Contact Me

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hunger and Hard Times IV

This is the fourth in a series of five articles written by Johan, my friend from Romania who lived under Communist rule in the 1960s and 1970s. If you want to know his background, read the first three parts.

Hunger and Hard Tmes I

Hunger and Hard Times II

Hunger and Hard Times III

I learned that nothing is forever, but at the time you don’t think too much about it, just live and try to make it somehow better. So, tired of my kitchen camping, I threatened the government locators to give me a place to stay or I will stay in their office. Shortly thereafter, I was assigned a room in a rundown building without running water or a toilet. It had a brick gas stove which could have come in handy if was not half demolished. October can be cold in Bucharest.  I had to sleep wearing two pairs of pants and my winter coat, besides being under some blankets. Not having a place to wash was the worst part. At least, public and restaurant toilets were plentiful in Bucharest at the time, assuring I could find a toilet.

But, things started to look up. With Lenuta’s intervention—my Mom’s best friend—I got a lab job at Policolor, the ink and paint factory. It was a long, over one-hour commute in two crowded tramways. But, I had a job. My coworkers were slightly deranged and used to tell me, “You stink!” It was not a happy situation, especially for them. Besides my weekly shower at Lenuta’s hospital where she was a doctor, I did not have many other places where I could wash.  Luckily, this did not last every long because the government locators, under my almost-daily pressure, soon gave me a different room.

The L-shaped room in a much better building with a wood-heated, terracotta stove and a share sink just outside the entrance door in the staircase. The neighbor was a nice, single mom and her young, ten-year-old boy. Therefore, there was no overcrowding for the cold water in the sink.  We were almost like a family, just each living in their own room. Ohh! I almost forgot there was also a toilet, this time on the ground floor. We were on the second floor, but it did not matter much. Cold, running water seemed and was so much better.

Who needs a kitchen when you can live on bread, salami, bologna all your life? I also had the cantina at the factory where a quick lunch cost next to nothing. It had to cost next to nothing because I was making next to nothing. A few months later I learned that next to nothing is better than nothing at all.

Being such a spoiled kid by my previous living conditions with my mom in the one bedroom and living room apartment which included a kitchen and a full bath, I decided I will not sign the government papers for the L-shaped room and told them that I did expect something else, something better.
This something else and better came in the spring about 6 months after my return to Bucharest—a cozy room on the 3rd floor of an old building. It had two windows overlooking the busy street and a gas-heated terracotta stove. And, on the same floor hallway there was a full bath, and another separate toilet and one sink. We had to share all this among the five or six people living on the same floor, but it was practical, warm, and I could take a shower daily.

 Once I signed documents taking possession, I made some major cosmetic improvements  to my place. I painted flowers on the terracotta stove with lacquers and inks taken from Policor. I wrote ostensibly on the window so everyone could see it.
                                               I HATE YOU ALL

This was a misstatement because I did not hate anyone.It was just a  hippie rebellious slogan attitude.

I had my factory job, and life there was good for a single, 18-year-old young man. I was centrally located next to Bucharest central train station, close to public transportation, and had my own place. I could invite girls over and discovered that sex is wonderful!  All this was in a warm place with a toilet and hot water on the same floor…not bad at all.
Your turn
I am not sure I could have been so outspoken when he was. Could you?


  1. I am really enjoying this series, and can relate to it in the small way that I can imagine some of the buildings as they are very similar to Vladivostok Russia, when we were there.
    There have always been outspoken people. Some of them are killed, and others are simply tolerated. Perhaps sometimes, it is how they survive not only such austere conditions, but hopelessness.

  2. Jane,
    His mother was a dissident. She was going to be imprisoned and maybe killed, so she escaped. Thanks for comparing this to something you have seen. Being assigned a room where there is no heat and no running water in the building is unimaginable, especially if this is an example of government taking care of people.

  3. I tend to be pretty outspoken, but under an oppressive regime, I probably would have been too frightened to say anything. At the moment, I'm very, very grateful for my beautiful little house. I live all by myself, but have two bathrooms and a really nice kitchen.


    1. Janie,
      I am outspoken, too. But, I, like you, would be so frightened. My house is all mine even though it is slowly becoming too dilapidated to live in. I am glad you have a nice house that is all yours.

    2. I'm sorry your house is falling apart. If I knew how to fix things, I would fix it for you, or if I had lots of money, I would pay someone to fix it. Then we both would be happy.


    3. Janie,
      That would make me ecstatic. I am trying to get agencies in touch and coordinated to get this done. Actually, someone told me to do this. I am not so sure it will work. Thanks!


For the present, I am taking comment moderation off the blog.