Tag Archives: da

Lost in Translation

It was like Kafka.

“World According to Russia,” she said to me over the phone. “Hello!”

“Um.  Hello?”

I was slightly taken back that someone in a Russian office would pick up after the first ring.

“Yes, hello,” she repeated.  “World According to Russia.  How can I help you?”

“Yes, um.  Hello… I mean:  Allo!” and that’s when I switched back to my native tongue, and I don’t know why.  “Zdravstvui’te!”

I was respectful but immediately nervous.  Whenever speaking to any Russian bureaucrat, I tend to lose a grasp on my otherwise unwavering — to some, obnoxious — self-esteem.

It makes no sense to English speakers, but there are several types of Russian.

“Well, it is like dialects?” an American would ask me.

No.  I’d rather think of it as this:  That the entire history of my dear tortured Motha’land had made a mark onto my native tongue of poetic beauty — by splitting it into as many personalities as there were regimes.

First, there is the pretty Russian, used mostly in literature:  I’m pretty good at that one, and I dig the way it translates.  Then, there is the Soviet street talk:  A blend of Yiddish and something crass and always funny, it is the most expressive of them all.

Motha speaks in that one well, and normally our chats result in my dashing for the bathroom, at the end.

“Who needz fuckingg Pilates, eh — vhen ve laugh and laugh like zis?!”  She would sometimes say that from behind my bathroom door, while I would clutch my bladder and beg her to “PLEASE!  STOP!”

She is right though:  My motha’s stand-up routine is the best form of ab workout I have ever known.  But I do not speak her language:  I only marvel at the way it turns its words from inside out, and it makes for such comedy, as a result.

The street talk of the contemporary Russians is something I’ve only briefly overheard on the lips of those hotheaded Muscovites, all clad in black leather jackets and American labels, whenever I catch them being interviewed by BBC.  Most of the time though, they tend to switch to English anyway, which then comes out eloquently and with a very little accent.  The tall female beauties speak in that tongue as well.  They are, however, most often accompanied by older men of stoic nature who speak on their behalf.  And when they speak to women, the men tend to address them slightly condescendingly, or like little girls.

The third personality of Russian — is the one I fear the most.  It is the one adopted by the Russian Consulates, bilingual politicians or lawyers in West Hollywood.  It’s not just legal lingo though.  Again:  It’s NOT a dialect!

This type of Russian is choppy, filled with acronyms and abbreviations that I have no skills for breaking down.  Instead, I panic, ask them to slow down; then, reiterate their statements again and again.  Considering that most bureaucrats are at a lack for time, such interactions don’t end well for me.  The people who should have the answers leave me to my own devices, while they, nearly irate, roll their eyes at my degree of helplessness and walk out on me — or hang up.

The woman on the phone had switched to Russian, too.  I have to give it to her:  She sounded quite pleasant, so far.  Not really perky, no; but pleasant nonetheless.  I guess she never knew who could be calling her.  It could be an American, and an American always expects a certain standard of customer service (the concept of which doesn’t even exist in my native tongue, no matter its personality).

“How can I help you, young woman?” she said to me, sounding almost aristocratic.

I relaxed a bit:  “Um.  Well.  I wanted to know about traveling to Russia with an American passport.”

There was a pause.  She didn’t budge.

“Would one need a visa?” I gave her a little more.

“But of course!”

Aha!  The way she said it almost sounded irate.  Was that a dumb question?  Or did I expect her to be rude?  I tried to sooth the situation.

“Um.  Okay.  Well.  How would one… go about…  THAT?  Da?”

“You would have to bring documentation that proves you’re no longer a Russian citizen.”

“Um.  Okay.  But isn’t having an American passport enough of a proof?”

“Young woman,” her voice got slightly terser.  “Do you know how many Russians live here with both passports?”

I didn’t know.

“Is that like dual citizenship?”  I jumped:  Look at me, being smart ‘n’ all!  But I did have to switch to English to deliver that.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the woman answered, also in English.

At any moment now, she would hang up on me, I thought.  She owed me nothing.  She was doing this for free.

“Um.  Okay.  What do I do to prove that I am an American and NOT a Russian citizen.”

“You would have to show us papers renouncing your Russian citizenship.”

“Renouncing?!”  That sounded harsh.  Nyet?!

But the answer was simply:  “Da.”

