult to come by.

Naturally there's a further tradition associated with them. The idea is that in a bar one person will pull out a coin in challenge. Everyone else has to pull out theirs; the one without a coin buys the round. If everyone has a coin, the challenger buys. Of course, a company coin will get you out of buying the round, but it's not going to impress anyone.

I wish I could tell you the story about how Kirk got his Coin, but I don't know it. I know it happened in August 1991, I know it had to do with the attempted coup against Gorbachov. Kirk used to laugh and say when we were old he would be able to tell me all the stories, once the 50 year limitation had run out.

What I do know is that in a bar in Alaska, Kirk's coin trumped three full colonels and a two star general.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


And where I live? Stinking 80+ degrees and no rain in months.

A Man's Gotta Dream

Guard duty - barracks, Wildflecken, Germany.

Soldier: 'I can't wait until I'm out of here man. I have plans.'

Kirk: 'Yeah?'

Soldier: 'Oh yeah. See, I'm gonna rent a Cadillac. A white one. And I'm gonna get a white suit, and white cowboy boots. All white, right? And sunglasses - like in that Blues Brothers movie, you know?'

Kirk: '... yeah?'

Soldier: 'Yeah. Then I'm going to go to my high school. And I'm going to pull up real slow right when they're gettin' out. And then I'm going to get out.'

Kirk: 'And then?'

Soldier: 'I'm just gonna stand there man, just stand there.'

He is quiet, contemplating the glory of this image. Kirk leans over to me -

'That's amazing. I have exactly the same plan'


'Oh yeah. Only I was thinking orange.'

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Virginia Woolf

While waiting for a co-worker so we could get back to our exciting database design work, I picked up Mrs Dalloway. It's one of the books I always assumed I had read, but never actually did although I saw and enjoyed the film version. I only had time to read a chapter, but as a habitual abuser of punctuation I was charmed with her hiccuping text salted with semicolons.

And I'd like to move to London thanks, preferably just post WWI.

Canon fodder

Music is an ongoing theme (damn... is there a non-punning way to say that? Too late...) in our relationship. In a backward sort of way it's how we met; it's certainly how we came to recognize the other's existence. So there will quite likely be a lot of music posts. Here's the first.

It was the early 90's in Germany - a hellish time for modern music. Hair bands were (god help us) everywhere; Nirvana hadn't quite managed to make it over to Europe, and Space Cowboy was played every third song on the two German radio stations we could actually pick up. We had just acquired a new stereo stystem (YES! Floor model AND major bait-and-switch mistake on the part of the PX electronics sales guy) and were starting to pick up CDs here and there as we could afford them. With Ratt and White Snake dominating the pitiful selection on base we started looking for classical in the German stores.

What we really wanted was a good recording of Pachelbel's Canon in D. For a well known piece, it's hard to get it just right. Too slow and it becomes sticky treacle, too fast and the charm is gone. So we wandered into a tiny German music store and asked if they had Johann Pachelbel. The owner looked as though we were something rather nasty on the bottom of his shoe. 'Who?' Pachelbel - PAHK-eh-bell Canon in D. Blank stare. We looked at eachother - what the hell: 'PAHK -eh - bell... dah dah dah dah...' more blank stare. So we up the volume a notch - now other customers in the store are starting to gather around because, hey, it's Thursday and there are Americans singing a baroque canon in the middle of Fulda. Once he has an audience of about seven or eight the store owner throws out his hands dramatically and rolls his eyes to draw attention to the fact that, despite our ignorance (and pathetic performance) he has managed to solve the mystery. 'Ah!' he says, pulling out all the gutteral stops 'PacccccccchhhhhhhELLbel.' We got our CD.

NOTE: While I love the precision of the D Canon, there is an associated memory with the piece that I simply cannot shake. One of my more bizarre jobs was working as a waitress at a Dude Ranch - not just any Dude Ranch, an Austrian all singing, all dancing Dude Ranch. So one day a week we wore jeans, bandanas, and white shirts and sang cowboy songs, while another we wore dirndls and sang Edelweiss. And, because there was a beautiful little chapel on the property, we also provided music for weddings. One bride sent in her list of requests - at the very top was written: 'That song for the lightbulb commercial. You know, Taco Bell's Cannon.'

