Harvey Job Matusow's
Cockyboo & the Stringless Yo Yo
an on-line autobiographical experiment
My High School teen years were a build up to being a warrior. I could hardly wait until I was seventeen. Turned 17 on October 3rd, and joined the Army 35 days later. I was scared, I was crazy, I wanted war. It was no draft board for me. Enlistment was the only way, it had another pay off, I got to get my High School diploma because I joined the army while in my senior year. The fact was that I was flunking most of the subjects I needed for graduation. I just wasn't into school. It was a factor, but not the primary reason. I just wanted to go to war.
I was bored with my teen years. Worked for Phil the Bookie, went to all the Yankee and Giant games, even if it meant cutting my last class in High School. I would turn the turn styles for three innings, and then get into the rest of the game free. We kids who lived near the ball parks tended to own them. We had access to all the perks and worked the parking lots and did street vending, and always got in to see the last six innings of a game. Once caught a ball hit by Bill Dickey, the Yankee catcher. I walked tall for years with that one. Next day the New York News or Mirror ran a cartoon in its sports page. It was a simple tomb stone with the inscription, "Here lies Whitehead (the Chicago White Sox pitcher) who walked Gherig to get to Dickey" It was Dickey's home run, the ball which I caught, which the cartoon referred to. I kept that cartoon for years with the ball that I finally got Dickey to autograph.
Education in a traditional sense was not my strong point, in fact it gave me more pain, frustration and anguish then any other aspect of my life. As hard as I tried, I could not comprehend what I had read unless I received it orally. My kind of learning disability, dyslexia, was not known or accepted when I went to school. Here I was with a high IQ, and I couldn't write an English composition that made any sense grammatically. I could fix most things, but I couldn't read a diagram or a blueprint. I loved music, but was afraid to sing, because I was always off key. I always felt as though I belonged on another planet.
My path was clear: off to war, just like Danny. He enlisted in the Air Force, and so did I. Something happened to glitch the dream. A month before I was to be called to active duty, a telegram from the War Department arrived telling us that he was MIA, missing in action. Momma Kitty knew, the telegram only confirmed what she had gotten from spirit a week earlier. We were sitting at the dining room table listening to the evening news on radio. The war statistics were being read, the number of raids, and the number of planes lost, when the announcer said, "two planes lost in a raid on Nuremberg..." Kitty turned pale, put her hands to her mouth and said, "Oh God, Danny was in one of those planes."
The day after the telegram arrived, I requested transfer from the Air Force to the Infantry. The request was granted, and I called to active duty a month later. The night before I was to ship out for overseas, I went AWOL for ten hours. I took off from Camp Miles Standish outside of Boston, caught a train to The Bronx, rushed home to say good bye to Kitty and Herman, only to find that they were out for the Saturday night movie. I couldn't wait, had to catch the train back so as to ship out in the morning. I scrawled a note across her kitchen calendar, "Won't come home until I find Danny!" She saved that calendar for years, always using it as a prop in telling the story of how I found Danny's grave at war's end.
Europe, the war, the death, the destruction -- all overwhelmed me. I was frightened when I got there. I had a healthy sense of "gang-plank fever", arriving shortly before war's end. I saw a minimum of combat, enough to shake me of my romantic views of war. Standing on the edge of a town near the railroad tracks, a bombed out farm house. Strewn all over the yard, the family photos, diaries and all that sacred personal stuff, gone, poof! I remember just standing there and crying. It wasn't the big stuff like the palaces or museums that brought the tears, but, the family album of an unknown family. I remember holding a photo of the grandparents with their grand children, and identifying with the Tyrone Power character in the film "The Razor's Edge": his search, his pain, and as I thought of him, I cried some more. Those tears seemed to give vent to all that political and social fantasy that funneled through the dreams and visions of Cockyboo. He was there for me again. He was there whenever the pain and despair got too low. Cockyboo, my red nose fantasy clown once again kept me from bottoming out.
As I said, my combat was minimal, mostly mopping up operations of old men and boys who Patton's Third Army had bypassed. Some of the scars for me came from being Jewish in "Holocaust Europe."
The night of war's end, V-E Day, May 1945, I was on 72-hour pass in Paris. For this romantic event there was no place else to be. On the next day the war was over. I was forgetting my fear of women, being young, comfortable, taking giant steps. Walking tall on a spring day in Paris -- peacetime in Paris -- floating, smiling, everyone was smiling. Spirits danced; there were no walls between people.
Then a thin, oh so war-hungry thin, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl tripped, her heel caught in the grating, broken, leaving her out of balance, but, still smiling when I caught her.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
"Merci, merci!" she answered, holding on for dear life.
I helped her over to a nearby cafe, where in the most God-awful, broken, New Yorkese French I asked her if she would like some wine. I couldn't speak French and she couldn't speak English. We sat there, two kids, and that is all we were, trying to find a single word that we'd both understand. I bought her some food, which she devoured like someone who hadn't eaten in days.
I found another G.I. in the cafe who spoke French, and he translated enough for me to know that she was alone, she didn't know where her family was, living or dead. She lived not far from the cafe; I helped her hobble home on the broken heel.
She lived in a small one-room furnished apartment, empty of the kind of personal things which gives a place a bit of the character of the person who lives there. She asked me to sit down and have some wine.
Wine, yes. No verbal conversation. Just quietly communicating. After about fifteen minutes I reached over and took her hand, turned it over, looked at the palm, the lines, the red rough skin. Then I kissed it, looked at her, put her head in my hands, cupping my palms over her ears. I drew her close; we kissed, softly. I took her hands again, got up with her. We danced as I hummed a waltz. We couldn't speak, but in my humming there was a language she understood.
