The Wolf’s Tooth Chapter 4
We drove back slowly, taking in the American sights, and then sleepily returned to our room. We made sloppy triple-decker sandwiches and munched on white cheddar cheese popcorn in front of the window, contentedly watching the waves. We washed it all down with bottled water.
I was stunned, since when did Americans pay a lot of money for bottled water? How did they get tricked into doing that? I drank tap water as a kid here and I drank tap water in Germany.
After dinner, we enjoyed another bout of playful verbal dueling with our talented mouths and Helga reluctantly admitted that it was nice being on the beach.
We made up and utilized our mouths for something much more sensible and sensual. Then we cuddled a bit more before our drowsy bodies insisted that we pursue the matter no further.
We fell into a Jet-lag induced deep sleep around eight o’clock local time as the blood orange sun was setting over the salt marsh behind the motel.
Home again, it’s quite the feeling you know, I fear I’ll never really get used to it ever again…
TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME
Helga and I were up and about extremely early, and found ourselves on the beach shortly before four o’clock. It was still dark. There was not a soul in sight, and the sleepy seagulls hanging out on the beach ignored us.
Helga kicked off her shoes and walked through the chilly surf. I walked along side of her in the damp sand.
We walked for hours in peaceful silence, stopping only to watch the sun rise over the ocean. I had forgotten. What a humbling event, my internal dialogue was actually silenced for the duration of this eternal performance, natures traditional painting of the heavens.
It was absolutely magnificent; I was amazed at how quickly it occurred once the sun had kissed the horizon. Seemingly seconds later the entire orange ball of fire was visible climbing higher and higher into the blue.
We walked on; until the sun was bright yellow again and breakfast in America called us.
Americans were, in direct contrast to Germans, a real breakfast culture. The traditional things like ham and eggs with home fried potatoes or pancakes and French Toast would be unthinkable in Germany. They ate these heavy foods in the evening. But, I still can’t warm up to pouring applesauce on my pancakes like the Germans do.
We ate on the strip at 4-D’s, named after the owner’s four daughters, Darlene, Debbie, Donna and Dorothy. Helga did it up with a real hungry man’s breakfast. She had scrambled eggs and fried bacon accompanied with crispy home fries and a stack of steaming pancakes.
Missing my fruit, I opted for a toasted blueberry muffin and a large glass of Florida orange juice. I had bananas back in the room. My diet is still being optimized, and now I used fruit for breaking the fast of the preceding night.
Arnold Schwarzenegger claims it is water based, thus it cleanses and regenerates the body, and when eaten at breakfast on an empty stomach fruit passes directly to the lower intestines where all of the nutrients are completely assimilated.
Plus, fruit doesn’t create an aggressive mood as everyone’s favorite wake-up drug- coffee does. When it comes to dealing with aggressiveness, Arnie would know, right? A lot of road rage in America can be traced directly back to massive coffee consumption.
And the caffeine levels in Boston’s Mystic River were so high; fish actually jump out of that dirty water trying to get caught just to escape the constant adrenalin rush.
The long walk and the romantic sunrise had mellowed us entirely. We chased our breakfast in America with another delightful physical break from our feud in the battered motel bed.
I could hear washing machines running next door in the laundry room. It didn’t hurt.
Yet even after our marvelous mellow morning, Helga was still openly irritated about yesterday. She was complaining again.
That has always confused me, how can you be angry about something that happened yesterday? Yesterday is gone. Even if it had been morally wrong for me not to go directly to my parent’s house the night before, it was too late to change it now.
I guess we can’t run from our past, someone near to us will always insist on reminding us of what we did wrong.
I have found out that Germans were exceptionally good at holding grudges. But maybe Americans were too; I just haven’t been around long enough to observe it firsthand.
Regardless, I was lousy at holding a grudge. Life is too short.
But on the other hand, if people could read my mind, I’d probably get punched in the face a lot.
Refreshed and showered, we left the motel again and crossed the street to the beach. Another quick, silent walk in the sand with the mischievous seagulls and the floating garbage, and then we had to check out.
