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Fiction Funny

NOISY ON THE EASTERN FRONT

“So, is this like Cool Runnings? America will play Gorodki? Who in America, exactly, will play this game? And why? Russians left Russia so they don’t have to throw sticks to play, like dogs to fetch, in America, we can bowl, golf, shoot hoops, sorry, is that right? Is that what you do in Basketball,” Olezka Denisovitch complained; he wanted to be the consummate Yankee.

“It’s not at all like Cool Runnings,” Boris Earpinsky explained. Wynnewood, Pennsylvania is only four degrees of latitude below Stalingrad, climate is similar, trees are similar, wood is sim…”

“Shah!” Olezka spat. “Volgograd!” He traced a hammer and sickle in the dirt of the tree line of the comfortably suburban split-level ranch with the toe of his left Nike and spat on it. “Are you saying we will compete with Russian Gorodki professionals?”

Timofey Roman (Nee Romanenko) lit his contraband Cuban H. Upman by setting his vodka on fire.

“Nyet, that is not at all what we are saying.” Olezka was the senior Menshevik emigre; he had the brass balls to go back to Moscow during the glasnost collapse. He managed to climb up on the tank with Yeltsin before flying back to Philadelphia’s main line. Olezka had to be deferred to. “What we’re saying is that there is something called a 501 c3 limited corporation. For cultural associations, educational, artistic, sporting. We want you to be the president of the United States Gorodki Association.”

“Why me? I just told you I hate the game.”

Timo was the practical one.

“Because you’re the one in a picture with democrat Yeltsin on a tank.”

“Why not you, Boris? You’re the one related to Wolfe Earpinsky. The gunslinger. Wyatt Earp.”

“Nobody offers a lady a drink?” The men realized that Natasha had been observing the planning of this next bit of idiocy from the koi pond. “Do you really think gorodki will be recognized as a real sport? Let alone an Olympic sport?” Her beloved husband walked a shot of Beluga vodka over to her. It was a good excuse for everyone to have a snort. 

“Za vache zdrovya,” they all toasted, “Why are you fucking a cow?”

“A man comes.” Baba was in her housedress and was holding a deck of cards, a one-eyed jack, heart, squinting at the assembled company from the bottom of the deck. “He won’t see the point of whatever it is you are plotting here until it is time for him to understand. Don’t waste his time or yours; he is not an enemy. Granny pulled a water glass from one pocket and her dentures from another, then sat on a bench at the round concrete table, polished pebbles near the surface yearning to break free, to be skipped on the water by a child or in a sling taking down a hawk that was terrorizing a village. A dutiful son, Boris filled her glass with the pricey Beluga. She put her false teeth into the glass and then the vodka down the hatch.

“Look. See, a man does come.”

“It’s Anton, Baba, your granddaughter’s husband. You made sure he was invited.”

“Of course, he should be invited, you are all old men, you want a young man, a fast man.”

# # #

“Bienvenue à West Povolostock Border 10 mètres Les camions gardent la droite.” Sybil sounded out the French. Her father had apparently added a customs checkpoint at the driveway to complement the passport control hut, complete with onion dome on top, at the entrance to the front lawn walkway.

“Oy,” Sybil complained to the eight passengers in the van. “Every time I come home, there’s anther bit of schtick trying to make the property an independent, unaligned territory. Don’t make a fuss, just write your name on a visa slip, stamp it, and drop it in the box.”

Dimitri Dimitrovich was first out of the van. He followed Sybil’s visa instructions and then called for everyone’s attention. He climbed onto the top of the passport control hut and hoisted a flag on the onion dome. It was the original municipal flag of Podvolostok, the Crowned Goat, on a field, sable, and the motto beneath, jules, “QUI TOLLIT PECCATA NOSTRA.” Those already present rose and saluted, even the emigres from other parts of Russia. Boris and Baba laid out the repast, Baba with the kosher food and Boris with everything else. Anton portioned out the remains of the Beluga vodka. Those who knew him congratulated Boris on his successful chain of Cognithon locations and on the marriage of his daughter to a fine young man. 

“The marriage is easier than the business. Sybil and Anton are clearly soulmates. But American customers! The Parents! What is the word they use, micromanage? One young girl really didn’t need test preparation, but her parents insisted. She was bored, the parents knew it, they complained, they wanted her to be more challenged. They told me. ‘The customer is always right.’ I, what’s the expression, lost it. ‘This is Russian place, customer is never right.’” That god nods of approval from any of the guests who owned businesses.

The sun was not yet over the yardarm, but the top part of the vodka came into play, the song, the Volga River Boatsmen’s song, “The Little Bell,” and the “Sailor song.” Then the middle of the bottle, the story. Lands seized by the communists, people seized by them, decade by decade of gulags and deprivation, the brinksmanship, and on up to today’s “Oilogarchy” and President Put-on. Finally, the bottom of the bottle, the march, the demonstration, the protest. 

“We will have an American Gorodki team, we will beat the Russian National Team, we will have Gorodki as an Olympic sport,” Boris declared. As tippled as the others, he told his own stories.

“When we first came to America, I wanted to do something I had never done, watch a television not controlled by the government. It was a Saturday morning. There was a show with a Boris and a Natasha with Russian accents. TV Natasha towered over TV Boris; in real life, Natasha was taller than her suave and sophisticated husband. We couldn’t stop laughing at the moose and squirrel. That’s when we felt welcome, a place where you can laugh at agents of a TV KGB.

