Humorous stories about the Electric Dog
- The Electric Dog Goes Buddhist
- Electric Dog and Water Shrew
- The Electric Dog Interviews The Aids Virus
- The Electric Dog Undergoes Sex Change
- Burping and Enlightenment: The Hidden Link
- Collecting Rent in the Tower of Babel
- The Hapless Pal, The Cruiser and the Pirate Ship
- A Career in Glossolalia! (speaking in tongues)
- Interpreting in the City of Dreams. A really surreal story. “The greatestcity on the face of the Earth?”
- It’s A Job Avoiding Work
- From Lenin To Harry Potter: How To Publish A Book In Russia
- How To Survive The Rigors Of Mortis. Death’s sting is readily found at the local funeral parlour in Russia
The Electric Dog Goes Buddhist
|This time, the Electric Dog was really down. None of his usual tricks and defenses worked. He tried to write a sensational bestseller, but could not get past a two-page outline. He wrote a revolutionary paper on drugs and the human mind, but no one wanted to publish it.
His worldly possessions dwindled to a futon, a laptop computer and a copy of the Dhammapada. He had no job and no home, and he managed to alienate most of his friends with his incessant complaints.
On top of it, his health was deteriorating; neither exercise, nor generous doses of multivitamins seemed to help. While the present was perfectly abhorrent, the future looked even bleaker.
What was he to do? Commit suicide? Get a straight job and go back to his girlfriend?
No, there was one last gambit he was going to try before limiting himself to such hard choices.
He was going to become a Buddhist.
He went to a monastery on top of a mountain where they taught mindfulness as a way out of life’s misery. All one had to do was to watch one’s stomach rise and fall as one sat on a cushion for twelve hours a day. The delusions and desires of worldly life were supposed to slough off one’s mind like so much loose debris. That sounded simple enough.
The Dog was so miserable and so determined to get rid of his misery that he actually engaged in this new method of finding happiness, quite conscientiously, for almost two weeks.
His buttocks hurt like hell. Instead of resting at night he had nightmares. Even the food, so eagerly awaited during sittings, somehow failed to satisfy him.
He was trying to get his mind to follow his breath–and whatever else was happening in his body — but the mind refused to be a trained circus pony and was bucking like a wild mare. It would only fall quiet in order to lull the Dog’s suspicion and then throw him off its back all the more triumphantly.
Nonetheless, the Dog saw very clearly what a fraud he had been during his previous life. He saw the effects of his self-destructive and delusional thinking. He even learned how to, if ever so briefly, stop the restless meandering of his mind by watching his stomach rise and fall.
But to get beyond suffering or even beyond conflict about suffering or not suffering – that he could not do. He guessed that Buddhists, just like everyone else, were overselling their case.
One morning, he woke up with such a sense of desperation and hopelessness that the original choice of either getting a straight job and settling down, or committing suicide, reared its ugly head again.
That morning, he broke his usual routine, climbed up to the top of the mountain and sat there under a blue gum tree.
He resolved not to move until he could come up with the answer to his life’s dilemma.
He sat there for what seemed like eternity.
Finally, strange energy began to pulsate through his body. He saw a brilliant white cloud descend upon him, illuminating the farthest recesses of his mind.
Just at that moment a bull ant bit him on his already sore buttocks. As the searing pain tore through his body, he experienced a blinding flash and a surging sense of enlightenment.
As his mind became more composed he perceived the meaning of his revelation: there were not four, but five Noble Truths of Buddhism. They went like this:
Who needs sex or possessions, he reflected, when you can have so much power?
The beautiful female acolytes will even put food into your bowl, so that you can become like a child (or a drone) before you enter Nirvana. You can watch junior monks go through mind-numbing rounds of meditation and walking which would even impress a drill sergeant. What’s more, your charges would be doing it completely voluntarily. They would even try to outdo each other in their feats of submission and mortification.
The Dog found that among the aspiring followers of the Gentle One competition for merit, recognition, and power was even fiercer than in the society at large. Instead of greed, anger and ambition, steel buttocks, mental endurance and rote memory were the prerequisites for success. The Buddhist scene around him seemed to have as much to do with the original experience of Buddha as the sittings of the Vatican Council had to do with the wanderings of the unruly band of rogues who gathered around the rabble-rouser from Galilee.
The Dog got up from under the gum tree, gently rubbed the spot where the bull ant had bitten him, and started his descent from the mountain.
At first he thought that he would start teaching people the Five Noble Truths that had been revealed to him. But then he realized that people would not listen. They were so eager to give away their power for even a temporary relief from suffering via some second-hand guru or technique that they would ignore him and might even stone him.
The Dog stowed his futon in the van and started on the road leading back to town. He donated his copy of Dhammapada to the monastery’s library. His buttocks still hurt but a vague sense of joy at having found his own truth was rising in his soul.
A butterfly skimmed over the road and landed on a gum tree. The Dog smiled. Why burn the house down just because it is going to fall over some day?
The butterfly seemed to be telling him, “Life may be short and full of strife and disappointment, but it is still worth living—with acceptance and grace.”
At that point he became a Buddhist
© Pyotr Patrushev
Electric Dog and Water Shrew
The paradox of Success and Failure
in Life and in Therapy
We have all heard the story of the hundredth monkey. It is a marvelously inspiring tale, albeit largely apocryphal. But personally, I find the stories of an Electric Dog and a Water Shrew more appealing and instructive.
|Fido was a very clever dog, with a doggy IQ, of 140. However, an even cleverer psychologist, who was like God to Fido, designed a test for him. He put Fido into a box, divided it into two, with a gate in between, and put a light bulb in each box. He also … cunning fellow … connected electricity to the metal grid that was the floor in Fido’s new home. Then he lit up the bulb and, within a few seconds, turned the switch on. Fido catapulted himself into the safely of the box nеxt door. But soon the light went on in there also, and the shock came, and Fido jumped back through the gate in a flash. It did not take him long to draw conclusions. As soon as the light would go on, Fido would speedily repair to the other box. No more shocks. Phew!
This went on for a very long time (5,000 times to be exact). Soon Fido knew what they meant by the stress of modern (dog’s) life. But at he least thought that he was smart: no more shocks. This faith in his own intelligence kept him going through the loops.
What be did not know was that the Creator of the Experiment had long ago disconnected the electricity. No more shocks. But Fido never bothered to check the grid. He just kept jumping. Know what I mean? Big on brains, low on trust.
Fido could learn a trick or two from the lowly Water Shrew who lived in a swamp by the creek, if he stopped being so proud of his intelligence. For the Water Shrew was a master cartographer. To get to a water hole, the Shrew studies the path with utmost care for a long time. Every branch, every stone gets scanned and put into a 3-D map. Once the Job is done, whoosh, the Shrew is at the water hole no time all.
What happens if we put a brick in his carefully planned path? Is our Shrew smarter than Fido? Here he goes, up the tree, takes a run and-smack!!- straight into the brick at 100mph. Ouch!! Shakes his head, up again- maybe be was up a wrong tree or something… Smack!!- into the brick at 100pmh.
This time, he goes into a meditation, Then, very, very slowly -1 mile per hour – he climbs down. checking every step. The brick gets stored into the file. He can now cover the path at l00mph again. He redrew the map. Smart.
Some people will tell you that they know how to turn frogs into princes (nothing personal against NLP-just a metaphor), Failure into success. They forget to tell you sometimes that yours- and theirs, and society’s- picture of success is coloured by our individual experiences of failure. For Fido, success is being a super jumper. Keeping one step ahead of the lights. He takes up aerobics and relaxation classes, goes on a Pritikin diet, buys a bagful of multi vitamins and subscribes to a health and illness magazine. He is too busy finding solutions to his problem to check the grid, to redraw the map of his past experience. Before you can say “Jump” he is an old and disillusioned dog. His life is not much more than a logbook of burnt calories, (The message is: Don’t get hung up on techniques and solutions. They are fine, as long as they do not prevent you from taking your soul to a spiritual laundromat.)
If being a Prince is yours… or your therapist’s idea of success then, before you program yourself to become one, you may wish to do a Water Shrew Meditation. You may descend, ever so slowly and carefully-1 mph?-into the belly of the frog, where the Prince is supposed to hide.
There, among the long-forgotten sensations, smells and. sounds, you may discover why you are who you are. Then, and only then, it may become apparent to you who you really want to be. You almost certainly will not want to be a Prince. That puts you into too high a tax bracket. Plus there are those nasty kidnappers who want to cut off your ears. No thanks.
Is this too simple? Sure. Our whole personality, our karmic path if you wish is shaped in the belly of the frog over many, many lifetimes (here I mean it in a real, biological sense, although you are free to impose your own interpretation). Fido would not dream of doing a past life regression. You have to be infinitely mindful to unravel a map that old and patient, and trusting that whoever designed this experiment called Life was not just a smart Alec psychologist who makes us jump until we are blue in the face in order to prove to his PhD committee how smart he Is.
Herman Melville remarked that. “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” And also: “He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great.” Well, we do not want to worship failure either. To be an “original failure” will probably make you a bore at parties – if you ever get invited at all. If you re-examine your path to the water hole really carefully, you may go beyond the habitual ideas of success and failure altogether. The Water Shrew would not buy anyone else’s idea of how to get to the destination. And he’s been around a lot longer than us. Have a happy journey.
I am grateful to Ron Kurtz, the founder of Hakomi Therapy, for the two animal stories. The Electric Dog Experiment was actually carried out by Solomon and Wynn, and reported In the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 1942.
© Pyotr Patrushev
The Electric Dog Interviews The Aids Virus
As the Electric Dog walked down from his small but neat townhouse to the primitive wooden hut where Water Shrew lived at the edge of the stream, the wondered how his friend would take the news he was about to break. Would he lose his habitual cool? Or gloat? Would he even understand?
He felt particularly vulnerable and self-conscious, remembering how he used to tease his conservative friend about being a “sexual mastodon”, and a “dick-in-the mud”.
But the Shrew who was silently observing his friend’s hangdog expression for days needed no prompting. Looking at him with his deep-set eyes, almost completely concealed by the soft fur, he broke the silence: “I know you are HIV-positive.”
“How on earth did you guess?” the Dog asked in amazement.
The Shrew ignored his question. “Well, tell me how you feel about it,” he said, sitting down by the pile of wood he was chiseling with his sharp teeth, preparing a replacement for his old fence.
The Electric Dog told him about the initial shock of the diagnosis, his anger at the press who were setting up the gays as the plague carriers, his growing sense of loss and danger, and his attempts to come to grips with it.
“I am sticking to ‘safe sex’ and I have started a meditation and a visualization class,” he confided to his friend. “You know, 65% of all HIV-positive people never get AIDS anyway. I am on mega doses of Vitamin C to knock the bloody critters out of my system, and I hope to be able to go to Mexico where there is this guy who uses extracts from the poison of a rattlesnake to cure AIDS”.
“My naturopath tells me the worst thing for me is peanut butter and jam sandwiches – to which, alas, I am addicted. The Candida and the HIV virus apparently love it too”, he added ruefully.
“I asked you how you FEEL, not what you are going to DO,” the Water Shrew interjected finally. “Anyway, while we are on the subject of doing, did you tell your Mom and Pop about your predicament?”
“You’re kidding?” the Electric Dog looked at him incredulously “They won’t even listen. Mom will tell me that this is because I have always refused to wear thermal underwear in winter and Dad will only repeat, ‘I told you so’. Then, they’ll start blaming each other. No, I can’t tell them. Not yet, anyway.”
“And what are your friends saying?” asked the Shrew.
“Most of them are in their wits’ end,” said the Dog. “Some are already refusing to fight and are succumbing to their guilt and the medical propaganda, some are living it up as if these were the last days, and only the minority, like myself, are fighting back.”
“Do you want to do a Water Shrew Meditation to see if we can shed any light on your predicament?” asked his trusty friend.
“Well, yes, I’ll try anything”, said the Dog.
“Sit quietly, close your eyes and allow your mind to go to the Center of Animal Intelligence in your consciousness”, intoned the Shrew hypnotically. “Let all thoughts and ideas arise uncritically. Watch your breath go down into the pit of your belly. Speak only when your mind is at peace.”
It took the Electric Dog some time to quiet down. Finally, his belly was heaving rhythmically and his eyelids stopped twitching. He was in a deep trance.
“What do you see?” asked the Shrew.
The Electric dog cleaned his throat and started haltingly.
I see something…looks like a spiky ball, covered by cobwebs. No…tiny blood vessels. I see it’s pulsating and turning. I think it’s alive. Oh, yes, I think it is the HIV virus.”
“Talk to it.”
“It won’t talk to me,’ said the Dog.
“Because…because it does not like the name it’s been given, and it does not like being treated as an enemy.”
“Ask it its real name,” suggested the Shrew.
“He says his real name is the Forgotten Anger. He says he has lived in a small cupboard of our collective unconscious for thousands of years waiting for the opportunity to talk to us.”
“He says now we may be ready to listen. But we must stop fighting him on our terms only. He says we can’t win that way. He says he is very, very smart. He says he is infinitely mutable. He is, after all, a part of our deepest intelligence.”
“Ask him what his message is.”
“He says the clue was given to us long ago…and repeatedly. Something about ‘the enmity between the man and the woman, and between your offspring and hers…”
“That’s a bit obscure. Ask him why Africa and why gays?”
“He says because Africa is the cradle of humankind. Africa is our forgotten childhood and Africa is in deep, deep pain. He says he has chosen the gays because they may be able to see clearer what others may see only through a glass darkly.”
“What s the meaning and value of ‘safe sex’?”
“He says he has given us latex as a mantra to meditate upon the depth of our alienation from each other. ‘What Nature has put together, latex shall keep apart.’ He says what we cannot see through the loss of meaning, we might after a time, be able to grasp through the loss of joy.”
The Dog fell silent for a long time. For a while, his eyelids twitched violently. Then the trembling stopped and the even breathing gradually returned.
“What to you see, Dog?” asked the Shrew.
“I see s steel ball, bristling with antennas, hurling at an incredible speed through space.”
“Ask the ball what its name is.”
“It says the name is Battle station SDI-X777”.
“Is this its real name?”
“No…the real name is… the Forgotten Anger.”
“You mean the same name as the virus?”
“Yes, it says it is one of its many disguises. It says that because we can’t see it in its everyday garb – which is our own callousness and petty anger and mindless cruelty to each other, and to the Earth, and to our children and animals – it has to become a bit dramatic at times.”
“What are its instructions to us?”
“Stop fighting and start talking.”
“You mean, nations, men and women, gays and straights, poor and rich, humans and animals, adults and children talking to each other about the Forgotten Anger?”
“So what is the ‘cure’ for AIDS?”
“It is the vaccine made from Love, Forgiveness, and Compassion.”
“Thank the Forgotten Anger for talking to us.”
In a few moments, the Electric Dog opened his eyes, stretched, and looked around as if waking from a deep sleep.
“That was a fine dream, Shrew,” he said. “I already feel better. When can we do another Water Shrew Meditation? But you know what? I have forgotten to ask…that…thinking… the most important question.”
“What question, Electric Dog?”
“Whether I can still have my peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
© Pyotr Patrushev
Burping and Enlightenment: The Hidden Link
(A paper presented at the Last International Congress on Holonomic Divergence, Psycho-Physical Asynchronicities and the Nature of Unreality held in Sophia, Bulgaria, in 2012)
The connection between burping and enlightenment first struck me about 25 years ago as I sat listening to the divine words of His Battiness Mendashi Burpish Yogi. What I noticed was that every time he would mention the word “enlightenment”, he would also emit an almost imperceptive, very “ethereal”, as his followers assured me, but a definite burp.
A scientific study, conducted at my request at the Mendashi International University at Earth’s End, Tasmania, showed that parasympathetic overstimulation found in enlightened persons leads to increased peristalsis and thus to a slight tendency to emit air from the upper gastrointestinal tract. The benefits of this phenomenon include lesser need to emit air from the lower gastrointestinal tract (a definite plus at crowded meditation retreats), the strengthening of the esophagus, and creation of valuable pauses which allow an enlightened person to think carefully before answering tricky questions posed by the press. When performed properly, it also gives him or her (usually him) an “air of importance.”
The rate of burping (the term used by scientists is actually “eructation”) was found to vary widely among enlightened individuals. The most enlightened person in the world, a recluse found in a cave in Upper Uttar Pradesh, burped at the rate of 20 per minute, a clear lead over the runner up from New Jersey, who only burped 15 times a minute. The Uttar Pradesh champion, when he finally broke his 50-year silence to enable him to take his teachings to the West, complained that the rice and chapatti given to him over the last few decades were always undercooked.
Another scientist at the MIU thought that he located a burping centre in the grain’s hypothalamus, which he suitable termed “substantia eructa.” When stimulated intracranially in humans, it caused burping, feelings of inexpressible bliss, and a strong erection. In cats it caused burping, purring, and an even stronger erection, which the scientists at MIU thought was a proof that cats can also get enlightened. “The erection connection”, as it was termed, was found puzzling at first, but was finally explained by the close proximity of “substantia eructa” to brain’s sexual centers. (Some even suggested that it should be renamed “substantia erecta.”)
Since these first findings were published, sociologists noticed a much greater acceptance of burping among the general population. References to burping were found both in the Bible and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars have pointed out that both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross were apparently inveterate burpers, as was St. Augustine. In the Bible, the sentence, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…”, the “little ones” were thought to refer to the minute burps described above, cold water being a traditional home remedy against them.
In the US, an “enlightenment” or “soma” pill soon appeared on the black market under the name “Belchaid.” It was soon banned by the FDA because of its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, but only after the FDA and the DEA staffs managed to stockpile sufficient amounts of it for themselves.
During the Presidential elections in the US in 1996 Bill Clinton took a clear lead over other candidates primarily because of the frequency of his burping (some said that he was boasting a little).
In the meantime, Mendashi Burpish announced that people who were practicing his Transformational Burping (or TB) were “simultaneously helping to alleviate suffering and wars all over the world.” “Every burp,” he said, “is a step to a greater collective harmony and is equivalent to one less bullet and one less starving mouth.” The scientists at MIU have calculated that with only 1% of the world’s population practicing TB, and burping on the average 5 times a minute, the world would be free of hunger and violence in 10 years. Advanced burpers were sent to the main trouble spots of the world, while people were paying up to $1000 a week for techniques and courses which would increase their burping rate.
What appeared at first as a mere fad was gradually becoming a mainstream activity. A Harvard physician published an erudite book called “The Burping Response,” which made the whole thing seem very respectable even to MDs. A leading social analyst in the US wrote a book called “Megaburp” which predicted the effects of mass burping on social structures of the world. A prominent physicist has also published “The Tao of Burping” which linked humble human eructations both to convulsions in the deep space and to the merry frolics of subatomic particles.
Unfortunately, the 2007 Wall Street collapse and the subsequent depression have shifted public attention to the more mundane realities of life. A pity. It would have been so much better if, as the poet has predicted, the world “would go not with a bang, but with a burp.”
© Pyotr Patrushev
Collecting Rent in the Tower of Babel
There are some people who think that translators and interpreters are at worst a nuisance and at best a necessary evil; many a businessmen and lawyer have asked questions about the possible advent of automated translation and interpreting systems.
One of the few fortunate polyglots, the writer Nabokov, wrote, only half in jest:
What is a translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head;
A parrots screech, a monkey’s chatter,
A profanation of the dead.
Yet it is likely that, even with all the recent advances in voice recognition and machine translation, translators and interpreters are here to stay. Why? One of the more notorious examples of machine mistranslation is the computer rendering of the proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind” as “Blind idiot”.
Not that human translators are always faultless. One often cited example is the allegedly faulty rendering of the message from the Japanese War Cabinet to the US government during the Second World War. Apparently, the conciliatory and polite undertones of the Japanese message were totally lost in translation. What came next was Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
President Carter’s interpreter’s faux pas during a trip to Poland is another example etched into the annals of interpreting history. The “longing” for friendship with the Polish people was rendered as “lusting”. It was particularly embarrassing after Carter’s disclosure in his interview with the Playboy magazine that he was prone to an occasional lascivious thought.
