The Disciple of Professor Kowalski

Translated from the Slovak by Magdalena Mullek

Stano Lipár from Považský Sokolec must have gone mad. He gave his notice at the frozen foods plant, where he had spent many cozy years working as the warehouse manager of the soup medley division, and he stepped out into the uncertain future of self-employment. This life-changing decision went hand in hand with his spiritual awakening, which came over him one day, unexpected, yet full-fledged. His wife Magdaléna, an attractive full-figured woman, regarded the whole thing as an early sign of an impending midlife crisis. But she tried to be patient with her beloved husband, and so far she hadn’t subjected him to any existential scenes on the theme of “How are we going to pay the bills?” For that, he was most grateful, and he cherished his faithful companion all the more.
The one thing Stano Lipár couldn’t forgive his wife were her allegations that the slender little book he’d been clinging to for days was the cause of his internal turmoil. If at some point during the late afternoon Magdaléna suggested that he stop reading that god-awful junk and eat his breakfast, all hell would break loose. Enraged, Stano would grab the book in one hand, a piece of bread in the other, and he’d run out of the house. Magdaléna knew all too well what would follow. Her reading-obsessed husband would race to the edge of their garden, climb up into the walnut-tree, and sit in his nest-like abode, which he had constructed out of boards and twigs. All the while, the ruins of Sokolec Castle would silently observe the unfolding of this minor marital drama in the garden at the foot of Castle Hill.

Stano made himself comfortable in his walnut-tree nest and shook his head in dismay. How could his good wife speak so ill of this book? He’s not some little kid or an inexperienced adolescent looking for his worldview in questionable tracts, which are printed by the tens of thousands and intended only for “the initiated!”
Besides, Professor Kowalski’s book is nothing like that. Have you ever found yourself completely mesmerized after coming across a well-developed and clearly articulated idea, the very same idea you had been struggling to bring forth from the depths of your miserable soul? Have you experienced that moment when your unfinished sentences were suddenly complete, and the beads of your disparate thoughts were strung together elegantly into one unexpectedly lucid thread?
At some point in the past you must have come across a samizdat copy of Professor Kowalski’s work, covertly distributed by his followers in Czechoslovakia during the seventies and eighties. This American anthropologist of Polish descent didn’t get along with the authorities, because in his reactionary teachings he opposed the idea of shared ownership for the means of production, and he incited the working class to disregard the achievements of Socialism. The great irony of fate is that after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, Professor Kowalski’s work disappeared amidst the torrent of self-help books, which quickly flooded the shelves of post-Socialist bookstores. Even in the United States his collected works weren’t published until recently, and readers had only heard about Professor Kowalski from his students’ articles in lifestyle magazines. Then, a few years ago, one of his disciples set out to compile his axioms and principles. Of course, professor Kowalski would have never done such a thing himself – he was just too modest and he firmly believed that those who wished to discover the principles of a happy life would sooner or later make their way to his findings, even if by way of magazine clippings or word of mouth.

The fundamental idea behind this idiosyncratic anthropology professor’s philosophy was simple, and therefore, brilliant. He used the experiential knowledge map of the human consciousness to identify seven archetypal sensory needs, and he concluded that when these needs are met, permanent homeostasis follows. What this translates to is that you should surround yourself with objects and situations, which stimulate the seven basic senses. Persistent repetition and affirmation of such stimuli is the key to a human being’s absolute contentment. The good news for the novice of enduring happiness is that it doesn’t matter whether the objects and situations present themselves spontaneously or whether they are intentionally arranged – their effect is the same either way.
No matter how crazy this may sound at first, the foundation for your inner happiness lies in meeting the following conditions: in your immediate surroundings you must have a tree, a fat woman, livestock, an elevated space, a fire, and a string instrument - and if at all possible, you should be naked.
Kowalski’s apprentice, who diligently gathered the professor’s axioms as well as his followers’ testimonials into one little book, guarantees that if the reader fulfills the prescribed conditions, he will achieve a level of contentment known only to the inhabitants of the Garden of Eden. In addition to that, the reader’s life circumstances, economic and otherwise, will begin to approach their ideal state.
This unexpected world bestseller is well organized, and each chapter provides a thorough analysis of one of Prof. Kowalski’s principles of happy living. All chapters open with a short commentary on a given axiom, support it with real-life examples, and conclude with a short list of recommendations.
Stano Lipár had butterflies in his stomach as he licked his finger and turned the page to the chapter entitled “Tree.” With renewed enthusiasm he buried his head in the tiny letters right at the spot where he had left off a moment earlier, and he started taking deep, regular breaths. The world around him melted away.

