Elmer Peter Kisfaludi’s Hungarian. He’s been here in the USA since the late 70’s.

I asked him, “Why did you move?”

“I was young looking for adventure. I wanted to be Peter.”

I thought that was cool.

He painted a picture of his halcyon days looping through ruins of Medieval Europe as a young man in a VW van with Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ in hand.

“We all had a copy.”

He regularly fled the city of his birth Budapest accompanied by kindred friends to roam these ruins. They huddled in candle-lit coves under ancient skies dropping acid in an earnest silence to find each other, ‘reaching-out’ as he pointed out, trying to find that elusive linkage, ineffable, eternal and deep that binds us all, and I said, “how can you then deny that which is called mystical?”

He shrugged his shoulders, laughed and went on with his romantic tales of wandering Bohemian Paris with this gang of Kerouacians, squatting penniless for months in dark, musty garrets, talking art all hours, making love, shooting up, laughing, puking, screaming, sleeping, reading out loud.

When he came to America he sallied about, blithe. For several years, he beach-bummed up and down the Florida shoreline landing for a year near Clearwater. He said he wanted to keep an eye on the Scientologists, and I laughed. He migrated North in the eighties, getting jobs here and there to survive, picking oranges and grapes, ten twelve hours a day, never staying long anywhere till he eventually arrived in New York City where he got a job driving a taxi in Queens.

He’s been a cabbie, scagger, down-and-out drunkard, lover, squatter, biker, bum, and intellectual. A slight man of five foot six belying his considerable stamina, with thinning blonde hair, a long angular face, bright blue eyes, a ready, easy smile he has an distinctly affable presence. People are drawn to him. They like him and trust immediately. He used a bum ID from a friendly dealer, and he’s been here for years to work his wiles and nurture the Monkey on the lam. No one ever questioned him. They never caught him, and he spiraled inexorably into black like me, scuttling dark alleys in the Lower East Side plopping cash in the string tied buckets for scag from unseen, fifteen-story hands, like the scene from Sid and Nancy, till he was a bone of himself and barely there. Unlike me, he found his way back into the light without killing anyone.

I don't have a romantic heart. My tales of scag are not of love or light or brotherhood. They are dark tales of violence, blood, excruciating desperation and loneliness. He told me his tales of halcyon youth, and I found myself yearning for a different past.

He’s a good man. I like him well. We’re both messengers now on the streets of Manhattan. We talk movies of all sorts. A knowledgeable man, voracious reader, he can discuss almost anything from the latest scientific breakthrough to football stats, teams and game strategies. Through the fog he gathered what he could, and he did OK. Until I met him again here in the ROOM of our present dispatch two stories under 4 Times Square, I knew him only in passing on the streets. When we met we talked movies in happy gasps for seconds, or if we had a minute, which was odd, the latest director festival at film forum, Wassbinder, Wenders, Pasolini, et. al. then we sped apart, jetted on the jam of the workaday froth. I often wanted more in those harried meetings, but chance never occasioned it, till we met again, here…in the ROOM where we sit in our sweat for hours at a time or more waiting for work.

He told me once, “I know a lot, but I don’t do a damn thing about it!”

I laughed and clapped him on the back, “you should be proud, Peter,“ I said, “there are precious few who even read these days, let alone try to assimilate. Knowledge, man, knowledge!”

Peter laughed. He knew what I was on about. Knowledge. It beams from the quietest places for all who wish to be fed and nourished. He nourishes me with his know-how, and I’m glad of it, deeply thankful for it. I have the greatest respect for his will to be and to be alive in the world, to be connected to its constituents.

“Drugs should be legalized,” he says.

He left his native country in ’77 not because he was afraid of the communists or for any other political reason. He wanted to see the world. He wanted adventure. He wanted out. He was tired of his racist family, tired of their tired diatribe against the Blacks, Jews, Gypsies, Gays, whomever, a daily rant led by his racist brother. His life had become rote. Even his education as an engineer had become meaningless. There was no inspiration to be had anywhere. Apathy had become the young in Hungary. Their choices had been dimmed to nil by the prevailing fascist regime. Peter wanted out. He wanted the choice to choose however, wherever, whenever.

He needed to be Peter.

“Only Gypsies and drug dealers are named Elmer,” he tells me, “I could’ve told you some political mumbo-jumbo about why I had to leave the Hungarian Communist Regime, but it would be mostly a lie. I wanted to be Peter. I needed to be Peter. Fuck Elmer!”

So he left his country and became Peter.

He flew from Hungary into Bulgaria. A direct crossing into Yugoslavia wasn’t possible.

The communists had successfully gnarled up travel abroad for its people. You had to have very specific papers to get anywhere. A red passport to get here, a blue one to get there, he had the red one, but the Eastern border of Yugoslavia from the Bulgarian side disallowed these having been issued by the communist party. So he had to get to the Western border, a very long train ride, whereupon he entered Yugoslavia and took another train ride for sixteen hours to a place twenty-five Kilometers shy of the Italian border. Peter walked awhile.

A gay motorcycle gang, of all things, picked him up. Peter dug these Renegade types, these resilient bohemians, and they dug him. They hung out awhile off the road, drank beer, smoked reefer, whooped it up, rarely talked, danced like maniacs.

"Hey, man," chortled a sixtyish, leather-belted, bald-headed honcho, "I dig your blues, wanna hit the sack?"

Peter laughed, grabbed a joint and danced around the small campfire, "Catch me, catch me and we'll see...!"

He never caught him.

Peter privately thought of it as a last fling under the red flag, a going away party. After a few hours they hauled him the rest of the way.

