Mittwoch, 28. Mai 2008

99 Reasons Not To Write.


1. I cut my finger.

2. I have a cold.

3. I have a headache.

4. I have a tooth ache.

5. I have a hangover.

6. I have to go to the gynecologist

7. I am tired.

8. I am hungry.

9. I need to donate blood.

10. I need a new haircut.

11. I have to buy a birthday gift.

12. I’m sorting out old cloths.

13. I take the cloths to the Salvation Army.

14. I have to clean the house.

15. I have to shop for dinner.

16. I have to cook dinner.

17. The pasta sauce on the stove bubbles over, makes a big mess and I spend time cleaning it up.

18. I don't have a wife.

19. I 'm intimidated by great writers.

20. I will never be a great writer like Thomas Bernhard.

21. I don't feel like writing.

22. I will never be a great writer like Kurt Vonnegut.

23. I will never be a great writer like Ernest Hemingway.

24. I will never make the New York Times bestseller list.

25. I don't have an agent.

26. I don't have a platform.

27. No one answers my queries.

28. I'm not getting paid for writing.

29. I study the Guide to Literary Agents.

30. I study the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.

31. I'm too old to embark on a writing career.

32. I'm not a success story.

33. I’m intimidated by genius.

34. I'm intimidated by Junot Diaz.

35. I'm intimidated by literary Wunderkinder who publish great novels at age 25.

36. I don't practice what I preach.

37. I wasted my morning and I can't write at night.

38. I don't do morning pages.

39. I don't do writing exercises.

40. I'm upset that I have not published more.

41. I'm upset by rejection letters.

42. I'm upset that I never met Gertrude Stein.

43. I read Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser for the 100th time.

44. I read too many literary magazines.

45. I read too many online literary magazines.

46. I have too many books; it’s a great distraction.

47. I read obituaries of famous writers.

48. I write condolence letters.

49. I attend readings of famous writers.

50. I'm translating a famous writer.

51. I prefer to read.

52. I study The New York Times thoroughly.

53. I read the works of the members of my writing group.

54. I read the works of my students.

55. There are too many books already in this world.

56. I will never be a great writer like Thomas Bernhard.

57. It's sunny outside.

58. I watch the children on the swings.

59. I don't want to stay indoors.

60. I want to be on the beach.

61. I need to exercise.

62. I ride my bike in Central Park.

63. I visit James Baldwin's grave.

64. I visit Billie Holiday’s grave.

65. These trips take up a lot of time.

66. I return books to the library.

67. I rearrange the books on my bookshelf.

68. I sort out books because I have no more room on my book shelves.

69. I can’t decide which books to let go off.

70. I bring the rejected books to Housing Works bookstore.

71. I browse the Housing Works bookstore.

72. I learn Italian.

73. I watch a movie and analyze why the story doesn't work.

74. I have the wrong pen.

75. My fountain pen needs a new cartridge.

76. I waste time at Staples.

77. I answer callers who conduct surveys.

78. I check my e-mails several times a day.

79. I answer long overdue letters and e-mails.

80. I transfer my contact list from one e-mail provider to another.

81. I study for my citizenship test.

82. I have to go to the immigration office.

83. I listen to Rhythm Revue on WBGO.

84. I will never be a great writer like Thomas Bernhard.

85. I make travel plans.

86. I surf the world wide waste of time

87. I live in the wrong century.

88. I live in the wrong century.

89. I'm too rebellious.

90. I’m too intellectual.

91. I’m too dull.

92. I'm in love with the German language.

93. My brain doesn't work in English.

94. I counsel friends on the phone.

95. I think of past boyfriends.

96. I reminisce about the great sex I had in the past.

97. I have not experienced anything worthwhile writing about.

98. I read Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser for the 101th time.

99. I will never be a great writer like Thomas Bernhard.

Mittwoch, 14. Mai 2008

Thoughts of an Emerging Writer

I was thrilled to participate in Periodically Speaking: Literary- Magazine Editors Introduce Emerging Writers at the New York Public Library (May 13, 08). Willard Cook, editor of Ep;phany, had invited me. Four years ago, at the Cornelia Street Café, I read a story in public for the first time. I was introduced as an emerging writer then also.

English is not my native tongue. Often, I think I know the meaning of a word when I really don't. Having been called an emerging writer twice I finally looked up the word. I always pictured a diver jumping from a spring board, doing a few twists and somersaults, then emerging from the water and leaving the pool.

How was this connected to writing? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines emerge /emerging as

  1. come up or out into view.
  2. become known, be revealed to.
  3. become recognized or prominent.
  4. become apparent.

When does a writers stop to be an emerging writer? When she has published a book? When her book sells well? When she gets reviewed? When she gets a good review? When she makes the best seller list? Literary fame is a fickle mistress. German writer Wilhelm Genazino wrote in his essay A gift That Fails. On the Lack of Literary Success (translated by me and forthcoming with Dimension 2):

What is success? What is failure? Is publication success or is publication followed by silence the beginning of failure? … Isn't literature, not belonging to a society where mere literary success does not matter at all, the biggest failure?....The names Musil, Svevo, Fleißer, and Broch stand for an interdependent pain tumbling down our cultural century with unhurried brutality. Ronald Barthes called writing “spending oneself for nothing.” There is true despair about literature’s afterlife hidden in this phrase’s mundane elegance.

I feel honored to be considered an emerging writer, honored that some editors appreciate my work and my take on life. I am glad that my friends enjoy my stories. It doesn't matter that I do not have an agent, that I have not published a novel, that I will never make the New York Times bestseller list.

Writing is foremost my solitary pleasure. I write to please myself. But I also write to communicate. I reach out to the reader to share my experiences, my thoughts and my delight in storytelling. I hope to enter into a dialogue with the reader. I respectfully disagree with Ronald Barthes.

Writing I'm spending myself for something.

Montag, 5. Mai 2008

Pen World Voices Internationales Literaturfestival

Ich schreibe selten in Deutsch, doch gerade habe ich einen Brief in Deutsch geschrieben und nun schaltet sich mein Gehirn nicht mehr auf Englisch um.

Das internationale Literaturfestival Pen Word Voices --sechs Tage, 171 Veranstaltung , 51 Schriftsteller-- ist gestern zu Ende gegangen. In Deutschland stammen mehr als 50% aller übersetzten Bücher aus den USA oder England. Weniger als 3% aller in den USA vertriebenen Bücher sind aus anderen Sprachen übersetzt worden. Das Pen Word Voices Festival ist meine einmalige Gelegenheit herauszufinden was im Rest der Welt gelesen wird.

Hier meine Festival Highlights: Die Kunst des Versagens-- Hommage an Thomas Bernhard. Nicht nur ich bin Bernhard- besessen. Viele Schriftsteller wurden vom Thomas Bernhard Virus angesteckt. Am neugierigsten machte mich Horacio Castellanos Moya aus San Salvador. Im Exil in Mexiko dachte er am Sylvesterabend mit Unlust an die bevorstehende Party und seine gescheiterte Liebesbeziehung und begann im Stil Thomas Bernhards, mit dessen Wut zu schreiben. Daraus wurde Ekel: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador (bisher erst in spanisch und französisch erhältlich).

