There are a few moments in anyone’s life, when changes in perception take place - inviting, humorous, surprising, energizing, or brutal. I’ll give a few examples, in chronological order, as well and correctly as I can remember.
1960, Dad’s architecture shop
“If you want to do something useful, sharpen my pencils.”
“Never borrow money. Save, and buy when you have the money to pay for it.”
Reason of habits, habits of reason
1963, our village, Dad, gas station
"Dad, why are you always filling up the tank with Caltex and not Aral?", I asked. Dad never wanted to answer me, just shook his head puffing his eternal pipe. Only once he said: "Caltex keeps the engine clean." I believe it was Grandma who told me the true story. In the early fifties, Dad always tanked Aral gas. But then, one day, he seemed to make a bad move and the gas station's big shepherd dog bit his ass. From then onwards, Dad filled with Caltex.
“There is a famous proverb on the gate of the City of Bremen: Arrogance brings war; war brings misery; misery leads to humbleness; humbleness leads to diligence; diligence brings richness; richness leads to arrogance; arrogance brings war…”
1964, Dad, on auntie Irene.
"She asked your grandpa to build a wooden bench next to our neighbor Mr.Rast's garden. There she sits every summer evening until the neighbor comes out to have a chat. Some say she tries to seduce him, some say they're having an affair. Rast's wife is very angry."
"You have to be stronger than your Dad"
1964, Dad, a pipe smoker
"Since we all thought the Russians would come invading soon, I taught myself to grow, ferment and dry tobacco."
She pulled out two golden watches from her drawer. "These are the two last ones. I used to have about ten. I was hiding them from the Nazis. After the war I sold them one by one for a sack of American wheat flour. That's why you and me are here."
Uncle's Italy holiday.
1964, Uncle Rainer explains what happened. "In southern Italy, a coal truck didn't respect a stop sign crashed into my brand-new Mercedes. The driver knew that he was guilty. I asked him about his insurance. He shook his head and said:
"I haven't got insurance, can't pay you cash, but you may keep my wife."
Traveling heavy, and light
1965, my Grandma, about her Grandma and Granpa
"Grandma liked to travel with plenty of
travel chests, some 50 or so. Grandpa hated that. Most times he traveled alone, to the Orient, carrying only his wallet, documents and a tooth brush. He always came back with all kinds of exotic stuff."
Evil neighbor, gardening, fertilizer
1965, auntie Irene.
She pointed to the garden next to our house and said: "Mr. Haunstein is a very bad man, and a devote Nazi. During the war he always made the radio scream, so that everybody could hear it, and then he shouted: we're winning, we're winning. After the war, he continued as a judge. Now he spends his time gardening, and fertilizes the salad with his own manure. When he harvests the salad, he
measures the weight of each plant and also keeps a logbook."
“Don’t pay with your life for the stupidity of others.”
Body Fat, Weaponry, Stalingrad
1966, my father, retired army Captain from Russia WW II.
“I’m only living today because of two reasons: first, a bit of extra body fat, second my officer’s leather-and-lambs wool coat. We slept in fine-grained icy snow. Most of us died.”
“We had far better guns that the Russians, only that ours didn’t function in the bitter cold. Russian design is stupid, simple, slow, a few types of screws and bolts, but it always works.”
"In the Russian winter mud, the only thing that drove were our KRads (650cc three-wheeled sit-car motorbike, with mounted machine gun)."
"In the early mornings, the Kossaks attacked - on horseback, their sabres drawn. They knew that oil in our machine guns was sticky in the cold, and our guns didn't fire properly."
"Every morning, we made a fire below the truck, to warm it up - otherwise no way of getting it going in the cold."
"The grenade that struck our tank in Christmas 42 exploded right in the middle of us, riding on the tank. Everybody got killed, apart from me. I was covered by hacked flesh. A young officer's brain stuck on my helmet."
Mom on calories
1967. "A pint of beer equals half of a grilled ("hendl" ) chicken or a large chocolate bar."
Dad on American War Tactics
1967, Mte Mayo near Mte Cassino.
"It was always the same sequence: First, ship artillery, second, bombing, and only finally, very finally, infantry attacks."
Grandma on marriage (1)
1968. "When my Dad saw a wedding in the street, he shouted toward the bride: You silly goat, you surely don't deserve any better."
