A Young Scoundrel by Eduoard Limonov

John Dolan
University of Otago
Department of English
Deep South v.3. n.2. (Winter 1997)
Copyright (c) 1997 by John Dolan, all rights reserved.
Chapter 9 of Eduoard Limonov's "A Young Scoundrel", translated from Russian by John Dolan.

Chapters 1-4 appear in v.2 n.1 of Deep South
Chapters 5-6 appear in v.2 n.2 of Deep South
Chapters 7-8 appear in v.3 n.1 of Deep South
Further chapters will appear in later issues of Deep South

It's Anna's fault he started sewing pants. Somehow he went on a date with the Jewish woman in bell-bottomed jeans of some khaki material. Bell-bottomed jeans were high fashion in Kharkov in the winter of 1964-65.

"What wonderful pants, Ed!" said Anna approvingly. "Who sewed them for you?"

"I sewed them myself," Ed lied, thereby solving all his financial problems for the next ten years.

"I didn't know you knew how to sew," Anna was truly amazed. Before this she had not taken him seriously. This was still before the kid went to see her in Alushta, in the Women's Sanatorium, where Anna went to get some rest from Kharkov and its problems. This was before they started sleeping together, before Ed moved in with Anna and went to live with the Jewish family as a new member. This was before our era. At that time, Ed and Anna were just friends. At that time, he would go to Anna Moiseyevna's place and sit in the corner and for the most part, keep silent, looking at the guests in amazement, with the innocent eyes of a working class guy and criminal. He kept silent because there was nothing for him to say--- he didn't know the names of the painters, writers, or poets of Russia, or the world; he didn't have an opinion about the poems of Pasternak which were in fashion at the time...Ugh, he didn't even know who Van Gogh was, and it would take him several months for him to stop confusing him with Gaugin, and another month to be certain who the severed ear belonged to.

However, despite his confusion and embarrassment at this unavoidable muteness, the bookseller stubbornly kept coming to Anna Moiseyevna's each evening, inevitably bringing with him a bottle of port, knowing that the port would make it easier for him. Every evening, that Autumn, there were arguments, poetry reading, and port at 19 Tevelev Square. In Anna's company--- Vicki Kuligina and Vicki's former husband, Tolik Kuligin---port was preferred to "'biomitsin." The evolving bookseller willingly gave up fortified white wine for port.

Now, through the thick stratum of time, the conduct of the working-class guy Savenko seems to have been admirably directed by his powerful intuitive faculty. If he did not understand the reason that he needed Anna, needed these sometimes incomprehensible and sometimes simply comical and affected people, his mighty instinct whispered to him: "Sit here. This is what you need. This place. These are the ones, the people you searched for, fruitlessly, in the factories, in the vegetable plots, on the roads of the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Asia. Sit down, keep quiet, and learn." And that's what he did. Ignoring the unwanted sympathy and, at other times, mockery. The elk-like Misha Basov was more ironical than the others. And many times the bookseller noticed Misha's mocking glance directed at him.

.....Pants. After ten days or so, Anna suddenly asked him "Listen, Ed, sew a pair of pants for my friend? He's as thin as a rake, and on him normal soviet-style goods look like a sack. And his girlfriend, my friend Zhenya, wants Bunny to look handsome. Will you sew them?"

"With pleasure, Anna. He needs to buy one metre twenty centimetres of cloth"--- the liar answered, remembering how Maskim the guy who sewed his khaki jeans measured him. Of course this lie involved him in all sorts of unnecessary trouble--- but, thought the liar, he would get out of it somehow. He'd measure Anna's friend, take the material and the measurements to Maksim, and Maksim would make the pants. Then Ed would give them to Anna's friend, and everybody'd be happy.

But an amusing incident occurred, causing this little drama to conclude otherwise. When he had gotten from Yurii Issarov, the brother of the unfortunate adventurer, Mishka--- the address of the young man, Maksim, the liar arrived at last at a beautiful little old street, and knocked on an abstract art-piece which, he realised, was the door of a one-story house there appeared before the frozen, package-carrying bookseller not Maskim but an old woman, as attractive as the street and the door. "Akh! they took Maskim away to the army last week!" said the old woman joyously. "Thanl God!" What Maskim had done to merit this "Thank God!" Ed never found out. The beautiful old street smelled beautifully of smoke, as the unhappy bookseller trudged toward the tram.

He didn't know any other tailors. Normal tailors, the kind who work in shops, didn't know how, and wouldn't want, to sell bell-bottom pants. What could he do? When Eduoard went to Yurii Ossarov for advice, Yurii said that he didn't know any other fashion-making tailors, and observer philosophically, "Why did you lie?"

