- The Hobo and the Archivist
In 1976 Adelbert Wuyts received a personal letter from General Secretary János Kádár inviting him to come to Budapest. The letter was so enthusiastic, so overflowing with praise, that Wuyts read it four times and decided Communism in Eastern Europe had finally become a good thing. "At least people there can eat!" he said to a friend.
"Yes—they can eat shit!" his friend replied, and Wuyts got so mad he didn't even say good-bye when, a week later, he defected with the third-class train ticket Kádár had sent with the letter (though he did leave a note asking the friend to look after his place).
Wuyts never thought for a second to ask how anyone behind the iron curtain, never mind főtitkár Kádár, had heard of his work, falling completely for what the letter said about him being "universally admired almost everywhere in Hungary." By the time he pulled out of Brussels the Western world had receded so far from Wuyts's thinking, and his whole future been so fully imagined in the Eastern bloc, that the train seemed to be passing through a mirage, and if you touched any of the buildings—the banks, the offices, the villas—they'd have disintegrated in a flurry of bank notes.
He had only one regret, and it burned hotter as the train clacked toward Hungary: he'd left his card catalog behind. It was the only thing of value Wuyts owned—an enormous piece of furniture that stored everything ever known about the cities of the world, right back to the earliest human settlements. It was made of a wood called arbutus, incredibly brittle, that had been imported from British Columbia in the late nineteenth century, polished to a high gloss, and when fully assembled took up an entire wall, right up to the sixteen-foot ceilings, in the apartment in Brussels where he lived.
Its size kept it from being stolen, that plus the fact that it was filled to bursting with the bits of paper on which he'd written and rewritten, drawn and redrawn, his ideas, always compressing them further so they'd all continue to fit. Wuyts thought the cards beautiful, works of art, not only for the exactness of the cataloging [End Page 218] system he'd devised, but because of what they promised when his project was finally complete: a city free of the mistakes that had ruined every city in the past. He was like so many of those other utopianists born into fin-de-siècle Europe, so woefully ordinary, camouflaged in middle management suits and overcoats, indistinguishable from the other file clerks along the sidewalk, even as their brains clacked and whirred with the gears of intricate dreams.
When Wuyts wasn't sorting files in the ministry where he worked he was sorting files in his cabinet, and when he wasn't sorting files in the cabinet he was publishing articles: pamphlets, broadsides, chapbooks printed on out-of-date hardware, old presses in attics and basements run by the usual eccentrics—tubercular anarchists, outlawed theorists, poets too far ahead of their times—everything printed in watery ink on paper already moldering by the time it went through the machines, to be hated, later, by every archivist charged with preserving them, including the longest article Wuyts had written, "Design for a Classless City Conducive to the Function of a Communist Society, 1963," which had been quoted in Kádár's invitation, and was being furled and unfurled by Dezső Ernyő when he met Wuyts at the Nyugati pályaudvar upon his arrival from Brussels.
Wuyts got off the train with his little suitcase. It was the dirtiest train station he'd ever seen. It looked like someone had been blasting the walls with soot every day for fifty years. When Ernyő came to shake his hand Wuyts kept looking over the man's shoulder and all around for Secretary Kádár and the rest of the delegation. But there was no one other than this slightly fat, nervously smiling man...