Michael Krüger vom Hanser Verlag las Gedichte und aus seinem neusten Roman. Er sprach mit Lila Ayam Zanganeh von Le Monde über all die Schriftsteller, die sich in Turin umgebracht haben, sein Idol Kafka und weshalb nicht schreibende Schriftsteller die besseren Schriftsteller sind. Krüger denkt, dass sich in Amerika die Einbildungskraft besser entfalten kann und dass Amerika deshalb bessere Schreiber hervorbringt.

Das Gespräch zwischen anderen Arnon Grunberg und Yael Hedaya war urkomisch. Hedaya hat in Israel das Skript für Betipul (In Behandlung) geschrieben. Inzwischen wurde es von HBO gekauft (Therapy). Mein Lieblingssatz: My main goal in life is to be in therapy with a brilliant therapist.

Weitere Leckerbissen:

Für Ingo Schulz ist Wolfgang Hilbig der beste deutsche Schriftsteller.

Das Tribut für Robert Walser u.a. mit Jeffrey Eugenides und Wayne Kostenbaum.

Leaving Home mit Dinaw Mengestu, György Dragoman und Sasa Stanisic.

Krönender Abschluß im Tempel der Bücher, der Public Libary an der 5. Avenue: die Veranstaltung Books That Changed My Life. Vielsprachentalent Paul Holdengräber-- seine Eltern sind Wiener Juden-- moderierte. Dabei fand ich heraus, dass für

Catherine Millet Balzac von größter Bedeutung war. Für Annie Proulx war es Jack London, für Antonio Munoz Molina Faulkner.

Die anderen deutschsprachigen Schreiber Bernard Schlink, Daniel Kehlmann, Jutta Richter, Evelyn Schlag, Erika Stucky habe ich alle verpasst. Ihre Bücher kann ich mir im Goethe Haus oder beim nächsten Deutschlandbesuch besorgen. Diesmal war ich mehr an Thant Myint-U aus Burma, Rabib Alameddine aus dem Libanon, Yousef Al-Mohaimeed aus Saudi-Arabien, den afrikanischen und lateinamerikanischen Schriftstellern interessiert.

Es hat sich gelohnt jeden Tag den strahlenden Sonnenschein zu ignorieren, stundenlang in fensterlosen Räumen zu verbringen. Aus Liebe zur Literatur.

Jetzt habe ich Lesestoff für die nächsten zwei Jahre. Dabei wollte ich eigentlich schreiben

Freitag, 18. April 2008

Verbrechen gegen den Frühling/ Crime Against Spring (publ. in

Verbrechen gegen den Frühling

Jedes Viertel hat seine Täter

Der Metzger von Brooklyn

Die Mörder von Harlem

Der Henker von Queens

Das Manhattan Massaker

Die Opfer im Union Square Park

Dreiundzwanzig Hortensien

Zwölf Rote Hornsträucher

Zehn Stechpalmen

Sieben Rosenbüsche

Vier Sassafrasbäume

Drei Schmetterlingssträucher

Zwei Maulbeerbäume

Meine Lieblingsmagnolie

Des Winters überdrüssig

Sitzen wir

Neben der bronzenen Ghandi Statue

Und beklagen die Zerstörung

Unseres Zufluchtortes

Crime Against Spring

Each neighborhood has its perpetrators

The Butcher of Bay Ridge

The Elmhurst Executioner

The Gansevoort Girdler

The Mastermind of the Moshulu Massacre

The victims

Twenty-three hydrangea bushes

Twelve Chinese dogwoods,

Seven roses of Sharon

Four sassafras

Three butterfly bushes

Two sycamore maple trees

My favorite magnolia


We sit next to the Ghandi statue

And bemoan the destruction

Of our sanctuary

Crime Against Spring (publ. in

Sonntag, 13. April 2008

My Super and I (publ. in

In February of 1999, I moved to Harlem. Bringing down the garbage for the first time, I met our middle-aged super.

“Hi, I’m Angela. They call me the Clean Nazi. I really appreciate how you separate your garbage. You do a great job tying up your recyclable newspapers and cardboard boxes,” she said.

After my initial shock of witnessing a black woman calling herself a Nazi, I answered: “Hi, my name is Anna. Thanks for the compliment. I’m from Germany. Recycling is a religion in my homeland. You might go to jail if you don’t separate your brown from your green and white glass.”

“My kind of country. Welcome to Harlem. How do you like it so far?”

While I stuffed my laundry into the dryer, we talked. Angela, from Trinidad, didn’t mind White people moving to her Harlem. “We have too many people with poor breeding the way it is now.” Our conversation turned personal. We found out we were the same age.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you menopausal?” she said.

“I stopped menstruating a year ago.”

“A drag, isn’t it?

“I wake up at four every morning and can’t go back to sleep.”

“Do you take hormones?”

“No, I believe in really good quality dark chocolate.”

“You’re my kind of woman.”

On my next trip down to the basement I brought her some of the Novesia Goldnuss Schokolade from my mother’s care package. Angela inspected the green and gold wrapping, the see-through window revealing dark chocolate with gigantic hazelnuts. “Hmm, that looks different,” she said as she ripped the package open. She put the first piece in her mouth and closed her eyes in blissful surrender. I have never had sex with a woman, but Angela looked positively orgasmic. I felt like a voyeur watching the chocolate and hazelnut dance around in her mouth. Finally she opened her eyes.

“Good Lord, this is divine. I’ll throw my Hershey’s away for this. What makes this so good?”

“The right kind of fat. Nothing but cocoa butter. No fillers and additives,” I said.

Angela licked her lips. “How can I make it up to you?”

“No need,” I said, “I just wanted to give you something to take the edge off those menopausal mood swings.”

Then I threw the bright yellow Ikea bags with my freshly laundered clothes over my shoulders and made my way up the stairs.

“Wait a minute,” she stopped me. “Do you have any plans for Saturday night?”

“No, not really.”

“Want to come to my birthday party? We’ll have a male stripper to entertain a crowd of menopausal woman.”

Of course I wanted to go.

Montag, 31. März 2008

New York, New York (Rheinische Post 07)

Bob Dylan hatte eine Weile in Zimmer 305 gewohnt; Grund genug im Hotel Earle abzusteigen. Kaum angekommen, zog es mich nach draußen in den gegenüberliegenden Washington Square Park. Es war ein Samstag Nachmittag im September; ein heißer Tag wie es sie in Deutschland nur im Hochsommer gab. Der Himmel strahlte. Deutsche Städte waren grau. Samstags nachmittags wurden sie zu Friedhöfen. Im Washington Square Park dagegen tobte das Leben. Drogenhändler, Feuerschlucker und Musiker warben lauthals um die Gunst des Publikums. Menschen aller Rassen tanzten zu Parlament Funkadelic. Hunderte von Blockbuster Radios kreierten ein ohrenbetäubendes Soundtrack. Hyperaktive kleine Hunde bellten und rannten um die Wette.