“Um.  Okay.  How do I do that?”

“You have to bring your Russian passport…”

“Well.  Yes, you see:  I do not have one.”

“Then, you must apply!”

The woman proceeded to breakdown timelines and fees.  I panicked and asked her to slow down.  The gist was this:  It would take half a grand to get the passport that I would then have to renounce.  In terms of time, I was looking at pretty much a year.

“Um.  What if I don’t renounce it?” I said.  (If I can help it, I’d rather never renounce anything in life.)

“Then, you still pay and wait to get the passport.”

There was more silence.  I wanted to reiterate, but the absurdity was pretty clear already.  There would be paperwork and fees, then a long wait.  And then, another stage of paperwork, and fees, and more long wait.  But at least, it sounded Russian!

The silence lasted.  The woman almost gave in:

“Unless you were born here…”  She was giving me an inch… a centimeter.

“No,” I said.  I wasn’t sure which language I was using at that point.

I think the woman sensed the shock, because she took some mercy on me:

“When did you come here, miss?”

“Um.  Sixteen years ago.”

“WHAT YEAR?” and just like that, she was about to get irate, again.

“Nineteen… Oh, I dunno.  1997, I think?”

“Ah, yes.  You’re one of those,” the woman said.  “You have no choice.”

“I Can Be Your Hero, Baby” — Nyet.

My dad — is not Superman.

I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years.  It’s the least I could do, I always thought:  to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography.  Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.  So, da:  It was the least I could do.

As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks):  My Prodigal Sundays.  And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls:  For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.

“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.

“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.

(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really:  After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him).  It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)

But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman.  For years, he seemed immune to suffering.  Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect.  So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough.  Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.

Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).  But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men.  There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform.  Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad.  But no, not from my perspective!  Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).

And he would be the best of them all.  Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono.  So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow?  How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name?  I tell you how:  You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.  

We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world.  Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them.  (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest:  A man on a mission to protect the human race.)  And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.

Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life.  But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me.  And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.

“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.

And da, herein lies the pattern:  Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono.  And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised.  For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.

And nyet, my dad — is not Superman.  I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).

Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all.  “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”

“Yes, My Heart Belongs To Daddy: Da, Da, Da”

What will you be like, the future papa of my child?  Will you be tall, but not necessarily dark?  Or will you be just competent, quietly but certainly, in the way all good men — with nothing to prove — are?  

Yes, I’m pretty sure, you’ll be tall. 

“What are you chirping about over there?” my own — tall — father chuckled on the phone last night, “My little sparrow…”

He hadn’t seen me grow up.  To him, I am still a child treading on the edge of her womanhood with the same gentle balance and vulnerability as if I were walking along a curb:  one foot in front of the other, thrilled and focused, not certain about the destination but quite alright with that uncertainty.

He used to follow me whenever I chose that activity on our walks.  Hanging just a few steps back, as if giving me enough room for my budding self-esteem and competence, he, while smoking his cigarette, would be equally as focused at putting one foot in front of the other, upon his own flat ground.  And according to him, puddles — were always the height of my thrill.

“Don’t get your feet wet:  Your mom’ll kill me,” he’d warn me — the best co-conspirator of my life.  Yet, he’d never prohibit me from my exploration.

Besides, with me — it was useless to object.  He knew that.  It was his own trait:  If I got an idea into my little stubborn head, you could bet your life I’d follow through.  So, he’d rest, while smoking his cigarette on a bench or leaning against a mossy boulder; or on that same curb marked up with my tiny footsteps.  And yes, most likely, I would get my feet wet; and I’d look back at him with a frown:

“Alright, let’s hear it!”

But all that would be given back to me was a grin that my father would be trying so very hard to suppress.

And, the future papa of my child:  Will you be of a quiet temperament, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me; hanging back most of the time, as if giving me enough room for my sturdy self-esteem, but then always knowing when to step up to the plate — just because you will be taller — most certainly, taller! — stronger than me?  Just because you will be — my man?

True to my stubborn passion, half way through my teens, I decided to leave for a different continent.  That time, it was no longer a matter of exploration (although when wasn’t it, with me?) but a matter of a vague hope for better choices in my youth.

