Andi Schönfeld

In 1962, Andi Schönfeld was a 16-year old, 1.70 m tall, discretely freckled Jew with dark brown hair. All in all, he was rather lubberly, but with a crazy zest for life. But that story was one I only found out later. His father had been sentenced to death for espionage for the Americans, then his punishment had been commuted to 25 years of prison. His mother had divorced him immediately, so as to be able to keep her job, and she had quickly remarried to a family friend who was quite popular with the authorities. She had apparently abandoned her two sons in a bachelor flat at the corner of Popa Petre and Silvestru. The block had been theirs, and the so-called abandonment must have had some purpose I never really got. A year or two later, a small, beautiful, well-dressed lady came into our classroom to inquire in that discrete tone of voice that only the educated possess what her son, Andi, that was, had been up to lately. I envied him when he nudged and calmly told me: "That's my mom!"In 1962 I was a 9th grader, living only with my father in a former shop we had turned into a one room flat on Calea Moşilor. My mother had left us when I was twelve, and my old man and I had been so relieved about that. When she left, she took everything from the house, except for a bed in which we had both been sleeping for a long time. It was full of bed bugs, but we were so happy we had got rid of my mother – and his wife –that we hardly ever cared about that. We used to eat in a tavern, and we kept doing so for about two years, until my Armenian aunts took our alimentary fate into their hands. They were called Ardem, Orjen and Araxi. The second one, Orjen, is still alive. She is 93 years old and she is my only surviving relative from my father's side. My father, Arshag, was a small, smart Armenian, who had only managed to become a good shoemaker. Before the communists' arrival, he had owned a small workshop with seven or eight employees, where he made high-quality shoes for the Jewish traders on Lipscani. When the communists came to power, he closed down his business and joined a co-operative society, The Craftsman's Art I think it was called. In '54 or so he opened a small workshop near Gara de Nord and, until I got into high school, he made a good living by fixing shoes for poor folks. If it hadn't been for my mother, we would have had nothing to complain about. When I was in my fifth grade, I was dreaming of becoming a chemist. Until then, however, I had grown into one of the most skilled manufacturers of explosives and bad smelling gases in our neighbourhood. I was 1.60 m tall, weighed no more than a few dozen kilos, and I knew what it meant to jerk off. I did nothing but read thick chemistry books all day long, frighten my teachers with my "aggressive" intelligence and dream of my classmates' tits. So Andi didn't really surprise me when he showed up in our classroom accompanied by the headmaster. After looking a bit around, he decided that the smartest thing to do for a bright Jew who had just flunked the entire year and had a father who was sentenced to death was to sit next to a half-Armenian most brilliant chemist a surface of a few square kilometers could produce, a jerk as he was, and just as much of a dreamer of what young ladies hide between their legs. He threw his worn-out schoolbag on the free desk and cheerfully said: "I am Andi! Can I sit with you?" I said "Yes" without thinking for a moment that the freckled flunked student was going to change my life in any way. He seemed OK and I could already picture us having lots of fun. I forgot to tell you that, in those days, I was occupying the last desk in our class, and that must have been quite a temptation for him.The truth is that, due to Andi, high school was constant entertainment. First of all because he convinced me that it was stupid to learn every dumb little thing. I knew that, too, so I had no trouble giving up Russian or the geography of the USSR, which we studied for a trimester. During our geography thesis, when we were asked how could timber be transported from Murmansk to Moscow, I answered that, in my humble opinion, that could only be done by plane. And, in order to avoid sounding stupid, I went on to explain that the timber in cause was certain to reach the price of gold in that manner but that, for a country such as the USSR, that was hardly of any significance.Whatever the situations, we both graduated to become 10th graders. We were already like brothers and, as we were totally on our own, our only concern was to invent those things that keep teenagers alive. In his case, it was a tape recorder which occasionally functioned, to my surprise. In my case, all kinds of substances, one more harmful than the other. Not to count our dreams about young ladies accepting our firm dicks and how happy we could have made them.During the holiday of the summer of '63, we didn't see each other at all, then, in fall, we met without minding the fact that we had been apart for almost three months. In a calm manner, he strategically decided that we were no longer going to sit at the last desk. So he leisurely showed me the fourth desk of the second row. Two hard studying girls, Nina and Viki, were sitting in front of us. "We can copy from them!" he told me, and didn't seem to care too much about anything after that. Not for long, obviously.I don't know whether a desk can make one a good student, but after the first trimester I was one of the best in my class. Andi was very proud of that. He used to say: "They didn't let us join the Organization, well, they're gonna be sorry now!" We were the only two people in the 10th grade of applied sciences at the No. 15 High School, formerly Iulia Haşdeu, that the Party had shown no interest in luring. Actually, I had joined the Youth Organization in the 7th grade, but, in high school, I had declared not to be a member. I don't know what I was thinking, but it was not a reaction to a regime, just a more convenient way to cope with life.So we were both doing fine in the first trimester, great, actually, I might say, so, after the winter holidays, Andi decided that we were doing too well, and that if we were to continue like that, we were sure to be hit by bad luck. So he pointed at one of our classmates at the second desk, on the row on our right side, and said: "there's Luci, go write her a note and say you fell in love with her!" "Andi, that's so stupid!" I said. Luci was a dull and obedient little girl who had been my classmate in elementary school as well, and was now chief of the Youth Organization in our class. "Listen to me, we are bored to death and haunted by bad luck on top of everything! If you write that note, even if we don't escape that, we may have some fun, after all!"In those days we were dreaming of tramp ladies, and that is why it was quite odd to declare oneself in love with the political chief of one's class. I had no idea that, if I were to write that note, I would become a writer. I was studying hard to become a chemist. I wrote what Andi had told me to and fell in love with the little girl. Then Andi left for America and I became a college student of chemistry, just as I had dreamed. And, as a student, I remembered that, when I was fantasizing with Andi about the tramp young and not so young ladies, I had read the books of a few public libraries and that, while being in love with a classmate, I had started to write bad poems. Bad enough to make me curious about prose. Fric, Polirom, 2003 P.S. Two years ago I received the following e-mail: Wednesday, July 18, 2001 Subject: Stefan AgopianDate: Tue, 17 Jul 2001 18:48:05 –0400From: "Andre", andre@sympatico.caTo: Could you please find out for me an email address for Agopian Stefan.We went to school together until 1965 when I left Romania.My name is Andrei (Andy) Schönfeld.Thank you for your help.Andre Schönfeld – Toronto,

by Ştefan Agopian (b. 1947)