By Cecil Hoge
In Volume #3 of this series within my blog, I had finally managed to get back in college after flunking out. The process had not been easy – two years in flunking out takes a lot out of a guy, two years in getting back in also took time and was not that easy. But by the Fall of 1965, I was back on track.
By that time, Mr Dylan was singing “Like a Rolling Stone” from a new album called “Highway 61”. Whether he meant he was a big rock rolling down a hill or a wayward hobo hopping a freight train or one of the original members of that up and coming British band was not immediately clear. The Rolling Stones themselves were, by that time, really rolling and Mick Jagger was singing “I can’t get no satisfaction.” The Mamas and the Papas were flooding the pop airways with “California Dreamin’ “.
You could say that whole country at that time was not getting any satisfaction, which may explain why The Rolling Stones’ song was so popular. In August of 1965 the Race Riots in Watts raged for five days, giving new meaning to the term A Long, Hot Summer. The Vietnam War was also heating up big time. Young folks were protesting the war at big anti-war rallies and some were even evacuating to Canada. By September, there were a 108,000 American troops in Vietnam and the FBI had begun to arrest draft protesters who were ritually burning their draft cards. On the TV, there was a daily drumbeat of the dead killed that day. Yes, as Mr. Dylan had sung, “The Times Were A-Changin’ “.
Me, I was just happy to be back in Charlottesville, happy to have not been drafted, happy to have a second chance not to screw up. You might say I was on my best behavior. I did go classes. I not only bought the needed college textbooks, I read a lot of them and I did take my courses seriously. Speaking of courses, since I had flunked just about every course I had taken in my second year at college, I had to be a little bit nimble in choosing what I could take.
I decided that I was going to be an English major and so I took a lot of English lit courses. I also took a Creative Writing course in order to learn how to be a great novelist. My course instructor was a guy named George Garrett. He was a fairly well known Southern writer and quite a colorful guy. In checking his bio on Wikipedia I find that he was both a novelist and a poet. When I went to his course, I thought he was primarily a novelist, but apparently over time, he gained quite a reputation as a poet. I can say that I truly enjoyed his course, even if I never did become the great writer he was trying to teach me to be.
One of the highlights of that course was when George Garrett convinced Tom Wolfe to give our class a lecture on writing. This was not the famous Thomas Wolfe from the 1930s who wrote “Look Homeward, Angel” – that was understandable because that Thomas Wolfe had already died. Rather this Tom Wolfe was an up and coming young writer for magazines at the time. Not many years after Tom became famous himself for writing “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”, “The Right Stuff” and “The Bonfire of Vanities”, among other books. But that was in the future. When he came to my course, he was a trendy young writer who liked to wear white suits, one of which he was wearing when he came to visit my class.
I enjoyed the lecture that Tom Wolfe gave. He told our class that he had decided to wear white suits and pink ties because it was a gray world and if he didn’t do it, no one else would. Tom had become somewhat famous by that time as a purveyor the “New Journalism”. That seemed to consist of creating his own bizarre language for what he was reporting on. I enjoyed Mr. Wolfe’s lecture very much and the creative writing course that George Garrett was overseeing. I think I did learn some things about writing. What I did not learn was much about was English literature from the Middle Ages. That was to prove to be a problem later that year.
In short order, 1965 passed into 1966. In January of 1966 an embarrassing incident occurred – a giant B52 air plane collided with K-C 135 fuel plane over Spain and then fell into the sea. In addition to killing 8 airmen, the B52 also dropped an H-bomb into the sea. Ooops! As far as I know they never found the H-bomb. Other things were happening, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain was busy breaking scoring over 20,884 points on the court and busy scoring with ladies in the evening.
The music of 1966 was still pretty mellow with a definite leaning towards love. The Supremes, headlined by Diana Ross, were singing “You Can’t Hurry Love”, The Throgs were singing about a “Wild Thing”, The Rascals were singing about “Good Lovin'”. I had known first hand about The Rascals. They had been playing in Southampton at a place +called “The Barge”. I had gone to see them one evening with a group of friends and had made the fruitless, but enthusiastic effort to hire them for my fraternity. Hiring soon to be famous bands was something I was to try to do in future, only to be turned down by each every band for obvious reasons. In the case of The Rascals, it seemed that the boys had aspirations to make a lot of money in the coming year. They turned out to be right.
In the Fall of 1965 I was in Charlottesville, attending classes, taking English courses and generally keeping my nose to the grindstone – I am not sure what that actually means, but it is supposed mean you are working hard. It sounded painful, but my life back in Charlottesville was pretty pain-free.
For one thing, there were still significant opportunities for screwing off, going on road trips, having dates with Mary Baldwin and Sweetbriar girls, going to fraternity parties and assisting fraternity brothers with the heavy task of acquiring various kinds of alcohol and then mixing grain alcohol with grape juice, bourbon, gin and gingerale into a giant bowl.
It should be pointed out that at the time I attended the University of Virginia, it was primarily a men’s college, there being 15,000 male students and only around 100 female students. That meant if you were interested in the opposite sex, you generally had to travel 50 or 100 miles to either see a young lady for that evening. If you were able to have an ongoing relationship with one of those ladies, you could then arrange for her to come visit you for the weekend. And that generally meant that dates were pretty much limited to weekends.
One of the seminal events for me in the spring of 1966 was hearing the song, “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones. As mentioned in volume #3 of this series, when the Rolling Stones first appeared on the scene, I thought there must be some mistake. They were nasty, brutish and somehow their songs still sounded great. That was a big mystery to me because I could not figure how such derelict looking kids could make such great music. I did not ponder this question too long. By the spring 1966 I was hooked on the Stones and to me they were the greatest thing to come along since Elvis.
This brings me back to a fraternity party we had organized sometime that spring. We had all the right elements to empress young ladies who were coming from colleges far and wide. Most importantly, we had hired a band, named Sam and Slutmasters or something like that. As you may imagine, they were a little raunchy.
