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On Thursday, August 21, 2003, at 2:45pm, my wife of 34 years, Rebecca, died in my arms in an emergency room.

The last words we spoke were in perfect synchronization: "I love you with all my heart."

 

 

Another Part of the

Steve Leigh Story

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Many years ago, I did what many dog trainers did, and still do.  I went to the Mecca.  I went to Germany.  I had to know and learn why German training was superior to American training.  I was driven to understand why German bred dogs were considered the finest in the world.  And so, I had to go to Germany. 

My first and second journeys, to Beyreuth and Krefeld, were very short - only about 5 days each.  They were pretty uneventful, other than seeing Bundessieger Prufung, the most incredible dog competition in the world.  Struggling with my lack of German language presented a real challenge, too.  Fortunately for me, many people in Germany can speak English. 

The high points, for me, were watching Helmut Raiser in protection work.  Personally, I get a kick out of Helmut Raiser. 

While I was very impressed with what I saw, I didn't actually learn much - I watched trial procedure at the world's highest level. 

 

But I was really seeking training knowledge.   

In 1986, I imported a rather expensive SchH III bitch for myself.  She was a really wonderful working bitch, with bloodlines and trial experience to be proud of. 

Soon, I wrote a letter to the former owner of the bitch, and sent many pictures, showing where she was now living - pictures showing her tracking, doing bitework, interacting with my own pack in Florida.  Unknown to me, the former owner, Marianne, was unable to read my letter, and had to take it to the dog club for help in interpretation.  Several people in the dog club are police officers, and have excellent English skills.  At that time, I couldn't read or write in German to save my life.  Marianne replied to me immediately - in German.

My German next door neighbor, Frau Miller, from Bremen, kindly assisted me, and helped me write my next letter.  Correspondence became a regular event.  We wrote almost daily.  Pretty soon, we were making phone calls, too. 

I was invited to Recklinghausen, Germany, to stay in Marianne's home for as long as I cared to visit, and to train dogs at her club, O.G. Recklinghausen Hochlarmark.  This was one of the thrills of my lifetime, and I was excited about going. 

More letters were exchanged, and I went to Berlitz School to learn my own "high-speed" bastardized version of German.  I didn't have the time to attend a complete 16 week course, so I did the best I could.

Finally, after about 4 weeks of anticipation, I was on my way to Germany for a 9 week visit.  Marianne and I had agreed on that with letters and many (assisted) phone calls.  9 WEEKS!  I was really excited.  We chose 9 weeks so we could also attend Bundessieger together in Kassel.  Actually, it turned into more like 11 weeks.   

I went to the airport, and flew to Atlanta.  In 1986, you had to fly to Atlanta first to get a flight to Germany.  (Lufthansa, of course!)

Armed with my barely-understandable German, I had previously insisted to Marianne that I would find my own way to Recklinghausen, via Bahn (train).  Marianne would meet me at the Bahnhof (train station), near her apartment in Recklinghausen.  I wanted to face the challenge of travel myself, and had to change trains several times.  That was no problem. 

Frankfurt to Recklinghausen is approximately a 3.5 hour drive, even with Germany's Autobahn, and no speed limit.  Although she tried to insist, I would not allow Marianne to go through an entire day of driving to pick me up at Frankfurt Flughafen (airport) and then drive back to Recklinghausen.

Arriving at the slightly crowded train station in Recklinghausen, I had 2 suitcases with wheels and a shoulder bag with me.  I clipped leashes on the suitcases, and commanded "FUSS!" (that means "heel" in German) in a loud voice, pulling the suitcases behind me.  Marianne found this absolutely hilarious, and was able to identify me instantly.  She was hysterical, and couldn't stop laughing.  By now, she had learned some English, and I had learned some Deutsch, too, so we could actually communicate fairly well.  We both had huge Worterbuch (German/English dictionaries) and we used them constantly. 

At the time, I hadn't slept for over 30 hours, and Marianne asked if I wanted to go directly to her apartment, or would I rather go to Hundeplatz (dog club)?  Hundeplatz.  No question.  We didn't even stop to put my suitcases in her apartment. 

As soon as we arrived at Hundeplatz, Marianne introduced me all around, I was warmly welcomed, and Marianne told everyone what I'd done with my suitcases at Bahnhof - about 100 times!  Now, here I am at a new dog club, and many of the people already think I'm half crazy.

At the dog club, I was treated very well.  For weeks, Marianne had spread the word and the pictures around the whole club about me, and everyone knew before I arrived that I owned a dog training school in Florida, I had an active interest in Schutzhund, I loved bitework, and I wanted to learn German training methods.  I'm not exactly sure what they expected, but Marianne and most others made me feel like "part of the family" immediately.  I'd been training for years, and training with Gene England for the last 3 years.  I wasn't exactly a beginner anymore, and my mind was open to absorbing anything and everything possible.

I have an unusual habit.  I have the habit of "naming" things.  For example, "Eine Flasche Glucklich" (a bottle of happy) was my own phrase for a bottle of Dortmunder Kronen beer, which I loved.  That phrase is probably still in use at the club today, since 1986.

Naturally, the club trainers, helpers, and the President of the club wanted to "check me out".  They'd seen the pictures I'd sent to Marianne, and many of them showed bitework.  One of the very first things they did was to see if I had the nerves for bitework.   

Back in 1986, a helper cleaning up dirty bites, especially in the blind, was quite common.  I learned it from Gene England, but I thought the idea originally came from Germany.  A few stick pops under the dog's chin and a few leash corrections usually got a hold and bark instead of dirty bites - it was nothing new or special at the time.

This club had never seen it before - I'll never know why - so the club helpers learned it from me, and thought the idea came from Gene England, in the U.S.! 

The club was really loaded with people on the weekends: members, families, kids, guests from other S.V. clubs and several nearby DVG clubs, various Judges and Breed Wardens, local neighbors, people from the beer distributors.  It's hard to explain, but this particular club just seemed to attract crowds of people for no reason that I could understand. 

Word got around the club pretty quickly, and on Saturday, just about the whole club had to watch me take bites and clean up some dirty biters.  I think some of them expected I would run away or faint from fright.  Actually, within a week, I was doing a lot of the helper work with most of the dogs in the club.  Several members specifically asked me to do the bitework with their dogs and I was surprised and honored.  I never wore protection pants - because they couldn't find any small enough to fit me. 

About three weeks after I arrived in Recklinghausen, the club had it's monthly Versammlung (meeting).  At first, I wasn't allowed in the clubhouse to hear the meeting, I was asked to sit outside.  Soon, I was called inside the clubhouse. 

Completely unknown to me, the President (Erste Vorsitzender) of the club, Wolfgang Kruger, had secretly proposed me to the club's board of directors for membership in the club, about a week before this meeting.  It was a very special Honorary Lifetime Membership, and I would never have to pay club dues or kennel fees. 

As the meeting progressed, and I became more and more confused with the high-speed German being spoken by numerous people, Herr Kruger asked me to stand, and step forward in front of his table. 

Hoping I wasn't about to be beaten publicly with a Schlagstock (a Schutzhund protection stick), I stood where directed.  In German and English Herr Kruger announced the secret proposal to the general membership, and made a motion to the club for a vote.  The club members unanimously approved, and voted me into S.V. O.G. Recklinghausen Hochlarmark.  This was ceremoniously written into the official club log books, and I was requested to sign my name into several documents.  The gentleman in the jacket, white shirt, and tie, below, was President Herr Kruger, welcoming me as the first and only lifetime member of the club, and the only American to ever train and participate in their club.  Once again, I was very surprised and honored.  And now, it was my club, too.  I was ein Mitglied (a member) of a great dog club!  

