Who am I?
You need to ask? I might ask you the same thing, who the fuck are you or anybody else for that matter? I’m the author of this book to save my life! (my life for a book) Either it is written or we (all) both of us, that is, you, me, all of us, we all die a terrible, horrible death! Oh wait, that was a different book, I think…
What great balls! Who does he think he is, this author?
Tamás Kirijak was living among the San Franciscans for decades in a state of poetic decay. Alas, the only true path, “Einmal ist keinmal”, he said from his room high on Mars Street above The Castro District where he lived with six roommates for ten years. Nonetheless, he had to get the story to market, Market & McAllister, to be precise, to a publisher. So, this is the way it is, years later in the middle-muddle of my life, writing poems no one reads, no one cares and why should they? They all have their own lives & loves now, so fuck them & everything and leave no word un-fucked! Filled with fear, sawdust & slivers, apoplexy and God knows what, Tamás finally consulted a doctor at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. This is dreadful, he told him, this self-doubt and nagging sense of unworthiness is killing me! Doctor, you’ve got to help me! I must tell someone how it all happened…
It began here, at the end of another penultimate journal, bleak & dismal, up to his eyes in debt, like so many artists, unable to change their fate. What follows herein is The Memnoir of Tamás Mihaly Kirijak, apotheosis and gradual fall from grace.
Yet, history will vindicate my life, this life of rancor and misery, manufactured or induced by socio-economic persecution, real or imagined—and here it is Labor Day—paralyzed with fear, fear of life without justification.
Tamás was a reconstructed deconstructionist of pre-postmodernist persuasion, erstwhile carpenter by default. Where once was passion & hope coursing through these vital chambers and ventricles, these veins, now only despair and neurosis and the apprehension of never getting the story out for lack of greenbacks and blue-blood, only the thin dark-red blood of a poet, a mixture of coffee and cognac, when I can get it. We poets are not the chosen ones, not this one or that one, like Delmore Schwartz! Make what you will of me and report back to Doctor Kliegmann. Please! Throw me a rope if you can, I’ll be here, hanging in the balance of someone else’s spreadsheet of economic plausible deniability.
Ah, perfect, another new day a million lightyears later, bright & shining with the government shutdown―one hardly notices any difference, really, one way or another, shutdown or startup, it’s all the same―no time to feel sorry, rather time to re-zoom! Yes, I’m going to finally nail this story down, with a nail gun! How many years has it been?
Tamás couldn’t remember when exactly the desire to write came over him. Usually, by this time in the morning after breakfast he was struck by the overwhelming ‘syntax & mechanix’ of some poem or other, tooling around, but today, he decided, would be different, today would be the day he would return to his great un-american novel, “Paper Jaguar”. Perhaps, it was because Tom Clancy died the day before; that quip that Clancy made on an old Charlie Rose show that stuck in his mind, “Writing is easy, all you have to do is sit down in front of a computer and open a vein.” Yeah, that’s it, he thought, I can do that! For whatever reason, mostly to get high, I’ve opened veins. This, however, would be a more sober mission, this time the past was finally obliterated, obliquely if not firmly, behind him.
People are so fucking weird, myself, first & foremost, odd as any other! This oddball poet, Tamás sat down at the Café Dolores Park and wondered at the young 20-somethings lined up outside waiting to board the clean, pristine white Van Hool double-decker inter-city bus, waiting to transport these new perfect children to hi-tech jobs. What does this new generation of well-paid workers do? Where in the Van Hool do they go? Tamás had only the vaguest idea, he was still a carpenter and found computer related activity not the least bit pleasurable, it was a tedious and difficult game which he could never win. The computer always won and had the final say, he felt enslaved by them, though he knew, these computers were now indispensable to citizens who wanted to function in society. If corporations are people, he thought, why, then computers are surely citizens, it’s only logical! He felt like Holden Caulfield wanting to catch children before they fall off the edge, but really, he felt the opposite, Why bother? Just push ‘em off; so smug with all their little handheld gadgets & accoutrement! Do they shit microchips? he conjectured. He was the Anti-Holden and rancor was one of his more reliable muses along with beauty, of course. No different than Rimbaud or Artaud, for that matter, one just has to be flexible, he thought, like Nijinsky!
