воскресенье, декабря 06, 2009

The Value of the Absurd

What is it that appeals within Hamilton’s work? Can it be simple juxtaposition of endearingly preposterous characters? Or is there a deeper ideo-exploration which intrigues the reader and draws them in? The following analysis utilises two of Hamilton’s best-known works to identify the narrative structure, tease out authorial tendencies, and speculate on Hamilton’s deeper meanings and ideas.

Before embarking upon a closer reading of these two works, it is useful to identify some of Hamilton’s common themes and techniques.

Much of Hamilton’s discovered works address the everyday commonplaces of post-modern life. His poetry and short-stories are generally set in the early 21st century, frequently in suburban or micro-local setting, usually featuring male characters of Western (most likely American or Canadian) derivation. Hamilton’s characters – especially his narrators – engage in activities which are ostensibly quite unremarkable: shopping at the local supermarket; walking through the snow on the way home from nowhere in particular; a conversation with friends, an observation of one’s living quarters. It is here that Hamilton indulges his creative flare, for the unremarkable in his hands becomes the unlikely, the preposterous, and the absurd.

What is the purpose of this savage yet unremarked twisting of the commonplace into the absurd? One of the immediate consequences is to cast into sharp relief the rehearsed and culturally-implanted responses we repeat in our everyday conduct, without always thinking about how or why we might respond in the fashion we do. Of course, very few of us always stop to think about how and why we might respond in the fashion we do. But Hamilton’s technique encourages us to at least think about our responses sometimes. There is an implication here that most of us parrot responses without consideration; that we are products of our post-modern society more than we are creators of it. And indeed, notions of modernity and traditionalism regularly appear in Hamilton’s work. There is at times a sense that Hamilton yearns to see ancient wisdom rediscovered; to set aside the superficialities of our day-to-day lives and to embrace a deeper, more profound sense of what it means to exist.

And what does it mean to exist? With such regular transformation of the commonplace into the absurd, it is easy to become distracted from this key question. Hamilton’s readers can find themselves so enchanted by the nonchalance of his characters that the ultimate purpose of his work can become obscured. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Hamilton strives to obscure his ultimate purpose. Certainly the narrative structure which Hamilton frequently employs – not just ‘a story within a story’, but rather ‘three stories within a story’ – lends itself to particularisation, as one story with three different aspects fissures into three different stories.

There is no scholarly consensus on why Hamilton employs this tri-narrative technique. Some have suggested that Hamilton prefers to communicate through implication, suggestion, and self-reflection. Presenting three micro-stories within one narrative gives the reader a sense that Hamilton is gently nudging us toward some deeper revelation – a revelation which he will not explicitly reveal, but which he suggests we will discover for ourselves should we care to take sufficient time to reflect. Again, the underlying imperative for the reader is to stop and think.
That Hamilton should guide us in this direction without delivering his revelation suggests that for him ‘thinking’ is not a formal and structured process with a clear purpose and an identifiable start and finish, but rather an organic development, a latent act, the germination of an intellectual seed which can grow into enlightenment, but not necessarily intellectual enlightenment.

The question of being (or not being) ‘intellectually enlightened’ forms one of the key premises of one of Hamilton’s best known short stories, banking trouble. The narrator in banking trouble is concerned to demonstrate his intellectual superiority over a friend who is ‘a smart guy’. This immediately presents the reader with two key questions. The first is: what is it to be ‘smart’? The second is: what is it to be a friend? Many readers would argue that the latter question is of more personal significance than the former, and indeed it proves to be the penultimate question in banking trouble. Hamilton, however, is not interested in permitting the reader to consciously consider these questions. Rather, banking trouble embarks upon the relation of three micro-stories which do not explicitly invite contemplation of much at all, yet each of which quietly speaks to notions of intelligence and friendship.

It is important to note that banking trouble relates three stories to the reader by one character via another. That is, the narrator relates stories of events which happened to a friend of theirs. This poses issues of objectivity, clarity, and truth. Hamilton is asking the reader to accept the accuracy of the narrator’s account, an act which invests a considerable degree of faith in the intelligence and judgment of the narrator. Yet it is a frequent occurrence in Hamilton’s works – and banking trouble is no different – that characters undertake activities of questionable commonsense, react to absurdities with calm but equally absurd responses, and suggest courses of action or volunteer opinions which are palpably ludicrous. Naturally, this detracts from the reader’s sense that the narrator exercises intelligence and good judgment. In this fashion, Hamilton asks the reader to reasonably consider the testimony of somebody who is blatantly unreliable.

In banking trouble, this lack of reliability is only occasionally acknowledged by the narrator. ‘He was sitting around one day, reading a book, probably, and out of the blue the phone rang,’ Hamilton’s narrator relates. This ‘probably’ is one of the few instances in banking trouble where the narrator confesses that he does not command all of the facts of the story being related. More frequently, Hamilton makes the scarcity of intelligence and judgment explicit through the outrageousness of his characters’ nonchalant expositions. For example, banking trouble’s narrator relates his friend’s opinion that the ringing of a telephone was ‘a fluke of nature’ and ‘not foreseeable in the least’. Of course, the ringing of a telephone is in no way a fluke of nature and is entirely foreseeable. This lends the reader to ask: who is being preposterous here? Has the narrator simply injected these comments into the story, or did his friend truly make these comments, and is he really relating them as if they were reasonable responses to the ringing of a telephone?

