Speaking of grief, there is something perversely funny about the low, sad moments in life. Windows are opened and looked out of, then closed when the shivers set in.
1. The Russian Soul
Getting over a hard breakup, I had the bright idea of cheering myself up with a summer abroad. Hello Russia, distiller of the finest misery in the world. It was my third visit, but I thought everything was different now that Russia was a democracy (!) and valiuta was out in the open.
I remember my first morning waking up in post-Soviet Moscow, staying with American acquaintances in an apartment in a subproletariat concrete apartment block, looking out over the scene of cracked cement, weeds, and cottonwood trees blowing fluff all around. It was a landscape from an anti-totalitarian fairy tale. There were dumpsters. There were long tubes in the entryway in which to pour the trash – musorprovody. Garbage conductors. Drunk men had marked the territory thoroughly, like feral cats. If there were any actual cats they were starving.
There was nothing to eat and no visible place to get anything. Up from the scrubby horizon poked the spires of the local neighborhood attraction, the BDHX (Vay Day Enn Kha) – formerly a permanent exhibition of Soviet agricultural prowess. (Look at this fine rich soil preserved in plexiglass! Look at this dried up corn!), now used mainly for car showrooms.
I remember drinking vodka to retreat from the horror (and thinking this was a new idea, although obviously, duh), and talking to a former prostitute who was very enthusiastic in the feminist direction. Da. Do svidania. Please go away.
2. Sawdust Soup and Bucket Latrine
Whose idea is it to make girls in their junior year of high school stock up on war narratives (in history class) and Holocaust survivor tales (in English)?
Dear impressionable fledgling person-let,
You already know that the world is a hostile place, that people are falling all over themselves to humiliate and ridicule you, to pull the wool over your eyes and hurt your delicate feelings, to tromp on your sensibilities and damage your hearing – but it gets much worse. Ha, ha. You are weak.
The sad, unfortunate thing I am thinking of will go away if I just knit another 5 rows of this lumpy scarf. Okay, 10 rows. Acrylic yarn really isn’t so bad in this light, and at that price?
Another 25 rows would do it. 50? When my limbs are numb and my lips are tingling from lack of blood flow, and my wrists are thinking about carpal tunnel as I flick the needles, then I’m almost there. But wait, is the scarf as long as the person I am not thinking about is tall? No? Better keep going.
I see that the examples amuse me because they come from the Black Forest of youth. The melancholia of middle age is a different scale. Empty baby hats. Small children in the ER. Elders losing their marbles. Reading glasses. Not funny. Maybe when I’m older these categories of thought will be real knee slappers, but for now, no.