In this perfectly imperfect world, interpreters and translators are sometimes required to do much more than faithfully translate someone’s occasionally confused utterings into another tongue. For politicians, interpreter can be a buffer against a careless slip of the tongue, or, if need be, even a convenient scapegoat.
It is well-known that in the pre-perestroika days Soviet interpreters had a fairly free hand in shaping their politicians’ speeches, in order to make them more acceptable. Of course, they were occasionally caught red-handed, as it happened during Brezhnev’s visit to London, when a glaring mistranslation was detected by the watchful fellows from the Russian Service of the BBC, who listened to the broadcast interview.
But even at the best of times interpreting may sometime present a conflict between etiquette and fidelity.
I recall how once in California, a visiting Soviet surgeon tried to defend the political apathy on the part of the majority of Soviet scientists by claiming that they were simply too busy with science to worry about politics. His blunt American host retorted by saying, “This is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard in my life”. The apprehensive face of the Soviet visitor, who pretended to be so obtuse only because he did not want to lose his privilege of foreign travel, the smell of the Alaskan salmon baking in the kitchen, and the generally genteel atmosphere of the preceding discussion militated against literal translation of the host’s ungracious outburst. Yet, I did translate the mood, if not the literal language, of his remark. The interpreter is not the keeper of his clients’ peace of mind–or the flow of other guests’ digestive juices.
One of the more daunting assignments I had faced was interpreting during a conference of the American and Soviet writers at a resort on the US West Coast. The conference was attended by a number of leading US academics whose profession obviously included linguistic nitpicking.
During the first hour I saw how the bilingual participants at the conference were frantically flicking channels on their headsets, trying to compare the original with the translation. However, at the end of the day, I felt greatly relieved when a formidable looking white-haired female professor of literature from one of the East Coast universities came to me and confessed that she preferred to listen to my Russian translation of one of her colleagues’ speeches (he happened to come from a rival university), rather than the original. “I never knew that he could be made to sound so lucid–in any tongue,” she confessed without the slightest trace of malice in her voice.
Of course, sometime an original turn of phrase or a pun is too tricky to translate “on the fly”. Once, during a discussion on Freud, an American psychologist came up with a limerick that he thought his Soviet colleagues would enjoy.
Young men who frequent picture palaces
Have no use for psychoanalysis;
If you mention Freud
They are vastly annoyed
And cling to their longstanding fallacies.
But perhaps the most demanding interpreting jobs are the indoor “booth” jobs, with you and another interpreter sitting for days or weeks on end in a small and often poorly ventilated cubicle, with headphones perched on top of your head, trying to keep track of some obscure legal, technical or political discussion.
After a few years’ practice, the main danger is not in making mistakes in terminology but in succumbing to fatigue and boredom. There is a peculiar sort of ennui that can overtake a long-distance simultaneous interpreter after many days of virtual non-stop talking, as well as late night receptions, replete with cholesterol and generous doses of alcohol. Just when you thought you could safely go on autopilot, some delegate would decide to make a controversial interjection that would send everyone into a flurry of sharp-tongues repartees. If this happens late in the day, you begin to long for a good cup of coffee instead of the traditional carafes of cold water.
The sound technology, while being continually improved, can be a boon and a bane. Risque comments, even with the microphone supposedly off, are strictly off-limits. There was at least one case that I remember, when a colleague made a comment about the depth of the cleavage of the only female delegate during a conference on “Safety in Marine Environments”. The mike happened to be on, and the comment enlivened the otherwise dull proceedings. The interpreter was never thanked for his contribution–instead he got a reprimand from the organisers.
Different schools of interpreting insist on varying “safe distances” the interpreter must keep behind his or her client during simultaneous interpreting, to avoid mistakes. Yet, there is a sense of exhilaration when one is so confident of one’s skill that one can keep only a fraction of a second behind the speaker, almost breaking the “sound barrier”. The temptation to go ahead of the speaker, no matter how strong, must be resolutely resisted. Any attempt to defy linguistic gravity and to indulge one’s mind-reading abilities will usually lead to a disaster.
Observing famous or powerful people in their private, unguarded interactions with their peers is certainly an eye opener. One learns that often they are not only human, but all too human. There is that famous (and apocryphal) story about Stalin’s fly being open during his meeting with President Roosevelt. When he was discretely reminded by his host that “his bird is about to fly out of the nest”, Stalin, looking despondent, said, “Alas, only the two eggs remain in the nest.”
During the first live satellite hook-up between the US Congress and the Supreme Soviet in the 80’s, it was very instructive to watch the participants on close-circuit television during commercial breaks. The Americans were still trying to outsmart each other, while the Soviets were using their time to thrash out a common line of defence. The Soviets even provided the Americans with advance information about the number of “spontaneous comments” that could expected from them, without ever thinking that there was anything wrong with a bit of stage-managing.
Interpreting for the first time for two teams of heart surgeons was about as close as I had ever come to actually fainting on the job. Seeing a human rib cage unceremoniously ripped open and then held by butcher-like hooks in position was enough to make one forget how to translate “sternocleidomastoid” into another language. The need for quality interpreting during a heart operation is obvious. It may be less obvious in other areas, although the consequences of choosing a wrong person for the job may be just as dramatic.
Alas, the life of a freelance interpreter, no matter how clever or experienced he or she may be, is getting more demanding by the day. The funding of many international organisations is getting scarce, increasing competition for the remaining jobs. Professional bodies, such as the Geneva-based AIIC and the Australian NAATI, are attempting to impose stricter rules and greater professionalism on the field that is at the same time driven by laws of supply-and-demand, just like the rest of the economy. The selling point now is a proven experience under demanding and diverse environments, as well as the necessary connections with conference organisers and one’s colleagues.
As with writing, interpreting and translation require certain flare. Otherwise, the translation would simply resemble, in the immortal words of Cervantes, “the other side of tapestry”. The worst translations of the famous Chinese classic the I Ching (The “Book of Changes”) are by expert Sinologists. They are turgid and unimaginative. One of the most popular English renditions of this venerable Chinese classic is a secondary translation from German. But it is an inspired translation by someone who was a true mediator between East and West. It was Voltaire who said, “Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning!”
Poetry is notoriously hard to translate, although Pasternak’s translations of Shakespeare seem close to being perfect. Joseph Brodsky translated Polish poetry from literal translations done by others, as he spoke no Polish. The Soviet district court judge who was trying him on charges of “social parasitism”, complained about the quality of Brodsky’s translation purely for political reasons. Other, less capable translators can only render a synthetic replica of the flavour and taste of the original, even when they are supposedly fluent in both languages.
In the words of another Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching, a master craftsman “can fashion a door that requires no lock and create a good binding for a book without using knots”. But perhaps this is too much to expect from mere mortals who are only trying to pay their own rent by collecting the rent in the Tower of Babel. “The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower–and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel,” wrote one critic. But another one replied, much more forgivingly:
“Translation is entirely mysterious. Increasingly I have felt that the art of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else. What is the other text, the original? I have no answer. I suppose it is the source, the deep sea where ideas swim, and one catches them in nets of words and swings them shining into the boat … where in this metaphor they die and get canned and eaten in sandwiches”. True, true… But does the writer fish in the open sea, while the translator casts his net in a fish pond? The argument goes forever, reverberating through the clamorous chambers of the Tower of Babel.
© Pyotr Patrushev
The Hapless Pal, The Cruiser and the Pirate Ship
Once upon a time, a large ocean cruiser was going on a tour of the Pacific. It was visiting various exotic ports, life on board was full of gaiety and entertainment, food was sumptuous and rich – so much so that the ship’s surgeon often had to deal with cases of overindulgence, indigestion and even heart attacks and other ailments, brought upon by the diet and lifestyle of the clientele.
When the guests were not wining and dining or watching TV, or taking part in various games and entertainments, they were mostly asleep on their cabins or dozing off in their deck chairs alongside the pool.
Then, one day, the captain of the boat committed an indiscretion: he had left his cabin open, and one of the revellers, whose name was Hapless Paul, had by chance wondered into the cabin and idly began to leaf through the pages of the boat’s journal.
Great was his surprise when, opening the journal, Hapless Paul discovered that he was aboard a former pirate ship with many infamous raids to its record. More than that, the ship, as the log book and the journal showed, was still staffed and steered by the descendants of the original crew! He rushed to the aft and looked carefully at the flag which was gently fluttering in the winds. Yes, indeed! Underneath the new paint, there was the scull and the cross-bones, betraying the ship’s true origin.
Astounded, and yet unwilling to alarm his fellow passengers, Hapless Paul went into the machine section and found that underneath the gleaming machinery of the ship there were marks betraying the benches on which the slave oarsmen have sat in the past. He could also swear that some of the engine-room crew, who met him with sullen and unfriendly gazes, were descendants of the original slaves, with marks of chains still left on their ankles and necks.
And well below the decks he even found a secret compartment, in which crew members who were diseased or who went insane during a long and arduous voyage were incarcerated out of the view of the passengers, so that they would not be distressed by such a dreadful sight. Still below was a small dungeon, in which animals were kept in most terrible conditions, to be slaughtered for the pleasure of the guests, who preferred fresh meat to the frozen variety.
Now truly alarmed, Hapless Paul went to the top deck. He could no longer enjoy the meal, which was being served by the servants, clad in spotless white uniforms. He was beginning to look with pity at the other passengers who, unaware of what was going on, went on mindlessly engaging in their games and revelries and flirtations, as if the cruise was going to last forever.
More than that, Hapless Paul noticed on the horizon another pleasure cruiser under a seemingly friendly flag, steaming in a direction similar to theirs. That night, Hapless Paul could no longer even sleep. He was thinking of the discoveries he had made. He was getting pretty scared. Was that passing liner another pirate ship in disguise? What ignominies and cruelties could it be hiding under its decks? What if the crew at some point decided to drop the disguise and enslave the passengers?
What was he to do? Tell the other fellow passengers of his discoveries? Will they believe him? Or will the captain throw him, under some sanitary pretext, under the deck into the isolation ward, together with the raving lunatics and the diseased? Should he jump off at the first port and disappear into the crowd without ever telling anyone what he had seen? Should he keep quiet until more people discover the secret of the ship? Or should he trumpet the news from the mast, hoping that people will believe him and will shake themselves out of their ignorant and dangerous slumber?
