DESCRIPTIONS

(2009 - 2015)

 

 

 

PROSE, part I

 

 

 

Billy Quiet

 

Billy Quiet decided to change his career one more time. In 2016 when alternative sound channels became available to public for watching any TV program, he proclaimed himself “an exceptional sport event commentator” and got his license the next day after multiple-channel regulation was finalized. His comments were always very sparse, probably because he would comment on the sports he would not even know rules for and, let's face it - he did not care. Almost immediately he drew a large body of audience that seemed to appreciate him not saying predictable phrases and clichés. His most famous line, at the height of his career, was "I think the score just got changed. Please, refer to the electronic board for more details." Then there would be no comment for another 10 minutes, even if the score changed again.

 

In three years he had no competition whatsoever for he was able to keep his mouth shut so elegantly, consistently and, needless to say, financially successfully. People started talking about his "big one", which would refer to the game during which he'd made no comment at all, not a single one. He, more than anyone else, realized that such game would indicate the end of his spectacularly quiet career. 

 

Billy was not married and he did not have a girlfriend. In his early flurries, he had only one acquaintance - a Chinese chef who lived next door. His name was Chan. Mr. Chan. 

Mr. Chan did not care about sports and he had no idea what Billy did for living. It seemed to be fine with both of them. Billy liked Mr. Chan very much because Mr. Chan was not talkative; he was a quiet kind, but quiet in a different way. Mr. Chan's only known expression was "Seattle is big on teriyaki. It's not good, it's just big."

 

Since nobody really knew how Billy looked, he'd take advantage of loud bars where people would drink a lot and watch the game on huge TV screens. He'd try to find the place inside with a spot (or two, hopefully) available right next to him and pretend that he was watching the game attentively. When a newcomer would appear and take a place next to him and ask in the friendliest way “what's the score?” Billy would answer very quickly, without any hesitation: "5:2", just spitting out random numbers that would not even be applicable to the game.

 

Billy tried to understand why he kept doing that but was unable to find the answer – this unexplainable behavior, just like his successful career, was a complete mystery for him. “One day I should talk to Mr. Chan about this,” he’d say to himself from time to time but somehow this ‘one day’ never came.

 

 

Predictable Spontaneity 

Martha turned back to Douglas at the street light and asked calmly from her driving seat, “So there are two of us in the car and you decide to ride in the back. Is this a statement of some sort?”
“Oh, no,” Douglas replied readily. “It's just an attempt to change my life by applying spontaneous actions to pretty much everything I do.”
“Even at work?”
“Especially at work!” he exclaimed not without pride. “And even more so, on my way to and from work.”
“What do you mean exactly?”
“Well, I try taking different routes, even if it takes longer. In fact, it always takes longer now. Last week I went across Bay Bridge all the way to Oakland and got stuck in traffic for 2 and a half hours.”
“So what good did it do, really?” she asked with a hint of slight irritation. 
“You would not believe it but I found myself close to the place where my old friend lives. I - spontaneously, mind you, drove by and saw him through the front window. I did not even have to call, just waved at him, he let me in and we had a great conversation about life. It's been a while, you know.” 
“Hmmm, that's very nice. What happened then?”
“Nothing really, I did not go to work that day, spontaneously.”
Martha looked at him in the rear view mirror, obviously concerned. “Anything else happened that day?” she asked.
Douglas hesitated for a moment. 
“Well,” he started slowly, “I meant to talk to you about this.”
Martha looked even more concerned, she started to become nervous and felt an uncomfortable itching on her back. “The thing is,” he continued, “I missed an important meeting that day, a big one. So big and so important that a lot of damage had been done, a lot of money lost. To cut a long story short - they fired me. I no longer have a job.”
Martha slammed on the brakes, almost getting hit by the car behind. “You know what?” she said angrily, turning back to him. “I have a spontaneous decision right now. Get the fuck out of my car.”
Douglas realized, she was not joking. He nodded twice, opened the door and got out. Martha drove away as fast as she possibly could. "Spontaneous asshole," she said aloud. That made her feel better. She stopped the car and backed slowly to the place where Douglas was left. He still was standing there, smiling, thinking that she returned to pick him up.

"Spontaneous asshole!" she yelled at him to his face through the open window, and drove away, this time for good.  