Hamilton’s authorial stance in banking trouble is consistent in its absurdity: humorous irrationalism and casual disregard for the preposterous abound, while his characters are obscurely eccentric, endearingly self-deprecating, and occasionally (but pointlessly) pedantic. The narrator’s friend’s mother has ‘the fear of animals and viruses’; the friend himself knows ‘nothing of how to care for animals’ because the sphere of his knowledge is ‘limited to politics’; he comes home to find a cat has ‘eaten everything made of material’ and consequently he spends ‘a long night’ stitching up his business suits; his mother loses her wallet and worries how to ‘convince other people she was who she said’; he gives all his money away ‘to a stranger by email’, and subsequently has his account frozen by his bank after being falsely accused of ‘suspicious activities’. This concatenation of unlikelihood is presented to the reader as if it were mere and common happenstance.

The denouement of this tri-fold story is catalysed by what Hamilton describes as being ‘in love with the modern world’. After having had his account frozen, the narrator’s friend testifies:

‘I hadn’t been able to anticipate that, it being completely unforeseeable, like every other variable in my personal life that others can’t see, and so it fairly struck me a blow to my ability to breathe in my chest’.

But it is not the act of freezing the account which so appals the narrator’s friend, it is the bank clerk’s inability to understand or appreciate that the narrator’s friend had given all his money away to a stranger by email out of his love for ‘spaceships and TVs and online banking’. Prima facie, this is the act and explanation of a village idiot. What sort of person gives away all their money to a stranger by email, justifies it through love of online banking, and is subsequently affronted when others cannot comprehend this obscure affectation? Yet it is precisely here that Hamilton suggests caution in condemning the narrator’s friend as a village idiot, that perhaps he has been culturally induced to idolise spaceships and TVs and online banking, and that this inducement, in which the friend is the victim, gives rise to absurd or idiotic behaviours such as giving money away to strangers by email. The narrator’s friend in banking trouble is trying to do ‘the right thing’ as indicated by his cultural expectations, but these cultural expectations misconstrue the values upon which a fulfilling existence is based. In this instance, it seems Hamilton is suggesting that the narrator’s friend might benefit from spending more time thinking about how and why one should ‘love the modern world’ rather than embarking upon ludicrous schemes which are only vaguely related to reality.

This sense of ‘village idiocy’ is compounded by a tendency in Hamilton’s characters to state the obvious or otherwise extrapolate for no clear reason. Above we have seen how the narrator’s friend was ‘struck a blow’ which retarded his ability to breathe ‘in his chest’, a statement which clearly but ludicrously implies that there is another place in his body where he can breathe. Similarly, the narrator’s friend is ‘snoring’ in his bed ‘for the night’ – as if there is another location other than his own bed in his own home where he might otherwise be found sleeping. This is in itself not an absurd proposition, but the point of including the comment in the story is not clear. Likewise, while snoring away, he is inexplicably ‘dreaming of all the slurpees’ his ‘modest wages’ will bring – a comment which implies some severe criticism of the superficiality if not pointlessness of working for a wage. Likewise, he describes the bank he visits to clarify his account status as a ‘money bank’, implying that there may be some other type of bank he would visit to clarify his account status. Finally, there is the absurdity of the narrator’s friend’s ultimate explanation: that three largely unconnected episodes conspired to prevent him from voting – despite the fact he made it to the polling booth anyway. The narrator himself, much like the reader presumably, is ‘unconvinced and not impressed’ by the friend’s explanation.

Yet here we come to the crucial point Hamilton is making. Despite the absurdity, despite the excessive or obscure detail, despite the lack of clear continuity in the friend’s explanation for why he did not vote, the narrator does not press him on these inconsistencies, but rather inquires about his friend’s health in the face of such trials:

‘What could I say? A victor ought to be gracious in victory, ideological or otherwise, so I merely shrugged my shoulders and tried to transmit as much sympathy as a narrow heart can to my friend, after all, that is what friends are for, perhaps.’

And so we have Hamilton’s emphatic point: that modernity might be distracting or superficial, that culturally-induced thinking and response patterns might be inadequate, that people might be inconsistent or ludicrous in their explanations, but that the value of friendship has not diminished. In this, Hamilton justifies asking the reader’s indulgence of absurd characters and explanations, for although we might be surrounded by absurdity, it is the relationships we foster which give us an anchor from which we can drift in our search for existential meaning.

This is the kind of deeper philosophical exploration which furnishes Hamilton’s work with an interest which lasts. The weaker of Hamilton’s works are those which lack this compulsion, which ask the reader to indulge absurdity and preposterousness without the reward of lasting reflection. I must to England, you know that is such a work. Although it pursues the same tri-partite story structure as banking trouble, with similarly ludicrous characters enacting similarly absurd scenarios, I must to England, you know that lacks the real creative exploration which compels banking trouble.

I must to England, you know that relates three tales of teachers living in Moscow. Like banking trouble, I must to England, you know that presents its narratives via a narrator who is friends with the teachers rather than via the teachers themselves. Although each of these teachers behaves in a fashion which most readers would describe as unusual if not bizarre, the truly absurd character in this story is in fact neither the narrator nor the teachers, but the boss, who ‘believed anything anyone told him without question’. In this, Hamilton attributes to the boss a characteristic which contradicts his own existential role, for a boss who believes in anything and everything is unlikely to remain a boss for long.

Nonetheless, it is on this basis that a teacher of highly dubious credentials and questionable identity is flown into Moscow and given a class to instruct. Very little instruction takes place, but the absurdity in this instance lies not in the unlikely explanations the teacher provides for his failings, but in the boss’s refusal to confront the reality of his teacher’s refusal to work. Consider his response when told the teacher has been caught naked in class with a female student by one of the administrators: ‘Maybe it just seemed to you they were naked?’ and ‘Maybe they were really studying?’ Similarly when told that the teacher has failed to attend his own class, the boss asks: ‘But what’s his teaching like?’ and ‘Is he a good teacher?’ When for a third time the teacher fails to attend his own class, the boss finally fires him at the behest of the office staff, who threaten to leave otherwise.

