It was 1968. I lived with Anna Rubinstein on Kazarmenni Lane in a room in a wood building. The apartment's owner was named Ludmila. She had a drunkard husband nicknamed "Yorsh" -- he worked at a grocery store, the former director of a technical college -- a son Alik, a daughter Alla and the youngest daughter, Lena. At 25, young girls already appealed to me. I remember how my hands shook when I measured Lena: her mother had asked that I sew her blouse. I had a sewing machine in my room next to the typewriter and I would earn money from time to time sewing pants. That Lena should be 48 years old now, perhaps she is even tied down to a husband, but back then she was a charming girl with black eyes, nipples hard under her shirt, a restless ass... Anna, my wife, wasn't around for the measuring. I immortalized the measuring scene in Diary of a Loser.
We lived very poorly. I remember I would go to a basement cafeteria on the Garden Ring, at the corner of Kirov St. I would buy tea, eat the free black bread and mustard and, when nobody was looking, finish off whatever food the diners had left on the plates. Art was what mattered. Writing brilliant poems. I tried to make them brilliant, estranged my poems (made them strange) using Shklovsky's and the Opoyazovts' technique.
Our building was made of birch. Now they've gotten rid of those buildings, but back then several of them stood by Kazarmenny (parallel to the Garden Ring). Ludmila's apartment had three rooms. In the first, the largest, were the mother and her children, Yorsh stayed further down in the next, and we were in the smallest, with a window that faced out into the courtyard. When glancing out the window, it was possible to think it was the sixteenth century; the frames of sheds, snowdrifts, old roofs were all visible from the window. The hygiene was foul; everyone, of course, washed in the morning in the kitchen and there was a toilet, but that was it. There wasn't even a cold-water bathroom. Fleas abounded in the building and our legs were always bitten up to the knee. We went to a public banya on Masha Poryvaeva St. to wash. There are beams and debris at that place now and I didn't even try to walk among them; it was too depressing to see that landscape so changed.
In 1968, there was an old, homey banya on Masha Poryvaeva where, entering the lobby, you could buy a ticket for either the public hall or a cabin. It cost more for a cabin. Inside, there was an entry room with a reasonably wide bench and a shower. I don't remember the prices of that banya anymore. An old man, when leading clients to their cabin, never found fault with anything and never asked the clients to identify themselves, so Anna and I could go in a single cabin, like husband and wife. Never mind that we looked like mother and son. Never mind the fact that our marriage was never registered with the state. The old man was kind and unfazed. On his old jacket there were numerous packs of orders and medals, in several rows. He smoked some sort of wild plant and was always shrouded in smoke.
Once a week we went to a cabin in the Masha Poryvaeva banya. We would take off our coats -- Anna had a dark cherry-colored coat with a fur collar, and she also wore this furry hood. I took off my heavy black ratinovoe -- sewn in Kharkov by an Armenian tailor -- hung it on a hook, placed our sheets from the banya on the bench, took off the rest of our clothes and went to shower. I went first, turned on the water and adjusted it. Anna would enter after me, covering herself with her hands, one on the obvious place, where sculptors place a fig leaf, and the other across the whole of her long chest. We had already lived together for four years, and that Ruebensesque woman, apparently, already bored me. I felt that, but my mind still didn't understand. Her steadfast swollen flesh annoyed me already, and our relationship would soon be like a business one. Or friendly. We scrubbed each other's back and sometimes copulated in a fit of passion in that cabin on Masha Poryvaeva. That happened more frequently when I was hung over, in Kazarmenni. There was too much stifling flesh on Anna; her unbelievable rear gave her the defining bulk of the goddess Demeter. I was 25, she was 32; not for nothing did I steal looks at 15-year-old Lena when, she stumbled sleepily into a kitchen chair, her beautiful figure tipping like a young plaster piggybank. Pioneer Lena ironed her tie, knotted it -- the kitchen smelled like a tie -- and, turning her butt, slid through the door. I went back to my room and sat to write a poem. I tortured myself with poems, punished myself with poems, wrote by the kilometer for ten hours a day! Only a little piece of that abundant poetic ground meat was subsequently squeezed into a collection of Russian poetry published by the Ardis publishing house in Massachusetts in 1979. In 1974, all or almost all of these notes, including the ones written at Kazarmenni Lane not far from the banya on Masha Poryvaeva St. (about 100 meters), were taken out of Russia. Leaving America in 1980, I gave them to the archive of the Slavic Studies professor John Boult from the University of Texas in Austin. Subsequently, John Boult gave these carefully numbered kilometers of writing (I remember there were definitely at least 1235 pages) to some other university. So they are still somewhere, these kilometers. When the hostility towards me for being the leader of the National Bolshevik Party recedes, they will start to study these thousand-plus pages. All the more so because of the confusion written there: poems next to a diary and the descriptions of events. There, in the fragments of writing, is the history of my last years with Anna and the beginnings of my romance with Elena.