Returning the material to Bunny was out of the question, that would mean losing his newly-acquired friends' respect--- above all Anna's. He'd look like a phoney. After thinking about it, Ed decided to sew the pants himself. First of all, he measured his own bell-bottomed pants at hundreds of different points, and drew the measurements on a piece of paper. This gave him the dimensions of the pants. Raisa Fyodorovna looked sceptically at her son, who had covered the table in their one and only room with his paper, chalk, cloth and ruler. "How are you going to sew? You don't even know how!" she observed. Still, she found it all quite interesting, since her son disclosed to her the entire story, which he, normally secretive, decided for some reason to reveal.

Of course, he had never sewed pants, but he knew how to hold a sewing needle in his hands. Several years of practice---clandestinely mending and altering his own clothes, keeping it a secret from his mother---had taught him how to alter pants. He had always had obvious talent as a draftsman, and he knew geometry well. While still a boy, he sometimes managed to earn a few rubles by drawing patterns from "Working Woman" magazine for the woman who lived in his building, and even, as his fame spread, for women from other buildings. Or any other pattern.

Equipped with these basic skills and common sense, and having spent forty-eight hours on the project (it turned out to be particularly difficult to figure out how to make the pockets) he finished the pants. And his mother, Raisa Fyodrovna, admitted, to her own surprise, when she saw her son put them on, that these were good pants. You could even say great pants. Still, not wanting to surrender her position (basically her position consisted of the absolute certainty that her son was "no good at anything"), Raisa Fyodorovna asked, "And this what's-his-name, Bunny, is he really the same measurements as you?"

"A little skinnier, maybe..." mumbled her son. On Monday, going out to sell books to the people, he brought along Bunny's new pants. The thins, wrinkled Bunny --- he was actually the learned Viktor Zaytsyev; the magnificent Zhenya Katznelson, with her white skin and jet-black hair, in a black fur coat; and Anna, in a bright flowered shawl over a coarsely-woven wool overcoat with a fur collar, showed up during the lunch break. On this cold winter day, the bookseller had been allowed to set up his stall right next to Store No. 41 --- so Bunny, with Liliya's permission, went into the back room to try on the pants. Bunny came out of the back room a different man.

"Bunny, what a beautiful figure you have!" cried Anna. " I always thought you had a skinny body and a huge butt. But it turns out that was just the terrible pants you've been wearing! You're terrific, Ed!" and Anna kissed Ed.

" Indeed, well done" said Bunny. "Much better than I expected. How much do I owe you?" "Nothing" said the bookseller, looking away. At that time he still couldn't take money from people for his work.

" Wait a minute, Bunny --- turn around!" commanded Zhenya. Bunny, grimacing, turned obediently around. &Quot;Aren't they a little tight in the back?" Zheyna asked the bookseller.

"That's just the cut," said Directress Lilya, proud of her talented subordinate.

" So how much do I owe you?" Bunny asked again, slapping Ed on the shoulder in a friendly manner.

"You said seven rubles, didn't you Ed?" said Anna. (Maybe he had said seven; he'd had to say something. He forgot how much he gave Maskim.)

"Here...and thanks very much, old man"--- Bunny awkwardly put a ten ruble not in the bookseller's hand.

" Now I have to give you back..." the bookseller dug into his pockets.

"No, no --- forget about it." At this point Bunny became embarrassed. "Are you going somewhere for lunch? Come to the cafe with us. My treat."

"I don't know...I usually have to work..."The bookseller looked over at the Directress.

"Ask the Zombie to cover for you for an hour..."

"I'll stay, I'm free!" agreed the Zombie, popping up from behind the curtain, where she had been doing accounts. the delighted bookseller flew from the shop with his new friends, and they set off for the cafe on Gogol Square to drink to the first pants sewn by Ed. That's how he became a tailor.

After Bunny, he sewed pants for Kuligin, Vicki's ex-husband and Anna's ex-lover. Though maybe Anna was sill sleeping with Tolik back then. or maybe not? It seemed to Ed that she was, but then at that point, Ed had not yet slept with her. Kuligin...a guy with glasses, a guy with a book...the clever Tolik, the exceedingly clever Tolik, the omniscient Tolik, the fascinating Tolik...For Kuligin's one negative trait--- he drank a lot--- it seemed there were 99 positive ones.

Two and a half years went by. Ed Limonov, older and more experienced, is sitting with his friends in the Tavern and, distracted from the general conversation, thinking about Kuliin, about man in general, about man's fate, about whether it's possible to foresee what will happen to this or that boy, youth, adolescent. Take Kuligin. Everyone around him always considered him extremely talented, gifted, promising. His letters, and a few stories which Anna once showed Ed, did indeed abound in interesting observations and were written in good clear prose. The only thing Ed didn't like was the effeminate purple paper, and the fact that the letters were written in red ink. But the colour of the paper and ink cannot serve as a serious critique. The talent in those letters was evident--- a fact.

Still, those letters and stories came from Kuligin's and Anna's past, without Ed. Kuligin hasn't even written letters for a long time. He drinks more and more, and reads more and more. he reads like a maniac! Why didn't Kuligin develop his talent? God only knows! Maybe he has no desire for glory? Nothing of the motor which makes a man try with all his strength to write more interestingly than anyone else, and try to reach the highest peak? Kuligin is nice, but it seems like he wants nothing but port, peace and quiet, and books. Kuligin has a dog, and a daughter, Tanya, with whom he sometimes strolls in Schevchenko Park. he used to work as a night watchman, and now he's watchman in the boiler-room of a chemical factory. Doesn't Kuligin have any ambition? Obviously not.

Then does he, Ed, have ambition? He does. All through the spring and summer of 1965 he kept to himself, writing poems. He filled two notebooks of rough gray paper, 500 pages each, which Anna snuck home for him from the store. And everything he wrote seemed worthless to him, next day...from time to time he resolved to show what he'd written to the one and only person he was not embarrassed by: Tolik Melekhov.

"Bad!" sadly pronounced Melekhov, handing Eduoard the notebooks of coarse gray paper. "Bad --- but keep writing, and don't throw these away."

And Ed, once again, locked himself away in Anna's room all day. At that time, she was working at the respectable Academic Bookstore. Discipline was stricter there and Anna wouldn't get home until after seven in the evening. Summer was hot, there wasn't a breath of air, but the glory-seeking youth kept writing his lines on the gray paper... And once again, Melekhov, glancing to the side announced his verdict: "Bad, Ed..." For maybe a year, he had been writing bad poems, and then one day, in despair, he suddenly managed to drag from deep within himself a melody which, even if it was expressed in vague or poorly organised words, was his own melody --- and Ed felt this. Quickly Ed wrote out two dozen more of these vague melodies drawn from deep within himself and gave them to Melekhov. Melekhov didn't show up for a week, and for a week Ed waited nervously for Melekhov's arrival. Finally one evening Melekhov met him at the "Automatic." Tolik drew from his briefcase --- he now, at the insistence of Anna Volkova and her mother, carried a briefcase instead of a sack --- his, Eduoard's poems, and said seriously, not smiling: "There Ed, now you can call yourself a poet. You've written some real poems. your own poems." And he added sadly, "I've never written any."

Ed Knew one of Melekhov's poems, "Pale and Ghostly." The poem was actually kind of funny; in it, "Pale" strove for "Ghostliness."

"Intellectual fucking-around," was Motrich's characterization of Melekhov's wok, thrusting his nose, for a moment, out of his lordly fur coat. "You, Tolka --- don't try to write poems. you know all about poems - but don't write them. you should be writing poetry criticism" And Motrich gulped his "triple" --- his extra-strong coffee. Motrich no longer "took" ordinary coffee from the Hungarian percolator.

Eduoard trusted Tolik Melekhov's taste. The red-faced, simple son of a janitress was always trying to trying to educate Ed Savenko, perhaps finding in this task a certain pleasure. Melekhov made Ed read, one after the other, three volumes of Khlebnikov's poems, edited by Professor Stepanov, and the youth Savenko obediently wrote out the poems, line by line. he had long ago discovered that if you do a little bit of work each day, you can complete even the most enormous project. He wrote out all three volumes, but without the commentaries. Melekhov explained to the young Savenko what "unconscious learning" was, and started to bring Eduoard the yellowed brochures of the "Oppositionists" --- members of the formalist tendency in the Soviet literary criticism of the Twenties. Thanks to Shklovskii, Eichenbaum, Tomashevskii, and Tolik Melekhov, the young Savenko learned that "the blue sky" doesn't move the reader, inasmuch as there have been thousands of blue skies shimmering up at the reader from thousands of books ... so the poor reader no longer reacts to the blue sky. You must surprise the reader, the young Savenko grasped, just as --- in what seemed like only a few days --- he was being transformed into Limonov.

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