I was walking along Dupont Street, a formerly semi-industrial street nearby, now in process of change and unsure of its identity. It features construction companies, expensive car dealerships, a barbershop, a sandwich shop, bull-dozer rental. I came across this installation on the side of a dumpster close to a cement wall. It could only be seen if you were paying attention, looking for something interesting in a place not usually considered beautiful.
Ursula Mahlendorf was born the same year as my mother. They were kids during WW2, teenagers by the end of it. While my mother was in a concentration camp, she was in Hitler Youth–so you can imagine the personal interest I bring to it. I found it a gripping memoir, as much for her personal story before, during and after the war as for its perspective on indoctrination and subsequent guilt.
Mahlendorf’s writing is lucid and evocative. I came to the memoir to find out more about the BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel), the teenage girls’ branch of Hitler Youth. But ultimately what kept me riveted to the book is her personal story, and her ability to bring it to life layered with reflections of her older self.
She grew up to become a pacifist, left-leaning, pluralistic professor of literature and feminist studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. I would have liked to know more about how that change occurred. For example, she mentions that she came to know holocaust survivors personally–I’d have liked to hear how she related to them and how that affected her as well as them.
Having said all that, the memoir is gripping for what it is: the story of a determined and highly intelligent girl living through the Nazi era in a single parent household. She was neglected by a mother who drank and partied when she wasn’t consumed by the demands of survival, and Mahlendorf had little love from any quarter after her grandmother’s death. The only thing that gave her a sense of belonging was Hitler Youth until she discovered that it was based on hateful lies. And yet, despite betrayal and rage at the way she was shaped, she re-shaped herself in an image of her choosing.
It’s a book that excited me while I was reading it, that left me with the sense of having been elsewhere and elsewhen, wanting to talk it over. As soon I was done with it, I was passing it around.
“Room Service!” I knocked again.
No answer. No sound from within. There was no “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.
I checked my instructions. Nothing about leaving the service outside the door. I checked my phone. Five minutes until my shift was over. If I brought the service back to the kitchen, there would be questions and scrutiny. I might be docked pay. I might be delayed. I checked my phone again. I was meeting my girlfriend in twenty minutes. Just enough time to change out of my uniform and run to the concert hall. If I missed her performance again, she was going to break up with me this time for sure.
It’s not that I’m crazy in love, that’s not my m.o. But I do love her and I hate chaos. If she broke up with me, it would mess with my concentration, and I’d fail my bar exams. If I failed, then I’d lose my scholarship and hotel work would become my permanent employment, and as you’re about to learn, it was not my vocation.
I pulled the master key from my pocket and stuck it in the door. Green light and it opened. I walked in quietly, in case the guests were sleeping. They were not sleeping. They were wide awake, but frozen. The woman was standing, speechless, her hand shaking. In her hand there was a gun, which was also shaking. In the bed was a man and another person of uncertain gender. The upper portion didn’t match the lower portion, and it appeared that the blankets had been thrown aside to reveal this fact as if it would mollify the woman with the gun. She did appear to have been surprised, but she didn’t lower the gun or remove her finger from the trigger.
The woman was about thirty. She was tall with long, blond hair and a good body. Not my type. I prefer small brunettes like my girlfriend. (I’m not such a big guy myself, but just a hair short of average height and wiry. No complaints from my girlfriend, except in respect of my seeming disinterest in her violin, which I’m not, but I’m just learning to like classical music. It helps with studying.)
I could see that the woman with the gun would be someone else’s type. It occurred to me that she’d even make a nice change for me, an interesting comparison to what I’m used to.
I assumed she wouldn’t be used to the scenario before her, which was why the man, I suppose, had pulled back the covers, as a sort of visual explanation.
The man’s lover grabbed the covers and pulled them up, concealing the heretofore exposed nakedness and disjointed body, and began to scream. There were words, but since I didn’t understand the language or even identify it, I can’t tell you what was said.
I put the tray down. Two minutes until my shift change. I texted my girlfriend. “Nearly there.”
I’ve finished the first scene of the last section of my new novel, unless, of course, there turns out to be more. That’s the strangeness of writing the way I do. I always wanted to be the sort of writer who can sit down and plan it all out. But I’m not. Every time I’ve made an outline, it’s killed the project, or at the very least put it into a coma for years. No, my spirit requires wandering in the wilderness until I find the right piece of stone, and then adding it to the structure. Sometimes, the stone, though shiny and appearing to be just the right shape, makes everything fall down, and I have to remove it, sit, look, re-think. Sometimes it’s heavy and I don’t have the muscles to lift it. Not at first. And I get sore in the process of getting it into place. And there are times anyone would else would think the stone I’ve picked is too ugly or common, beneath notice, but I know that when it’s polished, it will be the centrepiece.
On New Year’s Eve around midnight, my two girls and I stuck our heads out the window that’s missing a screen so we could watch the fireworks, and then someone had the idea of taking pictures of the city from our window.
This is my favourite. I think the curled pinkish blob is baby 2016. It also pretty much sums up what’s in my head every time I set out to write a new scene.
And for the more traditional view of January first at 00:05 there is this: