Age of Discovering

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

The Violinist & Gymnastics

We drove on and I needed to cool off. It wasn't that warm.

"Sounds unusual. I can't imagine anything like that going on around here." I said, rolling down my window to stir up some air. "How'd you know you could trust them? You didn't really know them."

"It started with Hermie. He introduced me to Fritz. After a while, he invited me into his inner circle. I did what those boys did."

"What was Fritz to Hermie?" I asked.

"They were the same age. I get the impression Hermie had been taking care of Fritz for some time. Fritz met Freddie and Lang when they joined the gymnastics team. Fritz invited me to practice and I joined the team. That's how I knew Freddie and Fritz."

"To have someone to take care of them?" I asked.

"Who doesn't need that," Glenn said. "When you saw someone with Hermie, you knew what the end game was."

"Is that all he did?" I asked. "Get other boys off?"

"Hermie was charming. He could play the violin like a pro. He was smart, spoke German, French, and English like a native. He knew everyone and everyone knew of him. To get his seal of approval, to be seen with him, meant you were OK. No one needed an explanation if you were seen with him," he said.

"How often did you see Hermie?" I asked.

"Not often once I was running with Fritz. He included me in most of his activities. I didn't have much time to dwell on Hermie. I realized he had a lot of boys that liked him for the same reason I did. If I had a best friend while I was in Germany, it was Fritz. He took me with him a lot. He liked my company."

"I'd say that was a better arrangement. He saw through the bluster," I said.

"I learned the bluster from Fritz. He called it his truth. He said that most of us were after the same things. Most guys aren't comfortable speaking up. He did. People respected him taking the lead. He didn't get in any one's face and no one got in his."

"You still saw Hermie when you took violin lessons?" I asked.

"Yes! Not as often. For a while his lesson was right before mine. Then it wasn't. I looked for him while I was at Herr Gorman's, but I didn't see him most days," Glenn said. "He wasn't in his room, or at least he wasn't answering the door."

"What was his story? Why'd he play violin? Why'd he have his shirt off that day. Was there hanky panky with Herr Gorman?"

"He'd been taking lessons since he was ten. By the time he was sixteen, he was quite good. Way better than me when I started with Herr Gorman. After some months, and once Herr Gorman began to say, 'Ya! Ya,' as he closed his eyes to listen to me play, I did run into Hermie there one day. Herr Gorman said we should play together. That's the first time it happened," he said.

"What happened?"

"It!" he said. "Hermie and I were facing each other. I'd gotten over wanting to be his puppy but I still liked him. This episode was purely about the violin and how we'd come to see each other. We began playing a Wagner piece that Hermie loved to play. I'd heard it often enough to know the music. I was doing my best to keep up with him. That's when I slipped the pull of gravity and it was the first time I soared. It wasn't a conscious thing. I simply began to fiddle faster and more precisely than I'd ever done before. It went on for about five minutes. Once I returned to earth, Hermie was standing with his bow and violin at his side. He'd stopped playing as I took off. Herr Gorman stood in front of his chair. He spoke German to me. I heard the wonder in his words. Hermie translated, 'He wants to know how you did that. I want to know how you did that.'

"Did I do something wrong?" I asked. "Not understanding what I'd done."

"'You did something very very right,' Hermie said."

"I believe Hermie brought it out from where ever it came from. I still had strong feelings for him and I was comfortable being with him. He'd seen me when I was most vulnerable and he made me feel special. He made other boys aware that I was special. I suppose you could call it performance art."

"Hermie blowing you was performance art?" I asked.

"Where we went other boys would stand around so we weren't seen. Once he blew me in the back of a trolley. Fritz and Freddie did it on the Internet. I liked watching that but I didn't want to do it. They didn't show their faces, but those hard bodies were unmistakable to me. People paid them with Internet money as they went through their moves and got each other off."

"You watched them do a sex show on the Internet?" I asked.

"Sure! It wasn't as good as watching them wrestle. They were kind of stiff. On camera you can't see their passion. You only saw the mechanics of it."

"I'll bet. How'd Hermie come to play the violin?" I asked.

