Письменный Борис
Lucky Y.B.C.

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       Boris PISMENNY
       LUCKY Y.B.C.
       ...and what is important, that you should never be shy. Quite the opposite - whenever you see a microphone, grab it real fast and scream in your best cheerful voice:
       - Hey, everybody! My name is so-and-so -... Have guts, scream out loud, giving them hell. It seems, if you reflect for a minute, who gives a damn about you and your freaking name? But, take my word for it - they'll immediately come to attention. Just watch as all of them obediently turn their mugs toward you, with their mittens widely gaping. Yes, Sir, they will do it because these are the rules of the game.
       So, playing it by the rules let me introduce myself now. My name is Yuliy B. Crimea (Y.B.C.). You may call me Yul, like Brynner, the fabulous guy Chris from "The Magnificent Seven". Only I am not bald like him, and the photo of mine, people say, looks more like that of Mr. Gingrich - the speaker of the House. Very appropriately indeed - many of his bright ideas Newt, it seemed, got extracted right out of my head. Like Newt I'm a conservative Republican, the rightmost winger. All of us, Russians, are. I'm sure of that; for us the righter, the better.
       - Our way is right. We won, - was Joe Stalin's famous motto after the war.
       Today is a special day for me. I am accepting congratulations. Thank you a lot. This very morning in a crowded room, my right hand pressed to my heart, I was taking the oath. Everything inside me is still rejoicing and singing:- Ame-eri-ka! Ze-beau-ti-ful...
       Here, before you, ladies and gentlemen, you see a new naturalized citizen of the United States! The citizenship test I've passed with the flying colors. Straight in English, would you believe it? A buxom lady gives me a questionnaire, asking: - Your name? - I immediately sign it down with a flourish pen stroke at the end: - Yuliy B. Crimea. The same as Yul Brynner, - I explain. She also asks me a funny question, something about Independence. I answer it, instantly, no sweat. - Good job, - she says, - next applicant, please.
       Just to think about it - how many tests and trials I've been through in my life! Well, my operational principle has always been aeronautical in a way: - From a model to a glider, from the glider to the airplane! - Every step of the way I'm reaching higher and higher up to the skies, I feel my head is spinning around. See, I have reached somewhere again. This time I've reached America, the glorious United States.
       Look here; can you see me on the video screen? Go-o-od. In honor of my brand new citizenship, I've decided to capture the event for posterity. What the hell, I say to myself, my video camera is just collecting dust; why not put it to use? My camcorder is excellent, the best hi-fi model, the expensive shit. Let it be in color, the video I mean, and let my new imported furniture suite I just recently bought, can be seen right behind me in the frame? Check it out, can you see the picture? Fine, let's go on then.
       I figure, I should present everything truly as it is, so that my future grandchildren will ponder in awe. Let them admire how I had broken through all those thorns and hurdles of life, rising right to the stars. Video is the thing to go. Because writing, say, memoirs and everything on paper, you know, I can not stand it. Drawing every single letter, line by line, makes me crazy; seriously, it gives me cramps, gives my hand muscles spasms right away. Handwriting is not my nature. The computer - here you are, that's totally another story. The computer I can handle okay. Anyone can. With the computer, you see, you're not really writing. In fact, it's like you're already reading instead; you're an author and a reader together - all at once. The computer is the huge improvement, I'll tell you - it makes everything so freaking easy. One should watch oneself not to be carried away doing writings nonstop. Of course, I don't want to look like some miserable graph maniac. I'll do it sparingly, in a kosher way.
       Same Gingrich guy, incidentally, came out with his historical slogan: - Laptop to everyone (a computer on every lap, so to say). Reminds me our socialist slogans: - Chicken in every pot! Or - Young Communist League Member, get up on the horse! -
       Chicken, horses... well, now the computers' turn. I have several of them myself, as a matter of fact, a notebook and a desk model. I can afford it easily, why not? Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the whole point - a shame to me that with such advanced technology I cannot finish a long-due letter to Tolik, to my best friend from Russia. I started writing all right, but cannot conclude it properly. The letter begins not bad. I can recite you it right from the screen:
       - Hello there, my dear Tolik! Here, in the States, everything is usual with me. I bought myself a new computer, a Pentium-based PC. I'm sitting and writing a letter to you on it. Right on the screen I am writing this freaking letter. I'm sitting and writing... After that I'll send it to the printer. Here I am, my dear Tolik... -
       Well, the beginning, it seems, pretty good. As to the conclusion, I have no idea what to say. A little watery, the text I mean, don't you think? Frankly, I'm not sure what else should I write? How about, I've decided, to shoot a color movie with my camcorder and (a great idea) I'll convert the recording into SEKAM, the European style, and I will send video to Russia, to my poor friend Tolik instead of the annoying no good letter.
       I have conceived this movie, ladies and gents, as a hymn to America, as my declaration of absolute love and repentance. Losers all of us; we have pretended that we lived in the best, most powerful country of the world, the USSR - the bulwark of peace and socialism. What a cruel joke it was. Tolik, without any resentment and suspicion, let's be honest with ourselves, just for once - why we slavishly imitate the Western standards, salivating always for their riches and consumer goods, while making believe at the same time that we despise and criticize them. Who know better than us that all our new tech projects and music and movies and whatnots were but weak imitations of foreign prototypes? Isn't it better - instead of being shamefully envious, just to plop head on into the Western deeps? Then - you actually live abroad, and that's it. Even Kozma Prutkov, the notorious Russian know-it-all fiction personage understood that: - The Russian dreams of foreign lands, but foreigners do not. Because they are already there! -
       Enough is enough - all those perpetual arguments: Westerners vs. Slavophils, kokoshniks vs. blue jeans, Us against Them... What is interesting about the immigration after the suffocating Russian state - you can get into a god-forsaken hole of your choice, become disappointed with the place, and move somewhere else, eventually to the USA. It happens all the time. But from America, if you're especially picky, where can you go? - Nowhere. America is the last stop, the terminus; the train is not going any further. Buck stops here. I am not that picky. But, strictly between us, Tolik, I've a crazy feeling, wherever I am - there is also the center of universe; even the moon in the sky, is following me like some importunate sticky bitch.
       Seems to me, I knew all along that I'm going to be American. I had a premonition, and remember myself preparing. As a teenager, I parroted the Yankee style, couldn't have a day without the VOA Jazz Hour with Willis Conover on the short-wave radio. I was illegally trading foreign jeans and stuff on the black market, guilty as charged. I was twisting my tongue with the broken English: Bucks, Jeans, Girls, How-Much-Watch? - All those notorious emblematic tokens of all things foreign. At the time, it was the terrible capitalistic sin to have attitude like this. It was almost high treason. But, on the other hand, look at the positive side - without being obnoxious or obscene, I could easily describe you anything in the world: jazzy girls, jazzy day and jazzy jacket... Even the weather was jazzy, even blintzes that we ate with you, Tolik, in Koktebel village of Crimea; blintzes were jazzy too. I swear it!
       Tolik's English was not so good, that's probably why he is still in his Fryazino, the wretched working class settlement near Moscow. Besides, if I'm a chatter-box, easy with words; Tolik is quite the opposite. Being the old buddies, we are the total antipodes with him - that's the truth. Well, Tolik is rather shy, slow to open his mouth; but he writes poetry with no problem. He is not publishing it, just in principle. - I don't want, - he says, - That any scum-bum, whenever he fancies, can read my stuff. -
       Proud Tolik! As to me, I'll remember his lines till I die. I can give here some extracts from the cuff, just for the taste of it. Hard to translate it right, but what the hell!
       ...the oars are flapping in the sunny glitz like three fantastic laughing tits...
       That's when we were in the Moscow park of Sokolniki with the heifers riding the pleasure boats. Or, here's another one, dedicated to Violetta Z.:
       If you travel to Hong Kong,
       Bring me cats and dogs that dance.
       Come barefoot and sing a song,
       I'll drop my pants at once.
       I do not remember when exactly it was and what the occasion, but here you are - that's typical Tolik in his element. How do you like his pants shtick!
       Lastly, if I may, I'll cite you one more, about the South Coast of Crimea and the Black Sea Coast of Caucasus (SCC and BSCC, abridged). Note that the SCC is devoted specifically to my personal name monogram (*in original Russian it's - YBK).
       SCC, BSCC - see at sea a lot of kicks,
       Shish-kebab, lulia-kebab, beaches full of naked chicks.
       Hard, suntanned like basalt, my lips tasting sea salt.
       Kisses taste Rahat Lukum.
       Ethiopian chic of Sukhum,
       Fireflies, clicking of cicadas, sanatorium Tze-Ka, (* Central Party Committee)
       Hotel room is full of cries,
       Bed sheet there never dries,
       Smell of coffee, patting rain,
       Mourning yells of distant train
       Whistling sadly in the dark,
       Trying get to the Sochi's mark.
       Pebbles cracking on some spot;
       There's someone in my cot,
       Where the surf in colored feathers,
       Where we stuck with you together...
       I am the last of Mohican. Sheni-deda-mogyd Khan! (*the Georgian curse)
       Ah, better not to recall the dazzling time we had. Tolik and I, suntanned to the bones, walking on the beach; the hot sand and pebbles burning our toes, while we step over the naked bodies prostrated like the seals all over the place. When I spotted a nice looking chick, I used to throw her a volleyball which she, due to the unconditional reflex, catches, and - oops! - She is ours; that's we who caught her. We were sweeping the beaches like this in the systematic round up commando style. The standard routine was - to spy a girl walking alone, to run after overtaking her, and, out of breath, very often to sigh with relief if she was uglier then the atomic war. It was even better this way. I mean with the ugly one, since you could dismiss the following exhausting hooking up routine. At times, we were in luck, coming across of a dreamy mysterious dame. Tolik, as always, was too shy to initiate anything. It was strictly my job, casually inquire her: - How the port's aquatorium is looking today? What's the situation with the waterways? - Something along these lines. It comes to me naturally; I never know what I'm going to say. I just jump at the victim; the text, the shpiel is spilling out of me by itself. The truth is not only that women famously love with theirs ears; the Russian women in particular, are hard programmed to detect a "cultured text" or an unusual foreign accent; then they eagerly let themselves be hooked up, becoming suddenly weak and agreeable.
