😦 … And also
While you were sleeping
I was out feeling
When you played dead
At least I kept breathing
Inspired by: Bobby Fuller Four – I Fought The Law(1966)
I took that ribbon from the ground
Sometimes lost and sometimes found
Still life of a friendly ghost
In a drawer somewhere
So many great versions of this song, but I like this tender and heartfelt one the most:
Gladys Knight, Help Me Make It Through the Night
‘He’s going to ruin the planet single handedly !’
Early morning. A soft and friendly voice came from behind me. I was still drowsy from jetlag and lack of sleep, minding my own business, smoking a cigarette and contemplating whether Nobert’s Pizza would be a good choice for a meal in the evening.
Norbert’s was one of the few pizza joints I had not tried yet. It had smelled promising the night before on my way back to Stuyvesant Avenue. You see, pizza, in all shapes and sizes, is a weakness of mine. Come the day I have to mount the scaffold for decapitation, my last request will most certainly be a pizza and a glass of red wine. Probably Malbec, Maybe Shiraz.
I looked up. An Afro American kid was waiting for his school bus and pointed to a blue heavy roaring Ford van with no one in it. “The guy does it every morning. Turns on the engine and disappears for an hour, comes back with a coffee and a pretzel and hits the road.”
‘I see! It’s a waste of gasoline!’
‘It’s a waste of our planet!’
‘Indeed it is. How old are you?’
‘You seem pretty smart!’
‘I am, but my friend Akram is way smarter. Probably smarter than you, sir.’
‘Yep!’ Could have easily become this year’s reigning spelling bee champion. But he chose not to.’
‘Hey, you wanna see my candy bar?’
Like a wizard he conjured 2 large candy bars out of his back pack . Each one larger than an average wand.
‘Great, you’ve got one for me as well?’
‘Nope, I don’t think so. One for me and one for my friend. He, look, there’s the bus. Gotta go!’
I finished my cigarette, continued minding my own business and further contemplated all possible pizza choices. Something old, Roberta’s, Di Farra? Or something new, Norbert’s? Tough decision!
Good decision! Norbert’s didn’t disappoint. Great pizza. Nothing less, nothing more.
The next morning the kid stood there again. I hid my cigarette as soon as I noticed the kid on the stairs. Not wanting to give a bad example.
I just had to ask.
‘He, kid, got a candy bar for your friend?’
‘Better than that: mom made lunch for him.’
He showed me 2 lunch boxes.
‘You seem like a good friend.’
‘Yeah, I know. Best friend ever, I think!’
‘Tell me, why didn’t your friend become a spelling bee champion?’
‘Sad story, sir. His dad, Azzam, disappeared.’
‘Come again. His dad did what?’
‘He disappeared,’ the kid said, with a magician-like disappearing gesture.
‘Yep, visited his dying father in Iran a while ago, and never got back.’
‘Ow, I don’t understand, kid.’
‘Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, are ya, sir?’
The kid made me laugh and left me utterly confused.
‘Gotta go, sir. See ya tomorrow? Got a lot to tell.’
‘Ehm, yes, I guess.’
‘Where are you from?’
‘Bye. My name is Joshua.’
As if we never parted the kid continued his conversation the next day.
‘I’ve been doing some reading on the net. I figure you of all people should understand.’
‘But, I don’t.’
‘Well, you should.’
‘Trump and your Nv-eeei, and Bart De Wiever.’
Nv-a and Bart De Wever. But he pronounced it eeei and ie.
‘Intolerant right wing politicians. Liars, elected by disappointed and exploited people.’
‘Excuse me, little man. I think there is a difference.’
‘You would think so, but actually there is not. Gotta, go.’
‘But I still don’t understand!’
‘Oh, man, what’s wrong with you? Don’t you recognize a racist politician when you see one? Bye!’
The next morning the kid was waiting for me.
‘Given it some thought?’
‘Yep, but I still don’t understand. And before you give me another lecture on politics: I’m talking about the spelling bee.’