# # #

“You’ve eaten enough, any more and you won’t be able to throw a bat. And you, the skinny one, you’ve never played Gorodki, yes,” Olezka said, putting a finger in Anton’s chest.

“I’ve never played Gorodki, no, why, I’m not going to be on the team.”

“Boris says you are very smart, a materials engineer, yes? There are more components to a team than just the players. You should take a turn, get the feel of things, yes?”

“I have a feeling I’m not going to be able to say no.”

“It was your choice to marry into a Russian family, you are happy, yes?”

“It was tough in the beginning. At the wedding, which was right on the tennis court there, people came up to me and kept saying ‘Don’t forget the tits, don’t forget the tits, if you want a happy marriage, don’t forget the tits.”

“Did you take the advice, Anton?”

“Yes. I finally aske the oldest man I saw what the deal was with tits. You know what he said?”

“No, what did he say?”

“The tits, every night. Mit a tootbrush.”

“Yes, it’s a good idea, in Russia you could wait months for a dentist appointment. Now hey, everybody, these bats arent’t going to throw themselves around.”

Boris and Sybil the day before had arranged the tennis court into a passable Gorodki pitch. The middle of the court was a metropolis. Within the metropolis were 15 Goridki – little towns, each with a different construction of piled wooden dowels: the herring boat, the arrow, the church, the airplane. The players take turns throwing a bigger wooden bat one of the Gorodki, trying to knock the construction dowels out of the limits of the Gorodki. Every throw is a point against, just like golf. The player with the lowest number of throws to clear a Gorodki wins. That’s it. Think you can manage that?”

“I can give it my best shot. Is there a rule book?”

“Rules? You want rules? Go to Russia, you’ll have plenty of rules. Grab a bat, Bistro! Bistro!”

Timofey drew the short bat from the equipment bag and went first. He chose the church. It took him seven throws t clear his Gorodki, what would be pretty good compared to the other players. He handed his bat to Olezka, who, despite his age and his professing his hatred of the game, took out the machine gun in a respectable five throws. Boris scored a six clearing After four more at bats, Timofey handed a bat to Anton, who held up the game eyeballing every remaining construction. He chose the barbecue grill and cleared it in five tries, excellent for a virgin, but was told he would be disqualified in an official match because one of his cleared sticks knocked out a stick in another Gorodki. Everyone thought the kid showed promise. He looked at Timo and gave him a wink; Timo winked back. The engineer would have a project. Practice was set at every other Sunday in Wynnewood Valley Park. After four practices and thirty phone calls, the Wynnewood Winners found a team in Allentown. And Timofey cashed in on having a materials engineer. The Winners beat the Allentown Billy’s 14 to 18, and kept winning over local teams. Only occasionally did a player from another team beat the championship-headed Wynnewood, and with good reason.

“It’s not cheating, Anton. There are no rules, remember, except for having the winning team be the team that had the lowest score.”

Anton caught the Russian disease. His custom-made bats had been hollowed out at each end and with a channel in the middle. The channel and the hollows contained mercury. An Anton bat would have three times the rotational inertia of a plain dowel. President Olezka’s Winners made their way across the country. It was just as surprising to them that there were teams in the heartland as it was to the flyover state population that Gorodki was a real game; the game got plenty of attention on local news, but it was the kind of attention that would get paid on the just-for-laughs sign-off segments. Still from nothing, Gorodki’s and the Winners’ Q scores jumped from zero to an almost respectable nine, about the same as a good local bar band that just got a record contract. More important, Russians and underdog lovers were donating to the 501 (c 3) United States Gorodki Association. Sybil took a picture of the team members getting paychecks for the first time, but not before she made a speech about opening a woman’s Gorodki Association.

“Boris! Come quick! You’ll never guess who is on the phone.”

“Your Grace, Reverend Aexis, it is an honor to speak with you! What can I do for you?’”

“You’ve already done it, my son,” the Orthodox Bishop of Sitka and Alaska told Boris. “We have been, like you, vainly attempting to find a place for Gorodki. We have a team, some of the batters are actually good, but it seems there is no place for Gorodki. Until now and your pilgrimage across the country. I have been contacted by the Bishop of Irkutsk. He proposes that the eastern teams and western teams meet in the middle of the Bearing Straight, Big Diomode Island. Will the Wynnewood Winners answer the call?”

“Bishop Alexis, listen to this. That sound you heard is me throwing my vodka glass against a wall. We will be there, Your Grace.

# # #

“And that is the story, Antoinette Antonova Earpinsky. You can write it in your term paper, that is the thing now, yes, oral histories, the foggy memories of the aged. But your father is not so foggy yet. I remember it like it was yesterday. The Pennsylvania team won by six throws, there were handshakes, backslaps, vodka all around, until the news crew reported the event. As the new headed west, the country became angrier and angrier that Russia had fallen so hard and so far down that a vodka-league Gorodki team could beat the Russian National team. I was there, Tonya, you can write what I say in your assignment. The entirety of the Russian people became incensed as one. It took the Metropolitan himself in Moscow to prevent hangings, and eventually the street was calmed, but Oligarchy definitely and emphatically got the message to pack up and leave on that day I was there, and here, for show and tell, if you are not too old for that, is one of your Grandpa’s bats. Doesn’t look like much, does it, but it won a revolution. Write that and tell it before the class.

February 13, 2021 02:35

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1 comment

Francis Daisy
02:24 Mar 02, 2022

Love this! Love the dialogue!

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