       Tolik used to carry with him bags full of apricots and other sweet fruits of Crimea. We were directing our steps to the nearest "Isabella on Ice" stall - to taste the local wine "Isabella". The drinking hole was known as a free wheeling place where even begging was not forbidden. There you could always find a hobo, tattooed guy, who'd stare at you all the time while you were drinking. He croaked: - Hey, buddy, leave me some, some foam at the bottom, ple-e-ease...-
       After lunch, in the high noon heat, if not sleeping, we used to hang out by the Post Office, feeling still sluggish with all fruits, beer, wine and meatballs with pasta, rumbling loud in our stomachs. We smoked lazily while chatting with the rest of the crowd.
       Among others, there was one funniest guy - Mohamed-Oglu, the smartest guy I've known. He had PhD in some kind of science and the huge obsession with the fare sex. I really felt for him, when Mohamed-Oglu was uncontrollably humming back and forth his favorite refrain tuned after the fashionable then Rio-Rita schlager: - In-cabin#6-a-lot-of-sexy-chicks...a-lot-of-eager-chicks-in-cabin#6... And we went, to the cabin #6, the girls sleeping quarters of the young Communist summer camp "Sputnik". On our way, Mohamed-Oglu tried to scientifically analyze to me the meaning of tattoo on the chest of the alcoholic hobo guy: - No Happiness in life -. Mohamed-Oglu explained that, philosophically speaking, there's no such thing as real happiness, just an illusion. All you need is to indulge your two dreams: # 1 - the mundane, realistic, and # 2 - the unattainable one. I was curious: - Oglu, what is your dream # 2, if not a secret?
       Mohamed-Oglu just whispered: - To make up with every single one of the Communist girls at the beach. -
       - And what about # 1? -
       - Well...to get myself anybody at all! -
       Yeah, the tortured man he was; but he had his dreams anyway!
       Then, I think we were very close to having the Communism established at least in one particular locality of the South Coast of Crimea, specifically within the town of Gurzuf. And, if you want to know, all this novo-Russian slang they practice nowadays, even in Kremlin and in their parliament, it was already widely circulated among the town punks and alcoholics of our Gurzuf. Plagiarism, as everyone knows, is the best compliment.
       Do I sound too nostalgic? Just for your information, Tolik, here in America, we follow sometimes the news about and from Russia, not very much though. Are we really interested? I wouldn't lie that our interest in things Russian is especially hot; we are just curious a little; that's it. That's a kind of entertainment with us. Should we rather care about some Rwanda-Burundi place!
       Sorry for my involuntary digression, it happened even to Leo Tolstoy, as you know. I just could not resist. For us, immigrants of the first generation, the perpetual comparison of Russia and the West is like a perpetual merry-go-round: here and there, them and us...That's a natural thing, you cannot help it!
       ...Now, watch, as I'm slowly turning my camcorder to the terrace of our condominiums - you can see now the orange of our new tennis court, the blue of the swimming pool, and the Hudson River with New York City's outline not far at the distance. Do I miss the Black Sea and Crimea? As a matter of fact, I do not. We have places here to take a dip when we want.
       In America, everything turned out exactly as I have been foretold by gypsies from the marketplace at the subway station. Their pushy gang, I tried to avoid as I could, but right before filing my papers for emigration, I've decided - Why not? Let them read my luck. I "gilded the hand" - paid them almost all rubles I found in my pockets. A gypsy clairvoyant witch wrapped in colorful rags, whiskered me behind a tobacco kiosk, and gave me their usual bobby-manses - predicting a long journey, a big house, and so on and so forth. - Gild me some more, my dear, - she asked. - I'll tell you more. Otherwise, I can't see it clearly yet...-
       I gave her my last Soviet greenback - three rubles which I saved for metro (subway).
       -Now, listen, - she said. - I see your wife, the sexy white beauty and a baby near her too - the nice family picture. You are definitely a lucky one. -
       So be it! I dismissed my doubts, filed the application with the OVIR - the Soviet Office of Visas and Registrations, and started counting days. Not to waste my time I was preparing for the new life as I could - amassed the stuff for selling it abroad - the Russian souvenirs, ballet shoes, optics, whatnot... My apartment those days was like a warehouse. My windows, by the way, looked directly at the Kursk Station. Once, I'm asking Tolik: - Why should my great binoculars is wasted? Let's unpack it, and check out the general secretary, comrade Leonid Brezhnev coming from his Black sea vacation. The governmental train was supposedly arriving that very day at the Kursk Railway Station.
       - Don't you dare! -Tolik yelled at me. - Plain clothed guards shoot from the hip with no warning, using the reflections in your window glass. I readily imagined bringing my binoculars close to the window, and - bang! - catching a sniper bullet right between eyes. I saw myself rolling down onto the floor, as good as dead. Just like a movie. It really puzzles me - why at all should we care about the celebrities? What is the point following them? Their freaking mugs anyhow are all over the place, retouched and beautified, you just can't avoid them even if you wish. What the crazy idea it was - to look at Brezhnev through my strong magnifying lens - to count the hair in his nostrils? That day, Tolik probably saved my life. If it's not luck, what is? Immediately, I had recalled the gypsy fortune teller.