My father knew that:  The country of my birth was about to go under, and there would be no more gentle balancing for any of us, but a complete anarchy.  Yet, never in that chaos, would I see my father lose his composure.  Quietly, he’d take in one merciless situation after another, light up a cigarette and hang back while waiting for the best resolution to become clear.  And then, he’d step up to the plate and follow through, true to his quiet, stubborn, competent temperament.  My father:  The first tall man I’d fallen in love with.

So, when I delivered to him the news of my scholarship for a study abroad (something he’d never even heard of, in his lifetime), quietly, he smoked, hung back and took in the information.  Surely, there had to be a million questions chaotically arising in his head:  questions related to the unpredictable situations my life was certain to present.  But that day, he knew better than to get in the way of my decision to leave.  Because you could bet your life I’d follow through.  He knew that:  It was his own trait.

“Don’t tell your mom I agree with this:  She’ll kill me!” he told me that day, suppressed a grin; and we began mapping out our next conspiracy.

And, the future papa of my child:  Will you be the more lenient of a parent than me, hanging back while letting our kiddo explore his or her own curbs and puddles?  (Because you better be certain our child will inherit my tendency for stubborn passions.)  Will you quietly follow, hanging just a few steps back, alert enough to catch, pick-up, sweep off, dust off him or her, right on time?

Will you be more courageous to allow for our child’s falls:  Because that is the only way one learns?  And will you be calmer, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me, when it is time for our unconditional acceptance of his or her missteps?

It would be one giant puddle I’d select to tread in my womanhood — an entire ocean, to be exact; and then — a whole other one.  No matter his own heartbreak, my father chose to hang back.  There would be many falls of mine he would be unable to prevent, a million of questions he couldn’t answer; many chaoses he was powerless at solving on my behalf.  But no matter my age — and no matter my defeats or victories — I could always dial in on his unconditional ear.

He would listen, hang back — suppress his tears or a grin — then launch into our next conspiracy.

“Don’t tell you mom I know about this,” he always warned me.

Because besides being an exceptional father, he also knew how to be a man:  How love a woman with a dangerous habit for stubborn passions.  My father would be taller than her, and always much stronger.  Yet, still, he would hang back, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to his wife and giving enough room for her budding self-esteem as a woman — and a mom.  And when he’d happen to catch us at our feminine chaoses — or silly conspiracies of our gender — he’d suppress a grin and say:

“What are you chirping about over there, my little sparrows?”

I Pack and Deliver — Like UPS Trucks

“Ring-a-ding, ding.”

“Allo?”

“Hello?  Hi, gorgeous.”

“Who —  eez theze?

“Motha?  It’s me!”

“Oh!  Wha-ha-ha, ha-ha!” she laughs in that way that only my motha can; and when she does, I am willing to lose my own composure and start echoing that roaring, tear-jerking laughter of hers.  (I swear, sometimes I can hear the voices of all the women that came before her, chiming-in from the previous century, and from beyond… wherever they’ve gone.)

“Who else calls you ‘gorgeous’, silly?” — I confront.

“Eh.  People.”

Okay.  I do lose my shit here.

I’ve called the woman last night after a very valid question posed to me by one of my girls:  Why are we so horny?  My girl is one of those fearless broads who is constantly decked out in designer clothes, killer heels; who drives big, expensive cars and motorcycles while channeling her own version of Danika Patrick; and who has a few dangerous hobbies and worldly curiosities in tow — all of which she accomplishes with her own money, by the way.  (Sure, there are times when she allows her power player to pick-up the tab; but it is never out of need or manipulation, but a mere humoring of his gender.  It’s just a lil’ dance she does.)  And to wrap up that phenomenal package is the woman’s wild sexuality and the body equipped to keep up with it.

Terms “fearful” or “unsure” would never be applied to either one of us; but when together, out on the town:  Watch out!  Trouble — in heels.  She and I try not to go out hunting together too much unless in the company of other, slightly more co-dependent women who can distract us from baiting the men of our interest.  But even if we don’t step out for the purpose of bringing men home, no doubt there are plenty of phone numbers collected.  (What happens when we do need a man?  Hmm.  I can’t tell you, kittens ‘n’ babies; because we both prefer to hunt alone.  Besides:  We don’t kiss ‘n’ tell.)