‘I’ll tell ya.’
The kid gestured to sit next to hem, on the stairs.
‘Akram’s father fled his country years ago. It’s difficult in Iran when you’re a Christian. Came to the States, and worked his but of. Never got his papers right, but as a cheap laborer he was allowed to stay. ‘
‘Still don’t understand!’
‘Be patient, sir. In January Akram’s father received word from his dad. The man was dying. Akram’s father flew to Iran. Meanwhile Trump became acting president. He issued the travel ban, in an attempt to hurt muslims. You must have heard of the travel ban. Unfortunately just when Akram’s father was on a plane back to the U.S. To cut a long story short. No one has heard from him since. For all we know the man is in jail, dead or in hiding.’
‘Sorry to hear that. I thought that the travel ban issues had been sorted out by now.’
‘You would think so. But naah. People are afraid to talk about it. Nobody complains. Angst all around.’
‘Angst is a dutch word,’ I said.
‘I know that’s why I used it. So it would sink in. Our country is in ruins. And Trump is headed for war and civil war!’
‘Man, kid, you’re smart and a pessimist! Depressing combination!’
‘Realist is the word!’
‘I still don’t understand the spelling bee thing.’
‘Well, not that difficult, is it? Do i have to spell everything out for you?’
‘Akram is smart. Man, smart in way that is difficult to comprehend. I.Q at least 170 plus. But winning the spelling bee would draw much unwanted attention to him. So his mother forbade him to stand out. Today, in this country, with this president, it is better not to stand out. It’s complicated. Just like in the 30’s when jewish people figured they could avoid disaster by not standing out…’
‘He, kid, Joshua, don’t you have a school bus to catch?’
The kid smiled and pointed out that is was Saturday.
‘No school today. Akram is coming over to play. You wanna meet him?’
‘I don’t know. Am I going to heartbroken?’
‘Probably, it’s a sad chapter in our nation’s history. But you can buy us pizza later on. And thus Akram survives another day, whilst America becomes great again.’
‘You’ve got yourself a deal young man. I happen to like pizza!’
So. Yours truly brought you to the point where we have to start to tell the tale of Hurricane Willem. And we do have to admit: sad and all alone with his thoughts next to his father’s death bed it really doesn’t look as if little Willem will ever become a hurricane. But one has to start somewhere. And by now we have already firmly established that death is a perfect starting point.
It’ll also still take a while before the Hurricane will keep me company, day after day through radio waves, in the orphanage in an almost empty room. Thus to escape the forlornness of being there. Surrounded by each saint one can think of, but left alone by God and his team of ill repute broddlers.
It’ll take even longer to arrive at the point where Hurricane himself makes sure that John Paul Young loses his image of a mayfly and has a huge hit with War Games (in the video arcade….)’.
Far inland between three cities and two rivers, where the ground laboriously aches its back to distance itself from the lowland, where coarse macadam roads, like wavering ribbons, nit villages together, that is where lay Hurricane’s transmission area.
Between then and now the world only became smaller, people who are well placed to know such things tell us that. Villages kept growing, until it became difficult to tell them apart: one pile of bleak and grey. But now, just as then, this patch is no man’s land. As if it doesn’t care about the rest of the world, it withdraws from the disconsolate mating ritual of houses with gardens, threes and children, and other illusions of superficial happiness. And right until this day it is the only place on earth where John Paul Young isn’t Mister Love Is In The Air, but Mister War Games himself.
The song firmly charted forty–three weeks in the regional top 10. A record that never got broken. Although Gangsters D’Amour with ‘S.O.S Barracuda’ came close with thirty-nine weeks in the same year.
Record companies and distributors noticed the strange events going on in the record stores of that unsightly patch of the country. And many observer were set out to investigate this phenomenon. They all came back with the same piece of evidence: the Hurricane-proof sticker.
Every first monday of the month Huricane Willem turned a stencil sheet in his typewriter. And then, every month, he turned the sheet through the stencil machine.
