Wednesday, November 11, 2009

photographs and memories and influences and stuff

The sun is shining and it's disgustingly warm for November here (50s!), but it's managing to be sort of a melancholy day anyway. And when I get melancholy, it's because I've gotten to thinking about something ... which led me to something else ... which led me to something else ... which required me to find a way to tie it all up together.

Monday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, we made a trip to visit my brother, who was stationed there with the Army. The two things I most vividly remember? Street-vendor currywurst (YUM, and impossible to replicate at home, although we tried -- Das Bierhaus in Menomonie, WI does a FINE job of it, though) and Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin was soooo pretty -- huge, tree-lined boulevards, clean, full of life. But at Checkpoint Charlie, you could climb up a few stairs and look over the wall into East Berlin. It was hard to believe the two were even in the same country, much less the same city. East Berlin looked like it must have right after World War II. They didn't appear to have bothered to do any reconstruction.

Between that, and the ACHTUNG! signs telling you what country's "zone" you were in (and the penalties for not following the rules), and seeing the rows of small white crosses marking the spots where folks who tried to get over the Wall were shot dead by snipers in the towers that were all around -- well, it made a helluvan impression on a 13-year-old.

So, happy Veterans Day, Jeff, and Dad (Korea, 3 tours in Nam), and Uncle Joe and Uncle Bob and all the rest of you, and thanks for keeping this country from ending up like that.

Speaking of Veterans Day, Nov. 11 also is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday. Anyone who has known me for more than 2 seconds knows how I feel about K. He left a great legacy, but he was agitating to the end, and I miss his unique take on things and his willingness to speak out against injustice. I just miss him, period. And yes, I did actually meet him once, briefly, at a lecture at Washington University in St. Louis. I can't begin to claim to know him except through his writings and works, but I still miss him, if that makes sense. (And he also was a vet, but I won't bore you with the bio you can read for yourself in multiple places. :-)

Yesterday I ran across a collection of stories by Frederick Barthelme, long one of my favorite writers. I picked it up and read a couple at random and realized why he's always spoken to me: it's the details. If there's one thing I do well, it's observe--I see things other people gloss over completely or just dismiss as mundane and unimportant. Rick is proof that the quotidian can be as compelling as the grandest fantasy. When you weave a lot of small, seemingly insignificant details together, you get one big, telling picture -- but I hadn't realized till last night just how much my style owes to him. Kids are sponges, I guess, and I first ran across him in early high school.

And one thing I suck at? Endings. :-)

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