Issue 50, Fall 1970
The ridiculous “taxi” swerved clownishly into the drive way of number 29, neatly clipping a (no doubt) cherished bough of white freesia from its parent bush, the blanched and waxen bells evoking with their split perfume momentarily—but just momentarily—the sunlit riverbank of my childhood, with its cool ferns (mist, borscht, mother, midges) and rescuing from their lunatic perambulations my disordered thoughts, which, like so many crazed sheep, had been straying far from their comfy ancien regime fold ever since I set foot on this ridiculous continent. What had I, Ludovic Putz, to do with this shady suburban street, its narrow sidewalks clogged with hooting children and suspicious dogs, its so-called “comfortable” white, two-story houses (each most probably with a box of colored “tissues” on the bathroom sink, and the inevitable toaster), sad parodies of our splendid, lost dacha in the pines. Dear reader, allow if you will a brief apostrophe from a morose and bewildered old-world rip. I am not, after all, actually in the pathetic DeSoto with its maniac pilot, but in the relatively peaceful confines of the Elmsville (not a real name, obviously, and certainly not real elm trees either) jail. Upon incarceration I requested pencil and paper from my oafish young jailer, who sidled back an hour or two later with a few leaves of aged municipal stationery and a barbarous ball-point. What, I repeat then, is old, sad-eyed Ludovic up to in these obscene surroundings? My quest was not a strange one—unquestionably not worthy of its weird denouement. The kindly old gentlemen who was in part its object will forgive me, if he should happen to read these lines—if, indeed, he should have progressed this far through the Lethean waters of my laughably prose, so alien to his own crystalline strophes—the peculiar cerebration I am about to accord his name.
Piotr Petrovich, fat though you may be, you are the greatest emigre poet of our age! This dear, chess playing behemoth was good enough (owing, I suppose, to a tenuous mutual kinship with a defunct cousin) to respond to my agitated request from across the water for employment in the spindly groves of American Academe (I will not bore the reader with the silly series of events which led to my decision to shake the dust of Europe from my feet; they are m any case, without an intimate knowledge of my character and essential good will, subject to misinterpretation). Image then, if you will, my delight at his promise of a lectureship in Serbo-Croatian literature at the very New Hampshire college that gloried in his strangely boated presence. I said mes adieux to the spangled gutters of Les Halles, and after an unpleasant and (for me) humiliating week in the number six port-side Lifeboat of the S.S. Rotterdam I arrived in New York. From there, thought I, it was only hop-skip-and-a-jump to Elmsville, New Hampshire, where old Hamblesley spreads her stone thighs to the subarctic sun, but as iuck would have it I inquired of the wrong troglodyte at a palace of misinformation known as the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
And this brings us back, with all too precipitate haste, to the above-mentioned taxi. Its mutilation of the innocent freesia was, I am afraid, a direct result of my choked request, delivered a touch too late for happy landings, to “Stop here. Please, if you will, my good madman. We had been cruising dismal Elmsville for upwards of half an hour in a search for suitable lodgings, since I felt that before making my debut at Hamblesley, I ought to change my shirt, sew on a button here and there, and generality indulge in that frivolous and singularity American obsession referred to as “freshening up” However, since it most inconveniently appeared from the lack of advertisement that none of the snug hovels we shot past were anxious to receive paying guests, I determined to fix on the least objectionable of these and implore its inmate for a temporary haven. I am not an unpleasant-looking man (deep voice, eyebrows) and I hoped, by these presents and by the assurance of an imminent and steady emolument, to coax the good housewife into letting me have a quiet room in the attic. I further hoped against hope for a garden, and it was the sudden, dizzying glimpse of an abandoned garden hose seductively coiled on the lawn of number 29 Breezy Drive that made up my mind. Better to fall to earth here than to spend the rest of the unfortuitous afternoon in a depressing albeit breakneck odyssey through the dim byways of what was turning out to be, in these old eyes at least, a completely uninteresting little burg.
After dismissing my Charon with a few coins—more than he deserved—I pressed the nasty enameled button on the modest portal of the “kitchen” door and was rewarded by a muffled alarm within, followed by ferocious yapping. After a wait of some minutes, the door opened and a woman of middle age, nicely tricked out in a pinkish, zippered wrap, stood before me.