Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Old Man From Sverdlovsk: Part II

The Old Man From Sverdlovsk is not from Sverdlovsk at all. He is from a city on the other side of the Ural Mountains. (He told me Sverdlovsk because it was the city whose geographical location I was familiar with.) And he is not delusional, as I first assumed. It’s not that he believes the Soviet Union still exists. It’s that he doesn’t see the modern Russian government as legitimate at all, so he refuses to speak of it as if it is. But he knows what happened to the USSR. He knows who Yelstin was. He knows who Putin is. He just despises the materialism and inequality that entered his homeland under their leadership. He often tells me, with a sad look in his eyes, “There were no homeless people under socialism.” He is not the only Russian immigrant who has told me this.

I talk to him every week now. I write him short letters in barely-coherent Russian, and if I don’t see him for a while, I call and check in on him. He saves his newspapers for me and gives them to me once per week, reminding me each time how important it is for me to keep up with current events. The more I talk to him, the more I realize he is brilliant. Eccentric, yes, but brilliant. I’ve learned so much just by taking the time to talk to him for an hour or two every week. He knows so much about geography, philology, history, and literature. He has great insight on human behavior as well. He cuts right through the shallow surface answers people give to questions like “How is your family?” or “How are you feeling today?” and unearths the sometimes painful but much more meaningful truths beneath. When he asked about my parents, and I told him about how they divorced eighteen years ago, I tried to put it in generic, oversimplified terms. He responded by looking me straight in the eye and saying, “Your mother…was she happy? Many women are not happy in marriage.” I haven’t given him a shallow answer to any of his questions since.

I don’t believe in any particular religion, so I look for angels among humans. I don’t find many. But he is definitely one.

Stentorian Sandman!

Enter my alley-cat’s brain!

These are the fish it’s been digging out of garbage cans this week:


The eager announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death unsettles me, as do the shape-shifting facts of the situation.

Humans are not so much social animals as they are fear-filled animals, and I suddenly see how the two concepts get confused ALL THE TIME.

I don’t believe the past or future exist, because the present is all I can touch.

I don’t want to be anyone’s firefly-in-a-jar, and I don’t want a firefly-in-a-jar.

I have no awareness of the volume of my own voice.

If people cease to exist the second they leave my field of vision/hearing, then I don’t have to worry about what they think anymore.

I am not ready for summer.

Shark’s comment of “Aw… first world problems!” now haunts me on a regular basis. (All of my problems are first world problems. Suddenly they look less like problems and more like whining.)

I am a horrible driver.

"Одинокий мужчина"

He sits there glowing inversely, casting furtive glances around the crowded room. I can’t remember how long I’ve been seeing him sit that way. Has it been months? Years? Entire lifetimes? It was that inverse glow that first startled me so profoundly. He is jagged when all around him is polished to sterile smoothness. He is true and bitter when those around him are saccharine and false. He is sitting among crowds of generic people, yet is wrapped in solitude, disconnected from those around him. He watches everyone, and not a single person sees him. The table in front of him is empty of everything except his beer, yet a multitude of words emanate from him, humming, distorting the air around him like heat waves.

Carrying an apple core to the garbage as a false pretext, I draw near him, squinting to make out those words. I see “fog” and “disappointment”, “melancholy” and “self-loathing”, “sorrow” and “bitter pragmatism”, “weariness” and “unapologetic indulgence”. And at their whirling center hangs an entire sentence, heavy and final: “Universe, I DARE you to show me something I’ll give a shit about.” These words linger so dense and viscous that as I pass through the space around him, I feel them sticking to my skin, and I carry them with me for days and days to follow. They haunt me, and I wonder, where do they come from? Their fatal darkness bewitches me, and in that moment, I become a buzzard-winged guardian angel.