A note to fans of Little Golden America: as of issue No. 22, Admit Two adopted a PDF format, which means you will have to access individual back issues to get to further chapters of Ilf and Petrov's American adventure.
BEFORE DEPARTING from Moscow we had collected numerous letters of
introduction. It was explained to us that America was the land of letters
of introduction. Without them you could not turn around.
Americans of our acquaintance whom we visited before departure at
once and in silence sat down at their typewriters and began to pound out:
“Dear Sir: My friends, whom I commend to your attention…”
And so on and so forth. “Regards to your wife” – and in brief all that
is proper to write on such occasions. They knew beforehand what we
had come for.
The correspondent of the New York Times, Walter Duranty, wrote
with incredible speed, taking the cigarette out of his mouth only in order
to swallow some Crimean Madeira. We carried away from him a dozen
letters. In farewell he told us:
“Go, go to America! It is much more interesting there now than here
in your Russia. With you everything goes up.” He indicated with his
hand the rising steps of a stairway. “With you here everything is clear.
But with us everything is not yet clear. And no one knows what may
A colossal catch awaited us at Louis Fischer’s, a journalist well known
in American left-wing circles. He spent at least half of his working day on us.
“You are threatened in America,” he said, “with the danger of finding
yourself at once in radical and intellectual circles, getting lost there,
seeing nothing, and returning home with the conviction that all Ameri-
cans are very progressive and intellectual people. Yet it is far from the
truth. You must see as many different kinds of people as possible. Try
to see rich people, the unemployed, officials, farmers. Look for average
people, because it is they who make up America.”
He regarded us with his black and kindly eyes and wished us a happy
and fruitful journey.
We were in the throes of greed. Although our suitcases were bulging
with letters, it seemed to us that we did not have enough of them. We
recalled that Eisenstein had at one time been in America, so we went to
see him at Potylikha.
This famous cinema village is laid out on the picturesque shores of the
Eisenstein lived in a small apartment in the midst of chandeliers and
huge Mexican hats. In his workroom was a good grand piano and the
skeleton of a child under a bell glass. In the reception rooms of famous
physicians bronze clocks usually stand under such bell glasses. Eisenstein
greeted us in his green-striped pajamas. He spent the whole evening
writing letters, told us about America, regarded us with his childlike,
crystal-clear eyes, and treated us to jam.
After a week of hard labor we were the possessors of hundreds of
letters addressed to governors, actors, editors, senators, a woman photog-
rapher, and simply kind people, including a Negro minister and a
dentist from Proskurov.
When we showed all this harvest, garnered after arduous labor, to
Jean Lvovich Arens, our consul general in New York, he turned pale.
“In order to see every one of these people separately… your will
need two years.”
“What shall we do then?”
“The best thing you could do would be to put all these letters back
into the suitcase and go back to Moscow. But since you are already
here, we’ll have to think up something for you.”
Subsequently we convinced ourselves more than once that the consul
could always think up something whenever it was necessary. On this
occasion he thought up something grandiose: to send all these letters
to their proper addresses and to arrange a reception for all at once.
Three days later, on the corner of Sixty-first Street and Fifth Avenue,
in the salons of the consulate, a reception was held. We stood on the
landing of the stairway at the second floor. Its walls were hung with
immense photographs of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station, the harvest-
ing of grain with combines, and children’s creches. We stood beside the
consul and with undisguised fear looked at the ladies and gentlemen
who were walking up from below. They moved in an uninterrupted
flow for two hours. These were the spirits called forth by the united
efforts of Duranty, Fischer, Eisenstein, and a score of other of our bene-
factors. The spirits came with their wives – and were in excellent spirits.
They were full of eagerness to do everything they had been asked to do
in the letters, and to help us learn what the United States was like.
The guests greeted us, exchanged a few remarks, and passed into the
salons, where there were bowls of claret cup and small diplomatic
In the simplicity of our souls we thought that when all would come
together we, the reason for the occasion, if one may say so, would follow
into the salon and also raise cups and eat small diplomatic sandwiches.