"Hermie told me about living on the street when he was younger. His father was a drunk and used to hit him with his fist. His mother was a prostitute and brought strange men into where they lived," he said. "Hermie didn't go into detail but I could tell it wasn't much fun."

"That's sounds terrible," I said.

"It wasn't Leave It to Beaver. One day he's sitting in a doorway near where he lives. He hasn't eaten all day and he has no prospects for getting a meal. The trolley passes. Herr Gorman is looking out. He sees this emaciated boy. The boy is dirty and pathetic looking, but Herr Gorman sees the angelic Hermie. Herr Gorman remembered back to the war, when he was a young man. He'd seen such children, thousands of them, but he had no way to help."

"How sad," I said.

"He got off the trolley and walked back to where Hermie sat. He asked the boy if he was hungry. Hermie nodded. Herr Gorman was on his way home to dinner. He held his hand out and Hermie took it. That's how Hermie came to play the violin," he said.

"Tell me what happened," I said, anxious.

"Herr Gorman's wife took one look at Hermie and took him to the bathroom for a good scrubbing. They thought Hermie was maybe eight or nine. He was small for ten. They had some of their grandchild's clothes in the extra bedroom. It was enough for him to wear while she washed his clothes, after they ate dinner."

"What happened?" I asked.

"Before Herr Gorman took him back to that doorway a few blocks away, he showed Hermie the back stairs in the alley behind their home. The stairs led up to the extra bedroom. Herr Gorman gave Hermie the key and said, 'If you need some place safe to sleep. You come here. Let yourself in. We eat breakfast at eight and dinner at five if you're hungry."

"Wow!" I said. "That was a lucky break for Hermie."

"The next morning Hermie was fast asleep in the extra bedroom, when Herr Gorman got up," Glenn said.

"Hermie said he stayed with them. Herr Gorman knew a magistrate for the district where he lived. He went to him to explain the situation. The magistrate knew Hermie's parents and they were always getting arrested. He drew up papers to appoint Herr Gorman Hermie's guardian. Some money changed hands and the mother signed Hermie over to Herr Gorman's care," he said.

"The thing Herr Gorman could do for Hermie, that assured his a bright future, was to teach him to play the violin. It's a serious instrument and not one understood well enough to supply all the orchestras with two or three competent violinists. Hermie began violin lessons and he lived with Herr Gorman and his wife."

"That's a great story. Amazing. Herr Gorman must have been a fine fellow," I said.

"He'd lived during W.W.II. There were a lot of kids like Hermie. There were too many without a home or food to eat. Herr Gorman couldn't do anything back then. When he saw Hermie, he was immediately reminded of the war. He couldn't help the war orphans, but he'd offer to help Hermie."

"It was a nice thing he did," I said.

"He was old and beginning to lose interest in life," Glenn said. "Hermie gave him a reason to live. One day I asked Hermie about how he came to play the violin. He told me that story."

"To think we have everything we need and never go hungry," I said. "It's difficult to know how many kids are destitute in America."

"We tend to keep unpleasantness out of sight here. It's easier to ignore that way. Out of sight, out of mind, you might say," Glenn said. "What destitute kids? I didn't see any."

"It makes who you pick for parents more important," I said.

"You can say that again," Glenn said. "I wouldn't trade my parents for any one else's. They've got to be good people. They let me grow up in their house."

Glenn laughed.

It was a somber subject and not one I wanted to dwell upon.


"You didn't so much become Hermie's friend as you became his admirer. He was the prototype German. Blond hair, blue eyes, a commanding ability to use the language. You had to wait your turn to have time with him. I was new. I didn't know any one," he said. "For a while, my time with him was right after my lesson. On those days it was him and me."

"I went for my lesson and then he'd meet me in the alley and we'd go up to his room."

"What did he do?" I asked.

"There you go again. You're looking for jack off material. He had this way of going down on me. He'd give it his all for a few minutes. I'd be right on the verge, and he'd back off. He did it again and he had me climbing the walls when he started on me the third time. For him three was the charm. To make certain, I put my hand on the back of his head so he'd finish the job. I knew I'd found heaven."

"You got off?" I said.