Not convinced that Sam and his boys would provide enough musical entertainment we also rented a giant Wurlitzer for the occasion. My duties that day, as I remember, included acquiring a couple of bottles of grain alcohol, which as I remember were 150 proof alcohol – aka it was the meanest, nastiest alcoholic stuff on planet earth. It had no actual taste and if you tried to drink it straight there was an almost a 100% possibility of blindness, heart attack or a stroke with 15 minutes of your first sip.
Being prudent college students, we figured adding a couple gallons of grape juice, several bottles of Ginger Ale, a quart or two of bourbon and a quart or two of gin would fix that right up. I can assure you our calculations were not correct. The results from our grain alcohol parties, even when moderated with lots of filler, were almost universally disastrous. That did not stop us from continuing to have these parties. Nobody ever actually died from drinking this combustible mixture, but many of my fraternity brethren did complain of severe headaches the next day and several either passed out or visited the bathroom more times than usual with violent results.
At this point, I should say I do not recommend this deplorable conduct to anyone, either young or old, anytime or anyplace. I only cite it here to give you some idea of how young, foolish and idiotic we were. At Chi Psi, my fraternity, the motto was “party on”. And that is pretty much what we did every single weekend.
Now, to get in the mood for that particular party I remember all of us thought it would not be a good idea to test of our dangerous grain alcohol brew in the afternoon. Nope, we left our grain alcohol punch for later consumption. That meant that there was only one alternative. Start dipping into our supply of 15 cases of cold beer. I may have taken part in that.
Along the way, I remember passing the big Wurlitzer an hour or two before the actual party was to get underway. It was then that I made the mistake or, some would say, the fateful decision, to push a button that said “Paint It Black”. This proved to be a song by the Rolling Stones that I had never heard before and for me, it proved to be the second most important rock song that I had ever heard up until that point in my short life. The most important song in my early life, as I have mentioned in Volume #1 of this series, was “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley.
It could have had something to do with those first few beers we were tasting. It could have been the mounting enthusiasm of a party coming on. Or it could have been just that particular song, “Paint It Black”. What struck me was the attitude of the song, which was really quite bleak and dark, especially when you listen closely to the lyrics, as I did, with my ear about 6″ from the giant speakers. The song seemed to me to be hypnotic, primal and absolutely great with a nonstop pagan beat, even if it was singing about a guy who wanted to paint everything black. For me, that song caught the feeling of that moment in time. The dread of the Vietnam War, the confusion of war protests, the TV daily coverage of the war, the feelings that all previous norms that you had grown up were in upheaval.
For me “Paint It Black” was an ode to the time. And like the first moment when I heard Elvis Presley sing “Hearttbreak Hotel”, also on a giant Wurlitzer jukebox, I found myself immediately pushing the replay button again and again as soon as the song had played. I had to be sure to hear all the nuances of that driving, blistering song. To do that, I sat on the dirty wood floor with my ears no further than 6″ from the giant speakers of the giant Wurlitzer. In this way I was able to listen to every wail, every snarl, every note, every beat of Mick Jagger plaintively wailing to the world that he wanted to paint everything black.
I had never heard anything like that song and I just could not get enough of it.
Even today, when I hear that song, by some quirky chance, when it comes over some radio station that I am listening to or in an elevator or in a fancy bistro, it brings chill over me, even though I have heard that song now, thousands of times, even though in this day and age, it is no longer considered revolutionary or even dark.
I have said earlier in Volume #1 of “It Was The Music” that music is personal to every person and what one person likes another may hate. I am sure that some people may be repulsed by that song, or worse, wonder what the hell I am talking about. But for me “Paint It Black” was the greatest rock and roll song I had heard up until that time, with the possible exception of “Heartbreak Hotel”.
I will not bother to go into to many details of the particular party where this all occurred, partially because I do not remember all the details that well and partially because the essence of what a fraternity party was quite well covered in the old movie, “Animal House.” I will say that Sam and the Slutmasters lived up to their prestigious name, to the horror of many pretty and sometimes demure Sweetbriar or Mary Baldwin lasses. You might say that they had a love/hate relationship with the music.
If I recall, that weekend I had acquired a local girlfriend for that party, a lady who lived in Charlottesville. At one point at the height of the party, I had to take her back because she had a few too many cups from our punchbowl and was feeling a mite sick. Fortunately, I actually did not drive her back. Fortunately, our fraternity had a built-in designated driver, Billy Hearns, a gentleman of color who, along with his wife, helped us through many a jam. Billy Hearns and wife were our official fraternity house helpers. Billy’s wife cooked us meals and Billy brought us back and forth from the main campus to the frat house in a not too new VW van. That was necessary because Chi Psi was about 5 miles away from downtown Charlottesville.
And fortunately on the evening question, Billy drove me and my somewhat sick date back to her home where I presented to her parents, one of which was a University Professor. Needless to say, that was the last date I had with that lady.
That first year back was glorious right up until the time I took what was known as our comprehensives. I did quite well in all my English courses, actually taking care to attend classes and read the prescribed textbooks. In the first semester of that year, I was racking a consistent B+ to A- average in the 6 courses I was taking. It was only in the second half of year when the dread “comprehensives” occurred that I suffered a temporary setback.
“Comprehensives” was series of tests that you took to see if you were eligible to move on to the major that you had selected. Partially by attrition and partially by desire, I had chosen English Literature as my major. To get fully prepared for my intended major, I was taking four English courses and two other required courses, one in chemistry and one in mathematics. I did not do nearly as well in chemistry and mathematics, earning a C+ and a B- respectively, but I did pass them both. That was important because both were required in order to graduate.
