Hit Parades and Overcoming a Gambling Problem
As time went by, my projects advanced from simple radio and amplifier circuits to a transmitter, which I successfully wired to my record player. Soon rock n’ roll music of the late fifties was broadcast on the AM band. The radio waves easily penetrated the walls of our apartment building. Fortunately, the transmitter signal provided radio reception only up to a hundred meters or so. Otherwise, sooner or later, I would have been caught for operating a radio station without a license. The fun lasted until my friends were getting tired of listening to the same old records. Most of the used records were coming in as presents, but occasionally I bought one myself from my pocket-money. For my 16th birthday, my friends Hans, Rainer and others gave me the latest single hits in the very popular 45-rpm format of those days. Throwing the records including the old ones onto one pile, we selected randomly one and played it. Each of us was to give a score on a scale from one to ten according to our likes and dislikes. When all the records were played and evaluated, we averaged out the scores and thus determined the five top songs. To finish off the party, we listened one more time to the five winning hits. I must not forget that by now we boys were considered ‘semi-adults’ (Halbstarke – meaning literally half strong). To ease us gently into the domain of responsible drinking, Mother in her wisdom served us each one glass of white wine and thus enhanced the merry atmosphere we created with our pop music.
Just as there are many good qualities in the human character that wait to be fostered and developed, there are just as many vices lurking deep inside us. They may never surface and may go unnoticed for an entire lifetime. But when the right occasion arises, they pounce on you with sudden force and threaten to enslave you. One of these vices that I had to deal with was gambling. Some of my classmates – not my friends who generally had little money to spare – invited me to join them in one of their favorite restaurants to play ‘Seventeen plus Four’, a variation of the American casino card game ‘Black Jack’. Whether it was good luck that enticed me to keep playing or the crafty design on the part of my classmates, I cannot ascertain. But the fact was that I won most of my early games with relatively low bets on the table. Suddenly the intoxicating feeling that all compulsive gamblers know so well rushed through my veins prompting me to put my entire monthly allowance on the table. I felt quite smug about the two tens on my hand and enjoyed for a brief moment the admiring glances and remarks of the other players who had wisely dropped out of the game. The dealer’s hand was a ten and a seven. He pulled another card from the stack. It was a four and I lost. I tried to keep a straight face; yet I smarted from the painful loss of five marks. One classmate offered me a lit cigarette, which I accepted in the hope that it would calm me down. I took one puff. That was enough to make me instantly sick. Body and soul were violently rebelling against the noxious fumes. My face turned pallid green. I got up and on wobbly legs walked out of the restaurant in search of fresh air and recovery from the double whammy on my health and wallet. In hindsight this was a good experience for me, because I never smoked nor did I gamble for money again.