Of Germany, Refugees and a Grail Quest

Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but I find myself haunted by books I read decades ago. There may have been a certain character, setting or plot device which burrowed its way inside my grey matter eons again and never found its way out of my ear again. With a teenager, that is tantamount to a miracle.

Actually, that’s not the case with a good book. An author did something truly exemplary to have made such an impression on a young mind in the late ’60s.

With the recent unrest and hard choices in Europe, and in Germany in particular, my mind turns to a novel published in 1969. I remembered the general plot and the protagonist, Hans Materna. It was set in 1945 Pomerania as the Third Reich was crashing to its knees, the Soviets were rolling into town. I even wrote a book report about it in eighth grade.

I’m one of those people with a prodigious memory for items like this. Unfortunately, my concussion-cum-TBI a little more than a year ago made retrieving these morsels an exercise in frustration. Plots, odd factoids, the scientific names of plants, etc. are easy. People’s names and book titles tend to hover just beyond my reach for an annoying 10 seconds or so until my brain says, “Ah. Just so. There it is.”

And so it was with The Wolves, published in the UK under the alternate title The Fox of Maulen. The author was Hans Hellmut Kirst, better known for his oeuvres The Night of the Generals and the Gunner Asch series of books. It became my Grail Quest for a while.

It took a solid week of perusing GoodReads, Alibris.com and Amazon to find it, though. I had no idea what the cover art looked like, only the untutored drawing I produced to accompany my book report. As it turns out, the original art wasn’t anything wonderful, merely three stylized heads wearing WWII German helmets.

Perhaps what stuck in my 14-year-old brain was the setting–Pomerania. When you’re a kid from rural small-town America, that is about as exotic as it gets. I mean, my aunt had a cute Pomeranian dog that growled at my little cousin (hilarious to me at the time), but I’d never thought about there being an actual geographical location for its origins.

Pomerania no longer exists as a political entity. It was chopped up and divvied out to Poland and East Germany for nearly a half century. The fall of the Berlin Wall set off a cascade of social and political change which swept aside old markers and names. Pomerania is now part of a district that includes Mecklenburg, the part that still lies within the confines of a united Germany. The other part belongs to Poland and centers on Szeczyn, formerly known as Stettin. And gosh, I sincerely hope I got that Polish spelling right.

In those years between 1969 and 2015, I’d forgotten a book title but developed an intermittent mania for Pomerania and, by default, an understanding of German refugees beyond the Nazi Anschluss and the later flights across borders away from Communist regimes.

Here in the West, we tend to think of post-war Europe in terms of displaced minorities such as the Jews and Roma; of dislocated French, Dutch, or Belgian civilians who ran afoul of the Nazis; of Brits bombed out of their homes. Few journalists tell the story of ethnic Germans routed from centuries-old homes in places such as Pomerania and the Sudetenland–mostly because their stories have gotten lost in a collective amnesia.

I will be the last person to make excuses for Nazi Germany. I have deep ancestral roots in southwestern Germany, and I’m wrestling with knowing I have far-distant cousins involved in that unspeakably dark corner of world history. How could you? That is the only thing I could say to them if I were to meet them.

After all, this happened a bare decade before my own birth. In the ’60s, we were reminded constantly of this Ice Age of Humanity. There was a clear demarcation between the good guys and the bad guys, and the bad guys lost big time.

But no one told us stories from the other side, the side of the German civilians. Hans Materna, uber-good guy of The Wolves, provided another view of the human experience. It was then that the stereotypes lost some of their power over me.

And so it is today, some 71 years after the events in the novel, that I have an alternative grasp of Angela Merkel’s decision to allow refugees from the Near East and the Middle East into her country. I watch with more than a little anxiety, but I get it.

No matter what you do if you are German, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The world is still watching, you will be weighed in the balance, and you will be found wanting.

A little walk on the Woo side

Today’s post is a little different because I’m giving a shout-out to a friendly phone psychic. Donna Williams, the name she assumes in her online life, is different as different can be from my previous mental image of one of these spiritual guidance providers.

The girl is funny! Rather than assuming a faux mystical air, Donna is very down to earth. It’s sort of like sitting across the kitchen table from a wise best friend. Make that “wise-ass” best friend, add a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and you get a better idea of what a tarot reading is like when you’re talking to her.

Donna works for the Psychic Power Network, one of the better phone psychic operations out there. The usual rate is something like $1.99 per minute, which may sound a little steep, but that’s what the going rate is. On the other hand, it’s well worth the investment.

Now, I know we’re all in charge of our lives. Donna will be the first one to tell you that during a reading. But sometimes you want to talk to somebody you’re not related to and who isn’t a real-life friend. That somebody doesn’t know all your “bidness” and can give you good advice uncolored by what you look like, who your family is and what you might be wearing at a certain point in time.

