There's a small town in Germany called Fürstenwalde. It's southeast of Berlin and until recently was part of East Germany. About ten years ago, I was there with my wife at the time, Bienchen; our three adult children, Romany, Arlen, and Louis; and Milla, an eighty-year-old member of the London refugee set, like Bienchen's mother. We'd come to the town to celebrate Bienchen's Aunt Lisel's ninetieth birthday in the big house built by Bienchen's grandfather. My group was staying in a very new Euro-Motel in the center of town. After the festivities Saturday night I slept quite well, and Sunday morning Bienchen and I went down for breakfast at about nine-thirty.
It was a serve-yourself thing in a vast dining room, with tables and chairs of yellow pine. Milla joined us, and as we ate and waited for the others I became aware of a middle-aged man who seemed to be very drunk. He was sitting on the other side of the dining room, as far away from us as it was possible to be. I mention this because it is an important detail for what follows. He was joined first by a younger man wearing a white sweat topa hulk of a man with no neck and the body of a wrestlerand then by two very thin girls with badly dyed red hair and white faces. The girls wore coats with bedraggled fur collars. The older man was short and looked like Peter Lorre. They could have stepped out of a George Grosz illustration.
The Hulk suddenly spotted me watching and said something to the older man. They both laughed, the Hulk choking on his food he laughed so much. He looked at me again and our eyes locked.
Then a really strange thing happened: He stuck his tongue out at me and put his hands in his ears, wiggling his fingers. In a high-pitched voice he said, "Yoo hoo." I waved back, adrenaline pumping as my brain computed that we were in a "situation," with limited resolution potential. Realizing as well that staring was perhaps not a great idea, I studied my food. Meanwhile the kids were arriving.
While specifically not looking at the scary table, I was acutely aware its four residents were studying us: my son Louis, who looks a poet in training at the Keats school; my daughter Romany in a black miniskirt; and my son Arlen, a six-foot London geezer of twenty-one who at that moment seemed very young. They had no idea what was happening.
And then things became even stranger, as I perceived movement and glanced back to our fellow diners. Again, I would like to stress the considerable distance between the two tables. So I glanced back in time to see the Hulk at the end of a movement, like he'd just thrown somethingthat something being a big, greasy German sausage, half-eaten and flayed. I caught the final moments of its flight, just before it hit Bienchen.
I was the only person at our table with any context for what had just occurred. Bienchen, puzzled, looked down at the sausage before her, with no idea of its point of origin or reason for arrival. Suddenly, everyone was talking and I had to explain the circumstances. Arlen was understandably angry, his mum having just been attacked with a sausage. But this was not something ordinarythis Hulk a nutter and all of us in a small town in Germany amid an experience becoming odder by the minute. I restrained Arlen as the party of four chortled away at the free entertainment.
I called the waiter over. He listened politely whilst I explained that a sausage had just assaulted my wife. I pointed to the table from where it had comein fact this indication was self-evident in a dining room with an occupancy of two: Us and Them. I suggested he do something about itbring the manager, call the police.
He carefully picked up the sausage, placed it on his tray, and walked over to the other table. I saw him pointing back to us as he presumably repeated my story to our assailants. He then gave them the sausageafter all, it did belong to themand exited the dining area.
Milla, my family, and I were now quite tense, none of us wanting to acknowledge the other table, their weird laughter very loud and clear. And then came the unmistakable sound of someone trying to attract our attention. I looked over just as the Hulk threw the sausage a second time, this time hitting Milla, the frail eighty-year-old who'd fled the fascists in Czechoslovakia so many years before. Sausages now, what next? Howls of laughter rose from the four.
My family looked at me. The situation was clear: I must DO SOMETHING MANLY.
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