The story of an Austrian writer who moved to Texas to avoid giving up his guns.
While living in Linz, Austria in 1997, I was introduced to a local writer named Reinhard. He was ten years my senior, had just published a collection of short stories, a chapbook of poems the previous year, and he worked in the area as a violin teacher. We had a heated conversation in an Irish pub and he eventually talked me into letting him read portions of a novel I had been working on. He then wanted to meet again to talk about literature.
We became friends during that subsequent conversation. Reinhard and I realized we shared affinities for psychedelic rock, classical music, classical literature, travel, languages, soccer and intoxicants. He told amazing stories, especially about his days as a taxi driver, and he had passion that was rare in Austria—at some point I asked him if he had Hungarian or Romanian blood (a question he found insulting, and not because I was stereotyping the two countries). We finished many bags of grass and bottles of scotch together while listening to his collection of Neil Young bootlegs, and he introduced me to Arvo Pärt and Nigel Kennedy. I got him into Phish, ee cummings, Soul Coughing and Richard Powers. We shared many stories about our dysfunctional families and, of course, our liaisons with women.
Reinhard was a bona fide libertine. By comparison, I was a sexually inexperienced pup. His apartment was full of sex toys and gags, including a rubber orange from which a penis erupted, and he had photo albums “censored” with post-it-notes. Behind the notes were photos of fully nude women spreading their legs and genitals in public places, one cavorting around a country fence, her labia stunningly large. The album I remember most vividly contained dozens of these pictures scattered among innocuous photos of Reinhard’s friends and family. The crotch shots and close ups did not surprise or shock me on their own, but their juxtaposition to photos of his friend tossing stones into a pond confused the shit out of me. While I was jealous of his ability to convince women to pose nude—he paid some of them, but Reinhard always had women interested in his company—I knew I would never have placed crotch shots next to photos of a Sunday picnic with a schnauzer.
His sexual adventures led to all sorts of follies, even injuries. He once damaged a nerve in his penis during some rough-play and called me in virtual hysterics, told me he didn’t know what to do. This might be it, Das ist trottelhaft, Scheißdreck; his life might finally be over. The pain—he described it as “jagged buzzing, like a metal fly caught behind my dick skin“—lasted for months. Among the treatments an Austrian penis specialist prescribed were baths of chamomile tea. I once sat with him watching soccer and smoking joints while he bathed his sizable cock in a bowl, pissed off at the world. Scheißdreck! Ich kann ficken. Glaub mir! Ich kann!
The whole time he was working on a novel that only added to his agitation. The book dealt with heavy themes—murder, guilt, madness and stunted dreams—and Reinhard often found himself in such a frenzy, so maniacal that he could not do anything besides blast Bach cello suites and smoke tons of cigarettes. He eventually got through it, however, as his dick pain went away and he was able to relax. But the completion of this novel signaled the end of his libertine days.
He met his wife while helping his publisher look for a cover photo. They ended up picking a photograph taken by a young woman named Ronnie. She was from the American West, a petite and charming girl, as far away from the Austrian and Turkish women Reinhard usually fooled around with as I might have ever imagined. Ronnie possessed a very sharp mind and a glowing, radiant heart. If you had any empathy, any feel for people, you sensed the miniature sun as soon as you met her. I thought Reinhard was in love, but he said, “She’s going back to America and I’m going to stay in Linz.” Given what I knew about him, I believed him. Although when he called me one day to say he was buying a plane ticket for the American West, I was not surprised. And I was quite glad.
Ronnie’s dad was a gun enthusiast with access to a range. Reinhard had always had traits of a certain type of gun fanatic—a fascination with control, a need to feel power, a variety of superiority complexes, dreams of despotism, fantasies of heroism—but had never felt access to guns the way one experiences in America. He came back from that trip with a fiancée and a new obsession, and started building a serious gun collection.
This was already 1999. I was leaving Austria myself, moving to the United States to attend graduate school. I got married, and Reinhard and I lost touch. He visited me once in Chicago with his wife but then I moved to New York and found myself caught up in the business of staying afloat while studying. I would not hear from Reinhard again until I looked him up on the Internet one day in 2003.
To my great shock, he had left Austria. He had been upset with his home country for quite some time, pissed that he had to pay taxes for things like dog shit clean up. But the final straw came when the Austrians changed some of their gun laws and were now seeking to take one of his pistols away—I don’t know which one. Reinhard would have none of it. He took full advantage of his marriage to an American girl, went through the steps to take his US citizenship, moved with Ronnie to Texas and took all his guns with him.
The transformation did not stop there. While he continued teaching violin, he also completed security guard training and worked at least for a short time as a guard. With all his Austrian friends telling him he was nuts, some of them even calling him a traitor and a hick, Reinhard became a Republican activist, listening religiously to right-wing AM radio. And that was not enough. I spoke to him on the phone and believe he was sincere when he told me he had become Catholic. Apparently, his mother used to take him to church in his childhood, and this memory was enough for him to investigate Catholicism again and to begin believing in the blessing of sacraments. Listening to him, I gathered that his identity broke down this way: he was Texan first, Catholic second, American third. He was still Austrian when it allowed him to gain violin students. But that was it. His Austrian identity had become a wayside station.
I have not spoken to him since the onset of the Iraq war, a venture he supported strongly, one I could not fathom supporting. As far as I know, he is still married, probably happily. And I’ll guess he’s still Republican, quite content in Texas where he has the freedom to shoot, at least his guns. I can’t know what he might be shooting with a camera or what’s in his photo album, censored or otherwise.
Photo by satanoid