These days, with plenty of aspirations and self-employment gigs to juggle, I tend to have very little time for entertainment by any man’s company.  Because you see, recently, I’ve had to embrace the fact that most employers and I — just don’t jive well.  (True, quite a few of my bosses have been distant relatives of the very Devil; but most people I know have the ability to suck it up somehow.  Apparently:  I don’t suck up.)  So, here I am:  hustling a career of a freelancer with few more stable independent contractor agreements on the side (as “stable” as those get).  Add to that not one, but three careers in the making — and I myself am starting to feel like a distant relative of the very Shiva.

A busy broad I am, that’s true, with very little leftover time for a single girl’s dating life.  Very little time — or patience.  The way I see it, nowadays, my man — better be fun.  I have to be stoked about dating him; because if it’s a drag at all — “Do svidanya, darling!”  I’m earning plenty of wrinkles due to my lack of sleep and perfecting my hustler image already.  So, to have any additional worries caused by the man I’m seeing seems utterly unnecessary, wasteful — and, forgive me, just outright wrong.

However, my vagina — begs to differ.  By the feel of it, I am thinking I’m reaching the very peak of my sexuality; because unlike most women I know (except for my personal Danika Patrick), sex crosses my mind on a daily basis.

So, what IS a single girl to do?  I’ve tried sleeping with friends:  Always a loaded idea.  I’ve entertained requesting a regular service from an ex:  A horrendous, never-again idea!  And yes, of course, I’ve attempted the whole casual sex experiment.  That’s the better idea of ‘em all; but then, someone’s ego gets involved — and we’re back to the bad idea.

The worst part of that third option (and this, I suspect, is the part that most of you, kittens ‘n’ babies, won’t like hearing) — is that being a sexually liberated woman often results in confronting a gender-related double standard.  I don’t think you need me to break this one down for you, but if I openly admit to a man that I am mostly interested in (and have time for) sex, he won’t say, “Nyet!” — but his opinion of me will drop a coupla notches.  So, what I’m confronted with these days is a concept of Casual Dating:  I do this whole dating dance for a lil’ bit (just like my Danika) until jumping under the sheets no longer seems rushed or slutty.  And when someone can’t handle it any longer — I go.

 

“Um.  Mom?”

“Da?”

“So, why AM I so horny?”

“Sank yourr grrand-mozer!”

I think what she said had somethin’ to do with her own motha — a descendent of a Belorussian gypsy.  Apparently, this lack of sexual hang-ups is a genetic thing with us (which, according to motha — is also the reason for the troubled marriages and relationships in our fam).

“Well…  Does it get easier with time?”

“Hmm.  Nyet.”  (Thanks for the honesty, motha.)  “But you won’t care as much.” 

One of the better qualities I’ve inherited from the women in our fam (from the previous century and from beyond… wherever they’ve gone) — is the responsibility we take for our own self-esteem.  No man is ever burdened with caring for us, gypsies.  But to find lovers who can accept such independence — along with our wild sexuality — has been tremendously hard, for centuries.  So, we agree to dance with them, for a lil‘ while, until someone can’t keep up.  And when the going gets hard — the gypsies go.  Yet, according to motha, instead of inheriting grudges and carrying them into the next relationship — a dance or a casual date alike — we eventually learn to shrug off our losses and to forgive.

Well then.  That sounds like a plan, gorgeous.

“I-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t: Do You Know What That Mean?”

There is a poem by a dead comrade from my Motha Land dedicated to us, Russian broads.  It goes like this:

“She will stop a galloping horse and walk into a burning house.”  

We are like that, the broads in my motha’s family:  Never the tall or skinny supermodel types, we’ve been known to have smaller frames, upon which some have packed on curves, especially after carrying their firstborns.  For a couple of centuries, since a gypsy entered our family and genes, we’ve been strutting closer to the ground; and, as in the case of my motha’, have learned to sway our hips with enough gusto and sex to keep us better balanced in our short bodies.

But you would never call us “small.”  Even these days, most of my comrades are confused when I climb off my Femme Nikita heels and start standing a lil’ bit over five feet tall.

“You’re so short?!” they say with a sincere wonderment.

“It’s my ego,” I’ve learned to explain.  “It makes up for my height.”