Trying to get back to any semblance of an intellectual life is not easy after another stint of punishing hard work with poisonous Penofin wood stains on the beautiful redwood decks of Lily, one of his wife’s gardening clients. Frankly, I think we grow familiar with our perdition and torture, it becomes our friend, our one & only true punishing friend, Penofin! But, I want to get back within the novel, to roll up my sleeves and jump in. Still, if there were a way out, say, like taking a swim or a bike ride, I would take it, just like that, because I really just wanted a way out of everything! And this has been my way in, writing from the pain of being without. Within!
His wife, Mária, knowing too well his frequent, paralyzing consternation, would say, Now, Tamás are you going to live the life of the writer, drinking and carrying on all the while, or are you going to be a writer and write? Sitting there, in that cafe, he went on daydreaming back to his first time at Mária’s house in Budapest, lying in the middle of the tall, wild grass of their common yard on a blanket, after a traditional breakfast, shot of espresso and shot or two of Pálinka, reading, “The Song of the World”, whiling away the hours as if nothing mattered. Then, in the afternoon, heading off with Mária’s brother, Pisti, to the Löbar for pints of Borsodi, Az élet habos oldala! The foam side of life! Those were the days alright, but maybe I’m not a writer, only a reader?
The day was passing uneventfully so he just continued reading, “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis”. Certain passages were bookmarked and had to be returned to and re-read; those genius, sinewy sentences of José Saramago and his brilliant translator friend, Giovanni Pontiero. All were gone now, arm in non-corporeal arm, along with Ricardo Reis, Fernando Pessoa and José Saramago himself, even Baloño! Tamás was afraid of being invited one day, that is, more accurately, let us say, he was afraid he would never be invited to this select group or any other select group, but rather, would die, nonetheless, far less, in fact, unknown, unread, poor, besotted & hopeless! It could come to this! If I cannot move my ass and face this cold reality coming through the cracks & floor boards of our rented railroad flat on 18th Street, well, then I’m finished, through, kaput! Yet everything is still so perfect today and somehow, fucked-up, it reminded him of the haunting penultimate last-lines of another favorite book, “Satantango”, by the Hungarian, Krasznahorkai, which he finished reading last summer on a bench outside an East Village café. These are my heroes, he mused, and yet I will expire without achieving my own great success, because my expectations were too high, my apoplexy, this commensurate part of a progressive disease has always gotten the better of me! He felt that eventually he might gain enough distance for recording these things if only he could manage to locate just the right narrator; though many stood up to take the job, just as quickly they drifted back into the ether. Tomorrow, he thought, it’s Columbus Day, I’ll begin writing again tomorrow, bearing in mind Ricardo Reis’s sage advise, “How much better to pass in silence, without anticipation,” This he could do, he would be dispassionate & professional, open a vein, effect an outcome. Yes, that’s what I’ll do, give myself the rest of Sunday night to ferment into tomorrow with a great push, the obvious metaphor of birth, because it is necessary, even my mother told me, I can become what I most desire in life―as mothers always do tell their children such silly things―it’s for her that I push. And yet, how will I get myself out of these states of reverie and into the less-static states of revelation & revision? The truly fictive world, the desired world, the ideal world where something real is born! Surely others have done so before me and with apparent ease and so shall I; as the saying goes, do not put off tomorrow what you can put on today, but rather put off today for tomorrow; so in this way, I’m already at work, today, tonight and tomorrow! Writing as I must, writing as I may!
Now, Tamás was reading a number of books, trying to get inspired, and so he returned to Henry Miller, wondering if this character, whoever he was, could ever dislodge his engorged massive cock, this pendulous marvelous dong of his from his own dripping vertiginous imagination long enough to tell the story: “Under The Roofs Of Paris”. I suppose, he chuckled, whatever else is there in to do in Paris? Miraculously, Miller does so, he withdraws his long sword and sashays onward with his happy, dick-slapping story, yet, I dare say, I prefer Hemingway’s “Garden of Eden” or Virginia, in “The Waves”. But I digress, I must get back to my own fantasy! We cannot merely live vicariously through the fantasy of others, can we? Yet I feel sick, trammeled, unable to recommence as I said I would, even for mother’s sake, even as the time is here! I feel the crucible and the gallows, unfit, beneath this massive undertaking, which I know cannot be all that massive―as Miller’s cock was for him. It is a fight-or-flight situation and I believe they’re pre-boarding cowardly writers any minute; I want to be ready and willing to get a good seat… open a vein, pop a cork! However, it is insufficient, my merely wanting to plunge in to this, but, if indeed, I need a flight, then a cheap flight it is!
