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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Russians, Germans and Slovaks

“You’ve done a lot of interesting things, you should write an autobiography,” a co-worker says.

“I’ve tried,” I reply, “It’s not as easy as it seems.”

“Just say it in your own words.”

He said that, as others have said before, because I’d just told one of my little stories, a little snippet of a life that won’t quit.

I wonder aloud about my life to another co-worker, I ask, “But I wonder, has it been worth it, what have I got to show?”

“You’ve got all those experiences,” he says.

But I’ve thought about that before, especially when a friend dies: Twenty years ago I set out to roam the world and seek out experiences, and now I have more experiences than I can even remember. But that is exactly the reality of life, they’re only memories. That’s all a life is, the thoughts and memories that constitute a living soul…

A story: My great-grandparents were executed by Russian soldiers.

My grandfather, though mellowed now, is from Slovakia, well, actually, it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, and he’s quite a character. He welds I-beams to the front of his trucks as bumpers, and carries a 38-revolver in his glove compartment, no matter what state he’s driving through.

I could go on about my grandfather, but this story is: His parents, and grandparents, were hiding guns for some kind of resistance, and, as the Russians invaded, I think it was right before the First World War, the Russians found the guns and executed my grandfather’s family.

And my grandfather, then thirteen-years old, fled to NYC, with his eight-year old sister in tow, though neither of them could speak English. Now of course, he’s old, and retired. But he has hundreds of acres of property, and children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

A story: I walked into East Germany one day, but was stopped by an armed military officer.

I went to high school with a friend named Bart who took German, and when he went to college he continued his studies, and ended up doing one year in an exchange program. After he graduated, he moved to Germany, and eventually to Stockholm. Years went by, and I said to somebody once that I wanted to go to Europe with some high school friends and visit Bart. And the stranger said, “Just go, if you wait for your buddies you’ll never go, just go.”

That stranger probably changed my life, or maybe I would have figured it out. Anyway, I saved up a little money and just went. So I was in Stockholm, visiting Bart, and I was going to hop the train down to Marseilles cause I wanted to see the Mediterranean, (but that’s another story,) and Bart said, “You should stop by Berlin.”

That was in 1990, and the Berlin Wall had just dramatically come down the year before, so I thought this sounded cool. But my Eurail pass wasn’t good for East Germany-so Bart said I’d have to hitchhike in. He said there was a place where cars had to slow down for the checkpoint and that I should write a large B on a piece of paper and hold it up to the cars and everybody knew that meant Berlin, so somebody who was driving across would pick me up and give me a ride into Berlin.

I rode as far as the train would take me and started walking, holding up a “B” I’d drawn in my sketchbook. A fellow driving a VW bus picked me up. He spoke some English, and explained I was on the wrong road. He dropped me off at an on-ramp and said, “Down the hill, up the hill.”

I walked up the ramp, then along the edge of an autobahn down a hill and up a hill, all the while cars were flying by at 100kmh, and I came to Checkpoint Charlie. But it was just a little wooden building, like a rest area, so I kept walking.

And the tall chain link fences topped with barbed wire drew closer and closer to the highway, and the tall guard towers were spaced ever closer, until the fences were only five feet from the road. Then the road zigged and zagged and the guard towers gave way to barracks and guards walking patrols.

All the while I had walked I had held up my “B”, but the cars were zipping by, so when the gaurd on the other side of the fence started speaking to me all I could think to do was hold up my “B”. Then he raised his voice, so I smiled as I held up my “B” and kept walking. He went away, but returned with what sure looked like an officer, who shouted at me in German, and conferred with the guard, then opened a gate and stepped in front of me. He yelled in German, and I stood smiling, holding up my “B”.

The officer stepped into the road and held up his hand, palm out. The first car he stopped had a lone woman, and he waved her on. The next car, a black BMW, had a young man. After a few curt words with the driver the officer motioned me into the car.

As soon as I was in the car we were waved on. The young man and I fidgeted and began to speak. He was playing a Jackson Brown cassette, and asked if I smoked. He said he’d driven to West Germany to pick up some hash, and that the army officer had scared the shit out of him.

He was nervous, and I was nervous, so we smoked some hash as we raced towards Berlin. The young man explained to me that the previous week they’d ceased to stop cars at the checkpoint and now nobody slowed down, and that’s why there was no traffic jam and I had just wandered into East Germany, and was probably the first hitchhiker those guards had ever seen.