I NEVER TOOK MY ARMY BOOTS OFF
My friend Jose's shirt was on fire!
Ah, those dainty tea light candles.
They serve many useful purposes. They warm gourmet foods at lavish buffets. They pump pleasant scents throughout one's home or set a cheerful mood at dinner tables. But, I had a close but dangerous encounter with one in a social setting, which almost resulted in a disastrous outcome. And ever since then, I have been wary of these sneaky little rascals.
A friend and I stopped at a Caribbean bar in downtown Aschaffenburg before going to Goya, a popular salsa club a short distance away. While in the bar, I was scared to see legions of these waxy devils lining a ledge along the walls. Without warning, one tea candle executed a precision sneak attack on my friend's shirt. Its stealthy attack almost spoiled our planned night out. Almost.
I retired from the Army in Vilseck, Germany, which is located in eastern Germany about 45 minutes from the Czech border. But I decided to settle in Kaiserslautern, which is about 30 minutes from the French border. K-town, as the Americans call it, proved to be an ideal location for me. I usually planned weekend trips to France or to other nearby countries. I could visit them within a day and drive back to Germany. Perfect little getaways for me.
One of my favorite jaunts was my monthly drive to Aschaffenburg. It was an hour-and-a-half drive northeast from where I lived and about 20 minutes east of Frankfurt, Germany.
One fun-filled weekend began with an innocent-looking tea candle. From there, my planned party night unfolded into a calamitous one of hilarity and unlimited fun. This one night left me with precious memories of a good friend I will cherish forever.
After arriving at Aschaffenburg and checking into my hotel, I contacted my Army buddy, Jose. I had to set a time to meet him at Goya, our favorite salsa club. Jose is Puerto Rican. I met him over 30 years ago when both of us were in the Army and stationed at Heidelberg, Germany. We've been sort of joined at the hip ever since. When I left my Heidelberg duty station, he contacted me and stayed in touch with me where ever I was stationed. Without a doubt, Jose's passionate love of salsa music rubbed off on me. Now, I am just as much a fanatic about salsa as he is.
Since I have known Jose, his thick, rapid-fire Spanish accent has never, ever improved. After first meeting him in Heidelberg, I thought that my ears would adjust to the speed of his accent over time. While in the Army, I often encouraged Jose to improve his English by taking ESL (English-as-a-Second Language) courses, which were free for soldiers. Unfortunately, he never took my advice. But my unlimited optimism led me to believe that over time that my comprehension of his Spanglish would improve. It didn't. And even after all these years, I still struggle through conversations with him.
Although I am not hard of hearing, I became annoyed by asking him to repeat things he had already said. Like an idiot, I thought that if he confirmed what he had just told me that I would be able to comprehend it. I didn't.
Jose's magnetic personality and carefree nature served him well. He oozed smooth Latin charm. He maintained an upbeat attitude which kept him grounded as a perennial child at heart. Nothing ever seemed to bother him. I love these aspects about him.
To kill some time before heading to Goya, Jose met me at my hotel. From there, we walked to the downtown area a short distance away. Though it was 8:30 at night, the setting sun resisted being tucked away for the night. Old Sol still cast a vibrant golden orange glow over the city and cloaked it in stifling heat. The heavy mugginess aroused our thirst and prompted us to have a drink at one of the many chic clubs on the main drag.
A Caribbean-themed bar caught our eyes, and rhythmic beats of the Latin music lured us right in. The bar had an elaborate entrance, which consisted of a straw canopy bedecked with strings of multicolored lights. Large plastic palm trees stood at each side of the front door. Once inside, I felt transported to a sultry tropical island bar. Round tables made of dark shiny wood and high-back wicker chairs welcomed us with open arms. The ceiling fans' wide blades spun lazily to help circulate the air conditioner's cold air already inside.
A decorative ledge jutted out three inches along the walls. But something aroused an uneasy déjà vu deep within me. I noticed tea candles in glass cups, which rested on the ledge along the wall at uneven intervals. To me, the candles looked as innocent as sleeping pit bulls. But t...