Chris and I grew close in middle school. His father is from Minnesota, his mother from Poland, although she left for Germany when she was still young. When I visited Chris near Stuttgart, the first thing I noticed about the people there was that they spoke unintelligible German. Schwäbisch, the dialect was called. Spoken mostly by farmers, it sounded, to my untrained ear, like a Swede’s butchering of German. I soon learned that even hardy German speakers had trouble understanding Schwäbisch. That made me feel a bit better.
One week, Chris and I, along with his two friends Christian and Marc, decided to drive down to Lake Constance. Christian was the only one of us old enough to drive, and so we decided to use his suped-up VW Bug. Christian was crazy about cars. He was studying engineering (of course) and would later land a job at BMW straight out of school. Anyway, we were driving along, Christian at the helm. Halfway into our road trip, Chris and I fell asleep. When we woke up, Christian was blaring “Damn, It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” on the Bug’s tinny stereo system, going extremely fast. It was like a switch had turned. Christian yelled above the din of the stereo: “We hit 200!” That was the summer the Mendoza line was breached on the Autobahn.
Chris had a feisty Jack-Russell Terrier named Finn. Chris and I would take Finn out on walks through the fields to catch mice. Equipped with jackets and a small pipe filled with cherry tobacco, we’d lead Finn to the outskirts of Böblingen and let him loose. Finn loved the chase as much as any dog bred to be a predator, but he seemed outright miserable when a mouse escaped (and escape they did). His tail stalled, his ears drooped, and he trotted off aimlessly like he hadn’t wanted the mouse in the first place. This was all a show. When he finally captured something, he’d hold it lovingly in his jaws while the critter demonstrated with whatever limbs or whimpers it could. Finn looked at his owner, a mixture of pride and longing animating his brow, and swallowed.