Well, well, finally I am going to tell you about weed. It is going to be a long story. I have smoked weed for a while, nineteen years, but I am still not sick of it. What packages isn’t it sold in! It comes in paper bags and matchboxes, in plastic bags, baggies, and extra-large bags, in sacks and glasses. I knew a guy who sold it by the coffee cup. Smoking weed is good. I really like doing it. Oh how much of you I’ve smoked! Green and brown, fragrant and odorless, good and not so terrific. I once smoked weed that was colored pink. Yeah. Soviet Communist General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was still alive then. It was a legendary time. Look how many presidents, political systems and currencies have come and gone in Russkyland since then. But weed does not change. Its effect is consistent.
And I love smoking cigarettes. Yeah, tobacco. In the morning, it is nice to get up, drink a coffee, smoke a cigarette, then a joint, then another cigarette. It is also nice to smoke hashish, but it packs quite a punch, and it’s expensive.
I even traveled to Vladivostok to get weed. It was sometime in 1988 or 1989. Yeah. We got tickets and flew there. The Maritime Territory was a disappointment. The whole place is one big marsh with small hills poking out of it that are dotted with little groves of wispy, stunted oaks and some other trees. Vladivostok is also built on hills, Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and wooden houses interspersed. It was often drizzling. The city is small and somehow nasty. It has lots of criminals, fathers and sons of criminals, a whole generation of criminals. And, apparently, there are also lots of border guards and snitches. Some people there are quite vigilant: the border is nearby, and that is no joke. Vigilant border snitches populate half the city, while totally out of control criminals make up the other half. Real grenades (the most popular weapon there for some reason) are used in hand-to-hand combat. I did not see it personally, but I read in the local newspapers about several incidents involving grenades. During brawls in queues for beer, when settling matters after a fender bender, and just when they are on a binge, the fried local yokels toss grenades at each other, on those hills amid garden plots where pumpkins and melons grow. Garden plots molded from mud.
We set out traveling round the Maritime Territory in search of weed. But there was no weed coming our way, and that was that. We spent about two weeks on the road. In the villages, people were really intimidated for some reason: they communicated with us reluctantly and tried to disappear behind their rotten picket fences as fast as possible. Quite by accident we found ourselves in the village of Yaroslavka. A dirty, snotty and already stoned boy we met advised us where to look for weed. Shazam! And indeed, we found two bushes a meter high. They were half dried out and stripped of leaves, but we had found them. We were incredibly glad. The same boy explained to us that we had arrived late (it was the end of October) and everything had already been picked.
On the way back, adventures were not long in coming. Apparently, an evil spirit was tailing us. Maybe it was the spirit of weed. First, some strapping lads, about ten of them, gave us a good hiding in Yaroslavka. Then they dragged us into a hut, where they got us drunk on vodka and stoned on grass. They asked where we were from and whether we were fags. (Maybe there is a shortage of women in the Maritime Territory.) Learning we were from Peter and were not fags, they blew their tops and beat the crap out of us a second time. Then the whole mob ran off to fight somewhere else and abandoned us. We spent the night in that hut, and in the morning we set out for Vladivostok. A cop nabbed me at the tiny train station, the paint peeling from its walls. He was a gray-haired, wheezy man in an old uniform, but already sporting a baton. (Perestroika was beginning.)
“People don’t come here from Peter just like that,” said the cop. “There is nothing to do here, and no work, just weed. So you’ve come for the weed, too.”
He searched me but found nothing: I had hid the weed near the station ahead of time. He regretfully released me.
“I still know you came for the weed,” he muttered as I was leaving.
I exited the сop shop just as the train was arriving. My friends got in one car (they already had retrieved the goods), and I got in another. We sat down together once the train started moving. Three hours later we were back in Vladivostok. The trip was over before we noticed, because we had been noisily and merrily discussing our recent adventures.
We did not make any more trips to get weed. We had had enough. Besides, late autumn had somehow came on fast, the trees quickly turned yellow, and heavy rains began. Our money had run out. We went back home by train, which took seven days. Along the way we smoked everything we had, otherwise we would have gone crazy.
We got back to Peter in November. The awful year of 1989 (awful for me) was on its way, but more on that later. Neither my friends nor I ever made a trip for weed again. We realized it was much more economical just to buy it.
And another thing: weed gives you a kick, blows your mind, gives you a buzz, gets you high, shuts you down, turns you on, makes you giggle, and knocks you out.
Sosnovka is this park in Petersburg. Lots of people are familiar with it. I don’t know why, but almost the only things that grow there are pines. In terms of size it is a bit larger than the Sea Gate neighborhood in NYC. Instead of the Hudson River, opposite Sosnovka is a huge L-shaped pond, and beyond it is the Pozitron military plant. Way back when, in my dissolute youth, I moonlighted there as some kind of stupid dryer operator after graduating from college. There are three more small ponds in the park. My first dog, which lived until the age of nine and died after eating some crap in the trash, is buried on one of those ponds.
