Monday, December 30, 2013

Chapter 18 – Not So Great Expectations

It was the middle of the afternoon when Chas dropped me off in the driveway at 6826 ½ Camrose Drive. Big Al Fohrman, my landlord, was peering out from the crack in his blinds at me through the apartment downstairs that was littered with floor to ceiling newspapers and storage boxes. He was the last person on earth I wanted to speak to at the moment. I was alone in Hollywood in my shabby one room apartment. My dogs weren’t even there to greet me since they were up on Canton Drive. My parents, as usual, were taking care of them while I was out gallivanting in the mountains of Aspen with movie icons and rock stars.
I was depressed. It was a long way down from the heights of that mountain to the foothills of Highland Avenue. I had twenty dollars left to my name, no job and no car. I knew I had to do something since I had dissolved my partnership with David George and sold him the rights to Independent Data Supply and all that money was gone— eaten up in the European extravaganza the year before. My money, my fiancé, my Porsche all gone; at least I still had my two dogs and my health, but that was starting to fail from all the drinking and lack of nutrition.
I began checking the want ads for employment and one thing for certain was I didn’t want to go back on the phones. I saw an ad for a company called Great Expectations. They were a dating club, one of the forerunners of that ilk. I called and they told me to come down for an interview the next day. I got all spiffed up in a sport jacket and black slacks with a striped tie. I looked good, like a preppy pimp, after all that is what I was going to be if I got the job. I thought the interview went well and I returned home thinking they would call back in a day or two inviting me to be the newest representative of their elite club of matchmakers. Three days went by and no call. After a week I was beginning to think I didn’t make the grade. I couldn’t even get a job at a dating service. I called my mom and dad and told them I was at the end of my rope. Then the tears started to flow and once they did the damn had burst. I couldn’t stop. I became hysterical. My mom tried to console me saying things like: it’s alright, things will get better and the darkest hour is always just before the dawn, but none of those aphorisms seemed to help. But I thought a bottle of Jack Daniels would, but even that didn’t.
The next day Great Expectations finally called and told me I had gotten the job. My self esteem was on the rise. It wasn’t my dream job by any stretch of the imagination but it was a start. At least someone was willing to hire me. I went into a training session where the management shows the new recruits the tricks of the trade. One of the more laughable things was the role playing. After you sign a client up, if you get that far, they have to be qualified. They have you call the office after the sale and you speak in code as not to offend the prospective client since you are using their phone and are probably sitting in their living room or kitchen right in front of them.
My first appointment was in a not so good section of Altadena. She was a divorced African American woman with three kids all under the age of four. When I parked my Mom’s Mercedes in front of the prospective client’s house, got out and I saw a German shepherd get run over by car at the end of the block. I rushed over to the poor dog that was bleeding badly and I knew it was mortally wounded. It died in my arms—and I was wearing my best outfit. Not an auspicious start. I gathered myself and went into the house and asked the lady if I could clean up before the interview. She obliged and a few minutes later I was seated on her couch while her three screaming kids ran back and forth around the room in their soiled diapers. I had to ask her general questions such as: age, race, what they were looking for in a mate, you know, the usual profiling. When it came to the question if they had ever been arrested she answered yes. I had to ask what the charge was and she said it was prostitution. I knew right then she would never qualify. I went on with the interview just going through the motions trying to be affable and good-natured. Then I had to make the phone call to the office. She handed me the phone and the role playing began. The girl on the other end of the phone went down the line with each question and I gave positive responses to each one until it came to the arrest question. I had to say some code that indicated there was a problem. I think the code was something like: Yes, she is wearing a red dress which meant there was a red flag. After the interview was over I thanked her for her time and interest in Great Expectations and left knowing I had made a sale but it was going to be rejected. I pulled away from the street and saw the dead dog on the sidewalk and figured it would stay there until hell froze over.
I think I had three, maybe four more appointments after that and I actually sold one or two but I knew I wasn’t cut out for that line of work. I quit after two weeks. A little while later Larry told me that Sean McNamara had started a phone room in Santa Monica selling office supplies. Sean was a guitar player that lived in the hood and spent a lot of time with Stephen and Larry, me, not so much. I knew I could make some fast cash and I still had all those clients from the Virgin Islands that I could bring on board. He hired me at a very high commission. I soon realized that it was a rip-off company called Premium Services. It was another generic and misleading name like Central Supply and they were using tactics that were just this side of barely legal. I didn’t want to be Jim Phillips anymore. Jim was a sneaky, underhanded persona of mine that I used when I wanted to justify my unethical business tactics. I had to. It was the name on the past invoices from Independent Data and Central Supply and I had a great rapport with these wonderful although gullible folks. They weren’t going to like me very much longer when they didn’t get the color TV they were promised and got a bill for three or four hundred dollars more than I had promised. I had to leave Premium Services and take back my leads and my integrity. A month later Universal Data Supply would be hatched. It would be a one man operation where I would wear all the hats. I would be salesman, shipping clerk, secretary and customer service agent. Before that would happen I had one last thing to settle. There was a fellow salesman who worked there by the name of Jeffrey Van Der Byl. He was a dark complexioned young man with a proper English accent. He also spoke fluent German. I had found a Berlin phone book in the storage closet and I knew the last name of the current boyfriend Maria was living with. He was a fellow named Rudiger Koch. I found a few listings under that last name and called them all. I would hand the phone to Jeffrey when I go through and he would speak to them in a decent German dialect. When I came to the name Gisela Koch the phone rang and of all things, Maria had answered the call. She was shocked that I was able to reach her and I was amazed at my detective work coming to fruition. I needed closure.

She poured her heart out to me and explained what she had done and why she had abandoned her four month old child in a car then hitched a ride to Berlin from Frankfurt. I tried to understand but I just couldn’t. It was the last time I ever spoke to her until twenty years later when she had found my parents number and tracked me down to thank me for my help. By that time I was married with two boys and a third one yet to be born. If there was a lesson to be learned from that I wasn’t sure what it was at the time. In retrospect i can see that it was one of those relationships that were meant to build strength and character. Maybe it worked. I hope so.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chapter 17 – Aspen Ho-Ho-Ho!

The cabin in the mountains of Aspen was unbelievable. It was just Chas and me in a three bedroom A-frame that had a sauna and a Jacuzzi and was over 2500 square feet of unadulterated decadence. It also had a wet bar with every imaginable liquor in existence. Since Seger had opted out of the deal—he was spending the Christmas holidays with a school teacher from Detroit who, I am told, he ended up marrying. Way to go Bob!
I had Richard’s old skis and the only time I had ever gone skiing before that was in Lake Placid, New York twenty-five years earlier. I had gone up there from Long Island with my mother, father, sister and brother with the Meltzer’s (friends of the family) and a guy, Michael Marks, who brought along an acoustic guitar. It was the first time I had ever played guitar and I learned some songs which included, Michael Row Your Boat Ashore and Kimbaya—heavy stuff. There had been a heat wave and we spent the entire week lounging by the motel swimming pool; the only time I got to use my skis was the first day on the bunny slopes.