Following the meeting, those that were still present, and weren't camera shy, brought me outside for a club photograph. 

  

As a member of the club, I also attended the next monthly meeting, and was allowed to vote on numerous club issues.  The President of the club amended my membership to include 5 years of membership in the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, the S.V.  (I think he paid for that out of his own pocket.)  After that, I would continue to pay my own annual dues.

The club owned kennel housing for about 50 dogs, located at the end of the driveway behind the clubhouse.

{{  out of context:  One evening, about 30 people were at the club.  They were watching ESPN Sports on TV.  I was outside, and some people inside suddenly went a little crazy, calling my name.  I was on TV!  ESPN was re-broadcasting part of a Schutzhund trial from 1984, at Gene England's club in Kentucky.  Some members came out and dragged me into the clubhouse, and we watched part of the trial.  At the end, my dog, Barkasse, did bitework with the ESPN sportscaster.  Bar did a long, long run to the blind, a hold and bark, then we got the sportscaster out for an escape bite.  He took the bite, froze, I outed Bar, and transported him.  Then we took the sleeve away, and I gave him Bar's leash, to walk him around.  The slightly nervous sportscaster (still wearing protection pants) was giving "Fuss" commands by the dozen (Bar was heeling just fine), marching Bar around, and gaining confidence by the second.  The segment ended with him getting down on his knees, wrapping his arms around Bar, and Bar giving him a kiss on his face.  The club members loved it.  }} 

Right after the first club meeting, I was given a dog of my own - Buffy v.Wanne-Eickel, a multiple SchH III bitch, with excellent bloodlines. 

Buffy was Koerklasse 1a - the highest rating by Koermeister (S.V. Breed Judge).  She was rated SG (Sehr Gut = very good) in Sonderschau (S.V. conformation breed show), and had her AD certificate, (endurance examination).  Her hips were "a" normal rated (excellent). 

Buffy was 7 years old just a few weeks before she was given to me, but I assure you, she acted and worked like a 2 year old.  Nobody would believe she could possibly be 7.  I didn't believe it until I was given her paperwork.  I thought my leg was being pulled again.

By now, this was a very common occurrence at Hochlarmark.  Many of the people at the club delighted in pulling jokes and tricks on me.  I was a kind of "resident fool", so I was an easy mark.  They put me into situations, I made a fool of myself, and they all laughed their asses off.  But I quickly learned to pull some jokes of my own, too.  I'll write about some of them, later in this page.

Buffy had some tracking and biting problems, but I was so happy - delighted - to have a dog of my own in Germany, I didn't care about any problems.

I was given the key to Buffy's kennel, located behind the clubhouse.  It was my responsibility to maintain Buffy, clean her kennel, and do whatever training I desired with her.  This is where I spent most of my days, while the other members of the club were at work. 

Buffy was pretty well known at the club for dragging helpers out of the blind - by their legs.  She wasn't shy about it either.  She'd previously done some pretty serious damage.

I had a lot of fun cleaning that up, and, surprisingly, I was never bitten.   

Many club members showed up for "Mittag" (middle day), which is the equivalent of a 2-3 hour lunch break in Germany.  I think my growing reputation as "crazy" was helped along by this.  I'd do bitework, alone with Buffy, by putting her in a platz (down) out on the field, going in the blind, and "sending" her to the blind for a hold and bark.  Buffy probably didn't think I was crazy, but most of the club members did. 

Late afternoons, evenings, and nights, everyone was at the club.  The club was a kind of "center of life", since many, many members kept their dogs there, and the dogs required daily care, feeding, and kennel cleaning.  That meant these people had to be at the dog club daily.  Training was very relaxed, and anyone could decide when or if they felt like training.  I did some training with Buffy, too. 

And I made another amazing observation.

It seemed like everyone always trained using the Schutzhund trial pattern.  I remember they did every exercise once, in exact order, just as if they were competing in a trial.  This shocked my sensibilities, because I never trained that way. 

I'm not claiming my way is better, but I'd do 35 running downs in a row if that's what it took to get the dog to learn a running down.  I'd also do all the trial exercises intentionally out of order.  I thought - and maybe I was wrong - this approach helped the dog to pay attention, since he never really knew what was coming next. 

My reputation as "crazy" was growing rapidly when I'd bring Buffy out to train.  I didn't see anything wrong with doing a few retrieves, followed by running stands, more retrieves, followed by heeling in a group, and then just stop training.  The next day, I'd do some heeling, running downs with no recalls, and some send aways with recalls.  After about a week of this, most of the club members were positive - Steve was one really crazy American!       

Soon, it was announced that our club would be conducting a Schutzhund trial.  I didn't even consider entering Buffy in the trial.  Now, all these years later, I really wish I had.  (Buffy's brother, Blitz, was in the trial.)

Then, six days before the trial, I was given another dog, Clint v.Hamskamp, a SchH II, whose owner had attempted the III about a month earlier, but failed the trial with 0 points in tracking.  Clint was a son of Greif zum Lahntal, a very famous stud dog in Germany.  Before he was given to me, I'd done some bitework with him, and knew him fairly well.  I'd also seen his obedience, and I really liked Clint. 

I was encouraged to enter Clint in the club trial by most of the members in the club.

Marianne had given me use of her car, so I was able to drive Clint to nearby Fahrtengelande (tracking fields), and work on his tracking problems each day.  Having several years of tracking background with Gene England, I felt confident, but my approach was quite unorthodox, to say the least. 

Crowds of club members often came out to observe my "crazy American" way of training tracking.  By then, I was "part of the family", so they freely ridiculed me, and joked with me.  I was often called Aschloch (asshole) and Verruckt (crazy).  Sometimes Geisteskrank (insane, sick in the head) was thrown in, too.  Mostly, they used the words together, but I really didn't mind.

I worked with Clint almost non-stop for five consecutive days.  Eight hours of daily tracking was about average.  On the last day, I introduced turns into his tracks.     

In the evenings, we trained at the club's field, doing mostly Unterordnung (obedience) and some Schutzdienst (bitework).   

Again, my unorthodox methods caused much laughter and glee for the club members.  I regularly brought Clint's former owner, wife, and children onto the obedience field, and intentionally used them as distractions for Clint, while I forced his attention to me.  Gene England not only influenced me, he changed my way of thinking permanently. 

Clint and I provided quite a bit of amusement for the club members.  In the 1st picture, many of the club members were laughing at me.  In the 2nd picture, Rosi Scheele is telling me that I should eat more food and gain weight.  In the 3rd picture, Club President Wolfgang Kruger is telling me how I should be training Clint, and I should eat more food and gain weight.  In the 4th picture, Theo Scheele is telling me how I shouldn't be training Clint, and I should eat more food and gain weight.  The 5th picture shows what I did with all the advice I was given, and how much weight I gained. 

 

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What began as "crazy American training" was soon observed without too much laughter by many of the club members.

I should add something important: I really did go to Germany to learn, and I did learn many things.  Plenty of new ideas became a regular part of my training.  Much of what I saw was pretty "standard", a lot of what I saw didn't seem very productive.  I did a lot of things my own way, but I learned many, many new things as well.  I guess it would be fair to say it was about a 50/50 combination. 

Clint was considered to be a very hard dog by most of the club, and he illustrated that to me on a few occasions (during tracking) with his teeth.  He'd bitten his previous owner plenty of times, bitten helpers, and even bit a Judge once.

One evening, during Unterordnung, Clint "tried me on for size".  We required an "attitude adjustment" session, and Clint's mind quickly became very clear regarding our pack relationship.  I believed (and I still do) - and I could be completely wrong - that this kind of "pack leader" issue must be resolved instantly, or it won't be resolved. 

