The Unswung Bat

Monday, March 20, 2006
Frankfurts of the Mind
What do you know?

The Invisible Month

December thirteenth, 2000 (zweitausend). Life is ruled by ghostly forces here. A kind of hostile magnetism keeps anyone in the crowd from bumping into any other of the striding thousands crossing the sullen flagstone, quiet because they needn't talk. Every one, and the odd cluster of two or three bound tight as one, moves without bustle, particles in ideal isolation. Even in the chilled air, no one wastes time shivering or huddling. Each person moves with some task at hand, each one's purpose translated fluently into motion, while the Brownian jitter that should shuffle the crowd is pulled inside, stilled and stilted into a third language, one separated from intent and action, that agitates like the yellow green and blue lights buzzing in the stiff night air. This other tongue may well be German.

My failure to learn the languague (sprache) dogs me up Hauptwache. Like the others around me, I am putting some task into motion, but I have an obviously foreign stammer in my step. The blinking light atop the Commerzbank tower pokes yellow holes in the balance sheet hanging on the horizon that I'm trying to sum up. If I could concentrate, I'd try to find out what holes the missing days had fallen into. I'd paid for them, but had no clue when I might've received them.

The only way to get from my gray-and-brown suburb into Frankfurt, to school, to Valerie--to anything--was with a train pass, a so-called Month Card (Monatkarte) that in true Deutsch style was valid for exactly 30 days, regardless of when the line between months happened to pass. I'd say it was designed to trip people up and and charge them the 80 DM (Deutschmark, Deutsch Bundesbank) fine for travelling with a bad pass, except the Germans seemed perfectly able to keep track of the time and replace theirs when it expired, with no days of overlapping coverage. My classmates kept me up to date, one of the benefits of attending a regular school (Gymnasium) instead of international school like Valerie. Not that I wouldn't rather be in school with her. Doubt I'd miss much about Hederschule. I don't know if the kids who, like clockwork, remind me to buy a new train pass are friends. We copy each others' homework--my English, their math--though neither they nor I need the help. I pick extraneous commas from their compositions like ticks, and expect the same from them for my logarithms (logarithmus), which I do make mistakes with from time to time. But I've always been pretty good with numbers.

The mystery is that I've paid for twelve train passes in a row, never missing a day, and my last one expires a week before my year is up. I'm trying to work it through in my head. Reaching the widemouthed stairs to the subway (U-Bahn), I head underground. For a moment, I'm in warm obscurity when I pass under the shadow of the overhanging pavement, in between worlds, and I feel like I can shudder honestly in the cold. It tinglingly shakes on my shoulders. Then a new horizon tilts to my plane as the pavement becomes the cieling. A different crowd, different like two streams are called different. They're walking faster, but just seem to be about getting out. A pigeon ( . . . I don't know the word for pigeon. Come to think of it, I don't even know bird, just chicken) is hopping in circles on one foot, the other curled tight and held against its body, fleeing one set of fast-swinging legs and then the next, and so on. I rest my back against the tiled wall and watch him (Er) . . . it? for a few minutes while I think.

Days in a year. 365, twelve months. Four weeks each plus change (münze). Twelve months of four weeks was . . . forty-eight weeks? That wasn't . . . yes, forty-eight. I tried not to mouth the words. Thirty days hath September . . . two other months, and November. All the rest have thirty-one, except February for some reason. February had exactly four weeks, then there were four months with two loose days . . . eight days, then, and . . . seven months with three days extra meant an additional twenty-one--twenty-nine days? I did my math again. The cripple-pigeon hopped in more circles. People passed. Yup, twenty-nine days, and wasn't this a leap year? Well shit, thirty. A whole damn month hiding in front of me.

The problem was that a week pass (Wochenkarte) cost half as much as a whole month, which left me with less than I'd planned on. I've had to work at tracking abstract things. Time, money, dates. Exchange rates. Being 30 DM short was $42 gone.


Not In The Beginning

A funeral for Oatey the dog. So many options have never had so little meaning to me, but for some reason I've taken on project heart and soul. The kids named Oatmeal (obviously), they loved him, and he died before they were old enough to shake off the loss like grown-ups. I'm not saying I'm not sad that Oatey is gone, just that I wish he could've waited another decade or so like he was supposed to.

Maybe it's good that he went while the kids were still here and still kids. I don't really want the house to empty all at once in ten years. But now he is Karen and Anthony's First Death. Until now their luck, and their relatives', have been remarkable. The grandmas and grandpas are all healthy, no accidents have befallen any of the cousins, and the one great-uncle on Valerie's side is still (against the odds) alive and smoking. I don't just worry about the house emptying all at once, I worry about the older half of the family dying inside of one or two years. It's actually a bit of a relief, in hindsight, that the kids get to practice their goodbyes on Oatey.

But, though grief-stricken, they're also clamoring with questions about how we're going to bury him. At least they have that much of an clear expectation, though I don't know if it's even legal, let alone a good idea. While the kids are putting the scraps they've learned about mourning into action, all I know is that the dog I fed yesterday is lying stiff in the basement, under eight bags of ice and a blanket we've sacrificed to him in the absence of a freezer, a measure I don't expect to give us much time. I'm wondering whether we should give away the rest of his dog food or save it, and how the kids might accept burying the dog in effigy without asking too much about what happened to the real body. Meanwhile I found Anthony in the basement stretched out beside Oatey's body, with the blanket half-hiding his little six-year-old self, rubbing the dog's cold fur with his hands and breathing on his paws—something I showed him when we went sledding last year—and he pleaded "I wanted to keep him warm."

I was younger than Anthony when my mother's cynicism introduced me to religion with angry gestures aimed at the latest round of Bible-quoting fundamentalists appearing on the news, who spoke against abortion and Iran. Against them, she defended the one on principle and the other having lived there. That she was reacting to the emotional predations of the religious right with sharp reason was beyond my ability to notice: at three or four I didn't have an ear for so much subtlety. When they drew her wrathful criticism, I absorbed mainly the wrath, rejecting the other stuff as too big to chew on.

I heard her rail against the hypocrisy of her opponent, and rattle off examples that placed his religion in a lineage dating to Assyria and Babylon, reducing his rhetoric to motives and his motive to stories and his stories to everyone's stories, which she insisted there were only seven of. The idea I got was that the religion and beliefs of these men were common old things, like rocks in the dirt, not the diamonds they seemed to have lodged down their throats when they spoke on the news. I didn't realize my mother cared and knew more than they did about their faith, only that a fight was unfolding between her and what I took for Christianity, and so my loyalties were strongly set.

I don't remember when we did Chanukah for the first time. It would've been Hannuka then, though: I do remember it was before the two months of Hebrew lessons at age ten (or eight, for my sister), that would be our entire involvement in the Jewish world, except for one course I took in college and dropped within—by coincidence—about two months.

Judaism at the time was something I loved, not as a religion like Christianity (these I took to be synonymous), but as a fascinating secret. How could a child not be thrilled by the mystery of being told by his parents to light these candles—in this order—for no reason, while a tape-player sings in a pretty, other language. I'm not even sure why we did Chanukah, it's not like dad wasn't "invited to leave" temple for being an atheist, or like mom believed in god, either


It will grow.

Sometimes my reaction to a photo is surprisingly strong; sometimes visceral; pricklingly cerebral other times; sometimes a dumb glut just fills my head and refuses to allow words and ideas to spring together.

While writing this bit I had to look up some pictures of Frankfurt, which caused physical pain. I hate every one of them. Look at them. They probably seem innane. Something in them brings out bad thoughts in me.

I remember those warm ugly nights, I remember those stupid trees, I remember quiet huge spaces, all clearly and uselessly.

I remember the damned Churrasco Grill with the red sign in that blockhouse across the street.

This is the one that holds the rest of them together. I tried to sit under that tree with the Commerzbank Zentrale looking like a church folded into triangles, and write the story I'm working out here.

Just when I finally thought I'd been exaggerating my aversion to Frankfurt, I dredge this stuff up. Well, I've got no real connection of any sort to the geographical place. The pictures just find locations in my memory bring them forward. And man it's shocking how much I hate them spots.


Merriam-Webster, the One True English Dictionary as far as I care, announced their "top ten words of 2005," meaning the words most looked-up online. Their list, in order: integrity, refugee, contempt, filibuster, insipid, tsunami, pandemic, conclave, levee, and inept. What a lame list! Dictionary fans, you've let me down. I guess you heard those words repeated ad nauseum on CNN this past year, and with most of that network's contents, decided you were better off researching the words yourself. Still, also like so much of CNN's content, just because these words were aired again and again does not make them interesting, informative, or important.

Although, conclave? When did that come up in the news?

Also, go read about my Evil Twin Kombat Masterplan and do your bit. Hop to.

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