Monday, April 10, 2006

We Breed 'Em Weird in My Home Town

I suppose everyone has to have a hobby, but this guy seems to have chosen an inconvenient one. He's been identified now, and is a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now, once could be accident, twice looks very like carelessness: Francisco Martin Duran.

Why should I care? Well, I went to school with Frankie Duran who was one of the three most popular kids in the class (Along with James and Nini). I, however, was a glasses wearing, gifted-program attending, violin playing kid who had skipped a grade and was a year younger than everyone else in the class. Frankie informed me daily that I was ugly, fugly really, and I remained convinced of my hideousness for the next 8 years. Yup, I based my self esteem on the opinion of a nine year old who went on to shoot at the outside wall of the White House.

The day the Frankie Duran story hit the news I spent a happy 15 minutes walking in and out of doors because I was not only NOT ugly, I wasn't incarcerated.


You know you're homesick when you look at this and think 'God I wish we were there...'

International Relations

The Germans around the American bases generally had a love-hate relationship with the army. Actually, that's more of an appreciate the business, but disapprove of the general noise, mess, and excessive drunkeness (because Americans never can understand that German beer is much, much more alchoholic than American) relationship. However, we did manage to give them one or two moments of multi-lingual amusement.

Kirk had only been in the country for a couple of weeks, so his natural and highly irritating ability to pick up a language without any apparent effort hadn't yet kicked in. He was driving with a friend onto base when he realized he had forgotten his ID. His friend, a fluent German speaker by this time, reassured him - 'don't worry, just let the guard know you're a friend. They're really laid back about this sort of thing. Just tell him "bin ich eine warmbruder"' Kirk pulled up to the gate, looked the 60 year old grim German guard in the face and repeated the magic phrase. The friend promptly dropped an arm around Kirk's shoulder, batted his eyelashes and simpered 'ja, ich also...'

We had a lovely friend, a native of Montana who was the most gentle, sweet boy I've met, and managed to emit an air of utter innocence. He and Kirk were on a joint excercise with the German army and naturally they began negotiating trades. I'm not sure why the military issue of another country is so fascinating and desirable, but for some reason German boots were definitely a hot item, and in turn the Germans were just as eager to get their hands on some American jungle boots. These come in two varieties - green, and black. Our friend was quite pleased with his German and tried to negotiate the entire trade without using English. He did fine, until he asked the soldier which kind of boot he wanted: 'grune, oder schwanz?' Without batting an eye the soldier replied 'grune, bitte.'

For those who must - a German-English dictionary can be found here. Please note that I am unable to find the phrase 'warmbruder' in it, so it might be specific to the Fulda area, or I could be completely clueless. The general idea, however, was quite clear.

ETA: Quick Google, and I see warmbruder does exist. Google knows all.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

gnocchi (sorry, gncch... or at this point, gnh)

Note to self:

Handmade gnocchi is not, and never will be, impulse food. No matter how many potatoes there are in the pantry, no matter how tactile making the dough is, gnocchi should be planned for properly and time allowed for the full process.

Although currently in a household that has to be low to no fat (medically) and chooses to be non alchoholic (religiously), someday gnocchi will be a good idea. Today is not that day.


I just spent a useful ten minutes trying to come up with a decent title for this post. That's nothing to the three days I've spent trying to work out what to say.

Because today is my 18th anniversary. 18 years ago we stood for a terrifying 5 minutes in my parents' livingroom and were married. Actually, 5 mintues might be an exaggeration - the guy who married us was new to the game and we had the most stripped down, bare bones ceremony possible. Certainly my step-grandmother thought so. She insisted my grandfather, the Dean of an Episcopalian cathedral, seal it up properly with a good Episcopalian prayer. Then she patted my hand and whispered loudly 'There dear, he hasn't tied many slip knots!' We signed the certificate; I didn't remember in time to ask if I should use my new name or not. It was official - at the ridiculous ages of 19 and 21 we were, gulp, married.