We were headed for Milk Street, for Newburyport, for my hometown. It was May 21, 1998.
Forty years ago to the day I had received my name. Thanks Mom & Dad.
It was my birthday, the first one celebrated in America since 1982, and only the second birthday I have ever celebrated in my homeland as an adult.
How could I know way back in 1976 as I got on that Army bus in Boston that I would never come back again?
The sights seemed the same to me riding Rte 1A southbound down the rocky coastline out of Hampton Beach. It ran parallel to Rte One, which stretched from the Canadian Border all the way down to Key West, Florida.
Rte One was a man-made disaster. To me it represented the overblown commercial lust resulting in the hideous; a sheer delight in artificial ugliness seemingly just for its own sake. It’s a nightmare at times, endless billboards, fast food joints, tacky shops, broken neon signs, and more traffic lights than you have ever seen in your life.
But one thing had changed. There were no more American hitchhikers anywhere. Where had they gone? Had they gotten jobs bottling tap water?
I had thumbed rides everywhere growing up. I had a bunch of interesting experiences too. I instantly recalled one humorous experience I had here in Hampton as a teenager thumbing a ride home from the beach. A car had pulled up, and I jumped into the back seat.
It was then that I noticed that the driver was wearing a strange hat. Turns out he had a KFC Chicken bucket on his head. (I assumed it was empty.) I remember thinking, this can’t be good.
The guy riding shotgun turns to me and says, “The Colonel says you have to pay for your ride by giving him a joint.” I had long hair and probably looked the part, but as a teenager I was as straight as Wally Cleaver.
I told them I was sorry, I didn’t have any dope. Then the guy says, “Then you have to make us laugh the old fashion way. You have to tell the colonel some jokes.”
I told them I didn’t really know any. The guy informs me I had ten seconds to think of one, or they would toss me out. He started a Nasa-like count down. “Ten, nine, eight,”
I remembered one my older brother had told me a few years before.
“Do you know the one about the dumb chick hitchhiking?” The colonel slowly shook his head no. The other guy stopped the countdown at two.
“An attractive chick was thumbing a ride, and a truck pulled over.
She climbed in, and thanked the trucker. Then she saw his CB equipment. She asked him what it was. The trucker told her he could contact anyone anywhere with it. The chick got all excited and said- even my mother in Boston? The trucker said of course.”
I paused, trying to remember the rest. Timing was everything when it came to joke telling, and I knew I had already blown it, but the colonel was smiling at me in the rear view mirror, so I continued.
“The chick sighed and she told him that she had not talked to her mother in months. She would do anything if she could talk to her mother with it. The trucker said anything? Then I’ll let you use it. He grinned and pulled over to the side of the road. Then he slid back, unzipped his pants and whipped it out. The chick looked at it confused, then she smiled, leaned forward and took it in her hand and yelled, Hello Mom??”
Nothing. Dead silence. Not even a giggle. I didn’t understand, it was a riot at fourteen. My heart sunk. But the colonel kept smiling, and he nodded in some type of approval. It made me laugh the way the KFC bucket jiggled on his head.
The other guy said, “Nice try kid, but this was your last ride with the colonel.”
Yet they kept driving. Then the Colonel started telling jokes, and he was hilarious. They even took me to Newburyport. It was the funniest ride I ever had.
I opted for this rustically superior neighbor highway to avoid all the traffic lights. Rte 1A was also a slow ride- but more often than not- stunningly beautiful. You passed through stands of maple, birch and pine, traveled along the chiseled rocky seacoast, and along miles of ancient stonewalls covered with lichens. And of course, the frigid blue Atlantic Ocean accompanied you the whole way. The distant white caps visible amongst all that blue were gorgeous.
I was homeward bound.
We sped through Seabrook and the fucking Nuke Plant and reached Salisbury Beach. I gave Helga another brief history lesson from my childhood of what all this once was for me. You would never know it now from seeing it, but Salisbury Beach had once been the playground of the Atlantic up north.
