Romanian Money

ANDREI CODRESCU

January 04, 1993|By ANDREI CODRESCU

New Orleans. -- I'm going to tell you a deep dark secret. When I was about 10 years old I went to a Pioneer summer camp in the Carpathian mountains. Pioneers were Communist boyscouts -- we wore little red kerchiefs around our necks and did stuff in the woods.

My father came to visit one weekend. It was the first time I'd seen him in about a year so I was quite thrilled. We did some father-son stuff, kicked a ball for five minutes, and then I watched him smoke. When he finished his cigarette, he gave me 200 lei and left. Two hundred lei was a lot of money in Romania in those days. An engineer made almost 1,000 lei a month, and engineers made more money than anyone.

The camp had these scary outhouses deep in the woods. After my father left, I had to run to the bathroom. Once there, I realized to my horror that there wasn't any toilet paper. There I was, a young Pioneer in the scary Carpathian night with 200 lei in my pocket and no way to clean myself.

I was faced with a terrible dilemma: use either my father's money for toilet paper, or the red kerchief around my neck which represented everything communists held most sacred. It was a confrontation between family and state. It was also a clash between capitalism and communism, the Cold War in a nutshell. Father-state who was everywhere and father-father who was nowhere, faced each other suddenly under my distressed bottom.

In the end I chose to use my father's money. There was a practical reason: The worn-out threadbare bills were better suited for the purpose than the red kerchief. But, in the end, it was a fateful choice. It explains how I feel about many things, money and fathers among them.

And now that communism's gone and history has used our red Pioneer kerchiefs to wipe its problematic self, I get the news from Romania that the government is ''recycling the national currency as toilet paper. . . . Every week,'' the report says, ''five or six tons of shredded banknotes are sent to a toilet-paper factory in Bucharest.''

Everything that happens happens because a young boy on a scary toilet seat somewhere makes a critical decision.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of Exquisite Corpse.

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