What is the purpose of this sustained absurdity? In banking trouble, the narrator acknowledges (some) inconsistencies in his friend’s tale, but chooses to overlook them for the sake of friendship. In I must to England you know that, the narrator never acknowledges the inconsistencies, and never rationalises his choice to overlook them. Rather, the inconsistencies in I must to England, you know that are more akin to banking trouble’s mother who has an inexplicable ‘fear of animals and viruses’ – that is, in the nature of non-sequiturs which serve to distract rather than clarify. ‘The year before I came to Moscow,’ Hamilton writes in the opening sentence, ‘Steve San Francisco had already been there.’ Here, Hamilton is concerned to establish not that Steve San Francisco was in Moscow before the narrator, but that he was there the year before the narrator. Yet a full reading of the story suggests no significance to this literary fact. Similarly, one of the teachers conducts his class ‘with a bottle of beer in one hand’, an affectation which contributes to him becoming ‘wildly popular with students’. Yet the salient absurdity (part of the charm of Hamilton’s work is its occasional requirement to work in oxymorons) in this particular tale is the teacher’s ardent love for the Declaration of Independence. This in itself remains an unrationalised affectation, but it is at least more compelling to the narrative than bringing beer to class.

And it is this lack of compelling absurdity which weakens I must to England, you know that. Whereas banking trouble poses questions of intelligence, friendship, and existential meaning, I must to England, you know that does not pose deeper philosophical questions. The absurdity of I must to England, you know that invites reflection, but Hamilton does not give enough clues to lead the reader to enlightenment. Why are all of the teaching staff ‘hopeful’ the new teacher will ‘justify the boss’s belief in everyone’? Why should they accept the boss’ comprehensive gullibility as just a quirk of their working lives? And given this acceptance, why then do ‘fights’ break out in the teachers room over one teacher’s attempt to ‘force’ his colleagues to kiss the American Declaration of Independence? Why is it reasonable to work for a boss who believes anything and everything, but not with a colleague who demands obeisance to a manuscript? The reasons behind this divergent valuation are far from clear, and the characters much less accessible than banking trouble.

Hamilton’s works require closer reading than first glance might suggest. Cloaked in an absurdist affability, it is easy for the reader to be tempted into considering them as nothing more than curious tales. In stopping to consider these tales more carefully, we are indulging the Hamiltonian imperative to stop and consider other, more existential aspects of our lives a little more carefully too. This is a useful suggestion, but one which can become obscured when there is no philosophical anchor for the reader to grasp.

четверг, ноября 19, 2009

среда, ноября 18, 2009

im not waiting for a lady

i keep waiting for my friend
but he doesnt come
he never approaches
he never laughs in the dark
he never

i keep waiting for my friend
in a box i wait
on a train shaped like a box
under the ground in a box
in boxes of boxes
of boxes

i keep waiting for a friend
if he doesnt come soon
i will be finished forever with everything
only he could have stopped
and i will read walter scott
and i will never return from scottland

понедельник, октября 12, 2009

The Narrator's Friend

Old-fashioned sun don't

Shine on no hyperlocal square. I

prefer the Modern Age where

We do things better ways, in

Spaceships and money banks and

Give no pause for thought of

What it really means to

Be a smart guy or

Be somebody's friend.

суббота, октября 03, 2009

Another reworking of something once attempted: Losing the plot

In university girls didn't take to Sydney immediately so he started using the pages he had written his stories on to roll cigarettes or for toilet paper. It didn't change the way girls acted towards him right away. But I would say that in the end it did. It definitely did.
He wanted to eat every day, but only once a day. Sometimes he didn't eat at all. He was busy smoking his stories. He spent all his money on tobacco and sometimes people bought him lunch. Lunch is the meal you need, he thought, if you plan to eat only once a day, because, obviously, it is strategically located. Though, of course, it's even better if it's a late lunch.
And what else does a person need, thought Sydney, exhaling, besides a late lunch, tobacco, and stories to smoke the tobacco in? Surely he had sounded the depths and found nothing more worthy to focus on?
Perhaps love?
Life is possible without love, he thought, shaking his burning words in defiance, though life is infinitely more complicated without tobacco.
For a while he went without a beard. If you had asked him a month ago about the reason, you would have been asking for trouble and tears. Now he could talk about it with some measure of calmness.
One day as he was walking on campus he attempted to light one of his stories, which he had rolled very poorly (as poorly, he thought, as the stories had been written!), and the flame went running up the paper and onto his beard. When he finally did make it to class that day, with his beard shaved away, the girls all started noticing him. I don't know if it was the absence of the beard, or the bravado of his new beardless attitude: now that the beard had disappeared, nothing seemed to matter. I suppose it was a bit of both.
It was snowing nearly every day, and Sydney found himself beardless. And not only that, but with very promising amorous prospects as well.
The day after he lost his beard a girl looked at him while he was settling into a seat in the back corner of the library.
That night the wind blew so hard outside of his window he thought it was going to break the glass and fill the room with snow. So he slept on the floor in the kitchen in his pants.
The next day when he sat down in his spot with the bad kids at the back of his English class, another girl looked at him and smiled outright.
If you always get food caught in your beard, then it becomes a reflex to wipe it away when someone smiles and points at a spot – you don't even think about it. But if you don’t have a beard?
'I don't have a beard,' he said. 'What could you possibly want?'
She looked away in confusion.
The next day it was the same thing.
So much recurring confusion.
Eventually, however, he grew accustomed to the attention and adapted. He started chatting to people he knew in public and giving shy high fives. He stopped reading more than just the covers of books, and started dancing. It’s not that he especially liked chatting or high fives or dancing or reading covers, but he thought he’d give it a try.
So he danced in clubs and in his kitchen after dark, and left the books in his back pocket for everyone else to see, and for himself to sit on, meaningfully, and sometimes to pass gas upon.
On most days he sat on 'Faust.'
Eventually, however, the dancing lost its gloss. He saw the leprosy of unreality on the face of everyone he met.
And that was just dreadful. He started to lose his marbles.
He wore his scarf at home because it was so cold. And that wasn't the same as the time he wore his jeans to bed just to see what it would be like. He had thought then – I wonder what it would be like to go to bed in my jeans. And so he did it. Though he didn't like it.
He did, however, enjoy the scarf. He enjoyed it thoroughly, though, as they say, it was done for necessity. It was really cold.
His socks all had holes in them, 'though I don't mind in the least. It lends me a Victorian dignity,' he said to himself, looking in the mirror.
It was around this time that he noticed he elbowed people in crowds. And if people were looking in the other direction he would make faces when they coughed. One time he was walking through the fruit section just looking and smelling, and a child cut him off, grazing him with the basket he was tugging behind. So Sydney gave in to a passionate rage and in his rage smacked the child, at which the child went flying into the avocadoes. Someone saw him do it and grabbed him by the jacket and a crowd gathered. So Sydney started to cry and got really mixed up and said it was an accident and that he had just wanted to scare him and he was a common thief and he had seen him here many times stealing fruit and he could no longer bear the thought of fruit being stolen and so he took justice into his own hands. ‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it!’ He said, along with a lot of other things which I won't repeat because they might make you uncomfortable. The people became so uncomfortable and embarrassed they let him go and gave him a lot of free food. Which was a godsend actually, because he had very little money and was surviving on mustard and bread. And tobacco, of course. Though the stories had run dry. There was no more coal in the mine.
For a short period following this incident he was too afraid of punishment to act out and went into hibernation. In his cave he gnawed at his wounds in privacy, too ugly to attend on himself, yet unable to change his shape.
One night he broke down and bought a bottle of Gin and drank it straight. Though not before being rude to the cashier at the liquor store, whom he scathed by roughly grabbing the bottle after paying without saying thank you. His roommate kicked him out because he was bigger and teetotal. It was snowing outside and the flakes were coming down big and light.
'Look at the snow,' he said. And threw Sydney out in the cold.
Sydney walked around in the darkness and breathed deeply, it was very beautiful, and he ended up passing out somewhere along the way under a bush.
He seemed to have dropped his cigarettes there so the next day he went back to get them but couldn't find the bush. There were footprints leading up to nowhere, and no bush.
He recalled events from the night, standing looking in windows, the threats of people who noticed him peering inside, walking along in the wet snow making up poems that were very beautiful, reciting them aloud.
It occurred to him that if he could find the spot again not only would he be able to smoke but he would also be able to remember some of the poems and they'd win her over, whoever she was. But he never did. Which was a mystery to him. Where had he gone? And more importantly, where were his cigarettes?
When he went home his roommate threatened to break his rib bones if he ever got in his face about Gandhi again. He said he didn't like it because he could smell the alcohol on Sydney’s breath.
Sydney responded that the whole thing was a mystery to him, but that was why alcohol was in such demand, because it put a little bit of the mystery back into life which modern science had stolen; but he would respect his personal space nonetheless.
He said the thing about science because his roommate was a biology major and Sydney never missed a chance to remind him that science didn't scare him at all. His roommate’s nostrils flared, and Sydney walked slowly but surely towards his room. And he stayed there for quite a long time after moving all of his furniture and belongings in front of the door.
After a couple of days Sydney emerged from his room - recalled to life. There was snow on the ground, it was wet – it's always wet!, he thought, it’s always wet, and when it’s not – but there were no thoughts, only surges of emotion and an urge to act.
So Sydney walked over to the supermarket, having forgotten about the incident a few days before, to take a walk through the fruit section.
But when he got there he was unpleasantly shocked. There was someone really beautiful in the fruit section.
She was just walking around and not even looking at the fruit. What could she possibly need there!? She was just walking around in the fruit section. 'Move on!' He wanted to say. 'Get a move on out of the fruit section,' but he couldn't. And the real reason was the same reason for wanting her to leave in the first place – she was so beautiful. He knew it sounded stupid and not witty at all, but it was the truth, he thought. She was that beautiful.
He wondered to himself - could it be, could she be, waiting for me?
It seemed unlikely. He looked at her for a moment and felt not the least bit squeamish to imagine a big fruity kiss with dire consequences – at the kiss he felt the soul within him being sucked out and away. He shook his head and moved forward.
And then the store manager, who had asked him never to come back, walked by.
And saw him.
And started to walk over to him.
And she sensed that something was wrong and stopped just walking around and looked over at him. 'Move on,' He wanted to say again, 'get going,’ but it was too late. His shame would be witnessed again, no more hidden shame, he thought sadly, only shame on the outside, like an old jacket.
'What are you doing here?' In truth Sydney sympathized with the manager, and took no offence at being chased out. 'Go on, get out of here,’ the manager said, shooing him like a cat, ‘What do you want?'
The girl looked over at him and he walked out into the snow.
From the parking lot he walked to the street where he had been the night he got lost and slept under a bush. He walked up and down the street, back and forth, for maybe an hour or two. Though all the events seemed very random, though they seemed to be just one little insignificant thing after another he thought about them for an hour or two on that street and decided that they were all - can I say it? - very important pieces from a story already written.
From there he went back to the parking lot, with purpose, slightly hurried, it was already dark, and he tried to see in through the window to the fruit section. Was she there? Not as far as he could see. As it was dark and the snow was coming down he didn't mind. Until he turned around and saw her looking at him with the understanding of purpose.
'What are you doing in the parking lot?' he asked.
'What are you doing in the parking lot?' She asked back.
'That's a fair question but I happen to have an easy answer – they won't let me in so I have to stand out here.'
'They kicked me out too,' she said, 'so now we share something.'(It was so improbable! But that's what she said!)
And then she looked at him and smiled!
‘What is your name?’ Sydney asked, his expectation rising, ‘You do have a name I assume, right?’
‘Lucie,’ she replied. Sydney’s mind raced for a minute as he tried to understand how this affected his role.
‘Are you sure?’ He asked, though of course he felt silly for it. ‘I thought you looked more like a Helena. I know that’s silly.’ He said shaking his head at his own improbability.
‘And you?’ She asked. ‘What do you call yourself?’
Sydney wasn’t sure for a moment, silly as that is, and felt as if he had ceased to recognize the plot line in his own life, though he did not begin to despair at the moment.