       In America, I got lucky again, on my very first day. It was freezing cold when I came to New York. They brought me to the Fifth Avenue to ponder at the Christmas wonderland. The moment I was getting out of the car, I stepped on a dollar bill. Could you believe that? - A trifle, but legendary. Right on the spot, with this welcoming buck I bought myself a knitted ski hat from a street peddler, pulled it down my ears and felt great. That dollar was just the beginning. Later on, I lost count of my multiple findings, not only money, much more: a golden ring with a half-carat diamond stone, a blue cap of the police corporal, a broidered tobacco pouch, full of subway tokens, a Nicaraguan passport... In summer, I came across a live turtle that happened to be of a very rare species. The turtle wallowed on the roadway as a cobblestone.
       People I know, ask me: - Yulik, how come you're finding all this stuff? -
       But I'm not looking for it. I swear it, just happens; it finds itself. Everything is coming my way in America.
       In the beginning of my Americana, when I was driving taxi, at my right seat there was always an open book, a manual. I was studying to become a programmer. I was learning the computer trade while waiting in the NYC traffic. Come evenings, I used to go to the Broadway theater district and watched all the shows one after another, with no exception. Mind it - for free, - gratis. Unfortunately, always the second acts were for my starting point. During the intermission, the public comes out to have a smoke on the street. That's when I joined the theatrical crowd back to the hall. The second act was OK - my imagination is good enough to restore the whole story.
       Am I telling you - I`ve found a paradise? Sure, not everybody is ecstatic and happy in the States. As always, some hit the bottom, some are better off than the others. That's life. I'm telling my story. Could you believe it, I feel even ashamed sometimes of being lucky like that. What can I say? I don't want to be jinxed. Let's better continue.
       Look, what happened to me next. I had no car of my own, not yet. One Sunday we were driving with friends through Connecticut (or it was Massachusetts?) on someone's antediluvian Buick. We stopped to stretch our legs around a street sale. Two ladies displayed their stuff over the front lawn, having a garage sale. They were already rolling up their trade, because it was getting dark. Still, I quickly found what I could use - an old-fashioned skillet. I love cast-iron ware. The ladies got packed it for me in an oily cardboard box, bound up with a string. The bargain price they asked - one dollar.
       A few weeks later, at home in Jersey, I remembered my recent purchase; decided to fry some potatoes. I begin pulling the skillet by its handle from the package, and what do I see? Dumbfounded, I watch a five dollar bill appearing out of the box. After that, bunches of dollars, the real bucks started fly out - the virtual foliage of money in different denominations of tens, fives, mostly singles. It looked impressive as hell - the beautiful falling leaves drifted slowly by my eyes, exactly as the French crooner, Ives Montand used to sing it.
       Soon enough the whole kitchen table was covered with dollar bills - a lot of greenery, the fascinating picture, no doubt. Being still a greenhorn myself, I haven't seen so much cash all at once in my life. Well, I thought by myself - Yuliy Borisovich - you're rich now for ever and ever. First, you're going to resign from your taxi job - enough is enough. You're going to buy yourself a nice house with a lawn and...
       Another part of me, at the same time, started to worry. I guessed that those garage sellers were stuffing their profit into the various cardboard packages. I should return the money, but where to, and to whom? With no car of my own I had not a slightest idea where exactly our driver made that occasional stop. We made many of them. How can I find the place? Was it exactly in Connecticut, or may be in Massachusetts, or rather it was Upstate New York?
       Lo and behold, I had dismissed my concerns for a minute as laudable, but not realistic. Let's count the money first. How rich am I now? I counted and re-counted the money, over and over, piling bill upon bill, separating the bigger ones from the smaller. Because of my nerves, it took me quite a while to finish the job. You want to know the bottom line, of course.
       How Much Watch? - As we used to say on our self-made American slang back in Russia.
       Okay, two hundred and seventy-three bucks was in the final score. Is it a lot? Depends how you look at it. When you are writing checks, you're not singling out every particular coin and a bill; you hardly actually feel the physical money that are routinely paid or received. Cash is something else; cash is a king.
       Anyway, it became clear to me that with the purchase of my house I need to wait for awhile; but as a monthly rent the sum was about right - very handy, in fact. Because my Russian neighbor Zinaida, whenever I ask her for a small loan till my payday, she always refuses, lamenting: - You know, Mr. Crimea, I need money for myself! - It's the unbeatable argument, in fact - who does not need money? That's precisely why I'd asked her. But again, Zinaida, a SSI recipient and a secret millionaire (as rumor had it) operated skillfully with the bulletproof logics, with no chance to argue with her. Other times she liked to repeat: - Yuliy Borisovich, I absolutely cannot afford to become sick. I don't want it. - Here we go again: who ever wants it? Case dismissed.
       Coming back to the subject of my luck, what do you think about it? As if someone is watching after me, directing and taking care of me. Consider one more incredible story that happened to me in the WTC. Yes, right in the cursed Twin Towers; I used to work there as a computer programmer long before the deadly September 11. My story was not tragic at all, quite the opposite. Rather funny it was what happened that day.
       We had a good-bye lunch in the World Trade Center restaurant for our top manager who was retiring that year. He was an old school Yankee, a huge fan of the traditional Midwestern cuisine. We've stuffed up our bellies full with the heavy ragout of lamb and with fried beans seasoned by cayenne pepper. We washed it down with bear and icy drinks. When the party was over, I came back to my cubicle feeling heavy as hell. I absolutely could not work; for the life of mine I couldn't see properly the coding on the computer screen, felt awful - just terrible sleepiness and sandy spots in my eyes.