Am südlichen Eingang versammelten sich die Schachspieler, am nördlichen die Scrabble Spieler. Alle spielten mit einer rasanten Geschwindigkeit als ob ihr Leben davon abhing. Ich beobachtete das bunte Treiben und der Ernst und die Melancholie, die mein bisheriges Leben begleitet hatten, fielen von mir ab. An ihrer Stelle trat grundlos gute Laune. Mir war plötzlich klar: In diesem Trubel, diesem anarchistischen Überschwang war kein Platz für mein Unglück- lichsein.

Meine Schritte hatten plötzlich Schwung; ich hüpfte und stürmte die nächsten zehn Blocks Uptown. Ich ging aufrecht, nicht länger mit zusammengesackten Schultern. Ich machte Augenkontakt, grinste wenn mich jemand anlächelte oder mir ein Kompliment machte. Das Leben in New York spielte sich wie in einer südländischen Stadt auf der Strasse ab. Die Strasse spiegelte meine Stimmung wieder. Mir ging es blendend und deshalb traf ich nur auf freundliche Gesichter. “Hey Babe, wanna come for a ride to Florida?“ sagte der Lastwagenfahrer. “Noch eine Stunde Entladen, dann bin ich startklar.“ “What a great haircut,“ rief mir eine schicke, schwarze Frau zu. „Ola, Mami,“ grinste ein lateinamerikanischer Junge und leckte sich dabei die Lippen.

Die 14.Straße wimmelte von weniger gut betuchten New Yorkern. 99 Cents Stores und billige Läden luden zur Schnäppchenjagd ein. Vor den Geschäften saßen Männer auf Leitern und hielten von ihrer erhabenen Position Ausschau nach Dieben. Sie spornten die Passanten in englisch und spanisch zum Kaufen an. “Come on in ladies and gentlemen. Shop until you drop. Unsere Preise sind die besten!“ Viele Menschen suchten vergeblich ihr Glück im Würfelspiel. Das bunte Treiben, die Schaufenster mit den grandiosen Kinderkleidern aus Tüll- und Spitze, der Geruch von Comida Criolla und Cuchifritos, die Salsamusik, das gesammelte menschliche Durcheinander der 14. Strasse, versetzte mich in Hochstimmung. New York war besser als Alkohol oder Drogen.

Zuhause galt ich als Zappelphilipp. Meine Eltern hatten immer gesagt: Lauf nicht so schnell, red nicht so schnell, fuchtelte nicht so viel mit den Händen. Hier in New York liefen und sprachen alle schnell. Hier war ich normal. Hier gehörte ich hin.

Es war Liebe auf den ersten Blick, irrational und unwiderstehlich. Der Verstand setzte aus. Konnte man sich tatsächlich in eine Stadt genauso unsterblich verlieben wie in einen Menschen?

In meiner Liebesblödigkeit entschied ich mich zu bleiben. Ich ließ mein altes Leben hinter mir, meine Sprache, meine Freunde, meine komfortable Wohnung, meine Sicherheit und die Aussicht auf vierzig langweilige Jahre bis zur Rente. Hier in New York würde ich neu anfangen ohne die Schwere und Trübsaal meines bisherigen Lebens. Alles war neu und prickelnd. Jeder Besuch im Supermarkt ein Ereignis. Sogar die Milch schmeckte anders. Es gab fünfundfünfzig verschiedene Sorten Getreideflocken zum Frühstück, aber kein Müsli.

Im Hotel Earle arbeitete Mubarez aus Pakistan an der Rezeption. Wir freundeten uns an. An meinem vierten Tag sagte er mir: „Du kannst New Yorker werden und trotzdem bleiben wie du bist. Du paßt hier hin. Bleib. Das mit der Arbeit wird sich schon geben.

Fortsetzung folgt.

Montag, 17. März 2008

Sturm und Drang ( published in sic and read in KGB Bar NYC)

Adolescence struck like a tornado. My parents, teachers, and most adults became my enemies. They were hypocrites and liars. My school, the Municipal Modern Language Secondary School for the Education of Women, was a prison. The teachers were harsh and punitive wardens. Most had taught during the Nazi era and although officially de-nazified, their fascist teaching methods persevered. Herr Bhode, my history teacher had lived on a large estate near Königsberg[1] “until the Russians confiscated it.” He still advocated the doctrine of the Bund Deutscher Mädchen, Hitler’s youth organization for girls: “A German girl is a pure girl. She does not smoke or paint her face.” He aborted my first foray into make-up with blue eye shadow. “Make-up is for whores. Go to the bathroom and wash your face.”

I was thrilled when after years of pounding Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Hebbel, Herder, Fontane and legions of other dead writers into us, we finally got to read books written in our century. Herr Bhode, a staunch anti-communist, hated Brecht and called him “A traitor who moved to East Germany. Voluntarily! Imagine that.” He despised having to put Mother Courage, a play set during the Thirty Year War, on his lesson plan. The Education Department of our social-democratic state made it a mandatory part of the curriculum. Since Herr Bhode hated Brecht, I liked him right away.

“Girls, what is your interpretation of the funeral scene?” he asked. No one paid attention. It was the last period and the room was hot and stuffy. My class mates were bored. They liked romantic novels without all that bloody fighting. Two girls in front of me were reading the teen magazine Bravo under their desk. My neighbor secretly filed her nails. Some girls had their head down, others were yawning. I was the only one to raise my hand. Herr Bhode cut me down: “Tersteegen, we are not interested in your comments. You don’t have to think in my class.”

The old geezer made my blood boil. I was furious. How dare he forbid me to think? Our history book portrayed the Germans as victims of World War II who were led to disaster by a megalomaniac leader. The German loss of life, the soldier’s loss of limb, the allied bombing and the destruction of cities were described at great length. The losses of other nations and the atrocities committed in the concentration camps were relegated to a few paragraphs and fine print.

Whenever I asked adults how all of this could have happened, they shrugged their shoulders, refused an answer, or insisted that they didn’t know how terrible it had been. Frau Stanke felt that Hitler hadn’t been all that bad. “He built the Autobahn. Everyone had work again. Our Führer restored law and order in the country, and people felt proud to be German again.” I pitied the losses of the other nations, especially the Russians. Discovering Chekhov and Dostojewski made me fall in love with the Russian people.

I followed the Auschwitz trials and the testimonies of the camp survivors in the news. More than 6000 former members of the SS[2] guarded Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945; only twenty-two faced trial. Those accused showed no trace of remorse. The loathsome concentration camp Doctor Mengele lived a privileged life in South America. I looked at pictures of emaciated bodies, rooms full of shoes and handbags. Had they really mixed ashes with fat to make soap from the remains of the Jews? How could I feel anything but shame about belonging to this nation?

We had murdered millions. What role did my father play?

I discovered rebellion and assumed a loud-mouthed belligerent defiant stance. Testy and antagonistic on principle I confronted my father about his participation in the war and his beliefs about Jews, Poles, and all the other “inferior races.”

“What did you do in the war?”

“I was a regular soldier.”

“A regular soldier? How many people did you kill? Did you enjoy doing it?”

“Watch your tone, young lady. We did what we had to do.”

“What about the guards in the camps? They did what they had to do. Would you have done it too?” I howled him down.

My father’s face turned dark red. His Adam’s apple started a little dance, as if he had trouble swallowing. I didn’t care that his blood pressure might rise to a dangerous level. Let him have a stroke right this minute. “What about the camps? Was that all right with you?” My mother ran in from the kitchen, an onion in one hand, a small knife in the other. “Leave your father alone. Don’t aggravate him. He’s not well. Your questions will bring him to an early grave. If he dies, it will be your fault.”

I stormed out of the room and marched up the stairs. I loved the screeching sound of my metal shoe tips hitting the cold hard stone. Hoped it would send goose bumps down my parents’ spine. I pushed the door to my room open and then slammed it shut with a loud wham. Turned the key and barricaded myself inside. My heart raced as if I had just finished a sprint on sport’s day. I would never calm down. Not in a million years. I wanted to hit something, kick the door in or punch a hole in the wall. Instead, I paced in a circle. My riding trophies, all seven of them lined up neatly on my book shelf, caught my eye. They had to go. Bam, bam they flew of the shelf. I loved the noise. The pictures of horses were next. They had graced my bedroom walls for as long as I remembered. A testimony to my childhood plans of owning a horse farm one day.

A horse farm! What a ridiculous idea! I started with my favorite picture. The Arabian stallion, torn to pieces, landed on the floor. The Lipizaners, Dülmen ponies, and the fine Przcwalski were next.The Araappaloosa show horse, the black Friesian with its long mane, the strong Holsteiner, and even the small Hucul from the Carpathian Mountains, they all had to go. I felt strong and powerful as I destroyed them. What would my father, the proud cavalry man think if he could see me now? He had taught me to love horses. I had followed him around on tournament day dressed in proper riding-habit, boots and riding crop, the entire outfit his gift for my ninth birthday. He had been proud to show his daughter off and asked a stranger to take a picture of us. He even let me bet on my favorite horse. None of this mattered anymore. The horses time was up. I did not stop until all hundred and twenty-five pictures were scattered on the floor. I thought about starting a bonfire, of burning down the house, but stopped myself right in time. Instead I stomped over to the chest of drawers, took the Animals album out of its sleeve, placed the 45 on the record player and lowered the needle. “We gotta get out of this place” was the best song ever written. I played it as loud as possible, at least twenty times in a row and sang along at the top of my lungs.

Somewhere baby

Somehow I know it baby

We gotta get out of this place

If it’s the last thing we ever do

We gotta get out of this place

Girl, there’s a better life for me and you

Believe me baby

I know it baby

You know it too

I could not get out of this place, but I could redecorate. I started by pinning my new heroes on the wall: Che Guevara, Mao, and Bob Dylan. The man was a genius. How did he come up with the brilliant line “If dogs run free, why we don’t?” Above my bed I hung a picture of the cutest couple in the world, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. Meanwhile my mother shouted from the first floor:

“Turn down that Negro music. I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.”

“So what. Have your breakdown already.” I muttered. My mother was a doormat, a piece of furniture. Stuck in the past. She acted as if the war had never ended. I had heard the story of the starving Rapp family a million times. “Living on cabbage for three months, a hard boiled egg divided among four people, a tablespoon of butter a real luxury.” I didn’t care one bit. I didn’t want to hear another word about German suffering. If my parents both ended up in a mental institution, I’d be happy to live with my grandmother. My mother’s parents were the only acceptable ones among my relatives. My father’s family, the first to join the Nazi party in their village, had been staunch supporters until the bitter end, but my mother’s parents never joined. The Nazis were too un-Christian for their taste. My grandfather had always made fun of the little man with the big mustache and listened to enemy radio. The family maintained friendly relationships with their Jewish neighbors. Grandma lit the fire in the synagogue every Saturday until there was no more synagogue.

Looking for role models and help with my unanswered questions, I turned to literature. In the backroom of the public library, high up on the shelf were the books deemed inappropriate for youth. Ms. Waldenburg, the petite middle-aged librarian with enormous horn rimmed glasses that hid kind blue eyes had been my friend since third grade. I harbored the fantasy that she loved me more than any other child who visited her library. There had been rumors that she had no husband and children because her fiancé had died fighting in Belgium. I was sure I was special to her and if she could she would adopt me. What a wonderful life we could have had, sitting together on the couch in the evenings, reading, taking breaks to update each other on the plots, reciting special passages out loud, all the while munching on butter cookies.

“Do your parents know that you are taking out Günter Grass and Hubert Fichte?” She asked.

“We have to read Grass for school.”

She knew that I lied. The books were full of dirty passages I wasn’t supposed to read yet. The Catholic Church had placed them on the list of forbidden books. “You might want to read this one too,” she said with a wink and placed Peter Weiss into my hands. Weiss, a writer outraged by the amnesia that had befallen my parents’ generation, was the answer to all of my prayers.

Judge: Did you see anything of the camp?

Second Witness: Nothing. I was just glad to get out of there.

Judge: Did you see the chimneys at the end of the platform or the smoke and glare?

Second Witness: Yes. I saw the smoke.

Judge: And what did you think?

Second Witness: I thought those must be the bakeries. I had heard they baked bread in

there day and night. After all it was a big camp.[3]

I started to question everything. How could there be a God? Why was he unable to prevent such barbaric cruelty? I signed myself out of religion class at school, and then doubted if it had been the right decision. Still I attended the Catholic youth group meetings in the basement of our church. We went there because we were bored and had nothing better to do. It was a chance to hang out, to meet boys and to get away from home. The young chaplain was handsome and cool. As a miner’s son he was one of us. He had invited us to watch Die Brücke.[4] It had been shown on TV before, but my father made us turn it off and I never got to see the end.

Chaplain Paul fumbled with the projector while I surveyed the room. My friend Astrid who had a reputation for being fast played with her hair and shot seductive glances in Reinhold’s direction. I had known Christel, the youngest in the group, since kindergarten. We had played doctor together in her parents’ garage. Cornelia was a straight A student and we all despised her for that. I had a crush on Andreas. With his handsome features, sultry voice, gorgeous brown eyes and dark hair, he was every girls dream. He looked just like a movie star. I helped myself to pretzels and Coca Cola. The coke was warm, but tasted fantastic simply because it was forbidden at home.

Chaplain Paul turned off the light (our favorite part) and said with a somber voice: “This is the first German anti-war film, based on a novel and the true experiences of the writer. It shows what happens when children are educated in the wrong ideas, when they become victims of ideology. You have to watch it so you won’t repeat the sins of your fathers.”

Andreas and Reinhold yawned. They hated educational movies; they hated it when Chaplain Paul used big words. “What’s ideology anyhow?” Andreas asked.

