the twentieth of April some punks came to our town to celebrate Hitler's
birthday. I had no idea what was going on -- I just went to the city center
and saw that there was a fight on Peace Avenue, right in the middle of
the street. Some of the brawlers were regular guys, and some had earrings
and the sides of their heads shaved.
Cars on the street stopped and honked, but none of the punks noticed.
A cop car drove up, but three cops couldn't do anything against a hundred
I stopped to watch at the fight, and around me passersby were also stopping
and looking. Some were talking:
"What kind of disgrace is this? And in the city center! What are
the police doing just watching?"
more cops arrived in three cars, enough now to handle the situation,
but the guys fighting ran in different directions. The passersby began
to disperse, and I left too.
The next day my classmates were talking about it. They said the ones
with earrings and and the sides of their heads shaved were punks. They
had come to celebrate Hitler Day, but some local guys went down to give
them a proper reception. Two guys from our neighborhood, Ox and Evil,
also went down to fight with these guys.
Lenka, my deskmate, gave me a lesson in history:
"Those weren't real punks. Real punks don't celebrate Hitler Day.
My brother told me. Real ones aren't like that. They're normal, not
like these gopniks."
It was Ox and Evil she was calling gopniks, and all the other thugs
who were always fighting for our neighborhood.
And Lenka's brother, he was a student at the polytechnic institute.
He moved away from their parents to live in the dorm because they wouldn't
stop nagging him about his long hair and the music he listened to. He
even got harassed by the police a few times for "possessing items
of bourgeois value."
But that was a while ago, now they wouldn't bother him for this.
Lenka and I shared a desk for almost eight years, since first grade.
Early on we always got teased: "sha-boom sha-boom, bride and groom!"
Actually, we pretty much weren't even friends -- we yelled at each other
a lot and wouldn't speak to each other for a week or more, even though
we were sitting right next to each other. But in eighth grade it turned
out that she and I were the only good students and we both did all the
lessons. At that point we began to copy off each other so we'd have
less homework. We decided in advance who would do algebra and who would
do chemistry. And sometimes Lenka brought foreign music magazines to
school that her brother gave her to read. She and I looked at them during
geography and chemistry.
Two days after "Hitler Day" Lenka brought me a tape. She said
it was "punk rock" and that the group was called The Sex Pistols.
The name meant "sexual guns." She had given me other kinds
of rock to listen to before - Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles.
But when I got home, put the tape in my tape deck and played it, I liked
it better than all the rest. I started jumping around the room and flailing
my arms, and the neighbor below, auntie Shura, banged on the radiator.
next day at school I told Lenka:
"That was awesome music."
"Yeah, you're right. It's cool. These guys are real punks. There's
an article in our newspaper that says they may claim they're protesting
bourgeois conditions, but it doesn't matter, they're still degenerates
and moral monsters. But my brother told me that they dress like this
and cut their hair this way to totally annoy everybody, so that everybody
will hate them. It's like how everybody hates you and me, because we're
good students and because we're from normal families. And our teachers
also hate us because we talk and stuff during class, that's obnoxious
"How do you know?"
"Everybody knows. But it's a bunch of crap. Come to my place tomorrow
if you want, and we'll listen to music. My brother gave me lots of tapes.
My parents hate this music, but tomorrow they won't be home."
Lenka's father was a math teacher and an alcoholic. People said he fell
off the wagon and sobered up a bunch of times, and that he was fired
from his regular job because of it. Now he was working as the school's
security guard at night.
But also, he used to be a poet, and ten years ago, or maybe longer,
his poetry was always being published in the city newspaper. Lenka hated
her parents, and they hated her. They always yelled at her for her "failing"
behavior. Lenka would have been a star pupil, but she argued with the
teachers and asked them sarcastic questions. In seventh grade she didn't
get "praiseworthy" for conduct, but at least in reading and
writing she got all fives. The head teacher said that if behavior like
this got recorded after tenth grade, not a single institute would accept
her. But Lenka always answered:
"Whatever. It doesn't matter to me."
And I, on the other hand, was quiet in my conduct, and the head teacher
often used me as an example. I felt embarrassed when that happened,
disgusted and annoyed.