       Now, I must tell you that those days our company was famous for our really gorgeous restroom. There was no one like this on the whole floor - with all its fancy chandeliers, with marble bowls and stuff. People used to socialize there like in some Harvard Club, while fixing their neck ties or smoothing their hair. The beauty of place had inspired not only the regular shoptalk, but, at times, even lofty, high-minded discussions. Of course, someone could be seen busy peeing against the wall, not without that, but they tried to do it in a very delicate way, very discreetly.
       And behold, I'm bringing the torturous Midwestern meals boiling widely inside me, to this toilet which is as usual overcrowded with the clubmen. Incidentally, there was a symposium in progress on perspectives of the global economy. I look at my puffy face reflected in the mirrors and see nearby my boss having exactly the same red-shot eyes, and suddenly it happened - I could not hold it. The terrible noisy grumbling was going in my tummy, the virtual cannonade. It started even before I locked myself in a toilet stall. All grave complications followed suit. The disputants-clubmen were shocked by the unprecedented vulgarity of the event; one by one they sneaked away. When the guns talk, the muses are silent. In a minute the restroom was empty. And that, mind you, had happened at the peak hours - at times of the most interesting philosophical forums!
       I could hear in the stall next to mine, my boss belching and burping supports me with the antiaircraft battery fire of his own. Mr. Wilson, a little shy at first, soon in his full voice shouting to me through the separating wall: - Remember, Yul, beans are good for your heart - you eat and you fart! How you doing, buddy? - When someone tried to enter, he immediately withdrew. In short, the restroom was ours; we had it occupied by the storm.
       Since then, we became fast friends with my boss. You bet we did. One day he suggested to me: - Come on, Yul, aren't you bored with the monotonous coding job - you're just wasting your talent and spoiling your eye sight too. Better, find me a couple of good young programmers, and I'll open a personal consulting account, especially for you. -
       This way, soon I became a registered independent broker, a head-hunter as they call us. That's job for me - I like being my own boss. I just cannot be staying for too long in the same place, glued to the same chair. Now, free like a bird, I'm roaming highways with the cell phone in my hand and the sun in my eyes. You can hear me singing my favorite: - Ame-e-ri-ka, ze-beaut-ti-full... Seriously, I have much more leverage now for doing nice things for everybody, myself included. A benefactor, I'm getting kicks out of this. Who wouldn't, if he can afford it, of course? There's a pop song: - If my friends could see me now! - That's exactly about me. Look at me now, Tolik, look at me, the South Coast of Crimea!
       Emma Lazarus had solemnly extended invitation to us - to the poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. Now I am following suit by sending the yearning novices on the right pathway in the computer business. What is the secret of my success? Language is paramount, of course. I can give any newcomer a tip - how to improve your English, piece of cake. My first months in this country I had my phone overheated. I was dialing again and again the 800 phone numbers. I'm stressing it here - all you need is your chutzpa, never be shy. The free 800 numbers you can easily find in any big yellow book, in the local phone directory.
       - Repeat, please - I insisted, - Say really slowly. - I was bossing them. - OK. Spell it for me now... No, I don't understand, say it again... - The operators are drilled to do exactly as you wish. Don't hesitate, they will obediently spell, repeat, thanking you in the end.
       When my English got stronger, I devised another version of game. I'd come, say, in an auto dealership, pretending I'm buying a car. Generally, the auto dealers are not liked much for being sleazy, fast talking, and ever cheating breed. I didn't care - I was not in hurry. That's why not I but they got tortured with my broken English. I made them cry; I literally brought them to tears. After long hours that the dealer in pair with his manager had spend with me, they love me like a brother, ready to give me the most incredible discount, almost pleading to me to take the freaking car practically for nothing. I paused. I pretended thinking it over. ...And, at the end, I declined. Look, I didn't come to buy anything at all in the first place, not now, not then.
       You know what had eventually happened? The dealers kept assured me that I am a negotiating genius; still hopeful, they invited me to work for them. Hope dies the last. As soon as I got really bored, I'd say them: - Sorry, guys, no deal. See you around next time. - After that I was leaving them almost in state of trance, with their eyes full of tears, as they watched my theatrical exit.
       Funny America, her commercial tricks and treats could be good for her local gullible consumers, not for us - the former Soviets thoroughly steeped in the wicked brand of the Marxist-Leninist lies. For us, the American propaganda is just a light breeze. Like mice under a scientific experiment, in the unknown environment our people are quick to improvise. Let it be New York, Toronto, Honolulu, or Sydney, doesn't matter - they will find such intricate loopholes that the locals would never even imagine. To preserve peace of mind, it's better for my American friends stay blissfully unaware of the particulars of the ways how we survive in their country. Paradoxically enough, despite all of the benefits the Western political correctness presents for the immigrants, my compatriots are the first to attack American permissiveness. The less they know English, the more Russians like to think of themselves as hard to please right-wingers. Nothing is easier than to criticize USA. For one thing, it's totally safe, and, besides it's the cheapest way to claim originality. Any damn fool can do it. And what is the usual complaint? - Sleazy mass culture and persistent commercial spirit. Because the critics, whoever they are, let it be Solzhenitsyn himself, mostly watch TV in their dusty rat holes; the soap operas and other junk, they watch it ad nauseam.
