One Bullet was Not Enough

As promised – the Prologue of  the GRADUATION PRESENT

For some reason I thought shooting a bullet through the rear window of a car would make a precise, little hole. Wrong. It shatters the glass. Avoid doing so in hurricane-force winds unless someone is trying to ram your cheaply built Renault off a cliff with his Mercedes.

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Cliffs near Pointe du Hoc France on a stormy day.

One bullet was not enough. The Mercedes recoiled to strike again, its engine growling. Francoise was out cold. The first blow knocked her headfirst into the dashboard as she reached for the emergency brake, and now she was draped like a rag doll over the steering wheel. It wasn’t fair. She’d survived the war, soldiered through a passionless marriage, and then fallen in love with—of all the people in the world!—my Uncle Bob. I couldn’t let her die.

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Small fishing village on the coast of Normandy

I peered over the seat and aimed the tiny pistol at the Mercedes’ headlights. Bang, bang, bang. I fired blindly until all the bullets were gone. The rain pelted the roof like machine-gun fire, the steep road now a river of slime washing towards us. If he rammed us again it would be the end.

And to think six months earlier I was at an anti-war rally, protesting all violence and chanting “Give Peace a Chance” with a couple of stupid daisies in my hair.

Dear Readers – I’m pleased to announce that my first novel FLIPKA made the Literary Fiction Recommended Reading list on Wattpad ( http://w.tt/1gYlfYY ) along with  Colm Herron’s book THE WAKE and Duke Miller’s LIVING AND DYING WITH DOGS.

Wacky Travel Tales

For the last couple of months I’ve been blogging about the wild time I had on my first trip to Europe, which would have lived on only in a cardboard box had it not been for a writing contest back in the 1990s. The challenge was to write about “our wackiest travel adventure.”  Cartoons_0003I immediately riveted back to my ignorant youth when I traveled the world naively believing that the universe would take care of me.  Twenty years later that challenge evolved into THE GRADUATION PRESENT (on Amazon now). Of course it’s impossible to remember everything that happened 40 years ago so this book is primarily fiction. However, there are a few real life incidents that I just couldn’t help adding.

My Uncle Bob (who I stayed with in Europe) read the first drafts of the book and said:

“I don’t remember any of these things happening, Jan.”

Cartoons_0004To which I  said “That’s because it’s a work of fiction!”

He looked at me oddly.  “But Gunthersblum is real and Worms is real and I’m real!”

“Okay, there’s a little real even in fantasies.”

Still dissatisfied  he went on to ferret out the real.  He couldn’t.  Forty years is a long time.  This particular scene which he vehemently denies ever happening actually did:

“Did you see all those young lieutenants at the bar?” Uncle Bob asked as we waited for our meal.

“Yeah,” I lied. I couldn’t tell a lieutenant from a general.

“Well, I figure that they’d all love to take a pretty American girl out to dinner.”

“What?”

“I was thinking, why should I be the one who has to feed you when there are all those young studs who’d gladly …”

Cartoons

Doodle of the scene at Happy Hour at the Officer’s Club, Worms Germany.  GS stands for government service ranking.

“Uncle Bob!”

“You know, you’ve gotta learn to use what you have while you still have it. Think of it as the law of supply and demand. You’ve got the supply and they’ve got the demand,” he said, taking a chomp out of a breadstick.

Whereas the following scene is complete fiction, although the character of Lou was loosely based on Uncle Bob’s boss at the time:

Outside it was dark. The rain had stopped. “She sleeps!” The Moroccan shouted again. Lou appeared a few minutes later in the door. I could only see him in silhouette but I could tell he was livid. His aura was bright red.

“Where have you guys been?” I asked innocently.

“I was investigating your kidnapping!” he snorted.

“My what?”

“YOUR KIDNAPPING!” he yelled, stomping his foot like an enraged Rumpelstiltskin.

The following bit of musing was inspired by listening to my uncle’s friends who were WWII vets talk about their experiences:

 I thought of those young kids from small-town America, about to jump from a rattletrap plane into the unknown, for that one last moment believing Hollywood crap of fame and glory, then dropping with fewer chances than a duck in a shooting arcade into an alien land, a land they’d been assured would include cheering crowds and willing women, which they would never see because they would splat like frogs into marshes filled with dung or float to earth full of bullet holes.  And they were the lucky ones.

I wish some things in the book hadn’t really happened but they did, such as:

Unfortunately Uncle Bob was wrong. Not every moron on the planet can pass the army typing test and I’m living proof of that fact.

Army Life

Army Life

I made army history by flunking the idiot-proof army test three times.

So a bit of truth and a whole lot of imagination went into the writing of the book as I imagine is the case with most novels.

Next time I’ll post the first chapter of the book.  Oh, the drawings on this page are doodles drawn by the cartoonist for Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper, as we sat drinking Heinekens in the bar of the Officer’s Club in Worms Germany.  Alas, I’ve forgotten his name. If anyone out there recognizes the work, please let me know.

Wot the chuffin’ Gypsy Nell’re ya speaking?

Apparently no one told Pier Andrea that in England people drive on the wrong side of the road. Of course, the English don’t think it’s the wrong side of the road. That’s why the driver’s seat in English vehicles is on the right and not where it should be – the left.  Think we should tell them that they’re woefully misguided?  Probably not a good idea.