The child in me has never adjusted to the disappearance of the old, rickety wooden roller coaster. It had been huge, visible for miles around, the main attraction there. The first hill was so awesome, so breath-taking, you could see all of Newburyport as you slowly climbed it, then you forgot all about your hometown as you literally flew down the other side, basic physics deciding that your skinny butt shall no longer touch the seat of your car.
Shaheen’s Playgrounds was not the same. In this space in time all the vomit-inducing rides were gone, but the penny arcades lining the beach still remained, inviting you to come in and spend your hard earned cash.
I was thrilled to see Tripoli’s and Cristy’s Pizza were both still around. We used to debate as to which one had the best pizza, while outsiders frankly told us that they both sucked.
And yes, on the strip the Knotty Pines still stood tall, the sleazy motel all we kids went to back then-when we could get the fifteen bucks together- to actually “do it” in a bed. They never carded you at The Knotty Pines. Being naughty was so much fun.
I devoured all the sights with relish as they flowed by the open windows of our rented ride. Even the telephone poles looked great. Germany laid all of her cables underground; there are no such poles to see. The Germans really thrived on an orderly appearance. Seriously though, the wires never go down in a storm- so power outages are extremely rare.
As a small child I used to “saw” the tree-like telephone poles in half with an invisible chain saw from the back seat of my father’s car as we drove from one location to the next, it was great fun.
I did not feel very nostalgic entering Newburyport. After all, the city I grew up in was long gone.
Starting with the new bridge crossing the Merrimac River, and then passing through the chic downtown area, nothing was even remotely the same.
Urban Renewal supplied the cash to tear down the old and replace everything that even slightly resembled yesterday. They totally ignored the town’s great maritime history. They tore down many historical buildings, like Caldwell’s Rum Factory, or the ancient train depot and built repulsive condos on the lots for the rich.
Politicians and businessmen forget. I did not.
I was proud to be from New England.
Downtowns once thrived here in the birthplace of America. New England, the special place in America where these awesome six states created the enduring American mythology that still lives on today, even without the help of the NE Patriots dynasty.
The bloody saga of the revolution, the steepled country churches, the seaman villages, agricultural farms, and the incredibly tough winters were icons we all grew up with. (And now we can add Tom Brady to the list.)
New England still made things when I was growing up. There were shoes and textiles, and we grew cauliflower and sweet corn, fished the Atlantic and our neighborhoods actually flourished. Shopping Malls did not exist.
Life for Newburyporter’s was the thing you lived, not the yuppie daydream offered now in a relentless commercial assault that people today can not escape. Newburyport’s historical downtown was gone.
All the old shops had been replaced by modern establishments, selling tacky souvenirs and expensive, imported textiles and luxurious shoes and over-rated flavored coffee. It was a depressing sight for me to see.
My hometown was gone. Helga couldn’t quite understand my sadness as I gazed out the window.
Yet next to the library the tiny coffee shop Taffy’s still stood, along with the best jukeboxes of all. (You could select the songs from “mini jukeboxes” located on your table in your booth.) This was very important to me at one time. Music was such a big part of my life while living in Newburyport; it encouraged the expanding of my consciousness.
Music was a loyal friend growing up. It still is.
Can you imagine growing up in the Sixties, oh man, the music was happening. Rock and roll was born in the fucked up Fifties, but in the swinging Sixties it was a rebellious teenager. (Smells like teen spirit indeed.) We were spoiled rotten by the staggering, stimulating sounds.
We danced our hearts out. Our parents laughed at our explosive fast dancing. The late great Friedrich Nietzsche said, “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
The Beatles were only the tip of the musical iceberg. There were so many great, innovative bands. I was exposed to so many musical directions. We listened to the diversity of the sounds; it wasn’t just background music, or brainless pop tunes.
This music was real, played on real instruments by real people and destined to become the unforgettable soundtrack of our youths. In retrospect we were quite lucky.
Could it be true that only in the Twenties and the Sixties did the world at large really wake up and live creatively and forget the insignificant routines, if only for a while?