Thus, Hapless Paul lay sleepless in his luxury cabin, twisting and turning in his bed, thinking about his dreadful dilemma.
If you were Hapless Paul, what would YOU do the next morning, as the first rays of sunlight broke over the horizon, while the ship kept steaming through the seemingly calm seas to its unknown destination?
Note 1: You can use colour crayons or pencils to illustrate your solution to the story
© Pyotr Patrushev
A Career in Glossolalia!
(speaking in tongues)
The road to a successful career in interpreting is not always strewn with roses. Mastering language and the craft of interpreting may be just a beginning. One of the hindrances of this profession is dealing with competition that will on occasion resort to cunning and deceit. The methods used by crafty competitors are universal and could be compared to horse-training techniques. Some useful illustrations may also be borrowed from another related profession, that of speaking in tongues.
It is generally assumed that in order to become a successful speaker in tongues you have to go to an elite school in Cairo or Haiti, have many years of practice at a junior level, and then graduate to those rarefied heights, attainable only to select few, namely, performing in front of a large congregation.
One of the first rules of successful career in speaking in tongues is to accumulate all sorts of credentials and references that may seem superfluous to the uninitiated, but can become a veritable goldmine to those who understand tricks of the trade. Become a member of as many groups, churches and organisations as you can. Get invitations as a speaker, particularly if you don’t actually have to provide bilingual examples of speaking in tongues, in case there may be people in the audience who channel your languages fluently. Accumulate references from even minor organisations, such as community groups and colleges, where you may be invited to perform. Ingratiate yourself with as many of your more gifted colleagues as you can, so that when time comes and you will need endorsements and references you will have plenty to draw upon.
Remember that many people who work in this demanding field are rather naïve, despite their extraordinary knowledge of other worlds, and are willing to help a novice colleague, not suspecting that in time he or she might become a fierce competitor.
When you have finally come to the point that you’re allowed to practice speaking in tongues publicly, you will have to use more elaborate strategies and ruses. You have to develop a special patter that will be a mixture of hesitancy and ingratiation, while at the same time giving a semblance of fluency (Note 1).
Most people will have difficulty in deciding whether it is the faulty loudspeaker, their own hearing, or the halting speech of the spirit you are channelling. At any rate, by the time they finish pondering on these topics, the performance is over and they can begin concentrating on more important matters, such as the long-awaited coffee break.
It will be most important for you to present yourself to your congregation during informal breaks and/or evening cocktails and dinners. Try to be helpful in their extracurricular activities such as shopping. Most people, once they have become familiar with you, will be averse to judging you too harshly or making an official complaint.
Another very important trick is not to be the first speaker at the start of the session. Initial impressions are important, and if the audience hears poor quality speaking in tongues in the beginning, this will be a cause for complaint. Therefore, if you are the first in line to begin speaking, you must use every trick you can, such as dropping your microphone, fumbling with your hair, pretending to be finishing a snack, or anything you can think of, so that your more conscientious and diligent colleagues will start channelling instead of you. After the initial impression has been formed, your own performance will be less important.
When engaging in xenoglossia (the speaking of an actual foreign language) try to avoid using commonly understood languages such as Pidgin English. If you have to do bilingual speaking in tongues, use every trick you know in order to limit your potential exposure. Arrange it so that your colleagues will do most of speaking into broken English. If all fails, you can simply “throw the switch” to your colleague, so that he or she will have no choice but to start speaking, because if they don’t, there will be an embarrassing silence and maybe a complaint.
It is extremely important to ingratiate yourself as much as possible with people who are truly important in the game of speaking in tongues, that is, agents/priests and contractors-speaker-in-tongues. More often than not, they will not speak a particular language that you speak and will therefore have no knowledge about the quality of your channelling. Remember, they are only human, and will therefore appreciate every bit of flattery, accommodation, I-am-not-the-one-to-rock-the-boat impression, and general pleasantries portraying a person who is easy-going and a “good team member”. Once you become accepted, it will be easy for you to manipulate the composition of the team, so that you will have only those people who either do not care about the quality of speaking in tongues, or are so grateful to be invited on the team that they will cooperate with your tactics fully.
But perhaps the most important choice you will make is the choice of languages. Try to choose languages that are not broadly known. If you find that Zulu or Pashtu are either beyond your ken or do not have enough aesthetic appeal, you can always try xenoglossy – speaking in a natural language that was previously unknown. If you think this is too cheeky, try Albanian or Slovene. Most people regard these and similar tongues so obscure that they will be grateful to get any exposure to them at all. Conversely, the spirits you channel will be so thankful that their languages are being recognised and that the organisers of the session have made an effort and have gone to the expense of paying for professional speaker in their tongues, that they are unlikely to complain. When all fails, demand to speak in front of a deaf audience (see cartoon). Practicing echolalia (Note 2) in front of a deaf (or stunned) audience produces a curious effect known as “deafening silence”.
And if they still complain, remember, all water finally runs under the bridge, contractors-speaker-in-tongues and agents/priests move on or get replaced, and the weight of evidence you have accumulated as a “star” speaker in tongues will, hopefully, nullify any temporary inconvenience of a localized complaint.
And so bon voyage, my aspiring speaker in tongues! Let your less practical colleagues languish in their ivory towers, talking to their elitist spirits, while you get all the really juicy jobs and the resultant adulation of the masses (and the financial rewards that come with it).
There is a saying: it is not what you know, or even the spirits you channel, but how you can manipulate the crowd that you are channelling to!
Note 1: Uttering gibberish that is interpreted as profound or even mystical insight is an ancient practice. In Greece, even the priest of Apollo, god of light, engaged in prophetic babbling. The ancient Israelites did it. So did the Jansenists, the Quakers, the Methodists, and the Shakers. (From “The Sceptics Dictionary”, http://skepdic.com/glossol.html )
Note 2: Meaningless repetition of words or sentences spoken by another person
© Pyotr Patrushev
Interpreting in the City of Dreams
A really surreal story
“The greatest city on the face of the Earth?”
A few years back I got an email from a colleague, a French interpreter, that the City of Dreams was looking to hire international interpreters like myself for the Greatest Fun and Games event on earth.
I must say that although I had worked and interpreted for other major international events in the past I knew little about the Greatest Fun and Games on Earth and even less of the City of Dreams. A search on the Internet shed some light on the mystery. A nation of former fishermen and nomads has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world due to its natural resources For centuries, while occasionally dabbling in piracy, the nativestraded in pearls and spices, sailing dangerous seas.
In the City of Dreams the Dreamers control its natural resources, real estate and wealth. They pay no taxes, enjoy free education and medicine, and have the average per capita income similar to most developed countries. But this is not the whole story. Aside from the native Dreamers, there are almost three times as many foreign (slave) workers.
I decided to send my résumé to the address supplied by my colleague and waited… and waited… I did more research on the Internet. Many expats and travellers reported that the City of Dreams was in reality “the most boring city on the face of the Earth.” That was encouraging!
Although the date for the core group of interpreters to arrive in the City of Dreams was rapidly approaching, none of my emails were answered. I also made a number of fruitless phone calls to the agent called Satyr.
Unexpectedly, while on another interpreting assignment, I received a brief message on my mobile that I was hired for the whole of the preparatory period as well as for the duration of the Fun and Games. When I attempted to question the terms of our contract, which were exceedingly skimpy, the response was, “everything will be sorted out upon yourarrival in the City of Dreams.” It was a slow post-holiday period and, despite some reservations, I signed the contract.
I got my e-ticket just before the departure date. I was ready to travel. I foolishly assumed that it being a tropical place, the City of Dreams would be hot and packed my light clothes.
After an 20-hour flight I landed in the Transit City. The sprawling airport resembled a giant shopping mall. I managed to get myself a chair in a busy coffee shop and spent some hours waiting for a connecting flight to the City of Dreams. Along the corridors sleeping on the floors were colourful groups of migrant workers, looking bedraggled and bewildered.
Upon entry into the departure hall I was somewhat taken aback by the casual attitude of the security officers who heedlessly chatted with each other and drank coffee while largely ignoring their computer screens. But then I thought, “Who was going to blow up the City of Dreams anyway”?
We, the workforce
After a short flight I arrived in the City of Dreams and was met at the airport by Satyr’s friendly helpers who bundled me into a taxi. My ankles got swollen during the long flight. At the hotel I gratefully threw off my shoes, turned on the TV and got myself a cold drink.
In the evening ten core team interpreters were introduced to each other during a rather chaotic meeting. Among other things we had to sign a waiver saying we would consume neither alcohol nor tobacco in our rooms, nor bring them onto the premises. Someone found this waiver onerous and wanted to find out what would happen if he secretly had a drink in his room. The more experienced travellers jokingly assured him that there were probably no cameras in the rooms and, as long as he kept his mouth shut, everything would be OK.
We decamped to our rooms, which were rather oversized suites with common kitchen facilities. We were stationed at a hotel called Al Seraglio, which, as we found later, was completed well in advance of our arrival. That meant that all the facilities were reasonably comfortable, compared to some other hastily completed buildings, as we were soon to find out. Al Seraglio even boasted an outdoor swimming pool and a spa. The hotel manager was an elderly Philippine, trained as a plastic surgeon in his native country but working for many years in Berlin as a taxi driver. His English was elaborate and convoluted but his manner was friendly and courteous.
Next morning we collected our uniforms. What we did not realise at the time but came to learn rather painfully later on was that being interpreters we were neither journalists, nor delegates, nor VIPs, but “workforce”, alongside cooks and cleaners. Apparently, the whole idea of providing language interpreting at the Fun and Games was a bit of an afterthought. Interpreting booths at conference centres and other venues were hastily constructed and subdivided at the last minute (often unevenly, provoking rivalries for the most spacious booth) to provide for the requisite number of languages. Microphones and other equipment were still being installed and tested on the day the press centre was being officially opened.
Our uniforms were of colourful green, pink, yellow and white hues (somebody compared them to the plumage of tropical parrots), and made of synthetic material (which meant that in hot weather outside one sweated and then, on re-entering indoors, froze). Massive air-conditioning installations were working full pelt at most indoor premises, with blasters directing cold air in powerful streams (it was too cold to sleep at night under flimsy blankets). As soon as we were moved into our permanent accommodation (more about that later), I claimed that I suffered from claustrophobia and was moved into a room with street-facing windows that could be opened.
