Saturday, November 29, 2008

Deutches Bundespost

Helga Burger and her partner, Kristal

Last night, I stayed up late sewing the top of my laundry bag. By hand. I don't own a machine and when I did, it was my grandmother's old treadle, electrified, and I could never find needles for it. I was the only kid in junior high who dropped out of home ec when we got to sewing. I was absolutely bored with the idea of making a dirndl skirt back in 1965. My mother couldn't sew either, so she could have cared less that I dropped out of home ec. She was and is a woman whose favorite cookbook was Peg Bracken's I Hate to Cook Book.

But why I was repairing my large laundry bag was that it had been a gift to me in the fall of 1978 from my friend Helga Burger in Germany. I had met Helga when I was a summer exchange student under the auspices of Youth for Understanding in 1969 in Offenbach. I had originally asked to be placed in France, because French was what I had studied in high school. I spoke no German. When word came that I had been placed instead in Germany, my mother said, "Well your forebears are German, you should be fine." So off I went to Germany without any German language skills or any further thought on the potential problems that might create, where I was to live with the Wade family.

Now life with the Wade family turned out to be not a box of chocolates. To begin with, just getting there involved a a harrowing all day trip on a train from Hamburg to Offenbach (because I had to be placed with a Catholic family, I had to be sent to the center south of Germany because there were no Catholic families to be found in northern Germany per YFU). The train from Hamburg was delayed en route 5 hours. I made it to Frankfurt without a clue as to how to transfer trains (thank you kind guardian angels) and then when I arrived at the train station in Offenbach, there Iwas no one waiting for me and I had no German money nor idea how to use a phone to call them--again saved by another guardian angel who made the call for me. Of course, while I was waiting for the Wades to arrive, several Turkish fellows tried to pick me up quite aggressively. I guess wearing bright yellow Villager shorts with an orange and yellow turtleneck top really made me stand out (once again, no one from YFU thought to advise on appropriate dress). The Turks were scaring the crap out of me when finally the Wades hove into view and stuck me in their car and drove off to their house.

Once arrived, I was informed by Herr and Frau Wade that they had agreed to host me because I could help their daughter, Marita, learn better English before she left in the fall of '69 for a year's exchange to an American high school. Now I was a fairly naive high school junior, who thought I had seen a lot, but it could not compare with their daughter, Marita. Marita was determined to break as many rules as she could. She drank, smoked cigarettes, bleached her long hair, wore slingback high heels with open toes, and most importantly, picked up American GIs at dances because they would buy her things and they were foreign, exotic to her.

So there I was, supposedly helping Marita learn English in a less exciting fashion. And then Frau Wade decided that I could do their ironing for them, as I wasn't pulling my own weight in the family (there were three younger boys who didn't do squat). On top of that Mrs. Wade had a nervous breakdown halfway through my visit which involved locking herself into her room and screaming at the top of her lungs for several hours, and throwing things. Herr Wade was the headmaster of a private boys' school and so most of this was tamped down because it would affect his standing in the community. The boys were a rude bunch, who talked back to their parents without reproach, chewed their food with their mouths open and were considered quite cute by their parents despite their obvious deficiencies in deportment.

My only out during this summer was when I would ride a bicycle to school with Marita to Hanau. Even though it was summer, school was still in session, and though I could not speak or read German, it was thought that somehow by osmosis, I could learn a bit. At school, I made friends with several other girls. Helga was one of them. I brought my 1969 high school yearbook to class and they poured over the pictures, marveling at high school life in America, the music, the weird sports that they didn't have. The girls, in particular would exclaim over one the photograph of one of my classmates at Defiance High School, Barry Schatz, because of his surname. We would spend lunches and breaks together giggling and talking about the boys in their class. It was difficult to communicate, because the osmosis was not working. But we made do with lots of laughter and giggling. Seeing these girls daily for the first month and a half of my visit, kept me centered and able to get through the difficult time I was experiencing with my host family. I can't remember at this late date what it was that drew Helga and I into a deeper friendship than the other girls, but after I returned from Germany we kept up a sporadic correspondence by mail over the years.

Then in 1978, I returned to Europe and enrolled at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel to obtain an LLM degree in international law. During the fall, I took a train to central Germany, where I met Helga and stayed at her apartment for a long weekend. We went to a Christmas fair in the town square and hiked out in the country, after a bit of a car ride to get there. Helga and I were still friends, but things were a bit different. For one thing, at one point during a party Helga hosted, while I was trying to make conversation with a group of women in Helga's kitchen (my German had not improved much in the intervening years), one of Helga's girlfriend's seemed a bit agitated, and at one point grabbed Helga by the crotch while we were talking. Later, in the room I was sleeping in, I was looking at Helga's record albums, and noted a complete collection of albums by a girl group called The Flying Lesbians, or something like that. I put two and two together, and at some point the three of us reached an uneasy truce when I made it clear that I was not angling for more than Helga's friendship, and we managed to salvage and spend a pretty decent weekend together.