вторник, сентября 29, 2009

I must to England, you know that (literary non-fiction for S.U.)

The year before I came to Moscow, Steve San Francisco had already been there. The memory was still fresh, and the wound.
If his own testimony was to be believed, he was a good teacher, though tough economic times had left him without the means to pay for his own passage to Russia. Our boss was a trusting type. He told crazy stories about his time in Vietnam, in a Saudi prison camp as an American special agent, of the Yom Kippur War, and no one believed him. As a sort of revenge, perhaps, he believed anything anyone told him without question. So when Steve asked for airplane money up-front on the promise of good teaching our boss agreed immediately.
Steve arrived in Moscow on a bitterly cold day. He had no baggage and looked as if he had just been ransomed from a pirate ship. Even so, all were hopeful he would justify the boss’s belief in everyone.
On the first day of class the administrator waited in the hallway. The paint patiently gripped the walls of the ageing school, peeling, but not without regret and a will to resist. Time passed. The class was finished, at first only just, and then eventually - a long time ago. No one came out of the classroom. Had they slipped out of the windows? Had they fallen asleep in the face of the nature of the English tense system? The administrator moved towards the door and opened it. To be sure, studies were taking place, but of a more anatomical nature. Somehow during the course of the lesson the teacher and young female had managed to lose their clothing and were now studying the nature of a passionate kiss. The administrator chased the two out into the street and phoned the central school.
‘Maybe it just seemed to you they were naked?’ the boss asked. ‘Maybe they were really studying?’
Hope was not abandoned. On the next day Steve failed to show up at all. When they called his flat he answered the phone, surprisingly.
‘Well,’ he explained, ‘I was on my way to class. I made it to the bus stop, but no further. For there at the bus stop I was presented with a moral dilemma. There I was presented with two Croatian refugees, homeless and without documents and on the run from the mafia. They turned to me for help and my first thoughts were of my duties to the school. I explained to them my dilemma, and in the face of my dilemma, their dilemma seemed greater and more dire. So I had no choice but to bring the two young ladies home and offer them asylum in my apartment.’
In the background there was dance music and the sound of happy young female voices.
‘Yes,’ Steve concurred, ‘they are joyful at finding salvation.’
And he hung up.
‘But what’s his teaching like?’ The boss asked. ‘Is he a good teacher?’
‘It would appear he is a fine teacher, but he doesn’t show up for class.’
It was decided that he would be given a last chance.
And he didn’t show up.
So another plane ticket was purchased and he was taken to the airport. From the airport he phoned the boss.
‘I hear there’s an opening in Ekaterinburg? If so I would like to be considered for the position.’
The boss’s countenance was one more of sorrow than anger – he was inclined to accept, but the office staff let him know that should he do so, it would not be without consequences – that he could sit there and run the school all by himself.
So Steve returned whence he had come.
The next year I arrived along with another San Francisco. He was academically more reliable, though not without his own particular character traits. The first was a propensity to be completely drunk all the time, though his teaching suffered not at all for this fact. The second was his great love for the American Declaration of Independence. Neither did this affect his classroom performance. He managed to teach with a bottle of beer in one hand and the declaration in another, and became wildly popular with students. He became less popular with teachers from Britain and other commonwealth countries because whenever he would see one of them, he would try and force them to kiss the Declaration. As a result of his enormous size he would sometimes succeed. And fights would break out in the teacher’s room. I became friends with him. But only on the agreement he would not try to force me to kiss the most beautiful document in the history of the world.
On my second day he took me to Red Square and attracted the attention of the already watchful local police. They refused to kiss the document. But not without demanding us to follow them on foot to the nearest station. And then asking us to wait outside. My friend was calm. He was more than that, he was so relaxed he threatened to slide right out of his clothes.
‘A little bit of money and we’ll be on our way, they just want a bribe.’
I suppose I should have guessed from the fact that they asked us to wait outside. The police officer returned with a friend who spoke a few words of wonderful if antiquated Shakespearean English, standard soviet textbook fare.
‘Mark me,’ he said.
‘I will.’ I was mortified. It was like talking to Hamlet’s ghost. He proceeded to tell me how I would be doomed for a time to walk the earth on Russian soil and not be allowed to depart till the foul crime of my corrupt documents were purged from my soul. I believed him. My father new all the city cops and mounties from his work and I trusted them all. Meanwhile Hamlet continued to describe the prison cell that Russia is and how his good will could aid, but only for a price. I had no money. My friend opened his wallet and pulled out an enormous blue 1000 ruble bill.
I was most grateful for the officer’s indulgence, and I bowed obsequiously in thanks, ‘Most humbly do I take my leave my lord.’
As we walked away my friend turned and said in more modern parley – ‘Looks like we bailed your country out again.’
I never bothered addressing the swirling tornado of emotions I felt inside me. Life goes on. A week later I returned to Red Square, this time with a representative of the Commonwealth, and the same police officer demanded duty. I quoth the few lines that sprang immediately into my beanbag, ‘it beckons you to go away with it as if it some impartment did desire to you alone.’ But it would appear he didn’t recognize me and when I refused to go with him he gave me my passport back and told me he would take his leave of me. I approved of his offer, ‘Thou cannot take from me anything I will more willingly part withal.’
Eventually our big pal from San Francisco got himself a girl and forgot about the American Declaration of Independence. I guess he found something more beautiful.
The whole time I was there a subject of the Queen, a certain Londoner, was despairing quietly, unbeknownst to all. In his youth he had been a big fan of rock and roll, meaning he had done a lot of drugs. And at one moment they all came back and ganged up on his brain. The academic meeting began much like every other academic meeting before. And then right in the middle of his thoughts on language acquisition in relation to a certain problem class in one of the outlying schools, he started to talk about Hitler, and what the world would have been saved if Hitler had been killed as a child.
‘And not only Hitler,’ he said, earnestly, ‘look at Stalin, sheesh.’ Then he excused himself, and left for his 4 o’clock children’s class. Everyone shook their heads and carried on with the meeting. The next day the school principle was having lunch with the fellow, and asked him to elaborate on what he was saying yesterday. He elaborated. In detail.
It would appear that he had visited Israel for the preceding summer holiday, and had met there with an archangel who had told him of the birth of some children who would be doing nothing good for humanity by remaining alive. ‘On the contrary they would be doing bad,’ he said. And perhaps it would be better if they didn’t and if someone did something about it.
‘But did he say he was going to do something about it himself?’ The boss asked. ‘Has it affected his classroom performance?’
It was decided that madness must not unwatched go, and his children’s classes were quietly taken away from him. At that time his Russian wife left him, and he was moved to a company flat with another teacher. That teacher came home one evening and found him lying on the floor saying things about fishmongers and maggots in a dead dog and kissing carrion. It was decided to put him on a plane to the United Kingdom. He was escorted off the plane by four police officers though, and handed over to the care of the British Consulate. What became of him after that is unclear.