From then on I never switched on the air-conditioning, relying on the cool wind. The wind brought in swarms of harmless-looking locusts. Their presence, when detected by cleaners or (foolishly) reported by a guest, would draw into the room a team of exterminators, with industrial-sized spraying canisters on their backs. I posted graphic signs around the room, asking not to spray. I was happy to co-exist with the locusts.
We were taken to a canteen that resembled a huge army barrack. It could provide meals for a couple of thousand people at any one time. Queues swiftly moved past the counters (with signs exhorting one not to take more than the allotted number of food items – which everybody seemed to ignore). We were issued with the cheapest possible disposable plastic cutlery and crockery. Experience taught us to take at least two lots of plastic knives and forks because they inevitably broke under the slightest pressure.
During the first few days we complained about lack of choice in our food. Most of it seemed to be of the Indian variety, with lots of cheap hot curries and chilies. We knew that in the delegates’ dining hall next door there were five separate kitchens: Dreamers’, Chinese, Arabic, Continental and Indian-Thai, plus a great assortment of cold foods and salads, as well as fresh fruit. Our complaints and pleas to change the menu went unheeded; we were too far down the totem pole.
A few times I visited the local food court at the supermarket. I recall once sitting at the same table with a local man, no other tables being available. He courteously invited me to join in his meal. I was still dazed from the flight and, since I had already ordered a meal, I was unsure how to respond. So I politely declined. Although I have lived in and visited many exotic lands, nothing prepared me for dealing with locals in the City of Dreams.
Occasionally, I noticed an apprehension mixed with thinly veiled contempt. When I tried to taste some expensive (around US $100 a kilo) local honey at the market, the seller thought I could not afford to buy it (and was not enough of a man to splurge). Generally though the sellers were friendly, especially to our women interpreters, and willingly posed for photos. Only occasionally I sensed the guards’ resentment at various checkpoints when they exaggeratedsecurity precautions by unnecessarily frisking us and checking our bags.
A safe heaven lost and “Faulty Towers” found
Since most of us did not like wearing uniforms we gradually began to discard items of our apparel one by one, replacing them with more comfortable clothing, wearing down the protests and the resistance of the management. But that was a minor battle. Soon we had to leave our spacious lodgings at Al Seraglio and move into a complex that we dubbed “Faulty Towers.” The towers were huge forty-story-high blocks of units, luxurious-looking on the outside but uncomfortable on the inside, with barrack-like cafeterias submerged in cavernous and labyrinthine basements.
When we were moved into one of the towers we at first refused to be lodged there. The lifts were shaky and seemed unsafe, bathrooms leaked, rooms were dark, windowsills dirty, the windows themselves covered in layers of concrete and dust. The buildings were obviously hastily commissioned under pressure from the authorities, eager to start theFun and Games on time. The pool at Faulty Towers was full of building debris and was never opened, despite promises. Weeks into our occupancy, some rooms got telephones and a slow dial-up internet that we had to pay for by at the city shopping centre.
We were told by an aggressive-looking Englishwoman that everything will be OK, and that the buildings were safe and comfortable. Some of us tried to stay as long as possible in the check-in lounge but gradually it became clear that with something like 20,000 guests arriving that day in this City of Dreams, we had no chance. A group of interpreters threatened to pack up and fly back home in the morning.
No sooner than getting to our rooms and settling in just for the night, prepared to renew our fight to relocate in the morning, a wail of sirens started up, signalling that we evacuate the building. We hastily threw our belongings together and ran down the stairs, with wet paint from the freshly painted staircase sticking to our shoes. So it was back to Al Seraglio for a couple of nights until another “Faulty Tower” was hastily prepared.
For the next thirty days we would be subjected nightly to the deafening fire alarms (occasionally three or four times a night). At first we would stagger out of bed and attempt to evacuate (as required by the rules) but eventually we ignored the alarms, trying to get as much sleep as we could (our shifts meant a 5:30 am rise). On one of those restless nights, as I peered into the corridor, barely awake, I was amazed to see our Japanese interpreter already at the exit, fully dressed, with a neatly packed suitcase at his side, and a uniform cap on. He must never have slept at all.
Nobody could tell us why the alarm malfunctioned. Finally, a slave worker was positioned at the fire alarm station round the clock to press the stop-button as soon as it went off.
As we got to know more referees and technical officials living in our building we found out that we were relatively fortunate. Some people had been moved four to five times. There was a shortage of about 2,500 beds, and three cruise boats in the City of Dreams harbour were commandeered to accommodate extra guests.
Transport, science, and blood sports
Getting around to work areas and to the central canteen was a problem. In theory, we were provided with cars and drivers by Satyr. There were also official buses running between the hotel and the venues. Often it would have been easier to walk, instead of trying to adjust to the unpredictable and awkward schedules or faulty communication with our Dreamer drivers or the office. But there were no pedestrian walks and the roads were dusty and dangerous as the City of Dreams’ drivers had no respect whatsoever for pedestrians (nor other drivers for that matter). The height of driving prowess for a local driver is to move unexpectedly at 120 km an hour out of his lane at a roundabout across the screeching traffic and dash out to a side street causing confusion, curses and, with God’s help, accidents. “Slow down, slow down…” was the first Dreamer phrase that I learned. One literally took one’s life in one’s hands crossing busy roads. Some volunteers were actually run over and killed. I barely survived one close call. There were supposed to be taxis in the City of Dreams. In practice, you could sometimes find an expensive limousine at a luxury hotel. In desperate cases you tried to hail local drivers and were mostly ignored.
The work entailed waiting for meetings and press conferences to happen, often at the last minute. Occasionally, conferences were “wall-to-wall.” We had to interpret at early morning VIP’s meetings and also take care of the delegates’ needs. Other interpreters were sent into the media mill with those journalists who could not attend the events.
A few times when I went to the competition venues I was struck by the fact that seats were mostly filled by students brought from schools and colleges to create an impression of a good crowd. Journalists brought up this question of attendance on numerous occasions.
The huge wealth of the City of Dreams was going to be channelled into making the country one of the leading sporting nations in the region. Giant sporting arenas were being built and famous foreign coaches were recruited to bring local teams up to world standards. Yet native Dreamers generally seemed uninterested in sport. I never saw anyone jogging on the lovely esplanade that circled the harbour. Their only huge success at the Fun and Games was in cricket. Their victory created quite a pandemonium in the City of Dreams, with cars racing around all night, people sitting precariously on sun-roofs, and jubilant crowds everywhere.
The same could be said for science. Although science (together with folklore) featured large during the magnificent presentation emphasising the debt of western science to Dreamer innovation, names of leading scientists (shown on a wide screen) and their discoveries would have been utterly unfamiliar to the majority of the Dreamers. One of our bosses, a university educated professional, stunned us with his assertion that apes were derelict humans who did not follow the Dreamers’ rules.
Disregard for the environment and conservation was evident everywhere. Huge mascot figures of Sphinx were erected around the city for the Fun and Games. Exorbitantly priced birds for hunting were sold at markets, with almost no native prey left. Wealthy Dreamers amused themselves by flying to countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to hunt, where game still survived and where there were few restrictions on hunting.
The Sphinx and the Running Sands of Time
I gradually began to gain the impression that the whole purpose of the “Fun and Games” was to enhance the international prestige of the City of Dreams and impress the visiting VIP’s who were receiving royal treatment. The Fun and Games were reported to have cost enough money to pay a decent salary to all the slave workers for the next 100 years. More than 500,000 km was covered by the VIP’s in over 5,000 petrol-guzzling vehicles, as announced proudly by the organisers. It all really seemed an extravagant waste of money. Dreamers were proudly pointing out the skyscrapers that dotted the city’s skyline, with the city resembling a huge building site.
I imagined the skyscrapers being submerged once again by running sands in 30 years’ time, when the City of Dreams would run out of its supplies of cheap oil and gas (or when some substitute for them is discovered). The old Dreamers’ architecture seemed ecologically sound and sustainable– thick-walled buildings with good thermal mass and narrow,shaded windows. However the modern American and European steel and plate-glass buildings being sold to the Dreamers by unscrupulous developers and architects were totally unsuited to local conditions and needs. They seemed more like monuments to greed and wasteful extravagance. It would probably be cheaper after the Fun and Games to pull some of these buildings down rather than bring them up to any sort of decent standard. Their whole existence was predicated on an unlimited supply of cheap energy and slave labour.
Dreamers themselves took a hands-off approach to most “on-the-ground” matters. Jobs were supervised by hired contractors. Workers were ill-trained, lacked proper tools, and were poorly motivated. Theft of food and small items from our hotel rooms was rampant. I could hardly blame these lowly paid migrant workers as they were getting something like US $5 per day (out of which they paid for their food and lodgings, sent money back home and paid off the gang leaders who hired them).
The attitude to women in the City of Dreams was in accordance with Dreamer traditions. They were draped in dark clothes while men, on the contrary, sported colourful flowing robes. One could occasionally see a flash of cherry-black eyes and wonder what passions and, dare one say, thoughts, swirled behind them. The attitudes of men were much more “in your face.” During a trial of new video equipment in our booths local technicians put on a full-blown porno movie. There were shrieks of shock and surprise from our women colleagues (some of whom came from other Dreamer-like countries). The technicians thought it was a huge joke until the women complained and one of the technicians was (reportedly) sacked on the spot.
On another occasion one of our women interpreters was subjected to a rude sexual advance while visiting a local resident. If this could happen to a relatively well-protected and respected female, what could be said about the thousands of lower class women working as housekeepers, cooks and nannies in Dreamers’ homes? As foreign women mixing with men, they were legitimate prey.
We came from across the globe…
Logistic bungling was rampant. Teams were taken to wrong venues, food and supplements were confiscated from hotels. Some guests were left in the pouring rain and freezing wind for hours to allow the VIP’s to get to their buses first. Many complained of catching cold as a result. The weather was unseasonably cold and wet, with piercing winds blowing from the desert. Due to heavy rains the conditions were so difficult that an equestrian champion was killed. Horrified, we watched the unfortunate rider on a huge screen in front of us being crushed to death by a falling horse.
