Exquisite Corpse - Issue 4
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My Russian Years
by Jeff Barnosky
In the years before the revolution, when the world was still young and the awful wages of our evil century had yet to take their hold, I found myself hitchhiking across Russia, bumming rides off of buggy drivers in exchange for a salami sandwich and a sad, sad tune on my accordion. The days went by in a bleary haze as I--propelled by vodka, marijuana and more vodka--stumbled across the country side in search of something out there larger than myself. That something was named Raisia; she stood 6'4" and weighed almost 300lbs. Our love affair didn't last because her father was convinced that his third wife, Raisia's mother, had been stolen by a pack of wild Polka bands that roamed the countryside. He also believed that his second wife, Raisia's sister, had been transformed into a tennis racquet by an evil "warlord." Raisia's father milked the cows on his farm twenty hours a day, long after it was comfortable for everyone involved. He took one look at my accordion and burst out in tears, crying for his dear departed wife. Raisia looked at me sadly then turned her moon-face towards her father, Raisia's uncle, and then back to me. I knew that, yet again, my art would bring me heartbreak.
      I was numb from losing Raisia when Ivan Ivanoff Ivanaovich picked me up in his dilapidated buggy. He looked down at me with that look I later came to understand meant: I am out of salami. Without Raisia, my life had been nothing more than an endless series of one night stands with lonely, voluptuous peasant women who let me touch their babushkas after my gigs at dank Russian punk accordion clubs. They would hang out backstage while I wailed to mesmerized audiences and then take me back to their tarpaper shacks as their husbands were just heading out to the fields. If their husbands protested, the arguments went something like this:
      "Yuri Vladimir Gregorivich, you know how much I adore listening to the sounds of an accordion after a hard night of sewing babushkas with Anna Annavov Annavovich!"
      Then we would make love passionately as the sound of Leo and The Tolstoys wafted from the phonograph machine.
      "Don't you think that Leo and The Tolstoys are just the maximum utmost?" They would say.
      "Yeah, baby I dig. I dig."
      Then, cigarette dangling from my lower lip, I would scratch my goatee and pick up my accordion. As the day wore on I would wail on my machine to the sounds on the record, stopping only to start a new cigarette, make love, or write a 1200 page novel.
      Ivan Ivanoff Ivanaovich asked me to call him Guido because that was his mother's name. He was tall and fat (although he referred to himself as short and skinny) with a great white ankle-length beard that he called "Guido Jr".
      Whenever the drive would become too tedious, he would start talking to his beard, petting it softly and asking if it wanted more vodka. Looking at me with his toothless grin, his nostrils flared to the size of bowling balls, he told me to tell Guido Jr. that I loved and needed him.
      "I like Guido a lot and we've had some great times together, but I'm not ready for that kind of commitment," I said.
      Then he made Guido into a puppet and tried to make me kiss it.
      "BAD TOUCH!! BAD TOUCH!!" I yelled and tossed myself off the buggy, flying through the frigid Russian air until I landed by the side of the road covered in bruises.
      Eventually, I found myself in Moscow where I landed a job as a checkout clerk in a small pornographic postcard store. I sold pictures of Russian writers such as Pushkin and Turgenev in various states of undress to peasant women whose husbands didn't give them enough attention; illiterate peasant women who never read the great authors they longed for so passionately. Apparently, Chekov had a really hot ass. On this day, the highly anticipated bootleg shots of Tolstoy and Dosteovsky's weekend of sin was finally due to arrive in stores. As I tried to keep the women from crushing themselves in a mad rush, a lazy-stock boy named Vladimir Lenin unloaded boxes in the tiny storeroom while our boss, the gigantically fat Nikolai Nikolevich Grushenka Vladimir Konstantinov, sat on a tiny stool, shouting at Lenin to get his "commie ass" moving.
      In the middle of sorting the full frontal Leos from the lingerie shots of Fyodor, Lenin looked up at his boss and tried to make sense of what the fat man was saying.
      "What are you talking about?" Lenin asked.
      "Look at you, you lazy punk. What do you think this is? Some sort of free ride? All you do is sit around here on your lazy ass and talk about collectivism this and the people that. I'm sick of it."
      "That's Leon, that's not me. I don't know what the hell he's talking about either. All I want to do is screw my girlfriend and get drunk. I'm not into politics."
      "Right. Sure. With that hair?"
      "My hair? What's wrong with my hair?"
      "It's commie hair. You wear that on your head and you might as well be a pinko."
      Stunned, confused and a little stoned from the pot he smoked before work, Lenin walked towards the cracked mirror over the employee's sink. For the first time he looked at his in the context of history. In the thick curls and flowing golden strands that ran down his back, Lenin finally understood all the crazy talk that his friend Leon had been shoving down his throat. YES! It made sense. The hair had opened up something in his soul. He told his boss that he was quitting, stuffed a loose postcard of Chekov into his overcoat for "literary research" and walked out of the store into the swirling winds of history.
Email: jfb151@hotmail.com

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