As a parting gift, Helga, who worked for the German post office in Offenbach, gave me a large blue postal bag emblazoned with the Deutches Bundespost symbol in yellow, red, and black. I've kept it with me since. It has housed my dirty laundry from Brussels to KY to DC to Seattle for the past 30 years. It was sweet to sit and sew on it last night and remember a friendship that had sustained me through my first difficult time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A real turkey recipe

I've been carrying this recipe around since 1983, when I worked for the Seattle Art Museum as its Grants Writer. A job that paid terribly but put me around wonderful co-workers and fabulous art. Only wish I could have afforded to stay there longer.

I've posted this at blogs I frequent, so you may have read it already, but I want a place I can find it easily, so I am posting it here for all to enjoy. Year after year.

Turkey Dressing

3 eggs
1tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3 cups washed popcorn (uncooked)
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup diced celery
garlic and salt to taste

Mix ingredients well and stuff turkey.

Bake at 350, until popcorn pops and blows the ass off the turkey.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rho Epsilon Hork

When I attended college in the early '70's, the Greek system was banned from our campus. That was fine with me, because the college was small enough (2,000 or so) that you really did not need yet another set of artificial institutions to separate and stratify us. We were already stratified among the jocks, the dopers, the pre meds and the power hondos (you know, the guys that ran for student government and had the look of Democrats-to-be--Republicans were in hiding at this point though a YAFfer named Kelly Rask did emerge and was part of the Reagan transition team many years later, but that's another story)

So, rather than sororities and fraternities, we had dorms. And you were known by the dorm you kept. Turck and Bigelow halls were quiet, filled with girls who would pop popcorn on Friday nights, and go to the chapel to listen to a bad folk guitar player and buy Russian tea on Satuday nights.

Doty was also a quiet dorm, but it did have a bit of a wowser element to it. It was a 4 story cement block dorm that had an elevator. When I lived there my freshman year, in the dead of winter in Minnesota, a guy living on the 3rd floor (odd floors for men, even for women) stripped down to a pair of boxer shorts that had been dipped in gasoline. He had rubbed his body with vaseline first, put on the boxer shorts, rode the elevator down to the first floor, set his shorts on fire, ran around the outside of the dorm in the snow with flaming shorts, got back in the elevator and rode it up. That was our entertainment for the night (and actually food for reminiscences on later nights as well). Some of us weren’t even drunk or stoned at the time, but wished we had been. A guy named Ken was subject to a bunch of hazing throughout the year. One time someone stole his clothes as he was showering. He simply wrapped the shower curtain around him when he was done and stomped back to his room. There was also graffiti around dealing with Ken and dead bears, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Dupre was a larger Doty and had a wilder reputation. I remember a classmate came upon a couple wildly making love in the hall one evening. He just calmly stepped around them and went on his way. I will not tell the story about the young girl who forgot to remove her feminine hygiene item before doing the snake dance. This is a family blog, of sorts, after all.

Wallace Hall had its own cafeteria and was a hangout for iconoclasts of all persuasions. One fellow wore a cape and a top hat around the dorm. I stayed at Wally in 2004 for a class reunion and it had been restored to a luster I'd never seen while I was a student there. As I recall, it was seedy, but it you had candles, and curtains and a bedspread made of paisley fabric from India, it could look pretty exotic in the dimness.

Kirk Hall was the dorm all aspired to because it had an interior courtyard but best of all its double and triple rooms each had a common living room and individual bedrooms for each student. Those with good room draw numbers, or the power hondos who knew how to game the system, could be found there.

And then there was the Stadium which were dorms built into the sports stadium that hosted the football games. These were the newest dorms, but they were offset by the fact that they were almost two blocks or more south of the dining commons which meant a trek during sub freezing temperatures for half the school year to get your meals. So those poor folks were in a wasteland left to themselves for the most part. One fellow I knew who lived there, had a Lincoln Continental Mark IV, which was horribly ostentatious for those times. But his dad was a higher up in the Chicago mafia, and that was one of the perks of being his son. My friend would drive his Lincoln up to the dining commons for lunch and dinner and somehow no one ever made a stink about him parking next to the cafeteria.

But the absolute, total bad actor, Animal House dorm was Dayton Hall. Dayton Hall, which is no more, was perhaps the most nondescript of all the dorms, but its residents were determined to make sure that Dayton Hall made itself known to the rest of the college. It was home to the loudest, drunkest, most tripped out students on campus for the most part. And the stories were legion.

First there was the incredible horny man, of whom I've previously written. He took it upon himself to flash as many co-eds as possible during the early, first weeks of college. And then there was Orville, the incredible horny dog. Then there was the time that Phil, a fellow who I shared teaching assistant duties with for a course co-taught by our advisors our junior year, lost some sort of a bet, and as a result had to run through all 4 floors of Dayton Hall naked. He apparently strolled through to really pay his bet off. Last I heard, he was an ordained minister.

There was also the time, Dayton seceded from all the other campus dorms and the picture of them presenting their Declaration of Independence to the student government was on the front page of the school newspaper.

But, finally, what really gave Dayton its ineffable cachet was Lucky Pierre. Lucky Pierre would occur late at night, deep in the darkest throes of winter when everything was dead and boredom was peaking. All of a sudden a clarion call would go out down the floor: "Lucky Pierre! Lucky Pierre!" Like lemmings to the sea, the male and female residents of the floor would open their doors and march to the tv/commons room where they would pile on top of each other and hump vigorously for a period of time, then roll off the squirming mass of humanity and straggle back to their rooms. It was named Lucky Pierre after Pierre Trudeau because those in the middle of the pile, just like the Canadian Prime Minister, got both kinds of action.

Now I started this post discussing the lack of a Greek system. Of course, in the graffiti on the walls you could find "I tappa keg," "I felta thi," "I toka J" and other sorts of satire. But when I graduated from college and went on to law school at the University of Kentucky, another college classmate, Henry, joined me. And so the two of us tried to bring some of the zanyness that we had so enjoyed in undergrad to the stultifying experience of law school life in a southern state.

Now, greek life at the University of Kentucky was the ne plus ultra of social accomplishment. I actually learned the greek alphabet because it was so endemic there. The fraternity and sorority houses were opulent, at least from the outside, and it was clear that everyone knew their place once they had either made it into the greek system or not. And for us law school types, our time in that sunny world had come and gone. So Henry and I created our own legal fraternity. We styled it Rho Epsilon Hork. It was named after a fellow at college who went by the name of Ralph Edward Hork, who was a perennial candidate for student government. He kept running and kept losing. But that did not stop him from advertising in the college newspaper want ads that he was looking for a pair of brown shoes to go with his black suit he planned to wear for inauguration.

However, this was a gradual, organic process of creation. When Henry and I first got to UK, our first act was to run Ralph Hork as candidate for third year student representative to the Student Bar Association. His platform was "shoes." And the person he most admired was, naturally, Harold Stassen. Surprisingly, he won the race. or perhaps not so surprising as I don't recall that there were any other candidates. But the administration decided he was not a 3d year law student and awarded the position to someone else. However, the die was cast, and Henry and I determined that this was not the last REH was to be heard from, hence, Rho Epsilon Hork was formed our second year of law school.

It was a sibling society and motorcyle gang. All members were given the post of president, since it looked good on your resume, and if you graduated ("regraduated" since we'd already matriculated from college) you assumed the position of 'immortal,' since that was the only way up from president. We had secret ceremonies using Ollie Burgers from a short lived John Y. Brown fast food chain called Ollie's Trolley, and in honor of Chief Justice Burger of the US Supreme Court. In case of tie votes, we would flip Justice Burger.

Alas, third year of law school came around, and we decided we had to actually join a real legal fraternity. There were three at University of Kentucky law school in 75-76. Two of the three hired strippers for their rush parties, so that left one that we could possibly join: Phi Alpha Delta. Nobody wanted to be in Phi Alpha Delta at that point, so us REHers took it over as easy as pie. And our year at that fraternity may have consisted of one, maybe two meetings, but we all had officers' titles to affix to our resumes and the appearance of accomplishment.

What was not on our resumes was our most signal achievement, and that was when we nominated Darryl Driver to be our candidate for homecoming queen. You see, it was one of the rules at the University of Kentucky that only the fraternities could nominate candidates for homecoming queen. However, it could be any fraternity, graduate or undergraduate--and as fledgling lawyers, we knew how to do the research on this.

So we got the application and filled it out, and nominated Darryl Driver for homecoming queen. We figured that since he got into law school, his resume and accomplishments were probably just as good, and maybe even better than most of the other candidates. Somehow though, the screening committee did not see it our way, because Darryl didn't even make it onto the Homecoming court. And this being the mid 70's there wasn't a recognized cause of action for sex discrmination that we could bring. For all I know, Kentucky may still not recognize such an action. It would not surprise me in the least.

We of PAD, formerly of Rho Epsilon Hork, took this loss stoically. Beer, with a bourbon chaser as I remember. Or maybe sterner stuff. As the graffiti on the passway from Dayton Hall to Kirk read: "Why are you stoned, when you should be tripping?"