But there were moments of camaraderie among us notwithstanding the environment we had to work in. Anyone looking from outside would have thought that we were having a terrific time, with flying jokes and flashing smiles. I will cherish the concentrated look on the face of my colleague reading a trash detective story in the booth, tearing out one by one the pages that were read and tossing them into the bin (to lessen the weight of the book, no doubt).
Or us, sleeping and resting on dirty floors covered by newspapers at the deserted top floors of the administrative building (having been chased out of the lounge, as we were spoiling the official decorum). Or trying to brave the street crossings, holding hands and dashing madly across the road before the hordes of SUV’s would trample us under their wheels. Or the I Ching sessions where fortune-telling coins were cast during the waiting hours, amid discussions about our diverse cultures and backgrounds.
One tried to put on a brave face and soldier on. But the strain showed. At one point when I brought a delegate to the doctor to be examined, the doctor asked me to sit down, took my blood pressure and told me to leave work immediately and go to bed. I was apparently suffering from exhaustion due to lack of sleep (the nightly fire alarms!), stress, and unaccustomed food.
I wrote a humorous poem about our days in the City of Dreams. In a strange way, I was grateful for the experience (not that I would care to repeat it any time soon). I saw the City of Dreams in 20-30 years time possibly reverting to some form of (cyber?) piracy after its futile attempts at supremacy in sports and science, and the exhaustion of its oil and gas reserves. Somehow, I just could not see the Dreamers going to work as hired labourers for their former slaves. And I saw our own Western way of life as a milder version of the dream-like extravagance, haughtiness and folly.
I did not think that the City of Dreams was “the most boring place on the face of the Earth” after all. It was just another strange and yet a familiar mirror we could hold up to ourselves.
The Dream City
We came from across the globe
And despite the lengthy run,
We wanted to visit the desert
And take part in the Games and Fun.
We were lodged at Al Seraglio
Of which fond memories we nurse
But they moved us to Faulty Towers
Which caused us to fume and curse.
We were tested with fire and water
And woken up through the night.
You should have seen us totter
In pyjamas when taking a flight.
Brave Satyr, all courage and mastery,
Sprung to action with curious speed,
As we glimpsed in the mists of history
In full gallop Dreamerian steed.
And so Fun and Games kept rolling
Between the Press and the exposition,
Till we felt we broke all records
And fulfilled our lives’ ambition.
Our tummies were full of curry
And our brains were like scrambled eggs,
But still we continued onward
With our noble profession’s quest.
As we left the City’s calm waters
With its sands and pouring rains,
We returned to our own native quarters
To recall the Fun and Games.
© Pyotr Patrushev
It’s A Job Avoiding Work
Published in The Australian
Fearing he was bound for a work-for-dole farm, Pyotr Patrushev tried a little vocational therapy ….
It took me and my family almost two years to see why all my attempts at economic self-sufficiency bore so little fruit. As my old folks sat in front of the TV watching Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, my old man occasionally muttering deprecatory remarks under his breath, I was struck by a momentous realisation. But of course! I was not simply a dole bludger. I was suffering from a well-advanced case of work phobia.
Did I not exhibit all the classic defense mechanisms in my attempts to justify my lack of interest in any activity that could even remotely be called gainful? My symptoms: Denial: How many times had I told myself that two years of idleness was a normal growing pattern for a young primate caught up in the cogs of a post-industrial society?
Rationalisation: The less I do, the more I will contribute to the future of pollution-free, unspoiled Australia. Like Hawaii, it will one day realise its potential lies not in coal or uranium or microchips but in pristine beaches, clean water and the quaint atmosphere of a cultural and industrial backwater.
Displacement: My reading of irrelevant or even harmful books such as Spengler’s The Decline of the West, my incessant fiddling with my stereo gear and my continuous preoccupation with members of the opposite sex.
Projection: It is this workaholic society that is at fault. Although productivity has increased more than a hundredfold in the past 50 or so years, we are slaving not less but more under the guise of the “leisure society”. Introjection: Industrial pollution and genetic damage have affected my auto-immune system irreparably. I am chronically allergic to gasoline smells, air-conditioned environments and bosses with loud voices.
Identification: Many prominent artists and writers of the past were supported by wealthy patrons during their formative years (which in our neoteric times could be anything between 15 and 65). The destitute van Gogh ultimately created employment for thousands of museum curators, art critics, buyers and forgers.
For a while, I was stuck in a no-exit situation. Like Beckett’s Vladimir, I was waiting for Godot. The only predictable thing in my life was the arrival of the dole cheque and the absolute inanity of my interviews at the dole office.
Last time they tried to send me for an interview at a paint factory, which they linked somehow to my “artistic tendencies”. The foreman had one look at me and nearly split his Stubbies with laughter. He said he’d call me when he needed a model for their next ad showing a young man spilling a can of paint all over himself while trying to renovate the interior of a ferries’ wheel.
When I tried to sell paintings door to door, I was first bitten by a rabid dog and then robbed of my takings by two drunken hoodlums. My career as a freelance photographer in clubs and restaurants ended when an irate customer who was dining with his mistress tried to smash my expensive gear. In desperation, I took to the streets, trying to sell on commission little wooden deer that had massaging wheels instead of legs. My family and friends have now the most pliable backs in the southern hemisphere, and I still have a boxful of the wretched critters under the house.
It was plain that I needed to see a therapist. My father insisted I see a certain Dr Sloboff who once cured a trapeze artist of fear of heights. Sloboff told me that the latest American treatment for work phobias involved combining relaxation, visualisation and affirmation together with systematic desensitisation. In simple terms, I had to put myself into a meditative state, visualise a successful job situation, and then boost the therapeutic effect by repeating to myself a phrase such as that of Thomas Carlyle: “All work is noble; work alone is noble.” Then I had to be gradually exposed to the work environment so that the habitual “fight and flight” response would not be activated.
I had no difficulty in eliciting the relaxation response necessary for the successful visualisation. All I had to do was to see myself at the beach on a bright Monday morning, the air warm and full of fragrance enveloping my seminaked body. But then the problems started.
Whether I saw myself as a successful merchant banker or a computer salesman, the image would soon get blotted out by the outline of some unknown but irresistible modern Aphrodite. The subsequent affirmation stage would also get mixed up. Instead of the pious words of Carlyle, I would hear myself quoting the blasphemous pronouncements of a certain Joe Hill, an American poet who could be called the guardian angel of the workaphobic: You will eat bye and bye In the glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, Live on hay, You’ll get pie in the sky, When you die.
As to the next stage, the sort of job situation I thought I would find relatively non-threatening was as a masseur in Hollywood, or a nature guide at the Top End whose job was to protect visiting American starlets from being ravaged by crocodiles.
Needless to say, Sloboff was very disappointed by my progress. He told my father that my work phobia seemed to be unusually resistant. He recommended flogging, cancellation of my gift subscription to Australian Playboy, and, if symptoms persisted, removal to the “work-for-dole” colony for the unemployed being secretly planned by the Howard Government.
Frankly, I think Sloboff is a total waste of time. But my visits to him gave me an idea. I am setting up a shop in Sydney, manufacturing relaxation and visualisation tapes for the unemployed. I reckon I’m tapping into a real growth area. Wanna buy some shares?
© Pyotr Patrushev
From Lenin To Harry Potter: How To Publish A Book In Russia
Published in Sydney NSW Writer’s Newsletter
The delivery man dropped a bundle of heavy packages onto my patio. They were tightly wound in black waterproof material, like something prepared for a polar expedition. I cut one of the packages open. Finally! I was holding a beautifully designed Russian hardcover book with large golden letters on the cover, with lots of coloured photographs inside, titled, “Sentenced to Death.”
It all began back in 1984 after my secret meeting with my sister in New Delhi. I was a “wanted” person, still under the death sentence for “high treason” in the USSR, imposed after my escape by swimming across the border to Turkey; my sister was a well-respected media lecturer at a Party School in Novosibirsk. At the time I thought she was taking a tremendous gamble meeting me during an organised tour to India by her trade union organisation. Much later I found out that she was allowed to go abroad only on one condition: that she would try to recruit me (with the help of the KGB officer who accompanied the group). I don’t really blame her: she still is a devout and idealistic communist (of non-card-carrying variety) and for her at that time my return to Russia would have been a step in the right direction. She thought she could have freed me from the clutches of “capitalist sharks and foreign intelligence services.” Fortunately, another mirror broke in the land of broken mirrors: there was a defection in her group and the KGB flunkey with career on line was busy chasing the fugitive.
The two separate worlds that the death sentence imposed on me collided. Soon after that fateful meeting with my sister I began to dictate my memoirs onto a tape. I thought my sister would never see it published or even be able to read it. So I dictated it in English and later had it transcribed.
It was a bit of a miracle to me and to everyone who knew me when my book was finally published in Russia last year. My sister, perhaps for the first time, understood my life’s journey, having seen it thus publicly legitimised. Her “conversion” was helped by the fact that I received excellent reviews from the major radio stations and some Russian publications.
My sister represented a significant part of the Russian population that got psychically dislocated, torn between their nostalgia for the “good old times” and the new, turbulent and unpredictable Russia. But I also had a larger audience. There were young people who simply admired my courage in escaping from Russia; others who enjoyed my adventures in the West; and yet others who were reminded of the brutal times that brought the Soviet elite to power and that still kept many of their descendants at the helm of the new Russia.
It is likely that my Russian memoirs would still be sitting in a chest of drawers were it not for Eduard, a scientist in Moscow, who encouraged me to publish my book. On his own initiative he translated (gratis) the first Russian draft on his palmtop during his daily trips to work on the noisy and crowded Moscow subway. His wife Natasha, who is a professional journalist, edited the first draft. After much editing and revising of my own I emailed the manuscript to an editor in Neva, one for the oldest publishing houses in St. Petersburg. She was recommended to me by a colleague in New Zealand who published her translation of Noam Chomsky’s book in Russia.
The editor emailed me back: “I read you ms with bated breath…” This sounded promising. Then, as it often happens in Russia, things slowed down to a crawl. Had I not accompanied my wife on her visit to Russia soon after making the initial contact with the editor, very likely, nothing would have happened.