In the second semester, I continued with my creative writing course and three other English courses, one of which was Old English literature. And in order to rack up further requirements for graduation, I also took a business course and a European history course. I truly enjoyed all of these courses, except the Old English Literature course. I found Chaucer, The Miller’s Tale and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight pretty heavy going. It is strange because after college, I came to read some of these works again and for some reason, I actually found them enjoyable.
Anyway, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my heart was not completely in tune with these old classics at the time. For one thing, I found it a little hard to get over the old English barrier which seemed confusing and hard to understand. So when the time came to take my “comprehensives”- in the spring of 1966 – I did great on most parts of most tests (according to one of my English teachers) but I failed miserably when it came to the parts on Old English.
Now, at the time, a good understanding of old English literature was considered an absolute must and because I failed that portion of the tests, I was failed out of English Literature. That left me with an immediate crisis. I had to come up with a new major. I surveyed the field of possibilities and a grim field it was. There was Sociology, a highly disrespected major, Physical Education, another major not known for its use outside of teaching phys-ed or coaching and, finally, there was Philosophy, another major not held in high respect, especially when it comes to practical usefulness.
Of course, it was possible for me to take business oriented courses, but I felt that the one course that I took, which I think was called “The History of American Economy”, was kind of dry, even if it was interesting to learn that the American economy was basically a boom and bust economy, undergoing some kind of violent change every ten or twenty years. Now, a business major might have been something that actually could get me job, but getting a job was not on my radar. I was going to be a famous writer and avoid all that. And if that went South, I figured I could always get a job in my father’s business. That part did prove to be true.
All of these considerations, lead me to choose Philosophy as my major. There was just one problem: I had never taken a philosophy course. To get permission to be allowed to choose Philosophy as my major, I had to go to the Philosophy Department and meet one of the heads of that department. He told me that I was out of my mind, that graduating in Philosophy in the last year of college was physically impossible. I do not remember what I said, but I was persistent and after some long heated discussions, the Philosophy guy said I could try, again, repeating that no one in their right mind or in any kind of mind had ever done such a thing.
So I elected to become a philosophy major. I would have to do that in my last year of college. And if that failed, I would have to stick around for another year and try complete my major. To make all this happen, I set up a curriculum of 5 courses in philosophy in both the first and second semesters. In addition, I also scheduled a course in German, which was another course I also needed to graduate. With all that scheduled and settled, I went on to complete my existing courses in English, math and chemistry.
I sailed through the rest of the year pretty easily. This time I was able to get an A- average. That put me on the Dean’s list. So in 3 short years (5, if you consider the two years to get back in), I went from college flunkie to Dean’s list. Talk about a turnaround!
Now that I had successfully completed my third year in college, I had to decide what to do that summer. It happened that at that time, my father was still importing pocket adding and subtracting machines from Germany and considering the fact that I had a German course to take the next year, I asked my father if he could get me a job with the folks making our pocket adding machines.
I have mentioned this business in another blog story, “A Fog Rolls Into Berlin and I Gain a Stepmother”. In that story I related the fact that my father sold a product called Addiator, which was a calculator before there were calculators. Over the years, my father had sold quite literally millions of this strange handheld device which, with a small stylus, could add and subtract. It happened that my father went to a trip Germany one year in an effort to get more these pocket adding machines. In doing so, he not only got more pocket adding machines, but he also got a new wife. And so, I gained a step-mother.
Immediately after gaining a step-mother, my father took me over to Germany to meet my new family. In doing that I also met the Schaffirts, the owners of Addiator Rechen Machinien Fabrik, the company that made Additators. That was when I was 16. In the years that followed I tagged along with my father and step-mother for two more trips to Europe. On each trip we would stop in Berlin and visit the Schaffirts. So, you could say that I was already well-introduced to Schaffirts.
After a few trans-Atlantic phone calls, it was arranged that I would work in the Addiator factory in the summer of 1966. By that time, the Schaffirts had moved their factory to a small town in the Black Forest called Wolfach, pronounced Volfach. So in June of 1966, I flew off to Frankfurt, Germany, took a train from Frankfurt, spent an enjoyable week in Munich where I got to test the German beer at the Hofbrau Haus. And then I took another train to the tiny town of Wolfach.
Now, I had studied German both in prep school and in my second year of college, so you would think that I had some understanding of German already. Nothing could be further from the truth. As many a language student will tell you, being able to read some words in some language does not mean you can actually speak sentences in that language and make yourself known and understood. This was particularly true in Germany, because I was now visiting Southern Germany, whereas I had studied what was called “Hoch Deutsch” which means “High German”.
Where I was going was the equivalent of going to Alabama. The German spoken in Wolfach was Southern German and it was heavily accented. Add to that the fact that my several years of German study had not resulted in me having a very good understanding of the spoken German language. Yes, I knew and understood many different German words, and yes, I could read German sentences when I had a dictionary to refer to, but when those words were put into sentences and most Germans do speak in sentences, and the sentences had other other German words that I did not understand, then I was lost. And of course, given the fact that I was now in Southern Germany and that many of words that I did know sounded quite different, it all added up to me being helpless in understanding anything in the first few weeks of my visit.
So when I first arrived at the tiny railroad station and the Schaffhirts came to pick me up, almost immediately I understood how little German I really understood or spoke. And this knowledge seemed to freeze and obilerate from my memory many of the German words that I truly knew. Fortunately, the Schaffhirts did speak some English and I was able to slide into the swing of things in Wolfach pretty quickly.
The Schaffhirts had arranged for me to stay at some nice lady’s house who apparently accepted borders. She did not speak any English but the Schaffhirts kindly introduced me to the landlady and she showed me to my room. A few of the house rules were explained. I was to be back every evening by 12 because after that the landlady locked the door. My room was a few steps from a bathroom, so that was convenient. It was then it was explained to me that every Friday, the hot water was turned on and then I could have a bath once a week. On all other days, I was to wash up in cold water that came out profusely into the sink faucet.
