When I was young and lived in Germany my life was generally okay. I was popular and had friends. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew me, everyone who worked at school knew me. Some thought I was strange, but most liked me. My mother didn’t have much money. Despite being nominally married, my parents had had a schism several years before resulting in my mum returning to Germany. She was attending university with the aim of becoming a haematologist. My grandmamma agreed to mind me when she was away or too busy with her studies. My grandfather enjoyed slapping me around after a bad day, but that was typical of what was to come.
One day my mum took me to travel agent in Trier and booked tickets. To where, I did not know. Nor did I care to know, it was just another excursion into the city. These sorts of things were great fun. Perhaps she would even take me to the Italian gelataria for an ice cream. A while later, after coming in from playing, she took me aside and told me to “pick a few toys, we’re leaving for America in 3 weeks”. I chose a few pieces from my small, wooden train set but thought little more of it. A few buildings, a tree or two, two trains. I continued school forgetting all about her little promise of excitement.
Everything was packed one day and she told me that tomorrow would be my last day. I was taken aback, “why? But I like my school and friends”? I had to bid adieu to my friends in the neighbourhood and school the next day. My grandfather refused to drive us to airport the next day. He was adamantly against the idea of my mother leaving once again to be with a man that no one in the family or the family’s social circle ever liked or had any respect for.
After a surreal flight, over Iceland, over New York and on to San Francisco, we arrived. I could not speak English, or even American. I was, after all, in every respect a German school boy. None of my teachers spoke anything but German and all my friends spoke German. Why shouldn’t I speak German? This made communication difficult and my mum had to serve as a translator. Within a few days I asked my mum “when are we going back home? This place is strange and everyone makes strange noises”. “We’re not”, she said, “this is your new home”. “No it’s not, I want to go home”. “We can’t do that”. And so it remained. Soon after, I was put into school with others.
These schoolmates were strange. They looked strange and they all made strange noises. They sounded like they were trying to speak German without the consonants with their mouths full of gum. My first teacher meant well, but she was ineffective. She tried to keep a few of the worst bullies away, but she couldn’t always be there. My next teacher was far better. She was an elderly teacher, a grandmotherly figure who sought to help me adjust.
That year, I was raped. My English skills remained poor and I could not clarify the events that happened. Nor, for that matter, did I want to. As with all things, I accepted it and tried to carry on. I also tried to not antagonise my father. He had a temper and if I misunderstood something, he slapped me. I was a “liar” if I didn’t grasp everything perfectly. That, or he would just scream at me calling me a “piece of s**t” with a “polluted mind”. It wasn’t any better at school. Due to my language schools, I was somewhat behind. The Mexican children in the same position were given a tutor, someone who could help them. I was classified as mentally challenged. Due to a slight speech impediment, I was also sent to specialists for that. In short order I went from being popular to being a freak, a “retard”. Making friends was difficult. One of the Mexican girls and I hit it off. Even if we couldn’t say much to each other, we understood each other. Later on, an African-American woman moved in next door with her niece. She became my great protector. Almost every day I was pelted with gravel or, if those welcoming, friendly, warm and kind Americans were especially ambitious, rocks. One must accept this in the same way that one accepts being handled as mentally impaired. I was “too proud”, as a teacher admitted to me later on, I had to be “humbled”. And that nice man who acted like a grandfather to me – always caring, always making his home open to me when I need a friend or an ear – was smeared as a paedophile when he never made one untoward move.
Things settled down into a pleasant routine after a while. I remained isolated socially never quite regaining the status I held in Germany. Those times I could go to Germany, however, were bliss. It was beautiful – seeing my friends when possible, seeing my family. Those were times I could once again go to gelatarias for ice cream. Still, people were not as hostile as they had once been. The Chinese were the true delights, however. We understood each other implicitly and they were always kind to me.
Life carried on and I regained something approaching my former status. Still isolated, but well-known and not treated as quite the freak I had once been. My father was still my father, more often than not in drunken stupors alternating between fits of rage “I bend over backwards for you, suck your c**k and swallow but you piece of s**t, you’re never happy. You better get your *** inline or I’ll throw you to the street” and giving me fistfuls of dollars. I visited the neighbours when things were bad, they were a kindly, elderly couple. He was a pensioner who had once worked at a youth prison, she a librarian nearing the end of her working life.