From what I’ve overheard of the fam’s mysterious history, the broads of my motha’s clan have always had some serious temper on them.  Blame in on the Romani blood, but these wild cats have been known to intimidate their husbands and children into life-long submission — and heart-altering love — while getting shit done with the assistance of their famed sexuality.  Oh, yes, siree!  Hot-blooded, stubborn and messy-headed, these creatures have granted me their fearless make-up.  Especially when going through hell — when right in the very midst of it — we aren’t the ones to show fear.  And only when alone or in the arms of a man privileged to have tamed us into quietness for a while do we become the scared little girls every woman should be allowed to be.

All this preface to say:  I don’t need help!  Whenever lugging heavy loads in life, I don’t ask for assistance.  I can handle it on my own, thank you:

“Pleeze, dan’t khelp me!” I always shoosh away my comrades’ helping hands, in my motha’s thick Russian accent; and while I proceed with my stubborn struggle, I watch their beloved faces crack-up in recognition of my authenticity.  “Yourr velkom!”

Yesterday, after the expiration of the bloody tax deadline, I’ve finally ventured out to my local post-office with a couple of accumulated care-packages for my beloveds on the East Coast.  Typical to LA-LA’s fashion, this particular USPS location didn’t come with customer parking (shocker!); and after circling the neighborhood and deconstructing its street cleaning signs for nearly half an hour, I finally squeezed into a slot between the tank of a Hummer and a clogged-up sewage drain, about five blocks away from my destination.  Other than the reek that surrounded my car and reminded me of my Motha Russia’s cow fields, I didn’t mind the walk.  So, off I went, balancing in a newer pair of Femme Nikita heels in my best runway walk, while lugging my boxes.

Needless to mention, no man has offered to help.  Actually, there is a need to mention that.  I know the lovely creatures of my gender have made strides in pursuit of their equality; but until we are genetically predisposed to pack on muscles equal to those of men, chivalry should NOT be off the table.  Fuckin’ pussies!  Ball-less weaklings!  Call themselves “men”…

Oh, sorry.  Where was I?  What did I tell ya:  I’ve got quite a temper on me!

Actually, there was one creature who seemed to empathize with my load:  a drunk homeless man who took a break from vomiting out his morning meal, wiped-off the foaming saliva off his crooked, toothless mouth and slurred out:

“Getchaself a cart!”

Thanks, buddy — for this life-changing piece of advice.

Still, I remained un-phased.  But the weight of the load must’ve had some effect on my face; because by the time I reached the damn post-office, a Russian compatriot, who was meditating outside with a cigarette in his right hand, said:

“OH.  SHIT,” — and hurried to open the door for me.

Inside, it would’ve been a normal occurrence of events — unworthy of my rant blog — if it weren’t a handful of construction workers holding hostage one of the windows for the entire duration of my waiting in line, then my lugging struggles to the window, then what had to be a somewhat amusing attempt to lift these fuckers onto my clerk’s counter.

I’ve been a woman for long enough to know when I’m being stared at.  With every follicle on my skin, I can usually feel a stranger’s eyes on me; and despite all of my temperamental huffing and puffing at the window, I knew the brothers were watching me.  So:  I shot ‘em my askance look.

There was a beauty in their dirty faces, an unexpected type, and it caught me off-guard.  In mismatching overalls and torn-up frocks, with unbrushed locks of hair or long strands of dreadlocks, they had to be independent contractors on their way back from building a stage at Coachella.  Or something like that.  And despite the heat of my temper affecting my better reason, I immediately wanted to know their story.  But still too pissy to soften up, I barely nodded in their direction and pretended to be consumed with comprehending the shipping rates my clerk’s mouth was now spewing out.

On my strut toward the exit and past the still staring brothers, I felt an extra spring in my step:  I just did that, my comrades, all on my own!  And now I was heading back out — to hustle and survive! — while looking pretty damn good for a broad who hasn’t rested since the beginning of the year.

With the corner of my eye, I sensed one of the workers jamming his elbow into his colleague’s ribcage; and he, in response, slid off his camouflage cap and with enough selfless innocence to make me wanna adopt him said:

“You’re beautiful.”

Phew.

Yep.

Da.

Time-out.

It was merely impossible, my darlings, to keep putting on my front without tearing up.  I nodded and thanked him, all kinda off the cuff.  Yet, I could feel my heart skipping a beat.  And in that moment, unmarred by the man’s further pursuit of my name or phone number; in that moment that a woman can never expect a life to grant her — not in this day and age! — I knew that the struggle of self-possession and the high price of independence have been worth it; even if — just for that moment.