It all seemed a bit strange to me. I thought everyone in the world had hot water, but apparently that was not the case in 1966 in Wolfach. Later in life, I was to learn that even to this day, many people in this world do not have hot water. In fact, apparently, some people do not even have cold water and to get any they have to walk somewhere, collect it in some kind of receptacle and then bring it back home. Who knew?
After putting my clothes into my room and getting the official rundown of the rooming situation, the Schaffhirts kindly took me to dinner at a restaurant that was located right next to my land lady’s house. That was convenient that evening and was to prove very convenient for many a night in the coming days.
The Schaffhirts were most kind to me, treating me to a not so dietetic dinner of bratwurst, kartoffell and sauerkrauten – translation: sausage, potatoes and sauerkraut. That same evening they introduced me to a few liters of the local bier. Das war gut – my German was improving rapidly. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good, even if I was not understanding most of the German being spoken around me. The Schaffhirts shortly left me in front of my new home, saying they would come around the next morning to collect me and show me my new job.
After dinner, I took a little walk around town. My landlady’s house was on one end of the town and it was only necessary to walk about a half mile to be in the main part of town. Along the way, feeling quite cheerful and content at this point, I stopped at one or two bier cafes and tested a few more liters of the local beer. By that time, I had figured out how to order a bier, so that much I was capable of doing. I could tell I was going to enjoy this gig. I came back fairly early that first night and settled into a well-deserved sleep in my room.
What helped me a great deal was the fact that it turned out that the Schaffhirts were also hosting another American, also a young guy whose first name I remember as Steve, and between the two of us, we would try to interpret for each other and share any words that the other did not know. This proved very helpful because in almost every situation, going to the bathroom, ordering a beer or wine, going to the swimbad (the public swimming pool just out of town), eating various German delicacies, trying to get friendly with the local girls, I quickly found that while both of us had studied German, neither of us was very adept at conversational German.
At first, it was just hopeless…I was lucky if I understood one or two words in a whole sentence. And it seemed that I had a real weakness when it came to verbs. That was a particular problem in German because verbs dictated what a sentence actually meant. Worse, verbs always came at the end of the sentence which meant that you first had to understand all the other words and then figure out what the verb meant. If you did not understand most of the words, then you were lost. But you could still be lost if you did not understand the verb.
Fortunately, the young American guy who was also working with me understood most words I did not and I understood, strangely, a lot of words he did not. So Steve and I worked together to each help each other’s lack of conversational German. In the end, this was a very important element in actually getting a hang of how to speak German.
In truth, before coming to the Black Forest, my understanding of German was just a jumble of words. Yes, I did know most of the grammar and I did understand some sentences sometimes. But only when the sentences were said slowly in a clear accent. Now, the strange characteristic of the Southern German folks is that they neither spoke clearly or slowly. To my ears they spoke a strange garbled blur of words. In the first several weeks, it took me many days just to begin to make out what words they were speaking and to understand how their Southern accent was altering the words I knew.
But over time, with the help of my new American buddy, we were able to help each other and pretty soon we were getting down the rudiments of speaking. This often was helped to our visits to various town bars, which seemed to specialize in draft beers, 1/4 liter glasses of wine and a sweet liquer that the locals seemed quite fond of called Kirsh. After several evenings of hanging out in some of these bars, we would get up the courage to start a discussion with some of the local guys and gals.
They were generally suspicious of us. We quickly came to learn that Wolfach was a very ingrained type of town. Either you came from Wolfach or you did not. And if you did not, that was reason enough for you to be distrusted. So a lot of the time, we did not find a lot of openness and willing conversation. But over time, especially as we became known in certain restaurants and bars, some of the people became quite friendly.
A big event occurred when I found out that a local farmer was trying to sell a BMW motorcycle. He had run an ad in the paper and I had told Herr Schaffhirt that I had a secret dream to buy a motorcycle if that was somehow possible. It turned out that the farmer wanted $500 for his BMW (in German Marks). I, of course, did not have the $500, but I wrote my parent for some extra support. I think I put in $100, of my hard earned pay from Addiator and my parents sent the remaining $400. The process, from the moment of seeing the ad, visiting the farmer to see the motorcycle – cleverly placed in a barn behind a haystack, 5 kilometers out of Wolfach, where it had been resting peacefully for about 10 years – to the promise to buy it – to the arrival of the money took about four weeks. After that the motorcycle was mine.
It turned out that the BMW had not been started up since being placed in the barn some 10 years previously, so there was some doubt it would in fact start. There was no doubt in the farmer’s mind that it would start up – he was certain because it was, after all, a BMW. At that time in Germany, most Germans no longer wanted to ride a motorcycle because motorcycles were used for going to work and when you went to work on a motorcycle, you could get wet or cold. So most people wanted to get a real car which had actual protection from elements. Strangely, that was not the feeling I had about motorcycles. You could say that I was the beneficiary of a cultural change.
So, I took proud possession of the BMW 500. I remember it was a special 1951 racing BMW, so I was really quite lucky. With the help of a technical guy from the Addiator factory, I was able to get the BMW started. The great event occurred after getting a new battery and filling the gas tank after the third kick. Ten year laters, when I sold the same BMW, after 3 accidents, few dents and decidedly bent front wheel base for the same $500, I found out that I could have started it just on the magneto. Who knew?
Anyway, my first act was to get on my new stallion and drive directly into a hedge 40 feet in front of me. This was not intended, but I had not gotten the hang of either the gear shift or the steering bar and while I was able to get the thing into first and then second gear, I was not able to figure out to either downshift or to steer to the right. I could blame that on the limited English the German technician knew or his abominable Southern German accent or I could blame it my own stupidity, but whatever the reason I crashed my motorcycle within 2 minutes of starting it for the first time.