But that is not what happened. What learned that we were supposed to
stand on the landing until the last guest departed.
From the salons came gay laughter and noisy exclamations, while we
stood endlessly, greeting the late-comers, seeing off those who were
departing, and in every other way fulfilling the function of hosts. More
than a hundred and fifty guests had gathered, and in the end we did
not even manage to find out which of them was a governor and which
the native of Proskurov. It was a notable company of gray-haired ladies
in spectacles, pink-cheeked gentlemen, broad-shouldered young men, and
tall thin young ladies. Since every one of the spirits conjured out of our
envelopes represented an indubitable point of interest, we deeply re-
gretted the impossibility of talking at length with each and every one
Three hours later the stream of guests was directed down the stairway.
A fat little man with a clean-shaven head on which glistened large
beads of icy sweat came up to us. He regarded us through the magnify-
ing lenses of his spectacles, shook his head, and with much feeling said
in fairly good Russian:
“Oh, yes, yes! That’s all right! Mr. Ilf and Mr. Petrov, I have received
a letter from Fischer. No, no, don’t tell me anything. You don’t under-
stand. I know what you need. We’ll meet again.”
He disappeared, small, compact, with a remarkably strong, almost an
iron body. In the confusion of bidding farewell to guests we could not
talk with him and puzzle out the meaning of his words.
Several days later, when we were still lounging in our beds, thinking
about where at last we would find the ideal creature so indispensable
to us, the telephone range and the voice of a stranger told us that Mr.
Adams was speaking and that he wanted to come right up to see us.
We dressed quickly, wondering who Mr. Adams was and what he
wanted of us.
Into our hotel room entered the same fat little man with the iron body
whom we had seen at the reception in our consulate.
“Gentlemen,” he said, without any preliminaries, “I want to help you.
No, no, no! You don’t understand. I regard it as my duty to help every
Soviet person who comes to America.”
We asked him to sit down, but he refused. He ran through our small
hotel rooms, pushing us now and then with his hard, protruding stomach.
The three lower buttons of his vest were unbuttoned and the tail of his
necktie stuck out.
Suddenly he cried:
“I am beholden for much to the Soviet Union. Yes, yes, very much!
No, don’t talk; you don’t even understand what you are doing there in
He became so excited that by mistake he jumped out through the open
door and found himself in the hall. We had a quite a time of it, dragging
him back into our room.
“Were you ever in the Soviet Union?”
“Surely!” cried Mr. Adams. “ Of course! No, no, no! Don’t say, ‘Were
you ever in the Soviet Union!’ I lived there a long time. Yes, yes, yes! I
worked in your country for seven years. You spoiled me in Russia. No,
no, no! You cannot understand that!”
Several minutes of association with Mr. Adams made it clear to us
that we do not understand America at all, that we do not understand
the Soviet Union at all, and that in general we understand nothing of
anything at all, like newborn calves.
But it was quite impossible to be annoyed with Mr. Adams. When in-
formed of our intention to undertake an automobile journey through
the States, he cried: “Surely!” and attained such a state of excitement
that he suddenly opened the umbrella which he carried under his arm
and for some time stood under it, as if protecting himself from rain.
“Surely!” he repeated. “Of course! It would be foolish to think that
you could find out anything about America by sitting in New York.
Isn’t it true, Mr. Ilf and Mr. Petrov?”
Much later, when our friendship had deepened considerably, we
noticed that Mr. Adams, after expressing any thought, always demanded
confirmation of its correctness and would not rest until he received that
“ No, no, gentlemen! You don’t understand anything! We need a plan!
A plan for the journey! That’s the main thing! And I will make that
plan for you. No, no, don’t talk! You cannot possibly know anything
He suddenly took off his coat, pulled off his spectacles, flung them
on the couch (later he looked for them in his pockets for about ten
minutes), spread an automobile road map of America on his lap, and
began to trace curious lines on it.
