Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Women I almost slept with"

I left Fischer's Under the Frog in LA, not intentionally, but I'd already prepared this post because  I love how he writes, the wit, the words, the sly understatement, the original imagery. (Maybe it's not original for Hungarians, but it is for me.) 

His themes are universal stories of humans and their individual and collective foibles and problems.  In this case with the background of Hungary under the Nazis and then the Communists.

 Gyuri is having trouble with women.
He had met Zsuzsa a fortnight before the camp.  She represented a change of tactic for Gyuri.  He had been pursuing a number of attractive women, who far from considering docking had recoiled from his greetings as if his hello were a wielded knife.  'Communism and celibacy, that's too much,' Gyuri had moaned.  Rather like an injured player seeking a fixture in the division below to repair his pride, Gyuri had met Zsuzsa at a dance.  Gangs of hormones, supported by a sense of desperation, had unearthed beauty from an unpromising surface.  Even though they had only met three times, Gyuri had been unpacking the equipment, setting up the furnishings of affection and a good part of his time in Trabánya was spent contemplating the ransacking of her fleshy treasure.  (p. 121)

But when he visits her apartment unannounced, there's a young AVO (Hungary's hated secret police) officer visiting her.  After the AVO man has left, Gyuri tries to explain to her how terrible it was to entertain an AVO man.
The other great disappointment he suffered that evening was the realization that Zsuzsa was heavily involved with stupidity.  Her occupation (florist) should have warned him but Zsuzsa, although she inhabited Hungary, didn't seem to live there.  She didn't understand what was going on, she hadn't noticed what was going on and couldn't grasp what Gyuri was saying.  Gyuri also noticed that her nose was looking too large that evening but on the other hand he couldn't help being envious of her total lack of contact with 1950.  She had an airtight insulation of dimness.  (p. 122)
(Seems I know some of her relatives today.)  But his story telling gets better.
This was going to be, he sensed, another fine addition to his collection of failures.  He could see the title of his autobiography:  Women I almost slept with.  Not Kissing and telling.  '1950 was a good year, I almost slept with four women:  a heroic production increase, under strict Marxist-Leninist principles, from 1949, when I almost slept with two women.'
. . .Gyuri took his leave and reflected deeply on the absurdity of living in a country more than half full of women (demography being on his side since the erasure of the Hungarian Second Army in 1944) and being unable to transact some romantic commerce.  Standing in the tram, with the passengers packed as tightly as cigarettes in a carton, centuplets in the oblong womb of the tram, even with the back of three other citizens coupling with him, Gyuri felt sappingly alone.  Crushed, but lonely.  How do you find people you can talk to?  There should be  a shop.  And once you've found people you can talk to, how do you hang on to them? (p. 122)
Universal questions.  So all this keeps Gyuri from sleeping.
Mental eructations* growled up clearly from the cerebral digestion  It was three o'clock in the morning, the hour favoured by the back-seat drivers in his  cranium for interrupting his sleep.  Whatever was bothering him would be thrust up, and although he couldn't name the issue, a strong discontent was emanating from his cerebral colon. (p. 124)
*I had to look up eructations.  It's apter when you know it means 'the act of belching' .
 Switching on the light, Gyuri referred to his watch.  Three minutes after three.  Why was it when he wanted to wake up with punctuality he couldn't but the seething rage inside always popped out at its self-appointed seething hour and why was it that when he wanted to feel awakened in the mornings he could never feel as fresh as he did now? 
I think we've all been there, but not as eloquently.  He still hasn't fallen asleep when there's a knocking at the door.  It's four plainclothes AVO who take him to headquarters.  He's still being cheeky when they can't find his name on the list.  He's looking at the young AVO officer.
Gyuri studied him and thought:  if only I hadn't been born with moral vertebrae, with intelligence, with dignity, I could be sitting there comfortably. (p. 126)
Of course, this is a burning question today - why are some able to do humanity's dirty work while others' moral vertebrae prevent them from doing evil's bidding? 

Here's the previous post on Under the Frog.

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