Finally he pulled the lever twenty-four times. And then he brought twenty-four envelopes to the post office: one for each record store residing in radio Hurricane’s transmission area. That way the stores knew which kind of music was Hurricane-proof that month. At the bottom of the stenciled letter Willem reminded the stores of the prices for the hurricane proof stickers and how to order them. And boy did they order. Because everything with that sticker sold like hot cakes.
Everything is a bit exaggerated. Almost everything. Because once in while Willem had it wrong. It was somewhere around the end of 1989, when Willem returned from Londen, –always on the look-out for good music, with 146 copies af ‘Blew’ a nice little record from a great sounding band from Seatlle.
Immediately he fell in love with ‘Been A Son’, because it sounded like a smack in the face. ‘This is something different, this is good,’ Willem judged, and he bought every single copy he could lay his hands on in the city.
At home he immediately put Nirvana on top of the stencil sheet, with three pluses next to it. A rare privilege, because Willem used his pluses scarcely and well thought through. He kept two copies of ‘Blew’ for himself, and handed out six copies to each store. With the promise that had ordered more in London to keep up with demand.
But no mather how he tied, no matter how he loved the band, nobody seemed to feel the same way. Only a few copies got sold and landed on a turntable. It was such a disaster that Willem had to buy back all remaining stock from the stores, because he felt ashamed about his misjudgement. He even tried to give them away or free during his weekly radio quiz, and he called London to see if he could cancel his order. He could not.
During his last broadcast in 1990 he couldn’t resist reflecting back on many a great year. And he carefully placed the recod on the turn table one last time.
‘Listeners, buckle up for a bit of Nirvana. The first caller is welcome to pick up a copy of Blew here in the studio.’ Nobody called.
But, let us not forget where we were at the beginning of this chapter. Willem still has a lot to learn first.
Willem was still just Willem, when his father died. Many still called him little Willem. A far cry from a hurricane in the making. But a young lad who felt deeply ashamed of the thoughts swirling around in his head.
‘You little sneak, that’s just great. Now is really the time to bring this to me. Your deathbed is really the place to bring me this.’
Willem had noticed that Ephraim Cohen, his father and proud owner of Radio Shalom, found it increasingly difficult to find the strength to get out of his bed every morning. And the young Willem knew, as his father summoned him to come closer, that is was going to be a farewell. A last father-son moment, just like there had been a last mother-son moment some years earlier.
“Take care of your father,’ she had asked, and she closed her eyes for all eternity, before Willem could say yes. Willem held her hand and promised that he would.
And now, the same tranquil scene: a house on a rise somewhere lost in a landscape between two rivers, a sick bed in the living room, the scent of disinfectant, a frail being with thick purple grey veins draped over a hastily aged body, an untidy forearm tattoo, a number in the same vague color, the same never-have-talked-to-each other about what happened during the war.
The smothering weight of unspoken years. That’s how Willem was brought up: in deafening silence, lovingly deprived of the holocaust.
“You have to continue my work, it is important that you continue my work.”
Willem became even more ashamed, when he spoke out loud his venomous thoughts. “You little sneak! All this years you play mute about the war. And now all of a sudden I have to continue your work. I don’t know anything about this atrocious war of yours, apart from what I learned in school.”
“That’s enough to suffice’
From under his pillow Ephraim pulled a keyring.
“Radio Sjalom is yours now.”
“And now all a sudden I have permission to enter the barn?”
“Yep, it is yours. Here, take the keys.”
From under the same pillow he also pulled a brown envelope.
“The enclosed matter will protect you.”
“How exactly? Whom from? Against what? For God’s sake, why do I need protection by an envelope? Is this a last joke, dad?”
“I’d rather you don’t know what is in it. But used it, show it, every time Radio Sjalom is in trouble. That will happen much more often than you would like. The war is long gone, but people still don’t like us. We are a people in great danger.”
“Dad, you can’t do this to me. I don’t know anything about our people in danger.”
Teary eyed Willem looked at the frail being that had been through a lot. With a lump in his throat Willem promised that he would continue his father’s work.
“How do I go about it all? Will you stay here just a little longer to teach me? Or will the light go out soon, like mother?”
“You will learn fast. All answers are to be found in the barn. And you’re not alone. I’ve made sure of that.’
It went like with mother. The same stillness. The same day Ephraim’s light went out. Willem was ashamed no longer about his words and thoughts: “Sweet sneak. “Don’t do this to me. Bastard. Don’t do this to me. Sweet, sweet bastard.”
In his one hand the new owner of Radio Sjalom held a keyring, in his other a brown envelop.
There he sat, son of Sara and Ephraim, for hours. All alone. Alone with his grief. The hardest grief there is. Grieve that already has been grieved. Tears that already have been shed.
“Your daddy and I won’t be around for much longer.” Mother had said it often enough: “We are ghosts. Only the irrepressible strength of our youth helped us to survive the camp. But to little remained to continue living life at its fullest. Let us never speak of this again.”
You ignore the waving away gesture and stare around helplessly. The headmistress gives you a questionable look. “Still here,” she inqueres.
You ask her where you can find a bed. The answer seems very simple: “Upstairs, room fourteen.” You don’t want to sound like a complete idiot, so you don’t ask which way to go to find it.
Uncertain on your way to the nearest staircase you meet Maria and lots of other saint figures. One more threatening than the other. None of them very welcoming. All of them looking down on you.
Legs thin as matchsticks carry you up. Halfway the staircase you stand still, just to figure out that you have a long way to go still. Up, and is this life. You gather strengt and carry yourself up up.
Room fourteen is to be found at the end of seemingly endless hallway. Each door is numbered with copper numbers. Each figure polished so that it shines almost like gold. Above each door a cross, with a sad looking Jesus who died for us on the cross.
Finally. A bed. And then a feverish sleep.
You don’t know when exactly, but you wake up in the dark. The room feels strange. Each of your awakening senses screams that you don’t belong there. You lack the strength and the desire to get out of the bed, so you waste slow running time, until you have become adapted to the dark.
Dark contours draw the shape of a wardrobe, a chair and a writing desk. That’s about it. Only later –who could have guessed?- you notice yet another cross and sad looking Jesus above the desk. The room is filled with a damp silence. There is a rectangular box on a small side table in the corner. Curious about what could be in it you get up. You are startled by the closeness of everything in the small room. From your bed to the side table is only three restrained steps. And then you bump your big toe against the table leg. Not that it hurts, the veins in your arms are still swollen from the pain medication, pumped through them until recently .
But ballyhoo resounds terrifyingly through the hallway. Cautiously you backpedal. You lay on the bed and wait. Just long enough to make sure that no one has heard you. Your heart is beating in your throat for the second attempt. Feeling your way around, you notice that it isn’t a box, but a radio. A radio that charms a smile on your face. You’re not exactly sure why, but an ordinary radio seems to make you very happy. In your dozy head you start painting a picture of how the thing works. On, off, volume, cassette deck, fast forward, rewind,…
You hope that you have in right, you put the volume on zero and with a gentle touch you push the on button. You got it right. The radio stays muted. From behind the tuning scale a soft orange glow falls on your hands. It fills the room. And then you do something that you will look back on from time to time, later life. How was it possible, you will ask yourself, that you forgot everything, except that.
You turn the button on the side of the radio. And you know exactly where the tuning needle is headed for. You even whisper it as you turn and turn: “Radio Hurricane. 104.7”
With the accuracy of a watchmaker and one ear close to the radio you adjust the volume. Only slightly, just so you can hear everything.
And there it is. A familiar voice.
“Children, close your ears for just a moment. Because this is our ‘porn slow ballad’ for this week. I give you Gemini with L’Amour Interdit.”
