The citadel of Sighisoara, Romania is one of the few
functioning walled cities in Europe. Cobbled streets and
cement buildings surrounded by walls and eight towers made
of fieldstone and brick. A gypsy woman waits around the
corner from a covered staircase blathering out a mumbled,
broken string of pleading gypsy words that sound like a
state prayer. She's holding the hand of a three year old
kid who is sucking and gnawing at the filter of a Marlboro
"Starting a little early, aren't you kid?" I flip a
100 lei coin at the lady (equal to about 12 cents) to
shut her up and walk on. What else can I do? Take this
filthy woman home to clean her up and feed her and she'll
rob me blind. There's nothing to explain. She don't
understand and she don't care. Even if I try to spare the
kid the nausea of eating the tobacco out of the cigarettes
by yanking it out of his mouth he'd only start to cry.
And crying keeps the tourists away and I've seen it a
hundred times, some gypsy mother slappin' their kid til
it quiets down. Besides, that kid has probably eaten more
dirt than I've walked on.
If the kid lives to be five he'll be sent out with a
sign taped to his chest every day to grab tourists' hands,
kiss them and whine until a coin is thrown in frustration.
If he lives to be twelve he'll have learned how to con
some real money out of people with rolls of blank paper
covered in 500 lei bill.
"Change money, mister?"
So I give 100 lei, enough for bread and water.
Keep 'em alive and keep 'em weak.
The Gypsies came from Northern India and arrived in
Europe in the eleventh century. The have no homeland.
The European countries try to give the gypsies a home in
another European country. Hitler gave over 2,000,000
gypsies a home in an industrial incinerator with the
Jews and intellectual elite from Germany. But before
Hitler moved them in he tore the scalps off their
corpses to make material for German soldier uniforms.
2,000,000 gypsies now live in Romania. Two million
is equal to one tenth of the entire Romanian population.
Ten percent of Romanians are rotten gypsy thieves.
Three thousand Romanian lei make up one U.S. dollar.
If you give cash you can get 4,000 lei for a dollar.
150 lei will buy bread from a peasant woman with four
teeth and three pair of hand-knit, wool socks. One lei
is worth four one hundredths of a cent. The Romanians
are only four one hundredths of a cent better than the
gypsy thieves who have no money because they have no
homeland. When you have very little money you are poor;
when you have no money you steal someone else's.
Romania is a cemetery for Communism. The people
live and work in the stale cement buildings with flickering
fluorescent lights that mark the graves of a dead regime.
The streets are lined with memorials to the Communist
leaders and young revolutionaries who died in 1989 when
Ceausescu was thrown out of power. The shelves of
supermarkets (those stores that can support a medium
sized room full of merchandise) hide their wares behind
the counter, treasuring them like the spoils of war--gold
fillings and eye glasses of bodies in the fields.
Down the street a single lightbulb hangs from the rafters
of a cinder block room with an entryway but no door.
Three large wooden crates sit on the floor, two full of
cabbage and one full of potatoes. Outside the sign
reads "Produce Market."
Hundreds of mongrel dogs cower in the corners of
vacant buildings and scour the cemetery streets for
breadcrusts and bones left unnoticed by the beggars.
Whining, mangy hounds horrible to look at but lacking the
courage of rabies. I reach out with a crust of bread to
one of the starving mutts and it runs off with its tail
between its legs like I was trying to shove a grenade
up its ass. Rabies earns an animal the power of fear
if not respect. These dogs are only good for kicking as
their limps and shyness prove. But what good can a dog
The streets stink of death. Not the sweet salty
smell of victory on the battlefield. It is a stale,
sickening smell of sewage, the odor of
death in a ditch. It is the odor of piles
of rotting clothing and newspapers on which lies a pile of
newborn but dying kittens. Of the mangy dogs that will
die from eating the rotten kittens, or from eating the
piles of shit in the corners of the rotting buildings
where it was left by a one armed wino rotting with
Escape the stink of the streets in the maze of
checkpoints and queues at the National Bank of Romania,
where an armed guard records our passport numbers and
leads us through secret passageways to a bank teller.
From there it is all stamps and official documents
and pointing to the next line to stand in.
"Please, sit. This will take a minute."
Until we stumble back out on the street with 100,000
lei that's hardly worth the paper it's printed on. We had
to stand in three lines and show a receipt before we
could get a package of three pair of cardboard communist
underwear from the lady behind the counter of an
eastern-bloc Du-Mezzo department store.
What was once pity has turned to hatred as I lie
awake in a dingy hotel room at three a.m. listening to
my stomach churn and watching my girlfriend throw up all
over the semi-carpeted floor. One nice dinner in
Bucharest was paid for with three days of
intestinal horror. But as pity turns to hatred,
so does hatred turn to revenge. In that stinking hotel
where my insides turned against me, I declared a vile war
of defacement and defecation on this the only part of
Romania I was able to get back at. Kristine must have
puked on the floor of our room eight times and the both
of us shitting all over the toilets and clogging them up
with the sheets we had cut up to replace the ever-absent
toilet paper in Romanian Hotels. Between the gut
wrenching cramps and gas pains I raced out to get
liquids to fill Kristine with which only fueled more
double-barreled attacks on tattered decor, vile fluids
pouring out of both ends of her.
Next morning we shut the door to a room that reeked of
stomach acid, sewer pipes and sickness.
We gathered all the energy we had been granted in
the hour and a half that we had slept and stumbled
out of the hotel room fighting the pressure of back-pack
straps against the tender flesh and tubes of nauseated
It was worth every bit of misery that night to set
the key on the counter the next morning and say "Thank-You"
with a smile on my face. We left for the
train station to leave the country and all its horrors
behind, and left all our rage, hatred, pity and
revenge in puddles all over the hotel, for some poor
peasant woman to clean up as the poor are always stuck
with the worst of a country's insults.
As we sat on the train waiting to disembark, the usual
freak show parade that comes free with the
train ticket wandered in and out of our car displaying
all their birth defects, tumors and amputated and
atrophied limbs. Waving fingers that looked like
gnarled roots of aged trees, they mumble and mutter
Romanian gibberish asking for a few worthless coins
to be thrown in their way. But it was too late for
kindness, I could only laugh knowing that at least
no matter how bad it could get I was able to leave--
to go somewhere where this would all make for a funny
story. I shut the door in the man's face.
"Fucking, no-good, gypsy thieves."
The above text was sent to me by the gilded frame
just before Christmas
in 1996. He'd taken a yellowed cutting of the parchment
they use for grave rubbings
, approximately nine feet long and six inches wide, and inscribed one side with this piece and the other with Songs of the Mutants
. The scroll
was sent in a cardboard cylinder and accompanying it were seven prints of various Polish paintings and sketches. It remains the most fantastic Christmas present
I've ever received.
A week later the house hemos and I were renting burned to the ground. Hemos wasn't home and I made it out, choking, not a moment too soon. Our posters burned but the scroll, scorched and blackened over in parts, survived. It has remained pinned to the assorted walls I've rented since then. I only wish you could run your fingers across its aged texture and smell the faint odor of burn that remains forever after a housefire. The thick, black ink that Scott used to carve a path in the paper is a work of art all by itself. The actual text that I can share with you here is just a bonus.