I suppose we were what you’d call an odd couple, Karl Heinrich Marx and me. After all, I was just a pimple-faced 16-year-old from Kenosha, WI, and he was the German revolutionary and theorist whose Communist Manifesto had forever altered the course of Western Civilization.
But to me, he was just Karl. My sweet, funny, little Karlbaby. We met in the parking lot behind Dairy Queen on 75th St. in the hot, dry summer of 1983. That was where the skate punks used to hang out back then and practice their moves, and I guess I was trying to be part of that clique in those days. It was probably my way of pissing off my asshole stepdad, Craig.
I don’t quite remember when Karl started showing up, trying to hand out those leaflets of his to me and my friends. Most of the guys wouldn’t even acknowledge him, but there was something about him I liked. Maybe it was because, with that long white beard of his, he reminded me of Papa Smurf or Santa Claus. I suppose that might have been what led me to get into his car that first time. He had a face I thought I could trust, and he smelled like my grandmother’s attic.
What started out as a simple kidnapping case soon blossomed into love. Karl and I explored each other’s bodies without abandon. I knew it was for keeps when I couldn’t even enjoy watching Gimme a Break unless Karl Heinrich Marx was beside me on the couch, eating his Cheetos and sipping a Tab. (How Karl loved his Tab!)
Oh, sure, we had our difficulties like any other couple. A lot of that commie crap of his sailed right over my head, and he would get bugged with me for not being particularly interested in politics. On top of that, his English was even worse than my high school German. He did his best to answer my simple “ja” and “nein” questions, and he and I developed a system of demonstrative hand gestures.
On the dance floor, we didn’t need words. All we needed was the music. You wouldn’t guess it from his pictures, but Karl Marx was one hell of a dancer. He was like Boogaloo Shrimp, Danny Terrio, and John Travolta all rolled up into one. Once he heard the opening bars of “Funkytown,” that was it. You just stepped out of the way and watched Karl Marx do his thing.
“Get it, Karl! Get it!” I’d shout. “Shake that communist groove thang!”
And in this manner, we somehow made it work for a while. Eventually, though, his work started encroaching on our private life. Many was the time that Karl would be up well past midnight slaving over the galley proofs of Das Kapital.
“Come back to bed, Karl, honey,” I’d say. “It’s two-thirty already. You can finish your scathing critique of capitalism in the morning.”
But he’d just grunt, call me a slave to dialectical materialism, and go back to work. That was Karl’s way. I couldn’t blame him entirely. He was passionate about what he did, and without passion, a person is never truly alive. But his interests and mine didn’t match up most of the time. I played him a Suicidal Tendencies cassette once; he didn’t even make it through one song.
In spite of this, the relationship lasted as long as it did because Karl and I were there for each other during difficult times. He provided a shoulder to cry on when I lost my after-school job at Sav-a-Bit, and I was right by his side when he opposed the King of Prussia after the dissolution of the Prussian Assembly. Give and take, take and give. That was what Karl Heinrich Marx and I had together.
The beginning of the end was when Engels showed up on our doorstep, lust smoldering in his eyes and the pungent aroma of Boone’s Farm lingering on his breath. I had naively hoped that the day would never come, but somehow I knew that it was inevitable. Karl had met Engels years ago in Paris when they were still mischievous young hellraisers, and they had even authored The Communist Manifesto together during one of Karl’s infamous pajama parties. There was some indefinable spark between these two dashing idealists that Karl and I never shared.
When I asked Karl if he still loved Engels, his lips said nein but his eyes told a different story. I knew I was just getting in the way, and that my fling with Karl was over.
My eyes were welling up with tears as I told Karl, “Fly away, little Communist birdie! Fly free! You’ll never be as happy with me as you would be with Engels. So please go… before I change my mind.”
My sweet, sweet Karl kissed me lightly on the forehead, whispered a tender “Auf Wiedersehen” and exited from my life. Forever.
I’m married now and have three little capitalist children of my own, but I know I’ll always treasure that one beautiful summer with Karl Marx.