"Off and off and off. I'd never had an orgasm like the ones I had with Hermie. My hand never recovered it's former glory."

"What did you do next?" I asked.

"Nothing. I was in seventh heaven. It took me a few minutes to recover and then I had to be home for dinner. A few times I was late when Hermie wanted another go at me."

"What did Hermie say when he was done?" I asked.

"He'd smiled and he'd say he'd see me after my next lesson."

"Did he?"

"He did. I was hooked. He was direct. I knew what he wanted and we didn't waste any time making small talk. He might want me to stand while he sat on the bed. He might want me to lie down. Before I could come up with anything to say, he'd have his mouth full. I got used to the idea that this was our relationship. I didn't mind."

"What did he get out of it?" I asked, wondering if Glenn might have returned the favor.

"I began to think it was the power it gave him over another boy. It's why he made you wait and wait for the magic moment. That's a pretty vulnerable position you're in as someone brings you closer and closer to the edge of bliss. That's the best I can do. As I said, boys in Germany aren't as up tight about physical contact. In this country a boy might go along with you and do everything you do, and later on he'll deny he did it and call you queer. I'm sure there are mental health issues at play in that, but since no one is allowed to talk about sex, it's probably going to remain an issue, you know?" Glenn said.

"You never thought of returning the favor," I asked.

He gave me another long look. The expression on his face seemed more thoughtful than angry. I think he was considering what he would and wouldn't tell me.

He turned back to look out the windshield before speaking again, and he spoke carefully, wanting to be precise.

"I'd been in Germany long enough to turn fourteen. It took a little while to get hooked up with Herr Gorman. My mother wanted me to have the best teacher possible. She wanted me to have the best shot possible learning the violin. I'd been going to Herr Gorman for several months before Hermie had the lesson before me," Glenn said.

"I knew some kids at school but I didn't have any friends. I couldn't help but think of Hermie as my friend. What he was doing was about as personal as you can get. I was young enough that I didn't have many thoughts about love, marriage, and intercourse. What Hermie was doing was fine with me."

"So you didn't think about the other boys he was with?"

"At first I didn't know he was doing it with anyone but me. He was a societal reject before Herr Gorman rescued him. He had no friends and it was all he could do to survive it. I think he was lonely. I think his power over other boys was his way of making friends."

"Sucking boys off was making friends?" I asked.

"No, not exactly," Glenn said.

"You've thought about this?" I asked.

"After he stopped seeing me regularly, after he introduced me to Fritz, yes, I thought about it. I was older and more mature by then. I'd grown out of my crush on him, and by then he'd told me his story. I admired Hermie for being able to be so acceptable to so many while doing something that might see him labeled as undesirable. He simply gave boys what they wanted and they loved him for it."

"That's a fairly complicated hypothesis," I said.

"I have my moments," he said.

"Being spastic and a gymnast are contradictory," I said.

"Don't tell any one. I do have a reputation to protect."

"Playing the violin is contradictory to a rampage on your bike."

"My brother's bike," he said, smiling at me. "You've spent some time thinking this through."

"I have," I said. "What I know is that I don't know you at all. I only know what you tell me, but you haven't connected the dots yet. You haven't confided in me enough for me to know you."

"I'm hard to know, Gordon. I have trouble figuring out why I do the things I do. In Germany my life began to become my own. I liked being there. I don't mind being here, but I've yet to figure out how to make the most of being here."

"That makes as much sense as anything," I said. "You are a fascinating boy, Glenn."

"Some things take time," Glenn said. "If you take the that time you could end up finding something worthwhile."

I looked at him. He seemed to be talking about me.


"So Hermie handed you off to Fritz?" I said.

"More introduced me. Being American got me immediate acceptance with some Germans. It bought me some credit with Fritz. He wanted to hear about America. I didn't tell him I'd spent half my life away from the States."

"You knew he was a gymnast?"

"I may not have known it when we met but I knew muscles when I saw them and Fritz was more muscular than most boys. Being a gymnast meant having tight muscular builds. It's what attracted me to Fritz. He knew Hermie well enough to know I was one of his boys."

"Hermie arranged the meeting with Fritz," I said. "So he told Fritz about you."

"A fair assumption," he said.

"How long before he introduced you to gymnastics?" I asked.

"Within a month, I think. He met me after school one day and we went to the athletic complex. There was an American gymnastics coach, and he spent some time talking to me. He wanted me to try out and I think that's what Fritz had in mind."

"The violin?" I asked.

"I was still taking lessons. It wasn't my main interest, once I met Fritz and joined the team. I was focused on doing the rings well. Doing gymnastics taught me to focus completely. The coaches realized I was getting too tall for most routines. Most gymnasts could do most of the routines. The head coach knew I was friends with my teammates. To keep me he made the rings my discipline. Because of my height, he wanted me to specialize on the one discipline that I wasn't too tall for."

"You were once disciplined? Who would have known," I said.

He laughed.

"I was good on the rings and I was able to continue with the team. Then I broke my arm and I began to drift away from my friends on the team. There was talk of me coming back, but I was continuing to grow, while my arm was healing. I was five foot nine at fifteen and I was outgrowing gymnastics with a long rehabilitation ahead of me after the cast came off.."

"How tall was Fritz?" I asked.

"Fritz was maybe five seven. He was a few inches taller than me when we met. By the time I was fifteen, I was taller than him. I'd built my body up after a year of gymnastics. It was a lot of work and then it was over."

"What about the violin?" I asked.

"I stayed with Herr Gorman until we came back to the U.S. He let me play the pieces I liked after a while. I was a far more focused violinist once I had to give up gymnastics. I'm not sure gymnastics didn't help me to learn to focus on things I was doing."

He sat facing the road again. He was thinking.

"Go ahead. I'm listening," I said.

"I've never told any one this stuff," he said, glancing at me.

"You've lived an interesting life, Glenn."

"Are you going to make the violin your career?" I asked.

He looked at my face.

"Probably," he said, and I thought he could.


"Pasquel saw it right off," Glenn said.

"Pasquel?" I asked.

"My mother left Germany before we were to report to the new stations at the base near here. She'd locate housing and have it ready for us when we arrived. She also went looking for Pasquel."

"Pasquel?"

"Violin teacher. He was recommended by the conductor of the base symphony," Glenn said.

"I'm sensing a connection to how you came to play for the base orchestra."

"Good ole' Pasquel sent me to audition for the conductor once he'd heard me play. He was smart enough to let me play the music I liked to play. I'd only been here a few months before I began to rehearse with and play for the base orchestra."

"I thought the base orchestra was only military personnel."

"Mostly! They don't turn down people playing instruments in short supply. A good conductor rarely has enough violins."

"Pasquel was smart enough not to want to discourage me. He knew I'd been taking lessons with Herr Gorman. He didn't know him. He knew of him. He didn't want to toy with what Herr Gorman taught me. Pasquel wanted to explain the music I played to me," Glenn said.

"How'd he do that?" I asked.

"While in Italy to see an Italian opera with mother, I heard an Italian man trying to explain opera to an American man. Pascuel was like that guy. He explained the origins of music as well as the men responsible for giving us some of the greatest classical sounds. It gave me a greater appreciation for the music, but much of what he told me went over my head. I suppose I'll retain enough to help me appreciate the music more."

"So Pasquel thought you played pretty well," I said.

"I had it when I played for him. I was in a new place and didn't have many distractions. He saw it right off."

"It?"

"It? You saw it last night. That's it. It comes out and takes over the violin. I am one with the violin. Herr Gorman explained to me the difference between someone who plays the violin and a violinist. Pasquel made sure I knew what a violinist did," he said.

"Pasquel was more simplistic. It was what it was and he knew better than to tamper with it. He knew, as well as I did, there was no way I could master the violin in such a short period of time. Since I had, he didn't spend a lot of time telling me why it wasn't possible."

"You did a lot more than open a violin case in that London shop, Glenn," I said. "Whatever was inside that case is inside of you now."

"The spirit of a long ago discarded violin. I like it," he said. "The first time it happened was playing with Hermie. I thought it was him."

"Then you discovered it was you," I said.