The film took place in a small German town similar to ours populated with children, women, and old people. It was shocking and sad. During the final days of the war seven teenage boys were drafted into the Volkssturm, a small ad-hoc unit pulled together for local defense. They trained for one day, learned to use their weapons, and were sent to the front. Their teacher, afraid for their lives, intervened on their behalf. The boys, not much older than us, had to secure an unimportant bridge, meant to be blown up anyway and defend it against enemy seizure. At first we were proud of how brave they acted. Andreas poked Reinhold in the ribs to show his approval. When their commander, mistaken for a deserter, got executed Christel and Astrid started to cry. On their own now, fiercely patriotic, and elated to be called to duty, the boys continued to fight even as the German troops retreated. American tanks arrived and tried to cross the bridge. We were worried and concerned for the boys. I stopped chomping on the pretzels so no sound would distract us from the action on screen. The American soldiers looked young and handsome. One of them was chewing gum. I liked his uniform. He made fun of the young fighters, called them kindergarteners. Why didn’t the boys surrender? I held my breath. To continue to fight would be a suicidal mission.

Only one of the boys survived. The death of his friends and the death of the German and American soldiers were all in vain. We had tears in our eyes when the epilogue appeared on the screen. ”This took place on April 27, 1945. An insignificant event, it was not mentioned in any military report.”

No one spoke. Nobody went to the bathroom. No one was in the mood for board games.

At home I confronted my father: “Why didn’t you let us watch Die Brücke to the end?”

“You’re not old enough.”

“Not old enough,” I fumed. “I’m old enough to learn about the war.”

“You won’t watch crap like that in my house. Not as long as you live under my roof and I’m putting food on the table.”

“What kind of reasoning is that? Just because you feed me, I don’t have to buy into your lies.”

“Watch your mouth or you’re gonna get it.”

“So what do you want to do? Hit me? Does that make you feel good? Alright then, if it makes you feel superior and strong, go ahead and hit me.”

Shaking on the inside, I managed to act cocky on the outside. I turned my face to my father. He raised his hand and held it up in the air for a few tormenting seconds. We stared each other down. Then his arm collapsed as if it belonged to a rag doll. He couldn’t do it. I had won. I was fifteen years old and more powerful than my own father.

From now on I let him have it. “Why do we have to switch channels whenever a Jewish historian or scientist appeares? “What’s the point of tearing up all the Marxist and Maoist pamphlets I bring home?” He didn’t answer. I stormed out of the room and heard him lament: “I’ve raised a Bolshevik? My God, I’ve raised a Bolshevik!”

My father didn’t have a monopoly on hate. I could stew in hate too. I hated my life. I hated him. I hated his politics and his despair. I hated my mother and her wimpy ways. I hated school, Germany, and the character traits of most Germans. Their desire to regulate every aspect of life. Hated bus drivers, post office clerks, and anyone wearing a uniform who savored their power and found perverse pleasure in treating me as an inferior. I hated old ladies who scolded me when I tried to cross the street on a red light: “My God, these young people today. No respect for rules!” The entire country was plastered with Verboten signs. Playing in the yard verboten! Verboten to touch the flowers! Spitting verboten! Walking on the grass forbidden! Was life itself verboten?

Luckily I found kindred spirits. The TV brought images of San Francisco’s rebellious youth, flowers in their hair, into our living room. College students in Berkeley, Paris and Berlin protested the Vietnam War. They all told their parents off: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” In Germany, longhaired beatniks, despised by adults, participated in many Easter peace marches. The more the adults hated them, the more I longed to be one of them. Marijuana made a lot of young people happy. I was determined to score some.

In Berlin a group of young left-wing college students, seven men and three women started an experiment in radical communal living. The members of Kommune 1 had given up individual possessions to practice for life after the revolution. It was just a matter of time before exclusive love relationships were a thing of the past. The women in the group were beautiful like models, the guys funny looking. Rainer Langhans had a flamboyant mop of curls on top of his head. Fritz Teufel had a full mustache and beard. Everyone wore round wire rimmed glasses. I begged my mother to let me change my frames immediately.

The guys of Kommune 1 were great comedians. I was always hoping to see another of their pranks on the evening news. When US vice president Hubert Humphrey came to visit Germany, several members were accused of planning a bomb attack and were arrested by the secret service. They got off. The police couldn’t prove a thing. Teufel said: ”We had planned to bomb him with eggs and pudding.” My father was outraged: “They all belong in jail. Get rid of them; send them to East Germany.”

Dieter Kunzelmann, the leader and most outrageous member had me crack up every time he made a public statement. The latest was his best: “I don’t work and I don’t study. Why should I care about the Vietnam War when I have trouble reaching orgasm?”

What was an orgasm anyway? How could I find a man like Dieter to teach me all about it?


[1] Now Kaliningrad, Russia, then East Prussia, Germany

[2] The double SS is an abbreviation of Schutzstaffel, literally Protection Force or Defense Squad. It controlled nearly all aspects of German and later European life

[3] Peter Weiss: The Investigation, Frankfurt 1965

4 Die Brücke (The Bridge) by Bernhard Wicki, 1959

Montag, 25. Februar 2008

Hillary oder Barack? Wahlstimmung in Harlem (OPINIO 14. Janauar 2008)

Coeur d'Afrique für Barack,
Veronica's Hair Power für Hillary.
Meinen Studenten ist Barack nicht schwarz genug.
Artikel anzeigen

Seit Monaten findet man in der amerikanischen Presse kaum Beiträge zudem was man in Europa Weltpolitik nennt. Stattdessen gibt es seitenweise Artikel zum Wahlkampf, so als ob gar nichts anderes mehr existiere.

In Harlem, wo ich lebe, sind die schwarzen Bewohner sich einig, dass sie Busch nicht mehr wollen. „ Der hat zweimal hintereinander die Wahl gestohlen,“ sagen sie. Die Einwanderer aus Jemen, Nigeria, Mali und der Elfenbeinküste sind Barack Obama Fans. Das äthiopische Restaurant, das senegalesische Stoffgeschäft und die Bäckerei Coeur d’Afrique haben alle Barack Obama Posters im Fenster. Er ist ja fast einer von ihnen wo sein Vater doch aus Kenia stammt. Veronika’s Hair Power, Fine Fair Supermarkt und viele von Frauen betriebene Geschäfte präsentieren Wahlplakate von Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton, den viele Afroamerikaner so lieben, dass sie ihn den ersten schwarzen amerikanischen Präsidenten nennen, hat sein Büro auf der 125. Straße. Die Clintons werden in Harlem verehrt.

Die Vor- und Nachteile eines schwarzen Präsidenten werden beim Warten in der Post diskutiert. Eine Afrikanerin im farbenfrohen Kaftan und kunstvoll gewickeltem Turban lobt Barack Obama und redet eindringlich im britischem Akzent auf ihre afroamerikanischen Landsleute ein. Die sind nicht überzeugt. „A black leader? Think of Martin Luther King. Obama will be killed by the KluKlux Clan.