Not discouraged by the various cuts and bruises, I got back on and kept at it. After several tries I thought I had the process down pat. I cruised around the little town of Wolfach, even went into one the local pubs and had a celebratory beer. I drove up hills, down hills, around hills and covered just about every road in the village. I was king of the road on my BMW 500. There was only one thing I could not figure out and that was how to get it up on its stand. No matter, I just leaned my BMW against a convenient cement wall that was next to my landlady’s house. That worked as long as I had friendly wall nearby.
So, for the next three weeks, Steve and I cruised around on my new/old BMW. During the day we worked in Addiator Rechen Machinien Fabrik. We would try to hit on some of the young girls in factory, but it seemed that they were all either married or spoken for. They married young in the Black Forest and always they married within their own townfolk. We did not hear any stories of young ladies who planned to head off to Munich or Stuttgart to get a job and find a man in the big town. That was not the habit then. Perhaps it has changed today.
During the evening we would go out to dinner in some simple restaurant for some bratwurst, kartoffel salad (potato salad) and either ein liter bier or ein fiertel (quarter) liter of wine. After that we would hang out in the local pubs and try to brush up on German while we pounded a few beers. In time we got pretty fancy and could even delineate whether we wanted red or white wine. We even came to know the name of some of the local brews and could reel off a pretty extensive list.
A few evenings Steve and I would head into the next town, Schilltach, and try to make friends there. It was not easy.
For one thing, I remember that accent of people from Schilltach was quite different from the accent of people in Wolfach. Please understand that while there was a mountain dividing these two towns, the two villages were only about ten miles apart. So, it is not like these two towns were hundreds of miles apart. It took quite a lot of time to adjust to the differences of the two accents. Again, a few beers seemed to help our efforts. I know you are probably thinking that it is not a good idea to get on a motorcycle, motor 10 miles away and have a few beers knowing you had to motor back. I can only say I was careful and it was another time when drinking and driving were not taken as seriously.
I remember one time going to Schilltach and sitting in this NatchtClub – night club. Steve and I were sitting in this kind of open bar with some tables and a pretty empty dance floor. We tried to strike up a conversation with some local Schilltach guys and unlike some of the Wolfach guys, these guys were quite friendly and wanted to ask us lots on questions about the U.S. What kind of country was it, they asked. Land of the Free, we said. What did we think of Nancy Sinatra? She had just released what was to be her signature hit song, “These Boots were Made For Walking” and that hit was making its way all through Europe, even into the dinghy dancehall where we were in in Schilltach.
“Ganz Toll,” was what they said about Nancy. She was great. I am not sure they meant her voice or her looks. Whatever, she was “Ganz Toll.” All three guys from Schilltach agreed about that. A little bit later, when another American song came on called “Strangers in the Night” these edgy Schilltach guys picked up on the fact that it was sung by a guy also named Sinatra.
“Wer ist dieser Mann heist Frank Sinatra,” asked one the Schilltach guys.
“Strangers in the Night” was just beginning to become popular in Europe and these guys had picked up on the fact that there were two Americans, one female, one male, both of who had the same last name.
Steve and I looked at each other in surprise. We immediately launched into an effort in German to explain that Frank Sinatra was the father of Nancy Sinatra and that he was actually the more famous person.
“Das ist unmoglich,” the guys in Schilltach said, meaning they did not believe Frank Sinatra could be more famous than Nancy Sinatra. Yes, the song was pretty good, but it did not have the driving beat of Nancy’s song.
We tried to explain that was because he was the older person and his style of singing was not quite as up to date, but our efforts were unsuccessful. We left the guys from Schilltach with them wishing that the new guy, Frank Sinatra, have as much success as his sister Nancy and verifying once again, for the fourteenth time that evening, that Nancy was “Ganz Toll”. Some impressions are not meant to be changed.
I had a great time the summer in Wolfach and I did learn quite a bit of German. After working 6 weeks in the factory, my bosses, the Schaffhirts invited me to go with them in August to Isel Silt. That is, the island of Silt. It is located in the North of Germany in what is appropriately called The North Sea. So, the Schaffhirts and their daughter and I all piled into their Mercedes and cruised on up the Autobahn up past Hamburg. You have to take ferry to get to the island of Silt. Then you are almost in Denmark.
The North Sea is aptly named, since I found it singularly cold even in August. The beach was chilly and the water chillier. You did not want to stay in too long. Anyway, I had a good time. All meals and drinks were taken care of by Herr Schaffhirt, “Popilien”, as he was known by his daughter. His daughter was a rather cute 17 old brunette, not very tall, a tiny bit plump, but full of vim and vigor and well-rounded in the right places. I later discovered she was already engaged to some guy in Berlin and anytime away from her future husband was the end of the world for her.
Perhaps, the most interesting moment of this side vacation was when we all took a walk over to what was known as the Nacktbar Strand. That turned out to be the naked beach area. So Herr Schaffhirt, Frau Schaffhirt (his wife), Fraulein Schaffhirt (their daughter) and I were all walking down this beach when I noticed that more and more people were completely naked. There seemed to be a transitional area where it was half dressed and half naked and then you came to another area being almost 100% nude.
On this scenic journey down the beach the Schaffhirts ran into a friend. He turned out to be a tall pot-bellied gentleman of about 60 accompanied by a striking young lady of about 26. Both, of course, were entirely nude. It turns out that the gentleman was a judge in Berlin that the Schaffhirts had known. That made introductions in order. I must say it was an unusual experience shaking hands with a completely naked man and a very attractive naked young lady. In particular, I found difficult not to stare at some the more attractive features of the young lady. I did my best to soldier on.
As we walked down the beach, I heard Mrs. Schaffhirts make some mention questioning where the judge’s wife might be. Herr Schaffhirts was quite benign on the subject, suggesting that perhaps the young lady was just one of the judge’s more attentive apprentices. I was guessing she was quite attentive. I stayed out of the conversation feeling it was not my place to offer any conjecture.