 

 

Suicide Classes

 

Things have not been going well for George. At 54, he was looking back at his life as a chain of uncolorful events, relations and transitions from phase X to phase X+1, where the difference between the phases would be only a hopeless number. From time to time he tried to look into the future but saw nothing.  Lack of intelligence, education and the intangible quality, for which there is no definite term, have not allowed him to live in the present and simply be happy. Something big and important was permanently missing in his life.

 

It was no surprise when one fine Saturday morning, in spite of sunny warm spring paradise blooming outside, he started thinking about “getting it over with”. But how? He was not afraid to die, he was afraid to continue living this way. The old way. Sipping his regular ok-tasting coffee and paging through his regular newspaper, he noticed something highly unusual - the title of one ad resonated with him right away, he even raised his left brow a little. "Suicide Classes", the ad read. He started reading and felt as if two or three ants were climbing up his spine, all the way up to the neck.

"Can't take it any longer? Want to get it over with? Come to our classes, it won't take long. 100% satisfaction guaranteed!"  At the end there was an e-mail address for response and a link for downloading and filling the form to sign for the classes. That was it.

 

George put his coffee mug on the table, closed the paper and went to the kitchen to get glass of water. Then he returned to his lonely room, slowly took the paper from the table and re-read the ad. George happened to be computer-illiterate, to be more precise - computer-stupid, but clicking on enclosed file to open and read the form turned out to be easier than he thought. Still, he knew that filling and sending it was beyond his physical ability. However, he noticed a little addition at the bottom of the form, which read: "If computers are too confusing for you, do not get discouraged - just click this blue arrow and we'll deliver the form to you, free of charge".  George hesitated for a second and then said aloud to himself: "What's the worst can happen?" and clicked the link.

 

"Sent" computer said.  "Wait," he thought, "how do they know my address?" He finished his coffee and came to the most obvious conclusion: "Whatever. It's all nonsense anyway."

 

This Saturday promised to be as un-eventful as the last one and the one before so George mechanically paged through the rest of the morning paper - nothing new, nothing interesting. "Nothing ever changes, nothing ever moves..." popped out in his head. "Where was that from?" he thought, "I don't remember now."  

 

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. He was not expecting anybody for there was no one to expect. He opened the door and saw a young courier on roller skates, carrying a delivery bag across his shoulder.

“George?” the delivery guy asked.

“Yes.”

“You ordered the forms, sir. These are for you.” He handed a large yellow envelope, turned around and disappeared in the hallway before George had a chance to open his mouth to say anything.

In the envelope there was a Suicide Classes entry form and a stamped envelope for returning it. There was nothing much else to do so George took the pen and put the form on the table - he was ready.

 

The first thing that struck him was the fact the there was no field for his last name. His first name was already printed at the top of the form.

"OK," that was all George could say to himself at the moment.

Then things started getting more and more interesting. It was a very unusual form with many questions, most of which surprised and even bewildered him, but he found it very easy to answer all of them. The questions seemed to be random and they were as unpredictable as they were surprising, even shocking at times.

 

“If you knew that you'd get away with it, or even rewarded for doing so, which contemporary pop-singer would you kill and how?”

Followed by:

“What is your favorite color?”

Or

“Which women are more attractive to you - blonde or brunette?”

 Followed by:

“What is your least favorite car brand?”

 

Another peculiar thing about the form was that it had fairly large fields to fill with answers. Not too large, not too small but quite nice and easy to put the answers in. After finishing the first page George said to himself: "This is the most convenient form I ever had to fill in my entire life."

By the end of second page George realized that he was actually enjoying filling the form.

 

“What are you more afraid of - heights or deep water?”

Followed by:

“If there was a war and you were drafted, would you choose to serve:

- in the infantry

- in the navy

- on a submarine 

- as a bomber pilot

- in a hospital

- in an office

- in a kitchen

- as a prison guard

- as a MP”

 

By the end of page five George was so involved that he caught himself wishing that this form had 100 pages. Unfortunately, it had only 21. It was as if he was writing a book about himself without any effort.  When he was about to finish filling the last page he had to turn his table lamp on.

As soon as he did, he realized that it was the end of the day, almost dinner time. "Wait," he thought. "How is that possible? It's just a form."

 

When he sealed envelope with completed form, it was dark outside.  George decided to mail it right away, even though next day was supposed to be Sunday and the mail would not be picked up. It was warm and quiet on the street. He went to the nearest mail box, dropped the envelope in and looked at the sky. Suddenly, a forgotten feeling re-visited him, something that he had not experienced for a very long while.

