The Church of Sport (Kosice 1991)
My first Sunday in Kosice I got drunk. Not just drunk, rip-roaring drunk. I didn’t mean to at first, but it was the only way to erase what started as a truly terrible day.
Waking up hungry but also happy to have a free day to get to know the city better, I decided to head on down to the main downtown area, grab a bite to eat, and maybe do a little shopping. Unfortunately, no one mentioned to me that on Sundays practically everything shuts down in Kosice.
I had seen a city park on the map that was right next to the train station. In Moscow the year before, I loved strolling around the various city parks and people-watching. Parks were always great places to strike up random conversations with people and practice my Russian. In the Soviet Union many of the parks were well-kept and (once you learned to ignore the jingoistic music blasting from the loudspeakers) escapes from the everyday grunginess of the city. Naively I thought that the same would apply to parks in Kosice.
First I hopped on a tram to the center of town. It’s like a medieval version of a ghost town. Nothing’s open. Few people are walking around. Everything looks dead. Things aren’t helped by the fact that it’s overcast outside.
After walking around a while and not finding anywhere to eat, I headed on over to Mestsky (City) Park, figuring that since it’s close to the train station there should be someplace open where I can get a bite to eat. As luck would have it, there is a place open – a small octagonal hotdog kiosk. “Ah,” I think to myself, “things are looking up.”
The hotdog turned out to be a disgusting fatty wiener that made me slightly sick to my stomach. Okay, so things weren’t really turning out the way I would like them too, but, I’m close to the park, I at least have had some protein, I figured that my little adventure is really not so bad thus far.
The park seemed a little run-down. There are a few rusting bits of what look like kiddy rides scattered throughout and everything’s covered in a thin layer of dirt. I keep walking around and then I hear a “Psst…”
Yeah, I know, I’m in a strange country and hearing a “Psst…” should be a deterrent to anyone travelling alone. It’s not like I sought out the voice. It came from right in front of me. I was on a collision course with…
A strange guy jacking off right in the middle of a bush.
Now I’m not someone who plopped down into Slovakia from small town USA. I grew up in DC and consider myself hardened to the strange things that city life brings – the homeless or crazy people talking to themselves. But I’d never really seen a flasher before except for when I was 5 and the little boy my age who lived down the street would always come out of the john with his pants down to his ankles.
I was freaked.
Here I was standing in the middle of a park on a Sunday morning with a fatty hotdog churning madly in my stomach and there was a guy bearing all (which, from what I could tell, wasn’t all that much).
I turned heel and bolted back to the dorm where I found Karl and another teacher who had been in Kosice for a few months, Don, hanging out. I told them my story and subsequently learned about the dearth of things to do in Kosice on Sundays. Don, having the experience of a few Sundays in Kosice under his belt, suggested that we go to a nearby restaurant, Sport, that happened to be one of the only restaurants in town open on Sundays.
Sport, with its socialist interior, gray light from outside filtering through the large windows, and slightly stained tablecloths was a haven for me that day. Not only was the food good and cheap, so was the beer. With the first major tinges of homesickness setting in the beer was a solace, a hopsy elixir. By the time Sport closed (early in the afternoon), a comfortable numbness started to settle in and the flasher was slowly becoming a thing of the past. The three of us stumbled home, complaining about Kosice and anything else we could think of.
This was my first Sunday in Kosice and, since I planned to stay at least 6 months, I’d have a lot more. Even though hanging with Don and Karl helped, I still felt down. I just couldn’t imagine spending my time walking down barren streets and potentially running into perverts on every corner.
It was comforting, though, knowing that Sport was a place to retreat to. If I ever happened to be stuck in Kosice on a Sunday, I’d often go and seek refuge in its greasy but (since beer was cheap) hallowed halls. Since I was no longer a churchgoer, but rather an agnostic recovering Catholic, Sport served as an adequate spot to withdraw to on a Sunday. It may not have been the most spiritual place in the world, but for many a Sunday, it sure was good for my soul.
Copyright K. Datko 2009