       How about the control buttons, may I ask you? My best that I like is "power off", or - "mute". Let the advertisements flick silently like sparks in the fireplace. Being a contrarian myself, I'd never buy anything which is pushed down my throat. I must admit, it even pleases me to imagine zillions of ad dollars being wasted when I mute my TV at home.
       Now, let's come back to description of my actual trading experience. The garage sales - that's what I really like. One of which, with the cast-iron skillet, as you may recall, had almost made me a millionaire. American garage sales are virtual cornucopia; anything you can get there almost for nothing. They call it "sale", when, in fact, people are trying to get rid of their stuff. Obviously it feels better for them than simply throw good things away, or deal with the Salvation Army. Who really need the salvation - that's me; the salvation I need from my garage sale obsession; it's worse than narcotics to me.
       Where are you, the American dream of my youth! Where are you - the time of my innocence? Early on a Saturday morning, still sleepy and yawning, we are hopping in the car, and drive with an autumn breeze through the golden New Jersey suburbs. The morning air wakes you up in no time. Acting like aphrodisiac, it smells better than the best French perfume. Deep in the woods, left and right, there are beautiful mansions sparkling in the sunlight. The road poles and trees are decorated with the arrows and ads of the current sales. Like boy scouts we follow directions. The weekend sales trips, we call them "sailings", fill our sails with the wind of excitement. To the wealthy areas, people come from afar, from other towns, even from other states. Once and again, I see in NJ a minivan from the Chinese Consulate from New York City, always crowded. The Chinese read their maps with the magnifying glass, ask for directions. A local jogger or a lady walking her pedigree dog, would laugh: - Looking for junk? - take second turn to the right. -
       We turn and we follow the arrows. And behold, behind the bushes - there's something like a Sotheby or Christy outdoor session: statues, empire chandeliers, Victorian chairs. Our eyes dazzle, our hearts beat harder. We try to approach the sale slowly, pretending to be indifferent, but our legs carry us faster anyways. Right in front of you - the treasure grove in all its glory! The famous brands, for having which we'd kill while back in Russia. Not anymore - things priceless then, are almost worthless for us now. What a puzzle! A jacket - a dollar, a sheepskin coat - five. Even with all these mostly symbolic, laughable prices, capricious customers look for bargain: - Five? Can have it for less?
       - Take it for three, do us a favor; the blue jeans are yours for free, extra.-
       There's a bullfighter's costume together with a rapier, the Paris city guide from the days of Charles de Gaulle, tickets from Folly Berger, Chinese lanterns, Bavarian statuettes...
       The chain of the outside tables loaded with knick-knacks, spreads to the house, to the first floor, splits to the second and to the full basement. In some mansions, the basements remind me museums or our Moscow subway - the hall after hall full with objects of marble, porcelain and bronze. The garage sale is a paradox in one more way. With this usual Western hush-hush about privacy, "my home is my castle", you're suddenly permitted free to rummage the strangers' homes, as you wish. For us, the newcomers, it is like X-raying America's insides, an archaeological excavation. We can see how Americans lived in the 50's, 40's, long before we got lucky to come here.
       - Look what they read, - I remember overhearing a voice in Russian, - funny taste. Among books, there's always the series How To? How to get rich, how to charm people, how to cook and live healthy thousand years; about your finances and your erogenous zones... Many of the books are uncut, never opened. Aristotle, Plato, Seneca... taken for a college program and quickly forgotten. For a handful of cents you can buy the treasures of world literature. The biggest shock for the Russians to see books discarded as garbage.
       Room after room, you're walking knee-deep in the accumulated possessions of people recently retired and moved down to Florida, or ones that passed away. It feels pretty weird - smells of a cemetery vault. Buyers are getting bored and fussy. Like in museums, they skip some rooms even without looking. Too much stuff, they cannot take it anymore, they want out.
       Strangely enough, time passes, and the very next weekend you are ready do it again. That's our rotten nature; the best merchandize is a bargain. Still, I ponder - why this stuff, an art album or a beautiful dress that would have made you ineffably happy in Russia, leaves you almost indifferent here? Could it be that we've already reached the dream # 1? Where are you - my Eastern sage Mohamed-Oglu? It beats me - so easy to neglect things that you get so easy.
       The owners are sitting on the veranda in front of their colonial mansion, drink coffee, and chat lazily with each other. Yesterday, they or their ancestors crossed the world, sometimes risking their life and fortune. Satisfying their hunting instinct, they searched the souvenirs in exotic places, or just amassed bags of goodies from the expensive stores. That was yesterday. Now, the problem is - getting rid of the yesterday's stuff, making room for new acquisitions. This way, I figure, people buy the first nuptial night with objects of their desire; while the unassuming greenhorns are ready for any leftovers. It seems to me that the wasteful USA is one big Garage Sale, the land of the free or rather the land of freebees. That's what, ladies and gentlemen, our immigration is coming to. That's the bottom line.
       Oh, dear Tolik, I don't understand - what you're waiting for, staying behind in your middle of nowhere, loosing your chance in this global chaotic confusion called `the free world'? Why should people suffer in Bangladesh, Nicaragua or Afghanistan; why not all of them run to the land of freebees? In fact, they do now. With immigration laws being such a mess, smart people claim even more - they becoming capricious, even aggressive, they demand the privileges and "human rights". The immigration becomes hocus-pocus; it's like being reborn into a much wealthier family, like skipping your congenital misfortune, getting something for nothing. The patriotism is a great notion; we'll come back to it later, on the full stomach.