"You know, there's a guy who plays in the base orchestra. He was 1st violin for eleven years. Then I show up/ He literally becomes second fiddle to a kid," Glenn said with an uncharacteristic sympathy in his voice. "You know how much that guy hates me? All he can do is watch. I'll be gone in a year. He knows that too, but he can't stand it."

"Where will you go?" I asked.

Once again the stare. He moved nothing but his head when he looked at me. Was he deciding if he should tell me more or not?

"I'll have a career in music. I'll play the violin. Why wouldn't I?"

"You play for a fine orchestra. You'll give that up? You've been in Germany. No one knows you here, do they?"

He looked fairly sure of himself. When wasn't he?

"I'm practicing my craft. I've been noticed and that's one reason why I came to school here. It's too soon for me to think of a professional career as a violinist. That doesn't mean there isn't one."

"With other orchestras?" I asked.

Once more he took time out to look at my face. There was a slight smile that went with the look this time.

"Something like that," he said, not ready to tell me what something was.

"You've told me everything else. Why the mystery?"

He looked out at the road ahead.

I decided I should too.

"You're better than good, Glenn. I've never been so shocked as I was last night, Glenn. You're so… so…."

"Spastic?"

"No. Not spastic. That is a facade. Below that facade is a serious musician and a smart guy. You spent your life getting ready to walk into that London shop."

"You believe that hocus pocus, Gordo?"

"Not until I met you. Something took place. I heard someone once say, 'And all the tumblers in the universe fell into place.' That's what happened to you. It's what happened in that London shop. Nothing else makes as much sense as that," I argued.

"Right out of the Twilight Zone," Glenn said, turning his head my way..

"What if you walked by that shop? What if you didn't reach for the violin case? Would you have still played the violin? It was your destiny all right. You reached for the violin to fulfill your destiny. The shop keeper believed it. He'd seen it before. He thought the violin belonged to you because you unlocked its secret. He'd do nothing to change what was meant to be."

"Something beyond the beyond? Rod Serling did not step out to explain the plot," Glenn said. "It proves the complete randomness of life. Why does Ted Bundy become a serial killer, while I become a prodigy?"

"Ted who?"

"Not important," he said. "Destiny is limited to those who stumble onto theirs. Sounds like randomness to me."

"You're probably right. You're the one living with it. I suppose it's easier to have a magic answer to the mystery of your violin."

"Which brings us to gymnastics," Glenn said. I wouldn't have been a gymnast if Hermie hadn't introduced me to Fritz. Then you can reduce the calculation back to the violin. I'd never have met Hermie if I hadn't needed violin lessons. In gymnastics I learned a focus I didn't know about before. I think I transferred that focus onto the violin, once I could no longer do gymnastics."

"You were the one who did it. I'm merely an observer," I said. "I couldn't be a gymnast or a violinist," I said.

"Most guys couldn't jump up to reach the rings without a boost. There was a guy who lifted the shorter boys up in order for them to grab the rings. My jump to grab the rings was when I would focus," he said. "That simple motion clicked my brain into another gear."

"When my feet were on the floor, I was grounded. As soon as I left the floor, I was ready for flight. I was in the zone. I didn't have a thought in my head. I knew my routine. I executed, dismounted, and I was grounded once my feet touched the floor."

He looked to see if I was listening.

"I broke my arm trying for perfection. I'd made a mistake by hanging onto the rings an instant too long. I understood they wouldn't be in the proper place when I reached for them, but I went through with the routine anyway. If I'd bailed out and cut the routine short, I'd have looked bad. So I hoped when I reached for the rings, they'd be there. They weren't."

"How'd that impact playing the violin?" I asked.

"I broke the hold hand. The cast made a nice cradle for the violin to rest in. In some ways it was easier with the cast holding the violin steady. My bow hand was fine. That's where the magic happens."

"The bow hand," I said, picturing it in my mind.

I heard him playing his solo on base. I remembered hearing him play the same music for me the day I nursed him.

I had no question that he played it for me. I just didn't know why he wanted me to know he played the violin. Had Glenn already decided to let me into his inner circle?

I wanted that to be true.

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