My summer in Europe was almost over. We came back from the island of Silt in about two weeks of some chilly sun and some chilly swims. One week later, I decided to make another little exploratory trip of Europe. I had looked at a map. Europe seemed to be a pretty small place, after all, I had already gone up and down Germany.
I figured I could do my new trip in about 10 days. My plan was to head down to Italy, drive along the Mediterranean sea, through the Italian Riviera, through the French Riviera, stop a few days at St. Tropez (where I figured I had 50/50 chance of meeting Brigitte Bardot), mosey down the French Riviera to Barcelona, maybe head up a few days to Madrid and then cruise back through France and eventually slide my way back into Germany. That was the plan. It did not quite work out, but some of the above was accomplished.
By this time, Steve had headed back to the States so I was own my own for this new outing. I did one really smart thing before leaving. I left 100 Marks in my room before leaving. That was to prove to be a very wise decision. Anyway, I packed a small duffle bag, loaded with essentials…a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, 2 pairs of underwear, a couple of shirts, a toothbrush, a razor, a bottle opener and my passport. I was loaded for bear.
I started in the morning and went South. Wolfach was only about 50 kilometers from the Swiss border, so I arrived at the border pretty quickly. Then I motored through Zurich Switzerland, through Lucerne and over the Swiss Alps. I was pretty sure I could do that in a few hours. However, I quickly found out that there was traffic, tunnels to go through, mountains to go over, bumblebees to annihilate, and roads the never seemed to go straight. And when I got into the Alps, it seemed to that I was either heading straight up or straight down in circles, somehow never really going forward.
Eventually, I arrived at Lugano, a Swiss city on the Italian side of Switzerland and kept going. I motored through to Varese and found a nice hotel called the Citi Hotel and spent the night. Varese turned out to be pretty nice little town and I remember walking around the old village square and enjoying some nice wine and pasta in a local sidewalk restaurant. It was all good.
The next day bright and early I got on BMW and headed down to Milan winding my way through that dirty and crowded city. I was quite surprised by the amount of traffic and how crowded the streets were. Since I had visited Milan with my parents a couple of times, I was somewhat familiar with that busy city, but it seemed to me that the streets had gotten a whole lot more active since I had last been there. It might of had something to do with the time of day (around 9:30am) and the fact that I was motoring around on my own motorcycle. Whatever, I kept going, eventually getting through the city and heading straight for Genoa. My theory was to get to the Italian Riviera where I expected the traffic to clear up and hit smooth sailing.
I should mention that this was the month of August and what I had not taken into consideration was that most of Europe was on their sacred vacation. After about 4 hours, I did get to Genoa, but I found the city also crowded, so I figured I would go a little further down the coast where I was sure the crowds would thin out. That did not happen. In fact, I was soon to learn that the entire coast of Mediterranean was teeming with tourists and vacationers and no roads were less busy than the coastal roads I had chosen.
After passing through Genoa, I found myself cruising along the Italian Riviera towards Savonna. By the time I got there there the sun was beginning to set on the Mediterranean. As I proceeded down the coast, I would get occasional glimpses of that beautiful sea. It looked beautiful and pretty soon I was dreaming of getting to St. Tropez and meeting Brigitte Bardot. I had heard that St. Tropez was the playground of Eurocrats, playboys, movie stars and general no goods. I kept wending my way down the road, which to my surprise seemed even busier than downtown Milan or Genoa.
As darkness descended, another reality settled in. I began to pull over and check some of the local hotels along the road. Two things became apparent, hotel rates were considerably higher than I had expected and that was generally an academic point since most of the hotels seemed be fully booked. Again, I was beginning to realize that getting a room, even if I could afford it, might be more difficult than I anticipated.
Speaking of finances, that brought me to a third reality. I had departed with what I thought be an enormous sum of cash…about $230 in U.S. money. At that point it was mostly in German Marks. I think that was a little over 500 Marks at the time, the exchange rate being something like 2.3 marks for each dollar. So each time that I pulled into hotel and asked a room, I would look at the little sign by the desk which listed the number of Lira it would give the traveler for different currencies. And while it seemed to be a giant amount of Lira, I did note that the rate for German Marks seemed to vary hotel to hotel.
Generally, I never really got to discuss the exchange rate since generally there were no rooms available. Occasionally, I would stop at a fancier looking place and they might have room, but it seemed require about half of my capital for the whole trip, so I had to politely refuse. I kept going further and further down the coast and eventually I did find a room in a rather seedy looking hotel along the road just before getting to Sanremo. So, once settled, I walked down the road a block or so and found a nice seedy looking restaurant that provided my with some great pasta and some pretty good Chianti. Things were looking up once again.
The next day I started out again, motoring my way through Sanremo and passing that morning on the Italian Riviera. Before I knew it, I reached the Principality of Monaco. As I passed through the coastal road going through I looked for the Prince and for Princess Grace. No luck there, so I kept going. Pretty soon I found myself in France on the way to Nice. I will note here that every time I came to a different country I had to present passport and pass customs. The process in those days was pretty quick, but it was not made easy do to the fact that I was constantly looking for a place to prop up my BMW. Where was a wall when you needed one.
Of course, today cruising through Europe does not require going through the customs and security procedures of the 38 countries that now compose it.
I must say that Nice was beautiful city to behold, with its white buildings cozily nested in mountains alongside the Mediterranean and the blue glistening sea stretching out before the gleaming white city. But I was on a mission to meet Brigitte Bardot so I kept pushing on to St. Tropez, where I was sure she would meet me with friendly beach cocktail in hand.
Well, I kept charging down the coast and being perpetually surprised how long it took to get from one place to another. It seemed like this Europe place was actually pretty big and worse than that that it had traffic that matched some of NYC’s worst. Who knew?