I can adapt, because, cream rises to the top, right? Or else it curdles, what’s the difference.
All things being equal in this nihilistic capitalist shit-bag, I’m glad to be back in the drivers seat! I’m not asleep at the wheel, on this bus with this new version of humans, these iPeople and Google-Droids with a milky, silicone-based ectoplasm flowing though their veins; perfectly suited and formatted to be programmed; no question as to meaning, their content is pure code, they have implicit faith in technology’s amorphous downloads & upgrades! It’s like God, they say, but better, it’s an app! No worries!
At this rate he would never finish his novel and he knew it, so many years down the road, it would drive him around the bend, but he was no passenger for God’s sake, no digital Candide in hyperspace! He returned to reading, “Ricardo Reis” and was quickly transported back to Saramago’s Lisbon, the rise of Hitler and the military coup in Spain. He began relishing his own memories too, when he and Mária first returned in the summer of ’96, how wonderful it was, the flight to Helsinki with a connection to Lisbon. They took a taxi from the airport into town through hilly streets with cable cars and intimate plazas and delicatessens with incredible meats and the delicious, Vinho do Porto. They slowly made their way down the coast by train to Faro, Cádiz and then Gibraltar, Barcelona was on their list and Paris too; they stopped to visit a friend, Christiana, in Münich and finally, Budapest.
Slowly, the bus, the Van Hool cruiser pulled away from the Cafe for another busy day, down in Palo Alto; so fun it’s hardly work at all, like Disneyland, like playing video games, inventing newer, faster programs and apps and ways of dealing with information & retrieval. We have all become indistinguishable but for the content of our hard drives; back-ups are backed up and still backing up… Where in the world does it ever end, the cloud? Tamás consoled himself with the notion of first principles; an inchoate passion fueling each and every cell of our being with its innervate origin, not the smarmy conceits of charlatans & corporate goons who fool no one but themselves. Tamás was a holdout, for sure, a true survivor, at least, for today while he still had a few dollars to his name―a name like any other, he pondered, like Ricardo Reis, Fernando Pessoa, Arturo Bandini or Henry Miller―but what is it that makes us all so much the same and yet, at the same time, so incredibly, uniquely frighteningly alone and separate?
The old gentleman in the window-seat finished his breakfast, folded his newspaper under his arm, stood without looking around and left. Of all these thoughts coursing through Tamás’s mind at this very moment, which thoughts, if any, actually warranted writing down? Which ones? He wondered, almost apoplectic, None? This one or that one, or the other one? He stepped out the door with frightening anxiety, a febrile sense of panic. Was this ‘story’ of his, among those worthy of recording? Were his friends who had already, made it, the only one’s who could ever, make it? Could he measure up to his contemporaries, for they had such superior positions of guile and breeding and their names, such names! It made him think of a line he just read in, The New Yorker, somewhere, it said, “You’re not cruel enough to be a novelist.” Yes, this was it, as well as the manifold coffee-fueled phantasmagoria and poetic digressions, the endless flood of velleities―this was the reason it all played out the way it did.
A Bunch of Pious Piss-Wads
It was Monday, the long car-ride from Budapest Ferihegy to Mária’s house had pushed Tamás over the edge, but he felt ready to unlock the doors, pull all the stops and upload to ecstasy. Jetlagged, motion-sickened and food-poisoned, he was home and the birds were chirping and twittering, ushering in the dawn. Let those pampered, spoon-fed, pious piss-wads publish their novels about private-school escalator rides, movie-rights and fast-track careers! What did he care? I’ll show them, I’ll write something this time, alright, I’ll show everybody! The world was still his oyster, but he had to open it with a jackhammer. It got messy, pieces shattered and ended up in gaping holes that weren’t his mouth. The very marrow of his very being was tainted with the fatigue of very hard work; Tamás built houses! Long years of dissipation and performance-poetry in the clubs & cafes of San Francisco had also taken their toll: “Bathos Years”, he called them, bathetically. Meanwhile, someone or other always turned up in the papers, rolling in dough, hot babes and fresh accolades, with a leg up, a shoe off, a forked tongue and a spoonful of some really good shit. Bradford Ellington & Jillian Janglweed, in particular, straight out of Barrington College in Bethany, up the eastern seaboard where the cold winds blow. They were geniuses, in one form or another, because they all had such good names, great names really, from good families. The über-crunchy status in a ‘classless society’ is well insured every litigation-prone step of the way. Tamás was timed-out of that time-share, “If I had a hammer”, Tamás had several, one in every key, like, like harmonicas!