Right there before our eyes he was transformed from a wild eccentric
into a businesslike American. We exchanged glances. Was this not per-
chance the ideal creature of whom we had dreamed? Was this not the
luxuriant hybrid which even Michurin and Burbank together could not
have brought forth?
In the course of two hours we traveled over the map of America.
What an exhilarating occupation that was!
For some time we discussed the advisability of driving into Milwaukee,
in the state of Wisconsin. There you find at once two LaFollettes, one
a governor and one a senator, and it was possible to get letters of intro-
duction to both of them. And enviable situation! Two Muscovities sit in
New York and decide the question of a journey to Milwaukee. If they
like, they’ll go there; if not, they won’t!
Old man Adams sat there, calm, clean, self-contained. No, he did not
recommend that we go to the Pacific Ocean by the northern route
through Salt Lake City, the city of the salt lake. By the time we arrived
there, the mountain passes might be in snow.
“Gentlemen!” exclaimed Mr. Adams. “This is very, very dangerous.
It would be foolish to risk your lives. No, no, no! You cannot imagine
what an automobile journey is.”
“But the Mormons?” we moaned.
“No, no! Mormons – that is very interesting. Yes, yes, Mormons are
the same Americans as others. But snow – that is very dangerous!”
How delightful it was to talk of dangers, of mountain passes, of
prairies! But even more delightful was it to calculate, pencil in hand, the
extent to which an automobile was cheaper than going by railway, the
number of gallons of gasoline needed for a thousand miles, the cost of
dinners, of a modest dinner for a tourist. For the first time we heard
the words “camp” and “tourist room.” Although we had not yet begun
the journey we were already concerned about keeping expenses down,
and although we had no automobile we were already concerned about
greasing it. We began to regard New York as a dark hole from which
we must forthwith escape.
When our elated discussion passed into the stage of incomprehensible
shouts, Mr. Adams suddenly jumped off the couch, caught his head in
his hands, squinted in dumb desperation, and stood like that for a full
We were frightened.
Without opening his eyes, Mr. Adams began to knead his head in his
hands and to mutter:
“Gentlemen, everything is lost! You don’t understand anything!”
And then what we did not understand became clear. Mr. Adams had
come here with his wife and, having left her in their automobile, had
run up to see us for just a second in order to ask us to his house for
lunch. He had run in for just a second!
We raced down the corridor, frightening the old ladies who always
populate American hotels. In the elevator Mr. Adams jumped with im-
patience, so eager was he to reach the protective wing of his wife.
Around the corner from Lexington Avenue, on Forty-eighth Street, in
a neat but no longer new Chrysler sat a young lady who wore the same
kind of protruding spectacles as did Mr. Adams.
“Becky!” groaned our new friend, stretching forth his fat little arms
toward the Chrysler.
In the confusion his hat flew off and his round head glistened in the
reflected light of New York’s autumn sun.
“And where is the umbrella?” asked the lady, smiling wanly.
The sun went out on the head of Mr. Adams. He forgot the umbrella
in our room, he forgot his wife in the street, the umbrella was upstairs.
Under such circumstances occurred our meeting with Mrs. Rebecca
With bitterness we noticed that it was not Mr. Adams, but his wife,
who took the wheel. We again exchanged glances.
“No, evidently this is not the hybrid we need. Our hybrid must know
how to drive an automobile.”
Mr. Adams regained his calm and normal state and talked about things
as if nothing untoward had happened. On the entire trip to Central
Park West, where his apartment was located, old man Adams assured
us that the most important thing for us is our future traveling companion.
“No, no, no, you don’t understand! This is very, very important!”
We became sad. We ourselves knew how important that was.
The door of the Adams apartment was opened to us by a Negress to
whose skirts clung a two-year-old girl. The little girl had a firmly
molded little body. She was a little Adams without spectacles.
She looked at her parents, and said in her thin little voice:
“Papa and Mamma.”
Papa and Mamma groaned from sheer satisfaction and happiness.
We exchanged glances for the third time.
‘Besides, he has a child! No, this is most decidedly not the hybrid!”