I traveled all night, had a passport, and my military ID card I had reached Germany without trouble. I had taken the recommendations of the Captain, AWOL. I had seen enough protests in America, and the usual reports in the newspapers of those objectors to the War in Vietnam going to Canada, but I went to Europe. Of course I always knew protesters preceded wars. I saw trains full of American soldiers, you’d think the war was in Europe not Vietnam.
A few of the young soldieries like I was, spoke, they were convinced that Europe was under threat, and they were needed here, and were worried they’d be hauled out of Europe to go to Vietnam, like many of their buddies. I was twenty two years old, I told them I served my time in the states and I was just traveling around Europe. I was in Frankfurt and took a room at a small hotel. It was spring, March of 1970, the tourist season was picking up I noticed. I was traveling light, a knapsack was all, it was filled with civilian cloths, and a few Army things I kept. I had stop in Minnesota to talk to my mother and brother and relax for that last month of my real life, I mean, I be on the run thereafter, but I didn’t tell her I was abandoning the army, just like Mark Twain did. I thought it would be the best thing to leave it alone.
The city was full of hikers, and bikers, and soldiers. I paid my room rent for a month in advance.
I walked the streets the next day to get the feel of the city, and kind of hid from the police and Officers when they came by. Seeing a lone young man as I was, was suspicious, or at least so I felt. I spent some time looking over the bridges into the River, looking at the dim shapes of the fishes. I thought, look here, you got the whole river to yourself, and all you got to watch out for is a hook, but he like me I suppose had limits, he had but one river and perhaps some tributaries, I had all of Europe to run around in, both running from the hook. Then I walked farther down the river, there really was no harmony this first day, this spring afternoon.
I went back to my hotel room, slept a few hours. I had but a once of confidence, but it would have to do.
I heard a knock at my door, I opened it, it as the US Military Police (I would find out later my landlady was in fear I was, just what I was, AWOL).
“What are you doing here?” asked the two tall white Military Police.
I protested that I was an innocent American Tourist, but that didn’t help much, they insisted I go with them to the military station, and if they were wrong, they’d give me their apologies.
“Tell them at your headquarters, I’m a free citizen of the US…” and was looking about wondering how to escape. But there was really no way, I’d have to talk my way out at their headquarters I told myself, and they each stepped to a side of me and walked me down the two flight of stairs. They seemed to be just his right distance alongside of me; one was a foot behind me. Had I run, I could not have made ten feet I believe, and would have given myself away.
At the Military Headquarters, one of the two soldiers opened up a door to a little room, “Go side there,” he told me, “The Latinate will see you in a minute.” There I waited to be questioned for about fifteen minutes. And a fat officer came in, but it was a captain. And he said, “I’m Latinate Goodman, how are you?”
“Fine Latinate,” said in return, knowing he was a captain, and not referring to him as an officer.
“You really have nothing to worry about, we get a lot of AWOL folks about, you know, just walking aimless trying to find a way back home, but of course this is not your case, right.”
“I’m not worried,” I said, taking off my jacket. “So start your questioning, I’m busy, I just got in yesterday and want to get a railroad pass, and see a few things.”
A tall military guard came in, said, “Captain, we got two more out here waiting.” Then the captain looked at me, with a smile, “It never stops.” I looked around the room as if I had never seen a military room before, which actually I had not, in Europe. The small window was barred, and the door was heavy and solid, locked from the other side, thus the Captain had to knock to get out. I could hear movement on the other side of the door.
I sat and waited for his next question. It was dreary, and I gave him that look, realizing, most civilians would take it that way, whereas a soldier has to smile and endure. It was getting close to lunch, and I cold smell coffee.
“Bring me a cup and my lunch,” ordered the captain, and the door opened, and he and I looked at the two soldiers waiting for him. I pretended to be hungry also. He was easier going than the Military Police. Finally I said, “Do you want my passport or what do you want?” My next statement was going to be a threat I could not fulfill, I was going to say, I want to talk to an official from the Embassy, but I feared it would endanger my position now. And said nothing, and cooperated.
