Thursday, May 8, 2014

Third time this month on foreign TV

House interior.  Somewhere in Europe. 1965. A man in his mid-thirties is sitting, smoking, on a cheap sofa.  He's professionally lit.  A film camera is running.  He begins to speak.

"It was 20 years ago now and so you cannot expect me to remember too much. [Small laugh] But I can remember being hungry most of the time and as well, cold sometimes.  There was constant talk of the Russians arriving.  All the time.  Everywhere.  Fear of the Russians.  You could hear distant guns firing, but I never saw a Russian at that time.  Not at first.

So.  We were all lined up like some pretend army korps?  About a dozen of us, maybe more and I remember we didn't have long to wait.  The first thing I noticed was how short he was and the way he held his arm and his hand behind his back, with the other arm.  Like this.  We later found out that at times it used to shake without any control.  I imagine that could have been quite comical…is that the word?  Yes?  Thank you.  Comical for such a serious man.  And later my friend Karl made a joke about him and Axmann having one good set of arms if you added them all together. 

Anyway, he came down the line and there were these truly amazing looking medals.  I have since found out that at least one was an Iron Cross.  Whatever lies we had heard in the past, it was true that these…medals were impressive.  The sun had just about begun shining when he reached me, but still the whole area had a sad and cold feeling around it. 

Axmann looked at the boy next to me and he shouted ‘Yesterday, this soldier destroyed two enemy tanks on his own.'  I knew some of the older boys had gone out looking for Russian tanks on their bicycles, but I didn't really believe that they'd knocked out any. 

He looked at this boy, pushed his hair and touched his face, here, with his fingertips.  Then he said 'I wish my generals were as brave as you.'  The medal was pinned to his coat, in a hurry and they moved down the line.  A few days later we heard he was dead and the war was over.  I heard the other boy threw the medal in the dustbin.  The Russians had arrived by now and I don't think he wanted them to find him with it.

Is that alright?  I think that's everything."

Martin C

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

True Story

The day after it was reported that someone had stolen a Mark Chagall painting from Manhattan’s Jewish Museum I was asked by the housekeeper of one of the tenants in the Upper Eastside apartment building I was working in as a handyman if I could hang a painting in the tenant’s study.

The guy was a good tipper and as a consequence he rarely heard the words, ‘Sorry I can’t.’ Hell, he never heard it from me. I told the housekeeper I was a little busy but that I’d be up as soon as I was done. When The Jerry Springer Show finished I grabbed a few tools and asked the elevator operator (yep, one of those kinds of buildings) to take me to the 17th floor. I rang the back doorbell and let myself in. The housekeeper and the cook were having a bite to eat and a coffee. I was offered and accepted some food and a coffee. We sat and chatted for a while, the tenants were out and the chat was the usual gossip, mostly about the tenants and their family and a bit about the new nanny in 12D who had, the housekeeper informed me, a tattoo on her ankle!

In the study was an envelope addressed to me that contained a note detailing instructions on where to hang the picture and a $50 bill. On the floor, leaning against the wall behind the tenant’s desk wrapped in brown paper and tied with cord was the painting in question. I knelt down and undid the packaging. That was the first time I’d ever seen a Chagall in the flesh.

Jon L