I know there were pretty long odds drawn on our survival as a couple. Kirk's friends definitely thought, probably hoped, we wouldn't last more than a year or two. I don't blame them - I don't think anyone reading the statistics would have thought we had a chance. Married young, pregnant a month later (yes, I know...), enlisted in the army with practically no money, pregnant again (I know, I know...) and Kirk gone on maneuvers and things for 9 months of the first year of our second child's life... pregnant AGAIN (YES, I'll have you know that is THREE forms of birth control) and out of the army to go to college with no job, and three children under the age of four. Who lasts through that? Of the three really close friends we had in those first few years, all three couples ended divorced. But we lasted - didn't just last, we thrived. We were happy, happier each year than the last.

I won't claim we never fought because we did - twice. I remember both quite clearly. The first was in California before the oldest was born and we argued loudly about whaling. That's right, whaling. I hadn't yet learned that Kirk enjoyed debate and would play devil's advocate to get a good discussion going. I also hadn't learned that there wasn't anything sacred about political or social opinions, and maybe a bit of logic was a good thing. So there was one loud, shouting fight about whether or not traditional whaling should be allowed. The second was when we were both in college, facing another year of extreme poverty and stress, and trying at the same time to renovate our tiny house. So we shouted loudly about the paint color for our child's room. Really, shouted, really got angry - to the have-to-walk-away-before-I-do-something violent stage. I was shaking with rage that he couldn't see how important it was to paint those damn walls pale blue. It took another hour to recognize how utterly stupid it all was, to apologize (both of us), and laugh about it.

But mostly it was laughter, and richness. For two years it has been all I could do to just make this day another day. Every day is difficult enough, I couldn't face something more important. But the kids and I are making some changes, and the biggest one is taking back our memories and our happiness. So today we are celebrating 18 years of family and love and happiness. Today we're being glad that we had everything we had, and that we still have eachother. We just want to be the four of us, talking about him if we want to, or not - at least just for today.

Kirk, we love you.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bless you Sousa

The military loves Sousa. I think it might be that he's so wonderfully predictable. You don't even know the name of the piece, just check the time (4/4, we're all good here) and the upper corner for the magic name.

Until that darn trap-for-heffalumps.

This is back in California at the DLI (Defense Language Institute) where every month or so there would be a make-the-troops-happy event where everyone got to dress up in their natty green polyester and stand out on a field for an hour while people shouted at them from a grand stand. I think this one was even more important because there were considerably more people in the grandstand, and I had actually agreed to attend. We had the march 'em on the field Sousa, and the stand-around-a-while Sousa without a hitch. And then they put on the stand-rigidly-at-attention Sousa. Now, I have to think that someone picked out this particular piece, and then someone else agreed with it, and possibly a third person was even consulted to ensure that they honestly, really, truly wanted to play it. So there is no excuse for it aside from blatant ignorance. However, it was a glorious moment when the first few bars of the Monty Python Flying Circus theme song sailed majestically out on the air.

And yes, at the appropriate moment there rose up from the ranks an unmistakable 'PTHHHHHHPBBBBT.'

Friday, April 07, 2006

The flux capacitor

There's a deeply held belief in the army (or was when Kirk was in) that one of the best ways to raise troop morale is to bring in some ranking officers and give them a tour. The idea is the enlisted people feel they are appreciated and get a chance to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. What actually happens is the poor officers get to review endless rows of identical soldiers, the soldiers spend weeks polishing bits of metal no one will ever see, and the company commanders work themselves and everyone around frantic under the belief that this one moment is the most vital of their entire career.

There was the company commander, for example, who decided to impress the visitors with a choreographed salute. It's a nice idea in theory - simple, elegent, traditional. Only he wanted to salute with the enormous, 20+ foot atennae on the tracks. For two weeks the company practiced raising the darn things in a massive, enormously noisy, coordinated phallic gesture. They just might have pulled it off except the motors that drove the antennae all had slightly different powers. On the day, the unit dutifully hit the buttons in perfect unison, and the visiting officers politely tried to ignore the sudden burst of noise that drowned out their conversation while twenty some antennae meandered their way skyward.

