Everyone's a Critic
An undisclosed location somewhere in the United States.
A large group of men stood mingling outside a screening room, discussing what they had just viewed. Taking advantage of the free appetizers, they munched away as waiters refilled their drinks. Eventually, the men formed several separate groups. Years had not changed the composition of the different cliques. Over in the far corner, closest to the buffet table, stood 9 men, some of which seemed to have the habit of frequently glancing out the window or watching out the slightly ajar door.
Another group settled around the bar. They seemed more relaxed, and spent the time regaling each other with stories from times past. Occasionally, a friendly argument would break out, but usually it was quickly squelched with a look from the tall, dark and handsome man munching from the nut bowl.
"I don't like it. I'm not that stupid. Why did they do that? Sheesh. I have a master's degree in chemistry for crying out loud."
"They didn't make you stupid," answered another gentleman. This one was drinking warm beer, and kept his eye focused on the waitresses walking around with hors d'oeuvres. "Just naïve and a bit of a goofball. Personally, I found you quite charming."
"That's easy for you to say. You seem quite pleased with the whole sordid business."
"Well, they did use a good-looking bloke."
"At least he looked the part," mumbled another man. "People are going to say, what was he doing there? And he seems to be second in command? That would have been impossible. It doesn't fit historically either, and so on. Just you wait. I still don't get why they had to do that. Don't get me wrong. The actor is great. But…" he shook his head.
"I think it is about time they did something like that. Your country needs to work on its race relations. My gripe was the language. First of all, I speak perfect German. And they should have had the Germans speaking German. Like in that show Combat. The French speak French. The Germans speak German." The speaker, a short man, took a bite of the pig in a blanket on his plate, and spit it out. "What is this? This isn't fit for a dog. It's certainly not fit for human consumption."
"Good old-fashioned American cooking," the chemistry expert answered. "And your country should work on not surrendering, and then asking us for help."
"You take that back!" The shorter man replied as he gave the offender of his dignity and country a shove.
The nut fan put down the bowl. "Knock it off," he yelled in his best command voice.
"None of you have any right to complain," said a man who seemed to appear out of nowhere. "I was barely there. My family is going to be upset."
"Well," said the nut fan, who appeared to be the group leader. "That was the point, wasn't it?" The other men started laughing. "It did seem like you were never there."
"Yeah," the man replied. "But, they got one thing wrong. You always knew where I was. Remember?"
The leader nodded, and then took a swig of his drink. "I know one thing; I never kissed anyone unless it was for the common good. And my wife is going to have a fit when she sees these."
The short man poked the leader. "You will have a lot of explaining to do."
"Me too," the chemistry expert complained. "I was always a lieutenant. Why'd they have to demote me?"
"Because," said an older, heavy man who had sidled up to the group unnoticed. "These writers and television men know nothing. They weren't there, and they didn't think to get our opinions beforehand. You don't want these?" He asked the Frenchman, who shook his head.
"Help yourself, my German friend."
The man shoved the remaining pigs in a blanket in his mouth. "Mmmm. I must say, I knew a lot more than he did. But I didn't say anything."
"You were a real credit to the outfit." The Englishman patted the German on the stomach. "And they seemed to cast you perfectly."
"Evening," said a bald man who had also shown up unannounced.
"Hey, you guys by the door. You're falling down on the job," the colonel pointed out.
"You keep the look-out for once!" replied one of the men by the door. He made a face and then headed for the punchbowl.
"Where's your monocle?" asked the Englishman.
The bald man gave the other a rather nasty look, and then pushed his way over to the leader of the group. "Colonel. This is an outrage. An absolute travesty, I tell you. First of all, I have always had perfect vision, and I never played the violin."
"Well, apparently Klink couldn't either." This remark, which came from the gentleman who was rarely shown, encouraged an exchange of laughter among the tight-knit group, as well as those within hearing range.
"Don't interrupt the man," the colonel remarked. "Let him continue. Go ahead, Kommandant."
"Ex-Kommandant," the heavy-set man mumbled.