Several club members wanted to bring me to Krankenhaus (hospital) to get sewn up, and they were shocked at my reaction and response to being bitten.  The hospital was completely unnecessary.  A wet paper towel and some masking tape served the purpose just fine - after we had our "attitude adjustment".  It really didn't take long for Clint to learn that I was his leader.  I certainly was bleeding, but Clint definitely submitted. 

Many "dog people" that read this understand exactly what I mean.  

{{  out of context:  I was very surprised to observe that so many members of the club were, in my estimation, unusually, even overly sensitive about a dog bite and some blood.  Things like this seemed fairly normal to me, maybe because I was bitten sometimes at my training school in Florida.  To me, it just wasn't a very big deal - it happens sometimes around biting dogs.  }} 

If my memory is correct, we'd just spent about an hour with Stachelhalsband (prong collar) before the following pictures were taken.  I think this was the only time we took a break from tracking in the afternoon, to do some other training work.  We were back on the tracking field within an hour or so, and we'd track until dark.     

On trial day, I was a nervous wreck.  I was unable to eat, had a monster headache, upset stomach (and associated side effects, which I don't need to mention), and - worst of all - I could hardly remember how to speak my barely-understandable Deutsch. 

I had trialed dogs before, but something about this new environment made me very anxious.  I guess I didn't want to look like a fool to the members of my dog club. 

Upon arrival at the tracking fields, I discovered we would be tracking on plowed dirt - Lord help us.  I had never even seen plowed dirt before.  Clint and I had had spent well over 40 hours tracking - on plush, green grass.  My nervousness doubled. 

At the proper time, my name was called, and I presented myself to the Richter (Judge), Herr Walter Hoffmann, for tracking. 

Thinking we'd be tracking in wet grass, I wore those idiotic "moon boots".  If you look very carefully at the second picture, you'll see the little white triangle near Clint's left shoulder.  This was the marker for the beginning of the track.  Picture five (5) shows Clint on the way into a down at the first article, picture six (6) shows him down at the second article. 

At the completion of the track, I was critiqued by the Judge.  6 points were deducted for my handler errors, plus 4 points deducted because Clint tracked with a high nose, twice in the track.  I was given a score of 90 points.

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The pictures above clearly show that I didn't ignore what Gene England taught me.  It should be obvious that Clint tracked slowly and calmly (Langsam und Ruhig), mostly on a slack line, which usually dragged on the ground.  From the very first moment, I taught him not to drag me down the track - I would not tolerate that.  His high nose is visible in two of the pictures - seven (7) and eight (8).     

I'm not complaining in the least, but as you can see by the shadows, we are tracking late in the morning.  When the order was drawn, we were the last to be drawn for tracking, and the track was older than 50 minutes, as specified in the S.V. rule book. 

For those that don't know, a SchH III track is 5 legs, 4 right angle turns, with 3 articles, the last article always being at the end of the track.  It is, depending upon available room at the tracking area, and the Judge's discretion, approximately 700-1000 yards long.

This is a typical SchH III track, yet it isn't.  SchH II and SchH III tracks are laid by strangers, and the Hundefuhrer (dog leader) is never allowed to see the tracks being laid, so he has no idea where the track is.  The Judge can specify any combination of right or left turns, and the track does not have to look like I've drawn.  Articles are shown as "X".  My crude drawing is not proportional to the length of the track legs.

How did I lose the 6 handler points?  Pure stupidity on my part - nervousness.  At each start (track beginning, and two of the three articles) I fed out the entire 10 meter line, but did not have the handle in my extended arm - fully out in front of my body - before moving forward.  2 points per error.  By simply moving my hand and arm fully out in front before I moved, an extra tenth of a second, we would have scored 96 points.

{{  out of context:  After all these years, I'm sorry I didn't continue Clint's Schutzhund competition career.  He and I "clicked" very naturally, and I honestly feel I could have easily made a consistent 100 point tracker with Clint.  Gene England taught me very, very well.  }}     

Absolutely unknown to me, the entire dog club had organized a betting pool.  They were actually gambling whether or not Clint and I would pass tracking, and even had sub-bets regarding points.  A lot of Deutschmarks changed hands when my score was given out.  I didn't learn the details until the very end of the trial.  I mention this below.   

After tracking, we returned to our club field for the obedience and protection parts.  Clint and I passed easily, although not with very high scores.  We did get standing ovations from club members and observers at certain times.  Clint's running stand was awesome, so were his recalls, and these were exercises the previous owner had big problems with.  Clint didn't do running stands with his last owner, and his "recall" was more like a "walk-call".  I wish I could have had just one more week in which to train Clint.  I'm absolutely positive we could have done better.  Our final scores were 90-81-94. 

Most of the lost points were due to my errors as a clumsy, nervous trial handler.  I remember most of my errors.  Before the sit out of motion, I petted Clint.  1 point - I didn't begin the exercise properly, by taking one or two steps without touching him, and beginning "clean" from the heel position.  On two of the retrieves, I didn't wait for the Judge's signal to begin the exercise.  1 point each.  In the beginning of the search of the blinds, Clint ran behind me to the 2nd blind - he was supposed to be in front of me all the time, and I moved down the field too fast.  Clint did search all six blinds, but I was out of position.  1 point.  In the back transport, I bumped Clint twice while making left turns, following the helper.  2 points. 

Although it's many years later, I again thank Richter Walter Hoffmann for scoring us as strictly as he did.  I felt honored with our scores, and felt we earned them fairly.  I'm grateful that we weren't scored as "guests" or "visitors" - and this was stated to the crowd by Judge Hoffmann. 

At the conclusion of the trial, we scored 265 points, placing us 6th of the 9 dogs entered.  Several newspapers wrote articles and published photographs of Clint and myself.  I was also interviewed by two other news reporters, but I never heard of the articles being published - I doubt they were ever used.

More Deutschmarks were exchanged as the trial ended.  That's when I discovered the whole story about the club's gambling pool.  I never got to see the betting sheet, but I know that Marianne was betting for me in all three phases. 

To illustrate just how far this craziness went, two of the club members had pooled gambling bets on my behalf, and I won 150 Deutschmarks!   

Below is the trophy award part of the trial.  Clint and I are fourth from the right.  Clint's S.V. scorebook is shown below. 

The gentleman standing next to me laughing (to the right) is Manny Prosser, a very well known breeder.  Manny used to put snuff into his nose, and I used to ask him, "Cocaine?  Brown cocaine?"  That always resulted in "Eine Flasche Glucklich", and much laughter. 

These are two of the newspaper articles. 

 

I loved it - I didn't want to go home!  I remember calling my wife (collect) at least twice a day, every day, and came home to a phone bill in excess of $4000.00.  I just LOVED Germany, and especially the great people in my dog club.

 

Willi - A Real Story

a story that should touch you


In 1986, my first visit, the dog club had recently bought an expensive new lawn tractor to mow the trial field.  Nobody was permitted to touch the tractor, except Willi Zilch, an older, retired gentleman, a member of the club, who spent his days maintaining the clubhouse, and the club grounds.  Willi used to train and trial dogs, but he was much older now.  I've been to dozens of dog clubs in Germany.  Our dog club was, by far, the neatest, cleanest, best maintained club I've ever seen - thanks entirely to Willi Zilch.

One day, Willi was mowing and working on the field, and I offered to help him.  I offered to drive the tractor, and mow.  Willi spoke no English, but he understood me, and went absolutely ballistic.  He ran into the clubhouse and called the President of the club, Wolfgang Kruger, at work.  Speaking at about 500 words per second - in German, of course - I could barely understand what all the fuss was about.  Willi told me to wait.  In about 20 minutes, the phone rang. 

Wolfgang had called everyone on the club's board of directors, and gotten unanimous approval for me to drive the lawn tractor.  As Willi spoke with Wolfgang, a huge smile spread across his face, and, after hanging up the phone, he explained what had just happened.  He unlocked a cabinet, and gave me my own key to the lawn tractor!  By this time, I was hysterical, as you might guess.  Minutes later, I was outside, mowing the field.  This special permission was actually written into the club's bylaws within 2 days!  But this gets much, much better.

In one second, I named the lawn tractor "Willi-Mobil" - meaning the Willi-mobile, like an Oldsmobile, or the Batmobile. 

Days later, in Zentrum (downtown Recklinghausen), I had a small plaque made .... "Willi-Mobil".  I tucked the little plaque away, and kept it a secret, waiting for exactly the right day.  By then, everyone in the club knew my name for the lawn tractor.  They all called it the "Willi-Mobil".

One day, when the club was just loaded with people, I went in the shed, and unplugged the spark plug wire on the lawn tractor. 

Then I attached the "Willi-Mobil" plaque to the dash, below the steering wheel. 

I pretended to try and start the lawn tractor, then ran in the clubhouse - FRANTIC.

I ran up to Willi .... "Der Rasenmaher!  Der Rasenmaher!  (the lawn tractor!)  Willi!  Ist KAPUTT!"  (it's broken!)" 

Willi got frantic - ran out of the clubhouse, and now, about 9 guys were standing around the lawn tractor.

Naturally, everyone else at the club had to rush over to find out what the emergency was, so now we have about 70 people there, too.

Willi sat down, adjusted the throttle, tried to start it - nothing.  Moved the throttle, tried again - nothing.  Checked the gas, tried again - nothing. 

About 5 minutes of this, all the while, I'm biting a hole in my lip, trying not to laugh, and so are the other guys, because they saw the "Willi-Mobil" plaque, and they knew exactly what I was up to.  

Willi never even SAW the plaque - he was just too freaked out about the broken tractor.  And, to be honest, he probably had about 26 bottles of Dortmunder Kronen inside him, too.  I never recall seeing Willi without a bottle of Kronen - be it 7 am or 11 pm.  Non-stop beer.        

Finally, Uli pointed to the plaque and asked Willi, "was ist das?"  (what is that?) 

Then Willi started crying!  He KNEW I had that plaque made, cause I'M the one that named that damn lawn tractor the "Willi-Mobil".  Of course, I replaced the spark plug wire, and the tractor started right up.

He got off the tractor, hugged me, kissed me, babbled to me, bought me beer all day, and was just THRILLED.  Not a single day went by that he didn't mention "Willi-Mobil" to me.  We showed that plaque to every person at the dog club.  We showed it to guests, strangers, people from other clubs.  This went on constantly - actually, it went on for years. 

EIGHT YEARS LATER, in 1994, the plaque was still right on the lawn tractor, and everybody still called the tractor the "Willi-Mobil".  I'd guess that the club has replaced the lawn tractor by now, but I'd bet it's still known by the older members with the name I gave it in 1986: "Willi-Mobil".       

Please Read This

Now, it's August 6, 2007, and I'm sitting here crying.

I'm crying because in 1986, I thought I was playing a joke, a prank, on Willi.  There was much more to it than that, and I never realized it.

But I realize it now, and it's having a profound, powerful effect on my emotions.

Something I did, as a joke, in September, 1986, caused an elderly, unnoticed man, a man who was practically invisible to the whole club, a nobody, a man who did little except drink beer and keep the entire dog club beautifully spotless, a man who people rarely ever even spoke to, an unpaid gardener and cleanup man, a man who was too old to train and trial the dogs anymore, a wonderful old man - a man I would be proud to have as my own father .....

Without a word - with a little plaque that cost about 10 Deutschmarks - about US$5 - I caused the club to think about what a great contribution Willi actually made to their dog club - his dog club - our dog club. 

That plaque caused him to be noticed, to be recognized, to be acknowledged - and to be appreciated.  It caused the club members to shake his hand, tell him how good the clubhouse and grounds looked, thank him and compliment him, hug him, buy him a beer, and to laugh along with him about that little plaque.   

It caused the members to think about what that place would look like without Willi doing all the work that he did without anyone asking him or telling him to do it. 

And I thought I was just playing a joke on Willi.  

Willi was proud of that plaque, and it had meaning in his life.  So I'm crying, because I'm certain he's passed away by now, and now I realize that plaque wasn't a joke at all.  It gave just a small amount of happiness and pleasure to this kind, selfless old man.  The man that made O.G. Recklinghausen Hochlarmark a beautiful place, a club for all members to be proud of.   

God bless you, may you rest in peace, Willi.  If there's a dog club in Heaven, I'm sure you're in charge - the one keeping it beautiful for everyone. 

I will never forget you.


Marianne's New Dog


The first time I went to Recklinghausen, 1986, I had written and spoken with Marianne, and promised I would bring her a new dog - a male.  She went CRAZY protesting - no, no, no!  Marianne didn't want a new dog - I didn't have to buy a dog for her.  I was her guest - I didn't have to buy anything. 

I had already bought the dog.  He was a gorgeous sandcast statue of a male Shepherd, lying down.  This specific casting was large - about two feet wide, about 25 pounds, and cost approximately $250.00.  It was the most beautiful casting I've ever seen - I mean drop dead gorgeous.  Beautiful, detailed airbrush paint, the glass eyes looked real.  I would have loved to own exactly the same one myself, but the lady who makes them only casts a few and then destroys her molds, and this was the only one she had.  This was one-of-one.   

The second night I was at Marianne's apartment, she mentioned the dog - not me.  So I "invented" a little, and told her I was having the dog shipped by airfreight.  I was going to take the train down to Frankfurt, and get the dog when he arrived, and bring it back to her. 

That's when she went REALLY ballistic!  Lots of yelling, all in German, I could hardly understand a single word except "STEVE" and "NEIN" (no).  I waited just a little while, then I went to my suitcase and got out the dog.  I brought it in the kitchen, and gave it to her.  The crying and beer drinking lasted for hours.  The dog statue immediately went right to the center of Marianne's living room chest, a truly beautiful piece of furniture.  Marianne was up on a chair, moving trophies around like a crazy woman, crying, making room for the dog, trying to drink a beer, up and down off the chair.  10 years, a marriage, a child, and 2 apartments later, the dog was still in the center of her living room chest.


Hochlarmark's Construction Crew


In 1986, the club had voted to put oak wainscoting (half height wall covering) in the clubhouse.  The job was given to Jurgen and Uli.  A huge load (several hundred, maybe even a thousand pieces) of oak tongue and groove was delivered to the club.  Each piece was about 8' long, 4" wide. 

One morning, about a week before I became a member of Hochlarmark, I walked over to the club from Marianne's.  When I arrived, Uli had just started cutting the pieces to size with a table saw.  But he was working much too hard.  He was measuring each board with a tape measure, marking it with a pencil, then using a square to mark the whole piece, then cutting it.  Far, far too much work.

I'm not really fluent in German, so I had some difficulty suggesting that Uli use a jig.  We babbled a little, but couldn't come to a clear understanding.  Finally, I communicated that I had a better idea.  I asked Uli and Jurgen to stop their work and help me for a few minutes.  They both thought I was crazy. 