another try, after some time away, at banking trouble

It’s so rare I get to show up a smart guy who’s my friend too, that I jumped at the opportunity from heaven when buddy said he didn’t get out and vote in the election last week.
‘So what’s all this about being so smart then?’ I said to his face.
‘Yeah, damn it,’ he said, ‘I was really aching to get out and get my word in, but geez if the last couple of days haven’t been hazardous enough.’
So I asked him to tell me the deal.
The whole affair hinged on a couple of complete unforeseeables that, added up, fell down into place like sheer stupid luck, unconnected, but by the power of mathematics, wearisome.
‘Happy New Year!’ he said, ‘this is my story.’
First he was sitting around one day, reading a book, probably, and out of the blue the phone rang.
‘Just a fluke of nature,’ he said, ‘and not foreseeable in the least. My mother’s only friend went down with a case of coming undone at the seams and they took her away to the hospital. Poor lady has a twelve year old daughter, and though my ma offered and asked to take care of the girl, the services came and took her away. But she also has a cat and nowhere to put it into, so I took it on, as mother has the fear of animals and viruses. So I got the cat, and you know, the thing is just adorable, but I must admit I know nothing of how to care for animals, the sphere of my knowledges being limited to politics, and I felt obliged to keep it entertained like any old guest. So after they brought it by, I was spending my time rolling around with it on the floor; I went to the store and bought a ball of yarn, and I’ve been rolling around throwing the ball of yarn at it, and basically we’ve been having a grand old time. Despite the wounds on my face and arms, we have bonded famously and I call him little cat face, and it’s great. Eventually I had to go to work and do my thing there though, and poor cat face, as any guest could be expected to, got bored. So when I got home I found he had eaten everything made of material, and scratched the walls up to boot, and I had a long night stitching up my business suits and making the place liveable again.’
‘That’s all interesting and good,’ I said, impatient to be right after all, ‘but I don’t see how it kept you away from the polling booths.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘seeing as your culture is one inclined to impatience and punch lines I can forgive you, but if you just let me go, I’ll lead you on to the end.’
‘Ok,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘A couple of days later another thing happened that was just a complete fluke too, and not an everyday occurrence. While I was snoring in my bed for the night, dreaming of all the slurpees my modest wages bring me after the loan payments have gone through, I found myself awoken by the telephone with another urgent bad call from my mother. This time a robber had cracked in and broken the window by her backdoor, and made haste with her purse. She had no documents and didn’t know how she would recover her peace of mind, or convince other people she was who she said. I managed to calm her down enough to make out her words and promised to stop by and help her talk to the police. I did just that, and said “thank you” to the officer, and was about to leave when my mother asked me to give her the cat for company and to feel protected.
‘“The usual collocation is guard dog, mother,” I said, ‘but if it will help with the tears, I guess you can have him.”
‘So shattered as I was at losing my new companion who understood me so well, I took the cat over to my mother’s and said farewell.
‘I have to admit I was feeling a little down, but I still had all my destroyed furniture to look at and remember him by, and there’s no use getting down every day.
‘Then the coup de grace struck me right off. You know I’m really in love with the modern world, I’m not a student any more, and I see no point in protesting against the new technologies; I love spaceships and TVs and online banking, but I couldn’t get into my account to pay my rent check yet again, by accident. So I ran in to the bank and asked them what the problem was and they told me they had sealed my account on account of my suspicious activities.
‘“And what’s so suspicious about loving the modern world?!” I said.
‘“Well,” they said, “it’s the way you gave all your money to a stranger by email.”
‘I hadn’t been able to anticipate that, it being completely unforeseeable, like every other variable in my personal life that others can’t see, and so it fairly struck me a blow to my ability to breathe in my chest.
‘When I recovered enough to stand up straight and look at the bank clerk in her pretty batting eyelashes, I had lost my ability to perform. False accusations do that to me. The words lose their meaning and dance naked without form before my vocal chords.
‘I left the money bank and walked down the street towards a place I might call home. I wouldn’t want to bore you with everyday details that are not political and vital in their strength, but without the means to pay my rent, the polling booth slipped my brain.’
I must admit I was unconvinced and not impressed.
‘And has it occurred to you that a tolling booth is a good place to call home, so to speak, ideologically? That one might rest their political head there and become so refreshed they wake for three or four years?’
‘Truly – yes, it had occurred and come to me that I could hide in the back for the night, while the old-fashioned counted their votes. But when I tried to put my plan into action I was suspected of irregularities and chased into the street with a broom and severe words. Once again, put upon and beset by accusations, I found the dance of the naked words leaving me without defence. At the risk of being melodramatic, it became quite clear to me that I was doomed to walk the earth, a prisoner of unrequited love for the modern era.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘that would be quite melodramatic, and as you see, we are neither wandering, nor be pining away from love and surrounded by roses, though to be sure, melancholy abounds. What are you doing about your plight and situation?’
‘I’ve moved in with mommy again and I spend my free time playing with cat face, though the small period of our absence has grown it fonder of my mother. I bear no grudges. I have my job, as little satisfying as it may be, and I have my health, for which I am visiting the doctor tomorrow. A little cough like the one that shakes to my very core surely mustn’t be of great concern. And in the end the bank returned the money, a slight portion too behind the schedule for saving my shaky relationship with the landlord, but at the end of the day honourable.’
What could I say? A victor ought to be gracious in victory, ideological or otherwise, so I merely shrugged my shoulders and tried to transmit as much sympathy as a narrow heart can to my friend, after all, that is what friends are for, perhaps.

суббота, сентября 12, 2009

нервные люди и москва

Где только не жил я в москве.
Везде, кажется, и от этого заразился этой болезненой любовью к Москве.
На Южной были страшные, отчаянные тараканы, готовые на очень храбрые поступки. Я их встречал по всей квартире и не только на кухне, где вроде и должны быть, и они меня как бы дразнили. Когда я на них набрасывался им как будто по фигу было, они не пытались даже спастись. Странные были и немного страшные. Еще были там собаки бездомные, но они более или менее нормально себя вели, лаяли, будь здоров, и на меня нападали.
На Перовско-Разумовской тараканов было множество, но менее смелые. Там главная проблема была соседка сверху. Поздно ночью включала музыку и начинала прыгать верх и вниз. Один раз я не выдержал, поднялся и позвонил в дверь. Открыла дверь старая бабушка, вся потевшая. Я сконфузился, извинился и ушел не жалуясь.
На Преобпраженской площади было очень вкусно из-за близости рынка, но и смертельно страшно из-за того что не было фонарей, и соседи ненавидели иностранцев. Каждую ночь чья-то сигналиазция во дворе сработывала и когда видел я кого из соседок утром – там были одни дамы средных лет – то и дело непременно мне говорила, - ну, гад, опять твоя американская сигнализация.
Я пытался им обяснить что у меня нет машины но они не хотели слушать. Вообще-то очень сложные были отношеные там, фиг помешь.
В то время я работал в Химках и приходил поздно. Нужно было пройти по темной аллее и в подъезде свет тоже никогда не работал. А дом был большой, всегда с кем-то столкнешься в темноте. В нашем корридоре 4 квартиры заселены дамами. Одна обшая дверь в наш корридор на замок. Замок плохо работал, надо было поменять. Я всем говорил, но никто не хотел платить. Ты, - говорят, - плати. Это для тебя баксы родная валюта.
Наконец надоело их слушать. Я – говорю – заплачу, только вы не путайте меня с богачом, а то я сам размечтусь и забуду что простой трудяший.
Я купил замок и оставил у управдома. Меняйте, - говорю – на здоровья.
Когда я пришел вечером замок уже поменяли, но ключа мне не оставили, и меня не хотели пустить.
Не знаем – говорят – кто ты таков, и как дела делают у вас там на чужбине, но здесь хальявшиков не любят. Ты иди купи себе ключ и себя пусти.
Честно говоря, мне это показалось немножко неадекватным. Но говорили же мне не раз – ты, - говорят – истерик и шпион. - Так что может я не прав был растроиваться. Я сделал себе ключ. На следующий день услышал как соседки разговаривают между собой, дескать, замок классный, пойдет, молоток.
После этого на время все шло нормально, американская сигнализация вроде затихла, девки как будто про меня забыли. Со мною начали даже здороваться в корридоре, типа – здраствуй шпиончик. То есть все было на мази и я немного начал раслабиться. Но увы, раслабиться в жизни нельзя, я бы сказал даже что это всегда роковая ощибка. Когда что происходит, то этот что всегда кажется более обидным.
Вот значится так – просыпаюсь утром после хорошего, долгого сна и думаю – как хорошо теперь стало здесь: сигнализация меня разбудила всего два раза ночью и соседки ко мне хорошо относятся и называют своим шпиончиком. Кров есть и еда и в кармане пачка сигарет. Все не так уж плохо. И встал я с постели, оделся и на работу. Только вот на работу не попал. Да и вообще из квартиры не мог выйти. Потому что дверь не мог открыть. Потому что кто-то поставил свою мебель перед моей дверью. Приходили и уходили и я не знал что делать, ведь, стеснялся, да просто напросто кричать – не вежливо.
Извините, - говорю – пожалуйста. Помогите и все такое,- но никто не обращал на меня внимания. Наконец почувствовал что так дальше не может продолжаться и когда соседка которая напротив живет – у нее же и была привычка оставлять свои вещи в корридоре и сильно возмущатьсь когда делали замечания по этому поводу – пришла, я ее остановил своим неловким голосом – стоять гражданка, - говорю – то есть, почему это я оказался узником?
Она же сразу поняла к чему идет, то есть к драке, и взорвалась, будь здоров, блин.
Ты – говорит, - агент иносраных, не наших государств! Козел ты, и все такое, и наглый! Как ты смеешь! Приперся сюда и коммандуешь! Я поставлю свои не твои вещи куда мне захочется, и ты не имеешь право что-либо говорит вообще в жизни! Это же общий наш корридор! Ты по нему ходишь и меня запрешаешь поставить свои русские вещи в нем! Лицемер!
Потом она до того разозлилась что начала кричать во весь голос – убивают, - кричит, - помогите! Прибежал народ. Милицию даже вызвали. Я в ужасе был, конечно. Никого я не убиваю. Я пытался обяснить. Но все заикался и чуствовал что на место помру со стыда. Некоторые из жильцов стояли и снимали все на своих мобильных, типа, развлеченые по американский.
Выяснилось что никого не убивают и что у женщины нервы немножко рапущены из-за жизны вообще. Разошлись. Осталось только переехать,что я и сделал. Очень вкусный район, но это не всегда к лучшему.

понедельник, августа 17, 2009

понедельник, мая 25, 2009

пятница, мая 22, 2009

В языковой школе здесь где я работаю русских не бывает. Бывают кореецы и японцы. Они не очень похожи на русских, и все чино. Бывают и бразильцы. И это утешает. Это очень хорошо. Потому что они похожи на русских. На занятия редко приходят во время. И не извиняются когда опаздывают. То есть, не то, что не извиняются, они и вовсе не замечают что есть назначеное время для начало занятии. Когда мужики приходят, то не в зависимости от того, что делаем, входят и с полным размахом обходят весь кабинет, со всеми здороваясь. Только, вместо того, чтоб руки пожимать, как русские мужики, они обнимаются. Особенно с дамами. И целуются. Дружелюбные такие.
Еще бывает же, иногда не понимают что-то, конечно, постоянно, и они не смущаются, как, допустим, японцы, и не говорят – извините, - или даже, допустим, - сорри. Нет, они более в русском духе отвечают, - чего!? И ищут среди своих соплемеников ответов, типа – че он сказал? Че он вообще хочет, а? – Или даже прямо и говорят мене – че ты хочешь, а? И это нормально. И точно как это было когда то со моими студентами в москве. Главная разница в поцелуйях. Русские студенты менше целуются на занятиях. Но это все. Что касается всего остального – точь-в-точь как русские. Даже чувство юмора. Вот мене бразильские ребята рассказали анекдот.
Собрались из ЦРУ, Израйльского МОССАДа, и Полиции Рио де Жанеро, чтоб разобраться в том, кто быстрее сможет поймат зайца в лесу. Сначала америкозы пошли. Путем спутника поискали, потом изследовали ДНК зайца, побежали в лес и – 15 минут. Потом ребята из МОССАДа. Составили психологический профиль зайца, поискали, нет ли среди родствеников террористов, побежали в лес и – 10 минут. Наконец пришел черед ребят из местной полиции. Не думая ни на секунду побежали в лес и через 2 минуты вернулись с кабаном. У кабана глаза подбитые, кровь течет. Все смотрят – вы что, это не заяц, это кабан. На это отвечает кабан – нет, я заяц, только не оставляйте меня с ними!
Рассказал я этот анекдот своим канадским друзям и они на меня так посмотрели, типа, - ты что, это ужасно, кабана, бедного, избили. Мы и не знали что ты такой не полткоректный.
А когда я рассказал русским парням они хоть посмеялись.
О, вспомнил еще одну разницу. Любимый напиток бразильских мужиков – свежевыжатый клубничный сок. У русских, наверное, это не так. Так что, может, они не такие уж похожие.

суббота, апреля 25, 2009

вторник, января 13, 2009

What then is the virtue of a horse? is it to have a bridle studded with gold and girths to match, and a band of silken threads to fasten the housing, and clothes wrought in divers colours and gold tissue, and head gear studded with jewels, and locks of hair plaited with gold cord? or is it to be swift and strong in its legs, and even in its paces, and to have hoofs suitable to a well bred horse, and courage fitted for long journies and warfare, and to be able to behave with calmness in the battle field, and if a rout takes place to save its rider? Is it not manifest that these are the things which constitute the virtue of the horse, not the others? Again, what should you say was the virtue of asses and mules? is it not the power of carrying burdens with contentment, and accomplishing journies with ease, and having hoofs like rock? Shall we say that their outside trappings contribute anything to their own proper virtue? By no means. And what kind of vine shall we admire? one which abounds in leaves and branches, or one which is laden with fruit? or what kind of virtue do we predicate of an olive? is it to have large boughs, and great luxuriance of leaves, or to exhibit an abundance of its proper fruit dispersed over all parts of the tree? Well, let us act in the same way in the case of human beings also: let us determine what is the virtue of man, and let us regard that alone as an injury, which is destructive to it.

среда, января 07, 2009