Grandma on marriage (2)
1968. "My brother Fritz was a young officer in pre-WW I. My father himself was a general. The only money we had came from my maternal side. In those days, young officers had to follow a show-off lifestyle, that included gambling. When my father signed Fritz' second gambling debt, I lost my dowry."
Grandma on marriage (3)
1968. "My brother Fritz was a bold man and a womanizer. The plane he piloted was shot down three times in WW I, many bones broken. After the war he went to Argentina living as a gaucho. Later he came back, and was five times or so married. But now, all his money and properties are gone."
Grandma on marriage (4)
1968. "I married on grounds of reason, not with love."
"Italy is an enormous mess. But two cities, Milano and Turino, pulled the country's economy out off the mud."
1970, my sister. “You say love is nothing but an emotion. Just wait and see. Trust me, girls will make you suffer.”
Our new Ford
1973, Mom, Dad, car salesman
Mom said: "Why should we buy the Granada instead of the Taunus model? It has got the same engine, shape, zinc coating, but is less expensive." The salesman pondered her question for a while, then said: "With the Granada, you can pass in front of the opera house." Dad bought the Granada.
1974, Uncle Paul, a surgeon
"In medecine, there are thousands of things one should know, but it is embarassing to find out the few option one actually has got."
1974, Kiev, Ukraine, Soviet Union, Immigration Office. Guidelines.
“All visitors must declare their foreign currency; acceptable for exchange to Rubles are USD, German Mark, Yen, Swiss Franks….” There was no mention of any communist currency.
1974, Armenia, Soviet Union, sheep herder, smiling.
“We’re happy to have you here with us as a guest; unfortunately we cannot come to see you in your country now – we can only come to visit you during the next big war.”
Eating and Drinking
1975, Unterammergau, Bavaria, a village friend.
"When I was young, we were poor and hungry all the time. Hunger stopped in our family, as soon as we got a cow."
"WW II, Southern Russia: Good drinking water was hard to find. Many soldiers got dysentery from the water. Our rule of thumb was as follows:
Water with fish, drinkable - no problem
Water with frog, drinkable if necessary
No fish no frog: Don't even touch."
Joys of owning a car
That year, my friend Juergen (called also Sepp) passed his driving test, and bought an old NSU car for the price of DM 2000. The vehicle, however, wasn't a source of unmitigated joy - it broke down all the time, hardly ever getting out off the mecanic's garage. After five months, Sepp sold the car for scrap, and told me: "I hardly drove this thing more than a couple of hundreds of miles; If I had driven every mile of this bloody car in a cab, it would have been cheaper." Sepp later became a bank manager.
Mountains & flowers
1975, my friend Alois, Unterammergau, Bavaria
He said: " As a young man (like you)one chases up the mountain until the snow, without looking for anything, and seeing nothing; as a mature man (like me)you walk more slowly and stop at times to enjoy a flower's beauty."
Sins of war
"When we attacked Southern Russia in 'Operation Edelweiss,' we committed countless and terrible crimes to the population. Sometimes the old Russians wept, when they saw to which level we had degraded ourselves. Frankly, if the Russians had invaded the whole of Germany, and would have killed everybody, I would say: rightfully so."
How to be a vegetarian
1975, Army Boot Camp, lunch, a sergeant.
“No more salad. Go and eat grass.”
Ruining my army carrier
1975, Starnberg barracks.
I was learning to type on an old-fashioned type writing machine, and my progress was rather slow. The sergeant shouted: “Kessler, can’t you type faster!!”
I replied: “If you can ever think as fast as I type, you’re a lucky man.”
Sandwich for blood
1976, Army, Blood donation.
“For a pint you’ll get a turkey and cheese sandwich plus halve-a-day leave.”
Off we go
1976, Army, Starnberg Barracks, a chief sergeant
"I know it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to fix this and that on our old trucks. Be aware: When day X comes, we grab our guns, start the truck engines, and off we go, East."
1976, Last day in the German Army, dismissal, a sergeant.
“Actually, these doctors who examined you two years ago have made a serious mistake. Your eye sight is now and was then suboptimal. You should have never been drafted into the army as a conscript.”
