Off to Europe—Summer of 1975

After the classic road run through New England with Kris Marsala, I spent about a week repairing much needed bits on the Porsche with Inky Wardwell. Inky adored my dad and so wanted to be a racecar driver, even owning the helmet, goggles and full race suit. The problem? No racecar. Inky was a lovely guy, scrawny as a broom bristle with terrible pocked skin. One evening after drinking too much beer in Sacks Harbor, which is where I first met Sam Stallard at the age of two, I drove the Porsche back to Watertown, quite drunk. I stopped at a corner coffee and donut shop just up from the Crystal Restaurant, and bought a large coffee to go and for some misaligned reason a red star came up on my receipt, and I was awarded four-dozen mixed donuts. About the last thing I wanted since I’ve never eaten much sugar.

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My wonderful great friend Sam Stallard in the 1950s.  We arm-wrestled in the 1970s and always came to draw; it took me quite some time to realize the truth!  I so miss you, Sam.

“Jolly gee willikers it’s good to see you, Eric,” Sam never failed to greet me with a huge smile, whether he was drunk or sober.

“It must’ve been odd, my friend, to be the first superhero before they even existed in the American consciousness.”

But I faithfully stumbled back to the car with my sticky boxes of dozens. Car wouldn’t start, or I was too drunk to push it rapidly enough and jump  in, shift into gear and release the clutch before the momentum died, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Well, a few fellows from the neighborhood bar staring out the open midnight door noticed a couple sweaty failed attempts, and about a dozen guys and girls charged out of the bar to give me a monumental push. 356 1500 purring, I called back, “Would anyone care for a donut?” Huge cheers, lots of drunken grins; I kept one dozen to give to Edie Marsala for breakfast.

Late July, I parked my Porsche in an enclosed shed on the outskirts of Montreal and took a cheap flight to Munich, Germany to see my grandfather who was my only grandparent and whom I loved dearly. He was Dutch and his family brought windmills from Holland to Pomerania across the Baltic Sea. He was a revered hunter, and when the Russians entered Eastern Germany at the end of WWII, he was forced to walk away from his vast estate, pear and apple orchards, multiple servants (even a live-in gay tutor for my mother and uncle), the only Steinway grand piano in the region, along with his bees since he was a dedicated beekeeper. Before fleeing, he carefully wrapped all his gorgeous rifles in oil cloth and buried them. The weapons could well still be there on the estate somewhere.

Among other things, he survived tetanus without amputation, which was considered a medical miracle. He told me he didn’t want to live without his right arm. He married into nobility and though he was frowned upon by his noble counterparts as a commoner, to me he was the true gentleman in every way. He always wore a three-piece suit with tie and never left the house without a dapper felt hat. He smoked exactly four Cuban cigars, drank two Underbergs, two coffees, one section of cake, one schnapps, three large wheat beers with slices of lemon, walked two miles each and every day. He told me the secret to life was moderation! Lived to be 93 and stood as straight as a hemlock until the day he died of the flu.  His name was Erich and of course he’s my namesake.  If I wanted to smoke one of his superb cigars, he insisted I stick the cigar into my pipe bowl straight up, which he pronounced “peep.”  Pizza he called “pits,” and refused ever to try it.

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My great grandmother on the noble side was Jewish, my mother’s side of the family.  My great grandmother actually stood on a balcony and screamed obscenities at Hitler in the 1930s as he came by in some massive parade.  She was very wealthy and apparently quite fearless.  Hitler’s SS guards came after her, so the family slid my great grandmother under a bed, placed my grandmother on the chamber pot in front of the bed.  The guards after a moment of embarrassment, relented.  I guess even SS guards had certain sensitivities.  I hope people still know what a chamber pot is?

After a week, I took the night train to Paris, France, using my hobo experience to sleep comfortably in the baggage car.  As a footnote, I could walk from my grandfather’s house in Ebersberg to the train station in town, and from there reach anywhere in Europe with my shockingly inexpensive one-month Euro-rail pass.  And I ended up even taking the Orient Express from Paris to Athens, Greece, which was a completely miserable yet story-worthy experience, which will be addressed in a later post.

Paris was a revelation.  I simply loved everything about it: from the coffee varieties with the heated twin silver pitchers for cafe au lait to the crisp croissants fresh from ovens each morning, to the language which sounded like an uncontrollable whisper, the lovely girls in light frocks swishing along the newly washed streets where the freed water was broomed along with medieval thatch on gnarled sticks, the strange undefinable citrus smell of the subway with its ancient wicker-covered seats, the Eiffel Tower, the beyond bewildering art museums where Impressionists reign, and the crazy pigeons hop and complain seemingly absolutely everywhere you walked.  I would smoke fat hand-rolled cigarettes trying to look like Belmondo with the bored pout.  I lived on baguette with camembert and Archie Shepp playing “Blasé,” which I must have listened to over a hundred times.

I sometimes walked the damp streets all night until the bakeries and cafes began to light and open, and I could score an espresso and croissant.  I had oddly enough found a paperback of On the Road by Jack Kerouac at my grandfather’s with a lurid cover promising wild road kicks and wanton sex-escapades, which I then read for the first time without being overly impressed although I was hugely attracted to the idea of being beatific and to the frenzy of Dean (Neal Cassidy) who seemed to match my normal intensity for life at that time.  Those Paris night walks made me feel pretty beat.

Of course I also met the French woman I would marry and who would make me, besides the abundant sex, pretty miserable.

 

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