Finally, by honest work, Tamás and his little family saved enough money for their vacation out of the States, and glad of it! Hungary was no paradise by any stretch or stench of the word, but it was still raw and real, a real raw deal, suffering deep scars and ravages of the last World War and fascism’s blood-pudding fists. Hungarians had balls, if no hope; Magyars were always willing to repeat their mistakes, just to keep the History Channel in business. For the moment anyway, it was home, serene & beautiful, bursting with sensual potential. Weary of being raped again, Hungary remained a fecund environment in the smelliest sense of the word, in the European sense. There were other fecund places like Paris, Tamás supposed, but Budapest was affordable, even Prague, that little cloistered museum of perfect preservation was pricier, percolating with raving techno-profiteers, movie-making bandits & junkies alike. While in Paris, Tamás liked speaking with screwed-up grammar and faux-French accent, I am always loving it so much to be in Paris, enjoying this stench of unrequited love and sweet delicious crepes, a large smell of urine wafting through squalid catacombs of the Metro; in Paris one notices circumambience of amour, instituted by French Romance Council, realizing, when is too late already, half zee leg and wallet are taken away by the National Excise Commission. It’s a Parisian thing. During the war, Hitler gave orders to save Prague, unscathed and pristine for his own personal collection, while Budapest was conveniently scorched and bombed by three armies at once! In the late 90’s, when Tamás first arrived, Budapest was more like an oyster bar with no oysters, just smashed up shells and pieces of broken teeth ripening on tables in open-air cafés. And of course, plenty of cheap dental work and good cheap booze, so you need it, but don’t remember how it happened. Tamás needed plenty and either one would do.
I wanted to write a novel and now I’m living one instead! The government wants its blood money and I have no invisible means of support. Here I am, stuck in this storybook, cloak & dagger tale of love and death, a blue plate special of greed and transliteration, the story’s writing me! It would be so easy if I could just cough it all up like a fur ball; like Ed Wood would woody? I love Angora sweaters too, but it won’t work that way! I’m the immigrant son of Ferenc Antal Kirjak, my name is Tamás Mahaly Kirják; my life has been nearly eclipsed by the genius staggering lights of meteoric superstar-pop-tarts on jet-skis streaming up & down the paisley shores of postmodern mediocrity in safe harbors and leering publishing houses of a bunch of pious piss-wads! I’m American as a Dobos Torta. You don’t have to be a-merkin to have one! Like Bandini himself, I’ll steal away into the lost coves of lust and desire, the desolate shoals of the human soul to wrench this story from my own twisted & contorted bowels. They say, the road narrows and they are probably right about that, back in rehab-land, but the horizon’s breathtaking—unless it’s allergy season already—and it’s widening like a motherfucker!
Well there you have it; this particular ass-over-teakettle story is exactly what happened when Mária LeRitz merged or shall we say, smashed, straight into the integer known as Tamás Mahaly Kirjak. No more performance art for me, I’ll start typing right now! said Tamás, It does feel pretty damn good, just typing away like Knut Hamsun, chewing on wood chips. How’s this for a million little pieces of bone-crushing juggernauts staggering halfway to Bratislava! And, at the same time, trying to figure out where the poems are, the jewels embedded in this imbroglio of maddening journals, then back again into the mysterious mystifying pages of real life!
Let me explain, it all started back in Budapest a few years ago or perhaps a few generations, to be clear, it is important to start with the historical and build up to the hysterical! Yes, you see, history lends itself to this minor validation that something started officially somewhere, through legitimate channels, but it didn’t. So our story is here, in Hungary, clearly, ineluctably and therefore, it is in Hungary that we must end up, beginning with Tamás & Mária and Pisti and even Zoltan and the neighbors, Jozsi and József and Joli, thoroughly Budapissed!
Oh god, how to begin anything now, in this state, jet-lagged like any other jerk with international excuse, up at 4:30 a.m., taking a hot bath, eating a bowl of cereal then back to bed till 7:00. Here I am in my 40’s, not my 30’s or 20’s, in Budapest and not in Venice or even Madrid. The upper classes have a monopoly on well being, the well-of-being, Tamás called it. Oil’s well that ends well, ay? Oh, they’re good at it, taking plenty of time off from taking time off from taking time off… Tennis anyone? Can’t we all just, get-a-loan?! No, Tamás had to cobble together enough over these scrappy, lean years of renovating Victorians just to get the basics. Still, he didn’t mind, he was happy now that they were finally fixing-up Mária’s place in Budapest and his novel was, well, practically, on its way to the best-seller list!
