Monday, January 19, 2015

The Life of Peter Pupsik, Part One

         Had Mr. Peter Pupsik written his own life, in conformity with the opinion which he had given, that every man's life may be best written by himself---had he employed in the preservation of his own history, that clearness of narration and elegance of language with which he expressed his ideas, the world would have had the most perfect example of autobiography that was ever exhibited.
          As I had the honor and happiness of enjoying his friendship for upwards of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing his life constantly in view; as I acquired a facility in recollecting , and was very assiduous in recording his conversation, of which the extraordinary vigor and vivacity constituted one of the first features of his character; and as I have spared no pains in obtaining materials concerning him, from every quarter where I could discover, and have been favored with the most liberal communications by his friends; it is clear that no other biographer could enter upon such a work as this, with more advantages.
          No truer remark has ever been made on the state of modern man than that his life is full of contradictions. Mr. Peter Pupsik, born in a country that no longer exists, exhibits these contradictions better than most others. Since 1991, his birthplace, which once occupied one-sixth of the earth, has been erased from all world maps; alas, as he expressed it, his paternal roof has been dissembled forever. He was born in the  place which used to be variously called the Land of the Tartars, or Great Russia, or simply Rus, in the northerly province  of Z-------; which land at the time was over-ruled by a Communist regency.                 
          That he was remarkable, even in his earliest years, may easily be supposed. An early illustration of many of Pupsik's later characteristic traits may be given through the following description of his early years, relating the hows and whys of his five-year long estrangement from his parents.
          Pupsik was not quite nine  when the country's Premier, Mr. Kh----, who had been governing  over the country since before Pupsik's parents were born, had suddenly died. Pupsik's father, a rather mousy creature, had broken the sad news to his son. The death of Mr. Kh---- had occasioned a great deal of lamentation among the Muscovites, yet no one was more apparently afflicted than young Pupsik. Attending the funeral while perched upon his father's shoulders, thronged by the Russian multitudes, Pupsik gaped at the coffin as it passed through the streets of the capital. Back home later that day a neighbor asked Mr. Pupsik how he could possibly think of bringing such a young child to a funeral, as the massive assemblage could have easily been stirred to a violent frenzy, endangering the boy's life. For 'tis well known that in that part of the world funerals of public officials often turn into bloodthirsty routs. The father answered, because it was impossible to keep Pupsik at home; for, young as he was, he believed he had caught the true public spirit and zeal for his country.
          Indeed young Pupsik was much tribulated. For a long time following the Premier's death, Pupsik was consumed with grief. And furthermore, he displayed a certain amount of intolerance towards any perceived slackening of grief and reverence for the departed Premier on anyone's part.
          "Mamachka," said Pupsik at the breakfast table "why did the Premier have to die?"
          "Alack-a-day, dear son, every life must have a stop, " said Mrs. Pupsika, " all of us will seek out of this world at some time or other. Now eat the rest of your kasha. Go on, be a good boychick."
          "But don't you think the Premier's death a great calamity for our country? Would you say 'twas a very bad calamity, or the worst ever?"
          "Why, just listen to this little one here," said his Father. "Whoever put such deep questions into your head? 'Tis no denying, the Premier's death was a hard blow to our country, but now we have a new leader, and we have recovered fairly well as a country. Eh, what say you, dear wife?"
          "Sure, sure" said his Mother, "and while the leader is new to office, we must be generous to him and treat him as one who might be worthy of our respect. For until he falls short of his obligations, we ought to hold him in very high estimation indeed. Now eat your kasha, little one,"
          "Mamachka, don't you think the Premier rather too young to die?"
          "No, my boy, the Premier was an antiquary," said his Father. "Dwell not over-much on such morbid fancies, let us finish breakfast." As was natural to expect, the collective nerves of the Russian people were made highly strung following the death of the Premier. Individuals were conscious of their behavior being subjected to more public scrutiny than was normal. The slightest deviations in manners from what was considered proper was likely to arouse suspicion.
          "He was a reeky codger, and that's the end of it. We shall have no more on this talk," boldly said his Mother, then scooping more buckwheat onto their plates. The father was made much content  with her generous dishings. Even had he wanted, he could not have said a word at that moment since his mouth was food stuffed. Indeed the one person he feared more than the Premier himself was his own wife; to whom he yielded his authority, or whatever was left of it to yield, as gladly as he had to the Premier.
          "But couldn't some other person have been, I don't know, substituted for the Premier?" persisted Pupsik in his inquisition "and died in his place? 'Twould have benefitted the whole country." His mother and father looked at each other quizzically, unsure whether to admire, pity, or take alarm at the boy. They knew not what to make of his ardent displays of patriotism, upon which he insisted the more eagerly as they sought to temper him with what they thought was common sense. Might not the Premier's death be the work of some cabal, he asked? Was not a complot laid to betray the Premier? Did they not think there was a shortage of wailfulness among the people? Why were no flagellants to be seen following the coffin? The parents exchanged more puzzling looks, amazed at their son's precociousness. While the Mother was too furious to say anything, the Father, after swallowing his food, braced himself and managed to say, "Wouldn't my boy enjoy himself more if he had another dishing of beet juice? You always said, beet juice was your favorite."
          "Damn your eyes, and damn your juice," squealed Pupsik, "I demand greater respect for the Premier. Show more respect! And why aren't you standing when the  Premier is being spoken of?" He had gotten up from his chair by then, and was now gesticulating with his hands most truculently---- in such manner as to be no doubt familiar to those among his friends ---or indeed his enemies, of which he had many more---who knew him in his adult life. Till he had driven himself into exhaustion at the end of the day, Pupsik's harangue was relentless; and no matter what they tried, his parents could not bring his zeal under control.
          The following morning, he seemed calmer. It appeared as if last night's talk was water under the bridge. Yet two days later, a group of gendarmes came by and arrested the parents, carrying them to a labor camp in the remote province of B----. Pupsik was immediately placed under the care of the State, and was delivered to a boarding-house located in an eastern Oblast. There for a period of five years he was bred up, cloathed, fed, and taught. And after the five years passed, he was remitted to his parents,  who were discharged from the camp upon completing their sentence.
          Throughout the period of his residence at the boarding-house, Pupsik had gained a considerable amount of friends and admirers among the children, who were living there, as it were, in hock---some of whom, like Pupsik, having put themselves there on their own volition--- as well as among the staff members. For every body came to be awe-struck by his personality, and they admired his efforts to spread patriotic zeal among them, and to inculcate a sense of devotion to the State. His fame began to spread after he related the story of his denouncing his parents. This abreption, as he called it, was forced upon him on account of their less than indifferent patriotism. This action was greeted with universal approval.
          The children stood there and listened most raptly to Pupsik as he spoke to them, often standing on his bed in his little slippers. In a transport of fervor, he expiated on the need to defend the values of the State, to be ever vigilant against the alien element, as he called it, and to wipe out defiance before it begins. He reminded them, that as children they have a unique, privileged role to play in this crusade; for, should they ever be restored to a family, he preached to them the virtues of spying on their parents, of reading their correspondence, of sifting through their drawers, and even peeping at them through keyholes, anything to discover evidence for a wavering of universal patriotism. He also managed to win the admiration of the staff members, each of whom regarded Pupsik as their personal favorite among the children, and so they treated him with certain allowances, such as extra dishings of beet juice from time to time.
          One of his major concerns, which would emerge later in his adult life, can be traced to this period. During his stay at the boarding-house, he instilled in the boys, ignorant as they were of such modern notions---those shifty-eyed rascals, as he later described them---the regular practice of taking care of one's teeth, the lack of which practice horrified him tremendously. He taught them the proper use of a toothbrush and he taught them not to eat the paste. This took some time in being fully adopted by them, but Pupsik's zeal ultimately proved to be as effective in this mundane realm as well as in the greater public realm.
          As mentioned before, after five years Pupsik's parents won the rights to recover him from State custody, and they paid him a visit one day to carry him home. At first he hardly recognized them, but he soon admitted that they looked rather healthier, and that they had a more alert air about them.  Before leaving the boarding-house, the little family took a few minutes to sit for the road, and then commenced the 1,500 mile journey back to the province of Z-----. The parents thenceforth never again gave Pupsik reason to suspect their complete reverence for the State.