We blocked open the clubhouse door with some heavy cinder blocks.  I asked for the exact measurement they wanted, and we moved the table saw so we could use the door as a "stop".  We had to adjust the table saw a couple of times to get the exact distance from the edge of the door to the inside edge of the saw blade.  Now we could just take a board, touch the end of it against the edge of the open door, and use the sliding miter gauge on the table saw to cut the boards.  In a minute, both Jurgen and Uli caught on. 

At first, Uli didn't want me to use the table saw - he thought I would hurt myself - cut off a hand or something.  I had to explain that I had a table saw too, since about 1975, and I knew how to use it.

I did most of the sawing, Uli and Jurgen installed the oak pieces, while I just kept bringing in armfuls of them.  No more pencils, tape measure, or square.  Now they thought I was a real genius. 

Through the years, I helped with a lot of club projects.  I loved helping and doing part of the work.


The Autobahn Exit


I think this happened in 1992.  I had already gotten my tickets and car reservations, but nobody in Germany knew I was coming to Recklinghausen.  The little problem was, I had forgotten the exit name from the Autobahn. 

I called Wolfgang the day before I left, and told him "some friends of mine" were near Recklinghausen, but I didn't remember the exact exit on the Autobahn to tell them how to go to visit the dog club.  So Wolfgang told me the exit name.  That was all I needed - I knew my way around pretty well once I got to Recklinghausen. 

At that time, Wolfgang was housebound, following some serious health problems.  He was miserable, because he couldn't work or go to the dog club every day, he had to stay home and rest. 

Within about 24 hours, I was at the dog club.  All the club members were shocked - jaws were dropping.  I told them I was "in the neighborhood", and they all got a huge laugh.  I just "stopped in" from about 5000 miles away.  We did all the hellos, handshakes, hugs, kisses, someone handed me Eine Flasche Glucklich, (Kronen), and I went into the clubhouse.  I asked everyone to be real quiet for a minute.  Then I called Wolfi on the phone.  (most everybody in Germany seemed to shorten their names:  Wolfgang was "Wolfi", Rudolph was "Rudi", Ulrich was "Uli", etc.) 

He was shocked!  TWO phone calls from Stevie in TWO days.  He tried to rush off the phone, thinking my phone bill was going through the roof - he thought I was calling from Florida.  I asked if he was OK, how he was feeling, if he would be home in a little while - I might call back about buying a dog for Eine Kunde (a client).  5 minutes later, I was ringing his doorbell.  I'm lucky he didn't have a heart attack.  Words can't describe the look on his face.  He was just overjoyed to see me, and got a tremendous kick out of my "surprise" visit.  As it turned out, I stayed for over 16 weeks.


This Kronen's For You


From my first visit to Recklinghausen, I really developed a taste for Dortmunder Kronen beer.  My club friends used to ship me 6-12 bottles every few months, and I was so grateful.  One of my prized possessions is a Kronen .5 liter mug.  I used to bring cases of Kronen home from Germany each time I went, and I was selfish.  I wouldn't share them with anyone except Rebecca - who didn't even drink beer anymore, but loved Kronen beer.  I had Kronen ashtrays, even a Kronen Tshirt.  I don't know why, but I collected everything I could find from Dortmunder Kronen

One weekend, I think it was in 1993, I was at the club, and there was an AD and Koerklasse scheduled for that weekend.  Dortmunder Kronen sent over a truck, and delivered a small, portable "outdoor bar" - kind of a big blue box with refrigeration for bottles, as well as a couple kegs of Kronen beer on tap.  It had a big, oval, very heavy plastic "Dortmunder Kronen" sign right on the front of the bar.  That's when "crazy" took over. 

Uli was sitting outside watching me - I was watching that Kronen sign.  Uli knew I wanted that sign.  He told me to go in the clubhouse, behind the counter, and open the little drawer on the right side.  That's where the small tools were.  I walked in the clubhouse, got a screwdriver, and removed the 4 screws holding the sign on the bar.  The sign went in the trunk of my rental car.  That sign was going on my training room wall.  Everybody at the club saw me do it, and they all laughed about it.  It was no big deal - Kronen had those signs by the hundred, they wouldn't miss one.  That sign is STILL on my wall, this very minute.


Don't Pull Tricks On Me


I stayed at Uli and Beate's fairly often when I went to Germany.  Beate had near-perfect English, and Uli and I had very little trouble communicating, especially if I had a Worterbuch nearby. 

One evening we went to visit some other club members, and it was really chilly outside.  I had on a light sweater and my light German Army jacket, which I loved, and wore constantly.  As we were visiting, I mentioned how it was getting colder every day, it seemed like winter was coming. 

Beate went into the kitchen, and put the kitchen wall thermometer into the freezer.  About an hour later, she casually went in the kitchen and got the thermometer, which they all told me was the outside porch thermometer.  It showed about minus 50 degrees.  That scared the damn daylights out of me. 

Score another one for Uli and Beate.  They got me - again.

They loved Bruce Springsteen, and had a huge, bigger-than-life poster of him on their wall, and they had a stereo system that was probably "new" in 1961.  They had phono records, and maybe a cassette deck, but they had no CD player.  In the late 1980s - early 1990s, CDs were fairly uncommon in Germany, totally unlike the US.  Very few members of the club had CD players. 

I examined Uli's stereo very carefully, and noted that there was an "AUX" input, with European DIN connectors.  No problem at all! 

One morning, I went into Recklinghausen Zentrum (city, downtown), and bought a Sony CD player, the correct hookup cables, and every Bruce Springsteen CD in the store - about 14 of them.  Before noon, everything was hooked up and playing.  But I had the damn carton from the CD player to deal with.  The CD player pretty much blended in with the stereo unless you were specifically looking for it, and the CDs were all hidden on the far side of it, so they weren't even visible.  I hid the remote control in my suitcase, tried to hide the carton behind the sofa, and went to Hundeplatz.

A few hours later, Uli showed up, and Beate arrived shortly after.  We fed our dogs, cleaned the kennels, and Beate went back to the apartment to make Abend Essen (evening food).  Uli and I would be along in about 40 minutes.  (1 more Dortmunder Kronen.) 

We got to the apartment, nobody noticed a thing.  We ate, then sat down in Wohnzimmer (living room), and Beate noticed the carton behind the sofa. 

"Steve, what is that?

"What?

"That box.

"It's a box.

Now she was carefully inspecting the carton. 

"Steve, where did you get this?"

"In Zentrum."

"YOU drove to Zentrum today?  ALONE?"

"Yes."

"Why did you get a CD player?

"I wanted to.

"Will it work in America?

"I don't know.

"Why did you buy it - don't you have one?

"Yes, I have three.

By now, Uli had started looking around, and saw something different in the cabinet with his stereo. 

"Steve, is this a CD player?"  (I went over and looked very carefully.) 

"I think so, Uli.  Yes, it is."

Now Beate is over there too, and she finds the CDs. 

"Steve what did you do?

"Nothing.

"Are you taking these back to Florida with you?

"I don't think so.

She and Uli went freaking berserk. 

"You can't buy these for us!

"I already did.

"No Steve!  This isn't right!

"Uh oh.  I guess I did something wrong."

They were both losing their minds.  Some of my German friends have an unusual tendency - some of them seem to really go crazy sometimes. 

"Steve, look at all these CDs!  They're all Bruce Springsteen!" 

"They are?  (I looked very carefully.)  Yes, they are!

"How could you DO this, Steve?

"It was easy.  I drove to Zentrum.  I didn't even get lost.  I said hello to Marianne, too.

"Steve, this is crazy!

"Well, if you think I'm unwrapping those CDs, you're crazy.

