When the gorge I am walking thru rises to the level of the surrounding meadow I find myself near the brick building I have been working toward all summer. As I draw near I see two guys sitting on the grass in the shade. I leave the path and cross the grass, gazing into the sullen distance so as to look like a peripatetic wanderer. One of the two has some kind of soldier uniform on with all the insignia stripped off and the other is a stocky, younger man in a baseball cap turned sideways so he looks even more retarded than he otherwise would.
They don’t see me until I get much closer. Then they look up and I am staring into two sets of eyes. I stop and there is an uncomfortable silence. The soldier sits with his arms on his knees and his muddy boots crossed.
Is this a power station? I ask to break the silence.
I notice an old man inside the station at the window. A constant hum issues from inside. Soldier looks at the old man inside, then at me.
Soldier says menacingly, You better stay away from here. Hey, you better run!
You better stay away. There could be big trouble.
Baseball cap cuts him off. He says, Where RU from, sir?
I live in the valley. I’ve been walking up here all summer.
Ahhh, he says, Amerikaner?
Yes, i’m an American. Lots of us live down there.
Lots used to, not so many now, since-well, it doesn’t matter.
I raise an eyebrow and say, I’m not allowed to walk here?
Sure you can walk here. Why not?
I mean, I say in confusion, Isnt this a power station?
No, says the old man at the window. Just a substation.
You supply power to the valley, then?
Aaaah, baseball cap shrugs.
Look, can I walk here or not?
Sure. Why not?
Because he said…I turn to Soldier, who gives me a Deliverance smile with broken teeth.
So I said, he nods.
When I do not leave Baseball Cap says, How was he supposed to know who you were, sir?
Cap turns to Soldier and says, You made a mistake, guy. Then to me: If I may say so sir, your face is pretty dark. That’s why.
Oh, I say. Suntan.
I can see it’s a tan now but it looked…well…
They thought I was Iranian or East Indian. Hadjiphobia must be intense here.
To cover his embarrassment Soldier says, My name’s Klaus. Klaus Hohenstaufen. I work here but not so much lately cause I’ve been sick.
Hohenstaufen? I say, laughing. That sounds like a Reichsdeutscher!
Soldier emits a sickly laugh and I am sorry I laughed at his name but I couldn’t help it. He even sounds like a fuckin kraut. I all but called him a Nazi.
Amerikaner, he spits at me in simultaneous accusation and explanation but turns it into a good natured laugh. Why not? He says. Everybody knows Americans are so ignorant they cant help themselves. And I am very glad I am not dark complected.
After we both laugh at ourselves and each other I say, Is it okay if I walk here, then?
Sure, sure, he says dismissively. Come back anytime.
Well I wont trouble you any further, I say briskly. Good day, sir.
And I turn quickly away and walk back down the hill. When I crest the next rolling hill I look back and see them talking as if i’d never been there.