Barack Obama, der Sohn einer weißen Mutter und eines schwarzen Vaters, ist trotz seiner Jugend bei der Jugend nicht so beliebt. Meinen lateinamerikanischen und afroamerikanischen Studenten, die ich am City College im Schreiben unterrichte, ist er nicht schwarz genug. Auch die Schüler in der South Bronxer High School, an der mein Mann Geschichte unterrichtet, mögen ihn nicht. „He’s acting too white. Die New York Times analysierte diese Stimmung. Ein schwarzer Präsident, der nicht aktiv an der Bürgerrechtsbewegung teilgenommen hat, ist für viele Afroamerikaner undenkbar.

Ich sitze zwischen den Stühlen. Zwar bin ich seit 1980 in den USA, habe aber erst vor drei Monaten den Antrag zur amerikanischen Staatsangehörigkeit gestellt. Ausschlaggebend war dass ich an der Wahl teilnehmen will und mir erhoffe, dass meine Stimme den entscheidenden Unterschied macht. Ich bin nicht allein. Der Andrang beim US Naturalisation Office ist so groß, dass mit einer Wartezeit von 12 bis 16 Monaten zu rechnen ist. Meine Fingerabdrücke wollen sie allerdings schon nächste Woche haben. Falls ein Wunder geschieht und ich am 4. November doch wählen kann, wünsche ich mir Hillary Clinton als Präsidentin und Barack Obama als Vizepräsident.

Mittwoch, 30. Januar 2008

Hans Glück (Promethean 2007)

My love for German food and the German language returned. Most Thursdays after therapy, I strolled down the three blocks of Sauerkraut Boulevard/ East 86th Street. Yorkville in the early 80s, before the onslaught of PC Richards, Victoria’s Secret, and Footlocker mega stores had the flavor of a German neighborhood. Restaurants, named Heidelberg, Ideal, and Café Geiger, served Jägerschnitzel, Sauerbraten, and excellent draught beer. Elk’s Candy carried the best marzipan this side of the Atlantic. In the evenings, zither and accordion players entertained the crowd. Before I started my long haul back to TriBeCa, I always treated myself to Kaffee und Kuchen, Germany’s version of High Tea, at Kleine Konditorei. Their rich Black Forest tart, almost as good as my mother’s, never failed to improve my mood.

In Germany, being German was an ordeal, a full time job. Everyday we dealt with our parents and grandparents’ guilt, the heavy load we had inherited. On American TV, my compatriots were Nazis, deranged psychiatrists, or Bavarians in Lederhosen. They were barking orders, or slapping their legs doing the Schuhplattler dance. I was no longer troubled or insulted by it. Here in New York, at Kleine Konditorei, I shamelessly indulged in my Germaness.

Kleine Konditorei, proud of its home cooking and gut bürgerlich ambiance, kept the Teutonic theme under control. No antlers on the wall, no decorative steins, or yodeling over the sound system, just immaculately clean windows and floors, red fabric chairs and sofas, starched white linen tablecloths, and fine china. New York offered a multitude of restaurant experiences, but it did not have a coffee house culture like European cities. Kleine Konditorei, a pitiable substitute for Berlin’s Café Einstein was the next best thing. I could linger for hours in a comfortable upholstered chair over a Kännchen Kaffee without being harassed by the wait staff to place another order every twenty minutes.

Anita, the heavyset Viennese waitress, was polishing the doorknob with a table napkin as I made my way in.

Schönen guten Tag,” she chirped.

Danke, ebenso,” I answered.

Ogling the cakes and pies behind the counter, I made my way to my favorite table. From my vantage point, I could scrutinize most of the inside tables as well as the outside street action. Across from me, three old ladies with hairdos resembling corrugated sheet metal, sat with gigantic portions of tort. They spoke a strange mixture of German and English. “Der Mohnkuchen is fantastic. So lecker! Please pass mir die milk und das Sweet & Low.”

I considered the special attributes of German Kaffee und Kuchen. Brewed with less Arabica beans, German coffee was thinner than Italian espresso, but superior to the dishwater that passed for American coffee. Americans never got torts right. Just like their saccharine smiles, their pastries were unbearably sweet. German pastries, like life, were both sweet and tart. As I sank my teeth into the scrumptious piece of Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, a superb concoction of cherry sauce, flour, cream, eggs, chocolate, and Kirsch brandy, I mocked the accent I heard all around me: “Ziss Kriempuff is fäbuluss.”

As I licked my spoon I thought about my therapist’s question an hour ago: “Have you ever been with an older man?” and how I had rebuffed Vivian Deutsch: “No way. An older guy and me? You won’t see that happen any time soon.” Vivien had been adamant: “You ought to give it a try. Allow yourself to be attracted to a good kind man. A man with the qualities of a good father. It should help you move from romantic love and a fixation on sex, to sustained attachment.” Maybe she had a point. Even Freud had called romantic love “the overestimation of the romantic object.”

As I surveyed the room, a man with the handsome look of an old-time matinee idol caught my eye. His Basque cap, silver unruly hair sticking out from underneath, and red scarf tied around his neck gave him a bohemian flair. He took cautious measured steps, and then rested on his cane until Anita came to his rescue. She led him to a table set for a large group of people, took his coat and helped him into his seat.

“Who is that?” I asked when she passed by.

“Hans Glück. He’s a writer. Part of the Stammtisch. A group of old Jewish folks who meet here every Thursday. They all speak German.”

“You are kidding?”

“No. They’ve been coming here for the past thirty-five years. No one wants to wait on them. They sit forever and don’t eat much. Terrible tippers.”

I decided to stay and ordered a brandy. As I savored my Asbach, I eavesdropped on the discussion at their table. My ears perked up when I heard them talk about Thomas Bernhard’s latest book. One man with an Austrian accent didn’t like Bernhard: “How can he call Salzburg, his hometown, a terminal disease?” Hans Glück didn’t like my favorite writer either. “Who does he think he is? James Joyce? Unreadable, this relentless, repetitive stuff.” How could he not like Bernhard? In my canon of western literature, next to Musil and Beckett, Bernhard was the greatest writer of our century. No one else’s writing was so personal and uncompromising. Hans Glück was ignorant. How would he justify his position? I strained to listen. Against my better judgment and annoyance, I fell in love with the way he spoke. Like a bourgeois playboy in the final days of the Habsburg monarchy, his was a pure, upper class, turn-of-the-nineteenth-century German, untainted by any Anglicism. In an instant he transported me to an Arthur Schnitzler novel. Fortified by my third brandy, I asked Anita to introduce me. She did not waste time.

Liebe Stammtischgäste, you have to meet Anna. She’s from the Rhineland, but she studied in Berlin.”

“Oh Berlin, my heart aches for you,” Hans Glück said.

Now I had a chance to study him close-up. He had bushy, unruly eyebrows, and curious pale blue eyes. His right eye had a mind of its own and made him look almost cross-eyed. The enormous dark circles under his eyes held a lot of sorrow. But his lips were full and sensual. Somewhat melancholic. He must have been a good kisser. As if he had been able to guess my thoughts, he turned to me, took my hand and kissed it gently. Junges Fraülein, we must get to know each other. I’m quite lonely these days. Come visit me,” he pleaded. Then he rummaged through his pants pocket and produced a business card. Hans Glück, Writer, it said.

