Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10























This past weekend I went to a local farmer’s market, and a rogue vendor had set up a table of antique toys. One reminded me of my childhood. It was a small, round, nearly flat toy consisting of two plastic disks with an eighth-inch space between them (think of an Oreo cookie with a space where the filling would be). On the bottom layer was an image of a clown with five shallow holes placed around the perimeter. The top layer was clear plastic, and several tiny ball bearings rolled around inside. The challenge was to get all five balls to remain in place in their proper positions. Easier said than done. 





I have no idea what we called that sort of toy, but it brought to mind my all-time favorite ball bearing story. You don’t have a favorite ball bearing story? Well read on.

During the time I was a student at a German university, I made extra money by escorting field trips for the wives of U.S. Army officers. In exchange, they allowed me free on-base access to current Hollywood films that would not make it into German cinemas for another six months to a year. These women were hard pressed for off-base activities that involved more than just shopping and drinking, and although I escorted about a half dozen of these field trips, one stands out from the others.

Würzburg, my university city, was also home to Leighton Barracks, a U.S. Army garrison situated on a hill above the town. I boarded the Army bus and greeted the ladies, who were less than enthusiastic about our destination – Schweinfurt, a nearby manufacturing city in northern Bavaria. Schweinfurt, then and now, was known as the “Welthauptstadt der Kugellager” (World Capital of Ball Bearings). I know.
       
It seems that our military did business with one of Schweinfurt’s finest, Fischers Automatische Gussstahlkugelfabrik (Guss-stahl-kugel-fabrik = cast-steel-ball-factory, but for signage purposes, shortened to FAG). I suppose some procurement officer thought it would be a great idea for the barracks wives to hie on over to the factory. Our host was a man about as charismatic as you would expect for an employee of a ball bearing facility. In Germany.

Upon arrival our white-gloved and tuxedoed waiters greased the wheels with an all-you-could-eat-and-drink service that included champaigne and caviar. My group perked up at the prospect of free food and drink, delivered by studly, hunky waiters in tight fitting attire (no complaints from me). Those ladies displayed an appetite and thirst that could best be described as “aggressive.” We were then ushered into a windowless room for a slide show, to be followed by a factory tour. The lights were dimmed and the first slide appeared, showing our host standing before the headquarters building. There was a gasp from our audience, followed by an explosion of riotous laughter. The first slide showed the factory’s FAG logo, rendered in huge red letters above the building’s roof line, displayed directly atop our host’s head. Emblazoned across his chest were the English words,  “Balls of Steel”.
 



Well, my tipsy ladies could not recover and were literally falling out of their chairs. Our host was aghast, unable to understand what had elicited such a reaction.  Every time the girls would start to compose themselves, someone would snicker and start the whole thing all over again. This went on for a good ten minutes (seemed like a half hour). Makeup had to be repaired. Yours truly had to explain to our host that “balls” in English can also mean testicles (Germans use the word Eier, which means “eggs”). Our host was beyond humiliated. No sense of fun, that one.

Best of all, as a parting gift each of us was given a key chain made from what they called a “Geduldspiele” (patience toy). The image under the clear plastic was of the company logo (FAG) with four tiny ball bearings that would challenge the owner to fit them into the shallow holes at each corner of the diamond shaped logo. As you can imagine, these became cherished keepsakes. Unfortunately I surrendered mine to a participant who forked over an outrageously generous tip in order to add a second one to her souvenir collection. More’s the pity. 

But I digress. So how about a cup of coffee?





























 Showered with affection:






























Seeing red:













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