Yeah brother, like, I was there, I really was, amidst the bright, colorful flower power movement, wearing purple bell-bottoms and psychedelic, striped shirts, practicing the vertical hair concept and heavily breathing free thoughts to the incredible sound blasting loudly on the transistor radio and my older brother’s record player.
Yes sister, my little Hippie flower child, like right there amongst the living I was eagerly growing up, happily, (innocently.) thinking life would always be this way. Nobody told me otherwise. (And I would not have believed them anyway.) Life rocked and we rolled in the echo. Far out man, it was so fucking far out.
Yo bro, like dig this bit of miraculous trivia- the laws of harmonics are the most basic laws in our universe. The notes of our musical scales are actually based on the true resonances of the cosmos themselves.
My man, the late, great Frank Zappa claimed that the elements, the planets and the stars all vibrate at specific frequencies. These very resonances are what define the intrinsic differences and similarities in all things.
Are you digging this? That means musical creation can be heard both whispering and roaring in the wind. Music, strange and beautiful, gentle and penetrating, rhythmical and powerful reaches literally everywhere.
Feeling groovy and understanding the structure of music is man’s greatest intellectual accomplishment- not the creation of smartphones, HD graphic video games and high speed internet.
And this was only accomplished only because man can also fantasize.
My friend, we can literally visualize the abstract. Music changed my way of seeing myself and seeing the world around me.
We were actually becoming spiritual, without even realizing it.
I really feel bad for today’s youth. Many of these kids do not seem to be into music anymore. And I am not talking about Rock music; I mean any music at all. Back in the day we would get together and sit down and just listen to music. Play records and actually listen. Who does that these days?
We were proud of our stereos. Today they have their gaming systems and smartphones. We had true vinyl; they have MP3’s, in which the high notes and the low notes are literally cropped, leaving a tinny, cold sound. They have been cheated.
I know I shouldn’t care, but it does make me sad. Through music, I learned to listen to the color of my dreams.
A Beatle song came on the radio.
(How convenient, I know, so I won’t name the tune, you already hear it in your head.)
Helga looked at the radio, then she smiled at me, knowing I placed value on such tiny cosmic coincidences. I believed that such occurrences confirmed one’s chosen path to be the right one. The clues are virtually everywhere. I smiled too.
I was finally returning to my musical roots. I was going home.
We left the downtown area. I admit, now I did feel sentimental turning down Federal Street, marveling at the familiar houses, the New England colonial architecture was so different from the solid, sandstone German houses I was now accustomed to. I was finally misty eyed.
It was true. How could this be? America looked foreign to me.
Urban Renewal had not reached this part of the south end. (But the elite had, none of us could afford to live here now.) And still, the fact remained, it could not be denied. My hometown looked strange to me.
This realization was unexpected. And it hit me hard. I was mysteriously touched, deeply saddened recognizing that this odd fact was indeed true. A stillborn tear aimlessly trickled down my cheek.
Entering Milk Street I laughed with glee at the wooden “MILK STREET” sign mounted on a telephone pole, complete with a tiny wooden replica of a bottle of milk placed on top. It was perfect. It was also too much, way too much.
“Far out,” I whispered. It somehow triggered some ancient part of my hippie teenage brain and slammed me, sending me way back in time once again.
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”.
I landed somewhere over the rainbow, once again lost without my ruby slippers.
I closed my eyes and quickly reopened them, shaking the cobwebs off of my head and blowing the angel dust off of my dashboard.
It blew my mind man. Then I slowly drove down the narrow street, the street I grew up on all those centuries ago, whispering softly to Helga, “Baby, tune in, turn on, drop out,” over and over. She just shook her head. She knew I was tripping.
“What a rush baby. We had totally flipped out, tuning in instead of turning on. Hordes of happy Hippies were everywhere, long hair blowing free in the sea breeze, wearing colorful garments and leather Roman sandals, simply hanging out and letting it all hang out on door stoops, and on curb stones stoned, the age of Aquarius descending upon them in visible groovy, psychedelic waves, transcending modern definition, ascending all to a higher plain. And all you needed was love, and to righteously believe that Lucy In The Skies With Diamonds was just a child’s painting. Yeah yeah yeah.”