Chas was a semi-accomplished skier and would head up to the top of Snowmass Mountain to the blue runs—they were the intermediate ones. I, on the other hand, spent the first day getting a few lessons from the blond haired, blue eyed ski instructor with a permanent tan from the summers in Malibu and the winters on the slopes with the sun reflecting off the white-capped majestic mountains. Unfortunately for me, he was a guy. While Chas was speeding down the blue and sometimes even the black advanced runs, I was delegated to the kinder and gentler slopes of the baby green runs. I had visions of coming home with a broken leg or worse and didn’t want to risk ruining my vacation plagued with injuries. Every morning I dreaded the conversation in the Blazer with Chas that went something like this:
“So James, are you ready to go to the top of the mountain with me?”
Or, “Come on James, you’re not going to learn how to ski from those beginner slopes, besides all the hot babes are at the top of the mountain.”
I almost hyperventilated thinking he would goad me into something I was just not ready for and would say: “I promise by the end of the trip I will attempt the blue runs but for now I sticking with the green ones. When I can go down the mountain without falling I will be ready. Okay?”
He would just shake his head and look at me with that Sandford smirk on his face. Maybe if I was ten years younger I would have thrown caution to the wind and go for it, but as you get older you get more fearful. If it were now, I don’t even think I would get off the bunny slopes at all.
The second or third day in Aspen we went up to Don Johnson’s ski chalet so Chas could go over some song ideas for Don’s upcoming record. I felt so out of place but, being a songwriter, I wanted to be included in the process. Who knows, maybe by being in the right place at the right time I would even get to write a song with Johnson and Chas. Wishful thinking, I know, but it was Christmas and stranger things were known to happen. Johnson and Chas were huddling like quarterback planning a down-and –out play with his wide receiver over by the wet bar. I was a few feet behind feeling like I was on the opposing team waiting for the referee to thrown down the yellow flag for off-sides or interference. Johnson looked at me suspiciously and said to Chas,
 “Who the fuck is this guy and what is he doing here?”
I could take a hint so I meandered over to the bar and fixed myself a brandy then sat by myself in the corner like Peck’s bad boy. I was a third wheel on a Harley and I felt like running as far away from the Miami Vice star as I could. I’m not the tallest guy in the world but I felt small, miniscule—like Danny DeVito in wafer-thin soled shoes.
After the meeting, we headed back to Snowmass and I soon forgot all about being dissed—I was relieved to have my comfortable fear of skiing to contend with. Chas told me that on Christmas Eve, Johnson was throwing a party where everyone who was anyone would be attending. I figured with all the other people in the room, most of them famous, rich and beautiful, I wouldn’t have to deal with the host.
He wasn’t exaggerating. When I walked into the room and saw more stars shinning than inside the Milky Way. I happened to see Jack Nicholson sitting at a curved table next to Hunter S. Thompson looking out at the expanse of the Rocky Mountains while smoking a joint. I noticed there was an empty seat on Thompson’s left so I sat down. I saw they were engrossed in some metaphysical conversation or, more than likely, who at the party was fucking who and what were the chances of having some kind of a drug induced orgy. I just sat there hoping they would pass the joint over to me. I knew any pot that Nicholson smoked would have to be A-number one-primo shit. Now there was nothing left of the joint but an inch long roach that had gone out, so Nicholson placed it on his black leather cigarette case and continued his conversation with Thompson when I finally when I got up the courage to speak up.
“Excuse me Mr. Nicholson; are you doing anything with that roach?”
He looked at me with those penetrating Jack Torrance eyes like I was from the planet Neptune and I felt my heart leap into my sinuses. After the uncomfortable silence he said, “Sure kid, knock yourself out,” and handed me the roach. I didn’t know whether to smoke it or have it bronzed—I smoked it. It was primo shit.
Earlier in the day Chas and I went to the local mall and visited a ski shop where a very attractive young lady, I think her name was Toni or Terri worked. We told her there was a party at Don Johnson’s chalet later in the evening and she was raring to go. This was the time when Johnson was trying to reunite with his ex-wife, Melanie Griffith and she had come down to the party around ten or eleven o’clock. Meanwhile Terri or Toni was in the bathroom with Johnson doing either getting a blowjob or doing blow, probably both, but I wasn’t in the room with them so I can’t say for sure. When Griffith got wind of the situation she started banging on the door and screaming in that high pitched Valley Girl whine she is so famous for. A few minutes later Johnson exited the bathroom with his tail between his legs trying to persuade his ex that it was all in good fun, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Glasses were shattering; food went soaring through the air making esoteric art replacing the paintings that once proudly hung on the walls, people with frozen faces stood by while the two of them sprinted out in to the winter wonderland. A moment or two later, the patrons were back to abnormal and acting as if nothing ever happened. It was a damn fine party.
A week later, on New Year’s Eve, it was the grand reopening of the Hotel Jerome in downtown Aspen. They were throwing a black tie party for the event while Chas and I scouted the perimeter of the place dressed in our jeans and winter coats. I don’t know what it is about Chas, but he is always the guy that can get into any party he wants. I mean, there can be two lawyer types with engraved invitations standing at the ropes being hassled by the bouncer, but when they see Chas, they say, “Oh you’re cool, go on in.” I would tag along soaking up the excess starlight that reflected off of his shoulders. It was a much different crowd inside the Jerome that night and everyone was dressed to the nines, maybe even the nine and a halves. Teddy Kennedy was there sixteen years after Chappaquiddick with his whole entourage drinking enough to sink a whole fleet of battleships, Martina Navratilova had introduced Andy Mill to Chris Evert that night, Jack was back with his old drinking buddy, Bill Murray, Glen Frey and Jimmy Buffet were also there to name but a few. There was one young lady in attendance that seemed to be paying special attention to Chas. I told him not to look but a beautiful brunette was giving him the once, maybe twice over. He looked anyway. It was the stunning twenty year old Brooke Shields. He was at a loss for words which is something Chas Sandford rarely would fall victim to—he admitted he had a crush on Shields ever since he saw the movie, Pretty Baby. I urged him to go over and talk to her, and he was just about to get the nerve to ask her to dance when the lights went off, the whistles, bells and streamers went haywire. It was midnight and by the time the lights came back on she was gone—Happy New Year 1986!
The last day at Snowmass I finally got the nerve to make it up to the blue runs. As I sat in the gondola crawling inch by inch up the ski lift I thought I was going to die. But I guessed if one were going to buy the farm, sleep the big sleep or hear the fat lady singing The End by The Doors, there could be worse ways. I had a few stiff shots of brandy in my system for the extra bit of courage needed to go through with my mission. Chas and I were standing at the precipice and I told him to go ahead and I would be right down.