       Garage Sale, in itself, is no big deal. The trouble is - it messes your brains. Prices and values lose their meanings. Complete idiocy, that's what it is. The price of a hot dog - Levi-Strauss designer jeans; a subway token - a transistor radio; highway toll at the Washington bridge - the whole library of the world classics. After that, you cannot be proud of any of your real purchase. Look, my wife and I, we almost went broke buying our new furniture - the Dutch design, genuine leather and all that. But people come and contemptuously smirk: - Yul, have you got it on the Garage Sale? Anything you show them, the same response - the Garage Sale!
       - No! - I shout. - The furniture was normally ordered through the catalog; it's a prestigious make, terribly expensive with no discount. Nobody believes. Nobody cares.
       And, vice versa, they don't believe me when I say - Yes, I bought something precious on the Garage Sale. I've bought myself a wife. Yes, Sir, I bought her, my dear, beloved lady on a street sale. I solemnly swear it.
       Remember the rail-station gypsy from Moscow, the one promising me a buxom, beautiful wife? It could be in my cards all along. Herein below follows my unaltered unbelievable story.
       In those days, I was traveling in Virginia on my business, in the region, by the way, notoriously known for the slavery in its not so distant history. Somewhere near Richmond, I stopped at a Mobil gas station. Right across the street from it, there was a local Garage Sale scattered widely over the front and back yards. The weather that day happened to be terribly sultry and hot; no one was in sight, not a soul. With a green flask of Perrier mineral, I started to walk among the items displayed on the grassy lawn. The usual stuff - tools, seedy old issues of Playboy, books on losing weight and not losing your hair, and, of course, - those indispensable ones - about your erogenous zones. There were also some pots and pans, kettles and stationery - in a word, the decent assortment. Though not so good compared to our New Jersey sales, a much paler choice, I'd say.
       Already I was about to leave, when I was approached by a landlord. - If you don't mind, - he says, - There are lots of things inside the house - nice furniture, electronics... We are moving down to Florida soon. Everything is for sale; just call your price. I stepped in the house. Shitty furniture actually there was; but it felt pretty cool when indoors. The air conditioner was running full throttle. We started our conversation: - Oh, you are Russian? - He says. Basically, I don't like being recognized so unceremoniously. Nobody does. Obviously it means that my English betrays me. The man continues: - I can say more and guess your profession as well? - - No way, Jose! - I cut him right in the middle. - I'm not a computer programmer; not anymore. And I flash him my personal business card: `Computer Consulting Agent'. - Yul, - I say. - My name is Yul Crimea, the same as Yul Brynner's. I can easily find a position for you, the wise guy, if you have what it gets.
       The landowner did not take the offense: - Oh, how interesting, colleague. - He says.
       He brings ice tea, chocolate cookies, invites me downstairs. His basement is furnished like some office place with the computer terminals and people behind them. Programmers, it happened, working full speed - two guys and a girl. My compatriots, I could tell right away. As they saw me, they rush to me, my dear souls, looking terribly exited. Especially the girl, she has tears in her eyes: - Gospodi, Bozhe moi! -
       - I can sell someone to you, if you care, - the landowner whispers to my ear, the shameful slave-trader. -You can get them cheap. -
       - How so? What is it? Why? -
       - They are illegal, - he explains. - They came to the US with the one-way tickets. I gave them job exclusively because of my Judeo-Christian compassion and gentleness of my nature. They are hiding and living also in here, in this very basement. That's the only place for them now. They don't speak enough English, just COBOL. Sorry, but I can let you have only one; the others have already a buyer.
       My usual question is - How-Much-Watch? -
       The bloodsucker, he got me angry as hell, says: - A referral (job placement) could draw close to 1K cash in the greenbacks. But I'll let you have one just for a hundred exclusively by the reason of my personal respect to you and on the special occasion of the today's Garage Sale.
       I had cash on me - a little over $100. I wish I could take all of them. Only the bastard wouldn't take plastic: - The credit card, sorry, isn't accepted here. -
       So, we had some more tea, I chatted with the compatriots and parted.
       Naturally, I've chosen a girl - Svetlana Panferovna Kukina, born in the city of Zaporozhye, Ukraine. I placed her in my Toyota car, and we took away. Along the way, I fed Svetlana in each and every one roadside joint - Roy Rogers and Howard Johnson. She couldn't get enough food. They'd bring us, for example, the hot potatoes baked in skin, and sour cream with the spoon standing upright in it. Svetlana, my sweetheart, she immediately spooned out the entire sour cream barrel. She sprinkled it with plenty of sugar, and finished it off. The waitress stared at us, frozen in awe. I was afraid she'll swallow her pencil. My Svellana, meanwhile was only licking her lips: - I like sour cream. Now, let's have some more tea. -
       She poured her tea on a saucer. The waitress, in a second, grabbed the saucer and replaced it with a new one. The routine was repeated again and again. - Drink from the glass, please, - I'm asking my lady. - They think you're spilling your tea because of some embarrassment or serious illness. But Svetlana, it turned out, loves drinking from a saucer, the Russian way; she couldn't stand the hot stuff since childhood. She even started adding cold Coke to her tea in order to cool. In horror, the waitress disappeared in the kitchen as if swept away by the wind.
