June 10, 2012

My German Friend



        This is what Morgan said when she learned the German with whom I’d been corresponding for a few years was:

        A woman, and

        A prison guard.

        She said exactly the same thing (albeit a few pitches higher) a few seconds later when I told her that the female German prison guard’s name was Magda (short, of course, for the obvious).

        I guess I’d react the same way if I was in her position. It’s psychologically impossible, I don’t care who you are, to put those four descriptors together without immediately picturing a coldly beautiful statuesque blond with jackboots and a riding crop.

        I’ve never met Magda nor seen a photo, but something gives me the impression she doesn’t quite look like that. She lives in a small town in Northern Germany, has a son in college, an ex-husband, and a mortgage. She works in a prison for women convicted on drug charges, and every summer she takes the traditional German vacation to the seaside. She also has back trouble, and reads a lot. In fact, she started writing one day after reading the German translation of one of my books. She’s been writing weekly ever since.

        Even after studying the language for seven years in school, these days my command of German only consists of a few scattered words and some ridiculous phrases: “Such carrots I will not buy!” and “my television is broken again.” As a result, Magda writes in English. It’s a relief, even if her notes contain a few head-scratchers. It’s still better than trying to build a conversation around the state of carrots these days. Here’s a recent example:

    Hi Jim, today the doctor have made a coloskopie of mine. It wasn’t terrible, but I cannot eat something until saturday and that was very hard!

    Now all is okay! And today I´m very tired.

    Anything news of your eyes?

    All the Best!

(I hear a lot about her assorted medical issues.) I could probably use the above note all by itself to convince Morgan that she’s not in competition with Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.

        Most of the notes run about that length, sometimes even shorter. Along with the medical problems, I also hear a lot about the day-to-day goings-on at a German women’s prison:

    Hi Jim, I´m sorry the answer is somelate. I´m so busy at the prison, that I´ve needed a relaxed weekend.

    The drug user prisoner make a lot of trouble. They use a drug named spice any time, but it’s very difficult to proof it.

    Today I have had a talk with the doctor of the prison and it maybe, to proof that drug in a special lab.

    Good to hear, that all is o.k. with your operation.

    Have a good week

        And sometimes when something is actually happening, the notes can run a bit longer. Here’s another example from a few months ago. She had been talking about taking a trip to Paris for some time, but abruptly changed her plans.

    Hi Jim, thanks for your note. I think I’ll visit Rome and not Paris. I heard by many people, france people hate the germans. I don’t speak any france language and I think, that’s a problem. Italien people are very kind. At the 1990’s I have had a trip to Italy and it was very very nice.

    What do you think?

    My nephew (18 years old) has a big problem with the world wide web. He has upload music and now he (or my sister) has to pay a lot of money as a provision (rate).

    She is very sad of that.

    My son hasn’t find a job until now, but he hope, he can get anyone.

    Have a nice week!

        When I responded, I decided not to bring up any of the historical reasons why the French might not like Germans much while the Italians might be a bit more friendly. I figured she knew already. We tend to stay away from the bugaboos of history, politics, and religion. Nothing but trouble.

        One thing I’ve noted over time is that my responses, written in very simple English at first, have started degenerating into a kind of “English as a Second Language” modeled after her own. This of course helps improve nobody’s English, but I can’t help it.

    Dear Magda, thank you for the note. Yes, many people here in US have trouble with the job-finding and illegal computer music, I hope they are both soon okay.

    Italy sounds like a nice place for travel. I am sure you will have a good time.

    Have a good week.

        Once I recognized this, the old paranoia started kicking in. What was this all about, really? What if this was all an elaborate prank? Maybe someone was trying to see how long I would fall for it, and how far they could push me. ”German prison guard,” right? Come on now—who could be so dumb? After all, it was never really clear why she was writing me every week; she just was. It seems simple, even banal, but who knows? It might be an elaborate set-up.

        It would have taken some work, given the German email address and the advertising in German at the bottom of the notes, but it could be done. Pranksters can be detail-oriented people.

        I really began to get antsy when the 9/11 email arrived:

    Jim, I’ve seen the funeral service for 9/11 in New York at TV. It’s so unconceivable what happened that time in USA.

    I’ve seen that memorial building at Ground zero and I like it.

    What do you think about that day 9/11 and all the things they happened after it: the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are dying many soldiers.

    What does it make with the american people and what changes for the people in NY?

    And a good week!

        Okay, this was clearly a CIA operation at work, right? German prison guard my ass. But why, I wondered? What were they after? I had no fucking clue, but to find out, I responded honestly. Or at least as honestly as I could manage in short sentences of faux-broken English. Then I began scouring earlier notes for clues of some kind. A week later a response arrived like clockwork. It was “her” longest note to date, and gave me the answer I was looking for:

    Jim, thanks for that open headed words. I´m very sad, that I cannot answer you good enough, but my English isn’t so good. But I understand, what you are think for all that. I share your opinion.

    I only can say it in German. Maybe you know any person, and it can be translate. And if it’s not possible . . . Sorry!!!!!

    Ich bin ebenso wütend wie du über die verlogenen Kriege und mir war gar nicht klar, was diese Anschläge im Einzelnen für die Menschen in NY oder in ganz USA bedeutet haben. Unser Leben ist ja oft mit soviel "Müll" angefüllt, dass wir keine Energie oder kein Interesse haben, uns mit diesen Dingen, vor allem politischen Dingen zu befassen. Trotzdem muss man im Kleinen dagegen ankämpfen. Ich finde es gut, dass du darüber schreiben kannst, weiter so!!!!

    Sorry ,Jim, I’m grumbling only in german language.

    Have a nice weekend

For a moment “open headed” had me thinking I was going to get a bullet in the brain, but no. No, this wasn’t the CIA I was dealing with. Much more likely my German pen pal was a member of a re-formed Baader-Meinhof Gang. She had mentioned how much she enjoyed the Baader-Meinhof movie from a couple of years back. Maybe we’d been corresponding in code all this time and I hadn’t realized it.

        Well if that’s the case,hmmm . . . Baader-Meinhof was pretty cool. Cooler than Ilsa, that’s for damn sure.

        I might have to think about this. Of course before I go making any crazy decisions, it might be wise to figure out what it is she actually wrote.


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