"It' a nice evening," he thought.

 

***

 

The Suicide Classes office was not big, but not small either. There was not much light inside but the rooms did not feel dark. The secretary with a friendly smile and unusually short skirt met George in the doorway, as if she had been standing there and expecting him for some time. Right away he felt the difference in... what was it? In everything. From the very first moment, George felt attracted to this girl, who did not seem to have any particularly outstanding features but somehow he felt that they had known each other for a long time. "That happens when you meet your soulmate," he thought, knowing that she was not his soulmate, he just could not help feeling the way he did.

 

After short and somewhat formal introduction, he finally asked, “What is this music? A harp?” 

“A harp.”

They stood there and listened to a quietly playing tune through the invisible audio system. A moment or two later she said, “Let me show you the room, you appointment will start shortly.”

 

The appointment room had a table in the middle, two chairs and an enormous machine by the window, taking almost a third of the space. George sat in the comfortable armchair, pondering what this apparatus was supposed to do, when he realized that the secretary was still in the room. She was looking at him with the expression of an experienced nurse dealing with mental patients.

Just when their eyes met she said, “Would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, please, I'd love some,” George responded readily.

She approached the machine by the window and started making coffee. George kept silent, he just observed the work of the master, admiring her every move, every curve, every sound, every second, catching himself wishing that this coffee-making process would last for 3 hours.  Unfortunately, it lasted only 3 minutes, after which a medium size coffee cup was put on the table in front of him.

“Enjoy,” she said in half-whispering voice and gracefully left the room.

 

George took a first sip. The coffee was perfect. No, it was not perfect - it was beyond what he had expected to be “perfect”. He had no idea what type of a drink it was, how it was made and "...Wait," he said to himself. "I did not even ask for anything specific, besides..."

 

The door opened and a tall man entered the room.  He was wearing black suit and black shirt with... well, he was dressed in black. He was very skinny and his face was unusually pale.

“Hello, George. I am Anton.”

“Hello.”

They shook hands.

It is possible to tell many things about a man after a first hand shake: confident, not confident, strong, not so strong, weak, polite, impolite, formal, informal, indifferent, friendly, patient, inpatient... George did not feel anything. He just stood there, hands down, and stared at Anton, who was staring back at George, without moving a single muscle on his face. They stood like this, staring at each other, face-to-face, for at least five minutes, maybe longer. Somehow George did not feel any discomfort even though the situation seemed to be highly irregular. "Is he alive?" George's thoughts were linear and clear, as never before. "What and Who is he?"

 

“Please, sit down,” finally said Anton, pointing to the arm-chair where George was sitting before.  

“Our first session will be very short,” he continued. “There will be three more sessions, all involve other people, 9 participants in the group. I will be conducting all the sessions and asking some simple questions but most of the talking will be done by our clients, like yourself. Our success rate is 100%, after the third session we are done. That is all for now, I'll see you the day after tomorrow at 9am.”

 

Anton stood up very quickly, shook Gorge’s hand and left the room before George had a chance to open his mouth. George looked at the table and saw his unfinished coffee. He looked at the coffee machine by the window, then at his cup again, stood up and left the room.

 

***

 

George was so overwhelmed by the recent events, that suicidal thoughts simply did not have room in his head any longer. After what happened, he did not know what to expect, so when he entered a larger room for the first group meeting, he thought he was ready for anything. Little did he know that he was completely un-prepared for what was to come.

 

There were five men and four women in the group. Anton pointed to every each of them where to sit in the circle of nine armchairs, while he himself was outside the circle, walking slowly to and fro. The session, in a strange way, was similar to filling the 21-page form: Anton was asking simple and direct questions, pointing to a person for an answer. Sometimes he would ask the same question again, pointing at another person. The questions-answers chain seemed to be so well connected between all nine participants, that everybody seemed to be engaged at every moment, every second.  

 

The session ended very abruptly, Anton left the room quickly and everyone realized that it was the end of the day, it was almost dark outside.  George was not tired or hungry and somehow he did not feel like talking to anyone in the group. He quickly glanced around and saw that everyone felt the same way. They parted silently, without saying good night to earth other, or going through any other usual formalities. 

***

 

“OK, pal! It's time to come clean!” the man in a gray suit said in an unusually loud voice.

Anton stood up from his desk, “Gentlemen?”