The neighbor to Maria was named, Jozsi; he was happy as a cave man in his smokey lair, a real authentic Hungarian peasant shit-hole, full of cigarette butts and wine bottles, six cats and his micro, the Queen of Appliances! Jozsi loved his micro, he also loved that Mária was back in town; nearly grunted with delight at every word they exchanged, excited to get something started with Tamás, the crazy poet of California! He always wanted Tamás to drink shots of pálinka with him and some beer, especially the wine spritzers.
Nem kérek, Joszi. No thanks, I’m cutting back, Tamás told him, Igen, jó van akkor! Nem kér! Egészségedre, nyugi, nyugi! Prosit! It was this simple joy & madness of Jozsi’s life which informed everything he did, but which was it, madness or joy? Jozsi was a kind of a highbred lowbrow who worked sometimes for the local trash removal company. He would drive by on days when his bad back wasn’t killing him, standing proudly on the running-board of the BTG trash-truck, waving to little, Emese and Kinga, the neighbor girl. It’s really very difficult to work here, Tamás thought out loud to himself in the copious yard, with all these damn people stepping in and out, right through the novel! It’s a very porous situation, parallel to life and contiguous, I suppose, but at the same time, far beyond.
In the harsh light of his unfinished garden workshop called a, mühely, Tamás located his favorite old typewriter, the one he got in Prague, in fine condition, a Mercedes Superba. Kerouac my ass! he began typing, This ain’t no, “On The Road”, buster! I’m proud to be living this life of travail and real physical work before presuming and proclaiming literary accolades like the rest of those jejune june bugs! They go to college straight out of kindergarten; four years later they’re on their first European book-tour, hard at work on their next masterpiece, another tour-de-force of pure drivel! Tony the Tiger meets John Steinbeck; They’re gr-r-reat! Tamás roared with laughter, I’d rather steep in the great torrents of love & grief along precipice of solitude and wonder! Oh, he wondered, alright.
Where There’s a Will There’s a Wake
The Danube was a dismal sight in its polluted state, redolent and radiant and for Tamás the only thing keeping him above, as it rolled on, between oily slick mirroring surfaces of the sky and the muddy, murky bottom. It was Tuesday, April 27th, around five o’clock, sitting by the river in the warm spring weather as tram #2 went chugging by on the Pest side, while on the other side, the old-town of Buda with its castle up on the hill and trees listing & swaying around the cathedral. Just what are we doing here? he wondered, We’ve suffered enough, especially Mária’s family. There’s enough tragedy and filth around for a hundred such novels, the world is polluted with novels, like this river! Sometimes it was too much, this insurmountable fortress of nostalgia and ennui. What are we doing? We’re poor, that much we know, as we sink our little money into Mária’s house in Budaörs, the one-time village behind the Buda Hills.
Their house, the long L-shaped Schwab ház, was practically folding in on itself, pipes bursting once a month or so, in order to be repaired required hours of masonry work to get through 30 centimeter thick, mixed limestone & mortar walls. The saddle-beam of the roof structure had settled over the years and was swayed like an old horse’s back, ceramic tiles were dropping like leaves in the high winds under summer rainstorms. These rainstorms in Hungary reminded Tamás of the great midwestern storms of his youth along the shores of Lake Erie; mythical bolts of lightning and thunder would crackle and explode, echoing through the valleys and hills while the girls, Emese, Böbe and Kinga would sit on the windowsill in rapt audience to this celestial performance. Then, magically, the sun would pop out from between the hills, bright, warm and hopeful, not like in San Francisco where, it seemed, everything else came out or popped out, but the sun.
Tamás could do many repairs around the house, however, he was unfamiliar with certain practices. Americans are spoiled with lumber, with their great stands of Douglas fir, poplar & pine, unlike Europeans who often treat wood with a kind of reverence, like expensive cheese. Hence, everything is welded together with mortar and sand and shitty limestone blocks which end up absorbing the moisture out thin air, creating mildew all over Europe! Mildew and rot and maggots and concentration camps, it all seemed to go together. The ring-joist for rebuilding the mühely had to be made of poured-concrete into a wooden form, built over the exposed top of the structure, with rebar bent in a complete ring, fastened to vertical bars, drilled & glued in place; not quite up to the seismic standards of California, but robust enough. Mária contracted this work out to local builders, Mihaly and his son, Desö. There was still plenty of other work to be done, the whole property was a colossus of disrepair, demarcated by distinct piles of burnable trash for the winter stoves; for each apartment had to make their own necessary provisions, back in the day; Mária however, had already installed actual radiant heating in her part of the house.
Traditionally, there were three families who lived communally in separate units along with a big yard and little vegetable gardens. Mária’s family owned the lion’s share of the property, truth be told, but no one thought much of truth or dimensions anymore or percentages or even lions, for that matter, things just went on the way they were. Once in a while a squabble broke out over who owned what on paper, but Maria’s grandmother ruled with an iron fist. Jozsi’s wife, Valeria, would hang laundry all over the yard with ropes left dangling in odd places through the years. Even up in the huge vaulting attic there were ropes draped through the beams covered in thick dust where, once upon a time, they hung out the winter laundry. Sometimes, if the winter were severe enough, Maria would have to go up there to collect their freezing laundry and be extra careful not to break it! While most people had washing machines only a few had dryers, they were costly, but that wasn’t the problem. It remains a mystery, even today, they had plenty of natural gas so Maria could never understand why no one had a dryer? There was only one entrance to the attic, up at the top of the yard and you had to climb up a hand-made ladder onto the lower roof of old József’s ház, then open a padlock and enter through the gabled door that leaked like a sieve. Tamás repaired and re-hung this door, but the wind ripped it back off its hinges so that it had to be lifted, each time, into place. There were leaks at different places down the length of the L-shaped ceramic-tiled roof, but they didn’t bother anyone. Tamás enjoyed exploring up there, sometimes bringing his own provisions, he felt like a kid in a secret fort. Some roof tiles were made of clear glass to allow the light in, revealing various artifacts, old hand tools and lumber, mostly. Tamás always found a good reason to celebrate with creamy, Czech Budvar, so delicious and potent; far better than its namesake in America, “The King of Beers!” Why not? he figured, No one even cares if you leave empty bottles, scattered around with the rest of the junk.
There was, among other things, the matter of Kovács Etelka; the neighbor on the other side of the big wall, an attractive, smart young woman who collapsed & died only a few months earlier. Etelka had been disowned by her family who shared a similar disheveled Schwab ház; only theirs was a straight building with a summer kitchen, nyári konyha, located outside and parallel to the main house. Most Hungarians would use the nyári konyha during the canning season, in autumn, and before Christmas when they would slaughter a pig, you might even pluck chickens there too. Etelka’s summer kitchen was disgusting and the main house was always very dark and unlike Mária’s ház, which had the real wooden-plank floors laid in dirt, Etelka’s ház had only traditional compacted dirt-floors, remarkably efficient, unless they get wet. Mária was always afraid as a young girl, of the mother of Etelka, who would pull the brother by the ear and throw him out of the nyári konyha whenever he misbehaved, which was most of the time. The sister of Etelka was Anikó; she was beautiful, but when she opened her mouth she swore like a horse driver! The father, János, was a heavy set man―some would say he was rather obese like his wife―he was good in agriculture, meaning that Janos was good with a scythe. He would cut the grass under the walnut trees in front of Mária’s ház, and while doing so, sneak a peak at her mother; standing there, pretending to sharpen his scythe, casually looking over his tool and then over the windowsill. He was harmless enough, but quite an avid voyeur. Once a year, he was also very generous, giving kolbász, májas hurka & véres hurka, delicious sausage, prepared and served in the original fashion, stuffed inside of pig intestine. It was a very friendly, neighborly exchange for moslék, that is, the compostable leftovers which Mária’s family and the neighbors too, would contribute over the whole year long.
In the early days there was no trash removal at all so they burned and used whatever they could; paper, shoes, clothing, all were burned and whatever was organic was composted. Glass was buried into the ground, hopefully, somewhere outside of the gardens. The same too, was the destination and fate of plastic products. It smelled terrible, Mária explained, as the plastic had to be burned first, to shrink it down, of course, only then could you bury it. Eventually, when glass became recyclable, it was exchanged for a little money at the bottle depository, money that was quickly exchanged for full bottles and cigarettes. The CBA store at the end of Kárpát utc. is still where they recycle their bottles. Of course, they burned coal too, in the winters, as long as it was available, so the houses still had coal bins in the basements, szenespince, it was called, and the outside coal bin was a szenessufni.
The great rift occurred between Etelka and her family because Etelka had had an affair with a married man! He was the handsome, blond, muscular, blue-eyed man who sold animal feed, takarmányos! They weren’t very religious, but some things just weren’t done! Besides, Etelka was the smart one, the hope of the family and so, therefore, it was beneath her to have this, so called, love affair with this, takarmányos, mere laity with that, vidéki accentus, that lowly southern accent! Knowing that her family was turning against her, Etelka went back to school to earn her judgeship. She too was a budding alcoholic, that is to say, she too, even sweet Etelka was unable to escape the cultural epidemic. She decided to stay out of town for a week or so with Pisti. She asked Pisti to accompany her because he had completed his required military service right there in Mátrahegy and knew the area very well. Etelka must have known she was doomed, for one night at the hotel, while Pisti was passed out, she went back to the bar and wrote an informal, Last Will & Testament, on a piece of stationary. A week later, while at her place of employment, her liver ruptured; Etelka crumpled up on the floor and died.
While still living, however, because of the rancor in her own home, she moved in at Mária’s, by invitation of Mária’s mother, Aranka. Mária was happy to hear this, though she had no way of knowing about Etalka’s sad fate, she, Etelka was definitely a step up from the common thieves who gained her mother’s sympathy and ended up living in the extra room. This was the part of their ház where Pisti lived with his wife, Gizela and their daughter, Zita. Gizi, as she was called, was a most petite and frail and adorable creature who also succumbed to sudden liver failure a day after a wild birthday party for Mária’s mother. Gizi was under strict orders not to drink, due to her weak liver, but she continued drinking with Pisti, on their own strict diet of wine & cigarettes; she did like some food, occasionally, she loved Chicken Cacciatore.
Pisti never did get over Gizi’s death, he blamed himself and when he was drunk and crazy he would often beat his own mother and father too. In short, Pisti unconsciously terrorized his whole family, but he couldn’t bully Mária the same way, for the most part, because she lived in San Francisco. When Mária was in Hungary, he still had a little control over her, for Mária was always generous to a fault. Though she was younger, Mária was the boss, the only one with any money. She took care of everything, no arguing that, Pisti liked it that way. Gizi’s death at only 27 years old was, indeed, the turning pint for Pisti: would he turn away from his life of crime and debauchery and become an exemplary father to his darling, Zita? Or, was he to finally about to achieve great things, unfettered by the constraints of responsibility? The answer was all too clear and would come out in the wash, wadded up in paper in a back pocket along with other answers, air dried in the breeze, but not soon enough for Tamás & Mária to curtail what lie ahead. It was a fait accompli, his drinking ever escalating; little abandoned Zita was quickly adopted by her mother’s Sister.
Little Zita was growing up in the neighborhood and would see her father from time to time, around town, but Pisti would duck away out of sight, out of shame. To ease his grief he would sit at the Lóbár telling friends all his sad fate, and then go on a wild spree. He would disappear for days, even weeks, sometimes he would lock himself in the house and not open the door for two days. Tamás was empathetic, he would go over to Pisti’s apartment and sit, watching soccer on the old Orion TV placed high atop the old shrank, szekrény, drinking beers, awkwardly until, slowly, Pisti would snap out of it, becoming talkative again, suggesting for example, there was to be a great rock concert downtown, in the castle district, Várnegyed.
The other matter, about the Etelka’s will, was finally settled; it was determined that the manner & circumstances under which the will was written were questionable, but, nonetheless, thanks to Etelka’s official capacity as judge in a civil court in Budapest, it was found to be legitimate. In it was specified that Etelka’s portion of the family property shall be transferred to Mária’s parents. Mária’s mother had a wonderful relationship with Etelka over the years and Etelka felt sorry for Aranka, doing all that hard work, as only women tended to do, supporting Istvan and Pisti. Etelka couldn’t have known the difficulties that might arise from leaving a will; the obvious “good” for Mária and Pisti of inheriting eight million forints, outweighed the untoward moral corruption that was to ensue. Mária, being fair-minded and generous to a fault, thought it was the right thing to split the money, 50/50, with her brother. The father, Istvan said he did not need to be included as he was loosing his own battle with lung cancer and was going to die soon. This was the other reason for the trip in the first place; as Istvan, her father, was already terribly ill and it was only Mária who was taking care of him. Pisti was too busy at the bars; he owed money, as well, at many local drinking establishments that allowed him small credit. As it turned out, Mária had to fight in court with the family of Etelka who alleged that their sister’s will had been forged. They even went so far as to suggest that somehow, Mária’s family had murdered Etelka in order to reap the rich rewards of their property! Yet, they had no case and decided to pay a settlement within weeks, to get it over with, shortly after Mária and Tamás and Emese had arrived in Budapest.
In the midst of this truly vibrant and tremendous family saga, Tamás needed to speak English once in a while, to someone, for he was gregarious too, like Pisti, but in English! Mária was always busy conducting family business, meeting old friends and catching up. So Tamás was on his way to a convenient meeting of Americans and other English speakers at Kertez Kávézó, near Blaha Lujza ter. I enjoy these meetings, it helps keep me off the sauce and it’s great to go downtown; I meet the most unlikely types, a man or woman from Dublin, Dubai or Whales, maybe some one opening a new Taco Bell or Pizza Hut. Also, as long as he was downtown, he needed to find a new journal, a respectable receptacle for his manic lugubrious obsessions. When he didn’t have a suitable journal, he wrote on scraps of wood or discarded IKEA instructions with that little stick-figure guy assembling furniture, taking extra care not chip the corners of things.
Music bracketed his world like headphones or packing crates with those styrofoam cushions and hidden sharp staples. After the demise of the old Blaupunkt radio, Tamás’ soundtrack came seeping or blaring in, from their new LG CD Player, along the margins of his mind. Often, as he played Nina Simone, he sang and wept aloud; or else, it might be, “Sea Of Love” by Tom Waits and then on cassette, “Es War Einmal”, by Cluster. That old Blaupunkt radio unspooled its musical selections from the loom of time like some Euro-trash Twilight Zone; stations came in with a sonorous crackle and it had a distinct bias for either Franz Liszt or Abba! Queen, too, was always a favorite with Mária and Pisti. However, after too many nights left outdoors on the woodpile, the Blaupunkt finally bit the dust; it had been sitting around the mühely long anyone could remember, even when the outhouse was still there, before the family had their own fancy, indoor toilet. Everybody used that disgusting outhouse. When old Jozsi bácsi would become insanely drunk & violent, his wife, Joli would hide there until Jozsef passed out, right there sitting in the outhouse. Though, these days, old Jozsi bácsi hardly had strength to raise a hand against anyone without tripping over himself, which he often did. When Tamás arrived this time, this kinti W.C. as it was called, this outhouse was sickening, it was full of maggots and hardly anyone used it except for the drunks & thieves who stumbled into the yard. One day, Tamás couldn’t stand the sight of it any more, he sledged that shit-house down in a wild flurry of mighty blows, then dug and plowed and smashed it all neatly under the ground. A job well done! It was his way of taking charge of this peasant cesspool that symbolized a milieu, an outhouse full of maggots!
They bought their new, LG, CD Player, at Elektro World; a long, pleasant walk down Karoly kiraly utca, by the freeway M7, which went straight on in to Vienna. The big blue IKEA store had moved in down by the freeway interchange along with bauMax-x and Auchan. They often made the walk together, stopping in at the McDonald’s which provided their favorite comfort-food and filler! It was reassuring and the toilets were always, first rate, “i’m lovin’ it!”, he wrote in one of his suitably stylish journals.
Tamás sat in the garden behind the mühely writing and reviewing his journal from the flight, how he hated the torment of commercial air travel and how it had changed since the early days, before the intensive airport screenings; gone were the days of easy breezy flight, the symbol of modern simplicity itself. Now, I have to write to kill time, time which is killing us all! Me, Emese & Mária, the passengers and crew, this whole business of crossing Greenland & Iceland, so high over the North Atlantic, practically bipolar and I don’t even have any medicine! He swore off his usual prescription of scotch-n-rocks and so he was glad when they began the dinner service. Service with a smile and a Vicodin. I write words and thoughts down like a nervous twitch; I used to think writing was a virtue, right next to virtual, but now it’s more of a lie-ability, a disease, and that’s the truth! Some people write all the time, they’re in a state of continuous writing, tapping away on their spiffy laptops all quilted with stickers or brand new, out of the box, emailing everyone in the world every five minutes or else they write & write & they never, send! Tamás was in the latter camp, terrified by the tedious process of submission. He was taught the finer points, “restraint of pen and tongue” in recovery, but the rules didn’t apply in fiction; …. to be continued