Like kids with a new toy, they almost blew the walls down listening to the CDs.  I showed them how to switch the stereo to "AUX", showed them the remote control - that just blew them away - they never had a remote control for anything before - and next thing you know, Bernie Blawath, an S.V. judge who lived right below us, was banging on the door.  Then along came his wife, Selma.  Wolfgang came over - he lived directly across the street, and this was quickly becoming a neighborhood event.  Personally, I can't stand Bruce Springsteen, but what the hell.  Instead of going back to Hundeplatz, we spent most of the night listening to Bruce, more and more Dortmunder Kronen, Beate kissing and hugging me every 10 minutes.  Uli kissed me a few times, too.


Kronen + Jurgen Can Make You Do Strange Things


One night, a close friend from the dog club, Jurgen, made up his mind to get me drunk.  But this was unknown to me, of course.  I could hold my own, and drank plenty of Kronen, but nobody ever saw me actually drunkI paced my drinking, and just didn't get drunk.  Jurgen decided to change that.  The guys at the club loved "testing" me.  They always knew about it - I never did. 

First, he bought me several little flasks of Schnapps during the evening at Hundeplatz.  It was good - I'd never tasted Schnapps before, and it really warmed you up, in fact, it burned going down!  It was very cold outside, so of course Jurgen made sure I stayed warm - with more Schnapps.  Then he got 2 cases of Kronen, and invited me to his apartment, only about 2 blocks from the club and about 2 blocks from Marianne's, where I was staying.  I guess it was about 9pm. 

Marianne had no idea where I went.  She had gone home earlier, and figured I'd walk home when everyone left the dog club. 

Jurgen and I sat around on the floor in his living room and talked about anything and everything. 

He was very slick - I didn't realize that he was encouraging me to match him beer for beer.  So we just sat around and had one after another.  In Germany, beer is in .5 liter bottles, not like American 12 ounce.  A .5 liter bottle of beer is actually 16.9 ounces. 

This "match" just materialized on its own, I never even had a clue Jurgen was trying to get me plastered.  A case for Jurgen, a case for me.  20 bottles each - plus what I'd been drinking at the club.  I walked into this one face first. 

But this wasn't really a fair "match" - Jurgen could drink.  40 bottles was nothing for him - he was a BEER drinker.  Many of my German friends were like that - they could drink forever, and it never seemed to affect them at all.  Jurgen also had about 150 pounds on me - he was a BIG guy.

I didn't know it at the time, but Marianne was absolutely frantic.  She was very protective about me, and kind of "looked out" for me every time I went to Germany.  She must have called 40 people - "Wo ist Steve?  Wo ist Steve?"  (Where is Steve?)  Nobody knew where I was - Jurgen didn't have a phone. 

Sometime around 3am, we ran out of Kronen

I was physically, mentally, legally, socially, abnormally, totally, undeniably, irrevocably, thoroughly, spiritually, completely, absolutely and utterly

BLITZED

You could have told me my dog had three tails - I would have believed you.  I think I saw five Jurgens - maybe four, maybe six?  I thought I had 4 legs, I was so drunk.  Everything I saw seemed to be slowly rotating to the left, then popped back and started rolling again.  This kind of drunk is funny and scary - stuff is moving, you ACTUALLY SEE it moving, but your logic tells you that's impossible.  But it's rolling anyway.

I wasn't walking any 2 blocks to go home - I never would have made it down the stairs at Jurgen's apartment building without breaking my neck.  I wasn't sick or anything, I was WORLD CLASS DRUNK

Jurgen said just sleep it off - he had a guest bedroom.  OK.  That's a damn good idea.  So I laid down and went to sleep with all my clothes on.  The room was rolling to the left.  I had to put one foot on the floor to stop the rolling.  But it kept rolling anyway.  

Maybe an hour later, I woke up.  I had to go to the bathroom.  I really should have crawled, but I tried walking - that means I bounced off everything on the way to the bathroom. 

But I was OK, right?  I thought I was cool.  I'm a grown man - what's a few beers?  No big deal.  I found the toilet by myself.  I lifted the lid.  I thought I had everything under control.  I peed.  I flushed the toilet.  I put the lid down again.  See?  No problem.  Even though I was drunk, I could handle all this if I tried - even though the world was still rolling to the left.   

But I forgot something.  I forgot to unzip my jeans.  I forgot to pull out my penis and point it at the toilet.  I knew something was wrong.  For some reason, I felt very strange.  I felt like I was wet all down my legs.  Then I think I woke up.  Then I turned on the bathroom light.  Then I almost had a heart attack. 

That's when I ran (I think I ran - I'm not sure) back to Marianne's, and (unintentionally) woke up everybody, because I made noise unlocking the outside door, crawling/walking/falling up three flights of stairs, unlocking Marianne's door, taking off all my clothes, and trying to wash in the bathroom - at about 4am.  The kids were completely losing it - shrieking with laughter.  Marianne was freaked out - she had no idea where I had been, and she was worried sick, she'd hardly gotten any sleep.   

I was so damn embarrassed - those jeans were drenched - even my socks were soaked.  Marianne wanted to wash my clothes - no way.  I was so humiliated, I washed them in the bathtub about 3 times.  The bathtub was rolling to the left.  I was still drunk, and I had to take two baths, because I wasn't really sure I even took the first one.  It was like pandemonium - I wanted to wrap towels around myself and get some other clothes from my suitcase, I couldn't remember where my robe was.  But I was too embarrassed for anyone to see me wrapped in towels.  Marianne ended up handing me one of her robes - a pink, fluffy one - through the bathroom door.  I felt like the biggest idiot in the world - a drunk bunny rabbit, in a pink bathrobe. 

Everyone ended up staying awake all night.  The kids couldn't stop laughing at me, and every 20 seconds Marianne was screaming at them to quit it.  It was chaos.  Everything was still turning to the left, and popping back again.  Marianne got me in the kitchen and made me eat some food.  The damn table was rolling to the left, I was aiming my fork at a plate that wasn't even there.  She had to help me eat - I was dropping the food cause I couldn't even find my mouth with the fork.  And her daughters were peeking in the kitchen, still laughing their asses off, with their hands over their mouths.   

That story instantly went around the dog club like wildfire.  The guys absolutely pulverized me, and the ladies, too. 

"Steve!  Where did you go swimming last night?"

"I'll drink with you tonight, Stevie, Meine Susse (my sweet)!  We'll call up your wife and tell her we're too drunk to do anything!"

"If you want to swim in the winter, just say so - we have indoor pools here." 

"What happened last night?  Marianne called me seven times!" 

"Are your tennis shoes dry yet, Steve?"

"You sounded like horses coming in the apartment last night, Steve.  What's wrong with you?" 

"How did you get home to Marianne's - swim?" 

"What kind of bum stays out all night drinking and then wakes up a whole apartment building?" 

"Steve, tonight you come to my apartment!  You can stay in the bathroom!  I'll bring the beers in there for you!"

On and on and on.

Jurgen, I LOVE you - you son of a bitch. 

You good for nothing son of a bitch!  I learned MY lesson.  I'll never try matching anybody beer-for-beer again in my life.


Jurgen - It's Payback Time


This happened the year after Jurgen got me drunk and I had to swim (roll?  crawl?  fly?) home to Marianne's.

Jurgen was a photography freak.  Konni, Jurgen's wife, also loved photography.  He had a beautiful, small zippered leather carrying case.  It was foam inside, fitted for all his 35mm camera equipment, and he just loved it.  He had a special lens, filters, little accessories - he was dedicated.  His camera case was always in his Mercedes.  And it was really quite small, considering everything that was in it.  My estimate is it was slightly larger than a good size dictionary - probably about 12" by 9" and about 4" thick.