MrToadVehicleDriving on the four lane highway leading into London hadn’t been too bad but following a speeding Ferrari through a huge city’s crowded streets, often into oncoming traffic, was like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Disneyland (my favorite ride by the way). Finally Carolyn and I pulled over and parked the car until the boys realized we weren’t following them and turned back to find us. They had to be in Worksop by mid afternoon so the plan was to have lunch together and then say good-bye. They parked the Ferrari in front of a one of those Dr. Who phone booths and we walked across the street to a place advertising pizza. It was a hole in the wall, with a few laminated tables and a greasy counter where you ordered your pizza. Alberto grabbed a copy of their one page menu and began translating for the other two. The lady behind the counter made a face and then greeted us thusly: “You’re too Cilla Black for Rosy Lee and you’ve parked on the Pete Tong side of the blimey frog and toad.”

cockney2“What?” I asked.

“Daan’t ask me ter repeat myself. I’m speakin’ blimey english – wot the chuffin’ Gypsy Nell ‘re ya speaking?”

“We’d like some pizza?” I said, more as a question than a request.

“We daan’t serve the likes of them in this establishment,” she said referring to the Italians. “Gypsies – ya can na trust ‘em.”

I turned to Massimo who could understand her no better than me. “They’re closed.” He glanced at his watch. “Heh?”

“Let’s go somewhere else.”

We walked down the narrow streets until we found a pub that was slightly friendlier and shared a platter of fish and chips. Then they went on their way.

Carolyn had found us a cheap place near the St. Pancras/King’s Cross underground station which we finally managed to find as the sun was setting.St.Pancras

It was a run-down row house whose unsmiling proprietor had a hook for a hand and a face straight out of Dickens. Turns out he was letting an Irish couple whose daughter was in the hospital with an undiagnosable illness stay practically for free. He was a real nice guy.  We spent about four days in London traveling from touristy site to touristy site on the underground.  On our last day there Jimi Hendrix OD’ed.  Someone released hundreds of white doves in Hyde Park.

Massimo and I kept in touch until I returned stateside and then, you know, shit happened.  Here’s one of his beautiful letters.Letter-Massimo2_0001

Pier Andrei Makes His Move

Note:  This is the seventh installment of Europe on Five Dollars a Day which I began in February (in case you’re new to the site and wondering.  By the way – welcome and thanks for stopping by.)

We arrived on the outskirts of Ostende fifteen minutes after the last ferry to Dover was scheduled to depart thus we almost didn’t  bother to drive down to the docks. But we took a chance figuring it might have been delayed by the rain or the wind or the rough seas.  Surprisingly we were right. It had been delayed. But not by the weather.

Ticket for the car ferry.

Ticket for the car ferry.

It had been delayed by three wildly gesturing Italians, who stood at the gates with the very irate captain as we arrived. Quickly they scurried us onboard where, as soon as we parked, the boys escorted us upstairs to a dimly-lit smoke filled cabin whose large windows were fogged over by the soggy crowds trapped inside.

They were an odd trio. Pier Andrei was the “wealthy playboy,” Massimo explained with a slight whiffle of disdain, while he and Alberto were serious college students. They were on their way to study English in a town north of London.

I don’t remember how long the ferry ride took but it was around midnight when we finally docked.  The full moon shown down the famous white cliffs of Dover which stirred a  strange swelling of pride in me.  I’m not sure why – my Puritan ancestors left England in the late 1600s and never went back.  Perhaps it’s in the DNA.   At any rate the streets

visasDoverwere unwelcoming and we had no place to spend the night. So, Carolyn pulled out her Europe on Five Dollars book and found a cheap bed and breakfast not too far from the center of town. Luckily  the proprietor was still awake and had rooms for all of us.europe5dollars1 However he and his wife were anxious to turn in, thus  we were mindful to go to our rooms immediately and remain quiet. Carolyn and I were on the second floor and the boys directly above us.   In the middle of the night we heard footsteps coming down the stairs and then a gentle rapping on the door.

“I am a Latin Lover, non?  Por favora, Carolina, una momenta.”

It was Pier Andrei  pleading for “Carolina” to join him.  We giggled quietly in bed until he finally went away.  In the morning the boys pretended to be confused by our breakfast of cornflakes in milk.  They shook their heads at the oddity and then took forks and knives and pretended to cut into the mush while we laughed.

east-lee-guest-house

The East Lee Guest House in Dover. Probably not the place we stayed but a lovely place non-the-less.

As we were leaving Massimo said we should follow them as Pier Andrei claimed to know his way around London.  It was – shall we say? – a slight exaggeration.

Readers – I regret that we ran out of film in Spain so I have no photos of Massimo, Pier-Andrei, Alberto and their fabulous ferrari; however, Massimo did send me a couple of letters back in Gunthersblum which  reveal his poetic, sensitive nature.  They also reveal that the yearnings for peace and brotherhood are universal among the young and idealistic all over the world, then and hopefully now.

Letter-Massimo

One of the letters from Massimo of Carrera Italy.

Next – We finally get to London.