Man, whoever said sophistication was an artistic virtue?
“Are you finished? Are we almost there?”
“Oh yes. And there, right there, right across the street from my house, next to the brown house, is Kenny Adam’s bulky brown milk truck. Do you see it? Yeah baby- dig it, Newburyport’s last Milkman actually resided here on Milk Street. Ain’t that a trip?”
“I do not see a milk truck.”
“It’s all cool baby. But remember, there is more to life than making money. And if you’re not barefoot, you are overdressed. Like wow. It’s so good to be back home again.” I exclaimed.
“Is the whole trip going to be like this?” Helga asked.
I pulled the car close to the battered curbstone, where no more barefooted hippies sat stoned, and put it in park. I turned my head and stared hard at the house.
29 Milk Street was still painted white, still on the corner, still owned by a Hawkes, still there after all those years….
I sighed a grateful sigh. Yesterday was still there. “Right on man,” I whispered, and then I shut off the car.
Then I took Helga by the hand and without another wasted word we walked in and the day instantly turned into night.
There was no stopping the world now, no more watching the tides, no more casual walks without attaching any intellectual purpose to them.
The wicked witch from the west cruelly grabbed the dreaded hourglass, and it was placed with a sickening thud on its head.
The purple sand began flowing and kept flowing, faster and faster. It was maddening, but I knew I would be back in Germany in the blink of an eye and this would all feel like a dream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
Talk about slight overkill, Helga met nearly everyone that meant something to me that day. In a continuous flow of positive energy, one person after another hugged us both and smiled continuously in our direction, just because.
What positive vibes. I knew it would be eye-opening; as I had waited for this moment ever since I had met Helga’s family a long year ago.
It had been awful. Radically right wing, callous and closed minded as only some bitter East Germans can be, they didn’t like me from the very first sighting.
They never gave me a chance to escape that “blue jeans liberal American bum” labeling they had painted me with. And long-haired and divorced with baggage to boot. (They had actually referred to my kids as baggage.) Can we just shoot him now and get it over with?
The weird thing was, they were doing just fine here in the west. The main problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.
Of course I had nothing but sympathy for our new arrivals from one of the communistic countries where Marxism nearly worked, but her parents would never realize this. They didn’t even approve of the Kindergeld (Children’s money) Helga received from the state. Why should their taxes go to help poor people? Nor did it matter that these programs even assisted their own daughter. Fuck the poor.
Naturally I disagreed and spoke my mind. So- Helga’s outraged parents never totally accepted me, never gave me an ounce of a chance. Most of the time they would not even converse with me.
Which eventually was a good thing. I couldn’t talk to them either. I learned long ago that you should not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
Even months later after their own grandchildren began praying to God that I would stay aboard the sinking ship of fools; they still openly showed their disdain when they looked at me.
I always saved my best Elvis Presley sneer for these precious moments with my new in-laws. “Don’t be cruel” indeed.
In direct contrast, I knew that my family would accept Helga with open arms, NO questions asked.
Helga had written some strange, adoring letters in broken English to my family without my knowledge. I was surprised at the endless love she claimed to have for me.
And, so it was. Mom & Dad, the voices on the telephone had genuine bodies, the many scribbled faxes leading to this surprise visit had finally come to an end.
This was a once in a lifetime thing, like so many events in life.
Helga found my parents absolutely charming. It was the rest of my family and my friends she wasn’t too thrilled about.
To this day, I still don’t know why. I suspect she was just jealous of the way I wanted to be with them and that they also wanted to be with me.
Apparently she had truly hoped she would see more of America than she would see of my family and friends.
She met everyone the first day except my grandmother. This turned out to be a bona fide bad omen of things to come.
Nana was apparently not feeling very well, and she had cancelled at the last minute. I didn’t take the phone call, but was vaguely aware at the time that the look on my mother’s face was more than concerned as they spoke.
