Tomahawk and Crown: Part 2: Chapter 29

Colonel Pajtas and Granville had a history. Granville had been assigned to take Pajtas and his men into custody. Pajtas and his men had treated him with arrogance and disrespect. Granville had to remind them that they were prisoners and had done so with the skill of a surgeon working without anesthesia: Quickly, with minimal amount brutality but left a mark painfully. Granville had thought that had put an end to their cat and mouse game. However, he had been fooled and embarassed when they had reached Augsburg to learn that Pajtas had kept the fact he did not have the keys to the trunk from him. He had taken that omission personally. It had been the recall of that embarrassment thah powered his investigation up to and including recruiting a shave tale from OCS,  and flying him halfway around the world, in the remote hope that it might help him find the keys.

Pajtas had been lying to them all along. His denying that he knew where they were was just Pajtas yanking Granville’s chain. Again. Just as in their first meeting the Hungarians were laughing at him and the US Army behind their backs. It made that white hot fire that was burning in Granville’s gut now burn with the intensity of an acetylene torch. He wanted to light Pajtas up.

Granville told me as much. After we had arrived at Augsburg, he had sent Paul and Cookie off to find us billets while we proceeded to Kubala’s office. I got parked in the Major’s outer office while Granville went to meet with his commanding officer. I was not alone. Sitting with me a tall First Lieutenant in a slightly disheveled uniform who had been hustled out of Kubala’s office when Granville entered. He had sat down directly opposite me and after pulling a toothpick from his shirt pocket began to simultaneously pick his teeth and stare at me simultaneously. It was a little unnerving, but I also knew it was a game. The person who spoke first loses. I do not like losing games especially when I don’t know what the consequences of that loss will be.  As a consequence, I spent my time inspecting the shine on my shoes (they needed work,) the state of my nails (clean, well clipped) and trying to remember all the verses of Kubla Khan by Coleridge. The first verse was easy:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

   Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round;

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

It was always the second verse that gave me trouble. I could never remember if it began “But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted” or “A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw.” I was trying to figure this out when I heard “Worth B.Andrews, Ft. Worth Texas and you are?”

I looked up and saw that he had crossed the room and was standing directly in front of me, with his hand out. I stood up and shook his hand and said “Sam Floessel, I am from Ft. Worth, Texas too.” I think it was my Viennese accent that probably made him look at me with a surprised look so I added “ I just tell people I am from Ft. Worth because that is where I became a citizen” hoping that my little joke would help lighten up the mood.

Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect, Andrews replied “Son, we Texans don’t like to joke about where we are from.” I was about to tell him that I meant no offense when Granville and Kubala walked out of the office. Eyeing up the situation Granville said “Floessel, you are with me” and headed towards the door. When we had reached the outside George said, “I see you that you met Kubala’s lap dog.”

“Lap dog?”

“Yeah, Andrews is Kubala’s pet. Whenever he wants to get something done but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, he tells Andrews to do it.” Pausing to consider how to phrase his next sentence he then added “Watch out for him. He is a snake, he bites and he and Kubala are into some seriously questionable shit. He will sell you out in a second to protect themselves so the order of the day with them is CYA. Understand.”

I said “Yes, sir.”

He smiled “Enough with the smart-ass shit. Let me tell you what Kubala and I have agreed on how to handle to Pajtas.” He then told me that Kubala had been “supremely pissed” that he had been deceived by the Hungarian and his initial instinct had been to use strong arm techniques to get the whereabouts of the keys from him. But Granville had talked him out of it pointing out that may be counterproductive and just strengthen his resolve. Instead, we were going to play mind games with him. As we spoke Pajtas was being taken to an interrogation room. He would not be told why.  He would be left alone there until we interrogated him sometime in the small hours of the morning. It was hoped that the combination of the silent treatment, being alone with his own imagination, and the timing of the interview would help loosen his tongue. In the meantime, we were going to grab some chow and catch a few hours’ sleep so that we could be in top form when it came time to interrogate Pajtas.

Man plans and God laughs. We didn’t interrogate Pajtas in the middle of the night as we had planned. Our original plan to interview him in the middle of the night when Granville said most people are disoriented had been overwritten by our own biological needs.  A heavy meal of Army chow and days of  sleep deprivation and travel had caught up with us. It was decided if we were to be at our best,  a full night’s sleep was in order. As a consequence, our batteries were full loaded when we entered the interrogation room with Pajtas. You could not say the same for him.  His eyes had heavy bags underneath them and there was a hollow look about them that I knew all too well from all night study sessions at Syracuse and OCS. And, whether it was my imagination, a projection of how I hoped he felt, or reality, I had a sense that he was fearful of what was about to happen to him.

Granville asked “Good morning, Colonel Pajtas. Do you remember who I am.?”

Pajtas responded contemptuously, in good but heavily accented English “Yes, you are Granville.”

“That is correct. My colleague here is Lt. Floessel. He will be assisting me in our interrogation this morning. You may recall from that our last conversation was in Hungarian but the Lieutenant here does not speak that language but he is originally from Vienna  so we are going to give you a choice on whether you would prefer our conversation to be in English or German. Which language would make you feel the most comfortable?”

Pajtas nodded at me and said “German I think. My English is getting better, but with the German I am more fluent.”

Granville switched to German and asked “Do you remember our last conversation? When I asked you about the whereabouts to the keys to the trunk?”

“Yes.”

“At the time you told me that you had no knowledge of where the keys might be. That you had handed them over to someone else. Do you remember saying that to me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember at the time, I told you that if you were lying to me that I would find out and that there would be consequences to you misleading me?”

Pajtas pulled himself up in his chair a little and with his chin jutting out said “Yes. I remember that conversation very well.”

Granville fixed his eyes on Pajtas and said in an utterly flat voice “Why did you lie to me then?”

Pajtas looked as if he had been slapped in the face. “I did not lie to you.”

Granville, looked down at the table, sighed, and looking back up again. “Cut the bullshit. You certainly did. Floessel and I have just had a talk with your associate Captain Gombos, and he tells us that he gave you two of the keys to the trunks. Did he lie to us?”

Pajtas’ s countenance changed from looking insulted to that of being relieved. As if what Granville had just said was of no particular consequence. He replied “ No. the Captain did not lie to you. He did give me two of the keys to the trunk. But I did not lie to you either.”

Granville said nothing knowing that his silence would force Pajtas into providing a fuller explanation. The Colonel continued “When you interrogated me I had no idea of where the keys were. As I told you then I had handed them off to another for safe keeping.”

“Anton Skoda.” I interjected.

“Yes. Anton Skoda. As far as knew when we spoke, he still had the keys. It was not until a few weeks later when they brought Captain Gombos to the camp that I discovered he had retrieved the keys.”  

Granville held up his hand “Cut the bullshit. You pulled a fast one on us. You gave Skoda the keys so that you could tell us that you had no idea where they were and at the same time ordered Gombos to retrieve them. It gave you both plausible deniability and at the same made sure the keys would be in the possession of people you know.”

Pajtas shrugged his shoulders but said nothing so Granville continued “But your scheme did not work out as planned. Gombos get caught. Right.”

Pajtas remained silent.

“When you saw him here you demanded he turn over the keys. And he gave them to you. What I want to know, is where are they now?”

Pajtas nodded, as if to acknowledge the facts, and reached under his tunic and pulled out a leather thong which had hanging it from an ornate iron key, identical in design to the one which we had been given by Gombos. He placed them on the table in front of him and slid them across to Granville.

I said, “Where is the other key?”

Pajtas said “This is the only one I have.”

Granville hissed “No more games Colonel. We know Gombos gave you two keys. Where is the other one?”

Pajtas only hesitated for a second before answering “I gave the other key to His Serene Highness Admiral Horthy.”

Minutes later we were making our way towards Major Kubala’s office to update him on the interrogation. I said “George, do you mind if I asked you a question?”

He stopped and said, “Shoot?”

“You know I have absolutely no experience in interrogating people.”

“Yes. And?”

“Well, I thought trying to get the key off this guy was going to be more difficult. After all they had gone through a lot of trouble to keep them hidden….to deceive us about them? Yet when we asked him about the keys, he gave up his lickety split and then told us where we could find the remaining one without any hesitation at all. It just seemed a little too easy.”

Granville nodded and replied, “I was thinking the same thing.”

We had been under the impression when we left Pajtas that retrieving the last key from Horthy would be as simple as having one of the guards retrieve him from where he was being detained at SAIC. We had assumed that he was still here where Granville had interviewed him only a few weeks before. We were wrong. While we had been tracking Anton Skoda, the Yugoslav government had leveled war crimes charges against the Crown Regent. They believed he had approved of and had direct knowledge of what they called the “Novi Sad” massacre. This was an operation where Hungarian troops had rounded up 4000 Serb, Jewish, Romani citizens and murdered them. According to Kubala, Tito had demanded Horthy’s arrest and the Allies were keen to keep him happy due to Yugoslavia’s unique geo-political position. Horthy had been arrested and sent to prison where other high ranking war criminals were being detained. A place in Luxembourg that Kubala called “Ashcan.” 

This presented a major problem for us. Ashcan was our most secure interrogation center. It was where the remnants of the Nazi government including Albert Speer, Herman Goring and Karl Donitz to name just a few were being held. Access to the facility and the prisoners were tightly controlled. It was, as Cookie later described it, kept “Tighter than a frog ass.” An expression that I did not quite understand but found amusing and highly descriptive. It meant that for us to get permission to interview Horthy had to come directly from SHAEF and Eisenhower. This took time and for over a week we were left cooling our heels. 

This was both a blessing and a curse. I had been on the bounce for more than a month. I was sleep deprived and road weary and to have no place to go and nothing to do but to eat and sleep for a few days seemed pretty much ideal. However, the novelty of three squares and all the sleep I could want soon wore off. While the infantry credo “Walk when you don’t have to run, sit when you don’t have to stand…” had been driven into consciousness in basic that had never been my way. I was always doing something. Hell, I had polished off two years of college in a year while working 20 hours a week. I went looking for Paul in the hopes that he and I go find some mischief to get into, but he was nowhere to be found. From what I could gather he was off having conversations with some of Granville’s associates. Cookie, when I finally found him, had discovered a perpetual poker game that was being held in the NCO’s quarters and could not be shaken from it. As he put it “These boys just want to give me their money and who I am to disappoint them.” As a consequence, for most of those days we spent waiting I spent by myself with little to do but focus on the conversation that Paul and I had in the car on the road to Salzburg.

I had no doubt that he was right when he told me that I was being recruited by Granville for intelligence work. His putting me in charge of Gombos interrogation sealed that for me. The real question was whether or not this was a path I wanted to walk down. On the pro side was there was the glamour and fantasy of this type of work that I had gleaned from reading novels such as “The Thirty Nine Steps,” “Kim” and “The Riddle of the Sands.” But if the past few weeks had taught me nothing at all it was that intelligence work was nothing like novels. It was both tedious and dangerous with a large amount of game play where you were required to outthink the other side. Failure to do so were catastrophic as had been hammered home by the Colonel Skoda’s murder. But I was good at game play and out thinking others. It was a skill I had refined long ago on the streets of Vienna’s 13th district.

It became clear to me that it was not a question of whether I could do this type of work well. I could. The real question was whether I wanted to do it.

I had seen the way that this work compromised things that you held dear. While lying and deception were a part of life, everyone lies, everyone deceives, the consequences were different. When you lied to your parents or did not mention to your girlfriend the woman you were out with the night before, no one was injured or died. But even that did not bother me that much. You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

What ate at me was Pichler. The man was a monster. He had dedicated his life and his career to making a gas that could kill millions. He had purposely murdered innocent men and women for the pleasures of others and to curry favors with those who could help him. He was an unrepentant Nazi who saw nothing wrong with their genocidal murders or their philosophy of racial purity. He was not only the most despicable being I had ever met but among the most loathsome creatures to ever walk the planet. Yet, Granville and I had been forced to mollycoddle him because our superiors thought that he had knowledge and skills that would help us achieve our goals.  Intellectually, I could understand why this was done. Sacrificing your morals for the greater good was nothing new. Was not that the story of the original covenant when Abraham is willing to slay Isaac for the good of the Jewish people. But Pichler and men liked him had killed my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. How could I be a part of letting him have good life when he robbed them of theirs. Wasn’t that making me as corrupt a human as Pichler. And didn’t people in Intelligence work have to make the same choice all the time.

I was saved from my conundrum when, finally, after nearly a week of waiting we received written permission from Eisenhower himself to go to Ashcan and interview Horthy. I learned later from Cookie that the delay in receiving permission to see the Crown Regent was due to SHAEF’s distrust of Kubala. Apparently, he had become very friendly with Goring during his stay at SAIC, the Field Marshall even giving him one of his Reich Marshall’s batons, and his request for one of his subordinates to visit Ashcan was viewed with suspicion. According to Cookie it required a personal request to Eisenhower from Patch to have permission granted.

Regardless, we were on our way. Well, most of us were. Paul was staying in Augsburg for the time being. He would not be welcome at Ashcan due to his technical status as a citizen of defeated alien and his traveling with us would serve no useful purpose. To be honest, I was wondering why I was going. Certainly, I had outlived my usefulness to the investigation long ago, but Granville insisted and only the sense I could make of it was that he wanted to see whether I would make a good recruit for OSS or CIC.

It is nearly 300 miles to Luxembourg from Augsburg and despite leaving right after reveille we did not arrive at Ashcan until nearly dusk. It was not what I expected. all. I had thought that a facility holding some of the most infamous members of Hitlers government who were to be on trial for war crimes would be  an impressive looking prison or at least a lock up like Camp Orr. It was neither of things. Before the war it had been Luxembourg’s most luxurious hotel, The Palace. While the war had not been kind to the hotel, its five-story boomerang shaped edifice still maintained some of its grandeur. Had it not been for the fifteen-foot fence crowned by a double string curl of concertina wire, a secondary electrified fence and four guard towers equipped with machine guns and klieg lights along with a heavily secured guard post and a serious looking contingent of Army MP’s you might have been event tempted to stay there.

When we pulled up to the guard house, Cookie rolled down his window and said to the guard “Hi Sarge, we are here to interview one of the inmates.”

The guard, whose name tag identified him as “Sergeant of the Guard Robert Block” just stared at him and then turned his gaze to Granville and me. After an exceptionally long uncomfortable pause he said in a drawl equal to Cookie’s “To get in here, you need a pass from God.” And, then after a beat added “And then you have to have someone to verify the signature.” Cookie handed over our papers. Sergeant Block took them and retreated into the guard house where we saw making a phone call. After a brief conversation, he hung up the phone and the gate were raised. We entered Ashcan.

We were greeted in the still opulent lobby by the commander of the prison, a precisely dressed officer who, after throwing us a very military salute which we returned, introduced himself as Colonel Burton Andrus. He told us that he had been expecting our arrival and Regent Horthy would be made available to us in the morning. In the meantime, rooms had been set aside for us and we were free to roam about the facility as we liked but with only one caveat. Speaking to any of the prisoners was strictly forbidden.  Granville, after thanking him for his hospitality, told him that we had no interest in speaking to any of the prisoners with the exception of Horthy and we would be out of his “hair” as quickly as possible.

I had not completely understood the restriction that Andrus had placed on us. I had thought that like most prisons the detainees would be confined to cells and only let out for meals, exercise and basic functions. That was not how it worked at Ashcan. Prisoners were allowed to move freely throughout the hotel. I was told later that this was by specific design. It was hoped that the prisoners would feel free to interact with each other and perhaps share secrets that they were unwilling to share with their captors all while their conversations were being monitored electronically. However, as we walked through the hotel on the way to our rooms the prisoner’s ability to move freely about the compound had another effect. It made me feel like I was a new exhibit at the zoo. Without exception everyone gave us a cold-eyed stair no doubt wondering what had brought us to this hotel and what it meant to them.

I realized immediately upon entering my room that that despite outward appearances this was no Hotel Sacher. Other than rather overdone wallpaper the room had been completely stripped of its former opulence. Fancy light fixtures had been replaced with bare bulbs. Plush furniture had made way for a folding table and chairs. Instead of plush bed with goose down comforter there was an army cot equipped with a rough drab olive blankets and sheets with all the tenderness of sandpaper. Surveying my surrounding I laughed at my own disappointment. After all, in Vienna I had it far worse. There my cot was in the same room as Mama and Papa. Here at least I had the room to myself.

That night sleep eluded me. This was partly due to my nerves over tomorrow. Would we get the final key, or would it be yet another dead in or Hungarian trick to keep us from the Crown? But my inability to fall asleep laid mainly with the fact that I was locked up here in Ashcan who just weeks before would have done everything in their power to murder men. Men who had murdered so many of those that I loved. Then something occurred to me and I began to laugh. The Nazis were now in Ashcan. They were Ashcan Nazis. We had turned the worst of the worst Nazis into European Jews.

I fell asleep smiling at my pun.

The next morning as we waited for the Hungarian Regent in a hotel room that was identical to mine minus the bed, I tried to share my witticism with Granville. He just nodded perfunctorily as he was clearly already focused on the interrogation. We had spent much of the drive from Augsburg talking about the importance of our conversation with Horthy. Failure here would result in either weeks if not months more investigation to find the last missing key or the destruction of the trunk. Both were undesirable to Granville, who underneath it all, was an extremely ambitious man. Success here meant success for his career after the war. Failure would be a mark on his record that would be hard to erase. For those reasons, he was going to be the primary interrogator this morning. My role, as he put it, was to “keep my mouth shut, listen, and only talk when spoken to.”

Horthy was escorted to the interrogation by Colonel Andrus himself. It was clear from their body language that both men disliked each other. Neither looked at each other and stood as far apart from each other as the confines would allow. Andrus further confirmed his disdain for his captive by his introduction to us. He said “Colonel Granville and Lt. Floessel let me introduce to you the prisoner Miklos Horthy” adroitly omitting Horthy’s military rank and title. This clearly rankled the Regent who flinched with the introduction.

Granville said formally “Your Serene Highness, Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya, Regent of Hungary it is an honor to meet you. Please take a seat.” The greeting clearly irritated Andrus as he bristled. However, it did have the desired effect on Horthy. He stood a little more erect, puffed out his chest, and tilted his chin upward with the introduction. This was exactly what Granville had been hoping for. He believed that a hostile interrogation with the Regent was a bad approach. At best it would delay him telling us where the key was and at worst prevent us from locating at all. However, an interview that stroked Horthy’s ego and provided him with all due deference might unlock the secret of the key.    

 Horthy settled into a seat opposite Granville and myself and it gave me an opportunity to really look at him for the first time. My first impression was that he reminded me of a former beauty queen whose days of glory lay in the past but they still tried to maintain what once was but would never come again. His suit, which no doubt had been custom made, was now slightly threadbare and hung on him like a sack. The dark eyes, that one point could stare right through you, now were furtive and would not hold your gaze.

Colonel Andrus interrupted my thoughts by saying “Gentleman, please let me know if you need anything” and began to walk towards the door.

Granville turned to Horthy and said solicitously  “Your Serene Highness, is there anything that we can get for you?” You could see the look of pleasure grow on the Regent’s face while at the same time you could see Andrus’s back stiffen.

Horthy replied “It would be delightful to have a cup of tea. Perhaps with some honey and lemon?”

Andrus, scowling, replied “I will have someone bring it to you.” And then departed before anything more could be asked of him.

Granville turned to Horthy and began “Regent Horthy…” but was cut off by the Admiral who said “I do not like that man.”

Granville, taken back replied “Whom?”

“Colonel Andrus of course. He treats us like common criminals. This is not what I was led to expect when your Army transferred me here from Augsburg.”

“I am sorry, sir. Where were you told you were going?”

“I was told that I was going to a much nicer facility. The spa at the Palace Hotel in Mondorf, Luxemborg. I was led to believe that this was a reward for me being so cooperative with your government. A recompense if you will. A bit of vacation.”

He paused for a second as a private arrived with our tea. When he had left, he continued. “However, from the moment I arrived that man has been trying to get us under his thumb. His first act was to order my luggage to be searched and everything with which I could have hanged or injured myself.to be removed.”

I glanced at Horthy and noticed something that I had missed in my initial once over. He was wearing not wearing a belt.”

He continued “All my valuables were taken from me, in exchange for receipts. He ordered my valet of 24 years who had never been a soldier and has only served me well to be moved to the prison camp. I tried to protest but he would not listen. Then he escorted me to my “room” which was not fit for a human being. Not only was it small with no facilities of its own but the mattress was not even a proper mattress. It was made of straw. My horses had better bedding.”

Horthy was clearly blowing off steam and Granville was glad to let him as it suited our plan perfectly. He said “Thank you for sharing that with us, your highness. Lieutenant Floessel has taken note of your observations and will see what he can to about moving you to a better room and about having your valet released from the prison camp. Before we begin with my questions, is there anything else we can help you with?”

Horthy thought for a second and asked “Yes. Why am I here. Here there are only Nazis. I am no Nazi. I tried twice to make peace with the Allies and for my trouble Hitler had my son abducted, forced me to sign a worthless abdication and then imprisoned me. Now I am arrested by you. For what reason?”

Granville sighed. We knew this question was coming. It was a difficult question to answer but we also knew it could possibly open the door to finding the key. The Colonel said “My apologies. It was my understanding was that this had been explained to you. I will make sure that those who should have told you are properly disciplined. You are here sir because Marshal Tito and the Yugoslav government have accused you of war crimes in regards to the massacres at Novi Sad.”

Horthy face became flushed, spider veins on his cheeks from years of the good life standing out and said “That is preposterous. Our troops were far too disciplined to do anything like that and even if they did how can I be held responsible for what a few troops did in the fog of war.”

Granville held up his hand and said “Your highness, we understand. General Patch and I had a conversation about this before I left Augsburg. He wanted me to tell you that he knows, and these are the general’s words, the “charges are complete and utter  bullshit.” That they are a ploy by the communists to  behead the legitimate Hungarian government so they could get their own people in place. He wanted you to know that he and General Eisenhower are doing everything within their power to have the charges dropped.”

Horthy antipathy seem to disparate like a balloon deflating. He nodded and said “General Patch is a fine soldier. He was quite kind to me and my family when we initially detained by the US Army. Please tell him thank you and that I am in his debt.”

“Which brings us to why we are here sir. Perhaps there is a way that you can help us and at the same time help yourself as well.”

“Go on.”

“You are no doubt familiar that the Crown of St. Stephen’s and its retinue are in our possession in Augsburg.”

“Yes. Colonel Pajtas told me that he turned the trunk containing those items to you.”

Granville leaned forward in his chair and said “We know you are aware of it sir because Pajtas told us that he informed you and that you approved it. What you may not be aware of sir, is that we know that you arranged the whole transfer. That it was your plan since the beginning.”

“That is an outrageous claim.”

“Sir, we had a lengthy conversation with Anton Skoda. He told us the whole story. About how you arranged to have the Crown and its retinue smuggled out of Hungary should something untoward happen to you and how you had arranged with him and the Americans for the Crowns capture.”

“I can’t understand why Colonel Skoda would tell you such a story.”

“With all due respect sir. Of course, you can. Just like I can understand why you would not want to admit it.  How would it be received if the Hungarian people found out that their regent arranged to have the symbol of their nation to be turned over to the United States. It would destroy your legacy.”

Horthy said nothing. He just his crossed his arms and glared at Granville as if he had been greatly insulted.

Granville continued “Here is our problem your highness. While we have the Trunk that contains the Crown, we don’t have the keys to open it. You and your men have managed to keep them away form us. You understand why this is big problem for us?

Horthy’s blank expression gave away nothing of what he was thinking so Granville continued. “We need to open that trunk. We need to verify what we have. What if we keep the trunk only to hand over to your government later only to find that there is something else in the trunk. The US government would be blamed, and we can’t have that.”

“We are left with two options. We could find the “lost” keys and open the trunk easily and allow us to inventory what is inside and ensure its safe keeping. Or we could open the trunk forcibly. We don’t want to do this. We know that the Trunk is a part of the tradition of the Crown and desecrating could be considered an insult to the Hungarian people. But rest assured one way or another we are going to get inside that trunk.”

Horthy responded “That is all very well and good but what does that have to do with me?”

“Because sir, you have one of the keys.”

Horthy began to object but Granville cut him off. “With all due respect, your highness don’ t even bother to deny it. We know you have the key. Pajtas told us he gave it to you before you left SAIC. And if you are even thinking about denying that fact understand that there is a lot riding on your answer. I would hate to have to report to General Patch that you were uncooperative. It might him far less willing to help you with this sticky problem with the Yugoslavs.”

You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife it was so palpable. Had they been bulls, both of them would have had their heads down, snorting, and pawing at the dirt, each waiting for the other to charge. Then Horthy broke. Reaching into his jacket he pulled out an ornate iron key, identical to the others we had collected.

Two days later and we here in the conference room awaiting the appearance of General Patch. Kubala paced while the rest of us inspected the shine on each other’s shoes. After about half hour of waiting, a private entered the conference room and whispered something in the Major’s ear. He nodded and dismissing the private said “It seems that General Patch has been unavoidably detained and has asked we proceed without him.”

He then retrieved the keys, which had been placed on a ring and left on a table adjacent to the trunk and handed them to Granville saying “I think the honor of opening the trunk should be yours as you tracked down the keys.”

As the colonel began the process of unlocking the trunk I look around the room. Everyone in the room had the same look of anticipation on their faces. Each person in there was heavily invested in finding the keys that allowed this moment to happen. Each was eager to see Crown Jewels of Hungary with their own eyes. A privilege not granted by many. All except Pajtas. Instead of anticipation written on his face there was anxiety. I guess I would have felt the same way. He had gone through extraordinary efforts to keep this moment from happening but despite his hard work he failed. 

When Granville had opened each of  the three locks securing the case and removed the metal bar that spanned the trunks top, he turned to Kubala and said “I think the honor to opening the case belongs to you.” Kubala nodded and approach the case and bending just a little lifted the lid as we all leaned forward to see its content. There was a collective gasp. The trunk was empty.

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Rambles With Rosie: Day 9: The Ramble Home

Nine years ago, after living in New York City for the better part of thirty years, I moved back to Summit New Jersey, the town in which I grew up. The primary motivator in that move was be closer to my newly widowed 83-year-old mother. She wanted to stay in her home of over fifty years but could not without occasional assistance. During my Dad’s decline I had tried to commute back and forth to my hometown when I was needed and found it a time suck as well as psychologically and physically draining.  As a consequence, my fiancé Elaine and I decided to move to Summit. Not only was convenient to taking care of my mother (clearing a paper jam in her printer would not be a four minute, not four hour, commitment) but I knew it well enough that there would be no learning curve for finding the best bakery (Natale’s), sandwich (Towne Deli) or where to get my haircut (Zoku.)

Which is how I found myself, as I sped up the ramp to US 81 South, beginning a trip I had made countless times before and was as familiar to me as a daily commute. Admittedly their were a number of differences. For example, Winnetou is a far cry from 1970 Orange VW Super Beetle I owned in college. For example, the Grand Cherokee does not require a twenty-pound bag of kitty litter to keep her on the road in high winds.  It has technology that we could not even imagine back in the day. Not the least of these is satellite radio where you can listen to the same station for the entirety of your trip as opposed to desperately looking for music every 50 miles or so.  And if radio is not your thing and you wish to create your own playlist from your music collection it does not require hours of preparation  to make the make the perfect cassette tape for the drive, you just plug in your iPhone and your entire music collection is at your voice command.

I think to share all of this with Elaine, but she is engaged in saving the world. My phone is a Wi-Fi hot spot, and she is using it to connect with her friends and colleagues back in Brazil. The Covid pandemic there is out of control and she along with her friends are doing what they can to motivate government and citizenry to act responsibly. As I loathe to stop anyone from saving the world, I do not disturb her with my reflections and reminiscences. I would have shared them with Rosie except she is doing her best imitation of a bagel and is curled up on my Grandfather Zeman’s 1920ish red and black wool sleeping bag I keep in the car for emergencies and her naps. But I am used to making this drive solo so keeping my thoughts to myself is nothing new.

Nor is the weather. The trips I remember most to and from Syracuse are those in which the weather was as awful as it is today. Snowstorms with white out conditions and snow ruts that locked you in like slot cars. Or rainstorms like today with owling winds and steady heavy rain that is only exacerbated by the spray flying off trucks and cars. It is the type of weather that requires you to focus on driving. I look down at my GPS and it indicates only 220 more miles and three hours thirty-seven minutes to go. It reminds me that the trip we have been on would have been much more difficult with out this nifty bit of technology. We tell it where we want to go and how we want to get there (fastest, least tolls, most scenic) and it guides us. Back in the day, I would have had to plan the trip carefully using maps and my best judgement and then handed over the task of navigation to my passenger whom would have had to be an active participant and tell me where and when to turn.  I am not a luddite and my GPS is not only useful and  a marriage saver as it prevents heated arguments over direction but I do miss maps. Knowing where you are and how you plan to get to where you want to go are good life skills that maps provide and the GPS lacks. I look in the rear-view mirror to mention this to Rosie, but she is not snoring gently with her feet up in the air.

While I have called this trip Rambles with Rosie, but it has never really been about her. It has been a celebration of being released from the bondage of Covid 19 and the ability to move freely, albeit with caution, in the world. It is about experiencing what is going on in the world as opposed to viewing what is going on in the world through screens.

This idea is struck home when we stop to get fuel in Pennsylvania. I go inside the store that most of these gas stations have these days to make sure their sanitary facilities are up to par and to buy a Coke and Combos, so I am properly fueled for the remainder of the trip. As I enter, there are large signs on the door that proclaim that masks are required but I barely notice them as the signs are ubiquitous these days. But I am reminded of it minutes later as I am purchasing my snacks. One of the store clerks is having a lengthy conversation with a trucker who must be a regular as they are clearly on familiar terms. When I look up from the credit card machine I see the trucker is not wearing a mask and the clerk mask only comes up to the bottom of his nose.

I beat a quick retreat to Winnetou and douse myself with alcohol gel but I spent the remainder of the journey home wondering about what I saw in that store. I don’t get it. There are 550,00 dead in this country and the one thing we can all do to prevent the deaths of more is wear a mask. I am fully vaccinated and the chance of me giving or getting the disease is extraordinarily small yet I wear a mask because the chance is not zero. When is it that this country and especially the conservative movement and religious right forgotten the golden rule: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

My anger and annoyance over this is my co pilot for the rest of our trip home. I had no epiphanies as to what needs to be done so that we are kinder and more considerate to each other. That would have to wait for other journeys.

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Rambles With Rosie: Day 8: Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Shortly after I accepted Syracuse University’s offer to attend the school, they sent me a small booklet about what life would be like there. I remember nothing about what was in it except they had a lexicon of terms that were unique to the University. A “Wimpy Wagon” was a food truck that was found outside dorms in the evenings. “The Mount “was a Mount Olympus which was the tallest point on campus and where two large dormitories, Day and Flint Hall were located. However the thing I remember most about that lexicon was this phrase: “Syracuse is ten inches of partly cloudy on the ground.” I thought it was funny. I did not realize they were serious.

The joke in the lexicon morphed into another joke when you had been on Campus for a while.  “When your parents said they were going to send you to a place where the sun don’t shine, they meant Syracuse.” The generally accepted truth being that Syracuse was the “2nd darkest city” in the United States. Only Portland, Oregon has more cloudy days. (BTW this is not true. I looked it up. Syracuse is not even the cloudiest city in the New York State. Binghamton is with 212, followed by Buffalo with 208. Syracuse manages only 185) Regardless, of rank, part of the SU experience is weather. Rainy, snowy, generally cold salt stains on your jeans cold.

Which is why I was so disappointed driving into Syracuse. Here in March where we should be experiencing a late season snow squall that dropped a foot of snow, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees. How was I going to explain to Elaine what life on campus was really like when Syracuse decided to put on its best face. I need not have worried. I had forgotten another truism about Central New York. If you do not like the weather, wait fifteen minutes, it will change. When we woke in the morning Syracuse was in full foul weather mode with steady rain and chilly if not freezing weather.

It was into this weather that Rosie and I launched ourselves on our morning constitutional. The hotel we were staying at, the Sheraton Hotel is on campus, so we were immediately met by students on their way to the main campus. It was then that I realized I had made a serious mistake at Syracuse. I had not owned a dog. Had I owned one, my social life which was pretty pathetic would have been far better because virtually, every co ed I encountered either remarked on Rosie’s adorableness or asked if they could pet her. When we went to get coffee, both of the barista’s insisted on coming out from behind the counter to give Rosie a hug.

Sadly, I could not offer my wife a THB (toasted honey bun a specialty of the University while I was there) so we settled for a breakfast of blueberry muffins the size of large asteroids. Sufficiently fueled we headed out for the dime tour of campus. And were immediately driven by pelting to the Shine Student Center by the pelting rain. $75 later we were the owners of two Syracuse University golf umbrellas and re-embarked on our tour. There were a number of reasons I was excited to share the University with Elaine. Not the least of which was that in the nine years that I have known Elaine I have told her many stories of the misadventures I had here. I hoped that showing her the campus would provide a little context to my fables. Additionally, Elaine had never really been on the campus of big American University. Her school, The Federal University of Rio De Janiero were buildings located all over the city including her law school which resided in the old senate building.  

Ridiculously, it filled me with joy to be able to point out to her the Hall of Languages, the oldest building on campus and is a symbol of the University. The mosaic of Sacco and Vanzetti on the wall of HSBC where I usually had a bagel and coffee every morning, Hendricks Chapel, Carnegie Library, The Mount, Carrier Dome, The Maxwell School, Law School, Crouse College, and the 104 steps I climbed each morning from my dorm Brewster Hall. And it filled me with amazement how much the University had grown since I attended. No wonder the tuitions for the University are 12x what they were when I was there because literally at every corner their were new building or modern additions to the old.

None of this was particularly surprising to me. It, even the rain, was what I expected.

What did surprise me were the ghosts.

There was my father who finished his freshman and sophomore years in a little over 14 months before going off to war then returning and finishing his last two years as fast. Or the lecture he gave my senior year which was attended by all my friends. Being here, it was easy to remember the young man he was when he attended the University, the father he was to me, and how I miss him every day.

There was my friend Tom Walker who passed away from a brain aneurysm a couple of years ago. He was a young man of many opinions which he could articulate brilliantly especially after we smoke a joint or two. I never saw him after college, but Facebook had allowed us to catch up. His passing had struck all of his friends, The Family Strange, hard but I was particularly sorry that I had never taken a drive to Ohio to visit it with him.

Then there were the ghosts of my memories.. The friends I had made who are still my friends now, like the Tribe, and those who had slipped away and whom I wonder what became of them. The coming-of-age time where angst, fear, and loneliness all conspire against your self confidence and the other times where the innocence of youth gave you the confidence to do things that you could not imagine doing now.

In other words, as Elaine was getting one tour of Syracuse, I was providing myself with another. Perhaps Elaine enjoyed hers more as there were no ghosts on her visit. But then again, she wasn’t used to the rain which is why we pulled up short of a full tour. She was getting wet and Rosie, poor pup, was beginning to look like I had just given her a bath. We retreated back to the hotel and packed up the car for the final leg of our journey. However, before we left town there were two stops that had to be made.

First, I had to buy Elaine Syracuse Law wear. While she looks good in anything, I thought that it would look far better than the Harvard Law school stuff she had been wearing. And then on to Danzer’s, a German style restaurant which had been a popular eatery back when Pops attended school here and was the site of my first dinner at Syracuse and had a sandwich found no where else: The Red Reuben. This is a footlong sandwich  based on the classic but substituting Red Cabbage for sauerkraut.

It was a delicious ending to our trip to Syracuse.

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Rambles With Rosie: Day 7: The Promised Land

My father despised the movie the Sound of Music.

Actually, to be fair he was not a lover of musical in general. Who goes around life singing at the top of their lungs. But he particularly hated the Sound of Music. He, as a person who escaped Austria two months after the war had begun, found their story, a family escaping over the alps so their father didn’t have to join the Reich, suspicious. Actually, that is not the word he would have used. He would have said it was bullshit. A story made up so that they could sell their music and their story. While I won’t go into the details right now as it would take too long, he was by and large right. The storyline you see in the Sound of Music is by and large bullshit..

That being said, I love the musical. I think it is Julie Andrews. Boys of my age had a crush on her. It started with Mary Poppins and move right onto to Maria Von Trapp. Even though I was a psychology major I am not going to unwrap that one. But yowser. My wife also loves the musical and will when asked happily singing you any number of songs from the movie.

Which is why we began our day with a mission to visit the Trapp family lodge in Stowe. I justified the trip,  emotionally due to my fathers strong feeling on the subject by saying that they made syrup and this was after all sugar boiling time in Vermont. Our mission was immediately de railed by Rosie when she saw us pass the Ben and Jerry’s corporate HQ. She wanted some Rosie Patch frozen dog treats. We indulged her by going in. Sadly, they were closed. Rosie was a little indignant. After all didn’t they name a treat after her but we managed with a few portfolio shots and she showed her displeasure in a very dog like way.

The Trapp family lodge looks as if a bit of western Austria has been transplanted here in the US. It practically makes you want to yodel. And their names is all over the place. Several condo complexes, a brewery, a restaurant and bakery. They are living large on the American dream. Unfortunately, they were not making sugar that day so we moved on. I have no doubt that my father had a role in all of this.

Luckily, my ever sweet sister had sent me a list of syrup makers that morning and I we were quickly back on Task. Stowe Maple products was just a few miles away but we were greeted by an empty parking lot and a closed sign. We were just about to leave when a lovely older woman tapped on our window and asked if she could help. She turned out to be very helpful guiding us through the intricacies of maple syrup grading and packaging. I returned the favor by buying a ½ gallon jug for my sister the bakery, a quart for me, 2 packages of maple candy (childhood favorite), maple cream (just yummy)and some honey for my honey.

Syruped up, we were then forced to make a decision. How to get to Syracuse. We had three routes to choose from but decided to take the long slow way which would have cross Lake Champlain just south of the Canadian border and then take NY 11 south and west most of the way to Syracuse. It was the right decision as it was a lovely sunlit day with temperatures in the mid sixties which is August weather for these parts. In other words,  a perfect day for a drive through rural Vermont and New York.

Lake Champlain, if you have never seen it is a wonder. It is a mini great lake and as I Elaine passed through we both agreed living on its shore would be ideal. At least in the summer. I doubt that my beautiful Brazilian wife has any idea what an upstate NY winter is really like. I still have scars from my experiences here 40 years ago.

As urban and suburbanites, and as people who have lived most of the year in the box, you don’t spend an awful amount of time thinking about how much of this country is devoted to agriculture. Your only thoughts on the matter are weather to buy organic or regular rutabaga. Driving Rt 11 gives you a chance to fully appreciate how we feed each other as you pass mile after mile of cultivated farms. It also gives you a deep impression of what the earliest settlers to this part of the world must have felt. They must have felt like they had died and gone to heaven seeing all this cultivatable land.

The sheer size and isolation of the place and the knowledge of the harshness of the 19th century winters (mini ice age) also helps you understand why so many religious movements in the United States started up here. Mormonism, the Burned-over district, the Second Awakening all took place around here. When I casually mention to Elaine bout how natural it would be to have pluralistic marriages on cold winters night she, understandably, does not speak to me for 50 miles

Eventually, our travels on Rt 11 come to a close. We are forced onto 381 and then 81 and make haste to Syracuse. As we speed along the highway I let Elaine know that this was not the weather I experienced at Syracuse. That more than once while traveling this same road in May I had to manage white out conditions in my 1970 Orange VW Super Beetles. It somehow didn’t seem fair not that I was driving Winnetou, a fully capable 4 wheel drive vehicle, that I should get ideal driving conditions. God is a jokester.

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Rambles with Rosie: Day 6: Patent Pending

Yesterday was a driving day.

Our goal was not to see specific sites but one where the whole idea was to see what sites presented themselves to us along the way The hope was that we would things we had never seen before especially it was a journey that we had never taken before.

I don’t mean this to sound zen or like some inner meditative journey. It really was not that type of trip. Our only goal for this trip was to get to Stowe, Vt. from Bar Harbor, Me. via by using as few Interstate Highways as possible. We were not interested in a speed journey but one that would take us through parts of the world we had never seen and are often to busy to slow down for.

However before we got on the road we needed to get to the car. One of the unexpected parts of this journey is the amount of stuff we need to tote along when traveling with a dog in the time of Covid. Rosie had her own suitcase full of toys, treats, a bed (she likes but uses only for naps) bowls, and food. I don’t resent this in any way although I do wish I had taught her to carry her own bag before we left. Our Covid supplies include several bags containing food stuff, an entire bag containing PPE and sanitizing products and perhaps a bottle of Basil Hayden that I considered medicine after a long days drive. Add all this to Elaine’s and my modest suitcases full of casual wear and it is a production going to and from hotel rooms. Thankfully, we have had a very helpful and friendly porter named Paul who is also traveling with us.

We were blessed for a beautiful day for this expedition. The type of day you pray for after a long hard winter. The type of day you wish for after being spending most of the last year inside your house wishing that the Covid would just go away. Sunshine, mild temperatures and nary a breeze. The beauty of the day also, oddly, reminded me of the first time I was in Florence, Italy. It too had been a beautiful day and seeing the light it case on the Arno, the Duomo and other sites of the city made my understand why the city had been so special to the Renaissance. It evoked a desire to capture it all in any way you could in their case oil paint. The same was true of this Maine day. It made me think of Jaimie Wyeth and his paintings of Maine. You could see his inspiration and color palette laid out before you.

I am not an intellectual and I don’t want the reader to get the impression from the previous paragraph that I am. However, I am always interested in what inspires people to do what it is that they do and seeing this beautiful day and the weathered environs of Maine made me understand a painter I admire better. And isn’t that what this trip was all about. Seeing the world again with new eyes and better understanding?

The first part of our Journey was on 95. The superhighway that links Maine to Florida. At this point in Maine it is nearly empty and straighter than the roads that line the American West. It has lovely scenary that often goes past to quickly to fully appreciate. This is when to the shame of Rosie Elaine and I turn on Sirius 17 “The Bridge” a station that broadcast mellow rock from the 70s and 80s and sing along. Elaine has a beautiful voice. My voice is best described as enthusiastic but we enjoy belting out the songs we know and even the ones we don’t. While I cannot see her I am sure our dog is cringing in the back of the car, paws over ears too mortified to howl.

After about an hour we jump off the highway and onto Maine Rt. 2. This leads through the rural heartland of Maine. Even though I have been to Maine many times, went to Summer camp here, I was surprised at the beauty of the forest, rivers, farms and lakes that I saw. It appeals to the part of me that loves to be surrounded by, nature and does not mind the solitude that it brings. I say to Elaine more than once that I could live around here even though I am not sure I could weather. It also reminds me of something we too often forget living so close to New York. Rural America where farming, logging, and small factories dictate the rhythms of everyday life. It is an enigma to me especially the support I see for Donald Trump that is evident from the lawn signs we see along the way. What is it that these farmers see in a man who could not be more different than them?  I guess I could have stopped an asked people along the way but I don’t. Instead I resolve to delve into this more from the confines of my study at home.

One part of traveling the back roads that they do not tell you about in the guide books is the lack of fast food restaurants where you can stop and have a pee. This presents less of a problem for me than for Elaine but she is a courageous Braziliero and has developed a patented method for dealing with this issue. I would tell you how but it is patent pending but call me if you really want to know.

After a few hours we get hungry and stop near the Sunday River Ski resort for lunch. It is a ski town without a winter but we find a deli that makes wonderful roast beef sandwiches with horseradish. But there are a number of things that disappoint me. First, most people here do not take Covid here seriously. The best way I can describe their attitude is casual. It makes me double the amount of sanitizing gel that I use. Also, the gun laws. We see two relatively young men walk into the deli with pistols on their belt. Why? I understand the desire to own a gun. I own one. But to carry it around like a gunslinger I don’t get especially here where the need to protect yourself is mainly from moose. Also, you would think that gun toting and pot shots were not compatible but here in Sunday River there are lot of stores that sell each.

At Camp Skoglund where I went for a couple of summers, they had day trips to Mount Washington. My group was too young to go but I have wanted to see it every since. Especially  when I learned that it had the most extreme weather in the United States due to it being the highest point west of the Rockies. It is an impressive mountain and today it is snow capped. We see a sign for the car road to the top but Elaine convinces me that is not something that we want to do. She provides me with the Brazilian equivalent  of my father’s tried and true “Lets not and say we did.”

We reach Stowe around 4pm and check in to our new hotel. What I didn’t know before this trip was the amount of paperwork associated with traveling with your pet. They make you sign a disclaimer that is a full page long and tells you that if your dog does not behave they will charge you 250 dollars and for the privilege of your dog staying at the hotel you will pay a $35 fee. I can understand the fee and I can understand the charge if your dog is bad. But I cannot understand both together. If the dog is bad and more cleaning is required charge the fee or you got a little more for the room. Either or. Oh well, I guess that is the price you pay for having a dog who hogs the bed.

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Rambles with Rosie: Day 5: You Can’t Get There From Here

In every town we have passed through in our trip I invariably see monuments to those who fought in the World Wars. Here in New England I have seen many memorials to those who perished during the Civil War. I have even on occasion seen a monument to the Vietnam and Korean conflict. Pre-pandemic I would see these monuments and think of them as a part of the background noise that any place produces. The emotional connection that many must have felt seeing them never really struck me much to my shame.

These days my reaction to these tributes to the brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country is vastly different. Having been through the Covid wars I understand first hand he suffering of those who erected the monuments. They wanted to make sure that the deaths of their family, friends, and members of their community were not forgotten. That wanted to make sure that those of us who passed by did not forget them. But they also make me wonder: What are we going to do to remember those who have perished during our war on this virus. Nearly 600,000 humans more than both world wars, Korea and Vietnam combined have died. Will we build monuments like we have had for past wars and natural disasters so those who have died are remembered or are we just going to let them quietly into the good night?

We need to remember them. We need to figure out a way to memoralize their sacrifice so that history’s lessons are not forgotten.

We also need to find a way to pay tribute to those front line workers who saw the war up close and whose memories are full of the death, illness, and hopelessness that Covid created. They are heros we need a way to provide a balm for their suffering.

Speaking of them we also need to vilify those who have contributed to this slaughter in the same we have vilified past architects of genocide in the past. They need to be ranked along side folks little Hitler, Pol Pot and Talat Pasha. I am not just talking about Trump and Bolsonaro but deniers like Rand Paul and Ron Johnson. The Spring Breakers who partied on while sentencing their friends to death and the Karens who walk through hotel lobbies maskless along with their maskless brats. We need to figure out to make them pariahs of history.

Why this sudden outburst on Covid on a trip where I was supposed to be released from its grip? It was not the maskless people I saw here in Maine. A lot more deniers and anti maskers than on the rest of our trip but it wasn’t them. Nor was it the scenes in Miami with the clueless college students who are condemning the rest of us to a longer lockdown because they felt the need to get laid. It was my dreams.

One of the unique aspects of the pandemic are Covid dreams. Those hyperrealist, Avatar like dreams in which you are the protagonist. They are almost never good dreams. They always lead to sudden wake ups in the middle of the night trying and hours of trying to figure out what caused these dreams. I had one last night which I will not go into because it still cuts too deep but to provide context let me say that it was about my best buddy who died during the pandemic intermingled with a Stephen King novel. Hey I am in Maine.

Those who will never dream again must be recognized. Those who dreams will never be the same should be honored and the destroyers of dreams must be pilloried.

We spent yesterday in Acadia National Forest and Bar Harbor.

It is a place of profound national beauty that had Elaine, Rosie and I often gasping on the beauty of the Maine coast.  The picturesque harbors and the beaches between rocky outcropping. The warm sunshine combined with the wonderfully fresh air of a pine forest was worthy of the trip. And I would write more about it except that most of it was closed. The Acadia loop road which is supposed to be among the ten best drives in America had a single part of about 2 miles open. The rest, much to our chagrin was  closed. We were also, stupidly not equipped to go on many of the trails that led deep into the forest.

I could write more about Bar Harbor which is a delightfully nostalgic town with Victorian mansions and stores that seemed to have been built in the 19th century. We had a lovely walk about the town and found it charming. That being said, it too was most closed. Only a few stores, including the one where I bought Elaine some notorious RGB socks were open. But it was a pleasant stroll and again it made me vow to return but that was not the worst part of this portion of the trip.

You see I have been eagerly anticipating this part of the trip because I had a dream of sitting dockside on a glorious sunlit afternoon and cracking open a freshly and perfectly cooked lobsters. I had dreams of drawn butter and tender claws and perhaps even teaching Rosie of the joy of these crustaceans. The day before at Woodmans I had put off my lobster dreams thinking to myself I would have one in Maine

Everything was going well.. The weather cooperated with my fantasy. It was a glorious sunny day with temperatures and on early morning ride into the park we saw countless road side stands offering just what we were looking for but due to the hour, so I thought, they were closed. They filled me with eager anticipation. Needless to say I counted the moments until lunch hour and then made our way to Bar Harbor to find our perfect lobster.

As I mentioned before nothing was open in Bar Harbor. Not a single place that offered outside dining for those of us with dogs who wished to have a lobster. This was sad but I was full of confidence. We had seen so many places on the way in. Surely one of them would be open? We drove deliberately and with our heads on swivels back to Elsworth. There were, I counted, 14 Lobster joints along the way. All of them closed.

Hungry we returned to the hotel where I asked the clerk at the desk where we could find even a lobster roll in an outside venue. He was very helpful. He called several places for us. None were open or had lobster rolls.

And it was then I realized that in terms of Lobster I was the punchline to the greatest Maine joke of all time. I couldn’t get there from here.

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Rambles with Rosie: Day 4: The Pine Tree State

Our first day we had torrential rains.

The second day gave us freezing cold weather with gale force winds.

The third day, made us forget the weather of the previous two days because it was as near a perfect spring day as New England produces. Temperatures that would reach into the middle 50s, robins egg blue skies with not a cloud in sight. (Authors note: My mother and father had a well oiled comedy routine in which Mom would say “Not a cloud in the sky” to which my father would after examining the skies carefully respond “I think that there is one over there.” It amused them. It amuses me and I can’t write about cloudless skies without thinking about it but why bother you, my reader with it? Oh I guess I just did.)

Our day began in the moment just before dawn as Boston was lit by the pinks, red and gold of first light. There are prettier sights in the world but this was pretty glorious. As we went through our morning routine, Boston did the same. Runners appeared on the footpaths along the Charles. The geese paddled up stream in single file and the crews came to out for their morning workout. It made us want to hurry our ablutions and head outside to start our day. So we did.

Our first stop that morning, was Fenway Park. I could say that the reason we went was to show Fenway Rose where her name came from and that would be true as far as it went. But for those of us who consider themselves part of Red Sox nation it is more. It is a holy place where magical things happen and to me also a place where I used to celebrate spring. When I worked for the Sporting News I would  venture to Boston every Patriots Day for the greatest day in sports: The early start time of the Sox game (11am) and the Boston Marathon. I knew it was spring when we would walk up the ramp inside the Park and see the first hint of green of the field and then the monster. It was a time of normalcy and Americana long before the bombing that besmirched that day. For me going back to Fenway meant touching all those points and it was something I wanted to celebrate our freedom from Covid.

Amazingly we found a parking spot next to the stadium. It made Rosie’s photoshoot so easy. But as we began to leave we began to hear announcements. They were calling people not to a game but how to prepare for their vaccinations. The sign of our times. But I should not have been surprised. Fenway has always cured what ailed Boston. After a brief stop to buy Rosie a Red Sox bandana and a few hats to replace some retired ones we departed Boston for the Peoples Republic of Cambridge.

When we arrived in Cambridge we were again blessed by the gods of parking and found a spot just adjacent to the Charles Hotel. It was a small New England miracle as parking in these environs has always been a challenge. No doubt it was a Harvard architect who invented the parking structure because of this. But it set me wondering why we were so favored. Walking towards Winthrop Square the answer dawned on me. The normal hustle and bustle of a city blessed with more colleges and Universities than anywhere else in the world was relatively empty. Not surprising considering the Covid pandemic but a reminder of how the virus has changed the fabric of the country.

We were here for two reasons. Elaine was desperate for a Harvard Sweatshirt. You will have to ask her why and we were also going to meet two friends of mine who lived near by Lori Docich Schulsinger and her husband Larry. Seeing old friends used to be routine. But these days it is a minor miracle. We met for coffee outside in Winthrop Square. Larry, the pack rack that he is, came loaded with pictures form days of yore. When a group of Syracuse classmates held an annual ritual where we would venture to Syracuse in the dead of winter to see a basketball game and behave as if we were still at school. We called each other the Tribe and we had great fun misbehaving and the pictures made me nostalgic. Not only for the annual trips but for a time where Tribalism meant having fun.

It was good to see them both and all too brief as we were soon on our way north. We had a long way to drive today but I needed to introduce Elaine to one of my favorite places first; Woodmans of Essex. For those of you not in the know, Woodmans is where the fried clam. But for New Englanders is much more than that. It is the touchstone of Summer memories of going to braving horsefies and cold water of beach days only to be rewarded by whole belly clams fried to perfection along with Lobsters, chowder and all the accoutrements served in a restaurant that would have been familiar to beach goers in the 30s. I should not have been surprised but was to see the place was packed with masked patrons waiting for a little bit of that yummy stuff. After placing my order with a woman who has been there for all of the 20 years I have been going there I waited outside for my number to be called and stared off at the salt marshes and circling gulls. It was good to be alive.

Elaine took to fried clams like seals take to water. She dove in and pretty soon had to protect my own supply with pointed elbows. After our meal I thought of heading over to Crain’s Beach so my Brazilian beauty could compare it to LeBlond, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches but she already knows American’s are crazy so we headed north.

There is not much to say about our drive. The highways once your reach Maine are straight and fairly flat and on a sunny day the driving is quite easy. But there was one note worthy moment. Shortly after passing into the Pine Tree State we stopped for gas. As we were filling up I took the opportunity to fulfill a promise I had made to myself at the beginning of the trip. I downloaded a Stephen King novel from an Audible and began to listen to it as we continued our drive. It set the mood the well mood until Elaine got creeped out and we needed to listen to music to calm our souls.

Thankfully there was no fog tonight otherwise I could not have walked Rosie.

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Ramblin with Rosie: Day 3: Boston

The first images we ever saw of Rosie was a video that our breeder sent to us when she was about 4 weeks old. It was of her and her littermates on a large blanket on a sunny afternoon. Her brothers and sisters were busily engaged in their version of the Puppy X Games running, wrestling, somersaulting and the like but not Rosie. She was sitting off on the corner of the blanket watching them play. You could almost see the cogs and wheels going around in her brain. Something was going on there .Because Rosie was not the outsider. No. She was observing. Waiting for her moment. Because at the exact right time she lept into the scrum of puppies and won the day. Or at least that is how I remember it.

What I did not at the time was the video provided a glimpse at Rosie’s personality. She is the rare type of dog that does head pall mall into a situation. She needs to think it through figure out the angles and then of course attack the situation with verve, style and energy (authors note: that applies to most things but not rabbits. They make her crazy. Probably too many bugs bunny cartoons as a pup.)

I bring this up because on the first day of the trip, Rosie had retreated to observation mode. Looking through the rear view mirror I could see her staring ahead with an almost quizzical look on her face as if to say “Whats going on? Where we going? I am confused an need an explanation? This confusion on her part led to her endearingly not wanted to be separated from me. If I would leave the car she would follow my progress and whine. When I returned from my errand she would excoriate me for leaving the vehicle without permission and for not bringing her. Even in the hotel room, I could never leave her site and she follow me around like, okay I will say it, like a puppy dog.

She also would not eat. And she drank only sparingly. It was concerning. How can you ramble with Rosie without Rosie?

We needn’t have been that concerned. When we woke yesterday, not only did we discover that she had stolen all the blanket and most of the bed for herself, but that she was in a very playful mood. As if she had just figured out what it was that we were up to and was now ready to play. Not to say she stopped whining when I left the car without her, I mean who wouldn’t.

We had a simple plan for the day. Drive to Provincetown from Hyannis via the back roads. These were altered slightly when we walked outside to a very cold morning and gale force winds. It was so cold that are car was covered in ice from the rain the day before and so windy we had to be careful opening car doors as they could literally fly open at the least provocation. Our new plan for the day, was drive to P-town and if it is too cold and too windy make our way to Boston and show Fenway Rose the inspiration for her name.

On the ride out to Chatham I told her that is a lot of what you see on the Cape is nestled into a time warp. (You put your hands on your hips…) From the 1950’s style motor courts, to the Mini Golf set up and even the fast food restaurants which are of Mom and Pop owned and not operated by Yum or McDonalds. It is nostalgic in the best kind of a way. A simpler time. Which is one of the reasons that we made our first stop at Marions Pie Shop which has been there forever and where I have been known to buy out the place on my way back home so I could have her delicious pies for weeks to come. They also have the best bakery sign in the world “Well behaved children welcome. The rest will be made into pies.” Sadly, we could not order one of their savory pies because they require an oven but I still managed to get a couple of stuffed croissants, a small razzleberry pie and gigantic sticky muffin for nourishments sake.

The Chathams Bar Inn is a place that I have fond memories of not because I have ever stayed there. $400 a night off season, but because of very pleasant meetings that I have had there. It also commands a view of the Chatham sand bar which on this wind whipped day was showing all of its beauty. Elaine and I used the facilities to which Rosie complained bitterly about not being fair. So we drove down to the Coast Guard  Beach so that she could play among the dunes and learn how cats live (sand box.) It was very windy on the beach which made her hum the march of the Valkyries although that could have been me. The only down tick for the pup was that there were no seals to play with. She grumbled even though I told her she was not allowed to play with them.

I had never been north of Chatham so the rest of the trip was had my head on a swivel and we took a number of side tours to see different national seashores and beaches. It was on one of these jaunts to a side beach that Elaine made a remark that made me laugh so hard that I cried. But it requires an explanation. I have taken it on myself to teach Elaine idiomatic English. Especially bawdy expressions. One that I taught her earlier this year was one I think my GI dad shared with me “It is colder than a nuns snatch on Friday.” (Sorry) What Elaine said when we returned to the car was “It is colder than Freira’s pussy on holy Friday.”

This trend continued. We saw a particularly lovely house and I asked Elaine what she thought of it and she replied “I would not throw it out of bed for eating crackers.”

The dunes going into P-town are worth the price of admission. The town is picture perfect lovely. I would have gladly stayed for days to explore but the weather was not very cooperative. 60 mph winds and sub freezing temperatures made getting around despite the beautiful sunshine difficult if not impossible. We decided to head to Boston.

One of the reason we headed north on our ramble was because despite being fully vaccinated we felt that going to places where Covid is better under controlled was a smarter move that the opposite. But it begs a question, why is it that Massachusetts is doing better than NJ. While there are many possible explanations one has to be the pervasive amount of signage telling people to wear masks to protect themselves and their neighbors. You cannot go more than ten minutes driving without seeing one. Well done Massachusetts because we have seen nothing but compliance since being here.

The hotel we decided to stay at is Grand Hyatt Cambridge. It offered dirt cheap rates, about $100 a night and had the bonus of being the first hotel I ever stayed it in Boston nearly 35 years ago. It also has a killah view of the Charles, The Fenway and downtown Boston. And for Rosie a wonderful walking path along the river. We were a little nervous about checking into such a large hotel but the place is almost empty and everyone follows protocols up to including individual elevator rides. That and the fact that everyone made a fuss over Rosie. As she would tell you herself, she is extremely petable.

I have to also add, that I have a huge place in my heart for this city. I have been coming here on business all of my career. I have lived here. I can get around without a map which in Boston is a feat onto itself. I feel at home here. Looking at the window fills me with nostalgia and activates memoires that I had forgotten to have. I share this with Rosie and she looks at me as if to say…Hence the Fenway Rose….to which I reply. “You’re a wicked smart dog.”

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Rambles With Rosie: Day 2: Hyannis

In June of 1967 my father, brother and I drove across country in our brand new blue Jeep Wagoneer that we had named Commanche. It would be the first of seven jeeps so named. I was thinking of this as our noble Metalkic Granite Jeep Grand Cherokee braved Noah like rains on our trip northward. I had never named this Jeep, only because the indigenous peoples I would have named it for, the Utes, seemed to big a pun. (I know, what is too big a pun) but considering the mileage I do a year it never seemed necessary. But now in the rain, with two sleeping passengers, I recalled that Steinbeck had named his truck Rocacinte after Don Quixote’s noble steed. What should we name our faithful (hopefully) transportation. Since both my co conspirators on this trip were off in the land of nod I was forced to make the decision by myself. I chose Winnetou after the indigenous leader of Karl May’s western sagas not only because he was smart and wise but because my father loved these books. I would like to think he would have approved of this trip.

The day did not start particularly well. On our way out of Dodge (sorry still in the Western mode, New Jersey) I stopped at the NJ DMV to get a new license with Real ID. I had completely studied the requirements of 6 pt of identification. I placed them deliberately in a manilla folder including a copy of my SS card that I have had at the back of wallets for a 50 years. It was with a sense of confidence that I presented myself to the examiner. Hubris. Stupidity. The lovely document examiner promptly told me that I had not presented to her a SS card. It was a receipt for their card. I questioned that. It was an official document after all. I was wrong she said and needed to come back when I could get an appointment. Maybe June.

The good news. It made me happy to leave NJ.

After suffering 2 hours of rainy superhighway I thought it would be great to enjoy something Super Duper. That is Super Duper Weenies just off 95 in Fairfield. It is a place I have visited many times before and they serve some of the best dogs in America and hands down have the best t-shirts. Besides, as I explained to Rosie, isn’t it funny that we were stopping at a hot dog stand on a Ramble with Rosie. She was not delighted with my humor. You can find their menu  here https://superduperweenie.com/ Elaine went for a New Yorker (of course) and I chose a New Englander. She had a shake and I chose a Boylan Red Crème Birch Beer because why not. We split fries. Rosie abstained but watched with interest as we gobbled down the unbelievably good franks and near perfect fries.

You may be wondering why that Winnetou chose to point us in a northern direction. As I said, he was very wise. Going south would have meant running into Spring Breakers and Rosie is too young for bod shots and beer bongs. Going west would have been fun but Winnetou was from Oklahoma and it lacked real interest. However, Elaine had never been to the Cape and I have nothing but fond memories of the place so we decided are first stop would be Hyannis.

Even though the rain was near torrential and constant we managed to make it to Hyannis Port by 4 in the afternoon. I was pleased to see my uncanny sense of direction prevailed as I managed to make it off the mid cape and to the destination without a hiccup. It was much as I had last seen it a decade ago and I was glad for that. It is always nice when a place remains as it is in your memories. I decided that Rosie could use a walk so I we drove to the public beach by the Yacht Club and went for a little jaunt in the pouring rain. Rosie spent most of her time nose down in the sand. Too many new smells including old rope, decaying horse shoe crab, and seaweed but I kept my head up. It was a beach much favored by my dog Yankee and I half expected him to round the bend and come flying down the beach to me. At one point I thought it did happen but that turned out to be rain drops on my glasses.

A group decision was made, due to the inclement weather we would cease walking about and head to the hotel. Best Westerns are not Mandarin Orientals but this one allowed puppies so it was just fine for us. It turns out their dog rooms are tiled not carpeted which makes hauling things in from the car with wet feet qualify for hazardous duty pay. And there was a lot to bring inside. In addition to Elaine’s and my rollaboard suitcases, Rosie had a bag full of treats and food. Additionally, she had a travel bed courtesy of my sister and a few other accoutrements to make sure she a mint on her pillow experience. This was after all her first hotel room. Additionally, also coutesey of my sister we had a Levolt portable air filtration system designed to keep us safe from ultra violet light pathogens that were likely lurking everywhere in our room.

When everything had been toted inside I decided that it was a good time to check out the quality and firmness of our King Size bed. I thought that after 7 hours on the road that I probably had earned a visit to napland. Rosie did not think so. Her anxiety was palpable. She kept pacing around the room sniffing and then looking at us like we were going to give her all the answers. Then she did something that she has been trained not to do. Not that. She put her feet on the bed and begged to come aboard. I was more than willing. She could sleep with us every night in Chatham as far as I am concerned but Elaine has deemed our Queen size bed too small for all three of us. Elaine, being suitably moved by her anxiety gave her permission for Rosie to be on the bed.

Which is where she stayed all night. Happily stealing the covers and hogging the bed. But what could I say. It is her ramble.  

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Rambles With Rosie: Day 1

I don’t know when I first read Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s classic book about traveling the backroads of the United States. It was probably High School (thanks Leslie Meskin) but it made a huge impact on me.  Some of that was Steinbeck’s prose. It is warm, self-deprecating, charming and funny But it was also teen age angst. I wanted to get out there see the world for myself and the idea of doing in a camper with a canine companion seemed just about perfect.

This summer, after being confined to our home for nearly six months, I was trolling my bookshelves looking for something to read and came across a dog eared (no pun intended) copy of Travels with Charley that had been hiding behind other paperbacks. It was as if I was running into an old friend whom I had not seen in a while. I needed to get reacquainted. Book in hand, I retired to my reading chair and did not get up until I had finished the book four hours later.

It was a thoroughly satisfying experience but what was surprising to me was how much I had not remembered about the book. (It was actually kind of terrifying. What else have I forgotten?) One of the things that had slipped my mind was the reason for the trip. He set out on his journey because he felt that he lost touch with our country. After being the voice of the common joe throughout his career he had spent much the last fifteen years of his life in New York and in the Hamptons. He felt he no longer had a connection to the country that had been his muse.

That resonated with me.

For most of my life I have been a traveling man. I have extremely blessed that business and pleasure have taken me to 48 out of 50 states, 35 countries, and every continent except Antarctica. I have loved almost every moment of those journeys. And it is what I have missed most during our Covid life. Going to the old familiar places where I do not need a map with my rental car and seeing friends who I have managed to collect along the way. Visiting new destinations and making new friends and getting a sense of our country and our world by being a part of it.

It sparked a fantasy.

When Elaine and I were both clear of the virus, we, along with Rosie, would rent an RV and hit the road for a while.  Visit friends in far away places. See the sites we have missed along the way such as the statue of Paul Bunyan and his blue Ox babe or Yellowstone park. And perhaps along the way I would keep a blog and let my friends see what was out there now that the blast doors to our Covid shelters were creeping open.

Last Tuesday, I hit the two-week mark after my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Elaine cleared the hurdle on the previous Sunday. To celebrate our full immunity. We have decided to hit the road for a while.  Probably a week. Maybe a little less. Maybe a little more. We will go where the car takes us, when it wants to take us there. Hopefully, along the way we will meet some people, have a little of fun and get an idea of what America looks like as it emerges from its Covid bubble.

For those of you who are concerned about our well being we appreciate your concern, but we will be following all safety protocols. We are well supplied with masks, wipes, alcohol gel and even an air filtration system to be used in hotels. We will not eat at indoor restaurants but will find alternative ways of sampling the local cuisine.

As always Rosie will be our ambassador to meeting people as she far more charming than me and gives Elaine a run for the money. And as on homage to John Steinbeck we have decided to call this jaunt “Rambles with Rosie.”

We hope you will enjoy our updates.  

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