When I did finally get to St. Tropez, I was amazed by both how small it was and how crowded it was. I looked for Brigitte. She was nowhere to be seen. I am guessing she was hobnobbing some old wealth aristocrat on his 200 or 300 ft yacht.
It had been a long day and I could see that pickens was slim on St. Tropez, so I elected to keep going. I was about 30 miles out of town when I saw this sad looking American soldier hitch-hiking along the road. I don’t know what possessed me to pick the guy up, but as soon as I did, he kindly taught me how to put my BMW up on its stand – who knew you only had to keep your foot against the bike stand and then lean and pull with your weight sharply and up it popped onto the stand. This came about because we trying to figure out how to tie down his dufflebag on top of my dufflebag.
At this point it was getting late in the day and the sun was falling. We were still in France, headed towards Spain. The soldier’s name turned out to be George Simpson. George had been hitch-hiking from an Army base in Frankfurt Germany. He told me hitch-hiking in Europe was a tough deal. People did not take pity on American soldiers and generally frowned on the whole concept of hitch-hiking. But George was on a mission. He wanted to meet a pretty little Senorita in Barcelona town.
He told me he knew this great pension where we could get rooms and maybe he could hook me up with one of his Senorita’s friends. The proposition sounded good to me, so George and me headed down the road or as it soon became, up the road and then down the road. It turned out there was something called the Pyrennes, inconveniently placed between France and Barcelona. This was a small mountain range that we encountered as soon as we crossed through Spanish customs into Spain.
When I say small mountain range, it was small in relation to the Swiss Alps which I had only recently traversed. Actually, the Pyrennes seemed to be somewhat bigger than the Adirondacks in New State and considerably smaller that the more famous Swiss Alps. Nevertheless, it took time to get over the Pyrennes and the roads, as with all mountainous roads had a tendency to curve significantly while going up and down and in some cases, I once again had the impression that I was going up and down in circles. But after several hours, we passed over the Pyrennes. By the time we came down from Pyrennes and began to enter the outskirts of Barcelona.
How we found George’s Pension is something of a miracle. George had a map of the city with the location cleverly marked with an X. That much was clear. Where we were in that rather extensive Spanish city with giant traffic circles everywhere was another matter. We tooled around many a traffic circle and tried to ask various non-English speaking residents where we were. Eventually, someone recognized the name of the street and kind of pointed us in the right direction. After a while we got to George’s Pension.
It was at this point that I discovered that George had not been completely honest about the Pension we were going to and what kind of a place it was. Sure enough there was a girl who did recognize George and they seemed very happy to meet up. And to my surprise another girl appeared who strangely seemed very happy to see me. Now that did not happen so often to me, but I felt very good to receive some female attention.
To make a long story short it seemed that while this was in fact a legitimate Pension, it was also a business place. It had a restaurant, a bar, a dancehall and a lot of ladies who seemed to be looking for attention. I shall not dwell on this experience too much other than to mention that I stayed at the Pension for a few days and began to run grievously short of cash. Each day I swore I would leave that day. Each day re-calculated myh budgetary needs and decided that I could hang out another day.
I had converted most of my German Marks to Pesadas. At first I said I would leave when I got down to 20,000 Pesadas. Then I moderated my opinion and swore I would leave with 10,000 Pesadas. I finally left with 6,000 Pesadas. That may sound like a lot of money, but if I remember, it was about $6.
So, I left Spain with about $6., said Goodbye to George who had taken up semi-permanent residence in the Pension, headed out the city, over the Pyrennes. This time I took a little bit different route and headed back through the center of France, aiming to reach Switzerland on the French side. I figured that would be my most direct route. And at that point I had to think of the most direct route. I will admit that I did have some left over Francs and Marks, but their total value most certainly did not exceed $4. Considering the fact that I had to pay for gas, I was on a pretty tight budget.
I got to the middle of France at the end of the first day. Staying at hotel or pension was not an option considering that gas was my one and only priority. So I slept on the side the road. I did not get a restful sleep that night since pretty large trucks were buzzing by every few minutes bringing with them great gusts of oil-tinged air. By this time, my stomach growling from lack of food.
The next morning I hopped on my BMW, only to find that my battery was dead. That was kind of a low point. The part of France that I happened to be in, somewhere about 100 km for Lyon, seemed to almost completely flat. I solved my battery problem by rolling my BMW to the nearest approximation of a hill and then rolling the bike down that slight incline. I was just enough to get my BMW started. Off I went into the wild yonder.
The rest of the trip back was kind grueling since I realized I could not stop and face the chance that the battery might not restart the bike. On and on, I went. As I approached Switzerland the land became hilly then mountainous. Pretty soon I was cruising through the Alps themselves where I met an abundance of large, fat bees that wanted to commit suicide on the sunglasses I was wearing under my helmet. It was messy, but I kept going. I remember giving my last few Francs and Marks to some gas station along the way and hoping that the little bit of gas it bought would get me to the Black Forest, which was still at the last point a couple of hundred kilometers away (translation: about 140 miles away). On and on, I went.
I remember coming through German customs and the customs official being very suspicious because I kept my motor running while I presented my passport. After some efforts, I was able to convey the fact that the battery was dead. I could tell he was still a little dubious, but he passed me through and after about two hours I finally arrived in the Black Forest in the little dorf (village) of Wolfach. I immediately parked my BMW and went running to my room. I had not shaved in two days and two was a pretty accurate number of hours of sleep I had gotten in the same period. I was bushed.
Now we come back to the fact that I had left 100 Marks in my room just in case on the off chance I might be low on cash when I returned. That turned out to be a truly prudent move. So, back in my room once again, I changed clothes, washed my face in the cold water in the sink down from my room and went downstairs directly over to the restaurant with my 100 Marks well in hand.