"I never walked that way, with a riding crop under my arm. How ridiculous. And I certainly was not a coward, like, that, that…"
"Bad impression of an aristocratic, German hero of the First World War," said another man who had just entered the room.
"I'm telling you men, stop lollygagging around the punch bowl and do your job. Let me know when the Krauts are heading this way, will ya?"
A few of the other men, grumbling all the way about taking orders from a colonel when they were no longer in the army, gathered by the door, while several took their places by the window, all the while munching on shrimp wrapped with bacon.
"General." The colonel raised his glass.
"Colonel." He patted the man's stomach. "Looks like you've gained a few in the last two decades. Your uniform is a bit tight."
The American colonel looked down at the German general with disdain and a bit of amusement. "How'd you like your doppelganger?"
"Disgraceful. Imagine using somewhat like that to portray such an esteemed member of our forces." The German colonel shook his head in disgust.
"Stop groveling," the general told the German colonel, who stepped quickly back.
"Sorry," he whispered.
"I did not like him at all. Not at all. Although I will admit, his scar made him appear," the General snapped his fingers. "Help me here. Appear more?"
"Manly?" the chemistry expert offered.
"Aristocratic," said the Brit.
"Noble," offered the heavy-set man.
"Clumsy," said the American colonel.
"Hooogann!" the German colonel rattled off an extension of the name with no trouble.
"First of all, that's not my name. But you sure had that down; exactly like the real Kommandant. No, I meant fake Kommandant. You know what I meant. Get me another drink, will ya?"
"Another Kraut's coming, Colonel!"
He looked up at the ceiling. "Finally," he whispered, as he put down his drink. Pointing to the lookout that did his job, the colonel said, "Give that man another one of whatever he's drinking. Put it on my tab."
"But, sir, the drinks are on the house."
His eyes now like ice, the colonel turned and faced the man who had walked into the room, while the three other Germans stepped back, and everyone else quickly became silent.
"Major. I didn't realize you were sent an invitation."
"I was not sent an invitation, Colonel. Yet, here I am."
"So, when did they let you out?"
The major laughed. "Long, long ago. But you wouldn't have known that. I kept myself under the radar, so-to-speak."
"So was this party," the former Kommandant said. He stepped forward. Looking down at the newcomer, he drummed up some new-found bravery. For he had to admit, he was not as brave as he said. "You aren't welcome here. Now shoo." He waved his hand.
"Mon Dieu, you have a lot of chutzpah, showing up here, and ruining everyone's evening." Several other men nodded in agreement at the Frenchman's words.
"I'll handle him." The colonel pushed his men aside. "How did you get here?"
The newcomer ignored him, and went over to the bar. "Schnapps." The bartender looked at the colonel, as if asking for permission to serve the clearly uninvited guest. He poured the drink after receiving a slight nod.
After taking a sip, the man began to talk. "I have my sources, you see. Mainly; another network."
Upon hearing this, a man in a grey-flannel suit turned pale, and fled the room.
The British man sidled up to the colonel and whispered into his ear, "I still have my trusty pencil sharpener on me. Blimey, at least they got that right."
"Not now," the colonel whispered back.
"Now I have you. I have you all!" The German major let out a sinister and sadistic laugh.
"Frankly, there's nothing whatsoever you can do about it," the Kommandant replied as he wagged his finger.
"Amen to that," said the former general.
"You three are at the top of my list. Cavorting with the enemy in the present, and being stupid enough in the past to allow him to pull the wool over your eyes."
Sensing an imminent altercation, the heavy man who knew something, put down his plate, and pushed his way forward through the watching crowd. "The war has been over for twenty years now, Major. We lost. It was a disaster for our country and the world. Your loyalties are misplaced, and I suggest you either leave now, or if you wish to join the festivities, shut up and act like a human being."
This speech from the unlikeliest of sources floored the crowd and momentarily silenced the major.
"Well-said, sir." The Brit patted the former guard on the back, while others in the room mumbled their approval.
This seemed to take out all the air in the major's bombastic balloon. He looked down at the floor and sighed. "I did some bad things. Terrible things. But I did my time." Looking up again at the crowd, he said, "I demand, however, that I have some say in the matter. Script ideas, and so forth."
"Who said we want him to join the festivities," the colonel, wiping his hair out of his eyes, commented. "I don't suppose you've seen the pilot and the episodes, Major?" he said, eyes twinkling.
"Why no, I haven't seen them yet, Colonel. Why do you ask?"
"Because, Major. You aren't in them."
"Close your mouth, Major. You look like a codfish." The former Kommandant then explained. "You see, we never thought your role in what transpired, amounted to anything. You were a minor nuisance. That's all. And really, the Gestapo rarely, if ever, paid any attention to a small work camp. Which reminds me. Can't we get them to change the number and location of the camp? That's bound to confuse everyone."
"Believe me, I tried." The American colonel shook his head. "No matter what I said, they refused to listen. Thirteen sounds unlucky, they said. And funny. And then they had to use the town. Those poor men in the real camp suffered enough. Now people are going to think they didn't have it so bad. I bet they sue."
"Let's hope not," the general added. "There go our royalties."
"Good point." The American colonel nodded.
"I have another beef, while we're complaining," said a tall, thin man with glasses who
approached the colonels and their group. "I'm a history teacher now, and I really don't think that a prison camp had female secretaries. Not that I wouldn't have minded."
"Here, here," said a few members of the crowd, while the American colonel nodded.
"That's correct," the ex-Kommandant replied. "I had male clerks and aides." He sighed. "I do like that lovely young lady they hired to play the secretary."
"You can say that again," the American colonel agreed. "But, I really think people are going to complain right and left about historical inaccuracies. I'm with the professor, here, on that one."
"Teacher, sir. Just a high school teacher." The man shook his head. "I don't agree with you, sir. People are going to watch this for the laughs. They're not going to care about history. You can't combine serious war themes with a comedy. Who would watch that?"
"I would," said one of the directors, who had wordlessly entered the room in time to overhear the conversation. "But, the network and the other guys aren't interested. "Who are you?" he asked, pointing at the major.
"This," the American colonel said, "is a former Gestapo agent that used to hang around the area, making a nuisance of himself; arresting civilians and trying to impress the women in town."
"How would you know that?" the major sneered.
"I used to hang around town, remember? " The colonel, who was quite tall, looked down upon the now-irate ex-Gestapo agent. "You never got anywhere, did you? All they saw were your shortcomings." This elicited hearty laughter from the group, but incensed the major. His face turned red, and he stormed out of the room.
"Good riddance," the Brit said.
The director watched this display with acute interest. He whipped out a notebook and jotted down a few notes.
"Hey, you're not thinking of adding a Gestapo character to the mix, are you? That's really pushing it." The colonel attempted to glance at the notebook, which the producer snapped shut.
"We'll see," the producer answered, as he grabbed a drink. He used it to wash down a very dry hors d'oeuvre he had grabbed off a waiter's tray. "I'm out of here. Oh, and a word of warning to all of you. Don't bite the hand that feeds you. You're making mountains out of molehills. Don't be a kvetch, and don't look a gift-horse in the mouth." He headed towards the exit, leaving the war veterans with a final look of warning.
"Well, he had nerve," the general exclaimed.
"Maybe he's right," the chemistry expert said. "No one is going to be looking at a history book at the same time, are they?"
"I think he holds all the cards, right gents?" the Brit added.
The colonel nodded. "I'm not happy about it, but I think you fellas are right. Hey," his face brightened. "Maybe if we stop complaining and cooperate some more, we'll get to meet the secretary? "
"I wouldn't mind more parties, like this one." The heavyset man took another hors d'oeuvre off the tray and devoured it in one gulp. "Maybe next time they'll give us a dinner!"
The American colonel smiled. "You keep hoping, big guy." Gee, I wonder if the guys helping with "McHale's Navy" ever got a dinner.
****** Gene Reynolds, one of the directors of Hogan's Heroes, also worked on MASH.