It must have looked odd, our dancing, she in her bare feet and me in clod-hopper, heavy combat boots. Quietly, gently, her head on my shoulder, we danced. I was bashful, didn't know what to do - try to make it with her or not, couldn't make up my mind. As we danced, I rubbed her back softly. She responded, pressing closer to me, kissing my neck, pulling back, looking up at me. We kissed again, stopped dancing and fell on the narrow single bed, fully clothed.
She stopped, jumped up, said something, pointing to my shoes.
I remembered the French word for sleep, "dormir...Je and vous...dormir..."
She laughed, smiling and nodding..."Oui, oui... dormir... Je and vous..." She broke up laughing...mimicking me.
She went to the bathroom, and I started to undress. I stripped, everything except my olive drab, G.I. issue regulation shorts. She took a few minutes, and I got up and moved about the room, just looking at the few things she had sprinkled around. She entered the room; I turned toward her. The smile on her face suddenly turned to a look of shock or amazement.
Her dark eyes opened wide. Speaking excitedly -- I couldn't understand -- she was pointing at my dog tags which were hanging about my neck. I still had no idea what she was excited about.
"My God," I thought, "What have I done?"
"Qu'est - ce que c'est, qu'est-ce que c'est?" I said, holding the dog-tags out toward her.
She came closer, and picked up the small Star of David which was hanging on the dog-tag chain.
Shaking her head in disbelief, she muttered, "Juif, Juif..." and then started to cry. Crying, uncontrolled crying. I took her over to the bed, still crying, and tried as best I could to comfort her. She stopped crying after a few moments, looked up, smiling again and threw her arms around me. She kissed me, then jumped up, went over to the chair, lifted the cushion and pulled out a Star of David.
She was Jewish, and, like Kitty, a survivor. She'd been in Paris throughout the German occupation. I was the first Jewish-American soldier she had ever met. She was excited with disbelief. I became her symbol for the end of the war, for the end of the hiding, for the end of the horror.
We couldn't speak with words, but, we loved each other for the three days I was in Paris. She came to the railroad station when I left. We had some wine while waiting for my train. As a final gesture we exchanged our Stars of David.
When I got back to Paris in September she was no longer living where she'd been. She'd left no forwarding address, vanished into her own reality but forever living in my fantasy.
Europe was exciting; I didn't want to come home. I only did so to appease my mother's feelings, my being her only surviving child. I wanted to stay on and go to art school in Paris under the G.I. Bill. I sought out French intellectuals in cafes in Paris, and later in Biarritz where I had accidentally enrolled in a United States-sponsored university. The university was set up to take the heat off the Army and the speed in which it was re-deploying the troops now that the war was over.
I got myself into Biarritz because I had just had a fight with my French girlfriend, and was sulking back in the barracks, not out on pass, when the duty sergeant came in and asked:
"Anyone here with a high school diploma?"
There were about five of us in the barracks, and I raised my hand.
"Okay, kid, pack your things, you're going to go to college. Your truck pulls out in one hour."
In Biarritz I had a ball. This was Europe at its best, during its worst times. I did theatre with Richard Worfe in Saroyans's "Time of Your Life," and picked up some cameras, learned to use them and went to work for the Army Public Relations Office at Biarritz. I covered Lloyd Mangram winning Europe's first post-war golf tourney, and a couple of my photos were picked up by publications all over the world. It came too easy -- the fun was gone.
While at Biarritz I actively collected guns for the Jewish underground fighting for the establishment of the State of Israel, and once in a while got involved in finding guns for some folks who were still fighting Franco in Spain. I got a bit cocky once and joined three others in an illegal trip to see a bullfight in San Sebastian in Spain. The four of us, traveling in a U.S. Army jeep, and in full uniform, bribed a border guard with some cigarettes and went to the bullfight. I didn't take long for us to beat a hasty retreat, heads down, jeep smashing through the border gate at Hende. All sorts of diplomatic turd his the fan, but they never found us.
I loved the Army and the freedom it gave me. It was a place where hype and con fit well. A place where a hyper energy kid from the Bronx could flow with the crowd and not stand out. I loved being in Europe and had no desire to go home. All the romantic dreams of my childhood were becoming manifest. I was off to Paris whenever I could get a long weekend 3 day pass, and that was at least once a month. I'd drive in from Bad Nauheim, and always stop at the cemetery in St. Avold and put flowers on Danny's grave.
I expressed my feelings about wanting to stay in the Army, and to continue service in Europe. She was upset and pleaded with me to come home. Finally, in late summer 1946 and I agreed. My military job at the time was senior NCO responsible for the re-deployment of all Service Forces in Germany. So it was easy for me to pick my way home, and I found a job where an armed guard was needed to transport two General Court Marshall prisoners back to the States. The prisoners were in hospital and had to be transported on a Hospital Ship. I organized the guard detail, all friends, and wrote the orders. We arrived in Bremerhaven in August 1946 and boarded the hospital ship, Charles A.Stafford. It was a cushy job, played cards for the ten days it took us to get to New York. We docked at Staten Island. I didn't realize it, but Kitty and her brother Murray came down to the dock to greet me. But, I not knowing they were there, got into the ambulance with my prisoners, drove to Haleran General Hospital, signed the prisoners over to the local MP's, hailed a cab and headed home for thirty days leave.