1976, East Africa, my sister. “You didn’t buy the calabash from the old, ugly, and sick lady, though she obviously needs money. But from the young, pretty and sexy woman you bought it, though her price was higher.”
You’re too many
1977. My first day of studies (geology). The professor looked at the crowd, and said. “You’re too many, and there are no jobs.”
There is always a job for the good ones
1977, study council, a young university assistant
“True, there are not many jobs, but those who stand behind what they are doing create their path ahead, and find their job.”
Vietnam (1) , A Vietnamese friend.
1978. "More GIS died in Vietnam from syphilis, rather than on the battle field."
The right dimension
In 1978, our carpenter neighbour in Unterammergau, Bavaria built a garage for his BMW. On a Sunday he proudly inaugurated the garage. On the following Monday, he pulled the thing down. What had happened? In fact our neighbour had correctly calculated the space required for the car, but not the space to open the doors.
Bischoffskreuz 1978. When studying in Freiburg, Germany, I used to pass along a medieval cross, from the 14th century. It was put there to commemorate a bloody battle, in which the butcher of Freiburg had killed the bishop of Strassburg in open battle. Even then, it was felt this wasn't quite right.
1979, Rio Amazonas, Peru.
I asked the ship’s captain: “How can you possibly tolerate navigating a decrepit, rusty vessel, lacking even a minimum of maintenance?”
He answered: “Son, once you have reached my age, you’ll discover that death has a different dimension.”
1979, Villarica, Paraguay, a landlady.
“Have you been at the police station to show your passports already? Aren’t they slow in writing? You know what? The big sergeant there doesn’t know how to write. He copies your passport like a priest copies hieroglyphs.”
1979, Paraguay, a Mennonite farmer, asking.
“Is Hitler still alive? Isn’t he such a good man?”
1979, Argentina, a friend.
“When conservative people suddenly show liberalism regarding sexual minority issues, it means that they are gay.”
1980, Rhodes, Greece
I played poker with Greek friends, as they like to do over Christmas. I had already lost most of my money, before, finally, getting 4 valets. I increased my stake to my last cent. But, surprise, surprise – someone got 4 queens and someone else 4 kings. I never played poker again.
The Spanish Civil War
1980, Geologic Fieldwork, Haro, Northern Spain.
I asked an old farmer in a remote village about his souvenirs of the Spanish Republic, and the Fascist dictatorship that followed. “The Spanish Republic was much better,” he said. “In those days (=1932 to 1939) there were three whorehouses in Haro, then onwards and now we got only one.”
1980. My Dad looked worried, and was nerveously puffing his eternal pipe. "What's wrong," I asked. Dad answered: " I had a bad, a very bad dream last night, a real nightmare. "What was it about," I inquired. "Stalingrad, Monte Cassino, or Belorussia?" Dad shook his head, and said: "Highschool, final exams."
1980, Dad reflecting on the war. "I think it was in 1944, when I moved throught the town of Breslau with my regiment. In the night there was a terrible bomber raid. I got orders to bring everybody into an underground shelter, and that's what we did. The shelter was already full with people, and we had to squeeze. Down there, I looked around and saw hot steampipes everywhere along the walls and ceilings, and I told myself I don't want to stay there. I ordered my soldiers to leave the shelter into the open, where the entire city was burning. Minutes later, a big bomb came down, and right exploded within the shelter. Nobody survived down there."
1981, Italy, Sicily, a professor of vulcanology.
“Last year when visiting a small Mediterranean island, I woke up early in the morning. I saw big ice cubes, being unloaded from a cargo vessel. These contained squid from Australia. How can we and the tourists believe that we’re all eating Mediterranean squid at our risotto? There is hardly any squid left in the sea. We are stupid because we want to be stupid.”
1981, a friend.
"The problem is that you can't rely on anything. In an Indian village, I visited a tiger show. When I went into the tiger show tent, there was no tiger, but only a poster plus a tape recorder with a tiger's roar. On the way out, I had given up already, I saw the real tiger: It pissed on my face."
1981, visiting Grandma’s cousin, Uncle Ernst. The Baltic war.
“In 1919 we attacked the Red Army on a front running through frozen marshlands. Our stupid colonel told us to advance, and we broke through the ice one by one. Many drowned and died. I should have shot that idiot right from the beginning.”
1982, teaching, a POW from WWII (Siberia).