I became a regular visitor to Hans’ home in Washington Heights where he had lived since the forties. His neighborhood, now populated mostly by Dominican families, had become a haven for German Jews after World War II. Other Jewish émigrés called it the Forth Reich, but he affectionately called it Frankfurt on the Hudson. Hans had been drawn there for its close proximity to the Cloisters, “the most European of all places in New York and without a doubt the best place for a poet.”

For the next year I traveled twice a month on the #1 subway from TriBeCa all the way up to the tip of Manhattan. In Hans’ apartment everything was covered with dust; the furniture was tired, and the windows and curtains had not been cleaned in years. Just as I had envisioned a political émigré’s home, books invaded every space. There were overstuffed bookshelves in the hallway, living room, dining room, his office, bedroom, and even in the bathroom. Piles of books rose in stacks from the floor requiring careful navigation. One careless move could send the bastions of European thought crumbling down. We had many things in common. Our love for literature. Our loathing for the horrible bread and tasteless beer in America. Coming from Berlin and accustomed to the Berliner’s rough charm and sarcastic humor, we were flabbergasted by the friendliness of the American people.

“The telephone operators say ‘Thank you,’ ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘You’re welcome.’”

“Even the dentist called me by my first name.”

Hans helped me understand the mysteries of the American psyche.

“Why do they give you their business card, act so enthusiastic, and then never call?”

“They just can’t say no. They don’t want to hurt your feelings”

“Why do they think I am overly critical when I’m just being honest?”

“They can’t tolerate the truth. They like fantasy.”

I was falling for him in a peculiar way. But when he put his hand on my knee I felt repulsed. As if I had put my fingers in an electric outlet, a shock wave reverberated through my body. Too stunned to speak, I watched him slide his hand up my leg and caress my thigh. “Are you wearing garters and stockings?” he mumbled. “I sure hope so. The invention of pantyhose was a punishment for the male species.”

My shock waves turned to nausea. The idea of sex with a man his age was truly revolting. I rebutted his offer to spend the night. ”You are out of your mind. I’m looking for a friend, someone to give me guidance, not orgasms.” Hans, disappointed, but not defeated, insisted: “What about a man like me, aged and mellow like fine cognac? I have a lot of experience pleasing women. Anything a young man does, I can do it better.”

I had no doubt. Now my experience as a Go-Go dancer came in handy. I knew how to put a man in his proper place.

“Hans, if you come on to me one more time, I’ll leave and you’ll never see me again.”

Schon gut, I’d rather have you as a friend than not have you at all.”

Once this was settled, we kept the erotic tension at bay and for the most part got along fine. Despite our age difference, we were alike in many ways. Neither of us had found lasting happiness in love. I was married to Ernest and had started a steamy affair with Ivan. Hans had been married twice. Neither marriage lasted long. He had his reasons: “Something in me bristles at the domestication of love. The sight of the heavy oak marriage-bed repulses me. Love should be the continuation of poetry by other means.” I, brought up on tragic love stories, dangerous affairs, enchanting courtesans, and women like Emma Bovary, in pursuit of their desires, was a kindred spirit. In my love for literature, I had made a mess of my life and ended up with an unbalanced mind. Maybe it was best to settle for platonic love with Hans? A former tomboy, I had always gotten along fine with men as long as I didn’t turn them into my lovers. Intellectually stimulating conversations were gratifying. Maybe they’d be a good substitute for sex?

I could not have asked for a more captivating companion. Hans had known the best writers of his generation, both in Europe and the United States. They came alive in his anecdotes. The Parisian exile. Getting drunk in the Café de la Poste with Joseph Roth, one of my literary heroes. The cocktail party at John Dos Passos’ house in Provincetown. Playing cricket with Langston Hughes at McDowell. Langston Hughes!

I had been to Paris too. In the Pere Lachaise cemetery, I had bypassed the gravesite of Jim Morrison, the most popular destination for people my age, to pay my respects at the final resting places of Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. I had been inside Freud’s study in Vienna and had touched his desk and inkpot. But most of my experiences seemed second rate compared to his.

Hans, raised in a Jewish assimilated family “more German than the Germans,” amazed me with his command of the German language after more than forty years in exile. His mother tongue was the umbilical cord connecting him to his homeland. “I did not allow Hitler to destroy my love of German.” He made me feel good about being German. “There’s no collective guilt. Not all Germans were Nazis.” When he saw that I wasn’t convinced, he cleared his throat, straightened his back, and in his most dignified speech recited one of his poems.

When I think of Germany at night

I think of Heine,



I no longer think of Buchenwald.[i]

My father, the Catholic Nazi, had tried to eradicate my artistic ambitions: “No, you can’t join the Drama Club. Forget about a career in the arts. Writers don’t make any money, at least not during their lifetime.” Hans, the Jewish Socialist, encouraged my creative desires. He came to see me play Lulu in Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening.” Like a proud father he clapped louder and harder than anyone else at La Mama that evening. When I showed him my poems, he complimented me: “Not bad at all. You certainly have a way with words.”

We argued about literature like lovers, made up like lovers, except we weren’t lovers. We had a great relationship until I lost him to another woman. He met Hannelore at an event in honor of his life’s work at Goethe House where actors and actresses recited his poems and prose. At the reception Hannelore, in a tight navy blue suit, a glass of champagne in her hand, buttered him up. “I am so impressed with your work, your talent. I have read all your plays and can’t decide which one is my favorite.” I hated her instantly. She was a provincial school teacher in search of luster for her boring life. Maybe befriending writers would do the trick. I tried to signal Hans my disapproval. He, smitten with her big tits and long blond curls, totally ignored me.

I was thirty-two; Hannelore was fifty-seven; Hans was eighty-eight. His two-volume memoir had just been published in Germany. After a hiatus of fifty years his plays were performed again. His German publisher had invited him to a literary talk show and a book tour, but he was not able to board a plane by himself and visit his homeland. His eyesight had deteriorated to near blindness. Hannelore offered to help. When she suggested that he could live with her in Tübingen, Hans answered: “Only if you do me the honor of marrying me.” She accepted. “Will you help me shop for a wedding suit? He asked me. “She won’t let me wear my old tuxedo, the one I bought for my second marriage. She thinks it’s bad luck.”

The Nice Guys Livery Cab service took us downtown. As we rode along the Westside Highway, Hans swayed along to the Spanish music on the radio. I felt attacked by the romantic words: There was no amor, vida preciosa, no futoro and no afeccion for me. The spectacular views of the Hudson River left me cold. Hans clearly enjoyed himself. “Should I go for a black or navy suit?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t care what kind of suit he got.

“Don’t you think black is too funeral? I want an upbeat suit, one that shouts optimism and joy.”

“Let’s go for navy then,” I said, trying not to sound weepy.

“What a marvelous day, made for poetry,” he raved, puffed his chest and started to recite:

Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß

Sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie

Hinheben über dich zu anderen Dingen?[ii]

„Don’t you love Rilke?”