We went shopping together, and I bought a Canon AE-1, exactly like his.  I bought a motor drive for it, exactly like his.  I bought a variable zoom lens, exactly like his.  I bought almost everything he suggested, and spent a bundle of money.  I got slow film, fast film, all kinds of stuff for my new Canon camera.  And I got a nice carrying case for it, too, but mine wasn't leather, and it didn't have a special fitted compartment for each component like his.

One day, I noticed his camera case on the back seat of his car, parked next to mine at the club.  I reached in the window and took it.  It went in my car, under my jacket.  Nobody saw me do it.

The next day, Jurgen was at the club, going wild.  Where was his camera?  Did somebody take all that expensive photography equipment?  He couldn't find it anywhere. 

I didn't say a word - but by this time, his camera case was inside my suitcase under a lot of my clothes, in Marianne's apartment.  Marianne would NEVER go in my suitcases.

For about two days, Jurgen was a wreck.  He was going nuts, couldn't remember where or when he last saw his camera, nobody at the club knew a thing about where his camera was, and he couldn't stop talking about it. 

I played innocent - never gave him a hint.  I told him he could use mine until he found his, and we went out to my car to give it to him.  I made sure he could really check out my car, so he'd know I didn't have his camera.  I opened the trunk, and put my jacket from inside the car in the trunk, as I was giving him my camera case.  He got a real good look in my car and the trunk. 

The next day, at the club, he returned my camera.  He was all upset.  He didn't want to borrow mine, in case something happened to it. 

What he didn't know was that his camera case was now in my trunk. 

It was time to spring the trap.  I bought Marianne a beer and we went outside the clubhouse to talk privately.  I told her exactly what I did, and she was hysterical - we were plotting, and I needed her help with a few details. 

I came up with the bright idea of going to a nearby restaurant for something to eat, but just before I suggested it, I had already put the camera case under my jacket, inside my car. 

A bunch of us drove around the corner to the restaurant.  I fumbled around a little, putting on my jacket with Jurgen's camera case under it.  Walking past Jurgen's car, I opened the back door, and stuffed it under the passenger seat.  It only took a second or two.  Nobody saw me do a damn thing, they were too busy talking - Marianne made sure of that. 

We ate, and everybody went back to the club.  Jurgen was still looking like the world ended, but he'd stopped talking about his camera by now.

I had explained to Marianne what we needed to do next.  Marianne pretended she "didn't want to drive" - she'd been "drinking too much".  That was the excuse to get Jurgen and Konni to drive Marianne and the kids someplace - anyplace. 

Then, we'd have Tamara, Marianne's 11 year old daughter, "discover" the camera case.  Meanwhile, I was going to stay at the dog club, so Jurgen wouldn't figure out I had anything to do with this craziness.

It worked great!  Jurgen and Konni got in front, Marianne and her 2 daughters got in back.  Off they went.  About 45 minutes later, they're all back at the dog club, and suddenly, Tamara "accidentally kicked" Jurgen's camera case while she's getting out of the car.  Marianne picked it up.  "Jurgen?  Is this your camera?  Here it is!  Right here!  It was under the seat!" 

Jurgen was ECSTATIC!  He never had a clue I did anything!   A few days later, I told the whole club what I'd done.  I thought he was gonna kill me, but he bought me Eine Flasche Glucklich (a Kronen) instead.


Rudi Got Me Good


Another member of the dog club, Rudi Trompell, lived next door to Wolfgang, right across the street from Uli and Beate.  One night, he threw a party, and some members of the dog club were invited.  About 25 people showed up, members, wives, a few of the teenage kids, Marianne, her daughters - you get the idea. 

Understand this right now:  Rudi LOVED pulling tricks on me.  I was like a human fool, and he suckered me plenty of times - more than I can remember.

OK - we're having a party, everyone is having a good time, laughing, I'm doing my best to understand - it's hard for me to decipher German when more than one person is talking, but I was trying.

After awhile - I mean about 6 Kronens - Rudi convinced me to take a test.  I have to wear a blindfold.  It's going to be a test of my ability to recognize sounds and smells.  I didn't see anything wrong with that, so I let him put a blindfold on me.  I couldn't see a Goddamn thing.  The whole room went silent.

The first thing he did was put a bottle of beer near my nose, and asked what it was.  "Beer!"  Good, everyone claps their hands. 

Next, he held a salt shaker near my nose.  "Was ist das?"  (What is that?)  "Salt!"  Good, more clapping.  I'm 2 for 2. 

He went in the kitchen, got a tomato, and held it near my nose.  "Was ist?"  "Tomato!"  Great! 

I'm liking this game, everyone is clapping their hands, and I'm really catching on. 

He closed a book right near my ear.  "A book!"  Right!  More clapping.

This went on for about 5 minutes.  Different sounds, different smells.  Keys.  A door being slammed.  Ice cubes rattling in a glass.  Bratwurst.  Wine.

Part of this game is that Rudi was moving me around a lot.  Guiding me over here, over there.  In a few minutes, I didn't know where I was.

Then he took my wrist, he had a good grip on it, held my arm out, and told me to point just my index finger.  He moved a piece of bread against my finger.  "BREAD!"  Good, more clapping.  He moved his wallet against my finger.  "LEATHER!"  Damn - I was impressing myself!

More things.  A chain collar.  A shoe.  A trophy.  A magazine.  More clapping. 

Wow - I sure am getting the hang of THIS game!  Looks like I'm gonna pass this test with 100 points.  I can't wait to bring this game back to Florida and teach my American friends this great new German game!

Then he walked me over near the last place I thought I saw Wolfgang.  Blindfolded, I was so turned around, I wasn't sure where I was anymore.  Rudi had my wrist in one hand, grabbed my finger with his other hand, and moved my hand back and forth a bunch of times - Goddamn, man!  What the hell is this? 

I yanked my hand away.  Then he pulled off my blindfold.  Wolfgang was bending over, his back to me, pulling up his pants.  He'd pulled his pants down. 

Wolfgang told me it was very good for him, and did I enjoy it too?  Rudi asked me if I was a sex pervert.  Rudi's wife told me not to be ashamed.  Marianne couldn't even SPEAK ........ BEER FOAM was coming out of her NOSE!

The whole Goddamn room was freaking hysterical.  Out-of-their-minds frenzied.  They were screaming! 

Uli hit the floor, shrieking with laughter.  Somebody asked me if I learned that in Florida - did I want to do it to them, too?  I guess the look on my face was worth 1,000,000 words - they laughed so hard, they were choking.  I had to look at my finger about 50 times, wondering if what I thought happened, really happened.  Every time I looked at my finger, the whole room just busted up laughing again.  That spread around the dog club in about 2 seconds the following day.


One For Rudi


I only got Rudi once.  We went to Zentrum (downtown) one day, and I parked my rental car.  He was going to buy some things, and I was going to a different store, so I told him I'd meet him in one hour at the car.  As soon as he disappeared, I moved the car about 4 blocks away and walked back into Zentrum to tell Marianne what I was doing to Rudi.  She got on the phone right away - called Hundeplatz - hysterical.  Then I walked back out by the street.

After awhile, Rudi showed up.  I was inside a store, watching him through the window.  He didn't see the car and he didn't see me.  He was walking all around, looking plenty upset.  After about 20 minutes, I walked out to him.  "Rudi!  Where is my car?  Rudi - is it stolen?  What do we do?  You must help me, Rudi!  I don't know what to do."  Rudi wanted to stop a Polizei car - he asked me the license number.

Shit!  It was a rental car - I didn't know the damn license plate number!  The rental papers were in the car.  I didn't even know what model car it was - I just knew it was white - probably a Ford.  I played with him for long time.  I had him hopping around like a nervous wreck for close to an hour. 