Lenka served me wine at her place. We drank from a big, thick glass.
I had never drank wine before, just champagne from the table at family
"Don't be thinking we're gonna kiss or anything like that. Don't
even think about it. If you try to force yourself on me I'll throw you
right out and I won't be friends with you anymore, and also I'll tell
my brother so he'll bash your face in. You are better than all those
hicks and morons, though."
Lenka turned on the Sex Pistols at full volume.
"And your neighbors won't get mad and come up?"
"They'll come up. We just won't answer the door. Only if it's the
police, then we'll open up.
We drank the wine for a while in small sips, and then Lenka said:
"You're really smart, so you have to understand that it's all bogus.
The only music that's cool is stuff like this. And whoever listens to
it is cool, too, like the punks. You and I should be punks! Or are you
afraid? I'm not scared. And really, I'm stronger than you. Let's wrestle."
Lenka put down the glass. We got down from the couch onto the floor
and started to wrestle. She tried to pin me and I thought this was funny.
I laughed and didn't resist, and she pinned my shoulders to the floor.
"See how strong I am?"
Lenka took the bottle from the table and poured more wine in the glass.
I drank it all in one gulp and got lightheaded. There was a buzzing
noise in my head and the room started spinning. I decided that I would
definitely become a punk, or else Lenka would think I was a fucking
coward and would never respect me again, and I would never get to come
over to her house anymore, and we would never drink wine together again...
I went straight to the bathroom, turned on the faucet and put my head
under the stream so the cold water would sober me up. I didn't want
my mom to notice that I was drunk. But she heard me in the bathroom
and peeked in.
"What happened? You got drunk? With who? Admit it right now."
But I didn't admit it. I just laid down and went to sleep.
In the morning I had an awful headache. Mama had already gone to work
and nobody was in the apartment. I found the clippers in the box under
the medicine cabinet and shaved the sides of my head. I didn't get it
very even, but I didn't care. I combed my hair down over my forehead.
I got it almost like in the newspaper photograph, the one with the article
about the punks. Instead of my blue school shirt I wore a black one,
and instead of school trousers I wore jeans. And I didn't put on a tie.
Then when I went down the hallway, the whole school stared at me. I
went in the classroom for the first lesson -- chemistry. Everybody turned
around and looked at me. Lots of them laughed, and one kid pointed at
his head and made a circle with his finger, like I was crazy. But Lenka
smiled approvingly, and the rest of them could kiss my ass.
The head teacher came into the classroom and stopped.
"What's wrong with you? Why do you have such a foreign style today?"
"What's so foreign about it? Everything is the same as usual, only
I forgot to wear my tie."
"What about your shirt? And your pants? And your haircut?"
"All my shirts are in the wash, and my school trousers are too.
And why shouldn't the older classes get to wear whatever clothes we
"Get out of this classroom."
"I'll go, too," says Lenka. "The man's getting thrown
out for nothing - he didn't break any rules."
While Lenka is walking down the aisle, lots of kids are jeering and
evening my mom yelled at me. The head teacher had called her at work
and told her everything.
"Why is it that you're focused on this, and not on earning a medal
of achievement?" Mama said.
"I don't need a medal."
"What do you need?"
My mom began to cry. She said that if my dad had lived with us, I wouldn't
have grown into such an idiot.
The next day Lenka came to school dressed in our new style, too, and
she did it far better than me. In her right ear were two earrings -
she said she had punctured the second hole herself. She had also shaved
the sides of her head and come in without her pinafore, but did have
on bright red tights and sneakers.
"But we have to be good students, just like always, like nothing
happened, so there's nothing for them to pick at," she said. "In
this country we have perestroika and democracy, so they don't have the
right to forbid us from dressing and looking the way we want."
During the class break the principal sent for us. This was the first
time I had ever found myself in his office. There were two tables arranged
in the shape of a letter "T", and in the corner there were
several glass-doored bookshelves. There was almost nothing in them,
just a small white bust of Lenin and a few books.
"You are honor students. You could be the pride of this school.
But instead, this!" the principal bellowed at us. "What is
the meaning of your appearance, and this type of clothing? Who are you
trying to look like? You should be an example for the other students.
