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They’re Coming to Take Me Away

It is a dark wintery night in Northern Europe. The streetlights cast pools of dim, yellow light on the cobbled streets, windows are boarded and taped against the increasingly common Allied air-raids and most know, though cannot speak the fact, that the War is lost. From the tinny speakers of my hidden radio I know that the landings in France were not pushed back. Every time I transmit SHAEF gains another edge and I lose a year off my life from the stress. I try to send when other transmissions are at their peak and I move apartments every few days but I know they know I am out here…

Or, it is a dark and wintery night in Northern Europe and I am increasingly driven to flights of fantasy to keep the boredom off. I stood on the balcony the other night and watched spotlights criss-crossing the cloudy midnight sky. Never mind that they were advertising opening night at the concert hall. Don’t tell me that because for a moment I was Edward Murrow reporting live from the London Blitz or some nameless OSS agent looking at the Berlin sky in the final days of the Third Reich. Living in Europe gives you access to these types of fantasies. The sounds and smells, the old streets and ancient buildings, train stations and sirens, the slightly odd cut of clothing and the often undiluted, un-colonial, un-American look of the faces add up to a bizarre alternate reality where it isn’t so difficult to imagine oneself as some sort of desparate character living in desparate times. Which brings us to the sirens…

Perhaps it is too many old war movies and comics, the same ones that have given me a sort of weird German vocabulary (Gott und Himmel! Schwinehund! Mach Schnell!) that about 60% translates into Swedish, but there is something about the flat, two-tone sirens that always send a chill down my spine — never mind that it is 2007 not 1943 and I am in Lund, Sweden not Berlin, Germany. The sirens, are, frankly, creepy. The ululating wail of American sirens makes me hope the good guys are on the way with reckless urgency and heroic abandon but the European ‘EEE UH EEE UH EEE UH’ makes me think of Anne Frank. They make me start for my false papers, hidden Lugar and the fire-escape (none of which I have which is sort of frustrating). They predicate men in black leather trenchcoats…

But my father made my mind rest a little easier with sage words of parental wisdom, “Son, when the Gestapo comes for you they kick the door in around 0400…. And they don’t use the siren.”

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