“What were you doing when the police picked you up?” he asked.
“I was in my hotel room sleeping!” I said
“What…!” he said aloud, the door open, and the guard bringing in his coffee.
“Maybe they got you confused, hotel room.”
“I was enjoying the view of the Rhine before that,” I said smiling, “As I told them and you, I’m a tourist, not a smuggler or whatever.”
I saw the two soldiers had duffle bags, no wonder they got caught I told myself. A knapsack or shoulder bag looked more like a young mans travel bag.
“I think my landlady got suspicious and rushed out to find the Military Police, and the excitement started,” I added.
“The landlady,” said the captain,” I held my breath, I stated my name although he had read it in on the introductory form he held in front of him, no real report yet “Christopher Hunger I’m from Minnesota, I have never been in trouble, no police recorded, and if you are not going to charge me with an offense, I am hungry.”
The guard at the door grunted and looked up, as if he knew something but wasn’t sure.
“Yes, yes…” I he said, now looking at my passport, “that is a fact. I stretched out my hand to take back the passport, as if it was my property, and he handed it back.”
“So that’s it, Mr. Hunter, you’re free to go, sorry about the inconvenience.” Said the Captain with a smile, I raised the palms of my two hands, as if being satisfied, and of course, got up off my chair and left that little room as fast as I could without raising
“Have a good lunch,” said the Captain as I was walking to the front doors, I never turned about. I quickly went back to the hotel, it was safe there now for a month I felt, and then I’d be on my way, but only a month, I needed to get out of this military infested city. I had five hundred dollars on me, and $25, 800 dollars in the back, my mother had saved for me for college, if need be I could tap into that.
On Notre Dam Cathedral
I noticed the month I walked around Frankfurt, so may unhappy faces, perhaps it was because I was unhappy, guarded, looking over my shoulder. People, who are unhappy, can usually count the others that are gloomy like them. I went to Paris and found a rooming house there, a small hotel down by the banks of the Seine. I was on the second floor, and the steps winded upward like spiral stairway.
From my window you could see Notre-Dame and a few bridges that crossed the Seine. I had the sense things would be different here, it was April, 1970, and there was a coolness in the air. The phony Vietnam War was still active, and I heard they were scaling down, from 500,000 troops to 200,000 and downward from there.
I didn’t feel I existed in this city, I just was, and so I seemed to walk around the city, numb, but alive. I went daily to “Shakespeare and Co,” a bookstore where Hemingway, Joyce, and the rest of the 1920s writers hung out, and I bought some cheap books, and read upstairs in what I called their loft, fell to sleep now and then on the coach they had, and lived on books, and sandwiches, and in a cheap hotel room.
When people asked me, Americans that often came to the bookstore, asked what I did, I answered truthfully, I didn’t work, and that I had in year prior in a range of trades. I didn’t seem to sense the French cared one way or the other who I was as long as I had an up-to-date passport, and money. But this second life I was living was getting boring, I wanted to work, do something, yes I thing that is the most correct for the time, I was bored, felt discarded in a world famous city, with no regrets, but having no work to do; legally I was a tourist I suppose, so it wasn’t anyone’s fault I feared on trying to get a work permit, lest they find whom I was, but again I doubt they’d had cared, they didn’t like the Vietnam war anymore than I, but I didn’t know of what connections they had with the US Military, or what kind of information they handed over to the FBI, so I left it alone.
I drank expensive coffee at the Café de Flora; I suppose that was because Hemingway ate and drank there, it felt homelike to me. I had a few ham and cheese sandwiches there, when I felt rich, because they were not cheep, but most of the time I just ate at a local café down by Notre Dame, where I could get a meal for a buck.
I had a lot of time to do nothing, my world was empty, and I needed not be so guarded, and that had filled my time before, I mean, I felt my world was a tinge more packed, now it was that I felt ahead of time, looking for things to do. I suppose I looked at a few of the friends I met at the bookstore with desperate appeal, eyes that said, help, but they didn’t believe I really needed it so they didn’t bring it up.
