“Yes! We Have No Bananas”*
I was reading my old Cold War story about events surrounding a missing nuclear warhead on an American depot in West Germany when my sleepy aging brain did a double-shuffle and came up with…bananas. The relevant passage:
“I was a lowly Military Police private first class in an MP Security Company…Most of my squad mates did business with the Rads at the first of every month when we got paid and were issued our monthly cigarette ration cards…the Poles would show up like clockwork, hanging around outside the casement windows of our squad bays, tapping on the glass, flashing rolls of American cash. They’d buy as many of our four cartons apiece as we were willing to give up…then sell them for a lot more to Germans “out on the economy” which was our term for anywhere off-post…
Almost every soldier (was) torn between a quick profit for more beer money and eking out their smokes to the next pay period. Me, I smoked a pipe. Pipe tobacco was unrationed. When a month stretched too long for the smokers, I would donate half a pouch of Carter Hall to the real Idaho cowboy and the South Dakota Sioux who knew how to roll cigarettes like in Westerns. A bundle of rolling papers went for a nickel. The two of them would roll smokes for the guys who were hurting. The three of us were stood to a lot of free beers and hamburgers at the enlisted men’s club, or in my case, banana splits in the snack bar, for our friendly act…”
Except when the snack bar had no bananas.
Stark in sudden recall was the night I ordered my usual treat, and the officious German frau in charge of the snack bar gave me a lecture on supply chains being undependable for fresh fruit in winter.
Okay, I said, just give me the banana split without the banana.
Her eyes literally bugged. Her instant outrage puffed up her considerable bosom like a pouter pigeon. (Opera singers in Die Walkur have less front than she did.) She sputtered accusations: I was disrespecting her snack bar, and her! More in that vein. Soldiers in the snack bar turned to stare as she browbeat me; I tried to explain I just wanted a scoop of the three flavors of ice cream, and all the toppings. Essentially a horizontal Sundae.
Explanation just made her angrier. She had clearly “had it” with American GI sarcasm and intransigence. I felt like an idiot and probably looked like one. But stupidly kept trying to explain I wasn’t being sarcastic; I just wanted a banana split with everything but the banana…
No vay! she sputtered. Told me to order something else or get out of her snack bar. And warned she would of course inform my commanding officer of my perverted request and disrespectful attitude. I retreated in humiliation.
Squad mates who’d been in Germany longer than me laughed at my injured feelings. They said it Vas chust die Cherman Vay. One said Germans had a manual for everything, and probably she had one— in German —precisely detailing proper construction of banana splits. And Germans follow orders. To the letter. Every time.
I’m pretty sure I never tried to order a banana split in her snack bar again. I managed to escape West Germany for a posting in France with a full-size restaurant on base: no shortage of bananas. Or of Coca Cola bottled in America, not the ghastly German imitation in white bottles, not sturdy Georgia green.
My old Army notes are silent on the German banana-split confrontation. But fifty-seven years later, reading old stories, a synapse in my old brain fired. Complete with hurt feelings fresh as they were then. Plus a residue of grudge over missed banana splits that Hessian winter, with or without bananas.
* American novelty song by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn that topped the charts when they released it in 1923.