That last factor makes all the difference when it’s 7 p.m., it’s after work and you’re sitting on the sofa in your old yoga pants with the hole in the knee. In other words, come as you are.

She mostly does a tarot reading, but I know she will use the I Ching when necessary. During the first reading, you might get a result that seems to make no sense to you. I guess that sometimes happens. If the cards don’t give a clear answer, Donna uses the I Ching as a back-up to give her caller a little more insight.

I think most of the questions she fields relate to love and money, in that order. If you want somebody to tell you that everything is going to be sunshine, roses, lollipops and unicorn farts, you done come to the wrong place, though.

“Oh, honey, he’s in his man cave, ya know? Not one of those basement rooms with the pool table and a refrigerator full of beer. No, he’s in that man cave in his mind, that part of his brain with a sign on it that says, ‘No girls allowed.’ It’s nothing against you. It’s just that he doesn’t need or want to talk about ‘feelings’ right now.”

Just the kind of thing “that one friend” would tell you while sitting at your kitchen table, right? How often is that person in your house when you really need to talk to her? Probably not at 7 p.m. because she’s busy vegging out on her own sofa in ratty sweats.

Thinking back over my life, I wish I’d called someone like her sooner. When you’re not sitting next to a woman who might have a vested interest in the outcome of matters, it’s easier to say what’s on your mind.

A basic reading takes about 10 minutes. That’s a grand total of about 20 bucks. On the other hand, how much would you pay to talk to a shrink? I haven’t shopped for one of those, but the average hourly salary is something like $50. That’s probably higher in urban areas.

Maybe you don’t need to sit in an office crying in front of somebody you don’t know and might not even like that much. You don’t have to make an appointment and there’s no parking involved if you call a phone psychic like Donna Williams.




I have abandonment issues

Usually in the form of starting up a blog and then walking away from it after a couple of weeks.

When I started this blog about 8 months ago, I was still dealing with the nasty aftermath of a concussion. Yeah, I know. Symptoms are supposed to clear within a month. Unfortunately, “one size fits all,” doesn’t. Hardly ever, in fact.

The headaches abated and became a mild roar for the most part. I still get them, especially if I have been doing a lot of heavy thinking for a few hours without a break. A brief power nap usually resets everything nicely.

The sleep patterns are reasonably normal again. It took perhaps three months for that issue to straighten itself out. Early on, I could sleep for 12 hour a night and still require a three-hour nap in the afternoon. Ummm, you can’t get much done that way.

Those particular symptoms fell by the wayside — and good riddance. More troublesome and chronic was a sense of disembodiment and a right hand that didn’t want to work as it should. Finally, in early January this year, my hand began cooperating. Good  thing, too. Have you ever tried trading in a single hand for a replacement? It’s not happening. The minimum requirement is two.

The disembodied sensation finally went away about two weeks ago after I began taking a good vitamin supplement along with a little extra calcium. My concentration improved as well. It is a rare pleasure to fully inhabit one’s body again.

Now, it would be swell if the short-term memory improved and the noise sensitivity disappeared. Until then, tell your screaming urchins to knock it off when you’re shopping or dining in a restaurant. Uncontrolled children are pains in the ass at the best of times for the rest of us. Loud temper tantrums make my ears fly shut and I’m left to wander around in a walking coma state. Let me tell you this right now: I am not responsible for my actions when I’m in one of those. You and your bratty kid could find yourselves upside down in a Dumpster. Your little feet would look so cute thrashing in mid air … .

So, now that Ye Olde Braine is well on its way to regaining its full strength, perhaps I have the requisite attention span for blogging.





Not much giggling going on today

We’ll blame it on what I wrote in a clandestine blog of mine elsewhere. “The world is in an uproar and I see no end in sight.” Something like that.

Other than waking up each morning, the best news I can manage these days is the mama robin who set up housekeeping in an outdoor planter. She’s been out there more than a week, so the eggs should be hatching very soon. Then it’s another two weeks of baby birds, and off they go.

That’s probably pretty pathetic, huh? On the other hand, there have been worse days in the history of the world and there surely will be again. I’ve always hoped those bad days could wait until after I’m in my grave, but I might not get my wish. I’m calculating it at 80-20, with 80 being the likelihood of all hell breaking loose within three years or so.

Where do I get that three-year projection? Nowhere but my own intuition. When nothing makes sense using my intellect, I fall back on natural intuition. We all have it, but most of us don’t use it at all.

You see, I’m one of those renegade intellectual types who gets pissed off on a regular basis with society and various forms of institutionalized religion. With good reason these days, I might add.

We have various flavors of Islam fighting each other. We have erstwhile Christian denominations in the US who appear to be more interested in pointing out the specks of sawdust in their brothers’ eyes rather than noticing the honkin’ big logs in their own. And may the gods help you if you’re a peaceable believer, because then the really-truly-horribly rabid atheists want to lynch you, or at least insult you viciously just because you believe in something beyond the end of your own nose.

A kid shot up a black church in Charleston, S.C., today. ISIS and the Taliban are fixin’ to mix it up over in the sandbox (perhaps not all a bad thing) and a guy in a Pittsburgh suburb is up on criminal charges for sodomizing his girlfriend’s dog to death.

I will admit to calling an annoying Middle Eastern guy a “dog fucker” a couple of weeks ago because he was disrespecting me very badly in a chat room. Honest, I really didn’t mean that in a literal sense.

You know what haunts me a lot of the time? I’m an adherent of what we might call “the general esoteric tradition.” In a concrete sense, words can become things, so you really have to watch what you say and, in this case, write. Or maybe that goon I insulted was only pretending to be from the Middle East and was really from Pittsburgh. And in his very twisted way, he inflicted himself on an innocent animal.

If you’ll pardon the expression (and this has nothing to do with the sniping going on between the Hugo Awards people and disgruntled writers), there really are some sick puppies out there.

I used to be a sunny hopeful person, but that has been changing in recent years. It’s not wise to point fingers of blame at certain groups of people and what they may or may not have done. We’re all to blame. We let this happen.

Of course, this is a popular view among the mincing wincing set. “Oh, Americans are all to blame with what’s wrong with the world. We eat too much, we use too many fossil fuels, we expect too much … .”


Ya know, I do feel some sympathy for the folks in the general Middle East. In the name of “progress” and “superior Western civilization,” our forebears wiped out all kinds of traditional ways of life. But we had an awful lot of help from the Brits and the Russians in that regard, so you know what you can do with your US bashing.

Oh, and don’t be too quick to bash the French, either. While they make uneasy allies at the best of times, you can say one good thing about their earlier colonial aspirations. Wherever they went, wherever they left, the French tended to maintain quiet bonds with the people they once ruled. Need a lingua franca in Lebanon or southeast Asia, for example? Learn to speak a little French and you might survive the excursion.

That charming digression aside, the folks in the Levant and Middle East need to put on their, uhh, big boys’ sandals and solve some of their own problems. If they don’t, and their troubles become our troubles, a lot of people will die of dumb — and it won’t all stay over there.

Not the most profound of statements, but hey, this is my second day on WordPress and I’m reaching for my stride here. I sure hope my evil mood dissipates sometime soon. I hate walking around with this ugly burden inside.

Maybe there will be baby birds tomorrow.

It’s just couscous, man

My personal version of The Wizard of O is completely backarseward. I’m living in eastern Kansas, aka western Pennsylvania, and dreaming of returning to my own personal Oz, that place with all the colors and marvelous characters. So you’re going to read some whining from time to time. I will apologize for it just this once and never again.

I believe that you are where you’re suppose to be at any moment in time. Other than living in my old hometown to be nearer my aging parent, I can’t think of any good reason to be here. I must be missing something fundamental. No matter. I can be content with this as my base of operations for the present, but that wider world is calling me more loudly every day.

I sometimes wonder about that urge. People seem to be on high alert these days, ready to lash out and attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100 percent. If you dare express an opinion on any topic under the sun, expect 10 people you’ve never met to bonk you over the head for it.

Me: The sky is blue.

The Unknown 10: That’s racist! You are obviously some kind of inbred redneck to say such a thing. Why did you say that? Are you pleading for attention or something?

Me: No, I’m saying the sky is freakin’ blue.

Or I merely post this:


That pop culture reference may escape you. It’s a scene from the ’90s cop drama Homicide: Life on the Street. The guy in the center, Meldrick Lewis (played beautifully by Clark Johnson), was notorious for his appetite and his bad luck with women. In this episode, he was mooning over a woman who preferred one of his colleagues in the department. Two detectives found him dining at a Middle Eastern restaurant and assumed he was inflicting a dose of health food on himself in hopes of winning back the fair maiden.

The two-sided conversation between Beau [left] and Stan [right] consisted of a well-intentioned, if slightly misguided, effort to rescue Lewis from himself. In a rough paraphrase of the dialogue, the boys said, “Be a man, Lewis. Don’t let some woman dictate what you want to eat. Male power, etc.”

Lewis continued eating in quizzical silence for a few minutes before mumbling around a mouthful, “It’s just couscous, man.”

Pick any topic, wait for the subsequent firestorm online, and post this meme because

Chewy Stops the Chatter!