“You’re not going to chicken out, are you James?” He said.
“No. I going to go down, but I have to do it on my own.” Sometimes a man has to do some things alone— on their own terms. As I watched him descend the slope with the ease and grace of an Arctic fox negotiating the twists and turns of the frozen terrain at full speed, I felt totally out of my element. Wimping out was not an option and the thought of returning to the bottom of the mountain on a ski lift would be something I would never be able to live down. Gathering all the strength and fortitude I could muster and throwing caution to the wind, I leapt. The incline of the first section was not too steep and I was able to stay on my skis, but the in the second turn I fell trying to avoid a skier racing past me at an incredible speed. I was okay and picked myself up and dusted the snow off my borrowed Vuarney sunglasses. By the time I reached the bottom, I had only fallen ten times without any broken bones—but I was sore and bruised and my butt felt like it had been flogged.
On the way back to L.A., I reflected on the trip and how amazing it felt to conquer my fears and at the same time be there for a friend in need. It was a mitzvah, but there was a lump in my throat knowing that there was nothing to come home to except my two dogs that I couldn’t even afford to feed. What goes up must come down and I was coming down off of an Aspen Mountain high surrounded by fame and fortune and was descending into the depths of depravity in the tar pits of Los Angeles without a band, or a job and with less than twenty dollars in my bank account. I knew it was going to be a rude awakening.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chapter 16 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Road to Aspen

Living across the street from Chas, I was one of the first one’s over at his house after the news of Richard’s death. I saw Regina, Chas’s mother and Tom, her husband and Chas’ stepfather. I gave Regina a hug and offered my deepest condolences then I shook Tom’s hand and did the same. After awhile and the plans were made for Richard’s funeral, Chas and I decided to go out for coffee so he could get away from the downcast scene. We mostly talked about Richard, reminiscing about his days in Silverspoon, the rehearsals in Regina’s garage in Hancock Park and about Richard’s interest in aviation. He said, while trying to stifle a tear, his baby brother was flying with the angels now. Then I brought up the Aspen trip. It was still almost two weeks away and asked him if he had cancelled the rental on the cabin. He said he was going to but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
“Don’t cancel it,” I said.
I could see his wheels turning like he was thinking he shouldn’t be leaving now. His brother had just died and his mom might need his shoulder to cry on. He should be here. We sat there silently for a few minutes when the waitress came by with the coffee and the mood broke. After she refilled our cups for the fourth time, he spoke:
“You know, you might be right. It will be two weeks after...and that should be enough time to let thing settle. We’re going to Aspen, James. We’ll take the Blazer and it will be good to have you along for company.”
I told him it would do him a world of good to get away and that he could meet with Johnson and talk about his upcoming record, and not to forget about the skiing, and the ski bunnies and the hot toddies by a roaring fire in the lodge.
“James, you always know how to cheer me up.”
It was the first time a smile had invaded his face in days. Johnson was Don Johnson, who played the role of Sonny Crockett on the hit series, Miami Vice. He had hired Chas to produce his debut solo record which would be later called Heartbeat, and the title track reached number five on the Billboard charts in 1986. Not many people know that Johnson was a musician and used to hang out with members of the Allman Bothers in the sixties. He co-wrote the songs "Blind Love" and "Can't Take It with You" with Dickie Betts, which appeared on The Allman’s 1979 album, Enlightened Rogues.  Maybe it was coincidence that Chas had a song on the record entitled “Got to Get Away”. Could it have been about his sojourn through the desert culminating at the mountainous Aspen, Colorado destination?
After hours of driving we decided to make our first rest stop in the adult playground, Las Vegas. The first thing I did was put a dollar on 17 black at the roulette tables. It was a running joke in my family that ever since my dad had won a jackpot with that bet, whenever someone went to Vegas (a family member or close friend) the first bet would always be on that number. This time the silver ball landed on 00. I did have better luck at the blackjack table and was able to escape with forty bucks more than what I had come in with. I’m not sure if Chas had the same luck and to tell you the truth I don’t know if he even placed a bet. We had the best luck of all when we found some female companionship in the lounge and invited them back to our suite which provided the inspiration of the song, It Ain’t Love, but It Ain’t Bad.  I was still thinking about Maria and Chas was still in mourning, but it did serve as a pleasant distraction from our misery. Neither of us realized that God was spinning his karmic wheel and we were both helplessly turning round and round in His grand scheme waiting for the ball to drop. Little did we know it would be about three hundred miles ahead off Interstate 70 in Grand Junction, Colorado.
After leaving Las Vegas (nothing happened that even remotely correlated with the movie with Nick Cage), we were back on Interstate 70 heading east. Chas was falling asleep at the wheel. I was starting to get more than a little nervous  thinking our lives were going to end right there and our bodies would be have to be pried out like sardines from a crushed tin can. When he almost hit the mileage marker sign I had had enough.
“You’re freaking me out, man! Pull over,” I shouted knowing that would be the only way to take control of the command vessel from Captain Kirk Sandford. “I’m driving.”
As we sped through the Utah desert and were approaching the Colorado state line, Chas woke up out of a trance-like sleep and his eyes bugged out like a man possessed. He screamed, “I have to find a Burger King.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. One minute he was dead to the world and the next minute he was ranting and raving about finding a fast food restaurant. Chas, who was for the most part a strict vegetarian, had an unexplainable urge to go to a Burger King. It had to be Burger King, McDonald’s or Wendy’s just wouldn’t, excuse the pun, cut the mustard. The first major town in Colorado was Grand Junction, about forty miles east of the border. Chas was a man on a mission and I had never seen him like that about anything, except for maybe when a beautiful woman was on his radar.
“Pull over James, I’m going to find one if it kills me.”
With Chas at the wheel now, we cruised the main drags, the side streets, and even the industrial sections of Grand Junction, our eyes peeled for a the home of the Whopper.. At the outskirts of town, just before the next entrance to Interstate 70, where we would have to take in order to avoid another ten miles of back roads in the boonies, there it was—a Burger King in all of its glory.
While we were standing in a long line there was a young woman wearing a blue pea coat and on her lapel was a button with the band “Great Building” embossed in black on a white background. When Chas saw the button it looked like the scarlet hair on his head rose up in the air like it had been sucked up by a turbine.
“Where did you get that button?” He asked the girl behind him who had no idea he was talking to her at first but when he crept closer to her a mere inch or two away from her face he asked again.
“Uh...I saw them in L.A. a year or two ago. Why?” the girl replied in a nonchalant but guarded manner. She must have thought the guy was either a cop or had just been released from a mental ward. I just stood there in amazement watching the scene like it was a lost episode of “The Twilight Zone”.
“That was my brother’s band. He just passed away a couple of weeks ago. There weren’t more than 100 maybe 200 of those buttons printed up. This is unbelievable!”
“I’m sorry about your brother,” she said. “Was he the one with the long black hair, the drummer?”
