The walk through the city is long and boring.
From the train station to the river it is
3.8 kilometers, according to
the sign I saw when I left the station
and headed towards the water. My buddy
Herman is still on the train, holding a book
by Hermann Hesse, a famous German author
I’ve never bothered to read. I’m not even
sure he’s German, to tell the truth. I just saw
his name on Herman’s book and chuckled, knowing
my pal is the type of guy who’d tell any
babushka he meets he’s the author who wrote
it before suggesting a roll in the hay.
Herman’s an asshole, sure, but he is my friend.
Anyway, I’m about 700 yards
away from the banks of the muddy Chulym.
A sign to my right says, “Чулым,” and I think that’s
one syllable, but it could be two or three.
I have no earthly idea. I don’t speak
Russian. I’m American, goddamn it. It’s
English and nothing else. Pass me a gas station
hot dog and slather chili all over
it along with a small sack of potato
chips and a bag of peanut M&Ms. Mmmm!
Let me wash that down with 44 ounces
of caramel-colored soda pop that costs
a buck oh-five, just like Freedom. “Did you know
it only costs one dollar and one nickel
to poison someone in Russia? Just ask that
Rasputin guy,” a female voice says from the
left and I’m snapped from my reverie. “Who?” I
ask. “Did you say…” “Rasputin,” she interrupts.
“Yuri Rasputin. He lives in that house with
the blue roof over there … next to the cow.”
I turn and look to my left – sure enough, there’s
one cow just hanging out. I see no horses.
There are a few people pushing wheelbarrows.
It looks like Kazakhstan. “Oh yeah,” I say. “Is
he related to…” She shakes her head. “Just a
coincidence,” she says. I nod. “They say there
are no small or big coincidences,” she
goes on. I nod again. “That’s great,” I say. “So,
does Yuri sell weed? If he does, how much can
I buy for ten American dollars?” She
grins, wickedly, and pulls a joint from her left
pocket with her right hand like an old-west gun-
slinger, flips it over her fingers a few
times and lights the tip. “Just for a minute,” she
says. “Just so you can see how it feels to smoke
the finest Russian green.” She tokes six times in
rapid succession, burning the joint down to
almost nothing, then passes it to me. “Be
careful,” she says. “This is premium stuff.” “Did
you get it from a…” I start to say, but stop,
knowing she isn’t likely to understand
a reference to an American film
made in 1980. Instead I inhale
deeply and hold the smoke in for a moment.
The girl exhales and grins. “You’re probably so
high already and you don’t even know it.”
I laugh so hard I almost choke. She takes the
joint back and nods, knowingly. “I told you,” she
says. “Do you want another toke?” I shake my
head and fight the urge to spit. “Was that weed grown
in the shit of the town cow?” I ask and she
frowns. “You don’t like it?” I shake my head. She shrugs.
“You’re an idiot,” she says. “Why don’t you go
back to Texas?” I make a face. “I’m not from…”
“It’s all the same!” she yells. “Texas, New York. Look,
I owe Yuri 30,000 rubles. That’s
about ten cents. Can you spare a dime, brother?”
I reach into my pocket and hand her a
ten dollar bill. She almost faints. I catch her.
She smiles. “Follow me down to the river…”