The list of locals parading through Milk Street looked something like this. Sister Becky, the very first and weeks later, the last person to hug me, just like it was nearly every trip I made home. Her husband tagged along, and she had her two boys in tow and their new, crazy dog.
The former Milk Street neighbors the Flynns stopped by, of course. Billy, my childhood best friend and his older brother Barry, my newly discovered pirate friend, were expected, his sister Julie and their father Harold were pleasant surprises.
Brother Larry came down from New Hampshire, with his woman Dana, and the three kids and their big dog, Ursa. Ursa was the reincarnation of our childhood dog, Pappy. And Larry was my doppel-ganger. He was often mistaken for me, leaving people wondering how I had managed to grow a few more inches after High School.
Big Brother Ted arrived even later- but not late- in his black jeep, with current girl friend Bonnie. He was a riot. He was quite witty and brutally direct, as always.
The friendly neighborhood cop stopped in just to say hello, big Bobby Adams, also a former Milk Street boy, the youngest son of Newburyport’s very last Milkman.
My cousin Kathy was there, sans husband but with her beautiful children. I am convinced that a finer woman I have not met.
Her father, the late great Earl Hawkes taught me how to play chess, but alas, that is yet another story. (Checkmate)
Sister Lara arrived with sweets, and a squished brownie for me. She was the shy one of the family.
My teenage nephew Mike seemed a bit bewildered with all the sudden life in the usually quiet house.
Mike was my sister Lara’s son, an only child, and he was living with my parents at the moment as Lara was in between apartments. She was searching.
Helga was without a doubt a bit bewildered too; the chatter and laughter went on and on. She didn’t understand much, due in part to the outrageous Yankee accents and all the fast-talking, but the feeling of being a part of a family was obvious, and real.
“Maybe that was the problem,” said my son Wayne cynically when he heard about the trip weeks later. He was not much of a fan of Helga.
We ate lots of Mom’s tasty tuna salad spread on fresh buns brought home by Dad from Kathy Ann’s Bakery, and drank soda pop and imported beer. I drank Maine spring water.
Bottled water in the fridge at Milk Street, wow, things certainly were different. Bottled water from the supermarket.
Once again; the bottled water. The world had really changed.
Back when I had lived here, water was free and you had to pay for porn.
Some things didn’t change though. It wasn’t just the kids who joyfully jumped on the delicious birthday cake, a dark chocolate deluxe from Newburyport’s famous “Cheese Cake Factory”.
But it was just the kids who mischievously jumped on Mom and Dad’s bed, breaking it yet once again.
Well, I confess, I had been right there jumping with them. When I was young, I did stupid things because I didn’t know any better. Now I know better and do stupid things because I miss being young.
The party over, everyone filed out, Mom and Dad went to bed and we finally went upstairs. I was so happy. Helga was now exhausted. After a short bout of unimaginative lip-mashing, she fell asleep in my arms.
I listened to her steady breathing, enjoying her warmth. I felt a slight twinge of sadness remembering how close we had been the first few months we were living together.
Memories were a dual edged sword.
I watched the ghost-like lights that slid along the ceiling and then crept down the walls every time a car drove down Milk Street. Eventually I too dosed off.
The night passed by in a series of broken dream segments, which concentrated on many happy facial expressions and stationary stones resembling tormented souls begging to be freed.
I kept waking up, feeling agitated. There was no place on earth where I dreamt as intensely as I did here. It happened each and every time I returned to the house where I grew up in.
Later I nodded off again and dreamt I had married my childhood sweetheart. We were sitting in my parent’s kitchen. I heard her say, “You better watch what you wish for.”
Then the cops crashed down the door, rushed in, opened the freezer and found it full of marijuana. They threw me to the floor.
I saw my wife smile and embrace one of them and they began kissing.
The cop with his knee in my back said, “You can’t put her in a cage and expect her to sing for you. Nothing comes for free in life.”
Another cop was smoking a joint and he said, “A wise man once said, fuck this shit, and guess what? He lived happily ever after.”
The cop pinning me down now said, “So big boy, what will you do?”
April 14, 2017
AND ALONG CAME SALLY