June 25, 2019

Charles Rammelkamp: History, Politics, and People

Charles Rammelkamp: History, Politics, and People
 The Crud  

My mother called him “the crud,”
my brother’s friend Alan.
I’m not sure what she had against him,
besides his lack of ambition –
she was a schoolteacher, after all –
Alan destined to work
in one of the steel factories
after graduating from high school –
at least until the steel factories all closed.
The Crud loved cars.
He could tell you the make and model and year
of anything with four wheels and an engine,
sported decals of hotrods and muscle cars
all over his school folders.
He did speak vaguely
of “joining the service,”
as his older brother had,
then having all his teeth pulled,
dentures installed in their place,
the stubby twisted teeth in his mouth,
a source of private anguish.
When my brother mentioned to their friends
our mother called Alan “the crud,”
the nickname stuck,
but only behind his back.
Everybody referred to Alan as “the Crud.”
Initially offended, hurt, Alan soon embraced it,
wore the sobriquet like a badge,
though still, nobody called him
“the Crud” to his face.
Sometimes I wish I knew
what became of the Crud
after I left home,
but never enough to try to find out.  


“The little champagne salesman,”
Hitler’s dismissive nickname for von Ribbentrop,
his Foreign Minister,
whose college friends had teased as “Ribbensnob,”
a man whose savoir faire gave him
entrée around the world –
at least until everybody but Argentina
shunned the German government –
a tennis player, an iceskater,
his old-fashioned manners and elegance intimidated.
But he’d begun his career importing champagne –
Mumm and Pommery from Reims –
before becoming der Fuhrer’s yes-man, enabler.
If Hitler said “grey,” the common knowledge went,
Ribbentrop would encourage, “black, black, black!”
A teacher recalled Joaquim
“the worst student in class,
full of vanity and very pushy.”
Hitler finally tired of him,
despite Ribbentrop’s enthusiasm for his master.
Even after his conviction at Nuremberg –
crimes against humanity and other charges –
he remained loyal to Hitler,
who’d already committed suicide.
“Even with all I know,” he averred in prison,
if in this cell Hitler should come to me
and say, ‘Do this!’
I would still do it.”
The first of ten men hanged on an October day in 1946 –
Goring having committed suicide before his scheduled execution –
ascending the thirteen steps to the gallows
he uttered his final words: “God protect Germany.”  


We sailed into the Birch Run exit
like a leaky catamaran,
the Service Engine Now light
pulsing like a migraine on the dashboard.
After checking into a motel,
calling Triple-A as if tossing out a lifeline,
locating likely local repair shops –
Sunday afternoon, all businesses closed –
we went to dinner
at Oscar and Joey’s Roadhouse,
a nearby bar, trophy kills – deer,
elk, moose – mounted on the walls.
“Went into limp mode,” the guy
at the table next to us nodded
when we told him about our car problems.
He named a garage we could try.
“A Nissan?” he frowned, disapproving.
“Used to work at GM in Flint
until they shut down the plant
more’n fifteen years ago now.
“Now I drive down to Chrysler
in Detroit, every day,
a hundred and six miles there,
a hundred and six miles back.
“Why don’t I move?
I just ain’t a city boy.
’Sides, I got my farm up here.
Okay, sorry about you folks’ car.”
When he got up, he pointed
to the stuffed bear next to the bar,
rearing up on its hind legs,
Canadian flags behind its ears.
“Missy shot that up in Canada,”
he indicated the waitress with a jerk of his head.
“She says the best part was
her husband didn’t shoot nothin’.”  
The Plot Against America  

That semester at the community college,
we taught Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America
in our Intro to Literature classes.
Mina and I shared an office,
both of us adjuncts in the English Department.
She told me she’d compared the novel,
in which Charles Lindbergh, a Nazi
sympathizer, is elected president,
to the Trump administration:
the persecution of minorities
(Jews instead of immigrants and Muslims),
the attacks on the free press,
an authoritarian con man in the Oval Office.
Her students, unable or unwilling
to see the similarities, thought
she just had an ax to grind,
still hadn’t gotten over the election.
I remembered Professor Wilson,
my Elizabethan Lit. professor
when I was a college student,
talking about all the sex symbols
in Spenser and Shakespeare.
Billy Dooley, in the desk next to mine,
wondered in whisper if Wilson wasn’t
getting any sex at home.
“They don’t think Trump’s ‘presidential,’”
Mina clarified, “but
they aren’t scared out of their wits, either.”    


Nancy could have kicked herself for her indiscretion,
mentioning to her boyfriend Sonny
the old guy at the bank, Mister Hughes,
one of the regular Tuesday customers,
inviting her out to lunch last week.
It had been an innocent date,
Mister Hughes old as her grandfather,
a delightful meal in a posh restaurant
she’d never have been able
to afford on her own.
“We can use this to our advantage,”
Sonny said, eyeballs like cherries
rolling in a slot machine
to a sensational jackpot.
“A lonely old guy
sniffing after the young stuff.”
“It’s not like that!” Nancy protested.
“He’s just a sweet old man.
Leave him alone, Sonny!”
“Riiiiight,” Sonny replied,
the calculations still spinning in his eyes.

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) http://poetscoop.org/manuscrip/Time%20Is%20on%20My%20Side%20FREE.pdf Charles Rammelkamp once arm-wrestled Sonny Liston in a bar in East Saint Louis.

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