Sunday, March 04, 2007

Anti-Danube: Chapter III

I have a Proustian moment, caused by loukoum
Suddenly I was back at home in my room that morning, with the corridor telephone ringing.

"Comrade Zhatko, you to the tellumphone!" yelled Mrs Shliondra before stamping back into our communal kitchen to skim her vat of pyrohis.

With a sigh I picked up the receiver, which still bore the faint aroma of her jugged breakfast.

"I am Comrade O. Karpiuk, meat technician grade four at the Slaughterhouse in Breb, Durnopil Region. Good morning, sir. Your work is derry-vative and, it shows no devil-opment since you was at collage, where you got into because of nepotterism because of Professor Zhatko, who wasn't even your dad. Nothing you say or do means anything to me. Thank you."

"Thank you, comrade." I replaced the receiver.

Altruistic Criticism. The Party wanted to share the benefits of socialist self-criticism with a broader public. The result was the NAKRO security police having to recruit criminals and mental patients to help them match confessions with the mass of incoming denunciations. Our economic activity flagged, despite the increased demand for electricity and crude gardening implements. Roumanians would gather at the border and mock.

First Secretary Novak ordered a well-received purge of the ideology department, and Altruistic Criticism moved out of its infantile stage. Now citizens are expected to identify themselves and address the criticism to the beneficiary directly, rather than scrawling abuse and addresses on the walls of local NAKRO buildings.

For some reason I had been receiving five or six Altruistic Critiques a day for many months, all of them emanating from unschooled workers, peasants and progressive police officers in the village of Breb - the centre of our bramble-processing industry. The critiques all concerned my work in general, with frequent allusions to my student years at the Pokazuxa Institute for Foreign Languages in Munkaacz and passing reference to "small man parts".

This was the the old business I mentioned earlier, and so I marshalled the information I already had to hand:

1. All evidence pointed to a conspiracy explicity targeting myself, my artistic mission and on occasion my "snout of an idiot".

2. Breb is not a noted centre of literary appreciation, given that its library is an Plebkult van full of Party pamphlets in mutton fat puddles.

3. My fellow Pokazuxa freshman Dementer Korczynskyy was allocated a job on the local paper there after being sent down for "Fourth International deviation" and interfering with laundry maids.

A greasy, pitted librarian flapped over to my desk with what appeared to be a cardboard kebab holder. She rested her flaccid dugs on my periodicals and hoarsely exhaled loukoum fumes as she eased it into my hands. "For this, you will dress as an Hungarian hussar. My nephew has the uniform. He will watch."

I thanked her in the name of Art and Truth, turned boldly from the future to the past, and examined the only surviving copy of Literaturna Brevsjcjyna.

This publication, issued by the Culture, Agitational Propaganda and Lottery Commission of the Breb Municipal People's Committee, consisted of three pages of articles on shrubbery, several smudged photographs of stones, a cartoon denouncing the German elections, and a poem entitled "Zhatko". It ran, over a college photograph of myself subtitled "Never been to Breb", as follows:

Trotsky beard
And pisshole eyes
Chicken voice
And spider thighs

Zhatko - compost turns to Man
Bourgeois dandruff
Human spam.

To me, this was conclusive. There was no second edition of Literaturna Brevsjcjyna - the records say because of "lack of bramble focus" - but the forthcoming contents in the surviving copy listed items that I might not have relished. A "modern folksong" entitled "He liked the German snipers (during the War)" and "Unnatural practices at the Pokazuxa Institute" caused me some anxiety.

I loaded my pen to compose a letter to the local Party Committee, when a heavy hand landed on both of my shoulders.

"Citizen Zhatko, the colonel would like a word."

From the rasp of stubble on my nape and the match struck on my cheek, I knew that Agent Tschtjetz had come to call.