“The first year we had nothing, and slept on a concrete slab. The next year I obtained a brick as a pillow, during the last three years I used a piece of wood.”
Death above my head
1983, Tyrolian Alps, Austria
Suddenly, a strange thundering sound woke me up. It was about 3 am. I crawled out of my tent, into the crisp September night full of whirling winds and sparkling stars. I looked up to the sky. There was no cloud. Yet an eerie, deep thundering noise from jet engines filled the sky, slowly moving at great height from North-west to the South-east. These were no ordinary jet engines or ordinary planes. There were no position lights, but shadows eclipsing a star or two and fine lines of condensation only. My common sense told me that I was witnessing the passing of a mighty bomber fleet – it gave me the spooky feeling death was flying right above me.
1984, in the mountains, hitch-hiking hotel cook.
“Never go to a four-star hotel restaurant for dinner,” he said. “Hotel restaurants have huge menu cards, satisfying any wish for any kind of customer. This means keeping stuff for months in the refrigerator, including power cuts.”
Women and dogs
1984, a hunter in the Alps.
“Be kind to your hunting dog, but strict to your wife.”
To be or not to be a vegetarian
1985, near Darjeeling, India.
I had spent (by invitation) the night with Tibetan friends in their village Pooja-Basty. In the early morning I inquired the whereabouts of the toilets, and was told there weren’t any. Hence I eased myself in the early morning outside at the road, together with the village. After the breakfast, walking up the hill, everything was cleaned up – a few huge pigs were roaming around. Telling this story to a friend, he replied: “If you keep on eating meat in India, you’ll never become a vegetarian.”
"How can laundry ever get clean in this dark-brown water," I mused when passing in a riksha along shanty town areas, where elderly women were beating laundry
next to several dark water puddles. When I passed again the next day, the view was sobering. All my expensive five-star-hotel laundry was hanging up on a line. I wonder how much money went to the middlemen.
1985, Freiburg, geophysical studies, a professor-genius.
“Hectic activity always camouflages a total lack of any remaining brainpower.”
1985, Geological Survey of Bavaria
"What are your activities," I asked.
"Activities ?" the department geologist replied. "We are a government office."
To be, or not to be, at home
1986, Germany, Autobahn, near Dutch border.
I stopped at the last German gas station, since gas was cheaper in Germany. Countless Dutch SUV's and camping vehicles were lining up at the pump. Then, a verbal fight erupted between an Italian tourist, jumping the queue and a Dutch camper on the way home. It became a shouting match in funny German. Then the Dutchman said to the Italian: "Behave, you're not at home here."
1987, on a gas drilling site, welcome.
“This protects you from Aids,” the tool pusher said, whilst grabbing a handful of drilling mud and lashing it against a particular area of my coverall.
Arranged Marriage a la Turca
"You can keep her with you," said the the elderly lady, her run-away daughter sitting next to her. "As long as you marry sooner rather than later."
Comic East-West dialogue about priorities
By coincidence, my colleague and house-neighbour Dick and myself met our landlord, the oil tanker boss Hussein Kalkavan, in the garden of the compound. He was standing up in a prune tree, collecting (Erik) plums. Dick was unhappy about the house and shouted to the landlord up in the tree: “Your house is a mess, the heating doesn’t work, the water comes in a plastic hose, and electric wires stick out from the wall.” The landlord Kalkavan shouted back: “You imbecile westerner. Haven’t you understood where you are? Better shut up and enjoy the view of the Bosporus.”
1987 Sile, Black Sea coast, Turkey
Guell had sipped half of her Turkish Coffee cup, when she started to scream:
A roaches' head with large, brown antennas emerged from the bottom. I, angry, called the waiter, a tall, meager man with a sad moustache-face. He didn't say anything, then drew a gesture in the air: Symbolizing the winged roaches flight into the room, through a hole in the window; its ascent to the ceiling; its Stuka-dive into Guel's coffee mug. I couldn't help but laugh.
1988, Ueskuedar. “Why are these people sitting behind mountains of brass telephone coins,” I asked wondering. “Because telephone coins depreciate less quickly compared to money,” Guell said. In 1988, inflation in Turkey was almost out-off-control at 90 %/annum.
A good health advice for sex
1991 Gabon, Africa, a colleague
"Put two condoms over your cock and make sure she won't bite."