My cousin’s husband helped me bury the dog. He later hung himself (but not because he was grief-stricken over the dog after the funeral). He hung himself either in 1989 or 1991–92, I don’t remember which. Anguish ate him up, you see. He hung himself in a kiosk that either he owned or where he worked as a vendor. The kiosk was not far from Sosnovka. I often strolled there with a tall, dark-haired woman. I strolled there alone as well, and I would pass through the park while running errands at all times of the day for many years, most of my life in fact.
My friend the loudmouth Ilyukha had a bike snatched there by several teenagers. Ilya was thirty-two then. I have known him for a long time. He is an asshole like me; only he is from Sverdlovsk and wears glasses. His wife left him, stranding him with their little son and two cars (a Lada and a Zaporozhets), and out of his mind. He lives with his mom and dad. I have been friends with him a long time. We even tried to fuck the same broad once. But I couldn’t go through with it, either because I was afraid or disgusted.
So one warm evening in May (or was it July?) Ilyukha borrowed an acquaintance’s bicycle and went riding in Sosnovka. He hadn’t gone a kilometer when out of nowhere teenagers, five or six of them, surrounded him and told him to hand over the bike. “I hadn’t even gotten up to speed,” Ilya says. (Oh, you goofball, I can imagine how you tried to get up to speed.) Ilyukha could not escape. There are ditches along both sides of the path, and pines and shrubs all round. Ilyukha himself knows judo. He abandoned the bike and ran from the teenagers into the white night, appetizingly chomping on old fallen boughs as he ran. That is the sort of judo we do in Sosnovka.
Vadik likes to walk there as well. He is more an acquaintance of mine, but he is Ilyukha’s age-old friend. Vadik is quite strong physically. He looks like Schwarzenegger, but dried up. He has homosexual leanings; he is gay, as they would say in NYC. Gay is gay, but the trouble is that our gay friend is mentally ill for real. He once beat up my friend at the guy’s birthday party and afterwards lay down in the doorway of the apartment and yelled out songs. That was why he was taken to the madhouse, putting up a huge fight in the process. (So I heard.) Vadik wanted to fuck me, but I somehow vanished in time. (This was at another party.)
Such was the pleasant company who all lived around Sosnovka. I have known the park for thirty-two years. I haven’t seen it for three years or so. Now it is probably covered in snow and lies in a damp fog, its streetlights ringed with yellow spots.
Nowadays I go strolling in Sea Gate. It is fall in New York: the trees are golden, and it is still warm, although it is early December. It smells of fall. Sea Gate is a small peninsula surrounded on three sides by the sea. In the narrowest part of the peninsula a fence and police posts have been set up to keep out the miscreants. Ilyukha would not have had his bike snatched here: there are police everywhere, and you can get up to speed. The place is quiet and calm: you can hear the roar of the sea. But beyond the fence is Greater New York, a huge city chockablock with lunatics. Murderers, thieves, rapists, drug dealers, prostitutes, alcoholics, kidnappers, and just plain dirty characters live there. Normal people live there, too. Twenty-story slab-like residential buildings a nasty brown color amidst an enormous space built up with low, tiny houses and dotted with church spires and advertisements for all kinds of McBurgers.
This is Brooklyn. There are other stories here, for another time. But I am writing about Sosnovka, where maniacs also popped up from time to time. Some of them raped and murdered; others, on the contrary, murdered and raped. Only then did some rape minors, some raped old folks or just flashed their dicks from the bushes, not to mention the murders and robberies. The old mangy squirrels are the only ones who preserve memories of all this in their heads.
Ah, if I go back, I am going for a walk in Sosnovka. (It’s too bad I can’t have beer.) But only in the afternoon and without Vadik. Scary Sosnovka. Ghastly Brooklyn. The funny thing is that before this incident Ilyukha had for a whole year been praising bicycles for being safe from criminal sorts and the police. And Vadik had been into German philosophers.
Vladimir Dukmasov (1964–2008), an artist, was born in Leningrad, and lived in Petersburg and New York. He began drawing at the age of seventeen, went to medical school, made paintings and short stories, suffered, and dreamed. He liked reading and walking in his beloved Petersburg and New York. There were happy days and dark periods in his short life, during which he created over seventy paintings and numerous carved semiprecious stones.
These stories and paintings have been excerpted from a complete volume of his work that will soon be published by his family.
All images and texts © Luba Leontieva. Please contact her at luba105 [at] hotmail.com (writing “REPRINTS” in the subject line) for permission to republish them and to get more information about the forthcoming book.