Judging by appearances

DURING the war, a small boy in a Down-Maine coastal town came home from school in the afternoon, threw his books on a kitchen chair, and said to his dad, who was sitting with his feet up reading the Ellsworth American, ``Pa - I just saw a German spy going up the ro'd!'' Pa's reaction rested on doubt. He said, ``How'd you know he was a German spy?''

``'Cause he had on an overco't.''

The boy was right. The father acted quickly, and within the half hour the German spy was apprehended by the United States Coast Guard and dealt with in the manner of the times. He had been put ashore from a U-boat that afternoon, with a definite target and purpose laid out, and he had been most meticulously groomed and readied. He had every paper he'd want, good money, and references to suit any need. He had reservations at various hotels. The German undercover agents had covered him in every foreseeable particular - save one. They had simply neglected to take notice that nobody along the down-east Maine coast ever wears an overcoat. The man should have had a mackinaw - with his overcoat he was as vulnerable as if he carried a sign saying, ``I am a German spy!''

So the other day the papers had a little story about a German truck driver who had found himself in trouble, and the big mistake was a lot like sending a spy with an overcoat up along the road to Columbia Falls.

This truck driver has been handling the big 26-ton tractor trailers all over Europe for 25 years without the slightest kind of traffic mishap. He would be in line for some kind of meritorious citation except for one thing - he's never had a driver's license. This lack would have been discovered long ago had he ever tangled with another vehicle or backed into somebody's shed. So long as he had no accidents, the police had no reason to ask him to show his papers. And it was the very perfection of his highway technique that did him in.

After the police in the city of Essen took him in custody, he explained that he had developed ``an extraordinarily exemplary style of driving'' so that he would be inconspicuous and thus avert questioning. But to the police of Essen, his punctilious highway manners suggested that something was wrong, and he wasn't too much unlike the spy in an overcoat. For anybody who plans any covert chicanery, there has got to be a lesson in this, and we will now set aside a few minutes so we can all meditate about it.

Another poignant story comes out of Germany this week to prove that keeping the border station, customs, and immigration is not all drudgery and the pursuit of quiet desperation. A gentleman approached the boundary bureau at Bad Reichenhall, at the Austrian line, and sought asylum for his cow. The cow, he explained, wanted to return to her native Austria, but was being denied entry because of a flaw in her veterinary papers. The Bad Reichenhall newspaper went so far as to say this was ``a highly unusual request.'' This cow (her name is Rosa) performs on roller skates. The gentleman with Rosa explained that he is a musician, and he and Rosa had worked up this little act where he plays and she skates. News of this accomplishment had somehow come out of Austria into Germany, and an entrepreneur in Hamburg had booked the act into St. Pauli for a few weeks, during which time Rosa had done a television show in addition to her stage appearances.

When it came time to return to Austria a difficulty arose, because nobody quite believed in Rosa, and the official certificates were delayed. Rosa had waited for a number of hours, and then her owner/manager decided to stay in Germany and applied for asylum. As we look in at the critical moment, Rosa is gliding about the border station at Bad Reichenhall in stately grace, cutting the pigeon wing and doing the dos-`a-dos while her accompanist renders appropriate music. The inspectors are impressed enough so it appears Rosa will become a German citizen.

But the matter ends with an abruptness that we can now associate with overcoats, autobahn etiquette, and other factors in our meditations. The Austrian veterinarian returns from holiday, puts his rubber stamp on the papers, and word comes that Rosa is free to go home. She has been cleared of all suspicion of turpitude, etc., and all is well. As the sunset fades over the Bavarian beet fields, Rosa is seen skating into Salzburg while her manager plays from Mozart's ``Die Zauberfl"ote.''

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