Nineteen Fifty Eight
In the year of Our Leader Nineteen Fifty Eight I was twenty one years old. The Soviet Union was recovering from Stalin’s madness and thin rivulets of the “Thaw” trickled down from the Kremlin. As a popular song of that time said, “Our beloved father Stalin turned to be not our father but a bitch.” Cattle trains that were readied to evacuate Jews from large cities to Siberia were instead carrying grain. Khrushchev traveled to the United States and banged his shoe on the lectern, but in Russia political prisoners were leaving labor camps, gathering on the streets and exchanging memories.
Poets read verses in public squares and carried Yevgeny Yevtushenko on their shoulders. Van Clibern won the international piano competition in Moscow and charmed music lovers. That year I finally lost my virginity after several unsuccessful attempts and gained an intimate knowledge of female mysteries. It happened in a sunny little clearing in the woods and a plywood memorial plaque preserved that event for posterity. I don’t know if it’s still there but I suspect that it was sold to the Museum of Evolution, like Lenin’s underwear was sold to the Museum of Revolution.
Thus, I was no longer a pizdostradatel which can be loosely translated as “pussy-sufferer”, now I was a pussy-owner. Every night I dreamed about Natasha, my girlfriend who studied with me at the Moscow Institute of Architecture and lectured me on life.
“Men are stupid,”she said.
“What do you mean?”
“They don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. They see a skirt and get excited, but they don’t know where that skirt has been, you know what I mean?”
“I know,” I said.
“I hope you do, but I’m warning you – if I see you with another woman, I’ll break your balls.”
“Even with Katia Furtseva?” I asked.
“Furtseva is an alcoholic.”
“But she’s also the Minister of Culture.”
“Culture doesn’t need ministers.”
“Culture needs money, honey. There is a new poem going around,” I said.
“I will shock Mother Russia soon,
I will marry that Furtseva woman,
I’ll be happy and lose all my wits
By caressing the best Marxist tits!”
“Hey,” said Natasha sternly, “If you keep telling me these silly jokes, you won’t caress my tits anymore.”
“Yours are not tits,” I said.
“Yours are the beautiful domes of the Taj Mahal, the hope for future generations of architects and poets…”
“And silly chin waggers,” said Natasha and laughed.
That night we made love in a telephone booth because the weather was too cold for the woods. I couldn’t bring her for a night to my mother’s studio apartment and she couldn’t bring me to her parents’ one-bedroom apartment. Sometimes we did it on a dark street. I would lift her and lean her against a wall if the wall wasn’t too cold, but in the winter we had a problem.
We stayed in the school after hours and sneaked into closets, but a cleaning lady found us there and reported to the dean’s office. A red-haired hag from the personnel department invited us for a serious conversation and gave us a warning: any more sex on school premises and we’d be expelled. Sometimes we met at our friends’ apartments when their parents were away, but that didn’t happen often enough.
Meanwhile, Khrushchev started a campaign against architectural “embellishments” and built prototypical apartment buildings all over the country to fight the postwar housing crisis. He announced that “Our life became better, our life became jollier”, but caviar and Hungarian salami disappeared from stores. People immediately responded with a little poem:
Our life became jollier,
Our life became better,
Our necks became thinner,
But also much longer.
In a couple of years Natasha and I graduated from the school and started working at different offices. She married a man with a two-bedroom apartment, and I found a woman with a one-bedroom apartment. The American hawks killed President Kennedy and the Soviet vultures squeezed Khrushchev out of power. “The Thaw” was over. Minister Furtseva brought many distinguished artists from abroad, but the vultures forced her to resign and the cultural exchange with the “rotten West” ended. Katia Furtseva drank herself to death.