“… Let us examine the most successful commercials. They feature images of happy people in pleasant surroundings, thus establishing a link in the viewer’s mind between happiness and the advertised product or service. If you pay close attention, you will notice that the vast majority of these idyllic advertising montages take place in the presence of some tall stud with broad limbs. These observations are corroborated by Peter Örendsen’s statistics, who showed that eight of the ten most successful commercials in 2003 included a shot of a tall, lush tree. Ironically enough, the exceptions prove the rule – of the two remaining commercials, one was set in a pile of leaves (Amanda’s Diamond lingerie) and the other beneath the bark of an old oak tree (a famous ad for the hydrating lotion HydroVelvet).
Not surprisingly, the use of trees in commercials rose sharply after 1999, the year that Phill Hackmann and Terry Orlando attended a series of Prof. Kowalski’s anthropology lectures. In 2001 Hackmann & Orlando started the now-legendary advertising agency Old Oak Leaves, and their success has continued more or less to this day…”
With his tongue Stano removed bits of pastry that were stuck between his teeth, then he scratched the back of his head, and he continued to read.

“… the discovery of the element known as oxygen has been delighting mankind for less than three hundred years. The satisfaction of proving the hypothesis that plants produce this all-important chemical during a process known as photosynthesis is even more recent than that. Consequently, it would be naïve to think that people have been seeking out trees for centuries simply for reasons of improved respiration. We must look elsewhere for the roots of the filial relationship between man and trees.
If we spend some time watching older ladies delighting in sitting around on park benches in health and spa resorts, we can’t help but notice the joyous expressions on their relaxed faces. A hasty observer might attribute this indescribable sense of quiet happiness to the fresh air or to the first-rate care of the spa personnel. But he, who has cracked open the door to the knowledge of Prof. Kowalski’s principles, can see what’s really behind this spa idyll: The presence of tall trees fulfills the ladies’ subconscious need for safety, so that if a saber tooth tiger were to attack, they could climb up into the branches of one of the lovely specimens of the London plane tree, under the meticulous care of the prestigious landscaping firm…”
Ideas are one thing, but reality is something altogether different. The loss of a regular income would force even the most ardent of Prof. Kowalski’s followers to consider different ways of salvaging the family budget. However, a true disciple would look for a means of subsistence compatible with Prof. Kowalski’s principles. Stano Lipár fenced in his grassy backyard and used what was left of his savings to purchase seven mouflon, ancestors of the modern domestic sheep. In this way he hoped to satisfy the conditions for a happy life described in detail in the chapter entitled “Livestock,” while also providing a good income for his family. One of his friends, himself a devotee of Prof. Kowalski, was planning on opening a restaurant in Bratislava, aimed at followers of the movement. It was going to be the first paleo-restaurant in Slovakia, which, in accordance with Prof. Kowalski’s philosophy, would serve foods made exclusively from ingredients available during the Stone Age. Stano would raise mouflon to supply meat for the venture. He also hoped to grow sorrel and other wild herbs, which had been an integral part of the early Stone Age diet. Such specialties were already available in thousands of similar venues across the developed world, and as anyone who frequently travels to Western Europe can attest to, inviting a girlfriend or a business partner to a paleo-restaurant is in vogue.
In light of the fact that the opening of the Bratislava paleo-venue was nowhere in sight, and because the purchase of mouflon is a long-term investment, Stano had to resort to providing for his basic needs in a less dignified manner. Like most of the men from the village who found themselves trapped in the vicious cycle of unemployment, Stano started to haul down stones from the castle ramparts and peddle them to the nouveau riche off in the city, who liked to use them for building their garden walls and terraces. At first, Magdaléna didn’t take well to this two-class downgrade, but in the end, she was glad to have money for groceries.
The work itself was hard and dangerous. A band of alcoholics with pickaxes was taking apart the southern wall of the castle ramparts, and wheeling the stones to the village on rickety handcarts. Stano had an advantage, because his garden was just a hop and a skip away from the top of the hill, and he could often make two runs in the time it took his red-nosed colleagues to barely manage one. The one thing which kept him going was the thought that at the end of his backbreaking “shift” he would once again sit down to reading his beloved book.

