By Jeffrey D. Straussman
flash fiction written during quarantine
Dezso’s (pronounce Dezo) claim to fame in my extended family was to teach all the children how to say “fuck you” in Hungarian: Baszd (pronounce Buz) meg. I remember my grandmother yelling at him to stop but he found it funny. When one of my cousins got married, Dezso taught the new entrants to the family that they should learn this special Hungarian phrase. Jim, my cousin Jane’s husband, is especially good at keeping the tradition alive. I am pretty sure that his daughter knows the expression, and I bet his son-in-law and two grandsons do as well. It was clearly Dezo’s mission.
Dezro was a real character. Married to my mother’s first cousin Edith, a very classy woman. He was a professional photographer who did portraits, always meticulously dressed, and loved to eat treif (unkosher food). I really liked Dezso and his wife Edith. They were like an uncle and aunt to me. Both were from Transylvania a region in Romania with sizable Hungarian population. They were married there and came to New York in 1947. I would see them often at my grandparents’ apartment, a block from where I lived in Queens, New York. I saw a picture taken of me with them in the Bronx standing on the sidewalk, I think they often took me for walks when I was quite young.
Dezso loved to argue with my uncles at my grandparents’. They were rather religious, which he was not. Since he was a Holocaust survivor, he would disparage religion by saying where was religion during the second World War. I don’t think these arguments were about fine religious points, but rather deep emotion, especially for him. But what was also interesting about his particular approach to religion is that when it was Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy New Year, he required Edith to buy Kosher food to cook for their meals. So, no treif on the New Year.
One day we heard that Dezso got very sick and was in the hospital. I believe he had a stroke, lost the ability to walk, talk, and could not eat by himself. The stroke happened in an ethnic restaurant in their neighborhood. I do not think he choked on a pork knuckle, but with Dezso it was certainly possible. After medical treatment, which he did not respond to very well, he went to a nursing home. I visited him once in the home. Edith was there as she always was. I was sitting on a chair facing Dezso and he was getting agitated. Edith figured it out. I was leaning on his sweater, and this was bothering him. So here was his fastidiousness coming out.
I don’t go around saying Baszd meg a lot. You never know if there is a Hungarian within earshot. You don’t want to get in a fight over knowing just a little bit of a language, especially since I lack any follow up in Hungarian. Except anyád kurva — which means your mother is a whore.
Jeffrey D. Straussman is a professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University at Albany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy