Of Kids &
Marek Tomin, Translator
(Twisted Spoon Press)Of all the unlikely venues for a story, this has got to be it: a tantalizing, suck-you-in, lay-you-out, haunt-your-soul moment-by-moment of a father and son walking the streets of the city, talking of the grandfather who made toys and mannequins; ladies they knew ... wanted to know ... never got to know; favorite airplanes --- not model airplanes, the real McCoy --- including the Corsair F4, one WWII favorite that I hadn't heard of --- or certainly not thought of --- for sixty-five years.
Walking the streets of Prague, long after the fall of Soviet Russia, memories of friends who became members of the SS, KGB, or (worst of all, for those living in that part of the world) the much-dreaded Ustashi. A day spent on the streets, going in and out of taverns, the 71-year-old Ivan, the 44-year-old Honzo, and their thoughts, fears, delights, delusions, loves ... and their strange Czech drinks: "Magic Eye," "V-2 Rocket," "Pond Scum," "Chumbawamba," "Bamboo Shoot with a Motor" which is, gag, "Red wine and cola, half-and-half, with a large shot of Fernet, an atrocious drink."In the course of our stroll through the late August streets, we slowly come to know Ivan and Honza Benes [a carat over the "s" --- my keyboard doesn't make it], he a scientist, grew up rich, spent it all, now living in a "bedsit, in Prague-Sporilov,"
The rotten wardrobe, the mouldy bathroom, the cheap mass-produced furniture, the rows of dusty bottles amongst the piles of grime beneath the kitchen sink.
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Of Kids & Parents is an up-to-date "My Dinner with Andre," funny, sad, all the tensions built-in, the old man, a scientist, always asking the who and the why and the what, always doubting until proven wrong. Once, inquiring about Honza's new lady-friend, "hope you're not being unfaithful to her!"
Goddamn it, what business is that of yours ... the demon in my head roared, rattling my spinal cord and kicking the walls of my cranium: None of your fucking business...!
Then the quick switchback. Old Ivan going into detail about a love affair from forty or fifty years ago, perhaps before Honzo was born, "a woman of Ljubljana, she was a real woman that one, thin, but what a figure, just a glance at her was enough to give me a belly-slapping erection."
I know father and son shouldn't be talking to each other like this, but who's left in the world for me to tell it to.
Then another quick switch, and we are in Klánovice, in 1956, the Russian have just moved in, Ivan's father takes ten-year-old Honzo out to "the road that goes from Újezd by the viaduct, along which tanks had been rolling from morning till night for about four days."
Grandfather says, "See that? Remember it!" He throws a stone at one of the tanks. But for Honzo, it was the first time he'd seen real tanks. "What a rush! The motors roared, smoke hung above the woods, the tanks rumbled along one after another, and still there was no end to them!"
We stood there until the afternoon. Granddad shook his fist at them but I waved at them, secretly so he couldn't see me.
One threatening, the other waving, the two-in-one, the Janus-face, one mad, another happy, the two conjoined, grandfather-grandson, father-son...
...Father and son, different, perhaps, but revealed here to be cronies, old cronies, who get pissed at each other, open up, shut down, confound us (and each other) with their memories, their tall tales, who can believe Honza's whopper about Johan/Lazarus Batista Kollendero, "who were born in London and they were formed in such a way that Johan was growing out of the chest of his normally developed brother, so throughout their lives they were looking at each other's faces. Lazarus was the one with the legs so Johan had to go from one party to another against his will."
Apparently they always argued about it, and Johan would end up offended, staring at the ceiling all night, while Lazarus would fool around, tell jokes, and in between he'd reason with his brother in a quiet, friendly voice.
Weird, wonderful, wonderfully-horribly joined, like all of us, with those who bore us, who bear us, like Ivan and Honzo, the two of them filled up with their stories, filling us with their stories, there on the streets of old Prague. The memories out of their lives (past and present), the common history of two who have several things in common: memories, father and son, joined-at-the-hips.
Some may be false, some maybe not; but mostly stories out of our lives minted by Emil Hakl come as pure gold, as rich and as good as it gets.--- L. W. Milam