Stano sprawled out on one of the lower branches of the walnut tree, and submersed himself in the chapter where he’d left off:
“… Anna Poline worked as an animal caretaker in the Vancouver ZOO. One day, she was witness to a terrifying scene when she saw a female wild cat attack a veterinarian. Fortunately, the young doctor got away without any serious injuries, but Anna was in shock. For days she couldn’t even go near the animals in her care, despite of the fact that she worked in the hamster and guinea pig pavilion. If she didn’t want to lose her job, she had to overcome her fear of animals, and do so quickly.
As luck would have it, around the same time she met Mark Brown, an attendee of Prof. Kowalski’s seminars. The young man recommended treetop therapy, explaining that Anna’s unpleasant experience had most likely triggered a latent fear of saber tooth tigers. At first, Anna was skeptical. But after several tree-sitting sessions, she had to admit that her fear of animals was diminishing.
From that point on, every day at lunch Anna sought out the massive oak tree near the guinea pig pavilion, right at the spot where the trail leading to the elephants crossed the trail leading to the hippos. She spent most of her lunch breaks sitting in the treetop, and the guests as well as the other employees got used to it in no time at all. As an added bonus, the management of the ZOO allowed her to turn her unusual therapy into the job of a visitors’ guide, as people often got lost at the crossroads of the elephant and hippo trails. In the end, Anna Poline’s successful zoophobia treatment had an economic benefit as well – she got a raise for giving directions.
The second real life story is even more inspiring: During the rehearsals of The Undertaker’s Bride, the musical comedy star Dita Parker felt inexplicable anxiety. But the singer was in luck, because her friend Kathleen Bernards was a graduate of Prof. Kowalski’s seminars. Kathleen advised Dita to give in to her primal urges by escaping into the branches of a tree, and Dita took immediate action.
She spoke with the director, who consulted the set designer, and subsequently, they made some changes on stage. They replaced two wispy cedars at the entrance to the Olmer family tomb with a majestic weeping willow, and the results were almost instantaneous: At the dress rehearsal, Dita Parker performed with complete confidence, singing every passage, including the one about dancing skeletons, without the least hesitation…”
Enthralled, Stano skipped ahead to the recommendations at the end of the chapter entitled “Tree.”

“… visit parks and gardens as often as you can.

At least twice a week spend some time in an easily accessible tree, and imagine that your tree-top hideout has protected you from a saber tooth tiger attack.

Address your friends and relatives by names of trees.

Look for comfortably horizontal branches on your tree and dine there.

Schedule your less formal business meetings in the branches of a well-maintained tree – if you happen to be dealing with another disciple of Prof. Kowalski’s teachings, he or she will be delighted.

Don’t scorn a tree-top birthday party in your neighbors’ garden.

Always carry a rope ladder in the trunk of your car – you never know what beautiful trees you might encounter in your travels.

Go to a sports store and purchase some wrist exercise equipment – you will feel more secure during your tree sojourns.

Include your favorite tree in your love life – you’ll find plenty of branches suitable for the purpose…”

Stano Lipár did a double take, and after chasing away an annoying mosquito, he re-read the final recommendation.

“Include your favorite tree in your love life – you’ll find plenty of branches suitable for the purpose…”

Magdaléna interrupted his feverish reading when she came up to the walnut tree with a tray of food. The wonderful aroma of her freshly-made paprikáš stew filled the air. Stano yelled something down from the branches. She set the tray in the grass and climbed up the ladder after him.

Juraj Čapo was half sitting and half lying down in the soft grass on Castle Hill when he shaded his eyes from the sun, gazed into one of the gardens below, and noticed two people attempting a physical union in the branches of a walnut tree.
“Ugh, they’re copulating in a tree like monkeys,” he said, spat in disgust, and rolled over to his other side. Next to him (on the ground, the way proper people do) lounged the naked Lucia Riedlová, middle daughter of Mrs. Agnesa Riedlová. The young lady spent her days looking after her unmarried sister’s dark-eyed child, so it was only natural that she liked to spend her evenings relaxing with friends on innocent walks to the outskirts of the village.
Lucia lay naked on her right side, and with her left hand she toyed wistfully with an empty cell phone lanyard, the only piece of clothing adorning the body of this young Sokolec Venus. Her face lit up only after Juraj started to talk secretively about a little present with a color display. The naked nymph cuddled up to her generous Maecenas, ready to fulfill his hidden desires.
All that could be heard a moment later was their rhythmic breathing, punctuated by Lucia’s inquiries as to the color, number of ringtones, and backlight. In response to each of her questions, young Juraj mustered a panting “yes.” As they neared the end of their exertions, and Lucia asked whether the phone would come with a charger, Juraj let out such a loud “yeees” that a tremor ran through the walls of Sokolec castle and the ground began to shake.
Any moderately talkative citizen of Považský Sokolec will gladly tell you about the events that followed.