I was tired most of the time in Paris, or bored, or depressed I suppose. I called it, content without interest, a time of fantasies about nothing. I talked to myself a lot. I learned Paris was not the city to be alone in.
I was sleeping in my room, and the door opened, I pretended not to notice I was tired, it was my third month in Paris (the end of July, 1970), and I was naked on my bed, it was hot. They were talking in French, I noticed as they talked to one another, all maids, they were fascinated, wither with my white skin, or me being an American or whatever, I was drowsy, one was cute the other were ok, all with white garments on. I think they were thinking was mad to lay naked, a logical madness I suppose, but they were determined to look, stare for the longest time, and I had too much boredom to stop them, nor did I care to analyze it. Then the door shut. But I had gotten a good glimpse of one.
I got up, walked down the hallway, it was perhaps an hour since they three had gone into my room, they were at the end of the hallway by the steps, I walked by them, smiled a the cute one, I think there is an animal that lives in all of us, I wanted to digest her right there, but I moved on. It consumes you with you think someone is interested in you, and perhaps they are not, just in the moment of disbelief of an event. I was thinking nonsense, I told myself, I hated such conversations with my second self, but I didn’t like drugs, but I got to liking beer and wine while on my run in Europe. And I was not so depressed I was going to take my life.
A thought passed through my mind as I walked down those stairs, I would leave tomorrow morning, go someplace, figure it out in the evening. Yes, just disappear. When I got back to my room, Carla was cleaning it, the girl I had seen, the cute one. She looked more Italian, or Spanish than, French, she spoke a variation of English and Spanish and French. I can’t write it, it is too difficult, but she was attracted to me, and it was hard not to be attracted to her. Tomorrow Morning, I told myself, or maybe a few days more.
“You take me out to a nightclub, and we dance,” she said.
“Good gosh,” I said, “why not,” I said breathlessly. She could save my boring life. I smiled a bit sadly, and I sat on my bed, and she also, I couldn’t think of a thing to say, but she was making me human again. As I looked at her, her age was about right, my age or perhaps two or three years older.
“I am twenty-six,” she said.
“I’ll be twenty three, in October,” I responded.
“Have you got somebody you like back home?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “my mother” and she laughed.
“Me too,” she said.
For a moment there, we didn’t seem to be so strange to each other, an interest was being painted in our minds, and then a cold something run through me, like magic, I grabbed her and kissed her. And we lay on the bed, and she took off her close, almost all the way, and she closed her self up, said, “I can’t.” I was in such turmoil, emotionally I didn’t know what to say, but laid back. And we sat up, and all of a sudden I thought, I didn’t have a visa. I mean it wasn’t hard to get, but I didn’t have one for France, and no one checked me on the train, and I was on leave when I got one for Germany, and here I was, how was I going to leave, or perhaps leave, and hope I didn’t get check, or if I did, just ask for one. Funny how things like that seep into your mind when you get rejected, and I guess she was speaking to me, but I didn’t hear her.
The next day, she turned up in my room, and cleaned it, not a word said. This time I left it is, although I knew she came in person to see me. And there I stood with a smile, in my hotel room. Carla’s friends walked by as if to see what was going to take palace, they were both more broad-shouldered than she. One was perhaps two hundred pounds, the other, quite small and thin, not sure if they were the same girls I had seen with Carla before or not.
“Stay right here,” I told Carla, and walked outside of my room, to show them nothing was happening, and they walked back towards the spiral stairway. Slowly Carla rose from making my bed, turned around and we fond our bodies to be a food from each other, and we kissed. She started to push away, but decided for what it was worth, not to. She said calmly, in her broken English, “I wish you’d stay in Paris!”
“No,” I said, adding, “Unfortunately I can’t. But never mind, I will be leaving soon.” And I let go of her, my hands were around her thin waist. I knew if I stayed too long in one place, they’d find me, and put me in prison. Carla was taken back a moment, not sure what her next move would be. We both seemed to be in a deep concentration. I felt like a worm, but contemptuously, I felt I had to live with it.
See Dennis’ web site: http://dennissiluk.tripod.com