Think about your future. If this behavior is marked down in your records
neither of you will be accepted in a single institute, and moreover,
your conduct will be marked as failing. You won't be seeing any medals.
"We don't need your medals," Lenka answered. "it's you
who needs them for your records, for the school's reputation in the
The principal wasn't shocked by Lenka's insolence; he was used to it
"Kolpakova, how many times do we need to have this discussion?
You disgrace your mother and she used to work here. She was in good
standing, one of the better teachers. She will have to be called."
"Call her. It won't change anything," Lenka said.
I was starting to feel ashamed that I had said nothing in response to
the principal's diatribe. Lenka was taking the rap for both of us by
herself. And then I smiled as obnoxious and evil a smile as I could.
The principal came right at me and slapped me in the face.
"There's nothing to laugh about. This is serious business we're
discussing. We won't put up with this if you want to continue on to
ninth grade. If you keep it up you'll find yourself going to the vocational
school, won't that be nice? And there they won't give a damn whether
you're an honor student or flunky."
I swung with all my might and punched him in the gut. The principal
doubled over, then straightened up, leaned against the table and looked
at me in shock, like he couldn't believe it.
"You're not allowed to hit pupils," Lenka said. "And
you struck him first. He defended himself, I witnessed it."
The principal didn't say anything. He'd been hit before and everybody
knew it, but this was the first time an honor student had ever done
Lenka and I sat on the back steps at school and smoked. She's the one
who taught me to smoke. She herself started smoking a year ago. It was
warm, but gray and dusty, and the leaves on the trees hadn't come out
"That was excellent," Lenka told me. "I thought you would
piss yourself and not let him have it. Serves him right. And don't be
scared, he won't tell anybody anything."
During the next class break two huge guys from the tenth grade came
up to me, Tick and Huron. All of their friends left after eighth grade
to go to vocational school, but they decided to go on to high school
and somehow managed to hold on to their final year, even though they'd
been barely C students.
"Hey, kid, you think you're special or something?" Huron asked
"And you had the balls to go to school this way? Why do you get
to look like this and nobody else is allowed?"
"Anybody can do it, if they're not scared."
"And what, you're so brave? If we kick your ass you won't be showing
off like that."
I didn't say anything. I thought it was unlikely that they would hit
me right then.
"Look, here's the thing," said Tick. "We won't touch
you - you're from our neighborhood, from our school. But if you go downtown,
you'll get your ass kicked. They'll think the punks didn't get broken
up, that you're still there for Hitler Day."
"What did you do with them?"
"With the punks."
"Nothing. Well, almost nothing. We kicked a few of their asses,
and the rest the cops bandaged up, That's what you're in for. Get ready."
In the evening we sat on the roof of Lena's five story building and
smoked. There was a hatch that led up into an alcove and onto the roof,
and we were lying inside it.
"Everything's shit. This town is shit. A total shithole,"
Lenka inhaled and looked at the sunset. The roof was covered with pigeon
crap, and there were cigarette butts and pieces of broken bottles scattered
everywhere. We could hardly find a place where we could sit down.
"In Moscow or in Peter, out that way, there are plenty of punks
and metal heads and other informal types, but here it's just proletarians
and ex-cons. Shit, shit, shit. I'm going to Moscow to study after eighth
"Where will you go?"
"It's not important. Some technical college. The main thing is
that it's far away from here."
"And if you get a failing mark in behavior?"
"They won't do it. They'll piss themselves first. They know, that
if they do I'll write a letter to the district and one to the regional
education department and even more letters other places. You think they
want the school to get audited? Those bastards are scared of an audit."
On the first of May we went with the whole school to a parade. At first
we wanted to blow it off, but then Lenka said we had to go: let everybody
look at us, let them know there aren't just freaks and proletarians
in our neighborhood.
When we were waiting outside the school for the trolleys that had been
arranged to drive us downtown, the principal ran up and started yelling:
"Where do you think you're going?"
"What do you mean, where?" answered Lenka. "To the parade
in honor of the day for the international solidarity of workers."
She said this in a serious voice, like she was reciting a poem about
Everyone around us cracked up laughing. The principal just waved us
As soon as the trolley arrived downtown, Lenka and I took off from the
school group and went to look for her brother. He was in the parade
section for his institute. He had long hair and so did everybody with
him, and they were all wearing leather jackets and jeans. They immediately
stood out from all the hicks and their brightly colored signs and banners.
We went into the courtyard with them and drank port there.
I didn't get much of what Lenka's brother and his friends were talking
about, but this didn't matter to me. The only thing that mattered was
that I looked cool. Sitting with them I didn't feel embarrassed. During
the demonstration Lenka spiked my hair with hairspray, and did the same
with her own hair. I had already cut the arms off my old jeans jacket
and wrote on the back with white window lacquer: "Sex Pistols"
and "Fuck Off". This was pretty much the worst thing you could
say to somebody in English, Lenka had explained to me.
We said goodbye and took off from Lenka's brother and his friends and
went to look for our school group. Somewhere along the way we ran into
three short short-haired bullies.
"Hey, kid, what's with you?" one shouted at us. "Why
do you look like that? Get your ass over here."
He grabbed me by the collar and started dragging me away.
"Get your fucking hands off him," Lenka said to him. "Or
else you'll get the shit beat out of you."
"By who, slut?"
"By my brother and by his friends. They study at the polytechnic
and they're one section over. Can we go now, huh?"
"And who does he know there?"
"He knows Zveroboy, and Rizhy. And lots of other people."
The bully put me down.
"Well, you can go for now, but be ready if I see you again. You'd
better get a normal haircut and not mess with this shit. I'd have better
things to say about you."
We went back to our school section. The principal ran right over to
"Kids, you'd better move along. You can't come with us."
"Why not?" I asked him.
The principal went psycho on me.
"I can't believe you aren't ashamed to disgrace the school like
this! So much for your good record. This is all Kolpakova, this is her
influence on you. And furthermore, I can smell wine on you... Get away
from our group! I want you out of my sight, and I'll be having a serious
conversation with your mother."
We turned around and took off.
The whole holiday I hung out with Lenka at her place. Her parents were
away at their dacha, and nobody bothered us. We drank a bunch of beer
that her dad had stashed and smoked up all his cigarettes.
"Whatever, they know I drink and smoke," Lenka told me. "It's
no big deal if a girl drinks and smokes. It doesn't mean the girl's
a slut, you get it? But I won't make out with you. I don't like you
like a guy. Well, I like you sort of, but not a whole lot."
The day after the holiday Lenka didn't show up at school. I didn't know
what was wrong, so I decided to go to her apartment after class. During
geometry I was called in to see the principal. There in his office was
my mom. She was crying. Right when I came up to her she slapped me in
the face, then again, and again. I covered my face with my arms, and
the principal pulled my mom away for some reason. I would have thought
he'd be glad to see me getting beaten.
My mom sat on chair and started crying, and the principal sent the secretary
to the bathroom to get her a glass of water.
"Your friend is finished here," he said to me. "She's
been diagnosed with mental deviance. Earlier this morning they took
her to the hospital."
I didn't believe this mental deviance thing. Lenka's parents long ago
threatened to turn her in to the loony bin, and now they'd finally done
it. I ran out of the office, out of the building and down the street
to the bus stop.
At the bus stop where I had to transfer buses so I could go to the nut
house, I saw the same bullies who had picked on us at the rally. They
recognized me right away, and I didn't have time to hide.
"Look who's here," said the one who had grabbed me at the
I started running, but realized right away that it was pointless - there
were other people at the bus stop, and while they were there those guys
wouldn't pick on me, and now I was in a worse mess...
They caught up with me in the courtyard near the dumpster and started
hitting me. I fell in the mud and tried to cover my head and face with
my arms. As they were beating me up I screamed:
"You all suck! Bitches, condom heads, faggots! I'll shit on you,
I'm not afraid of you!"
They kicked me some more, shook me down for all my kopecks, and left.
courtyard was empty, and the stench of something rotten was coming from
the dumpster. I suddenly noticed that fresh leaves had appeared on the
trees, and I thought about how there wasn't much left of school before
vacation started. And now I'll go see Lenka in the hospital and say
by Andrea Gregovich
story appeared in Hayden's Ferry
Review, Issue #49, Winter 2011-2012