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I've been doing comedy for a while now--depending on how it will benefit me, I'll admit to anywhere between one and 50 years. I've opened for Dennis Miller in front of 1500 people, successfully used my wits to defuse an angry prison parolee in the front row of a show in Corpus Christi, TX--the tequila we shared helped, thrown pitches off the mound at Yankee Stadium in full Yankees uniform for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and I've used my charm and knowledge of manscaping to absolutely murder before an audience of swingers. That one was a tough feat. Comedy to me is storytelling about the times when you're uncomfortable, and trying to tell those stories in front of a group that's never uncomfortable in any situation was a challenge. But the week I just spent in Germany performing on U.S. Army Posts was clearly the highlight of my career. They had the right guy to be awed by this opportunity. I've read so much about the military and admired my father's army service for so long that the pump was definitely primed for me to appreciate the men and women I met. But, when you've been a part of a formal Welcome Home Military Ball for an attack recon helicopter battalion that's just come home from Iraq, you can't help but be awed. The 2-159 Gunslingers throw a mean party and I had my share of their ceremonial grog made with different liquors representing a history of U.S. Army engagements, along with JP-8 helicopter and jet fuel, engine oil, hydraulic fluid, and two boots full of Iraqi desert sand. After a glass of that stuff, I could have used a little sorbet to cleanse my palette but the U.S. Army is too damned ballsy to issue sorbet to its people. We just ate our meal of steak and barbed wire and carried on. I did notice that the colonel and lieutenant colonel I was sitting with didn't seem to indulge as much as I did. Perhaps that's why they're senior officers in charge of thousands of lives, and I sometimes watch my nephew. I was a little nervous before the event. I don't go down a receiving line along with 700 other people too often, but when I got to my table--the head table with the big brass--the first person I met was the German Air Force liaison, Colonel Schmuck. Yes. Colonel Schmuck. And, just like that, my funny was back. I almost asked him what his limit on schnitzengrubben is. I speak a little Yiddish, and it was actually very helpful over there. When I couldn't find the steam room in the hot springs spa, I just asked the woman at the desk where the schvitz was and she knew just what I was looking for.
I got to use the unit's Apache helicopter simulator the day of the show along with their commanding officer. They let me set up the mission plan so I strafed the hell out of York, PA with the 30 mm cannon. Actually the virtual reality scenario we were using was from their last deployment in Mosul, Iraq, but I've never met anyone from Mosul and I've spent a lot of time in York so at least in my imagination I was happily taking my revenge over central Pennsylvania. The CO let me get on the microphone as though we were on a mission and I think he realized how truly dorky I am with how quickly I went into the patter of a skilled AH-64D pilot. "Roger that, base, this is Vanguard 9 on station over sector Bravo. Engaging stationary targets." I'd only been playing that scenario in my head since I was about eight. I pride myself on being a writer, but truly the best way I can sum up my time in the Apache simulator was that it was absolutely frigging awesome. I toured Dachau, the Nazi "model" concentration camp just outside Munich, and it was not quite as bad as I thought it would be. And I think I know why. Somehow spending time with so many American soldiers who are serving our country for the right reasons--the descendants of the American soldiers who defeated genocidal fascism during World War II made that day easier. I think it's easier to see evil when you've just spent time with the people who today still fight evil. I walked through the original gate into Dachau, which still bears the words: Arbeit macht frei. Work will set you free. One of the Nazi's first lies. That there was actually a way out. Unfortunately I don't think we've learned as much as we should have because we still have groups in America like the Council of Conservative Citizens and the National Alliance that sound benign, like "work will set you free" but really only exist to exclude and denigrate people.
The army assigned me a civilian German driver for the week and it was incredible. When you perform in New York City, your first concern is where can I put my stuff while I'm on stage so it'll actually be there when I get off stage? That's not a worry when Klaus is holding your wallet, passport, and jacket like mother holds her newborn. I can see how celebrities get used to having a valet like Elvis' guy who would carry a around a cigar box filled with all of the king's favorite candy and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I'm not saying it's healthy, just really really cool. Klaus--I'm serious, his real name--took his job very seriously and it was a pleasure. He asked me if I wanted to stay on the motorway or try some of the smaller roads so I could actually see some of Germany. A lot of the smaller roads in southern Germany are marked with signs that denote them as a Romantische Strasse (romantic road) and though I'm very fond of Klaus, I would have preferred that the army assign me Heidi Klum as a driver. Only, then she'd end up in the passenger seat and I'd be carrying her favorite snacks around. Klaus translated about a thousand German words for me, because when I'm combining all the languages I barely speak into one incomprehensible sentence, I like to have a dynamic vocabulary. "Shalom, donde esta ha schvitz zimmer meine freund?" I could tell I was trying his patience from time to time, when I'd ask what something meant, and he'd just look at me and say, "It is just a name Dave. It does not mean anything." Klaus and I hiked almost all the way to the top of a small mountain to see one of the two castles in Schwangau. I was laboring, but Klaus is a smoker and he broke first, looking at me with great hope that I'd call no joy and proceed below the hard deck. I’m an Apache pilot now so it’s only appropriate that I quote Top Gun. I upheld the honor of the United States by making sure I was not the first one to quit and head back down the mountain. Unlike in Hong Kong twenty years ago when I embarrassed all of us, and they had to stop a basketball game so they could bring me water. "Rest Dave, rest." Sorry about that one America.
There's a lot to like about Germany. I have OCD and so does all of Germany and I say that as a compliment. But most of all, I salute Germany for their unquenchable supply of cured meats. If you can grind it up and pack it into a pig's intestine, they'll call it a wurst and eat it. Weisswurst, knockwurst, bratwurst, and schuhwurst--ok, I made that last one up. It's ground up shoe. Fantastic beer and hot dogs at every meal in Deutschland. How can you beat it? The country is just one big tailgate. One cool thing the Germans do is that they cover the scaffolding on a building that's being remodeled with a life-size copy of what the building will look like when it's done. Maybe they should cover the building with a picture of a much better looking building? I could cover my studio apartment with a picture of an apartment with two rooms! In Hong Kong, interestingly enough, the scaffolding was all bamboo. What's wrong with me? I am a dork. I've turned my travels into a world tour of scaffolding. Back to the 2-159 Gunslingers. Receiving the American flag that flew aloft in an Apache over Iraq this year is truly the greatest gift I've ever received. And my parents gave me a jeep once. I'm not a cynical guy but I am skeptical. I think a lot of us are. So let me assure everybody, especially the idiots who spend so much time listening to how our country is going to hell on AM radio. After meeting so many of our service people--officers, NCOs, enlisted, and warrant officers, and the American civilians who work with them, in Bad Windsheim, Garmisch, Stuttgart, and Wiesbaden--we have absolutely nothing to worry about. The future is safe. For America and sausage.