Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving-Part III

I am thankful for having known my husband's father, Friedrich.

I am a ball of contradictions when it comes to family. I come from a huge family. Because of prodigious grandparents, I probably have about 35 cousins. Out of all the hundreds of cousins [My parents were the next-to-youngest in their families, so I have cousins with grandchildren!], grandparents, aunts and uncles that I have, I probably regularly saw 20 of them. However, of those 20, probably 10 were constantly there. I remember the joy of monthly visits to my mother's mother in southern New Jersey. She had MTV! Philadelphia did not allow cable television until 1989, so in addition to the normal grandmotherly greatness, my grandma had the awesomeness of Remote Control. I spent more time visiting the housing projects and my grandfather and aunt than any middle-class girl had. When I got older and my scope grew, I will happy to accept more. I learned that I had a cousin Kiki living in New York and I will so excited. Kiki and I did not meet until I was 34 or 35 but she did my hair once a month in the Boogie Down Bronx and after that we would sit on her bed and watch bad television.

A window in the chapel where the funeral will be held.

Moving to Germany meant that all of the people with whom I shared DNA were far away. My husband's family were all that I had and they fit. Like my biological family, they were not perfect but they were interesting. Friedrich and Margot are from a different generation and culture than my parents. For me, different is always preceded by fear.

I think it is difficult to find a Black woman in America who would picture their in-laws as people 45 years older and from small-town Germany. Because of the times and the draft, Friedrich was a soldier fighting against the Allied Forces in World War II. After recuperating, the small-town boy joined Service Civil International to help repair Europe.

Before we met, Asmus spent Saturday nights eating dinner with his parents. When I moved to Germany, I became part of this tradition. Over dinners, fear eventually gave way to respect, which gave way to love. They discussed politics, history, art, and their personal history. Because Friedrich was fluent in English, explained many of these topics to me.

Despite our good relationship, Friedrich was still a man born in the 1920s. We never hugged or said, I love you. A few times he praised the refinement of the British soldiers who only stole small quantities of wine from his family's wine business and often railed against the noisy American soldiers. Americans were too loud and made bad music. Sinatra-Yuck! Elvis-Ugh! Jazz-That was complicated and welcome. In addition to a respect for jazz, Friedrich and I shared a love of making fun of Asmus (Friedrich was not blessed with Margot's belief that her sons were perfect. Friedrich and I often laughed at Asmus' love of debate (for no reason!) and laziness.). We waved good-bye after Saturday dinners. At some point during the four months, he was in various hospitals, we left each other with a strong hand embrace. It was not a handshake but a long, hand-holding. He put his hand out and I took it.

In October I canceled my first trip to America in 16 months because Friedrich was not looking very good. Asmus and I went back and forth trying to decide whether to stay or go. We gave ourselves a deadline to make a decision to help but I was still not sure. I miss the United States of America and everything in its borders but I would hate for something to happen to Asmus' father while I was watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (My visits home are little more than television watching and eating. In 2010, the world is small but you still can't get get macaroni and cheese in Germany (There is not elbow macaroni. I am traditionalist. There will only be elbows in my macaroni and cheese!).) I asked Friedrich during a visit to him in the rehabilitation hospital. Should we go to America or stay here?

He clearly said, Bleib in der Nähe. Stay close.

He died the same day that Asmus and I were supposed to depart the United States. I am so glad that we canceled the trip. Asmus saw his father four times in the period of time that we would have been on vacation. Unfortunately, he did not make it to his side until 15 minutes after he died. Fortunately, Margot was there. Friedrich did not seem to be aware but Margot spoke to him and held his hand.

A view of the cemetery where Friedrich's body will be placed.

I have celebrated two birthdays in Germany. All of them have been with Friedrich. We were both born on March 14. Earlier this year, I was looking forward to having the spotlight on me next year because the anniversary of my birth will not be on a weekend, so we would not be together. Now I think it will feel like something is missing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thanksgiving- Part II

Ever since I left college I have belonged to a gym. I go. I am the only one who actually goes. I sit at a desk all day and so I like moving around. Plus, I have a major ankle deficiency, so I cannot take a quick jog in the park. So, I pay money to walk indoors.

Well, my gym days are over. I would like to thank the uptight staff at the Kiel branch of Meridian Spa. I have been a member of this place since March 2009. New management came last April and things have not been the same since.

Germans live in fear of germs. I don't like germs much but I like to live my life. I remember that I took a tour of the Meridian Spa near the apartment in Hamburg and I was immediately turned off when I was told that I cannot wear a swimsuit in the hot tub. The reason: Hygiene. I asked a few more questions after that response and I got no closer to logic. The representative very politely said that swimsuits have bacteria on them that will contaminate the water, so no swimsuit. I don't know much but that don't make any sense. I think Hygiene is the word people here use when they don't have a real reason. Members are also not allowed to wear the same shoes in the gym as they do on the street. The reason: Hygiene. The germs from your shoes will contaminate the place where people sweat. Makes sense to me.

Before April 2010, the staff at Meridian Spa in Kiel and I had a friendly relationships. We laughed and waved hello and good-bye. I wore my all-purpose sneakers and my swimsuit and I nor any member had dropped dead from bubonic plague. In April the staff disappeared one by one and so did the waves and the laughs. OK, no one has to be nice to me but the gym became a place of exercise, not enjoyment. I am not a rebel without a cause. If a rule is annoying, I follow. If a rule is impeding my normal life, I fight against it.

I got really busy, so I didn't have much time to sit in the hot tub. I refuse to sit in a hot tub with strange men and be naked. That is not comfortable. Asmus has confirmed that German men are just as perverted as American men. Not all of them would be focusing on the body as a form of nature. I did go in the hot tub in my bathing suit once on a Sunday and nothing happened. But never had another chance to try this again.

I did change my sneakers because it felt the thing to do. The gym has a lobby area with couches and a television and tables. The day when the old regime was all gone, in September, a manager came over to me as I was putting on my right shoe in the empty lobby. She asked me to put my shoes on in the changing room. At that moment, I didn't have on any shoes, so I asked her if I can put on my shoes in the sit-up area ten feet away from me. Shockingly, she said no. The changing room was about 200 feet away. I refused to put my "street shoes" back on and then walk to the changing room to put on my sneakers. I told her that I would put on my shoes here this time and the next time I would put them on in the changing room. That was on a Friday.

On Monday, I changed in the changing room and ran to Dance class. Dance started in August. It runs from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. I teach Mondays at 7:20. I dance (badly) for as long as I can before I am in danger of being late, usually that means I rush out at 7:45. I run to the bathroom near the gym entrance and change my clothes. I was almost done when the same manager came in. She followed me and lectured me about not using the changing room. I was near the sink and then moved into a stall, while she remained in the bathroom and lectured me. I came out and there were four women there lecturing me. I quit the gym. The next day, the real manager said they prefer that I use the changing room but if I am late, there is no problem if I use the bathroom once in a while. Two weeks later, I returned. I ran into the stall to change. The same woman came in and left. When I left the bathroom, she was standing there. She said that was my last chance and the manager had warned me about changing in the bathroom. I asked to talk to that manager. I got some understudy and he told me that I was lying. He had spoke to the manager and he did not say that. I asked if we can call the manager who had called me and shockingly (Why was I still shocked by things?) he said no. We went back and forth. He didn't understand why I refused to use the changing room. I use the changing room all the time, just not Monday after Dance class. I quit. I quit officially. There was nothing that could then be said to soothe me.

I asked various Germans of various ages about this treatment. No one understands the insistence on using the changing room (all fear street germs in gyms). Two weeks after I officially quit the gym, someone from corporate asked what happened. I told her about the Changing Room rules and she was shocked (It is not just me.). She asked someone if that is a rule. After a few minutes, she came back to the phone dumbfounded. The Changing Rule is a rule but it is a rule that no one enforces. Except at the Kiel outpost. She said if the managers want to enforce the rule, then they can. She apologized several times and invited me to return when I feel comfortable.

Ain't gonna happen.


'Cause now I have my own gym. In my house.

(Good things are never happening at a neat desk.)

Notice what the machines face. I ride my bike for 25 minutes at a time while I watch television shows on my computer. This morning, I sweated while I watched the first episode of 30 Rock this season. My ride lasts about as long as a sitcom. That is God's work, not a coincidence!

I have not used the treadmill because I sprained my ankle about a week before it arrived. Asmus has walked through an evening of the second season of Dr. Who.

I am very grateful for giving the finger to Meridian Spa. If they give me trouble in a recession, I must hurt their bottom line. For that I give thanks!

Thanksgiving-Part I

When you look at your life, you can easily find some things that suck.

It is my mission to note things that rock!

Here are a few things that I am grateful for:

Yup! I love Hawaiian Punch. I am not ashamed to say it. Maybe I should be but I ain't.

On a recent trip to Film Peter, my local video store (Yes, I still visit a video store. I like looking at the boxes and the instant gratification that you can get from mail-order DVD rentals.) I climbed the front steps and standing in front of me was some weird little American kiosk. There were six shelves decked out in red, white and blue of American obesity in can- and bar-form. There were variety of Hershey products and cans of soda and stuff. I was giddy was excitement. Asmus and I had canceled our visit to America and we on our way to the Park Hyatt in Hamburg for four days, so I could not load down the car with sugary goodness. I had to choose. What to do? What to do? I settled on three cans of Hawaiian Punch and one can of Welch's grape soda. I know. I know. How can grape soda not have taken over the world? I don't know. Oddly enough, Fanta is popular here, so there is bad orange soda but no form of grape soda.

I hand to introduce Asmus to these treasures. After the first slurp, it was clear that he was a fan of Hawaiian Punch. One more for Our Side.

He took a big gulp and said that it IS pretty sweet. I don't think that I will have to fight him for grape soda.

I assumed this that I why I bought three cans of the red miracle and one of the purple.

For some reason, drinks in Germany are expensive. A small cup of coffee is 1.90 and 12-oz. bottle of apple juice is 1.75. The Hawaiian Punch and Welch's were 1.84, so they are luxuries that I can afford. Yes!

Of course, I have only found them in one place in all of Germany but I am grateful for that one place.