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On meeting Raymond

As told by Russ Hodge, charter hwg member

First of all, let me assure you that every word I am about to say is the absolute truth. Often when you hear that, it means somebody is about to tell a whopper, a real dinger, but in this case I swear by whatever deity you choose that it's the god honest truth. Except the word "perverse," when you get to it below, which is true but probably an understatement. 

So here goes my sworn testimony.

I met Raymond Hansen, AKA Raminski, AKA Hallmar, through one of the most bizarre strokes of fate ever... I was flying home to Germany from the US, missed my flight, got routed through Chicago, and rushed on board the plane. As luck would have it they seated me next to a thug. Dressed in what I seem to remember as a long leather trenchcoat, slightly sinister looking, balding - and, as the Blues Brothers put it - "wearing sunglasses!" in spite of the fact that it was evening. I struck up a conversation (they tell you to do that, with your captor, when in fear of your life). It turned out the sunglasses were part of some jet-lag therapy, and you were never supposed to take them off, ever, even when at the other end you went through customs looking like a Russian mafia boss. 

"Going to Germany?" one of us said (I can't remember which one).

"Yes." (Which made sense, given that we were on a flight to Frankfurt.)

"Me too." 

"Are you stopping in Frankfurt, or connecting?"

"Just to Heidelberg."

"No kidding? Me, too."

"Wow. What do you do there?"

"Well, I have a day job," one of us said, I can't recall which, "but that's just a mask; I have a secret identity as a writer."


"Where do you work?"

"In the center of town, on a street called the Plöck."


It turned out that Raymond and I worked literally about 100 meters from each other, me at the university, him in a difficult-to-categorize shop called MUSEO. And thus began a great friendship, and many many many coffee breaks in the back of his shop, while I was supposed to be teaching and Rayminski was supposed to be lawyering, or helping his long-suffering wife actually get some work done...

It turns out that another friend, Vivian Vargas (hi Vivian!) had just opened a SECOND-HAND ENGLISH BOOK SHOP RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM MUSEO and literally 110 meters from where I worked, and 10 meters from where I worked, and the both of them were engaged in a conspiracy whose true purpose I never quite figured out, but had a cover as a writer's group. They quickly roped in a collection of odd, highly eclectic individuals who pretty instantly glommed together and remain glommed to this day, in spirit if not in body.

This group had rites, like meeting every week or two and subjecting each other to products of their mind – typically somewhat perverse bits of prose, and poetry – or in a few cases stuff you found sticking to your shoe after a walk around town.

Over time something cultural or genetic began pulling members of this secret society back to the US, or in a few unfortunate cases the UK, and departures were also marked by a ritual. The person who was leaving gathered up all of the dregs of alcohol that remained in their place, things that nobody ever drank - the quarter-bottle of Mozart Peppermint Cinnamon liqueur, the eggnog vintage 1974, about two decades past its expiration date, other flavors that you can only find these days in weird things they make at Starbucks - you get the idea. All of those loose bottles got packed up in a cardboard box and got passed to the next he/she/it still standing.

I have never left, so I still have the whole collection. Somewhere.

Thus began what some refer to as the Heidelberg RENAISSANCE.

I could go on, and probably will someday, but for now suffice it to say that Raymond and Judith changed my life and made it worth living for many many years, and things have never been the same since they left. Gone but never ever ever forgotten. 

Love you guys!