Tag Archives: nyet

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.”

“Everything Was Beautiful. Nothing Hurt.”

“But!  Everything that HAS been — has not been forsaken

Oh, I have kissed everyone:  From paupers, to the kings.”

When motha breaks shit down — she destroys it.  “Half-assed” — is never her way.

And it is also brutal:  Our love for each other.  Unmistakably human.  Faltered and stubbornly redemptive.  This love — has been three decades in the making:  Some screwball tragicomedy that not even I, in my sickest mind, can think up.

(Yes, I may be young to some.  To others, who have witnessed my Americanized Tinker Bell version, I may appear full of hysterical delight.  I AM — all that.  As you wish.  But I am also a faithful lover of the human race; and for that, for years, I have been willing to risk my heart.  And yes, I have seen some shit, loves; and I have seen love — go to shit.  Still:  I have withstood it all.  And if you tell me it does not take a sick mind to keep coming back for more, then you and I just happened to speak two unrelated languages.)

Motha descended upon this town yesterday, on a witch’s broom, by her own admission.  She was late upon arrival (not typical to her chronically anxious character); but when she finally came down — she crashed.  Noise, voice, hair — it’s all so loud with her!  And when I first embraced her, I did NOT wonder how this tiny woman, standing two heads shorter than me, could contain so much life.

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder!”

She stepped off her broom, fixed her hair (to no avail); and as we walked home (I, sturdily in my flats, in control; she — all woman, chasse-ing in heels), we both unleashed our unwritten stories, the gypsy descendants that we were.  Flipping our disobedient manes to the wind, we took turns making each other laugh.  Motha laughs easily, readily; but I’m the only one to get her going at her own expense.  I, on the other hand, am much more reserved.  In my other parent’s ways, I chuckle, if that.  But then again, this messy and magnificent woman knows how to get me out of control; and so I become like daughter like mother.

Immediately, I suspected:  It would be different with us, this time.  Normally, motha doesn’t take a “nyet” for an answer.  She doesn’t give a flying fuck about my “boundaries” or my Americanized need “for personal space”.  Her life’s is too short of a privilege to miss out on encounters.  “Half-assed” — is just NOT her way.  But when she heard of her daughter’s two week ailment, she fucking imposed!  She invaded!  She came — to heal and to care — a maternal duty that has never been demanded from her by her self-sufficient child.

The medicinal witchcraft was whipped out as soon as I shut the door to my home.

“These eez forr you!  And these — eez forr you!”

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder she showed up with a suitcase!”

(I’ve learned to never expect things from our love; and perhaps, that’s all for the better:  In the end, it has taught me how to love and to let go.  It has taught me — how to withstand.)

Motha’s invasion carried us to the shore.  We attempted to bask in the sun, but mostly we froze in the late afternoon breeze.  She has called up someone with a yacht in the Marina.

“Jesus,” I thought.  “No wonder she’s got more connects in this bloody town!”

And there would be many more:  Random people I have never seen before, coming out of the woodwork.  In every neighborhood where I chose to take a break (to catch my breath and drink up a doze of reality), they would deliver advice and meds, but most importantly — my returning hope for humanity, in dozes.  Before I knew it, matchmaking was happening, via the service of a handsome woman with a magnificent ass.  Someone was handing me a free cup of tea of dandelion root.  At a Ukrainian deli, where motha has finagled for me to use a bathroom, lipsticked mouths of old women were hollering at their grumpy butcher in the back:

“Let our girl pass!  Let our girl pass!”

A woman cashier with the face of compassion looked at me and said:

“Put that weight down, youth.  You’re carrying too much.”

Oh, I have never seen this city like this, loves!  I’ve learned not to expect much compassion from strangers.  But last night, the city was different:  It — was teaching me to withstand.

In the evening, there would be more tales and more witchcraft.  Motha whipped out her gypsy songs, then YouTubed a bearded bard to accompany her dance:

“When love, tender by its habit, gets tired to please this mortal coil with hope, 

I’ll bring the rest of my bloody life up to a burning match!

Because it is better to get burnt by love — then to run from it.” 

“Happy song!  Happy song!” — motha insisted while sitting on my floor and shimmying her shoulders (a gypsy dance move apparently).  

Eventually, there would be food, too much of it, just the way we, Russians, always insist.  There would be some strange sparkling wine, bitter and spicy like ginger, and immediately intoxicating.  Ancestors’ recipes were followed.  Instructions were being recycled.  Words, voices, stories, anecdotes — it’s all so loud with us.  (When I offered some soaking salts for motha’s bath, “Vhy?!” she said.  “Just poot zem in yourr soup!”)

And when it all subsided and each woman lay down in her own bed, lullabies of forgiveness covered everything with their white noise.  As the week-long insomnia surrendered to what would be my first night of 10-hour dreamless sleep, I heard the bard’s voice and my mother’s breathing, ever so loud:

“And for the gift of our encounter, 

I am ready to forgive my fate for everything.

So, here it is:  The wonderful happening 

That gives meaning to an empty word ‘to live’!”

Had I not forgiven my every love, I would’ve missed out on too many stories worthy of my hope, I thought.  I would have discounted too many faces, dismissed too many loves.  But haven’t you heard, loves?  “Half-assed” — is just not MY way!  Because to withstand it all — and come out on the other end, still willing to love — in my motha’s fashion, I’d rather go all in.

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.