One day, my father stopped drinking. He was involved in a drunken brawl which scared him enough to behave. We got on somewhat, after that. It was never a comfortable relationship, but we managed. At this point, a new set of problems arose. The local police didn’t care for me and they saw me as a soft target. One neighbour, a convict minder at the local gaol, accused me of shooting a gun at him because I came to complain about his dog biting neighbours and following me about. Naturally I never did and the test showed that I had not been exposed to firearms. But it did not stop. One day, a police officer tried to put a small bag of marijuana in my car. I caught him and began to kick up a fuss, he backed down. Another police officer, knowing that I lived in the neighbourhood tried to pressure an elderly neighbour to file a false report against me. He was nearly at the verge of tears when she told him to get stuffed. There were a few other instances with the lot, but let’s not get carried away. They’re good people, America’s heroes! The greatest people in the world!
Yet, life goes on. I started university in San Francisco. I came to move in, but the estate company committed fraud and I was out £3,700. A solicitor tried to help, but she couldn’t do much more than threaten. I was left without a flat, living in cheap hotels in rough neighbourhoods, the week before the term began. I found a flat at the last moment, a bit of a dive that wouldn’t pass any code owned by an old Chinese woman trying to squeeze a few thousand quid out of her properties to support her lifestyle. Still, she was human and she honoured her commitments. Perhaps not always ethical, but humane and she let me out of a contract early. Those years in San Francisco were hard. Her son nearly killed me a few times with his idiocy. One afternoon on the bus a man old enough to be a grandfather tried to flirt with me. I ignored him; he grabbed me between the legs fondling me with obvious joy. I quickly moved away. Things like that happened a few more times to me. But I should really stop complaining, “white privilege” and all. Things like that don’t happen to men. If they do, don’t talk about it! Shut up and accept it, redeem your contaminated soul through suffering. Or at least that’s why I had to hear at the university. And being shoved around by a deranged student doesn’t matter, either. Because he was of Korean extraction and I of European, largely, it could not be considered anything but a bit of excessive emotion on his part. I love America, the land of the free!
Perhaps I would discuss the evening when a junkie transvestite offered to go out on a date with me and then proceeded to chase me down Geary Boulevard, but why bother? It’s almost entertaining looking back. Going to Minnesota was a pleasant enough change after that. My flat was nice enough, perhaps my favourite part of Saint Cloud. I had an excellent boss, a few good professors and I got on well with a number of people. I did in Hawai’i and San Francisco, too, but they were largely Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers and Chinese. They were actually interesting and had some perspective on life. In Minnesota, I did not quite have this option but was still able to meet a few kindred souls who made life bearable.
Yet, not all things were ideal. My father, at this point once again a binge drinker with a methamphetamine habit, elected to declare bankruptcy. He went on a £100,000-spend-spree. Due to the ineptness of his solicitor, it took the better part of a year for his bankruptcy proceeding to be completed. Until then, he changed his telephone number. His banks, because I took over a minor credit card account from him years before, started telephoning me. They telephoned me well over a thousand times. In fact, they telephoned me nearly 40 times in Québec – a place I had dreamt of visiting since I was a schoolboy French student. Were it not for a futile effort to attempt coming in contact with a Québécois former colleague, I would have not even had my mobile telephone switched on. I referred this to the Minnesota Attorney General whose capable assistant informed me that they can generally do as they wish with me and I can only beg them to stop. In fact, I have to beg them in writing to stop and they have a month to stop. Or, they can just send it off to another office or department and I have to start over from the beginning. But I have to be really, really nice to those harassing me. Because this is the land of the free, the home of the brave where I am not even at the same level as a common street whore. Where people can do whatever they bloody well please to me and I have to beg them not to, neigh, I have to grovel and hope they are kind enough to oblige my pathetic requests, me, the filthy unworthy, to be left in peace.
In Germany, this does not happen. They cannot even try it. If they did, there would be hell to pay. This is illegal and these laws are enforced with a pedant’s vigour. When explaining to German officials what just some of my experiences in the blessed land of unlimited opportunities are, they’re left nearly speechless. If nothing else, I am equal in Germany.