Kirk impressed the general though. The man was doing his best - trying to meaningfully engage a couple of dozen people in a ten minute walk through. He pointed to something on the track. 'What's that there soldier?' 'That sir, is a flux capacitor.' Kirk said there was a small choking sound from the general's aide, but no one else made a sound. 'Excellent! And what does it do?' 'Sir, it validates the throughput from the archelon vacillator.' 'Solider, that's superb, just superb. Carry on.' The general was happy, Kirk was happy, and the company commander, who had never heard of what makes time travel possible, felt validated as a leader even though he couldn't quite get his antennae up.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Immigration followup

Hmmm... could be good? I'm reluctant to believe a reasonable plan has been drawn up, but after the insanity of the original bill, this sounds almost possible.

ETA: Nope, back to situation normal. Immigration Bill Falls Victim to Politics

Your tax dollars at work...

Kirk's unit was mobile - they took their gear into the field to do signal intercept. Mobile, however, is a generous term. The equipment was in a massive sort of hut - a hugely heavy thing that had to be pulled (very slowly) around the countryside. Naturally when the army commissioned the vehicle they didn't give the specs of what was being pulled to the manufacturer. So while the vehicle was rated to pull 3 tons, the equipment actually weighed 7. Kirk's unit, full of highly (and expensively) trained linguists with top secret clearances spent much of their time doing vehicle repairs.

I don't think they ever managed to come back from an exercise without at least two major breakdowns. Of course, some of that is down to the guy who discovered that if his track broke within a few miles of base he would be sent home to fix it instead of camping for a week in the German countryside. He usually managed to burn out an engine within five minutes.

It wasn't just Kirk's unit that had trouble. Our friend in Nuremberg told us of the time their track got well and truly stuck in the soft spring mud. The army sent a tank puller to get the thing out, which promptly got stuck itself. Naturally they send a second tank puller... in the end they just put a guard detail on the whole mess for three months until the ground dried out.

Exercises were an expensive thing anyway because of the rural area we lived in, and the enterprising nature of the German farmers. The US army had a compensation obligation - so much per chicken, so much per cow. Kirk said there were several locals who would wait for the units to start rumbling by and then toss their aging chickens in the road.

But the best exercise was the time they managed to blow their entire budget - at least for several months - in a single day. The soldier driving the tank cut a corner a bit fine and hit a sign. They weren't going terribly fast, so when he heard the thump he stopped and they got out to survey the damage. The sign had punctured their fuel tank which was dripping freely. They pulled the twisted metal out and managed to read what it said - No Parking: Water Table. The unit had to basically buy the water supply for Freiburg, West Germany.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Last night our oldest child was inducted into the National Honor Society with a GPA of 4.1. This is the same kid who wants to attend the Air Force Academy, and go on to become a pediatric oncologist (although there has been talk of extreme environmental medicine as well). Kirk would be as proud as I am.

Gulf War I

There were two MI units short listed for the gulf during the build-up: Kirk's C company 108th MI, and a unit down near Nuremberg. In the end the other unit was tagged - although both groups lied about their readiness, the other guys had lied more. The day after they were told to prepare for the Gulf their readiness plummeted and they began frantically cannibalizing other units.

AFN began running short tips about safety and awareness. We were told to avoid parking our cars (obviously American because of our license plates) in isolated areas, do visual checks before we got in the car, watch for any following vehicles. The base did its best to up security as well. They parked a large personnel carrier outside the miniscule, off-base commissary. Granted, it had no weapon and wasn't manned, but it looked impressive if you didn't know what it was.

Actually Kirk said the German polizei took care of the very small threat that existed. They already knew who to watch, and simply performed routine traffic stops on the couple of cars involved. I got the impression there were army guys dressed up in polizei uniforms, who did a lovely dramatic double take when they searched the cars and 'accidentally' found arms and things in the trunk.

I remember vividly the day the war began because Kirk woke me up that morning. 'The war started,' He told me. 'The Iraqi air force is gone.' Such a strange, surreal thing. At our age we had no real memory of war. I vaguely recall my mother saying 'Thank goodness' when the end of the Vietnam war was announced; beyond that my entire concept of war was shaped by M*A*S*H and old movies. The troubling thing was that between the rock-star status of Wolf Blitzer, and the video game-like daily briefings with their fuzzy flashes of light ('Ah! See, another thing just exploded. Trust us, it was vital') this most publically exposed war of all seemed less realistic, not more. The highway of death changed that, at least for me, but it wasn't until our friends returned and we talked to people who had actually been involved that the human element really emerged.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

flea markets

German flea markets are amazing. There is usually one each weekend in the good sized towns; even the smaller places host one every couple of weeks or so. Our favorite was the one in Frankfurt - a long, crowded affair that ran alongside the river for a mile or so.

