Archive for the ‘Stories of the ‘Immigrant’’ Category


Saturday, April 30th, 2011

The Schaffhausen television channel, one evening, aired a program critical of Swiss men wearing sandals with socks in the summertime. A young female reporter was upset and thought that this was gauche. She did not like the idea of men wearing sandals in the summer, she particularly thought that men wearing socks with sandals was in really bad taste, and further, the idea of men wearing sandals and black socks made her ill. The reporter went on assignment into Schaffhausen streets, interviewing men wearing sandals and trying to find out why they wore them, why they wore socks with sandals, and particularly, why any sane man would wear black socks with his sandals.

Because it was all in German Language, I could not understand exactly what was going on, but between my wife’s interpretation and my own ideas about sandals, with or without black socks, I found it interesting. I decided to begin a little clinical research of my own.

Many Swiss men wear sandals in the summer; I had noticed that. Please don’t ask me to explain why I had noticed and had been starring at men’s feet, noting their foot attire? I am not a shoe freak! However, I noticed because over the years, I have never personally worn sandals myself, because I just don’t feel comfortable wearing them. As a child, I had no desire to go barefoot like some kids do. Perhaps my aversion to sandals stems from that childhood distaste for being barefoot.

Unlike the television reporter woman, I have no problem with other men, including Swiss men, wearing sandals or anything else. Generally, I find most Swiss masculine fashion appealing (though I would never wear sandals).

One thing about Swiss men’s fashion that I particularly like, is wearing a black beret. My wife will not allow me to wear a beret, when I am with her, because she says it is farmer attire and she doesn’t want me to look like a farmer, though I think she just does not like a beret. But myself, I have nothing against farmers. In fact I like farmers and a few friends of mine are farmers. So when I go out alone, I sometimes covertly don my black beret like other Schaffuuser ‘farmer’ men and enjoy the comfort and dashing appearance of my beret. Anytime, I expect the TV reporter to do a show on American men wearing a black beret.

Getting back to the sandals, I decided that I disagreed with the reporter about the black socks. After a week of study, I discovered that I prefer Swiss men wear any kind, or color, of socks rather than expose their bare toes. Male toes are not a thing of beauty to me. I am not insinuating that Swiss men have exceptionally ugly toes; it is just that I do not find anything attractive about any man’s toes. In fact, I have found over the years that there are a goodly number of women wearing open toed shoes who have unattractive toes (In my opinion, it is really an exceptional woman, like my wife of course, whose foot can boast of attractive toes).

To get to the heart of the men’s sandal matter, ultimately it would be necessary to research their purpose for wearing sandals and exposing a large portion of feet and especially the frontal appendages (toes). Are sandals worn for reasons of comfort, style, or sex appeal?

Certainly, it is questionable whether or not bare feet are sexually stimulating, to anyone. However, to make a point about that, I must digress and relate another sandal experience I had, apart from Swiss men and their sandals.

When I taught high school in San Diego (a place of endless summer and sandal season), it was a violation of the school dress code for girls to wear sandals to school. One day a young female student came into my classroom indignantly complaining that the girl’s vice principal had sent her friend home to change shoes because the sandals she was wearing violated the school’s dress code. When ask why sandals were not allowed, the vice principal (a stately older female) told the girls that , “Sandals expose the nude foot, which is too sexy and distracting!”

Then, the young lady asked me to comment, expecting me to support her contention that bare feet are not sexy. In spite of any feeling that I had to the contrary, I told the student, “Yes! The bare foot is sexy, and it states that very clearly in the Holy Bible.”

The young woman was flabbergasted and challenged me to prove my point, which I had hoped she would do. In those days religion in the schools was less a crime than today, and the Gideon Society used to provide a King James version of the Bible in every class room. By this time, my whole class was involved and wondering how the teacher was going to get out of this mess that he made for himself.

Thumbing through the pages for the appropriate verse in “Songs of Songs”, I read to them from 7:1, “How beautiful are thy feet in sandals,” which in that particular context indicated bare feet were sexy, as were other body parts, comparing legs to jewels, navels to goblets, and breasts to fawns. This was about the only part of the Bible that I knew much about.

Not really fully trusting me, some of the students demanded to read it for themselves and I quickly obliged. It led to an interesting discussion of sex, religion, and footwear. The next day, half the class brought in their own, different Bibles, of every kind and description: Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, and a half dozen different interpretations, all led to basically the same conclusion.

The students became convinced that bare feet were sexually stimulating and it caused them considerable concern. They had to deal with their own personal attitude about bare feet and consequently, it raised a few other questions in their minds about themselves and their own sexuality. My students’ teacher chose to go on to another subject, like the US Constitutional Right to Bare Arms.

Fortunately, I was not tarred, feathered, and ran out of town on a rail for violating the student’s Freedom of Religion. There is, however, my own ‘cross to bear’; I still carry the guilt of convincing my students that toes are sexually attractive when I really don’t believe it.

Now, getting back to my clinical research and the television report on Swiss men, sandals, and socks. Rather than create further problems for myself (my resident visa was due to be reviewed by the Swiss Foreigner Police and I preferred not to jeopardize my residency because of an obsession with men’s bare feet), I would cease and desist expending any effort to find out why Swiss men are prone to wearing socks, even black socks, with their sandals.

Still, the sandal issue is intriguing. Later when riding the bus, I observed that when mothers brought their tiny, baby Swiss sons onto the bus in a stroller, invariably the little boys were wearing sandals with black socks. The mother had to be responsible because the little boys were incapable of putting on their own shoes and socks. At that point, I became convinced that there was a secret conspiracy of Swiss mothers that was responsible for their men wearing sandals with black socks.

Lately, I have become curious about what the motivation is, that prompts Swiss mothers into making their male offspring predisposed to wearing ‘sandals with black socks’. If I ever learn to speak German, I intend to ask them.

From the unpublished book, The Immigrant.


Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Getting There, Economy

These days, at my advanced age, I am somewhat reluctant to take long trips; after a certain age, even in the best of health, the body develops a certain amount of distrust for normal body functions and mobility always appears to be strained. There develops in the vastly experienced mind an element of jealousy of youth and realistic recognition that the condition of a finely aged bottle of wine is not quite the same in quality as finely aged homo sapiens.

However, when the reward is spending Christmas holidays in the honey lotus land of Die Schweiz (Switzerland) and visiting your spouse that you have not seen for a long period of time, one can hardly refrain from accepting an invitation; there is no place that I would rather be during the Christmas season than Switzerland with Marlisa.

Unfortunately, there is more to getting from San Diego California to Zürich Switzerland than packing your bags. The travel-time element is a major factor. In spite of the speed of modern rocket jet technology, travel time is measured more than in actual hours; it is more realistically measured in the amount and degree of suffering and discomfort spent crammed into a miniscule seat which creates considerable pain in the posterior and legs, radical visions of chaos terrorizing the mind, anxiety from being required to sit between a screaming, squalling newborn child and a Rhino sized disenchanted matron smothered in eau d’cologne, and the sheer number of mandated trips made to a restroom that defies head room for a standing adult male in excess of six feet height. It is not the joy of travel but it is the allure of the destination and being able to visit with your spouse that is the absolute and the finite factor in whether or not the destination is worth the travel. In this case, it is positive.

Just the part about getting from your home to the airport becomes a major undertaking; it always seems necessary to select the preferred, volunteering relative or friend with a large enough car, no prior commitments nor conjured commitments, and with enough guilt feelings about all you have done for them over the years that they feel absolutely required to provide their services and car to get you and your luggage to the airport at the given time on the given day. At that point, the responsibility becomes yours to be sure your driver does not forget, have a flat tire, or died during the night from an unknown cause. Actually, for some time now I have found a solution to the problem of getting to the airport on time, on the right day, and with all luggage intact; I arrange and prepay for a shuttle service to pick me up on time and deliver me on time and to be at the airport when I arrive and deliver me to my home. The cost is worth the elimination of the anguish, guilt, and responsibility.

There is more than one way to fly from San Diego to Switzerland and it is possible to choose from more than one airline. Having flown in many directions and on what seems like every conceivable airline, in the past, I have a preference and now prefer Swiss International Airlines direct from Los Angeles to Zürich after a short flight from San Diego to Los Angeles. Everything before boarding Swiss International in Los Angeles is preparation; Los Angeles to Zürich takes about twelve hours of economy class discomfort. I am definitely too poor to fly first class and provide adequate sitting room for my feet, legs, and shoulders; extraneous body parts must fend for themselves and sometimes are challenged by persons sitting next to me or stewardesses plying the aisle serving drinks or shriveled up airline food.

One part of the trip that I anticipate with agony from the beginning of the trip is going through security; it is not that I am a threat to anyone but rather I am perceived as a threat. In 2000, I had bilateral knee replacement and consequently I have metal prosthesis knees, inside my real flesh and blood.

When I walk through a metal detector with my metal knees, it is like hitting the jackpot at Los Vegas with sirens, bells, and lights galore. This begins a body search and electronic detection wands waved over me in a blessing that will assure everyone else in sight that I am not a terrorist even if the metal detector has profiled me as such. All of this takes time and time is something you do not always have when catching an airplane.

The KGB (TSA in English) apologize profusely while they subject me to a public display of mysteriously waving their wands over me and followed by patting, grabbing, and gently caressing sensitive parts of my body; the TSA officers notify me just before each groping so that I do not yell, scream, or giggle and embarrass them. This occurs just before each flight that I take. Unfortunately, my trip requires that I change planes and airport terminals in Los Angeles so I go through the process twice on the same trip.

To make matters worse, I am required to divest myself of everything on my body that might excite a metal detector including shoes and belt. Going through one security check sans belt, my pants fell down and fortunately I was wearing underwear, clean underwear that is, at the time. However, all my worldly goods including passport and wallet are in a plastic box after going through x-ray observation, sitting there where other passengers without metal knees are grabbing their own plastic boxes; the security officers are at the same time dragging me away to search me and telling me to keep an eye on my possessions at all times.

Now I have to say that I am all in favor of security. I remember going through security in Europe when America did not even have security checks and I wished we did. This was at a time before 2001 when everyone loved the United States of America and Americans had no one to fear; I wish all Americans understood that the reason for airline security today is that the United States of America has made some foreign people angry enough to want to blow us to kingdom come. Personally, I think it is easier not to agitate other people than to provide security to keep them from killing you. Some European nations suffered this problem before America did, and that is why they had airline security before America; I was able to figure out the solution right away, just don’t make enemies.

Once aboard the Swiss International flight to Zürich, after I discover that the person sitting next to me for the next twelve hours appeared to be a normal human being, not large enough to crowd into part of my seat and relatively free of toxic odors, I relaxed and could hardly wait for the flight attendant to serve drinks. My flight this time, was blessed by a flying companion that was female, small, nice looking, and free of odor. She was friendly but not talkative; thank you, God!

Flights to and from Zürich are very different; there is 9 hours difference in time. Going to Switzerland, if you leave as I did, at 7:25 PM San Diego time, it gets early dark and is night until you are almost there and you arrive at 3:45 PM Swiss time (6:45 AM San Diego Time); you arrive in Switzerland the afternoon the next day after you left Los Angeles. What this means is that the cabin is dark most of the way and some people sleep a lot. On my return flight, I leave Zürich at 1:10 PM Swiss time, and arrive in Los Angeles at 4:45 PM the same day; it is light outside all the way.

However, the first thing after leaving the runway, passengers are served drinks, then shortly after that they are served dinner, since the plane left the airport at dinner time. From after dinner until a few hours before arrival at your destination, you fend for yourself. You can pick and choose from movies (individual screens) to watch or music, some passengers use their computers, and others sleep. Just before landing, you are served drinks and a continental breakfast even though it is afternoon when you arrive. Personally, on this trip I chose to sleep as much as possible.

On my flight there were 4 empty seats across the aisle from me; shortly after takeoff, the nice lady sitting next to me said, “If you don’t intend to move to those empty seats across the aisle, I would like too.”

I let her take the 4 seats and that left me with two, my aisle and her window seat which I considered luxurious. Understand of course that I am not the average size passenger; I am over six feet tall, long legs, medically obese, broad shoulders, equally broad belly, with bionic knees and just before I left for Switzerland, the doctor advised me that I had four broken bones in my left foot. Trying to configure this mass of damaged humanity into even two seats became a problem that I did not resolve over the next twelve hours; however, except for watching one movie, I did manage fitful sleep most of the flight from Los Angeles to Switzerland, at times sleeping seemingly sitting on my own head.

Arrival in Zürich is always exciting for me. If there are no clouds, or when the plane breaks through the clouds you immediately recognize the landscape. Mountains, valleys, villages, cities, and forests; it is better than Disneyland.

A few days before leaving San Diego, my wife phoned me from Switzerland and  informed me that she had strained her back, could hardly walk, and therefore would not be meeting me at the terminal; I decided not to tell her about the broken foot because it really wasn’t that important; even with a broken foot, I had few problems with mobility. She said that she would try to find someone to pick me up but I just might have to get to her apartment on my own. Actually, I would prefer to get there on my own, it is no problem with public transportation like they have in Switzerland, even with manageable luggage such as mine.

The train station is in the airport terminal. After arrival, you pick up your luggage, go through customs, and take and escalator down to the train station, buy a ticket, get on the train to Winterthur (changing trains in Winterthur to a local train or take a bus) and when the local train gets to the Seen (pronounced say-un) station in Winterthur you walk about two blocks to the apartment of my wife; the total distance is about 25 miles. I am fascinated with Swiss public transportation and thrilled every time I use it, which is always.

This time, however, I am deprived of using the train because my gracious nephew was waiting to take me to the apartment; we had a chance to talk on the way which was good. He was just recently married and it gave me an opportunity to give him some worldly advice about marriage.

Of course, it was painful just to see my poor decrepit wife, Marlisa, greet me at the door, so stiff and sore that she could barely move; however, since I only had a broken foot it was possible for me to take care of her limpingly for the few days she needed to recover. We both actually thought it just a little humorous, of course.

It was great to be in Switzerland and to see Marlisa again; I was feeling exuberant and happy.


Lana Clarkson, The Movie Star That We Knew

Monday, January 28th, 2008

It was December 20, 1991, and my wife Marlisa, her sister Beatrice, and I were alone in the compartment of a night train leaving Paris for Zürich, when we became acquainted with Lana Clarkson as a result of a series of somewhat unusual events.  That evening, the train had left Paris and shortly after departure, our party of three was all asleep. Suddenly, an obese, rude, and loud French conductor abruptly awakened us. He spoke first to Beatrice and me; since neither of us spoke French, we put on our most innocent-looking face and pointed in unison to Marlisa, our French interpreter. Marlisa and her sister are both Swiss, however, only Marlisa speaks French fluently.

The conductor spoke gruffly; he complained that ‘yet another American’ had tried to ride his train without paying. The man remembered that I had an American passport and asked if we wanted to help another American on the train who was in ‘bad’ trouble. Marlisa, who is always kind, compassionate, and ready to help a traveler in distress, volunteered to determine the nature of the problem.

She found the American-in-trouble, to be a beautiful young woman dressed in an eloquent evening dress, crying pitifully into a handkerchief. The woman was of such striking beauty, that Marlisa had remembered seeing her board the train dressed in jeans and casual clothing. Marlisa sat down beside the weeping American and asked the woman what had happened to her. The sobbing woman introduced herself as Lana Clarkson, a name Marlisa had never heard before. Lana then poured out her story.

It seems that Miss Clarkson was traveling from Paris to meet friends in Zürich, where they would then proceed to travel on to St. Moritz, Switzerland, the famous ski resort. She was traveling, First Class, and on a Eurail pass that expired on that particular day and that she believed was still valid.

When the French conductor came to take tickets, he informed her that the Eurail pass was not valid, on the day of expiration, and she would have to pay the fare. Lana then produced a credit card to pay the fare and the conductor informed her that payment must be in cash, either French francs or Swiss francs, and Lana did not have that much cash with her.

At that point, the conductor told her that if she could not pay, he would notify the police and they would put her in prison.

The sobbing Lana was caught in an impossible situation. She had credit but no French cash, she was in a foreign environment where a foreign language was spoken, and she believed the cruel conductor was going to have her imprisoned.

“My grandmother,” Lana told Marlisa, “whose name is also Lana, like mine and Lana Turner’s (the famous movie actress), once told me that if I ever had to go to jail that I should dress in my best clothes, just like Lana Turner did in one of her movies.”

“My grandmother was a big fan of Lana Turner’s. So, when the conductor told me I had to go to prison, I went to the rest room and changed into these clothes,” she said, adjusting her lovely evening wear.

Marlisa was impressed by Lana and her story of the conductor’s rude behavior. Graciously, Marlisa offered to loan her the money for the ticket. Lana was stunned and could not believe that this Swiss stranger, who had never heard of her, would offer to help her out of her predicament. .

“Keep my passport till I repay you,” she told Marlisa and handing her passport to her. “My friend will meet me in Zürich,” Lana explained, “and if she does not have enoough money with her, I promise you that we will bring it to your house, in Zürich!”

When Marlisa did not return right away, Beatrice and I went to look for her and found her sitting with Lana. Marlisa introduced us and told us that she would sit with Lana for a while, until Lana had regained her composure from her recent ordeal, now resolved.

After a while, Marlisa returned to our compartment and showed us Lana’s passport. Marlisa said that Lana had told her some bizarre stories, about being an American actress, living in Hollywood California, and being in Paris to discuss making a Fellini film.

None of us recognized the name, Lana Clarkson, on the passport, and were somewhat skeptical of her story about being a famous actress.

“Lana is a very nice young woman,” Marlisa told us, “and she had a very bad experience in a foreign country that speaks a foreign language, through no fault of her own. I feel sorry for her and want to help her. I like her”

“Lana showed me pictures of her home in California and her horse. She gave me her address and invited me to visit her there.”

“What I told her was that I was helping her because I was also a woman and that we women had to stand together and help each other, when we have problems. I told Lana that I wasn’t helping her because she was a Hollywood actress.”

Interestingly, when the train reached the Swiss border, a much more polite Swiss Conductor, who had taken charge of the train, notified Lana that the French conductor had only collected the fare for the train traveling in France; the fare from the Swiss border to Zürich had not been collected. Again, Marlisa, in shining armor, came riding to Lana’s rescue.

When the train arrived in Zürich, all of us left the train together: Lana, Marlisa, Beatrice and I. It was snowing. To get to the station, we had to walk outside, in the snow, for the length of the train.

Now that she wasn’t going to prison, Lana was dressed in a miniskirt, fur jacket, and high heels and was pulling a huge suitcase through the snow on a leash. It made an interesting picture.

In her triumphant arrival as a heroine in Zürich, Lana led a parade. Lana was leading, followed by Marlisa, who was followed by Beatrice and me bringing up the rear. We had the distinct feeling that the eyes of the crowd were on Lana’s entourage. Near the end of the train at the doors to the station, stood another beautiful blonde woman, dressed in a white miniskirt, white fur jacked, and heels, and holding a leash with a white miniature poodle at the end.

“Guess which one is Lana’s friend,” I discreetly whispered to Marlisa.

“Oh! I am so glad to see you!” Lana told the lady who had been waiting for her, hugging the woman.

Taking Marlisa’s hand, Lana told her friend dramatically, “This is my fairy godmother! She saved me from going to prison!”

Then with a great deal of emotion, Lana related the story of the nasty conductor and Marlisa coming to save her from a fate worse than death!

Lana’s friend quickly repaid Marlisa for the train fare and both women thanked Marlisa profusely.

We left the train station, never to see Lana again. Over the years, we told the story, over and over, about how Marlisa had saved a Hollywood actress, who no one recognized as an actress. It was a wonderful story that we enjoyed telling and Lana had become a real friend, a nice young woman that truly appreciated Marlisa’s generosity and compassion, and really believed that she was a Hollywood star. We would never forget that name, Lana Clarkson, although we never saw it in print or heard of it for over a decade.

In 2003, while visiting the USA, I picked up a ‘Vanity Faire’ magazine. On the cover was a murder story highlighted, “Lana Clarkson, Hollywood Actress, Murdered in the Hollywood Mansion of Phil Spector”

To me, Lana’s death was a horror story. When I informed Marlisa, she wept. Beatrice was stunned. Until the moment that we heard of her death, Lana Clarkson had played the lead in our often-told story of , ‘The Train From Paris.’ Now, our shining star had gone out!

The Lana Clarkson that we knew was a charming, warm, and gracious human being. Coincidently, we now knew that Lana really was a Hollywood actress. However the void in our lives, left by her death, is the absence of the Lana Clarkson that we knew!