A week after my arrival I was in a lift of a sleek building in St. Petersburg, having undergone a strenuous security check (against burglars, not spies!). Inside the office people were busily moving between small cubicles in which surprisingly late model workstations were blinking. The old Soviet publishing house was privatised by the new owners who managed to carve a niche for themselves in the rapidly changing and ruthless publishing market.
Just then, “the most-read nation on earth” had finally emerged from a literary purgatory of the perestroika years. By 1995 Russia’s publishing output fell by 75% from some 2 billion copies per annum published during Soviet times. Few people missed Lenin’s Collective Works, the circulation of which at one point had reached 511 million copies. The Russian readers were then avidly devouring books by their own romance, crime and fantasy writers, as well as the foreign “Harry Potter” books. The most successful writers of this new genre were women who deftly capitalised on the sense of nostalgia for escapist romance and adventure created by the ugly but exciting reality of Russia ruled by the Mafiosi and the “new rich.” Daria Dontsova, the queen of the “ironic detective story”, at one time had 18 million books in print. Not as much as Lenin, but more than Harry Potter. She was closely followed by a book on home cooking by a well-known TV show hostess. And just lately the literary disposition has changed again, influenced by the new petrodollar-fuelled economy and the resurgent pride in the resource-rich Russia: at the top of the bestseller list, a 5-volume set of patriotic books about the glories of Russian history, accompanied, paradoxically, by Richard Branson’s “Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life”; yet another motivational book on giving up smoking; and a story of the demise of Spartak, the once famous Russian soccer team.
A year ago, my memoirs were a real publishing risk in Russia. Putin had initiated a nationalistic campaign aimed at boosting the people’s morale (and the flagging ranks of the Russian army’s recruits). My notorious escape still touched the raw nerve of the Russian “patriots.” A particularly irritating detail was the fact that my escape began when I broke out from a psychiatric institution were I was confined after evading the military service. (The long-drawn war in Chechnya has made most young Russians desperate to avoid, often through malingering and other forms of evasion, being drafted into the ramshackle and brutal Russian army.)
The meeting with my editor in St. Petersburg, a youthful looking woman with a Tartar name, ended on a positive note. But then… a scheme that we had struck, to create a new series made entirely of memoirs, fell through. My editor had to find a new home for my book in one of their existing series. (Most of the books were published and marketed as a series with similar readerships, covers and marketing thrust.) Since my memoirs contained unique photographs and documents from my own archives, it was finally fitted into the series called “Secret Materials.” The series contained previously unpublished historical materials on Soviet and foreign leaders, Russian and foreign spies, and other stories such as the story of abuses in Abu Ghraib prison. Once published, the editor assured me, my books will be sent to some 60 distributors throughout Russia.
Just before my book went into print I got a call from my editor saying that their in-house “brand managers” have suddenly decided to change the title and the cover of my book. Instead of “The Escape,” it became “Sentenced to Death,” a more catchy title, especially as my last name on the cover in large gold letters was the same as that of the current Head of the Russian secret police. The superimposed images of the Kremlin and the Statue of Liberty completed the gory ensemble. The “brand managers” felt it was a guaranteed eye-catcher.
Some months later I was invited by the publisher to come to my book launch during Moscow’s Annual International Book Fair. But their margins were so meagre, they told me, that they could not pay for my fare and would only put me up in a three-star hotel during the day of the launch. Instead of spending over 2000 dollars on fares and more on expenses I produced a professional DVD of my book’s presentation, complete with sights and sounds of Australia.
I spoke to my Russian friends on their mobiles during the presentation. They were impressed by a wide plasma screen on which the DVD was shown, by my editor’s inspiring speech, and the fact that all the available copies were sold out at the Book Fair. One just had to ignore the poor air-conditioning inside the exhibition hall on a hot summer day that made it difficult to breathe, let alone speak, while any attempts to find my publishers’ stall after braving the hour-long queues at the entrance had required the perseverance of Sherlock Homes.
Have the book’s royalties made me rich? I wish that was the case. The hardcover with many coloured photographs inside and over 300 pages long was retailing in Russia for about $6. This leaves the author, after paying the onerous tax on foreigners, with about 15 cents per copy. The even tougher task was getting my author’s copies that I had acquired with my royalties, to Australia. My nephew, a Moscow businessman, had to spend hours in various offices, precuring copies of author’s agreements and customs declarations that would prove he wasn’t sending out some illicit copies or rare collectors’ books. It was a logistic nightmare. Once the books were purchased, the printer’s warehouse refused to either send the books to me or to store them. Only one Central Post Office in Moscow seemed to accept parcels for posting overseas. My nephew had to stand every time in a new line to send each individual parcel separately. The electronic indicator above the counter, manned by a single overworked and hassled-looking postal worker, was generating random numbers. It was like a lottery, waiting for one’s ticket to be called out while clutching it in a sweaty fist. Some knowledgeable people next in line suggested to my nephew that the quickest way to post a parcel was to take a drive to Riga, the capital of the independent Latvia, some 800 kilometres to the west. Another option was to walk across the road to a DHL office and pay a few hundred dollars extra for postage. There were other tragicomic incidents involved. A severe winter frost in Moscow burst a boiler in my nephew’s house, so he had to use the money I sent him for postage to repair the boiler. All told, it took over a year since the publication for the bulk of my books to reach me in Australia.
Was it all worth it? No doubt it was. Over the next few weeks the SBS radio is broadcasting excerpts from my book in most capital cities in Australia. I have planned book launches in Sydney and Melbourne. But most importantly, my story has gone down on record in Russia and is available in most countries where Russian-speaking people live. And my nephew has got a new boiler, ready for next winter.
© Pyotr Patrushev
How To Survive The Rigors Of Mortis
Death’s sting is readily found at the local funeral parlour in Russia
One of Russia’s most popular writers of the post-revolutionary period was Mikhail Zoshchenko. His short stories depicted the absurdity of the new order, as it attempted to reshape the stubbornly recalcitrant masses into at least a semblance of Homo Sovieticus.
But nothing that Zoshchenko could have invented compares with the reality of Russian life during the times of Perestroika, as shown by some of the forays concerning one of the final unmentionables of Russian life – the Russian way of dying.
It appears that the Biblical lament, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” has more than rhetorical significance for those Russiancitizens who are improvident enough to succumb to this most ancient human denouement.
If they happen to die during public holidays – which any intending deceased must be strictly advised against – they could be confronted with an absence of a suitable coffin, since government outlets which supply such consumer items are naturally closed.
The deceased and, perhaps even more palpably so, his or her surviving relatives and friends are thus thrown on to the resources of the yet incumbent private funeral industry.
Having found a coffin of suitable size – at, say, five times the usual price – they may find that the grave diggers, having done their job with amazing speed and alacrity, were nonetheless’ prevented from completing it since a huge boulder would be found to prevent the entry of the coffin into its final resting place.
Currently, the going price for removing the boulder (which appears to migrate mysteriously between the graves) is 100 roubles per grave (about two weeks’ average wages). Of course, only the most steel-hearted would consider bargaining over the obviously exorbitant price at such a sensitive moment. Such vagaries, as well as the logistic and economic considerations, may sway the more budget- and efficiency-minded among the population to prefer the ritual of cremation to the act of burial.
However, the simplicity of this solution often proves to be deceptive. The modern Russian crematoriums are, of course, State-run institutions with their own rules, procedures and customs which take little or no account of the psychological stress that their potential customers may be under.
There are production quotas to be thought of (a reliable eye-witness reported that at least one director of a crematorium had a bright banner over her desk proclaiming her institution to be a winner of the “socialist competition”); questions of throughput considered; the inevitable shortages of raw materials and supplies attended to (in a Ukrainian crematorium the following sign was observed: “Due to shortage of urns, remnants will henceforth be issued in plastic bags”).
A solemn-looking official with an arm band and a lapel pin depicting the flame which is about to consume the earthly remains of your relative or friend would briskly usher you through the final rites, reading haltingly from two pieces of paper, one containing the “canned” version of the ritual and the other the actual data of the deceased which are inserted as required.
An inconspicuously-placed organ may burst forthwith a resonant dirge at an appropriate moment, stunning the hushed audience out of their fatalistic reverie on the eternal questions of life and death. Or a sporadic firing may ensue outside the neighbouring reception hall where a high-ranking military official is being sent off with full military honours.
But even these ordeals come only at the end of a long and torturous process that only a few survive unscathed. First of all, at the morgue, to which one comes to claim the body of the deceased, one is confronted with a forbidding sign: “Deceased are issued only upon the presentation of a death certificate and a current passport with valid residence permit.”
Having satisfied the official of the morgue as to your, and your deceased, bona fides (we will not even consider here a case where the deceased had, for example, absentmindedly allowed his residency permit to lapse before absconding to the nether world, leaving his relatives in a most unconformable lurch), you will join the queue of the bright yellow hearses (with neatly painted signs “Smoking prohibited” inside their cavernous holds) and proceed to the nearest crematorium.
Some people have been known to faint upon approaching these austere-looking structures with tall chimneys belching plumes of dark smoke. However, if you are still conscious, you may join the queue which on any given day may comprise dozens or hundreds of individuals awaiting their turn. Needless to say, there are no refreshments provided, aside from a rubber hose issuing a cloudy stream of tepid water. But you may be cheered by a sign proclaiming: “The convenience and comfort of preserving your urn at the enclosed sanctuary, available upon application.”
Should you decide to take the urn with you for less convenient but more private storage, you may have to offer a small donation to the crematorium’s demonstrably underpaid staff who will then speedily repair to locate your particular urn (or so you hope).
It is possibly deeply symbolic that one of the greatest Russian poets of this century, Osip Mandelstam, has no grave to which his many admirers at home and abroad can flock. Having been imprisoned on Stalin’s orders, he was either killed by criminals in the camps as he, in accordance with one version, tried to recite the verses of Petrarch to them, or thrown overboard from one of the many prisoner transport vessels which plied the deadly route to Kolyma.
In one of the most famous recent Russian novels, Valentin Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyora, there is a scene where villagers bodily defend their churchyard from desecration by the officials eager to clear up the “debris” that would float up once the site was flooded by a new hydro-electric project. It is only now that the damage done to the Russian psyche through the abuse bestowed upon private citizens by the mighty, if stupid, state is being fully recognised. It may be too late a recognition for the living. It is certainly too late for the dead.