“I am inspector Gloom,” the man in a gray suit continued, “and this is my partner, inspector Polansky.” He casually pointed at a man by his side, who barely touched to edge of his hat, not uttering a word or taking his hat off.

“How can I help you?” asked Anton, looking straight in inspector's eye.

“You can help us by providing all paper work concerning your enterprise here.  Judge Fergusson is extremely interested in your endeavors!” the inspector threw a sheet of paper on the table and looked around, theatrically showing that he was examining every corner. Anton knew exactly what the document on the table was.

“All right,” he responded. “Give me a minute.  Would you like some coffee?”

“No, thanks.”

“Suit yourself,” Anton turned and reached for the folder on his desk.

 

Fifteen minutes later, utterly confused, inspector Gloom finally said:

“Sir, according to this, not a single employee of your office ever had a vacation, just a few days off over several years! How is that possible?”

“We are dedicated to our work. Is this illegal?”

“Oh no, of course not! One more question,” he kept raising his deep loud voice, almost screaming at the end of each sentence. “According to your tax records, all your customers have been reimbursed, these are phone numbers to reach all of them, and there has been no income from your activity whatsoever!  What kind of business is this?! What the hell do you do here, sir?”

“We are saving lives, inspector.” Anton replied quietly and smiled with his eyes without moving a single muscle on his very pale face. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHORTIES

 

Junk

 

She’s like, “Dude!”

And I’m like, “Huh?”

And she’s like, “Whatever.”

 

Edward Dimmer Jr., D. D. S.

 

The lights in his dental office are never too bright. He has a staff of three: a quiet Japanese cleaning guy and an African-American assistant who has nothing subtle in her work. Mr. Dimmer is no subtle dentist either, he just makes sure his work is done properly. Teeth don't speak to each other. His assistant was not bright at all, which was fine with Mr. Dimmer. Her skin was so dark, that on it you almost could see reflections from the Royal Palace Endeavor Hotel neon sign across the street.

 

Mountain Tam

 

We are going to Mountain Tam today. "Tam" in Russian means "over there". So does this mean that once we get there we still will be 'tam' and because of the darn term, we'll never be “here” while we are there? In short, we'll be here only after returning from Mountain Tam. 

 

International agreements

 

"It's all good," said Mahmud.

"It's OK," said McKay.

 

Timing

 

Timing is everything. Sometimes. 

 

How to Get Your Head Back

 

Lay down, close your eyes and pretend you are not you.  If you can maintain this for 20 minutes you'll have your head back.

 

Teacher's Name

 

My teacher's name in the first grade at school was Nicholas Babysitter. He was never married. 

 

Words Behind the Bush

 

- Mr. President, it was a wrong button!!!

- Oops, sorry about that, folks - my bad. Can we undo this?

- No, sir. Mongolia is gone.

 

Notes

 

Note to my employer:

In my sea of misfortunes this year your $200 bonus check seemed like a drop in the ocean.

 

Note to myself:

“Take Girard St. when you dober.”

 

Attachment

 

I'm not attached.  I'm not attached.  I'm not attached...  Now I'm attached to the notion of not being attached. 

 

Pacific Place

 

At the peak of boardomness and irritation by the situation in his apartment building he programmed a hologram in the only elevator this building had, which would appear suddenly out of the blue (or should I say 'out of the dark'):

 

"Dear neighbors,

I pick up your trash in the hallways and staircases all the time. It's not cool. If you are unable to respect yourself, respect your neighbors. 

Sincerely,

Your neighbor." 

 

Each person living on the building got to see the message. 

He was pleased with his programming efforts and he was sure that his message would make an impact on the community.

 

It did not. Nothing changed. 

 

 

 

CLOUDS OF POETRY

 

 

 

Birthday, 45

 

I don't feel very social today

Sunny and warm

Only outside

I don't feel very social today

 

Groups of people gathered together

Divided by mutual interests

Joyless laughter well-rehearsed and protected

I don't feel very social today

 

“Why didn't you join us?” they asked

“I don't feel very social today,” my eyes answered

Then I heard my own voice:

“I'm used to being alone on my 45th Birthday.”

 

 

Gutten Morgen Blues

 

Woke up in a cold, dark, very clean room one morning

Didn't remember much. In fact, didn't remember anything at all

Couldn't find the exit or entrance, could not find the door

Touched a metal plate, read the label with my fingers: THE MORGUE

 

Gutten Morgen

Gutten tak

 

How can this be? It is not fair! Why me?!

