Alexei Alexeivich Alexeev was a genuine knight in shining armor. For example, one time, seeing from a passing tram how one lady, having tripped over a flower pot and dropped a glass lampshade for a table lamp out of her shopping bag, which immediately shattered, Alexei Aleveevich, wishing to come to the lady’s aide, decided to sacrifice himself and, jumping off the tram going at full speed, fell and split his face against a rock. Another time, seeing how one lady, climbing over a fence, got her skirt snagged on a nail and was stuck in such a position that, sitting on top of the fence, she could move neither back nor forward, Alexei Alexeevich became so agitated that, as a result of his emotional tension, he forced the front two teeth out of his mouth with his tongue. Simply put, Alexei Alexeevich was a most genuine knight in shining armor, and not only in his relations with the ladies. With unheard of levity, Alexei Alexeevich was willing to sacrifice himself for the Faith, Tsar, and Fatherland, something he proved in 1914, and the beginning of the German War, by throwing himself, with the yell of “For the Motherland!” down into the street out of a third story window. By some miracle, Alexei Alexeevich survived, having gotten off with only some minor bruises, and soon, being such a remarkably zealous patriot-extraordinaire, he was called up to the front.

At the front, Alexei Alexeevich distinguished himself by his elevated sentiments and, each time that he pronounced the words, banner, fanfare, and even simply epaulets, down his face came trickling a tear of endearment.

In the year 1916, Alexei Alexeevich was wounded in the loins and evacuated from the front.

As a Category I disabled war veteran, Alexei Alexeevich did not have to work and, making use of his free time, formulated his patriotic sentiments on paper.

One time, engaged in a conversation with Konstantin Lebedev, Alexei Alexeevich quoted his favorite phrase: “I suffered for my Native Land by sacrificing my loins, but live with the strength of the convictions of my rear subconscious.”

You’re an idiot! Konstantin Lebedev said to him. Only a LIBERAL may serve his country to the fullest measure.

For some reason, these words made a deep impression on Alexei Alexeevich’s soul, and by the year 1917 we already find him calling himself “a liberal who sacrificed his loins for his fatherland.”

Alexei Alexeevich welcomed the revolution with fervor, even though he was deprived of his pension. For a period of time, Konstantin Lebedev provisioned him with cane sugar, chocolate, canned pig fat, and cracked wheat. But when Konstantin Lebedev suddenly and without a trace disappeared, Alexei Alexeevich was obliged to go out in the street and beg for handouts. At first, Alexei Alexeevich would stretch out his hand and say: “Please give, for Christ’s sake, to one who sacrificed his loins for his Native Land.” But this did not meet with approbation. And so Alexei Alexeevich substituted for the word “country” the word “revolution.” But this also did not prove a success. Then Alexei Alexeevich composed a revolutionary song and, seeing a person, who in the opinion of Alexei Alexeevich was able to give alms, coming down the street, would make a step forward and, with an expression of pride and dignity on his face, flinging his head backward begin to sing:

To the barricades
We all will stream
And for our freedom
We will all be crippled and killed!

And with great panache, in the Polish style, clicking his heels, Alexei Alexeevich would hold out his hat and say: “Please give alms, for Christ sakes.” This helped, and Alexei Alexeevich rarely had to go without food again.

Everything went well, but in 1922, Alexei Alexeevich became acquainted with a person named Ivan Ivanovich Puzyrev (Bubbleman) who sold sunflower oil at the Straw Market. Puzyrev invited Alexei Alexeevich to a cafe and treated him to some real coffee and, while stuffing himself with pastries, spelled out some sort of complicated scheme, from which Alexei Alexeevich understood only what he was supposed to do, for which part he would receive from Puzyrev provisions of food. Alexei Alexeevich agreed and Puzyrev immediately, as a form of recompense, passed to him under the table two packets of tea and a pack of Radja cigarettes.

From this day forth, every morning Alexei Alexeevich came to see Puzyrev at the market and, receiving from him some sort of papers with scribbled signatures and innumerable official stamps, took a sled, if this was happening in winter, or, if it was happening in summer, a hand cart and set off, according to Puzyrev’s instructions, on the rounds of various offices where, having displayed his papers, he received some sort of boxes which he loaded on his sled or hand cart and, in the evening, would cart them off to Puzyrev at the latter’s apartment. However, one time, as Alexei Alexeevich was pulling his sled up to Puzyrev’s house, two men, one of them wearing a military overcoat, approached and asked him: “Is your last name Alexeev?” Later, Alexei Alexeevich was deposited in an automobile and hauled off to jail.

Under questioning, Alexei Alexeevich understood not a thing and only repeated that he had sacrificed his loins for his country and for the revolution. Still, despite this, he was sentenced to 10 years exile to the northernmost regions of his fatherland. Having returned back to Leningrad in 1928, Alexei Alexeevich resumed his former occupation and, standing on the corner of Volodarsky Prospect, threw his head back and, with an expression of pride, stomped his heels and began to sing:

To the barricades
We all will stream
And for our freedom
We will all be crippled and killed!

But without having completed his song even a second time, he was carted off in an unmarked car somewhere in the direction of the Admiralty. That was the last time anyone saw him.

And so ends this brief account of the life of that most distinguished knight and patriot, Alexei Alexeevich Alexeev.

1934-1936

 

Translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale

 

DANIIL KHARMS (1905-1942), along with Alexander Vvedensky, co-founded the OBERIU, the so-called Russian Absurdist group of poets during the 1920s and 30s. Kharms was not allowed to publish his work and survived for a time by writing poems for children. Having feigned insanity to avoid arrest and deportation to the Gulag, he starved to death in a psychiatric hospital in 1942, during the Nazi siege of Leningrad.

Alex Cigale
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