Slovak Notes 1991
The cornfield across from our dorm at Jedlikova 9 was a maze of cornrows scattered with abandoned parts of machinery. Twisting and winding through them was a feat in and of itself. We used to cut through these state-owned fields in order to go to the restaurant at the local campground, called, of all things, Auto-camping. Doing this shaved some time off our trip (we’ve have to otherwise transfer trams, busses, and still have to walk). We usually used the cornfield as a place to get somewhere else, but one day during the summer, we actually decided to go to the cornfield – and pick some corn.
It was early summer and I had been out late the night before with one of my Slovak friends, Peter, and a few of his buddies. Peter, from a town outside Kosice in the northeast, was a total card. Blessed with a brilliant sense of humor, generous heart and an artistic eye, he had a talent for taking photos and for winning people over. I think I met him in the club room of our dorm and having befriended him, Brian and I would often go out with him. Over time we had developed a friendship with Peter – one in which we never knew what would happen next.
So, on this one hot summer day, while lying in bed recovering from the previous night’s festivities (or rather, in Slovakia at least, normal evening), Peter knocked loudly on my door.
“Katka, let’s go get some corn!”
Opening the door my slightly spinning head registered Peter standing with bag in hand and I thought to myself, “Hey, why not, a trip to the market would probably help me work the beer out of my system.”
In my innocence, I thought we were going to one of the vegetable stands that popped up during the summer and fall or a nearby village where they grow corn. But, as with so many things in Slovakia, that wasn’t the case.
We went next door, grabbed Brian, crossed the tram tracks, the soccer field, and headed into the cornfield across the street.
“We’re gonna get corn here???!!”
“Sure, everyone does it. It’s the people’s corn, after all!”
Brian and I exchanged uneasy glances with each other, pictures of guys with shotguns threatening to shoot us or of dark deportation cells running through our hung-over heads. Maybe it was because we weren’t really lucid that we simply shrugged at each other and followed Peter down the corn rows into the heart of the field.
We had gone quite a way when we heard a noise. It wasn’t anything like a bird or the rustling of the wind through the tall ears. It was a high-pitched human voice. Brian and I looked questioningly at each other, but Peter, ever fearless walked right up to where the noise was coming from where, there was, of all things, an old car parked.
Inside the car the windows were steamy and a young couple was…well…sowing their seeds in the middle of the day totally oblivious to our presence.
Giggling and cracking jokes we continued on our quest to pick corn. We passed row after row until we reached the spot where there was corn that suited Peter. It wasn’t like we were just taking an ear or two either. Peter had brought a big bag. Big enough to feed half the dorm corn.
As we chatted and filled our bags, we heard footsteps approaching. It was a cop whose job it was, we guessed, to safeguard the corn. Peter, totally unaware, kept picking, but Brian and I stopped, looked at each other somewhat fearfully replaying the picture of a dank Slovak holding cell in our minds. “Hey, Peter, there’s a cop!” Peter, totally unfazed turned around.
“Is that your car?” the policeman asked.
“Nope”, Peter replied. “But there was a couple in it. They were ‘parking’, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh”, the cop said. A pause. I could almost feel the cold air of the Slovak prison enveloping me as the seconds seemed to endlessly tick away.
The cop continued, “As long as it isn’t your car, parking isn’t allowed here.”
“Oh, we’re not parking. We’re just getting some corn.”
“Hmmm. Well as long as you’re not parking here, it’s okay.”
And with a parting wave, the policeman wished us a good day.
Peter slung the bag of corn over his shoulders and we headed back home. He never once flinched or seemed afraid of trespassing or illegally picking corn. I guess there must have been some sort of post-socialist understanding that stealing was okay – just as long as you weren’t illegally parked.
Copyright K. Datko