Someone must know what happened, what's going on

Wrapped my body in the clean white sheet - that's all you got (for now).

Breathing in and out

Morning morgue air.

 

Gutten Morgen

Gutten tak

 

Empty hallway, lonely nurse, table lamp

"Excuse me, can I make a call?  It's very important."

Approving nod, emotionless

"Good morning, Mother!

It's me, I'm all right, I'm here!

...Mom?... Mom?! Mom?!!!... Hello?”

 

Gutten Morgen

Gutten tak

 

 

In My Dungeon

 

In my dungeon again

Protected fortress

(protected from what?)

With a closed door

Closed but never locked

 

Every morning

Smell of coffee

Smell of another perfectly wasted day

Officially approved by society free of burdens like

Morality

Fear of God

Unconditional Love

 

There are useless items in the utility room always available

Somehow whatever you are looking for is not there

Do you dare to ask why?

 

It is not difficult to be alone in a big city

It’s easy to get lost

Anywhere

Any time

Even if you are not alone

 

Noises of coffee shops calm you down temporarily

Then everything returns to where it has always been

To safe insecure dungeon

With a closed, unlocked door

 

Intoxication

 

In-toxication…

De-toxication…

The smells unexpected

Reactions inadequate

Spinning

Rolling

Spiraling over

and over

​                                    and over…

 

Awaken by the self-sleep

Frightened by a variety of invisible variables

Sometimes it takes time

To take time

 

“Take your time,” she said,

“And don’t forget to exhale

After breathing in too much

Of your own life”

 

 

Rain in Chicago

 

Rain in Chicago.  

Sunday is hiding in between holidays, slow, unromantically dreamy.

Visiting unknown places has advantages that reveal themselves unexpectedly, one-by-one, as time goes by. Pseudo-​comforting sounds from the TV set in the next room create pseudo-sensation of stability and peace. I don't have a TV.

 

Wherever I go there is noise, a stream of never-ending sounds from various sources - hopeless noise pollution penetrating humans over and over. The vast majority do not even know that they are being bombarded every minute, every second, and there is no protection, no cure.  I wish there was an anti-sonic shower, which would clear off all audio dirt from my memory.

 

 

The Fall

 

Things fall down

Leaves

Water

Hail

​Hair

Some stay where landed

Some dry out

Some disappear

Without a trace

 

Face

In the mirror

Ever-changing sameness

Same immediate reaction

Adjusting muscles as soon as looking

Straight into reflection

 

Connection with oneself established

Self-protecting instinct

Pretending that you like what you see

 

The sea

Of items

Fallen from above

Added to the archive

Of forgotten memories

 

 

PROSE, part II

 

MRI

 

The operator pulled me out of the tube.  Surprised, I looked at him and asked:

“What happened?”

“Nothing, we’re done.”

“I need to get back there.”

“Pardon me?”

“I said I want to get back there now!”

“But sir, we are finished.”

“I understand that, but I need to get back in the tube.”

He looked at his shoes, then at me, then at his shoes again and asked very slowly without raising his head:

“And why in the world do you want to do that?”

“I have my reasons… Listen, I can pay you.”

“How much?"

“How much do you think it’s worth?”

He shrugged:

“75?”

“40.”

“60.”

“50.”

“Deal.  I have another patient coming in ten minutes but I can find time for you tonight. How does 9:45pm sound – can you make it?”

“Absolutely!”

I smiled and shook his feeble hand.

 

 

Laugh Collector

 

I was going through my old typed notes one day and the first ones I found stated:

"Note to myself: take Girard St. when you dober"

 

So, I followed the note’s advice. It’s 8:45, I am on Girard Street, walking slowly. After passing the window with a sign “Double Whammy Weight & Memory Loss Services”, I saw what looked like a bar or a club. The name of the band immediately attracted my attention, it almost jumped at me from the poster, unevenly placed on a brick wall: Laugh Collector. I opened the unpainted heavy squeaky door and entered the club.

 

The band was about to start playing but I had enough time to find little table in the back corner and order a glass of Shiraz. It was a small quiet place, no background music, no ambient noise. The room was quite full but not overcrowded. I noticed, there was no area designated for crowd in front of the stage. Almost everything about this place was unusual but not in an obvious way. I casually looked at the small menu with just a few items. On the top of the menu there was a name of the place – “Karmic Obligation”. My left eyebrow went up involuntarily.