In Putin’s Russia dying and getting buried is just as precarious a business as during Perestroika times. Except that if you have a lot of money you may be able to afford to have your body embalmed by one of the scientists who was looking after Lenin’s embalmed body. If you are poor you will be buried in a pauper’s grave in Moscow or just dumped into a communal unidentified grave in the provinces.
© Pyotr Patrushev
What Russia and the US Really Need Right Now Is A Good, Old-Fashioned Show Trial
The day the trial of Putin on charges of corruption and vote rigging opened in Moscow in 2016, Yegor Kuzmich Tverdolobov, an employee of Aeroflot in Washington DC, came to the cafe on the ground floor of the Watergate Complex to have his habitual screwdriver and savoury blintzes for lunch. He liked the place partly because the FBI, knowing the popularity of the place with the international clientele, had thoughtfully supplied it with a few Russian-speaking waitresses, and partly because the blintzes were so good.
Looking at this portly and relaxed figure few would have guessed that Yegor Kuzmich was actually a major in the Russian military intelligence. His cover was the position of life jacket maintenance man with Aeroflot’s Washington ground staff. His codename was Wink, due to his occasionally disconcerting habit of winking rapidly when confronting a stranger for the first time.
Wink had been in a foul mood ever since he heard the news of the trial on the BBC. The country was going to the dogs. What next? Soon, they’d start digging corpses out of their graves, just like in that awful movie Repentance, and putting them on trial.
He was pleased when an old colleague, a CIA agent codenamed Scrubber, joined him at his table. Scrubber’s duty was to tidy over jobs botched by his organisation in Central America. Wink’s job was gathering technical and military information pertaining to the US Air Force.
Their respective specialisations were so narrow and so far removed from each other that, like non-competitive organisms in an ecological niche, they felt safe with each other. Over the years, they’d got used to occasionally having their own mini-summits over a glass of vodka or a martini.
“Yes, this reform movement has certainly gone too far,” opined Scrubber, noticing his friend’s dejected mien. “Before you say blogosphere twice, they start cutting our funding in Congress, now that the old Evil Empire is no longer there to scare the voters. We might go the way of the Star Wars – big bang, no bucks.”
“Yeah,” agreed Wink in a downcast tone. “You Americans should have listened to the warnings Sarah Palin and John McCain were putting out i early in the piece, saying that this whole velvet revolution is just another Russki ploy. The Cold War has become the Cuddles War, and we are its last casualties. Now it may be too late to redress the damage.”
For a while, they ruminated on the possibility of finding another enemy that would satisfy the fears of their respective electorates and the prejudices of their leaderships. They both eliminated China as a possibility. It was too important as a lender of last resort.
Japan – you couldn’t even think about having agents in Japan – the expense alone would be prohibitive. Australia was too small, besides, you could find all the state secrets you ever wanted in the newspapers there.
There was little choice, they both agreed finally. For the time being, America and Russia were still by far the most natural enemies. And they now needed each other more than ever. The Middle East had settled down temporarily into its usual slow boil. The Iranians were still waiting to be bombed.
“You know,” said Wink, “things are getting so bad at home, they are allowing kindergarten kids with computers to talk to their counterparts abroad. Now any whiz-bang kid could get, in one hour, more sensitive information by tapping into your networks than I could ever hope to gather in a year. I can’t even type, let alone work one of those machines.”
“Yeah,” echoed Scrubber. “We are getting so hamstrung by the Congress that we hardly get an opportunity to do any work, let alone botch things up. Soon, I’ll be out of my job, scrubbing dogs’, not intelligence, messes off the streets.”
“But surely, we could do something to avert the danger?” implored Wink.
Scrubber sipped at his martini silently for a while. Wink waited respectfully, conscious of his friend’s superior deductive skills.
Suddenly, Scrubber hit himself on the head. “I think I have it,” he shouted.
“What? What?” begged Wink.
“Remember Socrates? And the Reichstag fire? What you have to come up with a boogeyman you can turn into a scapegoat. Something that will turn the majority of the gullible populace and the conservative forces, once and for all, against the forces of perestroika.”
Wink was all ears. He was not too sure about Socrates, but he knew about the phoney Reichstag fire in Germany in the thirties and the subsequent trial of the supposed culprit. That has surely worked, otherwise Hitler would not have come to power so easily.
As for scapegoats – well, Scrubber did not have to teach him anything about finding, and punishing, scapegoats. Wink went through a pretty tough school himself in his time.
“Tell me,” Scrubber continued, “What are the most emotional issues in Russia today? Is it not the fear of change, the xenophobia, the corruption, and the struggle between the rich and the poor?”
“I guess that pretty well sums it up,” conceded Wink.
“Well, then you have to find some prominent reformer, accuse him of attempts to corrupt the innocent Russian youth, and link him with some sinister foreign or émigré elements. I think that will he as sure a recipe for success as the one that that got Socrates drinking his hemlock cocktail with friends”.
“You mean we have to stage a Sokratsky-type trial to stop the reform movement in its tracks and to balance out the assault on the conservatives in both Russia and the US?”
“You’ve got it, Wink. Yes, the Sokratsky trial, I like the sound of that. A big reversal of Russian policies will also help us here to keep Romney in the White House – and the good old times of cold, or at least moderately frigid, war would resume.”
“There’ll be plenty of work for all of us to do. They say you cannot turn the clock of history back, but you sure can throw a darn good monkey wrench into its works.”
“I like the idea,” Wink said, after some consideration.
“I knew you would,” said Scrubber, getting ready to leave. “You know where to find me if you need any help, don’t you?”
“Sure thing,” said Wink, winking at him heartily for the first time in months.
After Scrubber left, Wink called the waitress and ordered himself another screwdriver and a triple portion of blintzes with caviar. Real caviar.
Two months later the Sokratsky trial opened in Moscow amid growing unrest and clamour for more and faster reforms.
It was the biggest show trial in Russia’s history and it became the rallying point for conservatives both in Russia and the US threatened by change and investigations of corruption and robbing the majority of the people of their savings and jobs.
© Pyotr Patrushev
The Electric Dog Undergoes Sex Change
One fine Thursday morning, after a long spell of rainy weather, the Electric Dog came down the path to the creek to see how his trusty friend Water Shrew had survived the flood and the miserable cold. But mostly, he was eager to share with him a piece of news that made his heart jump with joy and anticipation.
He caught the Shrew putting some finishing touches on a new water dam that was intended to protect his wooden hut from the next advance of the floodwater. The Electric Dog proudly thought of his own townhouse, high up on the hill, seemingly impervious to the ravages of nature.
The Shrew, mud-spluttered and tired, was glad to see the Dog. He invited him to sit down on a log and made a pot of Almond Sunset herb tea — the Dog’s favourite.
As they relaxed in the sunshine, the Dog broke the news. He confided to his friend that he has finally decided to have a sex change operation. He was tired of being a male dog, he said. He had found now the very act of lifting a leg to sanctify the telegraph pole or a trouser leg of an innocent passer-by a distasteful and unappealing chore. The noisy squabbles of his mates over every female in sight that might be on heat left him cold, to say the least.
He had recently subscribed to a new magazine called Androgeny Monthly, and was making enquiries regarding the costs and the dangers of a sex change operation. He told the Shrew that he has never felt right being in a male dog’s body anyway. And now the researchers were finally finding out what he knew all the time — that his genes had got an extra chromosome or something.
“So why not,” he enquired of his friend,” make use of modem technology to undo the nature’s mistake?” It was possible that now, with all that scientific backing, he might even be able to do the operation on Medicare. Why shouldn’t society help him overcome his difficulty? At the very worst, it would make a few doctors and specialists just a little bit richer while providing him with a welcome change of lifestyle.
The Shrew listened carefully to his proposal, asked him a few innocuous questions about the latest advances in vaginoplasty — his friend was, as ever, up on the latest research in the US and elsewhere — and then fell silent. The Dog was waiting impatiently, feeling sure that his conservative friend would try to talk him out of his idea. He was confident, however, that he would be able to overrule any objection. He had done his homework well.
Finally, the Water Shrew broke his silence. “You know,” he said, “a couple of days ago I ran into your old heartache Fifi. She was shopping for a second-hand Porsche in town.”
“Thai bitch?” The Electric Dog could hardly contain himself. “I will never forgive her for tearing the float tank out of our bathroom’s floor after we got separated… I thought she was in India, visiting Swami Bowwowkiananda?”
“No,” the Water Shrew continued after this fiery interlude, “and she told me that she has got tired of being a bitch and was going to undergo a sex change operation to become a male dog.”
The Electric Dog gasped in disbelief.
“She told me,” the Water Shrew went on, “that lately she has found the whole business of being on heat and being chased by sniffing, slobbering male dogs very offensive. She told me she has already bought herself the latest Nautilus machine to practice her mounts.”
The Electric Dog was dumbstruck. For a moment, all he could say was, “That bitch… that DIRTY bitch…”
The Shrew poured him another cup of Almond Sunset tea. The Dog was grateful for the pause and began to sip the liquid even before it cooled down.
“I was just thinking…” the Shrew went on. “Why don’t you two get together again and just PRETEND that you’ve both had a sex change operation…? All you’ve got to do is to change your roles. Weren’t you telling me some time ago that everything happens mostly in the brain anyway, and the body is just a mere physical appendage? Pretending would sure save a lot of money and trouble for a lot of people, including yourselves.”
The Dog was loo flabbergasted by this unexpected proposition to discuss it sanely. He bade his friend good bye hastily, promising to think it over and talk about it later.
A few weeks later, the Dog visited his friend the Shrew again. He told him that after some discussions and arguments with Fifi, they decided to follow his advice. “It works fine,” he confided,” although it look time to adjust. Fifi is getting real good with her mounts, and I am starting to develop some swollen nipples on my belly. We also like the attention we are getting from our friends when we go for walks. And we have put the float tank back where it belongs — on its old foundation.”
“I am glad to hear that,” said the Shrew. “I hope you will learn to love each other, now that you have found your true selves.”
“Yes, I feel much more contented with my sex life and life in general,” admitted the Dog. “There is only one small problem that I still have a difficulty with.”
“What problem, Electric Dog?” asked the Shrew.
“I still find it awfully uncomfortable making love with Fifi on top.”