4




i mostly grew up behind the skirt of my minaele, grandma to you, running the pub over in old town her clients only the finest of customers. she knew how to cook, her soups were densely superb of potato, and if in a pinch the pot saw the faucet, none ever went hungry; her schnitzels, pork pounded for veal, as thin as butcher's paper, heavy breading crisply compounding such earthy fare. she taught me the crack of the egg at the pan, the flip of the skillet, the roll of the omelet. early on i needed a footstool to look over the stove and two hands to beat eggs in a battered copper bowl. grandma sat me up often out at the bar next to the bright spigots drawing four kinds of beer, where she kept till and tap for her patrons. she'd pull a drought into a small glass for me, for a sop she said, she loved seeing me, my nose deeply in suds. once a year the fair came to town and she'd give me a fiver. don't let on, she'd say, now go to grandpa for another. 'course they both knew, but he played along, for her glee and my funds. they made quite the pair. they'd sit on the small table marked privat and chit-chat late after the sunday dinner. grandpa peeled his desert apple ever so slow, piling peel on his plate. minäle watched. it was the same procedure each sunday. she took time watching until she couldn't hold back anymore. with great exasperation she'd burst: hannes, the best of the apple is in the peel. and every time grandpa would push his plate over to her side: minaele, he'd say, you eat'em.


time came, before school in munich, i needed a place and she put me up. she'd retired from the pub, but kept a flat up on the third. grandpa was dead sometime, so i got to sleep in his bed side-by-side hers. i was shy at seventeen, and always up to my chin under covers before she came storming in. a-shimmy, a-wobble, clad in an old night gown impossible to veil all of her ventures, even in half light. i giggled and she gave me a dope slap. we talked side by side and told stories. real and imagined. when i asked, she confided secrets in the darkening room late into the night. how my parents met, how she shielded mother during the war, how grandpa was arrested for flying the kaiser's old flag and how she got him back, effectively refusing beer to those nazis. she always wanted to know about girlfriends, i didn't have any and had little to tell; she started to snore, i gave up on my stories and turned over, envisioning fancies, dreaming of new york already then.


i met mary some months after my divorce. a client had recommended me to her, to take a picture of a dog looking up at an amp. yes, it was a dog like nipper, famous, of his master's voice, the rca gramophone and now gracing a page in rolling stone magazine. the dog perked up once at the set overhead and began to yowl, refusing to take position again. mary worked her layout from the one image we got, albeit an 8x10 polaroid. after the shoot we walked down to the village, soon holding hands and after a time decided to get married. i called her father in san diego to ask for the hand of his daughter. i am from stuttgart, he chuckled stuttgart, germany? mike, he said in his brogue, we bombed the shit out of stuttgart in forty-five. i was a year old then, decked in a wicker pram. blaring sirens and mom rushing to get us to the bomb shelter before those b-fifties would roar overhead. mother's parents had converted to lutherans. she just had survived the nazis, hidden mostly in back of minaele's pub. she worked the kitchen, where a door unlocked a small yard for the chickens, their screened coop inside a dark den stacked high with fire wood. a close passage at the rear reached time worn steps up to a small room. as a boy i played in its dusky light. i could spy the yard through a chink, and sometimes saw minaele, looking up, feeding her chickens. my mom had known my dad since school, and married him in forty-three, then an officer in the luftwaffe, awarded an iron cross, hence home for a week from the front.