Right until his very last broadcast D.J. Hurricane would do that on a weekly basis: ask the children to close their ears for a moment . What followed was often French, sultry, sticky sweet and overdosed with moans and sighs.
The porn slow ballad: a genre in itself. And, according to Hurricane Willem, fiercely underestimated.
What follows in the room is not sticky sweet. Unnoticed a ghostly presence steps into the room. And it uses half of the room to launch itself. Just to make sure that this will be a moment that will linger on for a long time to come.
Fortunately you’re prepped to withstand quite some pain. And you succeed barely an not very stylish to make a safe landing with the radio like a baby in your arms, after being catapulted over the side table.
“Here at Child’s Joy we ask if we can turn the radio on. Take note of that!”
Next he firmly grabs one of my ears.
“Do you understand?”
“Yeeess, auch….” It appears that there are limits after all to the powers of pain medication.
“Yes, I Don’t Know Who You Are.”
“And how do you address someone you don’t know?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know who, Sir!”
“You just earned yourself your first week of confinement to your room.’
The ghostly presence disappears. And faintly in a corner in of the room you hear the Hurricane announcing the next song: “Dear listeners this one is especially for all of you. Ian Dury & The Blockheads met Reasons to be Cheerful part 3.”
Let’s keep it simple. This story ends with the death of the legendary disk jocky Hurricane Willem on christmas eve in the year of our lord 1990. A final chord that leaves little to the imagination of the reader. Death is a simple and crystal clear concept. Logic dictates that it can also be used as a starting point. A mighty opening chord.
The proof is in the pudding. So let us start with the death of my father, somewhere at the crack of dawn on a beautiful autumn day. And little before that the passing away of Mommy Drudge, my mother, my twin brother Arthur, and my sister, Silke. Fifteen minutes of utter lunacy, resulting in one hundred thirteen knife stabs -order unknown- and a cracked open skull somewhere in the garage.
I was allowed to live. Although that wasn’t the plan, and pretty hard to do at first in a torso with nine stabbing wounds. One for each year of my life.
This could be the moment where you, as a reader, begin to feel to feel pity for yours truly. Don’t! The eradication of a family is an event that is only painful when looked at it from the outside. Smack in the middle of it one hardly notices. You go to sleep in the fall of 1979, mother nature erases your autobiographical memory, and you wake up somewhat drowsy in the spring of 1980. Some late birth.
Next to your bed sits a graying lady. She explains that she’s a social worker from juvenile court. And there is that sinking feeling for a moment. Thinking that maybe you’ve done something wrong, but you are afraid to ask. So you play mute. And you have a good pretext to do so, because talking is hard to do after months of artificial respiration. The incoming light hurts your eyes. You fall asleep, and you wake up again. The graying lady is still there. She smiles and takes your hand. “We will do our best for you!’
You fall asleep again, and you wake up for longer periods of time. And one teaches you who you were. Journalists stop by to take a picture. The doctor insists they do so without flashes. He is in the picture as well. He is a hero. Against all odds he has kept you alive. The doctor, the social worker and myself are getting applause from the staff on the day I leave the hospital. The social worker and a nurse are taking turns pushing my wheelchair. In the long corridors on the way out people come to a halt and applaud. Some try to touch me and stroke my humming head.
I get in a golden colored and purple fumes spitting Opel Kadett. People keep waving and applauding. The graying social worker lights a cigarette and drives away. She says that she has found a good orphanage, with a lovely staff that will take good care of me.
The headmistress explains to me the rules of living in an orphanage. And the social worker says goodbye with a hug. In my ear she whispers that I have to do my best to like it here. ‘You’re a sweetie, but already ten, and you come with expenses, so no-one will get you out of here. You’re here to stay.”
“Unless he doesn’t obey the rules then there is no place for him in here,’ the headmistress ads.
I ask if I can go to sleep, because I’m feeling tired, and I’m still having difficulty with gravity. With a waving away gesture she makes it clear to me that I’m allowed to crawl under the covers.
for part 2 press here: Hurricane Willem (2) english version