Guess what happened? As soon as I came into the outdoor patio of the restaurant, I saw the Schaffhirts sitting down at table having dinner with their daughter. At first they did not recognize me because of the heavy growth of beard and the hard, beaten look on my face from 48 hours on the road. But as soon as they realized it was me, they invited over to their table and proceeded to serenade me with beer and bratwurst. Both were the best I had ever had, although after about 3 beers, I had beg severe exhaustion and excuse myself. I then went back to my room, collapsed on my bed and slept for a solid 10 hours before waking up. My days in Germany were almost at an end. Best of all, I never had to use the 100 Marks I had saved up for my return.
I worked for two more weeks in the Addiator factory, collecting some more wages so I could make my return to America.
Before doing that, I drove my BMW from Wolfack up to Bremerhaven where I delivered my bike to some guy who promised he would ship it off to Virginia in a week or so. I headed off to Hamburg for a couple of days, hung out in some of the rock bars that were then becoming big in Hamburg that year. I remember listening to a rock group that sounded to really great. On the spur of the moment, I tried to hire them for one of our fraternity parties. It turned out they were not interested. They were going to come to States and play all the big venues – this was their last gig in a seedy bar. The group turned out to be Ray Davies and The Kinks. Ray said he had sworn off of Frat Parties. The year was 1966.
Back in the States, I had just enough time to catch a week in the Hamptons before heading down to the University. This was to be my last year in college and because I had failed just about everything in college, I was about to attempt to learn philosophy in one year, taking 5 philosophy courses the first semester and 5 philosophy courses the second semester. As mentioned, the head of the philosophy department had boldly predicted that it was impossible for a student to take that many philosophy courses in the last year and actually graduate. Nonetheless, that is what I did.
Back at the University, I applied myself to these new courses and I must say it was a strange new world to me. It seemed to be divided into two schools of thought: the logical & empirical (those things that could be deduced by logic or physical evidence) and the hypothetical and theoretical (those things that could be theorized and argued over). It also appeared that philosophy had taken a recent right turn along the way. In early philosophy, early philosophers had a lot to say and not a lot of arguments to prove it. In later philosophy, philosophers seemed to say far less and spend a whole lot of time arguing about it.
And when I came to the 20th century, it seemed that philosophers had almost nothing to say, but were ready to write volumes arguing about the meaning of certain words. Talk about to be or not be or what was the difference between the body and the mind. And oh yeah, where is your soul? Modern philosophers did not seem to want to guess. They would rather argue about the meaning certain words.
I have to say that I liked the logic course that I took. It seemed actually practical to think about things in syllogisms – that is a set of statements that allows you to logically deduce whether something is true if you know the premise is true. Hence, if all men are equal and you happen to be a man, then you are equal. At least, that was the gist of it. I also like the concept of proving things empirically. Hence, if you found certain things to be true, then you could logically deduce other things to be true. Even philosophers like Kant seemed to be interesting, although incredibly dense.
So for the last two semesters of my college career, I took 10 philosophy courses. In the last semester, there was a test to see if I could be eligible for a masters in philosophy. It seemed my philosophy teachers were divided over my test results. When I went to see how I did, there was a message under my name – please see Professor So and So. I went to see Professor So and So and he told me that my philosophy teachers were divided on my fate with a some thinking it was simply impossible to graduate in philosophy by taking all my courses in one year and other teachers being somewhat more forgiving, saying let the kid graduate and let’s be rid of him. In fact, Professor So and So told me that in his opinion I rendered the clearest interpretation of some part of Kant that he had ever read. In any case, after some debate, it was decided that I could indeed graduate and I am guessing it was Professor So and So who came to my rescue.
So in the end all things turned positive and I was allowed to graduate. I remember it all as if it was yesterday, standing in line in my cap and gown in the steaming heat of Charlottesville on a early June day. It seemed like hours before my turn came up, but after those hours, my name was called and I walked and was handed a degree. I shook hands and returned to a seat on the great lawn of the Jefferson commons. Sitting down, it was hard to adjust to the fact that I had actually graduated. Two years to flunk out, two years to get back and two years to graduate. It was a long and winding road.
For years after that advent I would have a recurring dream and the dream was this: I am standing in the Graduation Line in my Cap and Gown, in the steaming heat for hours and hours. I am waiting for my name to come up. And just when I am about 5 graduate students from being called, a professor comes up and taps me on the shoulder.
“Are you Cecil Hoge,” he asks.
“Yes,” I respond.
“I am sorry. There has been a terrible mistake. You have to get out of this line. You have not graduated. We discovered you failed to take Math 304. You must come back to summer school if you are to graduate.”
There the dream ends.
To this day I occasionally wake up in a cold sweat, feeling the tap on my shoulder and hearing the tragic words being whispered in my ear. Usually, I am led away in shame with two University security officers as an escort with the long and sometimes giggling faces of my fellow students in line. It is a terrifying dream. I am told this kind of dream often occurs to college graduates. I can only say in my case, it is very real and very plausible.
Speaking of A Long and Winding Road, well before the Beatles broke up just after writing that song, I remembered at my graduation party, which I and several of my fraternity brothers who were graduating, gleefully participated in, the Beatles had just come out with their landmark album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That album was a big star at our graduation party and I remember, after downloading a number of beers, sitting myself as close as possible to what was then known as a “record player” and listening to the songs on that album.
The album had been released in the United States on June 2nd, 1967. I am guessing that I graduated on June 7th, 1967, so the words and music on that album were incredibly fresh and had a strange power over my emotions. First and foremost, I could not believe that that Beatles had recorded this extraordinary album. It seemed so much richer, so much more playful, so much more intricate than anything that I had heard from the Beatles before that my first impression was that I could not have been recorded by the Beatles.
But most of all, I could not help but wonder at the fact that I had finally graduated from college, after two years of flunking out, two years of getting back in and two years of graduating. It was all wonder to me, just like The Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.