1992, Bodrum, Turkey, Guell.
A monkey sat unhappily in his cage.
The English text said: “Please stay away from the cage, cause your presence might make the monkey upset.”
The Turkish text said: “Stay away monkey bites.”
On my question regarding the difference in meaning, she said: “If you tell a Turk that you can make the monkey upset, he’ll spend the whole day next to the cage.”
1992, the Netherlands, a collegue
"We are inventing mental pyramids, and climb up on them in front of the public."
my reaction: for every corporate initiative there is at least one asshole that wants to get promoted.
A commercial invitation
1993, Oslo, mid-summer, a lady
"Do you have a nice, strong cock?" she inquired. "Lets go to the park," she said. "I'll pay you 200."
Commercial sex, supply and demand (1)
1994, a collegue.
The best example for equal supply and demand is commercial sex. Demand is enormous, supply is enormous, hence it doesn't cost that much."
1995, leading a Congo expedition, Etoumbi, my driver.
In the early morning, I saw him attaching the red deer he had bought the day before, and fastening it with ropes to the car’s diesel engine. When I asked him, why he did that, he replied: “Boss, you know, the diesel engine will cook the deer for me, and its meat will get seasoned from all the water puddles ahead. By the time we reach Brazzaville in two days time, the meat will taste marvellous.”
Beauty and money
1998, Istanbul, Turkey, a friend:
“Men have money, power, they want sex. Girls are pretty, and want money. That’s how the trade works.”
Being cynical, being experienced
1998, a senior colleague.
"What you say about your work life sounds cynical, "I said. My lawyer colleague shook his head and said: "Cynical, I used to be 15 years ago, now I'm experienced."
1999, Congo, Melanie.
“If I come back at night with some money after finishing my job, I have to make sure I have my identity papers and that there are no roadblocks. If not, I have to pay, or follow the police to the station where they rape the girls.”
Finance is turning mad
I visited my old school and army friend Sepp. He told me: " Finance is going mad. If owners of small companies, people who I know for 20 years, ask me for a credit I have to rebuff them - simply because a 9 % interest on return of capital isn't any longer good enough." That year I understood that stock markets were unethical, and I stopped investing in the stock market.
1999, Congo, Melanie:
“During bad business times you must behave like a hog: put your snout deep into the leaves, and eat whatever you can find without looking too closely.”
Khomeini Iran Cognac
1999, a friend telling a story
" Somehow I was crazy trying to bring a bottle of Cognac to Teheran. There I got caught in the customs check. The officer asked me to open the bottle. I did so, after some hesitation. The officer took the bottle, sniffed and whispered with deepest emotion C-O-G-N-A-C whilst his face brightened up with memoirs of a long-gone, golden era. Then he turned around to me and whispered: Put the cork in, run."
2000, Houston, TX, Fiesta market.
I walked around between mountainns of various chilis and jalapenos, in big wooden boxes. I didn't know which one to buy. I asked two young workers who were busy replenishing the veggy section. "Sorry, we're from El Salvador," they replied in Spanish. "We don't know anything about Mexican food."
2000, Houston, TX, police officer, after passing through a red light.
“What’s your hair color?”
“I can’t tell you, Sir, since I don’t have much hair left on my head.”
“Just tell whatever you want. We need to fill up this form.”
Welcome to the United States
2000, Houston, TX, immigration:
“You shut up, I can kick you out. You’re speaking to an American Officer.”
Houston, 2001, la Pulga, a lady friend
"Mexican men are crazy for hairy legs. The more hair a girl has on her legs, the more horny the men get."
Houston 2001, a friend from Vietnam.
"We narrowly escaped the communist onslaught on Saigon, and were able to swim to a barge moored offshore. Thousands of people squeezed onto the barge, and we felt desperate. A fellow next to me took his revolver and blew his brain out. Hours later, we were rescued."
Rural Mexico Comfort
2001, Houston. Veronica said: "In our rural Mexico we have so-called Casa-de-Sitas. If a lady (married or not) feels like having sex, she just goes there, takes a seat, and waits for a man and an offer."
Houston, 2001, a team leader, looking for Richard
"I need to get Rich," he said. "I want to get rich, too," my reply.
