How Did Andrei Codrescu Get His Name?
extract from Chapter 13
An Involuntary Genius in America's Shoes
(And What Happened Afterwards)

by Andrei Codrescu
Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 2001
ISBN 1-57423-159-6

An Involuntary Genius in America's Shoes (And What Happened Afterwards)

The editorial offices of many of the literary reviews were a combination of cafe, salon and workshop. Poets met critics here, novelists met each other and, when there was no political commissar around, the talk was free. The thirst for information was fantastic. Foreign plays, poets and events were discussed for hours. The lucky few who could travel abroad brought back books and records. This is where he got his first glimpses of American poetry The "Beats" were fairly well known. Typewritten translations (mostly atrocious) made the rounds. The many discussions, of course, revolved around French poetry, which everybody read in the original. All of this found, unfortunately, no echoes in the pages of the reviews themselves. Faint references, yes. But, for the most part, tractors, peasants, Party Secretary quotes and other socialist paraphernalia filled the pages.

Kira and he walked the streets all night, improvising poetry and getting drunk. After a particularly stirring night, he wrote a long poem called "Trains." This was a tender and angry ballad about the trains in his life, his sexual experiences on them ("To fuck to the rhythm of trains/Which is the rhythm of Romania"), about what he imagined to be the life of all the people traveling on trains, including that of convicts being taken to labor camps in cattle wagons. The poem ended with an appeal to his "dead father who had blown up trains" to come ride with him on this new train of life in his country and to see if it was worth it because if it wasn't he too would blow it up and join his old man.

As soon as he had typed this thing up, he called Itt, Stoica and Artrad out of their holes. Kira was already there. They went to a cafe. He read it to them. There was a thick silence.

—You'll never get away with it, said Stoica.

—Why not?

—It's fabulous, said Itt.

—It needs work, said Anrad.

—It's the best thing you've ever done, said Kira.

—It's no good, said Stoica.

—Why not?

—It's not a Romanian poem.

They hadn't had a fight over this for a long time. Stoica had been changing. He had always been a bit of a nationalist but, lately, he had revised his stands on all kinds of things. ("It is obvious," went one of his sayings, "that Jews, after such exhausting wandering, have lost their direction. Their God has become Gold and their mother has become REHTOM, which sounds like 'rectum' but is really 'mother' backwards.")

—What's Romanian? said Kira.

—Perhaps I should change my name too, suggested Ivanovitch, ironically.

—I think you should, said Stoica. Who wants to read poetry by Andrei Ivanovitch Goldmutter?

—Fuck you, Stoica, said Kira, who became salty when angry.

Itt laughed.

Goldmutter climbed on the table. He was a little drunk and he did something which he would hear, in a funny way, ten years later on the Lower East Side of New York, when Allen Ginsberg said something similar though in a different context.

He shouted as loud as he could:

—My name is Andrei Ivanovitch Goldmutter! Andrei Ivanovitch was bestowed upon me by my dear mother who thought a Russian name would save me from being shot by our friends from the Soviet Union.

—Shut up, said Kira, worried. The cafe was full of students.

But he didn't care.

—Goldmutter is a grand old Jewish name meaning goldmother which is what Jews are known for being obsessed with.

The scene was turning ugly. Several people were leaving. The general drunk atmosphere of the cafe had become oppressively silent.

—Shut up, said Stoica. He too was getting worried.

—My friends here, he continued, are of the opinion that I should give up these great natural advantages (he was very loud now) and take on a good Romanian name so that when my books are in every household, your average Romanian sonofabitch could look at the name and say ISN'T OUR NATION GREAT AND AREN'T FOREIGNERS DISGUSTING?

Anrad tried to pull him off the table. He pushed Anrad away.

—And I think they are right. So in honor of this great moment which you are witnessing, I would like everyone here to put forward a suggestion regarding my new name.

—Well, you can keep Andrei, shouted a drunk from the back of the room, that's as Romanian as they come. My father's name was Andrei and he was like an empty wine bottle from the Danube.

The silence was now absolute.

—One down, he said. We will keep Andrei. Now what do we do with Ivanovitch?

—Fuck Ivanovitch, said the drunk. Drop that one altogether.

—Dropped. And now we come to the big one. What do we stick inside Goldmutter to make it uncircumcised again?

The drunk said nothing and since he had been the only one talking, the silence deepened considerably.

—Well, he said, I have no choice but to name myself. Let's see, how about BASTARD? he said, remembering Cobza, his Phys. Ed. teacher.

—Nah, said the drunk.

—Well, how about something like Pulalunga (Long Prick)?

—Nah, said Anrad, who was warming up.

—Then about about CURVESCU (sonofabitch)?

—That's a thought, said the drunk, but I think you should be a sonofabitch from the woods because you got dark hair.


—Codrescu, said the drunk.

—Andrei Codrescu.

He got off the table, poured the remaining wine in the drunk's empty glass and got out, leaving them all standing in the thick quiet.

Kira ran after him.

—Andrei Ivanovitch, she said.

—Andrei Codrescu, he corrected her and they walked arm in arm to her dormitory and said good night.

ANDREI CODRESCU was born in Sibiu, Romania in 1946. Since emigrating to the U.S. in 1966, he has published poetry, memoirs, fiction, and essays. He is a regular commentator on National Public Radio, and has written and starred in the award-winning movie Road Scholar. His novel The Blood Countess (Simon & Schuster, 1995), was a national bestseller. He teaches writing at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He lives in New Orleans. His most recent books from Black Sparrow are Alien Candor: Selected Poems 1970-1995 (1996), A Bar in Brooklyn: Novellas & Stories 1970-1978 (1999), Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998: Volume 1, Poetry & Essays (1999), Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998: Volume 2, Fictions, Travels & Translations (2000), and An Involuntary Genius in America's Shoes (And What Happened Afterwards) (2001).

Andrei Codrescu