 

“That’s pretty cool,” I heard a voice, very close to me. “I can do this with my right eyebrow, but not with left one”. The girl at the table next to mine was playing with her right eyebrow, moving it easily up and down. “Can you do your right one?” she quickly asked. I tried and learned that I could not control it. “See,” she exclaimed, smiling. “But,” she continued, “if you raise your left and I raise my right, we’ll have two raised eyebrows and the big picture will be complete!”

I finally answered “…and if we each raise both, we’ll have four eyebrows up, imagine that!” She smirked, “Math was not your favorite subject at school, was it?” A thought came to my mind that this was so far the oddest conversation I ever had in my entire life. I heard myself say “This is the strangest conversation I’ve ever had in my life… so far.” “Oh, it’s nothing,” she shrugged. “You are just fulfilling your karmic obligation”.

 

Absentmindedly, I looked at the menu on the table. The first item was ‘White bears in Tajikistan’, the next one – ‘Six month old Christmas pie’.  Both of my eye brows jumped up. I started losing it: “What kind of place is this, anyway, that serves…” “Hey!!!” she interrupted me, almost screaming. In the corner of my eye I saw a few heads turning our direction. “You want your macaroni and cheese or a burger, go two blocks down to Red Jack! You want lose weight, go next door tomorrow morning, they open at 9. The Universe had been spitting the signs at you left and right today and you still are as stiff as your notes to yourself from last year! Maybe you should come here when you are not dober!!!” she was breathing heavily, almost angrily but I did not sense anger from her. “Wait,” I said after a brief hesitation. “How did you…?” I was interrupted by a calm quiet voice. A man in dark suit was standing close to me, nearly touching my table with his hand, his point finger slightly stretched my way. “Sir, please accept our apologies. Perhaps you can come back the other day, and do not worry about paying for your wine – it’s on the house.”

 

My head was spinning, I don’t remember how I got outside. Even though it was still early evening, when I returned home I went straight to bed.

 

***

 

Next morning, as I woke up, my first thought was “Yes, I am overweight! I probably should do what that girl said yesterday.” That girl… I did not even know her name. What happened to me last night, anyway?

 

“Good morning!” A young man in unusual green uniform smiled at me in a most friendly way. “What can I do for you today?”

“I’d like to lose some weight,” I answered and smiled back at him, rather formally.

“Well, you are in the right place, my friend!” exclaimed the man without changing his facial expression. “Welcome to Double-Whammy! Have you been here before?”

I pondered for a second: “I don’t really remember.”

“Ha! Then you are in the right place indeed!” he started rubbing his hands, which made me very uncomfortable. 

I stopped smiling and said: “Look, what I really want is to understand what kind of place you have here next door and what it’s all about.  Can you help me?”

“Oh, I see,” he did not seem surprised at all. “Tell you what,” he continued. “Why won’t you come tonight, my band is playing! It’ll be fun!”

“What’s you band’s name?” I asked, bewildered.

“Slugs,” he answered, hardly holding back his excitement. Out of nowhere he suddenly produced a large colored poster. On it was a hand-painted creature, the top looked like a mollusk without a shell. The lower half looked like a damaged bullet - a slug, as they call it in movies. I was staring at a poster in a state of complete hopeless stupor. At the bottom there was a line written by hand with a black fading sharpie: “only tonite at Karmic Obligation, it’s OK to be late.” I looked at his face – he was still smiling, as if the smile was glued to him with really strong glue. Crazy Glue.

“I’ll be there,” I said and turned to leave, my head spinning again.

 

***

 

The Slugs’ performance was bad. Apparently, all the musicians in the band knew it but they loved their music and enjoyed being on stage, unsuccessfully trying to recycle someone else's bliss.  A leather-jacketed unshaved male at the bar turned from his Budweiser to me and asked abruptly: “Are you going to stick around longer? My band is playing next.” 

A little surprised, I asked back: “Really? What’s your band's name?”

“Virtual-virtual.”

I smiled involuntarily: “This name is horrible-horrible!”

Then there was darkness.

 

***

 

When I opened my eyes everything was white, including a person next to me. She was a white woman in white clothes, attentively looking at some white papers, motionless.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“In the hospital,” she answered without turning to me, not a hint of emotion. “You seemed to have fallen from a ladder.”

I slightly tilted my head: “A virtual ladder?”

She looked at me and quietly examined my face for a few moments with her cold uncolored eyes and finally said: “You should be glad that your nose is not broken. You may not be so lucky next time.” She turned around and slowly left the ward. 

 

Stories from Texas

 

Free Beer

 

Her name was Allison - friendly, cute, wearing large-frame glasses. 

"Is there anything I can get for you?" she asked, smiling.

"Oh, yes, one of these, please," I pointed at the "Free beer tomorrow" sign on the wall. 

"Mmm, sorry sir, but it's only for tomorrow." 

"I understand, but I was here yesterday, so..."

There was a long awkward pause, no response from Allison. 

Finally, I broke the silence:

"Listen, we are moving to Indiana soon and... are there ANY exceptions here whatsoever?"

She smiled her friendly smile again and said "No, sir. None."

 

Good bye, Houston. 

 

Nameless Road

 

We stood at this stop light forever, it was our first time when we came for a visit.  Later on, after passing through this intersection maybe more than 100 times, I noticed that no cars would ever come out of Nameless Road, or would turn onto it.  And yet, it was the longest red light in Travis County, Texas. After observing this strange phenomenon for many months, I finally asked myself a very direct simple question: "what the f$*^?"

Well, it's been a very long time since all this happened but I still do not have the answer.

 

 

Bootleggers Bar and Grill

 

I stopped by a hidden place on West Road in Houston with a big white paper sign, torn at one corner -  Bootleggers Bar and Grill. Lunch seemed like a good idea so why not here, I thought. It was dark and smoky inside, a big bar, one and only one customer sitting next to the bartender, smoking a cigarette, having his second, perhaps, beer. 
"Do you have food?" I asked. 
"No, sorry," the bartender responded. "We have pretzels! Want some?"

"No, thank you," I said as politely and warmly as I possibly could. But she got upset anyway. After a longish pause I finally asked: "So if you don't have food, how come the place is called 'Bar and Grill'?”

"Oh, we have a grill," she said quickly. "It's just unused."

 

Houston-Austin

 

The sky was high over the Shepherd Creek Bridge. High and big, as always, as everywhere in Texas. Bloody raccoon was sleeping on the side of the road, I barely looked at him, just pressed the accelerator pedal a little harder than usual.

 

“Do you know how fast you were going, sir?”

I kept looking at his uniform, smiling stupidly and admiring the shining of the metal elements on his jacket.

“I asked you a question, sir,” he seemed to start losing his patience.

“Oh, yeah, sorry – I was just… Yes, it was 70 miles per hour,” I finally responded.

“That is correct, exactly 70 miles. So is the speed limit around here.”

 

I looked at my dash board and back at the officer again. His shiny mirror-like impeccably clean sun glasses made me feel uncomfortable, perhaps because I could see myself so well in their reflection.

 

All of a sudden I heard myself say:

“Could you please take your glasses off?”

He raised his head a little and slowly took his glasses off.

“You look tired,” I said.

He took a long pause and said: “You didn’t shave today, did you?” as if he was trying to get back at me for some reason.

“No, I did not,” I replied. “I’m on vacation.”

“I see…”

This conversation clearly was not going anywhere and both of us realized that, from the very beginning. It felt that there was no easy way out, for either of us.

 

“You have Arizona plates,” he said after several long silent seconds. “Where are you coming from?”

“Oh, I’m coming from Houston, it’s just a rental, I guess it has Arizona plates… I have all the papers if you…” he waved interruptingly, clearly indicating that he was not interested in getting into that kind of detail.

 

“Drive safely,” he finally said and put his glasses on, turned around and started walking toward his vehicle. He walked very slowly.

 

“Officer!” I yelled at him through my open window.

He turned around and looked back at me through his impeccably clean shiny mirror-like glasses.

“Have a great day and… thank you.”

“Thank you for what?” he asked back without much of identifiable expression.

I hesitated for a moment and shrugged: “just for doing your job and for the conversation.”

He took his glasses off, looked at me briefly and nodded ever so slightly, then put the glasses back on, got into his car and drove away.

Stories from Indiana

Making up Words

 

Chief editor seemed to be friendly but in a somewhat reserved way. His dark suit was not old but it was not new either. His glasses, hair, gestures, – nothing was particularly special or unique. If he ever committed a crime and a witness was asked to describe him, police would get no description – there was nothing to describe.