“He was the one who gave me the button.”
He was at a loss for words which was a rarity for Mr. Sandford. After I got a burgers and Chas his fish sandwich we took them to go and ate them in the car. He was gearing up to drive the last loop to Aspen when he unexpectedly thanked me for twisting his arm to make him go on this trip, if not, none of this would have happened.
“What are friends for?”
Then he looked up through the mud-streaked windshield of the Blazer and said that it was sign from the heavens. He thought that Richard, or the spirit of Richard had guided him, guided us to this place.
“Why else would I suddenly fixate on Burger King? I don’t even like fast food.”
“I know it’s weird. What do you think it means, Chas?”
“What else could it mean? He’s still around. He’s watching over me now. There is life after...he’s in that greatest of great building up there and was given a free pass to make make sure I would...”
“You would what?”
“Make sure I would never forget.”
We drove the next hundred miles through the prairies that inclined upwards toward the higher elevations in silent reverence thinking about the metaphysical experience we both had. He never would forget—neither of us would.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chapter 15 - Mixed Moon Rising

It was the dog days of summer, 1985 and I had still not heard a word from Maria. I needed closure but didn’t how to contact her, all I knew was she had a new boyfriend by the name of Rudiger Koch in Berlin. I had found this out from Suzanne when I called in July for updates on her whereabouts. She didn’t have much else to say to me. The only positive thing I could do to occupy my time was to play and try to write music. I had already written five or seven songs (two of which I had written in Germany in one day) and thought it might be a good idea to put them down on tape. Yes, tape! I had a Fostex Portastudio four track cassette recorder that I had to bang on to get it to go into playback with sounding distorted. It drove me crazy but it was the only thing I had at the time. I still had my blonde Gibson J-200, the one I bounced the check for at West LA Music at the encouragement of one BJ Taylor who said he would cover the check when his money came in from Philadelphia, which of course never did. My parents covered the check but I eventually paid back at least half of the debt. The songs were: Where does the Time Go, Voices in my Dreams, Don’t Take Your Love Away, Immigration Blues, Heavy, I’m Not a Loser and Say Hello to Loneliness. I put down rough versions of these tunes and did some preliminary mixes.
My sister, Susan had worked with Bobby Columby, the drummer from Blood, Sweat and Tears and was now the president of Columbia Records. She said she would give him a call and see if he would give the songs a listen. I wasn’t holding my breath but Bobby was also my friend, Scott Columby’s uncle, so I figured it might help with getting my project a fair and unbiased evaluation. After a few weeks of checking in with his secretary and leaving messages, he called me at my home. “So what did you think of my tape? I asked with reserved enthusiasm.
“Well, I have to tell to...there is absolutely nothing I like about it at all.”
“I hate everything about it. The lyrics, the melody and the arrangements.”
“Come on Mr. Columby, I know the lyrics are good . You do realize I recorded these on a cheap home recorder and the arrangements are just basic. I plan on fleshing them out when I get into the studio. That’s why I presented them to you in that form, since you are a musician and could see through the haze of the sketchiness—see the potential there. I thought you might give me some studio time to cut them properly.”
“I wouldn’t waste my time. There, now you have my thoughts. Good luck. By the way, I know a young woman who could help you with your melodies and lyrics. Her name is Sarah Moon. I’ll have my secretary give you her number. Goodbye.”
He hung up the phone with my jaw still resting on my collar bone. Well, at least he didn’t mince his words, but a little subtlety would have been nice, I thought. How could he be so blatantly cruel, but in his mind I guess it’s like that Nick Lowe song, It’s Cruel to be Kind. The thing is, I didn’t agree with his evaluation in the least. I thought they were damned good songs. True, the arrangements could have been more thought out, but they had that raw quality that is more popular now and not so much in the mid eighties. People were used to hearing loud canon-like snare drums and eerie keyboards wafting in and out of the chord structures. Songs like Howard Jones’ Things Can Only Get Better, and The Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls were topping the charts and they weren’t exactly my cup of java. In fact, I was so far away from that style of music it was like my songs were recorded on Pluto, which is not even considered a planet anymore, and those songs were cut on Mercury, (the planet not the record label). I still thought of myself as a singer/songwriter in the mold of Bob Dylan, Jim Croce and Cat Stevens (the old Cat). Now even Cat Stevens was recording these lush, overproduced records to which I couldn’t even relate. I knew there were other artists out there like me either making a decent living or waiting in the wings for the right time to explode. This was before Kurt Cobain and grunge rock, before Roots Rock came into the forefront and way before the sixties style resurgence. I only hoped I didn’t get too old waiting it out before my time would cycle again.
Sarah Moon was a tall wisp of a woman. Her long blonde hair covered an angular face with high cheekbones—she reminded me of an albino Cherokee Indian. She was living with an executive from Capitol named Ray, Jay or Trey, I can’t quite recall. She wanted to get away from him faster than a flying squirrel on the hunt for golden chestnuts. She told me he was abusing her physically and verbally and not promoting her career as a singer and songwriter. In other words he was a chauvinistic pig. She would come over to my apartment on Camrose and we would sit there staring at each other trying to come up with something to write about. I suggested a theme about rebuilding one’s life from the bottom up. We came up with a title called Putting My Heart Back Together and she sang the demo in her best white Diana Ross style. It was not what I was used to writing, but it wasn’t bad. She told me she had a Wurlitzer spinet piano in storage and if I would arrange to have it moved, I could have it—free. It was January 28, 1986. I remember that date because as I was sitting in the back of the pickup truck belonging to a friend I can’t recall and playing Jerry Lee Lewis riffs on the Hollywood Freeway in rush hour traffic. When I got home I turned on the television and saw news coverage of the tragic shuttle exploding in space. It was the Challenger (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight. I still have the piano here in my living in Thompson Station, Tennessee and I will never forget the horrible circumstance of the explosion colored with the extreme kindness and generosity of Sarah Moon. If you’re out there Sarah, hit me up for a comment and let me know your still out there doing your unique thing.

Backtracking a little to December 1985, I had seen Richard Sandford, our old drummer from Silverspoon and Chas’ brother in a few A.A. meetings in the previous months. I had also seen my friend, Doug Fieger and Mikel Japp. It seemed like everyone was trying to get sober now and I knew it wouldn’t be long for me to jump on that bandwagon. I was still in and out of sobriety slipping back into alcohol when I would think about Maria. On December 8, 1985, five years after John Lennon’s murder, I got an extremely sad call from Chas. He told me Richard was dead from an apparent overdose of alcohol and drugs. He was only 29 years old. Chas was planning on going to Aspen for a Christmas ski trip and planned on sharing a house with Bob Seger. He decided to cancel the trip. I told him getting away from L.A. would be the best thing in the world for him and I offered to help him drive and keep an eye on him. Not only would I be helping a friend deal with his loss but I would have a needed vacation as well—I hadn’t been skiing since my family went to Lake Placid, New York in 1962. Seger had backed out of the trip because he wanted to spend Christmas with a school teacher he had met back home in Detroit, so it was just going to be the two of us for a week in Aspen over Christmas and New Years. We packed up all our winter belongings in Chas’ black Chevy Blazer including Richard’s skis which I was going to use. I felt a little strange borrowing a pair of skis from the recently departed but I also tried to think of it as a tribute to him and a celebration of his life—keeping the dream alive, so to speak. On the way east, there was an unexpected, spiritual encounter at a Burger King in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chapter 14 – The Immigration Blues

Well I’m a long, long way from that little girl of mine
She’s a living in the Fatherland down by the River Rhine
And she swore she’d wait for the day when I return
I got a long distance love and I’ve got a lot to learn
Oh, long distance, long distance, long distance love
And she’s the only woman I’ve been thinking of
I feel the pain from my head to my shoes
I’ve got a bad, bad case of the Immigration Blues
Immigration Blues – J.W. Haymer

On March 1, 1985, I woke up at four o’clock in the morning to get to the immigration office in downtown LA so I could take my place in the line. I knew there was going to a crowd of people from every imaginable ethnicity there, but I had no idea the line would extend from Olive Street north practically all the way to Dodger Stadium. I parked the car in the underground parking lot and found my place in line behind two women from Guatemala. I had come to apply for a fiancé petition which would enable Maria and me to get married. Janelle, thank God, was born in the US and was already an American citizen so that was one less problem we were going to have to deal with. You may ask what a nice Jewish patrician from Beverly Hills, a guy who would have found it a lot simpler to hire an attorney or an immigration service to stand in line for me by proxy was doing with the other common proletariat. Answer: I had used up all my financial resources on my trip to Europe so my bank account was Death Valley bone dry and I had no choice but to hang with the plebius populi.
I finally got into the building around two in the afternoon and was sitting behind the desk of an immigration official by three-thirty. I was handed all the paperwork and then dismissed for the next victim to be unsympathetically and inhumanly attended. She did tell me that it I would most likely hear back from them in three to six months. Welcome back to the red taped, clandestine world of bureaucracy, Mr. Haymer.
When I got back to Oakhurst Drive, (yes, I was back in my parent’s house again) I called Germany. Mrs. Bornemann told me that Maria was out on a modeling interview and that she would have her call back as soon as she could. After a week of without a returned call I began to get a little worried so I called again. This time she answered but she sounded a little strange and aloof. My imagination was working overtime. Did she find another love? Was she changing her mind about getting married and didn’t have the heart to tell me? Maybe she was just too busy with her new modeling career, or maybe was it the time difference? A myriad of morbid images would manifest in my mind and would continue like that for weeks. The phone calls were getting fewer and farther in between. I was beginning to drink more and more which I knew was not helping matters but I needed to turn off my mind and just sleep. If I could have gone to sleep for the three to six months until the petition was approved, if it was approved, I would have been pleased as punch (laced with Bacardi 151).
In May, I moved out of Oakhurst and found a one bedroom apartment on Camrose Drive just off Highland Avenue above Franklin, two blocks down from the Hollywood Bowl—Chas lived right across the street on Milner, so I at least had a friend nearby. I packed up my meager belongings into Mom’s Mercedes with Bridget Bardog and said goodbye to Beverly Hills, again. I gave my dad a big hug and thanked him for helping me move. The landlord was a four hundred pound packrat named Big Al Fohrman who always sarcastically called me Happy Haymer. When I knocked on his door to pay my first and last month’s rent, I looked over his mammoth shoulders and could see piles and piles of junk—boxes, stacks of papers so dense I wondered how anyone could move around much less be comfortable in a place in that condition.
A week later I saw a reddish miniature Golden retriever huddled behind a shrub outside one of the apartments in my building. I rescued her from her trench, (I found out later she was experiencing a false pregnancy) and knocked on a few doors to see if she belonged to anyone in the neighborhood. I even put up signs, but nobody responded. I ended up keeping her and named her Ginger. She was a sweet little dog and was great company for Bridget. I would take them on long walks in the park across the street and have stimulating conversations with the local resident of the park, a toothless and unkempt and emaciated guy named Blue. Every morning Blue would venture out to Hughes Market and procure a twenty-four pack of Old Milwaukee and by nine in the evening would pass out on the park bench and the next morning the same routine would start all over again. I never saw him eat—I guess beer has plenty of nutritional value—all that hops grains and whatnot. I soon found out he was from Tennessee where I would end up moving to nine years later.
On June 5, 1985 (my sister Susan’s birthday) a letter had arrived stating that the petition was approved. Yes! I called Germany to tell Maria the news but what I found out that night was beyond my comprehension—I was dumbfounded.
Yes, the very day the petition was approved I found out that Maria had taken Janelle to Frankfurt and was having a really bad day to put it mildly. She had gotten into a fender bender on a bridge and couldn’t deal with it or any other of the emotions she was going through. I’m not making any excuses for her but she was eighteen and a mother living with a stepmother that she more than detested. There she was perched upon a bridge waiting for the police to come. What she did next was probably the most irrational thing I could imagine. I guess it could have been worse but she had abandoned her child in her VW Jetta and hitchhiked to Berlin. Thank God someone came along and found the ninth month old girl crying her eyes out and there was identification in the glove box so the police knew where to deliver the child and where to tow the car.
I didn’t find out where she went until Maria had telephoned her stepmother the week after. She told her she couldn’t take it anymore and would hope that she would take care of the baby until she had time to sort things out in her life. Talk about things going full circle. Maria was abandoned when she was three by her birth mother who ran off with an American soldier in 1969 Now Maria was doing the same thing sixteen years later. When I called Suzanne Bornemann a few weeks later to get an update she told me Janelle was put up for adoption and was now living with a lovely family in Dusseldorf. I was beside myself with anger, pity and frustration. I knew now the marriage was off even though I still had strong feelings for Maria. There was no way I was going to marry a girl who would give up so easily on her family. How secure would my life be with her? I wanted to escape my feelings and the only way I knew was to get drunk. I was a wreck for months. I wasn’t eating, sleeping or getting any exercise. I was on a downward spiral that was going to end badly unless I pulled myself by my bootstraps and decided I wanted to live. At this point though—I didn’t.  Like the Bee Gee song, How can you Mend a Broken Heart, I was singing: How can you mend a broken heart, how can a loser ever win? Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again. Please Clarence. I want to live again, I want to live. But I didn’t have Zuzu’s petals or a cut lip. It was going to take time, and I thought if I could only talk to Maria and find out why she did what she did I would be on the mend, but I had no idea where she was, who she was staying with or if she was even alive or dead. I wish now I would have relied on my friends and family at that time but I rejected any help. Plus, I had completely shut myself off from all of them since they had all warned me about Maria.
Somehow they knew she was going to do something like this and I felt stupid and too proud to admit they were all right. I had painted myself in a corner and I needed to suffer through it completely alone, except for my two dogs, Bridget and Ginger, their love was unconditional and unwavering. If it weren’t for them I don’t think I would have made it. But I did. It was one of the darkest periods of my life—but I did have a lot of things to write about. Music, my music—it was another thing that kept me going through these sorrowful, sorrowful times. I think God, or my higher power or whatever you want to call it helped, too. He, or she or it was not ready to give up on me yet. Praise be thy name. Can I get another Amen?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chapter 13 – I Love You But I Miss My Dog

After being cooped up Obertshausen for nearly a week with nothing but German being spoken in my presence (except for Janelle who couldn’t say anything but ga ga or goo goo and Maria who spoke to me in English only when we were alone) I had to get out of the house. There is only so much you can take with their gigantic breakfasts with every imaginable cold cut, eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, orange juice, grapefruit juice and stuff that I wouldn’t give to a starving animal. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I missed good old Raisin Bran or just plan eggs, hash browns and toast with a cup of strong coffee. Then there were all the questions. Where are you three going to live? Are you going to move to Germany or go back to America? Who do you think is going to win the World Cup? Even though I didn’t give a hoot about American Football, I missed seeing the games on TV. I couldn’t wait for baseball season and I wanted to watch a Dodger or Yankee game. Soon the Pebble Beach Pro/Am was going to be televised and I knew it wasn’t going to be shown on German TV. I guess you could say I was truly homesick.
 One night in early February when everyone went to bed, I waited for an hour to make sure the house was still and then I sneaked out. I crept out to the street and got into Kai’s Merkur, the Orange Crush, put it in neutral and coasted down the road until I was out of earshot then started the beast up and drove back to Sachsenhausen. The weather was close to snowing but the flurries had not materialized yet. I felt that as long as I didn’t stay out too long I could get back without anyone knowing I was gone. It was risky, but my boredom took over and ruled my decision.
Forty-five minutes later, I parked the car a few blocks from the main part of the American sector in Sachsenhausen and this time I made sure I knew exactly where it was using landmarks and whatnot. I went back to the English Pub where Maria and I were on New Year’s Eve and ordered a beer at the bar. The same band was playing American Pie again and I felt a strange sense of déjà vu. At the bar, two loudmouth Germans were in a heated discussion about something and they were so voluminous in speech it was beginning to give me an awful headache. I left the bar and walked until I found another place suitable for the subdued mood I was in. I happened into a local German bar that I knew was a little off the beaten track and wasn’t a tourist trap. They specialized in a certain drink that was called Geneva—a lot like Ouzo with as much, if not more, punch. I was beginning to get a little drunk so I went back to beer and tried to pace myself. There was a pool table in the back and I took out a D-Mark and put it on the table indicating I was up for a game. I was hot that night and won about ten D-Marks from some of the regulars. I don’t think they were too thrilled about losing to an American, especially a Jewish one. I don’t know if they perceived me to be Jewish, but I felt like that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen is having dinner with Grammy Hall and it cuts to a shot with him wearing payot, or peyos, and a yarmulke or a shtreimel (a black Hassidic hat). I was fortunate that they let me off the hook with a few nasty looks. There was no way I was going to get into any kind of an altercation on foreign soil. At around two a.m. I thought I had better get back and when I opened the front door the icy wind almost blew me back into the bar. It wasn’t just snowing it was a freaking blizzard. I bundled myself up and rushed back to the Orange Crush but it had taken me three times as long to get back as it would have under normal conditions. When I saw the car it was buried under a fresh blanket of snow that seemed like it was two feet thick—it was completely snowed in. I wiped off the snow the best I could with the sleeve of my leather coat then put the key in the door and turned it but it wouldn’t open. I pulled and yanked on it and wished that I had some kind of defrost spray or WD-40, but I don’t think that it was even invented yet. One last pull and the door handle broke off in my hand. I knew I was fucked, but after (pardon the expression) jimmying it with the key, the door finally opened. How was I going to explain the broken handle to Kai?
There was no way on earth I was going to make it back to Obertshausen in that blizzard, but it didn’t stop me from trying. I had to get back before the Bornemann’s woke up and they usually got up around six a.m. As I crawled down the frozen street the car was careening and swerving in the drifts. Then I saw the blue lights in the rear view mirror. I was being pulled over by the Frankfurt police. I thought I was completely fucked and would be going to jail since I was sure I was over the legal limit of alcohol consumption. They had me get out of the car and fortunately they spoke English, In fact there English was superb. I explained my situation, how I had borrowed my girlfriend’s brother’s car and wasn’t too familiar with the directions back to their village. I must say, and here is I give kudos to the German police. They not only didn’t arrest me, they offered to drive me back to Obertshausen which was more than thirty miles away and said they would tag the car so it wouldn’t get towed. I took them up on the offer. Who wouldn’t? I got back to the house at around 3:30 in the morning and sneaked back in without waking anyone up since I had found the spare key under the doormat. Why anyone keeps a spare key under the doormat and still feels safe I’ll never know. The only problem was I had to retrieve the car in the morning or whenever the weather cleared up. I knew I was going to have to fess up to my crime, which I did the next morning. I was surprised how well they took it and two days later I drove back to Sachsenhausen with Kai in his father’s car and I followed him back home.
I knew I had to get back to America soon. I loved Maria, or at least I thought I did, but I missed my dog, Bridget Bardog. I know it seems stupid to choose a dog over a beautiful young woman but that’s the way I truly felt. I had known Bridget a lot longer and we had been through so much together; moving from place to place. I thought about the first time I saw her out of my window on Radford—the day she got on the bus at the corner and then was kicked off by the bus driver. Then moving to Highland Avenue and when I left for New York how BJ had half starved her by selling her dog food for cigarette money. Then I thought about moving back to Oakhurst and her having the three puppies and I being the midwife (is that what you would call it?) which, after complaints from the neighbor, led to my mom and dad getting thrown out of that apartment, the one they had lived in for more than fifteen years, and moving in to a much nicer place in Studio City.  After that, we moved to Venice, then back to Hollywood and now I had left her with my folks and it had been more than two months since I had seen her. Yes, It was true, I told Maria, I love you honey, but I miss my dog and I said when I got back to the U.S. the first thing  I was going to do was apply for what is known as a fiancé petition which would take about three or four months to be approved.
I arrived back in Los Angeles in February of 1985 and when my dad picked me up I hugged him and he helped me with my bags and placed them in the trunk of the Mercedes. The first thing I did when I got in the car was to I turn on the radio and wouldn’t you know, Chuck Berry’s “Back In the U.S.A came on. I sang along with it at the top of my lungs much to my father’s chagrin. Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today. We touched ground on an international runway. Jet propelled back home, from over the seas to the U. S. A. I ran into the house on Canton Drive and there she was. She whimpered and circled around then jumped up and licked my face and I hugged her for a long time. She looked a little heavier than I had remembered but no worse for wear. I was back and we were together again. Can I get an Amen? AMEN!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Chapter 12 - New Year’s Eve in Sachsenhausen

It was New Years Eve in Germany, and in most of the world for that matter, and we wanted to celebrate. Hans and Suzanne were kind enough to let us out of the confines of Stalag 9, (the A-frame house in Obertshausen) for the evening and had even offered to babysit for Janelle, so we didn’t even have to hire some teenage friend of Maria’s who most likely wouldn’t be available because of the holiday. I bundled up with two sweaters and the leather jacket I had acquired in Paris and Maria was wearing two pairs of black tights, two jumpers, and a black and white poncho that reminded me of a road sign with its zigzag diagonal pattern. We drove her step-brother’s orange junkheap – an early 70’s Merkur that had rust holes in the floorboards so big that if you lifted up the mats you could stick your feet through and drag them on the road and stop the car like Fred Flintstone. At least the heater worked well.
The main street of Sachsenhausen is Schweizer Straße, a cosmopolitan boulevard with bars and two of Frankfurt's most traditional cider houses, Zum gemalten Haus and Wagner. Ciderhouses that produce their own Apfelwein (applewine) can be identified by the presence of a wreath of evergreen branches hanging outside the location or a similar image included on their signpost. The Textorstraße and the old town or Altstadt have the best known ciderhouses in Frankfurt, but such pubs can be found all over southern Hesse. We parked the holy roller or Orange Crush on the outskirts of town and immediately bought a few cups the scalding hot beverage in one of the ciderhouses then headed to the bars on Schweizer Straße in the American sector where US soldiers would frequent because the bands played the hits of the 60’s and 70’s from back home which was beginning to make me feel homesick.
In the first nightclub called simply, The English Pub (pictured), the band was playing a cover of the recent hit by Tina Turner, What’s Love Got To Do With It and we bellied up to hand carved wooden bar where two obese German’s who both looked like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes, were drinking and shouting at each other in strident tones. I thought that any minute a fight was going to break out between them but Maria assured me that was the way they always acted and there was no need to worry. I ordered a local beer that was served in a two foot high, beveled glass mug and proceeded to get pleasantly plastered while Maria stuck to the Apfelwein not wanting to mix her alcoholic intake. I, being a professional drinker, had no qualms about mixing my booze but I was out of my element and should have followed her lead on that one. After about an hour of listening to everything from Credence Clearwater’s Fortunate Son to Don McLean’s American Pie (a favorite in these parts), we decided it was time to venture on. She wanted to go to a disco and do a little dancing, which is not my forte, but it was New Years Eve and I was fairly wasted so I agreed to go, even if I resembled a drunken orangutan when I danced—I could only imagine how ridiculous I was going to look being three sheets to the wind. Maybe it would improve my skills?
We wandered into a club that was packed tighter than a sardine can with people from all over the world. I could hear French, German, Dutch, Italian and Russian being spoken and we hadn’t even made it to the dance floor yet. Of course there was a giant mirrored disco ball hanging from the ceiling reflecting the blue and red lights which was not helping in my state of inebriation. I went to the bathroom thinking I may throw up but only leaned over the toilet seat hyperventilating. I staggered over to the sink, washed my face and hands and then pulled myself up by the bootstraps and rejoined the festivities. What I needed was a shot of Pernod to set me right. Ever since Paris it was the only drink that would settle my stomach and after a few sips I was back to abnormal. When I came back from the bar I saw Maria speaking with this French dude clad in black leather. It was obvious he was “chatting” her up and when he realized I was with her he offered us a peace pipe in reconciliation. He said it was hashish from Afghanistan and it was very strong and advised us to only take one hit. We did. Oh my God, the room was spinning like a centrifuge. I felt like I was on one of those circular rides where you lean against the inner wall and then the floor drops away while you spin faster and faster. I always hated those rides.
After midnight rolled around, and it was now 1985 we were too wasted to notice but knew something must have happened when the room exploded with cries of Happy New Year in at least ten different languages. I turned around to kiss her and saw that she was slumped down on the floor looking like a ragdoll or a marionette with its strings cut. I propped her up in the corner so she wouldn’t get trampled to death then I stumbled and weaved my way to the bar and got two large glasses of water. It seemed to help but Maria was feeling claustrophobic and had to get out of the crowded club. Somehow I managed to regain the balance to help her up from the floor and led her out to the frozen street below. We were lost.
“Where the hell is the car?” I shouted. She just gave me a blank look.
“I don’t fucking know,” she said as I threw up my hands and paced back and forth.
“This is your town, you should know better than me. C’mon Maria think.”
She started to cry. “Oh that’s really going to help,” I said as I tried to think.
“We parked on Schweizer, didn’t we?”
“I think so, but I’m all turned around. We shouldn’t have smoked that hash. I can’t think straight and I’m freezing my ass off.”
“The best thing to do is wait until later when the crowds thin out and that orange beast will stick out like a sore thumb. Come on lets go get some coffee.”
“Okay, yah...”
We weaved our way through the crowded street and found an all night restaurant a few blocks away. It wasn’t a Denny’s or a Waffle House but the coffee was hot and they were serving breakfast. I ordered some eggs over easy and she had some toast. After an hour or so we started to come back to the planet Earth. At around three in the morning we paid the bill and thought about venturing on to find the Orange Crush. The snow was almost blinding and we couldn’t see ten feet in front of us.
“Maybe we should get a hotel room?” I asked.
“There won’t be’s New Years’. Remember?”
She began to cry again so I hugged her and tried to reassure her that we were going to be okay. We went back into the restaurant and sat in by the fire waiting until the snow let up—if it ever would. At least we were warm and cozy and I didn’t know about her but I wasn’t high anymore. After an hour or so we noticed the snow was dissipating so we gathered ourselves up and went outside. We couldn’t believe what we saw. The Orange Crush was right across the street half covered in snow. We looked at each other and then looked at the junkheap and then back at each other again then laughed hysterically. We were saved. After scraping the ice off the windshield we climbed inside and it fired the beast up. It might not have been the best looking car in the world but at that moment it was a Rolls Royce or a Jaguar. The heat worked and that was a good thing—a very good thing. If this was any indication of how 1985 was going to be, I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride. I had no idea at the time how right I was going to be.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Chapter 11 – Fatherland/Poisoned in Paris

After a safe landing at Frankfurt International Airport I was waiting for my baggage at the turnstiles when I saw her. She had cut her hair and let it go back to her natural color—a honey blonde and she looked fantastic. She smiled that familiar crooked grin and waved at me from a distance of no more than twenty feet. The closer she got the more beautiful she appeared. It was more than two months since I had seen her last, when she and her mother, sister and baby Janelle had left. I could see Maria had come with another young girl who apparently had a car, but she had left Janelle at home, thinking she was too young and susceptible to strange germs one usually finds in airports after the flyers are confined to breathe the same stale air for hours on end.