I used to, but now I hated him. I was glad when we finally reached Trinity Place. Syms, housed in an ugly utilitarian building, boasted to hold the largest selection of off-prize clothing in America. We made our way to the men’s department where hundreds, maybe thousands of suits were awaiting adoption “I’ll sit down. You go and pick the right one for me. I’m a 40 Regular, the same size as when I arrived in New York in 1944,” Hans said with pride. I roamed the canons of male formal attire, the rows of suits with orange, blue, green and yellow tickets and finally found his size. Mad at Hannelore for taking Hans away from me, for not letting him wear his old tuxedo, the one that could have bestowed bad luck on his third marriage, I searched the racks for the ugliest suit. Why should Hans look handsome for her? Then a pang of guilt struck me. Who was I to jinx this marriage? Hans deserved to be happy. I picked out three elegant, distinguished looking suits and brought them over. A salesclerk nodded his approval, took them from me and guided Hans behind the black curtain to the dressing rooms. I sat down and studied the signs for on-site tailoring. The place was depressing. Hans, in his socks and chic Calvin Klein suit, was helped by the salesclerk to the platform covered with sad red threadbare carpeting. I watched the measuring tape swing from the salesclerk’s neck. Hans moved as close as possible to the mirror, then turned around and scrutinized himself from every angle.

“Don’t I look elegant,’ he exclaimed. “I swear this suit takes years off my life. I feel sixty again.”

“Your father looks marvelous,” the salesclerk said. “I hear the wedding is in two days.” He knelt down, took a pin out of his mouth and started to cuff Hans’ pants. “You are lucky that we do rush tailoring.”

I didn’t feel so lucky. In fact, I tried hard not to grind my teeth. When Hans came back out in his old cloths, he sat down next to me. We would have to wait to have the pants hemmed and the suspender buttons sewed on. Hans turned to me. Even with one blind eye, he could tell I was upset.

“What’s the matter, Anna? Aren’t you happy for me?”

“I’m happy for you, but I’ll miss you.” I tried hard not to choke.

“You can always visit us.”

“That’s not the same.”
”There are telephones”

“I know. But I’ll miss our Kaffeeklatsch. Your stories.”

“Look, this is my last chance to feel young again, to be celebrated for my talent. After all the wrong women, I have to take a chance at love.” Hans lifted up my chin. “You’re not crying, are you? Don’t be sad. You’ll find the right one too, I know.”

I swallowed hard. Why would I want anybody else?

I had attended plenty of green card weddings, including my own. Elegant affairs staged in downtown lofts, East Village rooftops, or trendy Japanese restaurants. Gay American artists hoping for an easier life in Berlin or Hamburg married Germans with expired tourist visas. Hans and Hannelore’s wedding, however, was the real thing.

Getting off the elevator on the ninth floor, I was shocked to find crates of books stacked up in the hallway. Was Hans moving out? Inside his apartment the piles of books were gone, the chairs and tables were freed of them too. My nose led me right to the living room. His desk and dining table had been pushed together to create an enormous buffet, weighed down with his friends’ contributions to his potluck-wedding feast. Leo Blumenthal had brought his famous Würstelgoulash, Elfriede Goldberg her chicken paprika and Nicole Edelmann her Buletten. There were Lachsbrötchen, Rouladen, and even my childhood’s beloved Heringsstip, the dish I had eaten on my first outing to a restaurant with my father. I unwrapped my contribution to the party and squeezed two loaves of Zabar’s apricot strudel, Hans’s favorite, into the tiny space left on the table. I thought about all the times in my life when food had been my solace. A great meal had often provided a much superior experience than most sex, so often mediocre and disappointing. I feasted my eyes on the Central European delicacies in front of me. I had not seen such quantities of scrumptious foods since my First Communion. Why wasn’t I tempted? Why had I lost my appetite? I consoled myself with Henkel sparkling wine.

Leo Blumenthal, who fled Vienna in 1938, sat down at the piano. The guests decked out in thirty-year-old tuxedos and faded Cocktail dresses were giddy with excitement. When Leo started the first beats of Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt, Hans walked with careful measured steps toward his bride, bowed, took her hand, kissed it, and then pulled her close. He looked like a young man escorting his sweetheart to the debutante ball. They danced an elegant waltz. Some of the wedding guests formed a circle around them and sang along the schmaltzy tune.

Ein Viertel Frühling und ein Viertel Wein,

Ein Viertel Liebe, verliebt muß man sein.

Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt,

Wer braucht mehr, um glücklich zu sein?[iii]

When they stopped thunderous cheering and clapping erupted. Hans, overcome with emotion, took a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped the sweat from his forehead, cleared his throat and addressed his guests: “Liebe Freunde thank you for helping me celebrate the happiest day of my life.” Dapper in his navy suit, pink tie and rose pinned to his lapel, he looked like a professor emeritus, a distinguished scholar of philosophy. Hannelore had even trimmed his nose hairs for the occasion.

“Earlier this morning we were at City Hall. The most marvelous place in all of New York City. Every single person in the room was filled with hope. I’m so glad you came to send us off. Hannelore and I will be leaving for our honeymoon on Wednesday. I won’t be coming back to Washington Heights or New York City.”

“Let’s have a toast to the Brautpaar,” Leo said.

Everyone chimed in. Hoch solln sie leben. Bride and groom blushed to a thunderous applause.

Leo Blumenthal sat down again and started to play a slow, melancholy tango. Mrs. Goldberg, in long black gloves and a too tight bottle green satin dress that revealed a lot of wrinkled cleavage, positioned herself in dramatic fashion next to the piano and started to sing

We sat

in der kleinen Konditorei,

had coffee and cake.

No need to say a single word,

I understood you right away.

It felt as if a soccer ball struck my stomach. This was our song. Die kleine Konditorei, I had met Hans there. Mrs. Orenstein, a holocaust survivor, who had lost her husband to cancer three month ago, turned to me and said: “Isn’t it marvelous to find love at his age?” Trim and petite, she nibbled on her strudel. I stared at her thinning bluish hair, at a loss for words. A lady in a crimson suit came to my rescue, pulling Mrs. Orenstein to the dance floor. It was my chance to run off. At the buffet, I quickly downed two glasses of champagne. I had to get away from the radiant Brautpaar, the happy guests, the joyous laughter.

Careful to avoid anyone who might engage me in a conversation, I made my way to the back of the apartment. Between the coat rack and the bathroom, I sat down on the floor and gave myself over to a brooding unhappiness. How did people fall in love and stay in love? They had to be born with that knowledge that eluded me all my life. I wondered if I’d ever find lasting love and grow old with a man. Someone who’d walk a mile to get me hearty black bread for breakfast and remembered that plum butter was my favorite spread. I sat for hours, and only snuck out to fill up my glass. I felt like a suitcase abandoned at the airport’s conveyor belt. Full of treasures, but unwanted and forgotten. Bestellt und nicht abgeholt. No one to retrieve me.

© 2007

[i] Hans Sahl: Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht

[ii] How shall I hold on to my soul, so that

It does not touch yours? How shall I lift

It gently up over you to other things? Rainer Maria Rilke, Lovesong

[iii] Robert Stolz