 

“We are small publishing company, you see,” he started reluctantly. “And we are definitely interested but I have a few questions for you.”

“Of course,” I answered, not at all surprised.

“In one of your early pieces you wrote ‘Intoxication… Detoxication…’ Well, there is no such word as Detoxication, the proper word is Detoxification. Were you aware of it?”

“Yes, I was,” I said calmly. “But what’s the problem?”

“Well, you cannot just make up words while there are proper terms already in existence.”

“Yes, I can,” I answered a little more firmly. “Detoxification sounds horrible in this context. Besides, it’s absolutely clear what it means. I invent new words all the time.”

“Really?” he seemed genuinely surprised. “Can you make an example?”

“Sure. ‘Your comment sounds muffy and unintelectu-arizing.’”

There was a long pause.  I waited because I really had nothing more to say.

“Muffy, huh?” he finally asked.

“Yes, muffy,” I nodded in doubtless confirmation.

“Well, in this case I don’t think your work and our agency are a good match, but thank you for dropping by.” He stood up, rather abruptly.

“Thank you for your time.”

 

I turned and headed toward the exit. As soon as I touched the door handle, I heard his voice behind: “Wait. On a second thought, you are a young talented author and we might be rejecting something really valuable here. That would not be wise, would it?”

I hesitated. “At this point, I really would not know,” I replied, still holding the door handle. It was cold. “I respectfully decline your generous offer but thank you for your consideration.”

“But why?” he almost screamed.

“Because it would be inappropri-eatable.”

 

 

Carter

(a story from real life, dedicated to Joan and her household)

 

This morning at sharp 8 o'clock I felt the presence. There was no sound, no noise, no movement, just presence. I looked down and I saw a pair of eyes staring at me, right into my recently awakened soul. Carter. 

I closed my eyes, sinfully pretending to still be asleep. A second later I opened my eyes, “who am I kidding? OK, give me a minute."

"Took-tu-doom-tu-doom..." quickly down the stairs I heard - HE was taking me to the morning walk, a magnificent manipulator. 

 

As usual, I let him lead the way. This time he went West, toward the big road and then down the pathway around Cambridge Square. Almost right away we saw two rabbits. One of them ran away immediately but the other one, the younger fella, had more curiosity in him and it was probably smarter because it felt that there was not much real danger in the current situation. In fact, this little bunny would not get off the pathway, he'd continue to run ahead of us and, with Carter chasing it, seemed that those two had some kind of chemistry. Finally, the rabbit just stopped. Carter got as close as 2-3 meters to it but the bunny simply stayed there, looking back at us.

Carter had enough of slack on his leash but he would not get any closer. After a moment of awkward silence, Carter said to the rabbit:

"Why are you not running away?"

Rabbit: "why should I?"

Carter: "because I'm a dog, and you are a rabbit."

Rabbit: "so?"

A long pause followed. The rabbit looked away for a moment, then looked back, getting slightly annoyed. Finally, Carter broke the silence and begged with his eyes:

"Can you just run away, for God's sake?"

After a minute of hesitation rabbit said: "hmm, ok". Then he slowly turned and disappeared into the bushes. The dog's dignity was saved! Sort of.

 

When curving around Cambridge Square, I saw two cats by the door of one of gloomy-looking one-story apartment. The cats were very furry, one dark brown, one dark gray, sitting like ancient Sphinx, symmetrically, protecting the house hold from passing-by Russians and dogs. Carter did not notice them so we peacefully went on.

 

Then we met an old lady. She was walking the opposite way with a white fluffy dog, two times smaller than Carter, and while they (dogs) were sniffing each other, the old lady said: "I didn’t know they can walk sideways!"

 

A few steps later we saw four cats by another apartment door. They all were black - Black was their color. All got slightly weary about the dog, naturally.  Carter noticed them and there was a moment of somewhat-intense tension. We were only about ten feet away and cats were ready to attack! I could tell, they were a mean bunch. Carter looked at me without much of identifiable expression. I shrugged: 'let's just move on'. He didn’t object, the cats stayed where they were and we were about to complete our 45-minute exercise of patience, observance and dignity testing. 

 

When I am here, Carter hangs out downstairs with me, sometimes leaning on my lap. I tried taking a picture but... do you know how hard it is to take a picture of a dog while he is sitting on your lap? You should try it one day - I had no success at all. Instead, I decided to write a story about a Sunday morning walk with the best dog in the entire universe. 

 

Carter.