And then there was… “Freddie”. By now this character of Belgian origins stands in the way of The Greek Goddess. He is, at this moment, a buffer and a tease and a scheduled procrastination, and he may even be a shelter to shield you from the simple truth that distinguishes European women from Western women. Right now we still find it necessary to protect you from the the fables and tales and whispers of “overseas” culture and “Greek” traditions – those of which will in today’s standards and judgments, seem inappropriate and yet inviting to some.
Let us meet “Freddie”.
Mornings at the rec center were as described; cleaning the indoor Olympic pool and its washrooms, checking out basketballs, volleyballs, squash and racquetball rackets, along with booking court times, sorting the weights and dumbbells in the weight room, general housecleaning, and the influenced mixing of coffee grounds and water. Once the pool had been cleaned and sanitized and the facilities organized for a productive fitness regime by NATO Officers and Non-Com personnel, it was off to be at one with the base’s beloved Freddie.
It was a short hop and a skip to the “grounds”; an area consisting of many exercise disciplines such as indoor tennis courts, outdoor tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, an Olympic 400 meter running track, and all things needed to maintain the recreation and sport oriented grounds.
My weekly time with Freddie was short, perhaps 3 hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but he is forever burned into my memory and I haven’t a clue why.
At least 6 things strike me when I fondly remember Freddie. The first is his broken English. He was a local Belgian and not in the military – a “civie”. He was a contractor and had no requirement to learn English. His accent was HEAVY and his English vocabulary of course, limited. He spoke fast and without care to cater to my sorely lacking command of the French language.
Second; he was a fast mover always on the go. He was a fast talker and it was labourious to understand his highly accented words. I was a newcomer to French accents and his was the best way to learn seeing as the difficulty level was so high. But it was easy to see past the slight language barrier and recognize he was a very, very sharp guy. The quickness about him reeked of high intelligence. He was a multi-tasker and if you ever had a quick-witted boss who consistently snapped his fingers as a way to encourage or demand results because “time was a tickin”, then you have the vision of Freddie firmly in your mind.
Third; he was around 40 years of age; an eternity compared to my paltry 194 months. Khrist, he as as old as the hills, a human just waiting to die. His complexion was olive, perhaps from all the rejuvenating time spent outdoors and not a concise indication of Mediterranean descent. He was at least as tall as me (6 feet tall) or maybe 5’11”, also known as “an inch less a man”. Medium build and fit. His hair was black, medium length and thick, his glasses were square and thick and were also black. Black, thickly framed glasses and square – not the thin frames and rectangular, associated with some Dutch or German intellectual or frail scholar, but large and beefy to reflect his character. But most STRIKING OF ALL was his thin black mustache just above the lip… very picturesque of an Argentinian or Spanish dictator, very much like Eugene from my post “Eugene’s Axiom”. Perhaps I have just identified a connection here… will investigate… stand by.
Fourth; he was a jovial Freddie. Life was all about “fast”. There was a swiftness about him and an efficiency to his nature that taught me the virtue of getting things done – a stark contrast to Peds, the Englishman at the rec center – and it was Freddie’s lack of waste or haste that forced me to pick it up in reference to my lagging character traits. Movement out of the truck and into the grounds was speedy as was the opposite. He was bound by schedule and nature’s way and thus, was kept on his toes by the changing of the wind and weather. Peds was bound by… well actually… I can’t really say what he was bound by. Perhaps he was serving time in the Queen’s army until the clock runs out. Yeah, me thinks this was the case. Freddie was always laughing about sumthin. He was happy-g0-lucky and smiling and looking back on it now, I see and feel it was the adrenaline rush of the busyness and the schedule and the changing conditions of wind, rain and weather of the Belgium summer, that was the juice or fuel of Freddie’s constant pep and vigor and slightly sinister smile.
He did bust balls but in a playful and attentive way. He had to as I was the son of a high-ranking Officer. My father’s rank was Lieutenant Colonel was not THAT high BUT he was very well “connected” and always worked for Generals once he stopped flying when a Major. My sheer luck of a cush-gig job at the rec center was an indication of this. Freddie’s chop and ball busting was my first ribbing by a “Frenchman” and I was powerless to it as I was kindly initiated into the working world of men.
Fifth; he was persistently hurried and this was evident in his driving style. The grounds crew truck was a single cab diesel so typical of European vehicles. It sat three, was manual transmission (again, typical for Europe), was white, and had a box with low sides to haul the vital tools needed for keeping the base grounds neat and tidy and respectable, all of a high military standard. He never drove slowly and had free reign of the base to drive over grass and gravel and sidewalks of all dimensions and concrete types. The Isuzu or Mercedes or Opal manufacturer of this work truck might was well have been a Hummer as there was no place we could not go in this wild summer adventure, where I first learned the cruelty of Life.
Sixth; this cruelty of Life still to this day and moment, resonates sadness and it involves Freddie. You see, a few years before my arrival at S.H.A.P.E., Freddie killed someone while driving drunk. I was told this by one of my fellow workers. I don’t recall the exact circumstances but he actually ran someone over killing them instantly. The details are of no importance. In Europe in the year of 1988, drinking and driving was Standard Operating Procedure. It was a part of Life as was drinking beer or wine on a coffee or lunch break… no big deal. And with Fast Freddie’s ways – which is really a way of saying he was unstoppable – I could, in my young youth, see this taking placing in Freddie’s life. I did not judge him nor did I ever bring it up or mention it to anyone except for just now; a secret I have harboured for 28 years. I later realized that running someone over when driving drunk was a lock and stock repercussion and effect of living a Fast Life, a Fast Freddie Life.
And what I do recall strongest about my time with Freddie, in the process of grounds maintenance in the afternoons at the base? It was three-fold:
1. Driving in the truck at high speed over every park and baseball diamond and soccer field (green space), across every red-graveled path and curb and sidewalk, seamlessly out of control, as if to say “We have the power to do whatever we want and bend and even break all rules on this RULED base”.
2. I was always pushed in a frantic way to complete my assignments, causing me to work efficiently and to always be productive in my actions and physical movements, while at the same time, knowing we were never under any real threat of consequence to accomplish. It was a perplexing mix of “We have all the time in the world to work hard and fast to get this done now”.
3. Sweeping the outdoor tennis courts of debris, in the form of natural falling or blown vegetation. I recall the outdoor tennis courts were in perpetual need of being swept clean of pine needles and other such tree-based vegetation. Maybe this has stuck out the most because I enjoyed playing tennis and the indoor courts were particularly sweet. Or Maybe because Boris Becker won Wimbledon around this time and we were around the same age, and I watched him win live on TV, making that unforgettable diving volley.
Like I do with all teachers and mentors, it is time to bid my regards and pay my dearest and most sincere respects, to those who have shaped me in this Life of mine…
End of Part 4