Her family had a large A-frame house near the Black Forest in a small town about thirty miles east of Frankfurt by the name of Obertshausen.  It was a four bedroom house with a bonus room upstairs—like a loft where Maria and I slept in a rollaway bed and Janelle stayed in a crib on the warmest part of the room near the heating vent. I guess her step-parents were rather progressive or they thought that I was going to marry Maria therefore had no problem with our sharing the same bed. Hans, her stepfather, had a wine cellar in the basement and an assortment of every kind of Bavarian beer you could imagine. I was still bending the right elbow at the time and we shared a few choice brews as well as many other local types of liquor, much to my delight. It was very odd living in a house of strangers who thought that they had taken in the “token Jew” to their household. Suzanne had explained to me that when she was a little girl back in the early thirties she had joined the Nazi party. She said at first it was a lot fun, they would sing songs and have cookouts and campfires. Her mother said she never trusted Adolph Hitler at all—he reminded her of a used car salesman. She warned Suzanne that her association with the Nazi party was going to lead to big trouble. One day Suzanne noticed that one of her best friends, the daughter of a Jewish family, had suddenly vanished off the face of the earth. One day the family was living there a few doors down and the next day the house was empty without any forwarding address. Soon all the Jews in the small town were gone without a trace. Her mother said it was because of Hitler and his hatred for the Jews. Suzanne left the party soon after that.
Not only was Suzanne an ex-Nazi but she was a very active member of the Church of Scientology. Upstairs in her office (she was also a dentist, who reminded me of Laurence Olivier’s character, Szell, in Marathon Man) was her e-meter, originally known as the Hubbard Electrometer, is a device the Scientologists use to reflect or indicate whether or not a person has been relieved from spiritual impediment of past experiences. One evening at supper, I had asked her about her involvement in Scientology and expressed a curiosity about the e-meter. She asked me if I wanted to give it a try and me, being the kind of person who never backs down from a challenge or a new experience, decided to give it a go.
Her office looked like a shrine dedicated to everything L. Ron Hubbard. She had all his books on the shelf (even the weird science fiction ones) and literature in piles scattered about the room promoting the benefits of Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard’s theory on which Scientology is based. I sat down on her office chair and she connected the wires from the e-meter to various parts of my body. I felt like Frankenstein’s monster getting ready to be re-animated and had to stifle a laugh looking at the primitive apparatus. It looked like something I might have constructed with my Erector Set when I was a kid. I could hear her humming and hawing behind me and it made me wonder what kind of readings she was getting. Was I going to pass the test? Would I have past life problems that would inhibit my relationship with her step-daughter?
She silently unhooked the wires from my body and I get up from the chair. “Well, did I pass the audition?” I asked.
“You did fine. It looks like you are a very old soul,” she said but I could tell she was holding something back.
“What do you mean, old soul?”
“You have had many past lives, hundreds and hundreds of them. If it is alright with you, I would like to take you down to the Center and have you tested by our leader.”
“Uh, well you see...” I didn’t really want to get into a whole rigmarole since I was only going to be in Germany for a limited time and Maria and I were booked to go to Paris by train in a couple of days. “I think I’ll pass on the invitation, if that’s all right with you.”
“Yes, of course. I only thought you might want to take it to the next level, only out of interest in the lives you might have led in the past.”
“I think I’ll concentrate on the life I’m living now, but thanks just the same.”
That night Maria and I went into town to a Chinese restaurant and sat in a booth behind an ornately carved wooden wall. There were all these L shaped patterns in the carvings and when I inspected them more closely I could see they were connecting Swastika’s. The food was good but I told Maria that I felt uncomfortable there and there was no way I was going to go anywhere near the ovens. We left before the fortune cookies arrived. I had had enough messages for one day, thank you very much.
Maria and I left Frankfurt on the train bound for Paris two days later. The scenery was beautiful—the snow covered Alsace Lorraine hills and valleys nearly took my breath away. We got a cheap bottle of wine and some German cold cuts for dinner and within a few hours I was feeling sick to my stomach. It felt like I was coming down with some kind of virus or flu, feeling weak and dizzy. Of all times to get sick, It was my first time in Paris—the city of lights. When we got off the train Maria had to help steady my slow and deliberate gait to the pharmacie, thinking they might have some medication that would help, or maybe they could direst me to a doctor—preferably one who spoke English. She said there was a fine physician in the next building. I staggered over there and to my chagrin the doors were locked. I looked at the directory and couldn’t figure out which one was the doctor the lady at the pharmacie had recommended. I told Maria to go back and get the name of the doctor while I leaned against the door. I saw a woman leaving the building so I waited for her to exit then I grabbed the door before it closed. I was now in the building but didn’t know much more than that. I walked into the first office I came to and sat down in the waiting room.
The receptionist didn’t speak any English so I did my best to communicate my situation to her. I thought I was going to pass out but managed to remember my basic French from high school. “Je suis tres mal,”  I said.
“O oui. Un moment,” she said.
After a few minutes I was directed to a room where the nurse had indicated for me to lie down and remove my shirt with hand signals. I could understand that much since taking off one’s clothes translated nicely in any language, so I complied. Soon a young doctor with a pencil thin mustache came into the room. Fortunately he spoke English and told me to lie back while he examined me. He took my blood pressure and stuck a thermometer in my mouth. I had a low grade fever, so he had ruled out some kind of influenza. Then he looked at my feet and could see they were swollen around the ankles.
“My friend,” he said. “You have food poisoning. What have you been eating?”
“I had some wine and cold cuts on the train from Germany,” I told him.
“Ah, the train. I wouldn’t have eaten anything those pigs serve on those trains. I always bring my own food. But, it is too late for that. I am going to give you some medication to help with your stomach cramps and diarrhea, but what you need is rest and to drink plenty of fluids. The sickness should pass within 12 to 24 hours.”
“Great! I am only in town for a couple of days. Isn’t there anything else you can give me to speed up the process?”
“I’m afraid not. The poison has to run its course.”
I left the office and saw Maria in the lobby. She was a little upset that I hadn’t told her where I was but she understood when I told her about the food poisoning. She was smart and had not eaten any of the salami or pepperoni and had luckily avoided the sickness.
We checked into the hotel somewhere near Notre Dame de Lorette but all I saw the first night was the view from the bathroom. The next morning I was feeling a little better but I was so nauseated with the thought of any type of rich food entering my system. That night I was able to eat some Spaghetti Bolognese; it was the only food I could digest without getting sick to my stomach. What a shame to be in one of the greatest culinary cities in the world and be limited to Spaghetti Bolognese. At least I could manage to down a couple of shots of the green fairy, Pernod Absinthe (the favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald), without giving it all back to the lavatorie—vivé la France.