Stano and Magdaléna had never done it in a tree before, but it was clear that the unusual position had an extremeley stimulating effect on the lifelong spouses. For the fifth time a convulsive shudder surged through Magdaléna’s robust body wedged between two branches, and the world around her collapsed once again with a thundering roar, as if a train were passing through the tunnel between Chlebová Ves and Považské Lazy. She became a bit worried when the tremors and the sound of crashing waves persisted even after the throes of her body had subsided. Suddenly, the walnut tree to which the sweaty lovers had been clinging began to tremble, and Stano yelled out in horror: “Hang on, the castle’s falling!”
Sure enough, the dilapidated south side of the ramparts had separated from the rest, and it was hurtling toward their garden with a terrifying boom, breaking small trees along the way, demolishing the gazebo, obliterating the greenhouse, and burying seven frightened mouflon. The destructive mass was headed straight for them. Fortunately, the slope in that section was tapering off, which slowed down the oncoming avalanche, and brought it to a halt just a few meters short of the house. Only one stone had enough inertia to roll all the way to the door of Lipár’s home, and it broke a flowerpot with nothing more than a light tap.

One day after the disaster, the loss of life and the property damage were horrific, according to reports from credible Sokolec sources. The falling castle wall killed young Juraj Čapo and Lucia Riedlová. Seven unidentified castle visitors and ten people, who on that fateful day had the great misfortune of having a cookout in Stano Lipár’s old gazebo, had also lost their lives. Lipár and his wife barely got away thanks to their quick escape into the century-old walnut tree in their garden. Lipár’s twenty mouflon met their death beneath the rubble. And just so the catastrophe wouldn’t end there, the avalanche also crashed through the back wall of Lipár‘s house, and filled in his kitchen, living room, and bedroom.
Not long after that, the count of the deceased and the amount of property damage started to decrease, until the situation finally stabilized somewhere closer to reality. That is, the only victims of the disaster were seven mouflon, the greenhouse, and the gazebo. The Castle Hill lovers escaped tragedy by a hare’s breadth – with one exception - young Juraj had gotten a good bump on his head. But that only happened because he had been covering Miss Lucia’s soft tissues with his own body to protect them from any potentially hazardous objects.
Despite the fact that Agnesa Riedlová’s middle daughter made it off Castle Hill without so much as a scratch, she couldn’t show up in public for weeks. Her mother peppered Lucia’s face and back with unsightly bruises, more than making up for anything the girl might have missed out on at the scene of the calamity. What else was a mother to do after her teenage daughter had alarmed the entire village with her screams for help only to be found lying naked on the ground with an unconscious lecher on top of her?
The dust hadn’t yet settled on the embarrassment over Agnesa’s oldest daughter’s illegitimate child, and here was another scandal. She ran around the house like a mad tigress, screaming that she couldn’t live down such shame, and that she’d just run away from this “house full of whores.” But she had a change of heart when she realized that on Saturday the curtains needed washing and the living room carpet needed cleaning.

The final and indisputable verdict in the matter of the unfortunate collapse of the castle wall, according to the letter of the law pertaining to debris, was as follows: A pile of debris had accumulated on Stano Lipár’s property, and he, as the owner, was responsible for its safe and proper disposal at his own expense.
At first glance the situation looked like the most outrageous case of citizen falling victim to incompetent legislation, but in a matter of days things turned around completely, and Stano found himself on the receiving end of Lady Luck’s most benevolent smile. In a short period of time he was able to sell most of the stone to eager buyers. With the money he earned, he replaced his stoned moufon herd, built a new ostentatious gazebo, bought a car, went on an exotic vacation, and invested in the stock market.
He stacked up the remainder of his miraculously begotten merchandise into neat piles in his garden, ready for future demand. The price of stone was expected to rise on the Sokolec exchange, because entry to the castle had been strictly forbidden.

Magdaléna Lipárová must have gone mad. She stopped taking care of the household and she spends her days unwashed and unkempt in the new garden gazebo. She doesn’t pay any attention to the world around her; instead she keeps flipping through some book with great zeal.
Her husband doesn’t seem to mind – he spends his time leisurely walking around the garden, feeding his mouflon, and on occasion he plucks an unusual string instrument, which he keeps tied to his belt. In the evenings, Stano builds a small fire and sits by it deep in thought, gazing at the new Castle Hill which had sprung up right past his garden.
Only at night, after it gets dark, the corpulent Magdaléna comes out of her gazebo, and together with her husband they climb up a massive wooden ladder to the top of a hundred-year-old walnut-tree.