Finally, I told him I was hearing something - I was hearing a voice talking to me.  That's all it took.  Rudi popped. 

He thought I was insane - possessed.  Rudi TOLD me I was insane, I should be locked up in a hospital.  I told him, "No, no, no!  Rudi, come with me!"  We walked about half a block in the wrong direction.  I stopped on the sidewalk, looked up in the sky, touched my fingers to my head, and said, "NO!".  I turned around and we walked back the opposite way.  I was stopping and starting, touching my head, crossing the street, looking at the sky, pretending the whole time that I was hearing a voice telling me where to go.  Rudi was following me around like a puppy, his arms full of packages, calling me every dirty name in the book.  He was inventing names.  He's calling me a pig-dog-horse-asshole, telling me to do unspeakable things to myself.  He threatened to nail my kennel door closed - with me inside.  Maybe he might let me out in a week. 

We got to the car, and he was so pissed off, he didn't start laughing until we got back to the club.  By then, half the club knew anyway - Marianne had called and told them.  Yeah - that one went around the dog club, too.  Marianne and I made sure of that.  And Rudi did, too.  He was really a good sport about it.


I Will Not Turn Green


The tricks and pranks never stopped.  The jokers at the club just loved making a fool of me.  Mikael and Uli dared me to smoke a Deutsch cigar once.  They warned me only a real man could smoke those cigars.  If I said it was "strong", that would be a joke, but I smoked the damn thing, inhaled, and blew smoke rings, just like them.  I guess I showed 'em.  The next day, I was doing bitework - so they sent two dogs on me for a bite.  I never even saw the second dog coming.  The dogs knocked me flat on my ass and dragged me around the field for awhile, like a puppet.  Everybody just busted up laughing.  Dummkopf Steve from America - I bet I looked good!  I laughed right along with everybody else.


I Will Not Vomit


One afternoon, Jurgen, Heiner, Uli, and Peter told me they were taking me to a restaurant in Zentrum - a very special restaurant - I was going to love it. 

By now, you know I was their resident American fool, and these 4 had cooked up a "plan" for me.  We drove to Zentrum to the restaurant.  The big hanging wooden sign had a carved picture of a horse.  They all knew that Americans don't typically eat Pferdfleish (horsemeat), but in Germany, it's a delicacy, and that's what this restaurant specialized in.  We went in, were seated at a table, and it really was a beautiful restaurant.  Heiner ordered for everybody. 

Soon, our plates were in front of us.  Two mounds of meat with a gravy sauce, (it looked like fresh blood, and smelled a lot worse), and Kartoffeln (potatoes) with some other kind of white sauce.  The meat was shaped like super large meatballs, they were larger than tennis balls. 

The 4 of them watched me.  I picked up my fork and went to it.  They couldn't take their eyes off me, they were ignoring their own food, watching me.  They were fixated - I was like a bug under a microscope. 

I ate Pferdfleish for the first (and last) time in my life.  After I got through the first mound, they asked me if I liked it.  I answered honestly: it was OK, but the taste was unusual to me, and I didn't really like it very much, it smelled weird, but it wasn't bad at all.  I cleaned off my plate. 

The potatoes and gravy were great!  So was the Kronen - much, much better than the Pferdfleish.

Later that evening, Marianne explained that they'd been planning this for days - everybody in the club knew all about it.  They were expecting me not to even touch the horsemeat - but they were really, really hoping that I'd vomit all over the table, and make a complete fool of myself in public.  Marianne told me that the blood gravy was horse blood.  That's when I nearly puked my guts up. 

They thought they were "doing" me again, but that trick didn't work on the American fool.  I took Marianne and two of the guys out to dinner the next night - Kalb Kotelett - veal cutlets.


I Will Faint If We Don't Get The Hell Out Of Here


One day, Jurgen and Uli asked me if I wanted to go for a ride and meet Jurgen's cousin.  Sure!  Why not?  At the time, I had no idea where we were going.  They didn't bother telling me Jurgen's cousin was at work - at a hog rendering plant.  If you've never been to a slaughterhouse, I highly recommend you do NOT go.  Three blocks away, I could smell it, and it just got worse and worse as we got closer. 

My words can't adequately describe it - the stench was so powerful, I'm surprised the paint didn't peel off the car or melt the tires.  I could hardly breathe, it smelled so bad. 

Jurgen's cousin was at the top of a ramp, on a platform about 6 feet high.  The hogs were in a kind of "channel" or "chute" - very heavy welded steel pipe - to guide them up to the platform.  Several men were prodding the hogs to keep them moving.  Jurgen's cousin had a device in his hand - which I later learned is called a "captive bolt gun".  It's powered by compressed air, and shoots out a huge, pointed 8" piece of steel about 1" in diameter - referred to as a "nail" - when you pull the trigger.  Then the "nail" immediately slams back inside the gun, ready for the next trigger pull. 

As the hog moved up on the platform, Jurgen's cousin shot the hog in the head, and it just dropped like a rock.  Other men then attached some kind of hooks and chains to the hog's hind legs, and a kind of overhead "conveyor belt" dragged the hog away.  Meanwhile, another hog was on the platform.  It was literally a production line.

I'm sure - absolutely positive - my face was as white as paper.  Have you ever heard of "sensory overload"?  I overloaded 4 blocks away.   

I was graciously invited to climb up on the platform and try the captive bolt gun on a hog.  As you've already read, these guys never, ever grew tired of pulling tricks and games with me, and constantly testing my "manliness".  They sure tested me good this time! 

Fool that I am, I accepted the "invitation", and shot one hog in the head.  But being up on the platform, I could see what wasn't visible from the ground - I could see the rest of the "disassembly line".  Right after the hog was dragged away from the platform, some men cut its throat and blood started pouring out into a huge metal tank.  I guess I know this is what happens at slaughterhouses, but there's no need in MY life to even think about it, never mind stand there and WATCH it.  My "overload" went into "overdrive". 

I was off that platform so fast, I almost broke both of my legs.  Of course, Jurgen, his cousin, and Uli were laughing their asses off at me.  They wanted to give me the guided tour, and show me the entire place.  All I wanted was to get the hell out of there.  I wish I never got IN the damn car with them, and damn sure wish I never got OUT at that place.  The memory of it is sickening, but these clowns thought it was hilarious.


Now I'll tell you about getting sick.  McDonalds had recently opened in Zentrum - most people were wild about it, maybe because it was something brand new in Recklinghausen.  I tried one of their "hamburgers" and almost lost my stomach, liver, and my intestines.  "Beef" my ass - that crap was probably soy beans and ground cardboard.  It was awful.  I GUARANTEE you, if they sold that shit in the U.S. they'd be closed down in an hour.  I got one bite down, and threw it in the garbage.  Even the french fries were awful - and I like french fries. 

Many of my friends from Germany and Holland came to Florida for vacation.  They went crazy over our American steakhouses because they had never tasted REAL steak before.  I recall picking up friends at the airport, and the very first thing they wanted to do - sometimes at 8:00am! - was go to a steakhouse - the hell with sleep.     

Theo got the Gold Award: there was a nice steakhouse here in Tampa - and one special steak on the menu was a "novelty" type of advertising.  They served a HUGE steak, I think it was about 48 ounces.  If you could eat everything - the steak, big baked potato, and salad - then there was no charge for the meal.  Theo ate for free every time we went there.  I think the rest of us were getting fat just watching him. 

Within about one week, Theo was known there, by name!  He wanted to go every day, and everyone who worked there knew him the moment we walked in. 

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