       We were talking. Svetlana described me the story about someone named comrade Mikheev, a farm engineer, who lived in their Ukrainian village; he taught them COBOL and also some English words from a foreign book. Then, for the pretty money, in dollars, which they paid to Mikheev as if for a tourist trip, they ended up in Virginia, USA. Here, this unscrupulous guy sold them into the computer slavery. The bastard, he had promised them a green card and everything, but disappeared instead in the thin air.
       - You just don't worry, - Svetlana tried to convince me. - Vitek, and Kol'ka, they'll be okay; they are programming like crazy. As to me, thank you very much, you just saved my life. - She told me a lot on our first days together. She was talking almost non-stop, all in funny Russian - how she couldn't stay behind in Zaporozhye any more because there wasn't enough real culture. - I am very much in arts and literature, - Svetlana would say. For the sake of arts I can give everything. Here, Yulik, tell me honestly, do you collect photos of the actors? In my school I had more photos than anyone else. True, some pictures were severely bruised, and not all of them were in color: stores in Zaporozhye are supplied not so good. Many of my best pictures were even stolen; and actor Oleg Anufriev, for instance, was never returned to me by some tricky girl Musya... -
       I look at Svetlana, and my heart is totally melting. - Sveta, - I ask her, - Your face looks familiar to me, do you happen to stay in Crimea, in the Black sea town of Gursuf? -
       - Sure I was there. I worked with the girls in the exemplary young Communist canteen "Wave" during the summer vacation season. -
       And then I had immediately remembered all at once - our breakfasts in the "Wave" under the tent: the same oat meal every day, cheap acorn coffee and crackers, the murmuring tidal waves of the Black sea nearby, the morning chill, when your skin stings from the yesterday's sunburn, my Tolik, of course, and the dazzling view of the port at the distance, in the endless azure mist of the sea.
       - Svetlana, - I hear myself saying it softly. - I do not know if I really love you, but it seems to me that I do... You are dear to me, Svetlana, just like my immediate family. Let's get married.
       What a weirdest fate it is - I've seen many girls in my life, but my wife had been sent to America by some miserable swindler, comrade Mikheev. And so beautiful wife she is - you cannot imagine! Sometimes at nights I can not sleep; it is pitch dark outside, and we with my dear girl are in these foreign lands, far away from the birth place of ours. The police siren is yelping somewhere down the street; it feels scary. But here, at my side, thank God, my sleeping wife is tossing, warm, big and beautiful.
       - Svet, - I ask her. - Are you awake?
       - What is it, Yulik, what? - She mumbles in her sleep.
       - Lanochka, wake up... Let's talk ... about culture, if you wish. Have you heard such a viscount Count Bessie?
       - I read, - Lana opens her eyes. - The name, I mean. I've read it somewhere. I, Yulik, mostly cared about Princess Diana. Did you happen to have her photography when back in Moscow? -
       And how she knows and understands everything... She turns readily to me, flashing me with her body warmth; her chest and abdomen, on the contrary, staying cool and sweaty. And I'm slipping down the slope to the paradise lands: -You are my princess Diana, - I say. - And all the King's horses and all the King's men cannot... - And then we begin catching with her Humpty-Dumpy so fervently that the foreign host country outside the windows becomes totally irrelevant to us. I don't even dare to continue telling you the story anymore.
       ...Now, look here, please. Here, on the wall, are our twins - Shirley and Jessica. We gave birth to them in hospital together with Svetlana, hand in hand, the American way. This time my dear girls are at the Catskill Mountains area for the summer. I'm going to see them this weekend. To be honest - I can't wait... Just a minute, it seems - the phone is ringing... Maybe, Svetlana is missing me?
       No! Teleprompters, as always, are calling to push with their business: - Mr. Crimea, you have won an ocean cruise vacation and ten pounds of the choicest beef cuts. -
       I'm kidding them, answering in a mechanical voice: - If you are calling from a touch-tone phone, press one now. - And I hang up. Sticky bastards, but I'm not angry - poor guys, I understand, they also need to make their pretty penny.
       Getting darker outside; it's time to call it a day; enough with my video games. I'm not really sure, if you got it right - I mean the entire panoramic view from my balcony: the twilight view of the Hudson River, the iridescent water surface with its blue and red streaks reminding me the imported smuggled raincoats of my black marketing years.
       Tomorrow I'll go to Catskills. I cannot wait. I readily imagine how I'm pulling up to the entrance and see on the terrace my kids and Svetochka, her belly growing again. Sveta in her favorite rocking chair, she points to her belly and tells the kids: - Look here, girls, in my stomach, there's your new little brother or sister. In response, Shirley and Jessica, both in chorus are squealing:
       - Mommy, Mommy, why did you eat the baby! -
       I look around and I'm pinching myself. What a great jazzy life I've got after all! Would I rather be a movie-star as Yul Brynner or speaker of the House, as my look-alike Gingrich? No way. Why should I care about them? I'm pretty happy being simply myself. As if I'm still a little child, it seems to me often, that today and tomorrow and always, there will be hoarded somewhere a sweet fascinating surprise which is hidden especially for me!
       Originally in 1995

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