One day I was playing checkers with Gert Frobe, who portrayed James Bond’s arch nemesis in GOLDFINGER, when suddenly I had a great idea.
“Hey, Gert,” I said, jumping three of his men in a row, “let’s build a rocketship and blast off to Mars!”
“That would be wonderful!” he exclaimed in his distinctive German accent as he “kinged” me. “Should we do it now, or complete our current game of checkers?”
“Oh, let’s just call it a draw,” I said magnanimously, even though I was clearly winning. “I can’t wait to get started.”
“I cannot wait, either!” he said happily, bounding from his stool and jumping up and down. Dressed in a festive Hawaiian shirt with blue shorts and flip-flops, he looked like a huge bouncing beach ball. His massive bulk shook our flimsy wooden clubhouse as each bounce threatened to knock it right out of the tree in which it was perched. Suddenly it lurched perilously to one side like a ship that had just struck an iceberg.
“No, Gert!” I cried. “You’ll destroy–” But it was too late. The clubhouse tumbled over sideways even as Gert continued to flounder around joyously, laughing and screaming “We are going to Mars! We are going to Mars!” Seconds later the entire structure fell out of the tree and plummetted to the ground, where it was smashed into a million jagged shards.
When my vision cleared, I could see Gert sprawled on the ground with his head sticking through the checkerboard. He staggered to his feet, still dizzy, and lumbered around my backyard in a daze. Then, as I looked on with horror, he fell over backwards onto my Dad’s riding lawnmower, accidentally started it, and then screamed with alarm as it took off across the yard. His feet were still sticking straight up as the lawnmower crashed through our picket fence, took out Mrs. Wilson’s prize petunias, and then roared off down the street.
“GERT!” I cried as I leapt onto my bicycle and gave chase. I could see him rounding the corner at the end of the street, which would put him right in the middle of rush hour traffic. As I gained on him a little at a time, I began to hear him screaming over the roar of the lawnmower engine. Although his head had begun to clear, he was still extremely disoriented by the situation and didn’t quite understand what was happening to him.
“Help me, porfle! I do not understand what is happening to me!” I could hear him say. Big tractor-trailer rigs and school buses and garbage trucks were thundering past him on all sides. He blew right through an intersection and barely missed getting flattened by a speeding dump truck. Then the lawnmower careened onto a side road and headed off toward the city dump.
It finally ran out of gas at the entrance to the dump, where I caught up with it at last. Breathlessly, I asked, “Gert! Are you all right?”
He stumbled off the lawnmower and stood up slowly, blinking his eyes. “Yes, porfle, I am all right,” he said dazedly. “I was so stricken with sudden happiness at the thought of going to Mars, that I seem to have behaved in a careless manner. Which, as you can see, has resulted in a series of unfortunate mishaps.”
“Well,” I said, trying to make the best of things, “since we’re at the city dump anyway, let’s see if we can find some cool stuff to build a rocketship with.”
At this, Gert’s eyes lit up and he was happy again. “Oh, boy!” he said with delight. “I’ll wager that before this day has passed, we will have found lots of ‘cool stuff’ for the construction of our rocketship.” Before I could respond, he took off and disappeared into the dump.
After searching for the rest of that day and the next and unable to find a single trace of him anywhere, I finally had to call the police and fire department. Two weeks later, the sounds of helicopters and bloodhounds still resounded throughout the dump as dozens of uniformed men, along with several citizen volunteers, scoured the area looking for Gert. In the meantime, I had made some “Where’s Gert?” signs to post on telephone poles all over town, and each one had a picture of him from that famous scene in GOLDFINGER where he gets mad and snaps the pencil in two. I later found out that nobody who saw one of these signs ever helped look for him, because the picture scared them.
Tired and dejected, I dragged myself home on the last day of the second week and found Gert in my backyard, surrounded by heaps of junk. His clothes were tattered and he showed signs of malnutrition and exposure to the elements. “Look!” he croaked. “Look at all these ‘cool stuff’ I have found with which to construct our rocketship! Soon we will be on Mars!”
Well, at that point I really didn’t feel much like building a rocketship. And–truth be told–it had all been more of a fantastical whim than an actual plan to begin with. Like one of those cute things the Little Rascals used to think they could do before they learned a lesson about reality and stuff. I explained this to Gert as delicately as possible, trying to let him down easy, but the dawning disappointment in his eyes was almost heartbreaking.
“I wanted to go to Mars,” he said, his voice cracking. “I had hoped that we would find strange creatures there, perhaps even intelligent ones, and have many exciting adventures in outer space.” He sat down on an old washing machine that he’d planned to use in the construction of the ship’s fuselage and sulked.
“Well,” I said, trying to cheer him up, “we could go to the movies.”
“Is it a movie about going to Mars?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, even though it was really just YOU’VE GOT MAIL with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I would simply tell him that they were Martians and that the movie took place on Mars.
“All right, porfle,” he said, rising. “We will go to this movies.”
During the movie, Gert ate four large tubs of buttered popcorn, six hot dogs, and several boxes of Raisinettes, and drank nine large Mountain Dews. He had to go to the bathroom eleven times, and each time I had to bring him back up to speed on what was going on. “What did these strange Martian creatures do in my absence?” he would ask loudly as people shushed us. I made up stuff about terrifying space monsters and intense repulsor beam attacks that he had missed, and he sat back in awe. “Mein Gott…this is the greatest science-fiction film I have ever seen.”
Later, we used all the junk Gert had dragged home from the dump to build a new, even better clubhouse. We were sitting in it one day, playing checkers, when Gert said in that thick German accent of his, “Hey, porfle…do you recall the time we constructed that magnificent rocketship and went to Mars?”
“Yes,” I said, grateful that his memory of that whole incident had become a bit hazy.
“They had such wonderful popcorn and hot dogs there,” he reflected. “But the Martians seemed foolish and weak. I found their frivolous antics tiresome. Perhaps someday we should construct a bigger and more powerful rocketship, armed with an invincible array of state-of-the-art repulsor beams, and completely obliterate them.”
“Yeah, that’d be awesome,” I agreed, jumping three of his men for the win.