Frankfurt has a strong Turkish population, and the warm, spiced smell of gyros always met us several blocks before we got there. Even quite early in the morning there was a long line waiting at the white kiosks. The most memorable vendor there was Turkish as well. He sold used clothing, but while most of the German-run stalls carefully hung their goods out in neatly ordered racks his were spread out in jumbled heaps on several large tables. He himself stood in the middle. Wearing the daintiest, fluffiest negligee he could find he would twirl and wave the nylon like a slow moving spanish dancer, waggling his hips and shouting 'alles schtuke eine mark!'

Driving and parking in Frankfurt is a nightmare, so we always used the u-bahn which meant that while I loved looking at the heavy carved furniture, we were limited to buying things we could comfortably carry with us. Kirk began a collection of Russian military watches. They had versions for each service, and we managed to find Navy, Air Force, Army, KGB... one had a tiny portrait of Yuri Gagarin on the strap. They were big, clunky things with colored dials that kept terrible time. I was fascinated with the winding mechanism that worked on a tiny ratchet and was probably the best-made part of the whole piece. Kirk wore the KGB one for years although it was utterly unreliable.

The Russian stuff wasn't found at the larger stands, but usually was spread out on white cloths on the ground. Within a few months of the border opening there began to be hundreds of beautiful Icons - often silver mounted. Exquisite things - amazing colors and painted with meticulous care so the surface was almost completely smooth - but terribly sad to see spread out and sold for a few mark. I never could bear to buy one although I would have loved to; these religious works of art that had been saved somehow through years of communism. Kirk loved to talk with the vendors, and they all said much the same thing - they had saved the icons when they needed them, but now they could go to church again if they liked they needed the money far more.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It was amazing trading with Soviet soldiers. We were both children of the Cold War. We had been raised with nuclear fear. As a child I remember a strange dual vision of the future; while I would plan future careers for myself, I also simply assumed the world would end before 2000. In high school we comforted ourselves by saying confidently that our city was 'third on the list' for nuclear attack, so we wouldn't have to deal with the horrors of survival in a post-apocalypse world. Why we believed that the inner strategies of the Soviet war machine were common knowledge to a bunch of teenagers I'm not sure. Still, the image of the Red Menace was all pervasive. Grim, Slavs armed to the teeth were, we knew, coldly committed to our destruction.

So one of the first things Kirk did was tell a soldier this - that we were told they were massed on the border practically salivating at the thought of pouring over and annihilating us. The guy laughed and said that was exactly what they were told we were doing. 'You didn't want to invade?' 'Are you kidding? We were terrified!' Kirk said that of all the foreign soldiers he met in Germany, the Soviets were those he felt the closest to, those he had the most in common with.

I didn't speak Russian, didn't meet most of them, so to me these men are a series of vignettes. There was the guy who, on being asked if he wanted to trade a uniform, threw a duffel bag over the wall stuffed with his entire issue - down to the underwear - for 20 mark. He was Ukrainian and hated everything Russian. He would be heading home the following day and wanted to keep nothing of his time in the Soviet army. He wanted to marry and was saving everything he could. Kirk gave him 50 mark - more than we could afford at the time. There was the security officer who stopped Kirk at the front gate (I was waiting in the car - terrified as the time ticked by) only to give him some pot-metal decorations and offer to trade a tank for our car.

One of my favorites happened while Kirk was on maneuvers. They were near the border - by this time quite open - and a Soviet listening station was only a few kilometers away. Kirk posed as a German student and took a tour of the place, making friends with one of the guards. The man talked a lot about his family, his girlfriend back home, the guard dog who had to be bribed with bread to put on a vicious act for visiting officers. Then he grew expansive and gestured at the American station just visible on the horizon. 'You see that there? That's an American place. They think we think it's just a water tower, but we know it's really a munitions dump.' Actually, Kirk said, it was a listening station.