Car insurance (1)
Houston 2002, a insurer friend
"The Latino lady that bumped into your wife's car has 28 cars insured under her name, and the insurance is about to kick her out, since she reported five car thefts, and three accidents - probably she's is part of some sort of a Mexican family mafia."
Car Insurance (2)
Police, Hot Springs Arkansas, 2002
"The man that bumped into your car and drove away had a stroke, and lies in coma. Previously he has failed paying his insurance, and, believe me he doesn't have a 100 bucks on his account."
My own insurance: "If you make a claim, you loose more money then by paying from your pocket."
Houston, 2002, Helpline:
"Our examination of the weather damage indicates that only 45 % of your roof was blown off, but we pay only from 50 % onwards."
Commercial sex, supply and demand (II)
2002 documentary about Bonobo monkeys.
- Monkey girls in the monkey clan always go with the big boss for free, since he offers prestige and protection;
- Lower ranking monkey males need to bribe the monkey girls by exchanging food for sex.
2002, my friend Mike, back from China
"Chinese eat everything that flies, other than aircraft. On the ground, they eat everything with four+ legs, apart from tables. From the sea, they eat everything, but no submarines."
Ahead of another war
2002, somewhere in South-Cental Texas.
I passed a factory for artillery shells.
"Now 50 % discount for all shells,"
said a sign at the factory entry.
Houston, TX, 2003
My gas ran low when I stopped at a gas station half-way between the airport and downtown. In the gas station there was a poster with schemes all kind of hand guns, shotguns etc. The text below said: “To help you identify the kind of gun used in hold-ups.”
Brazil, 2003, a friend
“You’re the only funny German I ever met.”
USA, 2003, a female writer friend, email
"Ok, I made up my mind. Come and visit me this weekend, I want to make love."
2004, Miri, Malaysia, sexy Barbershop girl.
“Here no hair cut, here fuck.”
2006, Malaysia, Maureen.
“Girls smile to you because they need money.”
2007, Malaysia, MAS, announcement board
"Late passengers are prohibited from entering the aircraft."
2007, Malaysia, Miri, my realisation
"Out-off-the-box doesn't work, if everybody else sits within the box, including the boss."
No rubber in the rubber plantation
2007, Malaysian Borneo, a friend
He said: "I asked the people from the Iban longhouse how and when they would be doing it - given that all the households are aligned and there isn't much privacy. They told me: early in the morning, we go to the rubber plantation and have sex there."
2007, Oring, on Iban sex: " When they are drunk, they have sex with whoever
comes to their mind. According to their law, you cannot stop them, even if the "victim" is your partner. But the next day, you watch them fight."
2007, my son Dorian
"Dad knows something about everything"
2008, Bangalore, India, Maureen.
“Business is about cheating. It’s about making things better than they are. Take a restaurant for instance. You have to buy quality B and call it quality A, otherwise you never make a cent.”
2008, Ooty, India, Maureen:
“Do you think a steam bath is healthy at night? No, it’s not. But in the five star hotels they tell you it is, because they need to make Money.”
2008, Bangalore, India, my driver.
“Over there in this hospital they do the most advanced orthopedic surgeries. Here, on the road, they break the limbs of young beggar kids so that they look more miserable and can collect more money.”
Religion and industrialists
2008 White Field, India
"In this huge pink house over there lives a rich man, we call industrialist. He has hired a monk to make Pooja prayers day and night, so that his bad karma can't visit him for the time being."
From the University English Dictionary
"A morose contempt of the pleasures and arts of life"
Paperless office, paperless toilet
The country is still far from the paperless office; it has, however, realized the paperless toilet, city-wide, country-wide. There is hardly any uncontaminated spring water left.
Galley Slave or Minor Captain
2008, Corporate Life analysis:
I wonder what is ultimately the better option. Sweating down in the galley with the other miserables, or being on deck joining the crowd of arrogant captains?
Value of life = price of bullet, 2008
In Zurich, I took a taxi that brought me
back to the railway station. I chatted with the driver. He said: "Zurich is rich and stable for the last 700 years." As he spoke with an accent, I inquired about his origins. " I'm from the former Yugoslavia. Life is cheaper and better, but my life is worth only 70 cent - the price of a bullet." Our conversation ended here.
© 2008 by Franz L Kessler