The gang passed into Italy without incident late in the afternoon. The leader of the gang, a burly, red-haired fellow with a broad, handlebar moustache, assured Peter they’d wait for him on the other side in a local roadhouse.

"Don't worry, man, just be cool, take your time. You'll find a way. Wait until you know it's right. We'll be right over there."

Peter waited several hours.

He hung out at a local bar and nervously nursed a few beers, very slowly; too slowly, but he only had enough money for two. He knew better than to wander around in plain view, but he was also worried the proprietor of the bar might get suspicious. He caught the bartender’s eye glancing in his direction several times. There were too many questions in those eyes, so Peter made a move. He struck up a conversation in French, and the ice soon broke. They talked about girls, music, anything but politics. Everyone knew the walls had ears. As it turned out, the bartender was a serious musician himself. He played the trumpet in a local band. They talked jazz till well after the sun went down. When he left Peter felt a little sad.

Slipping through the guard at any time night or day was by no means easy. It took moxy, steel determination, an absolute disgust of the red world and a willingness to face imprisonment and possible death. Peter had reached this point of disgust. There was no going back, no staying put. There was only going forward now to an uncertain future. The border was heavily garrisoned 24 hours a day with blazing sweeping, searchlights that crisscrossed the grassy periphery constantly, but curiously enough, not the winding road past a small wooded area that led directly to the other side. This encouraged Peter.

“No one would be so ridiculous or foolish enough to try it.”

To get to this road, one had to cross that wooded area through which ran a small stream.

The forest around the border entrance was heavily laden with low wire traps to alert the guards. Many had met their fate by these traps, many had been beaten on the spot, a sadistic game for the guards and later imprisoned, and many had been killed, shot by the turreted guards.

Peter chose the ridiculous approach right under their vigil.

He casually walked up to the edge of the border pass. Guard lights scanned the passage but not as often as one might expect. Guards in the turrets gripped their AK 47’s. The stream running through the pass flashed and flickered by the ugly fanning floods. He let his eyes be led by this stream right under the guard’s direct gaze. With adrenaline pumping, mind racing, he kept thinking over and over to calm himself, almost like a meditative mantra, “no one would be so ridiculous, no one would be so ridiculous…”

He began his crossing.

For twenty minutes, each minute elongated by fear, he shuffled cross the bristling stream, through spiny brambles, under the hollow, ghastly drone of the guards belching amplified warnings, catching sight of the trip wires in flashes, carefully avoiding them. He knew he could only see a few, but fortunately none of them were tripped. The final lag was the winding, paved road that he had to be walked for about twenty yards before he could duck into a deep ditch to walk the remaining thirty meters into Italy.

Peter took a breath and stood up.

He stepped into the sweeping lights and began his slow walk. Dressed all in black he banked on making no impression. They must’ve noticed him, but they didn’t call out or anything. They probably thought he was one of them. He ducked into the ditch.

“For a moment,” he said, “I think I blacked out.”

A moment later he brazenly stepped out of the ditch on the Italian side and in plain view of the guards. No doubt they realized their mistake, but by this time there was nothing they could do.

Peter thought, “A few heads’ll roll, no doubt.” Then he kept his head low distrusting the trigger happy guards.

He kicked up his heels and met up his biker buddies in the Roadhouse. They whooped it up, played loud Door’s music on the juke, swilled Belgian Beer, and American Whiskey all night long.

At noon the next day they ran a very hung-over Peter into Rome where he quickly jumped a train for Paris. The gentle surge and sway of the train quickly lulled him to sleep. Four hours later, a guard shook him. He bolted up in a momentary panic, and then calmed himself at once. He smiled and followed them to the passport checkpoint.

In a carefully concealed flop-sweat, Peter waited as the guard perused the document. The guards at the French border were apparently unaware the red passport was invalid. All they had to do was read the back that listed all the countries where it was valid. He flipped it over once. Peter’s heart jumped, but the guard gave it back and gruffly moved him on.

Then he was in France. He huddled all night in the luggage compartment of the train, as he wanted to avoid the inspections, which were frequent. He was sure if he stayed in plain view he would be caught, and he was probably right.

A group of French tourists happened upon him once. They screamed and carried on, but as soon as Peter told them he was a Hungarian fleeing communism they immediately took it upon themselves to help him. In Paris they gave him 100 florins and some food. He had no other money but a roll of 50 Canadian dollars he had purchased from the black market in Hungary. He stashed it in a toothpaste tube. Apart from this, he carried a small cloth bag full of underwear and socks.

He’d gone a long time without eating, and he was feeling it. Light headed, with cramps in his belly, he looked around for food on wobbly legs.

In the Latin Quarter of Paris, he finally found a Tunisian Food stand where he purchased a pot of black cured olives. He was nearly beside himself with hunger. Hungarians knew nothing of olives. Peter had only heard about them. He had never actually tasted one. Now he had a whole pot of them. He took a long moment. He stared at them. It was an odd moment.

Salivating like crazy, anticipating the moment of truth, of taste, he considered the olives. He slowly picked one up and measured each twitch of his hand and fingers, took another short moment to consider its wet, black skin and plopped it into his mouth. Another moment passed before he actually chewed.

“Goddam!” he stuttered, a particle of black flipping out.

He sat there a long time, despite the hunger, and nursed those olives, slowly, one by one, relishing their flesh, enjoying every bite with tears flowing down his face.

“It was a religious experience!” he said, which was a funny thing for him to say being the devout, outspoken atheist he was.

"It was the taste of freedom,” he said, and we both laughed long and hard.

There are no messages yet
Short Story
writing philermon
Bookmark and Share

You must log in to rate.
This has not been rated.

© 2014 WritingRoom.com, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED