by Vladimir Mayakovsky
It is 1929. Ivan Prisypkin, a former Party member, strolls into a huge State Department Store in Tambov, accompanied by his future mother-in-law Rosalie Pavlovna Renaissance (who runs a successful beauty parlor) and an eccentric house-owner named Oleg Bayan. Hawkers are selling all sorts of products: bananas, German whetsones, lampshades, balloons, herring, glue, perfume, and fur-lined brassieres. Declaring, "My house must be like a horn of plenty", Prisypikin orders Rosalie to buy up all sorts of unnecessary stuff such as bonnets and dancing dolls for his future children. Rosalie is reluctant, but Bayan advises her that Prisypkin's way is the way of the up-and-coming working class; and, more importantly, Prisypkin is bringing an immaculate proletarian origin into her family along with an all-important union card. So Rosalie shouldn't count her kopecks.
Prisypkin reminds Rosalie that she can't call him "Comrade" until after the wedding, because she's not a proletarian yet.
Rosalie sees a hawker selling herring, but she is offended by the small size of them. So she runs off to the State Cooperative to buy herring there instead.
Bayan unctiously tells Prisypkin that he can arrange the wedding. Bayan offers to sing an epithalamium of Hymen, but Prisypikin thinks he's talking about the Himalayas. Bayan describes a perfectly class-conscious wedding: the bride, with red lips; arrives in a red carriage; her escort with be a red-faced bookkeeper; the table will be covered in red; the bottles will have red seals.
A working girl named Zoya Beryozkina, who until this moment thought she was Prysipkin's girlfriend, happens by and overhears this talk. She demands to know what it is all about. Prysipkin carelessly dismisses her, telling her that their affair is over.
Our love is liquidated. I'll call the militia if you interfere with my freedom of love as a citizen.
Rosalie returns with the herring she got from the State Cooperative. She is heart-broken to discover that the hawker's herring are actually larger.
Rosalie sees Zoya and, assuming that Zoya is pregnant and making demands, Rosalie starts a scandal, saying she'll pay off Zoya, but not before she smashes her in the face first. A militiaman enters to stop the ruckus.
Back at Prysipkin's hostel, a Barefoot Youth is looking for his boots. It seems that Pryspikin took them to wear while on a date with his fiancee. The residents talk about the airs Prysipkin has taken on. They find a calling card showing that Ivan Prysipkin has changed his name to Pierre Skripkin (something akin to "Pierre Violin"), and they all have a good laugh over that.
A Mechanic says Prysipkin is like a deserter abandoning the trenches. It's still like 1919, the Mechanic says, with lice everywhere. He continues, "Our enemies attack silently now--that's the only difference. And people shoot with noiseless powder."
Pryspikin, wearing a new pair of shoes, enters with Bayan, who is carrying all of Prysipkin's new purchases. The youths in the hostel all turn their backs on Prysipkin. Bayan starts instructing Prysipkin on how to properly dance the first dance after the wedding. While practicing, Prysipkin scratches himself. Bayan advises him on the proper way to scratch in his new social circle. If the need to scratch should arise, Prysipkin should feign jealously, back away from his bride, and rub his back against a statue or vase while saying, "I understand, treacherous one, that you are playing a game with me". Once so scratched, Prysipkin can resume the dance normally. Bayan then leaves to make sure that the ushers don't drink too much vodka before the wedding.
Prysipkin tries on his new clothes while a Youth and the Mechanic snort indignantly. Prysipkin says that it was he who fought to build the bridge to socialism, so now he has a right to rest by the river.
I can raise the standards of the whole proletariat by looking after my own comforts.
A shot rings out. A youth enters to annouce that Zoya has shot herself through the breast. The youth also comments that she'll catch hell for this at the Party meeting. The Mechanic, calling Prysipkin a "hairy skunk" throws him out with all his belongings.
The wedding celebration is ready to begin in Rosalie's opulent beauty parlor. A grand piano is in attendance. Prysipkin does not want to begin until the secretary of the factory committee arrives. He sends a message, however, that he has to attend a Party committee meeting, so he won't make it to the wedding.
The celebration begins. Bayan gives a long-winded speech noting, among other things, that it is too bad Prysipkin lost his Party card along the way; but, on the bright side, he did pick up a lot of lottery tickets.
There is singing, dancing, and drinking. Disorder breaks out. An accountant pokes Prysipkin's wife with a fish. There is pushing and shoving. The bride is knocked up against the stove. Her veil catches fire. Soon the whole beauty parlor is ablaze.
Comrades and citizens!
Vodka is toxic!
. . . .
A primus stove or an open fire
can turn your home into a funeral pyre!
The beauty parlor is completely destroyed. (The fire brigade wasn't summoned for two hours.) One corpse is unaccounted for, probably lost somewhere in the deep, rubble-and-water-filled cellar. The fire brigade chant a ditty about the dangers of mixing vodka and fires.
It is fifty years later, 1979. The World Federation calls for a global vote. A frozen human figure was found in a caved-in, ice-filled cellar in Tambov. The Institute for Human Resurrection considers it possible and advisable to revive the figure, noting that every worker must be utilized until the very last second. They point out that there are callouses on the hands of the figure, which, in the long-ago times, was the mark of a worker. The Epidemiological Office objects, fearing the spread of bacteria known to have infected people in what was once Russia. The agricultural workers of Siberia move that the resurrection be postponed until after the field work is finished so that the broad masses of people can be present during the procedure; but the Siberians are overruled. The vote is taken, and resurrection is approved by a wide margin. Reporters relay the news to newpapers all over the world, including the Red Gazette of Rome and Izvestiya of the Chicago Soviet. Stories appear on various historic topics, including: "Features on ancient guitars and romances and other means of drugging the masses;" a complete list of ancient dirty words; and an explanation of that now-unknown word "alcoholic".
Prysipkin is revived by a group of learned professors, including Zoya, who is now elderly. Prysipkin at first assumes he got drunk and has just awaken in a militia station. When he sees a calendar, he reacts with horror, realizing that his union dues are now 50 years in arrears and he will have a mountain of paperwork to fill out.
Prisipkin runs outside and scratches his back against a wall. He sees a bedbug crawl off his back and onto a wall. He plays a song on his guitar to saranade the bedbug and try to get it back, but it escapes.
It's an acute attack of an ancient disease called "love". This was a state in which a person's sexual energy, instead of being rationally distributed over the whole of his life, was compressed into a single week and concentrated in one hectic process. This made him commit the most absurd and impossible acts.
Reporters in a plaza discuss recent events. The newly revived mammal has been spreading infection everywhere. He taught a dog to walk on its hind legs, and now all dogs refuse to bark or frisk around--all they do is "beg". To make Prysipkin's adjustment to the new world easier, they have been giving him doses of that toxic substance beer. Unfortunately, the fumes make the science lab workers dizzy, and some of them take a swig by mistake. The result: 520 workers are in the hospital and the epidemic is growing larger.
A girl, who heard Prysipkin playing his guitar and crooning has been infected with that ancient disease love. Other infected individuals have started chorus-line dancing and fox-trotting.
Officials excitedly hunt down and find the escaped bedbug. They then proudly display it at the zoological gardens.
In his room, Prysipkin lives like a pig. He is surrounded by cigarette butts and empty bottles. His breath makes the staff ill, so they install a ventilation system to disperse it. Prysipkin moans that he wants to be refroze. What was the revolutionary fighting for if now he can't dance to his heart's content? Zoya brings him history and science books, but he tosses them all away, saying that he wants something to tug on his heartstrings, to give him that melting feeling. Zoya recalls in disgust that 50 years ago she almost died because of this skunk.
OLD MAN #1: I remember like it was now.
OLD WOMAN #1: No, it's me who remembers like it was now!
OLD WOMAN #2: You remember like it was now, but I remember like it was before.
OLD MAN #2: But I remember like it was before like it was now.
OLD WOMAN #1: I remember how it was even before that, a long, long time ago!
OLD MAN #1: I remember now it was before and like it was now!
A public meeting is arranged in the zoo. Old people from the Union of Centenarians are brought in to offer their recollections of the ancient time. They start off bickering over who remembers the best. The Director of the Zoo addresses the crowd, explaining how the new exhibit was created:
After capture of the bedbug, he passed out flyers asking for human subjects willing to be constantly bitten by the newly acquired insect so that it might live in its natural environment. Prysipkin showed up, eagerly volunteering. At first, the Director assumed that Prysipkin was human, but based on his knowledge of comparative bestiology and an interrogation, he was able to conclude that Prysipkin was in fact merely another insect known as the Bourgeoisius vulgaris. The bedbugus normalis and the Bourgeoisius vulgaris differ in size, but are identical in nature Both have their habitat in the musty mattresses of time. The bedbug, having gorged itself on the body of a single human, falls under the bed. The Bourgeoisius vulgaris, having gorged itself on the body of all mankind, falls onto the bed. That's the only difference.
With its mimetic powers, the Bourgeoisius vulgaris was able to lure its victims by posing as a twittering versifier or as a drooling bird (birdlike winged ties, tail coats, and white starched breast).
The Director then unveils the cage containing the bedbug and Prysipkin. There are signs warning that Prysipkin spits. The cage has also been fitted with filters to trap all dirty words. The filters are cleaned everyday by a squad of attendants with gas masks. The crowd gazes in wonder as the attraction "takes a smoke" and "takes a swig".
Arming himself with a pistol, the Director brings Prysipkin out of the cage to demonstrate how it can mimic human speech. Prysipkin shoves the Director out of the way and addressed the crowd as "Citizens! Brothers! Darlings! Friends", assuming that they, too, were all unfrozen. He invites them to join him in his cage. Attendants drags Prysipkin back to his cage and they ventilate the stage to remove the foul odor. The Director apologizes to the crowd, saying that the insect was hallucinating. The meeting ends with a march.
Mayakovsky, Vladimir Vladimirovich.. Born 19 July (7 July, Old Style) 1893 in Bagdadi, Georgia (which was later named Mayakovsky in his honor). His father, Vladimir Konstantinovich, though of noble ancestry, was a forest ranger. The young Vladimir had two older sister--Olga and Lyudmila. He began school in Kutais in 1902, but took little interest in studies. By the time he was in third grade, Mayakovsky found himself thrilled by the excitement of mass meetings, demonstrations, and revolutionary songs. Lyudmila, now a student in Moscow, would bring home legal and illegal political pamphlets. (...Continued...)